October 27, 2012

Home at Last

Yesterday, after a full 2 weeks in the hospital, we were able to bring A home. (In case you missed it, you can read the story of how she broke her neck here: part 1 and part 2).

We left the ICU a week ago, and spent the following 7 days in the ortho rehab unit at Children's Hospital.  She was very weak, as she had just come off a week of a medicated coma, two surgeries, and was recovering from pneumonia.  She received 3 therapy sessions a day (physical, occupational, and speech).  All three were hard at first, but as the week went on she got stronger and stronger.  In physical and occupational therapies, she practiced walking with a walker and was able to sit on a bench upright, unsupported, even by her own arms.  Having a halo on her head makes her top-heavy and off-balance, a challenge for anyone but especially for A, as she already has a balance disorder.  Speech therapy started out rough, as her speech was very, very slurred and inarticulate (mainly a side effect of the breathing tube that had been down her throat for a week) but it got better and better.  Finally, she was cleared from the therapists to go home, and she got home yesterday afternoon.

Now we are adjusting to life at home.  Here are some of the things we have to change and/or get used to:

  • She can't have a shower, or even a regular bath.  The halo is attached to a fleece-lined vest, which anchors it in place and doesn't allow her neck to move while it heals (you can kind of get a sense of what it look like here, although hers looks a bit different). Because the vest is fleece-lined, and the vest is never, ever removed, it can't get wet. So we have to give her sponge baths.  Additionally, we can't wash her hair easily.  Websites suggest laying her on a counter with her head in a sink, but we are going to order a waterless shampoo, just like they used at the hospital.  
  • Because she can't move her neck even a millimeter in any direction, she is always looking straight ahead. This means adjustments on the couch, in bed, and at the kitchen table with different pillow combinations to make her feel comfortable.  We are still playing with this, trying to find out how best to make her comfortable.
  • She now has a walker to help her walk at home, and a wheelchair that we will use when we go out, and when she returns to school in a few week.  I am getting acclimated on how to use the wheelchair, especially on how to take it apart and put it back together (which I have to do to get it in and out of the car).   I need to be aware of where I park, and where ramps are to get her up on the sidewalk.
  • She literally needed a new wardrobe.  The halo is so big that nothing can go over her head; everything needs to be either buttoned or zipped around the front or back.  However, even those clothes need to be a much bigger size in order to accommodate the halo's rods.  She is normally a size 6 in shirts, but now we have her in size 8-10 hoodies, etc, with large tank tops underneath.  We are still figuring this one out. Unfortunately, I don't sew, but I think I will be cutting the shoulder straps on the tank tops, slipping the shirt on her from the feet up (they are big enough) and then safety pinning the shoulder straps back together once they are on. This way she'll have a tank top underneath and a jacket on top.  She even needed new pajamas.  Luckily, she can still wear her old shorts and jeans.  And this is only for a few months; when she gets the halo off in mid-January, we can go back to her regular adorable wardrobe.
  • We have to clean the 6 pins (which are drilled into her skull--one above each eyebrow and 2 above each ear) twice daily with sterile q-tips and hydrogen peroxide.  After caring for her tracheostomy and feeding tube for 4 years (these were both removed over 2 years ago), this is so simple!
I'm sure there will be more things that we need to get used to, but I think it will be a sharp learning curve; we learn quickly and have dealt with much worse with her.  I don't care; I am just happy to have her home and even more grateful than ever that this is not catastrophic. Doctor after doctor told me that most people with this type of vertebrate break become completely paralyzed.  One doctor told me that A must have some angels looking after her, as she had no spinal cord damage at all.

 I have never, nor will I ever, complain about what we are going through.  We can get through a few months of this for the trade-off of not having to deal with this for a lifetime.

October 19, 2012

Grateful Update on my Daughter

Just a quick update on my daughter. (If you missed what happened to A, please click here) It's been exactly a week since she broke her neck and went to the ER, and was later admitted. She's been in ICU ever since.  Last Saturday she had surgery to put on the halo that she will wear for the next 3 months or so.  I've had almost a week to get used to looking at my 6 year old with a metal ring literally drilled into her skull.  It's awful looking, but it will serve the purpose of keeping her neck still while it heals.

On Tuesday, she had surgery to fuse her C1 and C2 vertebrate.  Her spine surgery was one of the most brutal afternoons of my life.  The spine surgeon had told us it would take 3-4 hours.  He didn't get us until 5 1/2 hours later.  That last 1 1/2 hour was horrific for me....I was panicking, picturing everything that could have gone wrong (a small risk of stroke, a small risk of paralysis since he was working so close to the spinal cord, etc).  It turns out that they got a late start to the surgery, mainly because they had a hard time getting an arterial line in her.  The doctor had told someone to tell us, but no one did.  We could have been spared that agony, but in the end it made hearing that the surgery was a complete success that much sweeter.

