So having done my first Ironman, an Ironman with a seemingly perfect build up, and Ironman overtrained, one backed up within a few weeks, one with extreme fatigue and one with a few broken bones, it was time to tick another scenario off the list – one extremely undertrained. As the complete lack of any blogging may have shown I have been struggling massively with motivation over the last year or so. After the end of last season I kept things ticking over fairly well with some running and swimming and cycling into work. Long rides at the weekends always seemed to get squeezed out for something else but I managed to keep up some sort of fitness. That was, until I moved house. The complete upheaval really didn’t do me any good, I still managed to cycle into work (with now the added ‘fun’ of several large bumps along the way which killed my legs on my single speed), but swimming, running and long rides went out of the window. Running almost wasn’t my fault, but sporadic training ended up in flaring an old shin injury that pretty much stopped me doing any serious running until a couple of weeks before I flew out to Texas. Swimming had less of an excuse, I’m not short of facilities living down the road from the National Sports Centre with a 50m pool in Crystal Palace but the thought of dragging myself up the hill to it after getting home from work never really enthralled me. Coupled with all of this, I finally managed to get myself into a position at work where I was finally enjoying my job, which meant longer hours, more focus etc etc. But enough whinging, tough shit.
So a week before race day me and Weeksy headed out to Texas on a flight that just seemed to go on forever! When we eventually arrived we upgraded our hire car (you can’t drive around in Texas in anything less than an SUV!) and found our motel just off the freeway in a town called Tomball. A trip to Walmart to stock up on food for the week and we felt like we fitted in rather well! We even managed a run that evening, and despite it being ‘only’ 80 degrees, I was suffering big time in the humidity! But a week to go and I should acclimatise fairly well.
The days consisted of hanging out at the mall, wandering around the race village and the odd bit of training. Though, this was cut pretty short as Weeksy’s knee was causing issues in the lead up so he didn’t want to push it and after our first ride around the Woodlands (where we got horrendously lost, never trusting his sense of direction again!) we found out he had a leaky tub so it was off to the bike shop to get it replaced – bike out of action for most of the week. We did however find a decent pool at one of the local high schools where it cost $2 dollars each, and was either a 25 yard or 50m pool… we could definitely learn a thing or two about facilities over here. It did give me a chance to test out my new Huub swimskin, which felt awesome in the water!
Thursday night was the pasta party and briefing where, after travelling a couple of thousand miles, we ended up sitting next to a British couple, Stuart a first-timer and his wife! The next day we finally got a chance to swim in the lake. I opted for the swimskin – we knew that it would most likely be a wetsuit-optional swim, but I wanted to see how it felt and I didn’t want to overheat. Whilst I felt good in the water (although still hot!), the lack of any OW training since my last race was desperately showing and my lower back started to tighten up after 15 mins, I was in for a fun day. The weather had also turned, despite being a bearable 80 degrees all week, which I had just about gotten used to, the day before it shot up to 100 degrees and we both got burnt in our 30 min/15 min brick! Bikes racked, we rested up in Starbucks before Pizza Hut and an early night.
Up early and I had some cereal and a croissant with nutella, though I wasn’t particularly hungry. We both put on our second layer of sun cream after the first layer the night before and drove down. We got our bikes sorted out and then wandered down to the swim start and it was HOT! I was sweating just walking down to the swim start and the sun hadn’t even come up yet. It did not bode well. Swim skins on and we said our good lucks and went our separate ways. I wanted to delay getting into the water as long as possible, with no wetsuit to float, I didn’t want to be wasting energy treading water. When I couldn’t put it off any longer I got in, but found a life raft to hang onto for the national anthem. I might have even felt some nerves for the first time in about 2 years! With 30 seconds to go, I pushed off and found myself some space, in the middleish and to the left.
Once the gun went off it was chaos. I was completely out of position and should have been about 10 rows forward and ended up stuck behind seemingly hundreds of slower swimmers with people swimming over me trying to get past. I was being far too polite. After about 5 minutes I finally spotted a gap and thought ‘Screw this’, put a kick in and got out of the pack into some clear water and could finally settle down and swim with only the odd person swimming diagonally across me, no idea where he was going! I was feeling strong in the water, but it took me about 26 minutes to hit the first buoy and I remember thinking ‘God I am bored!’ We had another 100m to the next buoy and once I turned past that my back started to tighten up. I managed another few hundreds metres before I had to stop. I had a quick glance behind me and thankfully had some space so I could curl myself up into a ball the stretch my back out and not worry about getting drowned. The next 1500m to the entrance to the canal were fairly uneventful with another stop to stretch the back. The boredom seemed to go, and I finally remembered how to swim long distance and the arms started to play ball. Once I entered the canal I knew I only had 800m left, but it just seemed to drag and I felt as it I was swimming in jelly! People seemed to be passing me left, right and centre and I had to stand up a couple of times to stretch the back out. Finally, after what seemed like an age I saw the final turn buoy and hit the swim exit. 1:20 – about where I expected in non-wetsuit with my swim fitness. I was just glad to have it over with.
