Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Quest for Ironman

The Quest for Ironman

Last August, after volunteering and then waiting in line, I was signed up for Ironman Canada 2012 edition. It was on my list of events I must try and now was a good a time as any. And so began the journey. With two young boys at home, sometimes, I just didn’t get the hours in that I wanted, but I did get all the big workouts in. Leading up to the race, I did the Calgary Police Half Marathon, the Mother’s Day 5km and the Ride To Conquer Cancer Alberta edition. Surprisingly, I did no other triathlons this year. Race fees can be expensive, so I put my efforts into training and saved the big race for my big moment. My best training decision was including a training camp, out in Penticton. This gave me a chance to see the course firsthand to to get in a long swim, a long bike and a long run, all on the actual route of Ironman Canada. This was excellent. Especially for the bike. There would be no surprises. I knew exactly where and what I had to ride. 

Enter Thursday evening. The kids run. Now, I don't know for sure how many kids entered, but my kids were numbered 918 and 919, and we saw many numbers well below that!! So, Jeremy took Sebastian, and he rocketed to a 1km in about 5 and a half minutes!! Awesome fast!! And Sully, ran his little three year old heart out, and finished a few minutes after that, so very proud of himself. They were both super excited to have earned their kids medals!!

So there I was, soaking up the ironman experience. I stopped in to register and suddenly things became real. I had a wristband on. I had a number to put on my bike, helmet, race bags etc. I had to organize my gear. I had to drop off my gear bags. There are a lot of them. I had to figure out my special needs. I had to check in my bike. I attended a last minute race prep meeting, and did a last minute ride. Something was clicking on my bike. We couldn’t figure out what. I would hope for the best. 

And suddenly, it was Sunday morning. I am grateful that I started doing 6am shifts at work as it made the 4:30 wakeup call a little more tolerable than it might have been. I got myself bodymarked, and got the special needs bags (filled with popcorn twists, nibs, and peanut m&ms) dropped off. And then it was into transition. Pumped up the tires, added my perogies and homemade rice krispie squares to my bento bag on the bike, attached the bike computer, dropped off the watch into my bike to run bag, and then it was time to get the wetsuit on, and drop off my dry clothes bag. It was just unreal. I was standing among all these athletes. All these people doing ironman, and somehow, I was one of them. Was the work I put in going to pay off? Would I finish?

Soon enough, the pros were off, and then I was in the water awaiting the start. O Canada was played. There was a helicopter overhead. I was in the water, and then it was go time. Only 3.8km between me and my return to the beach. At this point, I should probably mention, I’ve never actually done an open water triathlon. I mean, I’ve done lots of open water swimming, and I have done some triathlons, but to this date, none had been open water. I tried to let all the fast people go ahead, but there were so many of us. I quickly understood the whole washing machine thing. A few kicks in the head, and I was watching a lot more closely where I was. It was a long swim out to the first turn, then a quick swim across, and then just a swim back in. Nice and easy!! This would be the shortest part of the day!! And it took over an hour and forty five minutes. 

Back at transition, it was very cool to realize I had completed the first part of the ironman journey. As I crossed the timing mat, there were volunteer wetsuit strippers there, to help get the wetsuits off. Awesome!! Next up another volunteer handed me my swim to bike bag, and off to the change tent I went, were another volunteer helped with getting into my bike stuff, and then gathered up all my wet stuff and made sure it was all together. The volunteers were absolutely incredible.

So now I headed out on the bike. Once again, it just felt so unreal to be part of this amazing event. I was decked out in my Brand Champion gear from SUGOI, and just taking in all the people who were cheering as I rode up Main Street. Soon enough, I was settled into a groove on the bike. Managed fine on the first part, riding through the beautiful country side, through OK Falls, noting that I wanted to return for ice cream!! And next up was Oliver. This was a special moment for me, because back in 2010, I had been chosen as a torchbearer for the 2010 Olympics, and I had carried the torch in Oliver. It was such a special moment, and here I was riding past the same place!! A part of my heart will always be in Oliver, because twice now, it has served as a place which helped my dreams come true!! I continued onwards and soon enough was in Osoyoos. My mind was preparing for the daunting Richter’s Pass which was next up. Stopped at the aid station, filled up my bottles with awesome Skratchlabs liquid, and after a quick hello to Tera (who rode past), I was on my way. It’s a tough climb, but I knew I could do it. And soon enough, I had!! Loved seeing Spotted Lake. Asked a few others about it, but nobody else could recall it, but it was so cool!! Next came the rollers... oh they seem to last forever!! Was glad when they were finally behind me!! Soon it was onwards towards Keremeos and before I knew it, I was turning off for the out and back portion. 