All week she's been in the medicated coma, on the ventilator with the breathing tube down her throat.  They would have removed it the day after surgery, but she had developed pneumonia, and wanted to wait until she had recovered from that.  Today was the day.  Today, exactly one week after being admitted to the hospital, they finally took A off the sedatives, woke her up and removed the breathing tube.  It was awesome finally seeing her awake, although she was quite groggy and confused.  I told her what happened...how she had broken her neck in gymnastics, that usually a cast would go on a broken bone but since she can't have a cast on her neck there is the halo.  I showed her photographs (given to me by the Child Life counselor) of other kids wearing halos.  Finally, I took her picture with an iPad and showed her what she looks like.  She seemed ok with it all, amazingly enough. I told her she would have it for 3 months, that in January it would come off. And I reminded her that she used to have a tracheostomy and a feeding tube, and both went bye-bye, and this will go bye-bye soon too.  I think she got it.  Of course, she has yet to LIVE with it...stand, walk, eat, write, etc....but so far, so good.

I am incredibly grateful.  She is going to be ok.  This could have been catastrophic...she could have easily been paralyzed. She is not. She will make a full recovery. This injury was bound to happen to her, given her anatomy (of which we had no clue before) and while I hate that she has to go through this, it's happened in the best possible situation:  It happened at gymnastics, on a padded floor, with me close by.  It didn't happen at school, in Adapted PE where she is learning how to jump. It didn't happen at Disneyland, where we were a few months ago and rode the Thunder Mountain roller coaster 7 times, which must have jostled her neck all over.  It didn't happen when we were out of town. It didn't happen when my husband was out of town, or me, for that matter (we were supposed to go to Palm Springs the weekend; last weekend I was in Portland for the half marathon).  My half-Ironman is over, nothing major is happening at school or at work.  It happened at the best possible place, and the best possible time. God was looking out for her.

I have been so overwhelmed by the support I've received.  So many friends and family have reached out.  The day of her spine surgery I think half the world was praying for her.  My Facebook page exploded, I'm getting tons of cards in the mail, emails, texts, and phone calls.  Friends have been bringing us dinner every night.  Friends have been helping to care for my son.  Friends have been visiting at the hospital.  Even my online community, most of whom I've never met, have been caring and supportive.  I'm humbled and grateful and so appreciative.

I will update when I can.  The next step is to leave ICU for the rehab floor...and start walking!

October 15, 2012

Tested Yet Again

My 6 year old daughter, A, broke her neck on Friday.

Friday started out as a normal day.  I took the kids to school, went to Target, went to Costco, and went to the gym (did my first real swim since SuperFrog, 40 laps).  I picked D and A up from school, came home, then took them to gymnastics, like I do every Friday (well, A does gymnastics, D just brings his DS and plays games while she's in class).

Halfway through the gymnastics lesson, I looked down (I was in the parent observation room above the gym, where I was reading and waiting) and saw her teacher bending over her while she lay on the floor. She had been on the long trampoline that goes the width of the warehouse.  I ran downstairs and asked what happened.  He said that A said she was too tired to get up. I tried to get her to stand up, but she couldn't; she was like a heavy, limp rag doll. A said "potty", so I scooped her up and ran to the bathroom. There I put her on the floor and again, she couldn't stand...she collapsed on the bathroom floor.  Neither he nor I witnessed what happened, so we assumed she fell.

At this point I freaked out. I picked her up and ran to the front desk, holding her. I kept asking her what was wrong, what hurt.  She kept saying "I don't know."  At one point, she said she felt "squiggly", and she also said "I'm allergic to jumping" but other than that she told me nothing. I had no idea if she was in pain, or what.  I told the staff to get ready to call 911 if I needed. Again, I tried to stand her up, and this time she stood, but collapsed. Finally, on another try, she stood and was able to walk a few steps.

At this point, I called my husband.  J works just a few blocks away from the gymnastics studio, and was over in a few minutes.  When he came, I had A walk from me to him, about 10 feet away. She was able to do so, but was walking really off-balance, almost like she was drunk.  We made the decision to take her home and go from there.  D and I talked to her the whole time; I was worried about a concussion.  We took her home and asked our neighbor, who's a physician's assistant, to come over. He checked her pulse and eyes, etc and said while she seemed ok we should call the doctor, which we were going to do anyway.  J also started to notice that A couldn't turn her neck.  J called our pediatrician, and the nurse told him to take A to the emergency room at Children's Hospital.  So I loaded up the kids in the car, and, with J following behind me, drove down.

An xray showed that her neck looked irregular.  They weren't sure if it was broken or a congential defect, so they wanted to do a CT scan, which we did.  They wanted more information after that, so she had to have an MRI (with anesthesia, etc).  Finally, at 2:30 in the morning (we'd gotten to the ER at 5:00 in the afternoon) we got our answer: yes, her neck had a congenital defect in C1 (called os odontoideum, or dens) but the ligaments around it broke (or something like that....to be honest, even though it's been explained to me about 3 times so far I still don't quite understand it all).  So we were admitted.  They speculate that this piece of bone has been moving for a while, and her fall, if there was a fall, was the icing on the cake to cause trauma.

