About this blog

I was diagnosed with breast cancer on June 11, 2010. As a result of my treatment, I have lymphedema in my left arm. I draw my strength from the Lord, as well as my family's Scots-Irish heritage. Our Graham's were a tough and scrappy bunch of fighters on the Scottish/English border. They came to America and continued to fight when necessary: in the American Revolution; the Civil War; and my brother is a Captain in the U.S. Army. My ancestors settled this country against all odds. My great-grandmothers on both sides of the family were pioneer women who settled the West. Along with that heritage, and the full armor of God, I am walking the walk and fighting the good fight.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Live to race another day!

Today was supposed to be the day of my first triathlon.  I've been sporting a "Tri Club of San Diego" sticker on my back window and an "I'd Rather Be a Triathlete" license plate frame on my car for several weeks. Time to prove it.  I trained for distances much farther than I was supposed to do today: 750 meter swim; 10k bike; 5k run. No sweat, I figured.  Granted, I'm a novice when it comes to open water swimming. But I have gone to a few sessions of the Tri Club's open water swim workout, and I did complete a aquathlon last week that consisted of a 1,000 meter swim and a 5k.   I knew that I needed to get out in the water before the race start to warm up and get over that initial panicky feeling I seem to get at first.  Bike and run? Snap! No problem!  I wasn't overly concerned about time. With this being my first tri, no matter how fast (or slow) I was, it would be a PR. I'm here just to finish the race. No pressure!

With it being my first triathlon, I had a lot of stuff to put together to get ready. I have a great new transition bag from DeSoto Sports that is flat out amazing. I had to figure out where to put all the race numbers I got in my packet yesterday. I packed my gear and my bike into the van last night. I was ready! Transition area opened up at 5 a.m., my race start was 7:20 a.m.  I had a crazy dream in the night that I woke up at 6:19 a.m.  No way was I going to make it to the transition area before it closed before the race!  I also remember snippets of a dream about duathalon and my fellow cancer survivor friend (and co-racer teammate).  In any event, I woke up 10 minutes before the alarm went off at 4:30 a.m. and was ready to go. I even got out the door 15 minutes earlier than my planned time! Things were rolling smoothly right along!

I got to the parking area at the Solana Beach Coaster station and was bummed to find that parking was pretty much full. I managed to squeeze my van into a dirt row between two SUVs. I got my bike wheel put on, hefted my cool transition bag onto my back and started out toward the transition area. On the way, I saw several athletes riding their bikes there.  Good idea, but I'm so short with the big bag on my back, it would have created drag on the back tire. So I walked it.  When I arrived, they pointed me toward the area where my age group was racking their bikes. I found a spot, and set up my stuff. I was glad to see someone had brought a big helium Angry Bird mylar balloon at the row right in front of my bike. It is so easy to get lost in a transition area if you don't have a landmark. All I had to do was look for the red Angry Bird!

One thing I really like about the triathlon community is just how nice everyone is. As women started to gather and get their gear ready, we all chatted. So nice.  Most people turn out to be members of the Tri Club of San Diego, which is cool.   I found my friends, Nancy and Matt, who were also going to be racing. We were ready to go!

I got into my wetsuit and went over to the start line to watch the first waves of athletes. The announcer commented about the surf pulling you one way or the other. That wasn't a big surprise, usually the current will do that to you. Several people had worried looks on their faces. I wasn't too concerned-the buoy that we were to swim to didn't look that far away. I'm a pretty strong swimmer in a pool, and besides, I had just done that duathlon.  I got out into the water and got used to the temperature, and even felt I was okay with the surf.  Granted, it was stronger than I had gone through before. But once you get past the crashing waves, its fine.

When it got to be my age group's turn to go, we all lined up in the corral. There were several volunteer "swim buddies" there for people who were anxious about the swim. I didn't ask for one, but there was one standing near me and he told everyone that he had been out a few times already in the morning, and that anyone who wanted could basically stick around him.  He commented that the announcer was saying one thing, but he wasn't in the water feeling the currents. He suggested that we actually run a bit up the beach diagonally as we entered the water.  He also suggested walking as far as you could (as opposed to dolphining and swimming in shallow water) since the currents were so strong. Since he had already been in the surf,  I followed him into the water as the gun sounded.  Experience counts for something!

