I’m not sure what made me sign up for my second Ironman race, but I do know that even before I had completed my first I wanted to go through the experience again. There is something unworldly about pushing a single event into the forefront of your personal life for 6 months that makes the thought of stepping back into a “normal” life almost unthinkable. There is also something completely terrifying about signing up next year’s torture while you’re still in the middle of this year’s. Still, curiosity gave way to interest which led me to desire and eventually I snuck in through the last round of signups and considered myself fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in such an event.
My girlfriend, Kerri, was using a private coach, Jeff Devlin, to help her through her second Ironman. I really liked his meticulous attention to detail as it was something that I could relate to and understand. I figured his calculating wisdon would make up for my youthful ignorance, so I hired him to get me through the last two months of training. What I didn’t realize at the time was that in order to meet my time goals I would be doing a lot more high intensity training than I had ever done. For my previous Ironman training which was done by the seat of my pants I simply trained the distances I would be racing on the weekends and got in as much as I could survive through during the week. It was an easy immersion test as far as volume goes and I think it really helped solidify my confidence and endurance which were both in short supply. But this time the training was at a pace that hurt and I had to stay out there for almost as long as I had before. I cracked on more than a couple of the big days and ended up a bit short on my run training. The run is my strength and I knew I had plenty of speed but I wondered what my breaking point would be during the race. I fantasized about feeling perfect for the entire race, breaking all my predictions and the 10 hour barrier to come across the line with Lori Bowden and a ticket to Kona. I knew that reality lay somewhere between fame and despair, I was certainly capable of a very solid race but there were no guarantees about the competition which had consistently been a few notches higher the entire season.
I woke early on Sunday, ready to begin my journey. Early for me was 3:30. By 5:00 I had eaten my bananas, blended my food into sludge, warmed up my muscles in the shower, and donned the obligatory sunscreen. Outside it was a gusty morning and the lake was showing whitecaps visible from the hotel window. I was significantly depressed about the swim conditions because I really wanted to break an hour on the swim but I would need a glassy lake, a good draft, and a smart swim to do so. As I walked toward the transition area with my bike pump, special needs bags, and wetsuit I was shivering. Ironic that I would be faced with cold weather and wind when those were the two elements I feared the most. I was ready for 100 degree heat, but Penticton was not delivering on the sunshine part of our deal yet. So with mixed concern/anxiety I went through my morning routine happy that none of my gear was missing or damaged. I felt a distinctive B written on my left calf indicating my age group. I then slapped on the glide and then settled into my wetsuit as I walked past Peter and Lori. I gained a small sense of peace when I saw the two of them, as I knew that they would beat the course into submission so that I wouldn’t have to.
I wandered over to the far end of the swim start to keep the bully’s on my strong side. As the crowd surged forward before the start I realized that it wouldn’t be a very fair swim start given the shallow water and the head start our side was positioned towards. In many ways I hate mass swim starts because they are so unfair to the majority. But I had been smart enough to pick a good spot to start and I made it out into the water without the usual bruises. I could tell that there was a big frenzied mass behind me and to my right, but I swam far left along the outside of the course. About halfway before the first turn I started to worry about getting a draft. I tried a couple of times but everyone was swimming past me. I knew I had started too hard, but I was also getting pretty beat up by the chop. I swallowed a little water along the way, thankful that the lake had little taste. Compared to my two other 2.4 mile swims, I was swimming as intensely and feeling the fatigure, but at least I wasn’t hot. In fact, the lake was the perfect temperature to keep me from overheating in my neoprene even as I flailed through the chop. By the first turn I was pretty tired but I remembered that this was what I wanted to feel like if I expected to come close to my goal. I got a few licks through the first turn and some in the second, but not enough to really aggravate me. I remember fingertaps on my heels at the start of the return leg which were annoying because they were so distracting. I remembered seeing a white cap go by and then a yellow cap right after it. I assumed that if I were swimming well I might have a chance to see Lori in T1, but I just couldn’t get lengthen out my stroke in the chop. I couldn’t find anyone to draft behind because I was too tired to keep up. So I swam the whole way back on the outside just like I had on the way out and most certainly slower. I was annoyed by the sun which was at the perfect angle to obscure the swim finish. I had no idea how far it was and I could not remember how many buoys or see anything along the shoreline to tell me my progress. I refused to stop to check things out, but I really suffered on the last stretch. Then, when it finally became too shallow to swim and more I had to crawl across the rocks to get to shore. So far it had been a rough day, I was already tired, and as I checked my watch after having my wetsuit forcibly removed I realized I was 3 minutes behind my ultimate goal, but at least ahead of my previous swim split.
