Professional athlete and 3-time Ironman champion

Ironman Germany "Race" Report

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Life never turns out the way you think. Sometimes, you get lucky and it’s better. Other times? Not so much.

Not sure I can really call this a "race" report, because there wasn’t much racing involved. But here goes.

In the 7 weeks since Ironman Texas, I’d worked really hard to make some smart changes. While we could never be 100% sure that the changes were the "right" ones, quite frankly, we had nothing to lose. For starters, I changed my race plans. I was so far down in the KPR, racing IM-Germany over IM-Lake Placid seemed like a smart decision. Not everyone agreed with this decision, but for me, the decision felt right. If I was going to race, I wanted to at least give myself the opportunity to get the points I needed to get back in the game. Simply put, trying beats quitting. I wasn’t ready to quit on Kona, so it seemed worth it to try, so Deutschland, ich komme. (Don’t get all up in my kitchen about improper German…..blame Google translate).

I was off to Frankfurt. I was optimistic. You never really know how it’s going to go out there on race day, but one thing was certain; I was ready to fight. I was quicker and sharper and I even felt a bit of confidence coming back after what has been, quite frankly, a pretty lousy 18 months of racing. On race day, it wasn’t going to be about the points, though those would be nice. It was going to be about me and racing my race for me. About having a solid day. I didn’t need to be ecstatic with my performance. I wanted to be satisfied. I’d shoot for ecstatic later.

Frankfurt is the most urban setting I’d ever been to for an Ironman. I felt like I was in the center of Manhattan. Ken Glah picked me up at the airport. I’d be traveling with Ken’s Endurance Sports Travel group. Quite frankly, it’s simpler traveling with Ken. Airport transfers, shuttle service to race sites, helpful tips on the race location, mechanical support……I just don’t know why athletes would travel to foreign places any other way.

My load was made lighter, courtesy of British Airways, who left 2 of my bags M.I.A., so I arrived in Frankfurt with my carry-on bag, and my race wheels. Ken acknowledged, "You travel light. Most athletes find a frame to be an asset in addition to the wheels." I simply responded, "I’m old school."

We got to the hotel, dropped my "bag" (note the absence of the plural use of the word…..dang you BA!) and headed out for a swim. I was introduced to the German transit system. Quite impressive.

My bags caught up with me a day later, and race week continued without issue.

Racing in a foreign country forces you to "go with the flow". Things don’t always happen the way you think they will. It’s harder to find your favorite pre-race foods. Not everything is as under your control as it seems when you are on "home turf", but it makes you realize that all the little details you worry about are really not that important when it comes right down to it.

Before I knew it, the cannon had fired, and we were off. I got a good start and was at the back of the lead pack of men. By the first turn buoy though, my swim was feeling labored. I started getting passed. One, after another, after another. I just couldn’t hold on the feet. I reassured myself that it was a long day. I wasn’t going to win the race with the swim, and I wasn’t making the rest of my day any better by beating myself up over a lousy swim, so I just swam to get it over with. I exited; sub-par swim, but the day had just begun.

Onto the bike, I felt a little shaky at first, but within 20 minutes, had settled in. It was a cold morning and I think it just took some doing to get good and warmed up. My SRM kept me honest, and the wattage started coming around as I warmed up. I had no idea where I was in the field, but quite frankly, it didn’t matter. It was early. It’s a long day and I was there to race my race.

It started to rain. Lightly at first, steadier at other times. But as I rode, I was feeling better and better. Could it be? 55 degree rain was perfect Ironman weather for a hearty New Englander? This was an opportunity.

I was mostly alone on the bike. I’d get passed by clumps of age group men; 3 to 4 at a time. Always in packs. Draft distance questionable. But I wasn’t racing age group men, so I carried on.

Just before the halfway point in the bike, another small pack of men came by, this time, with a pro woman in the mix. For as much as I told myself to race my race, I will admit …..it made me mad. I truly wish we could all just agree to work hard and show up to race the race on our own merit. JUST STOP CHEATING. Determined not to let that pack out of my sights, I started to accelerate. I came to a small roundabout; not dramatic enough to alter my line much, but as I veered slightly right in entering the roundabout, it was a tighter turn than I realized, so I corrected to the left to get back on line, and realized I was on cobblestones. Wet cobblestones.

Here’s your lesson for the day: Rain + Cobblestones + High Speed Turn = DANGER. Wheels when right, body went left. Body meets pavement. Race over.

I hit the ground hard (according to my SRM @ 22.1 mph). According to the road rash and traumatic injury, I landed pretty evenly: head, elbow, rib cage, hip. What happened next got a little fuzzy. I was put into a chair; that of an on-looking spectator. EMS arrived and I couldn’t get out of the chair. I was raised onto a stretcher, still sitting in the chair.

I don’t remember losing consciousness, but I don’t remember the transport to the hospital. It was reported in the newspaper that I was transported via helicopter. Spectators confirmed that there was a helicopter present, but I certainly don’t remember it. Bummer. It would have been my first helicopter ride. I remember being at the hospital. In pain and frightened as I couldn’t understand what they were saying. Suddenly, I regretted not investing in that Rosetta Stone when I’d decided to race IM-Germany.

I was x-rayed, scanned, given an IV, a catheter (why?), had my race gear cut off of me, and eventually wheeled to the ICU.

