I TRI because I CAN

I CAN and I DID.  On Saturday I did my third sprint triathlon.  But I feel like it was my first time.  And in some ways it was – this year’s London Triathlon marks the beginning of my commitment to the sport.  In 2007 I TRI’d to see if I could, and I barely did with my elbow hanging together with just one ligament.In 2008 I TRI’d because I knew it was good for me, but my heart was not into it.  And in 2009, I TRI’d and I fell in love.Me, pre-triathlon. HRM (check), Chip (check), Love my Blue70 Helix (check!)Everyone says it is important to go into a race with a plan.  My tentative plan in August 2008 was to start training immediately for 2009, and to do an Olympic distance triathlon just to see how far I could push myself.  But events took over.  Lehman went bankrupt adding to household stress.  My job was turbulent with intense travel demands at the end of 2008 leaving me in a constant state of jetlag and paranoid about every choice and decision I was taking.  My motivation to train evaporated, and I always found another excuse to not be training.  In April 2009 I finally turned the corner, and with the prodding and kindness of my husband I finally started training.  I knew I was late but remained optimistic that somehow I would be able to pull things together.  But in May I partially dislocated my knee (an old recurring injury) and I set all of my training and goals to one side.  Since then I have fought to become strong.  I have battled self doubt and found solace in the swimming pool.  I recognised the need for more structured training and enlisted a coach.  I downward shifted my distance to the Sprint.  And I decided that 2009 would be a test.My 2009 test…  It has been test to see if I like triathlon.  A test to see how my body would respond to 5-a-week training.  A test to see if I could start to run after an over 15 year pause.  A test to see if someone with Charcot-Marie-Tooth syndrome (a degenerative nerve condition which causes slow nerve transmission leading to lower levels of neuromuscular interaction and consequential muscle atrophy) could become fit enough for triathlon.And I passed.My time may not have been great, but I had a great time!  And I fell in love with triathlon…It’s hard for me to write a typical post-race report.  Unlike other folks, I am not really chasing a time goal.  I am chasing the finish.  I am trying to understand my personal limitations.  And I am trying to find out what I need to work on in order to surpass today’s limits, to keep on improving, and to become as strong as I can be.  So, my key learnings are:The swim:I need to do something to fix my swim start.  The open water swim is my favourite part of the triathlon.  But for the third year in a row, I had a completely horrible first 300m.  My heartrate was all over the place, and I had no rhythm in my breathing.  I thought I was calm and focused going into the start, but I just could not settle into it and really struggled.  By the time I found my rhythm, I could have kept going for at least another mile and felt good.  But it was too late.  So I need to figure out what to do about this, and really look forward to working with Terry Collins, my coach, on this point. It also sucked that although I was out of the water in a decent time, that upon exit I got a crippling calf cramp.  This saw me pulled to the side by an organiser and his attempt to help by massaging out the cramp failing dismally as I shouted repeatedly “please just help me to stand up”…  This was not fun. Through this blog I publicly apologise to the nice man who tried to help me – I know you were trying to help, I hope you forgive me for being such a cow.  I am already working to see if my leg cramping is magnesium related – I hope so as cramping added precious time onto the one part of the triathlon where I had hoped to see great improvement this year.The bike:I need to strengthen my legs.  There is nothing more frustrating than feeling weak.  I am not sure if this relates to my nerve condition, but no matter how hard I told myself to push/pull, I just could not feel a sense of power on the pedals.  I am sure that in the next year I can improve this.  I also now know that I like cycling enough to invest in a good bike, which may help things.  Although I love my hybrid for commuting, it is just not right for racing – she is solid and trusty but just way too heavy!  I would love to get myself out of the bottom quartile on the cycle, and I look forward to working hard to make this a reality!The run:I now know that I will be able to do the run – this is a huge step for me!  I have only ever flirted with running.  I basically stopped when I was about 9 years old, when I found out I was not fast.  With knee injuries starting when I was about 11, running became something that scared me, and no one ever encouraged me to do it.  I always enjoyed jogging on the beach in the mornings when I was in high school, and continued to do this whenever I was home for the summer or winter when I was in college, but the last time I consistently ran on the beach was about 15 years ago.  So this year was the first time I have ever approached running in a structured way, as I know that I need to learn to run to be able to increase my triathlon distance and to be able to improve my performance in the triathlon.  It is highly unusual for people with CMT to be able to run.  Muscle atrophy leads to high arches and weak ankles, which are not a good combo for running.  But with the support of the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, I have been provided with both assistance and the medical clearance to give running a chance.  I have great custom orthotics in my shoes to stop my ankles rolling.  I also have an ankle brace for my left ankle to provide additional support for my weak peripheral muscles.  And I have been using an old knee support for extra joint stability until my legs strengthen (as suggested by the physiotherapy team I am working with at the Institute of Neurology).  Putting on all of these aids added a good five minutes onto my transition time this year, but it also meant that I was able to try to run for the first time ever in a competitive setting.  My triathlon plan was to alternate one minute jog, one minute walk.  