An inaugural season finishing event for Ironman on Dec 9th, 2018 in the beautiful Cochilla Valley in California.
We registered back in the spring with the plan to start of a 10 day getaway with the triathlon then head to the coast for some ocean and biking. I was very excited about this event right from the get go. I like the distance and we have been to the Palm Springs area quite a few times so we were familiar with the area.
Just prior to the event, my excitement was impacted by the busyness of life. I went right from very long days in the field to teaching in the classroom, as I took on a term position and life was very hectic. My training suffered. It felt overwhelming to be preparing to be gone from the classroom, pack up my bike and have everything ready for Christmas prior to leaving on Dec 6. Once we were on the plane though, I was very happy to be going.
We arrived Friday Dec 7 in Palm Springs, got our rental vehicle and found our way to our condo unit. It was right across the road from the finish area so the location was ideal. Walked to race check in, bought a shirt and looked around. There were a few vendors but not a lot. Bought a couple Co2 cartridges (as you can't fly with them) as well as a new back tire for my bike.
Friday evening was spent putting our bikes together and relaxing.
Saturday we went out for a spin to ensure the bikes were working well. A coffee/breakfast stop at Starbucks then back to clean up and get our bikes to the manditory bike check in.
The start as well as transition 1 was located at Lake Cahulla. This lake is a private lake, 1 of very few bodies of water in the area. There is no practice swimming and our wetsuits needed to come along to bike check in to be submerged in a disinfecting solution. First time I have needed to do that.
The water is reported to always be cool. I wasn't too worried about it before hand because being at Ironman Oceanside a couple times in 14-15 C water I knew I might be cold but I would be fine.
A new development though was because of very poor, rainy, cold weather that was in the area the entire week prior, there was talk of shortening or cancelling the swim because of cold water temp. According to Ironman rules:
Wetsuits will be compulsory if the water temperature is below 16° C. For Pro’s, wetsuits may be worn in temperatures up to 21.9° C. For Age Groupers, wetsuits may be worn in water with temperatures up to and including 24.5° C. As per WTC rules, the swim will be shortened if the water temperature is between 12.1° and 13.9° C. If the water temperature is below 12° C, the swim will be cancelled. See official "Race Rules."
Originally from: http://www.ironman.com/triathlon/events/emeal
An email said we would be notified race morning of any changes.
Bike drop off was according to last name. Our time slot was from 10-2. There was a lot of people there and parking wasn't easy but as we left, the vehicle line up went for miles. It felt like a full, busy day getting everything checked in at transition 1 and then taking our run bag to transition 2 (near the finish area) to drop off as well. Less to worry about in the morning but a busy day. Pasta for supper and feet up.
Race morning, no email with changes to the swim. We walked to the finish area to where buses were loading up racers and spectators to take to the lake. There is no vehicles allowed at the swim area, everyone needed to be bused in and out.
It was still dark for a bit after arriving at the lake. We pump up the tires and finished a few things in transition before heading to the tent where the wetsuits were hung up. Transition was closed at 6:30 and though there was a rule of having nothing beside your bike (you needed to grab your bike bag) there were quite a few with their gear under the bike. I also thought there needed to be a lot more portapotties. HUGE line ups. Luckily, with the wave start and our placement around the 40-45 min swim group, we were able to get a turn in the biffy and see the pro start from a nice spot on the beach. We were treated to an amazing sunrise. It was so beautiful; the mountains, palm trees, the lake and a glorious sun.
I wasn't really nervous about the swim. I knew I didn't get the swim training in that I wanted but I also knew based on the times of all my prior 70.3's, if it took a few extra minutes, I was fine with that.
All that changed as I walked into the water. Nothing could have prepared me for this. It was very, very cold. I had been watching for more than an hour so many athletes entering the water and some prepared wearing less than I was. I had neoprene booties as well as a neoprene cap on under the race cap. I felt confident I would be fine. The announcement that morning was that the water temp was 14 C. I knew without a doubt this could NOT be the case. I can detect small differences in temperature so easily, I had swam many times in water that was 14-15 degrees and this was in no way that temp. Regardless, on I went. I tried so hard to get a rhythm but struggled. My chest felt like a vice was around it, I wasn't gasping for air but I just couldn't breathe. But I kept going thinking it would improve. At the halfway mark, I was still rotating between 15-20 strokes of front crawl to flipping to the backcrawl. I was experiencing numbness in my left hand and cramps in my legs. It was a real struggle to get to the halfway mark as so many times I though about quitting. Once the half way mark is passed, I knew I needed to keep going to the finish.
