If the miles behind me could be put into words before you, you would feel my efforts, my struggles, my desires. Most of all you would see my joy. Watch me from afar run the trails and hills and miles upon miles and you will see ...

Monday, August 20, 2007

Ironman Canada 2002 Race Report

I should explain to those who don’t know about my “circles of inspiration”: A few months before I asked some chosen family and friends to write words of encouragement and inspiration for my Ironman race on these little circles of coloured paper that I sent them. What I got back was something no less than amazing. The thought and love that went into what was written on them (yes, even yours, Steve F.) was proof enough that I have the best people in the world behind me for this race and I was out to prove it to them. I pinned these circles to the running hat I’ve used since I started doing running races and triathlons. I placed the hat at the turnaround portion of the run to help me get home and it did a great job, as you will see. I put a few quotes throughout this epic and who sent them to me.

“You have within you, right now, all that you need to achieve your goal. Thinking like a champion will allow you to reach that potential. Remember your accomplishments are the direct result of your thoughts. When you choose the right kind of thoughts, you can create the destiny you have always wanted” - Amby Burfoot - Carrie

Flashback to a little over two years ago at Ironman Canada 2000. We had been in Osoyoos for a week and then went to Penticton to watch the race. Carrie was back at our Motel with the kids and I was at the finish line watching the last of the competitors come across the line. I watched the fireworks display that they have at midnight and as I turned away to go back to the car I remember thinking, “two years to go starts right now”. Now, to count down 730 days is a little crazy so I waited until after I registered the following year and had the countdown from 365 on my fridge at home. For anyone who has not experienced the finish line it is something to put on your ‘to do’ list. I felt so many emotions as the last people ran, walked, and staggered to the end. Some had babies in their arms and that made me cry outright. I knew for sure I was going to do this one day and the only thing that stopped my from signing up for 2001 was Carrie. Before you say anything, I have to clarify that she helped me see the light - at the 2000 New Balance Half-Ironman in Victoria I had a less than memorable race with leg-seizing cramps about one kilometer into the run. I managed to basically shuffle the other nineteen kilometers to the finish line in about 1:53 and was both happy that I made it yet disappointed I didn’t do the way I had hoped. Carrie suggested that instead of rushing into Ironman in 2001 and possibly finishing like I had in Victoria, I take next year and try to better my time at the Half. Well, recalling history, it turned out to be a very good suggestion. In 2001 I shaved almost forty-five minutes off of the 2000 race and felt good. Of course, I had help with a new bike from Steve which didn’t hurt, either.

“She woke in the morning, she knew that her life had passed her by. She called out a warning ‘don’t ever let life pass you by’”. a song by Incubus

My coach, Chris, was great in giving me monthly schedules and adjusting them every couple of weeks as my situation changed - like how I was training for the Vancouver Marathon and about three weeks before found out that was the one and only day that the Fitness Test for the Justice Institute Fire Academy Course was to be held on. I actually entertained thoughts of running the marathon and then going right to the test at noon but thankfully decided against it. As it turned out (pardon me tooting my own horn) I came first out of one hundred fifty applicants overall for the written and physical tests. Chris also answered tons of my questions and made the year pretty much perfect. I did not get sick or injured in the whole eight months I was training. Amazing after seeing some of the people who would get on my bus at one in the morning.

“True commitment begins when you reach the point of not knowing how you can possibly go on...and decide to finish what you started”. From Jeff and Diane

My most anticipated workout came on the May long weekend when Luke, Evelyn and I drove up in Luke’s truck to Penticton to ride the course. I know they still have my ‘angry’ music ringing in their ears. Steve, Neil, and Kelly also met us up there and we were off riding early Saturday morning. We started out fast on the stretch before Osoyoos and everyone wondered if Luke and I, who broke away from the rest, would keep up the pace. We did pretty well ending up doing 177kms in around 5:30 or so. I had a rough stretch along the out and back near Cawston with Luke wondering what was up as he had never seen me this disheartened. I guess the wind going to Keremeos wore me down and Luke said to me after the ride that he felt great due to the fact I pulled him around the whole course. Having him there was the best thing to keep me going hard as he is a great inspiration and an awesome rider. I convinced him to come up and do another ride in July and thankfully he did as we rocked the course better than the previous time. I felt strong after this ride, knew that I would get through with the times I was shooting for. I had other memorable workouts that, like other runners or cyclists know, are personal experiences that you cherish for a long time. My best run was a 16 miler in the heat of July at 2pm running down 16th ave in Langley from 200th to 264th and back again in 30+ degree weather. That stretch of road is either up or down and was tough. When I got back to the finish line (the car) I ran past it and raised my arms up in victory and gave an emotional yell that I had beaten the course. This run solidified my confidence that I could run and survive the heat that was almost sure to turn up on the day of the race. In fact one of my mantras after that was ‘as the day gets hotter, I get stronger’. We never did find out if heat would have been a factor as race day proved to be cloudy and much cooler than the previous days.

