the time i literally almost ran myself to death
1500M Canal Swim, 25 mile bike, 10K run
In May, a hip specialist told me I should stop running and probably not do any more triathlons until my pain goes away. I figured it was the perfect time to switch from sprint to Olympic distances! Actually, I took two full months off from running and focused on swimming and biking, and my hip actually felt healed, which after hurting for about a year, was quite a relief! I had originally intended not to do any more races, as I had already missed the national championship in Grand Rapids, and I couldn't run. HOWEVER, I had bought a new bike. I had bought lots of new gear. I had trained, and trained, and trained. I was swimming in the lake almost daily, I was doing CrossFit, and my endurance was strong. In my mind, I convinced myself that if I did a longer race I wouldn't have to push as hard as I did in a sprint. Because I am dumb, I signed up for my first Olympic race and very nearly died.
I signed for this race about 7 weeks prior, and I hadn't run regularly in really almost a year. Perfect time to start running 20+ miles a week Mike! Considering my previous running injury came from over-training, I should have learned something. I didn't. I jumped right into a 10K training program, and I actually felt great. Lungs were there, hip was ok, it was all good. I finished the program and had taken my 10k pace from 9:30/mile down to 8:00/mile and confidence was high. The week of the race, I had done an hour straight open water swim that felt awesome, I did an easy 40 mile bike, felt awesome, and took the rest of the week off to rest. On the Friday before the Sunday rest, I had a lot of energy, so I went out for a very easy 20 minute jog. I remember feeling absolutely awful on that run, like my legs were just totally spent. I took an ice bath the next two nights. I arrived at the race at 4:30, and it was already hot, and very muggy. I was sweating profusely just setting up my area.
This race is swum in the canal through downtown Indianapolis, which is pretty cool, but also kind of sucks. You have to walk over a mile from the transition area to the swim start, and I severely underestimated the time that would take. I heard the 5 minute warning and had to run to the start. I managed about a 2 minute "warm-up" before getting in the line. In retrospect, I could and should have just done my normal warm-up and gotten into the line later. In the starting line, I felt terrible. I was sluggish, and sweating. Lots of sweating. I chalked it up to nerves. The swim started off normally. I was in a group with the usual suspects from the Indy tri-scene, and I had a nice pack to draft in. 5 minutes in, my tri-suit unzipped, and it was filling up with water. I rolled over to my back, zipped it up, and went back to racing, but my pack was gone. I would swim alone the rest of the way. It was a weird swim for me. I felt off immediately. My arms felt heavy, I didn't have much of a kick, and my hip started hurting. I immediately switched my stroke from a high elbow to a straight arm, and my stroke rate went way down as I took long, slow strokes. The easiest way to sight in this race is to just use the side of the canal, however, near the sides of the canal were the worst due to the waves bouncing off them. I moved to the center. Unfortunately, there is something called "modern art" throughout the middle of the canal. I was constantly shifting from near the wall to the middle for the entire race, which wasn't ideal. The other thing that was weird was the algae. There were long stretches with thick algae that I literally had to grab and pull myself through. That was a first for me. I could have done without that. Mercifully, I finished the swim at a time of 25 minutes. I wasn't impressed with that time, but I also wasn't super-discouraged with it either. It was nice of my wife and parents to walk down the canal with me so I had some great encouragement from them.
The swim exits into the transition area, which is pretty cool. My bike was on the first rack, and with it not being a wetsuit race, I had my helmet and glasses on and was out in what felt like record time. I don't have any official times for this race as you'll find out, so you'll have to take my word for it that I nailed this transition.
I was not feeling great after the swim, but I had promised myself that I'd hustle through that first transition and then even my heart rate out on the bike, and that's pretty much what I did. I knew my limitations were on the run, and that I had blown my last race up by going to hard on the bike, so I took a pretty steady pace. This course was two laps around and through Indianapolis, and was more less uneventful, aside from dodging potholes, extremely rough roads, a whole bunch of turning, and two sets of rail-road tracks. Going down one particular hill, I was being passed and didn't have any room to move, and I hit a series of rough road spots and pot-holes. I reached back to secure my nutrition only to just miss it is it all went flying off my bike and skipped into the woods. I thought to myself "that's not good" and considered stopping, but didn't (I've already established the reason I didn't). I was left with 20 miles of biking, 20 ounces of water, and 1 Gu. The bulk of my really good nutrition was lost in the woods. The rest of the bike went well and I thought I stuck to my strategy well. I didn't really notice the temperature or humidity, or how much I was sweating. My unofficial bike time was 1:10.
I got confused on where to go at the end of the bike and lost a lot of time. I genuinely didn't know where to go and was asking spectators because there were no signs or volunteers. A group of all-stars who definitely knew where they were going blew by me, so I followed them. I had a prime rack position again, and only had to take my bike about 15 yards to rack it. I beat the all-stars out of T2 and they would blow by me right after as usual. T2 time had to be a minute or less.
