This summer I competed in two triathlons. My first in five years! I joined the Toronto Triathlon Club because I wanted and needed others to train with. It wasn’t because I was bored training alone. I actually enjoy solo training sometimes. I really enjoy the independence of triathlon but I have come to accept that I can never do this alone. I’m not a very competitive person, so I was a bit nervous about joining a triathlon club, but I found the club is not about competing with each other at all. My main reason for wanting to train with others is a little bit of a surprise.
I’m an endurance athlete with epilepsy. We exist!
I’ve been an active soul my entire life, and when I was diagnosed with epilepsy in 2007, I did my absolute best to keep participating in the endurance sports I love. I have complex partial seizures and have to take medications throughout the day to control my seizures. Every day requires so much effort on many levels.
People are curious when they find out I’m training and competing. “Aren’t you afraid of having a seizure while you’re out there?”
I’m aware (but I’m not afraid) of the possibility that I could have a seizure when I’m pushing my body like this. In no part of our life can we completely eliminate risk. The best we can do is figure out how to minimize risk and have a good time!
Asking for help is a hard thing for most of us especially those stubborn independent people like me. Epilepsy has been a lesson in asking for help. In a sport as independent as triathlon, I will always need to have a crew of support during training and competing. When participating in a race, it’s awesome to have people cheering for me, but it’s really important to have people who know me really well stationed throughout the course, because they can recognize the difference between what I look like when I’m working hard and what I look like when I need help. It is a big request to ask friends and family to come out to races. I am so lucky to have people who are willing to wake up at crazy times to support me.
Competing with epilepsy, I trust my doctors, family, and friends enough to override my feeling that I can participate in endurance events. If they feel it is unsafe for me, I give them the right to make that decision for me. Sometimes we get so ambitious with our athletic goals, we ask so much of our bodies and minds, we forget to slow down and give our bodies and minds the kindness they deserve.
Some of us race to cross the finish line with every ounce of energy left out on the course. For me, or anyone with epilepsy, the risk of leaving everything on the course is that I might have a very serious seizure that will not end on its own. There are many training days I have to skip because I don’t feel well. I’m sure there will be races I will have to end short of the finish line as well. I’ve accepted that I have to listen to my body and I am not going to be qualifying for Kona anytime soon. Well, one never knows!
The main side effects of seizure medications are fatigue and lethargy. Every time I am able to get myself out the door to train or compete is a podium achievement. It takes special attention for me to figure out if I am feeling normal seizure medication fatigue or fatigue that is training-related and requires me to skip the workout. It is such a fine balance.
A little about the Muskoka 70.3 Ironman…
I decided on the Muskoka 70.3 Ironman as my main race for the season. I contacted the organizers to let them know what might happen and to give them my safety plan. We made sure my number was flagged as a person with a medical condition. The medical team and support cars were all made aware to check in with me throughout the course.
The swim made me the most nervous, so I got advice on where to start, and I made sure to keep a kayak in sight at all times. I stayed on the inside of the swim course right near the buoys so that I could get out of the crowd of swimmers and float on my back if I felt at all as if I was going to have a seizure. The swim to bike transition seemed to go well until 5km into the bike I realized that I had forgotten my seizure medications and my gels in the transition zone. I considered turning around and going back to the transition zone. I opted not to though… which was a risk! I obviously need to work on my transitioning.
I made it through the bike course and took my meds in the transition zone between the bike and the run. The transition zone is a curious place. Transitioning in triathlon is often a sport of “HOW FAST CAN I GET IN AND OUT OF HERE WITHOUT FORGETTING ANYTHING?” I am finding though that the transition zone needs to be a time to slow down and listen to what my body needs. During the bike-to-run transition I needed to sit, take my meds and ask myself “Am I ok?” Because the seizure medications make me feel lethargic, I was foggy for the first kilometers of the run. “Am I ok?” I kept asking myself as the kilometer markers went by. The answer was yes!
It comes down to, “Do I enjoy doing this enough to take the risk of hurting myself, and what can I do to reduce the risk?”
For me, the benefits outweigh the risk. I love being out tri-ing.
I will never race hard enough that I will cross the finish line and need IV hydration but I will race hard enough to raise awareness for athletes living with epilepsy.
How did the race go for me? Amazing! I placed 4th in my age group and completed 2km of swimming, 94km of cycling and 21km of running in five hours and 32 minutes. It feels great to know that my support network, epilepsy and I can work together in this life to achieve great things.