Wildflower May 2, 2009
“It looked like someone had thrown water onto an electrical socket.” That’s how my friends described what I looked like as I lay shaking out of control in the med tent to end my day at Ironman Arizona last November. Doctors hovering over me with puzzled faces, my body in convulsions on the stretcher, Heather Fuhr’s worried look as she came in and out of the med tent to check in on me – those were my last memories of racing. Ironman Arizona was a very strange and scary day…I wouldn’t know how scary until weeks later…and it was definitely in the back of my mind as I prepared to head back to the line again at Wildflower.
Let me back up a bit. Returning home from Arizona, I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to race again or would even ever want to race again. After going through a battery of tests to try to figure out why the trembling I had been feeling in my body after workouts for the previous several months had culminated in this strange scene in Tempe, a leading endocrinologist at UCSF was able to help put the pieces of the puzzle together. What my new doctor discovered was that over the last several months leading into Arizona, I had been prescribed a dangerous amount of medication to treat a fairly routine thyroid condition. He described my state as an extremely unstable “thyroid storm” that put me at risk for serious complications if I put excessive stress on my body. He talked me through the statistics of how many people suffered heart attacks while doing simple activity in this state – let alone trying to race an Ironman at a professional level – and told me how lucky I was. Although I didn’t feel lucky at the time, he also told me there was a way back to health. It wouldn’t be easy but he assured me with patience – something I’m not always good at! – I also would be able to train and race again if that’s what I still wanted.
Now several months into this journey back to health, I was excited and nervous to try to race again at Wildflower but let’s just say that anything that could have gone wrong before the race did! I showed up Friday at registration to find out that the info I sent in to reissue my pro card had not been received and therefore I had no pro card for race day. I spent the night emailing to Korea trying to get in touch with the nice lady who takes care of these things. After all the stress I had been through getting to this race, I was almost relieved that I might not get to race. I asked if I could race as an amateur or just race and not receive any prize money, to which the response was “if you want to jeopardize your professional status.” Ouch!
Luckily race morning, I got to the race at 5:45 am and ran around the Wildflower site getting emails, signing documents, finding referees and getting clearance to race. I don’t think I have ever sweat that much before a race! But that was over and it was time to get into my wetsuit and get in for my warm up swim. My coach, Matt Dixon, was helping get me into my suit when his hand went right through the “butt” of my suit! Oops! All I could do was laugh! I kept asking myself what I had done, why bad karma was kicking my butt for the last 6 months and when my streak of bad luck was going to end!
It wasn’t over yet. I did my warm up swim and got out before the race began. The amount of water that streamed out of my wetsuit was a joke. Apparently the “butt hole” was allowing immense amounts of water into the lower half of my wetsuit. If my legs didn’t sink enough already when I swam, they did now! The gun went off and I had decided to start in the second row of swimmers, aggressive, I know, but the way it was. Within the first 25 yards I received a quick hard blow to the right brain and off went my goggles! The first time in any race I have ever lost my goggles. Ironman Hawaii swims and all, I have never lost them, my bad luck continued. Fortunately, I got my hand on them before they sank. I was able to tread water and get them back on pretty quickly and continue the race.
The swim was fine but I swam the whole thing by myself, as I lost the few feet I could have potentially held on to when I lost my goggles! The entire swim I kept asking myself why I do this sport and what it is that I have fun doing in this sport. Well, the answer was not swimming! I was happy to be out of the water, as always, but not to psyched to have to run up that hill into the transition area. I took my time in transition and got out onto the bike, with instructions from my coach to let the bike come to me, and not to go out and hammer. I think that was the smartest advice he could have given me. Since my whole thyroid “situation” I have lost a lot of confidence in myself and my ability to push myself. For so many months I would just shake and feel weak and not know why. Was that going to come back during the race? I didn’t know. The doctor had said that being off the overdose of medication now I couldn’t go into another “thyroid storm” but I was still nervous. I rode the bike like it was a training day, at a comfortable effort level, with merely more time in the aero bars. Again, my luck continued! A week earlier I had gotten a new bike fit on my new Orbea Ordu. I knew going in the fit was not right but I was going to have to deal with it. About 10 miles in my low back and hips started completely cramping up. I kept praying for a hill so I could get out of my aero bars and stretch my back.
There are a bunch of hills on the course and they are what saved me, as my bike fit was completely off! I dealt with the pain and just kept fueling properly and saying to myself, “just have fun, you are in a training day.” I got off the bike in 6th place, the same place I had been here 2 years prior in my professional debut! Granted the field was much better this time around but I still was not pleased. I had a hole in my wetsuit, I had my goggles fall off, my bike fit was terrible, my low back and hips were completely locked and now I had to run 13.1 miles! Yikes!
Luckily, I have spent a lot of time in the last 3 weeks of my training running. Yes, since my thyroid condition I did not start feeling like I could really train until 3 weeks ago. So, it was a bit of a cram fest to get ready to even participate in Wildflower. In the first mile, I popped some Advil and some salt pills hoping they would kick in and unlock my hips and back. No such luck! I have never had to run with straight legs before and it felt terrible. The super steep hills on that run just about killed me and all I wanted to do was walk. I had every excuse to quit and I wanted to but I knew I was going to have to face this fear at some point and why not now. I was getting healthier, I was feeling better, I was not at risk of a heart attack any more, and I had to push on. I met some great guys on the run course who I chatted with which made that run more interesting when it could have all been about pain. I reached mile 8 and I knew the hard part was over but I still was running with straight legs because of my back—I must have looked pretty funny!
As I got out of the campground and onto the pavement at mile 10 I saw my coach, Matt and my husband, Johnny. It’s so great to see people you know when you are out there suffering! I was about to run up and then down into the pit and have to turn around and run uphill for a mile out of it before I got to run down Lynch to the finish line. Matt yelled at me that there were two girls just in front of me and that I could take them. When I hit the pavement on the downhill all of a sudden my hips opened up and the pain was gone! I could finally run! I ran with this really nice guy down into the pit and we started the uphill journey together. I stayed on his feet as we ran up hill. We passed the first girl in the first ¼ mile and worked our way passed the second girl in a ½ mile. Then I think my friend was tired and he dropped off the pace a little. So I continued to push and had to leave him. My legs felt great and I was finally running! The last 3 miles felt awesome and I was flying! I was in fourth place and was happy to be feeling great now! I felt like I was back! I ran down Lynch Hill and into the finish shoot with a huge smile on my face. I was fourth and that was fine but I was smiling because I faced my fear of failing again, I pushed through pain and I survived without going into convulsions again!
I felt great after the race. I wasn’t tired, I wasn’t sore, and I felt like I wanted the race to start at mile 10 of the run. I’ve had a really hard last 6 months. I felt like the last 3 miles were the start of a new chapter. May the hard times be behind me, may I have learned some super valuable life long lessons and may I be back on track and ready to race again!