Same as pretty much all my IMs, I’ve got this down to a T. No arm warmers as it was roasting, but race belt on, helmet and sunglasses on, couple of cliff blocks in the back pocket, big dollop of chamois cream to protect my future children and head out, stopping off at the sunscreen station. The only mistake I made was putting my bike shoes in my transition bag, so I had to clip-clop my way to my bike and onto the mount line. Numptie
We had been warned that we would most likely have a bit of a tailwind on the way out, but even still I was starting to get worried about cruising at 45kph! My legs felt completely fresh (finally!) and I was overtaking a lot of people. The first 45k were pretty uneventful until I start hearing a clicking sounds from my back wheel. I had hit a bump along the course and it had nudged my bike computer so the magnet would knock it every revolution. Brilliant. I stopped at the top of the next hill, nudged it back into position and set off again. When I next looked at my computer it hadn’t moved – evidently I had moved the computer too far so it couldn’t pick up the magnet. Oh well, 3/4 of the bike course with no computer – glad I always train on feel! I worked out I was hitting every aid station/10 mile marker every half an hour or so. This kept the mind ticking over and focussed and I just put my head down and got on with it. The first couple of hours I didn’t feel ‘right’ on the bike, guess that was the complete lack of any time on my TT bike but after that I felt really good to the point where I was able to get into the TT position for most of the race when my lungs allowed. After about 50 miles I saw Chris standing on the side of the road. I slowed down to find out his knee had gone on the bike which was a serious bummer as he swam strongly and was placed well on the bike. Around this time it also started to get hot – and I mean seriously hot. Drinks were refreshingly cold from the aid stations and pouring them over yourself provided some short relief. 10 minutes later you were roasting again and the drinks were warm – really not pleasant. After the disaster of Roth a couple of years ago, I made sure I just kept drinking but the humidity was just crazy. Usually when you are ticking along at a decent pace the breeze helps cool you down, but out there it just heated you up even more. They call it ‘air you can wear’. My chest was starting to get a little constricted from the heat, especially in the TT position so I alternated between sitting up and down on the bars. My dodgy wrist also wanted in on the action, so I spent more time in the TT position to take the weight off it. I had a good cycle of eating a drinking past each aid station, mainly eating gels and gu chews/clif blocks with a couple of bars. I was surprised how well I was going at 90 miles, but the last 12 dragged on. With no bike computer, and lots of winding turns I had no idea how far away T2 was, but I eventually saw it, rolling in in about 6:10. Pretty pleased with that considering!
Once I gave my bike to a volunteer I suddenly realised I was spent. My legs were strong, all the years of IMs don’t disappear that quickly but the heat had wiped me out. I couldn’t even manage a run to pick my bag up, but had a relaxed T2, taking my time to make sure my shoes were on properly, I knew this would be a long marathon.
Once I headed out, I slowly managed a bit of a shuffle, but I wasn’t exactly running the 4:30 ks of old. I basically ran (read shuffled) between aid stations and walked through taking my time to get fluids and some fuel on board. I had a few things of coke and energy drink, but by this point was running so slowly I just needed to get my temperature down and get some salt on board. Bananas and crisps were the food of choice and taking a cap instead of a visor was probably the best decision I had made all race. I could soak it in the ice water, shove some ice in it and put it on my head to cool me down. It lasted about 2 minutes before the heat had evaporated everything. Other methods included the sponges and ice down the shorts which worked well. Thankfully with an aid station every mile I didn’t have to wait too long to restock the ice. The first lap went fairly well considering, and I finally had my first pee stop at about mile 2 which was pure relief, purely for the fact that I at least some fluids going through me and I wasn’t about to end up in hospital. Having said that, having shoved so much ice down my shorts, I did have a slight issue in trying to get things to work as I had no feeling! Ha!
Lap 2 provided the first opportunity to run through the awesome crowds around the Woodlands, and it was absolutely packed! High fives everywhere, and a massive lift to the spirits, but by this point the damage was done and I was still trying to get my core temp down. At mile 9 I walked my first full mile, and then it went downhill from there. I had a stop at the aid station at mile 13 to get my feet taped up. I can run for hours quite happily with no problems, and always have, but as soon as you throw walking in there, especially with all the water I was throwing over myself to keep myself cool, my feet were not amused! I was still managing to shuffle a little bit, but my breathing was getting worse and worse. At the start of the third lap I saw Chris, and had a quick chat before he sent me on my way. I soon as I hit the little hill (about 10m) it was game over. I tried running once I was through the aid station after this, but I just could not get any oxygen in and my heart rate refused point blank to rise. So I was left with a 7 mile walk. If I put my head down and could walk the miles in just over 15 minutes with stops at the aid stations so just got on with it. Not once did it ever occur to me to stop, pull out or wonder why I was doing this! I can be a stubborn bastard when I need to be. The only highlight was the aid station at mile 20 where an angel appeared to me in the form of a lovely old lady who had baked a ton of cookies for us at one of the aid stations! Heaven!
At long last, at 7 hours (an hour longer than my bike split!!) I hit the junction for more laps/finish line. I was still in stubborn-power walk mode, but when I hit the (extremely long) finishing chute I finally broke into something resembling a job, which prompted a huge cheer from the crowd. I even allowed myself a smile as I was high-fiving the hands stuck out and finally felt joy/satisfaction/pride for the first time in a long time at the end of an Ironman. Once round the corner to the actual finish straight it was relief and seven fingers in the air as my final celebration, before I was promptly carted off to the med tent. Job done, number seven done and a Texan-sized medal around my neck.
