Liver, I don’t need no stinkin’ liver! A Race Report of Challenge Knoxville

Some quick, fun facts about Challenge Knoxville.

  • There was a former Bachelor contestant, Andy Baldwin, participating in the race.
  • I was the second amateur female out of the water.
  • I made it to mile 17.8 on the bike course.
  • I was going 17.8 mph when I crashed my bike.
  • My helmet is cracked in two different places.
  • You can lacerate your liver.

Going into this race, I admit that I didn’t have the most positive outlook. After my win at Ironman New Orleans 70.3, I have had quite a rough recovery and return to normal training. I was mostly viewing this race as a training day with the outside shot of getting my pro card.

When I woke up the morning of the race, my stomach was not cooperating. I barely got a banana down and was not able to eat my full, pre-race breakfast. I also had to make multiple trips to the bathroom. Not sure if it was the seafood pasta the night before or just my nerves.

Going into the swim, I was not sure what to expect. The forecast said that there were going to be rainstorms later in the day but it was already overcast and drizzling. All the amateur female swimmers went in the same wave together. I immediately went out with the front group of about 4 girls. We were all sprinting for position. It turned into me and one other girl on my right side swimming almost stroke for stroke together. On this course, you swim the first part upstream for a 1/3 of the swim, then turn around and come back for 2/3 of the swim. I was feeling decent on the way out, and stuck with the other girl. The only problem was I was shielding her from all the other swimmers we were passing and she had a clear path of water. When we hit the turn around, it became quite congested and I got pinched out of my position between the girl I was battling with and another slower guy from the wave in front of us. We went around the second buoy to head downstream and I lost contact with the other girl. It felt much more difficult going back down stream. My arms felt tired and like I was flailing around but not getting anywhere. 

Finally, we got to the dock where we were exiting the swim. I ended up doing a very not so graceful barrel roll out of the water and onto the dock like a beached whale. During the swim, I felt that the rain had picked up but it was now a torrential down pour. I made my way up to transition and got ready for a very wet ride. Matt had been staking out the swim exit and told me I was the #2 girl out of the water.

When I entered transition, everything felt like it was in slow motion. Everything was wet and slippery. I tried multiple times to put my aero helmet on, reminding myself I had to get it strapped on before heading out of transition or that would be an automatic DQ. I also decided not to put my sunglasses on since it was raining, but put them in my back pocket in case the sun decided to come out.

Heading out on the bike I was pretty cautious. Some people were flying by but the roads were slick. It was going to be a day of lots of bike wrecks. (Foreshadowing the future here.) There were a lot of sharp turns in and around transition, over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house…wait, that’s another story. But really there were a lot of turns. Then my water bottle felt out of my cage on my handlebars. Don’t tell anyone but I left it, even though littering on the course is also a big no-no. I could get another bottle at an aid station, no big deal. My energy was flat and I couldn’t get much food down still. In the back of my mind I knew I was already at a deficit for calories but my stomach was still doing flip flops. I thought back to the guy who did Kona a couple years ago and managed to almost make it through the entire bike course on just soda. Then going down another hill, I also felt my purple sunglasses slip out of my back pocket. Double crap. At this part of the course it would have been dangerous to turn around and stop so I kept going again.

Then we started hitting the hills. I tried to be patient and bide my time. There were a lot of fast older women on this course but no one in my age group had passed me yet. I almost saw a wreck on the way down a hill as one woman refused to move over. Geeze it was scary. My legs felt like jello on the uphills. I tried to hit my target watts but I just wasn’t feeling it. Then a girl who had come out of the swim right behind me passed me. There was no way I was going to catch up to her unless she blew up or crashed. I grinded through more uphills and cautiously descended down more sketchy hills. It was hard to find any sort of rhythm. Maybe I should have studied the course map profile more closely.

Another girl in my age group came charging by me. She was seriously on a mission and passed two more guys on the way up a hill. More turns in and around the backwoods of Tennessee. At one point the half ironman racers went off in their own direction. At this point, there was no one really around me. I thought I could easily get lost but the markings on the course were very well done. I started coming down a hill by a field and there was a guy in a yellow vest telling everyone to slow down at yet another turn.

As I slowed down and approached the 90 degree turn to the right I glanced down and saw a man hole, I was going too fast and tried to avoid it but I hit it anyway. And then I went down.

I don’t remember exactly what happened but I can definitely tell you the back of my pointy aero helmet hit the asphalt. I screamed many obscenities to the pouring rain and laid exactly where I had fallen. Immediately, I made sure I could move my arms and legs but my feet were tingling. I was freaking out. And I couldn’t move my head. This really scared me even more.

The EMT’s showed up pretty quickly and told me they were going to put me on a back board. I didn’t want to go to the hospital but they said they needed to take X-rays and make sure I didn’t have any internal bleeding. They loaded me up in the ambulance took me away. My head was getting harder and harder to move. They told me to stop moving it, that I could be doing more damage by moving around. So then I just lay still on the back board, freezing my ass off in my wet kit and cycling shoes.

At the hospital, I went in for a cat scan. They put dye in your IV so the xXRays are easier to read and it felt like my head was lit up like a Christmas tree. My lips felt like a very flurorescent Orange. 

After waiting another hour, as my head became heavier and heavier in the neck brace the doctor finally came to see me with my results. The good news: nothing was broken. The bad news: I had lacerated my liver. Apparently from the impact of the crash and most likely my handlebars crushing my ribs, I had somehow managed to tear my liver. Bad enough that there could be internal bleeding at any time but not bad enough that I needed to go to surgery immediately. Sort of a relief but it also meant I had to stay overnight in the hospital.

Now, I hadn’t been to the hospital since I was about 18 months old and did a swan dive off a stroller, so being in a hospital was a very weird  experience for me. I am a very independent person and used to doing everything on my own. I also have a quite high pain tolerance. At first I refused to take any pain medications but finally caved in. This was when I was talking to my coach and not really making much sense. I blame it on the morphine! 

Another fun tidbit was that I had a huge bruise on my calf from falling off my bike trainer earlier in the week. The nurses and doctors were very concerned about my well being and asked if everything was alright at home. The truth is, my bike hurts me! There I said it. My bike The DeLorean is still a very willful bike and I have not quite broken her sassy streak. 

Anyway, the moral of this story is always have a positive attitude going into a race and always, ALWAYS wear a freaking helmet! There is no doubt in my mind that the helmet I was wearing saved my life! After a few days of bed rest and recovery, I managed to reach a whole new audience in the hospital about #50womentokona. However, I’m ready to ironically get back in the saddle. Swimming and running may still not be on the menu for a few more days. Thank you to everyone for your kind words and sending all the healing vibes. I’m on the mend and back on the road to Ironman Coeur d’Alene which is just about 5 weeks away! 



4 thoughts on “Liver, I don’t need no stinkin’ liver! A Race Report of Challenge Knoxville

  1. Barb, I could feel the fatigue and the fight to stay in control of your brain and physical self. It gets so frustating. And, what can you do but keep trying. One never gives up regardless of the signs to do so. The hospital is always and talk being out of control! Regardless, you are up and back at it. Hooray for you! Take whatever you learned out of incident a give the next race hell. I love you, pray for you and know you will prevail. Bam

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