Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Ironman Canada - The Race

The morning of the race, everything seemed to be going well. It had cooled off Friday and Saturday compared to Wednesday and Thursday so I was crossing my fingers that it wouldn't be killer hot for the race.

I got up at 4:15 am, ate my normal breakfast, picked up my Bike and Run Special Needs bag and my "Dry Clothes" bag with everything I needed for the swim and some stuff for after the race and then my mom and I took off.

It was still relatively dark, but there were street lights.


I put my special needs bags into the marked bins and tried to find a body marker I knew. It was too crowded and dark for that though so I just picked a short, fast-moving line and went for it. They were putting the age on our left calves but mine was full of Rock Tape so I got my age on my right calf.

Then it was off to transition. Mom wasn't allowed in there so we set up a meeting point and I went off to my bike to add my nutrition and pump up my tires. I had debated whether to bring the bike pump, but it turned out to be a good thing as there weren't a lot of pumps in my area (probably because we were in the 3000s again) and lots of people used my pump before I collected it and took it back to Mom.

I went through my whole race morning routine without a hitch. I did my DROM stretching routine. I got in line for the port-a-potties and was able to clear out my colon, which was a load off my mind. (Ooh, potty pun.) I put on my wetsuit, picked out which goggles to wear and collected everything I didn't need any more into my dry clothes bag. 

Then I set out to figure out where to put it. This was complicate by the fact that the signs for which bags went where just stopped at 2999. There wasn't even torn up cardboard this time! So all the 3000-3200 bags were dumped in a big pile and I hoped for the best.

I did see a few people I knew in transition and that was nice. I didn't talk much though. Then I had this overwhelming urge to pee. The lines to the port-a-potties were incredibly long at this point and I like to pee in my wetsuit at least once for warmth so I headed down to the beach about 10 minutes ahead of schedule.

The Swim

Since I had time to kill, I did walk the length of the fence between us and the spectators looking for my mom, but she hadn't planned to try to watch the swim start so she wasn't there. I also took in my "pre-swim" gel as planned.

Then it was time to position ourselves for the swim. I decided to stay over to the left so I could cut part of the course off. I tried to stand where the water was deeper too. The "gun" went off and I started swimming. A lot of people walked until the water was deeper but I could see they were putting a lot of energy into it and not going very fast so I kept to my plan and swum. I did do a bit of dolphin diving as well, but it soon got too deep for that.

Something weird happened to me during the swim though. I got this very tight feeling in my chest. Normally that doesn't happen unless the water is very cold and this water was perfect. I had to slow down a bit and I also ended up grabbing the top of my wetsuit and pulling it down to let more water in. I also reminded myself to sing my swim song, which really helps calm me down and keeps me from swimming too fast. All of this appeared to help and I began to really swim.

I have my Garmin in my swim cap for the swim and I have it set to go off every 15 minutes. The first 15 minute vibration seemed like it was at a good place.  But then at some point I got way off course in the swim. I was actually to the left of all the kayaks! It was no surprise when the second buzz was short. I was about 1 or 2 buoys farther down than I wanted to be. 

At the turn buoy, I looked down and saw an oxygen tank. I thought that was weird.

Then my 45 minute buzzer went off and I was definitely not where I wanted to be. I figured I was at least 5 minutes off pace at this point.

At the second turn buoy, I saw some bubbles coming up from the bottom of the lake. As I was puzzling over this, I saw a diver laying down under the buoy facing me. I have absolutely no idea what he was doing there, but I did wave to him.

My next not-so-good thing was that I never noticed the 1 hour buzzer. So when the next buzzer went off, I wasn't sure if it was 1 hour or 1 hour 15 min. Everything was pointing to 1 hour 15 minutes but I ignored that and decided it was the 1 hour buzzer and I was back on schedule.

However, I believe I was still zig-zagging because twice I ended up to the right of buoys when they all should have been on the left. Either that or the buoys were not in the right place.

At the next buzzer (1:15 or 1:30), I started to get hungry. I also was really pushing the pace but not feeling like I was swimming all that fast. I switched to the faster part of my swim song to help me speed up.

