November 16th – Ironman Arizona DNF
Even though I thought this would be one of the toughest posts it’s actually one of the easiest to write. There are always lessons to be learned and understanding why we make the decisions we do is never clear but the consequences of those actions can speak volumes.
I signed up for IMAZ with Smile Train after competing my first full ironman in Canada. There were charity spots open and I felt this was a good way to get a redemption race AND do a great thing through the sport I love. I set about fundraising and put on various events: Bikini Car Wash, Live acoustic music set at Grouchy Johns, Silent auction for donated prints, post event massage at a MTB event, a team cyclocross event and a cake shop partnership. People also selflessly donated through the website and to me and we raised over $6250 for Smile Train. It costs around $250 per cleft lip repair so this money has gone to change the lives of children all over the world, and WE helped at least 25! Honestly, the support and love I received throughout this fundraising effort blew me away, and the victory was already achieved before I even toe’d the line. Which brings me to the race itself…
2 weeks before IMAZ I raced in Maui at the XTERRA World Championship, which was one of the best experiences of my entire triathlon career! I travelled home from Maui after an overnight layover in Oahu where I slept on the floor outside the airport because the check in desk was closed by the time I got there, so when I arrived to Vegas I was exhausted. I was back to work Thursday and Friday but struggled to train due to fatigue and migraine. Saturday I felt good! Didn’t want to get too excited so had a 2 hour bike trainer session with some 5 minute efforts and felt pretty solid. However on Sunday I woke up with swollen glands and a sore throat. The fatigue I’d felt all week was still there but the glands were new. Monday came and I wasn’t fit for anything; laid on the sofa all day and ate chicken soup and hot drinks. The rest of the week was similar. I tried hard to rest and be a good patient and I really felt that I did a lot, including drinking boiled Ginger root with turmeric and lemon, suggested by our friends Dax and Gee – it did help but just that night. By this point I had developed a chesty cough which would wake me through the night and rear its ugly head through the day. I traveled down to Tempe on Friday to packet pick up, unsure of how things would go but after all the fundraising and support I just couldn’t quit yet. I went about everything exactly the same as if I were well. The night before the race I was kept up coughing again. I had promised my Mum and boyfriend that I would stop if it became a bigger health risk. I promised myself I would start and go until there was no doubt that I could go no further.
IMAZ began with a rolling start where we funneled through a gate and dove into the water of Tempe Town Lake. This was the first year they had tried it, personally I liked it! 2.4miles is the distance of the swim and IMAZ course is a long rectangle through the lake. I started swimming and kept my calm. This was the first had swam since Maui! The water was cold but I was grateful this time of having a wetsuit. I swam reasonably strong but made sure not to push too hard at this early stage. I swam up to the half way without issue made the turns and started heading back. This got ugly. I had been able to cough and swim up until this point but it was getting harder and harder to get a breath in, I swam over to a kayak and held on to stop and catch my breath. The kayaker was awesome! So encouraging but told me to take my time. He was trying to keep people from swimming off course and the verbal abuse he received from a couple swimmers was embarrassing! Some guy called him an asshole! This kid was volunteering and only helping the athletes. I gave him my ‘volunteer’ band which IM gave us to hand to a volunteer on the course to show our appreciation. Didn’t seem enough, but wanted him to know that we the athletes are grateful to have volunteers in the water. I set off again but soon the breathing tightened up. Ok, new plan, swim to every 4th kayak then stop and catch breath. Luckily there were so many kayakers one was never too far away and I just would swim and then swim to a kayak, breathe, then keep swimming. I reached the end of the swim exhausted. I walked to my transition bag, feeling a fraud amongst al the stellar athletes being cheered on my the crowds. I wanted to stop, but nothing in my body was done so I kept going.
