Race: California Triathlons (USA Triathlon Southwest Regional Championships)
Location: Shadow Cliffs, Pleasanton CA
“Fate whispers to the warrior ‘You cannot withstand the storm.’, the warrior whispers back ‘I am the storm.’ ” – Unknown
I can’t explain how much this quote rings true for people like me who have an autoimmune disease. My body is literally attacking itself, all the time – which speaks perfectly to the quote, “I am the storm.” We truly are, without a doubt, the storm that we fight each day to withstand.
2-3 weeks leading up to the race, I had faced some pretty knarly challenges with leg injuries on top of Rheumatoid Arthritis and chronic pain struggles. I injured my legs badly by getting caught in my dogs leash cables, which resulted in multiple trips to urgent care for bad abrasions (open wounds) on both legs and trauma to lower legs, ankles, and feet. Walking wasn’t happening, so swim, bike, run was out of the question for a while. I spent a lot of time elevating my legs, icing, taking antibiotics and pain meds (oh, and playing Black Ops on Xbox 360). Would have been nice if my RA and other conditions would’ve let up a bit while dealing with this, but nope – guess that’d be too “easy.” Knees, shoulder, and lower back/hips in particular gave me the most hell.
Needless to say, I had to be sidelined for a while and scale way back on training. As race-day was fast approaching, I wasn’t sure if I was going to go through with the race or bow out. Coach and I took it one day at a time, without planning on racing – that way I could make a decision two days before the race. But I needed help making that decision, so I enlisted the help of my coach because she knows my training better than anyone, and I trust her insight and opinion.
She asked, “Do you think you can gut it out?” My warrior instinct always says “Yes”, but all of the extra challenges the previous 2-3 weeks weighed on me anyway. My coach didn’t know it, but by her simply asking me, “do you think you can gut it out?”, she reminded me that I’m a fighter. And that I don’t give up on myself when life gets tough. So I went into it with the mindset that I had nothing to lose. That I would give my best, regardless of my circumstances.
Training and nutrition leading up to race day:
As noted above, my training suffered greatly 2-3 weeks leading up the race. I had to take at least 1 week off of training completely, and only focus on healing and recovery. Gradually I took on small training sessions per day, to test out how my body was doing and to keep moving. I paid extra attention to my nutrition at this time, because I needed to help my body heal and manage symptoms, and at the same time I didn’t want my nutrition to suffer when I wasn’t training like I normally did.
For race-day fuel, I planned out: 1 premium insurance cap and 1 mito cap with breakfast, 2 race cap supreme before the race and 1 after, 2 endurolytes before race and 2 on bike, some heed before race and 1 bottle of heed split between bike leg and before run, 1 hammer gel before race and 1 before run, and lastly chocolate recoverite after the race.
I spent the night at my brother and sister-in-law’s house the night before, because the race venue was much closer to them then my house. Otherwise, I would have had to leave my house around 2am to get there in time to pick up my race packet and setup transition. No thanks.
The night before I was sure to spend some extra time stretching out my pained body and soothing injured legs and angry joints with ice and my trusty TENS unit. That little electro thing-ma-jig is a serious life-saver. PS – I usually don’t get much sleep the night before a race (thanks race-day nerves and anxiety), but this time I only got about 3 hrs. Anxiety for the win!
And thanks to being extra tired race morning, I was moving slower than usual and ended up getting to the venue much later then I had anticipated. I hated this because, well I have bad anxiety, and I literally have nightmares about races starting without me! In my dreams I’m panicking and moving as fast as I can to catch up, but it’s like I’m going in super slow motion.
I took some deep breathes and did my best to keep my mind calm and just got my crap done (setting up transition) as quickly as I could, without having an anxiety attack. As I was trying some breathing techniques, my mind was all, “So you know this is USAT Regional Champs right? You’re going to miss your start time. How did you let this happen?!” So there’s that. Lovely.
I made it to the water with 5 mins to spare before my wave started. However, I did forget to zip up my wetsuit – thank goodness there were nice triathletes who stopped me as I was walking into the water and helped me out. Myself said to myself, “Nailed it.” HA!
