It started so smoothly. I arrived on the island three weeks before the race in the best shape of my life. The first week was spiked with volume and intensity before I started my long-awaited taper. Exactly 10 days out of the race is when it all happened. It was a brick session like any other, and this would be my final hard session out on the Queen K with a 90-minute effort on the bike and a hard run to follow. I was tired but I hit all my times. Halfway through the run my coach handed me some water out of the team car, which I tried to grab at full speed. As I grabbed the bottle my right hand got stuck on the wing mirror of the car, and I hit my hand hard and twisted my fingers back. Right away I knew there was more to this little accident than a simple bruise because I was in serious pain for the rest of my workout.
For the next three days my massage therapist worked on getting the swelling down but the pain didn’t go away. The X-ray confirmed what we already knew in the back our minds. It would be a difficult scenario with a fracture in the fourth metacarpal. It took me five days to realise that I could still race and perform. There was no question that this was a big obstacle in my build up.
I toed the start line in an attempt to make the impossible into something that was actually possible. Just several hundred metres into the swim my splint came loose and I had no other option but to stop swimming, re-wrap and adjust it. By the time I was ready to go again I was way back and
focused on limiting my losses. I picked up the speed, caught a few guys, and remained 1 50 metres behind the group for the remainder of the swim.
The pain was bearable but the functionality of things weren’t as they should be. I exited the water about two minutes behind the front pack. It took some time to unwrap my splint and get everything I needed for the bike with one and a half hands. The toughest challenge of the day was mastered, or so I thought. Catching up to a flying lead pack in Kona, where the pace is extremely high for the first phase of the bike, takes a lot of effort.
Forty minutes later I was at the tail-end of the main pack and allowed myself to take a breather and settle in. It was impossible to make up more ground since the guys were all lined up within the legal distance and passing many of them at a time would have been a serious endeavour. On the way to Hawi we lost a few soldiers to Madame Pele, and once the uphill section came around, the group split up and I was able to make my move.
A few single guys were up the road so I bridged a big gap. Then Sebastian Kienle from Germany came by. It was the perfect scenario for me, so I followed him all the way to the front. At the turnaround I got my special needs bag and somehow managed to get my bottles out and continued to push the pace.
The toughest part was picking water bottles from the aid stations because the pain was sharp when I tried to get them. As a result I tried to avoid grabbing them if I didn’t have to. I managed to get off the bike in third behind Pete Jacobs from Australia who was in second. My bike split was the fastest of the guys in the top 10, so I knew that my legs were functioning properly.
I started my marathon strong despite losing a bit of time in T2. The fatigue set in but I maintained pace. Then all of the stress, negative thoughts since the accident, the pain in my hand and distractions took over my mind. I started walking and finally stopped, took a breath and then continued to run. I stopped again and told myself that it was time to quit. My coach, Michael Kruger, and my wife Alicia somehow managed to talk me out of it. Even though I dropped from fifth to 12th place, I thought I might be able to come back. Suddenly, I was able to run again, and I made up ground and passed a few more guys.
With just 5K to go Bart Aernouts from Belgium, who was the fastest runner near me, came dangerously close and I had to dig deeper than ever to maintain a top 10 place, which I managed. Crossing the line I was disappointed but soon started to realise what I was able to achieve that day. A top 10 place in Hawaii is still very respectable, but more importantly I won the fight against the negative thoughts in my mind, and this is what Ironman is all about. Now I am proud of what I achieved out there this year. With good luck on my side next year I should be back on track to continue chasing the dream. Thanks to all who believed in me.