Puerto Rico 70.3 2015 Race Report
I got two hands, one beating heart, and I’ll be alright, I’m gonna be alright. (Ingrid Michaelson)
I have spent enough time wrestling over the idea of whether or not I should write a race report for a race that the casual observer would think was nothing extraordinary. In fact, on paper the swim, bike and run splits look kind of lousy for a professional. However there is one thing that went VERY right which my overall finish time does not show…and that is my mental state leading up to the moment the cannon went off.
Foof has been bugging me for weeks now: “will you just write the damn report?!?” Why should I write a race report for a race result that was pretty lame? I am not one of the well-known professional triathletes. I am Kate Bruck…I mean, how many people (besides my family, and closest friends) actually READ my race reports? Why would the random passer-by of my website even care to click on the link for this report? These are all questions that have passed through my mind in thinking about what I could write to describe my 2015 Puerto Rico 70.3 race. What I realize is that not all race reports need to go over the minute details of the actual race execution by the athlete in order to be interesting, or more importantly, useful to a reader.
There is something about me that only those closest to me know—and that is that in addition to a multitude of other symptoms, I have suffered from crippling anxiety for most of my life. I am not quite ready to tell my whole story just yet, and to be honest, even opening up about the anxiety that has all but stopped me in my tracks during the most important moments of my life is kind of scary too. I have had people tell me that I am making it up. I have had people tell me that I am just weak and can’t handle pressure. There have even been a few people who have stopped talking to me because I opened up about my mental disorder. Would you tell a type-1 diabetic they are weak because they cannot regulate their blood sugar on their own? Would you stop talking to someone with hyperthyroidism because they have to take medication to regulate their thyroid? Of course not!! However, the stigma that still prevails in our society regarding mental disorders and mental illness opens up those of us who suffer from it to ridicule and misunderstanding.
So the short of it is, my finish time was 4 hours, 54 minutes- a time slower than some of my race finish times when I was still racing as an amateur. However, as I have already stated, the finish time was not the victory of the day. Starting a race with a manageable level of anxiety made me a winner on March 15th. Starting my race in the state of mind that was in that morning did not come without A LOT of hard work. I have spent almost a year tackling all of the ugly that has lain well below the surface of my consciousness. Unbeknownst to most people I know (save for those closest to me), I have battled and fought with paralyzing anxiety for as long as I can remember. It has been something that I have just kind of lived with and suffered through in pretty much every moment of my life. As a kid, I was a worrier and VERY anxious. I was scared…of everything. When middle-school and high-school came along, my anxiety only intensified. Before every swim meet, coach always knew to send someone into the bathroom to find me for my next event. In college I used to worry myself to tears and hysteria before big tests. Months before my wedding, I suffered from panic attacks that made me feel like I literally was about to die. Post-college, while working in the corporate world, the panic attacks intensified and were more frequent. It also had me feeling VERY depressed for days. I just wanted to be normal. Finally I went to see a psychiatrist. After trialing at least a dozen different medications, I found that Zoloft helped. The panic attacks melted away. Life became somewhat normal again. I started sleeping better. But as relieved as I was that the panic had subsided, the CONSTANT invasive worrying mind was always present and I felt like a zombie. It’s like I had no emotions. I eventually weaned myself off of the Zoloft and thankfully, even though my overactive worrying hamster was still working at all times of the day, the panic attacks did not return. I was kind of on auto-pilot…but there was still some pretty ugly stuff that I needed to confront. I knew it was there, but who wants to confront the ugliest, darkest, most hateful memories and feelings within themselves?? So I just ignored it. If I started feeling like the panic attacks were bubbling up again, I would go for a long run. I started running more races. I decided to start running marathons. Running was my savior. For as long as I can remember, running has been my “safe place.” The place I went when I needed to get away from the pain. Running was my buddy, my best friend, my confidant, my therapist, my punching bag and my feel-good drug. She was- and is- always there for me. She lets me know it’s going to be OK. She tells me I’m beautiful. She tells me I’m strong. She tells me no one can hurt me. She protects me. She erases all of the ugly things that were ever done or said to me, because damn it…when I am running, I am a warrior; I am untouchable. Running is this indescribable person, place, feeling, emotion that I had just for me. Through all of my running, I met a wonderful training partner who suggested I do an Ironman with her. I started racing triathlon and felt that pre-race anxiety increasing with each one until it was back to the level that left me hiding in the bathroom prior to high school swim meets. It would start up days and sometimes weeks before the race, and intensify as race day drew closer. My pre-race anxiety was absolutely paralyzing. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t feel my limbs, I would sob, dry-heave and have major GI distress. I was terrified. I would shake uncontrollably and the constant ringing in my ears was so pervasive that I could not hear anything going on around me. My GI distress was so bad that the bathroom visits pre-race left me without any of my morning nutrition. I was starting each race emotionally, physically and nutritionally depleted. Yet, I soldiered on. Once the race got started, it was like the hideous, uncomfortable anxiety bubble had burst and I was finally able to relax…only, I had nothing in me at that point to actually execute a decent race. The anxiety got so incredibly bad last June that three weeks prior to racing Kansas 70.3, I was hardly even able to get through my workouts without bursting into tears. I decided to pull out of that race and find some help.
