Oh man, what a race my first 70.3 turned out to be. The short version is I finished, and I did so with a giant smile thanks to my friends, family, the Rev3 team and lots of prayers. The cutoff time was 8:30, and I crossed the finish line in 8 hours, 29 minutes and 37 seconds. I kid you not, I had :23 seconds to spare. I think it’s hilarious, and I’m not one bit sad about finishing last. I experienced the most amazing finish line welcome, and it was one of the greatest moments and accomplishments of my adult life. To think back on where I have come from to where I am now is crazy, and I am so proud of my finish. Sure, things could’ve been better, but I am so proud of this effort.
My gameday regimen included a specific breakfast at a particular time so that insulin would mostly be out of my system. I changed my basal rate (how much insulin my pump gives me per hour) to zero. Before jumping in the river I ate a Hüma gel, gave a small insulin dose through a syringe and then handed both off to my brother (the world’s best Sherpa!) I was 162 getting into the river I had zero nerves about the race itself, but it was so hard to give myself that insulin shot. I struggled with low blood sugars during training, so this was my huge blind spot and the one that made me the most nervous. I trusted my coach, and it was definitely the right call. I climbed out of the water at 147. Nailed it! But that swim? Ugh. I had trouble sighting the buoys because of the sun and swam a little more than the 1.2 miles. I’m a slow swimmer, but I finished in the time I thought I would. Almost to the first turn, I looked behind me and saw no swimmers. I knew then it would be a long solo day, but that didn’t bother me. I just needed to get myself in the right mental place and adjust accordingly. Once I made that turn, I felt strong and booked it back to the dock. My brother was there waiting with my pump, and I headed into transition.
Y’all. I’m from here, born and raised in East Tennessee. The Smokies are my favorite place on earth, but even knowing that… when you’re on two wheels with a clock running it’s a whole new ball game. I tried not to take off too quickly, but my heart rate was high for the first half hour or so of the ride. I kept telling myself to settle down because I knew I couldn’t sustain that for the entire 56 miles. It took me close to 20 miles to find my legs, but I found them and they were strong. That bike ride was great! If you know me at all, you know how much I love to ride my bike. Sunday was one of the most beautiful rides that reminded me of why I fell in love with cycling in the first place. Pedaling through Walland, the foothills of the Smokies, was so picturesque. It’s a route I want to bring friends back to ride. Having my Tennessee Women’s Cycling Project teammates and friends leapfrog me all day with cowbells and signs was pretty fantastic, too! They were absolutely amazing and made me smile so many times! (Watching their lopsided videos afterward made me smile even more. Haha.) Beth and I drove the course the night before. The only climb I dreaded was the Neubert Springs climb. As I climbed, I was fine though. It wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be, and I thank the Natchez Trace and East Nashville for that. My friends were at the top with “more cowbell.” For the first hour of the ride, my blood sugars hovered between 70-90. I ate constantly to keep it up, but by the halfway point, I was done eating, so I didn’t finish my nutrition plan my coach gave me. I just didn’t want anymore food. I did switch out a bottle of water for Gatorade midway to help. As I cruised down a hill toward the end and saw Neyland Staidum, I smiled. This girl is not a UT fan by any stretch, but dang I was happy to see that stinking stadium. That last short hill on West Blount nearly killed my legs. I stood to climb but my quads were having none of that. I baby-geared it to the top and then smiled all the way to transition. My CGM (continuous glucose monitor) said my blood sugar was 182. I tested on my monitor in transition and saw a 282 staring back at me. I pulled out an alcohol swab to test again, making sure there wasn’t any gel on my fingers giving me a false reading. Still in the 280s. Gave a bolus through my pump of .5 units. In addition to not finishing my full nutrition plan, I also didn’t take in as much water as I had planned. If I was dehydrated, that number wasn’t coming down. Normally, I’d never bolus before a 13-mile run, but that’s a super high blood sugar, dangerously high going into a run like that. In comparison, a normal correction would’ve been about 5.5 units. My brother was there and my cheer squad. (It was my only selfie the whole day, but don’t worry USAT, I didn’t touch the phone. 😉) I still wasn’t nervous, but I was watching my CGM on my insulin pump like a hawk. My numbers would determine the rest of the day’s strength.
