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Journal Updated 11 July 2007
WHO SHE IS: Kelly Bruno was born on 23 March, 1984 with a birth defect that resulted in the amputation of her right leg below the knee. If the story ended there it would belong on some feel-good Saturday Morning Special, and not on Ranger Up. Luckily it doesn’t and we all have the pleasure of staring at pictures of her kicking all kinds of ass. In addition to being out-of-this-world hot, a published author, and a Biology/Pre-Med graduate from a prestigious university(that would probably rally for weeks if we published its name here), she has taken the world of disabled athletics by storm, claiming the 200-meter and 800-meter track and field world records for below-the-knee amputees while still in high school. Her 800-meter record still stands today. In April 2007, She became the amputee World Record Holder for the Iron Man Triathlon.
The suffering involved in sprinting wasn’t nearly enough and Kelly began a career in cross-country, where she quickly became one of the top runners on her high-school team, clocking in sub-seven-minute-mile averages. As high school wound to a close, Kelly tried to keep up the proud tradition of service to the nation that her father maintained in the Foreign Service by applying to all of the military branches. She was roundly rejected, despite her ability to easily max the men’s physical fitness test for all services.
With the challenges that the military provides removed from her realm of possibility, Kelly decided to ramp of the physical torture by becoming a tri-athlete. She has now completed numerous triathlons and half-marathons, as well as two Half-Iron Mans, and is currently preparing for her first ever full Iron Man in 2007 (We’re not sure, but we think that means a crap load of swimming and biking, followed by a marathon for a few extra giggles) and has a great shot at qualifying for the Paralympics. The coolest thing about her approach to these events is that despite her numerous accolades in disabled athletics, including placing 2nd in the ITU Triathlon World Championships, she’s gunning for YOU. She doesn’t want to be the best disabled athlete – she wants to sprint by your two-legged butt at sub-seven minute pace after a couple of hours of misery and leave you wondering what the heck just happened.
We would also like to reiterate that she is very hot.
WHY WE LOVE HER REASON #1: At the 2004 Uwharrie Mountain Run, which is an absolutely brutal event for those of you that love physical torture, Kelly was trucking down the final stretch, a little over 200 meters from the finish, when her prosthetic snapped in half, leaving her tiny body bouncing off the unforgiving landscape. Wasting no time, covered in blood, and effectively one-legged, Kelly hopped up on her left leg, grabbed her prosthetic and AGGRESSIVELY hopped in the final stretch. If this doesn’t seem cool to you, try hopping 200 meters sometime – we won’t even make you carry your own leg.
WHY WE LOVE HER REASON #2: She was told before the race that the demands of the mountain run were too much for her prosthetic, but did it anyway. Before you ask why she would do it, given that advice, I’m going to throw out a few phrases I’m sure NONE of you have heard. - “If you keep running on it, you’ll get a stress fracture.” - “It’ll never heal if you keep lifting.” - “You really just need to rest. Just tell your NCOs that you can’t do PT for a while.”
WHY WE LOVE HER REASON #3: At the 2006 Lake Crabtree Sprint Triathlon, Kelly’s leg got caught in the mud during her transition to the bike and she ended up crashing hard and legless with the additional bonus of having her bike smash on top of her. She promptly hopped up, reattached, added a few expletives to the world and trucked on, finishing near the top of her age group. We gave her double points for Rangering Up and for swearing.
WHY WE LOVE HER REASON #4: Did we mention that she is hot?
Want to send Kelly fan mail? Send e-mails to KellyBruno@rangerup.com.
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Great news! Kelly is going to be writing a journal telling us about her past and current training and experiences. If you have any questions about her or topics you'd like to see, send them to KellyBruno@rangerup.com! Here's her second installment!
18 November 2007, Riding with the Boys!
I did an Ironman 4 weeks ago, a sprint triathlon 3 weeks ago and a marathon last weekend. My schedule has been so full that it's been tough to stop for a minute to take it all in. Until this past weekend when I headed to Nashville for the Honky Tonk Challenge Soldier Ride put on by the Wounded Warrior Project.
The Wounded Warrior Project sponsors multiple Soldier Rides each year throughout the country to give wounded soldiers the opportunity to "reinvorgate their body" and "uplift their spirits". With adaptive equipment donated by various sponsors like Fuji and Project Mobility every man and woman is given the chance to be active again. This particular ride started in Little Rock, Arkansas and ended in Nashville, Tennesee.
