So then I went to Whistler. I can’t explain really why I needed to go, I just did.
It turns out that competing in two IM events 4 weeks apart is a little bit crazy. Most training plans, and coaches would encourage 2 weeks of recovery before doing any real training. Many training plans and coaches also recommend cutting volume back for the two weeks leading into an Ironman. There was no room for error here. One workout that set recovery back, or too close to Whistler to allow adequate recovery, and my day would be miserable before it even really started. So it was settled then, no training it is! I knew I was already trained, and to tell you the truth, ‘training for Whistler’ is a very daunting idea for me, it was suggested to plan for Whistler 2016, but I could not wrap my head around spending a year training for another IM, I just wanted to race.
Timing was lucky to make a new connection with coach and athlete Michelle Barns, who had done 2 IMs fairly close together, who was the same age as me, and who gave me some great advice that mirrored my own thoughts on how to approach the 4 weeks in between. The plan was to recover completely, get back in the pool right away, bike a little bit, and do some short runs. The primary goals through those 4 weeks were: 1) recover, 2) maintain strength. This was easy for me to plan and execute: a couple of 2-3 hour rides in high gears, lots of paddle work in the pool, and short easy runs. It was nothing that would stress the body so much that I required additional recovery, but enough to remind the muscles to engage.
A few wise words from my previous coach Mel Spooner, who reminded me that this would be a big experiment. I knew this was going to go one of two ways, it would either be a disaster, or be simply awesome. Mel reminded me that as long as I was ok with it turning out either way, and knowing it was an experiment, then why not?!?
And the BEST part!? Alanna wanted another race too, and signed up for Whistler with just a little over a week to go. SWEET! Road trip! Booked a hotel very close to the finish line on Blackcomb way with 2 beds, a full kitchen and laundry, no minimum # of nights, for $150/night!!!! This is unheard of in most Ironman locations. We threw everything in the truck and set off on an adventure. The support of my family means the world to me, and there is no way I could do this without their blessing, but the best support they could give me this weekend on my very selfish adventure was for them to stay home and have a great weekend doing whatever it was that they wanted to do, and not come with me for this one. The boys got to have some quality time with grandparents, and Shayne got to stay home and build himself a new mountain bike.
The entire weekend was Ironman oriented. We went over and over and over details of: course maps and aid station locations, the weather forecast, clothing choices, race nutrition, swim strategy, etc… It was the focus I needed, to get my head in the right place and work through the details, instead of ignoring them like I did in CDA. I wasn’t particularly worried about anything, and I still felt a lightness about going in with a ‘whatever happens is ok’ attitude, but I do think I was able to find a balance between the acceptance of what is out of my control, and needing to be more diligent with what was within my control. I had new tubes and tires on my bike, and new shoes ready to go (yes… yes… I know, never run a marathon in new shoes… but they were a new pair of shoes that I had run in before, and I trust Wendy from the Starting Block, with my feet 110% so all good!). I spent two hours on Saturday morning organizing equipment and clothing for gear bag drop off. The forecast this day was to be the extreme opposite of that in CDA, low of 9 degrees, high of 16 I think, and rain.
Many athletes were concerned about the cold, wet roads, and ‘technical descents’ – it’s not technical at all, but if you only ever train on a trainer, or on flat straight roads, then I suppose one might view it as ‘technical’. Race organizers were cautioning against riding downhill too fast, and reminding people today was not the day to try and break a course record. I on the other hand, was well aware of the forecast for SW wind to pick up at 2pm and decided once again that the more distance I can cover early in the day – even while cold, will be to my benefit. I planned to wear my aero helmet to keep my ears warm, ziplock bags over my socks inside my shoes to try and keep my toes warm and dry, and a new pair of neoprene gloves that I bought the day before the race to keep my fingers warm. My powerful 154 lbs furnace would keep my core plenty warm, so I planned to wear a tri top and tri shorts with bare shoulders and knees. It’s not often that I have an advantage over the smaller athletes, but today was to be my day!