We were told about the med tent in the briefing, and the weren’t half kidding when they mentioned the size! I was checked in, and it took me falling asleep in the waiting queue for a doctor to come over and finally grant me my wish of a bed to lie down in. There must have been 200 beds in the main tent, with bodies everywhere, wires coming out and drips going in. It looked like a war zone, and almost sounded like one with people retching and medical equipment beeping away. I was treated to blood salt tests, blood pressure, and three doctors coming over to check my lungs out which had apparently decided to start filling up with fluid. Might explain the lack of oxygen and problems breathing… I was allowed out after about an hour when they decided I wasn’t going to get any worse and I actually became a little more coherent.
I had long planned for some time off Ironman, and if it weren’t for Chris Weeks being such a bad influence(!!) I doubt I would have been on a start line this year. But I must admit I really did enjoy it in a weird way, and it certainly stoked the fire that I thought had long gone out. I still feel like I need 12-18 months off long distance stuff – but this still leaves the possibility of a return to the States next year at Arizona. I feel that the main battle will be actually getting a place in November, but I will make my decision around then to see if I want to race next year. The rest of this year may see nothing, it may see something. I definitely feel fit again cycling into work! I am entered into Liverpool as a World qualifier, and if I feel like training again, I may try for that, or I may just take the rest of the year off. For once it is nice to just be able to do what I want without the overhanging guilt of training in the back of my mind. But I will be back on a start line at some point in the future, be it in a year or many.
After some initial nerves at the expo, it took until I went to bed for me to get remotely nervous. I was staying with Howard and Nina for the night, and we had a nice evening meal, and Nina kept commenting how blasé I was about the whole thing. I got to bed pretty early and only then did I have trouble falling to sleep, though I think this was more to do with excitement of being back in the game again. Once asleep, however, I didn’t have any issues and slept solidly through to half 3, waking up feeling fresh just before my alarm (I wish I could do that during the working week!). I wolfed down a couple of bowls of cereal, though I wasn’t particularly hungry, mixed my drinks and left for Bolton.
The coach from the Reebok to T1 was a sea of nervous first timers looking like they were about to go to the Gallows. This only got worse once we arrived; of the 1500 starts, 900 were first-timers! Lots of worried faces and questions, but good to see. I slowly went through the routine of setting up the bike, which quickly came back to me, with the exception that I had put my cycling shoes in my bag to put on in T1 instead of having them on the bike – with my dodgy elbow and weak wrist, I wanted to put these on sat down, rather than struggling whilst on the bike. The wetsuit went on over the layers of tubigrip I had put on my arm and I lined up for the start, after having to get 2 people to zip my suit up…should probably get back down to ‘full-time’ weight, or get a bigger wetsuit! We were rushed into the water, and I got in gingerly and swam to the start line. No, grumbles for the arm – so far, so good. I put myself quite near the back, with the aim of clear water to protect my arm and waited for the start.
With seemingly no warning, I heard the start horn and set off. Within about 30s I hit a problem. I felt good and was swimming strongly, and despite trying to hold back as much as possible in the hopes of keeping the arm for the whole swim, almost immediately hit the swimmers I had been behind. I moved over to the left and slowly overtook the pack I was stuck behind. After about 10 minutes, we hit the first buoy. As I was trying to protect my left arm from the fights, and the course was anti-clockwise, it meant I was swimming on the inside, so when we hit the buoy, it was time to suck it up and accept my punishment. Thankfully the beating wasn’t too bad, and I emerged unscathed and then had a fairly good swim for the rest of the lap. I came out of the first lap in 38 minutes, rather pleased with myself, and had to stop myself getting carried away one the 2nd. This was the longest I had swum since my crash, and certainly the longest I had swum continuously since my last IM nearly a year ago. However, it felt good and held up well. By now the pack had thinned, and I only got one or two bashes on the turns and all on the right side. Coming towards the halfway point of the 2nd lap and my elbow let out its first few grumbles as it got tired. I found that if I dropped my elbow (going against every technique lesson I’ve ever had) I could take the strain with my tricep and remove the pressure off my elbow, so that’s how I swam for the rest of the swim! At the last buoy I decided to pick up the pace to my normal IM pace and see how I held up and I felt really good, which made me think that I probably could have pushed a bit harder, but nevermind, out of the swim in one piece with my arm still intact in 1:18. Job done.
T1 was a fairly leisurely affair for me, as I had no time goals. Wetsuit off, bike socks on, bike shoes on, chamois cream, helmet, sunglasses, race belt. Stuff arm warmers down the side of my trishorts in case I got cold and replace wet tubigrip with dry one. With a quick detour to use the toilet, I jogged over to my bike and set off. Felt very odd running in bike shoes!
