Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Ironman Perseverance

aka "Why I Don't do an Ironman!"

In keeping with the Ironman theme, I thought I would share part of my friend's race report from her first Ironman. With her husband having an almost fatal bike accident a few months before her race, getting to the race start was an accomplishment in itself. But what happened during the race made finishing challenging. She is an inspiration to never give up!

I needed to figure out the cramping issue before attempting an ironman, so I went to a sports doctor to talk about my nutrition plan. She did a complete blood workup and discovered that everything was out of whack – my iron, B12, and D were low, and my leptin and testosterone levels were low too. She suspected overtraining syndrome, or celiac disease (gluten intolerance). I was a little surprised by the latter because I didn’t have the typically GI symptoms. The blood test came back positive for Celiac disease, and I was put on mega-doses of B12, D and iron. I was told to keep eating gluten before having a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis. The biopsy was definitive, so by the time everything was confirmed, it was only 3.5 weeks before Ironman. Boy, did that mess with my nutrition plan!

I immediately went on a gluten-free diet and started trying out every gluten-free bread and pasta I could find in the hopes of finding something I could eat pre-race. Somewhat counter-intuitively, I was having more GI issues on the new diet than I was before. I saw a nutritionist and she said my gut was inflamed and the bacteria were out of whack, so I started taking a priobitic several times a day. By then, it was less than 1 week to IMAZ!
[Race Day]
I wasn’t sure where to seed myself, but based on a perusal of past IMAZ results decided I should be relatively close to the front, so I started working my way forward. When the cannon went off, I started swimming and immediately got pummeled. Within the first few minutes, I got kicked in the right eye and had to stop briefly to release the pressure on my eye. A few minutes later I got an elbow in the left eye. Somewhere else, I had some guy swim next to me and grab my shoulder and push it down. After he did it a few times I slowed a bit to get away from him. A number of times someone grabbed my feet and gave them a slight yank. Whenever that happened, I kicked more vigorously and that seemed to scare them off. The pummeling continued for quite a while. I didn’t look at my watch, but I would guess that it went on for about 10 minutes. After that, I mostly swam without incident to the turnaround point.
The bike is a 3 “loop” (really an out-and-back) course with a slight elevation gain as you get near the turn-around point. On the first leg out, I felt like I was flying. Even though there was a slight head-wind, I was averaging between 17 and 20mph for most of the way – way ahead of my expected pace (I was hoping to average 16mph overall) – and, best of all, I was staying in my aerobic zone!

Around mile 20, as the road was beginning to rise, I heard a loud pop, followed by a hissing sound. The front tire went immediately flat. I changed it (took about 7 minutes), and checked for anything embedded in the tire. I didn’t find anything. I didn’t take the time to look at the tire, but I’m guessing it burst either from being pinched or old. I was really wishing I had changed the tube with the tire two days earlier! I hopped back on the bike and headed to the turn around.
When I started the third loop, I was really psyched. The bike was going much better than anticipated, and I still felt great. I rode out to the turn around without any stops, and was ready to fly back to transition. My only concern was that I needed to get some more calories in before the run. I had two choices – stop and put the bag of Infinit Nutrition powder into my aero bottle, or grab some gels along the way back and take them with the water. I opted for plan B, figuring that I wouldn’t lose as much time getting the gels as I would stopping to put the powder in. This turned out to be a big mistake!

At the first aid station after the turn around, I swung in and grab some gels. Right after grabbing them from a volunteer, I noticed a biker in front of me reaching for a bottle from the volunteer ahead of me. I started to swing out around him, but he fell over and I wasn’t able to miss him. I hit him and went flying. I landed on my left shoulder and rolled over onto my right side. My first thought as I lay in the road was “this can’t be happening, it’s just not fair!” I laid there moaning, more out of pity than pain, then decided to stand and assess the damage.