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives”. - Brent

We arrived in Penticton the Wednesday before the race and found out we screwed up and actually had the room booked starting on Tuesday. Oh, well. The weather was great and I basically tried to stay out of the sun other than a few short, quick workouts on the days leading up to the race. I did a short ride with the race wheels on the bike on Saturday morning and met up with a gentleman from San Francisco. After a minute or so of chatting he divulged that he had borrowed the bike he was on for the race the next day. This was the first time he had ridden it. Apparently UPS, with whom he shipped his bike from home, had no record of its whereabouts since Tuesday. He had rented one from the Bike Barn. When I queried him as to how much they charged for something like that he said he didn’t know yet. Yikes!!!
Neil and his family stayed in a room at our motel along with Steve and Luke who did a three day ride up from Vancouver (hats off to you). I need the recipe for your “meatball” hamburgers as well, Luke, and am saddened I could not feast on those beauties. Kelly arrived early Saturday morning, and I mean early, to stay with Neil’s group. Carrie’s Aunt Barb and cousin Jessica with boyfriend Dave also stayed in the same place. Talk about baby sitters!!!! They sure helped keep the kids occupied for long stretches in the pool and gave Carrie a much needed break at times. Can’t thank you enough.

“People may doubt what you say, but they will believe what you do” -Imke

I was surprisingly calm and not too nervous in the days before Sunday which isn’t my usual self. Even the night before the race was like all the others - no nervousness and I dropped right off to sleep. The night before a race I am always lying in bed wondering what I have forgotten to pack for race day. The only bit of excitement was when the shifting of gears on the bike on Saturday with the race wheels seemed a little off. The guru, Steve, needed mere seconds to determine the cassette needed tightening, however several of the tools that could have done the job were safe and secure in his garage back home. The only tool he never packed. Off to the Bike Barn. Once we saw the lineup for ‘minor’ repairs (such as the guy who needed a new head-set, no big deal), Luke was off to come up with a speedier solution. The rep for Shimano was there but after looking for the tool required, was informed it had been loaned out to another shop. We quickly headed over to Freedom Cycles and in about 37 seconds we were tightened and out of there. I whipped over to Gyro Park and attended the pre-race meeting and then put my bike and bags in transition. Evelyn and I then did a dry run through the area making mental notes of where our stuff was and where we had to run for this and that. This really helped ease the stress of race morning as I did not have to do that with the other 2000 competitors. Went back to the motel after that and waited out the day.

“Go. Go and see, my love” - from The Big Blue movie, Carrie

It had rained in the early hours of Sunday and the roads were still wet with thick clouds overhead. I had the alarm set for 4am but awoke at 3:30 and waited in bed the extra thirty minutes. Had breakfast and then at 5:00 Barb came over to wait for the kids to wake up while Carrie and I headed down to the site. It was so effortless to get the final preparations over with which is a huge credit to the race organizers. Never before any race have I felt as calm and stress-free. The last things to do were easy to get done as they laid it all out for you: get body-marked, go through the gates, drop off your special needs bags, pump up tires, water bottles on bikes, kiss wife, wait for gun to go off. After the final kiss through the fence, I said good-bye to Carrie and headed to transition to do the last bathroom break. Gave Evelyn a big hug as we had been through a lot over the last eight months. Did some stretches before finally heading to the beach and the warm-up for the swim. I walked the beach looking for family who would be there for the start. It was emotional just looking at all the faces of the crowd against the fence as I strolled over the sand. Carrie managed to flag me down and tell me where Mom, Dad, Bonnie, Steve, and Carly were. I walked further and saw them to say thanks and I would see them at the finish line. I also saw Eric and the gang who told the story of how Lynn (doing the race) was proposed to the night before the race by my old swim coach, Gord. Very cool.

