Race: Folsom Lake Triathlon
Location: Granite Bay, CA
This triathlon season is going to be hard. The hardest yet. Each season is difficult for their own specific reasons, mostly due to the unpredictability and state of my diseases, conditions, and chronic illnesses. The sport of triathlon is a hard enough sport for people who have their health. The fact is, it’s harder for people like me who live with and fight an obscene amount of symptoms and side effects on a daily basis that literally never end. This season is particularly harder though, because my disease state is the worse it’s been in 6+ years. This puts me in a scary place, mentally and physically. A place where I’m loosing the triathlete I worked so damn hard to be – the person I’ve worked so damn hard to become. A place where I swore I would never let myself fall to again. It terrifies me to be so close to falling back to that place and that state I was in so long ago.
Some background here – beginning in March I started a new treatment plan, which was desperately needed to attempt to get my disease in a more manageable state. Since Fall of last year, my disease became very aggressive – I was experiencing horrible flares that would last for months, and at one point my feet were so bad that I was having trouble walking (among many other symptoms).
My new treatment plan included a new biologic that I would be taking once a day (for reference, my previous biologic was once a week), and the injectable form of a chemo therapy drug (I’ve been on this before in past years, but had been on the weekly pill form as of recent). Adjusting to this new treatment plan (side effects galore) took at least 4 weeks – after that I was starting to be able to “manage” a bit better. This is a whole life adjustment – an everyday change from my previous life on other treatments. This isn’t an “I take this medication now and I’m all better.” As one can imagine, this also hinders triathlon training.
Which brings me to April – when I was having a particularly hard day/week mentally and physically, wanting so badly to train consistently again and race. So I signed up for the Folsom Lake sprint triathlon that was about 4 weeks away. At the time, I had not been “race training” – heck it was a major struggle for me to just train on any type of consistent basis. Nothing like signing up for your first race of the season to help turn up the motivation and positivity! I did my best to train enough to be capable of completing the race – that was my only goal. It sure as hell wasn’t pretty or perfect – but I was still “doing” it, I was back to training. That was the important part, and it felt good in my soul.
This puts me at a cross road – do I stop triathlon or do I fight for it, despite the worsened disease state? So I’m doing the only thing I know how to – fight. And trust me when I say that I’m fighting LIKE HELL for this. Making this choice means accepting that I won’t be at the same level as a triathlete that I have been the past couple of years – and letting that be okay, letting it be enough. This is no easy feat for me, and is a constant internal struggle. So this season is brand new in a way – new perspectives, new expectations, new ways of thinking and doing in order to keep chasing my dreams.
Race morning started off at 3:30am with my alarm going off and I instantly wanted to turn it off and skip the race. I had slept all of 3-4 hours (per usual – darn those race nerves). My race started at 7am, which is a bit of an earlier start than I’m used to. It was also a race that was a bit earlier in the season than I’m used to. Which means it was cold at 7am. Like a layer of fog is still sitting on top of the lake water kind of cold.
Transition opened around 6AM and my race start was at 7AM, so I didn’t have much time to set up and warm up. I’m used to a bit more time in transition before race start, so I felt like once I was all setup it was already time to get my wetsuit on and head down to the water. Feeling rushed and anxious I had my fiancé help me into my wetsuit – which is helpful because my body was still feeling stiff and achy (RA and chronic pain issues), plus my wetsuit was new and this was the first time I was getting in to swim in.
Made it down to the water with 5 mins to spare until my wave start and the race director was on his loud speaker telling all the triathletes to get in the water before their wave in order for the body to get acclimated to the cold water. I hate swimming in cold open water (so does my angry body), so I heeded his warning and got in right away. I knew it was going to be cold, but holy iceberg it was freezing! Side note – my new wetsuit is sleeveless. I submerged myself underwater and my initial thought was “I’ve made a huge mistake. This is way too cold for me!” I did some “warming up” in the water and my second thought was “YEP. This is gonna to suck!”
The start sounded in the loud speaker and I was just thinking about swimming as quickly as I could to get out of that ice box. As soon as I took off my back started locking up (told you my body doesn’t do well in the freezing water). Felt that stiffness and tingling travel down to my legs and knew that I was basically going to be relying on my upper body to pull me through the swim course. (This has happened before, so at least I had some experience in this type of scenario? Trying to look on the “bright side” here.) Oh and let’s not forget the debris in the water that made it feel like an obstacle course. There was so much wood floating around. Towards the end of the swim I literally ran right into a log – knocked myself right in the head, ha!
I shuffled up the beach into T1 looking like the tin man – shivering as I was getting my wetsuit off and cycling gear on. Although the sleeveless suit made for a colder swim, I was loving the extra added ease of getting it off. A significant improvement for me since I have to race with a heavy duty wrist brace on – the brace causes such a struggle to get off and back on when it’s wet from the swim. With the sleeveless wet suit, there was no struggle with the brace (metal body parts win!).
The bike course went by so quickly, it seemed like a blur. A struggle fest blur! For the life of me I could not get it together to hold a consistent race pace. The course consists of lots of steep climbs/downhill’s, with lots of twists/turns. The sandy patches along the course made for an added “fun” challenge, especially on the downhill twists/turns! This race was my first time riding outside for many months, which was definitely highly responsible for my feeling of not being able to get my sh** together out there. My muscles were screaming at me the whole way – it quickly became clear to me that I had no business racing with so little training under my belt for the season.
In T2, I noticed that I was still soaking wet from the swim and covered in goosebumps. “Oh joy, I’m still freezing.” That’s what I get for racing earlier in the season than I am used to. I was convinced at this point that my autoimmune self was going to be sick in the days following the race (I was right, body fought something off for about a week). Have I learned my lesson – probably not.
Headed out on the run on angry legs – crazy tight and pained from RA/chronic stuff and sore cramping muscles from the bike. Right away my right calf cramped up something wicked! Almost came to a dead stop, but I can’t stand the thought of stopping or walking on the run so I sucked it up and was running on my tippy toes trying to lessen the blow of the cramp. I don’t think it helps much but it keeps me moving.
The run was mostly trail – which I enjoy but don’t get to train on often, as I’m a road runner. Not having any trail run training, my goals were to: have fun, run as fast as I could, and not fall on my face. I did just that! I encountered someone who had fallen on the trail and was yelling out obscenities. I asked if she was okay and offered to help her but she insisted I keep going. “Roger that!” I reminded her that she was a bad ass and kept going. With the finish line in site, all I could think about was getting in a warm bath with lots of Epsom salt, my TENS unit and a hoodie.
I crossed the finish line taking 3rd place AG! Standing on the podium, I was remembering how hard my disease knocked me down – the farthest and darkest place I’ve been before many many years ago. Reminding myself of the strength it’s taken to pick myself up again, and being proud of that – of the fight. Podium or not – I’ve already won. “Little brave, breathe…There is a warrior within you.”