IM Louiville

IM Louiville
Bikes racked at Ironman Louisville 2010

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Ironman Wisconsin 2011 - the race that (almost) never was

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, so I’ll give a quick update. I took the entire month of July off from racing to prepare for Ironman Wisconsin. I reluctantly signed up for Steelhead in the middle of August and had a good race, despite the fact that the swim was cancelled. And then it all started.

Two days after Steelhead, I was out on a very leisurely bike ride on a trail and took a hard fall when my front wheel hit a thick branch that was hidden between the shade and leaves on the trail. I first thought it was my elbow that was going to give me problems, but on the drive home from that ride, I knew my shoulder took the brunt of the fall. I went to the emergency room where they confirmed nothing was broken. I was told I needed to be in a sling for 2 weeks with no activity. I was able to ride indoors the next day and pushed my luck in the pool two days later. It was extremely painful but I figured I’d have time to work it out before Wisconsin.

That weekend, I had 100 mile ride on the schedule. My elbow was still really chewed up and I had a hard time in the aerobars between the road rash on the elbow and the pain in my shoulder with any pressure. I was able to finish the ride but the next day, I felt the top of my calves, just below my knee, were really tight. I wondered if the weird position on the bike that day worked muscles in a way they didn’t like. I continued on with my regular training, all rides and runs going well and each time I went to the pool, there was a little less pain. I knew I was compensating for the shoulder and my pull was a bit off, but I was confident I could still swim the 2.4 miles.

The calves remained tight, but nothing I would really complain about. In fact, my longest run went well, holding splits exactly as planned. My last long ride went very well and then it was time to taper! I went out for what was supposed to be an 8 mile run, my last “long” run before the race…7 days away. I was very uncomfortable starting out, the calves felt like rubber bands that had been stretched to the max. I figured they’d just warm up and I’d be OK…it was only 8 miles, anyway. Just before the 2 mile mark, it happened. My calf muscle pulled so hard, it caused me to fall. I couldn’t extend my leg. I couldn’t put any pressure on it. I couldn’t walk. I stood there, leaning on the good leg, dumbfounded. WTF. I can’t run. After trying to compose myself for a few minutes, I painfully limped back to my car on pace for about 18 minutes/mile. What do I do now?

I drove to Accelerated to see if Gina (my physical therapist) was at her office and maybe her or someone in her office could work on me or at least tell me what I need to do! I have 7 days to get this calf thing to go away. Unfortunately, being Saturday morning, no one was there. I went home and packed on the ice. I compressed. I rested. I elevated. I used the stick. I took ibuprophen. I iced. Two days later, I took 3 steps in a running fashion and felt the pull again, although not to the same magnitude. What am I going to do??? I rested. I iced. I compressed. I started to be able to walk without a limp in a couple days, but the calf was still very tight and tender. I wouldn’t know until race day whether I could run or not.

Thursday morning, 9:45 am. BC was going to pick me up to head to Madison. Me, scrambling at the last minute, hurried down the stairs and took a long step with my left leg and – BAM! Calf pulled so tight, it seized and I fell down the rest of the stairs and rolled on the ground screaming with pain. I cried as I called BC to tell him the bad news. I wasn’t going to be able to race. Don’t come and pick me up, I can’t even walk. Being the voice of reason that he is, Bernie (BC) said he wanted to come over. We sat for a few minutes and talked. I could still go swim and bike and just not run. I could go and spectate as lots of tri club members were participating. And best of all, we knew Gina would be up there and maybe could do some work on the calf and I could get some much needed help.

I packed in 10 minutes (seriously, I packed for the Ironman in 10 minutes) and we got in the car. I already felt bad that I had us over an hour behind schedule. I texted Gina to ask her to please hang out at her ART tent, I was on the way and needed to see her badly. Bernie drove as close as he could get to her tent and dropped me off. I hobbled over to her and explained what happened. Within seconds, I was on a table and she was digging into the calf. If any of you have ever had the opportunity to be worked on by Gina, you know what I mean when I say OOOWWWW!!! But I knew I had to do something – if this pain would make it better, I’ll take it.

