September 8, 2019
I’m sitting at the edge of the pool deck at the Bethlehem YMCA, with my feet dangling in the water. It’s 8:00am. Piled next to me is my yellow mesh bag of swim toys, a kickboard with today’s workout moistened to its surface, my cap and goggles, and a plastic QT2 sports bottle filled with lemon lime Skratch. “Get in!” I tell myself repeatedly. “The sooner you get started, the sooner you’ll be done.” It takes me a full twenty minutes before I reluctantly take the plunge and begin my warm up. Welcome to my 2019 triathlon season.
I often wonder what drives this crazy passion of mine. Nine Ironman races in nine years was never my original intent, but this ultra-endurance lifestyle quickly took ahold of me and pulled me into a direction I never intended on going. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I’m honestly not sure it’s as healthy as most people think it is. . .for me, anyway. This season would serve as a reality check.
At the age of 58 I’m not seeing many PR’s so my training and racing goals for 2019 focused on implementing little changes that could ultimately add up to faster times. I was determined to eat clean(er), wake up my lazy glutes, and do whatever it would take to train and race in a happy state of mind. I attended countless “Get FAST” evening swim sessions with Kevin Kearney’s constant encouragement, but most of my swimming was done solo. The majority of my cycling workouts were done in our newly refinished basement on my CycleOps smart trainer, negotiating the mountainous streets of Watopia, while watching HGTV and listening to my favorite playlists booming from high quality bluetooth speakers. Despite all the teasing I got from my cyclist friends, I can say, with confidence, that riding indoors did NOT hurt my power numbers! Conversely, most of my running was done outside. I won’t sugarcoat how much I absolutely hated going for a t-run in fifteen degree weather after sweating my ass off during a three to four ride. . .but I got it done. In fact, I rarely missed a workout.
My triathlon world was progressing perfectly throughout the winter and into early spring. I was feeling confident, strong, and happy. I was highly motivated and super excited to test my fitness.
2019 Season Progression:
Delmar Dash, 5 miles, April 7th - AG 3rd, 39:49
This is a local race that starts and ends at Bethlehem Middle School. I was seven seconds faster than the previous year, but felt much better at the finish. I had no aches or pains and was happy to be running pain-free!
Helderberg to Hudson Half Marathon, 13.1 miles, April 13th - 1:56:14, AG 7th out of 75
This is a beautiful run along the Albany County Helderberg-Hudson Rail Trail, which boasts a net elevation loss of 500 feet. I was exactly where I wanted to be until mile 8-9, when I just couldn’t maintain my 8:20 goal pace. I think I was under-fueled and will remember to carry more of my own Skratch next time. Nuun sucks.
Ironman Virginia 70.3 (Williamsburg), May 5th : DNF
This race had been on my bucket list for a while and I was super excited to finally get a crack at it. Unfortunately, a week prior to “go time” I developed a high hamstring pull which would eventually force me to drop out after the bike leg. It wasn’t worth the risk of turning a little niggle into a big nasty issue this early in the season, so under the advisement of my coach. . .I quit. That was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done in racing and left me with a strong sense of frustration. I had PR’d both the swim (31:46) and bike (2:34:35) and was leading my age group by more than seven minutes prior to the run. On the plus side, I really enjoyed this venue, the town of Williamsburg AND the loooong drive to Virginia. Ironically, my hamstring injury healed just as quickly as it developed, so I guess this proved to be a good lesson on how important it is to listen to an aging body.
Tour of Battenkill, 75 miles, 5000+ ft of elevation, May 11th - 5:00:00, AG 3rd of 16
I made it very clear to Stan (my QT2 training buddy) that we would not be “racing” this course, but instead, getting in a fun day of riding on dirt roads with plenty of elevation. We didn’t dilly dally, but did stop a few times along the way for a dropped chain (someone needs to learn how to ride a bike) and two aid stations. I found both the dirt roads and inclines more manageable this year than in previous years, and would definitely recommend this ride to anyone looking for a fun early season challenge.