Once I was through the swim, the bike was the next thing I was apprehensive about. For the first 10k me and another guy swapped turns leading out of Pennington before I let him go. I was feeling very weird on the bike: first off, outside and riding, a bit different to the turbo! Also, as my turbo is slightly at an angle, my I was a lot further down that used to, and had to crane my neck to be able to see! It’s a lot easier to just put your head down for a minute on the turbo! However, despite the unfamiliarity I felt pretty good. By the first time up sheep house, I had made up a good few placings and finally dropped the chain into the smaller chainring for the ascent. Having spent the last few months on the turbo and riding around London, the climb came as a bit of a shock! It wasn’t quite the ‘oh, is that it’ that last year’s daily rides around the Peak District produced. The wrist felt weak, but I could climb out of the saddle pretty well, though did think I probably pushed it a little too hard. 6 IMs and I still get carried away…
By the time the end of the first lap had come around, my fortunes took a turn for the worse. I was on good pace, and hit 60k in a little over 2 hours, but my lack of strength was beginning to show. My wrist was now extremely weak by this point, and holding myself up on my bike was becoming a challenge, so I spent most of the time in the aero position. However, having only had one ride outside on the bike in the new position, I was not used to it, and my core strength was rubbish, so my back soon followed the wrist, followed by my neck from craning up to see the road in front of me. For now the pain was bearable but over the next 40k, it only got worse. The 2nd ascent of sheephouse really put my lower back out for a while, and the bumpy descents did nothing to help my wrist.
By 100k, I was in trouble. Trying to lighten the load on my fractured wrist as much as possible, meant taking most of my weight on the right wrist, which is bad enough at the best of times, having fractured that a few years ago. I could take the weight off both and sit on the aerobars, but my back was not happy, and neck was burning from looking up constantly. Add to this the vibrations of the road sending pains up my fractured elbow and it was not looking good! I couldn’t sit comfortably in any position on the bike, and I also couldn’t eat or drink anything as I couldn’t hold myself up on the bike with one hand.
The final 80k of the bike went as follows: Get off bike at aid station, (possible loo break), grab food and drink from aid station and wolf down, stretch back, drink more, stretch neck, drink more, flex wrists, eat and drink more, get back on bike, feel really good for 5 mins, wait for back and neck to go again, sit up, wait for wrist to go, swear at road and body until the next aid station and repeat. It’s difficult to describe how much pain I was in for the last 80k of the bike, everything hurt, and it wasn’t your average dull ache, this was severe eye-watering pain that I could do nothing about with shard shooting pains every bump and vibration. I have never been in so much pain in my life. It hurt less to roll my shoulder back into place when I had fractured my collar bone and I would wake up with it sticking out and I would have to manoeuver it back into position. I have never had tears in my eyes during a race til now, but both wrists were screaming in pain. I usually zone out after the 100k mark of an IM and just get on with it, but I had a constant reminder of what I was doing to my body as my computer clicked down agonizingly slowly. Annoyingly, when my back and neck wanted to play ball, my legs felt pretty good! But my average speed soon dropped off and I rolled to the 7 hour mark. After a crash course in dealing with pain, I somehow I made it to T2 and after a bit of shuffling managed to get off my bike.
I think getting off my bike for T2 ranks up there as one of my happiest moments of my life! My mood lifted instantly and I made the most of it. I fell into the chair and emptied my bag. Thankfully a kind volunteer asked if I wanted some sun cream, having gotten off the bike I suddenly became aware of the burning on my shoulders – probably a bit late for cream but would certainly help! Blister plaster on, shoes on, fuel belt on (annoyingly missing one bottle I soon realised) and visor on. I stopped for some coke, even queued for the toilet, before putting my splint and sling on and set off.
As my muscles began to relax I felt pretty good. My elbow had stopped hurting almost immediately so I took the sling off and just tucked it into my race belt. The crowd were incredible on the run, lining all the streets to the start of the laps and it provided a much needed pick-me-up. After half an hour my legs started to return and I actually managed to pick the pace off and run pretty well! I knew it was a matter of time before my lack of eating or drinking anything, and my lack of any long runs hit me, so I wanted to make the most of it.
I played little games with myself, promising myself a walk once I hit the laps, then pushing this to an hour, then an hour and a half, and then two hours. This soon turned into walking through aid stations to allow myself to get some food on board but running the rest, and I lasted a pretty long time! Coming through town on the 2nd lap I saw Howard and the rents, and the crowds were incredible. On the way out of town, up the hill that I (and I’m sure many others) had nicknamed the ****, I saw another friend from uni who doused me in water which helped with the cooling.
At the aid stations, I generally grabbed a couple of cups of water to dunk over myself, some coke and a banana. It was starting to get seriously hot out there, and with no ice or sponges at the aid stations, the families that lived on the course that had set up a hose were gratefully received and helped cool us all down. At the end of the 2nd lap I had my first stop for a loo break and to change my socks as my blisters were starting to flare up with my shuffling style and lack of time in the shoes. After over 2 hours of running pretty well, the exhaustion began to set in and the pace dropped off. Finally on the penultimate leg into town, I allowed myself a walk up the long draggy hill from the far end. Coming back out was mentally pretty tough, as I kept telling myself ‘just one more hour’. It went slowly and for the first time I was reduced to walk that didn’t involve an incline or aid station. After what seemed like an age, I was trying to jog down the **** and back into town and I finally hit the finish chute:
I didn’t feel anything as I ran down, though I managed to summon up the strength the high five the crowd. The overwhelming sense of relief as I crossed the finish line did nothing to set off the fatigue. I was spent and out of it, but I had finished against the odds, and ticked off Ironman number 6.
