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.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Race report

My first triathlon season was supposed to be capped off by my first Olympic distance race on September 7th-the San Diego Tri Classic. But as my last post described, I missed my run goal on the final leg of the race. I finished, but did not perform how I knew I could. I can make lots of excuses-heat, humidity, hilly bike course, whatever. The bottom line was that I didn't do what I had set out to do. I was kind of bummed to end my first season on such a note.

As I was loading up my car after the race, there was a small postcard that had been stuck on my windshield, along with all the others in the parking lot.  Great. Another publicity ad that I'll toss. I looked at it as I threw it into the car and saw that it was advertising a race just two weeks away-Tri Rock San Diego. Why not? I'm already in shape to go the distance. Racing on September 22nd would give me week to recover before I needed to start training for my first marathon in January 2014, so I wasn't going to threaten the next goal on the agenda.

So I signed up. 1,500 meter swim; 22 mile bike; 6 mile run.

In the two week interim, I focused a lot on my running. I did a lot of "brick" workouts where you combine two disciplines, with one of them always being the run. Honestly, I had a lot to overcome mentally about my run. I had signed up for a Half Marathon much earlier in the year-America's Finest City. It was in August. It is the third race in a 3 race series known locally as the "Triple Crown." I had already done the first two. (Carlsbad and La Jolla)  The problem was, I was so into triathlon, that I let the long runs slide. I figured I was in good shape, I could eke out 13.1 miles decently. WRONG. After 8 miles, it started to hurt. I finished, but my time was pretty bad. 

I was hoping to have a confidence building 6 mile run the Monday before this race.  I did it the run, but I ended up walking a little the last mile, and the heat made it really unpleasant. Fortunately, a few days before the race, I had a great run-bike-run brick where I was able to keep a sub 10:00 pace.  That was my goal-to keep my run at 10:00 or less.

I felt good going in. 

I got to the race in plenty of time. The transition area had already been divided up by bib number, so getting there right when they open wouldn't have made a big difference. In the parking lot, I saw another athlete that I kind of knew from my summer ocean swims with the Tri Club. That was nice to have someone to talk to as we walked over.  I knew from our workouts that she was a strong swimmer. 

The race got a late start. We were in the 5th wave, females 40-44. The race organizers said they were waiting for the tide to rise over the steps that led down into the waters of San Diego Bay. It was fun to chat with the others in the corral.  Finally they started sending the waves out. There were red, orange, yellow, and green swim caps that went out before we did. Behind us was powder blue. We had to swim out about 25 meters to get to the start line for an in-water start. 

My swim strategy was to get on the outside and not worry about being in the front. I really don't like having to fight for my space in the water. Even if I had to swim a bit farther to have the water to myself, it would be worth it. The horn went off, and we were off. For the most part, my strategy worked pretty well. I was able to focus on my swim rather than avoiding getting kicked in the face. 

The course had us swimming out to the far buoy, which was red/orange. We were to make a right turn and then keep the buoys on our right until the very end when we would make a left turn and head back to the dock. As I got farther into the swim, I found myself passing other colored caps. Cool!  I liked that. But, at the same time, there were a few powder blues that would pass me.  

The swim seemed to take forever. I can usually swim 1,500 meters in about 35 minutes. This seemed to drag on and on. I would pass a buoy with the mileage marked and see that I was not as far into the course as I felt I was. Whatever. Just keep moving forward.  It was a beautiful race course. When I would raise my head to breathe on the left, I saw the Coronado Bridge arching over the bay to Coronado Island. When I would breathe on the right, I would see the beautiful downtown San Diego skyline through the multi-million dollar yachts anchored in the bay. At one point, I saw a silver cap. Silver cap?  That must be a swim buddy. (They allow experienced swimmers who aren't racing who want to volunteer to give encouragement and tips to nervous swimmers). Another breath and I realized he looked kind of familiar. Sure enough, it was a guy I met over the summer during our morning ocean swims. He was instrumental in getting me over my fear of surf entries. (To see how that fear was developed, you can read about it here.)  I lifted my head and yelled, "Hi Chuck!" He responded, "Hey! I thought that was you! Have a good race!"  It was cool to know someone and get a thumbs up. 

