Saturday morning, the day prior to the race, I again did the swim so I could collect another of the coveted Gatorade water bottles. Shira and the kids had volunteered to help at the bike special-needs area. The bike special-needs bags are for athletes to stash any goodies they want to get their hands on at about the mid-point of the 112 mile bike course. Shira and the kids had to attend a meeting to learn about their duties. Following that we sat around, sometimes in the rain, waiting for the mandatory athletes' meeting. After hearing about the course and the rules we took off for an early dinner and a bit of shopping.
After putting my water bottles on the bike, slathering on lots of sun screen, and donning my wetsuit, I made my way to the beach where the swim would start. Although I hadn't trained nearly as much as last year, I felt remarkably good (completely unlike the piece of toast I felt like last year going into the race). I knew I was starting this race under-trained, but was confident I could finish barring any disasters. For the past couple of months I've told myself I'm just in it for the finisher's T-shirt and that makes for a calm mind.
I did the post-swim, wetsuit-encumbered waddle to the wetsuit strippers where a couple of guys had my suit off me in no time. I could now actually run. I grabbed my transition bag and started running for the changing tent. There is a reason I don't do sports that require coordination and suddenly there was ample evidence why. I tripped over something. Or maybe I tripped over nothing. Who knows? In any case, I immediately hopped up to continue my run to the tent, but there was clearly something unhappy about my right big toe. I saw blood issuing from it more quickly than I would have liked. Inside the changing tent I brushed away the blood and noticed that my nail had been separated from the toe at the base of the toenail -- or perhaps I should say the former base. My toe had gone completely numb and I'm not sure if it was because of the injury or because I had just spent over an hour
On the bike course I was favoring my right leg a bit -- not really driving it in any way that would involve the right big toe. Like last year, people were absolutely blowing by me, but I wasn't worried about it in the least.
I finished the bike course and I was actually ahead of last year's time. Last year was hot, hot, hot -- brutally hot. This year it got up to the 80's but that wasn't hot enough to cause the melt-downs so many experienced last year. As I got off the bike, the toe was really screaming. A marathon? You've got to be kidding. In the changing tent a volunteer saw my bloody sock and asked if I wanted to change into a clean sock (I had that spare pair in the transition bag). I said no -- I don't want to see my toe. He asked about going to the medical tent and I again said no. I don't want to know. Other than the toe, I felt great and really wanted to give the marathon a shot (unlike last year when I knew, coming off the bike, I was in trouble). I got the running shoes on and took off, not that you could really call it taking off. Bike shoes are incredibly stiff and they keep toes from doing much bending. With running shoes there is plenty of give and the first few steps were excruciating. Nevertheless, I managed to find a stride where I bobbled along without too much pain and I was pretty sure I didn't look much worse in my stride than many of those around me. I actually started to pass people and settled into a rhythm; I walked through aid stations and, when an aid station wasn't around, ran for nine minutes and walked for one. I found it fascinating that I felt better when I was running than when I was walking. When I started walking, I would get a bit light-headed, but when running, I felt sharp. Still, I'm prone to cramps in longer events and I hoped some preemptive walking would keep the cramps at bay.
Knowing the finish line was near, I was able to run solidly for the last mile and a half. As was the case last year, the finish area was amazing. You could easily fool yourself into thinking you were taking the gold at the Olympics or winning the Boston Marathon. The volunteers and spectators out on the course were absolutely amazingly wonderful too -- a veritable non-stop love fest! However, crossing the finish line, all the delusions quickly passed and I realized that I was simply a hapless athlete-wannabe with one messed up foot. The finish-line catchers asked me how I was and I told them that I should go to the medical tent.
At the medical tent they asked to see my toe. Very gingerly I took off my shoe. There was now a lot more blood on my sock than when I had had Dave take a picture of it. I also noticed that blood had seeped between the leather toe and rubber sole of my shoe (as you can see in the picture below). I was worried about taking off my sock since I wasn't sure what might be stuck to it. Fortunately there was so much blood inside that nothing was sticking. The medical personnel seemed quite impressed by my toe and couldn't believe I was stupid enough to complete the entire race. The two athletes who were seated next to me also voiced their, what should we call it, shock, awe, admiration, well, something like that. The woman to my left said I was now her "Ironman hero" (I think this was code for "incredible idiot" but I wasn't talking much at this point). They stuck my foot into an amazingly frigid bucket of iodine which, with a little scrubbing, got off all the blood. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, whether blood loss, exhaustion, the frigid foot-bath, or something else, I suddenly became so lightheaded I thought I was going to pass out. One of the medical personnel noticed that I had gone white and put a bag of ice behind my neck. Yow! It was cold! Slowly I started to feel more stable. They wrapped my foot and told me I should call a doctor the next day to check for a broken toe and infection. However, I was slow to regain color and they offered me an IV. The day before, at the mandatory athletes' meeting, they mentioned that even though IV's are a great way to speed your recovery from an Ironman, you should only get one if you really need it. But what the heck, if they were offering me one, I was going to take it!