I headed out onto the bike course – my happy place, and quickly settled into a nice rhythm, again taking care not to push hard, just keep steady. There was a slight headwind on the way out to the turnaround with a very small uphill, nevertheless, again my breathing was getting the better of me. My muscles ached and my ribs would spasm if i breathed hard. But I made it to the top. Saw Heather Jackson and Wattie near the turnaround course cheering the athletes which gave me a boost. I turned and came flying down the hill and was able to recover my breathing. The coughing was still there, and by this point immediately followed any time i took on nutrition or water causing me to bring nutrition back up, but I was sure I was getting enough in. Lap one and I’m not terrible but not great, which meant another lap. I wanted to hit the top again and get back down the ‘hill’. This time however, like in the swim, the available space in my lungs seemed to be disappearing, it became harder and harder to breathe. My legs had felt great! I knew my body was strong enough to get me through the race, but I promised myself when something gave up I had to stop. This was it, I was hyperventilating and wheezing trying to catch my breath. At mile 60 I pulled to the side near an aid station and still clipped in hung over my bike trying to breathe. An ambulance pulled up and whisked me into the back where they took my vitals and started me on an albuterol breathing treatment to help open my airways. I couldn’t feel my fingers and when I did they just tingled. The breathing treatment helped but between extreme coughing fits I just struggled to get my breathing rate and heart rate down. An official asked if I would continue and I asked for more time before making a decision but ultimately I knew it was over. As tears rolled down my face I handed my chip to the paramedic. I was devastated.
They transferred me to the medical tent at the Ironman Park and with my breathing rate still high I received another breathing treatment. Volunteers would come and sit by me and tell me how great I had done, but I just felt sad. I had DNF’d. After an hour my breathing rate was down and coughing bouts were back to pre race level. My abs hurt and my body ached but I was well enough to leave and recover my stuff. I headed over to the Smile Train tent where my phone was. I called Ben and sobbed as I told him the race outcome. He reminded me that the victory had been made before the race began and of how many children we had helped through our actions. Perspective.
Honestly, although I was sad, I can wholeheartedly say that I gave it all I could. I started and went until my body couldn’t go anymore. AND we did a great thing in fundraising for a great cause. I can’t be mad about that.
I went back to my Cousin’s house where I was staying in Tempe, and had the most glorious hot shower of my life, ate some leftover pizza and had a cold beer. I was grateful and thankful for every ounce of that, for everything. I am grateful to be able to start an event like an Ironman, to wake up every day and have the opportunity to do great things, spread happiness and love and SMILE.
It was not my day but it was for so many other athletes and they needed the support. I got dressed in about seven layers, headed down to the course armed with red bull and a cowbell and joined the Smile Train team on course to cheer and support the athletes until 9:30pm when we moved over to the finishing line to cheer the athletes into the finishing line right through till the midnight hour! It was humbling to watch these rockstars as they’ve been out on course for almost 17hours through torrential rain, and darkness, to see their joy and relief as they come down the finishing chute to hear those words: “YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!”. How the crowd gets louder and louder as we inch closer to that deadline, or when an athlete is clearly struggling just to make it, the noise and support are incredible, carrying them through the finish line.
There will always be doubts in your mind and I am the first person to say that you are stronger than any of those doubts even if you don’t know it yet. But there will also be days where unavoidable obstacles will force you to stop. When your health is in danger, this is a good time to stop. You are more than one race and one result does not define you. These are hard words to swallow but I wake up today, grateful to be alive, satisfied that I turned my bad day into a day of support for so many others, and happy to be involved in this wonderful sport, through the highs and the lows. I’m still sick but I have time now to fully rest and recover.
I want to thank everyone who helped in our fundraising efforts, including John Wylie of Grouchy Johns, Jori from Nothing Bundt Cakes, Steve Morgan, Brian Larson, Steve Clausse, The carwash girls: Melanie, Ashley, Katie, Michelle, Colleen, Tonya, Shaina and Mallory!, Chenin Orthodontics, Dr Yu of TSMO, Ron Gallagher of Maximum Velocity, Ben Ward (boyfriend, guitarist, supporter) and so many more, without any of you I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this, so thank you for your selfless support and love, you guys did a great thing.
The world is full of good people, show them off and tell them you appreciate them.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart