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.
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:
- It contained a hill that by all accounts (and apparently exaggeration was unnecessary) was so big and steep as to rival Mt Everest.
- 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.
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!
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!
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.
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!”
“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.
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.
Luckily, I have some great friends to bring everything into perspective.
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