I was invited to be a guest at the event as a supporter, as a motivator and as an amputee. I've been an amputee since I was 6 months old so I've had plenty of time to learn a thing or two about prosthetics. Not all of the guys were amputees. Some of them were in wheelchairs, one of the guys had lost one of his eyes and others had serious shrapnel injuries. The coolest thing though was that I had something to learn from or share with every single soldier there.
The support for the event was pretty incredible too. There was good media coverage during the ride through Nashville. Two news crews turned out to interview the soldiers and aired a nice segment on the local news that evening. There was also a nice shout-out to the group at a couple of bars that we ended up at in downtown Nashville as well as announcements at both the Grand Ole Opry at the Ryman (where we also got to meet Lonestar after they played) and during the Jaguars-Titans game on Sunday.
I learned a lot during the weekend; mostly about people, resiliency and sacrifice. There are people out there who make sacrifices every day to protect our freedom; a freedom that I know is probably often taken for granted. But these men and womens' lives are changed and here I can help by providing resources, knowledge and contacts. We all should do our part and this is one way I know I can help.
11 July 2007, My Potential Olympian Has a First Name...
You may have heard about the recent controversy in the media about a young man named Oscar Pristorius, a South African who is missing both of his legs. If you haven't, I'll recap it real quick. Oscar is a bilateral below knee amputee. He lost both of his legs to a birth defect, the same birth defect responsible for the need to amputate my leg when I was 6 months old. Oscar started racing competitively in disabled track in 2004. He quickly made his mark, breaking the 100m, 200m and 400m world records in his classification (bilateral below knee amputee classification) multiple times. Most recently though Oscar took the silver medal in the 400m at the 2006 South African Open Championships - an able-bodied competition.
So, the question now is whether or not Oscar should be allowed to compete in the Olympics if his times qualify him for the event. Take a look at the leg I'm talking about. I'm wearing one in the pictures at the following links: http://rangerup.com/kellybruno.html or http://kellybruno.com/home.htm. It does look fast, doesn't it? It looks light and springy. Some people even try to argue that it must be faster than a real leg, I mean, it looks like something high-tech, made of carbon fiber and aluminum. Hell, it's lighter than a real leg, it must let you jump higher and run faster. But believe me, a spring is no substitute for a leg. Period. So, does Oscar have an advantage because he is a bilateral amputee? Is he faster than some able-bodied runners because he runs on prosthetic legs or is it because he just trains harder?
I have read numerous articles to date, which all pose this question. And it's not the question that bothers me, it's the fucking responses from so many ignorant people who immediately assume that a prosthesis like Oscar's or mine must make you run faster. Do some fucking research and then we'll talk. But since these people aren't going to do it themselves, I'll lay it all out because I've been running on a Cheetah foot since I was 14, and I can tell you that there is nothing inherent in the foot that speeds you up.
What studies have shown is that the muscles recruited during acceleration and the maintenance phase of a 100-meter race differ significantly between amputees and able-bodied athletes. First, let's look at the start and acceleration of the 100-meter race. It is very difficult for a bilateral amputee to get down in an optimal position in the starting blocks. The prostheses limit the degree of flexion at the knee and without an ankle an amputee cannot push their foot up against the blocks. So an amputee starts much higher out of the blocks, which changes the primary muscles groups used to accelerate off the start line. Ask any sprinter if they'd want to start with their butt six inches higher than they're used to. Ask them if this would make them faster.
Plus, without a calf or ankle an amputee has no ability to generate power through the lower limb. The prosthesis acts a spring. It tries to return as much energy as you give it. But nothing more. The force placed on it during a step is returned through a spring-like mechanism, but some of that power is lost through shock absorption. While the ankle and calf of an able-bodied sprinter can generate force upon foot strike resulting in nearly a 208% energy return, a prosthesis can only return the energy that is put into it, somewhere in the region of 97-98% at best. So all the energy needs to be generated by the upper leg. So this isn't ideal for generating power quickly. Calf muscles are fast contracting; they're what powers you through a quick jump, a quick sprint, etc. You're taking these out of the equation. This is why a guy like Oscar catches up during longer sprints; he's lacking that speed out of the blocks, but can make up some of it once in the maintenance speed phase. But even then, he's not generating ANY MORE POWER than the able-bodied sprinter, and he's definitely not more efficient. So tell me again where the advantage is?
