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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Ironman Training, Race Reports, Triathlon

Ironman Canada Race Report Part 1

If you had suggested three years ago, that I could complete an Ironman Triathlon, I would have laughed. And not just a little titter, a full-on belly laugh. Me? An Ironman? No, just not possible, a snowball’s chance in hell, pigs could fly…. You get the picture.

I had just struggled through my first ever sprint distance triathlon.

Did I enjoy it? Certainly.

Was I more active now? Absolutely!

But seriously, an Ironman is 3.8km swim, 180km bike and 42.2km run.

More importantly, I didn’t want to, no inclination, zip.

What a difference a couple of years can make. In that time I really fell in love with triathlon and I began to get faster, I met some great friends and training partners, My new friend Kay (alongside whom I participated in that first race) completed Ironman Lanzarote, and I developed a stress fracture in my ankle prompting my doctor to tell me to quit running forever.

Well, if you have been following this blog, you’ll know I signed up a year ago. What followed was a year of ever increasing training and longer and longer bike rides.

By June, my fitness was greatly improved, I had completed a Half Iron Distance Tri in Oliver and a couple of half marathons. Kay and I signed up for an Ironman Prep Camp hosted by Balance point Racing and taking place in Whistler, on the actual Ironman Course.

The camp lasted 3 days, during which we swam in Alta Lake, cycled the entire bike course and ran most of the run course. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Alta Lake was not as cold as I had been led to believe. I had purchased a wetsuit that very week, and this was its first outing. (Actually, getting the wetsuit on was probably the biggest challenge of the weekend).

Whistler SS

Photo Credit Stacey Shand

Whistler KS 3

I was relieved to confirm that I could indeed cycle up that last 30km into T2 at the end of a long ride, completing the bike leg within the time allowed had been my biggest concern since signing up for this adventure, so it was reassuring to have successfully pre-ridden the course. I can’t imagine seeing that for the first time on the race weekend, as no doubt some athletes did.

The camp also gave me the opportunity to discuss nutrition and strategy with Coach Luke. He offered some excellent advice and tweaks to my nutrition plan. All in all, the weekend was a huge success and I left Whistler feeling relaxed and happy (and very tired), and now finally confident that barring any major unexpected hiccups, there was no reason to believe that I couldn’t complete my first Ironman in just under a month.

The next few weeks were spent finessing my plan. I completed my last big ride and started to taper for the race. Tapering is a terrifying time where one cuts back on training to allow the body to be rested and prepared for the actual event. My packing list went through many iterations and ‘what ifs’ and I booked my bus ticket to Whistler. Then all of a sudden it was time to pack (Thanks to my good friend Pat, who sat through all my neuroses and made sure I had everything I on my list).

Kay (and Erin) took my bike by car whilst I took the greyhound; we would meet at the hotel in Whistler. We were travelling down on the Wednesday, to allow a couple of days of preparation before the actual race. As it turned out, I arrived first and checked into the hotel, after a quick scout out of the area, I relaxed and waited for their arrival. Once they had settled in, we went over our plans for the next few days.

First order of business was athlete registration, I went down, waited in line, signed waivers and received my race number, timing chip and race bags (more on those later) as well as a goody bag which included a handy backpack that I would use for the rest of the weekend.

I then went to meet with my to-be-newest friend Lisa, an Australian athlete, we had been connected by a mutual friend, and it was nice to make new connections like this. We went for a swim in Alta Lake, along with Tracy (who I discovered was racing in the pro division) they were both incredibly fast and incredibly encouraging.

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I was having so much fun that I had to rush to make my appointment with Majo, Kinesiologist Extraordinaire. Seriously if you are in the Whistler area, I wholly recommend a visit! Once she had finished stretching, releasing, activating and otherwise working her magic; I felt relaxed, loose and raring to go. That evening Kay and I went for a quick bike ride along the run course, partly to check out the bikes one last time and partly to recce the run course turn around point (which it turned out, we hadn’t actually quite reached). We rounded out the evening with a swim quick soak in the hot tub of the hotel pool.

