Ironman (DNF) Dispatch: The Medical Postmortem, and Tips for Beginners

Hello blog friends. That was a bit of a hiatus there, wasn’t it? And I don’t even have the excuse of Ironman training anymore. I’ve been filling my hours not with biking, riding, swimming, or running, but with being blissfully……lazy. Skipping a workout because there wasn’t time and I wasn’t going to get out of bed before dawn to get it done. Sleeping in on Saturday mornings?! What frightening new world is this?!

A while back, I met with my endocrinologist for the first time since the Ironman. In fact, it was the first time I had seen her in nearly nine months. Hey, she’s popular and my A1C has been okay. We debriefed on various races and talked for a long time about my race experience at IMWI. I’m sharing here in hopes of providing insight both for diabetic athletes and aspiring Ironmen without diabetes.

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The Five Stages of Grief for Your Ironman DNF

Denial:

[on the bike course]
Of course blood sugars oscillating from 336 to 65 to 224 is acceptable!
How can I be dehydrated, it’s only 65 degrees right now!
I can’t stand the thought of taking in my fuel, but surely that feeling will pass!
Hills are soooooo easy!
I can DEFINITELY go the same pace in the second loop as I did in the first loop….with barely any calories in me….
This headwind is no problem! No problem at all!
I refuse to believe that I’m going to barf if I keep eating or drinking my sports drink!
Wait…is that the sweeper van? Nope, can’t be. Lalalala.
I’M TOTALLY GONNA FINISH BEFORE THE BIKE CUTOFF wait there’s my family YUP I CAN GO FASTER THAN I EVER HAVE ON MY TRAINING RIDES they have a car AND THEN I’M GONNA RUN A MARATHON ON AN EMPTY STOMACH nope it’s mile 85 and I’m cooked

WHAT DO YOU MEAN, I’M NOT FINISHING THE RACE?

Anger:

[dismounting, informing the volunteers I’m dropping out, shuffling to the car to drive to the nearest restaurant]
I wanted to finish, dammit! I worked so hard for this! Now I can’t tell people that I have diabetes AND I’m an Ironman triathlete. I can’t brag to my running teammates or coworkers. I can’t get an M-dot tattoo now! And I never even WANTED an M-dot tattoo!

I fantasized for months about crossing the finish line and Mike Reilly telling me I am an Ironman. In fact, he said on Friday at the athlete’s dinner, “You will be an Ironman!” LIES, MIKE, NOW IT IS ALL LIES.

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Bargaining:

[At restaurant, spending 90 minutes trying to choke down one glass of water and a plate of tortilla chips]
Are there spots left in, like, Florida? Chattanooga? Cozumel? Something soon that has an easier bike course?

No??

IF I FINISH I’LL GET THE STUPID M-DOT TATTOO! ON MY FACE!

Depression:

[Coming back to the finish line, that night, the day after the race, the day after the day after the race….]
I killed approximately 3% of the Amazon rainforest with all the tissues I used from crying. It would have been 4% but my bike jersey served as de facto handkerchief on the first round or two.

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Acceptance:

[past, present, future]
Packing up to go back to New York was arduous. I kept stopping for crying jags when unpacking my transition bags, or realizing that a special homemade shirt I had in the run special needs bag was now in the trash because Ironman doesn’t save your shit. I found a new respect for divorcees because I realized that this is probably what a divorce feels like, but that moment every day for several months on end.

Then “Better Days” by Springsteen came on shuffle, and he sang, “Every fool’s got a reason for feeling sorry for himself…” and I told myself to put my big girl panties on and deal with it.

Then a U2 song came up that reminded me of a mortifying moment in high school, and I told myself that the whole world probably wouldn’t care about this in 10 years…..just like high school.

But forget the world, because I knew no one but jerks would judge me for dropping out. I cared.

My first attempt at Ironman and I DNF’ed. I felt lucky to start, lucky to even be healthy and able to train at that level. And I was simultaneously crushed that the months of time, effort, and sacrifice I had put in to this goal….came up short.

