Mixed emotions

Thank you everyone that logged on over the weekend and tried to track me on Ironman live only to realise that I wasn’t living up to my mantra of “keep moving forward”. I couldn’t on account of being in hospital, but before we go into details let’s go through my weekend.

Thursday
I went down to Bolton with my good friend Chris Wild to register in the marque at the Reebok stadium. I was calm on the outside but buzzing on the inside as the volunteer placed the Ironman competitor bracelet on my wrist. Things suddenly felt real.
We had a look in the store and I bought Charlotte a cow bell to shake at Daddy on Sunday. Despite there being some cool race merchandise something inside told me not to buy anything before I heard those immortal words on Sunday night as I crossed the line “Andrew, you are an Ironman.”
I also met up with Viking who’d picked up Charlottes race pack for her IronKids race. It was great to see him. I had a good feeling about the weekend ahead.

Saturday

Today was a very busy day but mostly it was about our 3yr old dynamo Charlotte. The weather was horrible but the enthusiasm of almost 3000 kids as they ran through the streets of Bolton was heart warming to see. Charlotte was running in the ‘nursery’ age group so Daddy got to run the 500 metres with her. That’s like a marathon to a 3yr old. I was expecting her to stop after a minute and ask for a carry but she amazed me by running without stopping. The mayoress gave her her medal and she beamed when she had it around her neck. She was still beaming when she joined me for a pre-arranged TV interview at the finish with the producers of the Channel 4 ironman show. She took it all in her stride and I was so proud of her.

Saturday was also about racking and handing bags in here there and what felt like everywhere but you can’t fault Ironman for organisation. What could have been a colossal pain in the arse was a smooth operation thanks to the hard work of countless volunteers. I got recognised a lot as I wandered around in my COLT hoody, even the guy who handed out the race chips recognised me. Still very weird, don’t think I’ll ever get used to it.
That night I stayed at Chris Wilds house as it was much closer than my house, which was a help and I slept soundly.

Race Day
I was up at 3.20am, if Ironman wasn’t hard enough you have to get up at the crack of Dawn. Some lovely porridge courtesy of MasterChef Wild and it was time to go.
We arrived at the Reebok (transition2) to catch a bus to the swim start. Met the first person of the day to tell me “it’s all your fault Holgs” – it wasn’t the last time I’d hear it, that came in an ambulance later.
Hugs off COLT legend and landlord of COLT Alley Phil Watson and his mate Rob who would go on to have a storming day. From there I joined a huge toilet queue and then it was 5.45. Got my wetsuit on and headed to the start. “It’s all your fault Holgs” came the familiar voice of my mate Gary Hill, a top bloke who was about to have the hardest day of his life to achieve a dream which at times he doubted was possible. With him was club mate Annette who despite a stomach bug would go on to great things that day. She really is a remarkable woman. I took it all in, spoke to others who blamed me and looked at the nervous faces and I loved ever glorious second of it. It was intoxicating. This was OUR day.

Into the water for the first of two laps of Pennington Flash. The water was a lovely temperature, only spoiled by the excess weeds in the shallows that must have felt to the nervous newcomer like a thousand hands pulling them into the depths of Hades. I moved slowly but purposely towards the deep water start line, keeping towards the right. The national anthem played and then The hooter sounded and 2000 warriors moved forward in a splashing roar of intent. It was the usual tangle of limbs at first but then it settled down, there was free water, there was space. Was this really an Ironman?
Before I knew it the pontoon was under my feet and I was on my way back to the start for lap two. 39 minutes, I was chuffed, I was feeling strong and my watched showed I was on form.
The second lap was much slower because after the final turn bouy it was like 300m of constant assault. I got battered, kicked, punched and even head butted as someone swam head first into me. It was carnage and I was glad to get out of the water.
My calves both cramped as I tried to stand and I had to be pulled to my feet. Never suffered with that before but once I started running to T1 my legs woke up. High fives with COLT mates as I ran past.
I’d done 1.25 and felt easy. I smiled as I ran into the crowded change tent. 10 minutes later I ran out completely changed and full of hope for the challenge ahead of me. As I reached my bike the TV camera man was there to capture my words “loved the swim, hard bit over with, can’t wait for this!”

