Ironman Training, Race Reports, Triathlon

Ironman Canada Race Report Part 2

Here, it is, the second part. Read about the lead up to the race in Part 1

It felt as though I had barely crawled into bed as my alarm chirped its 4am wake up call. The morning was overcast and cold and the wet ground indicated it had already been raining. We had decided not to take the complimentary shuttles, opting to avoid the containers of nervous energy and rather, walk to the start. However the walk took us longer than we had anticipated leaving us rushing into transition with little time to spare. This was good and bad (at least for me). Bad, because I was now in a rush to return the food items to my bag and do any last minute checks on my equipment before my usual struggle to don my wetsuit. Good, because I had no time to worry about excessively about anything prior to stepping into the water. As a last minute decision I put a long sleeve top into my T1 bag, a decision that world prove fortuitous

We stepped into the cold water and stood looking out over the lake in silence. Presently, the National Anthem began playing over the loud speakers. As we listened, the rain began to fall. And that was to set the tone for the rest of the day.

The swim was a double loop, and the course was crowded. I tried to focus on keeping a consistent stroke. It felt like forever, but at last I made my final turn towards the beach and T1. I was being hit by waves coming at me from the side, I couldn’t figure out how I hadn’t noticed this choppiness before. Confused, I battled my way to the beach. (Later, spectators would confirm that the wind did indeed kick up, just before I exited the water). As I ran out of the water, I started to undo my wetsuit, the competitive sprinter in me taking over for a moment. Of course, the few seconds I was saving here would be a drop in the ocean compared to the 15 hours I expected to spend out on the course that day, but ‘old habits dies hard’. I had never been at a race with wetsuit strippers before and I didn’t know what I was missing! I sat on the ground and a second later they had yanked my wetsuit off and handed it back to me.

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“Wow, that was easy!” I thought as I jogged towards the change tent. (I know, I was supposed to be ‘walking with purpose’, what can I say? I was caught up in the moment…)

Inside the change tent, I found an empty spot, tipped out my bag and hurriedly got changed. I had opted to wear my bathing suit on the swim, and then change completely in T1. A helpful volunteer held out the late addition sweater and asked if I wanted to wear it, I gave it one more second of consideration and decided that yes, I would. I slipped it on, followed it with the waterproof jacket and headed out to my bike. I jogged past the sunscreen station, (not doing a roaring trade given the weather) and headed to the bike racks.

I almost ran right past my bike and had to crawl under the rack to get to it. I left T1 laughing to myself. The rain was really heavy as I mounted my bike and headed off towards Callaghan. I was passing a lot of people early on, it was almost impossible, with the bulk of riders to keep out of the draft zones, I just concentrated on making constant forward progress. I was concerned I might be going too fast, but a check of my heart rate confirmed that I was fine. I was cold, and very glad that I had worn the sweater after all.

This part of the course is a steep hill (and the location for the Olympic ski jumps, if confirmation of the gradient were required). I settled into my easiest gear and started the long grind uphill. Part way up, during a gear change, my chain came off and jammed my pedals. I wobbled alarmingly for a second as I desperately tried to unclip a foot and stand. This would not be a good time to have my first clipped in fall! Thankfully, just in the nick of time, I was able to put my foot down, climb off my bike and fix the situation.

Crisis averted. That would have been embarrassing!

Now I just had to get going again on this steep hill. A couple of false starts later and I was again on the move, albeit slowly. The remainder of the climb was uneventful and I reached the turnaround at the top feeling good. I had counted on taking advantage of a good dose of ‘free’ speed on the downhill, however, the rain had put paid to that idea. The water ran in rivulets across the road and the fabric of my jacket snapped in the wind, making the descent quite terrifying.

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The course then rejoined the highway and I continued on the long descent towards Pemberton. The monotony was broken by regular aid stations stocking water, Gatorade, energy gels and bananas. My nutrition plan called for me refilling my water and also eating bananas. Volunteers were lined up along the road with various offerings. I slowed a little and reached out to grab a water bottle as I rode by. Success.

My knees were aching – which I put down to the temperature, which I later found out was under 10 degrees Celsius. On top of that, all of the muscles in my neck and shoulders were screaming, probably also due to my tensing up in the cold. I finally made it to the Pemberton turn. This meant a 40km flat out and back before heading back up that long hill to Whistler. Just as we started the out and back, we passed our special needs bags. I made a snap decision that I would not stop. I hadn’t had a flat, so I didn’t need the spare tube, and I was feeling pretty good and thought I could manage without the extra nutrition items – even my beloved Ribena.

I really wanted to make up some time here, but more importantly at that moment I really wanted to use the bathroom! At the next aid station (which typically took forever to arrive) I stopped my bike and joined the queue (of course). I took the opportunity to stretch a little, which elicited a very satisfying crack from my neck. A few minutes later, I was on my way again. The ride now seemed to be going quite well and I was enjoying it. Until, that is, I reached the turnaround.

“That’s why it felt so good!” I thought to myself, as I pedalled against the headwind on the return journey. I was feeling very sleepy by this time, struggling to keep my eyes open. Luckily I had experienced this in Oliver, had had come to Whistler prepared, so now I ripped open the tiny bag that I had stashed on my bike which contained some Tylenol and a caffeine pill.