As we went in, I heard the announcer saying, "Don't make the same mistake that they are making!"  Well, that could be bad, but like the swim buddy had said, the announcer wasn't actually OUT there doing it. So I was fine. Besides, the surf was going to pull you all over the place. So be it.  

As I got out there, I looked around and recognized someone from the Tri Club in a light blue swim buddy cap. I yelled over to him, "You're Ian, right? I've been to a couple of your beginner open water swim sessions!"  He smiled and said, "This isn't anything like the Bay is it?"  I yelled back, "Hell no!" (Sorry!)  I decided to stick with Ian as we went out there.  He was great and encouraging, telling me to dive under deep (and grab sand) as the big waves came.  The thing was, the waves came one right after the other.  Ian kept yelling something like, "Look out for the follow up!"  At one point, I heard him yell to another woman, "Go back, switch to the duathlon!"

It was exhausting. I dreaded diving under the waves because they crashed to the bottom and buffeted me around. But standing firm against them was equally bad because you are being pushed back to shore in such a violent way.

So I kept going, I was determined. I knew that once I got past where the waves were breaking it would be fine. But the waves were such that the entire "swim" out to our buoy was all in crashing waves. One big one hit me and tumbled me around like a rag in a washing machine, and I got separated from Ian. I kept going. But they kept going. At one point, I thought...this is going to totally exhaust me for the bike and the run.  At one point, when I was panicked, I remember a quick prayer-God help me!

It was exhausting. I remember a panicked moment where I thought, I'm in trouble. Fortunately, there were lifeguards in the water. All I had to do was yell "HELP!" and wave my arm and out of nowhere, a good looking angel came and asked if I needed help. I said "YES!" He grabbed me and together we made our way back to the shore. It took awhile. He would coach me through each wave and pull me back. He asked if I was okay. I said, "Yes, but I'm pissed."  And I was. I was really mad that I couldn't do the swim. On top of that, my awesome new Zogg goggles got separated from my head and lost.  When we got back to shore, he asked if I needed a medic. No, I said. I'm okay.

But really. Thank GOD for the lifeguards today. They were kept very, very busy. As I limped back on the beach, I saw many other women in my age group who also were conquered by the surf. More of us than were able to finish the swim from my point of view. We all were going to switch to the duathlon. Run-bike-run.  While it felt pretty bad not to be able to do the swim, at least we all were in like company, and were able to share in each other's misery.  A fellowship of suffering.

So duathlon it was. My friend Nancy also switched to the duathlon. We went back and got out of our wetsuits and into our running gear.

The first leg was a beach run. The bike was the super sprint bike course-one lap up coast highway to the turnaround point and back. The second run was likewise the supersprint run-one lap on the run course on coast highway.  

So on the bright side, I was able to improve on some issues that I had in my first duathlon. I managed to work my Garmin correctly. My transitions were faster, and I managed to do the course.  I was pleased to see my bike speed was over 15 mph and my second run pace was 8:30.  So it wasn't a wasted day at all. I met a lot of really nice people, most of whom are part of the Tri Club. I just can't call myself a "triathlete" at this point. Sure, I got into the water, thrashed around, rode my bike and ran. But it wasn't legit.

Afterwards, everyone was talking about the swim. My friend Matt managed to get out there and do it, although he said it was really hard. He related to me something he heard some guys saying who had done full IronMan triathalons saying that this was among the worst/hardest swims they had ever experienced.  That made me feel better to think that guys who could swim 2.5 miles, bike 112 miles, and then run a full marathon felt that this was really tough.  In any event, it was in no way a "swim." It was fighting the surf.

So, I live to race another day. I'm signed up for another sprint triathlon in Carlsbad in July. I've also singed up for an Olympic distance race in September (San Diego Tri Classic).  I also hope to participate in some of the Tri Club's beginner races to hone my transition skills in the meantime. Triathlon is a great sport, I'm having a great time. I just kinda feel a bit like a poser still...

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