I stuck by this plan religiously, paying close attention to my watch, as I did not want to push beyond what I thought was sensible.  I also paid close attention to my footfall and listened to my body.  I am not sure if what I did was really a run – it probably was more like a slow jog, it probably looking like I was moving through molasses, and it only shaved 5 minutes off my walking time of 2008 – but for me, it was an incredible achievement.  I showed myself that I will be able to develop and grow into the third tri discipline, and I am so excited about this.  My favourite and most inspirational 2009 London Triathlon memories…These are so numerous, but here is a quick list:Finally getting a good swim cap colour – hot pink! Oh yes, I will wear this swimcap again and again!Feeling confident as I jumped into the water.  For the first time I was doing the triathlon without worry about my elbow.  This was a huge relief.  Even if the first 300 of the swim bit the biggie for me, and even though I got a leg cramp just out of the water, I still loved the swim.  I love everything about it – the jostling, the passing people, the drafting, my wetsuit.  Love it all.Seeing a blind triathlete on my wave.  I only recently contacted the British Triathlon Foundation to see if my nerve disease classifies for the paratriathlon, so it was amazing to be in the same heat as a paratriathlete.  I cannot imagine what it is like to do a triathlon blind.  But it was truly inspirational to see paratri in action.Not being the last one in transitions this year.  Although I am not really competing with others, I hate being last.Riding in the rain, again.  This was not ideal, but it did give me a chance to smile and thank the nice volunteers as I took the course slow to not risk any slips (still following the strict order from my elbow doctor).Using cycle cleats.  How have I ever cycled without them?  I love clipless pedals!The wonderful triathlete support on the run course.  I will never forget the Serpentine Club runner who cheered me on as she passed me.  She was such a great smiling face that I may have to look into joining the Serpentine tri club…The tunes by the speaker stacks on the corner approaching the last hills up to the Excel Center.  The two which defined my race:  “Groove is in the Heart” by Dee-lite, and the latest Deadmau5 which I just adore.The fabulous Jelly Belly Sport Beans which @PunkRockRunner sent to me for the race – as I had never used them before I did not have them during the race (this time) but I did have them post race and they were amazing.  I really look forward to building them into my training, and using them for the rest of this season.  But more than a great product, the fact that someone would send these to me gives me faith in the goodness of people, and the generosity and support that these beans represent for me is enough to keep me going until 2010, that’s for sure.Our annual post-London triathlon BBQ on Sunday evening, which was super fun, with bubbles all around, grilled rice balls (I love making yakionigiri which I learned to do in Japan but only seem to make at the post-tri BBQ), and loads of laughter.  It is the perfect way to end the London triathlon weekend!The wonderful support of the Twitter-verse.  For anyone who is a part of my Twitter community, I want to thank you all for all of your well wishes before during and after the race – and for following my tweets in the build up.  Twitter has been an awesome addition to my overall triathlon approach this year, and I thank each and every one of those with whom I have corresponded as well as those who I follow whose tweets have motivated me to train hard and to be the best that I can be.And finally…  I think this may be my last triathlon in support of a breast cancer charity.  I really want to change my focus to promote and support research into the cure for people with Charcot Marie Tooth, the nerve condition which I have.  CMT is the most common nerve disease, affecting 1 in 2500 people (so it is far more common than other better known nerve diseases such as MS).  Those of us with CMT live with an invisible illness, many of us are indistinguishable from those with healthy nerve transmission, but have limitations with which we will need to confront at some stage of our lives.  I firmly believe that as the genes have been identified that contribute to so many forms of CMT, a way of managing the condition is on the near-term horizon.  But to reach the goal of treatment and cure will take money, and awareness building.  I hope to contribute to those efforts as I move forward with my training and plans for 2009 and 2010.  As I ran the final turn back to the Excel Center on Saturday wearing my Breast Cancer Campaign jersey, I thanked Maria and my Mom.  I did this year’s triathlon in their memory.  I thanked them for the motivation, guidance and support they gave me over the years.  Although I may not fundraise in their memory next year, I certainly will know their spirits will be with me on the races I do, forever.Note:  If you are interested in donating to my fundraising for the London Triathlon 2009, which was in memory of my dear friend Maria and of my mother, and in support of finding a cure for the countless others affected by breast cancer, please feel free to click through to my donation website:  www.justgiving.com/donna_dePS: I want to thank the following people for their tweets of support: swimrjul, WappingPsycho, BrennanAnnie, trifunster, DCrunnergrrl, VHL_PGD_GIRL, ShootRunTri, kharamills, smflash, HelenTWilliams, Austinslide, sheilamking, hazelpa, marathonandi, ncjack, big_AL99. ironjen, al_moore, patrickavis, underhill70, activinstinct, HellaSound, redraj, tashwhitaker, Sahara_Kim, cyberdyne, TriathlonCoach, kemptonslim, josephineperry, DrivingUsDaisy, Kidlit_Kim_Runs, hendy2, run2finish, kimokali, tricalendar, jenzenator, triathlete_troy, trytotri, Susan_P, Islandman_, Athletetraining, PIERTOWN, rob_raux, PunkRockRunner, EnviroSafeOne, jeffswain, sueharmon77, nzMattO, a13pt1runner, Mr_Fast, TriWidow, CEPSocks_anne, MartinStaten, IronmanLongRunr, kelownagurl, IronJack35, mitten79, ironmanj, steved25, keeponrunning, rob_thats_me, triboomer and ironbrandon.  Like I said, Twitter is an amazing and highly motivating addition to my training this year!