Saturday was a blur.  She had to go into surgery to put a halo on her head. If you don't know what that is, look here (scroll down until you see Halo Ring Brace).  This device is literally screwed into her head in 6 places: 2 behind each ear and one over each eyebrow.  It is really freaky looking.  She will have to wear this halo for 3 months, along with the vest that it attaches to. The vest never comes off, nor does the halo, until they actually remove it.  Tomorrow she goes in for a second surgery to fuse her C1 and C2 vertebrae together, which should prevent this from ever happening again.

While this has been traumatic for all of us (and A is still in a medically-induced coma and doesn't even know about the halo yet, although I tried to tell her beforehand), I am very happy.  Why? Because according to every doctor and nurse I've talked to, this kind of injury usually leads to paralysis.  Her spinal cord was not damaged at all.  I don't understand how, especially given that I was having her walk, and transported her to the hospital (trust me, had she not been walking at the gymnastics studio I would have called 911, but since she was walking it never occurred to me that she had a neck injury) but even with all that she is able to use all four limbs.  She will be ok.

Today the gymnastics owner called, and apparently another instructor witnessed the whole thing.  A didn't fall after all.  She went down the trampoline (as usual), jumped on the big cushy mat at the end with both feet (as usual) and bounced on her tush to slide off the mat (as usual)...only this time when she got to the floor she crumpled in a heap.  So she didn't fall. It was the bouncing, and this would have happened at some point in her life regardless, apparently sooner than later.  I'm just glad it was there, on a padded floor, where I was right there and HER SPINAL CORD WASN'T TOUCHED.

So after tomorrow's surgery, she'll have the halo on for 3 months. While this will be a hard 3 months, I have to keep perspective that she had the tracheostomy for 4 YEARS...and that when she got the trach they didn't know how long she'd have it (they told us she could have it for one year, or maybe the rest of her life).  Knowing that this is short-term helps.

I will update later when I can. In the meantime, please hold my daughter in your prayers for a good surgery and a speedy healing and recovery.

October 9, 2012

Portland Half Marathon Race Recap

My 14th half marathon is in the books!

This past weekend I flew up to Portland, Oregon, to run the Portland Half Marathon.  I was not sure how I would do, being that only 7 days before I had completed my first half-Ironman triathlon.  I had actually signed up for Portland way before I had signed up for SuperFrog; when I registered for SuperFrog I had to carefully consider the fact that I would be doing this a week before yet another half marathon. However, I figured I would be ok, as I would rest, compress, ice, and do whatever else I would need to do to get my tired legs and body recovered from 70.3 miles and ready to do another 13.1.  I signed up for Portland because I was supposed to run it with my dear friend, Krista; it was supposed to be her first-ever half marathon. However, she injured herself in training and had to back out.

As it turned out, I wasn't sore at all from SuperFrog. Thank goodness for good training, I suppose! I woke up the following day a bit stiff, but not sore whatsoever. I went to the pool for a short (10 lap) shake-out swim which got rid of the stiffness; swimming the day after a big race always makes me feel better. Aside from that short swim and a few mile-long walks with the dog, I did nothing else all week. Although I wasn't sore, or even tired, I wanted to rest my body and my mind.  I went into the Portland Half with the thought of just completing it. I was eager to run in a new city, cross another state off my list (I've now run a half marathon in 3 states; only 47 more to go, ha!), and soak in the fun atmosphere. I had heard that Portland is an amazing marathon, both for the full and the half, and I was excited to experience that.  I wasn't planning on racing it, only participating.

Spoiler:  I ran my 4th best half marathon time. Ever.  I guess all the training for SuperFrog really paid off. And not having to swim 1.2 miles and bike 56 miles first also helped.

Onto the recap!

Friday morning I flew up to Portland, where I was met by Krista.  We spent the day wandering around cute areas of town, going to the pumpkin patch with her son, and catching up.  Saturday I slept in (until 7:15, unbelievable!) and we went to Krista's son's soccer game. This is where I started to get concerned about weather.  The weather had looked nice all week on all the weather websites I'd checked (mid 70's) but that morning, sitting watching the game, the wind really kicked up. The wind was COLD!  I was shivering, even though I was in a long-sleeved shirt, a hoodie, and gloves.  I had packed two potential race outfits, but neither was for cold weather. I knew that once I got moving I would warm up, but was worried about the hour or so wait I'd have pre-race. I certainly didn't want to be freezing.  I decided to look into buying something warm at the expo. (Note to self: when packing for an out-of-town race, always pack at least one hot and one cold weather option.  It's better to have long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, gloves and a hat and not need it than to wish you had it).

