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I have the clearest memory of being in this (somewhat of a) stranger’s living room as the sun set, his kids already in pyjamas and tearing around the house. There were lovely smells coming from the kitchen as his wife obviously hurried to get a meal ready and restore some calm. The massage table was already in the middle of the room. It looked a little weird there alongside the couch, the television, and toys strewn around. I was so stressed and scared that I think sweat was dripping down my legs. I worried that he would feel it or that I would leave marks on the table surface once he was done.
“Right,” he turned to me with kind, concerned eyes. “Let’s take a look and get to the bottom of this.” I drew in my breath and made my way towards the table. If this didn’t work, it was all over.
It sounds melodramatic, I know.
But when you’re training for an Ironman, you are in the most bizarre of bubbles. It can be a pretty selfish, self-important, obsessive, structured and disciplined bubble, especially if you’re an Ironman virgin (and before you ask, despite this sport being absolutely jammed with the strongest, most independent of women, you are always an Iron’man’. To the best of my knowledge, there is little resistance).
Life has to change if this event is in your crosshairs. It is simply not possible to live a ‘normal’ life if you want to do an Ironman. Why?
Ironman - the Distances
An Ironman triathlon comprises:
- 3.8km, or 2.36mi swim
- 190km, or 118mi bike (so the driving distance from London to Bristol)
- A marathon run
You either achieve an Ironman as a sole athlete competing in all three disciplines back-to-back, or you enter as a team. It sounds like a lot of work. But let me tell you; it’s nothing on all the training that is required in order to be race-ready.
Why do an Ironman?
There are doubtless so many reasons. For me, it was because it seemed impossible for someone like me to achieve. Socially, I was surrounded by some of the best Ironman amateur athletes in Australia - the bar was high. It permeated so much conversation, so much way of life. It became a bit normal to know people who would wake up at 4am in the middle of winter, put their bike on a windtrainer in the apartment corridor, insert earbuds and just smash it out on a stationary bike for three hours before work. I figured if they could then perhaps, somehow, I could as well.
My Ironman Goals
Originally I had two goals, and they were fairly straight-forward.
- Complete the race in the cut-off time (17 hours)
- Complete the race without literally melting an internal organ. Again, I know I sound melodramatic, but Google “Ironman dramatic finishes” and you will see what I mean. Before racing we have to sign a disclaimer stating we know we risk death in doing this event.
My father caught wind of my ambition. A tidy marathon runner in his own right, he suggested I had given myself some fairly lofty goals and, if we were to be sensible, I would be fortunate to finish within 14 hours.
My goals were instantly amended.
- Complete the Ironman without melting an internal organ
- Complete the Ironman in under 14 hours
Gulp. I had not only committed to this, I’d put a number on it. The pressure was on.
Unless you have some kind of superhuman base, an Ironman is impossible to achieve in the cut-off time without training. The way I see it...
- If you want to race a 2.36mi swim then you need to be able to comfortably swim at least 5mi in a training session
- If you want to race a 118mi cycling event then you need to be able to comfortably bike at least 130mi in a training session
- If you want to race a marathon then you need to be able to comfortably run at least 22mi in a training session
But if you want to do all of these one after the other, then you need endurance sessions, strength sessions, brick sessions (one discipline straight after the other), you need to have perfected your race day nutrition plan (that in itself is an endurance event), and you need to have nailed isolation. You have to be comfortable to be in great physical pain and be alone for hours and hours and hours. Up to 14 hours, if my dad was right.
Getting Close to Race Day
Race day was fast approaching and I was feeling good. I had a coach (a good friend) who had kept me on a strict training plan, which I had been following fastidiously.
Then it happened - I started to feel a niggle.
As any triathlete will tell you, it’s possibly more common to turn up to an Ironman race start either with an injury, or having just recovered from an injury. I didn’t panic, but I started to get worried. Three weeks away from race day and the niggle was still there. Two weeks away and not only was it still there, it was getting worse. My left knee didn’t seem to be able to take the weight of me anymore. I felt a dull ache all around the patella. It was present when I was desk-bound during the day, but would become more pronounced on the bike. When I ran, it would escalate to a sharp pain. I kept running through it, willing it to go away.
I started to panic.
- I saw an Chinese Doctor.
- I saw a physiotherapist, two in fact.
- I saw a chiropractor.
I spent a fortune in a blitz of consultations. One of them, a doctor for some of the biggest professional sporting names in Melbourne, actually chuckled and said if I could complete the event in this condition then he would be amazed. I was gobsmacked that someone in such a position could be so senseless to say such a thing.
Was this in my head?
Was I so scared that I was manifesting my own injury?
Or was this legitimately a physical problem?
I couldn’t tell. I couldn’t see the wood for the trees anymore. I was panicked, and I was desperate.
Race eve is supposed to be super, super easy. A ride for a few minutes and a run for a minute or two, otherwise off the feet and eating/drinking/resting. You go from having no free time to having all the time in the world. My family and I had hired a holiday home 100km or so away, at the race start (it was a point to point finish, ending literally about 1km away from my house). We had agreed to all go to a local cafe for brunch. I got on my bike and rode there. I remember parking it at the cafe and then starting a bit of a shuffle/run. I couldn’t even get from the cafe verandah down to the road. How was I to run a marathon the following day? My hopes were dashed.
I called my coach from the holiday house. I was in tears, I was inconsolable. She had been on this journey with me and she knew how desperate I had become. She contacted her former coach who also happened to be a qualified osteotherapist and former red-hot Ironman triathlete. Although he was no longer practicing, he agreed to see me.
On race eve.
Just before dinner.
In his lounge room, where the kids were tearing around in pyjamas.
