Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Go hard. Go to hospital. Go home.

There are three types of morning wake up call:
1) A lay-in alarm that's normally around 9am on a day off. Or 10am for extreme lie-ins. Sometimes up to 10:30am for days of super laziness.
2) The work alarm. Around 6am. Always hard to get up for. Likely pressing of the snooze button.
3) The one that triathletes are familiar with: the race day alarm. Unsocial. Wake up with butterflies. Can be anything from 4:30am onwards. 

Today, my wake up call was not one of the three above. My alarm was set for 3:30am. Yes, 3:30 AM! This is not morning. This is the MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT. Eating my porridge closer to midnight snack time than breakfast is not cool. 

Today was the morning of the European Triathlon Championships. I'd been excited about this race for months. Travelling with the other Tri Training Harder coaches Will, Laura and Alan had meant the pre-race days had felt like a Portugal reunion/holiday filled with BBQs, sightseeing, walks along the river and cheeky 5pm wine bar visits. There was also no pressure for this race; I was racing for fun! I had been feeling strong and confident in my training and was super excited to see how I would do in a non-drafting race. 

Relaxing before raceday with a cup of tea on the balcony

My wave was set to go at 6:33am, meaning I would be finished between 8:30 and 9am - perfectly timed to have a celebratory post-race breakfast. I'd already chosen which sundae I was going to have from the ice cream parlour by the lake (it had 6 scoops and was a cheeky 35 Swiss francs). Racing so early also meant that we would have the more sociable conditions of 18-20 degrees rather than the scorching mid-30s, where the temperatures crept up to each day.

During my warm up I dodged the drunks of Geneva wobbling home from their nights out, I squeezed into my wetsuit then made my way to the starting pen ready to go. Laura gave me a hug with her final words being: "if you're not having a little sick on the bike, you're not pushing hard enough!". Little did I know that in a few hours time I would get to see what happens when you really test your limits...

I settled into a rhythm quite quickly into the swim and lead from the beginning, passing one man from the previous wave - who had a 3 minute head start - before the 250m mark. Bad day at the office for him! (Sorry if you're reading this!!!). Despite the current I had a decent swim, coming out of the water in 19:25 - the fastest female time by 1min30. Now I just had to keep my lead on the bike! The bike was fun and fast and I loved time trialling on my new bike set up from Bike Science. We did two laps around the lake including a 1km short sharp hill with a sweet descent afterwards. I kept my lead on the bike for one lap then stayed in 2nd place female coming into T2, with 3rd female hot on my heels. 

Getting my swimmer's shoulders out of my wetsuit is always a challenge

"Doh, where did I rack my bike in transition?"

Smiling on the bike

Ready to attack the hill. Round 2.

The run was an undulating* (*read: frickin' hilly!) 3 lap course. I'd been feeling strong in my run training so I was excited to see how fast I could go. Originally I had hoped for a sub-40min 10km but after seeing the course and the times from the sprint athletes on Friday, I reevaluated my expectations! I ran hard on the first lap then tried to relax on laps 2 and 3. It was hurting, A LOT, but I kept my head up and thought of my ice cream (and subsequent cocktails) waiting for me at the finish. In the last 800m I tried to sprint. That didn't work. I tried to increase my pace. That didn't work either. Then I heard the words "Finish strong Hannah, there's no one behind you" - that was music to my ears! As I entered the blue carpet I attempted to at least look like I was sprinting and crossed the line with a huge smile on my face.

Enjoying the small amount of shade on the run course

Still smiling on lap 3 (probably because it was downhill)!

Both feet off the ground = flying. Right?

I had placed 3rd female overall at the European championships! The two girls ahead were also in my age group so I picked up the bronze medal in 20-24yrs category too (whoever says this is an 'easy' age group should have come to Geneva this year - the 20-24s dominated!).

As soon as I crossed the finish line, I leaned against the barriers, thought 'Wow, I'm pooped!' (or other choice words to that effect...), then suddenly, without any warning, I collapsed onto the floor. I could hear muffled voices around me but couldn't move or see. I felt people putting me in the recovery position then lifted onto a stretcher and I was carried to the medical tent. 

From the moment I collapsed I was completely aware of what was going on; I could hear people shouting my name, asking if I could hear them, feel them covering me in ice and wet towels and taking my observations: blood pressure, temperature etc. But I was completely paralysed... I couldn't open my eyes, move or talk. It was the most surreal and scary experience ever. I could hear the doctor shouting out my results, and, as I work in A+E, I panicked at how high my temperature was and how low my blood pressure, blood sugar, oxygen levels and GCS were. If I was a patient in the hospital I work in, I would be in the resus room. 

Finally Will was allowed to see me. I heard his voice and tried so hard to open my eyes but I just couldn't. I'd had 1.5litres of cold IV fluids squeezed into me in the tent over the last 45minutes but still I couldn't move or talk and my eyes just flickered uncontrollably. As I hadn't improved and my temperature was still pretty toasty, an ambulance was called to take me to hospital. I was blue-lighted to Geneva hospital with a police escort to get me off the closed roads triathlon course (yeah, I really don't do things by halves) where I arrived surrounded by doctors, nurses and paramedics. My trisuit was ripped off (hey, Dr, didn't you know that cost £120!!) and my athlete wristband was cut off (I need that to get into the after party later!). After 5 pints of cold IV fluids my blood pressure was still only 90/50.

Finally, almost three hours since my collapse, my body started to wake up and I was able to manage a whisper. Over the next few hours I improved back to my normal self, fully making up for my 3 mute hours, and was discharged home (only after a Michelin star hospital meal of sausage and mash). Because my trisuit was ripped and soaking wet there was no option other than catching the tram home in my hospital gown, cleverly fashioned into a mini-skirt. 

Looking... yummy?!

Coming soon to your A/W15 catwalks. You saw it here first.

I have no idea why I ended up in such a bad way after the race. I am fine with the heat; I lived in a sauna - sorry, I mean Portugal - for three months. I did hill reps in temperatures up to a steamy 42 degrees every week and apart from craving ice cream afterwards (which is a normal daily occurrence for me) I was all good. I consumed my normal amount of fluids and sugar during the race and never at any time felt too hot. I didn't push any harder than I have in my previous races and was fit and well before the race. I was running well, looked relaxed and smiled for all of the photos on the run course. So why I ended up with extreme heat stroke and collapsed so suddenly without any warning is a mystery. I'll be trying to find some answers from my doctor friends when I get back to the UK. (Doctory friends, check your inboxes now!).

I'd like to say a huge thank you to so many people for their support both today and in the months leading up to the race. Thank you to my awesome team of supporters on the day - if British Cheerleading had been scouting you would've been snapped up for sure! Thank you Will for being there for me before, during and especially after the race. You managed to cheer me on and take some pretty good photos at the same time - who knew men could multitask?! And you managed to talk at me for three hours when I wasn't responding - I think that alone deserves a medal! Thank you so much to all of the medical staff who looked after me today - they were amazing and I cannot fault the Swiss health care system. Thanks to the lovely Team GB manager, Dawn, who somehow found time to pay me a surprise visit in hospital on what was probably her busiest working day of the year. You're a gem! Thanks to my parents who also got up at crazy o'clock to follow me online - you pair of nutters! Thank you to coach Philip for your continued support and belief in me as an athlete. And 'Obrigada!' to all of the other Tri Training Harder staff for making me chase you around the Algarve to get my legs in good shape for the race... Although it seems that three months in Portugal didn't acclimatise me well enough for the heat, so maybe I'll have to join you for four months next year ;) 

Now it's back to the UK for me, next stop, Liverpool. Fingers crossed for a typically cold and wet British summers day and a drama-free race!

Receiving my medal

GB dominating the podium

So happy!

P.S. If anyone reading this has had a similarly epic post-race body shutdown experience and could offer any advice on returning to training, please get in touch. Likewise, if any medics whose inboxes I haven't already bombarded are reading this and can answer some of my questions, I would be ever so grateful if you could get in touch.

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