On Saturday we rode our bikes to check in with Lynda, Allison and Julie. As we were waiting for the shuttle back to the village, we were chatting about the hobbies we might enjoy AFTER IM was over, stuff like travelling, dancing maybe…. Then Julie says with a GREAT BIG SMILE…. “Well, I’m doing this again!” She was radiating joy, and was expressing how much fun she had training for the event, and I made a point of soaking it all in. I knew that if times got tough out there, I’d be able to reflect all that joy and positive energy right back onto any of us who needed it. And, it always gets tough out there.
I was focused the night before the race, and I spent some time writing down exactly how the next day would go. I also received a text of encouragement from good friend Dave: “find that spot on the road when you hear nothing, when it’s just you, your bike and your heart.” “control you, and your bike and nothing else.” In addition to writing down all the logistical details (4:30 wake up, 5:00 leave hotel), I also wrote myself the following instructions:
Take on the day, own it, enjoy it, embrace it, be great. Swim with an aggressive attitude and clean entry. Don’t be sloppy. Be strong, quick and clean. Be me on my bike. Just be me on my bike. Work, enjoy, play. Run. Run with rhythm. Open up when it’s right. Stay on task, run well. Be a runner. Run the back half first, then keep going. Leave it all on the course. Be brave. Be willing. Be strong. Pass people. Celebrate the finish, see it. Enjoy it.
We toed the water’s edge at about 6:35. Trying to stay warm and dry, we opted for a very very short warm up, only the 2-300m swim out to the start line. We swam out to the start and lined up front and centre to watch the women pro start at 6:55, and wait for our turn, a very long 5min later. The plan was to start about 50m wide and angle in to hit the buoy line after about 400-500m. It seemed as if we had seeded ourselves well, the fellow on my left last swam this course in 2014 in 51min and the guy on the right in 1:08. We opted to stay close to speedy on the left. With 30seconds to go, we realized that Alanna on the left and me on the right was just strange (she had been on my right in Oliver and CDA), so we swapped places, and in the calm moments before the storm, all felt right in the world.
I swam hard off the start and tried to take some fast feet. I swam with a fast turnover, and paid attention to my left hand entry on every single stroke (thanks Kit!). I saw Alanna for the first 200m, then it was a sea of green caps, with the odd pink spotted here and there. There was a thick pack of swimmers close to the buoy line 15m to the left, and a thick pack of swimmers angling in towards the buoys 15m to my right. I knew the buoy turn was going to be frantic, so choose to aim for the corner buoy instead of cutting in early. I rounded the corner, got kicked in the face a bit (no more than usual though), swam over someone’s back to make the turn (SERIOUSLY people… learn to swim around a corner!), and was happily working my way along the buoy line. My shoulders were already getting fatigued at 8-900m in, that’s what happens when you don’t train in a wetsuit, but I knew I could deal with it, so kept the pace. The soreness passed after few hundred meters and I started thinking about other things. After about a mile I felt my goggles and cap slipping up off my head and I didn’t want to lose them, so I swam wide outside of the buoy line to quickly pull them back in place. I swam right back into the draft pack, and continued with my pace as if I hadn’t skipped a beat. This happened again 1k later, but no big deal, quick fix. The pack I was in was moving really well. I opted on the second loop not to sight off the buoys. Swimmers were 1-2 deep on my left, and 1-2 deep on my right, the draft was good, so I just swam and made sure there were always swimmers on each side of me. The first pro woman we passed was at the 2k mark. I wondered what happened. The second pro woman we passed was just before the swim exit, I won’t lie, that felt really good. It is a race after all!
Transition was quick and easy. I dumped out my transition bag, which was full of rain water, and put on my wet helmet, wet socks, wet shoes and asked the volunteers to hold open my wet arm warmers, then my wet gloves so I could slip my hands right in. I was already wet from the swim, so I actually didn’t mind this at all. I am glad I didn’t take my time, as I was still warm from a good swim by the time I got going on my bike. A quick run from the worst transition spot ever (that’s what happens when you sign up 2 weeks before a race!), and I was on the bike. Swim 1:01 – 1st in AG out of water and onto the bike, T1 3:18.