I realized as I saw the last buoy on the long part of the course that we must be swimming against the current. Many swimmers were not able to keep that last buoy on their right side and were cutting the corner. I fought to make it around correctly, but the current pushed me into the buoy. But I did it right!  We had maybe 150 meters of going with the current before we headed to the swim finish. 

I was glad that the swim was over. I looked down at my watch as I got out of the water and was dismayed to see my time was over 52 minutes. I felt like I was going as fast as I could, and yet this was a pretty bad time for what I knew I could do. But no matter. Keep moving forward. 

The distance between the water and the entry into the transition area was pretty far. Wet concrete is pretty slippery, so I decided to play it safe and walk rather than run. The last thing I needed was to slip and fall and hurt myself and not be able to finish. 

When I got to the transition area, I was happy to see that most of the bikes were still there. My friend's bike was gone, but I expected that-she's a strong ocean swimmer. For me, this was a great sign, and a first. The past races I have done, I'm the last one to get there. They have you rack up in your age group, so these are the people I am competing against. Even though my swim was slow, others were slower! As I peeled off my wetsuit, I commented to another athlete that the swim seemed to go on forever. She agreed, and that was the general consensus among everyone at the end. We were swimming against a strong current for a majority of the course.  

I dried off my feet, put on my socks, cycling shoes, threw on my helmet and tried to get my bike out. Here is where I regretted not setting up differently. My stuff was set up at the rear of the bike rather than at the front. The two women on either side of me had done it that way before I got there, and to make the bikes fit, I had to put mine in backwards. I didn't have room to put my stuff at the front, because they had already set up that way and there was no room. Lesson learned-even if transition spots are assigned, get there first so you can set up the way you want. I didn't have enough confidence to point out to the women that it made more sense for us to move our stuff to the front of the bikes. Once I had my stuff on, I had to squeeze my way through the bikes under the rack to get my bike out, costing me several seconds of T1 time. 

Fortunately, our spot was near the bike out, so I didn't have far to go in the cycling shoes. Real legit triathletes hook their cycling shoes to their pedals and run with their bikes barefoot. They jump on the bike and slip their feet in their shoes as they ride. There is no way I'm ready for that. I just click and clack to the mount line and get on.  One other guy wasn't ready for it either, because he had fallen over on his bike in the middle of the road! I got past him and was on my way.

The bike course was pretty bumpy with lots of potholes. Once we were onto the San Diego Naval base, there were quite a few turns. It was a 2 loop course for those of us doing the Olympic distance. In the beginning of the ride, I would get anxious when I would have someone pass me. Then I realized that as long as they weren't females with a 40 on their calf, it was no big deal. I wasn't racing these young dudes on super aero tri bikes.  So I stopped worrying about that, and when I would creep up on someone in my group, I would do my best to pass them! 

Many in the the tri community are very nice. At one point, one of those guys who passed me complimented/encouraged me by saying, "You're doing great." How nice! There were lots of sailors out along the bike course cheering for us as well.  At one point on the base right before I took a right turn, my front tire got lodged into a crack in the road. DANGER! It nearly made me fall over. Thankfully, I was able to get out of the rut and go on.  I had a Gu energy gel taped onto my bike frame and took it as I was finishing up the first loop. I wanted enough time for it to hit the system before I started the run. In the end, my average speed was 17.2 mph.  Not bad, considering all the turns.

When I got to the dismount line, I started to click/clack back through the transition area with my bike. But the bike-in area was far from my spot and that was going to be slow, not to mention hard on my cleats. So I took of my shoes and ran in my socks, holding my shoes in one hand and guiding my bike with the other. 

