My report from Ironman Canada in Penticton, B.C.
Swim: 3.8 km
Bike: 180 km
Run: 42 km
Sunday August 29, 2004, 3:30 a.m. I am jolted awake by the alarm clock, set at full volume. This is it! Race morning. Everything I have worked for over the past six months comes down to this day.
I wake up feeling groggy. I didn't fall asleep until 2 a.m. due to nerves. I am excited and scared at the same time. I am nervous about the mass swim start (2,100 people all diving into the lake at the same time). I am worried about how my sore foot will feel on the bike. I am humbled at the thought of trying to run 26 miles.
But I am excited to think that I am actually going to attempt to do an Ironman and that I might even finish.
Knowing it will be a long day, I try to eat as much as my nervous stomach will allow me. I down two Carnation Instant Breakfasts, one banana and a few sips of Gatorade. A quick check of the Weather Network shows it will be sunny and 27 degrees today. Perfect weather conditions!
I head out of the hotel around 4:30 a.m. to walk down Lakeshore Drive towards the start line. It is quiet and dark. I am among the first people to arrive and quickly get body marked. There are no line-ups. I say hi to Louis, who is volunteering at the body marking station. It is still dark and I have to wait until the sun rises before I can pump my tires because I am unable to read the tire pressure gage.
I walk around the transition zone as people I know start trickling in. Everyone seems calm and relaxed. I don't really have anything to do so I just sit down and wait for the sun to rise and hope some cute guy will try to pick me up. Alas, the cutest guys seem to be the ones who are most focussed and not interested in chatting me up. When dawn finally breaks, I go over to my bike, pump the tires, put the bottles on, load up the cliff bars. Ready to go. I squeeze into my wetsuit and head over to the lake for a quick warm-up.
Not much is going through my head at this point. I try to have a Zen attitude. I'm going to just let the day unfold one stroke at a time, one pedal at a time and one step at a time. I want to cross that finish line so badly.
Down at the beach, I jump in for a quick five-minute warm-up swim and then make my way as far left in the water as possible. I position myself right at the very front of the line with the elite athletes. The guy beside me tells me to have a great race. At 7 a.m., the cannon goes off with a loud boom.
As the water isn't very deep, I have to walk for about a minute before diving in to swim. I swim wide to the left and before I know it, I am all alone swimming about 25 feet away from the pack on my right side and nothing but open water on my left. There is no one around to kick me in the head or grab onto me. I settle into a long, smooth stroke and just swim easy all the way to the finish line. At one point, I remember thinking to myself that the swim seemed to be taking forever but I told myself not to go faster as I needed energy for the long bike and run ahead.
It was a great swim. I felt like I had the whole lake to myself! I exited the swim in a time of 1:06. Not bad considering I probably swam an extra 300 metres just to be out by myself on the far left side. From the calm, quiet of the swim, I entered the chaos of the transition zone. It seemed like everyone was racing to get out on the bike.
A volunteer grabbed me and told me to lay on the ground so they could pull off my wetsuit. But as soon as she started yanking at it, my hamstrings seized up. She was having a hard time getting the wetsuit down past my wide hips. I told herto stop because I was cramping. So I just stood up and took it off bymyself. Then it was over to the change tent to get dressed for the ride. Or I should say, get dressed by a volunteer. She helped me take off my bathing suit and put on my shorts. Talk about personal service! I had so much stuff in my bag. I had brought all my winter gear in case the weather was nasty.But I managed to find everything and stuffed my gels, pump and Advil into my back pocket. I put on some sunscreen and then headed out to get my bike.
The start of the bike ride was very exciting. There were thousands of people lined up and down Lakeshore Drive and Main Street cheering like crazy. I saw my mom, my sister and my friend Delacey yelling like mad. As I rode up Main Street, I got teary eyed. It was very emotionally overwhelming to have so many people out there screaming. I don't really remember much about the ride itself. It seemed to go by so fast. I took it easy the whole time. I read somewhere that if you feel at any point that you are "working" on the bike, you're going too hard.
My dad, who was following the race as it unfolded live on the internet, later told me that I finished the swim in the top 25 % but then 800 people passed me on the bike. Ha, ha! I lost count after about 50 people passed me. At one point on the ride, I saw a guy standing off on the side of the road peeing. A few minutes later he rode up beside me and asked why I didn't say hi while he was peeing. It was my friend Don Smith! On the bike, I just settled into a comfortable pace. Ate four cliff bars. Had one bottle of Accelerade. Lots of water. Some Gatorade. A little bit of gel. Enjoyed the scenery. It seemed almost too easy!
I made the mistake of looking down at my speedometer during one of the descents and saw that I was going 63 km/hour. That freaked me out a little so I just decided not to look at the speedometer while I was going downhill. I did get a little annoyed on the bike at the people who were not riding on the far right side. It was very hard to pass people without getting hit by a car because they were so far out. We were told that if we passed someone on the right side, we would get disqualified.