I thanked her and limped away, but it did feel a little better. I went and got some heat wraps, threw my compression socks on and hoped for the best. The next day, I went first thing to see Gina. Though the pain was still very evident, it had moved. It went lower into the calf, which is a GOOD thing! I was hopeful – I could walk almost normal. BC and I did our ride and hung out downtown so I could see Gina one more time that day. I started calculating - if I could walk 18 min/miles for the marathon, I could finish. But do I really want to walk 18 miles? I’ve already proven I can do an Ironman and I have another one coming up. Maybe I should just use this as a training day. Bag the run and get out there and cheer on my friends and tri club members. It would be a race day call.

Two more treatments with Gina on Saturday and that was all I could do. I was walking just a little better each day, but once in a while, I would do something with the calf that it didn’t like and it would remind me that I still needed to be careful. I tried running in the hallway in the hotel but it didn’t work. This was a different pain – the pain in the upper calf hurt really bad, but was continuous. Now, with the pain moving down in the muscle, the pain was sharp and sudden, but as soon as I relaxed the calf muscle, it didn’t hurt anymore. I spent a lot of time walking around, stretching, trying to figure out exactly what movement it was that the calf would freak out on me. I didn’t want to make that movement!

Race morning. Smooth and pretty relaxed. Still not sure if I would run, walk, DNF, or what. I’ll decide after the bike. After all, with the hills, I wasn’t sure how the calf would handle the climbs on the bike. Just take it one discipline at a time. I stood in waist-deep water for the start. The guy on my left was nervously chatting to me and I was trying not to pay attention. Then he shrieked, “Oh my God, my goggles just broke!” I looked and they didn’t break, but the rubber gasket had come off one of the lenses. He was now muttering, “Oh no. My goggles! What am I going to do? OH NO!” I told him to calm down and I was actually quite nice about it! I had him hold one side of the gasket and I pulled the other one back into place. I then told him to put them on and go under to make sure they weren’t leaking. They were fine. He was grateful. I asked, “First one?” “YES!” he replied. No kidding.

The gun went off without a countdown, which bugged me a little. We were off and it was a very gentle start of the day for< me. Unfortunately, I forgot that I hurt my shoulder and tried going into my normal swim stroke. It hurt to try and pull hard so I needed to make the adjustment so I could swim without feeling anything in my shoulder. First loop, no problems, but I’m a little bored. I just tried to enjoy the swim and flexed my feet every now and then to make sure the calf muscles wouldn’t cramp up. I never did find a good draft, though I did get into a slight altercation in the water. I was swimming parallel to the shore (if there’s one thing I’m pretty good at, it’s swimming in a straight line) and I see a guy in front of me swimming out toward the middle of the lake. We’re going to crash if I don’t do something so I stuttered my stroke and my arm ended up pushing a little on his thighs as I swam over him toward the buoy. Apparently, he felt this pass, looked to see he was swimming the wrong way and decided to change direction. Now he started smacking me on my right and I am not going to race him for the spot, so I now stutter my stroke again, roll over on my back where he’s under me and then back on my stomach so I’m pretty much still in the same spot I started in. The guy stops, turns around and starts yelling at me. I just told him maybe he should swim in a straight line. Yep, then I got mad and swam away from him so he couldn’t draft off me. Too long of a day to let something so stupid get to me.

I get out of the water, pretty slow swim, and try to run to the wetsuit strippers. Calf does not like the running, so I walk. Strippers take way too long with the wetsuit, they seemed very timid! I yanked the wetsuit off my ankles and got up on my own. Tried running again, but no go. Here we go to walk up the helix – embarrassing as there are a TON of spectators lining the helix! I walk without looking at any of the spectators in the face. I get to flat ground and try gingerly running easy. Not too bad! Right away, I see Maxine and I’m happy to see a familiar face! She takes the bag out of my hand and pulls everything out to help me get ready for the bike. Gina also walks over to see how I’m doing. Calves are OK so far! Here we go!

