On a Wing (Rib) and a Prayer – XTERRA Uwharrie Race Report

After getting a busted rib in Vegas back on the 24th, I had pretty much sworn off racing the XTERRA Uwharrie (commonly referred to by us locals as URE) race.  This was especially true that it has taken a Vicodin prescription to allow me to sleep. 

During the day, popping a couple of Aleve does the job, but the minute you go horizontal, look out.  Something about laying down changes the shape of your rib cage and it’s not a shape a broken rib wants.  Thanks to Alba’s research on what’s the best position, using 5 or 6 pillows, and a couple of Vicodin and I can get about 5 or 6 hours of sleep.  With that said, getting up everyday leading up to the race, the very, very last thing on my mind was the possibility of racing.  Thursday night prior to the race was particularly bad.  I didn’t get much sleep at all.

After doing absolutely nothing all week, when Saturday (day before the race), I decided to see what was (painfully) possible.  My buddy, Dan, and I decided to do a brick session.  After a quick 30 minute mountain bike ride and a 15 minute trail run, I was feeling quite confident that the race, could indeed, be possible.  Looking back at Vegas, I didn’t have any grand ideas about even doing remotely well, but maybe, just maybe, I could be out there with my XTERRA brothers and sisters.  And then…

I donned a wetsuit in preparation for a 15 minute (or so) open water swim (as part of my pre-race brick).  The suit felt quite snug which worried me a little.  Sure enough, as soon as I took off swimming, it was EXTREMELY painful.  Every couple of strokes I could feel a pop and a crackle (which I’m still trying to figure out) which resulted in a sharp pain.  I hadn’t even gone 100 meters and I had to turn around to head back to the shore.

Back on the shore, as I caught my wind, I realized that the pain wasn’t actually caused by the stroke, but instead, but the deep breaths I was taking in order to take more strokes between breaths.  Giving it another shot, Dan and I headed out with the goal of swimming another 400 meters or so.  It went a lot better the second time around.  Still painful, but possibly doable.  When we were done, I still hadn’t made my decision.  After some discussion, I decided to head home, pack my truck as if I were racing and sleep on it.

Race day, we headed to URE to race.  I had made up my mind that I would give it my best shot.  If at any time, I felt as if it wasn’t doable, I’d DNF.  Those are three letters I really don’t like.  D.  N.  F.  They just sound awful.  Couple that with the idea of doing it willingly and it’s even worse.  Alas, I had to race smart and if that meant throwing in the towel to prevent further injury, then so be it.

Photo by Alba Barton

Deciding to forego any sort of warm-up swim to prevent any more tortuous pain than necessary, I hopped in the water preparing to race.  “If I can make it through the swim, then the race will go fine,” I said to myself.  Since it was a two-lap swim, I figured that if I got into any trouble (with too much pain), then I could always bail after the first lap.  Once the swim started, I was super-surprised that it wasn’t as bad as I thought.  It was still sore and tight, but not unbearable.  The one exception was breathing to the left.  I tried it twice and in both instances, it felt as someone was jabbing me with an ice pick in my back.  Like in Vegas, I let out an audible, underwater “mmmph”.

Photo by OnLocPhotoNC.com

Heading out on the bike I was really worried about crashing.  After all, another crash could equal a punctured lung.  Anyone that rides with me on a regular basis know that it isn’t uncommon for me to go down at least once on a ride.  So going into the URE bike course, which can be pretty challenging with rocks and boulders the size of your head, some sketchy sections and some fast downhills, worried me.  The course was dry; a lot drier than normal, which meant really, really fast.  I just tried my best to go as fast as I could while still being somewhat conservative enough not to crash.

Photo by Alba Barton

On my second lap of the bike course, I came across quite a few folks with flats or other bike trouble.  I threw out the obvious question of “do you need anything”.  Everyone seemed to be well on their way to repairing their bikes, so everyone replied that they didn’t.  One gentleman took me up on my offer.  I almost passed him up.  I had gotten so used to everyone replying that they didn’t need any help that when he responded with, “Got any co2 or a pump?”, I almost didn’t hear it.  I skidded to a stop, tossed him my tool bottle (a water bottle with tools and a tube in it) and ripped my can of Genuine Innovations Big Air off of the seat post and tossed it too.  “The nozzle is in the bottle,” I said as I took off. 