Ironman is what defines me and my life centres around the challenge and has done for the last 4 years. I am yet to fully understand why I do it to myself, but I am always searching for my limits and seeing how far I can push myself, wether it be trying to perform the best than I can, or attempting stupid challenges like 3 in 10 weeks or racing with 3 fractured bones. I have to agree with one comment, that it was lunacy for me to even be on the start line, but I had something to prove and was determined to show it was possible. In hindsight, it probably wasn’t the best idea, but I wouldn’t go back and change it. I do, however, think I have found my limit for what I am prepared to put my body through in an Ironman. At no point in the race did it ever cross my mind that maybe I should stop or give up. Not once. It may come back to haunt me at some point in the future, when I do myself some serious damage, but it never even occurred to me. I never doubted my ability to finish the race, even from the moment I crashed to be honest. I was just missing the will to finish, which was given to me when my doctor told me I wouldn’t be able to. I have a complete belief in my body; I know what I can do, and what I am capable of. Sure, I don’t know if I will ever qualify for Kona, or if I can ever knock on the doors of sub-9, but finishing – my body will probably give up on me before my mind does, quitting is never even a thought. I suspect this is why I didn’t get nervous once I had no time goals as it was never in doubt. It may also be why I didn’t get any satisfaction from the race or any sense of achievement. Even now, when speaking to people (my physio’s jaw dropping on the floor when I casually mentioned I did an Ironman at the weekend when having my fractures assessed for example), I still think “Meh, no big deal”.
For the first time ever in a race, however, the thought of ‘Never Again’ crossed my mind. I believe I have found the limits of what I am prepared to suffer, and don’t think I am prepared to put my body through another Ironman untrained like this one, fractures aside. As the pain has subsided, I still want to compete at Ironman but need to achieve something, which I can’t do without the training. So I am going to take (most of) next year off and race middle-distance and below, something I can race without having to worry about life getting in the way. I am currently planning on racing Ironman Arizona in November, but if this doesn’t happen then I am happy not to race Ironman at all in 2013. I believe I know now what I need to do to achieve the level I will be satisfied with, and the one thing this race has done for me is to get my hunger back to train properly and get motivated again, something that has been missing since before Henley last year.
In other news, my fractures are slowly on the mend and if anything, actually did a lot of good for my wrist as it was effectively a 7 hour strengthening session! Not recommended though! My elbow fracture is taking a long time to heal (admittedly not helped by this…) but is slowly straightening out, but the winter will see a lot of time in the gym getting my strength back and working on my flexibility and the core.
I go into my 6th Ironman in probably my worst ever shape and with 3 fractured bones…so not good! At Henley, I was extremely fatigued but had a massive base and was extremely fit. This time, I had a fairly good base, mainly due to 2 big training camps and as much training as I could as I adjusted to full-time work. But my plan of having a nice 6 week build were trashed with my crash and replaced by a week of nothing, 5 weeks of mind-numbing shorter turbo sessions, 2 weeks of running and 5 swim sessions… I haven’t ridden more than 120k since Malaga in April, and don’t think I’ve run more than an hour and a half since Challenge Henley!
My entire motivation for racing is to prove a point. When I first saw my specialist, and told him I had an Ironman in 5 weeks, he said “No you don’t” and that was the lightbulb off in my head to complete it. But for the first time I don’t know if I can physically complete it. Whilst I know I can drag my body through any amount of pain due to lack of fitness, if I cannot physically hold myself up on my bike, I can’t finish. I’m hoping that somewhere under my stubbornness is a sensible voice before I do myself any serious damage!
I had a swim this morning and it was quite promising, I actually felt pretty good in the water! My arm is slowing getting stronger, and there is a hope it might last the whole swim! Along those lines, I played a visit to the Rocktape stand, and they have taped my wrist and elbow up to give it a bit of support tomorrow, so a big thanks to them! I also got out on my race bike for the first time in 7 weeks today, and I’ve forgotten how different it is! I’ve only ridden on the ISM saddle and in my new position once out of the turbo, so hardly ideal preparation! But hopefully all of those hours on the turbo will have helped somewhat. My wrist was a little painful when sat up, but I think I’ve found a position to hold the bars where it doesn’t hurt, though I doubt I’ll be thinking that 160k in!
So the plan for tomorrow – well, there isn’t one really! With no time pressures, I am determined to try and enjoy my race, so if you’re out supporting and see me looking miserable, remind me that I am actually doing what I love! In an ideal world, I would like to be close to the hour for the swim, but I doubt my elbow will allow me, so if I make the cutoff, I’ll be happy! I guess the bike will probably be similar to last years 6:15, though I suspect at 120k in, things are going to go downhill! The run is anyones guess! I’m hoping that somewhere in my legs is the memory of 35 hour training weeks and years of endurance, and they come through, but I am mentally prepared to hit a rough patch and visit some dark places. If the crowds are anything like last year, that will provide a much needed lift! Speaking of spectators, if you see me, I’m number 123, but will be easy to spot with my colourful tape, double tubigrips and blue cast on in the run! You can also track me at http://www.ironmanuk.com or http://www.ironmanlive.com
Finally a quote, which has become something of a motto for me:
Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.
