After a rough beginning, EdApp performance team athlete Chris Wallace shares his experience as he trained for the Nice Ironman 70.3 World Championships.
As I commenced training in earnest for the Nice Ironman 70.3 World Championships, I was eager to put the tribulations of the first half of the year behind me. After an appendectomy and gastrointestinal issues had wiped out my race calendar and training plan, I found myself at ground zero in terms of fitness. I was hopeful that the months of recovery and mental recharge would allow me to quickly build my fitness back up, but there was always a lingering fear that my pace wouldn’t return.
The first few sessions were as painful (both mentally and physically) as I’d predicted. I was trundling around Centennial Park at a snail’s pace with my heart rate through the roof, barely scraping a few lengths in a row in the pool before needing a break and feeling empty after thirty minutes on the indoor trainer. I knew I’d need to be patient and respect my body and health.
However, as the weeks went by, I found my form and fitness returning quicker and quicker, and the fear that it might never return began to evaporate.
Return to racing
Lining up for my first “race” of the season at the Coastal Classic trail race in Newcastle, I had no real aspirations apart from enjoying the race. I’d made the trip mainly to support my partner Bonnie who was running the longer 25km race, and only made the decision to sign up for the 12km race on the Friday after a few abdominal niggles during the week. I therefore set off at a conservative pace but as the race wore, I found myself feeling strong and pushed through the field and in the end finished in 2nd place – a huge and unexpected confidence boost.
This was followed by another as I raced at the Sydney Striders 10k at North Head. Having not run a 10k in a few years, I’d set myself a target of taking down my PB of 34:36 from a few years earlier. I knew there would be some fast guys there, and so I settled into the front group and tried to stick with them as long as possible. While I dropped off the front runners at halfway and raced solo, it was enough to take me through 5k in 16:00 (a PB in itself) and I was able to hold on for 32:59, fifth place and a huge PB.
With no triathlons for a few months due to the off-season, I was keen to test my biking in a race situation. I signed up for the West Head Road Race series organised by Manly-Warringah Cycling Club. In the first race, while I found my fitness was there, my lack of race experience showed in my terrible tactics. Many failed breakaways and poor positioning in the pack saw me miss the sprint at the finish. However, I thoroughly enjoyed it and was looking forward to applying better strategy in the next race…
As I lined up for the second race, I was wary that conditions were less than ideal. With a heavy fog reducing visibility and damp conditions leaving the road greasy, I was especially conscious of potential crashes. Ironically, it was for that reason that I decided to go with an early breakaway. My theory was that less riders meant less potential for collisions. However, coming off a downhill in second wheel, I found that I carried more speed than the rider in front. Desperately braking, it was impossible to avoid the touch of wheels with the guy in front. In what seemed like slow motion, my front wheel locked up as I was thrown over the handlebars, landing with a loud bang on my head and shoulder.
As I was rushed to hospital, I knew right away that I’d damaged my shoulder. Doctors confirmed that I’d broken my collarbone, ruptured my shoulder ligament and had mild concussion. In hindsight, given I was riding at 50kph when I crashed, I was incredibly lucky to not come off any worse. However, after a rough start to the year, it was a hard blow to take.
Race against time for Nice
Due to the nature of the break, I had to undergo surgery to put a plate in my collarbone and to reconstruct my coracoclavicular ligament. Initially I was told that there would be no chance of racing just over 8 weeks later at the 70.3 World Champs in Nice. However, I decided to keep doing what I could, with the goal of getting to the starting line in Nice, as much for my mental wellbeing as my physical wellbeing.
Having been cleared to ride indoors, I was back on the trainer 2 days after shoulder surgery, with sweat dripping into the stitches. The trainer was set up against a wall with a box on one side so that I could get on and off with one arm immobilised. For six weeks, I rode indoors, with one arm to hold the handlebar and the other in a sling. By the 6 week mark, and after clocking over 1600km on Zwift, I was relieved to be cleared to take off the sling and begin running outdoors. Fortunately, I found the bike fitness translated pretty well to the run, although the shoulder was very stiff.
At 7 weeks, I was cleared to swim when “comfortable” to do so. The six weeks in a sling coupled with the break had left me with a stiff and sore shoulder and very little range of motion. With physical therapy and massage sessions, I’ve worked on increasing this as quickly as possible. Progressing from single-arm swimming sessions (including an exhausting 2km with one arm!) to incorporating my right arm back in.
Whether to race in Nice?
While my bike feels strong, and my running form is feeling ok even with only 2 weeks in the bank, I’m still not 100% certain that my shoulder will allow me to swim on the day. I’ve been able to do some right armed swimming, but it has been very sore and so it will really depend how it continues to recover over the course of the week.
I’ve realised that, this time, my desire to race isn’t fuelled by the desire of being competitive and hitting a PB. There is no way that I could expect to be up the front given the circumstances. For me, even being on the start line would represent a huge victory, and after a pretty terrible year of injury and illness, it would be a pleasure to just enjoy the experience of racing in such a beautiful location!
However, at the same time, I know there’s no point risking racing if my shoulder just isn’t ready. I’ll travel to Nice this week with the view that racing would just be a bonus to what I’m sure will be an amazing sojourn in the south of France nonetheless!
I’ll keep you posted…