T1 - Swim to Bike

As I got to the beach, I was excited because the next buzzer hadn't gone off. I had done it -- swum 2.4 miles in less than 90 minutes! I did have trouble standing up as my legs wouldn't support me. But eventually I was able to stand up and and get the top off my wetsuit.  Yeah! The wetsuit strippers who serviced me were awesome and cutting of the bottom of my legs helped a lot too. My suit was off in no time and I was running towards the transition bags.

Ironmans have a system for these bags. Volunteers at the front yell out your number as  you run by so that the volunteers by the bags have yours ready for you when you get there. Except it didn't work. My number was yelled out several times up the line but the volunteers by my number were in a daze and my arrival came as a big surprise. Uh, what's your number?? I grabbed my own bag and headed to the tend. This was probably a good thing as a friend of mine was given the wrong bag and had to come back and get her bag.

I ran into transition and was putting on my socks and bike shoes when I looked at my Garmin. It said 1:45 elapsed time. Oh no, I hadn't done the swim in 90 minutes after all! I was bummed but concentrating on the next phase.

I ran out of the changing tent and saw our Cruise Director. She ran with me to my bike to take a picture. Then I ran to the mount line, jumped on and took off. I figured my transition was under 5 minutes so I was happy.

Until I realized I had forgotten to put on sunscreen! I never did find the sunscreen station and it turns out it was to the left of the changing tent even though the bikes were to the right. Dumb.

The Bike

Anyway, I was riding down Main Street, ringing my bell (yes, I brought my own cow bell - you can never have enough cow bell), realizing I had no sunscreen on and then The Prez rides past me. Given that in any race we've ever done together she's swum a few minutes slower and then had twice the transition time, her catching up to me (because she's a better cyclist and smokes me on the run) so close to transition just brought home how crappy my swim really was. If I had known then what I learned later -- that she finished her swim almost 20 minutes before I did, I would have been totally and completely devastated by my poor swim performance. Luckily, I didn't know that.

I looked for my mom on Main Street but didn't see her. Bummer.

I got to the first aid station. Later on, I figured this was about 10 am and the temperature was in the low 70s. Plus, it was hazy - no direct sun beating down on us just yet. I still have plenty of water but I always get a fresh bottle at the aid stations just in case. So I throw mine down in the beginning and I ride to the end ignoring all the volunteers saying "Ironman Poison Perform, Ironman Perform". I get to the end and there is no one saying "Water, Water." There's a volunteer at the end by the "Last Chance to Throw Trash" sign and I say "Where's the water?" "Oh," he says very casually, "we don't have any." I tell him I threw out my water bottle and have no water so he hands me a bottle from the pile he's collecting. It looked like a new one that no one had taken a swig out of so I took it.

I continue onward and the next bike station has water as does the one after that.

I was pretty much flying for this part of the course. My average speed started at 16 mph and it kept going up from there! I keep wondering if I was biking too fast, but it seemed easy and I knew this was the fastest part of the course and I didn't want to squander it. It was still a bit hazy out and the temperature was comfortable. I raced out of town and onto McLean Creek Road and was still flying when a volunteer appeared out of nowhere yelling "don't ride on the edge." It seems that every year for the past four years, someone had strewn tacks on that stretch of road. 

I didn't see any tacks but I did see the Bike SAG people on the side of the road fixing flats. For FOUR cyclists. That's crazy. I know this person thinks of himself (because it may be sexist of me, but I'm sure it's a guy) as some great protester furthering his cause, but I think he's a criminal. People have been known to crash when they get a flat and doing something that puts someone in the hospital with a broken collarbone is assault in my book.

I got through this section without any flats and was soon heading down to Oosoyos.  I'm thinking that I'm almost to Ritcher Pass and I look at my bike computer to check and I'm only at mile 20! Okay, now I know I have to slow down. I am definitely not pacing myself well here.

I successfully knock back my energy level and I'm feeling a bit better. I decide to see how badly this has impacted my average mph and the course is so fast in this section that in spite of putting out less energy, my mph actually went up -- to 17 mph! This makes me feel pretty good. I'm thinking, if I can keep this up, I can finish in 6 hours. But I know I'm coming up on the hard part of the course and that's not realistic. Still, maybe my seven hour dream finish? I am hopeful.

