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, October 1, 2014

Thoughts on "Awareness"

As we embark on Breast Cancer Awareness Month 2014, here are some of my thoughts:

October is a month that is dreaded by many women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer and gone through treatment. Not all of them, but there is definitely a vocal segment of the “survivor population” that detests all things pink. I'm not one of them, although I do understand some of their sentiments.

I understand that numerous corporations jump on the pink bandwagon all in the name of “awareness” to get people to buy their product with the promise that money will be donated to charities that support breast cancer research and support. I understand that in some cases, not as much money actually gets donated as the consumer may think. Its just a marketing scheme. I get that. Buyer beware. If you are buying a product because you think its going to help, make sure you know where you are putting your money. As some critics urge, “Think before you pink.”

I understand that just because breast cancer is detected early with a mammogram, it does not mean that the patient will survive.  "Early detection" doesn't necessarily save lives. First of all, mammograms aren't the be-all and end-all of screening. They don't always detect cancer, especially in younger women with dense breast tissue. My mammograms and their interpretations failed to catch a 3 1/2 centimeter tumor on my left breast! Secondly, mammograms introduce cancer causing radiation to your body. Thirdly, there is always the potential of recurrence. I'm not saying women should not get mammograms. But it that is the focus of “Breast Cancer Awareness Month” we are missing something.

Is anyone in this day and age “unaware” of breast cancer? I understand that 20-30 years ago, it was a disease that women may have been ashamed of and no one spoke of. But those days have long passed.

"Awareness” is nice. I like the color pink.  I appreciate the sympathy. But I think everyone is “aware” of breast cancer now. Having football teams wear pink is nice, but it doesn’t do anything to solve the problem of breast cancer. Don't get me wrong-I really do appreciate the sentiment and the desire that people have to support those affected by this disease. I don’t want to poo poo on people’s well intentioned efforts.

But it is time to go beyond awareness. It’s time for action. Especially when we consider those who are diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer, which there is NO cure for. Even people diagnosed with earlier stages of breast cancer can go through treatment and keep on living and think they are fine and then have a recurrence. Once it has gone beyond the breasts, it is incurable. That's scary stuff.

 I get a quite annoyed at all the “save the ta ta’s, ” “I love boobies,” and “protect 2nd base” stuff I see during October. Or the pink bras, or dogs with balloon boobs, or any of it. It isn’t cancer in your breast that kills you. You can live without breasts. I know, because I do. It is when it moves into other organs or your bones that kills you. That is what I want people to be “aware” of.

We all know breast cancer exists and is bad. But boobs are so not the issue! Some people think October gives some the license to talk about boobs...come on! How old are we? When I see a teenage boy with a shirt or bracelet "I Love Boobies" I cringe. Of course you do, dear! Most teenage boys do, after all. Grow up, people!

So what kind of action do we need to take beyond a squishy warm fuzzy feeling of “awareness” that accomplishes nothing? I believe it means funding research on Stage IV, or metastatic, cancer. 30% of all breast cancer patients will metastasize, but only 2% of research funding goes into Stage IV. Isn't that where the focus should be if we really want to find a "Cure?" We need to fund organizations that give grants and money to institutions that are researching cures. Some organizations that are on my radar:

  • The Noreen Fraser Foundation
  • The Breast Cancer Research Foundation
  • Metavivor

  • I'm sure there are other worthy organizations. If you know of some, I welcome you to add them in the Comments section.

    Finally, there is a lot of backlash against the Susan G. Komen organization and its affiliates among some in the survivor community. I'll say here that I do support Komen. I appreciate the advancements over their history that they have made towards research and treatment of breast cancer. Most, if not all of the treatments I received probably had some origin from a Komen grant. They have a very informative website. I enjoy their events and lead a team for the annual 5k race here in San Diego. I've done the 3 Day Walk twice and enjoyed every moment. I've met survivor sisters who have become friends through Komen. Heck, I even appeared in some of their commercials!  But only a small percentage of the funds they raise goes towards research. The rest they use to help women who are in treatment and pay for their operating costs. Some women in treatment need the assistance. Some women can't afford mammograms. I'm not against these other programs that Komen sponsors. They are helpful and there is a place for them. I am not a Komen hater. There is room for all kinds of organizations to address the needs and issues that breast cancer raises. I'm not one to tell people not to donate to Komen if they want. In fact, I'd be happy if anyone wanted to donate to my team, the Pink and Plaid Warriors for the 2014 Race for the Cure.  