 After the game, we headed downtown. First, I got to meet Lisa, a blogger who I've been following on Twitter for years and whose blog I've been reading for just as long. It was so nice to finally meet her face-to-face (please check out her inspirational blog when you get a chance).  We met for coffee at my favorite bookstore, Powell's. Afterwards, Krista and I wandered around, bought some books, and had lunch at one of the cute food carts Portland boasts (we ate at the Grilled Cheese Grill).  Then it was onto the expo.

me and Lisa
The expo was actually pretty nice. It was in a big hotel downtown, and while it wasn't nearly as big as the Rock 'n' Roll ones I've been to, it wasn't nearly as small as other ones. There was a nice selection of booths and, of course, official merchandise. With my worry about the weather, I forked over $15 for an official Portland Marathon beanie. I picked up my bib and shirt. The only "complaint" I had about the expo was that these were in different areas; the bib pickup was downstairs, and the shirt pickup was upstairs.  I thought it was odd, because expos usually have these by each other, but I guess it was to ensure that each runner actually walked through all the booths. Well played, Portland Marathon, well played.

After the expo, we walked around downtown more (I wanted to go to VooDoo Doughnuts, but balked at the hour-plus line out in front) and spent time people watching at Saturday Market. After meeting Krista's family for dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory, it was home to prepare for the race and get to bed early.

I slept fitfully, waking up almost every hour as is my norm before a race. I finally got out of bed at 5, got ready, and Krista and I were on the road by 5:30. I ate a Luna Bar on the way.  I was anticipating horrible traffic getting into downtown; most big races I've done have awful traffic jams as it gets closer to the race. However, there was no traffic...none at all. We easily got into downtown, found parking, and sat at a table we found. The weather wasn't too cold, as there was no wind. I ate a Honey Stinger Waffle, then handed my new beanie and gloves to Krista to hold onto as I headed to my corral, Corral D (I kept on my throw-away jacket, though).  There were several corrals, but they were set up differently than I'd ever seen before.  The races I'd done before had the corrals on one street, lined up one after the other in a big row.  Portland had each corral on a different intersection. Each corral had it's own set of port-a-potties and gear check.  I got in with my corral, and when it was finally time to walk to the start line, I shed my throw-away jacket. I was warm enough. 


too dark to really see, but this is the start line

 Soon it was my time to go.  The guys from 3 Non Joggers, a podcast I often listen to, were announcing, but I couldn't see them.  There was so much energy in the air, and so many spectators!  We ran through Chinatown before running in some cool residential areas.  Although it was crowded (the marathoners were mixed in with the half marathoners, and didn't split off until about mile 10 or so) it was never wall-to-wall, and I always had room to run.  Unfortunately, I don't know Portland too well so I can't write about exactly where I ran, but for the most part it was through some really neat areas, especially through the neighborhoods, by the waterfront, and some parks.  Miles 6-9 were pretty brutal---it was an out-and-back through some ugly industrial areas--but they had some course entertainment there that helped a bit.

entering Chinatown

There were also TONS of bands and entertainment along the way.  In fact, I didn't even turn on my iPod until about the 5k mark, as I wanted to hear all the music.  Along the way I tried to unplug when running by bands, so I could hear them.  Lots of races have rock and folk bands, but Portland had some other groups such as a group of mimes, a harpist, some DJs and a group of pirates.  Yes, pirates. We ran by the pirates twice, on the out-and-back, and I loved it each time.

a band outside of Chinatown

the harpist was unique to see

pirates! you can't make this stuff up!
Course aid was plentiful, with lots of hydration stops for water and sports drink.  They even had gummy bears (yum!) about mile 9 or so.  I was very comfortable weather-wise, and was so glad I hadn't brought my new beanie, or bought arm warmers or a long-sleeved shirt.  I even ended up dumping water on my head at mile 11, just to cool down a bit.  More than one runner told me that it was the most perfect weather they had ever done the race in.  I guess usually it rains for this race, ranging from a drizzle to a downpour, so to have this dry, mild weather was unheard of. I totally lucked out!

one of the more beautiful views

one of my signature self-portraits while racing
Amazingly, I was doing really well on time.  I realized that about mile 11 that I had the chance to PR, but I was starting to tire at that point and slowed down.  I had kept my usual regime of a Gu at miles 4, 8 and 12, but was feeling a bit nauseous.  Soon enough, I was at the finish line. In the finish chute area there were tons of spectators, and I was one of the only runners there at that time.  My name was on my bib, and I got lots of shouts of encouragement.  Right before I crossed the finish line, I passed a runner, who had done the full marathon, collapsed only a few yards from the finish. He kept trying to get up, and the crowed was encouraging him, but he kept falling down.  As I ran by, a medic ran toward him. I can only hope he was ok, and that he was able to at least crawl the few yards to the finish.