My transition spot greeted me with another good sign...most of the bikes were still on the road.  I slipped on my running shoes, grabbed my belt that had my race bib on it and tried to pull my visor on my head. Unfortunately, my visor strap was a bit funky since I had washed it earlier in the week and was twisted. It took me precious seconds to untwist it and put it on. But then I was off on my most dreaded leg...the run.
The finish line

The run was a 2 loop course around the Embarcardero Park and Seaport Village. The turnaround point was at the historic aircraft carrier, the Midway. The people doing the sprint distance just did one loop.  It was hard to start out slow with all of the spectators cheering. I ran just to my feeling for the first mile, not looking at my Garmin. When it beeped, I saw that my first mile was 9:06. Woah! Slow it down and save some for the end. I didn't want to run out of gas.  There was a guy in a "Team in Training" jersey that said "Embrace the Suck" on the back of it. I like that expression, but as I passed him (yes, I did!) I realized...this does not suck!  But it was early on, so I wasn't going to be claiming victory yet. 

The view was amazing. At one point we were running in the grass of the park overlooking the bay and I saw a neat old ship cruising in. There were amazing yachts anchored there. It was a gorgeous day.  San Diego truly is a beautiful place. I thought how absolutely BLESSED I was to live here, to be able to do what I'm doing. My heart was filled with gratitude as I pressed on. Thank you Lord!  I stopped a couple times at aid stations to walk through and get a drink. But nothing like my last race where I was so hot I was dumping entire cups on my head.  
About 50 yards from the finish line, there was a final aid station.  I was a bit thirsty, so I took a cup to wet my mouth without slowing down.  That was a mistake. The water went down the wrong tube and made me gag the last bit of the run. No matter. I was able to cross the finish line strong!  In the end, my splits were 9:09, 9:23, 9:18, 9:34, 9:43, 9:24. Goal attained!  I got my medal and waded into the crowded post-race expo area. 

I was pleasantly surprised to see that Eric had brought the kids down and they were looking for me. They didn't get down there fast enough to see me race at all, but it was still nice that they made the effort. 

I was pretty happy with the official results. My overall time was 3:13:49. I was 13th out of 35 women in my age group. When I looked at the women who came in 11th and 12th, I saw that #11 beat me by 36 seconds, and #12 got me by 33 seconds! Less than a minute!  The time I fiddled with my bike facing the wrong way, and with my visor would have more than made up for that! Sheesh! No wonder they call transition the 4th discipline! Every second counts!  The women at the top were simply amazing. I'm pretty sure at least one of them (who I've seen before) is sponsored by a local shop. Racing is her job. She looks like it. 

All in all, I am thrilled with my first season attempting the sport of triathlon.  I ended up doing three USAT sanctioned triathlons, one sprint and two Olympic distance.  I also did one duathlon. I now am going to focus on my running during the off-season. I've signed up for my first marathon, which is in January 2014. I want to do a solid 4 month training program for that so I am healthy, confident, and able to do it. So that is the next goal on the horizon. I hope to do some more triathlons next year. Who knows...maybe the year after that I'll be able to do a 70.3 (also known as half Ironman)! 

Just keep moving forward!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

This is how I survive

I know it has been quite awhile since I blogged-a whole season has passed! Summer was busy and all too short. We didn't go on any vacations, but the kids kept me busy with all of their activities. I took advantage of the longer days to really get into my triathlon training. After that disaster at the Encinitas race last May (described in my last post, "Live to Race Another Day"),  I had a bit of anxiety about open water swimming, particularly surf entries. I took advantage of the San Diego Tri Club's standing biweekly workouts on Tuesday and Thursday mornings here in North County. Lots of practice going in and out of the water. I was really blessed by a few of the other members who took the time to really teach me about surf entries, even to the detriment of their own workouts!

In July, I successfully completed my first triathlon. It was a sprint distance course: 1k swim (ocean entry), 20k bike, 5k run. I did the race with a fellow breast cancer survivor, so it was really cool for us to do it together and stick it to cancer in that way!

Nancy and I show off our body markings in July
I had decided early in the year that my goal distance for triathlon was going to be the Olympic distance. Sprints were a bit short, and Ironman or even half Ironman distances were nuts. (Although the more I do this, the more I wish I could do those longer courses!)  An Olympic distance race is typically 1,500 meter swim, 40k bike and a 10k run. So that was my goal for the year.

Earlier in the year, I signed up for an Olympic distance race, the San Diego Tri Classic.  My training going into the race was pretty good. My goals were to do the swim in about 40 minutes, 90 minutes for the bike, and maintain a 10 minute mile pace on the run.

