Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Race Report: the drama of AG Nats 2014

Race Report: USAT AG Nationals Miluakee, WI August 2014 “America’s Dairyland”
(This recounting is all about me, my injury and my flat tire so don’t read it for course descriptions. That is a different race report.)

Carrie McCusker
PBM Coaching #coach #athlete

This story starts a few weeks before the race, at the last regular game of the ultimate summer league season in Cumberland. Long story short, lots of covering someone who loved to cut, and post-game noting that my left achilles and calf felt tweaked. This was quite concerning because as I’d been saying every time I showed up to play ultimate, “I am in really, really good shape right now so I can NOT get hurt”. Well, I was hurt. A little. So I iced it and rubbed it and decided that I’d just be ‘careful’. Two days later was the summer league tournament so after a 50 mile ride, I headed up to lace the cleats for the last time. I stayed smart, played moderately, nothing stupid. It was sore, but I adjusted my stride a little and kept at it. When the games ended I decided I was ok, it was going to heal, I’d be fine. Now, two weeks from race date and one week from local big 10K race date, I had a week of swimming, biking and just a little bit of running, including an evening of 400s on the track. Again, the achilles hurt when I started but felt better running. It hurt a lot after though, so I iced and hoped for the best. Included in the week was a ‘streaker’ party. Anyone who ran all 16 B2Bs and was signed up to run again was invited. We all joked how we would crawl the 10K if needed. I didn’t recognize this as foreshadowing.

My goal for the 10K was to go around a 6:50 pace. I’d been on a long road to getting some run speed back and was feeling great. 6:50 is not near a PR for the course, but it would be totally adequate if I reached that goal. I thought I could do it, and I had a plan that included picking up speed on the long downhill to mile 4.5. Everything was going as expected until I got to about 3.5, just at the start of the downhill when my left achilles and calf just seized up. In 30 years of racing I’d never had anything happen in a race and this one presented a mental conundrum. Should I stop? I had an important race the next weekend. But I had to finish, it was my 17th, the streak needed to live! I tried running on the heel, the side of the foot, the toe, hopping, jogging…nothing worked. The pain was intense. So I just kept going, at a slower jog, every step a sharp pain. I stopped pushing off the toe at all and it helped a little, enough that I could keep going forward. The whole time I was having these mental battles with myself. I crossed the finish line and went straight to the medical tent. Ice. Hobble. Get a ride home.

Now I had one week to my A race and I couldn’t walk on my left foot. I elevated. Iced. Arranged a series of visits with my PT and extraordinary friend Tim Davoren. I had three days before I flew out to do therapy. Tim did everything including bruising my entire calf, taping, ultrasound, scraping, reminding me of my mortality… To summarize this time with Tim, he did everything anyone could ever do to try and help me be able to shuffle the 10K of nationals. He even helped me pick two strategies for my stride that I should NOT do because I should NOT even be using it, but since he knows me better, he said they MIGHT work.

A note about me: I am stubborn. I know, hard to believe. Pain makes me want to go. If things get difficult, I get more focused. I am apt to work around an injury. Ask the doc’s at OA about cutting big breathing/sweat holes in my large cast when I badly fractured my radius. I tested a swim, it felt ok. I just couldn’t push off the wall. I tested a ride, easy spinning, and it felt ok. That was it. We had tickets, we had a Midwest road trip planned. Our kids were flying to MN for youth ultimate Nationals while we were flying to Milwaukee for triathlon, and then we would drive to watch their second day of play. I was going. Whether or not I could finish remained to be seen.

There are something like 3700 people at Nationals. It’s a scene. It’s a city. It takes a lot of walking to take care of getting your stuff, racking your bike, checking out the venue. I limped through it. Friday worked out well. The lines were not terrible, I was able to check in and get out to swim the course during the practice swim. The water was warm, the course was contained, I felt very good. I saw that there was a steep somewhat slippery ramp exit with a long, paved path to transition. That was concerning with my injury. I found my rack. It required quite a bit of barefoot jogging to get to. I racked my bike and we left the scene to go chill out, eat, ice the foot.

Race morning was easy. Short course racing doesn’t stress me out. Long course does, because I have to think about all of the fueling and hydration and what ifs. Short course is simple, you go, you hydrate a bit, you crank. The only worry I had was my achilles/calf. When I woke up I made a mental note that this was it. I had to test the leg. I put on some warm up running shoes and did a little dynamic warm up in my hotel room before heading out to the race venue. There was no more time to dwell on what-ifs. I got right in transition, set out my gear including socks (gasp) which I had to give myself a firm talking to about wearing because I knew the shoes I was wearing (heavy, cushiony) would rip my feet apart, and pumped up my tires. I used the little crack pipe as they called it to access the valve in my disc wheel. It was a little finicky but it seemed like I got the appropriate amount of air into the tire. (remember later, I did not get enough air!) We walked a little distance from the crazy scene and there were grassy stretches of lawn so I did a set of jogging/strides. I pushed the foot a little and it was ok. Of course this was a 10 second stride on grass, but still. I blocked out anything negative, pain, etc. and got ready to go race.