The good news is my legs felt great. No jello there. The bad news is I was just plain tired. Somewhere in the first mile, some dude runs up to me and starts talking to me. You know me, so I started talking back. He said he was there as a volunteer to help get the finishers in and was going to run with me the entire way. At the time, I didn’t know that was because I was last. Haha. There were a few cyclists behind me so I didn’t think I was dead last, but I was. So we ran and we talked. Or more accurately, we jogged and he talked. There was lots of walking, lots of water chugging and lots of internal anger as I watched my blood sugar plummet to 124 within an hour. I stuffed myself with Huma and Clif Shot Blocks and took in Gatorade at the water stops. I found my family in Tyson Park, and I snagged an inhaler from my mom. My lingering cough was killing me and my chest was tight. It’s weird because I felt good; I was just tired. So, so tired. My cowbell girls showed up on their bikes on the run and shouted some really awesome cheers. They were great. The run was an out-and-back loop. When I made that turn halfway through and could see transition, it was the first time I truly struggled. That second half of the run included a whole lot of prayers. My sweet niece was on the second loop, and my brother and sister-in-law ran those last four miles with me. And my personal runner, David… yep, still there like a rock star! About a mile out, my blood sugars were dropping. I stuffed food, chugged a Gatorade and a cup of Coke. I was not stopping now, not that close. I passed transition with a GGM reading of 64, but I knew as soon as I stopped, I’d spike from that last surge of sugar and carbs and would be fine. I was right. I finished at 95, and the trend arrow on my CGM was pointing straight up. I didn’t care about that arrow because I had finished.
About one mile out, two folks decked out in Rev3 gear showed up to run with us in. At that point, it was an entourage. I had David (my personal running buddy), my brother and Christy, two Rev3 folks and two lovely state troopers bringing up the rear. Ha! I heard the cheers from the last rest stop at the top of the hill by Thompson-Bowling Arena and that was the first time I truly choked up. I didn’t really have the lung capacity for tears though. We passed transition, and they told me everyone was waiting for me at the finish line. I expected my family, not a crowd. I mean, hello, I was last. But on the greenway bridge, I could hear them. I could hear the announcer and the cheers. I rounded the corner of the finisher’s chute with my family and the tears wouldn’t hold any longer. It was one of the proudest moments of my life, one of the most rewarding and one of the most humbling. All that emotion from training, from long, hot runs, from frustrating blood sugars in the pool, from persevering when it was so hard, from moving forward when diabetes made me want to stop, from the fear of lake monsters and snakes… all of that came flowing to the surface and the smile across my face proved it. To cross that line full of cheers from strangers who waited for me until the last :23 seconds after several long days of set-up, was nothing short of incredible. To work so hard to cross that line and to know I didn’t do it alone… all of that gratefulness came flooding out. You may be reading this and not believe in the power of prayer, but I’m here to tell you how real it is. To have a race that long and to not stop. To push my broken body and busted pancreas that far and to not have any major issues or blood sugar malfunctions. To have a runner to distract me from the miles and block the hard mental battle of that run. To have blue skies and sunshine. If you only knew how many people in my life were praying for me on that day, well, you’d believe. That moment, with those people around me, strangers and family, I saw a plan unfold, a dream reached, a goal achieved. I saw the limits diabetes often gives me and then I watched those limits shatter with every step forward. I saw the beauty in the suffering, and I saw how good really does come out of all things. I saw my own little miracle and life transformation unfold, and I was so incredibly humbled by this entire experience.
I do this stuff (epic bike rides and centuries, half marathons, a 70.3) because I have type 1 diabetes. T1D is my motivation, and I will continue to shatter people’s expectations and ideas about life with this auto-immune disease. I may only shatter them by :23 seconds, but I’ll keep fighting until we have a cure for this disease. (You can help fund that cure, here.)
I will never be able to adequately say thank you to my family, to my friends, to David or to the Rev3 Knoxville team. This was one of the highlights of my life, and definitely of my short athletic life. I said I’d never do another 70.3, but Monday, all I could think about was how I could beat that 8:29:37 time. 😉 I will say this for certain. If I do this again, it will most definitely be a Rev3 race. This team was exceptional, and I am so grateful for this team of kind, encouraging, spectacular people. Thank you, Rev3 Knoxville!