I had a lot of little things pile up– often against my plan or previous race experience– that resulted in a bad day. Couldn’t have predicted things like going low during the swim or getting so queasy that I couldn’t handle the fuel that I typically loved to stuff in my face. September 13th, 2015 was not my day to become an Ironman and there’s nothing I can do to go back and change that.

So I sucked it up and packed my stuff, throwing away as much Ironman-brand crap as I could. I flew home to Brooklyn and went that night to hang out with my Team in Training athlete friends, who were universally supportive and encouraging. Hell, everyone’s been supportive and encouraging. My wonderful, badass friend and teammate Aimee, who DNF’ed her first Ironman last year, remarked that only by having a bad race and dropping out did she realize how blessed she was. It’s easy to support someone in the good times…..but when people show up for you in the bad times, you know it comes from the heart.

I’ve complained (stage 2) and bawled (stage 4) some more since then. But I’ve also taken many, many deep breaths while re-reading everyone’s emails, texts, Facebook messages, buttons (yup, homemade buttons) and more. The crushing disappointment will pass, but I hope to have such amazing friends and family in my life forever.

I read Meb Keflezighi’s biography, “Run to Overcome,” cover-to-cover on the plane to and from Madison. After discussing a series of back-to-back triumphs and failures in his running career, he wrote this:

Winning in life doesn’t happen when you overcome one thing– do or die. It’s persevering, knowing that difficulties are bumps in the road, not the end of the world. It’s continuing to do the right things, knowing your time will come. After all, you have to conduct yourself like a champion before you can ever win a championship.

Whatever you do, then, give it your best. Persevere in overcoming obstacles. When you do, you’ll be running to win.

He signed my book with the same trademark phrase– “To Caroline: best wishes and run to win, Meb.” So I’m going to follow his advice and give my best to my next challenge, whatever that is.

Well, I know what it’s going to be. I’m doing the Brooklyn Marathon, because there’s NO WAY that I’m letting all this endurance go to waste. I guess that’s a blend of stage 3 and 5?

Race Report: Ironman Syracuse 70.3, 6/21/15 (Or, That Time I Got Pulled Off the Course and Finished the Race Inside My Hotel, Part 2)

Part 2 of the Ironman Syracuse 70.3 race report! Sorry for anyone who’s been hanging on to the thrilling conclusion for the past 2.5 months. Training makes you busy….or a slacker. You can read part 1 here! And part two is after the jump.

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Race Report: Ironman Syracuse 70.3, 6/21/15 (Or, That Time I Got Pulled Off the Course and Finished the Race Inside My Hotel, Part 1)

The summer solstice this year brought my very first half Ironman triathlon! This race report was getting too long, so I broke it into two parts. For those of you who can’t stomach even that, here’s the extreme short version:

  1. Swim: Fun!
  2. Bike: AHHHH!
  3. Run: An odyssey and a HALF!

Read on for the full story. Continue reading

Things I Googled Before & After the Ironman Syracuse 70.3 Triathlon

Before:

  • “Triathlon transition tips”
  • “Change clothes during half Ironman”
  • “what do you wear under a wetsuit”
  • “Syracuse 70.3 race report”
  • “Ironman Syracuse bike course”
  • “Ironman Syracuse bike elevation map”
  • “Prospect Park elevation map”
  • “How to not die on hills cycling”
  • “Syracuse weather forecast”
  • “Cycling in the rain”
  • “Ironman DNF”

After:

  • “Ironman weather refund policy”
  • “I did my own half Ironman”
  • “Victory GIFs”

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Full race report to come.

Ironman Dispatch: Ker-SPLAT

I have christened my Ironman training with a bike crash!

Two Saturdays ago, I was riding on Route 9W, the road city cyclists can take from the George Washington Bridge all the way through New York State. My plan was far less ambitious. I was just riding from my apartment, up the West Side Highway, over the GW, and then enough out-and-back on 9W to total 55-60 miles.