I rode well right away. I was strong, I was focused, and I was cold. I remember thinking I had never been so thankful for having my head stay warm inside my aero helmet. I really enjoyed being inside that little oven of coziness. My hands were warm in my neoprene gloves. My knees and shoulders were cold, but remembering the heat of CDA, I was actually grateful for this. I felt the cold, but it didn’t bother me, in fact I was feeding off of it. Others were suffering, and my perspective was just so different. The only thing that I found hard to do on the bike was hold slippery water bottles with gloves on. I missed a few aid station grabs due to this, but I had most of what I needed on my bike already anyway.
I remember wondering where the heck everyone was on the bike ride up Callaghan, the first substantial climb. Last time I raced this section, I was passed by a least 200 athletes on the climb to Callaghan. I still saw many strong men pass me and a couple of women, but not as many as I expected. I was still wondering where everyone was, specifically the top female athletes, as I rounded the hairpin towards the gates into Olympic Park. I thought maybe I wasn’t paying close enough attention, and that I had missed seeing them. Maybe because many athletes had on so many clothes I wasn’t recognizing anyone. I finally saw women heading down when I got a little further into the park. I hit the turn around there were good tunes, and I started singing. The ride back down from Callaghan was phenomenal. I was singing, smiling, and had figured out where everyone was. They were behind me. Yee haw!!!
The roads were wet, it was raining, but I was feeling fairly confident in my bike skills. I had good grip on my bars, I wasn’t slipping around at all, I knew to stay off the paint on the road, I knew to stay out of puddles, and I stayed on the high part of the road, not the car tire grooves. Cyclocross was an extremely valuable addition to training this season, my bike handling skills have improved significantly.
I passed a few athletes who had some pretty serious speed wobble (or shiver wobble??) on my way down to Pemberton. I ate my bar on schedule, even though it was dry in my mouth and yucky. I remembered that I regretted throwing it away in CDA, and choked it back as best as I could. I didn’t drink a lot, but did have a pee, around 80k into the bike (yes… on the bike…. it was raining anyway!), so knew things were good with regards to hydration.
The day was going pretty well according to schedule, and as if I had planned it myself, the sun peaked out and the clouds parted just as I hit the Pemberton flats. They are called the Pemberton flats, because they are dead flat. 50k of flat. Awesome, I tucked into aero, spaced myself 10m behind some strong looking aero dudes and rode. A few times I accidentally got too close and had to make a pass, so I’d pick it up from my 32-33kph to 37, make a clean pass, hold it for a bit to make some room, then settle back into 34ish, and let it drop over the next 2min to 33. I took off my gloves and ate the same crackers that I ate halfway through every long ride this season, they were delicious. I wondered (but not worried) about the possibility of a headwind on the way back because I was moving so well on the way out, but the grass wasn’t moving, there were no signs of a breeze. I turned around and rode back even faster. I called a girl out for drafting on the way back, but otherwise the flats were fairly uneventful and temperatures were perfect by now.
I hit 147k at 4:50 bike time, and knew that the 34k climb would take approx. 90min if I worked at it, so I settled in for the long haul back up to whistler that had mentally destroyed me in 2013. The first portion wasn’t too bad, not too steep, then a little downhill to pick things back up before the next climb. The second climb felt bit steeper, I had to push a bit harder, I may have stood up a few times to regain some momentum to get to the top of the portion before the next little downhill. I was working, and it was not fast, and a few girls passed me, but that’s when I saw the light at the end of the tunnel and it occurred to me that it’s really not one big 34k climb to Whistler. It’s not like Silverstar. It’s just a series of smaller climbs, and after every single one there was a bit of a downhill or a flatter section to pick up some speed and get the rpm up. For some reason I had in my head that the total ride was 190k, and at the 160k mark when I realized I had 20k to go, NOT 30, and being able to approach it one small section at a time, it felt a lot easier. It wasn’t easy by any means, and my legs were definitely getting tired now and I wondered how that might affect my run (wondered, not worried), but it felt manageable, it felt in control. I reminded myself to try to keep the cadence high, with quiet shoulders, to sit well on the bike (thanks Dave), and just climb like I knew how to do. Back into Whistler with a smile on my face into a slight SW wind exactly as the forecast predicted, I rolled into T2 with a 6:26 bike time, 4th in AG, 20minutes faster than last time I raced this course. I expected to go a little faster than that, but I was very happy none the less.