Ok, so the other issue is that the running leg is lighter than an average lower limb. Great. I've got a light, shock-absorbing spring to run on. Got to tell you, still no substitute for a leg. The majority of the lower limb is made up of muscle, tendons, ligaments and bone and, for most elite level sprinters, very little fat. This means that except for the bone most of the weight is used to generate power and therefore can offset the fact that it weighs more than a prosthesis, which can generate no power on its own. In addition to providing support for the knee and ankle joints, tendons and ligaments have a stretch reflex that allows them to assist in generating forward momentum and power. The muscles of the calf and anterior tibialis power the foot forward as well. And Oscar's said this, his trainers have said this, and I'll say this: If you believe that a prosthesis makes you faster, then go ahead, have some surgery done, and take your theory to the track.
So there is no evidence to support that a prosthesis makes you run faster. Now, if you want to argue that amputees shouldn't be allowed to run in the Olympics because there are no guidelines for prosthetics and therefore it might damage the integrity of the sport, then we're talking about a whole new discussion. One that I am more than happy to get into in my next post.
7 May 2007, Iron Man Complete! Thanks for your support!
First of all, I want to thank all of you for your strong support! After all of the training and all of the support from so many friends, family and fans I’m happy to say that it was all worth it. Even after a lousy night in the ER with a separated shoulder (from crashing my bike 4 weeks before Ironman), I made out okay. I knew at least going into the race that I'd be well recovered from my training...considering that my training volume was what most people would do to train for a half Ironman. So maybe too well recovered; I never peaked in my training the way I wanted to, as I was in a shoulder sling during the week I was supposed to be pushing out my longest distances. Before Ironman Arizona the longest distances I'd done was a 1 mile swim, a 56 mile bike and a 16 mile run - and that was on 3 separate days. I think even my strongest supporters doubted that I'd finish. (Note from RU – we did not doubt she would finish – just wondered how completely screwed up she would be at the end) They hoped for the best, but I think they were preparing for the worst. I knew I’d finish, but maybe that’s because I hadn’t really thought about how unprepared I probably was. Good thing.
I have to say that one of the guys I spoke with the day before the race was absolutely right. He said that whatever I was worried about the day before wouldn't be the things that would come up the on race day. Right on, man. All the preparation and logistics; everything I thought to worry about the day before the race, all that was taken care of...it was all of the things that I never thought to think about that came up during the race itself. It was stupid stuff; little things like having my wet suit chafing at my neck during the swim. It was annoying, but manageable. I just knew I should have put more body glide on before the race. Or the sun block. I should have slowed down a little more for the volunteers to lather me up and I wouldn't have ended up with a 2nd degree burn along my torso. But I didn't. Lessons learned. Did these affect my performance? Probably not, but they made an already difficult event just that much more challenging. All these little things were like doing a 30-mile hike with a tiny rock in your boot. Definitely won’t kill you, probably won’t slow you down, but it’s insult added to injury.
The only real challenge, besides finishing, was fighting the 16 mph headwind during 50% of the bike. It was a real bitch. Every other athlete was being blown around by the same wind, but there was not much comfort in knowing that. Triathlon is an individual sport and it was up to me to make it to that finish line. On Saturday when I'd gone to the expo to register and drove the bike course it'd been so still. A gust of wind was welcomed because it was the only relief from the hot, dry day. But a 16 mph headwind is a whole different ball game, with gusts twice that. I can push out a run in any conditions, but hitting a 30 mph crosswind while blasting down a hill at 30 mph on tires as wide as my finger is a little too exciting for a 110 pound girl. After 112 miles I couldn't wait to get off my bike. Although wind or no wind I probably would have enjoyed getting off that bike. As it is I’m still walking funny.
I've got to say that the best part of the Ironman was the run. It was my first marathon (Note: She did just say first marathon)and to be honest, miles 1-14 were a beast. But once I hit the half-way point I knew I'd finish. At that point it’s about survival for most people, but I’m a runner at heart. I know if my head’s in the right place I can keep going, and every step was a little closer to finishing. At that point you can’t quit. There were people walking the course, and I was hurting, but thought “I’ve busted my butt all day to get to this point, I want to finish with a bang, not a whimper.” I've never felt so happy to see a finish line before. All of the support and good luck and hard work paid off. I crossed the finish line just before 9:00 pm with a time of 13:57:32. It felt good to be done, but even better to know I’d hit my goal. Well, hit my goal and proved some of the naysayers wrong.