The Bike
I got to the mount line in a crowd, I got on and rode. Seconds later my garmin beeped to say it had picked up a satellite and the clock started ticking. Looking down for a second this made me smile. We crossed the bridge onto the tree lined park approach, I took great care with the first couple of speed bumps unlike others who were dangerously flying over them. I approached the third and then it was a blur, suddenly I was staring at a fast approaching wall of Tarmac as I sailed with force over the handlebars. Crack. I heard the sickening sound as I landed on my shoulder. I tried to move but pain pinned me down. Slowly I brought my bloody right arm across my body to feel my left shoulder. There was no mistaking the golf ball sized lump that that had appeared. It was Game Over, my Ironman dream gone for now.

the Afermath
Several wonderful ladies from NEWT tri club got me to the side of the road and out of the way of the bikes whiz zing past. They looked after me as I sat there crying, a horrible mixture of pain, shock, frustration and disbelief. I can’t thank them enough. They said that a fellow competitor hit a speed bump and his gels etc shot off his bike, taking down my bike. A complete freak accident!
They even rang Em and my Dad who were just about to set off to watch the bike. Plans instantly changed. I sobbed and apologised to Em for letting them down. She cried with me. They would come and find me in hospital later.
After what seemed like an eternity I was seen by medics and loaded into the ambulance. The ambulance crew were brilliant, one of them had read my books and completed the Outlaw half this year in a cracking time. The pain was unbearable as they cut my COLT top from my road rash covered body. The gas and air kept me from screaming as they applied a sling to my useless left arm.
I was taken to Wigan hospital where I was treated. I was amazed when Viking turned up and sat with me for several hours. He would go on to pick bags up for me in Bolton whilst club mates got my bike. When something like this happens you really know who you friends are. We had a good chat although I have no idea what I said in pain killer stupor.
I’d badly damaged my shoulder and would need to see a surgeon on my return to Lancaster.

I got home and lay on the bed taking messages and calls from concerned friends whilst tracking others online. It was surreal lying there in pain knowing that I should have been running a marathon at that point. I smiled when Gary finished, he was the last COLT home and I couldn’t help but call him to offer my congrats. We’d been thru good and bad together on this journey and it felt like the right thing to do.

I tried to sleep but couldn’t, I don’t expect I’ll be sleeping comfortably for a while.

I saw the surgeon today, it wasn’t the news I was hoping for. I’ve tried to stay positive since Sunday but I had the wind punched out of me this afternoon. I’ve fractured my AC joint ( point where arm, collarbone and shoulder meet). It’s in the worst possible place, too thin and fragile to pin like they did with Mark Cavendish recently. I’ll be in a sling for a few weeks and have been told I will be in pain and have limited mobility for up to six months. Add in the fact that because of the location of the break my collarbone will now permanently be dislocated, popping and grating at will then it’s not a good outlook especially when it comes to swimming. That could be up to 12 months if ever. Ever is a long time! I’m gutted but have perspective, I’m alive and mostly well. I have more in my life than a lot of people dream of, family and friends won’t let me wallow. The messages I’ve received since Sunday show that.

So I’m going to rest, recoup and read on how to get stronger, how I can overcome this weakness, how I can start moving forward again. Seeing all the delight in my friends finishers photos is driving me on. I’ll defy the odds and comeback stronger.

I owe Ironman at least one more dance.

(Ps : sorry for any mistakes, this is typed with one finger on my iPad in a pain killer haze)

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50 responses to “Mixed emotions

  1. Atta boy Holgs!… Positive Mental Attitude.
    See you on a start line somewhere, sometime…

  2. That’s a grim prognosis buddy but remember Doctor’s estimates are based on normal folks. They have no idea what Ironmen can achieve.

    You’ll be dancing again before you realise it.

  3. Stink bums Holgs – take the drugs and heal well – there will always be another IM to do 🙂

  4. That’s gutting news. Very sorry about that holgs. Hope it heals more speedily than anticipated.

  5. Andy, great read, from you as usual, but absolutely gutted with the ending, i know that you must be disappointed but also know that something good will come out of it, if there is anything i can do to help please do not hesitate to ask, be it just supporting, swim, TT, or any events, that your club are competing in, regards, Howard, and Karen.

    • Thanks Howard and Karen, really appreciate it. I’m going to draw inspiration from our wonderful club mates like Jack that overcome so much more to come back stronger. You can’t keep a good COLT down 🙂

  6. Gutted for you Holgs. Don’t believe doctors when they say its over. I had the same injury 12 years ago from rugby, was told that I would never have a fully functioning arm again and on Sunday I will be doing my first Iron event at the Outlaw. It is because of you, but I thank you rather than blame you! Chin up and speedy recovery!

