Race Report, Triathlon

Mountain Man Triathlon Race Report: Caryn Anson, July 2018

Mountain Man Triathlon uses the tagline, “The Toughest Race You’ll Ever Love.”  It takes place in Flagstaff, Arizona, elevation 7,000 feet.  There is a 787 foot climb on the bike, and a 322 foot climb on the run.  Mountain Man offers several distances; sprint, Olympic, and 70.3.  On July 9th, I did the Olympic distance; 1500 meter swim, 24.8 mile bike, 10K run.

MT_Man_swimMountain Man was my favorite race last year. Whenever I do a race I’ve done before, my goal is to beat my previous time. I’ve worked very hard with expert coaching from Renee Hodges at Foundation Physical Therapy. I believe I was capable of beating last year’s time. I’ve ridden much farther than that distance, including hill work, I have swum in open water about six weeks in a row leading up to the race.  My running has been limited due to an injury.  I knew I would run/walk, but didn’t expect to struggle with the swim or bike.  Unfortunately,  I had a panic attack in the water almost immediately. I couldn’t breathe the entire time. I know it’s 7,000 feet, but it was the same elevation last year, and I swam well. This swim was a disaster.  Even in my state of panic, I could recognize the water was nice, perfect temperature, and not too choppy.  I  never felt I could get my heart rate or breathing MT_Man_bikeunder control the entire race.

It should be noted that panic attacks in open water have nothing to do with one’s ability to swim.  I am not alone.  Many proficient swimmers have had panic attacks in the open water.  I was on swim team from ages 5-13.  I am an American Red Cross certified lifeguard, swim instructor, and swim coach.  I’ve taught hundreds of people to swim.  Give me water I can see through with a black line at the bottom and I’ll swim all day long. I first began doing open water triathlons in 2015, and that is when I had my first OWS panic attack.  I went to a sports psychologist.  She helped me tremendously, by giving me skills to avoid the attack, and push it away if it occurs.  I have been successfully swimming in open water for two-and-a-half years now.  I did not expect this to happen again, but it did.

I had a problem with my chain dropping early on the bike. I resolved it, but couldn’t get back on my bike because I was stopped on an uphill.  I had to walk my bike, making several attempts to get back on.  Finally at the top of the hill I got back in the saddle.  I never felt like I could get a full breath.  I was no longer panicking, but my breathing was shallow and labored. MT_Man_run

By the time I started the run, I was pretty much out of steam.   Still not able to get my heart rate and breathing under control, I walked the majority of the run.  In case my day wasn’t bad enough, I fell on the asphalt less than a mile from the finish.

Family and friends have reminded me to cut myself some slack.  My family has been through a lot of hardship for at least half a year. The emotional drain of the past seven months has to take a physical toll on my body. I’m sure that’s true, but working out hard is a great stress relief for me. Doing activities I enjoy makes life seem normal, even in the midst of chaos and uncertainty. The two best things I did at Mountain Man were starting and finishing.  Time to reflect, learn, and move on to the next race.

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