It’s at this point that things went a little rough. On the road with the quick out and back, I managed to wipe out on my bike at the turnaround. Managed to scrape up my ankle and hand. Thank goodness I had gloves on or it would have been much worse. I dusted off myself, and with tears streaming down my face (thank goodness for sunglasses), I continued on my way. My ankle stung from the abrasion. There wasn’t going to be a med tent until the special needs stop, so I sucked it up and just kept riding!! I slowly began to calm down and soon enough I was at special needs. It was nice to pick up some new treats. Popcorn twists, nibs and peanut m&ms.... mmmmmmmmmm... And by this time, I couldn’t feel the sting on my ankle anymore, so I just left it since really, getting it bandaged up would be counterintuitive with the constant pedaling anyways!! Next it was up to Yellow Lake. This is a really tough portion of the ride. Like Richter Pass, there is a lot of up, but now, the body is more tired, and it takes a lot more convincing on the part of the mind to get to the top. But, I pushed on through, and got to the top with a few minutes to spare. It’s beautiful riding along the lake, and then soon enough it’s heading down back into Penticton. Now this part of the ride, is the ultimate reward for all that climbing!! Lots of down and flat, and speed and pure awesomeness. A time to reflect on the journey so far!! It was excellent. A sad moment was seeing someone on the side of Highway 97 with a broken chain. Unless technical help got to her quick, chances of getting the bike done in time were slim to none!!

Heading through town, I got to see Jeremy and my mom. That was nice!! Provided an extra boost of energy!! Back into transition, after 180km of biking, I handed off my bike to more awesome volunteers, and was handed my bike to run bag. I changed fully into new clothes for the run. Might not have been totally needed, but I wanted to be comfortable. I switched to my NYFries SUGOI jersey as well (and this jersey went over very well, got lots of fun comments and it kept me smiling!!). And soon enough, I was off. Running, walking, running walking. This would be the story of my life for the next six hours. I heard them announcing the last few bikers who were coming through and knew I didn’t have a lot of time to spare on my run. I alternated between running and walking. I had tried in transition to get my stupid Garmin watch to work, but it’s been an issue almost since the day I got it, and even with other volunteers helping, we couldn’t get it off the first screen, so I had no watch with me. It was neat seeing all the people along the run course. The beginning follows the end, along the beach, and it was a tiny bit depressing seeing all the people finishing the race, knowing I still had 42km to go!! But, I pressed on. As I made it towards the outskirts of town, by Skaha, I was treated to a visit from my boys, and my mom. It felt so great getting the hugs from the little ones. Next up I came across Grant, from Vitalize, who had helped me with open water swimming and just racing in general. I knew I was going to finish, and I worked hard, walking up the hills and running in between. I pressed on. At each aid station I grabbed a swig of pepsi and usually some fruit. And mile after mile, I continued. I was happy, smiling, and just kept at it. The sun went down. It got dark, very dark. And soon enough, it was the halfway point. I was ahead of where I needed to be, and continued onwards. Eventually, I was back in Penticton. So now, it was getting through to the lakefront and out and back for the finish. Without a watch, I was forever asking people for the time. I just wanted to make sure I was still on track, and I was. 

Again I got to see my little guys and this just made a huge difference. Those hugs meant the world!! I continued on my way. I could hear the finish. I went out, seeing Charles and the Solo Sport System crew on the way out, and eventually reached the turnaround, and then headed back, for the last part of my marathon. As I got closer, my smile was brighter, I knew I would make it. I was ecstatic inside. The crowds were cheering me, and high fiving me, and soon enough, I was crossing the finish line of Ironman Canada. It truly was, one of the most amazing moments!! All those rides, all those swims, all those runs, together, brought me to the finish. It felt incredible!! 

Finishing an Ironman was a goal I had set for myself. I wasn’t exactly sure when, but just knew it would happen. I had lots of help and support along this journey and for that I am truly grateful. For the awesome grandmas that took the boys and the dog so I could get in the training rides, and training camp, and so that Jeremy could help me on race week, thank you!! For the awesome words of wisdom, coaching and words of encouragement from Vitalize and Solo Sport Systems, thank you!! For the kind words from so many different friends and family leading up to, on race day and afterwards, thank you!! For my amazing boys (Kids of Steel actually) who just think having parents who do Ironman is normal and hug me just cause I’m mom, thank you!! And Jeremy, who was my coach, my spouse, my nutritionist, my bike mechanic, my weatherman and overall ironman sherpa, thank you!! I am so grateful to have the people in my life that I do... this first ironman journey may have reached its’ end, but I know, without a doubt, there will be more to come, exactly when and where remains to be seen, but this is only the start!!