At the aid station before Ritcher Pass, I throw out my water bottle as is my system and I again ride to the end of the line and there is NO WATER. I actually stop my bike and demand water from a volunteer. They hand me a bottle and say "This one has two swigs taken out of it." So it has cooties. Hopefully they aren't horrible cooties that will make me sick because I am NOT going up Ritcher Pass without water!

As I approach the pass, I gear down. (Or is it up?) I get into my easiest gear but it's too easy for this part so I click up one. I figure I can click down when it gets steeper. I decided, since I expended too much energy getting here that I will take it very easy up the pass. I won't even pass anyone, I decide. That proves to be impossible though. I am going much slower than I would normally but I still pass people. I pass one guy and we ride together for a bit and complain about the water station. Unlike me, he is biking up Ritcher without water. I try to figure out how to share mine but can't think of anyway except to bike up with him which is against the rules. I have to leave or get a passing penalty but I do think of him throughout the rest of the race and I hope he didn't suffer too much for that.

Going up Ritcher is the first time I feel the heat. There is no shade and I was going up about 8-9 mph so I wasn't generating my own breeze and there was no actual breeze. I'm starting to feel the lack of sunscreen too. My right shoulder is just baking in the sun. I know I have sunscreen in my special needs bag but I had been hoping not to have to stop there. I think "next time, I will put sunscreen in my bike bag." Except, of course, I always have sunscreen in there. I guess with the adrenalin of the race, I just forgot that. I do eventually remember, but I also am unwilling to stop.

I get to what I think is the top of Ritcher. At that point, I have 3 M+Ms, one for each bump I went up. I also realize at this point that I never shifted down to my easiest gear! Oops. I do that now and then I realize Ritcher has four bumps, not three. The last  one was kind of hard, harder than I remember in the car. Maybe it wouldn't have felt that hard if it wasn't in the high 80s/low 90s though. Or if I had biked up in an easier gear. Though, honestly, I don't think I needed to.

I get to the real top and have another M+M and then I scream down the hill. I think I got up to 34-36 mph. I loved it!

At the next aid station, they have volunteers station at the trash cans yelling "don't throw away your bottle! We have no water! You can fill up  your bottle from a hose!" Okay, so why didn't they do that at the first two aid stations that had no water? I stop, as much as I hate to stop, and I wait in line to get my water bottle filled up. The volunteers are very concerned for us and apologetic about the water. I ask a guy who seems to be in charge what is up. He says "Apparently it's hot and all the aid stations are running out of water." I just love the "apparently." Because I'm with him. It is hot but it just doesn't seem that hot. 

I figure since I'm stopped anyway, I'll get some sunscreen. They have it at the aid stations and a volunteer slathers it on my back for me. It turns out that Special Needs it not that close to the half way point (I thought it was around mile 60 for some reason, not 75) and I probably wouldn't have made it without some burning so getting it here was a good move on my part.

For the rest of the ride, I took it very easy. The rollers are fine for the most part. There is one "roller" that is really a hill. It was very hard to get up and then I flew down at 34 mph. That is not a "roller" in my book. 

I get to the turn off in Keremos where we do this weirdo 'out and back' thing. I hadn't drove this part and I think that was a mistake. Not only was it way longer than I expected but it had hills. It was also hot in spots. The nice part was that I got to see some SVTCers including The Prez. I was quite surprised to see her. I expected her to finish 45 min. faster than me. Since it was an out-and-back, I looked at the time and then again when I got back to where I thought I saw her. It was at least 30 minutes, maybe more, so I wasn't as close to her as it seemed.

I got to special needs and I ate a Snickers which tasted horrible because I had no water (or at least not enough to waste it on a Snickers). I got another pack of M+Ms so I'd have one for Yellow Lake and put on my chamois butter and some more sunscreen and I peed. This all took about five minutes, much less time than I spent in transition at IMAZ. Plus, I spent most of it in the shade, too.

I then took off and headed for Yellow Lake. I had been told Yellow Lake happens at mile 80 but I was still in the "out and back" at mile 80. There was a hill there though. There was also one spot on the way to Yellow Lake that I was pedaling harder than I expected. I took a closer look and realized I was going uphill. I guess this was one of the false flats I heard about. I went into a lower gear and it was over pretty quick.