It was with mixed feelings that I ran to my bike. I had left my arm warmers in my dry strip bag as I assumed it would warm up and become a nice day. But I was cold already, pretty tired, and not breaking any world records in the process. I had a prior commitment to myself to finish as quickly as possible even if I started to feel bad, but I really wanted to feel good. I reached my bike, slipped into my bike shoes, and managed to get out onto Main street without crashing. I figured that 90% of the race was ahead of me so there was no need to pass judgement on the day until I had something worth judging. The first stretch of the bike felt smooth but my legs were missing the fire. They only remembered what it was like to go out and hammer on a taper ride, and they had forgotten the slushy feeling of a long swim. I worried that they might never return, but Dave Scott had told everyone to be patient about muscle recruitment and I had plenty of time to see how things went. The first small hill came and everyone bunched up. I hated the first few hours of an IM race because I am not good enough to break away early. I knew that by the halfway point I would either be too tired to care or things would have spread out enough to be enjoyable. But I wanted my room now, when I felt OK, so that I could get into my groove. Instead, I was battling for position with 50 or so of my closest competitors. There was even a large pack of 10-15 guys who were blatantly drafting. When they got in my way I would speed up and pass them in bulk, but eventually they would always catch me and I would have to slow down to let them pass without risking a drafting penalty. There were others screaming at the draft pack, but I chose not to waste my energy telling anyone else what to do. So I silently endured this annoyance and waited for a time when I could start to race. I had stripped off my computer for the race so I had no idea how fast I was going, but it didn’t feel slow even with the speed changes so I wasn’t overly concerned about anything yet. I actually consumed the majority of bottle #1 of my food supply realizing that eating and climbing were not a good mix. By the time I hit Richter I was ready to get the hell out of the mess I had found myself in. Another guy who was also sick of the drafting suggested that we get past the pack on the hills. I tried to keep up with him, but even with 2 scoops to carry and a camelback he was too strong on the hills. Still I was passing a decent number on the climbs and feeling strong. I had trained for the hills and I was ready to give it while I had it. Still, I was worried about the advice everyone had given to go easy on Richter. I knew Yellow Lake wasn’t as tough of a climb, but I was worried about my strength on the back stretch and certainly not overconfident of my cycling skills. Oh well, it meant a lot to get past the dorks that were in my way and I finally caught a decent groove on the initial rollers after the climb. There was a ton of support and people all over the place. On one of the climbs I heard some guys talking about drafting Lori the entire swim. They agreed with me that the swim was tough, so I still felt like a player who had a chance. When I cleared the last roller (I swear I counted more on the bike than I had in the car just a few days before) I was tired. I was also behind on my eating so I tried to step it up a bit. I knew that by the 60 mile mark it was pretty flat, but I wasn’t expecting the wind we ran into. I was instantly bummed as I felt the psychological effects of what I considered a pretty brutal wind, some intermittent rain droplets, and a general chill that I knew was not the recipe for success for me.
I guess I foolishly expected that I could be strong for 112 miles on a hilly and windy bike course. However, even riding on $6K worth of cycling technology I fell apart. I stopped eating. I lost my power and my desire. I put my head down and sipped water as an alternative to despair and boredom. The out and back was a death march for me, but I did get to see Peter which was a mixed blessing. I realized by that point that I had pushed too hard too early, but I also realized that despite my efforts during my second season I was still a couple of cans short of a six pack on the bike. I was very surprised, however, that only two or three others managed to pass me along the out and back. I was in a hole, but I could hang on and keep going as long as I didn’t get dropped further. It helped that I could skip the special needs bag because I had only consumed one of my food bottles. In retrospect, this was the same breakdown I felt during my first IM, although it came on later and after a more intense start. I knew I should shove a gu down and try to get my spirits up but I physically couldn’t. I couldn’t do anything but turn the pedals and sip water. It was hard to just keep the bike going forward, but as long as I could hold position I could tune out the world. Finally the out and back was over, but I knew that so was I. It was a long, slow spin up Yellow lake, out of the saddle and in my easiest gear despite the realization that it wasn’t a terribly steep hill. None of my strength on Richter pass was left, I wasn’t eating, and I was mentally destroyed. It wasn’t the hardest ride of my life, but I was disappointed that I was human and I really didn’t feel like I had had a good part of the race yet. I didn’t want to eat any more, but I did force myself to keep drinking and keep pedaling. One guy passed me on the climb up Yellow and mentioned that the going was getting tough. I saw him tackle it like a superstar but I had no reply of my own and I didn’t even care if he was in my age group or not. To say that the crowds helped me up Yellow Lake is an understatement, they practically pedaled for me. But at the top it was lonely again and the downhill just never came. Each minute was an eternity and when I finally felt like I couldn’t take it any more the rains came. They soaked my face and my hands, and I watched as my HR dropped below 140 for the first time since the start. The race was over, I had lost and the elements had won. Finally the downhill came, but I was both soaked and frozen so I could barely steer and I worried about the slick roads. I did not pedal once on the downhill from Yellow Lake, as compared to my frantic efforts on the rollers before. I just tried to hold it all together and finally made it to the left turn into town. I passed a pro walking his bike and realized that my fate so far was actually pretty good. But I was sure I had not eaten enough, my stomach was not particularly happy, my arms and legs were frozen, and I was exhausted.
