Accordingly, last year I joined up with NSW Masters Athletics and in fact was happy to become the official State record holder for W40-44 in the half marathon after my Central Coast adventure in November. I was only somewhat put off by the realisation that the Bendigo race would comprise 4 laps of a 5.3km course - that sort of race is inevitably twisty and slower than an out-and-back or a point-to-point course, witness the Port Macquarie HM as evidence of this fact - but I remained resolute. I was going for a new PR, apart from an AG placing of course. But fate has a way of intervening with the best-laid of plans, as I was about to find out.
Bendigo is an old gold mining town in the western part of Victoria, the next state to the south of where I live in New South Wales, and about 4 hours' drive away. I travel down fairly uneventfully with the kids on Thursday afternoon, planning to spend a few days checking out the sights and generally relaxing. It's boiling hot so we hit the hotel pool immediately upon arrival and then head out for some dinner at a rather swanky (Wagu kids' beef burger, anyone?) yet somehow also kid-friendly joint. What a great find!
Friday brings more oppressive heat and so after a bit of a late start, we make our way to the outskirts of Bendigo to visit Water World, which is basically a tiny little water park in the middle of the bush with a couple of small pools, a bunch of tropical-style umbrellas with tables underneath and one huge, twisty, slippery and totally awesome waterside.
|It looks innocent enough.......|
Predictably, the slide turns out to be amazing fun, and surprisingly there is no supervision at the top. People (ok, kids) are diving on there headfirst, feet first, on their bellies, whatever. It's chaos of the most ridiculously fun kind and the kids cannot get enough. I'm keeping up with them, almost, and considering letting them just go nuts on their own when it happens: sliding down in a chain with the two of them ahead of me, Jack hits the pool first and rather than moving away just stands there oblivious. Amelia, in the middle, has me by the hands and as she hits the pool feet first I get catapulted over the top of her and into the water. I'm sliding on my belly so my head is right back and my larynx exposed as I slam - throat-first - into the back of Jack's head.
|the oblivious culprits - picture me sailing over the top of her feet|
HOLY SHIT, that hurts! It's like getting winded, only more painful. My first thought is "Oh god, my larynx is fractured" and I'm clutching my throat and no doubt looking aghast as Jack bobs up and says casually, "Mama, you bumped my head!" I can't answer - I'm not sure I can breathe - and I instinctively race to get out of the water. The slack-jawed teenage lifesaver who is on duty at the plunge pool looks vaguely at me as I stumble past him with my hand around my throat, but doesn't seem to have noticed that anything might be wrong. I sit shakily at our table, trying not to panic, but wondering if I am about to obstruct my airway and die. Perhaps I should get that teenager to call an ambulance?
The kids come over and I find that I can speak, although my voice is gravelly and it's bloody agony to even try to swallow. They want to keep sliding and I don't appear to be dying yet, so they run off and I sit, gingerly feeling the swelling develop around the cartilage of my Adam's apple. It occurs to me that an ice pack might be an excellent idea at this point, and the teenager at the front desk obligingly digs one out of the bottom of the ice-cream freezer for me when I go and croak out my request.
|Very unflattering photo, with large swelling around and to the right of my thyroid cartilage.|
Thought bubble: "Am I about to swell up and die? Because that would suck."
We head home via the chemist, where I stock up on soluble paracetamol, aspirin and every variety of throat lozenge that has the word "anaesthetic" on the front. The kids have grasped the fact that Mama has a VERY sore throat; Amelia takes it upon herself to dispense the medicines and Jack places himself in charge of making sure I get a lozenge every two hours. Thank you, darlings, it's making absolutely no difference, but I love you for trying.
The more pressing thought in my head is, what about that small race I am supposed to be doing on Sunday?? Friday night passes in a sleepless, painful blur. Every time I need to swallow, I wake up in agony. A lozenge at 2am makes enough difference for me to sleep a few hours, but there's no way in hell I am going to be able to race on Sunday - I can hear my breathing (the medical term for this is "stridor", which implies that my airway is narrowed) on both inspiration and expiration. This is extremely bad.
Saturday morning I feel so rough that I email Coach B to tell her what's happened and that I'm down for the count, probably not even going to run the race. The kids get up and we go on a tour of the Central Deborah Gold Mine, which is dark and slightly scary in a thrilling sort of way. We have to wear headlamps and helmets and go down in a cage to a depth of 50m below ground - the kids are agog with delight and a tiny, delicious frisson of terror.
|Learning what Fool's gold looks like....with their oddly silent mother behind them|
Strangely enough, late Saturday afternoon and into the evening my throat starts to feel marginally better. Perhaps this is just a reflection on how terribly horrible it felt at first, or perhaps the pain receptors in the "throat" part of my cerebral cortex are just burned out? Whatever - I feel a tiny bit better. The embryo of an insane idea begins to form in my brain: well, we're here and all, I'm signed up and all, maybe I could do the race just as a fun run? I'm almost certain I won't precipitate fatal throat swelling by doing so....but there's no way I can race it. I guess we'll see how I feel in the morning.
