This note has been in the works for a very long time as I competed over two months ago in the Chesapeake Endurance Festival’s Ironman Triathon in Maryland. My sincere apologies to those friends who were following my pursuits quite closely as I appeared to have dropped off of the face of the planet shortly after my last pre-race FB and blog posts.
In all honesty, for the last 8 weeks I have been rather depressed about the results of my race and have needed a bit time to process all that happened and view it from a positive perspective. First, I did not finish the event in a time that I was expecting. Second, by completing the event, I significantly increased the extent of my pre-race injuries. Third, I relapsed several times with Fibro attacks after the event. Finally, I have found it difficult to publish this information since my blog, Pushing the Envelope, was shut down as Microsoft merged its Live Spaces with Word Press.
In addition, I have found it difficult to adjust to life with a new infant, a job that I may be losing in the spring, little to no training and no sporting events to be preparing for. I feel as though a major purpose in my life has disappeared and it has left me a bit out of sorts.
That said, I finished the Chesapeake Ironman Triathlon on Saturday, September 25th in just under 14.5 hours. The 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and 26.2 mile run were actually not that exhausting, but were extremely painful for me to complete because of soft tissue injuries I had accrued going into the race.
As you may remember, the week before my competition, my physician thought that I may have had stress fractures on the lateral sides of my knees. However, two days before the race, my MRI came back negative. Instead of actual fractures, I had soft tissue injuries to the tendons, ligaments and muscles where my hamstrings insert into my upper calves.
Because there were no fractures, my doctor injected me with cortisone, but not in the exact areas of pain. He couldn’t inject the right areas because they were close to nerves. If he missed slightly, and injected a nerve, he could have rendered my feet inoperable and I wouldn’t have even been able to walk, much less compete. In the end, the cortisone helped very little with the pain.
On race day- just to be able to finish the event, I used a strong anti inflammatory drug called Diclofenac, a pain medication called Ultram, the Fibro pain drug Lyrica, and on top of that, Lidoderm pain patches wrapped tight under bandages and sports tape. This combination of drugs surprisingly did not seem to affect my ability to navigate while swimming, cycling or running, however i did notice a general nausea and difficulty keeping my electolytes balanced.
The race did not begin well for me as I forgot to drop my shoes off at the ride to run transition and ended up late at the swim start. Rushing, I ripped my wetsuit in a few places, couldn’t get it closed properly and didn’t set my bike up fully in the transition area.
I swam out to the back of the pack of swimmers just as the gun went off and as a result I had to fight my way through the center of the slower swimmers. Because of starting at the back, my first 1.2 mile lap was slow. In fact, my second lap was about 7 minutes faster than my first. I finished in 69 minutes.
The first 50 miles of my ride was fast averaging about 22 mph in strong winds. I was trying to make up for the amount of time i lost on the swim.
By pushing such a big gear at a much slower cadence, I introduced the pain I usually encountered only on the run into my ride. By mile 70, I didn’t think I was going to be able to finish this event. The pain was so bad that i was having a hard time completing the bottom of my pedal stroke. I had to change my spin. Instead of keeping my heel level throughout my pedal stroke I had to point my toes to reduce the reach and thus the stretch in my calves. Also, I could no longer remain in my aerobars; this aerodynamic position required more flexibility and exacerbated my condition. Instead I had to keep my hands on the top area of the handlebars and sit upright, exposing my entire cross section to a strong wind which acted like a small parachute slowing me down.
At mile 70, I reached the special needs tent. There, I had to get off my bike and lay down for about 15 minutes. I wrapped my injuries with Lidoderm pain patches. By this point, the cortisone and the oral pain pills were doing nothing to keep the pain at bay. I seriously thought i would have to withdrawal.
After about 20 minutes the tightly wrapped pain patches started working. They reduced the discomfort significantly. I got back on my bike and rode the last fifty miles in and out of my saddle at a pace of about 20 mph. Every 10 miles i was forced to get off my bike though and stretch out my calves, hamstrings and lower back. The sum total of these stops cost me over an hour of time and I finished the ride in about 6.5 hours.
By the time it came to transition to the run, my pain was back; even the pain patches were useless. Within the first two miles i realized there was no way i was going to be able to run continuously. Any stride longer than a baby step felt like i was going to tear the bottom of my legs from the top. I had to begin what was to be a combination of marching, limping and power walking for the remaining 24 miles of the final marathon.
By this point in the race, I was extremely discouraged as to how I was doing. I felt sad that I had trained twice a day for six months only to be able to not compete well. It took the encouragement of my wife to realize how far i had come in six months from being bedridden with a chronic condition to being able to show up at the starting line of a full distance Ironman. She reminded me of my single most important goal for the season and that days race…. to show other Fibro sufferers around the world what we were capable of overcoming.
With my wife and parents’ encouragement I finished and persevered through the pain that day realizing that although I was making my injuries worse, I was setting a precedence that could encourage other Fibro patients to rise up and take a stand against their condition.
It has taken the last two months to come to the added realization that maybe the injuries I suffered just before the race were a help to my cause. If I had competed in the Ironman pain free, and done really well, Fibro patients may have felt as though they couldn’t have related so well to what I was doing. In fact, coming down with last minute injury made me completely reconnect to my own battle with this illness.
At the level of fitness I had a month before my Ironman, when I was injury free and extremely healthy, I was so far out of touch with what it felt like to have Fibro. In fact there were times during my training, I could almost no longer relate to the way Fibro had once affected my life. At some points, I forgot what it was like to suffer with extreme pain. I no longer remembered what it was like to never know when you would be disabled for days and when you would have to cancel your most anticipated plans. Four years ago, when I was very ill with the disease, I never knew whether I would be able to climb a flight of stairs one day or if I would be confined to bed. There was a high level of unpredictability associated with the onset of debilitating symptoms surrounding Fibromyalgia. By sustaining the injuries just before my race which affected my overall performance, it was a very good reminder of my roots, where I came from such a short time ago and the very thing I have been trying to conquer.