Race Report From Kidney Donor Athlete, Jenn

Well, I am super happy to be able to give a very positive race report since the last time I checked in with KDA in October 2018. Now I am just a little over 18 months past my kidney donation, and everyone is doing great. My dad was finally able to properly celebrate his retirement at a lovely place in the middle of June, and I have been going at full speed, too! So, let’s get after it!

Since I was on sabbatical from my professorship in the Fall of 2018, I spent the better part of October-December in heavy training mode for a half ironman in Sarasota, Florida. I like to race in that area during the winter because my parents have a winter home there and it gives me something to focus on when the weather goes sour in the Midwest. I was in the absolute best shape of my life for that triathlon, and I knew it. I had trouble sleeping for days before I left, mostly because I was worried about the weather and reassembling my bike when I got there, etc—typical stuff for a Type A triathlete 😊 I don’t have any pictures from this triathlon because my “sherpa” for the day was my recipient (my dad), and he didn’t quite have the timing of my arrival in T1 and T2 down as well as my husband does 😉 But I can tell you this: I won that race. I surprised myself immensely with a great showing in all three disciplines. The wonderful thing is: after the donation, I did a half ironman about 14 weeks out, and I wanted to be careful so I kept the power low on the bike and walked through every aid station on the run to make sure I was getting enough fluids. I figured out that day that I need to continue using that strategy so that I can finish the run feeling strong and without any visits to the med tent: a happy accidental discovery as a result of the donation! I instituted this plan in Sarasota and PRed in my 70.3 half marathon by 5 minutes! It was really a great day.

After some recovery from that race (and a touch-up of my cool donation tattoo!), I headed into the winter semester at school and started looking towards summer. Every year we do a little tune-up race at the Marquette University indoor triathlon at the end of March. I actually dread this race because you get about 10 minutes break between each discipline and it is short, which means that you have to go to the well in all three sports. I lost sleep over this one, too! My husband and I had a friendly rivalry going as to who would take home the household honors, and I nipped him with a fast run by just a few seconds. I was first female in that race, too. It is a bit awkward to suffer so much while your students are watching, but I hope in a weird way I can serve as a good example.

But I am smart enough to know that wouldn’t last. I just wanted to come out and have a great season like I did the summer after the donation. I didn’t really know (and still don’t) what exactly that means, but I sort of got it into my head that—after six years of trying and failing—I wanted to be named All-American in triathlon this year. It requires that you perform well with respect to the other competitors in any given race, and would take a bigger effort than I have ever put forward. I picked some races that have typically been “high points” races and decided to go to the well. The campaign started at Leon’s triathlon at the beginning of June. It was a cold and windy day, but I was able to do what I thought I needed to do to get good points. I think I came in sixth female, which was just fine with me. When it comes down to it, on any given day I am only fighting myself.

On the bike course at Leon's
On the bike course at Leon’s
On the run at Leon
On the run at Leon’s

Next up was the Pleasant Prairie triathlon in the third week of June. I thought this might be a bit risky because it was only the week before the one half Ironman I was planning on doing this summer. I never know how I am going to recover from these things since I had Achilles surgery in 2013 and sometimes things can be iffy for a while with my heel after really hard efforts. To make matters worse, I had seen an emergency call from the Red Cross at the beginning of May, stating that they were in dire need of O-type blood. I knew from my donation workup that I had O-type blood, and my brain switched on to “I have that! I will give you that!” But I did not consider the fact that a blood donation may severely hamper my athletic performance for a while (they say it takes 3-6 weeks to recoup the red blood cells you lose in a donation, and those are very important for delivering oxygen to your muscles). But I so badly wanted to help that I didn’t even think about it. So, less than three weeks before my half ironman, I had just given blood and, as far as I was concerned (at least for the first week), I had destroyed my season. But then I remembered that I probably saved somebody’s life, and that’s well worth a few bad races.

So I showed up at Pleasant Prairie about 10 days post-blood donation and probably not as ready as I would want to be. Although I tapered for the race, my workouts after the donation had been absolutely horrendous. My heart rate had been horrifically high at least for the first week, and I didn’t really feel that great. That’s why I was surprised to do decently in the race: I had a swim that was pretty par for the course for my standards; the bike was a little on the slow side but my heart rate was also quite low during it so I think I could’ve pushed harder; and I made a conscious effort to be careful with my heart rate on the run but still did respectably, especially given the wind we had that day. I came in the same place as I had last year (ninth female), and although I don’t know how many points that will get me towards my All American goal, I’m not mad that I did it.

BIke course at Pleasant Prairie
The bike course at Pleasant Prairie

Then, only 6 days later, came the race I had been waiting for: Ironman Steelhead 70.3 in Benton Harbor, Michigan. Oddly, I was not nearly as nervous coming into this race as I had been for Sarasota. I’m not sure if I felt defeated (I certainly didn’t feel confident, as I had been having issues with my saddle and the blood donation had really hampered the quality of my workouts), but I let the pressure off of myself and decided to just have fun. Which was probably best, because we were in for the first *real* weekend of summer, with temperatures predicted to be in the high 80’s with high humidity. Traditionally, those kinds of conditions do not suit me well, particularly at a distance this long.

But we got there, I racked my bike, and we went to a bad Mexican restaurant for dinner. I did everything wrong that day: I changed saddles from what I had been riding on for the last month, and I got sunburned since I wasn’t expecting the intensity of the sun while I was checking in. THEN, the next morning, for some weird, unknown reason, the alarm on both of our phones didn’t go off! We woke up late but with just enough time, if we hurried, to get it all done and get to the race venue, which was 45 minutes away. Yikes!

We had good swim conditions: the lake was pretty flat, but the course was really crowded and hard to navigate. I got out of the water 8 minutes faster than the last time I did that race, so it was a good start. And then I got on my trusty bike and had the most amazing, smash-down ride of my life. I felt great the whole time and couldn’t believe how fast I was going! I went 6 minutes better than the last time I did that race. I had a big smile on my face the whole time: I was determined to have fun, because I didn’t have a lot of confidence in my ability to perform in this heat (even my husband had expressed some concerns the night before), and after the donation I am just happy to be out there at all. I got off the bike and immediately started to implement my run/walk-the-aid-stations plan at the paces I had practiced in training, making sure to keep my heart rate in a reasonable range for the first ten miles. I kept waiting to break down, and although my body started really hurting, I never hit the wall. I finished super strong, 6 minutes faster than the last time I had done that race. In all, I chopped 21 minutes off the same race three years ago, and I didn’t end up in the med tent! I came in 25th in my age group that first time and 14th in my age group this time, finishing in the top 15% of all women. I plan on racing a few times in July and then at the Age Group National Championships in Cleveland in August. But I’ve got my long distance race out of the way for the summer, so now I can have fun 😊

BIke at Steelhead
Starting the bike course at IronMan 70.3 in Steelhead
Finishing run at Steelhead
Finishing the run at Steelhead!

I would say my post-donation racing life is going just great. Hopefully, I will finally get that All American status I have been trying so hard to deserve. But even if I don’t, I’m still having the time of my life and have been able to take advantage of some important—and surprising—lessons learned from my kidney donation. I often wonder if we should be thanking our recipients, and not the other way around 😊

 

 

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