The last few days before leaving for Canada, I was really freaking out. I had lots of last minute stuff to take care of: packing, shopping, figuring out what was going to go in my special needs bags,etc, but was not working so I had all day every day that last week to obsess and worry. I have to admit, I got a little neurotic, had a couple of mini-breakdowns, and was probably not the nicest person to be around (sorry Ian!) I was nervous about the race but also, no matter how many times you do it, it is just really hard to believe that doing almost no working out for an entire week before a big race is not going to cause one to lose muscle mass, strength, and stamina. I've read plenty of articles, I know that the body needs this time to rest and recover, that recovery is actually what makes you stronger, but still, taper had me a little on edge. The highlight of my week was my hair appointment...I had decided to put some green and purple stripes in my hair to match our green and purple race jerseys (Go Team!). My hairdresser and friend, Laura, has been a supporter since my very first olympic distance triathlon with TNT two years ago so it was nice to spend the day with her in the middle of such a hectic week. When I saw my brightly colored (Laura said it looks like peacock feathers) hair, I got kind of pumped. My goal, aside from finishing the race, was to get on the official DVD, and I figured the hair would help. Yes, it's permanent.
When I finally got to the airport on Thursday morning (4am baby!) and saw all of my teammates in their ironteam jackets, looking just as nervous/excited as I was feeling, I was finally able to relax and get more excited than nervous. After all, we were on our way, whatever was done, was DONE. It was the first of many times I thanked the powers that be for the fact that I was doing this with a team. The flight was uneventful, the bus ride to Penticton from Vancouver was long, I got a lot of knitting done, we finally got into Penticton on Thursday, around 5pm.
Friday was a whirlwind of logistics and standing in various lines. My roomate Allison and I picked up our bikes (yay! I had really missed my bike) and proceeded back to the hotel to try and sort out what to put in all those bags they gave us. For those of you unfamiliar with the sport, in most triathlons, you carry everything in one bag, then lay it all out on a towel next to your bike for the race so it's all right there for you to see during transitions. Because Ironman is such a long race, and has so many athletes all starting at once, everything goes in a separate bag with the race number on it, which is either picked up by you, or handed to you by a volunteer who you've called out your number to.
So Allison and I are back at our room at the lovely Ramada Penticton, with 5 bags and lots of stuff spread out on each of our beds looking at each other like: "Uh, what goes in all these bags again?" There is T1(swim to bike), bike special needs(for anything you would want to eat or change into halfway through the bike), T2(bike to run), run special needs(food and warm clothes for when it starts to get dark), and a bag for dry clothes when it's all finished. It was a little overwhelming but eventually we sorted through and got them all filled. For the rest of Friday and all of Saturday, I just tried to relax and stay off my feet, which wasn't easy. Penticton is small, but not that small, and we didn't have a car. I hung out with my parents a little (mom, stepdad, and little sister had all come out to watch) and tried not to let my nerves rub off on them, or theirs on me...my mom was pretty nervous herself, I think she thought, despite my assurances to the contrary, that I could actually die from doing an Ironman.
Our wake up call came at 3:45am on Sunday...which is usually a time when it would be physically impossible for me to wake up, but thinking about the race had me wide awake pretty quickly. Allison and I each had a bowl of oatmeal, a banana, half a bagel with peanut butter, and coffee for breakfast. We were both a little worried that this wasn't enough calories but couldn't really stomach anything else. We gathered our stuff and got onto the 4:45 shuttle down to the transition area. It was still dark when we got there, stood in line to get body marked, and dropped off our special needs bags. The transition area was a zoo...2500 athletes, all getting ready to start at the same time. I got myself situated, then went over to the grass to do some yoga. This helped to calm me down and wake up my muscles a little. A lot of people were wandering around looking nervous and lost, once again I was so thankful to have my teammates with me because I kept running into friendly faces and getting/giving reassuring hugs.
Finally it was time to make our way down to the beach for the swim start. We had so many spectators, as a team, that it felt a little like being famous. I found Allison's friend Annie first, and she wished me luck, then I ran into Maria and co., who were near my family and Ian, then I saw Allison's boyfriend Terry, who was with Megan, Victoria, and Pete. After all the hugs and good luck wishes, I went down to the beach and found a group of my teammates. We decided to start in the middle/left of the pack. Strangely, I wasn't nervous...maybe it was all the love and support surrounding me. Before I knew it the cannon went off and I dove in and started swimming.
I had been apprehensive about 2500 people all swimming together. Mass swim starts don't usually freak me out, but this was a lot more people than I was used to. I must have placed myself just right because I didn't get elbowed or trampled on at all. There were always people around but I felt like I had plenty of space. The swim was actually quite nice. The lake was clear, not too cold, there were people out on houseboats cheering, they even had divers sitting at the bottom of the lake who were waving and giving thumbs up to the swimmers. Before I knew it, I was out of the water. I finished the swim in 1:39:43, a little slower than I had hoped, but still within my goal. I headed onto the grass, where I had my first experience with wetsuit strippers (minds out of the gutter people, they strip the athletes wetsuits off of them and we all had bathing suits underneath). This was a real treat as anyone who has tried to pull a wetsuit off knows, it can be a workout all by itself. Quick change into my bike shorts, some chamois butter, and I was onto the second leg of the race.