After I crossed the finish line (in my 4th-fastest half marathon ever!) the real swag started piling on.  First I was handed my medal.  After a space blanket was draped over my shoulders, I was handed a yellow rose (they had roses of all colors).  Then I passed through the food tables.  Most races have the usual bagels, bananas and oranges, which they had, but they also had grapes, orange juice, coconut water, and a table full of Halloween candy, already placed in individual cups. They also had empty cups where you could fill your own! I grabbed a filled one, and asked them to put an extra Kit-Kat in.  Mmmm.  There were even MORE food tables but I can't remember them all!  Then I got my finishers shirt. Yes, a second shirt! It's a long-sleeved tech shirt, and says Portland Finisher on it.  Then they gave me a velvet pouch containing a commemorative coin, another velvet pouch with a commemorative charm (to put on a chain), and a seedling of a tree (I think a fir tree, but I'm not positive), planted in dirt in a cup.  I have never, EVER seen so much swag for a race.  The best part was the two different tech shirts!

all my swag, minus the short-sleeve shirt I'd gotten at the expo

My hands were SO full by this time, even with a bag a volunteer gave me to help me carry things!  I found Krista, and, after changing by the car in the parking garage (luckily no one drove by!) we went out to breakfast at Genies Cafe, where I gorged on vegetarian biscuits and gravy and a huge, delicious bloody mary.  Then it was off to the airport for the flight home. The fun part about that was seeing other runners in their long-sleeved finishers shirts. I was wearing mine too, and whenever I'd see on in the airport or on the airplane we'd wave and chat.

delicious and well-earned
All in all, I LOVED running Portland. I wish I lived closer so I could do it again next year!

October 2, 2012

SuperFrog Half Ironman Race Recap

This post is going to be long. Very long, maybe too long.  Feel free to skip.  I was going to divide it up into two posts, but I want it all together in one. There are a lot of things I want to remember about the race, so I want to get it all down before they become a faint memory. So sit back and enjoy the tale of.....


First of all, I did it! I completed all 70.3 miles, and am officially a half-Ironman.  For those of you who have been reading my blog for a while, you know how much training I'd done for this.  I signed up on March 30, 6 months to the day from SuperFrog. When I signed up, I was already trained up to be able to do an Olympic-distance triathlon (the Oly that got canceled).  All summer was a push to increase my endurance, especially on the bike.  I knew I could do the distance in the swim, and have done many half marathons, but needed to increase mileage on the bike. Oh yeah, and be able to run a half marathon afterward.  I did the necessary training.  I suffered some injuries, but was able to resume training.

As I've said before, SuperFrog is the original half-Ironman. It's a notoriously hard 70.3, as it's put on by the tough Navy Seals, who don't like anything to be easy.  Lance Armstrong signed up a few weeks ago, which added more buzz and an extra 200 or or participants.


The days leading up to the race were good.  As I wrote in my last post, I felt ready. I was in a zen-state. I was pretty calm.  I realized I had done most of the course before, which made me feel better.  I hadn't swam at that beach, but I've done lots of ocean swim practices, and a beach is a beach.  I've ridden the Silver Strand tons of time in training, even doing the actual course (albeit one loop rather than 4) in a triathlon last year. I had run the Silver Strand Half Marathon last year, which covers part of the same run course.  And I've been doing lots of beach runs.  So I kept telling myself, although the distance was new to me, the DOING wasn't new.

I'd kept my workouts very light last week. Two short (2 mile) runs, a short (1500 yard) swim, and a short (5 mile) bike.  The bike ride was mainly to test it out; I had been practicing changing the tubes in my tires, in case I got a flat on race day, and wanted to be sure I put my wheel on right.  Apparently I didn't, as unbeknownst to me a screw had come loose and when I replaced it, I'd put it's spring on backward.  When I tried to ride, the chain came off, I couldn't clip out in time, and down I went, gashing my knee.  Just what I needed right before the race, but at least I was able to take it into my local bike shop to get fixed!  Friday I picked up my race packet. Even then I was calm. For a while I was obsessively checking 4 different weather websites, but each gave a different forecast (ranging from 78-85 degrees). I finally stopped checking, as the truth was it didn't matter what the weather was, I had no control over it, it was going to be hot, and I was racing in it no matter what.

Friday night I got a very poor night's sleep. I went to bed at 9:15, but was up from 12:30-3:00, and then up for good at 5:00. All day Saturday I was exhausted...and nauseous. This wasn't good, as I wasn't able to eat as much as I should have. Nothing sounded appealing, and I did my best to choke some food down. I did my final preparations for the race (checked my gear about 6 times, then packed my transition bag and bike in the car), put on my race number tattoos (a first for me, I've always been body-marked in transition with a marker, so the tattoo felt so official!), and was asleep by 8:30. Although I set my alarm for 4:00, I was up at 2:00, and couldn't get back to sleep.  Another poor night's sleep in the books.

By the way, I got a flood of support from my friends and family. A few friends sent me good luck cards in the mail, and I got a ton of phone calls, texts, tweets, and Facebook messages. I appreciated each and every single one.


