The June 2015 issue of Birding Magazine was just published, which includes an interview with yours truly. I share the experiences that got me started in birding and bird conservation, the connections I see between birds, running, and music, talk about my work in Mexico (especially the wonderful Donate the Guia program), and get to introduce Oiselle to the birding world.
So I thought I’d try something new and write my race report right after completing my race instead of waiting, oh, more than year. While I’d planned to do this three weeks ago, I will count getting it done less than a month after my race as a victory.
This was my third time at The Nation’s Triathlon. I did it in 2010 and had such a good time that I did it again in 2011. Unfortunately heavy rainfall led to canceling the swim that year, so when I began to think about doing another triathlon, Nation’s was still on my list–it felt like I should give it one more go and do the entire race.
We had a very small team training in Tucson that got even smaller by the race–it was just me and my teammate Jordana. We arrived (separately) to Washington, D.C. on Friday (September 7) and checked into our hotel near DuPont Circle. We headed to the Expo to pick up our race packets, check out the vendors, and check in with the Team In Training national staff, who was “in charge” of us for race weekend.
That evening I got together with my friend Danielle, who lives in the D.C. area. We met last year at a digital media training and hit it off but hadn’t seen each other since then. It was great to reconnect. She’s a runner, too, and I’m hoping we’ll get to do a race together soon.
Saturday morning Jordana and I headed down to transition to pick up our bikes and get them racked for the race the next day. It was hot, muggy, and generally no fun to be outside, but fortunately the temperatures and humidity would both drop before the race started the following morning. We screwed on pedals, pumped up tires, took the bikes for a test spin (after I changed an unexpected flat), and then got them racked for the next day. On our way out there were volunteers marking the athletes–you get your race number on both arms and your age on the back of your left calf. So we got marked and then took the shuttle back to the hotel.
This was a special race for me because my honored teammate, Jan (my sister-in-law Nina’s mother) had been selected to be the speaker at the Team In Training Inspiration Dinner on Saturday evening. Even though she’d spent most of the previous week unexpectedly in serious condition at the hospital and had to stop chemo to give her body a chance to recuperate, in spite of the fact that she had just received the go-ahead from her doctor to travel the day before, Jan, her husband Pete, Nina, my brother John, and my little nephews all piled into a minivan and made the trek up from North Carolina so Jan could speak at the dinner and they could cheer me on. My mom drove up from Pittsburgh, my sister Susan took the train down from New York, and my aunt Mary, who lives in Bethesda (she was married to my mom’s brother, my Uncle Kenny, who I also train in memory of). So by Saturday afternoon, we basically had a family reunion in the works. The dinner itself was nothing special–just standard convention center pasta and salad–but Jan’s speech was incredible. The following is the paragraph I wrote and submitted when I nominated her to be the speaker.
I have been doing 1-2 events per year with Team In Training since 2005. I have attended more Inspiration Dinners than I can count on two hands. The speakers are almost always wonderful, with an overarching message of, “We’re racing for a cure! We need to keep doing this until cancer doesn’t exist anymore!” This is a good and important message. We ARE racing for a cure. We need more money to fund critical research and patient care and advocacy programs. But what many people don’t consider are the important impacts of programs like TNT on folks with chronic disease, who are living with cancer. They aren’t realistically aren’t expecting a cure, but are just going on living. For Jan, chemotheraphy and other drugs are her long-term reality. The stark reality is that multiple myeloma will almost certainly take her life in the end. There is no “final” treatment that she is aiming for, no remission or NED diagnosis. But so much of the way that we treat cancer patients is geared exactly towards that, from ringing the bell on the day of your last chemo session to cheery supportive messages about finding cures. For some people, thankfully, this is how it works. But there is power in understanding that while, of course we want researchers to find a miracle drug that will cure multiple myeloma (or blood cancer, or any cancer), that finding cures is just one facet of a really complex issue. There are so many ways in which we need to support cancer patients. Jan continues to live through her chronic diagnosis and the serious physical and emotional challenges that she and her family have faced as a result. She told me, “I am very aware that I would not be alive today if it were not for all the incredible fundraising activities that have gone on to advance the research needed to come up with new drugs.” Treatments developed by researchers who received support from LLS have immeasurably improved both the quality and length of Jan’s life. Although she has had a few fairly frightening brushes with death, she’s still going strong and has outlasted her doctors’ initial predictions. She’s had time to see her grandsons born and start to grow up, to be at her son’s wedding, and to spend time and enjoy life with family and friends. She is helping doctors and nurses understand how to have a better approach to death and dying, from her own experience. Her story and perspective is so powerful, and so different from many of the stories we hear and tell in TNT. I hope you will select her to be the honoree speaker at the Inspiration Dinner in Washington, D.C.