Friday morning dawned and I headed off to visit the expo. I wandered around the tents making some last minute purchases including a rain jacket as it was looking increasingly likely that the race might be wet. I also stopped by the ART tent, where Dr. Shannon Snow was volunteering his skills for a quick tune up.

We then decided to take the gondola up the mountain and see some more of the beauty that Whistler has to offer. The views were spectacular in the fog/clouds (no doubt equally spectacular on a clear day) we walked some short looped trails and marvelled at the beauty (and the marmots). We also took lots of fun photos and generally had a blast.

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Not competitive at all! Photo Credit: Erin Moure

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Photo Credit: Erin Moure

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After a pizza dinner, we headed back to the hotel to organize our race bags. Ironman gives you 5 coloured bags:

White: Morning clothes. Handed in at the start, it contains the clothes you were wearing just before the race as well as anything you need immediately after.

Blue: T1/Swim to Bike: Everything you need for the bike portion, you throw your swim stuff in there to be picked up at the end.

Red: T2/Bike to Run: Everything you need to go on the run, bike gear goes in here to be picked up at the end.

There are also two ‘special needs’ bags (orange and black). At the athlete meeting these were referred to as a “power up” and I think that’s a good explanation, you pick them up half way around the bike/run course. The contents vary from person to person, but they usually contain spare clothing or equipment and nutrition items. It is also customary to have some kind of treat inside.

During my long planning phase, I had put much thought into what should go into each of these bags. Unfortunately, those plans had been based on the race being hot. I had trained for a hot race and packed for a hot race; and now it looked as though it would not only be cold, but wet as well. Now, as I sat on on the floor in my hotel room with all of my gear scattered around me, I was paralysed with indecision. I started with all of the obvious things; towel, bike gear, spare tube, running shoes, salt tablets, Tylenol, emergency gels… I added a bottle of Ribena to each bag – It might not be sporty, or even that good for you, but I don’t recall a single time in my life when I have not wanted to drink this stuff, so it was the obvious choice for a race where I might need to entice myself to drink more. I also had a Kit Kat in each bag (though strangely in the end, those KitKats all went untouched).

Shorts or long pants?   Sweater, yes or no?

I laid everything out.

“OK, Final Decision!”

Kay and I then talked each other through the contents of our bags to ensure we hadn’t forgotten anything or made any silly mistakes.

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After that, I spent the rest of the evening putting my fleece into my T2 bag… and taking it out, and putting it into the special needs bag…and then switching it back again.

Early the next morning, I went out to watch the kids race, in which Lisa’s niece was running. I then visited Dr Snow in order to get my ankle taped in preparation for the big day. Much of the rest of the day was taken up with racking our bikes in transition and dropping off our transition bags.

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Kay and I lined up our bike-to-run bags with the hundreds of others in T2 in Whistler Village and then took one of the provided buses out to Alta lake where the swim and therefore the first transition was located. Here we dropped off our swim-to-bike bags and our bikes, minus any food. Apparently the location is a favorite of the local bears, who would sniff out our tasty offerings and ransack our bags if we were to leave so much as an energy chew lying around. That done, it was back to the hotel for an early dinner before bed.

Stay tuned for Part 2 Coming Soon!

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Cycling, Ironman Training, Race Reports, Triathlon

Building Milage: Okanagan Shuswap Century Ride and Oliver Half Iron

As June came around and my mileage was increasing in preparation for Ironman Canada, two events were scheduled a week apart.

Okanagan Shuswap Century Ride

Mt first century ride (100km) was the Guardian Century Ride last September. Back then, 100km was further than I had ever ridden and the ride was a bit of a struggle for me. I knew that my fitness had improved substantially since then, so my hope was that this would be a good confidence booster. I also intended to use it as a test, a trial run for the bike portion of the Oliver Half Iron the following week.

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I woke up to a hot, sunny day and with some friends, drove out to Armstrong, where the ride started and ended.  I got everything set up for my nutrition plan (1 gel every 30 minutes) and lots of water. Then after a brief speech we rolled out…. Straight onto a hill!