So a few days after the last post, I was back in the doctors for yet more x-rays (I’ve had more than my fair dosage recently!) and to get the results of my MRI. I had my elbow x-rayed, which came back looking nice and calcified and well on its way to healing. The MRI results, however, put a big dent in my hopes for getting fit. Upon reading my report, my Doctor called in another specialist to come and take a look. I had done a number on my wrist, that’s for sure! The full report is below, but the short version is I fractured two bones (my triquetral and hamate), bruised two other bones (trapezium, which is what was originally a suspected scaphoid with my symptoms, and my capitate). The main problem was that the MRI had picked up a tear in my TFCC, which (correct my if I’m wrong) is a group of ligaments and cartilage that holds the radius and ulnar arm bones together and allows the forearm rotation, and essentially holds the wrist to the arm. Combined with my radial head (elbow) fracture, this is what is known as an Essex-Lopresti fracture, which essentially meant I was in the splint til it had healed. The fact that it was non-displaced and the radius and ulnar were still in the right place and the different fractured wrist bones was the confusing part, which is why the other specialist was drafted in. They were trying to work out how I actually landed (I had no cuts or grazes anywhere on my arm…) as apparently a non-displaced fracture of this type is very uncommon. The plus side of the non-displacement meant I was not going to need surgery on it to put it back into place, the downside of it was I was in a splint until it had healed; any further tearing and I was risking having the two bones pop apart, which would be surgery and in a cast for 3 months – not good!
For once, I was actually good with my recovery, and stayed in the splint religiously to allow it to heal. Running was still off the cards as any jolt risked tearing the TFCC further and swimming obviously was a definite no-no with half my range of movement in my elbow still missing.
3 weeks on and the injuries are finally starting to heal, after a couple of weeks of not much improvement. The last week, things have rapidly fallen into place (which, I would like to think coincides with return to some sort of normal training, but unlikely). My legs were slowly coming back on the turbo, I was back running and still running pretty well thanks to avoiding the kitkats and excessive meals whilst injured and I even ventured into the pool once most of the movement in my elbow returned.
The first swim back was an interesting one! Tubigriped-up to the max, I tentatively pushed off with my arms in front and attempted some single arm swimming. So far, so good. I then picked up the kickboard and even that was fine until it came to turning around (one arm holds the board, one arm grabs the edge to turn, either way, my fractured wrist was going to have to do something!). After 15 minutes of single arm and kick, and no pain, I decided it was time to try using both arms…and it was ok! I had absolutely no strength, which is a really weird feeling, but it didn’t really hurt! So happy!
The only concern I had was that in the evening, when for some completely stupid reason, I decided to see if I could lift myself up out of my chair with my arms (really, don’t ask) to see how my wrist was. I had forgotten I had a fractured elbow. With new-found mobility thanks to my swimming, I was fine until my arm was straight enough that the fracture was rubbing against my humerus….OW! Felt like I had refractured it again, what a complete tit! Thankfully the pain was short-lived and went, and what muscles I had left rallied around to prevent me doing it again and restricting my movement to pre-swim levels.
The other concerning issue was when I was brushing my teeth. At this point I was trying to live life as normally as possible (a check-up a week earlier showed everything was still in place, the TFCC had almost healed and I was allowed to start getting movement back) so I was brushing my teeth with my busted hand. When looking in the mirror I saw my ulnar protruding so prominently I nearly carted myself off to A&E there and then, worried I had knocked it out of alignment. Calming myself down, with no pain during arm bending and wrist rotation, I could at least wait a few days til my next check up. It wasn’t until I showed a friend at work, and they noticed how much smaller my arm was compared to the other one. It had never occurred to me but my muscle atrophy was shocking. If you bend your arm, you have a nice lump of muscle running down the upper arm to the lower arm – mine is completely flat and non-existent, even now after getting back in the pool and normal use! The reason my ulnar was so prominent was because I now had arms skinnier than Bradley Wiggins!
My final check-up was Tuesday, and the x-rays showed my wrist was still stable and the fractures looked good. With my elbow giving me more grief than my wrist, I requested another x-ray on it, which showed that it had not completely healed. The fracture had fused, but the fracture line was still visible in the x-ray, meaning it still had a little bit to go, probably at the top, which is why I don’t have full extension yet. However, he referred me to physio so I could ‘start and get everything moving again’. That was good enough to me, I had told him I was back swimming, cycling and running again, and he didn’t raise his eyebrows too much. It didn’t hurt, so he was happy with that, and didn’t tell me I shouldn’t! I neglected to mention the fact I was planning on doing my IM on Sunday, but that was permission good enough for me! Game On!
Yesterday morning saw me start to switch my body clock to IM time, and an early start saw me back in the pool 10 hours after leaving. My swim on Monday lasted 45 mins until my elbow died, but it felt OK yesterday morning. My replacement helmet also arrived this week, so I ventured out on the roads at six yesterday. It felt very alien, and very weird after 5 weeks exclusively in the TT position, but being back out on my bike made me so happy! I just have a few days now to get stregth back in my arm, and have been spending lots of time in the pool to try and build the muscle back, as well as trying to use it normally, including typing and playing xbox and guitar (definitely a medical recommendation that…) This morning was my final day of proper training, and saw me getting up at 5 for a run, cycling to the pool, having a good pool session where my arm is really starting to feel strong again, and cycling home. The grief my arm gives me seems to switch between my elbow and wrist. I think the elbow fracture has just about finally healed, and full extension has almost returned and the muscle is helping to protect it, I just hope it holds for the swim. My wrist is still very weak, so will be strapping my wrist up rugby-style, as well as wearing a double tubigrip. Day-by-day it is getting back to normal, I just hope my legs remember how to work now!
