I was so excited to race IMCDA, which was to be the main event on my calendar this season. Alanna signed up first, I quickly followed suit, thinking how fun it would be to train and race with her. June 28 would be perfect timing to fit an Ironman into regular life. Little did I know a year ago, I would have a new job working full days, nor did I anticipate I’d be solely operating the Tri Monsters as a branch of Laura Medcalf Coaching. It’s all great stuff that I have chosen to take on, important stuff, and none of which I am willing to give up, so challenge accepted, let’s do this.
Training went well this season, I worked on getting strong. I pushed big gears on the bike, swam hard, and ran descending pace 7k loops of Middleton. I am the most powerful I’ve ever been, and I’m faster than I’ve ever been with PBs this season already in: 400fr, 1500fr, 10k run, as well as Sprint and Half Iron distances. I had absolutely no desire whatsoever to train long distances this year, I just wanted to train harder, and train with better quality of movement. I want to be faster, and to do that I need to be stronger. I’ve done iron distance before, I know I have a good base to support training and racing without injury, so my plan was just to build power above all else.
The days leading up to our trip to CDA were not great, actually they were horrible. I was quickly collecting a number of good excuses that would legitimately explain a less than great performance. I had a few good ‘outs’ going in. But, I HATE excuses, and I know that I would be very disappointed with myself if I allowed a distraction or an excuse to get in the way of a performance I had earned, so I tucked those away.
I arrived in CDA with a casual attitude. I enjoyed not worrying about every little detail. I wasn’t worried about the heat, the unfamiliar course, or even the new rolling start format for the swim, I was just ready to go to work and swim, bike, and run. I was ready for a great race, ready to break a personal record, ready to get back under 12hrs as I had been in 2012, maybe even closer to 11:30, as my half iron pace (at 5:32) felt very manageable and it seemed realistic to hold a similar pace for longer distance.
I had a moment the night before the race when everything I had done in the leading months all sunk in. I was lying in bed after reading some of the words of encouragement I had received, when I had an opportunity to reflect on how much we (our family of 4) have really achieved and enjoyed this year. I felt a wave of pride as I realized that it didn’t really matter the outcome of the next day, we were here, together, and we were healthy, happy, and supporting each other in what we each choose to do.
The day started out great! Despite not sleeping a wink after a mouse crawled across my leg in the middle of the night, I felt alert, excited and ready to go.
I had some trouble pumping up my rear tire in the morning, there was quite a bit of fussing around with the top piece of the valve, it was unscrewing itself from the rest of the valve, I just tightened it in there as best as I could, pumped it up, screwed the valve shut and moved on. My happy-go-lucky optimistic attitude was what I needed to carry me through this race, so I chose not to worry about the tire. Mistake #1.1 – should have changed that tube. Mistake #1.0 occurred in the weeks before the race. I knew I was getting close to needing new tires, but I really wanted to keep riding the blue ones that matched my bike. Seriously.
Down to the swim start, with my new swim skin, I was feeling so happy with the decision not to wear a wetsuit. It was going to be a million degrees for the day and I really didn’t want to start the day feeling warm and cozy and lazy, I wanted to feel crisp and cool and speedy. The rolling start was very orderly, not very ‘racey’ at all, I didn’t like it. There was a lot of clean water, plenty of room to work at any pace I wanted, but to me that didn’t feel very competitive, it felt a bit watered down. The swim skin however was SOOOO streamlined, it was amazing! I felt like I was effortlessly slipping through the water. And here we have Mistake #2.0 and #3.0. I know better, swimming fast does not feel effortless. Streamlined, yes, effortless, no. Swimming fast also doesn’t feel like slipping through the water, it feels more like crawling OVER the water. I realized my legs were not at the surface about half way through the second lap, when I clued in to what was actually happening. I can’t help but watch the swimmers around me, and I was seeing a lot of sloppy entries, dropped elbows, and slow- extra-glidey stroke rates and I didn’t understand how they were swimming so fast. BUT when I realized I was swimming slower than usual, it all made sense! The other swim mistake I made this day was not racing the way I had trained. I trained with a pull buoy all season so that I’d be strong enough to swim with a wetsuit, and in the position that extra buoyancy would put me in, but I had chosen not to wear a wetsuit, so I ended up swimming in a position that I hadn’t really trained. Ah ha! It felt good to figure that out, and I was absolutely ok with being a bit slower on the swim, I felt warmed up and ready to ride, so an extra minute or two was no big deal over the course of the day.
After the swim, I stood up, took 4 steps up the beach, and then I fell over! Not exactly sure what happened, I practice running up the beach all the time with the kids practices. Why is this happening? Did I trip? No. Shit, I’m dizzy, why the hell am I dizzy?! Oh well, slow down a bit, stand up straight, look way ahead, and ease into the bike.
