The big day is finally here: Ironman Canada in Whistler, the event in which I will try to qualify for the World Championships in Kona. I feel ready…
Hmmmm…let me correct that. I felt ready until exactly 2 weeks out from the race when I finally (after a full season of healthiness) caught the nasty cough that had been going around the office. The timing was good though, all hard training was done and I was going into my taper anyways. So I lived on a combination of vitamins, cold FX and Siris’s secret soup for a week and got the cough mostly beat.
Travel to Whistler, and all of a sudden it is race week. A short moment of panic in the final week arises when the water in Alta Lake jumps up in temperature and rumours start making rounds that it would be too warm for wetsuits on race day. For me as a notoriously weaker swimmer a heavy blow. But I manage to keep fairly calm (although the family may have to offer a totally different observation) and get ready for race day with some light training in Whistler.
Race day is here; the weather is amazing….except – and I cannot believe I would ever say that…it is actually borderline hot…at least I don’t have to worry about keeping warm on the bike this time 🙂
The gun goes off, I find a pair of feet and hang on for dear life like usual (for explanation drafting in the water is allowed and gives one a huge advantage – literally hanging on to someone’s feet is not :-).
Usually I run out of steam after the frantic sprint at the start. But this time I feel surprisingly good. My watch gives me my first 400m split time – under 6 minutes. The fastest time I have ever swam 400m in, like ever! I am a bit worried, this is too fast for me, but I feel just fine. And much to my surprise I cruise through the swim at decent speed (even though my splits drop a bit when we started lapping the slower athletes) but I come out of the water in 1 hour and 3 minutes, which for me is unbelievable. All that hard work and all that patient coaching by the amazing Jen has paid off…I am finally a mid of the pack swimmer 🙂
Off to the bike, nothing new here, biking is my strength and I feel good…that is until I drop my chain shifting from the big to the small ring in front on a short climb. Crazy – this has not happened to me all season….now there is a little thingamajig attached to my front derailleur called a chain catcher that should a) stop the chain from dropping and b) if it must drop it will not get jammed between the chain ring and the frame. Somehow however my chain manages to slip by that little device and is not only jammed between the ring and the frame but also hooked BELOW that chain catcher. I am off the bike, grabbing the chain with both hands applying full force trying to yank that chain out of there but it is not moving a millimeter. Finally – after what feels like an eternity (and turns out to be 2 minutes after reviewing my data) I find the right angle and get that chain whopped back on the ring. Off I go, with completely black and greasy hands and two bleeding cuts on my fingers to boot. It takes me about 10 kilometers to catch the guys whose vicinity I was riding in again.
At least I got my customary technical glitch out of the way, I think. But as I feel the heat building up towards the end of the bike course (it is now approaching noon and my computer reads up to 36 degrees) I feel how my front tire seems a bit out of whack, there is just a slight bump every rotation. Without any other options I chose to ignore it until at the 175km mark – about 5km from the end of the bike course the bumpiness gets much more pronounced and goes along with a grind and a rubbery burning smell. The side wall of my tire starts separating and is now rubbing on the brakes. This has NEVER ever happened to me and I have no tools to fix this should the tire blow. I start calculating how far I can run pushing my bike to transition…it is only 4km now, I can tag that on to my marathon, right? I pull my water bottle and start spraying water on my tire, maybe cooling it down and making it wet and slippery will help a bit. At least it takes the burning smell away so it must do something. Long story short, I miraculously make it to the transition zone with an intact tire (when I pick up the bike in the evening after the race it is flat – so I literally must have rolled in on the last thread of side wall).
Only the run left. So far I am doing pretty well time wise. It is now legitimately hot (Canada weather service says it was between 34.1 – 35.4 degrees during the time I was on the run). I get a good handful of sun lotion on my oh so bald head and run off onto the run course. The plan has me hold a 5 minute per km pace. I am at 5:08 for the first km, not bad considering the usual stiffness after the 180km bike ride. I am in agony, but that’s normal for the first km – trying to convince the legs, which just pushed the pedals around in circles for 5 hours and change, to go up and down and bear weight all of a sudden.
