Ironman Cairns 2015… The race that almost wasn’t.
After 5 months of solid ironman training in preparation for Ironman Cairns, 2 weeks before the race, on my last long training ride I got hit by a car. I had ridden 150km, was 10km from home and an idiot driver didn’t giveway to me on a roundabout. As a result I broke my left elbow (radial head fracture) and was left pretty shaken up, battered and bruised. My left knee, hip, shoulder and arm were swollen and sore, and my precious bike wasn’t looking great. Being in a car accident was a huge shock to the mind and body, it was confronting, exhausting and emotional, but I was mostly upset (ok absolutely shattered) that because of the crash I wouldn’t be able to compete in Ironman Cairns and I was looking forward to it so much.
Sitting in the Noosa Hospital waiting for X-rays and to see the Doctor I kept bursting into tears everytime I thought about not being able to race. I wasn’t going into it expecting to win my age group or qualify for Kona, I had just trained hard and consistently and was genuinely looking forward to seeing what I could bring on race day. It was me against me, and until now I had been pretty sure I was going to win!
Three things were in my favour though…
1) They don’t put broken elbows in casts anymore.
2) Taper was about to begin anyway.
3) I have super healing powers and really great family, friends, colleagues and coach!
That night I when I finally got home around 6pm, I hadn’t eaten since breakfast at 430am, so was absolutely ravenous, I enjoyed a nice Indian curry and glass of wine with Mum, and shed a tear or 2 as I sent an email to my coach, the subject was ‘bad news’ and the contents were obvious… I had a broken wing wouldn’t be racing Cairns.
The 2 days after my accident were a complete blur, I saw my GP, an arm physio and an orthopaedic surgeon. Recovery time was 4-6 weeks, 2 weeks in a sling/brace, physio mobility exercises and no heavy lifting or strenuous exercise. I was on strong pain killers, whilst also riding huge waves of emotion: a) being in a traffic accident b) facing the possibility of not racing or c) hitting taper mode at a sudden screeching halt! Going from 15-17 hours training per week to zero!
One thing saved my sanity, it was a tiny glimmer of hope… An email from my coach in response to my ‘bad news’. The email basically said it was taper time, which means time to rest the body, don’t rule out Cairns completely, rest up and let’s reassess the situation in a week. She also said that they would love to see me at windtraining on Tuesday… A few more messages not to give up hope from my die hard tri hard friends (you know who you are) and suddenly my mindset was changed. I went from being on the verge of a downward spiral, to thinking ‘what if…’
The next 2 weeks were nothing short of amazing. I can’t begin to describe the support, encouragement and inspiration I received and drew on during this time. I went to windtraining and saw all my awesome squadies, I kept running (because that didn’t hurt) and swimming, well we won’t go there… That was painful beyond words, a week after the accident I went to squad to test it out. I only managed a 50m swim (with fins) before getting out. I was still crossing all my fingers and toes for a miraculous recovery but also preparing myself to be a spectator in Cairns. So with the support of everyone around me I went about my resting/healing, and still didn’t rule out the prospect of racing.
With 5 days to go before race day I was still undecided as to whether I should go ahead. I had arrived in Cairns, brought all my gear (try explaining to the airlines why your arm is in a sling but you have a bike as excess luggage)… I could still run ok but swimming was not looking good and on the Thursday before race day riding on open road still seemed impossible as I couldn’t clench my fist (to brake) or rest my palm on the handlebars… Pity the swim and ride have to come before the run! But then the excitement and hype began, and pain seemed to become less significant… I registered, got my bib number and got excited… No pain no gain right? The Friday before, with 2 days to go, I decided I couldn’t not race. I couldn’t leave Cairns wondering ‘what if’? I knew it would hurt, understood the risks and even listened to and acknowledged Mum (Mum’s are always right apparently). She said if I was to start with a broken arm I couldn’t be upset or disappointed in myself if I couldn’t finish or didn’t get the time I wanted… Fair call, I agreed to that, told her I knew my limitations, would stop if I had to and of course thank you and I love you but I’ve got to do this!
Hop, skip and a jump brings us to race day morning. Just to put it all into perspective, a lot of preparation got me here. Many many early mornings, 530am swims, crack of dawn runs and long solo rides. I was beginning to feel like the broken arm was overshadowing my race. I had worked really hard to get here despite the small crack in the elbow and I planned to prove it.
So up early, breakfast down and we were on our way. Until now we were all about the photos, being silly and having fun. But race day seemed to send us into a trans, we were nervous but focused. Mel and I just did what we needed to do and Kimmy was an amazing support, the silent back up exactly where we needed her, when we needed her.
We got to our bikes, loaded our nutrition, put our wetsuits on and did the nervous toilet stop. Before we knew it our waves were lining up to the rolling start and it was on like Donkey Kong!
Well I’m not going to lie the swim hurt… a lot. Before the accident my goal was sub 1 hour, after it I went in with the goal of survival, beating the cut off time and not hurting myself so much that I wouldn’t be able to brake/grip the handlebars in the ride. What I didn’t account for was people kicking/hitting it accidentally. Ouch! I swam the whole 3.8km with a closed fist, as that hurt so much less than open handed. At the 1.8km mark we got out, ran a short distance on the sand and proceeded to swim an M shaped course home. At halfway I looked at my watch and saw 33 minutes!! Was totally shocked, impressed and inspired to push it hard home. We were against the current on the way back, I swallowed a fair bit of seawater and the course was confusing to navigate, but before I knew it I was hitting the sand and into T1 where awesome volunteers were ready and waiting. Swim time 1 hour 10 minutes, considering the circumstances I was overjoyed with that.
