Dina Neils, CreakyJoints SpokesAthlete, with a recap of the Golden State Triathlon in Discovery Park, Sacramento, CA on October 12, 2014. Dina is a remarkable young woman with rheumatoid arthritis and two total hip replacements who runs, swims and bikes to build arthritis awareness.
As my last race of year was fast approaching, my nerves were multiplying just as fast. I always get nervous before a race – that’s nothing new. These nerves were different – I was about to race my first triathlon, post remission.
In September I found out that I was no longer in remission – ironically, it was during the same week one year ago that I was told I had achieved remission. Go figure. All of my triathlons have been completed in the past year while in remission. Yes, I still struggled with joints in which the damage had already been done in addition to flares every now and again (oh and the time I broke out with a mystery rash, had biopsies done and the doc’s told me I have Cryoglobulinemia – but that’s a whole other story).
My point is, that saying good bye to remission and racing my first tri post remission was going to be a whole new ball game. Training for the Golden State Triathlon suffered greatly – thanks to angry RA there were lots of missed workouts, and shuffling and changing workouts to meet RA’s needs. At one point, my knees were flaring so badly that I couldn’t bend them or put pressure on them – I had no choice but to break out my trusty pink walker, using it to drag myself around the house (the last time I needed my walker was my last total hip replacement).
Friends and family were asking – “Are you still going to race?” That’s an easy one, “YES!” I thought to myself, “Now, more than ever, I need to keep going. For all the JA Kids and RA warriors who depend on me for hope, strength, and inspiration.” I cannot and will not let them down.
I went into the race knowing that I probably wasn’t going to have the best race of the season, and that I probably wasn’t going to get a top finish. But I prepared myself mentally for that before the race, and was stronger for it going into race day. What was most important and held the greatest meaning, was that I show up and I race with a lot of heart, and cross that finish line with my head held high.
Normally I race in my sponsor’s race kits – however, for this race I opted to wear my arthritis top: 1. Because it was my first triathlon post remission and 2. It was World Arthritis Day! People loved the top – everyone out on the course was calling me “hips” and lots of cheering “way to go hips!”, “you’re making those hips work!” and “WOW, that a girl!”, and one of my favorites “Is that shirt for you?! Oh my God!”
Overall, I would say the course in its entirety was brutal – for two reasons 1. Because racing with RA is a battle in its own, 2. The conditions were less than moderate.
The swim course was in the American River, upstream, which I hadn’t trained in – so fighting the current was pretty difficult. The course went under two large bridges, which always creeps me out because the water goes from murky to pitch black (scary! Not to worry though, I didn’t see any zombies). Upon exiting the water, there was a very steep wooden staircase with no railing that turned into a steep dirt trail – luckily I kept my bearings are didn’t go tumbling down back into the water.
Out on the bike course I was riding in 25-35 mph winds with gusts up to 55 mph. Translation – may as well be riding in hurricane weather. It’s nothing short of a miracle that I didn’t get blown over. I tried with all my might to stay on my goal race pace – but the winds definitely did a good job at making sure that didn’t happen. Fought through some mean calf cramps, and found myself yelling in my mind “Shut up legs” a lot. On a more positive note, I also imagined my village of supporters lined up along the course – family, friends, JA Kids, and RA warriors, each of them cheering for me the whole way. That’s what really kept me going.
I brought them with me on the run course, too. And I needed it for sure! The run is always my favorite, even if my darn GPS watch doesn’t find a signal and my hips are tight as can be and my knees are feeling like they’re going to give out. I had no idea what my pace was, so I did what I do best – chase down my competitors one at a time. I may make it sound easy, but it wasn’t – and I didn’t realize how much pain I was in until I crossed the finish. My legs gave out and I collapsed to the ground – I really was running with my heart, because my body had nothing left.
As expected, my race didn’t result in a top finish or an overall personal record time. However, somehow I did PR my swim, and also my run! I ran my fastest run split of the year, a 7:43 min mile pace – which resulted in 6th age group, and 14th overall female run leg split. My finish time was 1:54 and I placed 13th age group – not too shabby for the first triathlon post remission, eh? A huge, heartfelt THANK YOU to everyone who supported me this year while I was chasing my dreams – thank you for believing in me even when I didn’t believe in myself! Now I can rest easy…until next year…
For more on CreakyJoints SpokesAthlete Dina Neils: Read more about Dina