I got out of bed at 3:30, got dressed, and was out the door by 4:30.  Although I had packed my usual pre-race peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich, I still felt nauseous and couldn't stomach it.  I did eat a Luna Bar, though.  I drove down to Coronado, easily found parking at the Silver Strand State Beach, and walked into transition. I met another triathlete on the way; it was also his first 70.3, so it was nice to commiserate.  I was happily surprised to see that we had assigned spaces on the racks; that was a first for me too! They were assigned by race number within waves, so after wandering around for a while I finally found my spot.  I racked my bike, then went back to my car for my Igloo (I brought a small Igloo with ice, because I wanted ice-cold Gatorade to start the run with). I stopped at an actual bathroom, because I was having, er, tummy issues.  I got back to transition, and was setting up when my friend Steve came over.  I was so happy to see him! I may have started crying.  Later, I found my dailymile friend Leah, which also helped to calm my nerves.

The waves seemed calm, and the moon was bright and full in the dark sky.  I remember music blasting from the loudspeakers, which was kind of annoying because it was too early for peppy music.  Lots of athletes were in their own world, listening to their iPods. A mix of excitement and anxiety was in the air.

The full moon as the sun rose. See how small the waves were at that time?

set up with a lot of stuff!

my wave

After setting up, I decided to use the port-o-potty, as my tummy was still in turmoil. While in line, I was so nauseous I almost threw up. My legs turned to jelly and I almost had to sit down. I'm embarrassed to admit this, but I thought "I can't do this. I am not going to even start.".  That's how scared I was.  I almost didn't start.  Then I thought about husband, my kids, my family, all my friends, and how everyone in my life, and on Facebook, and Twitter, and dailymile, were rooting for me, and how could I face them if I didn't even start?  Most of all, how could I face myself?

I got back to my area, and the woman next to me, Denise, could tell I was upset.  She asked if she could pray with me. I said okay.  She took my hands, and said a prayer for me which was so sweet.  The other women around me were awesome too...everyone was so friendly and nice and supportive.  Soon I heard that Lance Armstrong was there. I decided to play paparazzi and took my phone over for a few pictures.  Watching him set up his bike, and wearing the same tattoos that I had on, actually calmed my nerves. I returned to my area in a good mood.

Something that helped was that I thought about my friends who couldn't do what I was doing.  My friend Angi, who is recovering from breast cancer. My friend Monika, who just found out she has a brain tumor.  My friend T, who got me into triathlon 2 years ago, who just broke his foot.  I GET TO DO THIS. I kept telling myself that. I GET to swim, bike, run, and compete.  I also thought about something that I read on a blog this week (I wish I could remember which blog to give it proper credit...). The writer said that the race is really a celebration of the training. I've been training my ass off for this moment, so I needed to celebrate it today.

pre-race, looking scared
Right as I was about to get my wetsuit on, Leah came over.  She insisted that I take something to eat with me down to the beach, so I brought a Vanilla Honey Stinger Waffle. I'm glad I did, I was already in calorie deficit with my nausea and it was good to get some more calories in me. We walked down to the beach, and got in the water to warm up. Brrrr....the water was c-c-c-c-cold! And the waves, which had been tiny earlier, were suddenly big. Huge. I started to get really freaked out.  I had practiced open-water ocean swims many times with  Steve, but usually the waves were calm.  Once the waves were big, but not THAT big.  I had learned that day, after getting knocked over by a huge wave and losing my goggles, that I needed to put my goggles under my swimcap. So glad I had learned this lesson before, as it would be crucial today.  I found Steve, gave him a hug right before it was his wave's turn to go, then lined up, as my wave would start 5 minutes later.


From the SuperFrog website:

The swim course is a two-loop open ocean water swim in the Pacific Ocean. Swimmers will swim out 350m, turn right (north) and swim 200m, and finally swim back to shore (350m) to begin the second lap.  There will be multiple wave starts that will be set 3-5 minutes apart. Water temperatures in September average 69 degrees. Wetsuits are recommended. Cut-off time: 1:10

I don't want to exaggerate, but by the time it was my wave's turn to start (women 30+), the waves were extremely big.  As I said, much bigger than anything I'd practiced in.  I found some photos from the race to give an idea of what I was facing:


So when it was my turn to run into the water, there were a LOT of strong  waves to get through.  I tried doing what I'd practiced, ducking under them like a dolphin, but they were so strong that I was having a hard time getting through them.  I kept getting knocked back.  And the rush going over my head was so strong that had I not put my hand on my head to hold my swimcap and goggles on, they would have gotten washed away.  There were about 3 sets of these breakers to get through before it got calm.  By the time I got through the third set, I was exhausted and almost in tears. I thought it would take me forever to get through the rectangular loop, and then I had to do it again?  No way. Again, I had the thought in my head, "I should give up." That's how hopeless I felt.

