Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The One Thing I Didn't Prepare For: 2012 Ironman Kona Wrap

The Queen K - a long road that I never saw the end of.
On Saturday, October 13, I started my third attempt at Ironman Kona. My first attempt was in 2002, my second year of triathlon. I was a novice. I didn't respect the distance. I didn't respect the location. I didn't prepare adequately, and it ended in near-disaster. But I finished. My second attempt came last year, in 2011. I had a whole new respect for the distance, having had to work my way back from physical and mental injuries and many years off after being hit by a car. It took three tries to qualify, but I was determined to have a triumphant return to Kona. This time I would be well-prepared for the tropical heat and the wind. And yet again, I fell short of understanding the nutrition requirements - requirements now of a nine-years-older body. My race dissolved on the run, and I can only claim perseverance as I found myself on the side of the road begging the medical personnel at an aid station to let me finish despite a near-collapse. It took almost an hour to recover, but eventually, I did finish.

I vowed to go back this year and finally conquer Kona. But early in the year, the road back turned grim after a severe respiratory infection caused me to DNF at St. George. Then, several mishaps in early season races left me disappointed, discouraged, and ready to throw in the towel. By the time I toed the line at Ironman Louisville in August, I was worn out and lacking anything resembling confidence. But I HAD I made a commitment to myself, and I felt a need to either see it through - or sink to a new level of despair in my "season from hell."

And so I qualified and things began to look up. Kona became the goal, giving me the ability to slough off even further bad luck with a blow-out in Ironman 70.3 Vegas. It just became a "training race in hot conditions" for Hawaii. I was determined to stay focused, and every time I expressed fear or doubt, my husband Jim reminded me of that goal: "Remember, you WANTED this."

So I prepared for everything starting with everything that went wrong in 2002 and 2012 and continuing with things gone wrong in the "season from hell." I prepared for the heat. I prepared for the wind. I had contingency plans for every plague: dehydration, hyponatremia, too many calories, not enough calories, cramps, dizziness, nausea, blisters, sunburn, chafing, flat tires, trouble getting into my running shoes, not getting my special needs bags, starting the run too fast, getting clobbered in the swim. You name it, I had thought it through or practiced it.

But there was one thing I hadn't prepared for - the one thing I couldn't prepare for. A catastrophic biomechanical failure. Barring crashes or getting kicked in the swim, very few people injure themselves midrace, especially after a good taper. Thus, my breakdown on Saturday has left me utterly confused and mentally demolished. I never saw it coming. And I never experienced anything like it before.

It came after a great swim leg during which I was able to find patches of open water in the middle of the pack and navigate around every potential mishap. (My time of 1:02 in the swim was fast, considering the overwhelming complaints of rough water that morning.) Almost immediately upon starting the bike leg, I was in distress. There was pain in my left hip that felt like something was mechanically wrong. It made no sense - all my rides leading up to race day were asymptomatic.

Trying not to worry, I focused on keeping my heart rate in a comfortable zone. I was happily averaging over 20mph by the time I reached the ascent to Hawi and the turnaround at 60 miles. My nutrition had been damn near perfect, but by that point, a new pain had surfaced. The pain was on both sides of my groin and was increasing with every pedal stroke. I don't know if it was related to the hip problem (I suspect it was). I don't know if it was related to fighting a very strong crosswind on the Queen K (I suspect it was also). Whatever, it was getting more painful on the climb, and by the time I saw Jim at the turnaround, my concern was that I was flirting with a serious injury. I let him know something was wrong, but I continued on.

I didn't realize the full severity of the pain until I slowed down to pick up my special needs bag. After inching along to free my bottle of Gu Brew from the plastic bag, I reaccelerated and the pain almost sent me into tears. Yes, something was horrendously wrong.

We had the wind at our backs on the descent from Hawi, but instead of capitalizing on it, I spent the time trying to find a comfortable position on my saddle. Everybody and their brother was passing me now, compounding my physical pain with a mental one.

I did some thinking - maybe it was muscle cramping. It didn't feel like it, but I had to do SOMEthing. I took an extra Salt Stick capsule, then stopped at the next aid station to stretch and down a banana (this was the cramping contingency plan). I asked for a medic to help diagnose what might be wrong, but after three minutes waiting, I got back on my bike.

There was a crazy-strong headwind on the Queen K homestretch. The pain had subsided just a bit after the stop, but by mile 90, I was barely able to pedal without agony. If I could even finish the bike leg, I would probably have to walk the marathon. The pain seemed to emanate directly from my pelvic bone and had become excruciating upon every pedal stroke. I stopped at the next aid station determined to get a medical opinion - would I do a huge amount of damage if I kept going?

When I got off the bike, I pretty much had my answer. I fell to the ground in pain - I couldn't even walk. The aid station paramedic told me he wasn't going to let me leave until we had a medical consult. He helped me to a chair and I sat and iced it while we waited. Medical showed up 30 minutes later, and I discussed the injury with the doc. He confirmed that the pain was not likely a muscle cramp, but more likely acute tendinitis from overuse. I was done. I called Jim on a volunteer's cell phone.

