I did the un-American thing and celebrated Independence Day in Canada this year. For me, it was all about completing my Half Ironman race and being “free” from the intense training that has been my existence for the past six months. While I missed some fantastic weather and a barbecue with friends back in California, this was my weekend to make good on a new year’s resolution and six months of training. Bring it on!
My expectations going into the race were to finish in under six hours and not want to kill myself in the process. I’m already a week late in getting this updated, so I won’t keep you waiting any longer:
Swim – 36:39
T1 – 4:19
Bike – 3:05:13
T2 – 2:58
Run – 1:50:44
Total = 5:39:51
SUCCESS IS MINE!
Well, kind of. I pretty much wanted to kill myself by the time I finished. But, I didn’t have a blunt object handy so I was left with no choice but to grind it out. The taste of victory was strangely identical to the salty saliva that fills your mouth just before you vomit, so I can’t recommend it. However, I chased that with some chocolate milk at the finish line and the world started coming into focus again.
Grab a drink and settle in for all the gory details, including many lessons learned:
My start time was 6:30 AM, so it was an early morning. I got up at 4:45 AM and felt like I had slept pretty well, which is rare for me the night before a race. Having packed everything the night before, the morning ritual at the hotel was short (though I got up early because I wanted extra time to get things moving in my GI tract). I got up and ate a piece of peanut butter toast and a banana, as well as 16 oz. of FRS. I got dressed in my new tri suit and a pullover and woke Greg up to head down to the race site at 5:30. I ate a yogurt in the car and had a glass of Trader Joe’s Essential Greens Veggie Juice + Very Green Juice Blend to simulate the concoction we make at home. The weather was overcast and ~55 degrees (F) on race morning.
I picked up my timing chip on the way into the transition area (usually they give it to you when you pick up your packet — I’m not sure why it was separate for this race). I got my transition area set up and went back out for body marking and a final visit to the porta-potty (I had my single-use Handi-Wipe ready to go. I’ve learned that lesson the hard way at a previous race). I caught up with Greg and Argus as I was putting on my wetsuit and we made our way down to the beach. Greg snapped a couple of pre-race photos, I splashed around in the water with Argus, and we parted ways.
This sounds so obvious now, but it honestly hadn’t occurred to me at the time. I was talking with a fellow competitor — a man who is 50+ years old — and he told me that he did this event last year and came in DEAD LAST in the swim. I had to admire him for coming back for another beating. He asked me if I knew about the “tides.” He was referring to the currents of the ocean and that they were quite strong in one direction. In other words: Don’t swim straight for the buoy because you’ll miss it. Thank goodness for this man! Again, it seems so obvious now, but my head wasn’t thinking about that and I’m chalking it up to a lesson learned.
We wished each other good luck and I got my goggles and ear plugs in place for my start. My stomach was doing its usual pre-race clenching. My adrenaline was pumping and I knew I was ready.
The water temps were about 60 (F) and were warmer than the air temps so it felt good to get in. I splashed around and did about 25 yards of strokes to warm up before the race start, which is something I rarely do. I think it probably helped, so lesson learned there. I knew from reading the race materials that this was a “cattle call” start and there would be no waves: everyone doing the long course was starting together.
The start of a swim is never pleasant, and it’s usually limited to ~150 people. This start was probably ~400 people, both men and women. If it sounds unpleasant, multiply that by a zillion and you’re getting close to reality. For people who are really frightened of open water swimming or otherwise claustrophobic, this is a living nightmare. There are arms and legs and torsos and open mouths everywhere. I was no more than 20 strokes in when I looked up to spot myself and the first buoy. I happened to meet eyes with a male swimmer just ahead of me who had LOST HIS GOGGLES. Oh dear! He was frantically looking all around, to no avail. There were too many people and too much chaos. I felt bad for him, knowing that he had ~1.1 miles left to go and he would have to do it without eye protection. Lesson learned: I’ll tether my goggles to my wetsuit next time.
I hoped I’d finish the swim in about 35 minutes and this was a 2-loop course. When I exited the water after one lap, my watch read 18 minutes. Having to come into shore, run around a buoy, then swim back out adds time and the water was very choppy. By the time I started out for my second lap, the crowds had thinned considerably and I was able to settle in. It was a triangle-shaped course and I felt like I could “relax” and swim with the current on the straight-away, which helped me mentally. I got out of the water in just over 36 minutes (by my watch) and I was pleased with this. The swim exit was the usual uphill run on a sandy beach, which is surprisingly difficult.
I am not fast in the transition area and I don’t care too much about it. I don’t want to be over 5 minutes, but I’m otherwise happy to take a breather and make sure I have what I need for the next leg. I got to the transition area faster than my neighbor Richele (who finished in 2nd place overall). She’s a Vancouver local and mentioned that the swim course was much rougher than it was last year, so I had a little more confidence with my swim finish going into the bike leg. In my new tri suit, I couldn’t find the back pocket to stow my banana, so I opted to carry it rather than risk losing it. I ran out of the transition area and made a quick mount onto my bike at the appropriate line. I felt confident, having ridden the course the day prior.