I carried my bike shoes out to the bike itself. Running on the cleats would really screw up the calf, so I didn’t really hurry. I get to my bike, put the shoes on and off I go! I was surprised I was not cold at all at the start of the ride. It might get kind of hot out here if I’m not cold now! I really dislike the out and back part of this course. Going on the trail where there is a no passing zone isn’t fun and sort of kills any rhythym you might have. Going through this empty parking lot also feels very random. But once out on the course, it’s all you and your head. My bike sure was making a lot of noise today. Weird, because it wasn’t making ANY noise on Friday’s ride! I didn’t realize there are a few hills before you even get to the loops, which we’ve practiced a lot in the last few years. I enjoyed getting to the loops because I’ve ridden the course so much, I felt like I knew every turn and pothole and I was prepared for what was up next.

I was having a good ride and feeling pretty comfortable. The noisy bike was really starting to bug me and I knew people passing me were like, “What the hell is wrong with that bike?” It was so LOUD! At the start of the second loop, the calves were tightening. I couldn’t put the power to the pedals as I’m used to, but I just tried to stay out of the pain zone. Now the bike wouldn’t let me into the smallest cog in back and I was definitely having some shifting issues. I hoped for 2 things: 1)Please let me finish this ride and 2)Please tell me I’m not ruining this bike. I heard some shearing noise at one point and knew whatever was going on wasn’t good. Just finish the ride. We’re on the home stretch!

I was able to get in off the bike and stopped thinking about it. Now all I could think was, “Should I even try to walk this? Run??” I took off the bike gear, switched to running shoes, put my visor on and Gina was right there. I asked if she had time for me. I grabbed a quick drink of water and hopped up on her table where she stretched out the calves. YOWSA, some of it hurt, but I knew I needed it. She finished and I sat there for a second and asked, “Do you think if I run, I will do further damage and hurt myself more?” She answered with a no and that’s all I needed to hear.

I gingerly jogged out of transition, being passed left and right, but still moving
forward. I was caught by Brian C. before mile 1. We shared a quick couple of words and I watched him run away and I tried to go faster. The calf just wasn’t having it. OK, I’m at mile 1…that didn’t take 18 minutes. As long as the pain doesn’t get much worse, I can finish this thing! I’m not going to go into all the details or thoughts that went through my head because that would take too long. But I would run and every 20-30 steps or so, the calf would pull in a way it didn’t like and I’d yell, “OW!” There was always someone there going, “Are you ok?” “Yeah, just hurt, I’m fine.” And I’d keep going. As I mentioned, the pain would be sudden and sharp, and I tried not yelling out, but sometimes, it was just a reflex! I pretty much did a run/walk and saw lots of friends out there – both racing and spectating. I walked a little with BC, just enough to get him going again. I tried to keep up, but it wasn’t happening.

I got to mile 18 and was starting to hurt now. I almost started crying as I thought about walking the 8 remaining miles. I took more ibuprofen and decided, it hurt whether I walked or ran. It did hurt more when I ran harder, but I’m now getting cold and I just want to be done. I started to think about the events leading up to this race – falling off the bike and worrying about the shoulder. Then the calf. And then – just 3 days ago, I COULD NOT WALK. I ran the last half mile without stopping to walk. I couldn’t believe it. There is no way I should have finished this race. Finishing an Ironman requires the physical strength, sure. But without the mental toughness, I wouldn’t have finished on this day.

Thank you to Bernie for convincing me to go up to Madison.

Thank you to Gina for taking good care of me and getting my calf as good as it could have gotten before race day.

Without you two, Ironman Wisconsin 2011 would not have happened for me.