    As we go through the month of October, I just hope that people move beyond the warm fuzzy, amorphous idea of "awareness." If you really care, go beyond wearing pink. Donate to organizations that are funding Stage IV research. Or volunteer to drive a cancer patient to chemotherapy appointments. If you know someone going through treatment, bring them dinner for their family. Call your local organization and see what you can do to help.

    It's time to go beyond "awareness" and really make a difference.

    Just my 2 cents!

    Thursday, January 16, 2014

    The best laid plans….

    Writing my blog is a bit like therapy for me. So forgive me if this is long and boring.

    Nearly a year ago, I signed up for the Carlsbad Marathon. I had run the half marathon version in 2013 and felt like by January 2014, I would be ready for my first full marathon.  I had a year to get ready, as well as plans for 3 more half marathons in 2013 and a handful of triathlons.  I figured Carlsbad would be a great first marathon for several reasons: It is literally next door; I'm very familiar with the course; it's fairly flat; and they had a pretty generous cut off time. 

    I followed a 16 week training program from Runners Word Smart Coach. My mileage maxed out at 40 miles a week for a few weeks in December. I followed the rule of not increasing your mileage by more than 10% a week. I ran 4 days a week and cross trained with the bike and swim on the other 2 workout days. I ran increasingly longer "long runs."  They started at 10 miles, then went to 12, 14, 16, 18 and even 20 miles a couple of times.  Sure, I had to walk a bit on those long runs (I would run 4 miles, walk 1/4 mile). But I did it.  I was going to do 26.2. 

    My last 20 miler was on December 23rd.  I ran the Carlsbad marathon course.  It went fine. Sure, the last couple miles were really hard. But that's the point, right?  In the middle of the night, I got up and as I walked to the bathroom, my left thigh protested. Okay, I figured it was just sore muscles.  

    But sore muscles generally go away after a few days. This didn't. It was worse in the mornings and then would lessen, but not altogether disappear. I ran on Christmas Day and it was the worst run I've possibly ever had. It was hot. I was tired. I was dehydrated, and my dang leg hurt.   

    I went and saw a sports physical therapist on Saturday. I actually had a half marathon that I was signed up for on December 29th. It was intended to be a "tune up" race for the next month's marathon.  The therapist was great-he told me that the muscle in question was my "sartorius." It's the longest muscle in the body, going diagonally from hip to inside of the knee.  He also pointed out that I had pretty tight hips on both sides, but particularly on the left side. So he showed me some stretches to do, most of which I already knew. But I realized that I need to do a LOT more stretching/foam rolling than I have been. 

    The question was…do I run the half marathon? He thought I probably could if I warmed it up a lot.  Of course, I wanted to run it-I had some friends who were also doing it and it was going to be fun.  It was only 13.1 miles, after all. (Believe me, after training for 26.2, 13.1 isn't a big deal!) 

    So I went for it. The leg hurt for 7 miles, but I focused on my form and running straight. After 7 miles it went away. I ended up with my fastest half marathon time yet…2:03 and change. I decided around mile 9 that I might even be able to break 2:00, so I went for it. 

    I was REALLY sore for days after that. The course was a net downhill of 700 feet. I didn't realize the impact that has on those thigh muscles! Not just the sartorius, but my quads were not happy with me! 

    I decided to take a week off of running. It was taper time anyway.  I figured that if I just cross train and give it time to heal, I would still be okay for the marathon. I even posted in the Runner's World marathon forum to have more experienced runners tell me that I would still be able to do it after taking a week off. They assured me that, "the hay is in the barn."  Okay. Great. I would swim and bike, with good warm ups, good stretches and ice after each workout. I also was taking Aleve twice a day. 

    I had an excellent session with a skilled massage therapist who did some trigger point therapy on the muscle.  She went from insertion point to insertion point on the muscles of the back and hips and really dug in there to get some of the tension released. I believe she actually pinpointed the origin of my problem. My left hip was higher than my right hip. Going up the chain, the muscles on the left side and back were extremely tight, which pulled the hip up. That in turn caused that sartorious muscle to have to extend further when I would run. The prescription: keep even in my shoulders and hips. Interesting side note was that it was tightness around my left side where I had the invasive lymph node removal. Ah cancer! The gift that keeps on giving!

    My run break ended last Friday when I did 5 miles around a local lake with the kids.  Well, they did a few laps and then played at the nearby park while I finished my run. I felt the leg, but it was okay. I did a lot of stretching and iced it and it didn't get worse.  I can do it if it just is like this or better, I figured. I re-read my "Big Book of Marathon Training" and got assurances that crises in confidence are very common during the taper. The hay was in the barn. Rest up and look forward. 