But then I got it together. I told myself to suck it up, that I've trained hard for this, that I WOULD get through it.  That of course it's hard, it's a half-Ironman for God's sake, not a little sprint...and with it sponsored by the Navy Seals, why would I expect anything easy?  I got through the last set of waves and was able to actually swim. I swam up to the buoy, where I expected to turn right, but the other swimmers kept swimming straight.  WHAT? OMG there was a second buoy PAST this buoy that I had to swim to before turning north. I hadn't noticed that from the shore...probably because the second buoy was so away.

So I kept swimming.  And swimming.  Finally I turned right, and rounded another buoy before heading to the shore. Stroke, stroke, breathe.  Stroke, stroke, breathe.  Overall I was able to get a good space to swim. Once I got kicked in the head, and another time I got hit by my face and my goggles started leaking, but other than that I was fine. Until...I was almost at shore. I kept looking behind me, because I knew the monster waves would be breaking on me and I wanted to be aware. Suddenly a guy next to me shouted "watch out!" and there was a huge wave I couldn't escape from. Under I went, holding my goggles and swimcap to my head, as I tumbled upside down.  I came up sputtering and spent.  Oh well, almost to shore.

I finally made it to shore, ran a bit along the shore to the start, and did the whole thing all over again.  The experience the second time was exactly the same---same huge waves, same getting knocked back--except I didn't get kicked by anyone.  By this point, though, I was sufficiently warmed up so that I wasn't tired anymore, although by the end my hands were getting numb from the cold water.  Again, I made it to the shore, and this time got to run into transition. I trudged up the soft sand while unzipping my wetsuit and went in. I  came in under my hour goal. Yay me!

I had brought a bottle of water to rinse off my feet post-swim, but the woman next to me, Denise, was there and told me to step in her bucket of water, which was much easier.  I took my time in transition, not really to dry myself off (I didn't) but to make sure I had everything I needed for the bike. It's one thing to rush out of transition for a sprint bike ride of 12 miles...but 56 miles is a different story. Socks and bike shoes on....helmet on and strapped...race belt on....sunglasses on....medicine and gels in my back pocket....let's roll!


From the SuperFrog website: 

Next, the bike course is a flat and fast 56mile bike-leg consisting of four counter-clockwise 14 mile loops on Highway 75. There is one aid-station on the south end of the course which you will pass at mile 4, 17, 30, and 43. The max elevation on the course is 39ft above sea-level….yes, this is the fastest course you have ever been on! Cut-off time: 3:45

I hit the mount line, got on my bike, and started pedaling.  The ride was actually pretty uneventful, which was good.  Four loops. I've biked here so much that it wasn't new to me at all.  One way I got a pretty bad headwind; the other way the wind was a help.  At the first turnaround, I saw two of my friends, S and B! They were holding a sign and yelling for me. That put a HUGE smile on my face and gave me an extra push!  And at the other turnaround, two other friends, A and I, were there with signs. I saw them a few times, on each time I turned around there. They even got the cops who were standing there to cheer for me. I so appreciated my friends being there. I really needed it.
I made a critical mistake on the bike, though. I failed my nutrition and hydration.  I was still feeling nauseous, even a bit more so since ingesting so much ocean water.  I reminded myself to eat and drink, and did so, but not as much as I should.  In my long bike training rides I had nailed my nutrition,but the nausea made it really hard for me.  I didn't intake nearly enough calories or fluid, which would later come back to haunt me. It's hard to eat when nauseous....most of what I was able to eat were Gu Chomps and Clif Shot Blocks,  one and a half of my two Pay Day bars, and a few peanut butter pretzels.  I had more with me. . I even dropped one of my Gatorade-filled bottles around mile 20, and successfully picked up a new bottle of Cytomax at the aid-station hand-off (a first for me!) but never touched that extra bottle.  Total fail.

Although the course is pretty flat, the wind is definitely a factor.  The first few laps it wasn't bad, but by lap 3 the headwind was getting tough.  By lap 4, it was bad. At times it felt I was in a wind tunnel. I passed someone and mentioned how windy it was; his response to me was lost in the wind. I have no clue what he said.

Around mile 50, I started getting a sharp pain in my left knee, on every downstroke. That worried me for the run (luckily it stopped hurting as soon as I was off the bike).  Soon it was time for me to come back to transition.  Although I was one of the last people on the bike leg (but certainly not last!) I made good time for me.  I had planned on four hours, and I came in under that. That also included two port-o-potty breaks.  Although the bike leg was pretty long and boring, I actually enjoyed myself, although I was looking forward to getting off the bike and onto my favorite leg, the run. I liked the biking much better than the swim, and, as it turns out, better than the run.

Back in transition,  I racked my bike, helmet off, bike shoes off, running shoes on, fuel belt with ice-cold Gatorade bottles on....and I was ready.  I actually thought to myself that this half-Ironman thing was easy.  I was having fun. It wasn't nearly as hard as I thought it was going to be. I wasn't too tired, and felt like I could crush the run, as it was my favorite part.

I didn't know just how wrong I was.