They carted me to the finish line in the same van as Marino Vanhoenacker, the men's leader off the bike who dropped out during the run. I had to be carried to a cot in the medical tent, unable to put any weight on my legs. I wanted to cry but confusion and fear clouded my tears. The meds at the finish line had three different diagnoses, but I only heard one of them: pelvic stress fracture. It certainly acted like bone pain: no pain at rest, but white-hot searing pain when weight-bearing or trying to lift my leg.

Jim and my friend Julie (who came all the way to Hawaii for this crazy outcome) waited outside the tent for news. They were given a car pass to pick me up and take me to the Kona hospital for X-rays. Julie generously stayed behind to retrieve my bike (Did I mention I had to leave my bike at the aid station? Yeah, that caused a panic in the med van, to say the least.) At least she got to see more of the race.

I milked the House thing for all it was worth. I 
After six hours in the emergency room involving both X-rays and a CATscan, we still had no diagnosis, except it "wasn't a stress fracture." I was sent home with a cane, a bottle of Vicodin, and a serious Dr. Gregory House complex (i.e., according to Jim, I was hating the world).

Sunday, we did some sightseeing, I did a lot of crying, and then I limped through airports. I made one observation: that people treat you very differently when you have an apparatus such as a cane. (Ask me about it sometime, it was more than weird. Even Jim started noticing it.)

Despite my expectations, the Kona outcome really did seem like an appropriate demise to a triathlon season marred by race disasters. Even when I didn't race, bizarre things happened. Twice this year, I witnessed, at close range, two athletes being given CPR unsuccessfully after being pulled from the swim leg of a triathlon. I know I should remember these things before wallowing in despair over one season of mishaps, but it's still hard to invest so much time and money, and heart, into something and have it all go so wrong.

Julie, to whom I am forever grateful, says I just have to "shift my focus." It's a logical solution, but right now my heart needs to heal a bit. I mean, it was only two days ago and the disappointment is still welling up in my throat.

Some friends have said I should look at the bright side: yeah, it all went bad, "but at least I was in Hawaii." So with that, instead of race photos, I'll share my vacation photos... because it's true, I WAS in Hawaii and I was just as determined to enjoy the trip. Which I did - right up until about mile 62.4 of Ironman Kona.

Photos by yours truly and Jim:

We arrived in Kona and it looked just like I remember:


We rented a jeep so we could drive cross country (more on that later).


We went to Lava Java for cinnamon rolls.


And the Kona Brewery for you-know-what:


Monday we took a trip to an amazing inlet called PapakĊlea Beach. Formed by a collapsed cinder cone, it's one of only two beaches in the world where the sand is green. To get there, we had to drive the Jeep cross-country, all the while praying that we didn't end up in a ditch (which was very likely). This was a bucket-list item for me:





Yes, the sand really is green.


That same day, we also drove to the southernmost point in the United States:



Lava tube:


We continued driving... to Punalu'u Beach, a beach made of black sand that serves as a favorite resting (sleeping) spot for endangered Hawaiian green sea turtles:



Turtles!!!


Not dead, just resting:


There are turtles sleeping everywhere on this beach.


On the way back to Kona, we accidentally caught the sunset, and to my shock and delight, we saw the ever-elusive green flash (this was another bucket-list item). The video doesn't at all do it justice:


Tuesday, I went to Ironman check-in. On the way back to our condo, we met four-time Ironman Kona champ, Chrissie Wellington. She is nothing short of amazing. And yep, you guessed it, bucket-list item number 3: check!


And we saw another sunset:


and got lei-ed on the way to dinner:


On Wednesday, we went to the Ironman Expo and Jim met Ivan, the guy who does for Cervelo what Jim does for NASA. They exchanged business cards. It was all extremely cool. He is the second-nicest computational fluid dynamicist I know.


 Then I ran into six-time Kona champ, Dave Scott.
We met in 2002, but he denies it (and seriously, do you blame him?)


And then we drove up above the clouds to the Mauna Kea visitor center... to see..
yes, another sunset!





Thursday we took a tour of the Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation which featured the most amazing aroma ever - of Kona coffee roasting - and met a cat named Pumpkin:


and saw our fourth sunset:


Then we checked out Keauhou Bay and downtown Kona before going to the pre-race meeting. 





On Friday, we checked in the bike at transition.


and, um.. we watched another sunset:


On Saturday... you already know what happened:


At the Kona hospital ER, it matters not how important you are in the triathlon world. You are merely "Unassigned Tourist" to them.


On Sunday, we went to the Coffee Shack to visit the geckos.


Then we found two very cool places while out exploring.

The first was the Pu'uhonua, or "Place of Refuge." It was a place that offered sanctuary to those who broke sacred laws (punishable by death). Law-breakers who could reach this place would have their sins forgiven and would be allowed to re-enter society. Amazingly, it occupied the space on the other side of a huge wall from the royal and holy ground of the Hawaiian Ali'i.






The second cool place was St. Benedict Roman Catholic Church, also known as the "Painted Church" because of its interior art painted by one of the priests.








We said farewell to Hawaii after we watched our final sunset on the way to the airport.




2 comments:

  1. Great post. Loved the pictures. Focus on the positives. Seems you re-learned the same lesson I did with my attempt at the Towpath Marathon. In long races, you have to be 100% going in and fully prepared. It's hard to will your way past injuries and deficiencies in training.

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  2. So sorry to hear about your race Jeanne, but so glad you had a beautiful vacation while you were there. Wishing you a speedy recovery!

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