There are so many things to share about my experience at Ironman Brasil–traveling for two days to get there, the venue, the details of my race, what I learned about my physical and mental fitness, the power of desire, competing with few language skills, racing in a field that was more than 90% male, having a tough competitor with an almost successful plan to run me down, the thrill of winning my age group and a Kona slot, the medical tent, the wonderful new brazilian friends who treated Rick and me like family, the race timing that was off all day and then was changed to only show a finish time. It was truly an event filled with a bounty of new experiences and growth. But, because my left hand was broken during the race and typing is difficult, I’m going to keep this short and tell you about that.
First of all, my bone density is just fine. I’ve had it checked, because at a certain age osteoporosis is a potential health issue, particularly for women. But it is not an issue for me.
As a back-of-the-pack swimmer who had been training hard to lose that distinction, I placed myself on the beach in the middle back, a little to the right of the buoy we were aiming for. My goal–to stay in it. Not to back off and swim away from people as I prefer. Draft as much as possible. Keep my turnover strong. Keep my head in control and not thrashing around. Stay relaxed but purposeful. The water looked great–no waves, chop or swells as there had been on my training swim a few days before. I felt calm and ready.
As with any Ironman swim before the gun goes off, it was very quiet on the beach. Pros, men and women all shared the same start, so 1800 athletes ran into the water at the same time. Off I went and I soon got into a rhythm. I was kicked and pushed, but I held my own, with my biggest fear being that my goggles would get knocked off. Around the first buoy I went, and I was pleased to see that there were plenty of other swimmers around me. Swimmimg into the beach seemed quick and I was out of the water on this first leg maybe in 30-35 minutes. (Did I tell you that the race timing was totally screwed up? I can only guess by trying to recall when I looked at my watch.)
Exiting the water and running through the sand and up and along a chute and then back into the water took longer than I thought it should. So, I rushed to dive in for the second part of the swim wanting to set a swim PR. Hey–if I did the first bit in around 35 minutes, maybe I could do the total 3.8K swim in 1:20! I only took maybe three strokes before I reached out and then felt a sharp hit and then immediate pain in my left hand. I didn’t see what happened due to low visibility, but I assume a big guy was starting this second part of the swim with a sprint effort and that the hard orange timing chip fastened around his ankle hit my hand just right. I’m sure he didn’t mean to hurt me and probably didn’t even know that he did. In my case, I kept swimming. Every stroke hurt and I couldn’t move my pinky or ring finger. My fingers changed from being an important part of my catch to useless little appendages I could see and feel being dragged through the water. I couldn’t seem to bring any of my fingers together at all. So those dreaded fist drill lessons became very useful. I worked hard to capture as much water as I could with my palm and my arm. At this time, I also truly appreciated my TYR Freak of Nature wetsuit. It is designed to help maximize your stroke (legally of course) and I love that suit so much it helped to keep me calm.
Turning around the next buoy and then the last one before heading into shore, the crowd was thinning, but I was still able to draft a few people. The only problem with that, is when you are a slower swimmer, the person you’re drafting may not be a good choice. The current was particularly strong running left to right parallel to the shore, and soon I was almost bumping into a flotilla of surf boards, canoes and jet skis in place to keep us from drifting too far right of the finish. After swearing at myself, I turned leftish at a diagonal into the current and made it into the shore a little frustrated but happy that I had that behind me. It seems that perhaps this second leg took almost an hour and I think my total swim time was around 1:30-1:35.
I used the wetsuit strippers and saw a medical tent on my way to change. I stopped and asked them to look at my hand. They assured me that my hand wasn’t broken. (Hmm. I didn’t know for sure that it was broken until I got home. But it sure hurt like heck.) There is no help in the changing tent at this Ironman. You get your own transition bag. You unpack change and repack. And you figure out how to pull down your tri top all by yourself, with a broken hand, when it bunches into a tight roll on your dripping wet back.
As I ran through the transition area towards my bike, I wasn’t sure what would happen. Luckily, I found that I was okay in the aero position because I could grip the right aero bar and hook my thumb onto the left aero bar. Shifting required me to sit up and use my thumb and forefinger to change gears. Sitting up, I rested my left hand on my palm and that was okay except when the road was rough and the bouncing brought rattling pain. Left hand bottle exchanges took a willingness to accept some sharp pain in return for hydration. But, I made it and I think I set a bike PR of just over 6 hours. Yep, the timing really was a mess.
During the run, my rings were tight and my hand was throbbing as my hand continued to swell. But as with all marathons, there is plenty of other pain you can use to distract yourself from something like this. I finished in 12:45:42. More than a 45 minute PR with my Age Group win and Kona slot. I never once thought about quitting.
After getting home, I visited the doctor and found out that my hand was indeed broken above my pinky finger. It was a clean break and the bone was in alignment, so no surgery or pins would be required. I let the doc know that I needed to be able to swim, bike and run, so he set me up with a removable waterproof cast that would allow me to do that. So, all is good, except I am learning how much I miss full use of my left hand and pinky–such a little thing compared to what others suffer. Thanks to this experience, I am reminded about how lucky I am to be healthy and able to compete in this sport.