Yesterday I completed the inaugural Carolina Half (70.3), it was my fourth half Ironman distance race. I usually give a regular ole race report about the course and things I experienced during the race, but this past week was definitely a character building week, with the race being my test…and ultimate graduation moment. Here’s the story:
On Monday my grandmother passed away. It was something that I’d started preparing myself for because her health declined rapidly over the last three weeks. However, once I got the phone call I realized that the death of my Nanny was something I really didn’t know how to prepare for. So the news was shocking…and sad…and rather unbelievable. And selfishly….bad timing. I am not going to be able to do this race. All this time and effort put into training, and I’m going to miss my race! 😦 And that was that…I’d settled it in my mind that it was what it was, and I was heading home to bury my grandmother and console my mother.
Monday evening I had a conversation with a friend of mine. He said to me, “you will regret your decision…I think you should race.” For a moment I thought that was the most selfish thing I could ever consider doing, until he explained that life goes on and that racing was something that my grandmother would want me to do. And…he was right. I could actually hear her in my head saying “Chelle…sweetheart I am dead and gone, finish your race.” Funny how messages are delivered to you, huh?
So I began the process of figuring out how this could all be done. How could I get to Cincinnati, Ohio and back in time to race? When were the services? What would my mother think when I told her that I still wanted to race? How could I ask her to have the funeral as quickly as possible to accommodate me? How was I going to get to Cincinnati? How was I going to pay for everything? It was crazy. Oh, I forgot to mention that in January I was laid off from my job of almost 12 years. The stress that builds over months and months of unemployment can really wear and tear on a person….and make them incredibly BROKE! Nonetheless, through all of this mess, I realized that I had little angels presenting themselves to me…directing me to this ultimate test and graduation.
On Tuesday my mom calls to tell me that the funeral would be held on Friday…cool. That will allow me to get back early on Saturday so that I can prepare and get rested. My dear friend offers to buy me a plane ticket so that I didn’t have to drive and could get back quickly. It was an amazingly sweet gesture. I was departing on Thursday morning, coming back on Saturday morning first thing. I had to think about what I needed to pack and take home. I also had to get all of my race day stuff prepared. Washing clothes, writing list, mourning the loss of Nanny. I decided I was leaving on Thursday because I was offered a part-time job that started on Wednesday, and needed to get orientation done before leaving. Also, I am a volunteer coach with Girls on the Run, and wanted to at least close the week out with them since we were only on week one. Wednesday was hectic! I’d put my car in the shop on Tuesday anticipating having to drive to Cincinnati, and they kept it…so I was car-less on Wednesday. After my part-time was over I had to hike it down to the elementary school where I volunteer. When I go pick up the car, the repair bill was twice as much. GRRRRR! Then to top it all off, when I got home I realized that in the midst of all this “shit”, I’d forgotten to pay Duke Energy who does not play, evident by the fact that I was sitting in the dark.
WHAT THE WHAT THE WHAT!!!!!!!!!!! I felt as though I was in some bad dream. And emotionally I felt like I was going to explode…like literally. My body felt like there was so much pressure building inside, that I really was unable to take it.
I got Duke paid, they finally come turn the lights back on…about midnight. At which time I finished packing and preparing for a 9:30am flight. Once home, it wasn’t easy. We had to go view the body, and seeing my Nanny lying there breathless increased that pressure inside. Friday was the funeral…which was nice, really nice actually. It kind of brought about a sense of calm in me, because she went the way she wanted…and had the home-going service that she specified.
Saturday morning…6AM flight. Time to get the mind right for this race. I was flying out of Dayton, Ohio which is about 45 minutes north of Cincinnati. I get up and hit the road, driving like a bat out of hell…drop off the rental car and get to the counter at 5:30am on the dot. Now…I know I was cutting it close, but…I had no checked baggage, this airport is small as my kitchen, and the flight had plenty of seats. “Well ma’am….we close boarding 30 minutes prior”. OK…I get that…but in my many, many years of traveling experience, I know you can simply call the gate. Long story short….”Ma’am, you are in luck!! We have you booked on the next flight to Charlotte. It leaves here at 2:20pm and you will arrive in Charlotte at 6:30pm”.
LUCK? I had to sit in the airport for 9 hours…and then get home at 6:30pm to finish my race day preparation and try to get to bed at a decent hour. Oh. My. GOSH!! That feeling of internal combustion returned with a vengeance. So in the airport I sat. I got some things done on the laptop that needed doing. I talked to everyone who came and sat near me in the bar, all the while drinking water because I had to hydrate for the race. I watched College Gameday Morning. I was pissed.