They took me into the back section of the tent and it looked like a MASH unit. Low litters were crammed together, the lighting was poor (going out on more than one occasion), bodies were everywhere, and IV's were hung all over the place -- a true labyrinth of spent bodies. I saw some people who looked pretty darn awful but I'm guessing after a few bags of plasma they were almost as good as new. I got one bag and then told them I thought I was fine. I hobbled out of there and met the kids and Shira (and also saw Diane, Ben, and Matt and learned of fellow Pullman resident Howard Grimes's visit to the medical tent too). While I was in the tent, Shira had done a wonderful job of rounding up nearly all my stuff and getting it to the car. My only remaining task was to hobble to the car with the kids as escorts while Shira got my bike. After we finally got back to the hotel, around 10 p.m., and I had removed my shoe we discovered that I had bled through the dressing that had been applied in the medical tent. Shira went out and purchased all the items we needed to freshly dress my toe. It was then into the tub, with the foot elevated outside it, to soak off the grime of the day (and there was plenty of grime!).
As for the toe, on the drive home Monday I called about seeing our doctor. The soonest I could be seen was Tuesday evening. Once at the doctor's (actually I was seen by a physician's assistant), I again seemed to make an impression. I was told "I've never seen a toe like that!" (but for all I knew this was the first injured toe she had seen). She also immediately declared that she would have to remove the toenail, clean and drain my toe, and put me on an antibiotic. I asked if we could please skip the antibiotic since I really, really didn't want to mess with the flora and fauna in my gut. She replied that she is slow to prescribe antibiotics and wouldn't give me one unless I really needed it. She said that I had better get on one in a hurry or I would be in real danger of losing my toe. Bummer! They had me walk back to their "surgery room." Having your big toenail yanked and snipped off is not a lot of fun. She did numb my toe before the actual deed, but getting injections in flesh that is already extremely tender is something to curl your toes (so to speak). She prescribed a painkiller, too, but I'd been in so much pain for the past couple of days that I couldn't see the point in stopping it. They also threw in a tetanus shot just for the fun of it.
You can't see the separation of the toenail from the toe because the toe had swollen to the point where the gap had disappeared.
Shown below is the shoe in which I ran. You can see the blood starting
to seep between the leather toe and rubber sole. If you
look closely (especially in the enlarged image), you can see that the
upper mesh is stained with blood, too. This is the side of the
shoe opposite my big toe.
Next we have the toe the next day alongside the trophy that motivated me to keep going (i.e., the finisher's T-shirt!). Notice that the left side of my toe has become rather white. I later learned (at my visit to the doctor the next day when the toe looked even a bit worse) this is not a good thing.
I have a few more pictures (e.g., of my toe with the nail removed), but I'll spare you those.
Ah, perhaps you might be interested in how I did in the race? I attended a triathlon camp last year at which Paula Newby-Fraser, arguably the greatest endurance athlete ever, spoke. When talking about race planning and the danger of trying to race outside your abilities she said roughly, "Besides you, the only ones who might care how you do in a race are your friends and family and, frankly, they don't really care either." So, the important thing for me is that I got my finisher's T-shirt, the family and I had a great time, I have a little tale to tell of my pig-headed determination, and so far I still have my toe. (But, I will say that I took off nearly an hour from last year's time -- not bad given the circumstances.)
Finally, Shira is already checking on registration for next year's race (there are currently around 650 people signed up for it). Despite the injury, I had a good time and it made for a fun mini-vacation. Nevertheless, I'm not quite ready to commit to doing the race again next year. I will say that being off my feet the past couple of days has left me pretty antsy and I really need to come up with some sort of work-out program soon. Hopefully it won't be too long before I can run again.