The “out” portion took me past Piermont, through Grandview and almost to Nyack. As I was riding back, I came to a rare intersection with a stoplight. The light was red and no cars were coming. Two cars on my side of the road were stopped. I decided to slow down and pedal through.

Except there was a patch of gravel in the space between one car and the curb, and it was deep enough to cause my wheel to lose grip and spin out.

Like any fall, it was both immediate and endless. Before I knew it I was on the ground, and yet I had enough time to think, Oh no, I’m wobbling. Oh crap, I’m not going to make it through this. Here I go. I’m going down!

Splat.

I can’t remember how I got unclipped, or how my bike was positioned in relation to my body. All I know is that I leapt up and immediately grabbed my bike, afraid the cars would run me over with the (now green) light. One driver stared blankly at me; the other rolled down his window and asked if I was okay. I glanced down and found no major pain, bleeding, or broken bones, so I waved him off and they drove on while I pulled over to the grass to collect myself.

Heart pounding from the shock (and efforts to maintain a cool exterior after wiping out in front of strangers), I checked myself over first. There was road rash all over my left leg and right elbow, but otherwise not too bad. Then I looked down at my bike.

The front wheel was turned 90 degrees and the left handlebar was wedged UNDER the top tube.

I grabbed the tube and pushed on the handlebar edge. Nothing.

I set the bike against the stoplight pole and pushed some more. Nope.

The effort got progressively more Herculean. I tried with my feet, with my hands. It wouldn’t budge. I tried pulling on the top tube, just enough that it might flex and I could pop the handlebar with the other hand. Still nothing. I was panting, and now covered with sweat along with blood and gravel.

I remember hearing about some study that found that shouting curse words is a constructive release of emotion compared to other activities. Or maybe it was just Facebook clickbait. In any case, nobody was coming, so I laid into it. Like the dad in A Christmas Story, I wove a tapestry of obscenities that may still be hanging in space over the swamps of Jersey.

“PIECE OF SH{_}T!” Yank. “SON OF A LYING TOOTHLESS B{_}TCH!” Pull. “DON’T F[_}CK WITH ME, YOU PATHETIC PILE OF–” Struggle, heave, go cross-eyed.

Finally, with one foot on the top tube, both hands on the handlebars, and a resounding shout of “MOTHERF{_____}CKER!!!!” I pried it free.

I let out one more exultant “F{_}CK!” for good measure. Just in time, as a cyclist came whizzing through three seconds later.

Now it was just a matter of getting home. I had another 13 miles or so until I reached Manhattan, and any train that could return me to my doorstep. I wheeled my bike back on to 9W and hopped on. The handlebars were still crooked.

Glancing around to make sure no cars were coming, I took off and started to pedal. Hmmm….gears turning smoothly. Wheel is okay. I can still steer even though the handlebars are off. Can I make it?

An hour or so later I did, just with a killer shoulder ache from my crooked stance. I texted my beau to request a shower beer and a pat on the head for the return home, and descended to the A train for the 90 minute ride home.

“How long was the ride?” a stranger asked me as I was eating my last Honey Stinger waffle.

“Fifty-five miles.”

“What?!” he gasped. “That’s crazy! I only go, like, ten or fifteen! Fifty-five? You’re nuts.”

I just nodded. “I know.”

Sadly, my blood sugar was atrocious post-ride….something around 256 once I got back. I ate that waffle on the train without bolusing, which was dumb because often BG will spike after endurance events (because the body is still spitting out glucose etc. for muscle uptake, even though activity has stopped). Plus, the physiological stress of skidding across the road and wrestling with my bike couldn’t have helped. So close to a shower beer, and yet so far! (Spoiler alert: I drank it anyway. Bad diabetic.)

It’s far from the worse bike crash I’ve ever had, but it certainly wasn’t fun. That said, I knew it was coming, and many other triathletes on Facebook echoed that sentiment. Up next: tipping over because I can’t unclip in time. And butt chafing. I still have those two things to look forward to. Until now, I have some more scars to add to the collection!

