California Triathlon

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California Triathlon

By Dina Neils, Klean Team USA Ambassador – Sponsored Athlete

Being a triathlete with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) and two total hip replacements, I face challenges during training/racing that sometimes differ from other triathletes. (After battling RA for over a decade, I am blessed to finally have achieved remission in 2013. Unfortunately, damage has already been done to many joints).

Because of my RA and hip replacements, I crossed over from running to triathlon late last year. Since Sept 2013 I’ve completed a 10k, half marathon, and 4 triathlons. Along the way, I’ve learned a lot about how my body responds to triathlon training/racing and how to adjust in order to accommodate challenges I have with RA.

In this race recap for the California Triathlon (sprint), I share some specific challenges I face in training and racing as well as the importance of post-race recovery.

3 weeks prior to California Triathlon, I raced the Folsom International Triathlon (Olympic distance) in which I was on a 8 week training schedule. My 8 week schedule for FIT consisted of 2 training sessions per day (sometimes 3), 6 days a week. After FIT, I took a couple days off and then jumped back into training for CT – 3 weeks of 2 training sessions per day, 5-6 days a week. This wasn’t an easy schedule for me to stick to – a challenge in itself!

During FIT training my left shoulder, right wrist, toes, right hip flexor, and hips gave me trouble – these problem areas stuck around for my CIT training as well (lucky me!). Adjusting my training schedule to accommodate my body was essential in getting me to the starting line for each race. Even more essential was my nutrition – without Klean Athlete I don’t think I would have been able to get the best out of my valuable training days as well as race day.

“My arsenal of Klean Athlete nutrition includes: Multivitamin, Antioxidant, Endurance, Electrolytes, Protein, and Recovery.”

All of these supplements allow my body to perform at its best while training/racing and assist my body in the recovery process to ensure that I can do it all over again the next day. When my body is giving me fits, the extra help from my nutrition is exactly what I need!

The week leading up to CT I felt as ready as I was going to be – mentally and physically. I think that I was still a bit fatigued coming off of FIT – mostly experiencing tight hips, a slightly irritated hip flexor, and wrist pain. These types of challenges come with the territory being a triathlete with RA, so it wasn’t anything that I couldn’t push through. I went into the race knowing that I was going to give it all I had and do my very best – leave it all out on the course.

Race morning was gorgeous – it was a cool 50 degrees, the sun was shining, the lake was glistening, and it smelled like race morning (you know, that smell right? Seems to always smell the same to me). The breeze started picking up close to swim start and by around lunch time it would warm up to the 90’s. Per usual, I had two pieces of whole wheat toast with peanut butter, a banana, and coconut water for breakfast. My support team consisted of my two biggest little fans (my nephews who are ridiculously cute) and my sister-in-law (who is also my very own professional photog). They are a major part of my village of supporters – it really takes a village to support a triathlete with RA, and I am so very grateful to have them.

After a nice warm up run and stretch session with my nephews, I headed to transition to fuel and get my wetsuit on. Chewed 2 Endurance tabs, shot back 2 Electrolytes, and washed it all down with water (from my Klean Athlete bottle of course). Made my way to the water, warmed up a bit, and swam to the deep water starting line. Right before starting I always tell myself, “don’t get kicked in the face, and don’t think about the zombies at the bottom of the lake reaching for your feet.” (totally normal thought process).

Before I knew it, it was go time – swimming toward that first marked buoy dodging feet and hands. I felt good in the water (surprisingly my angry shoulder wasn’t so angry that morning). I guess I should say, I was feeling good in the water until I got punched in my Achilles, kicked in my bad wrist, and swam over – I remember thinking “yeah that just happened! But not all at the same time, thankfully. In better news, I made it out of the water without being attacked by lake zombies.

Made it to transition quickly – wet suit pulled off in record time, gulped down a PowerBar gel, and high tailed it out of T1. Bike mount was crowded and was on a very steep hill – this was almost recipe for disaster. I clip in my right side first as I push off and went to clip into my left when all of a sudden the guy in front of me misses one of his clips, rolls back while slightly falling to the right and his back tire clips my front tire as I’m attempting to swerve out of his way to avoid a crash. Lucky for everyone involved we don’t crash and I get my left clipped in and start climbing up the steep hill.

Out on the bike course I noticed the wind had picked up (of course it did, because a light breeze is just too easy)– which was fine on the flats, but not so much on the long gradual hill incline. The long hill combined with the wind seemed never ending – almost as if I was pedaling in place! At the same time, my hips start to feel very tight, like they are locking up – a very helpless feeling when your feet are clipped into the bike and you have no choice but to keep pushing. In my head I was yelling, “Shut up hips!”

In T2 I chugged some coconut water, threw on my trusty Klean Athlete visor, and attempted to get my running shoes on – I say attempted, because when I lifted my knee up to slip my shoe on my hip cramped up and I literally almost fell on my face (gracefully of course). This happened when getting both shoes on – but I didn’t let that stop me, after all it was my favorite part of the course…the run! I shoved a PowerBar gel into my Klean Athlete tri top back pocket and turned on “beast mode.”

Starting out on the run, I knew I hadn’t hit my goal bike time so I wanted to push extra hard to help make up some of the time I had lost. Physically, I could feel the pain in my hips, my shoulder was tightening up and my wrist throbbing from the kick in the water and gripping the aero bars on the bike. I forced that nonsense out of my mind and focused on what I needed to do to cross that finish line – RUN. Up and down fire trail hills I kept my legs moving as fast as I could.

I crossed the finish line with an overall time of 1:32, and placed 13th in my AG. It wasn’t my fastest swim or bike, however it was my fastest run – my run time was the 4th fastest in my AG. I crushed my run only 5k personal record – even after a difficult swim and bike (whoop, whoop)! I was very pleased and thankful that my body didn’t give up on the swim and bike. This race was a great lesson for me in strength and persistence – a valuable lesson that will help me grow into a better triathlete.

Post race recovery for me starts shortly after crossing the finish line – hydrate, hug my support team, catch my breath, and start the recovery process. Ice is a life saver (if I want to be able to walk the next day)– I get my hands on it as soon as I can and ice whatever joints/muscles are aching for at least 10-15 mins. Stretching is also mega important – giving extra attention to my problem areas that surround my tight/painful joints.

Within 30 mins of finishing I begin recovering by giving my body Klean Athlete nutrients – a blender bottle of Recovery (yummy!), 1 Multivitamin, 1 Electrolyte, 1 Antioxidant, and water.

For the remainder of the day, I continue to do light stretches for my problem areas, as well as more icing, and lots of rest/staying off of my feet. I usually repeat this routine for the next two days – during this time it is important for me to listen to my body and give it what it needs. Giving my joints rest and tender loving care is essential in healthy recovery, which will in turn help me get back to training/racing. I am usually able to ease back into training 2-3 days after the race. I start with no impact – first swimming, then biking and when I feel strong with swimming and biking I start to work in running and weight training.

Thus is the circle of swim bike run in the life of a triathlete with RA and two total hip replacements! I love this sport – it’s my happy place. It teaches me that anything is possible – that I can chase my dreams and face my fears regardless of any challenge RA brings me. A huge thank you to Klean Athlete for believing in me and being part of my journey!


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12/22/2014 cheryl

Hi- my husband had total hip replacement over ten years ago and was told to never run again. He was a good runner…raced many x-country races in Europe and was all army and was just getting into triathlons when this happened. I am curious to know how your hips are holding up. He had avascular necrosis from jumping from helicopters while in the military and then had a bought with RA also (in remission). You are courageous for doing what you do! Congrats on your 2014 races and on to 2015!