Eventually I went up something I'd consider a hill. It bothered my calf and it was hot. It has a Penalty Tent at the top of it but I knew I wasn't at the top of Yellow Lake. There was another bump that was a bit harder. It wasn't the elevation so much as the sun beating down on me. I got to a point where I saw the top and the aid station about 150 yards ahead of me and I thought "I can make it" but another part of me said "But I don't care." I was hot and my calf was hurting and I didn't see the point in killing myself just to say "I didn't walk up Yellow Lake."

So I got off the bike, headed for some shade and stopped for a bit to drink and cool off. Then I couldn't get back on because it was too steep so I just walk/ran my bike up to the aid station where I immediately went under the tent where they were storing the water.

I don't think I was supposed to be there, but I kind of didn't care. told them I needed shade. Which was true. Plus, they had water! This was the first aid station since after Ritcher that had water. I was so happy. It was 16.9 oz bottles which are really too small to stay in the bottle cage, but I didn't care. I had fresh water, not out of a garden hose. I drank half a bottle right there, took 2 Enduralytes, 4 Advil (and lost another one), and had 2 M+Ms (one for each bump of Yellow Lake ascent). I took a fresh water bottle for my bike, dumped out my Powerbar Energy Bites that had turned into a horrible congealed mess, and took off.

I felt great after that. I saw the friends I expected to see at the top of Yellow Lake at the top of some random roller and they took my picture and yelled and I yelled back and rang my bell for them and then the descent into town started. (Later on, I figured that spot was the real top of Yellow Lake, but it didn't feel like a hill so I didn't realize it at the time.)

There was a decent headwind going back into town which was a bit disappointing as it meant I only ended up descending at 25 mph. But you can't fight wind, so I didn't. I tried to cut through it with a high cadence in an easy gear and getting very aero and when I was on a part of the course where the wind wasn't fighting me, I would try to pound out as fast as I could. This wasn't as fast as I'd liked since my legs were a bit fried, but I had a ton more energy and legs than I had at IMAZ at this point and the ride into town was actually fun.

T2 - Bike to Run

I dismounted and tried to hand my bike to a volunteer but she said the bike volunteers were around the corner. I finally found them and after they took my bike, I saw friends from the club who could have taken my bike. Oh well! I did hug them though.

In transition, I took my time. I figured out later that I only got into transition about five minutes faster than at IMAZ, but at no time was I worried I wouldn't make the bike cutoff. Or that I was going to fall over and die. I still had a decent transition time even though I took some time to rearrange my Spibelt so I wasn't carrying around so much Gu. I had put a bunch in my Bento bag along with my bike gloves on the ride into town but there were still a lot left.

The Run

I got out on the run and ohmigod it was HOT. I guess it had been that hot all along but the bike generates a certain amount of breeze so I only felt it when I was going very slowly. I felt it on the first four miles of the run though. I ended up walking half of it because I kept drinking too much water and sucking on ice and it made my tummy all sloshy. I also saw The Prez again. This time it really was a shock because she was only about two miles ahead of me. I wasn't sure what would happen, but she's a great runner so I figured she'd pull away on the run and that would be that.

At the aid station around mile four, they had sponges. I have never used them before, but the volunteers really pushed them on us so I took two and started experimenting with them. This is when I realized, oh, you shouldn't put the water IN you to cool down. You put it ON you.

I took sponges at every aid station after that and a bag of ice when it was offered. That ended up inside my trisuit and eventually it worked its way down to the small of back where it did wonders. I also ran through every sprinkler that residents put out.

With this new strategy of putting a lot of water on me, I was soon able to run again. My strategy was to run from aid station to aid station and then walk the aid station. And that's what I did.

It helped that the air got noticeably cooler around 6:00 pm and also that I hit a patch of street with some shade. From that point on, I was golden, really, at least as far as heat was concerned.

In the middle of this, as I'm running down Main Street, I see some bikers coming back in. They haven't made the cutoff and they look sad. One of them is a friend I did a few training rides with. I had passed her around the 20 km mark on the bike course and didn't see her on the "out and back" section so I wasn't exactly surprised. But it turns out that it wasn't that. I had taken that section slow enough that she had made time up on me. But on the way back into town some gal fell off her bike right in front her and collapsed. So she stopped to help her. And ended up being stuck there for about 45 min. because it took that long for an ambulance to show up.