The run that almost killed me
I had several goals for this run, one of them being just to finish. I had two time goals: 2:45 if the race was going just "OK" and 2:30 if the race was going pretty well. I started off on the run and looked down at my watch; 1:37. According to my goals, I was doing pretty well. "Al"l I needed was a 50 minute 10k and 2:30 was gonna happen! Of course, then I started running. I hit the first aid station, and for the first time I realized how thirsty I was. I slammed four Gatorades and kept on shuffling those feet. Since this race also included a sprint triathlon, some of these folks had now joined up with the Olympic folks, so runners were just flying past me. I was getting passed, and passed, and passed. I felt like I was running in molasses, but when I looked at my one mile split, I was at 8 minutes. I had set a goal for myself to run at a 9 minute pace, so when I hit the next aid station, I walked it. I took in some water, walked for a full minute, then started jogging again. I started to notice how freaking hot it was, and how freaking thirsty I was, and how freaking much my hip hurt. I abandoned my strategy after 2 miles and decided to jog for 9 minutes and walk for 1. Then it was jog for 8 minutes, and walk for 2. Then, I felt something really strange.
It was just before starting lap 2, there was a strange twinge in my quad, and it hurt. It didn't feel like a muscle pull or strain, and it didn't feel like I needed to stop, but it hurt. Badly. I have never felt anything like this before or since. I walked for a few minutes and it went away. "Man, it's hot." I was no longer sweating. The second lap was absolutely excruciating. All the signs were there that I should have stopped. I told myself to keep pushing. It was only a few more miles. By the time I hit the 4 mile mark, I was walking with my hands on my head. "Man, I'm hot," I thought to myself. I'm sure that my decision making was compromised by this point. I decided at the aid station that I only had two miles to go, and that the harder I pushed, the sooner I'd be done. Sound logic, for sure, plus, my 2:30 goal was still achievable. I started running about as hard as I could. I focused on the finish and shut off all of the pain, which was extreme at this point. I hit the last aid station with a mile to go, and just kept on going without grabbing anything..."only a little further" was my mantra as I willed my legs to move. I had done it! I could see the finish line, I had made it, "only a little further." That's about when the lights started to dim. I went from running, to jogging, to walking, to stumbling, to falling down, to puking, to lying down, in about 500 yards. I remember starting to stumble and not being able to walk straight, and that was a sh***y feeling. It was bright, sunny day, and my vision began to dim. Logan saw me in trouble and ran out to help me. Apparently we walked and talked for minute or two as she held me up, however I have no recollection of that. Next thing I remember is being on the ground and puking. I was less than 200 yards from the finish line as my watched ticked 2:31.
As I laid on the ground, I happened to have collapsed near a race medic, who came over immediately to check on me. She gave me some Gatorade, which I puked up immediately. She gave me a Gu, which I puked up immediately. She covered me in ice bags and cold towels, and that felt great. As she went through her protocols, I very specifically told her "I think there is something wrong, I think I need an ambulance." We went through some more protocols and I since I had regained my faculties and was completely responsive, I just sat there with my ice packs and towels. No fluids, no sodium, nothing. Just sat there. In agony. A race official came over and asked if he needed to call the EMTs, and the on-site medic said I was fine. I also feel like she implied to the race director that I "probably didn't train adequately," which really ticked me off (it may not have been the medic, but it was someone). After 40 minutes, I finally felt like maybe I could stand up, so I did. I considered attempting to walk the final few yards and finish, and the medic asked me to check my pulse one more time. I looked at my watch, and started counting, only I couldn't count past three. I tried again. 1, 2, 3,.............I remember feeling very confused. I tried again. Nope. I gave the medic, and then Logan, a bewildered look. I didn't know where I was, or what was happening. Something was seriously off. My legs started shaking, I was unsteady, and I looked at the medic and said "I'm going down!" Down I went like a sack of potatoes, and instantly my entire body started quivering in what was reported as "a seizure-like event." I heard a ton of commotion going on, but everything was muffled and sounded like the teacher in Charlie Brown. I was staring up into the trees as my legs, right shoulder and arm were spasming and then I sort of snapped out of it when the other thing happened. My left arm and chest tightened and it felt like there was an anvil on my chest. My first words after going down were "I'm pretty sure I'm having a heart attack," and I was right. The paramedics would come, the ambulance would get lost, and eventually I made my way to the cardiac wing of the hospital, where I would be admitted and stay for 3 days. I really should have stopped for my nutrition on the bike!
So to summarize, I had over-trained again, this time giving myself Rhabdomyolysis, Rhabdo for short. My kidneys were failing, and I had an exertion-induced heart attack. All-in-all, a bad time. Fortunately, I survived and had no lasting damage. It sucked, though. I was already compromised before the race started, and as the EMTs told me the race was in the "danger zone" due to the heat and humidity. So with the rhabdo pre-race, the lack of hydration and sodium from losing my nutrition, and then my exertion on the run, it was a perfect storm of terribleness. I just wish it could have waited another 200 yards! The winner of my group was 15 minutes behind me.