What makes me so tough?

In 2012, 4 days before Galway, I fell off my bike and got battered and scraped.  At the time I was grateful it hadn't happened 4 days before IM Wales.  I thought I was brave to carry on training and to race in Ireland.  Little did I know what was to come.

The day before IM 70.3 Ireland, the weather wasn't great.  Rain, winds, swell in the sea.  MrTOTKat (you can find his race report here) and I went for a little jog in the morning and then tried out the sea.  All racked up next to the pros, thanks to our Ultimate Challenge athlete numbers that stay with us through the 4 races, I decided to leave my nutrition bars (opened and cut in half) in the bento box on the bike so I didn't forget them in the morning.  It rained overnight...

Unlike Wimbleball, there was a multi-wave start here, with the pros off at 7am; M18-24, M25-29 and M30-34 at 07:05; M35-29 and M50-54 at 07:20; M55-59 and all female athletes at 07:35; M40-49 at 07:50; and finally the relay teams at 08:00. So, MrTOTKat was off at 07:20 and I was soon after at 07:35.

Swim done and then a reasonably quick transition with finding my blue bag quickly, dumping out the contents onto a chair, putting my (inside-out, bah!) cycling socks on, discarding my cycling jersey (forgetting it had the second spare inner tube in the pocket), jamming the all-important race belt and cycling helmet on, followed by bike shoes I trotted out to get my bike.  That lovely new Adamo seat is not only the most comfortable seat ever, but it's quite distinctive in its Union Flag colours so it's easy to spot hooked over the bike rails.  The one thing I had forgotten, which I only noticed as I approached the bike mount line, was my sunglasses.  I'd said only the day before that no matter how tempted to not bother with them, glasses would be essential on the course with the wind blowing sand all around.  A split second temptation to turn back and get them was crushed; the wind was much weaker today and I was going to risk it.


The bike course is an almost flat out and back, but the first section goes through the university and has some tight twists and turns, speed bumps and shortly afterwards a bit of rough road surface.  I found out later that Bethan Fowler (one of the pros doing the Ultimate Challenge too) crashed in that bit of the course and damaged her rear derailleur.  I again lost my front bottle over a rough bit of road, so jammed on the brakes and stopped to get it.  A kind old gent had picked it up and was walking towards me.  Noooo!  This was right in front of a race marshal, so I asked the man to put the bottle down on the ground as I couldn't accept outside assistance.  I had to speak slowly and deliberately as he was so pleased to help someone that he wasn't listening or comprehending what I was saying.  He was only trying to help but didn't know he could get me disqualified.  It was important that I got the message over, or I'd have to leave the bottle with him confused and pick one up at the aid station.  He finally got it and I picked up the bottle from the pavement, slotted it in place and headed off thanking him a few more times so he didn't think I was a total cow.

Having got loads of mud and grass wedged into my cleats in transition, I had trouble getting clipped back in and nearly had a bit of an accident with my left shoe skittering hard off the pedal, under it and bending my ankle the wrong way briefly.  At this point I was convinced I was going to have a really rubbish and slow bike leg, but finally clipped in and tried to settle down.  Scoffing a chunk of bagel and some glugs of Gatorade to start the fuelling and I started to ramp up the power.

Vrooom!
As the km started ticking away, I turned up the dial until I started to fly past people.  Overtaking people from the start wave before me, I started to feel pretty good.  No burning thighs, so definitely not putting down too much power into the pedals the distance was being eaten up on this new set-up of TT bike, aero helmet and comfortable TT seat.  The support out on the course was really warm and lovely and every group of people I passed cheered, clapped, clanged cow bells and I waved at them and smiled.

Under normal circumstances, I would have been pleased with these stats. As it is, I'm actually very very pleased.
For the next 40km I played over-take with the woman who ended up third in my age category before finally making it stick. Coming into the last 15km I was feeling great and still reeling in other athletes when I came to this road...





A two way road with what looks like passing lanes on the sides - demarcated by painted lines and cats eyes (which you can clearly see in the Google street view image above).  Shortly before this part of the road I think I came to a slower cyclist from an earlier wave, who I pulled out from inside the yellow lines into the main lane to overtake.  I remember hitting and going over a cats eye.



I think I shouted something.  I know I fish-tailed 5 or 6 times trying to regain control of the bike, thinking "when is this going to stabilise" before finally losing the bike out from underneath me.  I was doing 34.8 km/h at the time.

The flat-line in the green elevation graph is from the second I crashed and stopped moving to starting up again afterwards.

I remember being on my back, shouting "help, oh god, someone help please".  Then there were people.  A man with a mountain bike and maybe some others.  I remember lying on my back saying "please don't make me stop, I have to finish, I have four of these to do".  I remember being briefly worried I'd broken my leg and then seeing a small cut on my thumb and thinking that was the only injury.  Then I remember someone pushing me on the back of my seat to get me started.  I have no idea how I got on my bike.  You can see from the Garmin stats that I was stopped for about 5 minutes and 20 seconds or so (time vs. moving time).

The over-riding thought at the time was that I had to finish this race.  Nothing would stop me (apart from being stopped by a race official) from finishing.  I'd do whatever it took because I was so determined that I would finish the Ultimate Challenge.

I have no idea how I got back the last 9ish km to transition from the crash site.  No memory of it at all.  I remember turning off my bike computer.  I remember sitting in the transition tent in the medical area, a face talking to me, but no idea what he said or who he was, and again I said that I had to finish and begged not to have to stop.  I have no memory otherwise of what happened in transition.  I have no recollection of taking off my helmet or shoes, racking my bike or getting my red bag (I suspect volunteers did a lot of it for me).  I remember putting on my left running shoe with one hand and not really understanding why at the time.  I remember deciding not to put on my running cap and thinking it was a shame I didn't have my sun glasses but not how or why I didn't have them.   I don't remember getting out on to the run course.  Apparently I was in T2 for around 15 minutes.