Coming out of the transition area on my bike I saw my family, Ian, and Mimi,the woman who owns the bed and breakfast my family was staying at. Turns out she got so excited from talking to my parents about the race, she wanted to come out and cheer too. It was great to see them and I was feeling pretty pumped as I headed out of town. The first 50 miles of the race were probably the most fun I've ever had on a bicycle. I was feeling strong, going fast, and enjoying the beautiful scenery. My family drove passed me on their way to the top of Richter Pass, where they were going to wait and watch. Luckily they had rented a minivan, because, in addition to my mom, stepdad, sister, and Ian, there were, Terry, Annie, Mimi, and Mimi's little dog, Bijou. They honked and waved as they went past and I smiled and blew kisses...I was feeling really great. Even as I went up Richter Pass, the steepest climb of the course, I felt so strong and happy. All of the hilly training rides we had gone on throughout the season had more than prepared me for this. I even passed another biker as I was going up the hill, waving and blowing kisses to my cheering section.
Then the wind picked up, and for the rest of the bike course (aside from a 5ish mile out and back), it was head wind the whole way. Head wind means the wind is blowing at you head on, so you have to work twice as hard, while going much, much slower. It means you have to pedal hard even while going downhill. I have never been very good at fighting through wind and my mph average went way down. Also, it put me in a bad mood. My goal for finishing the bike was 8hours or less, and I felt like I should be able to do it, but there was always a part of me that was afraid I wouldn't be able to make the cutoff at all, so when I rolled in to the transition area with a bike time of 8:14:51, I wasn't too upset about it. I had a pretty quick transition and managed a smile and a wave at my cheering section, who were waiting for me as I ran out onto Main Street to start my marathon.
The bad mood from the wind was hard to shake though, as was the fatigue in my legs from fighting so hard for those last 60 miles. Also, nothing on earth can prepare you for how hard it is to run a marathon after you have just biked 112 miles. It is really, really hard. We had done a lot of workouts where we went from biking to running, so I was familiar with the feeling in my legs. But most of those runs were 5 miles or less, which is all well and good but after 5 miles, my legs definitely wanted to stop. Now, I am a pretty strong runner, and the run is usually my favorite part of any triathlon. The run was not my favorite part, it was an exercise in mental discipline, a tug of war between my mind and my body, which ultimately I won, but it wasn't exactly what I would call "fun."
Once again, I was profusely thankful for my teammates. The Canada run course is an out-and-back, which means you get a chance to see everyone who is ahead of you. Every time I saw a green and purple jersey on the other side of the road it was like a little light of hope in the darkness. When I told people that I had a really difficult run, they all said, "Really? When I saw you, you looked so happy and strong." and I was like, "I was just so happy to see YOU." Some of my teammates do not enjoy running at the best of times, so the run was even harder for them, these are the ones that I passed in the first 10 miles or so of the run. As I passed my teammate Ferdinand, who was having some stomach issues, he told me that Sister Madonna was right in front of us. Sister Madonna is somewhat of a celebrity in the triathlon world. She is a 77 year-old Catholic Nun, who started doing triathlons at the age of 58 or so. She has done multiple ironman races, including the world championship in Kona. I knew I was going to pass her shortly, but the fact that she was in front of me in the first place meant that she finished the bike before me. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I am a slower cyclist than a 77 year old woman...maybe it's because she has God on her side. Still, it was pretty exciting to meet her and it made me momentarily forget the pain and my gloomy mood. Ferdinand thought that if he got a blessing from her, maybe it would help his stomach settle. As we "ran" (and I use the term very loosely) by her, I blurted out "Sister Madonna, you are amazing!" and Ferdinand held out his hand to shake hers. She did indeed offer him a, "May God bless you," and a luminous smile for us both...she really is one heck of a woman.
Well the blessing must have helped because I was able to pick up the pace a little, passing Ferdinand and catching up with Coach Alex, who was also having stomach issues...there were a lot of those on the run...I guess I was lucky, I was just having, um...attitude issues. Right around this time, Coach Joe passed me on the other side of the road, which meant he was about 5-6 miles ahead of me. I adore him, and everyone on the team secretly (or not so secretly) wants to be adopted by Joe and his lovely wife Maria. Coach Joe is, I believe, in his late fifties (though you would never know it to look at him), and has a fake hip. This was his 4th ironman. He isn't the fastest athlete, but he knows exactly what it takes to finish, every time. His one piece of advice for us before the race was "If you see me in front of you, you might be in trouble." Joe, like everyone else, is a faster cyclist than I am, but usually not by much. I am a faster runner and can usually catch him in the first few miles of the run, so the fact that he was so far ahead of me at mile 10 was a little alarming. I told Alex that I was determined to catch him...Alex said "good luck."