6:15 we land in Charlotte. I high-tail it out, go pick up the dog, head to Inside Out Sports to get my race day fuel….its closed. UGH! They are the only place in Charlotte that I know of that sells eGel, my fuel of choice. And the number one rule in endurance events…do NOT try anything new on race day. So what was I going to do? I head over to Try Sports (my new part-time gig) and they hook me up with an assortment of goodies…as well as kind, encouraging words: “Shelly, you are going to be fine….don’t worry!!”
I get home at about 8:30. I stuff my face with some pasta. I recheck my list…everything is laid out properly. I pack it all up. I braid my hair. I get in the bed at 11pm. At 4am the alarm clock goes off…I jump up, stuff my face with more calories, load the bike in the car, grab all of my stuff and head to the race site.
This was the first point to point race that I have ever done, meaning that the start of the race and the finish of the race were in two different spots. That also means, two different transition areas. We had to go rack our bikes in one place, then set up our run gear in another. It was pretty hectic…and I must admit I do not like that format. Nonetheless, I get there and start unpacking my stuff…I rack my bike, lay out my gear and the worst image flashed before my eyes. It was the image of my wetsuit laying on my bed…at home….I’d forgotten it…and at that point I just lost it. What was I going to do??? I got myself together…kinda, and proceeded over to transition area 2. I set up my run gear, and walked to the bus to head back to the swim start. My mood was so foul. I was soooo ready to throw in the towel . In my head I was questioning if I heard the messages correctly, maybe I’d made the wrong decision, yada, yada.
So my friend Lucretia and I head down to the swim start…its was about a quarter-mile walk/run from the start to transition…YIKES! We take our shoes off, turn to head to the beach and she grabs my hands and says, “let’s pray”, she was like a little angel that showed up. I kid you not, the spirit moved. After she finished, it was like a huge load was lifted. I walked to the beach and saw another young lady standing there without a wetsuit and she says to me, “girl, we got this.” God was working y’all!
Gun goes off, and off we go. It seemed like the exit of the swim was never going to come. I am feeling everyone blow past me…wetsuits make you faster. But I just kept going, finally make to the last turn and start to head in. There were a couple of guys in kayaks around me, and one guys says, “hey….don’t swim way out like a lot of folks are doing, you will make your swim much longer. Head right for the floating buoy. But he didn’t stop there, he stayed right next to me on my left side and guided me towards the exit. There goes that angel again!
I hopped out the water, see my friends Meredith and Keri cheering me (so needed that!!) and up the hill I ran. Now its off to the bike. I ride out of the park and see my close friend Dr. B. Mad….Bengal Nation down!….she is there, cheering! We exchange “oo-oops!” and off I go. I am not going to bore you with the details of the rest of the course, but I will say this. It was the HARDEST COURSE I HAVE EVER DONE! And I mean…EVER! The hills on the bike course were bad enough, but then to add a ridiculously hilly run route…one that starts you off on a hill and has you end on a hill, was actually rather cruel. Its was CRAZY BANANA NUT TOWN! (as Dr. B. Mad would say!) This was the first time ever that I actually considered quitting in the middle of a race. At mile 6 of the run, while looking at a major incline, I was so over it. I had PLENTY of conversations with Nanny during that run!! And also with another really cool runner. We talked about the course and other stuff…but really we just kept each other encouraged to keep moving forward. I ended up ix-naying my run 5 minutes, walk 1 minute interval approach…the strategy quickly turned to walk up the hills and run down them. Finally see mile marker 12…right at the start of another very steep incline. I power walk up it, exhausted as all hell. Then at the top, I hear “Shelly is that you?” My girl Diane had walked out on the course. She says, “look…here is this one last hill, we are going to run up and then its all down hill to the finish” Yep….my eyes filled with tears. Yet ANOTHER angel! I found energy I didn’t think I had. Got up to the top of that hill and I saw the finish line. It really was all down hill from there.
My girls were there…Bilenda, Leslie, Denise (RYPENESS!!)…my boy Shimane was there….and Diane had run around the finish to meet me on the other side. I cannot really explain the emotion. It was sadness, it was relief, it was accomplishment…all rolled together. Diane says to me, “You’re the shit girl! Flat courses don’t build character. I know you have gone through a lot this week. But you did it!! You have more strength than you know, and I love you!”
That’s why I called it a graduation. In that moment, with everything that had been going on over the past few months….with the emotional week I’d had….I pushed through. And pushed through a course that everyone complained about. My Nanny sent me angels whenever she sensed I needed help. And once it was all said and done, I finished. Thank you Nanny!!! I LOVE YOU! And thank you each and every angel that contributed to this amazing accomplishment, you have special places in my heart.