It's a very good thing she did stay with the dehydrated gal, too, as at one point she came too and decided she needed to walk somewhere. She kept trying to walk out into traffic! But my friend stopped her and kept her alive until the ambulance came. Then she road back into town but missed the bike cutoff by 30 minutes. But I didn't learn this until much later.

To get back to my race, around mile eight, I started looking for The Prez coming back from the turnaround point. I was sure she'd be that far ahead of me by then. I had seen a bunch of SVTCers coming back in and had fun yelling to them and ringing my bell. Most of them looked good but a few did not. And none of them was The Prez.

I ran by a tent set up by a radio station where they were calling out things with a microphone. When I went by I ran by bell and the DJ went a bit nuts and got everyone to go crazy cheering for me and calling my name. It was great. It really helped.

I also saw some friend who were coming back from their volunteer shifts and I complained to one of them about the lack of cookies on the run. (The food at the run stations was pretty sparse. And the soup/broth was way too salty for me.) So she gave me one of hers. (They had cookies for the volunteers but no the runners. Lame.) I must have looked at her with my most pitiful look because eventually she gave me her other cookie too. I could kind of tell she didn't want to, but I really needed it.

Then I got the surprise of my life. I get to mile 11, two miles from the turn around and who do I see ahead of me? The Prez. Oh dear, she must be in trouble. There's no way I could catch up to her normally. She has a lot of SVTCers around her and volunteers trying to help her. "What does she need?" I ask. I tell them I have Enduralytes, Advil and Immodium. But what she really needs is fluids, but she can't get them down.

I think about staying with her but she's already got 3-4 people hovering over her and I know she doesn't want an extra one. So I keep going. I feel a bit guilty, but I also feel like I'll just be in the way if I stayed.

At Mile 12, I need Advil. This is not good. I hadn't planned to take any on the bike and none on the run until the turn around. But the Rock Sauce alone isn't cutting it.

I get to the turnaround and get my special needs bag. I have some more Snickers but there is no aid station there so no water and they are just too dry at this point. I take the M+Ms and I try to give away the rest of my Snickers to the spectators but they think I'm joking so I have to throw them away. I take two more Advil.

I keep going and at mile 14, I see The Prez again. She's still moving forward, but she looks really sick and I am very worried about her. She has a volunteer walking with her and he's talking to her very earnestly. I'm not sure what he's saying, but I hope he's being sensible and giving good advice and not encouraging her to be stupid.

I take my last Advil.

It soon gets dark and I didn't put a headlamp in my Special Needs bag. I was told to, but I was totally convinced I'd be back in town before it got that dark. So I guess I'm paying for it but, honestly, I don't mind not having it.

As I head back into town, two ambulances pass me with flashing lights. I don't know how I know it, but I know The Prez is in one of them. I am both relieved (no one should die going an Ironman) but also sad.

I get to mile 16 and I have my first cookie. I had started to feel my lack of run training at around 8-9 miles but miles 10-16 are hilly and I had always planned to walk the ups and recover on the downs so I was able to fake my way through those. Now I'm back on the flats and feeling it. The cookie helps.

I decide to save the last one for mile 20. That's when a lot of people hit "The Wall" so I figure I'll need it then. 

At mile 18, my Garmin dies. Up until then, I was keeping track of my pace and seeing it get slower but knowing I still had plenty of time. Now I'm running blind. I try turning it on to get the time every so often but it's not really working and I don't want to do math in my head. So I buckle down and force myself to run everything but the aid stations. I am sure I have plenty of time, but I don't want to take a chance.

I get to mile 20 and I eat my cookie. And it's the best cookie I've ever had. Ever. I feel it absorbing the water I drank with it and now I realized why the cookies work so well. They keep me from getting sloshy!

At this point, I tell myself, I've stolen my friend's cookie and I must deserve it. Therefore, I can't walk anything but aid stations and maybe not even those. I keep going, but it's hard. I find myself walking without deciding to walk. So I am running, suddenly I'm walking a few steps, then I realize it and start running again. It's like when you are watching tv and you start nodding off, and your head jerks back up, I think.