Even with cycling as my strongest suit, this was not a great ride. Having to do four loops on the same course made the “flat” course less flat. Overall elevation gain was 2041 ft; it wasn’t the Death Ride by any means, but it wasn’t a ride along the Bay Trail either. The course was good for spectators and it was good to see Greg and Argus on an out and back each time. Otherwise, it was mentally defeating to have to do the same short course over and over and over and over again. It just wasn’t fun. At the second loop, I couldn’t tell where I was among my competition because the Sprint Distance athletes were on the course and there was a lot of traffic on the road. It was a little stressful, actually, based on the stern talking-to we had gotten related to drafting. Rather than trying to compete against others, I settled in with myself. I knew I needed to average somewhere around 18 mph to finish the bike leg in ~3 hours. This would leave me enough time to have a disastrous run and still finish in under six hours overall. I was averaging over 18 mph after the first loop and never dropped below, so I knew I was well-positioned. Traffic cleared out by Loop 3 and I engaged in a little meditation to help pass the time. This really helped me calm down and level-set myself mentally. I made my last climb up the hill at UBC while Greg cheered me on. Argus was growing weary from all the excitement… I finished with an average pace of 18.2 mph and knew I had time on my side going into the run. And that is a good thing!
If you want proof to the idea that “You get what you think about whether you want it or not,” this run is it. I have been afraid of completing this race for many weeks now. It hasn’t been about swimming 1.2 miles. It hasn’t been about biking 56 miles. It hasn’t even been about running 13.1 miles. It has been about running 13.1 miles AFTER doing those other two things. Because cycling is my strongest sport, it’s hard for me to not leave it all out on the bike course. By doing this, I don’t leave enough in my legs for the run. This race was no exception. Why can’t I learn this lesson?? I got out of the transition area and realized almost immediately that I had forgotten my water bottle (which I had dropped a Nuun tablet into). Damn! I’d have to get water and gels only when they were available to me at aid stations. About 2 miles in, I realized that I was toting along about 60 oz of fluids in my bladder and it wanted out. This just makes an uncomfortable situation nearly unbearable. I’m not so die-hard that I’ll pee down my leg and into my shoe, but the potties weren’t so conveniently located that I could make a quick entry and exit… So I held it, all the while continuing to drink at every aid station as my body threatened to bonk again. There is probably a lesson here, but I’m still not convinced that spending the extra time to go in a potty is worth it (especially in a one-piece tri suit)…
It’s a two-loop run course that is basically a Figure-8. The first couple of miles are through a nice wooded section of trails that loops back to the transition area, then you head out along the coast for an out-and-back along the waterfront. I got into a pretty good groove around mile 5 or so and thought I’d be able to knock out the second loop at a reasonably steady pace. Just as I was coming out of an aid station where I was complimented for the third time on my great tan, I made a turn onto the sidewalk. About 5o yards down, a fellow athlete came up behind me and gave me a big shove!
I wish my story was juicy like that. The truth of the matter is my feet got caught on each other and I did a windmilling arms + cartoon-fast-feet stumble that resulted in a fall. DOH!! I don’t know why I didn’t put my hands down, but my elbows took the brunt with a slight assist by the left knee. After a very quick assessment of my injuries, I was back up and running. I ran a few hundred feet and then stopped to walk and assess the damage further. My body quickly filled with adrenaline, so I used it and ran on. I looked and looked for Greg and finally saw him — what a welcome sight! As you can imagine, he was a bit aghast to see me dripping blood. I slowed down for a quick photo and ran on, more miserable than ever. My mind was working on me.
I kept a keen eye on my race watch that was chronicling my overall time (my Garmin was tracking my individual events). I knew I had a little time to burn, so I made the most of walking through the water stations and even stopped at one to stretch out my right glute. I was really miserable and I knew I was down to a mind-over-matter finish. I hated every minute of those last five miles. I was bitter. I was angry. My legs were cramping and my head was dizzy. It was all I could do to mentally talk myself to the turn-around point and then talk myself to when I would next see Greg. When I saw him, I was near tears and begging him, “I need you to run with me! I need you to be there with me at the end!” And he did! Argus was safe in the car and Greg ran with me the last half-mile or so to the finish, talking me in the whole way. I was so elated to look up at the race clock and see 5:39 as I finished!!
From there, my emotions consumed me. I could not contain my tears and the physical pain hadn’t even begun to set in… I don’t know how to describe it. Greg wasn’t quite sure what to do. I was bleeding all over and crying semi-uncontrollably, so I’m sure he was a bit overwhelmed. The other race participants were very nice and concerned about my wounds as we commiserated in the recovery tent. I felt so grateful to have finished within my expected time and so spent from the exertion. It’s very hard to explain. When I called my parents later, my mother said, “Now you know what it’s like to have a baby. You work so hard for this moment for so many months and you go through all of the effort and then it’s done. There’s nothing left to do but cry.” For me, the good news is, I got a medal and a few bragging rights for my efforts and not a baby!! Ha!
I knew my age group was a shallow field and I felt like I had done well, so I made Greg stay for the awards ceremony. In the meantime, I visited the Medic Tent to have my scuffed elbows fixed up and we got my gear packed up from the transition area. I was admittedly disappointed when they announced the third place winner in my age group and it wasn’t me… By the time we got back to the hotel, a friend on my Facebook page told me I had earned fourth place. Damn!
My post-race shower was nothing but fire. Let’s see, I had the wounds on both elbows and one knee from the fall, I had additional chafing in unmentionable places and realized only at that moment that I had small chafe wounds in every spot there was a seam on my new tri suit. My entire body was on fire. So much for the hot tub later! I got dressed and found my cheering section completely exhausted, napping together on the bed. Triathlons are hard work for everyone involved!
If there had been fireworks and a bonfire with s’mores at the finish line, my Independence Day would have been over the moon. I settled for a handful of Advil and many accolades from my virtual cheering section via Facebook and text messages. It was a wonderful day (in a very masochistic way, of course)!!