10 April 2007, T-minus 4 days until the Ironman...
One week out from Ironman and things are finally slowing down. Just 3 weeks ago I was sitting in the Emergency Room asking the doctor if I'd be able swim, bike and run again before April 15. During the toughest week of my training I had crashed my bike while pulling a "U-ie" around a traffic circle that I'd ridden around a hundred times before. There was a split second after I hit the patch of sand on the road that I knew I was going down.
In slow motion I hit the ground, landing hard on my left shoulder, while my bike flew out from under me and up onto the sidewalk. I was scraped up pretty bad and my shoulder hurt, but did it hurt bad enough to go to the ER? Oh hell no, I could tough this out. What I wanted to do was get back on my bike and finish my 80 mile ride. I had already finished 60 of the 80 miles for that day and I felt good enough to keep going. But if I had screwed up my shoulder I needed to know. And when my vision started to go blurry I accepted the offer of one of the drivers on scene to take me to the hospital. I won't mess with potential head injuries. It's just not worth it.
They did a CAT scan, 6 x-rays and palpated my shoulder, spine and chest. No broken bones, no head injury. Just a torn ligament and a seperated AC joint. I couldn't lift my arm over my head, but the doctor cleared me to train as soon as I felt ready. Was tomorrow too early, I asked? Give me some percocet and an ice pack and I'd find a way to train.
The following day I ace bandaged my arm against my chest and pedalled on my trainer for a couple of hours. That's actually what I did for the rest of that week since I couldn't swing my arm near enough to run or swim. I wasn't thrilled about it, but this shit happens and I'd have to deal with it.
Two weeks later I was healed enough to run in the ASPIRE 10k in Plainview, NY. By mile 3 it was easy to block out the discomfort and I ran a 7:54 pace with a final time of 49:03. But the true test will be next weekend when I start a 2.4 mile swim in Tempe Town Lake followed by 112 mile bike and finish up the day with a 26.2 mile run - all before midnight.
14 March 2007, Workout
Just five weeks out from Ironman Arizona so I thought this would be a good time to give an update on my current training. Training has been going well and I am feeling good about the upcoming race. The past couple of weeks have consisted of mostly high volume workouts. I normally do 9 workouts a week with one day off. This means 3-4 two a days, which aren't so bad as long as I can find the time. I also work 40 hours a week so seriously, finding the time is half the battle.
The Swim My swim workouts are getting longer each week. Early in the season I worked on form and daily workouts always included a lot of drills like 4X50m bouy, 4X50m kickboard, etc. I would do sprint workouts like 4X300m at a level of Perceived Exertion (PE) around 7. Now, I just go for distance. It's crunch time and I really have to be getting in the mileage for a 2.4 mile swim. A typical long workout right now looks like this:
WU: 200m easy
CD: 100m easy recovery
The workouts are definitely getting more challenging each week as I fatigue near the end of the set. Since I can't drink during the swim (not to say that I don't normally swallow a ton of water) I've been dehydrated by the last couple hundred meters and need to learn how to chug water right before I start. Next week I also plan to take my wetsuit to the pool for a real race-like condition swim. Despite the stares, practicing in it is worth it.
To train for a 112 mile bike, I'm basically glued to my seat on Saturdays and Sundays. Recently I have started doing 60 mile rides, usually around a loop course so that I can keep track of my pace. I aim to complete the last loop in the same amount of time as the first loop. That is one reason at least. The other reason is because during a recent ride I took a wrong turn and a wrong turn on the way home from a 60 mile ride can be a very painful thing. When you think you have 5 miles left and are on the home stretch and start kicking it in and giving everything you've got, you're not very happy when you finish those 5 miles only to realize that you have another 10 to go. So I prefer loop courses now.
I typically do interval sets and high intensity work during the week when I can only get about a one hour bike in at a time. The weekends are reserved for my long rides. A typical Tuesday or Thursday bike workout looks like this:
WU: 20 min (low gear)
Power Intervals: 4 X 2 min (PE: 10) with 2 min recovery (PE: 4)
Set: 30 min (PE: 7)
CD: 10 min (low gear)
On Saturdays and Sundays I get in all of my long rides.