Check out her amazing speech for yourself (and enjoy a photo bomb courtesy of my youngest nephew Benny):
After dinner we headed up to the lobby bar in the hotel. My mom had brought a Bethel Bakery birthday cake for me all the way from Pittsburgh, so we had a little belated birthday celebration right there in the lobby. Oh, Bethel Bakery, I love you so.
As nice as it was to be with my family, I had an early morning and a triathlon to complete, so by 10pm I headed up to my room, made sure all of my race gear was laid out and set for the following day, and headed to bed. I fell asleep quickly, but woke up around midnight not feeling so well. I was up for a few hours, unfortunately, finally falling back asleep around 2:30, giving me another hour and a half before my alarm went off at 4am. Suffice it to say that it was not the best night’s sleep of my life.
When I woke up I reached for my phone to turn off the alarm and then checked my Facebook feed (ahh, the embarrassment of admitting that one of the first things I do in the morning is check Facebook…) The first thing that I saw was a post from The Nation’s Triathlon page saying that the swim had been cancelled due to a sewage spill in the Potomac. For a minute I thought Facebook was showing me posts from 2011, but no. It was a repeat of three years before. Rains the previous night caused an overflow of some pipe or another, and they’d cancelled the swim. Again.
It was disappointing, of course. We’d been training all summer. But in the spirit of full disclosure, I felt a certain sense of relief at not having to swim. This partly frustrated me, because I know I can do the swim, but I was undertrained and hadn’t realized how anxious I was about the swim until I heard that I wouldn’t have to do it.
It was dark when we got to transition. We went in to set up our gear and then waited around for the sun to rise and the race to get going.
With no swim they had us line up to start with a run into transition as though we’d just come out of the water–no shoes, no bike helmets, just our tri suits. Some diehard athletes even wore their swim caps and goggles. As in past years, there were so many participants that it took more than an hour for me to cross the start line once the gun went off. I made friends with a few of the women in my corral and we passed the time getting to know each other.
Soon enough we were almost at the start line. They lined us up in sets of nine and had groups run in about every 20 seconds to stagger things. I was next to my new friend, Carolyn, who I’d later see on the bike route as well as on the run. The horn blew and we were all suddenly running down the quarter mile pathway and into the transition zone. I quickly made my way to my bike, put on my socks, shoes, gloves, and helmet, grabbed my bike, and was soon jogging alongside my bike as I made my way out of transition into the “mount” zone.
T1 time: 3:51
And I was off! This was a different bike route than the one I’d done in 2010 and 2011. It was more compact, a sort of three-leaf clover that you did twice. The bike ride felt good, but a little slow. I had trouble with my rear derailleur, which didn’t want to shift properly, and it felt like everyone on the course was passing me, but it was fun to see the Riggs-Duberstein clan cheering me on at one of the turn arounds. I also enjoyed the fact that the course was a double loop. By the second lap I knew what to expect. There were even a couple of minor hills, much to my pleasant surprise; I do like climbing. I even found my new friend Carolyn about 3/4 of the way through the ride, hollering encouragement as I passed.