I was thinking that I liked riding alone so much better because there weren't all these annoying people around. I prefer solitude. After the race, someone was saying it must have been very, very mentally tough for the guy who won because he was out in front, alone all day. I thought that sounded like paradise.
Going up Richter Pass, John Chan finally caught up to me. I was surprised it took him so long to catch me and I told him so. He said he was feeling awful and had already made four stops at the Porta Potty. And then he flew past me. The ride was over before I knew it. I had ridden 180 km in 6:44. A very good time for me! Especially considering I didn't actually start riding seriously until this year. Once again, a volunteer helped me take off my clothes and get into my run gear.
I felt very good at the start of the marathon. I saw a bunch of people as I headed out. Pascal ran along beside me for a bit. Jos was taking pictures and yelling out encouragement. On a sad note, I saw John Chan turn back and quit the race. He had called it a day as he was feeling too sick to continue.
My plan was to run from aid station to aid station (26 buffet tables) and walk through the aid stations. Each aid station was spaced about a mile apart. I think I was running too fast at the beginning because it was taking me 10 minutes to run to each aid station. At the time, I felt strong enough to hold that pace over 26 miles. How naive!! Things started to unravel around mile 10 when my stomach bloated and my whole mid-section became very tender. I was very uncomfortable and in pain. Luckily I had put some Tums in my special needs bag at the halfway point (thanks for the tip, Don B.). Idrank Pepsi at every aid station just to give me some energy. What I didn'tknow was that the real pain was still to come.
At the 13 mile mark (halfway), I ate the Tums. My stomach did start to feel somewhat better. But my legs were another story! It was here that I realized a marathon is a bloody long way to run and that holding a 10 minute mile pace over the beginning was a stupid thing to do. I don't even really know how to describe how my legs felt. It hurt to run. No, it was worse than that. And mentally I was starting to fall apart too. It was too far, too much, too hard. So I walked. A lot. Walking felt better but that competitive side of me took over. I didn't want to walk to the finish line. I wanted to give it everything I could and know that I couldn't have done anything more.
So I started running again. Well, it was probably more of a shuffle than a run.At mile 19, I hit the wall. I didn't want to go one more step. I just wanted it to be over. I was in so much pain. My legs hurt, my stomach was doing flip flops, my head hurt. Just when I was feeling my lowest, Don B. cycled by and told me how great I was doing and how strong I looked. I think I laughed. I told him to tell me a story because I needed the distraction. So he talked to me for a while and this made me feel better.
After Don left, Delacey cycled by and we chatted for a while too. I was so happy to see her! It took my mind off the agony I was feeling. At this point, I think I was running for about five minutes and walking for three minutes. At mile 23, it dawned on me that I was going to finish this race, even if I had to walk. I got really emotional and started to sob but that made it really hard to breathe so I had to force myself to stop crying. It was the most emotional moment of the race. Even more than crossing the finish line.
I drank some Pepsi and just headed for that finish line. The cheering crowds were amazing. The finish line was a bit of a blur. I remember saying hi to people I knew along Lakeshore Drive. When I crossed the line in a time of 13:21, I felt really happy. A volunteer wrapped me in a tinfoil blanket. Big mistake!!! My blood pressure suddenly skyrocketed and everything started spinning. I felt like a Christmas turkey roasting in the oven. For some reason, it didn't occur to me to take the blanket off.
I told the volunteer I needed to sit down. But as soon as I did, I became really nauseated and dizzy. He saw that I didn't look very good and he got a medical person to come over. I tried to stand up but I almost fainted. Then they called the paramedics and put me on a stretcher and rushed me over to the medical tent. They were worried I was going into shock. They put me on a bed in the medical tent. At that point, I asked if I could take the space blanket off. As soon as I did, I instantly felt better.
The most gorgeous doctor I have ever seen came over to find out how I was doing. He had bright blue eyes, broad shoulders and a gentle bedside manner. Obviously I wasn'tfeeling that bad because I had the energy to imagine myself married to this handsome doctor and living in a big house in the Okanagan. Then I saw his wedding ring. Oh well.
They made me stay in the medical tent for about 1/2 hour and drink Gatorade (which I hope to never drink again!). The world famous Sister Madonna Buder came over to talk to me. That was a highlight of the race! She had broken her arm and was volunteering. I tried to have a conversation with the guy inthe bed next to me but it was hard to talk because of the girl loudly vomiting into a bucket across from us. Although I didn't feel that great immediately following the race, I was onCloud Nine the next day.
I think you have to do the race to understand how special Ironman Canada really is. The crowds and the volunteers are incredible. You really feel like the whole town is cheering you on. The scenery along the ride and run is among the most beautiful anywhere in the world. It was a magical experience. I actually had to force myself NOT to sign up again for next year (I really, really wanted to!!). It's amazing to think that not too long ago, I wouldn't have thought I would be capable of doing something as challenging as an Ironman. I think that the mind and human will is a really powerful thing.
The Ironman is much more than a race. It can teach you that if you change your beliefs about your limits, your limits themselves change. You can do anything you set your mind to. I left Penticton feeling enlightened, empowered and inspired.