WU: 5 miles (low gear)
Set: 70 miles
CD: Fall off bike
I love to run. It's my favorite leg of the triathlon. I am up to about 15 mile runs on the weekend and about 7-8 mile runs during the week. I signed up for a local 20k road race a couple of weekends ago, which served as a great training run for me. Again, early in the season I did a lot of track work, intervals, and hill workouts, but I've cut that way back to make more time for long runs. I've got a lot of miles to put into before 15 April. Now, most of my workouts during the week look like this:
WU: 20 min
Set: 7 miles
And my workouts on the weekend look like this:
WU: 20 min
Set: 15 miles
All my time is spent training! Can't wait to finish this race!
25 Feb 2007, My New Sport?
My main sport is triathlons. It has been that way for the past four years, and it seems that each year I simply go out for a longer distance. I’ve done sprint distance, Olympic distance, and a few half-Ironmans, but this year I’ll be taking on my first Ironman. The great thing about triathlons is that they incorporate three individual sports, with most people specializing in one. I was originally a runner - I ran track and field with the US Disabled Sports team and cross country for my high school. But years of tearing up my joints from trail running, pounding the pavement, and dealing with prosthetics that didn’t fit forced me to back off the running and take up some other sports, including basketball and various martial arts.
Anyway it seems that somehow someone in Paralympic cycling heard about my triathlon results and liked what they heard - particularly the cycling times. The next thing I knew I was on a plane headed out to LA. Not for running. Not for triathlons. Not even for what I consider cycling. I was jumping into a whole new sport.
Just over a week ago I didn’t even know what a velodrome was. I honestly had no idea. By the end of my 3 day crash course (ha – I kill me) in the sport, I’d say I learned a thing or two. For one, they call the sport “track crack” and the label’s not far off. I have only gone skydiving once, but I would say that it’s a lot like that…and not much cheaper.
This is cycling, only indoors - on a track. But not a normal track - the 225-meter oval is banked: 25 degrees on the straights and 45 degrees on the turns - as in halfway to vertical. Now the bikes - the bikes are fixed gear so that when the pedals spin, the tires spin. And when the tires spin the pedals spin. This means that there is no coasting. If you stop pedaling, you stop moving. The bike doesn’t slow down to a stop gradually; you can’t gently squeeze the brake lever. No, no, no. It flat out stops. Why can’t you squeeze the brake lever? Because it HAS no brakes. It’s a closed track, so there are no cars, potholes, pedestrians - why would you need brakes? That would suggest that you might consider slowing down. And in this sport there is no time for that.
When I say that there is no slowing down on the track, I really mean it. If you start slowing down too much on a 45 degree bank, you and your bike will no longer be on the track. You will be lying in a heap somewhere on the inside part of the course, your bike not being able to stick to the walls when you’re not going 30 miles per hour. This is a painful process that usually involves a lot of sliding, skidding, and metal twisting.
Now, for the good stuff. The lack of brakes and inability to coast makes it really easy to go really fast. I’m talking up to 40 mph plus when you drop from the highest peak of the turn down to the inside rim of the track and take off. This is a rush. The speed is incredible, and since you’ve already done most of the work to get you up to speed the first lap is almost effortless. You just fly.
After I got over crashing repeatedly, that rush was the fun part. Unfortunately, I was at a training camp and there was training to be done. We were fitting three weeks of practice into just three days. What happens is you end up with two-a-day practices with very little recovery and an incredibly quick onset of fatigue. To add to that, imagine that you are used to training at an aerobic level, for pace and distance. Now throw that all out the window and begin three days of anaerobic work strictly for speed and time.
The first day of camp was mostly just fun. Another amputee and I learned how to ride a bike all over again. By the second day we were thrown into the larger group with other amputees and blind athletes. Not as dangerous as it might sound to some of you; these blind athletes have enough sight to follow the lines on the track. They can go in a circle as long as you don’t get in their way. And in competition they have to race on a tandem with a sighted guide
So like I said, the first day was mostly fun. But by the second day I was getting worn out. I was recruiting muscles that I’ve never worked out before in my life; and I work out A LOT. During the morning practice we warmed up, practiced drills and learned how to start out of a mechanical gate. Fun, sure, I guess, but my legs were burning by the end of the morning practice. The 2 hour rest between practices was welcomed.
A bit refreshed, I was ready to tackle another 3 hours on the track. But when I was breathing hard by the end of the warm-up I knew I was in for a long afternoon. I struggled a bit with the fact that it was so hard to maintain this intensity. I am training for an Ironman, right? I should be able to ride all day. And then I realized that I can. Just not at 30 mph all day. The other athletes at the camp trained specifically for track events. I didn’t. The first 3k of most races for me is just the warm up - not the whole event. But regardless, our coach at the camp wasn’t making allowances (and why should he) so I had to suck it up and keep pace.