The weather was perfect. Sunny. Not too hot. I checked out the competition in my wave. At Nationals there is a lot! As is my custom, I got in the front section of the pack entering the corral and headed down onto the docks.

Nationals are fun because there are so many other women that are thinking along the same lines that I am. They want to crank. It was a ittle bit of a drag to stand there and know that I wasn’t going to be able to really go all out, but hey, I was there so it was what it was. The dj was playing tunes from the era of the athlete wave about to go. We got some Led Zeppelin which was decent. Then, a minute before the wave start they played this ominous sounding music that made you think of a horror movie, right before something bad happens. We sort of laughed, everyone found their spots and with the boom of the cannon we were off.

I’m used to getting hacked in the swim. I got hacked. Here is the evidence:

That’s me, just about in the center looking like I’m squeezed out from the two people slightly in front of me and on my sides, because I was! They converged and I had nowhere to go.

It was ok, I just chilled out with some feet in front and got in the groove. Soon I was at the ramp and hobbling up and onto the path. It felt like I was jogging, a little crooked, but I knew this was the plan so I just let it unwind. I made it to the bike without any terrible pain and I was off.

The bike was uneventful at first. The course, after leaving the main area, is boring. The roads are flat and there is a neighborhood with very little to look at that seems to go on for a while. The rest is a lane of a major highway. I was passing people like crazy and I wasn’t really cranking. In retrospect, it seems there was potential to go harder. Anyway, on I went until somewhere around mile 21- pop- ssssss- my back tire was flat. I’d literally hit a tiny divet. What? This is where the mental game got interesting. First it was swearing and shock. There was the lamentation that this was not fair- here I was with an injury and now a flat? There was this desire for it to just go away. Then there was the process of trying to figure out what to do while berating myself for not carrying a tube. It went something like, “Stupid. Why didn’t you just carry a tube? Because, it’s a new wheel and it would take me 20 min to change. You don’t know that! You never tried! Yea, but who cares, it would be long enough that my time would be so bad what would be the point. Maybe someone can loan me a tube. Yea right, would YOU loan someone in a tube in the last few miles of the nationals bike course? No….”
At this point I start watching people flying by me while I soft pedaled. I kind of asked a guy if I could have his tube and of course he didn’t even look at me. I was invisible. People were at Nationals! So then I kept pedaling and started to think maybe I could just keep going carefully and make it back. That was a long couple of miles wondering if something bad was going to happen or if I’d make it. There was one big climb up the bridge with a spectacular view of Lake Michigan, and then a descent down the other side and into transition. I could see the tents in the distance. Maybe I could make it! I rolled the final stretch, there was one right hand turn and I felt my back wheel slide against the pavement but I caught myself, jumped off and headed into transition. A guy saw me right before dismounting and yelled, “You have a flat!” Um, yea, right you are.

Anyway, transition was fine, I pulled on the granny shoes and set off at a very painful gait. Now since writing this report , I’ve raced again on the bum leg. The achilles still hurts. But in my recent race I felt fantastic- great energy even though my gait was affected. At Nationals, I felt terrible. Breathing was bad. It was all a struggle. The shoes felt heavy. My stride was gone to hell. I just kept going. I mean that was it, keep going; 6.2 miles of wondering if I’d pull something, end up walking, severely damage myself. The exciting moment was seeing Tom after mile 1 and telling him about my flat. It was too crazy. I had a flat! I’ve never had a flat in a race and it had to happen here! Argh.

I hate to say it but some strong women in my AG passed me in that last 2 miles of misery. A lot of them actually. There was nothing to be done about it. So when I came down the final stretch and crossed the finish line, I was just in awe that a week after a somewhat crippling injury, there was a finisher's medal around my neck. We laughed it off. I was just happy to have been able to finish.

That’s not really true though. I was pissed that I got a flat and quite frankly, racing at the nationals when you could be playing with the big dogs but instead have an injury, sucks. I made the best of it, took my spot to Chicago Worlds in 2015, but none of it was easy. I told myself I’d be happy to finish. But I really wasn’t entirely. I didn’t like being 15th.

OK, that’s not a pleasant sounding ending. I WAS happy to be done. The spot to Chicago was a thumbs up. My main man and I were off to drink a margarita and road trip to MN, and the sun was out. My ankle was the size of a grapefruit and squishy with fluid and I didn’t care.


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