14 responses to “I TRI because I CAN”

  1. Congratulations Donna on your race and for a great race report. I’m happy for you in turning the corner and looking towards the future with your triathlon racing. Thanks for the twitter mention too wink

  2. I was tearing up as I read this post. Please know that by sharing your experiences that you have inspired me more than you could ever know. Too many time we get caught up in finishing an event quickly when we should be celebrating the fact that we are able to enjoy the art of movement.It sounds like you have a wonderful support base in your husband, the right attitude and the desire to continue to do what it takes to finish the race. Congratulations!!Thank you for sharing.All the best,Ron

  3. What a beautiful testament to your will and graciousness.  You are truly an inspiration in so many ways.  It is about the journey more than the race itself.  Congratulations to you, and cheers to your continued success with your new love.  Best,Emily

  4. I so love that triathlon is a celebration of the art of movement.  I could jump on a soapbox, but I will resist the urge!  I only wish more people embraced what they could do, and did it with passion, celebration and joy.  There is nothing more exhilarating than getting up, jumping in, and taking part. In sport, or in life.  Your support and feedback really keeps me going Ron!

  5. I have reviewed my whole food intake, and we think if there is one thing that may be behind cramping (assuming it is not nerve damage) that it may be magnesium.  I only just started taking supplements, which take about 10 days to feel the difference.  Two days would not be enough to prevent the cramping.  But a positive is that I am not having leg cramps at night anymore, just with activity (the swim in particular).  So I am really hoping magnesium proves to be the key to getting rid of this huge annoyance!

    Thanks Sheila for your constant feedback and support.  You really inspired me to get up and give the running a go – my mornings are your evenings in California, so I knew if I tweeted you would cheer me on!

  6. Hi Eric,

    Your post made me realise an important thing – I need to discover what exactly is my all.  I did the triathlon on Saturday, but I was not sure how I would hold up.  I think I held back a bit out of fear of blowing up.  I suppose that is what my training plan for the next year will do – really expose me to my limits, and really help me to explore just how far I dare to push things.  The idea of this exploration gets me buzzing!And my favourite part of the triathlon is the water’s edge.  It is just there, when I jump in, that I know I am doing it.  I feel alive.  I am so happy to share that sense of life with other triathletes…  We tri and live, that is for sure.


  7. Donna – an inspiring report. Awesomne job, we didn’t meet up at the weekend unfortunately, but hope that we will do so soon. I promised to contribute to your fund raising when you switched from Olympic to Sprint, so that is where I’m off to now. Take care and Keep tri-ing.

  8. Hi Donna,I am so impressed at your accomplishment.  You are an inspiration and I plan to think of you whenever the training gets too “tough” for me.Dawne (aka Trifunster)

  9. Congrats on the race. I feel Triathlon is about personal accomplishment. It is Triathlete vs. the course, the conditions and themselves. You ran your race.You faced course limitations.You overcame personal hurdles.You gave all you had.You are ready for more.Anyone that can say that after a race should be able to hold their head high.What’s more, you do so to raise funding and awareness for an important cause. That makes the achievement even greater. Sure we can try to beat the clock, but unless the conditions are identical, it truly is a different race each time. It’s same with other racers – on any given day the biggest competition for a racer is the racer themselves. Maybe we can get faster with more work – but all that truly matters is that we chose to take our place at the water’s edge to attempt something that few dare to brave.Well done.Eric in Sacramento, Ca

  10. Hi Andy!

    Thanks so much for your support!  And yes, we really do have to meet up soon.  I wish I was in town for the ITU…  Bad planning on my part!  But sometime when I return.Congrats on your race!  And I look forward to reading your report!


  11. I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to get to this blog entry (work, schmerk, long story), anyway I digress. And note to self, don’t read Donna’s blog posts without a tissue box at hand.I think you’re amazing and inspiring and I’m proud to “know” you. Most days when I’m struggling to get out there I’m thinking of you and I get my butt moving. I’m not dealing with anywhere near the daily battles that you are, and I think that what you have achieved to date is amazing and I know that you will be going much further yet. Can’t wait to join you on that journey.And yes, tri-ing is completely addictive – I wonder if there is therapy??!!!

  12. You are amazing! Anybody who can finish a triathlon is amazing and you did it three times with the hurdles that you have (so you are triply amazing). Thanks for encouraging my bit of running (tiny bit).

  13. I sometimes think that if I can do it, anyone can do it.  Sometimes all that is needed is just a little encouragement.  I am still not there with my own running, but by reading about others (like you Sarah) it gets me up and going!

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