A note here: I am self-trained. For the most part, I have not had a coach since I was 18 years old in high school. That means for the last four years of my competitive triathlon career I have written out my own schedules and stuck to them. It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve learned a hell of a lot. At these camps though, you are suddenly introduced to a coach, and you’re under their guidance every day whether you agree with them or not. I tend to challenge the long-standing, accepted philosophies of endurance and track training. I want proof that the theories are true. I won’t accept them just because they are “endorsed” by the majority of athletes and coaches. This questioning isn’t bred from arrogance – I just have met too many coaches and trainers that read something, never question it, and then implement it – and that’s how you get millions of women thinking that doing increased reps when lifting leads to “toning” and other similar crap. But hey, I’m at their camp on their dime so I have to put my own coaching theories on hold and follow the practice that someone else designed.
Now I’ve got no problem with authority, but this is my game. I’m at this camp because I want to be, but also because I was invited. At heart I’m still a triathlete - I want to excel at three sports. But no coach wants to share your time; they’ve all got their own goals for you.
So we butted heads. I got told I need to focus on one sport; I need to specialize. I can’t be a great cyclist if I spend my time running and swimming. But I can’t do that, I can’t throw out triathlons. So I realized about halfway through the camp that I can’t fight what these guys are saying - I just have to nod my head, grit my teeth, and try to beat their expectations without sacrificing what I want to do. The only way to quiet the naysayers is to prove them wrong, right?
The rest of the camp was an ass-kicking, there is no doubt. But everyone needs that every now and then.
4 February 2007, The Half Ironman
I arrived in California with my triathlon gear and a crutch in tow to keep some of the weight off of my artificial leg. The wound from the surgery on my stump where the surgeon had cut out a neuroma from behind my knee two months before was killing me. Being me, I went back to training just over a month after the surgery so that I’d be ready for the ITU World Triathlon Championships. My surgeon advised against it. My parents, friends, family, and a nice old lady I met at the supermarket advised against it, and while I really appreciated their concern for me and my leg, all I was thinking about was competing in one of the biggest events in the sport of triathlon - and I wanted to do well. So I convinced the surgeon to remove my stitches and then wrapped my stump to make the swelling go down. Three days later I put on my leg.
I say that like putting it on after not wearing it at all for over 4 weeks was a piece of cake; like sliding on a pair of shoes or combat boots, lacing them up and racing out the door. But really, it was more like stuffing your foot into a shoe that’s two sizes too small with an open, unprotected blister on your heel that is rubbed open with every step you take. Maybe not even a shoe, as the legs are hard. More like putting your head in a helmet that’s meant for somebody half your size. The leg had swelled…my knee joint had swelled… I put weight down on my leg. “Fuck this. This sucks.” I thought. But, at least I was up and walking around and definitely a step closer to running out the door. Maybe more than you needed to know, but it might help you understand the state of my training during the month of September.
Using lidocaine patches, I would try to numb up the skin enough to make cycling and running bearable. I had missed riding along the back roads of Orange County, and I didn’t want to miss the chance to go back out there and race them. I hit the hills hard and racked up miles each week on my bike.
And running… running was supposed to be out of the question. But, it felt way too good to finish each run. I didn’t want to quit. Yeah, it sucked after each one, but I was going through running withdrawal anyway, and if I had avoided it completely I would have been a bitch to be around. I enjoy the runner’s high way too much. And I knew I had to train, even if I couldn’t put in the mileage I wanted. So, in sub-par form, I arrived at the Challenged Athletes Half Ironman with my triathlon gear and one functional leg. After a lot of pressure from friends and family, I decided that I would only be competing in the swim portion of the triathlon…but I brought my bike, you know, just in case someone needed it.
Early Sunday morning I downed bagels and English muffins smothered with peanut butter. When I got to the transition zone I found my race number and started setting up my bike. Why, you might ask, was I setting up my bike? Good question, I wondered that too, since I was only doing the swim. But it seemed like the natural thing to do and I never gave it a second thought. Something told me my copout plan wasn’t going to last. I assured them I was only going to swim.
I barely remember the first half of the 1.2 mile swim. It went by quickly. By the time I got to the halfway point buoy I was stoked. The swim was going well. Then the waves picked up. I was knocked around like drift wood and it didn’t help that some 200 pound guy next to me couldn’t even swim in a straight line. After getting bashed in the head a few times, I finally gave him some space. Jackass. He was probably smiling and playing all nice at the start, but once you’re in the water, in the race, it’s a different game.
