Deciding to do another triathlon was a big decision for me. I used to love doing triathlons. The majority of my social circle in Colorado was fellow triathlon aficionados. I spent the vast majority of my spare time training, reading about, and planning to do one of the three sports of triathlon: swimming, biking and running.
Bicycling is by far my first love and biggest talent. But I was on the swim team when I was in junior high and my freshman year of high school, so I like swimming. And over the years, I’ve retrained my mind to appreciate and even like running. I did the Big Sur Marathon in April 2010, and I smiled through that almost 6 hours of running!
And then, in July 2010, I discovered another lump in my breast and I was diagnosed with breast cancer for a second time. Cancer put a major damper in my triathlon career. I had recruited 11 women with type 1 diabetes to do Ironman Wisconsin, and in September 2010, a few weeks after my mastectomy, I wasn’t ready to commit to doing the IM Wisconsin in September 2011, since in general, you have to make the commitment to do an Ironman one year in advance.
I didn’t have to do chemotherapy again, but I did give up meat, dairy and alcohol, and that change in diet took some energy. Plus, I entered some profound post traumatic stress from finding out my body had grown cancer a second time. I wasn’t ready to do a race again. I focused my energy on building TeamWILD Athletics, and doing Tour de Cure events. I also did a few running events, even a 10 mile race.
Triathlon is different than riding in a Tour de Cure bike ride. And it’s different than running in a road race. Triathlon is just a little more serious. Maybe it’s all the gear. And all the planning that goes into each sport, and into figuring out your hydration and nutrition plans. Maybe it’s getting the race chip that goes around your ankle. Or maybe it’s the ritual of having your body marked with your race number and your age. Something about triathlon just feels more serious, more intense. And I needed to take a break.
Then this spring, I found out that my Minneapolis endocrinologist, Dr. Rebecca Mattison, had started a sprint distance triathlon team. She recruited patients and some of her office staff to be on the team. The team is called Team Endo. The race they’ve done for the past three years is the YWCA Women’s Triathlon: 500 yard swim, 15.5 mile bike, 3 mile run. I decided I wanted to join.
I started going to weekly open water swims at Lake Nokomis, a lake close to my house and the location of the YWCA triathlon event. Since I had done two 100 mile bike rides this summer, I knew my biking was in good shape. I started doing a bit of running, just to be sure I remembered how to run 3 or 4 miles! I discovered I still knew how to run, even after getting off the bike.
Two nights before the race, I went over to Dr. Mattison’s house with many of the women on the team. A few of the women have diabetes, others have other endocrine challenges, like thyroid issues and Graves disease, which is an autoimmune disease that causes hyperthyroidism. And a few of the women found the team through friends and connections. It was a delightful gathering! I went home and fell happily asleep, got a solid 8 hours of sleep, thankfully.
On Saturday, I got all my gear ready. And I wrote down my main goal for the race, which was to ENJOY THE RACE! I committed to enjoy the race by smiling through the whole thing! No time goals. No secret goals. I estimated my times, but they were very loose. I really didn’t know how I would do on my times. I wasn’t even sure I would remember all the little things.
That night I slept maybe 3 hours. I got in bed at 8:30 PM, since I set my alarm for 4:15 AM. I just couldn’t sleep!! I kept imagining every aspect of the race. Over and over and over again. Finally, when my alarm went off, I sprang out of bed and got into action!
I had my breakfast, pumped up the tires on my bike, got my water bottles ready, put on my race gear, got the lights on my bike turned on, and rode the 4 miles to the race start. The first thing I did was find my bike rack, and set up my transition area. Then I made my way over to the timing chip tent, got my timing chip, and then got marked! This triathlon doesn’t mess around. They put my race number on both arms and both shins and on both hands. They put my swim wave on my hand too, and on my right calf. On my left calf, they put my age.
Then I went back to my transition area and double checked that everything was set. I got to know the gal who was next to me, Sue, she is cool! I do love triathletes! My friend Tammy and her friend found me, and they had made a sign to cheer me on!! That was great! Then I went to find the Team Endo folks. A few of us decided to go do a warm up swim. Since my blood sugar tends to go down (this is rare, of course) with the adrenaline of a race, I had eaten a lot of extra carbs already. I knew that a warm up swim would be good for my shoulder, so to the water I went.