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I am training for Ironman Wisconsin as part of team Riding on Insulin. This terrific nonprofit runs diabetes camps for children and adults alike, providing both practical experience and hope. I’d love it if you supported my fundraising efforts here: https://www.classy.org/fundraise?fcid=350567

Race Report: Brooklyn Half Marathon, 5/16/2015

The Brooklyn Half this year was one of the goofiest races I’ve ever done.

I signed up a while back, excited to finally be able to run it after several years in a row of inconvenient scheduling (travel, May marathons, etc.). Following my Ironman training calendar, I had originally planned on running it comfortably hard. That plan went down the tubes the night before the race with my second or third happy hour margarita. Much like all those margaritas ended up down the toilet tubes. Twice.

5 AM and the resulting hangover came really fast.

Then at 6 AM there was a broken rail on the 2/3 train to the start, so I was rerouted and underground for an hour despite being in the same borough. Then, since we had to get off a different stop, I had to walk an additional mile or so. Missed my original wave 1 start. Fortunately, this gave me plenty of time to rehydrate and contemplate the last time I had gotten that sloshed. (Don’t worry, it was a long long time ago. I only had so much fun because an out-of-town friend was visiting and we were celebrating his recent promotion and he holds his liquor much better than I do and SURE A PITCHER OF MARGARITAS SOUNDS LIKE A GREAT IDEA!)

So there I was, in the wave 2 start line, having finally cleared the bag check, metal detectors, and porta-potties, when I turn around and spot a giant Maggie Simpson head.

I rubbed my eyes. I can’t still be drunk, can I?!

No, it was a giant Maggie Simpson hat, upon the head of….my running teammate Dana!?

I look next to her and there’s my teammate Jess, wearing a bee costume that I had definitely seen before.

And next to her were a group of other Team in Training friends.

And at the other end….our teammate Mara. Dressed in a full-body cow suit.

I elbowed my way through the crowd and hollered, “Hi guys!”

“Hi!” they all said. “We’re doing a 3:1 run/walk. Want to join us?”

NEW RACE PLAN ACTIVATED.

 photo Brooklyn Half 1.jpg

Everyone in the group had a reason to take it easy, whether it was illness, a recent race, injury, or wanting to relax and have fun during a backyard race. So we ran for three minutes and walked for one minute the whole way. We stopped at every mile marker and body-spelled “GOING HALFSIES.”

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Not wearing a costume, I felt a bit like the nerdy girl who crashes the cool kids’ party. SO many people pointed and laughed or said something. I get that some athletes get annoyed at the costumed runners, the run-walkers, or those who otherwise don’t appear to take things seriously. I’ve been stuck behind the cast of the Wizard of Oz in a race, I get it. But this was HILARIOUS. People buzzed and mooed at us. Nobody could remember Maggie Simpson’s name and kept calling Dana Marge or Lisa. Or “chickenhead.” We spent many miles coming up with cow and bee puns….dressed in all our bovinery, this is udderly fantastic…..running too fast would certainly sting, but we have to bee aggressive (be! be aggressive!)….

Relaxing during a local race means you can stop and hug and high-five any friends who are out on the course. Including our teammate Flegar, whose tradition is to hang out around mile 11 dressed in little else beyond an American flag Speedo.

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Despite feeling like bollocks (although the hangover did melt off somewhere in Prospect Park), I had the best time. I think I spent most of those 13.1 miles laughing. We finished in some absurdly slow time that was certainly my personal worst. But I consider this one a PR in fun for the half marathon.

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Adding to the fun? The afterparty was at MCU Park, the ballfield, and the band was Slavic Soul Party! One of my favorite bands, and a thrill to my Balkan-brass-loving heart!

When I got back home, I remembered that this wasn’t the first time I had experienced costumes at the Brooklyn Half. Here’s the 2013 race, when I cheered for friends after a tapered long run. One of those friends was Pam……dressed as a Nathan’s hot dog.