Did I say ease into the bike? What I actually meant was push those pedals hard and ride like the wind! I was on the bike at 6:51am, which after a 5:45am start, I guessed was a 1:03 swim and a 3min transition, it was. (I don’t wear a watch, but my bike display has time of day so I know when to eat and drink.) I knew I had work to do right away. The last time I saw Alanna was 300m into the swim, so I knew she had at least a minute on me by now. I also knew that with the forecast hovering around 42degrees, it would be to my advantage to cover as much ground as I could early in the day, even if that meant going a bit harder than I might otherwise pace an IM. I knew I had to do everything possible to manage the heat situation, as I was going into race day at a powerful 152 lbs, which is great on the flats and downhills, but definitely not advantageous in the heat or hills. I figured the best way to deal with the heat was to get as much of the race done in the morning as possible, the longer I am out there, the worse it will be.
I rode really well for the first loop. I saw Alanna early on, and knew she wasn’t far behind. I also got to see Lisa and Tanja at the turn around and they were smiling and looked great! Yay, we are all having a great day! I was right on schedule for approx. 6:05+ bike split at the 90k mark, and was very pleased with that. I knew the second half would be a little longer, but not by much, so was pretty excited to be so close to my goal for the day, and figured that at a 6:15 ride and a 1:03+3 swim, I was on track for close to an 11:30 finish, if I could run like I did in Oliver.
Then it got hot.
To me it felt like it happened all of a sudden. On the second lap, about 80miles into the ride, on the longer climb, it got hot. All of a sudden I was rationing my water, trying to decide whether I should drink it or pour it over me to cool off, but doing neither for fear of running out. I rationed that I would pour water on me just before little downhills for maximum cooling effect. I was trying to get in some Gatorade but wasn’t able to drink it because it was too sweet. I was tired, my pace slowed, and athletes started passing me like I was standing still. I wasn’t literally standing still, but my pace was approx. 9kph on a hill that I had climbed the first time at 11kph. I wondered if I needed another gel, so took one, but without enough water to wash it down, it made things worse. Now I was sticky, burpy, and starting to not have any fun at all. I decided that was a really dumb attitude, it was supposed to be tough that is the fun part, and at the next aid station at the top of the hill I would stop, take 2min to cool off, have a proper drink, and re-start with a fresh perspective.
At almost the exact moment I decided to stop at the top of the hill, I noticed that my back tire was going flat. Not 100% flat yet, but definitely 50% squishy and in need of repair very soon. I thought I was close enough to the aid station to make it, where I had conveniently planned to stop anyway, so no big deal, this will actually work out well. In hind sight (mistake #1.2) I should have stopped there for a quick CO2 top up, but I was afraid that if I stopped there, I wouldn’t be able to get going again on the hill.
I stopped at the aid station, took off the wheel and got to work changing the tire. Immediately as I pulled over I was met with a quick assessment by the medics (not the first time this would happen this day). The medics were instructed to be diligent in looking for signs of heat exhaustion, and all the athletes knew that if you appeared to be in distress you would be pulled off the course and your day would end right there. I gave the medics my biggest possible smile and said “Isn’t this a great day!! I’m good, I just have to change a flat.” Phew… I think they bought it, I’m still in this race.
The volunteers here were more amazing than I can begin to describe, they offered to pour water on me while I changed the flat. Let’s just say this was not the fastest tire change I have ever completed, I was enjoying the cooling way too much to rush through this. I had asked the volunteers to call bike support as well, even though I was totally fine to change the tire, it didn’t hurt to call, and have them on the way just in case I ran into problems. Alanna went by after a few minutes, and offered to help me, but I told her to KEEP GOING! It’s a race! Bike support came just as I finished re-mounting the tire. He took a look, told me I did a crappy job, and insisted on re-doing it. I didn’t complain. I happily stood and watched and drank another bottle of water.
Stopping at that aid station was the best possible choice I made that day. When I got back on the bike, cooled from both the inside and the outside I felt great again. My bike felt fast again, and I very quickly started to pass people again. Now instead of rationing my water, I was using as much as I could. I added it up afterwards, and I think I went through 12 bottles of water in the last 30miles of the ride. I stopped at each of the remaining aid stations to completely cool and re-stock all three cages. I knew I had lost about 20min with the flat, and another few min stopping for water, but I felt great riding, and was looking forward to running, so spirits were high. I may have even been signing on the way back. I think I was humming a Christmas tune, but I can’t remember which one.
It surprised me on the way back down to town, how many people were walking their bikes up the same hill on which my melt down had occurred two hours ago. Not one person was riding it at this point, they were all walking their bikes. This should have clued me in to how tough of a day it truly was, but it didn’t, I rode as fast as I could all the way back to town.
The absolute best part of the day was catching Alanna at the dismount line, and coming off the bike at the exact same time. Turns out she had tire troubles as well.
Another quick assessment by medics at the dismount line: “how are you feeling?” met once again by the biggest grin I could paste across my face “AWESOME!”. Phew… they bought it again, now I get to run.
