Sunday, July 18, 2010


Today was the hardest day I've ever had in the almost 2 years of triathlon and in fact since the day I started training for that first road race back in 2007. And it's not because of the heat, or the course, or anything that's actually a part of the race itself. It's because I quit today. My body betrayed me and I had to stop in the middle of the race, turn around, and ride back to a point where I could be picked up and driven back to the starting line.

But before I get into what happened during, let me tell you a bit about what happened before, and what I learned from all of this. These aren't excuses, at least not today. Today, they're the only reason I'm not crying right now.

1. The honeymoon - We spent 7 amazing days in Europe just two weeks before this race, and with the lead into the trip and recovering from enough to even train a little; I went about 11 days without training. And while we walked everywhere, we ate exactly like you'd expect tourists on their honeymoon to eat. Less than healthy food, and a lot of it. And worst of all, I really didn't drink much water. Water is rarely cold in France. What they keep cold is Coke, so that's what I drank. How I didn't gain any weight is really beyond me.

2. Sleep apnea - Something I just realized I'd never mentioned before on the blog is that I have sleep apnea. If you don't know what apnea is, it's a condition where the throat closes at night, leading to stopping breathing. The most obvious symptom is snoring, but others include fatigue, headaches, and increased appetite.  There are a lot of causes for this treatable medical condition; mine just happens to be the obstructive or "I'm fat" variety. I'm not really sure why I have never mentioned this before. Probably because I don't think about it all that much due to the fact that I treat it with a CPAP machine. Which I conveniently forgot to take with us for the overnight hotel stay. So while Rach might have had some of her sleep interrupted due to my snoring, I actually stopped breathing multiple times last night, waking fully every hour or so, and not really getting any rest at all.

3. Letting Rach pick dinner - My wife is the love of my life and my #1 supporter (sorry mom, you've been bumped). But she's also a normal healthy 23 year old athlete who can eat whatever she wants, and gets bored with eating the same things. Me, I have to keep a strict routine so I can lose weight and mostly just so I can keep making smart food choices. So when I suggested Subway for dinner last night, with it's low calorie tasty healthy subs; Rach countered with pizza. And of course I caved. And I wound up eating 5 slices of pizza the night before a race. And drinking Mountain Dew to go with it. Real smart, I know. Not her fault at all, but just have to remember to point to my belly every time she suggests a poor food choice

So, let's see: lack of training? Check. Lack of sleep? Check. Poor eating? Check. It's a trifecta of disaster just waiting to happen.

So we get to the race, and I'm a mess. I've slept so poorly that I'm groggy and disorganized. I couldn't find anything, and worse my goggles were completely missing. Turns out I had put them in Rach's bag instead of mine (this is the one mistake that's ok; the bags are exactly alike and I always know where to find her), so at least that one was solved. I got my transition set up only to realize that I hadn't gotten around to putting air in mine or Rachelle's tires. At least the bike support team was already in place, so we were able to fill up without retrieving our own pump from the car.

This isn't the first time that I've participated in a race with two different distances, but it's the first time that I've been signed up for the longer race, which meant a lot of waiting around. It was nice to talk to some Wheelworks teammates, and it gave me an opportunity to see Team Hoyt in action. If you've never heard of Dick and Rick Hoyt, it's a story worth reading to be sure. In short, for 33 years, Dick has been pushing his son Rick, who has severe physical handicaps in races from 5k's to the Ironman. They did the Feaster Five with us last year, but we didn't see them. They did the sprint distance today, and I got a chance to watch Dick swim, pulling Rick on an inflatable boat behind him. It's really amazing to see their dedication to racing and to each other.

When it came time for my wave to start we waded up to the starting line and I had just enough time to get wet before they said "Go!". Today's swim was .9 miles (1550ish yards), and for the first few hundred yards I felt pretty strong. I managed not to get passed by the wave behind us for a while, and some folks from my wave were still behind me. About halfway through I started tiring, and could tell I hadn't been swimming in a while. I resorted to mixing freestyle and breaststroke because I was having trouble with keeping my breathing even. I knew it was a long swim, but I didn't finish last, and as I approached the shore, I asked one of the lifeguards for the time, so I knew I'd done ok.

It was coming out of the water that I felt the first signs of trouble. My thighs were sore, which is very unusual for me after a swim. I use my kicking only to keep my legs up, and I don't kick hard at all. So my legs being tired and sore didn't seem right. As I jogged up to the beach I could feel even more that my legs just didn't feel right. I tried not to think about it, got myself together drank my 5 Hour Energy, a little Gatorade, and some chocolate Gu, and took off.

I was moving along ok on the bike at first. It was about mile 3 and I was slowly starting to feel better when I came to the first of the only 2 hills on the course. My legs were still tired, so I shifted into "granny gear" to make sure I could get up the hill without burning the little energy my legs were building when it happened; my front derailleur wouldn't go onto the small ring. Rather than stop I just gutted it out and pushed through the first hill.

Big mistake.

