Race Report: Tri For Real
Race: Tri For Real
Location: Rancho Seco, Herald CA
“Something will grow from all you’re going through and it will be you.”
If you follow my social feeds, you know that I was struggling mentally and physically with training weeks before this race. When I say “physically” I’m referring to the usual Rheumatoid Arthritis symptoms and other chronic pain conditions – with an increase of fatigue. When I say “mentally” I’m referring to the fact that the body always hears and feels what the mind is thinking. And my mind was thinking, “Maybe I can’t do this.”
Recent weeks of training had pushed me the farthest from my comfort zone than I’d ever been. I was training harder than I ever had before in my life. Which was incredibly difficult because on top of the new level of training, I’m still constantly fighting and managing my RA and other chronic conditions. God, it’s exhausting and sometimes seemingly impossible. I arrived at a breaking point. Honestly the words kept replaying inside my head, “maybe I can’t do this.” And I was starting to believe that. I tried my best to hold it together and not give up because I hoped that this breakdown would lead me into a breakthrough.
Training and nutrition leading up to race day:
Since my training sessions where increasing in frequency and duration, my nutrition followed suit. I was having more 2x a day training sessions than not, and the level of difficulty for each seemed harder than previous weeks/months. To meet my body’s nutritional needs I tried to consume more healthy carbs (like mango and spinach), healthy fats (like avocado and nuts), and whole grains. Due to the overall increase in training, I also made an effort to up self-care (resting when I should rest), maintenance (stretching and icing), and recovery (massagers and inversion).
For race-day fuel, I planned out: 1 premium insurance cap and 1 mito cap with breakfast, 2 race cap supremes before the race and 1 after, 2 endurolytes before the race, 2 on the bike, and 2 before the run, heed before the race and 1 bottle of heed on the bike, 1 hammer gel before race, 2 on the bike, and 1 on the run, lastly I had my favorite chocolate recoverite after the race.
I went into this race not knowing how any aspect of the mental and physical “breakdown” I’d been experiencing would affect my performance. The not knowing part really eats me up inside, and my anxiety has a field day with that! The morning of, I was so anxious and nervous that I came really close to throwing up before I put my wetsuit on. I literally had throw-up in my mouth and had to swallow it back down. Nope. Not today vomit.
It was already hot and I was sweaty – so getting my wetsuit on was interesting. Definitely got my heart rate up! Then I flexed my arms and ripped my wetsuit. Okay, I didn’t flex, it just ripped. Pretty sure I cursed out loud when that happened. In hind sight I probably should have just taken it off and swam without it, but I panicked because I could hear the announcer starting the first wave.
I remember telling my boyfriend that I didn’t need to wear my wrist brace in the swim. Nice try. He sternly replied, “YES YOU DO. PUT. IT. ON” That settled that. He was right too, as my wrist did take some hits during the swim. The water was pretty warm and I instantly regretted wearing the wetsuit, as I could have used this swim as practice for Nationals (no wetsuits will be allowed at Nationals due to the water temp). Oh well – it was go time. It took me a while to settle in at a “comfortable” race pace – still working on not feeling so fearful, nervous, and paranoid in the beginning because of my wrist. Once I did settle in though, I felt pretty strong.
Before I knew it I was out of the water and running into T1. Stepped on a sharp rock in transition – cursed some more. Remembered all my fueling, but forgot to put my wrist brace back on before heading out of T1 onto the bike course. My boyfriend was probably yelling at me to put it back on, but I go into major eye-of-the-tiger focus mode and block out as much background noise as I can. Or else my brain is like, “OH look I found a butterfly!”
I was stoked to be out on the bike course because I had raced part of it years back and wanted to see what I could do now. Bombed down the hill out of the park and onto the main road/course. The road had recently been redone, which I thought would’ve meant it was smooth. Sike. It was crazy bumpy – like continuous sharp bumps. It was so bad that I had to stop gripping my aero bar with my surgery hand because of the pain it was causing in my hand and wrist. I also started to really feel the shooting pains in my left shoulder. Occasionally came up out of my aero bars to try to help alleviate some of these pains.
Thankfully, only a portion of the course/road had been redone so it did end up getting a bit better. I centered my focus on my legs and kept cranking as hard as I could – my legs felt strong (as strong as my metal hips can feel at least). As I kept pushing, I started to notice that I was catching more people than expected. That boosted my spirits and gave me some extra positive energy. Approaching T2, I saw my boyfriend and friends cheering for me on the side of the road. Threw up a peace sign and a smile as I passed by – I was feeling so grateful for their support. Just knowing that they were there for me helped incredibly.
And I needed all the support I could get for that insanely hot 10k run. I had done a shorter distance triathlon at the same venue before, so I knew this run was going to suck! But I was wrong. It didn’t just suck – it was literally hell on earth. 95+ degrees, no tree cover, no breeze, dirt hilly fire roads, and trails. HELL. I felt okay the first mile, and the first mile only. It progressively got worse and worse with every mile after that.
I had grabbed a water bottle in T2 that I originally wasn’t going to run with – glad I did because it was a lifesaver! Avoided heat exhaustion by stopping at each aid station for ice/water/electros (whatever I needed). This slowed me down, but I honestly was more worried about making it to the finish line without walking and/or passing out. To keep things interesting, around mile 3 my hips had enough straining which caused muscle spasms thru my glutes/hip areas to my quads. Walking sounded good right about then, but I convinced myself that the only way I was getting to the finish line the quickest way possible was to keep running.
I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see a finish line before. I felt like I had been lost in a desert for hours – yes, I know it’s dramatic sounding! Collapsed into my boyfriend’s arms (per usual), and all the pain and exhaustion instantly rose to the surface. Him and our friends went straight into support mode to get me off my legs, hydrate, regulate my body temp, and collect ice packs. My boyfriend is pretty much a professional medic at this point. Love that man!
While one of the race masseuse’s was working on my hips and quads, I heard the race announcer call my name for my age group. Hobbled over the podium and asked the announcer, “what did you call me for?” “2nd place Dina Neils!”, he said. I let out an excitement squeal and climbed onto the podium with a massive smile on my face. I ended up walking away with a 1 min swim PR, and a 10 min bike PR. Some stats for funsies – on the bike I improved my overall spot by 20 people, and on the run I improved my overall spot by 6 people. This race served as a reminder to me that I CAN do hard things, even when I’m going thru hell – literally, metaphorically, physically, mentally. Looks like my breakdown did in fact prove to be my breakthrough after all.
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. Next up, USA Triathlon National Championships in Omaha NE!