I ran through transition right on Alanna’s heels, she stopped for sunscreen, so I did too, and then I was out onto the run course right behind her. I stayed with her for all of about 50m before I noticed she was getting farther and farther away from me with each step. I was ok with that, she is fast, very strong, and an amazing athlete, and I was proud of myself for keeping up with her so far, but had my own race to run now. I thought at that point that would be the last time I would see her.
I tried to settle into my normal run rhythm, but it just wasn’t happening. I felt too hot, too tired, and my legs were moving too slow to feel familiar. I banked a corner early in the run that had a slope to it, and I stumbled a little bit in the direction of the slope. I was immediately reminded of my fall out of the water earlier in the day and the dizziness that I had, I decided that the best course of action was to stay upright today. If I cannot do anything else, I will stay upright and keep moving forward, I will stay off the pavement, and I will finish what I start. This is the point in the race at which I had flipped the switch from ‘racing’ to ‘surviving’.
I made a point of staying cool by running through the sprinklers and hoses, but it just wasn’t enough. I ate some chips, had some pretzels, tried some Coke early on, but just wasn’t finding my stride. I decided to run when I was wet and cool and in the shade, and walk when I was hot and dry and in the sun.
That was a good plan for me. Having made that decision early on, allowed me to pay attention to some other important components like water/sugar/salt. Once I sorted out the walking/running nonsense, I was able to re-focus on paying attention to getting what I needed into my body. I don’t need chips, coke, or pretzels, and I know better than that. Alright, water only at the next aid station, I’ll give myself a chance to digest what’s in there and figure out what I need next. I paid attention, and over the next 6miles settled into a consistent pattern with water at every aid station, and a gel and eTab at every 3rd aid station.
Feeling like things were under control, and most importantly, upright, I was starting to run a little bit more, and walk a little bit less. What was even better, was realizing that my mind was still in the right place, as I was beginning to question my walk breaks, as opposed to just accept them. Every time I walked, I questioned whether or not I really needed to, and I was able to talk myself back into a run a few times.
I was happy with my routine finally, just before coming back through town at about 18k, which was great timing! This allowed me to appear on the surface to be having a great day and running really well, even though I knew it wasn’t 100% true. I got to see Shayne, Brody and Max half way through the run, near special needs, which was a huge boost, and was a great opportunity to try to pick up the pace to something more familiar.
At exactly 21.1 k, over the timing mat to turn around for loop 2, I caught Alanna. I asked her how things were going, and she said not very well, some nutrition/tummy troubles. I told her to figure it out. At that point Kit saw us, and was very quick to remind that this was a race, and not to run ‘together’! Kit always says “it’s a race, pass someone”, so I did. I picked it up a bit, sure that Alanna would chase me, and we would be able to push each other through the rest of this tough day.
After the last turn around, I saw Alanna who was now a few minutes back, I reminded her that she needed to figure it out and get what she needed so she could have a strong finish. I was running downhill and feeling great now with 10k to go. It was still hot, and I was still walking the dry parts, but with only 10k left, and still very much upright, I actually felt like I was running, and maybe even felt once again like it was a race. I saw Lisa, and she smiled, she looked like she had it totally under control and was even enjoying this whole thing. I saw Tanja, and she looked so strong, she looked like she was battling the tough day, but was pushing through it and doing what she needed to do.
I ran back through town, picking up the pace mile by mile, then got to run down the finishers chute in what felt like a full out sprint. I high fived Lisa’s family, totally oblivious to the whereabouts of my own (mistake #4.0 – not soaking it in or truly experiencing the moment), I crossed the line in 12:20.
And that is that. Friends Michelle and Bowen had driven down to watch and it was great to have them at the finish line and the share the experience with someone who has never been to an Ironman. The boys were excited to wear my hat and medal, and to tell me all about their day of ice cream cones and cheering. They had had a very long day of spectating in the heat and were a little bit sunburnt from the fun day before, so very shortly after the finish, we picked up gear bags and bike and went back to the campsite for bed. We were excited to get up and go to the roller coaster park the next day.
The finish of this race didn’t feel like a finish for me. I didn’t feel done yet. It didn’t feel like I had accomplished what I had set out to accomplish. I was a little stiff, but not really sore the next day. I was very happy with my results, I was 12th in my AG, 65th woman, and 3xx overall out of 1700 athletes. I had never placed that high before, and was happy with those rankings, but didn’t feel satisfied with my own efforts. I do realize it was a hot day, and that there was a 34% DNF rate (hundreds of people started, and did not finish), but I still wasn’t satisfied.
I wanted a do-over. I knew I was trained for a better race than I had, I knew that I could be better and faster, simply by not making some of the mistakes that I had made, and by paying attention to the details a little more closely.
I was on the IMC registration page checking availability on Monday June 29, less than 24hours after my previous IM finish. I re-arranged my work schedule the next week, and had signed up to go again. With exactly 4 weeks between iron distance races, even I will admit this was a little bit crazy. Whistler, I’m coming back.