I had spent a lot of time with my family and the course map, figuring out where they would be and when, to get the most out of their spectating. We had talked briefly about them being at the run turnaround, where Maria always sits. Unbeknownst to me, they had been told that they couldn't drive there, and that they probably wouldn't make it back to the finish in time if they did. But the thought that kept me going between miles 5 and 13 was that I was going to see them, get some hugs, and gather some strength for the last 13 miles which would be run in the dark. Well, Alex and I hit the turnaround, got our special needs bags, saw Maria, but my family was not there. I was crushed. I asked Maria if she'd seen them and she didn't have the heart to tell me that they weren't coming, that I wouldn't see them until the finish. She could tell that I was near tears and wanted to hug me and tell me that she was here for me, but was afraid that would put me over the edge. I tell you, that woman is a saint. After putting on my long sleeved shirt and taking nothing else from my special needs bag, I reluctantly started on the second half of the run. I was pretty much in the depths of despair, I felt lonely, betrayed by my family, like they didn't love me...it all seems pretty silly now, especially as they had come all the way to Canada just to watch me race, but it's amazing what exhaustion can do to your emotions...especially when it's cold and dark out. The only thing that kept me from giving up altogether was the thought that I HAD to catch up with Coach Joe... everything would be okay if I could just get to him. Along the way I was very moved by the residents of the area, who stayed out in their driveways in the dark, cheering us on, playing music to help energize us, giving high fives, some even offering us a beer...it really helped.
Finally, around mile 15, I caught up to Joe. I was so happy to see him that I almost started crying, again. He had been having a good day on the swim and bike, but was having a tough run at this point. I suppose running is not the ideal activity for a man with a fake hip to be doing, which is just one of the reasons he is my hero. Joe was hurting pretty bad but he still managed a big smile and some last minute coaching..."keep that pace up, try not to walk too much, you'll finish strong." With a little over 10 miles to go, and Coach Joe safely behind me, I knew now I could finish. Still, it wasn't easy. A race official rode by on a motorcycle and handed my a glow stick...it was really dark out there. The aid stations were like beacons of hope with smiling faces offering me fruit and chicken broth. I ran between them (well, jogged, anyway) and walked through them. As I passed them and out into the dark night, I had to trick my legs into running again by leaning my upper body forward until they had to either run or fall over. They ran, but they were not happy about it. Even this late, in the dark, there were spectators every few feet cheering and high fiving people they didn't know. All I could do was grunt and wave, hoping they knew how glad I was to have them there. After what seemed like an eternity, I ran back down Main Street and into the cheering throngs of people who were, amazingly, still there.
One of the funny quirks about the Canada course is that there is a little 1.2 mile out-and-back right next to the finish line. This means that you run towards the finish, see the cheering crowds, then turn left and run away from the finish for about 3/4 of a mile, turn around, and THEN run to the finish line. I was warned about this so it didn't bother me that much but as I made my left turn, I saw my family shouting and cheering and realized that I was still mad at them for not being on the run course. Ian came up to run me through the out-and-back and I immediately snapped, "why weren't you at the turnaround?" Of course, I regretted saying it right after because he dropped back, thinking I didn't want him there, which, of course, I did. Luckily, he realized this as well and caught up to me again. I apologized for snapping at him and he talked me through the last mile. Just as he drops back to let me finish on my own, my mom and my sister appear to run my down the chute. "Is this okay?" asks my mom, "All the families are doing this." I don't have any energy left for words so I just nod and take their hands. Suddenly we are at the finish line. There are bright lights and hundreds of cheering people. I feel my arms raised into the air (my mom swears it was me, not her who did this, but I don't remember) and somehow I manage what looks like a strong, triumphant finish.
As I cross the line a volunteer takes my arm and wraps me in a space blanket. She asks me a few questions to make sure I am coherent and is ready to whisk me away to the massage tent when suddenly I am pounced on by a camera man. By this point I have forgotten all about my plan to get on the DVD and am not really in the mood to be interviewed. There is a bright light shining in my face and he makes my volunteer take off the blanket so he can see my jersey better. I am not happy about this but somehow manage to muster a smile (though my mom says from her angle it looked more like I was baring my teeth) and answer a few questions. The next day, when we saw the video, there I was, miraculously looking happy and accomplished, rather than grumpy and exhausted, which is how I felt.
For those of you tri geeks who actually wanted to know what I ate and how I felt physically, rather than a play-by-play of my emotional state... I stuck to my nutrition plan pretty exactly: 250 calories an hour of liquid during the bike (a mix of Cytomax and Carbo-Pro) and 4 thermalytes an hour, about 200 calories an hour during the run... I stopped timing my calorie intake, I made sure to eat some fruit and chicken broth at every aid station. I started drinking the pepsi a little sooner than I had planned, with about 8 miles to go but I kept drinking it so I didn't crash, my stomach felt fine, my energy level was good, and none of my injuries acted up. The next day I was walking a little funny (as was half the town...you could really tell who the athletes were) and all I did was eat and sleep. All in all a pretty amazing experience. I will definitely do another one...just not next year.