OK, let’s start slowly then!”

Everyone was passing me, which by now you might think I should be used to, and I guess I am, but it never really stops being disappointing. There were still enough people around me though, as I pedaled onward. The scenery was beautiful and the range of people doing the ride inspiring.

Soon enough I reached the first aid station – about 25km in. This was also the turnaround point for those riders signed up for the shorter 56km event. Trying not to think about how nice it would be to just join the shorter ride, I hopped off my bike to refill my water bottles…which weren’t empty.

Probably need to drink a bit more then.

I made sure not to stop long and continued on my way. It was much quieter now, since many of the riders had turned around.

The route took us out through deserted farmland with rolling hills. I took the opportunity to test out my new aero bars on the empty roads, which kept me amused for some time. Eventually, we entered the not so bustling metropolis of Salmon Arm.

This was significant for two reasons:

  1. It contained a hill that by all accounts (and apparently exaggeration was unnecessary) was so big and steep as to rival Mt Everest.
  2. Atop this fabled hill, sat aid station 2.

As the hill in question loomed before me, with a little trepidation, I dropped into my lowest gear and began to slowly grind upwards.

“Keep pedaling, Keep pedaling, Keep pedaling”

Suddenly, I was at the top.

Am I allowed to say that the hill was an anticlimax?

That’s not to say it was easy by any means, just not as hard as I had been lead to believe.

That over, I stopped at the oasis that was aid station 2 and refilled my water bottles before getting underway again.

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Everything seemed to be going well until suddenly I began to feel quite sick.

My legs lost power – I didn’t know what to do. I settled for eating another gel and willed my legs to keep pedaling. Another rider informed me that the final 10km were largely downhill and that we were almost at that point.

I hoped he was correct.

It seemed like forever, but finally we began to descend. I began to feel better immediately as I sensed the nearing of the finish. My GPS indicated four hours and eight minutes, far faster than I had dared to hope for, and definitely a good sign for the upcoming Half Iron.

I felt strong, my confidence high….and hungry!

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Oliver Half Iron

Two months out from Ironman is a good time to test a long distance race. This was to be my longest race to date, and a chance to test the logistics that would be key at Ironman.

The race in question was a couple of hours away, luckily, my wonderful friend Lenora offered me a ride, accommodation plus her excellent company for the weekend. Thanks Lenora I couldn’t have done it without you!

Oliver half iron LW (10)

Photo Credit: Luke Way

Check in for this race was the day before so we arrived early in Oliver, picked up our packages and racked our bikes in transition. Also in attendance at the race was Coach Luke of Balance point Racing. He offered some valuable tips on racing in the heat and helped me install a new water bottle to the aero bars on my bike.

The next morning we were up early to head to the start. I finished setting up my transition and waited nervously. I was unsure of how I would handle the distance and whether I could beat the cutoff times. It was already warm and it promised to be a very hot day – another thing to worry about.

After a short delay, we lined up for the start. The water temperature was only just wetsuit legal, not that this fact mattered hugely to me as a non-wetsuit owner. I was one of only a few ‘naked’ swimmers.

Thanks to the person who offered to loan me a wetsuit, I hope I didn’t seem too rude in declining! I hadn’t trained in a wetsuit, so adding one at this late stage didn’t seem like a good plan.

Right from the start, this race was uncomfortable.

I was struggling to breathe smoothly during the 2km swim, and strangely for me, I was cold! Predictably, most people passed me in the water, and I definitely had no trouble locating my bike when I got to T1 – it was still there, patiently waiting for me on it’s own.

The bike course in Oliver is rather pretty for the most part; a double loop that has only one serious climb. I was feeling sick right from the start. I tried to keep drinking and eating (following the same plan as I had used the week before in Armstrong); as well as swallowing salt capsules at regular intervals.

I kept riding, but the nausea didn’t go away.

Photo Credit: Luke Way

Photo Credit: Luke Way

The first 30km or so weren’t so bad, riding past vineyards and admiring the views. Then we turned onto the highway.