I had my very own personal volunteer in T2, and it was Adrienne!! Adrienne was my finish line catcher in 2013. To be caught by someone that you know at the end of an IM is like getting a hug from someone you love. You know immediately that you are safe and secure and that everything is going to be ok. Adrienne, Tara, Sue and Cathy had come from Vernon to volunteer, and to cheer and to surprise the women from Vernon who were racing. Anyway, in T2 she helped me get through there in a flash in 1:45. I was very excited to run, I LOVE this run course, it’s my favourite, and I hit the run course knowing that I was within reach of an 11:30 finish, so I flew outta there and onto the run.
I ran well, really well. I ran up some hills, around some corners, down some hills, on trails, on boardwalks, beside the lake and through the forest. I saw the km signs tick by. I remember seeing the 8k sign and thinking HOLY CRAP when did that happen?! I just started running and I’m already at 8k! I knew to have a Gel at all the km markers ending with a 2 or a 7, with a gulp of water at every aid station as I kept my pace running through. All of a sudden I was on loop 2 running around Lost Lake. I was wearing my CDA finishers hat which got me some congrats along the way, and at least one ‘woah, that’s crazy’ comment as well. I was feeling happy, fast, fit, and joyful. I thought again of Julie and the joy she had radiated the day before, I was feeling it, and wanted to pass it along. So I started chatting with the runners I was passing (first loop runners probably, I don’t think I was passing any second loop runners).
“Wow this is like an adventure, it’s a new surprise around every corner”
“Can you believe we are lucky enough to get to do this today?!?”
“Wow… turn around for a sec and look at the view!”
“It’s hard to take in the view and not trip on this amazing trail at the same time!”
“Isn’t this great?! Every time we run up, we get to run down!!”
I ran really well until about 26k into the run. Too bad this was not CDA and I was done at 26(miles…). I was really looking forward to the last 10miles, I figured once I got there it would be smooth sailing as I cruised back to the village for the finish. It wasn’t. With 10miles to go, my legs decided they were done. Totally done. General soreness in every muscle and joint, every fibre of every bit of soft tissue just hurt. A quick assessment including a short walk break to assess, I was fairly certain that I was not at risk for injury, as it wasn’t localized, pinchy, pain, it was definitely a generalized throbbiness. (Disclaimer, in case you can’t tell, I’m not a doctor.) So I pressed on. The next 16k were a constant negotiation between the legs (“we are done, you can’t make me keep going”), the brain (“come on, 8 miles left, hold pace”), and heart (“would you two shut up and just run?!”). I managed to keep rhythm and run tall, but my stride length had deteriorated and I was moving a LOT slower than I wanted to be. I knew now that my legs were not prepared for what I was asking of them. My last long run had been barely 2.5hours long, and probably 8-10 weeks ago by this point. So, even though I was grimacing with every step, I was very very happy to be racing to the fitness that I had trained. I had no right or reason to expect any better than that. I got what I was looking for out of this run, I needed my head and heart to push my legs to their fullest ability, I did that, and am very proud.
I knew my pace had slowed considerably in the last 10miles, so I would be well over 11.5hours, but when I rounded the last corner and caught the sight of “11” on the clock I was very pleased. Run was 4:21, 4min slower than 2013.
I slowed a little bit as I ran down the chute, enjoyed the steady stream of spectators lining both sides of the road, enjoyed the sounds and music, and smiled, Dad always says the most important thing is to finish with a smile. I became a 5 time Ironman finisher, in 11:54, a PB at the distance by 4minutes, PB by 15 minutes on that course, and 25minutes faster than 4 weeks previous in CDA. Adrienne was my finish line catcher again, which was awesome.
I am completely satisfied with my effort, I feel like I did what I needed to do. I placed 8th in my AG, 35minutes behind my AG winner – who also raced CDA. While very stiff, totally exhausted, and with a long day ahead, I looked at the times for the top 7 in my AG, and thought “I can do that”.