My MRI Report:
Coronal STIR, T1, T2*, sagittal STIR, T1, axial STIR,
Marrow signal is intensely increased within the triquetral on STIR, with associated intense signal increase within the trapezium and to a lesser extent within the ulnar border of the distal capitate (images 07-10 of series eight).
There is preservation of radio/ulna carpal joint space and alignment.
The TFCC is of altered signal, with evidence of a partial tear of its distal attachment to the capsule. The scapholunate ligament, lunotriquetral ligament and radioscaphocapitate ligaments are intact.
The flexor extensor tendons appear normal.
The median and ulnar nerves appear of normal signal and calibre.
There is marked ulnar sided synovitis seen.
1.) Undisplaced fracture of the triquetral, and the dorsal aspect of the hamate, with no significant displaced fragments.
2.) Associated dorsal synovitis, that may mask a small avulsion fragment.
3.) Bone contusion of the trapezium, and ulnar margin of the capitate.
4.) Compromise to the capsular attachment of the TFCC with ulnar gutter synovitis.
For clarification of the morphology of the fracture of the dorsal triquetral and hamate further, a CT may be useful.
The day started well enough, with well over 6 hours solid sleep and then waking just before my 4 am alarm went off. In fact I felt better than I do most days getting up for work! Throwing off the covers, my first thoughts were ‘It’s cold’. Coming from the guy who wears shorts in the snow, either my metabolism had shut down, or it was cold! Anyway, I was quickly dressed and forced down a couple of bowls of coco pops. I really wasn’t feeling hungry, and I didn’t really eat a massive amount the night before, but with the amount I had eaten in the weeks leading up, I wasn’t exactly low of energy supplies.
Stepping outside to the car, and I felt how cold it was. I was in race kit, compression tights, shorts, t-shirt and hoody, and all I could think was ‘I’m freezing my tits off’! Quickly in the car to get warm, I then headed down to Henley to get ready. Sleeping in your own bed the night before a race, in an environment you are used to was a novelty! I arrived at the race sight at about 5 am, just in time for T1 to open up and was one of the first ones in. It took a while to get my bike ready and get all my stuff taped to my bike, as I didn’t have it with me the day before. I stuck to my IMUK fuelling strategy – 3 bars, 10 gels and a bottle of fairly concentrated GO on the bike, with water and any more electrolyte drink I needed to be picked up at the aid stations. Soon transition started filling up, and it became more like a social reunion again, as I spotted a lot of friends and wandered over to say hello. The big Man Tri contingent were ready, and I soon bumped into Weeksy, who was setting up just down from me. With the wetsuit problems of the day before, I got the bottom half of my suit on early and then stood with Chris and Cheryl until we were ready to get in the water.
As we were given the ‘5 minutes til we had to be in the water’ warning I was putting the rest of my wetsuit on, looked down at my ankle and then thought ‘where’s my timing chip’. Cue 5 minutes of running around like a headless chicken, speaking to marshalls and rummiging through bags, only for it to fall out of my wasitband… phew! Nothing like a bit of excitement! We headed down into the pen as we were given the news that the race would be delayed by 5 minutes due to the fog – visibility was practically nil. I spotted a few others in the pen, including the Man Tri lot, Ben, Russ and Steven Bayliss and passed on the good lucks. The general consensus was that it was too cold, dark and early to be doing this! Although most of the negativity was probably coming from me, mentally I was not in it. Thankfully it was actually warmer in the river than it was out! I swam over to the start and put some water in the suit and tried to get warm and loose. I was still near the back when I heard a whistle, and looked around wandering if that was the start sound. A klaxon a few moments later confirmed this, and caught off gaurd, I started my watch and we were off.
Being stuck at the back meant I spent the first few minutes weaving in and out of people and trying to get the arms going. After about 10 minutes I was at the front of the back pack, with no sign of the front pack, but just kept an eye on the bank whilst trying to take a racing line. After about 20 minutes, I started to feel actually OK, and was swimming well and soon went past Temple Island, and ticked the buoys off. After one bouy people started stopping and I looked up and saw a kayack point people back, apparently we had hit the turn around! At 36 minutes it was about time too! I had about another 5 minutes of OK swimming on the return route, swimming in the middle of the river with my own kayack escort keeping me on course. A later wave swimmer drifting across towards us prompted him to go back to crowd control, and from then on it went downhill. At this point I was in no-man’s-land, pretty much on my own and with the fog could not see the course at all. I was blinidng swimming down the river, with no idea where I was going. I had to stop a few times to stretch my back out and get my bearings, and the time seemed to tick down seriously slowly, which wasn’t fun. The current I was counting on was either non-existent, or my stroke was falling apart, probably a combination. Eventually I saw the exit and finally hit the ramp and got out. 1:11 on the clock was not a good start to the day, putting in close to my worst swim for nearly a year, though I had probably swam closer to 4.5k. Still my lack of recent pool time was really showing.