Make that fun-run day, but Sunday dawns and I realise I actually slept a lot better than the night before. Fun run here I come! I make sure to sabotage any attempt at serious racing by failing to eat before (not too difficult, since the pain associated with swallowing anything solid is still pretty impressive), I leave my Australia singlet behind and neglect even to drink adequately before the start. I consider tearing off the timing chips from my front-and-back bibs, but decide to leave them on when I realise this will destroy the bibs entirely. Sigh.
We arrive at the race start area in good time - enough for me to jog 2 easy miles and drum into my head that I am in no fit state to race - the kids settle in at the finish line at the table with the babysitter and very shortly it's time to line up at the start. I purposely put myself at the back of the Masters Athletics group, muttering to myself "Not racing, not racing....." until the gun goes off and I determinedly set off to not race the guts out of this thing.
|Not racing, nope, just out for a jog...|
Lap 1, miles 1-3.4: 7:11, 6:55, 7:07 (pace in min/mile)
It's congested back here in the pack, and I'm NOT pushing the pace, so it's gratifying to see 7:11 on my Garmin when it beeps the first split. Not quite so gratifying is finding myself in amongst a bunch of 60-70 yr old male runners - the Masters bibs are cunningly numbered so one can identify one's competitors by the first two digits, the age group, and this is a bit depressing. I put on a burst of speed and then find myself struggling to back it off again. Thankfully, as we head around the small lake nearby the crowd thins out and I settle into a comfortable pace. My breathing sounds slightly reminiscent of Darth Vader - if he was asthmatic - and I'm not game to even try to swallow some water although there are plenty of drinks stations around, but so far, so good.
Lap 2, miles 4-7ish: 6:59, 6:58, 6:56
Apparently anything slower than 6:59 pace is unacceptable for my brain to process. Whatever, I'm still going a lot slower than I was planning to run, so it's fine, really. And I'm passing people left and right now as I come around for the second lap. There's a short hairpin that goes up a rather steep side street and then back down - this enables me to see that I'm actually in 3rd place overall, with only one Masters female in front of me - and she's in the faux-Masters AG 35-39. Grrrr! If I was in a position to race this thing, I'd be several minutes in front of her at this point. But whatever, at least I'm alive and not in hospital with a fractured larynx and a tracheostomy, right?
|Look ahead, don't race. Look ahead, don't race. Repeat until brain goes numb.|
Lap 3, miles 7 - 9.6ish: 6:50, 6:49, 6:40
Ooooops. Coach B has drilled into my brain that I MUST NOT slow down in the 3rd lap - a strategy designed to counteract the fade I experienced in this part of the Central Coast HM - and it seems my subconscious is determined to make her proud. I see on the hairpin hill that I'm catching the woman ahead of me (not a Masters competitor) and it's all I can do not to pull out all the stops to close the distance and overtake. Must. Resist. Luckily my breathing chooses this point to protest at the increase in pace, and I reluctantly fall back again.
Lap 4, miles 10 - 13.1: 6:55, 7:05, 6:06
The effort to slow down results in my first mile over 7:00 pace since the first lap, and as a reward I allow myself to put the pedal to the metal for the final mile - not enough to catch the 2nd female, but enough to satisfy me that I could have gone much faster, and also that I'm still not dead. I hit the finish line feeling like I've barely been for a jog; the kids are beyond excited to hear the announcer name me winner of my AG, and so ends the half-marathon that will forever be known as "The One with the Broken Throat".
|Finish line, too relaxed by far|
Finish time: 1:31:46
Placement: 1st AG (40-44), 3rd female overall
|This champagne will soothe my throat nicely, thank you.|
I get a medal and a bottle of bubbly for my AG win, and happily pose with the two other place-getters. Actually I feel like a bit of an imposter, having won so easily with a time that is a full 10 minutes off what I was aiming to run, but oh well. It's a novel injury and a good one for the story books, even if almost every single person I tell is going to react with the rhetorical questions "you did what to your throat?...and you STILL RAN??"
As regards the race, nothing to see here, move on. Regarding the throat - on the Monday after the race I get myself in to see a local ENT surgeon, who sticks a fibreoptic laryngoscope down my nose (ugh, disgusting) and confirms that I have a massive bruise in the right side of my larynx, both cords are swollen and my right vocal cord is actually paralysed. He organises an urgent CT scan which thankfully shows that the cartilage itself is not fractured, and the important recurrent laryngeal nerve - the one that supplies the cords and causes them to move - appears to be intact and not severed.
Home I go on massive doses of oral steroids (to bring down the swelling) and some antibiotics for good measure. A week later my voice is improving and the pain all but gone, but the cord is still not working; he wants me to go to Sydney for a second opinion. Truly, all I care about is whether or not I'll be affected with my breathing when I need to run fast. When he tells me I won't have lasting stridor, I'm happy enough to leave it for now. I can't sing (not that this is much of a loss) but I'm recovered enough to run and also to bellow at the kids when the need arises, so for now that will definitely suffice.
Next up? Another HM in Victoria, hopefully with a great deal less drama and a lot more success.