“Right, we stay on the highway until Road 6”

Functional if not creative naming from the city of Oliver.

“Road 21 – OK”

I kept riding, the highway not quite so pleasing, but still surrounded by vineyards, and a rather mean rumble strip a foot to my left.

“Must be nearly there by now…Road 18, Dammit!”

More pedaling.

Road 11

“OH come on!”

After what seemed like forever, Road 6 appeared all of a sudden and we turned off in to a more rural road (read: bumpy).

A friend passed me (Yes, he was a full lap ahead of me, underscoring my feelings of inadequacy). He helpfully pointed out a pothole as he passed it, which I certainly would have hit as my focus was beginning to drift. I had been concerned that this could be a problem in longer races – and I still had another lap to go.

The second lap was more challenging than the first. I still felt sick and now I was tired as well. With around 20km to go I could barely keep my eyes open.

“This is not good.201D

My mind was wandering all over the pace as I tried to focus.

I tried to work out what was wrong. Was I not drinking enough? Eating enough? Taking enough salt? Could I mitigate this problem? I tried to drink more, but I was already feeling sick and it felt like I was drinking all the time anyway, how could I drink more? To make matters worse, this was all happening in slow motion whilst I was trying to maintain a passable speed on the bike course.

“Just keep going”

I wondered if I would make the cut-off (my notoriously bad in race maths indicated I should), I then pondered the merits of missing the cut-off. Wouldn’t that be nice? I’d be removed from the race, wouldn’t have to continue…

What was I thinking?

I pedalled onward and finally reached transition. An official informed me that I had indeed made the cut-off, so on to the run it was.

I headed out onto the run course.

“It’s only a half marathon, I’ve done this before”

But not after a 2km swim and a 84km bike and it was hot, so hot, over 35 degrees, and the course had little shade.

I tried to run, but had no energy. I didn’t know what to do…except keep plodding forward.

I decided that if I wasn’t going to quit (and I wasn’t!), then I had to throw all of my resources at this problem.

I began to focus on getting from one aid station to the next. I became *that* person at the buffet, pillaging each aid station. I ate, I drank water and Gatorade, I took salt tablets and used ice to try to cool myself. Normally I prefer to be a little more analytical in my problem solving, but I was short on time and facing a very long and very miserable 21.1km, so the shotgun approach was my only option and still I trudged on, not feeling any better.

At the far end of the run course, the organiser had set up a sprinkler. As I stepped into the spray, the cold took my breath away. I stood for a moment, letting the cold water run over me.

My head clearer, I ran on slowly, I was able to keep running, things were looking up. Aid station: Gatorade, water, ice salt, gel, run on. Soon though, I started to overheat again (damn you quick drying fabrics!), then like a mirage, a woman appeared, holding a hose and spraying passing athletes.

Photo Credit: Luke Way

Photo Credit: Luke Way

I continued running from sprinkler to sprinkler, from aid station to aid station, I dared not look at my watch lest it told me I would miss the cut-off despite all of my best efforts. I was able to run the majority of the second lap (hooray for the shotgun approach and the wonderful citizens of Oliver and their hosepipes!).

As I finally crossed the line in 8:01:15 (seriously, it couldn’t have been just under 8 hours!?) all I wanted to do was curl up and sleep. The run portion of the race had taken me 3:18, much slower than my plan and a huge disappointment. I was happy to have finished (or was that relieved), but the race definitely hadn’t been a good one for me.

Photo Credit: Luke Way

Photo Credit: Luke Way

Luckily, I have some great friends to bring everything into perspective.

Photo Credit: Luke Way

Photo Credit: Luke Way

As they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and a few days later, I was able to see this as the achievement it was and the learning experience it could be. A triumph over adversity and a successful comeback on the run. I had gathered vital information that I could use to tweak my race plan for the future, hopefully slightly more analytically now.