By the time I got to the base of the second hill, I was still feeling the affects of the first, and as I climbed, I got so tired and out of breath that I had to stop. I played with the bike to force it into the lower ring and took off again. And that's when I noticed I was feeling light headed. I've been feeling it every once in a while since we got back from the trip, but this was pronounced; I was literally seeing stars, and feeling hot. So again I pulled over, drank almost all the rest of my Gatorade and tried to cool down. After a few minutes I again got on the bike, now in my easiest gearing and started back up the hill.

There are several plateaus in this almost mile long hill and it was on the last of these plateaus that I really thought I was going to pass out. My heart was racing, my breathing ragged, and the lightheaded-ness that would dissipate when I sat down would come back the second I stood up. I could literally see the top of the hill and hear the other riders cheering as they reached it. I knew I could probably reach the top of the hill, and take the mostly downhill course beyond and keep going for a while. I also knew that when I came back around I'd be in this same place again, with even less energy, and the lightness in my head was not going away. I decided then that I was going to call it a day before I felt worse.

The sad part is that all those reasons above are basically bullshit because Rach had all those same experiences, except the sleep apnea, and still finished. And she's fighting a viral infection to boot. This whole day tells me I'm going to have to be a lot smarter, a lot tougher, and a lot more prepared for Timberman just a month from now. This is my first DNF, and I am NOT HAPPY about it. As the day has progressed, I've gone from depressed to angry.

Tomorrow, I'll tell you how I'm going to focus that anger and disappointment into something that will help me be ready for Timberman.


  1. Ben,

    You did not give up. Your body was not prepared for this race. That is not to say, you are not going to be prepared for Timberman. Take the lessons you learned today. All last week when I was reading your honeymoon blog, I was thinking "How will he be prepared for his Olympic distance race?" Your body had so many days off and then was expected to work for 3 to 4 hours non-stop. You know the taper before the race is just as important, but that means rest and short intense work-outs.

    I too have sleep apnea and know I must use my machine every single night.

    Your body was telling you to stop and you did. Had you kept going, I fear you would not be writing this blog tonight. Keep fighting the fight.

    I will be at Timberman doing the sprint but am staying around to cheer on other Team Comp members in the 70.3. I will be there for you to cheer as well.

    I am so thankful you are ok and will live to see this through another time.

    Best regards,


  2. Ben,
    Everyone has those days and the best thing you can do is really to live to fight another day. I've got sleep apnea as well and although I lost a lot of weight and had a surgery to try to prevent it I still have to sleep with a CPAP. Getting good rest is important and I know you'll learn from today. Your honeymoon was a special time, there will be other tri's before you have the chance to go tour Europe again.

    Harness your energy and dig in for some good training and you'll rock at Timberman. Good Luck, D

  3. Hi Ben, I've ridden with you and know you're not a quitter. This was just not your day for your body's best performance. I saw so many red flags in your post above about the sleep, nutrition, and general preparedness going into this race. You saw them first, and know how to fix them. It's just a matter of time and focus. I know you'll do it.

    Rest up, reflect, but don't beat yourself any longer. You can and will rise above this DNF and turn it into a low-point that you can look down over on another, better day.

    Keep fighting and know we're cheering you on, -Sunny

  4. you continue to be a great strength and support to all your twriends on the #triathlon trend. You have been extremely motivating and encouraging when I don't feel like training. Its simple---yesterdays gone, tomorrow you begin again! :) Keep diggin!

  5. I know a DNF is hard to take but you did the right thing. Your health if more important than any race. Sometimes the body lets you down and you just have to go with it. Right now I am restricted from running because of health. Listening to the body is a very important thing and shutting it down to prevent things from being worse is very smart. I know things are going to improve for you!

  6. Like I said yesterday, I would rather you DNF and be there to cheer me on and go post-race swimming with me, than for you to not DNF and have to go to the hospital. I loves you!

  7. No worries man, you'll be ready for the next one! I see you go through all this, and wish I could be doing these things. (In reality I could if I could convince my wife I'll be fine, but she's worried I blow c6, c7 again, and worse). In the end, i suppose its better to hang up my shoes. :(

    So you put this behind you, and set your sites forward. You got it in you...

  8. John - Thanks a ton! I read your race recap and was so glad to see you have success! That's a great time. You know... a sub 4 hour olympic means you should be able to finish a 70.3 under time... just saying...

    Derek - I avoided the surgery because they told me it's rarely successful. I sleep pretty well with my mask. It's become a 'binky' even. I just can't believe I didn't remember it. I think there was some significant oxygen debt in my muscles as part of what was wrong.

    Sunny - Oh captain, my captain... thanks for the words of encouragement. I'm really going to keep working and you're right; I know what to do and how to do it in order to turn this all around in time for the next race. I have time and the plan, and I'm going to execute. Thanks for being a good leader.

    Coutnee - thanks doll! I appreciate the kind words immensely. We're going to as you said yesterday "break 'em off somethin fierce!" at the race next month. This is going to become the motivator I need to push myself through Timberman.

    Ryan - Thanks dude. If you're careful you can do anything. Maybe there's some sport you can get into that won't kill your back. Talk to your doc. I know how much you miss running. Like I said, I LOVE walking.

  9. Barb - Somehow I missed your post in there. You're absolutely right on all counts, and I already am feeling more soundness in my decision.