    • Neil – thanks for the positive story, that’s made me smile. Good luck for the outlaw, it is an amazing race. Let me know how you get on.

      • Neil Cooper

        Well, I finished it despite a puncture after 100 metres and the inability to keep anything down for the last 20 miles of the run ( I wasn’t thanking you then). Despite this a great day and a superb event. My aim was 14 hours and I did 13:44. Followed the advice you gave me, at Penrith Library, to follow the line of buoys on the swim. A bit too well as I headed 4 of them! Thanks for the inspirations and hope you are healing well!

  7. As an avid reader of your books and blog i spoke to you on our way down to the swim. Our lives are like books! You may be at the end of one gruesome chapter but you wont be reading that page again! New page, new chapter, keep writing and we’ll keep reading! P.s i wasnt far off last again!

  8. Good luck Andy, I hope you can get back to where you were, just take it easy for now and recover properly

  9. I’m so sad to hear of your day. Keep your chin held high, heal up and move on to the next one!! This is just a slight detour on your road to the next Ironman 😉

  10. Sorry to read your news. A few years ago I fell off my bike and broke my collar bone requiring three lots of surgery and nearly twelve months immobilised. My shoulder has recovered enough to have ridden past you while you were on the ground (sorry) being looked after to complete my first Ironman having been inspired by your books. It will be a long road but keep positive and you CAN get back and compete again

  11. Totally gutted for you mate. The speed bumps out of the flash were a bit dodgy and I must of ridden past you as I swam a 1:29 then out of t2 in a long 13mins? But at the end of that road there was an ambulance also applying a bandage to someones head that had taken a tumble. I’m pretty sure this wasnt you so was another victim. On the up side as you say your alive and have a great family to take you to that next challenge. Whether that be ironman or some other discipline. Maybe another marathon after all you love to run buddy or go smash some time trials after discovering them.

    • Thanks mate – so pleased that you had a good day. Well done on a fantastic achievement. Yeah you would have passed me but it took a good 20 mins for an ambulance/medic to get to me so I was just sat there being looked after by the brilliant ladies from Newport tri club. There were quite a few fallers, I saw another guy go down whilst I was getting into the ambulance, thankfully he got up.

  12. So sorry to hear the news, you will ‘go again’ when the time is right of that I have no doubt. Take heart and a little comfort from the countless number of people (inc me) that you have inspired to do IRONMAN , I am sure at some point we all do a little bit of the race and think about how inspiring you and your books and talks have been over the last two or three years. Just make sure you don’t leave us all wondering as to whether you have at least one more race left in you !!!

    • Thanks Jeremy, kind words – I really appreciate it. I don’t intend for this to be the end, it’s just one more hurdle on a cluttered path that I seem to have chosen. I’ll be back.

  13. Bloody hell mate what a nightmare!!

    Dont rush the recovery, get better and keep looking ahead. the doctors will be over cautous as they know that people take there diagnosis for granted. but surely you havent doubted for a minute that you wont be on the start line for another Ironman at some point.. come on your better than that 🙂

    • Thanks – you are right, as I left the hospital I did consider this may be the end but only for a second. Life’s too short to give up what you love. I’ll rebuild, I’ll learn, I’ll overcome and once more I’ll suffer in an ironman marathon as I plod towards my 6th epic 140.6. It’s just a case of when and where, but when I do I’ll be ready. I won’t rush back.

  14. It’s good to hear the whole story, even though it’s a tale that makes me want to put my hands over my eyes and say ‘oh no’. Hold to your sense of humour and positive attitude which has already brought you further than you ever could have imagined on your Ironman journey. And, I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating – have you thought about coaching?

    • Thanks Scribbler. Would love to get into coaching, unfortunately none of the local course fitted in with work and family this year but will keep looking.

  15. Hi Andy just echoing all previous posts, wishing you a speedy return to IM, I was blaming the website for a while then looked at other athletes only to see there progress being updated, we now know why. Was it a machine failure that caused it or do you really have no idea what happened?

    All the best
    JB

    • Thanks JB – witnesses told me that another athlete hit the speedbump hard just in front of me losing gels etc…they hit my front wheel and I was somersaulted off the bike. Complete freak accident, wrong place, wrong time.

