I signed up for Ironman Barcelona last December while traveling home by train after Christmas. As I checked my email, an advert popped out saying there were only fifty places, hurry and grab one. After Ironman Zurich I thought I wanted to wait another two years before racing another, but Ironman Barcelona was to be held on my birthday! How could I pass that up?
I sent a text to my husband: “Only fifty spots left for Barcelona…”
He answered: “What are you waiting for?”
I love that man.
Thus began my training for Ironman Barcelona.
This year our triathlon team had a new swim coach who changed my lazy arm pulling habit. The improvement usually had me first out of the water in my age group during races. I asked Fabio Gilioli from Sessantallora to help me on improving my bike ride. That resulted in a PR on the IM Pescara 70.3 bike section.
Piero wasn’t traveling this summer for work so we decided to spend the those hot months at the family beach house in the south of Italy. We can both work from anywhere as long as there’s a good internet connection. He enticed me by mentioning it’d be a perfect training camp for Barcelona.
July was my best training month. After a year and a half of a wonky left knee all of the sudden it was cooperating. The biggest problem was avoiding the heat. I’d stoically get up at 4:3 AM for a 120 km ride or run along the beach and finish with a quick swim. I was feeling really great; the best in years.
Then I had the bike accident that shattered my left arm.
I went into the hospital on 31 July with broken and exposed ulna, radio and scaphoid bones. The surgeons in the emergency room talked us into waiting until Wednesday for the head surgeon of the orthopaedic department. Putting in the two titanium planks with screws needed someone with experience. I waited.
The operation was done and a heavy plaster cast all the way up to my shoulder. I had one night of agonising pain and intermittent sleep and then it was time to go home.
The surgeon who treated me in the ER was Dr. Vanni Taurisano. As fate would have it he was also one of my husband’s ex-athletes. Piero had trained him for both athletics and basketball so he wasn’t surprised when I asked him the question.
“I have an Ironman race in two months. What can I do while I have this cast on?”
He rolled his eyes but gave me a long look and said ,“Train as if you were still going to do your race and in a month we’ll see.”
Recovery required lots of rest and sleep. I had to be really on top of my nutrition to ensure that I had the right micro and macro nutrients to heal well.
I ordered a Turbo Trainer for my bike and pedalled with my heart rate monitor. I power walked on the sand and Piero devised a training circuit to keep up my muscle strength.
After a week Dr. Vanni shortened my cast and freed my elbow. Now I could run! I used a sling for the cast and incorporated running in the circuits. The biggest problem on both the bike and run was the amount of sweat I produced. I could feel the cast getting wet and my skin would itch. I tried to find ways to keep it dry and ended up blasting it with a hairdryer after every training session.
I tried swimming once by wrapping the cast really well and using a kickboard. It was too much effort for the training quality. I decided to wait until the cast was off and instead do shoulder exercises to mimic a swim stroke.
The cast came off in the beginning of September and I asked Dr. Vanni, “What can I do now that the cast is off?”
He told me to go easy on the bike outdoors because bumpy roads were not a good idea on healing bones. But he gave me the green light to do whatever else I wanted and keep him updated.
I won’t bore you with what I did for the next five weeks. The most I ever swam was 3000 meters, twice. The longest I ever biked was 50km to regain my confidence in the saddle and my longest run was 22 kilometres during a circuit.
So with a shattered forearm, consequential operation and a non-standard training plan you may be asking how I thought I could race an Ironman.
I’ll tell you exactly how it happened:
I believed that I could.
Not a lot of friends or acquaintances believed I could. A lot of them thought I was nuts.
“How exactly are you going to train for an Ironman with your arm?”
“I don’t think you’ll make it to the finish line…”
“You don’t have enough mileage…”
“Your chances of finishing are pretty low.”
“That’s going to be impossible.”
In my own coaching practice I see many people talk themselves out of their own goals and dreams. If it’s not the picture-perfect set up where they ace every single workout withy no obstacles in their way, they give up fast. People talk about the “journey” then interrupt it when it doesn’t play out like an award-winning television program.
But some people travel in a straight line while others make zigzags and detours, still arriving at their destination or goal.
I knew the only way to pull this off was to cut myself off from anyone who didn’t believe in what I was doing. I needed to be surrounded in positivity and possibility while wearing blinkers. My number one fan and mental coach in all of this was my husband Piero. He believed in me and helped me with my training plan and workouts. He came with me on my first swim after the accident and again when I got back on the bike. He told me hundreds of times that I could do this and even clock a PB.
I stopped talking about the race and didn’t let many people know that I was going. I closed my social accounts in the days before the race. I didn’t want to be distracted by doubters. We’d already booked a hotel and the whole family was going, that was the most important thing for me.
I gave myself the freedom to do whatever it was I felt like doing. I could start the race or just pick up my goody bag. I could complete the swim and forget the rest. I could do anything I wanted because it was my birthday! I had no expectations except to enjoy myself and have a good time no matter what I ended up doing. It was all good.