Finally, the swim was over. God, it felt good to be out of the water and back on land. I felt like crap getting out of the water. My blood sugar was low and I was dehydrated since I couldn’t refuel during the swim. I’m sure my sodium levels were off the charts too since every time I turned to breathe it seemed like a wave would break over my head. I think I got more water in my mouth than air. But that was it. I was done. Well, I was supposed to be done.
Thing is, I had convinced them, but I had never convinced myself. Why else would I have set up my bike before the race? It never really occurred to me that I actually could quit and forgo all the crap that lay ahead. Ok, maybe it did. Sitting down and resting sounded good. It might have even felt really good. For about two minutes. Then I would have sat there wondering why the hell I had come all this way just to quit after doing the bare minimum.
Quitting wasn’t an option, which left only one other choice. Finishing.
So I took down some Hammer gels, Gatorade and a Powerbar. I was ready for the bike - mentally, at least. My liner had bunched up behind my knee and wore away at my open wound. The pain was pretty bad at first, and I was worried it would get worse as I went on. Why was I out here again? My other option had been to quit after the swim, get breakfast, get a beer or two, and enjoy the free massages and free food being offered at the race expo. I could cheer people on while sitting on my ass, and people would still come up to me, pat me on the head, and say “Good job”.
Instead, I was riding through the mountainous terrain and vineyards of southern California on a 56 mile loop that would eventually lead back to La Jolla. My good leg was burning since it was taking on the brunt of work needed to rotate my pedals, but my bad leg kept going. I wasn’t as crippled as I thought on that side, the pain had settled into that dull numbness that you get when your nerves just give up. They’ve said what they needed to say, and after a while I guess they realize you’re ignoring them and they shut the hell up.
I had a nice sports bra tan by the time I road back into the transition zone – very sexy. At that point I think my crotch hurt more than my leg from sitting on the pencil thin, unpadded bike seat. I was more than happy to clip out and hop off my bike. Literally, hop. My liner had stuck to the bunched up lidocaine patch, which was squashed against my skin. It sucked. You know when you put a band aid on a cut wrong, and the sticky part is right where it shouldn’t be? Yeah, like that, only a bit worse. But whatever, I sat down in the grass to doctor up my leg. Lying next to me was my running leg. So, now what? Was I done? A 1.2 mile swim and a 56 mile bike sounds pretty good...and yet, even after all of that, it would still read “DNF” next to my name on the results page.
Remember when I said I loved Running? Forget that.
Ok, so maybe I could quit. I could justify quitting… if I was being carted away on a stretcher with an IV drip in my arm. But I wasn’t. I could stand. I could walk. If I could walk, I could jog. And if I could jog, I could suck it up and run. It looked more like a limp than a run, but it would be good enough to carry me through a half marathon. My two options: (1) sit here and bitch out or (2) finish the damn race and enjoy the satisfaction of my efforts. 13.1 miles to go.
I hadn’t run more that 3 miles at a time for at least 2 months. And a half marathon is not a race that most people should go into untrained. I honestly didn’t know how it would go. I wanted to think that it would be easy or at least manageable. I psyched myself up so much that the first mile went fine. I had done this portion of the Half Ironman twice before so I knew what to expect. I knew where all of the hills were and the aid stations and the turns. The hills sucked. They always do in that race. They are steep and unforgiving and really not much more fun to go down. Except on a bike. But I worked my way up each one and looked forward to each turn. I ticked off the miles one by one. It felt good. The ache in my leg persisted, but so did I. Even when my quads burned and my knees stopped coming up so high I could take each step as it came. I focused on putting one foot in front of the other. It sounds cliché, I know, but that was it. The last 0.2 miles of that 13.2 mile run was downhill. I could hear the spectators near the finish line cheering us on. I pulled myself together. Stood a little taller. Put a smile on my face. Damn, I looked good crossing the finish line. You’d never know that the last 7 hours had been hell.
Even though I’d be paying for this stupidity later on, and I fully admit it was stupidity (it took another surgery and six weeks of rehab to fix the damage I had done,) I look at that race as one of my finest. So the finishing time wasn’t what I wanted it to be, but I had no regrets. Physical pain is temporary, injuries heal. Regret is a pain that never really goes away, and there’s no rehab for that.