|Only 26.2 to go|
|A long way from town and still heading out.|
The miles started to get longer after 15 and I realized by my splits that I was slowing down. I knew I needed more food, but my stomach was just tapped and it had become difficult to get even coke down. My problems with nutrition had started on the bike so this struggle was nothing new and I was plenty tired of it. I had another piece of cantelope, then skipped an aid station to let my stomach calm down. I just kept getting slower and trying to get a little coke and a little water down. The end of the lake looked so far away even as I broke into the 20’s. Miles 20-24 were just plain brutal. I had slowed almost to a walking pace but I refused to blow a good race so I kept my run form at a greatly reduced cadence and a pretty short stride. The sun had come out again and it was also windy so there were times of heat and times of cold. My mind had deteriorated, but I was still on the lookout for B’s even as I knew the situation was hopeless. I figured that there would probably be a pack of them somewhere, all gutting it out for that slot to Kona, so if I could just find them I would have a reason to kill myself on the last stretch. As it was, I was almost all alone, running in my own world of pain and more than ready for the race to be over. My muscles and joints ached, and I really wanted to stop. From behind me a runner approached and I really didn’t care until he passed and I saw the B on his calf. At this point I was pretty sure that I would need a whole lot of rolldown to get a ticket to Kona. I figured there were at least 15 people in my age group who were ahead of me, so at least 5 of them would have to decline their slot or have already qualified for me to get a chance. But in years past, rolldown has been as high as 100% at Ironman Canada. It’s a sick individual who still wants to do another IM race in less than two months on the day after the last one. So I figured that my chances were slim, but I also realized that my finish time would have qualified last year and there was no guarantees about what would happen during the rolldown process. I didn’t know at the time that any unused slots in older age groups are re-assigned to younger age groups, but I knew there was a certain grey area and that I was at the tail end of it. So, I let him go reluctantly, cursing myself the whole time because if he took my slot I was going to be very disappointed with myself. I listened to the announcers cheer in the final sub-10 finisher, who apparently made it by a second. At the start of the race I was dreaming that I might be closer to sub 10, but at this point I was dreaming of regular food, a shower, and some warm clothes.
Rounding the corner to the home stretch was far more difficult than I ever imagined. Turning away from the finish line when all my body wanted to do was stop was beyond cruel. But it did give me one last chance to confront the B up ahead. I decided to just go for it in case I stood a chance, so I reeled him in on the way out and then put my dejected face back on as he passed me just after the turnaround. I figured he wasn’t expecting anything and he might not even realize I was in his age group plus he wouldn’t put up a fight until he saw me pass and by then it would be too late. I was right and he didn’t even offer a challenge. He was obviously the smarter of the two of us as we were a good 10 minutes shy of a chance to go to Kona. But I had my small mental victory to cap off the day and as I hit the tape I was plenty happy with my results. I knew I had gone faster on all my splits and I had made it through a tough day on a hard course in a time that was as good as I could expect out of myself. But I also knew there was room for improvement and that sub 10 would be a cool goal for my next race. Of course there is a world of difference between sub 10 and sub 9, but anything in the 9’s on a hilly course is very respectable. Basically, it wasn’t time to quit my day job, but it wasn’t time to write my off either. Kerri presented me with my finishers medal which put me 1 ahead in totals, and some very friendly volunteers spotted me as I swayed around the transition area and shoved down some fruit and a donut. Finally my brain switched back on and I realized I had to find Kerri before she got really mad at me for being clueless. I had spent 10 hours of selfish indulgence and I was ready to call it a day. After a shower and some warm clothes we ventured back out to eat and watch some of the late night finishers. The crowd at the finish line was spectacular, they were an event of their own. It was great to finally watch such an energetic finish line, something I had heard a lot about but never really witnessed firsthand. I almost got jealous as some of the finishers received the complete attention of thousands of screaming fans. I feel asleep with the thought that there is no sport quite like this one, none that puts you so low and so high on the same day. When I woke it was to the sound of fireworks welcoming the arrival of the last finisher with Graham Fraser and Lori Bowden as escorts. Although I was too tired to look outside my window, I was coherent enough to recognize that someone else just had one of those moments that is worth a year of struggling. I dozed off for the second time, my mind content and my body exhausted.