    The next day my mom and I went to this fun event in Los Angeles for an upcoming TV series based on our favorite series of books, "Outlander." It involved standing in line for hours. No biggie. I figured it was an extra day off. But the next day, my leg ached. Uh oh. Instead of my planned run, I went for a swim. 

    On Monday morning during my prayer time, I asked God to give me clarity in my decision making. I needed some guidance on what to do. Do I run through pain?  Would it get better in a few days? 
    That day, in addition to everything else I was doing to treat the injury, I wrapped my thigh before the run. I did 5 miles and it wasn't that great. I was paranoid the whole time about my leg, and I did feel it the whole time. Monday night, my leg just ached.  I realized that God had answered my prayer. There was no way that I was going to be able to safely run/walk 26.2 miles on this leg in 6 days' time. 

    So I've decided NOT to run the race. I know in my gut that it's the right thing to do, but a part of me is being resistant to the decision. So here is why I know its right:

    • First and foremost, I don't want to injure it even worse. That would probably sideline me for months instead of weeks. 
    • I've got things I want to do in 2014: A friend and I signed up for a 66 mile bike race in early March. It will be my first bike-only event. It has over 2,300 feet of elevation climb. I've got to be able to train for that.  I've also got a half marathon in mid-March, the San Diego Half Marathon. I had been hoping to break my 2:00 time barrier. I don't know if I'll be able to do that, but at least I'd like to run it!
    • There are other races, even marathons.  I had pretty much decided that I would sign up for the San Diego Rock & Roll marathon in June, regardless of whether or not I ran Carlsbad. Deciding not to run Carlsbad sealed the deal. I signed up a few days ago. 
    • The 450 miles I ran in training are not a loss. It increased my running fitness. It gave me the confidence to know that I CAN do it. I just can't do it injured.  It's funny when anything under 14 miles doesn't really seem "long" anymore. How twisted is that?! 
    • I can keep my cardio fitness up while I nurse this injury through the bike and swim. Besides, I need to be doing more on the bike anyway with this race coming up. 
    • I am an athlete, and injuries are part of the sport.  I was reading in one of my magazines (I think it was "Triathlete") and they were interviewing an elite athlete who pointed out that injury is part of the sport. So is rehabbing and being smart about what you do. If elites go through this, I guess its okay if I do. I mean…look at Ryan Hall. I'm in good company.
    • Next time around, I can make changes that will hopefully avoid injury. First and foremost, I will do more weight training to strengthen my hips and glutes. And I will continue focusing on flexibility and myofascial release with the foam roller. Every day. I will also get regular massages to work the kinks out that I can't get myself. 
    So that's it. I think I've got it all out.  I still plan on going to the Carlsbad race expo and picking up my shirt and other goodies. I did pay $70 after all. I'll feel a little "illegit" in wearing it, but it will be the most expensive running shirt in my collection! 

    If you've read this far, I appreciate it.  I've accepted the disappointment, and am looking forward. Pray that my leg heals up so I can move forward as well. 

    Monday, October 14, 2013


    Confession time.

    I have been freaking out for the past couple of weeks.  I didn't really share it with anyone because I didn't want other people to be freaking out as well. Besides, I knew it was probably all in my head. A little seed of doubt that is always present, exploited by the enemy to steal away my peace of mind, and dare I say it, my joy. Even though I knew that, I couldn't help but freak out.  I filled out a prayer request form at church a couple weeks ago and knew people were praying for me to have peace that passes all understanding. I even met with one of our pastors yesterday for prayer. I would have some periods where a few hours would go by without my worry. But it would inevitably return.

    You see, it is October. Every October, I am due to "check in" with my oncologist, Dr. P.  I've noticed a pattern leading up to the appointment of increased anxiety. It seemed to be at its worst this time around. What do you do when you're freaking out in the middle of the night? Thinking that you are feeling tumors in your body, that really are your rib cage and sternum?  Are they really that bumpy? I guess without breast tissue they are.

    Two and a half weeks ago, I started serious training for my first marathon in January.  The reason I bring this up is that I've been feeling the effects of the longer runs, especially in my lungs. It's not pain, just a sensation that they are being used, stretched.  But that didn't help my peace of mind at all.  After all, maybe that sensation was cancer in my lung tissue.

