Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Post Race (Across Oregon) Depression

I read about people getting down on themselves after competing in an Ironman. The newly depressed competitors had put all of their time and effort for months into achieving this goal, and once it's gone, they feel empty.

I had never experienced this.

Until now.

After my first Ironman, I had my wedding to look forward to. Then after the wedding, another Ironman. Then after that, RAO.

I have an exciting year at my dream grad school ahead of me now--one that will include competing in collegiate triathlon. This is my next big thing to look forward to.

But lately, I have been bummed. Super bummed.

I have never, ever quit a race before once I started (save for 1 xterra that I started with a broken foot. I didn't run). I have raced injured and sick, and I always made it to the finish line, often in good time.

Perhaps I had been setting my athletic goals too low, if they were always so easily achievable. But it has been haunting me that I dropped out of RAO with 141 miles to go and 14 hours in which to do it. Totally doable.

However my brain had never been asked to exercise for 48 hours straight, and at about 29 hours into RAO, it started to crack. I finally understood that it is entirely possible to fall asleep while riding my bike.

After a 30-minute "nap" that constituted laying down in the minivan around mile 310 while my crew sat by a creek and was subsequently eaten alive by mosquitoes (even while peeing...butt bites!), I decided I'd make it to the next aid station, then take a real nap.

I took a 5-hour energy, which did nada. "Oh shit!" I thought. (Only later did I realize there's no caffeine in normal 5-hour energys. D'oh.)

Close to 11am, I pulled into the Spray check point. It took me what seemed like (and was) an eternity to cover the downhill-sloped rollers to Spray. When I arrived, we checked in, parked the minivan under a tree, changed my clothes (yes, "we" changed my clothes. I couldn't do it alone.), and I lay back down in the minivan. For almost 2 hours.

I wish I could say I slept, but I'm not good at sleeping. And I had never considered that strategic napping was something a 48-hour racer should seriously consider.

My competitors started to trickle in.

My crew didn't know what to say to me at this point. I verbally bashed my Silver Bullet, who had been nothing but nice to me throughout the entire ride--I had no saddle sores whatsoever. I said he had a fat ass.

Finally, after my crew shoved ice down my pants and strung some more ice in a t-shirt around my neck, I climbed back on. My shoulders hurt more than any other body part.

My stiff knees took a few miles to warm up again, but they got into a nice rhythm. Other crews had weed-sprayers filled with water and doused me. I'd have rather jumped into the beautiful river to my left.

Then the sustained climbing began again.

I went one mile up the mountain. My legs stopped.

"I'm done." I told my crew.

"What!? You're hauling! Keep it up. Come on, let's make it to the next check point." I glared at them, then went another mile. My legs stopped.

"I don't want to climb another inch."

"What!? You're hauling! Keep it up. Come on, let's make it to mile 400!" I glared at them, then went another mile. My legs stopped.

""Why did you stop? You're hauling! Keep it up. Come on, let's make it to the top of this climb!"

"I don't give a shiz about this climb any more. Or mile 400. I'm gonna pass out."

Coachubby and my crew didn't know what to do. We stood there. My competitors slugged by. I was baking. My brain needed sleep and was trying to shut all systems down against my will. My legs were trying to keep going, but the Big Kahuna was continually trying to off them, cutting their power supply.

I had terrible asthma--excercise asthma that is induced only, it seems, after over 28 straight hours of exercise. I wonder how many people have this kind of exercise asthma and will never know it. I took several puffs of the emergency inhaler I picked up after experiencing the "tube breathing" phenomenon during the Eastern Sierra double.

I was coughing meaty, gross coughs. Like coughing up a lung. Who knows, maybe I was.

Finally, I came to a stop next to a mile marker.

"This is 376 miles into the ride, right?"
"Yes," said my crew.
"What about 400?"
"I couldn't care less."
"I just don't want you to hate yourself later. I want you to know that even coming this far is an amazing accomplishment, you know that, right? We're behind you and proud of you whatever you want to do," said coachubby.

I handed him the Bullet.

And now, almost 3 weeks later, I hate myself for having done that.

Coachubby knows me too well.

This, too, shall pass. Soon, I hope. Being depressed is a motivational death sentence.This is why I haven't been blogging much recently. (Well, that, and coachubby and I had an awesome vacation driving down Highway 1 from Oregon back to LA the week after the race!)

So there you have it--the RAO race report sans the middle, which will come soon. The middle 240 miles were the absolute best ever. Heavenly cycling.