As I neared the dismount zone at the end of the ride I was keeping my eye on a man ahead of me who was trying as hard as he could to trim any possible seconds off of his time. He reached down. unlatched his shoe and pulled his foot out, leaving his shoe clipped in. I’d heard about people doing this, but never seen it. Unfortunately for him, he apparently needed to practice a little more, because as he pulled his foot out he lost control and crashed, falling arse over teakettle and sprawling on the ground in front of me. I was grateful for my overly cautious defensive cycling style and easily slowed down and avoided him (I could see him getting up as I dismounted–he was a little scraped up but fine).
Bike time: 1:32:36
Although I felt pretty strong during the ride, this was about twelve minutes slower than my time in 2011. I ran with my bike back into transition, found my space and racked my bike, took of my helmet and gloves, switched to running shoes, grabbed a few pretzels, a swig of water, and my running hat, and was off again.
T2 time: 2:39
The run was fine, but not great. It wasn’t the slowest 10k I’ve ever run, but it was close. My overall time was a full eight minutes slower than my run in 2011, which my fastest 10k ever at 53:40. Carolyn caught up with me around mile 3 and buzzed right on by–I couldn’t have kept up if I wanted to. By this point I was really feeling the lack of sleep the night before and not doing the greatest. Mile 5 was my slowest of the race, although I tried to rally for the final mile and speeded up a little bit. Finally the finish line was in sight and I put my head down and went for it.
Run time: 1:01:19
After I crossed the finish line I got my medal and immediately saw my new friend Carolyn, who’d been watching for me. We exchanged high fives, turned in our timing chips, got some food, headed over to the Team In Training tent so I could check in, and then sat down and had a picnic in the grass, exchanging race experiences.
Race time: 2:40:24
Parking was such a nightmare that rather than coming to the finish line my family just watched for me on the bike course and I met up with them at their hotel after the race. We had a nice lunch together, and then the North Carolina Riggs-Duberstein clan hit the road for the long drive home. I am so grateful to them for coming all the way up. It meant a lot to have them there, and having Jan speak at the dinner with all of our family present was the icing on the cake, especially in light of the big decision I was about to make (read on).
After lunch I headed for a nap and that evening Susan took the train back to New York. I spent Monday at my aunt’s house, visiting with her and my mom (and maybe eating the rest of the birthday cake). I had meetings for work in Washington the rest of the week and the following Friday headed back to Arizona.
I left Washington, D.C. happy to have completed my race, but feeling a little dejected about my performance. I know that everyone has bad days. It stinks when these fall on race day, but that happens sometimes. The race itself was good, as disappointing a my own performance had been. There was excellent course support, beautiful bike and run routes, and really good post-race food. Having the swim cancelled for a second time was a disappointment, but beyond the power of race organizers. Fourth time’s the charm? Or maybe this was a sign that I need to find a new race for triathlon #4.
One of the biggest decisions I have made since the race is that I am going to be taking a break from Team In Training for awhile. To be honest, this might be a semi-permanent break. I’m still sorting out my feelings about things. TNT has been such a major, important part of my life for so many years. I have done 13 events and together we have raised over $50,000 to support the important work of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. I strongly suspect I’ll still be fundraising for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in one way or another, but the time has come for me to move on from TNT and focus on my own goals, at least for now. (But you can still make a donation to my fundraising: just click here).
What are those goals? I’m still figuring that out. I plan to write more. Part of that is this new blog (you can still read my old blog here, but with my transition away from TNT I wanted a new space). I also want to get faster as a runner. I joined the Oiselle Flock last month (more on that soon) and am excited about running again after some months of feeling sort of meh about it. I’m training with a great group of women in town and have been focusing on shorter distances and speed. (Funny thing: when you train to run ten-minute miles, guess what happens? You run ten-minute miles! I want to see if I can speed that up a bit.)
As for the rest of it, I’m just going to figure it out as I go. Join me?