Hit-and-Run Cyclist Joy Braun on Goals, Determination, and PR
It was a warm, sunny Sunday morning in late May. A week prior, I had been racing hard at a 70.3 Ironman event in Central Florida. I felt strong and had checked off a box on my 2013 training schedule. Next, I was on my way to Ironman Florida in five months. I had completed that race in 2011 as my first IM and had been proud of my accomplishment, time, and 14th place finish in my age group. I decided to try for one of the coveted spots for 2013. I got in and figured, “it was meant to be.”
On that Sunday morning, I was riding with a friend on a narrow, two-lane road when the front, right wheel of a red pickup truck came within a foot of my tribike. When the back wheel was within an inch of me, I was shocked, but breathed a sigh of relief. Never before had I had such a close call.
The next thing I knew, I was down. A trailer connected to the truck had struck the side of the back wheel of my bike. I was on the pavement, in the middle of the two lanes. My bike spun out in front of me into the lane of oncoming traffic, with a car headed toward it—and I was next. Thankfully, the car was able to stop just in time.
I looked back, and my cycling partner was already off his bike. I knew he would be concerned about me, but I motioned for him to collect my bike first. I was certain, with the adrenaline and endorphins rushing through my body, I could get myself to the side of the road.
I knew I was pretty beat up, but figured the road rash would heal in a few days. But, I could not walk when I tried, and the excruciating pain did not subside.
The next day, hobbling along with one borrowed crutch, a friend took me to an urgent care facility. After x-rays and a visit with the doctor, I was told I was fine and that I should try getting back on my bike in about five days.
I asked to see my x-rays, and the doctor hesitantly agreed. He pointed out my hip, which seemed intact. My friend pointed to what looked like a separation in my bone further down from the hip. The doctor stated that he had not looked at that area since I had said my hip hurt. After examining me again, the doctor said I may have a fractured pelvic bone.
“There was a break in my pelvic bone, and my sacrum was crushed.”
Late the following afternoon, I finally found a physician. It turned out I not only needed an orthopedic surgeon, but the doctor needed to specialize in trauma. X-rays were taken again, and the doctor was certain there was a break in my pelvic bone, and my sacrum was crushed. He had a strong calmness about him, and he took all my questions in stride. I asked the doctor about IMFL. He looked at me straight-faced and said I could do it. He explained that most people with a broken pelvic bone are on crutches for 12 weeks, but he gave me six weeks due to my physical status. I was encouraged—and thankful I was in top form.
During my next doctor’s visit, he told me I should get in the pool and swim. I wanted to ride a stationary bike and he agreed, if I promised to do so with no resistance. Again, I was encouraged.
For the next six weeks, I hobbled to the pool and gym on crutches. I swam, biked, and lifted weights. I felt a spectrum of emotion from pride to foolishness when I had to ask fellow gym-goers to bring weights to me. It was painful some days, and I was well aware that my movements in the pool did not resemble swimming. I kept active but also slept every chance I had. I truly felt my body recovering and healing itself, using all the energy that I had to get me back to normal.
I had frustrating moments, but I wanted to stay positive. I had never imagined how difficult it would be to walk a dog while on crutches or to get a plate of food from the counter to the table. Nevertheless, I pressed on and encountered others who had experienced an accident. I was motivated by their stories and how they allowed themselves time to heal. Months or years later, those individuals still experienced physical repercussions from their accidents. But I stayed positive, and made progress slowly and steadily. I had my goal.
It was that goal that kept me going, along with my doctor, friends, and a fellow triathlete who was also training for IMFL. I knew I could not push too hard because I did not want to risk further injury. I was elated some days and concerned on others. I got off crutches about three months before IMFL, which meant I had precious little time to peak and then taper before the race. I had to go from walking with crutches to running a full marathon!
I managed to ramp up to a 16-mile run once and slowly biked around 100 miles two or three times. Incredibly, my run time (including water breaks) was the pace I needed to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I was elated to run again. My body was moving how it was meant to.
The days leading up to the race (and even during the race itself) I was full of questions about my capabilities. I figured all I could do was go out and give it my all. I anticipated bonking at some point simply because my body was not capable of high mileage or long training days. My training included many more rest days than previously allowed. I was almost satisfied just to make it to the start line.
The swim was amazing. The bike was tough. Later, I realized I had been using my small calf muscles to bike 112 miles rather than my quads. Due to my injury, I had created that adjustment to get by. On the run, I was in some discomfort during the first 13-mile loop, but I was excited to be running, to be moving. I never bonked and actually picked up my pace throughout the marathon. I was careful to walk a bit and take in fuel at the aid stations, but I had a secret throughout the entire race—motivation. I wondered how many other athletes were running with a hole in their pelvic bone.
I finished the race. I rocked the race. My finish time was 11:28:30—I had taken 21 minutes off my personal record for an Ironman. I was, and still am, proud of that accomplishment.
Today I am training for my fourth Ironman (Cabo) and recall how my recent experience changed my outlook. Now I am certain that I can overcome anything. I have faith in myself, and I believe it to be true of anyone.
“I rocked the race—I had taken 21 minutes off my personal record for an ironman.”
The key components for me were having a doctor who never doubted me or questioned me. He trusted that I knew my body and that I was the one who could make the best decisions related to it. Additionally, my training friend became my boyfriend a few days after the race. The importance of having a training partner and someone who supported my decision to race, even while recovering from a broken bone, was so encouraging.
I will compete in Ironman Florida again in 2014. It will be my fifth and perhaps final Ironman. I will be even stronger, especially mentally, because of the ordeal I went through, proving to myself that I am stronger than I knew.
Joy M. Braun