Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Ironman St. George, Utah, May 5, 2012

Video Clip of Swim Conditions

I've gone through so many emotions since Saturday - sadness, disappointment, happiness, glad to be safe.  I was ready and confident to tackle the toughest Ironman race.  I definitely had done the training.  I was nervous the week prior to the race, but on race morning, I was calm and ready to go.  I swam out to the start line.  The water was very calm and temperate.  I couldn't wait for one of my favorite parts of the race - to hear the cannon fire, but something went wrong with the cannon and it took them a few minutes to get it to go off.  Maybe that was a sign of what was about to occur.

As soon as I found my swimming space and got settled in, the water started to get a little bouncy, and I felt my back getting sprayed with water. At first, I wondered if it had started to rain.  I stopped and looked behind me and saw huge swells and whitecaps.  The wind was blowing so hard that it was spraying the water.  I tried to keep swimming, but it was very difficult to maneuver.  By this point, I was on the back side of the reservoir, far from shore.  It seemed like swimmers were scattered everywhere.  I had to wait between swells to see where people were or where the buoys were.  The buoys were bouncing and being blown and tossed around.  Then I saw a boat plucking swimmers from the water, and there were already many swimmers on the boat.

I started to panic because of my previous experience of almost drowning in the ocean after being stuck in a rip current.  However, I remembered that one of the reasons that I almost drowned was because I panicked.  So I told myself to remain calm because that was the most important thing to do in this situation.  Additionally, I told myself that I had a wetsuit on and I was like a floating buoy.  My survival instincts definitely kicked in, and I did NOT want to get pulled out of the water.  I was determined to try to make it through.  I tried swimming as best as I could, but I had to stop often and just do the breast stroke.  I took in quite a few gulps of water (at least it was fresh and pristine) and I also took in a lot of air.  I had to stop and let out some very long burps which actually put a little humor into the situation.

I thought I had been in the water forever, and I remember looking at my watch and saw that it was 7:50, so I still had plenty of time.  I also remember feeling my body sweating a lot.  I knew I was working very hard to swim in the four- and five-foot swells.  I also developed quite the muscle spasm in my left calf.  I was pretty much getting thrown around by the waves too, but I just kept telling myself to stay calm, stay calm, and let mother nature take its course.  I was very, very worried about Ted and Tony too.  I knew they were on shore at that moment freaking out at what was happening and worrying themselves sick about me. 

I knew the situation must be pretty bad at this point, but I had no idea how really horrific it was.  Also even if I wanted to get on a boat, there were none even close to me.  I did think of quitting a time or two, but I felt confident that I was going to be okay as long as I remained calm.  I didn't know if I would make the swim cut-off time, though.  I finally made it to the last buoy before making a left turn to swim towards the boat ramp.  When I turned and tried to swim, the current started sucking me out farther.  It was at this point that I was the most scared.  I kept swimming, but I was going nowhere.  I just hunkered down with determination to get to shore, and finally I touched the cement of the boat ramp.  All I wanted was to see Ted and Tony.  I couldn't find them anywhere.  I went into the change tent and asked the volunteers to find them.  They were yelling outside the tent "364!" "364!" but I didn't know if Ted heard them or not.  I never changed clothes so fast in my life, and I ran out of the tent and found them waiting for me.  I immediately began to cry when I saw them, but Ted helped me not to lose it by grabbing my hand and telling me "You're okay.  Don't give up the fight!"

Later he told me that he couldn't watch the swim anymore because the conditions were so horrible, and he was worried sick about me, that he might never see me again, so they went to stand by the change tent to wait for me to come out.  When he saw me he told me to stay in the fight because he could see that I just wanted to break down, and he wanted to break down too.

I headed out onto the bike course, and I was just so happy to be out of that water.  I was in shock at what had happened, and I was so proud of myself for making it out.  I felt like Lieutenant Dan in Forest Gump when he was on the ship in the storm and was yelling at God!  I completed the swim in 1:51, which ended up being a great time after learning that hundreds were pulled out of the water, hundreds barely made the swim cut-off of 2:20, and many more swimmers did not make the swim cut-off.

I tried to switch my focus to the bike course. The head-winds were so strong that I was hardly moving. I just kept telling myself to keep going and hopefully the conditions would change once we got out of Hurricane (Yes, that's the name of the town outside of St. George where the reservoir is!)

Well, needless to say, the wind never let up.  No matter which way you turned, you got blown.  I had to hold on to my handlebars pretty tight.  When I got to mile 50, I started to think that this was pure craziness.  I was only averaging 12 to 13 miles an hour and I was going to be so close to the bike cut-off that this might not be worth it.  I pulled off to the side of the road and tried to think about what to do.  Also, for the first time ever, I had snuck my cell phone into my bike pouch and took it on the course with me.  I pulled it out and called Ted and told him that I was thinking about abandoning the race and to stand by to come and get me.  Then I got caught with my phone, but they let me put it away and ride on. So I rode to the next aid station and went into the porta-potty and called Luke (my coach).  I really wanted to talk to him and get his advice.  He helped me decide that abandoning the race was in my best interests. So I rode the course into town to mile 67 where they were stopping everyone at that point because we had not made the bike cut-off time to begin the second loop.  It was 2:15, and the cut-off time was 2:05.  Many of the riders were disappointed; some were teary-eyed.  I was happy it was over with and gladly turned in my chip!

I rode back to transition and called Ted to come and get me.  While I was waiting, my daughters called me to see if I was okay, and that is when I broke down and cried.  It wasn't so much that I was sad, but it finally hit me how scared I was in that water and how dangerous the conditions were.  It is really fortunate that no one was seriously injured or died that day.

I was mentally and physically fit to finish Ironman St. George, and I'm a little disappointed that I won't get another chance.  I've been sad, happy, and disappointed since Saturday afternoon, but by Monday afternoon, I felt happy and satisfied that I did make the right decision not to push myself to go on.  Every race is so different, and like I always say, "You never know what's going to happen on race day!"


Zebster said...

Please welcome another "old" Marine friend to our blog. When I read this on her blog, I knew I wanted it on this one for all of you to see. What a great story of athleticism and perserverance, to say nothing about how well written it is.

Anonymous said...

Welcome aboard! I'm glad you shared this story with us and look forward to reading more in the future.

tpubgu said...

Jeanie, love to you and all your kids. I can't believe you're doing triathlons and I complain about having to cut my grass on weekends. SF my friend.

Anonymous said...

Welcome! Thank you for sharing your memories and thoughts. You are a true competitor and should be proud of your efforts. Three cheers for you!


dasnake said...

three things;
one; welcome to this site by another newby, it is great, it is fun, and when you catch your slot it will be fun.
two; what a great write, you showed great aplomb with following through what you did when you could have just called out to be picked up.
three; you have writing in your blood, this is a great read, thanks, and enjoy your next endeavor, my daughter is doing a tri in vancouver on saturday, she also loves it.

Brent said...

Welcome to the blog. A fascinating telling of your struggle during the triathlon.

Mrs. Huebner said...

Thanks for all the welcomes and the positive comments! This blog is going to be so much fun!

dasnake said...

i was wrong, t didn't do a tri on saturday, she did what is called a spartan race, 5k sprint with obstacles. and the part that i like, she came in 11th out of 877 ladies, not bad for 35.