    I wasn't really freaking out about how a recurrence would affect me. It was more playing out the scenarios in my head about how it would affect my family. I imagined Dr. P feeling around and coming to a bump and pausing with a concerned look and palpating. Then recommending further testing of some kind that would confirm my worst fear. It was back. I wondered how I would tell the kids that the cancer was back. I wondered how they would get to all their activities and school without me in the picture.  How long could I make it with mets?  Would it hurt? Would I be around for Olivier's high school graduation? What about poor Jean-Marc? What about Isabelle? To be the only girl in a house full of Jamois men. Oh la la. This is macabre, I know. But I even thought about what kind of memorial service would be held once I had gone to be with the Lord.

    What a waste of energy and emotion. I knew that, but couldn't help but be drawn into that vortex of "what if."  It sucked.

    So today was the big day. I went on a 14 mile training run this morning-my longest run ever. It was on my schedule, and I figured why not?  Can a sick person really run 14 miles? No. But maybe?

    The appointment itself was pretty uneventful. Dr. P knows I like to run, and I mentioned that I started doing triathlons this year. He told me 3 years ago that he does tris, so we chatted about what races I had done this year as he started his exam. He felt the lymph nodes in my neck, checked my lungs and heart. Then he had me lie back while he did the palpitation part of the exam. He felt around on my chest, abdomen,  internal organs, etc.  Unlike my freak out scenarios, he did not stop. It was all over pretty quickly.

    He wants me to take another estrogen level blood test to see where my levels are. As usual, I asked for a Vitamin D test too.  He recommended a pap test-I haven't had one of those for 3 years. He also said to keep popping the tamoxifen, which I'm happy to do. He said recent studies recommend taking it for 10 years. That's fine with me.

    Then he said, "Well, it has been over 3 years now. That is a milestone."  Really? I didn't ask for specifics, but I'm assuming that its a milestone in the whole survivor dance.  Maybe I should have asked about it. Does that mean my chance of recurrence goes down?  Maybe I'll e-mail him and ask. Not that it really matters, but maybe it will make me less anxious come next April when I have to do this all again.

    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.

    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...

    Friday, May 3, 2013

    I can do this!

    Last night I made my second attempt at open water swimming with the Tri Club.

    And I did it.

    Big time.

    I may not have been the fastest, but I did it.  I swam about a mile, and could have gone farther. The only thing that stopped me was the fact that the workout was over and that my wetsuit was chafing the back of my neck.

    I still have a lot to learn, (like putting Glide on the back of the neck.)  But after about 15 minutes, I managed to get rid of the panicky feeling that I had before. I started being able to breathe every three strokes bilaterally like I do in the pool. I got into a zone. We weren't breaking any speed records, but that wasn't the point. I wanted to get to a point where I felt like I was actually swimming rather than flailing around like a freak.

    I started to feel like....I will be able to do this after all! I wasn't so sure after my first attempt a couple weeks ago.  I'm getting my bearings in the open water. I was "sighting" much better. Rather than lifting my head up and out of the water, I was able to just peek with my eyes forward on the object in the distance I was sighting on. In this case, it was the Hyatt Islandia in one direction and the Belmont Park roller coaster in the other. If you don't sight, you end up swimming crooked, off course, and end up swimming way more than you have to. Sighting is open water swimmings version of that darling black line that graces the bottom of the swimming pool lanes.

    This is where the swim was. The cove is behind that row of palm trees-if you look you can see the line of white buoys we were swimming around to make a "lap."

    I even felt like I was getting it in relation to coordinating my gear and stuff. I got a large plastic bin to transport my wet wetsuit which worked like a charm. Bonita cove had showers, so I was able to rinse my suit (and myself) right there.

    My first triathalon is 2 weeks away. The swim portion is off of the beach in Encinitas. I need to practice some beach entries! Fortunately, the race organizers are hosting a course preview next weekend. I'll probably go to that so I can get a sense of it.  I've done some scuba diving from the beach in La Jolla, so I'm hoping that it won't be too stress inducing for me to get out there.

    Tri Club also is starting a weekly beginner swim at La Jolla Cove that I would like to go to as well. Once I feel more confident, I think I'll be able to participate in some open water swims that happen in Carlsbad off Tamarack beach....much closer to home!

    This triathalon stuff is a ton of fun! A totally new challenge.  It feels a little strange not to be running 5 days a week, though. I'm trying to get at least 2 swims (1 pool, 1 open water), 2 bike rides, 2 runs and a bike/run brick workout in each week. A brick is when you ride your bike and then immediately run afterwards.  I've signed up for an olympic distance event in September-the San Diego Tri Classic. (1,500 meter swim, 40 k bike, 10k run). Before that, I've got my first sprint distance race in 2 weeks. I'm also going to do a second sprint in Carlsbad in July. Whee!!

    Thanks for all of your support!