You can see after 03:20ish of racing, which is a real HR drop off, that I was quite ginger getting back to T2
(around 04:00)
and was then there for ~15 minutes before going on the run. (and forgot to turn it off at the end for a while)

My memory returns at some point on the run course when I started to talk to a guy called Jamie (I think), who recognised my name from the programme (all the Ultimate Challenge athletes are named with photos in the race programme in a double page spread) it turned out.  I was being shadowed by the medic bicycles, some of who were happy to chat and told me they'd been sent to watch over me, some hung back trying to be subtle (guys, the free-wheel clicking is a dead give-away :o)).  I knew something wasn't right as my left arm naturally gravitated to sitting with my hand latched onto my heart rate transmitter and as I passed MrTOTKat on his 2nd lap as I was on my first I let him know something was up but that I'd go to the medic tent at the end.


As I passed spectators on the run course, I kept hearing sharp intakes of breath, the odd "oh dear god", and "that's so brave".  All of the run marshals were cheering me on particularly and telling me I was doing really well.  All I knew was my arm needed to be at the angle I was holding it at and I could see a bit of a graze on the front of my left shoulder out of the corner of my eye.  I assumed that there was something going on, like a dislocation maybe or something else.  What were they seeing that I couldn't?  The chap I was talking to said I had quite a graze down the back which looked nasty, so I guessed that was it.  I actually felt pretty OK as long as I held my arm in place and didn't jar things too much.  Walking each of the aid stations for water and a glug of energy drink, I knew I'd get to the end and it wouldn't be too shabby either, despite two really long breaks at the portaloos for a pee (I should have twigged at this point that there was something very wrong with my arm as I couldn't use it to get my shorts down and up again and that took ages each time).  No run PB for the distance, but not dawdling for sure.

Charlie and me
On my final lap, I came across Charlie Stannett and we ran together for a bit.  He knew something was wrong and had heard from marshals that I'd been in a crash and had been doing pretty well on the bike until then.  He decided to run just behind my left shoulder to shield me from accidental bumps from other athletes (what a sweetie!) and we stayed together until he finally spotted his Kate (who he'd been worried about to that point as he'd not yet seen her on the run) just as we came to the final funnel either to the finishing chute (where I was then headed) or more run laps (Charlie had another lap to go).

I saw the green carpet and launched myself down the finishing chute.  I could hear Paul Kaye, the race commentator, calling my name in almost disbelief that I was coming for the finish line (turns out I was all over the race radio from the crash onwards) and I knew the race was almost done and I could get sorted by the medics.

As I crossed the line and was handed my medal I was greeted by a medic who said they'd been waiting for me. He led me to the medical area to find a concerned-looking MrTOTKat.  We sat and I was tended to.  I asked MrTOTKat how he'd done.  Having no idea what my time was, I said "it wasn't under 6 was it?"  Little did I know at the time that I'd come in at 06:18 myself (including a 5 minute "rest" on the bike, a 15 minute "nap" in T2 and two wee stops on the run), and he said "05:22" with a big grin on his face.

Damian (or was it Derren?) the medic cleaned up my grazes and got the doctor to come, who felt around my collar bone and gave me a shot of difene in the bum "for the pain".  That took about 20 minutes to kick in and then I felt lovely.  Nobody was too sure whether my collar bone was broken or what was wrong at the time but the large swelling, lack of movement, crunching and clicking from the area and the pain level was enough to send me to hospital for x-rays to be sure.  MrTOTKat stayed behind to get our race bags, bikes and assorted stuff while I was whisked off in an ambulance to UCHG.

Long story short, I spent a couple of hours in the hospital in total and ended up stood in front of the x-ray machine while the radiographer took his x-ray.  We chatted and I was still in denial right up to saying, "I'm racing again in 2 weeks" *click*bzzzzz* (goes the x-ray machine) "No you're not", says the radiographer.  And he showed me the x-ray.

Ow.
Up until this point, and even after, I was convinced I'd be able to carry on with the Ultimate Challenge and that everything would be fine.

With a sling, x-rays and notes and instruction to go to hospital as soon as I got home to England, I was picked up by MrTOTKat and we made our way to the race after party where I was greeted by some of the race officials and the Ironman UK and Ireland Managing Director, Kevin Stewart, who told me about some of the behind the scenes things that had gone on during the race because of me.  Lots of people were congratulating me on finishing the race; not only running the half marathon with a badly broken collar bone (the surgery notes from the surgeon that plated it later in the month notes that it was broken into at least 5 pieces), but cycling back to transition from the crash site too.

I cannot in any way condone doing what I did on this day.  The drain on race safety resources who could have been needed by someone in real trouble was not a good thing to have done.  It was utterly selfish of me, but at the time I was full of adrenaline and had "race head" on.  And the marshals exercised common sense around the rules and made sure I wasn't a danger to myself or anyone else.

This is what makes me so tough.  I wanted so badly to finish this race, so badly to meet the challenge, that injuries that would make most people stop and retire didn't stop me.  People have said to me "you must have been in a lot of pain" and all I can think is that the pain of not finishing would have been worse.  Yes, you shouldn't push through "bad" pain that makes your health situation worse, but there was not a lot I could have done after the crash to make things worse and carrying on was not going to exacerbate anything.  But I can "man up" in a most spectacular way.  Nobody can take that away from me.

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