Movie Goer’s Knee
“I’d say you’ve got movie goer’s knee,” he said after he’d inspected me in his lounge room.
No professional had put a title to it. That alone made a difference. Patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS). It’s the name given to a pain that refers from the joint between the patella (kneecap) and the underlying femur (thigh bone). I laughed at the irony of the title. Based on this theory, he suggested the only thing we could do now was tape the patella in a particular way. He disappeared for a moment and returned, bandages in hand. He carefully taped me up and explained that he would be at the race the following morning, as early as 5am. He could meet me and retape me before the race, and then meet me again in each transition (swim to bike; bike to run) and tape me fresh again. It was all I had, and I grabbed it like a lifeline. I remember leaving his house and making an attempt to run down his driveway. I made it. If I could run a few metres more tonight than I could this morning, just maybe a marathon tomorrow was possible.
To cut a long story short, I did it.
The swim began just after dawn in the water (as opposed to the classic run-off-the-beach start). Thousands of spectators were gathered on the pier cheering all the wet-suited bodies that bobbled in the bayside below, waiting for the whistle. The media helicopter was circling from above and over in the sunrise pink distance were the iconic Melbourne hot air balloons, sailing peacefully over the city. I made it through the swim, the human washing machine as I like to call it, teeth intact. I was re-taped before getting on the bike and beginning that incredibly long and lonely 4.5-hour+ session up and down a closed freeway twice.
As I moved into transition to get off the bike and into the run, I knew my knee was not coping. The pain had reared its head during the bike leg. To be honest, I was delighted with how things were going and to get that far. Anything from this point on was going to be a bonus.
I got off the bike and headed into the run. My friends and family were screaming their support and it gave me the most amazing injection of adrenaline. I’ve never experienced anything like it. I don’t know where it came from, but I started screaming back at them. Whoops of joy and high-fiving and just a massive release of energy. I don’t know where I found the physical ability to do anything more than the job at hand. My knee was reaching fairly high levels of sharp pain. I think part of my screaming back at family was in fact disguised screams to release the pain. These endorphins coming from the race energy just kept me moving, kept me going forward when all I wanted to do was put a stop to it. And then the crowds melted away and the long, long marathon road to Melbourne city loomed ahead. It was all about eating the elephant one bite at a time. I gave myself mini goals and by the time I reached the 10mi mark my entire being was in so much pain that my knee had just blurred into the total body experience.
I got through it. I finished. I achieved my goals. Dad was wrong about the time I’d do it in, as well. At the risk of sounding really conceited, it’s been one of the biggest accomplishments in my life. I have never been able to do it again, my knee never recovered.
My Wedding and Lockdown
I was supposed to be getting married in early June 2020, but coronavirus threw a spanner in those works.
Before lockdown was even on the radar, I decided I needed to look my fresh-best for the wedding day, so I turned to collagen. I had been doing my research and believed this was going to be the best way to ensure I not only felt great leading into our wedding day, but I looked my best. I was targeted by online advertising campaigns from many brands. I decided to ignore them all and instead I did my research and found myself looking into Edible Health. I reached out to them and before I knew it, I not only started taking Edible Health Marine Collagen Powder, I started working for them as well!
When it Comes to Collagen, the Body Takes What it Wants to Where it Wants It
Of the many things I have learnt about collagen, this is central.
No matter why you take collagen, your body will use it and allocate it where it sees fit. It knows its own priorities. So, yes, I started to take collagen with the hope it would lead me to our wedding day looking and feeling fabulous. Then, coronavirus struck and the wedding was cancelled, but I kept taking the collagen.
Now funnily enough, because of lockdown I couldn’t do my swim sessions, nor could I go to my yoga studio. So I was hungry for a workout, but didn’t think an hour’s walk outside was really going to cut mustard. I needed a more densely-packed workout with the minimal outside time permitted to me, permitted to everyone in the UK.
So I started to shuffle run.
Normally, whenever I attempt to go shuffling my knee pain re-emerges. I can go three or maybe four runs but sure enough, the injury will flare up again and render me useless. Strangely, my knee pulled up fine after this first lockdown shuffle. I was mindful not to try and go from zero to hero, so I gave it a rest and a couple of days later I went for another shuffle. No pain during, no pain after. This was unusual.
I didn’t want to ask questions - ignorance is bliss.
I waited a couple of days and set off again. Once more, no pain. Within weeks I had built up a solid base of really comfortable run sessions. The body was back. I was delighted.
An Interview and an Epiphany
So fast forward more than two months, and I found myself interviewing some Edible Health friends for a story. One was Dr Doug, who told me how he’d suffered from terrible knees but had managed to run a half marathon. He was convinced his daily collagen intake had a part to play in it.
My mind jarred.
What did he just say? Did he say collagen helped heal his knee injury? Hang on, I know that collagen helps bone joints and tendons. I read the research, I’ve written about it. But this is where the mind is so interesting (or so vague). Despite knowing this inside-and-out, I had tunnel vision. I was taking collagen to feel and look my best for a wedding. I was now running and doing so repeatedly without the slightest sign of a niggle, let alone a seven-year old sporting injury. And I wasn’t making any attempt to connect dots.
Collagen and My Knee
I could not believe it. My mind went boom. The only thing that was different in my life was a) lockdown and b) collagen. Sure, I was no longer swimming or going to my yoga studio, but that was it. Nothing else in my life had changed. Dr Doug connected the dots for me, I was blind to it. My knee feels so normal, so completely restored to its former self, that it actually feels miraculous.
But there’s nothing miraculous about it.
Brooke takes her Edible Health Marine Collagen daily fix with porridge, honey and peanut butter.
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