Ironman. Not too long ago this seemed like an unattainable goal. Knowing many people who have completed the event I knew it was possible the question was really, am I willing to put forth the effort and sacrifices to reach the pinnacle of Triathlon, Ironman.Without thinking it through I signed up for Ironman Canada last August. I was very surprised to get in as the event normally sells out with in person registrants the on the first day but I filled out the on-line form, pushed submit and to my surprise “CONGRATULATIONS you are registered for Ironman Canada”.
As spring approached reality set in, I plotted out a 30 week training schedule which included long rides every Saturday, starting at 30 miles and ending with a 120 mile ride and long runs every Sunday 8-23 miles. Booked a trip to Canada and it’s on!
It's the morning of the race, I’m Ready, I feel good, I know I can do this. I’m a little nervous about this swim start standing there in the water with 2,800 other athletes all sizing each other up and subtly jockeying for a start position. I was told to stay on the outside to avoid too much contact but I’m a strong swimmer and wanted to get a good line so I found myself front and center as the horn went off. And it was CRAZY! People climbing all over each other bumping into swimmers in every direction with nowhere to go. I just tried to maintain my cool, keep my head down, swim and breathe when I can. The water was clear and a very comfortable temperature ~70°. The congestion was worst at the turns as I went around the first buoy I thought I saw scuba tanks under me. On the second turn I noticed them, Scuba divers under the water watching us to be sure no one is trampled. After turn two, I am now sighting the shore and looking for the swim exit, before I know it I was there. I swim as far as I can, three strokes after I touch bottom, jump up, and start running while peeling off my wetsuit. Peek at the watch 1:15, that’s good!
As I enter transition I am met by a man who shouts at me to lie on the ground as he grabs the top of my wetsuit and pulls it right off of me. He hands me the wetsuit and I run through rows and rows of transition bags 1656, that’s me. I grab my bag run into the tent. Find a chair dump the bag on the ground. Shoes on, helmet on, oh crap, it’s broken! one of the internal straps is broken. Quick what should I do? Don’t tell anyone I’ll get DQed if I don’t have a helmet, just put it on, no one will notice. Glasses on, wetsuit in the bag and run to my bike.
I’m on the road, survived the swim and it feels just like another triathlon. Heading down Main Street in Penticton the crowd is cheering, I’m having fun now. I approach Skaha Lake right on schedule, I told Debbie I’d pass here at 8:30, and there she is :) This is going to be cake…
It’s a long gradual downhill as I ride along the lake to the little town of Okanagan Falls some short hills but I'm maintaining about a 20 MPH average through Oliver and on to Osoyoos. I’m in a pretty thick crowd of bikes, not sure how to avoid the impression that I’m drafting, the course marshals are trying to get us to spread out but there’s no place to go. My nutrition is getting a bit out of whack as I planed to take something every 10 miles, Gel, banana then ¼ cliff bar and alternate a bottle of water and electrolyte at each aid station. I grabbed a bottle at the 40 mile mark but the one on my bike is still full. But I’m feeling fine so no worries. About 40 miles in starts the climb up Richter Pass, 1200 feet elevation over about 7 miles, hard work but I’m feeling good about it. Heart rate is a little high at 150ish but I gotta get up this hill. As I approach the summit there’s an awesome crowd in the street, signs, music noise makers I felt like I was in the Tour de France the way the people lined the road leaving a very narrow corridor to ride through. Fun. And More Fun on this long decent, four miles down then a short climb and another 2 miles down. Fast.
As the road flattens out the fun fades and it’s starting to turn into just another long ride. Wide open space beautiful country but it’s getting hot and I got 56 miles to go, half way…
We come to a little town of Keremeos and there is a long 12 mi out and back stretch. I hate these because you get to see all the people that are well ahead of you as you are heading in. At the turn around was the special needs station. Athletes could have a bag delivered there with anything they may need. Volunteers would holler out rider numbers as others would find there bag for them. I didn’t use one, plenty of food at the aid stations. On the way back I got to see plenty of riders behind me so I felt a little better but I am tired of being on my bike and the climb to yellow lake is yet to come.