From the SuperFrog website:

Lastly, the run course is a 13.1mile course is a combination of  hard-packed sand, soft sand, trails and pavement. The run takes you south down the beach (hard packed sand) for approximately 2 miles and on to the Silver Strand Training Complex. Racers will then complete two loops on roads and groomed trails and head back north to the finish. Approximately 4 miles of the course is on the beach (hard packed sand). Approximately 4-500 meters of the beach run will be in soft sand…the rest is at hard-packed sand at the high-water line. Water, Cytomax Drink and Cytomax Drops will be available at all aid-stations (4 stations per loop). Cut-off time: 3:15

As SuperFrog winner Lance Armstrong said afterward, "whoever invented that run course needs to get checked out!"  It was a seriously tough, seriously badass run course. 

As soon as I started on the run I knew I was in trouble.  The first two and a half (not 2, as stated on the website) miles were on packed sand, making a total of 5 miles there and back on the packed sand. I wasn't too concerned about this, as I've done a lot of beach runs, but I was getting really tired. Plus, I was passing tons and tons of runners on their way back. Nothing like starting out to run 13.1 miles when you're seeing people on their last mile.  Ugh.  I passed another woman, walking, who told me she hurt her foot on the bike. I felt bad for her.
I had planned a 0.4 mile run/0.1 mile walk ratio.  I tried this, but couldn't sustain it. I was just too tired, and my feet and legs were getting sore. I decided to try a run 0.2 and walk 0.05 instead.  Soon that got hard.  Then I decided to walk, and run when I could.  When I ran, I was in a good pace, about 10:00-10:45 mile minutes...but then I'd have to slow to a walk.  After the beach part, we got to the Silver Strand Training Complex, a hot and ugly barren area that we had to run two loops of, totaling about 8 miles. Before we started that part, I sat on a chair at the aid station to empty out my shoes, which were full of soft sand that we had just trudged through.  Soon, I was run/walking again.  Luckily, I made a few friends a lot the way, some random guys who were also trudging along.  This was awesome, because even though conversation was limited, it was some distraction. I almost always run with music, and have never run a half marathon without my iPod, so anything was welcome.  And I had the worst songs going through my head.  It's hard to be solely in your own head, with no talking, no music, etc for 8 hours.

By mile 5 I really wasn't doing well. At all.  My nausea was really bad, and I started retching.  Unfortunately, there was nothing in my stomach (even though I had been eating Gu and Gu Chomps) and I was just dry heaving. I thought if I could throw up, I might feel better.  I did feel a bit better after, even though nothing came up.  I ate some salt and that revived me a bit.  I kept moving, though...always moving forward.  I kept thinking of quote by my hero, Dean Karnazes: "Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must; just never give up." I was NOT going to stop.  Soon I hit mile 6.6, and I knew I was halfway done with the run.  At that point, all I wanted to do was finish.  I wanted to run more than I was, but I couldn't, and decided that I was ok with that. Even if I walked the rest of the way, I would still finish.

At about mile 10 or so, we exited the Training Center and were on sand dunes. All soft sand, about 1/3 of a mile.  The kind of sand you slip and slide in when going to the beach.  I continued to trudge through that, and when I finally got through that, I sat down once again to empty my shoes.  Back on the shoreline, I began my run/walk again. Now I was motivated to finish, because I knew my husband, two kids, and best friend would be waiting for me at the finish. I wanted to get to them. I NEEDED to get to them.  Remember that woman who had hurt her foot biking? I saw her again; she had dropped out.  That must have been tough after coming so far.

Finally, I was at the finish. I saw my family and my best friend.  My son, D, ran up and tried to run in with me, but they wouldn't let him.  I walked until I hit the final stretch, then ran it in, crossing the finish line with arms up high to big applause from all the volunteers that were there. I was the only athlete crossing at that time.

This race was grueling, which made finishing even more sweet.  Getting pummeled by the waves, biking through a wind tunnel, running in the sand and the heat....I did it. I'm tougher than I thought.  I finished in just over 8 hours.  I am very proud of myself.  Could I have pushed it a bit on the run and come in a few minutes under 8?  Maybe, maybe not. It's easy to second guess myself now, but at the time, I truly did the best I could. Although I walked so much of it, I ran as much as I was able to.  Regardless, I finished. I am a half-Ironman.  Unbelievably, I was never sore after. Tired, yes, but not sore at all. I guess I was trained enough!
By the way, Lance Armstrong won the whole thing 3:49, which was shorter than my bike portion!  The volunteers were amazing, and I'm delighted to report that even with the extreme heat, there was PLENTY of food, water, and Cytomax. I had been worried about them running out, but they were fully stocked, and since I was toward the end, I know there was enough for all. It was a well organized event from start to finish!

But this race wasn't about Lance. It wasn't about any of the other hundreds of racers.  It was about me, about me conquering my fears, and doing what to me seemed impossible at one point. I swam, biked and ran 70.3 miles. I am a half-Ironman!