"The only sin a writer can make is not to write." -Ray Helminiak, Author
I love this quote and I've actually met this author. He is the dad of a very good friend of mine that is also an author. It makes me think the only sin an athlete can make is not to complete. Anyone that is an athlete understands the need to compete. For me, it is also about testing myself and seeing how much I can push against the limitations of my CMT. I got a chance to do both as I raced at the Gravel Duathlon National Championship in Fayetteville Arkansas on June 2nd.
The race was a 5K trail run, a 19-mile gravel trail ride, and a 10 K trail run. I knew the distance alone was going to be a challenge. This is a longer race than I've done in recent years.
I was really worried about the trail runs. The rocks, roots, and uneven surfaces would be risky. Because I have little forward foot flex, my ankles can collapse sideways on uneven surfaces. It happens more when I am tired. I also have a foot drop as well, making roots and rocks a great place to catch my foot and trip. Even running on a normal day I have to pay attention to every step. I have not done much trail running. I have to drive about 30 minutes to get to a trail, so I do not get a chance to practice.
I got a text from fellow athlete Sheri when I was on the road. She was signed up for the off-road race on Saturday. She asked if I was racing para. I was racing as a physically challenged athlete. I knew the question meant she was thinking of also doing the same gravel race I was doing. I originally signed up for the gravel triathlon.
I had some intuition despite the fact I sent an email to the race direction that I was a physically challenged athlete, they would score me in my age group. Since Sheri is the same age group she did not want to interfere with my winning a national championship. That was really nice of her. I decided to switch to the duathlon. I was pretty sure I would not sleep the night before. Because the swim would not be wet-suit legal, the 1500-meter distance seemed far on no sleep.
I ended up not sleeping even one minute the night before the race. I could not even relax, My mind and body were fully alert. I think both my brain and body had some inkling of what I was going to put them through. I got up at 3:30 and was at the venue by 5:00 am
That gave me plenty of time to catch up with friends also doing the race.
About a dozen women lined up at the duathlon starting line. I lined up in the back and there was some talk about some of us staying together. I hear that often and then everyone takes off and I am left alone. My plan was to run at an easy pace. I did not want to burn up too much energy in the first run. As I ran, fellow USAT ambassador Susan Felicissimo was running at the exact same pace.
We chatted, well mostly I talked and the time went by really fast. I remember Susan telling me about three bears that almost kept her from finishing her race at Toughman triathlon. I told her I had been to the Northwoods of Wisconsin, Alaska, and Yellowstone and had not seen a bear. We laughed about the brother who traveled with me to Yellowstone being terrified of bears and finding a grizzly bear faintly visible in the tall grass of a picture he took.
We walked a few of the dodgy spots. Almost took a wrong turn at the waterfall, but were saved by three people ahead of us. One of them Ruth Albright would become my friend later in the race. I heard about half of the gravel triathletes took a wrong turn on this same course. Some ran more than 6 extra miles.
No falls and it was a fun 5K that went by pretty quick thanks to Susan. I finished the run at 47:10 which was about 10 minutes faster than I had hoped.
Nothing much here. I was in and out in 1 minute and 24 seconds. For the run, I used regular running shoes and would keep them on for the bike. I have trail shoes but really have not had a chance to run trails. My mantra is nothing new on race day. Shoes are so important and a wrong choice of footwear makes for a miserable day.
Bike 19 miles Gravel
I beat Susan out of T1, but she caught me on the bike. She was gone quickly so there would be no second run with her.
I saw the woman that helped us on the run and decided to catch her. Since drafting is legal, I pulled up behind her and asked if it was ok to draft. I drafted off of her for a bit.
I had done one other gravel race. This surface was much rougher, with lots of soft patches, and golf ball size rocks. I just was not sure it was safe to draft. It was too likely I would not see a pothole or other issues. In some spots, the sand made the back wheel of my mountain bike slip.
So I pulled beside the rider and we started talking. Ruth and I rode together for over an hour. The first part of the ride was not too bad. The hills kept getting steeper and I lost Ruth on one of the hills.
I passed a rider carrying her bike because she had a flat. The sharp stones can cause flats on narrow tires. No problem with my mountain bike. It rolls over everything. The gravel was loose because it was dry. Dry meant lots of dust. My whole bike was covered. I also had a bike bottle with a sports drink. It was also covered in dust every time I took a drink.
Now I am the last rider and I am by myself. The roads were in the woods and really beautiful. The shade was nice because it was hot and humid. I wore a hydration pack and was using some of the water to splash on my face.
The woods were all starting to look the same and it seemed I would never finish. I remember as I rode wondering if there were bears in Arkansas. I thought I would google it when I got back to the hotel.
As I finished that thought I saw a large dark object in the distance. It looked like a bear but almost did not seem real. I thought it might be a decoy for hunters. It was staring at me and it was really big. Then it moved and ran across the road. I did not expect to see a bear during the race. It was at most 40 yards away. That was a bit scary. That is what happens when you are last. You risk being eaten.....lol.
I had expected the bike let to take 2 hours and I finished in 1 hr and 55 minutes. I had to walk up a couple of hills because my thighs were burning. Next time I need to be better conditioned. The running shoes were not a good choice. The ball of my left foot hurt and I could feel a couple of blisters. I had not gotten blisters since I was running long distances.