Photo by OnLocPhotoNC.com

 Jeff Hare and I played a game of cat and mouse for most of the second lap.  I honestly think he was just toying with me.  I offered to let him pass several times, but he always said no thank you and stayed behind me.  I’d pull away from him on the down hills and he’d always catch up to me on the up hills.  He could have easily passed me on an uphill, but he remained behind me.  When he finally did pass towards the tail end of the bike leg, just before we hopped back on the gravel road, he did so with a “Have a good race.”  I would spend the rest of the race trying to catch up.

Photo by OnLocPhotoNC.com

Coming out of transition, I realized I should have drank just a bit more water coming down the gravel road, or at least before I hit transition.  The first mile of the run, I had a very dry, pasty taste in my mouth that messed with my mind a bit.  I’m sure it was caused by all of the dust of the gravel road since I had to fly through several dust clouds caused by cars.  Anyhow, I’m sure the dry mouth gave me the sensation that I was thirsty more than actual thirst.

Photo by Alba Barton

The heat had picked up quite a bit as well.  Running through the woods, without the nice wind that you get from being on the bike also intensified the sensation.  I couldn’t wait to make it to the first water stop just so I could throw some water over my head.  The first creek crossing I came to, I looked down at the water tempted to splash some on my face.  It had a nice little glaze across the top and a couple of those spider-looking bugs skirting across the top of the water, defying gravity.  Ummm.. No.  Don’t think so.

Photo by OnLocPhotoNC.com

The next creek crossing looked a lot better, so I took off my GU running cap, scooped up a hatful and threw it only my steaming, bald noggin.  That managed to get me thru to the water stop.  Amazing how something so simple can completely change your attitude. Until… 

On one of the creek crossings, I lost my footing.  I didn’t fall completely, but in that situation, where all I could see were rocks, I immediately tensed up and caught myself with my right arm.  The combination of the two caused severe pain with my broken ribs (yep, two, not one as immediately diagnosed, see update below).  I stopped, leaned my shoulder into a tree and took four or five deep breaths.  I shook it off the best I could and kept on trucking.

I was steadily passing folks on the run and as I neared the last mile or so, I caught a glimpse of three folks in front or me.  As I approached the first guy, I recognized the hydration pack he was wearing.  “IT’S DAN!” I yelled out just as I came up behind my training buddy.  He didn’t even acknowledge my presence.  That, coupled with the fact that I caught up with him, I figured he was having a few issues.

I passed him and started talking back to him.  “We’re on the last mile, buddy.  Pick up the pace.  Let’s go!”  He acknowledged with a mumble that I couldn’t understand.  Rather than ask what’s wrong and just allow him to concentrate more on the issue, I tried my best to distract him.  “Come on, dude, you’ve gotta earn that Frito wrap!” (referring to a favorite post-race snack of his, a Sonic Frito Wrap.  We both picked off one more person.

As we came into the parking lot, I saw one more person heading up to the finish line.  I knew even with a sprint, there was no way I’d catch him.  He didn’t appear to be in my age group, so rather than force further rib injury, I decided to have a little fun.  While passing a few volunteers (who were all AWESOME, by the way), I yelled out to him, “YOU BETTER RUN, I’M COMING FOR YOU!”  He looked back at me and proceeded into a full sprint.  The volunteers all laughed.

Photo by OnLocPhotoNC.com

 Across the finish line, he thanked me for the “push”.  I explained I didn’t think I was going to catch him, but wanted to give him a little scare.  “You scared the crap outta me.”  Hehe.  Plan accomplished.

I finished 8th overall and 4th in my age group.  I never caught up to Jeff Hare and he finished 10 seconds (or so) ahead of me.  Great job, Jeff!

Rib(s) update

Friday, I followed up with the orthopedic doc.  I told him I had concerns about the crunching noises I hear when trying to get comfortable in bed.  He assured me it was normal, but usually not with just one broken rib.  He took a closer look at the XRAY and said it appeared that not only was number 11 fractured, but number 10 was as well.  However, he said I was healing up nicely and gave me the green light on activity.  “Use pain as your guide” he says.  Uh-huh.  Little does he know that the excitement of racing can cover up quite a bit of pain.  With that said, I was off to race in the 6 Hour Grind at the Greenway yesterday (race report coming up).  :-)

Be a Warrior!


Photo by Alba Barton