Long story short; 2 frustrating days in the ICU, unable to communicate with DaveyG at all. Unable to communicate effectively with my doctors or nurses. Hurting and alone. Bad combination. Diagnosis? Non –displaced radial head fracture. Bruised ribs (to later be upgraded to fractured…..cuz I don’t do anything just half way), and what we’ll call for now, a FUBAR hip. Cuts and scrapes. Blacks and blues (and a little bit of green and yellow too).

For as broken as my body was, I think my heart hurt more. The optimism with which I’d arrived in Frankfurt; officially gone.

Alone in the ICU ward of the hospital, I played games with myself over night. How low could I get my resting heart rate? How low could coax my blood pressure down? I was pleased with myself. I set off the HR alert 4 times for low HR (record low 36 bpm….a new PR!), and BP, I set off just twice, but I think my night nurse eventually turned the alarm off…..98 over 68……not bad. Not bad at all.

Enter saviors Katja and Dagmar. Living in Heidelburg, just 45 minutes south of Frankfurt, Katja and Dagmar had turned the race on, on TV to check in, heard about my crash and immediately jumped in the car to come to the rescue. They acted as translators between me and my doctors, they got DaveyG on the phone and brought him up to speed. They rescued my abruptly abandoned Kestrel 4000 from some very kind spectators, Rainer and Edelgard Friedrich who picked the bike up from the side of the road and got word to race officials that they’d care for it until I was able to claim it. They fetched all of my belongings from Ken Glah, who had kindly undertaken the herculean task of packing my crap (you know what hotel rooms look like during race week….again, why would triathletes travel to races without Endurance Sports Travel?). They packed my bike. They returned my race chip to race organizers. They saw that I was properly deposited at the Frankfurt airport, even despite their own emergency trip to the vet for their puppy, Leila, at exactly the time we were meant to leave for the airport. Great friends like these are hard to come by. I will never be able to thank them adequately for their help; Katja, Dagmar, Ken, Rainer and Edelgard. And of course, JJ "Dupree" Hancock, who got my flights changed and got me put in the "pointy end" so I could recline my broken body for a more pleasant journey home. It truly does take a village……

And then I was home. After a rough night sleep, we were off on a Tour d’ Boston Area Hospitals. First stop, my primary care doc to get the ball rolling. X-ray and blood test. Blood test indicated elevated D-dimer levels which can be a warning sign of blood clots. Most the rest of the day was spent visiting some of the finer Boston area hospitals. Ultra sound (did you know that blood makes a different sound when it flows thru a vein than it does when it flows thru an artery? Wicked cool…..though admittedly, I’d be just as happy having not had this experience and coming to learn that fact). And finally CT scan. (Hello, radiation.) All to rule out the potential for blood clot.

While we did, in fact, rule out blood clot (elevated D-dimer levels can be the result of trauma, and I was pretty sure I had endured more than my share of that, so while running around Robin Hood’s Barn to rule out blood clot seemed like not the most productive use of our time, I suppose better safe than sorry), the CT scan also confirmed rib fracture, and not just bruising. …..and the hits just keep on coming.

Yesterday brought more of the same; MRI to assess soft tissue damage and investigate the potential for more subtle bone damage not shown on the dense x-ray. It was a real hoot.

We are awaiting the MRI results and will know more later today. My doctor has promised to line up a long list of experts to help. I suggested she add a sports psychologist, but she trumped that by suggesting we instead add an exorcist.

In all the events of the last 4 days, one thing is clear; I will not race in Kona for the first time in my triathlon career; both professional and amateur. New goals will arise, I hope, but when I try to think of the future, reality sets in and it becomes difficult to do.

The first step is to get healthy; both body and spirit. The body will heal in time (and by in time, I hope by the weekend, but realizing that’s not entirely realistic, we’ll hope for "shorter" time and not "longer" time…..ya hear that, God? Can ya throw a girl a bone here?) The spirit? Well, it pretty much seems down for the count, but that is one thing that I control….or so I am told. I did try to swim yesterday, but burst into tears after 600 yards; I think half from the pain, the other half from the reality of where I am at right now. Reality hurts.

I keep falling down, both figuratively and now literally, but only thing I know to do is to try to get back up. Because trying still beats quitting.

Big shout out to my DaveyG. When you all feel like you’re having a bad day? Just sit back and be glad you aren’t DaveyG. I’m not proud, but I am putting him thru the ringer right now. It’s not easy being with me. I don’t like being with me, so imagine how he feels.

Thank you to my great sponsors; Saucony (the Fast Twitch never even made it out of the bag. Tragic). Kestrel (the 4000 survived with a very minor scratch), The University Club of Boston (I am sorry I cried in the pool yesterday and sent the lifeguard into a panic), TYR, Fuel Belt, Shimano (not a scratch on the Di2 or the wheels….pro missle bar has a war scar, but that just makes it tougher), Infinit Nutrition, Cobb Cycling, SRM, Vineyard Vines, Oakley, and Rev3/Trakkers.

Thank you too, to Katja, Dagmar, Ken Glah and "Dupree" Hancock for getting me home safely. Thanks to Rainer and Edelgard Friedrich for taking care of my Kestrel for me and not selling it for parts. And thanks to Karen Smyers for being Karen Smyers and always finding a way to laugh and add perspective when I’ve lost mine. To all my friends for the texts, tweets and emails. They mean more than you know. I hate to say it, but I need the support. It’s rough road ahead.

Persistence. Determination. Love. The Journey!

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