The yellow lake climb is another 1200 ft elevation but this time over 10 miles. Should be easier than Richter Pass but I’m getting tired. It’s hot and I haven’t gotten off the bike since I stopped to pee at the 40 mi aid station. I passed the penalty tent thinking “a 4 minute penalty in that shady tent wouldn’t be all that bad”. I’m making good time and only 25 miles to go, I see a shade tree up ahead and figured I should stop for a breather and stretch.
As I stop the bike and swing my leg over to get off everything starts to go dark and my legs feel like rubber. It was all I could do to sit on the ground before I passed out. WTF. I reached over to my bike laying on the ground, grabbed my water, had a drink and eat a gel. After about 5 minutes I thought I should get going. I stood up, grabbed my bike and started to climb on when it happened again. Quick sit. Oh shit. A group of younger guys where on the roadside cheering and came over to see if I was ok and give me some support. I told them I was fine I just need a moment but I was thinking oh crap is this how it’s going to end? How will I recover from this? If I pass out on my bike while riding down the hill it would be horrible but I don’t want to quit. After a few more minutes I tried to get up again but it happened again this time I literally dropped the bike as I almost fell. Very frustrating I have never had anything like this happen before. I was doing so well and feeling fine, what happened? A support van came by and stopped to see if I was ok. They offered me help but said I would be disqualified if I took it and I wasn’t ready to give up yet. I figured even if I had to take a nap for an hour I still stood a chance to make the 17 hour cut off.
I sat there for another 20 minutes or so drank another full bottle of water and eat another Gel. I stood up and walked along side my bike for a bit to be sure I wasn’t going to faint and was feeling better. I got back on the bike and was on my way, with a totally different mindset. I no longer cared about breaking 13 hours or who was passing me I just want to finish.
As I rolled into town Debbie was waiting for me at about the 108 mile mark I was only about 25 minutes behind the schedule I gave her but knew the rest of the day was going to be tougher than expected. I stopped the bike and filled her in on the incident and told her to expect me to be slower on the next few check points we arranged for her to see me. As I rode into transition I saw Mary Beth Ellis running in for her record breaking finish 9:03:10, nice for her but I still have to run a marathon. I rolled into transition in no hurry, changed my shoes, went to the bathroom, got some sunscreen on and off for the run.
Let’s just see if I can run to the first aid station. Ok, that wasn’t so bad, slow but I ran, lets get to the next one. Alright I got this. I see a lot of people walking but I’m determined to run. Lots of fans, the ice water sponges feel great in this 97° heat. No fooling around this time, drink at every aid station. I passed by Debbie at the 5 mile mark and was running strong. I told her I was feeling much better even though I was struggling a bit but I expected that. One aid station at a time… but by mile 9 I was really hurting. OK I will just walk up this hill. Than run to that tree. Ok walk to that street sign then run to the corner. Walk to that sponge in the road than run to that power pole. That’s how I got through the next 12 miles until the next time I saw Debbie at mile 21. At this point I was in serious pain. It was about 8:00 PM and I figured If I walked the last 5 miles I would still easily beat the Midnight cut off time so I told her that’s what I’m going to do. So I walked. And I walked. As I started getting into town there were people cheering on the road side trying to encourage me and I was feeling bad for walking so I started running. Just make it to the aid station. At the aid station I realized, only three miles left, you can do this. Run to the next aid station. And I did. OK one more. This is it, the final mile the street was lined with fans, I was high, all the pain was gone and I was running strong. I see the finish up ahead and there is a guy in front of me with a big Canadian flag draped over his shoulders. I don’t want this guy waiving that flag in my finish photo. I got to pick up the pace and get some space between us. There it is right there, I’m gonna make it, they’re announcing my name, I hope Debbie made it here to see this. YES! I AM an IRONMAN! Holy shit I think I’m gonna cry.