Turned out the water was warmer than the air! I prefer to swim without a wetsuit, because the wetsuit squeezes my chest and makes it harder to breathe, which because of my exercise induced asthma, is awful. Most of the women doing the race were not wearing wetsuits, which of course made me happy!
The Swim, 500 yards
Then it was time to line up, I was in Wave 11. I was wearing my Dexcom in a waterproof case. I wanted to be able to check my blood sugar right before the swim. I was carrying two packets of gel in my tri shorts. Going into the swim, the Dexcom said my sugar was 133. Perfect!
We started standing up on the shore, and when they counted down, we ran into the water and started swimming. I forgot that this creates lots of anxiety and excitement for me. My heart rate goes way up and I start swimming way too fast. It caught up with me! I then had to slow way down, and do the breast stroke, to get my heart rate into a good place again. Finally I was okay. I kept thinking of my swim coaches, and of Carla, who was my swim buddy for months before my Half Ironman. I kept repeating my swim mantra, “Long and Strong.”
Then out of the water! And run up and around to get my bike! I was surprised at how easy it was to run. Usually I get really out of breath if I run in the transitions. I dried off my feet and got my socks and bike shoes on. I tested my blood sugar, all good. I put on my sunglasses and bike helmet and my race belt with my name and number. Grabbed my bike and held it by the seat and ran to the bike out.
The Bike, 15.5 miles
On the bike, it took me a moment to remember to start drinking my water. The humidity level was about 85%, so I was non stop sweating. Staying hydrated is essential. I also started drinking my Skratch Labs. I got the whole bottle down, 40 grams of carbs. I succeeded in eating two gel packets, 40 more grams of carbs. I somehow knew I needed that much. I was moving at a great pace. I felt fantastic and the roads were smooth and very flat. I noticed I was smiling the whole time!
I got my bike back to the rack and changed shoes. I got my helmet off and put on my race cap. I grabbed my waist belt, which had a water bottle, a blood tester, glucose tabs and a few gels, and ran out the run exit! I saw a few more of my friends, Joni and Doug, and saw Tammy again!!! Seeing them made me smile even bigger!
The Run, 3 miles
I decided to do another blood test, and sure enough, it was 68. That after eating over 80 carbs on the bike! I guess I could have lowered my basal rate. This slowed me down in my running, since eating glucose tabs isn’t super easy to do while running! But I kept moving. And smiling!
The Finish Line
I love the finish line at triathlons! The cheering and the energy are awesome! And the announcer announced that I had type 1 diabetes and that I also have survived breast cancer twice. Hearing that brought tears to my eyes. And made me raise my arms even higher in celebration for living my life being an athlete first, a person with health challenges second.
I crossed the finish line at 10:15 AM, much faster than I thought I would! It turns out I did the whole race in 1 hour 46 minutes. I didn’t have a time goal, but that time made me super happy!
I hugged my housemate Liz who came to cheer, and all the other friends who came to celebrate too! Then I hung out with Team Endo, we took lots of photos and celebrated our accomplishment. Then I repacked my triathlon bag and got on my bike and headed home for a well-earned shower and a fabulous nap!
There will be more triathlons in my future!
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Diabetes Data for the YWCA Women’s Triathlon
4:18 AM 110 4.8 units 60 g carbs: oatmeal, juice, corn tortillas, 2 eggs, strawberries, walnuts, tea
5:15 AM Leave house on my bike to ride to race start (4 miles)
6:15 AM 90 20 g carbs: juice, glucose tabs
6:45 AM 99 40 g carbs: juice, sport beans
8:15 AM 133 (on cgm)
8:25 AM Start the swim! Wave 11!
8:40 AM 163 T1 80 g carbs: Skratch Labs, 2 gels
9:38 AM 68 on the run 35 g carbs: glucose tabs
9:55 AM 116 20 g carbs: Honey Stinger gu
10:15 AM FINISH RACE!