Escape the Cape, Olympic Distance, June 2nd - 2:21:11, AG 1st, Masters Division 1st
When Christine McKnight asked me back in November if I’d be her traveling companion for this race in Cape May, NJ, I instantly agreed. There were so many things about this venue that I found appealing. . . jumping off the end of a ferry, swimming in the ocean, getting outside my wheelhouse by doing an Olympic distance, AND spending quality time with one of my favorite people. The initial jump was no joke! In fact, it took me at least one hundred yards to calm my breath and put my face in the water! The bike was fast and fun. The run had quite a few sections where we were doing a death march through sandy dunes, dodging horseshoe crabs (I believe it was mating season). I smiled from start to finish!
Patriot 70.3, June 15th - 5:22:01, AG 1st out of 21
I love this race! And although my daughter got married Friday evening in Delmar, NY, I still made it to East Freetown, Massachusetts for a 7:00am Saturday morning race start. I, honestly, don’t have much recollection of the race itself. I swam, biked, ran, ate, and smiled.
Musselman 70.3, July 14th - 5:30:21, AG 1st out of 15
This was my 6th consecutive year doing this race. I’m proud to report that I did not get any penalties. What I DID get was a bottle of wine, a jar of organic hazelnut spread, and a torn meniscus and baker’s cyst.
I’ll be honest, the next eight weeks of training, which were critical for a successful IMWI, would prove to be some of the most challenging of my triathlon career. I tried my best to stay positive and in control of the things I still had control over, but I felt so defeated. This was my third running injury of the season. What was I doing wrong? It’s hard not to get a little angry at a body that continually lets you down. I managed to maintain a strong outward smile, but inside, I was struggling. I was going through the motions but was feeling absolutely no satisfaction or joy from the process. For the first time EVER, completing workouts had become a dreaded chore and I was in desperate search for some creativity, accountability and motivation. Maybe I just needed a good kick in the ass. . .but it wasn’t there. Although I was sleeping well, I was constantly exhausted and cranky. I even made an appointment with my doctor to have blood work done. I just didn't feel like me! In an effort to remove some of the triathlon “noise” from my life, I stayed away from Facebook, resigned from the Board of the Bethlehem Tri Club, and remained keenly focused on my own athletes. I knew I wasn’t in a good place but didn’t know how to fix my knee or my attitude. I developed a greater understanding of what it must feel like to experience depression. This is heavy stuff and probably not something you’d see posted on a FB highlight reel, but I’m not going to apologize. It’s an important part of my triathlon journey and illustrates some of the less than healthy aspects of this sport. . .exercise addiction, overtraining, and mental burnout.
Ironman Wisconsin, September 8th - 12:52:19, AG 2nd out of 38
I didn’t start to get excited about this Ironman until I arrived at the airport in Madison, Wisconsin, three days before the race. In a moment of clarity, I decided it was time to show some gratitude towards a body that has had some huge demands placed on it throughout the past nine years. I vowed that I would not do anything that would compromise my health in an attempt to get back to the Big Island. I would hope for the best, knowing my swimming and cycling were in a good place, but would accept, with an open heart, whatever my body was able to deliver on the run. I was optimistic that, because my running legs were well rested, I might actually surprise myself. Suddenly, I couldn’t wait to take the plunge into Lake Monona!
There’s nothing quite as exciting and scary as the start of a full Ironman race. . .the body marking, the music, the last minute announcements, and all those tapered bodies with their wetsuits zipped and caps in place, waiting for their turn to enter the water. The swim corrals filled quickly and I couldn’t budge my way through the crowd to be even remotely close to my self-seated swim start time, so I was forced to place myself somewhere in the middle of the pack. That wasn’t how I wanted to start my day, but I told myself I was exactly where I was meant to be. It was a very choppy swim, but aside from one hard smack to the back of my head, it was fairly uneventful. My swim time was 1:12:22. Not my fastest, but considering I was swimming in zig zags. . .I’ll take it!