  16. Devastating Andy… I was so sorry to hear about this. You have inspired so many people, let’s hope you can draw strength from all the love and goodwill there is out there for you. It may take some time, but I have a feeling you are not finished yet!!!! All the best, Tom

  17. Hope you recover okay mate and faster than the docs anticipate. Look on the bright side. The footie season starts soon and you’ll have time on your hands to watch Newcastle. On second thoughts thats not really a positive…

  18. Gutted for you for but pleased to hear your usual positive outlook. i have no doubt you will be back, this is not the end of the Triathlon road for you.

  19. Really sorry to hear of your accident. I got into this after reading your books and I spotted you running out the swim as I was getting my bike. I was looking for you on the run course, saw a few of your club mates though. Hope the injury mends and you are back at it soon.

  20. Sorry to hear about the accident Andy, I was tracking you on the IM site as I am way on holiday. Good luck with the recovery I know you will be back, read your books and attended your talks, your an inspiration.
    Jason

  21. Well, if there’s a positive – look at the material you have for your next book…..when you come back from this and complete your next Ironman. Put me down for a copy.

    Chin up.

  22. Sorry to hear about your accident, Andy. Here’s another positive… doctors always underestimate the recovery of elite athletes! Go amaze them!

  23. Andy I really feel for you – I know you have been really looking forward to that race. Well at least you are well enough to relate your story – it could have been much worse. I hope you get stronger every day and your shoulder will soon be on the mend. I’m sure your two lovely nurses (Em and Charlotte) will be taking great care of you. Love and best wishes, hope to see you soon, Chrissie. xx

  24. Such a shame for you . Andy. Love the closing sentence as inspirational as ever!!

  25. I logged on to read your Ironman exploits to inspire me ahead of my first Iron distance event at the Outlaw this weekend and I was absolutely gutted for you to read this, but utterly uplifted by your reaction to such a bitter disappointment. Your positivity is amazing and I’m sure that there will be a few of us on the start line on sunday that are there as a result of reading your books. I hope your surgery goes well and you have an incredibly swift recovery.

  26. Neill Williamson

    Andy, Never meet you but read your books and my heart goes out to you. I was racing at Bolton and know how much you have to put into these things. Years ago I had to go through double knee surgery and it took a year to get back to running. At the time it felt like the end of things sporting but looking back now it’s just a blip in my sporting time line. Rest recover and get back soon.

  27. Andy – also never met you but follow your blog and enjoyed your books. I wanted to add to all the other comments that I ruptured my AC joint in a (drunken) cycling accident 2 years ago. It was bloody painful but I gradually got back to cycling and running. I did strengthening exercises for the muscles around the joint while it healed. I won’t lie – it has taken 1-2 years and can still be a bit dodgy. My detour was into swimming- front crawl was my saviour and gives no problems 2 years on. So much so that I gave up triathlon and am now a long distance swimmer – not saying you have to go that far, but fingers crossed your swimming might be fine. Good luck and keep it gently mobilising!

  28. colin mccluskey

    Hi Andy, you were in the holding pen in front of my mate & I at the start of the swim..Recognised you straight off as we both have read your books…The next i saw of you was the horrible sight of you clutching your shoulder in a great deal of pain at the side of the lane, i was gutted for you as it was pretty obvious that it was game over for the day…There were some folk going far too hard over the speed bumps with only 112mls to go! I hope you recover fully & get another go at the Ironman again…Top bloke Sir stay strong.

  29. Bugger and shit!! Really feel for you mate, hope it mends faster than they reckon, keep your chin up!

  30. Hi Andy hope things are improving daily for you, im just returning from a year long dose of quadricep tendinitis and easing gently back in to running and cycling. Can I ask what gps watch you use and if youd recommend it?

    Thanks and remember as every day goes by its one nearer that next tri!

    John

  31. Really sorry to read this sir, all the best for the long road to recovery. It will feel all the sweeter when you complete your next tri!

  32. Andy hi, I’m almost sure it was you I saw crash by the sounds of your account, did your helmet crack and you hit your head pretty hard? It could have been someone different on the same speed bump but it sounds too similar!
    For some reason I was watching you before the speed bump, and I saw your front wheel spin round sending the bike flipping, you flipping over the front and hitting the ground in a sickening thump. All the ladies ran over and I didn’t want to get in the way but I wish I’d written your race number down to be sure if it was you. My biggest worry at the time was your head, so I’m slightly relieved but also saddened by your injuries!

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