The water was nice and warm – I was so comfortable and wished all my swims were just as perfect. Swimming (racing) with my wrist brace is now my new normal, as getting beat up in the water is kind of inevitable. It isn’t ideal in terms of swimming fast and having a quick transition, however it is always better to be safe than sorry. Lord knows I’m not going through that wrist surgery again if I can help it.
Per usual, I started towards the back of the pack and stayed on the outside as much as I could. I played it safe, but still pushed myself without going all out. Taking my last 2-3 weeks into consideration, my goal for this race was to race smart and take it leg by leg (or course by course) – listen to my body and base my performance off of what it was telling me. I wanted to give it my best, but at the same time not injure myself further.
So that’s what I did – I raced smart. I raced calm. But I gave it all I had on that day. I gave it my best. Exiting the water I took an inventory of how my body was feeling/responding so far. I felt good, and reminded myself that I had nothing to lose. I went for it. Powered up the hill straight out of T1 and started dropping people on the bike course. In the first mile or so I could really start to feel all those days off of training in my legs. Right when I started to settle into a good pace, I saw a massive black cloud of smoke coming from the road ahead.
“Crap, that can’t be good. I hope no one is hurt.”, I said to myself. As I got closer, I could see the fire engines, police cars, and stopped triathletes in the road. They wouldn’t let us through until they got the fire out (it was a car fire). A group of us were completely stopped for at least 5 mins. Definitely a first for me! Not going to lie, it was kind of nice to give me achy legs/hips a tiny rest.
Once we got the go ahead from the officers, my pack took off fast and furiously. The short rest stop gave me a boost in energy, so I was pushing my speed. At least I thought I was pushing my speed, because it felt like I was. Looked at my mph and thought, “that can’t be accurate.” I’m not the fastest, but I could tell my effort wasn’t matching my output. Regardless I just kept cranking it out as hard as I could. A couple days later I realized it was because my back brakes were rubbing on my wheel. Awesome.
Still taking the race one leg at a time, and listening to my body I took inventory again and felt “decent” in T2. My fueling had been on point that day, and I didn’t run into any major challenges with my body on the swim or bike – I mean, my whole lower body was angry but that’s kind of my normal. So this meant I was going to empty the tank on the run the best I could without injuring myself. Heading out of T2 I could hear my nephews little voices cheering, “Go Auntie Dina!”
Those cheers weren’t just about that race though –at least for me it wasn’t. It was about my life fighting autoimmune disease/chronic illness/chronic pain, and my incredible support team. Support is such a powerful thing. Without it in my life as a patient, I would never be capable of being a triathlete. There is not one without the other. And out on that run course, while I was climbing up dirt trails and my body was screaming at me to stop I could hear their little voices supporting my fight, my journey. Because my nephews and all my support team believe in me, I believe in myself.
Somehow I managed to clock 1hr 18 mins finish time – which landed me at 3rd place in my AG, top 10%. Also ran 2nd fastest run split in my AG. I was shocked because this was USA Triathlon Southwest Regionals Championships and the competition was high. Going into the race, I figured that if I did in fact finish that I’d potentially break into the top 10 (and that’d be a fantastic day for me). But top 3? No way dude! And because I landed in the top 10%, I earned my qualification to USA Triathlon National Championships for the 2nd year in a row.
Insert happy tears and incredibly overwhelming emotion here. If I could say anything to anyone who ever had a dream, it would be this…”You are going to want to give up. Don’t.” No matter autoimmune disease, chronic illness, chronic pain, hardships, surgeries, suffering, diagnosis, or battles. Do not let anything – anything – detour you from your dreams. Chase them with every bit of heart and fight you’ve got, and don’t ever – ever – give up.
As always, none of this would have been possible without my amazing coach Stephanie Artis who pushes me outside of my comfort zone, and my incredible sponsors: Hammer Nutrition, Rudy Project, Love The Pain, Kinetic Cycles, Pearl Izumi, and Team Freeplay – thank you all for believing in me. Nationals, here I come!