When I am tired and bored during a race I start to make bargains with myself. I told myself that maybe I would just quit after the bike part. I had lost both Susan and Ruth and was not sure I wanted to do a 10 K trail run after almost three hours of racing.
Run 2-10K trail run
As I got into transition, I saw Ruth was just leaving. So she had not been far ahead of me on the bike. I know from talking to her during the bike, she has some limits that make doing a trail run a bit risky. So I decided I would get out of transition and turn to catch her.
The run felt good and I caught up with Ruth who was walking. I asked if she wanted company.
Talking for me makes time go faster. I asked what she did for a living and found out we were both chemical engineers. So we had lots to talk about. I was so glad to have her company.
So by this time, my legs are getting tired. First, my foot caught and I fell hard face first on my right elbow. My feet were hurting from the blister. Then a bit later my left ankle collapsed.
I fell face first again. It hurt so bad, I just paused for a second. I know from experience that while it hurts, I will be ok. I had at least one more fall. So I was concentrating really hard at this point to keep from falling again. Other than that I felt like I had good energy.
Ruth was struggling from the dust and I think was getting a little dehydrated. She wanted to stop and rest a few times. I did not mind a break either.
Two volunteers on mountain bikes were sweeping the course. They would follow us and check on us until the end of the race. They also offered us water and Gatorade.
We finally finished with a run time of 2:08:58. If I had run a 10 K on the road it would have taken at about about 70 minutes. So we kept up a good pace walking.
It felt so good to be done. I ended up as the National Champion in the 65-69 group. I was supposed to be scored as a PC athlete, but the medal is the same. No big deal. So good thing I had switched to the duathlon.
It was the most physically challenging race I have done. That includes the 10 marathons I've completed including three Boston marathons.
Thanks to the first aid people that cleaned up my scrapes and gave me ice for my ankle. They also brought me food. I am used to being the one giving first aid. It is the first time I've ever been given first aid.
When I came off the course I thought I would never do another trail run because of the falls. After the race, I talked to one of the guys. He is an experienced trail runner and thought the course was pretty tough. I think with trail running shoes and some additional practice I would do better. I also found out other athletes fell on the trail. I felt better about my efforts after that.
I was sore and exhausted after the race. I pretty much laid around the rest of the day and watched videos. Just like after doing a marathon.
I drove home the day after and was pretty stiff every time I got out of the car. It took a few extra Tylenol to get me to sleep. I heal pretty fast. My ankles were so sore on Sunday I had trouble walking when I got out of bed. Then I discovered wearing PR soles or trail running shoes made a world of difference. I could walk fine with just a slight soreness in one ankle. Biofreeze and BenGay have also helped. Guess I should have used the trail shoes at least on the bike portion.
This race has shown me once again just what a great community we have in triathlon. I had help and company from friends during this race and it made the difference. Thanks to trail sweepers, aid station people, first aid helps, and on-course friends. You each had a part in my success!!!
Founder & Manager Team CMT
Chris is a triathlete Nordic skier and long-distance runner. She is a three-time participant in the Boston Marathon. In 2012 she finished 2nd at Boston in the Mobility Impaired Division. She was on the course in 2013 when the bombs exploded.
She has appeared three times at the Para triathlon National
Triathlon Sprint Championship. She was the 2012 and 2014 National Champion Para
triathlon Open Division Champion.
She has won national championships as a physically challenged athlete in Aqualon, Duathlon, Aqua bike, and Winter Triathlon.
In 2014 she represented the U.S. as a Para triathlete at the Pan-American Triathlon Championship in Dallas, Texas.
She has won state championship as an age group athlete in cycling and triathlon . She has represented America as an age group athlete at world championships in Chicago, Denmark, Cozumel, and Norway. She earned a bronze medal at the Winter Duathlon World Championship in 2023 in Norway.
In 2020 she was named a National Ski Patrol Subaru Ambassador and a USA Triathlon Foundation Ambassador.
She travels around the country raising awareness of CMT.
She is the author of the book, “Running for My Life” which details her experience as a CMT-affected athlete, and the book “Soup Sundays, A Journey Toward Healthy Eating”.
You may visit her author page at:
Team CMT is a group of athletes and supporters working to raise awareness and find a cure for CMT. We currently have 257 athletes in 43 states. We also have members in Australia, Canada, England, Finland, Vietnam, Iran, Scotland, France, Turkey, Poland, Norway, Mexico, Wales, Ireland, and Sweden! If you wish to join us visit our website; www.run4cmt.com or www.hnf-cure.org
CMT or Charcot-Marie-Tooth is the most commonly inherited peripheral neuropathy. It affects over 155,000 Americans (as many as MS). It is a disease of the nerves that control the muscles. It is slowly progressive, causing loss of normal function and or sensation in the lower legs/feet and arms/hands.
Symptoms include; muscle wasting in the lower legs and feet leading to foot drop, poor balance, and gait problems Atrophy in the hands causes difficulty with manual dexterity.
Structural foot deformities such as high arches and hammer toes are common.
Poor tolerance for cool or cold temperatures and many people have chronically cold hands and feet.
Additional symptoms may include fatigue, sleep apnea, breathing difficulties, and hearing loss.
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