I love this lollypop two-loop bike course! It’s technical, rolling, and farm country beautiful. I was perfectly dressed wearing my QT2 kit with arm sleeves, an old T3 vest, wool socks, and toe covers, and having so much fun shouting “On your left!” throughout the entire 112 mile bike course. Just my luck that I developed a little saddle sore five days before the race. I remember reaching mile 85 and feeling every single insignificant bump in the road. As I dismounted my bike at the top of the spiral helix, I was soooo ready to be off that saddle! It took me 5:51:29 to complete this leg, however, the time was completely insignificant, as you never really know how you’re doing until you look at your results after crossing the finish line. I never track time or create time goals while I’m racing. I just knew I had fueled well and had done everything I could to set myself up for a strong run.
It usually takes me about ten minutes before I start to feel a rhythm to my run. I was cautious and patient, eating my banana while heading out through the city of Madison. I opted to keep my vest and sleeves on, knowing I could be out there until the wee hours of the night. I even put a headlamp in my special needs bag! The funny thing is, all evening long spectators were shouting “Go T3 Coaching!” I haven’t been coached by T3 in five years but I knew I could ditch the vest if I got warm without any regret.
It wasn’t until I got to the fifth or sixth mile mark that I started to feel the familiar sharp pain in my left knee. Honestly, I was delighted that I got that far, but knew it was time to transition to “Plan B,” alternating a fast walk with a conservative run. Each time I started running again, the pain became progressively worse until I decided “Plan C” was eminent. At mile nine I was power walking and maintaining a 14:00 min/mile pace. I did the math and knew I could easily finish before midnight, so with a huge smile on my face I had resigned myself to the fact that I would be walking the final 18 miles of my 2019 season. This would not be a Kona qualifier, and as competitive as I’ve become in the past nine years, I was strangely at peace with that.
Let me just say that power walking is NO JOKE! It is tough on the hips, quads, calves, and hamstrings PLUS I don’t train to power walk. Not only did I still feel the sharp pain in my knee, but every muscle in my body was on fire! Every once in a while I would get well-meaning comments from spectators, encouraging me to start running. Or they’d just look at me sympathetically and say nothing at all. I know they felt worse for me than I felt for myself. I was smiling, waving, encouraging other athletes, fueling, thanking volunteers, and posing for the photographers. I was even passing “runners” who would speed past me, only to resume their death march ten feet later as they progressed towards the finish line. I was going to complete my ninth Ironman!!
As I approached the State Capitol Building I was able to fake my way into a pathetic jog. It hurt, but I could hear the excitement of the finish line, the booming voice of Mike Reilly, and finally, “Frances Vincent of Slingerlands, New York. . .YOU are an Ironman!!”
Hell yeah! This crazy, beautiful, lonely, wonderful, long, disappointing, Plan C-type of day was finally over. . .and it took me 12:52:19 to get it done. I was shocked as hell to come in under thirteen hours. I had shoved a headlamp in my back pocket at special needs and I was fully convinced that I would be using it on the dark back streets of Madison! Vinny hugged me tightly and with a laugh in his voice asked me if I had any idea what I had just done. I didn’t even know what he was talking about. What I just did? Well, yeah. . .I just limped my way through eighteen miles of a marathon. I’ve never done THAT before! He quickly took out the IM tracker and showed me that I had finished second in my age group. He had wanted so badly to let me know that I was leading my age group for most of the race and that all I had to do was to maintain a 12:30-13:00min/mile pace to win, but he honored my request of NEVER sharing online race data with me while I’m in the thick of a race. To me, being given that type of information seems like outside assistance and feels like cheating.
Not by choice, but I feel like this was the best possible outcome to a tumultuous season in so many ways. Although this should have been an easy race to grab a Kona slot, clearly, it wasn’t meant to be. Instead, I’ve been blessed with time to heal, an opportunity to focus on my growing family, and permission to “soft pedal” for a little while before making any decisions about where my next adventures will pull me. I’ll use the next three months to coast a little with no power meter, heart rate monitor, or time constraints. I’ll allow myself the novelty of waking up and deciding what I want to do, based on the weather, my body. . .and my puppy.
Sometimes life makes decisions for us that we are incapable of making for ourselves. . .and for that, I am grateful.