I basically put all racing on hold last summer to intensively work with my therapist to address the pre-race anxiety. I learned a lot about myself and a lot about the anxiety…that it was part of a larger issue. It wasn’t easy. I had six weeks of less than 20 hours of sleep a week. Sleep was like a myth to me, but something I so desperately needed. The emotional pain was far worse than any physical pain I had EVER EXPERIENCED in my entire life. I had no idea what I was walking into when I sought out a therapist, and probably would have run the other direction if I had known just how ugly it was going to get. Addressing all of this “stuff” only increased my anxiety and worrisome state. It is so much easier to ignore and deny the ugly stuff than to actually confront it. As Coach Cliff said to me, “not many people would voluntarily go under the knife without anesthesia and expose the root cause of the problem, but you did, Kate- because you are a fighter.” I learned that my obsessive worrying and constant anxiety was as a result of very deep-rooted feelings, memories and beliefs about myself. Slowly, things started to change. The anxiety started to decrease, my internal dialogue improved, and the painful emotions were no longer present when I would conjure up what one might consider as an unpleasant memory. It seemed like the storm was over; the clouds had parted, and for the first time in my life, I was feeling what it was like to feel safe as I navigated my day.
I decided to race Key West Triathlon at the beginning of December 2014 and I won the race. My anxiety level was much more manageable, and prior to the race I felt good mentally. Not perfect, but getting there! From that point, I met with Coach Cliff and we decided I was ready to tackle professional racing again. After months of little to no training, we built a plan that incorporated Puerto Rico 70.3 as my first pro race since my complete meltdown last June. As I said, the end result of PR 70.3 was not so great. To be honest, my body felt sluggish, I couldn’t absorb my nutrition, and my legs were cramping once I started the run course. I wanted to quit, I physically just didn’t feel right that day. However, for as terrible as I felt physically, mentally was doing cartwheels…because I won!! My mind was NOT on overdrive that race morning, I DIDN’T feel like I was going to crap my pants or throw-up or both, I COULD BREATHE, I had a smile on my face and actually felt like engaging in conversation with my competitors prior to race start (rather than run the other direction from them, as I have felt in past races).
I still have a long way to go, but it’s getting there. And, I can say with 100% certainty that this is it…the horrible mental instability prior to racing is gone for good. I confronted the ugly and it is in the past…I healed it and it is nothing more than a story of my past rather, than an anxiety-inducing memory.
So, I write this race report to help others—both those who suffer from anxiety and other mental disorders, and those who don’t quite understand it. To those of you who are suffering: please know there is help, there is hope, there is a way out of this prison. Life may seem overwhelming. It may seem that this is just something that you will never overcome, but don’t give up. DON’T EVER GIVE UP. Find a therapist or a therapy that you feel comfortable with, ask the Universe to arm you with supportive people and don’t give up!!! For those of you who don’t understand mental illness, please show a little compassion or patience for those in your life who ARE struggling. Remember that their struggles have nothing to do with you, so don’t take things personally. And try to remain judgment free. And for F*CK’s sake, keep your comments to yourself. Don’t judge and tell someone they “have no business being on the start line” if you see the anxiety in their eyes. (Yes, that was an actual comment made about me, by one of my competitors in my presence.) Just remember that person may be fighting a battle you know NOTHING about.
Courage does not mean that fear is not present. Strength is not measured solely by how fast you can go. The biggest victory is not always standing on the top step of the podium. Sometimes our greatest strengths and biggest victories are overcoming the fears within ourselves