I also find the Rock Sauce isn't working very much any more. Stretching doesn't help either.

I'm wondering how to get through this when I remember my run song. I start to sing it and I think it helps a bit, but it's also an effort to remember the words. So I soon stop. That's okay because it changed my mood, which is all I asked of it.

I get to mile 22 and I'm back in town and two things happen. 

First, my bell breaks. Oh no, I wanted to ring it running down Main Street and also the finish chute. Oh well, I throw it away. I also meet up with some volunteers on bikes. They bike with me a bit. I think they think they are helping, but the effort of being social is irritating me. One thing I do find out it is they are the owners of the house my cookie friend is staying in. Small world!

At the next aid station they leave me, thank goodness. I feel ungrateful, but not enough to encourage them to stay.

I decide that I'm going to run from here on in even the aid stations. I am out of Advil and my calf is hurting and the Rock Sauce only works for about 1/4 of a mile at a time but I also am feeling strong and I want to finish with nothing in the tank and not wonder if I could have given more. So I only walk as much as I have to in order to drink water. The rest I run.

I get into town and Main Street is pretty much deserted compared to when I left town. I am in the weird loopy part of the course and I see my mom! I tell her to run to the finish! I also see a friend who was finishing his race as I started out on the run. I congratulate him on his finish and tell him I heard it over the loudspeaker as I started my run and he tells me to go finish MY race.

Oh yeah, I do still have a race to run. I'm kind of not carrying at this point because I am so happy. But I'm glad I kept on because later on I figure out that I negative split my run by 50 seconds!

I'm going down Lakeshore and there are tons of people there. I run into the friends who were helping The Prez and they ask me if I've seen another of our friends. Apparently he was behind me on the run. Or maybe he was ahead of me at one point and I passed him. But I never noticed, so I tell them no, I haven't seen him. I hope he's okay. (He was. He finished with 2 minutes to spare after lots of puking on the run.)

The Finish

I head for the finish chute and the crowd is going nuts. They are pounding on the fencing and making as much racket as if I were about to win the whole race. I speed up in the finish chute and burst through the finish tape. I hold my hands up in the air in victory and I think "I'm finally going to get a decent finish picture" and also "I hope there is someone back there I know to catch me." There isn't though. (And the finish pictures they printed out suck. As usual.)

But that's okay. The volunteers I do get are nice and they give me medal and my swag and I get my picture taken. They try to give me one of those mylar blankets but it still in the 70s so I decline. I go off for food.

Unfortunately, the food doesn't look good and they are out of pizza, which is the only thing that appeals at this time.

So I go off to find my bike. But it's not in transition. That's right, we'd talked about my mom getting it so I wouldn't have to worry about it. We never finalized how to do it, but she's smart and figured it out herself. So I go off to find my Dry Clothes bag and the bags aren't there either. We hadn't talked about the bags, but it turns out my mom got them too. (The volunteer remembered her.) So I go to find my mom.

At this point, I have no idea what time I finished as I forgot to look at the race clock as I crossed the finish line and I never heard the announcer call my name either. I see the friend who didn't make the bike cutoff's husband and he says The Prez is still in the medical tent and we have to find her mom and tell her. Someone else from the club is in there too, one of the ones that looked bad out on the run, but he did finish first.

I find my mom and the race is over and she's found The Prez's mom and passed on the message, so we go back to the hotel room and I have some Fluid Recovery Drink and we talk about the race and she's amazed at how strong I looked coming to the finish. I did feel strong and I PRed everything except the swim and I feel good.

It turns out, I wasn't that much faster than IMAZ but the whole experience was much better. I executed my race plan. I did make some mistakes, but I recovered from them, and I didn't feel at any point like I wasn't going to make it. I would say that I did have fun even though parts were tough. I really feel like an Ironman now too.

Now all I have to do is buy a bunch of crap with Finisher on it, go to the awards dinner, and process the whole race so I can do better next time. And try to sleep.

It's hard to sleep though as I'm still hungry and also have to pee a lot and also my legs hurt. At some point, I remember my ice packs and I crawl out of bed to sleep with them trying not to wake my mom. I drink some OJ too.

continued in The Aftermath
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