The second kilometer has a substantial climb in it and I still feel a lot of pain. I shake it off because after all it is an uphill…but it is not getting better. I think I did overheat on the bike and my body is slowly shutting down. So I take a longer rest at the next aid station, ice, ice and more ice to get that body temperature down but it is not helping. I start shutting down completely and am just trudging along at snail pace. At that point – sure enough – the first competitor with my age group indicated on his calf runs by me, ah here we go…I am mentally preparing for being passed by hundreds of people. By km 5 I am sure my race is done, every step hurts, it is not getting better and I can’t even imagine “running” another 37 km feeling like this. At km 7 I run right by our campsite, Antje and the kids are cheering like crazy, in their shouts I hear something like second place? I guess I am doing pretty well as far as placement goes? I am not sure I understand exactly what they are yelling at me, but it makes me go on, I can do that out and back, and I will drop out on my way back, next time I go by the campsite – or latest when 7 competitors of my age group have passed me. Surprisingly soon I pass the guy from my age group again- he is fading much worse than I am it seems (in fact after the race I see him being taken to the medical tent in a wheelchair – hope he recovered well). Somehow this triggers a memory of what I have heard in different podcasts and interviews. When you out there suffering, remind yourself everybody else is suffering just as much as you are. And true, today seems to be one of those exact days – everybody is walking at some point or other today. I find myself passing and being passed by the same people again and again, we are simply choosing to walk at different spots of the course…
Eventually I fall into a rhythm, zombielike, the same movements: -shuffle to the next aid station – water over head – stuff ice into suit – a gel every second one – water over head again – more ice and start shuffling again. By km 20 I start drinking coke (the magical drink of pure sugar based energy) and somehow without realizing I am at km 25. The fog starts lifting. I start tricking my poor zombie brain – it is only 15 km (and a 2 km victory lap though town). That is like running our local 5k run with the kids 3 times…and a 2k victory lap – I can do this!
Eventually I make it to the finish chute and am horrified at the time the clock shows. 10:58. Another 11 hour race, after all that work, I can’t believe it. But at least it is done, and I don’t have to do it (ever) again because clearly with that time – a good hour and change slower than my anticipated qualifying time – there is no trip to Hawaii here. As I am being led to the medical tent (I guess my legs are kinda giving in on me a bit, and the medical guys wanted to avoid having to pick all 6 foot 7 off the ground sooner than later) I can hear the kids cheering in the background which makes me smile…but…little do they understand how slow I was….I am sad to disappoint them, but right now all I want to do is lie down in the cool medical tent.
I am released after 15 minutes and eventually find the family around the athletes’ food station. There is cheers and yelling and somehow they tell me I got third in my age group and 55th overall?? I am very sceptical of that Ironman live tracker app, I have seen results change on there before and don’t really want to believe it. We keep checking the app all evening but the result seems to be solid…I still will not allow me to believe it though until I actually get called onto stage tomorrow….just to be sure and avoid bitter disappointment.
A few hours later two friends come in, both have done their first ironman in the most brutal conditions ever – kudos to them!! Any other race they will ever enter will feel like a piece of cake after this one.
Shortly before midnight we return to the finish line (an ironman tradition) to greet the last competitors coming in. One of them is Gerry from Kimberley (age group 65-69), finishing his first Ironman with 6 minutes to spare in these conditions – what an inspiring achievement!
Next day we go to the awards ceremony (just in case the tracker was actually right) and I am a tad nervous all the way until they finally call my name. First for the awards and then for the Hawaii spot. It is true! I somehow died less than everybody else and did it!! We – are – going – to – Hawaii!!!!!
That also means I get to do this all again – ironically- in probably slightly cooler conditions but with much greater humidity. That also means another 10 weeks of training and (well mostly) laying off ice cream and cookies…But for now I will allow myself a week of sin – Dairy queen here we come, and yes, make that blizzard extra large please :-))