I was so happy to reach the finish. I knew I had been slow and I stepped out of the water with no troubles. But 10 steps in, my body shut down. I just lost my ability to stand and a volunteer caught me. Immediately I started shivering; deep, whole body, convulsing shivers. The volunteer immediately called for help. 2 others came with blankets and they surrounded me with their arms around me. The gentleman who first helped me was so calm and kept talking to me, assuring me that I would be okay. He held his arms around me, my head tucked into his neck. My eyes were closed as the shivering took control for more than 30 min and all I could think about was how good he smelled and how gentle and reassuring his voice was; anything to distract me from how scary this was. After about 15 min there was talk of taking me to the medic tent. I assured them I was doing better and would warm up on the bike. Biking the course was the part I was most looking forward to so I wanted to continue. They helped me get my wetsuit off and bike clothes on and again surrounded me and brought me 2 cups of warm broth. One of the volunteers then came forward saying I had passed the cutoff for leaving on the bike and she needed my timing chip. My race was done. I said I wanted to still finish and didn't care that it would show as a DNF. They helped me proceed to my bike only to be stopped by the volunteer manning the bike portion who, after talking to us and finding out about my hypothermia, told me he would not let me go out on a bike as he had too many incidents of racers falling on their bikes in cases like this. He said it takes time to regulate the body temperature after having hypothermia and he wouldn't take a chance on my safety. So just like that, I was delegated to the bus. Bike shoes and gear on, no extra clothes (my shorts and sports bra were still wet) and once again shivering. So discouraging.
A spectator got on the bus just after me and after seeing me shivering, gave me his long thermal sports coat to wear. I was so thankful. Obviously, very disappointed to not be on my bike. It was the part I had been looking forward to the most. But I also recognized in myself as I continued to shiver that this was the safe and smart thing to do.
What was a 30 min drive yesterday from the finish area to the lake was now taking us more than an hour on the bus. With the increase in traffic and road closures from the bike, it took longer. There was a few spectators on the bus but mostly it was filled with others like me who struggled with the swim. I have a ton of respect for the many athletes who got through the swim with little issue but the general concencus on the bus among the coaches and athletes was that the water temperature was such that the swim should have been shorted. Most heard reports of the water temperature being 12C or colder.
Measuring water temperature is such a subjective thing to me. Was the temp 14 C 2 feet from the shore? Where exactly do they take water temp? It would make sense to me to do a temp reading beside each buoy that is in the water then average them. Anyway, my 2 sense. Of course, this is still probably a bit of bitterness that my race was over and it maybe shouldn't have been. I think with this event being the first, the RD wanted it to happen as planned and that was that. Hats off to those who finished.
So I ended up in transition 2, no morning clothes bag with our keys or dry clothes to change into.
Luckily I was able to get into transition to put on my runners and visor. And fortunately, the morning clothes bags arrived within the hour and I was able to get my phone and track Terry. I decided to run with him. I wasn't going to just sit around.
I called his name as he was coming into the dismount line and immediately his face fell.
He asked if I was ok and I told him to go change I would wait at the run out area and was going to run too.
My chest still felt tight but the run course is a 2 lap loop through a golf course and if I was feeling terrible after 1 lap, I could stop. Morning air temperature was 8-9 C and now is was a sunny, warm 19-20 C. I drank some gatorade and water at each aid station. I hadn't had anything to eat and just a little to drink as all my food was on the bike, I had no money so what was my option?
We chit chatted, each relaying what happened since we entered the water together and the first lap seemed to go by pretty quickly. Second lap was a bit more difficult. The course was through a golf course and though it was nice and quiet with no traffic, there were also no spectators and constant rolling hills. But harder than that was the pebbled path. My feet felt like ground beef at the beginning of the 2nd lap and they just progressively got more sore.
After a while conversation halted as we each entered that zone of waves where you have energy then you are tapped, you are tired and hurt and you are fine. Finally, we were rounding the final corner as we approached the finish area at the Tennis Gardens. I stepped out and swung around through the spectator area off the run course and headed to the finish area to hear Terry's name announced and see him cross the line. Happy for him and sad for me. Oh well.
I took a couple pictures, then we headed to the food area. Chips, bananas and tacos.
We grabbed a table outside the food tent and enjoyed.
After 15 min , we headed to transition to find our stuff.
A 10 min walk and we were at the vehicle at the condo. We checked out that morning so we loaded our stuff up, used some wipes to remove some salt and a bit of stink and changed before taking off.
Picked up burgers then headed on the scenic Pines to Palms highway.
Terry asked if I would be returning to settle the score and without hesitation I replied "no". There are too many things/events to do. I don't want to repeat just to settle a score. Getting a DNF doesn't sit good with me but I am safe and healthy. What happened scared me a lot. I don't ever want to feel that way again and I am thankful nothing worse occurred.
Even after more than a half dozen 1/2 ironman distance triathlons under my belt, there is still learning and growing. And that is good.