Race Day Reflections: Sprint Triathlons Are Good for Me


In case you didn’t see the little comment post I made after I finished the race last weekend, here’s the news:  I finished the race!

A few of the crew from the JDRF NW Tri Club… with medals!

I fulfilled all of my goals of finishing, never stopping, and having fun.  I also fulfilled the bonus goal I had to keep my blood sugar levels in safe ranges at all times.  And I fulfilled the extra-bonus goal of meeting new people and bonding over the fact that we were about to jump into a freezing cold lake together!  It was fantastic!  My new friends from the SDGNW and JDRF NW Tri Club stepped up to help me set up my space in the transition zone and encourage me along the course.  In fact, on the day before the race, I received emails from everyone involved with little suggestions and words of assurance.  One especially gracious guy offered to do the whole race by my side.  I was moved to tears and continue to feel overwhelmingly grateful when I think about how the diabetes community truly has become a community for me.

So, let’s get right down to it.  I promised you a re-cap of my Race Day, and that you shall have.

I’ll go ahead and answer your most burning questions first, then move into more general reflections.

Suits and caps (and raincoats) on. LET’S DO THIS.

Number One:  Yes, I peed in my wetsuit.

Have you ever put on a wetsuit?  It is very difficult.  When I went to try on the one I had reserved, the woman gave me verbal directions, pointed to a step-by-step diagram poster on the wall, and then literally brought in and turned on a fan in the dressing room before walking back to the front of the store with a smirk on her face.  Needless to say, once you get it on, you want to keep it on.

I arrived for the triathlon around 7am and my wave didn’t start until 9am.  I probably went to the bathroom in the distant porta-potties three times before I put on my wetsuit, but there was no stopping it.  As we approached the T-minus-10-minutes mark, I jumped into the lake and swam around for a few minutes to get adjusted to the water temperature and get into the racing mindset.  And, right then, I knew it was going to be a pee-now-or-forever-hold-your-pee situation.

Number Two:  No, glucose tablets are not waterproof.  At all.

Somewhere along the way, during the bike portion, I realized that I had forgotten to stick my glucose tablets and gummies in the back pockets of my tri shorts.  When you run out of the water, you’re ripping off your wetsuit, throwing on a t-shirt, and jumping on your bike.  In that transition, I had planned to stick my low supplies in my pockets.  Didn’t happen.  So, while riding my coworker’s bike miles away from my base camp, I resolved to put the supplies in my pockets when I got back, and at least have them with me for the run.  Biking has never significantly dropped my blood sugar, anyway, so I figured I was ok.

I did remember to stick them in my pockets before the run, but I did not end up using them, and I found them about two hours after crossing the finish line in a solid, pasty glucose mass stuck to my shorts.  (Did I mention it poured all morning?)

I lifted my towel out of my bag to start cleaning up to go home and this is what I saw. Such is the transition zone for a person with diabetes.

Number Three:  Yes, blood sugar levels and times can be easily confused.

How many of you have had an experience similar to this:  You test your blood sugar sometime in the early afternoon and say to yourself, “Two-o-nine.”  Then you zip up your meter and look at the time, and it’s 2:09.  Confused, you unzip your meter and scroll back through your numbers to make sure you were looking at the glucose level, not the time.  Anyone else ever have double-takes like this?  (I guess I don’t often have blood sugar levels in the two-hundreds, but certainly have confusion more frequently in the one-hundreds.)  For me, since numbers are often difficult to remember in the first place, I seem to blend them together or exchange them quite easily.

Well, when I arrived at my little bike rack area in the Transition Zone on the morning of the race, I was greeted by a veteran triathlete standing next to me who welcomed me to the race and assured me that Black Diamond was a great “first.”  (Here’s how you can tell the veterans from us first-timers:  they have a can of Pam Cooking Spray in their bag of transition gear.  That’s right; Pam.  They spray it all over themselves and their wetsuits to make it slide off more easily when going from the swim to the bike.  This man was one of the Pam-holders.)  As the start time approached, we both headed off to the lake.  An hour and some later, when I returned from my biking portion (with 2.8 miles left to run), the Pam Man was packing up his things to go home, having finished the race a little while ago.  We briefly said hello as I scrambled to rack my bike, pull out my meter and get a drop of blood from my finger amidst the pouring rain.  I wasn’t necessarily worried about being low or high, but was delighted to see 109 flash on my meter’s screen.  I turned to one of my SDGNW supporters and yelled, “One-o-nine!”  Pam Man looked shocked as he turned to me and almost jumped with congratulations, saying, “One-o-nine for your first tri?!  That’s amazing!  Great job!”  I very quickly realized what was happening and almost had to stop the man from hugging me so that I could explain that, “Well, actually, I have type one diabetes… and this is my blood sugar… not my time… and I still have the run left to do.”  I’m not sure who was more embarrassed.

Rack your bike. Take off your helmet. Test you blood sugar. Run.

As far as other race-related things go, I have good news to report:  I took a chunk of time off of my swim time, had a PR, and finished 78th out of everyone (213 in the Sprint Tri) for the swim!  Honestly—and I don’t know why this was surprising to me—the swim was the most fun.  I would do that again any day.  I think it was the part I was dreading the most, only due to my terrifyingly cold test-run in Green Lake the day before, but it turned out to be the part I enjoyed the most.  I was able to find some openings to slip through and some pockets to pop up out of, but I probably could’ve taken another minute off my time if I didn’t have to spend so much time treading water, stuck in a pile of people, at the start.  The biking was fine; much bigger hills than I had trained on, but fun to see people and yell encouragement to strangers as they passed.  My run time was a couple minutes slower than what I had been running; I think I was so worried about pushing too hard that I didn’t push hard enough.  There’s always next time.

Overall, I am very pleased with my results.  I kept my blood sugar levels in check for the entire race and crossed the finish line smiling.  My parents were the first (and only) people I called after I finished, and they quietly stepped out of a political get-together they were attending back in Ohio just to hear about my race.  Not having many friends or family members in the area, I did wear my medal to work the next day, to the chagrin of my coworkers.  And then, it was on with life.

One of the reasons I originally decided to do this sprint triathlon was to battle some of the anxiety I have related to “How will diabetes change my life?”  I wanted to prove to myself that I could still do a sprint triathlon if I wanted to.  Now that I’ve finished it, it seems obvious to me.  “Why wouldn’t I be able to do this?” is what I hear myself asking now.  I still have plenty of worries about how diabetes will affect me in the future, but my hope is that I’m further down the path of accepting my diagnosis and thinking optimistically about the challenges I’ll overcome.  We’ve had a bunch of sunny days here in Seattle recently, so I’m taking it as an omen of good things to come.  Fast swim times, unexpected sunny days, caring friends:  these are the things that bring joy.  And we ask for more.

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12 years ago

Emily. This is fantastic. I especially love that you have taken it all by the horns. Good work. I look forward to future posts.

Jessica Apple
12 years ago

Congrats on finishing, the PR, the great blood sugar success, and… I had no idea about Pam!

Laura Ewalt
Laura Ewalt
12 years ago

Great Job, Emily. Why COULDN”T you do a tri…? Good question! Amazing blog! Love it! Keep up the awesome work.

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