  • What I learned from a really bad race:

  • Drink more early on
  • Increase calories consumed per hour
  • Add a source of caffeine to maintain alertness
  • My friends are awesome
  • The power to keep going cannot be understated
  • Have a backup plan
  • My friends are awesome
  • The power to keep going cannot be understated
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Ironman Training, Musings, Triathlon

Five things They Never Told Me About Ironman Training

Training for Ironman is pretty much a full time job, it consumes your life for much of the year.

Here’s five things I really didn’t fully understand before I started training for Ironman Canada.

You are always…

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You are always, on your way to another workout! I was warned about the volume of training required before I signed up – up to 20 hours a week. Sounds doable, until you realize you have to schedule that around work, buying ever increasing amounts of groceries, family commitments (My family aren’t nearby, but my cats are at risk of forgetting who I am), and the usual time-wasters like sleeping and eating and well, everything else. So now my life is scheduled around my workouts. Seriously, if you don’t swim, bike and/or run, we just can’t hang out!

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As a consequence, no doubt, of the aforementioned busyness, you are always tired! 5am workout? Certainly (when else am I going to fit it in?). 8pm hang out?  Are you kidding? I’m already on my way to bed! No I can’t come out this evening, I just finished a five hour ride and I just can’t move. If they do see me, my cats know to aggressively request food immediately – lest I fall asleep and they are unable to wake me!

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Hungry. I am always hungry. And I don’t mean in a “Oh, I’ll have another portion of salad or a small handful of nuts” kind of way. I mean if you sit too still nearby I might consider you food! I have become that person at the buffet with a heaped plate, then going back for more. At a pot luck event, I will be found hovering around the food table. Who ate my Kale salad with extra burger on the side? Why is there never any food in my house?

DOING LAUNDRYIMG_20150706_225844

Like seriously! How can those tiny pieces of Lycra make soooo much laundry? Do I even own this many clothes? Two or more workouts a day creates a laundry mountain of epic proportions, there are random pieces of sportswear air drying all over the place. I’m considering buying shares in laundry detergent.

BROKE

David Castillo Dominici freedigitalphotos.net

David Castillo Dominici freedigitalphotos.net

This one was sneaky. Ironman is expensive! I consider myself a generally frugal athlete, but even I had a rude awakening to some of the costs. First, you have the eye-wateringly expensive registration fee; then there’s no end of gadgets, bike parts, nutrition products, coaching costs, training events, physiotherapy, accommodation, travel, and the list goes on. And that’s quite apart from the costs associated with the increased eating and laundry previously mentioned.

What has your Ironman training experience been like?

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Ironman Training, Musings

Going From Strength to Strength

A couple of years ago a visit to a new chiropractor resulted in the recommendation that I “Really should think about some kind of strengthening program” After manipulating joints (push against my hand…I am …as hard as you can…I am), poking muscles and taking some official looking measurements he proclaimed that I was utterly weak and inflexible. (OK he didn’t put it quite like that, but that was definitely the message). He posited that increasing my all round strength offer improvement in all aspects of my day to day life, not to mention my athletic performance.

The good news was, the only way was up.

I decided to join a ‘bootcamp’, a twice weekly fitness class. I had tried this type of class before – more than once – and had never had much success. Large groups of people with varying abilities doing the same workout. Often exercises were impossibly hard, inadequately explained, or both. The instructors didn’t have time to help each person. I always ended up discouraged, and perhaps never kept going long enough to see real change. I had always wanted to do a pull up, a completely arbitrary goal and it seemed ridiculous even to me…

So, I was nervous as I headed to my first Designer Fitness session. The group was smaller and the instructor immediately welcoming. Everything was explained clearly and the instructor was approachable and always made time to answer questions. Those early sessions were fast paced and hard, but never impossible; there was always a modification to allow everyone to achieve. The classes took place outdoors which was pleasant and the other participants turned out to be a great bunch too!

This time I did begin to see changes. Those push ups which I had never been able to do, were starting to get easier and soon I was able to keep up with the workouts. It wasn’t until a few months later though, that I realised how much change was occurring.

My running was improving.