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Diabetes Blog Week: I Can….Train for Ironman with Diabetes

I’m participating in the 6th annual Diabetes Blog Week. Bloggers write posts about a specific prompt related to diabetes for a week in order to share and connect. You can learn more from its founder, Karen of Bittersweet Diabetes.

Day 1: I Can. In the UK, there was a diabetes blog theme of “I can…” that participants found wonderfully empowering. So lets kick things off this year by looking at the positive side of our lives with diabetes. What have you or your loved one accomplished, despite having diabetes, that you weren’t sure you could? Or what have you done that you’ve been particularly proud of? Or what good thing has diabetes brought into your life? (Thank you to the anonymous person who submitted this topic suggestion.)

The main reason why I started blogging again was so I could document Ironman training. Even though I knew other athletes with Type 1 had successfully completed Ironman triathlons, I could never find blogs or tips about blood sugar management on the run, where to keep a Dexcom while swimming, or how people adjusted their basals during training. In my experience, fellow T1 athletes are often an even better source of wisdom than endocrinologists, CDEs, and exercise physiologists.

So I’m writing because I like to hear myself talk, sure, but also because I hope this can help someone in the future.

The first day of D-Blog Week fits perfectly for dispatch #1. How is training going?

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Thanks to Ginny Weasley and hello_lovee_x3 for the GIF

This is how I feel:

  1. Every time I look at my training calendar
  2. The first eight times I got on my new bike because it has clips and OH MY GOD MY FEET ARE TRAPPED WHAT IS THIS FEELING
  3. Waking up at 6 AM on a Sunday to get a run in before the weekend goes down the drain
  4. When lunch at work gets delayed….TRAINING HANGER
  5. Whenever I tell someone, “Hey, I’ve done all the individual components of an Ironman before….I just have to….do them all together now…..in one day…..”
  6. Oh hell, pretty much on a daily basis

Out of my comfort zone, indeed.

Some of these things are outside my control. After the Shamrock marathon, I took 2 weeks off from any kind of serious exercise because I had minor surgery and the incision was open. I still haven’t been able to swim because of that, although I recently got the all-clear from the doctor. My preparatory training was somewhat unconventional, too, given that I was training for a spring marathon and mostly running, not cycling.

Some of it is probably pointless anxiety. I do have times when I feel confident that I can do this– both the race itself and the massive training leading up to it. It just flip-flops between confidence and despair on a daily basis. Sometimes hourly.

And the rest? Well, I’m taking a deep breath and pushing my boundaries. My dad was very generous and gifted me his old Cannondale Synapse road bike when he upgraded to a new one. My heart was pounding the first time we practiced clipping and unclipping. When it came to Brooklyn and I was finally able to take a regular spin with it, I….chickened out. My blood sugar was 278 after a luxurious brunch, so I played the diabetes card and took a nap instead.

Nuh-uh. I could have totally taken a shot and done some gentle exercise. But careening around NYC traffic and potentially falling headlong into a taxi because I couldn’t unclip in time struck me as far from gentle in that moment.

So the next day, I put on my fancy new shoes, clonked down the stairs, snapped into one pedal, and pushed off. “Okay, now turn your foot….good, good…..you got this,” I told myself at every stoplight. Once I shouted “YES!” when I came to a particularly smooth stop, but the pedestrians didn’t even blink an eye. (New York, ladies and gents, where everyone has always seen worse than you.)

Two weeks and several rides later, I feel much more at ease with the clips. I’m stopping without clacking my shin with the pedals or braking too abruptly. I haven’t fallen over yet…although I’m sure it’s coming. I encourage myself constantly by reminding myself of the new skills I’m practicing on each ride– even something as simple as grabbing the water bottle while riding.

I’m pushing my boundaries when it comes to diabetes, too. After my BG-and-bike flakeout, I decided that if blood sugar was messing up a workout, then my motto should be, “Something is better than nothing.” It’s been ages that I’ve had a blood sugar so dangerously high or low that I absolutely couldn’t work out. Even some squats and planks are better than flopping on the couch.