I actually walked to the tent, as at this point running to shave a minute off didn’t really seem worth it. I found my bag, stripped my wetuit off and stood there shivering staring into my bag in a trance-like state. Kit selection had been bad enough the day before, let alone when I was cold and tired and annoyed with my swim, and it seemed like everyone was a bit disoritentated. It was cold but given the day before, when the sun came out it would get seriously warm, and didn’t look like it would rain. Eventually I kicked myself into gear, got my arm warmers and gillet on, ran to the bike, put my helmet on and set off.
I knew within 15 minutes of setting off on the bike that I was in for a long day. The first drag up the dual carriageway failed to warm me up, and my toes were as numb as they had been in the start pen. I was seriously worried about losing them to frostbite! My hamstrings were also extremely tight and any hope of sitting on the aerobars had flown out the window. Coming round the roundabout towards the first swim I saw Chris coming back the other way with a group of strong cyclists and female pros and got a big thumbs up from him. Thankfully he was having a better day than I was! When I hit the turnaround, I did a quick bit of maths and realised I was probably only about 20 minutes behind him, and I was playing leap frog with a female pro, so maybe there was some hope after all. Going up the first big climb, I even felt in control, though it was clear that my legs weren’t firing on all cylinders. Each turnaround, big turn and roundabout was packed with spectators and at the end of the lap it was absolutely packed. Kids and parents were camped outside their houses cheering on the spectators for the day. For a first time event, it was awesome.
At the start of the second lap up the dual carriageway, my legs were still cold and hand’t warmed up. At least at this point I had enough blood flowing to loosen up my hamstrings and be able to get aero for a bit. This didn’t last long as the fatigue in my posture built up and my neck, shoulders and arms soon got too tired. Going up the big climb again and I was struggling. It felt as if I hadn’t shifted up a gear and was griding away – tough going. I was also fairly isolated by this point and it was a lonely few miles. At the final turnaround of the lap the lead men were catching up, and I was lapped by Aaron Fowler. On the descent I thought I was going fairly well until Steven Bayliss came flying by at breakneck speed. As he sped off into the distance I hit a gravelly patch and nearly lost my front wheel on a stone, which certainly got the adrenaline going!
The final lap was pretty much more of the same. I was extremely glad of my kit selection and at parts could have done with a jersey as I got spat further and further back in the field. On the final climb of the bike, I actually felt better than I had the lap before, and then after the descent I FINALLY felt OK and the legs had started to work, despite the downpour that had started. 170k to warm up on the bike and get the legs working properly. Nightmare. Coming into T2 was a few, my neck and shoulders hurt and my bum was sore! First thing on the list this winter is get a bike fit and get everything sorted out once and for all. However, my legs felt OK.
I was extremely glad of my spare socks in my T2 bag, the ones I were wearing were soaking through and would have been blister central! I got my wet kit off, and put the shoes on. It took me so long to get ready that my GPS had locked on before I had left the tent! The flip side of this is that it had stopped raining and was turning into a quite nice afternoon. Once I was ready, it was time to set off and I wanted to see what I could run. I may have had a rubbish swim and bike, but I wanted to do something on the run.
With my new found energy in the legs, I set off on the run and my pace was high. After my breakdown at Roth, I made a conscious effort to slow down and decided to stick to 5 min/km pace until half way if I could and then see what happened. I went through the 5k mark in under 25 mins and was on track. Unfortunately the fatigue built up from Roth and IMUK had other ideas, and soon the pace was slipping and within 8k or so I was walking aid stations. Not having my fuel belt bottles I had to resort to aid stations for fluid, not that it would have made too much difference. From then on in, it was shuffle between aid stations, walk through and get nutrition on board and then start running again.
At around 25k the mind went and I hit a serious low patch and spent a good 10 minutes walking. Times were out of the window, now it was just a case of surviving and putting one step infront of the other. I saw Chris who had gone on to a storming finish of 10:09 to win his age group. It’s about time one of us had a good race! Also out sufferening on the course were Ben and also Anna, who joined me on a walk at 35k for a few minutes before I made the final push home. The last 5k were tough, and I was hurting but I kept running. Mentally I need to refresh and toughen up, I’m convinced that running the whole marathon is 75% mental, even if it is just quick shuffling. Coming down the finish chute was more relief than anything else. My ambitious hattrick was complete and I had managed it, even if it wasn’t pretty! Over 13 hours is a long day, and hurts so much more than going under 11! The guys out there who are doing 16 hours – that takes guts and determination.
Doing a hatrick was ambitious in the short time, and with a hectic schedule in between, my recovery wasn’t ideal. I think if I had been training full-time and had no distractions I could have had a decent race, but it is certainly an experience to learn from. I have learnt a lot this year, and have a good idea of how to progress my training forward next season, especially as I move from full-time athlete to full-time worker. The 2 hour coffee rides are going to be out the window! However, the reflection on the season and the planning for the next can wait, I am going to have a proper off season. 3 weeks or so completely off, with no triathlon to worry about. After a long season, I need the break to recharge the batteries and recharge the mental batteries.
It’s been a good 2011.