That race was today.

I got to the transition area at around 4:45 a.m. Yikes! Early, isn't it? I woke up at 3:15 a.m. to get there in plenty of time. On my way to the racks, there was a guy doing athlete body marking. I figured I might as well get it done first, so I showed him my bib number so he could get to work.  They typically mark your biceps, quadriceps, and put your age on your calf. He went to mark my left bicep, but saw my compression sleeve.  "You can't mark that." I said. I suggested he do my shoulder instead where there were a few inches of skin between my singlet and compression sleeve. A girl was standing there in line and said to me, "You're a breast cancer survivor."  I looked at her and said, "Yes. Yes, I am." She was really nice and congratulated me.

I racked my bike and made small talk with another woman in my age group who was competing.

At 6:00 a.m., they let us get into the water for a warm up before they started sending the waves out at 6:15 a.m.  My wave was scheduled for 6:27 a.m.  It had been a few weeks since I had done any open water swimming and the wetsuit made me feel really buoyant.

The swim leg was okay, although it is kind of hard to swim with hundreds of other people in the water. There were moments where I got kicked, swam over, splashed in the face while trying to breathe, but these are all parts of the sport. I was happy to have the swim over with so I could get to the bike.

The bike course was a challenge-pretty hilly. But I live around hills, so I managed it okay. I felt bad for those competitors that I saw on the side of the road with mechanical issues. I'd be hard pressed to fix a flat, although I could with time. But one guy had a more serious problem and ended up pushing his bike 6 miles at the end!

The run was the tough part. I had done a training session with a 40k bike and 10k run. But it was really hot and humid today. I ended up having to do a fair bit of walking. After 4 miles, I decided to do an "empowered walk." Rather than see it as a defeat, I started to walk as fast as I could, swinging my arms and feeling like I was racing with it. As I did, I started to gain on one lady who was ahead of me, doing a slow jog. As I got closer, I saw from her calf that she was in my age group. I decided that MY race today was going to be to beat that particular woman so my name would be above hers in our Female 40-44 standings. I kept up the walk, and then picked up a run here and there, making sure that once I passed her she did not pass me back. A lot of people were walking-it was pretty hot. Even young, fit looking people were walking. I saved some mojo for the last .2 miles so I was able to run it in across the finish line.

My official time was 3:22:41. I pretty much met my swim and bike goals. My swim was 35:08, bike was 1:30:58. The run faltered a bit, and I came in at 1:09:47, an 11 minute mile. But whatever. I did it!!

My post-race included a lot of water, some orange wedges, 1/8 of a bagel and more water. I got a free massage from some physical therapists that were there. That was awesome.  Then I made my way over to the beer garden. Yes, the popular races feature a complimentary beer garden for competitors. I got myself a cold one (Stone IPA) and made my way over to the stands to watch the other racers who were still finishing the course.

A girl struck up a conversation with me while we were sitting there. This was her first triathlon, her boyfriend had done a few Ironman's and that is how she got into the sport. Then she asked me what got me started doing triathlon.

Hm.  Why indeed? Why did I start racing at all? Not just tri, but half marathons?  Why AM I doing this? It can be physically painful, time consuming and expensive.  I told her that it seemed like something really hard to do. Then I confessed...that a few years ago I was going through treatment for breast cancer. Of course, when you say that you usually get a shocked expression. But it is true-pushing the bar to the next "hard thing" is how I survive. It is how I move on, making a new kind of life. Leaving cancer behind, pushing my body that has been cut, poisoned and burned beyond anything that I ever thought it was capable of doing.  This is how I survive. Strongly. Always looking to the next thing to tackle. By the grace of God, this is how I survive.

This was all confirmed for me while I was driving home. I was listening to a local pop station which usually plays contemporary songs. Then they played Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive." Woah!  They always play that song at the end of closing ceremonies at the Susan G. Komen 3 Day. It's quite an emotional moment, because you are physically tired and you are there celebrating with hundreds of other survivors. It really is something. Well, today, I celebrated by myself on Interstate 5! I cranked up the volume and sang at the top of my lungs with tears running down my cheeks. Yep. I will survive.

And this is how I do it.