So when a patient came to the office and presented me with pizza and coffee as a thank-you gift, and my blood sugar exploded as a result (see #4 above), I went to the gym anyways. The prescribed workout was an intense run with hill repeats, but I took my tired ass to the weight room instead and finished with 20 minutes of easy spinning on the bike.

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Sooooo thrilled to be here.

Against my expectations, my blood sugar has been running high lately. Usually when I ramp up a training regimen, it drops like a rock. Increasing my daily Levemir by 25% appears to have helped– my fasting numbers yesterday and today were 86 and 97.

So I CAN do this– test new (to me) athletic waters with diabetes and emerge successful. Someday I’ll have an Ironman finisher’s medal on my wall. Some day I’ll look back and think, “Man, remember when I was too scared of clips to ride my bike??” Let’s hope, anyways.

Read more Day 1 posts here.

 

Race Report: Shamrock Marathon 2015

Last Sunday the 22nd, I ran my eighth marathon! shuffled my way through my eighth and WORST marathon yet! Thus follows a race report.

tl;dr I did a marathon, it sucked for me. I don’t know why it sucked, but I can make some guesses and learn from them. And I have cool teammates and friends.

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Okay, here’s the full version.

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IRONMAN.

This is happening.

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In exactly six months I plan on crossing the starting line– and, dammit, the finish line too!– of IRONMAN WISCONSIN with a lot of other diabetic athletes.

Why?

This can be explained in multiple parts.

A few significant anniversaries

A while ago I was on a run and letting my mind wander. My diaversary is coming up……hey, next year it’ll be on a weekend…..maybe I should do a race or something…..or maybe I should GO BIG OR GO HOME?

Which began a longer mental conversation about doing some sort of physical challenge that related to diabetes, that honored diabetes in some way. Because as much as I keep it tucked away sometimes, it is a significant challenge in my athletic (and hell, everyday) life. And it’s good for my mental health to periodically take some time and acknowledge, “This stuff can really suck! Might as well show it up and kick its ass as much as I can.”

Then I got to thinking about how I would be coming up on 10 years of Being a Runner, which is to say, a whole decade of maintaining a fitness habit. And that corresponded with the thirteenth year of managing diabetes. And for the past several years, I had been trucking along, running 1-2 marathons per year, always at a fairly average (or slower than average) time, and not REALLY pushing my boundaries.

Maybe this is the perfect time to GO BIG OR GO HOME….

Enter Jeff Mather

As I was kicking around ideas, I was emailing with my buddy Jeff about various and sundry. Or were we blog commenting about various and sundry? In any case, his devilish temptation to join an Ironteam of diabetics with team Riding on Insulin came in many forms. (I just did a quick Gmail search, and lo and behold, we’ve been talking about Ironman since 2013. Go figure!) Anyways, he threw it out there on the blog, we talked about it via email, I’m sure we tweeted and facebooked (but not snapchatted) about it too….and the idea began to take shape. How cool to participate with a team of T1s and the people who love them! Plus, Riding on Insulin is a charity headed by Michelle Page Alswager, a woman whose activism and spirit I had admired from afar for many years.

I talked it out with my darling boyfriend, who agreed that he wouldn’t mind me being a slave to weekend bricks for months on end in preparation.

Ta-da!

So that was it. I signed up for Ironman Wisconsin (WI, because it’s home base for ROI). Across the US and Canada we have a team of 70ish triathletes, about 40 of whom also have Type 1 diabetes. There is a mix of experienced Ironpeople and noobs like me. We have a FB group where people ask about CGMs in bento boxes and talk smack about Strava stats.

In the midst of this, we are all raising money to send kids to ROI camps. I’ll talk more about why I believe in Michelle and this group in another post. For now, if you’re interested in good karma, the link to donate is here.

Fear and excitement in 3…2….1….GO!

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