That year (2013) I ran my first non-stop 5km, no walking! Followed swiftly by a non-stop 10km. I hadn’t been running much that year due to injuries, the only difference was the bootcamp.

The progress continued through the winter until disaster struck in the spring.

Stress Fracture – No running, in fact, no extraneous weight bearing activity.

I delivered the bad news to Katie – I was clearly going to have to take some time off – but no…

Rather than let me spend the summer feeling sorry for myself, or falling off the fitness wagon altogether, she proceeded to modify my workouts.

All.          Summer.          Long!

My arms and core were just not expecting this sudden change of focus!

“Engage your core”

“You can do anything for 20 seconds”

And by the end of the summer, muscles I had never seen before seemed to be growing out of nowhere and I was redefining possibilities with respect to my fitness.

I continue to attend the bootcamps, my favourite being the Cardio Core Climb at Beyond the Crux climbing gym (How could that not be fun?!!) and having made so many gains I am motivated to continue.

Cardio Core Climb

Now that I have located it, engaging my core is proving useful in many different areas of life and sport.

The pull up might still be a way off, but I know for sure I will be able to do it one day.

And, you know, you really can do almost anything for 20 seconds…which was really a far more valuable lesson in the end.

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Cycling, Ironman Training

Guardian Century Ride

This was to be a test.

A 100km bike ride.

I wanted to prove that I could do this.

I wanted to prove I could do this NOW. Before it gets dark and cold and I am relegated to indoor spin sessions for the winter.

The Guardian Century Ride is hosted by www.balancepointracing.com and all proceeds go to charity, in this case, the local SPCA branch. It would be good to end the season on a high.

GCR elevation

The elevation profile for the ride.

The cutoff time for Ironman is an average of 20km/hr.

This was my goal.

Five hours for a century.

I’d not ridden that far before, and whilst I was reasonably sure I could complete the distance, I was less sure that I could do so in a timely manner.

We started out at 8am, I was mindful of not starting out too fast which could cause me problems later in the ride.

Around 15km in I was riding alone, the lead pack were just getting away from me but I was staying comfortably ahead of the back of the pack. We were on a long road with no shoulder to ride on. That was fine, it wasn’t too busy. I was occupying my mind with important philosophical discussion and shopping lists and the like and enjoying being out on my own. A couple of cars came past me going quite fast, not unexpected, we were leaving the city behind, I noted this and kept riding. Then I heard a roar, a semi/articulated lorry came past

Too close!

I veered off into the dirt, out of its way, looking up in time to see the trailer come in front of me, with its back wheels nudging off the edge of the tarmac, where I had just been. I didn’t have time to think about that right now as I was in imminent danger of crashing into the ditch. I struggled to maintain control and breathed a sigh of relief when I was finally able to wrestle my bike back onto the road.

When I caught up with the group I discovered that having run me right off the road, it then nearly took out the lead pack as well. Luckily Karis wasn’t injured when she fell trying to avoid a collision.

We continued on slightly more warily, past the first aid station, into Winfield, and after a terrifyingly steep downhill to the lake shore, we began ascending what I can only describe as the longest hill ever. Would it ever end?

OK, maybe I exaggerate, but seriously, it was really long!

GCR3

Finally near the top of Predator Ridge

Thanks to Karis for circling back! (and for taking this picture).

This brought us all the way up to Predator Ridge, where we were greeted by the second aid station. What followed was a beautiful and fast descent to the highway.

I was already a little twitchy from the earlier incident with the semi, and riding on the highway did little to improve my confidence at this point. I was very glad to turn off back into Winfield.

“Release grip on handlebar and breathe….”

After a while riding along the lake, our next challenge was another hill. Short and steep, this was only around 400m but with reported grades of 16% it looked almost vertical!

I started slow, dropping into my easiest gear.

“It’s only short, I can do this”

I saw people walking, I wanted to join them…but…No I didn’t!

The fight was on in my head.

“It’s so close”

“You can’t make it, you are going so slow you will fall over”

“I can make it, shut up brain you are lying to me.” Well, that’s what I told myself, in reality I was far from sure.