Soon, I began to feel better, and as I left Pemberton behind, I finally managed to snag a banana from the aid station. Now, I just had to conquer that 30km climb back to Whistler (and then the little matter of a marathon, but let’s not think about that right now). The climb was long and slow, but I already knew I could do it, and I could see looking at my watch that I would be well within the cut-off.

The climb felt like forever, finally, to my great relief, I saw the sign for the village and the course veered off to the side. I had tears in my eyes when I finally saw the arch to T2. The bike cut-off had been my biggest fear throughout the year of training and this moment was arguably the biggest achievement of the day.

As I entered the change tent, Kay hailed me. I was briefly confused, as I expected her to be further ahead. Unfortunately, her race was not going to plan, mostly owing to the cold. I will forever be grateful for her enthusiastic encouragement, particularly given the difficulties she was facing.

Another wonderful volunteer came to help me change in T2. Unfortunately, though she was very patient and helpful, my mind was not in the right place to receive help. She was handing me things from my bag, but everything was in the wrong order. I couldn’t quite compute this change. Unfortunately, in the end, I ended up leaving transition without my water bottle.

“Never mind, there’s plenty of water stations on course”

Famous last words.

The first 5km of the run is a loop around Lost Lake, and it started very well. I was surprised how tight all of my muscles felt, probably a result of being tense on the bike. Even my biceps ached. Around 10km, I switched to a run-walk strategy. I ran between the aid stations, eating what I felt like from the selections available.

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Then, it happened. My ankle started hurting.

Ironically, not the ankle that less than a year ago had healed from a stress fracture. My left ankle had never given me trouble before, but now there was a stabbing pain.

If only I had some Tylenol. But it had been carefully stashed in the pocket of my water bottle. The same water bottle that I had accidentally left in T2.

I kept walking, but I was barely holding things together. Thank goodness, no-one was nice to me or I might have burst into tears. I couldn’t understand it. Yes, this was Ironman, I suppose I could be forgiven for being a bit emotional, but really? This just didn’t happen to me!

I marched on. I needed to keep moving as fast as I could. The kilometres ticked by so slowly. It seemed like an eternity before I reached the special needs bags and the long awaited painkillers. I stopped this time and drank the emergency bottle of Ribena. I closed my eyes. I could hear the voice of the announcer calling in finishers nearby. I felt so jealous of those athletes, already done for the day. I was at about 25km here, so there were another 17 to go. I had to keep moving – away from the finish.

I knew I could finish now, all I had to do was keep putting one foot in front of the other. Actually I felt quite good, considering.

One foot in front of the other. That’s what I did for about the next three hours. Aid station to aid station. Kilometre marker to kilometre marker. Never in my life have kilometre markers seemed so far apart.

There was a blister on my foot now, I was sure. I didn’t look, how would that have helped? My ankle actually felt quite a bit better now, and I no longer felt like bursting into tears, so things were looking up.

I was hugely disappointed though as I realised that I could not make my goal of finishing in less than 15 hours. I really hadn’t been that invested in doing so before the race. It was more of a case of “wouldn’t it be amazing if I could”. As the day had gone on, however, it had become clear that I was capable of achieving that, though perhaps on a different day.

The sign said 5km to go.

“Great, I usually take about 30 minutes to do 5km”

This 5km took 41:24.

4km to go.

“Seriously? I’ve only covered 1km?”

I kept walking through the darkness.

3km. “3km is nothing”

2km. “Will this ever end”

I was striding along with another girl (whose name I don’t recall). We passed a sign saying 41km.

“1km to go” she commented.

1.2km, I corrected. We laughed about the 0.2km being our undoing.

Finally, the finish chute came into sight…and the course lead us on a small (was that 0.2km?) loop away into the village! Oh the cruelty!

Be strong!

Now we were heading for the finish.

The music was blaring, the lights were so bright. Suddenly this was it. The moment I had been training for all year…and waiting for all day!

Everyone was cheering. I closed my eyes; I wanted to remember this moment. I ran the last 100m down the chute, high-fiving total strangers as the words

“Alison, You Arrrrrrrre an IRONMAN!!” rang through the speakers.

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I almost couldn’t believe it.

Someone hung a medal around my neck and a volunteer steered me to pick up my finisher t-shirt and cap and pose for a picture.

Then, like a mirage, Kay appeared… with a slice of pizza!

Having completed her own race, she had waited for me at the finish line. We went to collect my bike and gear bags; I ate the pizza and I thought it was the best I’ve ever tasted in my life! As we walked back to the hotel I was in a daze.

My finishing time of 15:42 had been a little disappointing…on the other hand, I had just completed an Ironman. I wasn’t quite sure how to feel. When I got back, I checked my phone and was truly humbled to see the number of messages from friends. So many of them had been live tracking my progress online throughout the day and had already sent their congratulations.

So there it is. Done.

I’m at the end of my year long journey, or could that be the start of something new?

I used to say I would never attempt an Ironman. Then I said I’d only ever do one. During the marathon in Whistler, I was sure I would never do this again.

But I know I can do better…next time?

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