When I stood up, I was a bit wobbly, but managed to walk over to the first-aid table. A volunteer cleaned some road rash on my right elbow (which wasn’t even bothering me), and several people asked how I was. I asked to see my bike and another volunteer brought it over. He said the seat and the aerobars were crooked, and the front tire seemed low. I asked if he had any tools to fix them and he went to look. He fixed the seat and came back to ask what to do with the aerobars. We re-adjusted them as best we could, and I prepared to ride. The sheriff showed up at some point and called an aide car. He seemed a bit incredulous when I said I was going to try to ride. He asked if I wanted to cancel the aide car and I said yes, then headed on my way.

I didn’t ride as aggressively on the way back, partly because I wasn’t sure what kind of shape my bike was in. The front tire looked like it might be a bit wobbly. I regretted not letting the volunteer pump up the tire, because I felt more sluggish on the return. But that could have been any number of things. My shoulder ached on the way in, but the pain was not intense.

When I got to transition, I dismounted and a volunteer took my bike. I hobbled to the bag area to collect me stuff. I felt kind of unsteady. I don’t know whether it was from biking for 6+ hours, or pain, or both. After getting my bag, I headed to the changing tent. A volunteer asked if I was okay, and I said no. I told her about my crash, but said I was going to try to finish. She helped me get ready. The last thing she told me was that there was a medical tent just outside of the changing tent. I opted not to stop because I didn’t want them to tell me I couldn’t go on.

I headed out of the tent and let the volunteers slathered me with sunscreen and then I attempted to run. I don’t think I even made it as far as the timing mat before I had to walk. It was just too painful. The crowd was very encouraging, but I just kept walking and did a mental assessment of my options. Since the swim and bike had gone so well, I knew I had plenty of time (over 9 hours) in which to complete the marathon. Walking wasn’t too painful, so I started preparing myself mentally for a long walk. But the idea did not sit well. I just didn’t want to be out there that long! After walking about half a mile I attempted to run again. I found that if I kept my arm tight against my body so that the shoulder didn’t move much, it was almost bearable. I continued running this way to the first water stop. When I got there, I asked to go to the medical tent. While I was there, they gave me some ice to put on my shoulder, and one of the volunteers keep bringing me food and drinks. After icing for 15 minutes or so, I asked the medical person to strap my arm down. She put it in a make-shift sling and I headed back out onto the course.

Running with the sling turned out to be workable, and I was surprised to find that my run splits were averaging between 10 and 11minute miles, including walking breaks at all of the aid stations. So, I just kept plugging along. The crowd was very supportive, and the volunteers were great. I couldn’t get the fuel bottles in and out of my belt with one hand, so I would carry one until it was empty, then stop at an aid station and have a volunteer swap the empty bottle for a full one. I drank or ate something at every aid station, and felt really good. No GI issues, and almost no muscle cramping.

Everyone was very supportive. The course was 3 “loops”, so we passed the same volunteers and fans at least 3 times. On my second and third loops, I heard a lot of “oh my god, she’s back again”, “way to go”, and “hang in there”. A lot of my fellow competitors were very supportive too. More than once, I heard things like “you are an inspiration” or “you really are an ironman!” It definitely helped me persevere.

After the first loop, I stopped at the same medical tent to have some Vaseline put on my feet because I was getting blisters in my arches. The volunteer who helped me was so sweet. She put on my socks and shoes for me, because I couldn’t do it with one hand. She also hung onto my fuel belt while I used the loo, and then put it back on me because I couldn’t do that one handed either!

The miles from around 9 to 20 were uneventful, and I was feeling good, but definitely ready to be done. Shortly before mile 22, there was a spot where we transitioned from a parking lot to a walkway, and for some reason there was a piece of carpet down. I remember looking at it and thinking there must be some sort of grate or something they didn’t want us to trip on. Well, while I was thinking about that, I tripped on the carpet and landed hard on my right side. I felt it in my left side though. Thankfully, I didn’t seem to have done any additional damage, so I got up and said a few expletives and told the volunteers I was okay, even though I didn’t really feel okay. My shoulder started hurting more, and now my knees hurt too!