But what I did know was that my body can go much further than my brain tells me it can. (This was a huge revelation to me this summer and I am excited to see where this new knowledge can take me.)

I made it to the top.

I didn’t die.

After a quick stop to catch my breath (OK, it might not have looked quite that elegant), we pressed on.

Just another 30km or so left, and it was back on the road we came in on. I’ve already ridden this once, no big deal right? I was running low on power now, but I knew I was going to finish.

We pulled over the finish line at 13:13. Thirteen minutes over the goal. Disappointing.

However a check of my GPS revealed that I had spent 30 minutes stopped at aid stations, so my average moving time was 21.4km/hr a victory!

So…No stopping at Ironman then!

This ride was a significant one for me:

  • I learned that meeting the Ironman bike cutoff (a big concern for me) is in theory possible, and with nine months to go, there’s still potential for improvement.
  • I proved that if I keep trying I can achieve things I never thought possible.
  • I discovered that I probably need to eat more to fuel the latter stages of the ride, good to know, and there’s lots of opportunity to work on that.

Now, off for a well-deserved burger – to benefit the animals!

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Ironman Training

What have I done?

I did it.

ironman conf

I signed up for Ironman Canada 2015.

Don’t laugh. Please.

IRONMAN.

3.8km swim, 180km bike and a marathon run (42.2km) in under 17 hours.

11 months from now!

Never mind that the reason I did my first triathlon was that running for longer than 30 minutes bored me to the point of giving up; that I have the concentration span of a goldfish with ADD; that I have never attempted a triathlon longer than a sprint distance (750m swim, 20km bike, 5k run), and even then my times could at best only be described as mediocre; that I can’t even conceive an 8 hour bike ride, let alone be nervous of it; that I have recurring shin splints or even that I have been unable to run at all this summer due to a stress fracture in my right fibula, that hasn’t even healed yet.

Why let any of those reasons stop me?

I blame Karis. I met Karis at the 2012 Apple Triathlon, the first for both of us. What a relief it was to see another person with a mountain bike that day. We were pretty even, I was faster in the water, and she was faster on the bike. In 2013 we both upgraded our trusty mountain bikes to road bikes and did it again, both a little bit faster. A mere eight months later, Karis completed Ironman Lanzarote – considered one of the hardest in the world. (See more about Karis’ adventures here).

If she could do it, I reasoned, why couldn’t I?

Karis agreed, pointing out that I only needed to maintain a speed of 20kph on the bike. Surely I can do that? Surely.

And so, with all of these thoughts dancing round my head, I filled out the online registration for Ironman Canada.

And then I closed the window. This is ridiculous!

And again. What are you thinking??

And again. I’m not good enough

I needed another opinion. So at my next physio appointment (remember I’m going to physio because my ankle is fractured and I can’t run) after engaging in small talk (mostly centred on how I can’t run and the fact that the doctor actually advised I quit running altogether) for a while I bit the bullet:

“Sooooooooo, how worried would you be if I signed up for *cough* Ironman?”

I saw him hesitate. Oh no, this was such a stupid idea, what do I say now? why did I bring this up?

“I don’t plan to run the marathon”

“No-one runs the marathon”

“but, I don’t even plan to try” It sounded feeble even to my own ears.

Long pause

“I think you can do it” and breathe.

He rallied then, reasoning that I could already do the swim and with a little bit of training should be able to do the bike, and I ought to even be able to run part of the marathon by then, perhaps 10k? He even managed to say all of this with a straight face and without the cartoon dollar signs taking over his eyes.  Thanks Greg! I don’t want to know what you said to your colleagues after I left that day.

That enthusiastic if not quite ringing endorsement of my abilities was all I needed to actually click the submit button on my next visit to the IMC website.

Wow this thing is real now. $725 is quite the commitment.

My mother always used to tell me that I could do anything if I put my mind to it. I’m sure she wished I’d put my mind to a few more things back then, and I doubt she had a 17 hour triathlon in mind at the time. And everyone knows that mother is always right. Right?

So here it is, time to prove it.

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