  1. Erin - you're gonna get a looong pep talk email from me shortly, but here's a quick message! Hang in there - you have NOTHING to be ashamed of!!!! What you did was a HUGE accomplishment! But I do know how you feel - that was the first event I've ever DNFd too, and I've certainly questioned myself and why I was so "weak". But like a friend of Mike's told me - well at least you got your "first" out of the way - now it's history and you never have to worry about it again! Remember how you texted me the next day and said you'd come back next year if I would - well I'm already plotting revenge on that stinkin' course!! Try to channel this negative energy towards a new goal. Your enthusiasm and energy are contagious, so I hope you can get past this and get back to your spunky self soon! And never forget - you ROCK!!!! :)

  2. You're the greatest friend and ultracycling diva ever! Thank you Ms. (soon to be Mrs.!!!) Joan!

  3. Erin
    You tried something new and challenged yourself. That's what counts. It's the process, not the final results that's important. Now you're ready for a new adventure in grad school (not too shabby a place either!) and hopefully won't have to go without sleep for such extreme periods. You'll be ready though!!! Aunt Kath

  4. Thanks Kathy! I'll stay on top of things so I don't end up pulling any all-nighters :)

  5. Hi Erin - Hey, this was a TOUGH race. You went to the edge, looked over, measured it up, and went for it. Most people don't ever get to the "looking over the edge" part.

    Don't look back on your decision to stop when you did. You don't, won't, can't know how it would've turned out if you'd kept going.

    Ever been VO2 max tested? You know how you get to the point of failure, crap out, stop, BREATHE again, and then start second-guessing...I woulda-coulda-shoulda hung in there a few more seconds/one more stage?? Truth is, max is max - you can do the test over and over again and you have to stop there. This is a lot the same. As soon as the stress of doing the race is removed, you start feeling better, like you could've kept going. But chances are that if you took that many opportunities to keep going, and then quit, you were really maxed out and smart to quit.

    Conditions were bad, and then they deteriorated, and then they went all to he** - it was almost a perfect storm.

    You've lived to race again. See to it that you do. And don't wait too long - you're going to be good at this. I can tell. - Sandy

  6. Thank you, Sandy! You're absolutely mentally and physically amazing. :) I know how I felt when I stopped, and I know I couldn't have gone any farther. Writing this post was cathartic. I'm beginning to get excited about the next time I see how far I can get!

  7. It's always about training your body to go farther...always pushing the limits. You went farther than you ever have before, and you'll no doubt go farther the next time. You have to look at how far you've come from 1 year ago when your longest ride was only 120 miles. Now it's 376!!! That's 256 miles longer than your longest ride last year! If you look at it that way, I'd say you're on a fast track to dominating that RAO course =)

  8. Merci. I am officially happy again. :D

  9. Erin,

    Remember that crazy-tough double century you pulled through back in June? The Eastern Sierra Double? That was my first DNF of a ride longer than 150 miles. I've done 11 doubles, one triple century and the HooDoo 500. I've suffered plenty, and always managed to finish. Until that miserable 34 degrees and snowing weather out in the middle of nowhere. The fact that you finished that, especially after huddling in a freakin' ditch with Robyn for an hour is simply amazing. The fact that you made it as far as you did at RAO is simply amazing. The fact that anyone was able to cope with those conditions amazes me...

    You can only wallow in misery for so long before your brain screams "Enough already!". With more experience, you'll lose those brain cells that beg for mercy... Then you can suffer for DAYS on end!!! Just think of the "fun" you'll be able to have then! =)

  10. Hahaha. So that's the key--I'll fry a few hundred brain cells with every ultra until there are no self-regulating ones left! :D

    I can't believe you've done that many ultra rides!

  11. That explains a thing or two - that's why I got further into the ride than you Erin - I've lost more brain cells by doing more ultras!! ;) (I've done 23 doubles, 2 triples, a 24hr event, a 12hr event, Furnace Creek 508, and 457miles of RAO....) That, and I'm older than you, so have fewer brain cells to begin with. That also helps to explain why Karen and Sandy got the furthest - they're both older than us with more experience, and have hence lost even more brain cells!!! Lol! :) I'm sure we both lost many more brain cells out there this year (they were either cooked in the heat or blown out by the wind), so that means we should be able to finish next time! But seriously Erin - the fact that you only did your FIRST double this year, and yet attempted RAO - that's impressive!!

  12. Holy crap! I had no idea you'd done even more than Mike! He has some catching up to do :) That is ridiculous! Plus ironmans on top of that! You're a machine!

  13. IMO the most common misconception in endurance sports is that the point is to finish. It is not. Finishing is only the goal. Nietzche said, "...if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you." That is truly the point of endurance sports. You are not battling a course or a field of competitors. In reality, you are battling only yourself. You are seeking to find your limits, your weaknesses, your inner demons; and fighting to overcome them. You are trying to define your world, rather than let the world define you. I would argue that those who have never failed to achieve their goal are not setting their goals high enough. You cannot find your limits if you never fail. You can never learn the truth about your heart until you stare into the abyss and find yourself staring back. Failure is not defeat. Failure is a necessary step toward growth. Nietsche also said, "No price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself." Yes, it sucks to fail. It is painful to admit that you are beaten. But you have learned something valuable about yourself. Something that most people will never know. And now you can seek to grow and improve. Use that knowledge in your racing, in school, in your relationships and in your life. You've lived to fight another day. You only really lose if you stop trying, not in any one event, but in life. That race is never really over.

  14. That was beautifully said, Joe. I should write depressing posts more often, because the real gems are all of the thoughtful, encouraging, and inspirational comments that follow!

    I hope you're having a great summer! And thank you for this! I'm writing down your quote for the next time I feel defeated.