I walked for a short stretch after falling and did another mental assessment. It was getting close to 7pm and I only had 4 miles to go. Once again, I considered walking the rest of the way, but didn’t really like the idea, so I started running. My shoulder hurt more, and I was not having a lot of fun, but I was determined to keep going.

When I finally got to the point where we got to peel off and head to the finish, I heard a volunteer say only 200 meters to go. I was prepared to turn the corner and see the finish, but such was not the case. I zig-zagged through the cheering crowds for what seemed like a long time before I finally saw the finish arch. Several people tried to give me a high five, but after the first one, I had to stop because it was too jarring.

When I got to the tape, I couldn’t decide how to “break” it. I couldn’t put both arms up, so I just kind of reached for the tape with my right hand. I think one of the volunteers let go of it before I actually touched it because I almost missed it. While I was distracted by the tape, I forgot to pay attention to the announcer, so I never even heard whether he made the traditional “..., you are an ironman!” announcement.

A volunteer wrapped me in a mylar blanket and took me to get my chip removed. Then I posed for a photo and headed to the medical tent. I’m kind of sorry I did that, because I missed out on savoring the moment in the finish tent. The doctor in the medical didn’t even look at the shoulder, he just told me to go to the nearest emergency room. I did see the guy who fell in front of me in the medical tent. Apparently he finished not long before me. He had a mangled thumb and his back was hurting. He apologized for causing the accident and asked how I was. We exchanged some pleasantries, and then one of the medics helped me collect my bike and bags. Thankfully, I only had to take my bike back to the transport area. The medic was really nice, and carried all my stuff to the car.

When I got to the car, I decided to go back to the hotel to clean up a bit. I didn’t want to sit in ER in my sweaty smelly togs for hours. Driving was a bit tricky, but there wasn’t a lot of traffic. Getting my tri top off was fun. Thankfully, I had worn a sports bra with the zipper in the front, so I was able to get that off fairly easily. I showered and put on jeans and another sports bra (didn’t think I could manage to get a regular bra on). I was wishing I had some button down shirts to wear, but alas, all I had were T-shirts and tank tops. I picked the loosest tank top I had and awkwardly pulled it over my head. Then I drove to ER.

I had lots of company in ER. There were a number of dehydrated athletes there and we chatted about the race while waiting for our turns. Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait excessively long to get called in, and got x-rayed fairly quickly. Then I had to wait a bit to see the doctor. When he came in, he asked what happened and told me my scapula was broken. He said that because it takes a lot of force to break a scapula he needed to check that I hadn’t also torn my aorta! He didn’t really think I did, since I’d run a marathon afterward, but said he needed to be sure. They wanted to give me morphine for the pain, but I told them I had to drive home. I didn’t really want it anyway. Unfortunately, they couldn’t give me anything orally until they had the results of the scan, so I couldn’t even take Tylenol. Thankfully, the pain just wasn’t that intense.

I had to wait a while for the CAT scan, then I had to wait an hour or so for the results. As expected, they didn’t find any damage to my aorta, so they wrote me a prescription for pain killers and anti-nausea medicine and sent me home. By now it was almost 4am, so I skipped the stop at the drug store and went to the hotel. It took a while to get ready for bed. I finally laid down at 4:45am. I really wasn’t as exhausted as I expected to be, so I must have gotten more sleep in ER than I realized.
Despite the accident, I had a great race and I’m really happy I opted to finish.

1 comment:

Kris said...

LaVonne, I'm flattered to have made it into your blog!

Although I'm very proud of my accomplishments in Arizona, I must add a cautionary note to the tale.

After Arizona, I did not give my body a break. I immediately started cross training, and as soon as I was able to swim, bike and run, I began training for Ironman Canada. Everything was going well until about mid-July when my body started to rebel. Not only did I not get to compete due to a stress fracture, but I ended up with overtraining syndrome, which basically means my body can't recover from much of anything... even cleaning house wipes me out some days. It may take as much as 2 years to dig myself out of the hole I have dug.

There is a fine line between perseverance and fool-hardiness, and it's sometimes hard to know when you've crossed it ;-) So, listen to your body, and remember that rest is your friend!