I asked the volunteers to help me remove my wetsuit as I couldn’t pull it off with my sore arm. One asked if I needed first aid… Hmm a bit late really but thanks! I put my shoes on, sunscreen on, took some pain killers and was off! I definitely prefer long course races as a fast transition really isn’t my thing, total time 5:10.
I found my bike, hustled my way out of a cramped transition and headed out onto the Captain Cook Highway to Palm Cove. The ride started off fabulously, my arm wasn’t hurting, legs felt good, had the wind at my back and overall I just felt great. At about the 30km mark I could’ve screamed at the top of my lungs ‘I’ve got this!’ I knew I had done so many long rides that I would be able to make the distance no drama. At Rex’s lookout (guessing about 20km in) I had made it uphill no drama but when I went to go downhill I saw people walking their bikes up the other side. That freaked me out a little and I was nervous about the return journey. But I kept going, the turnaround at Port Douglas was great, so much crowd support and I spotted a few friends along the course. The ride back (the first time) was fine, the return hill I had been dreading really wasn’t that bad, the headwind and rain slowed me down but I still felt fine.
Then we turned around and had to do it all again. At about the 75km mark I started to get uncomfortable, my arm was beginning to hurt, shoulders were stiff, braking was making my arm seize a little. By about 85-90km I was in trouble, every bump in the road was sending pain up my arm. I couldn’t stay aero, my shoulders were hurting but I couldn’t ride on my handlebars because my wrist was hurting. I stopped at the aid stations, made up my drinks, tried to stay focused on being hydrated and fuelled because I knew I still had a marathon to get through.
The last 90km was a huge mental and physical struggle, the last 30km being the worst. I hit rock bottom, was in tears, a total mess, swearing I would NEVER do this again until I had built my bike strength/speed so I wasn’t so freakin slow. I watched my speed drop lower and lower, although I knew to expect a headwind, I hadn’t expected this. I felt like I hadn’t seen any other competitors for hours and it was just me against the world.
When I finally hit town and saw the runners at the far end of the run course my mood changed instantly. I had told my brother Joel that if I survived the swim and bike I was going to have the best run of my life. Every week in training I religiously ran off the bike after my long runs, no matter how much I didn’t feel like it, and suddenly it was about to pay off and I was excited. Total bike 6 hours 55 minutes, not the time I was hoping for/expecting but happy to have survived it.
T2 was a rapid blur, I’ve never been so relieved to be off the bike, I ditched my helmet, swapped my shoes and socks and I was out of there in 3:10… That’s got to be a record for me.
Coming out of transition I saw some friends, smiled for the cameras then hit the crowds… What a total buzz!! My watch was saying 5:15min/km pace which I knew was too fast to maintain, so made a conscious effort to slow it down. I found a nice pace and settled in for the long run (literally)! The first lap I was feeling great, wanted to bust out a great pace but knew I wouldn’t be able to keep it for 42km. I made a few friends along the way and saw so many people I knew it was fabulous. We had to collect a rubber wristband each 14km lap, seeing other people with 2 or 3 wristbands on made me just want to hurry up and get the first lap done. Second lap was a blur, still felt ok but knew I had a long way to go, each lap going through the crowds was absolutely phenomenal, definitely the highlight of my day.
I was travelling fine until about the 30km mark, I knew I was so close to finishing but I started to get tummy cramps. I switched to water for a while, and hoped to hell they would go away. They did eventually and before I knew it I passed the 36km mark. 6km to go, basically had it in the bag! Once I hit the last turn around near the airport and had 4km to go I thought to myself I wasn’t going to leave anything in the tank (not that there was much left anyway). And ran home like I was on fire. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face as I ran through the crowds, and down the finishers chute. I remember making eye contact with Pete Murray as he called my name, I have him double thumbs up, mouthed thank you then crossed the finish line hands in the air then burst into tears. Run time 4 hours 22 minutes.
I didn’t know for a few hours what my time was, to be honest I didn’t really care. (But FYI it was 12 hours 38 minutes) To be finished was absolutely enough, I was elated, exhausted and overwhelmed. After a quick rest stop in the recovery tent I found Kimmy and called my Mum. I’m sure I caused her a few grey hairs in the lead up to the race, Mum and my brothers had been tracking me of course, watched me start the run online and cross the finish line, they held their breaths in worry/anticipation a few times throughout the day watching my timing splits go up and down. I can’t thank them enough, even if sometimes they don’t understand or relate to why I love this sport they are always so supportive and proud.
They don’t tell you much about the aftermath of an Ironman… But I’m here to say it’s not pretty. The memory of the day after is pretty hazy, I was stiff, sore and non-comprehensive for most of it, not to mention missing toenails and covered in blisters. We drove the entire bike course which seemed to take forever, but made the finishers medals in our hands just that bit more precious, they were worn loud and proud for days. Ironman Cairns was an experience I will never forget, I feel like I have unfinished business there, I can’t say for sure if I will be back in 2016, but I will be back eventually to conquer the course with 2 functional arms!