“Darin, there is only NOW” - Bill

I did my ten minute warm-up swim and as I turned to come back I heard the anthem start up. I must say it was a different way to listen to that song standing waist-deep in the lake 100 meters from shore with the start banner right in front of me. Went behind the line and met up with another racing friend, Gord. We first met at the 2000 UBC triathlon and have seen each other numerous times at different events. It was a first for both of us at this distance. We chatted a bit and said good luck and the cannon finally went off.
The swim started easier than I thought with very little thrashing and a fair amount of room. My plan was to just stick to some fast feet and get pulled along as long as I could. In this big a race in distance and time, there is no way you would draft the same person the whole time as they can slow down, other people get in your way, or you lose them in a turn. After about ten minutes other swimmers seemed to be closing in on me. I’m not the best navigator out there and it was getting claustrophobic and my rhythm and pace was getting affected by the banging and crashing. I moved a bit left to the outside to see if I could find less congestion. It got better for a bit and as I was only breathing on my right side for the most part it was hard to tell where exactly I was. I started bilateral breathing and realized I was almost at the outer edge of the swimmers so I gradually moved right, back into the fray but also closer to the buoys. The first turn was not as jammed as I have seen in other races. There was actually a lot of open water after the first turn and I got on a nice set of feet. I had done some reading where pros have said to accelerate out of turns so as to stay with a group or on a specific draft. I tried that on the second and final turn and it worked well as I passed a bunch of people. My overall swim plan was to survive the first two legs and then depending on how I felt open it up on the final 1800m. What I did was “bridge” as much as I could. This is where you stay on someone’s feet in their draft and look around for a faster person to draft or try to sprint up to a group in front of you. I did this about six times and felt awesome. However I think a lack of drinking straight water before the race hampered some performance and if the weather had been hotter I think I would have fared worse. I felt tightness in my legs the last 500m and chalked it up to going hard and being horizontal for so long. Exited the water at 1:02, well within my goal.
The first transition was pretty uneventful as someone handed me my bike bag, I ran to the change tent and sat down outside it to avoid more congestion. I’m glad I had a small towel to dry my feet and get some grass off of them. I decided to take the extra thirty seconds and do this and put socks on for comfort. Put on the shoes, race belt, helmet and was off and running. The crowd noise was enormous which got me pumped for the bike. Knowing that there would be fans on the other side of the fence helped, too. I grabbed the bike, had a little trouble yanking it from its stand and took off. As I was running I didn’t really look around for my support group but I did hear some encouragement - a particularly loud yell of “GET MOVING, BENTLEY!!”. I think it was Steve and it gave me a chuckle. Time for T1 - 3:36.

“Lance is wrong! It IS about the bike!” - Steve’s

I just started spinning easy down main street to get the legs warmed up and started feeling a rush as I would be passing our motel in about five minutes. Almost like hyperventilating my chest was hitching and I had to take some deep breaths as a total wave of emotion passed over me that I was actually doing this race! I reached the motel and I think I heard Barb say something to Hannah and Elias that I was here because their heads perked up and right away they started waving their signs. It was great. Time to settle in but first a tense moment. About a minute after the motel I saw out of the corner of my eye a rider seemed to have a flat front tire. After a split second I realized that the bike pump had sprung forward from underneath the top tube and gone into the spokes and forks instantly stopping the motion of the front tire. The resulting action was the bike doing an end-over, spilling the rider. There were volunteers around that rushed to the aid of the person. So much for the hopes of that racer.
I passed Evelyn at around the 10km mark of the bike and asked what her time was on the swim and she said 1:01. She beat me by only a minute and obviously took off like a shot on the bike. Apparently the gang missed her leaving transition as she had told them that she would be a minute or two behind me on the swim. They were watching for me and she slipped by them. What a great result for her! Put her in a wetsuit and she can fly. Next was McLean Creek Road with about a one kilometer climb that I did mostly seated to save energy. It must have worked because I was passing lots of people who I never saw again. On the descent into OK Falls I passed my racing friend, Gord, whom I fittingly called “Aquaman” as I went by. He posted a :59 swim.
After an hour and a half or so my legs were still tight and felt crampy. To avoid repetition, they were crampy for the whole bike and the run even though I thought I was drinking enough. I decided to go easier and just spin up Richter Pass. Right before the climbs began I asked a fellow rider, with whom I had stayed with most of the bike and commented on the drafting problems, how he was on climbs. He replied that being from Colorado he should do okay. Once I pulled away I never saw him for the rest of the day. I fully expected him to blow by me but it didn’t happen. I saw Paul and his group at the top of the Pass which was a great lift. I felt really good on the rollers after Richter and worked them in a big gear. There was one fellow dressed in black and grey who I would pass on the flats or the ascents and he would just fly by on the descents. It felt almost like he was really accelerating just to get by me but then always slowed down. There was another guy dressed in orange that did the opposite. He passed me going up and I passed him going down. We would make a few comments to one another each time and it got quite humorous. More on both of them later.
The flat stretch to Keremeos went by a lot faster than in the training rides mostly due to the winds that were not there on race day. Approaching the special needs pick up I saw the lead women going in the opposite direction from the turn around for the special needs which meant they were not too far in the lead. After that little turn from picking up our bags then it was on to the out and back portion that many people say is mentally hard because you are going away from the finish line. I just look at it as part of the course and don’t think about the direction. Here is where I saw the lead men going back while I was still on the out. You can see exactly how many riders are in front of you and to me it seemed like a lot.

“Nothing is worth more than this day” - my Mom and Dad

Next it was on to Yellow Lake and what has always been the hardest part of the ride for me the last two times I rode the course. On the stretch near the Old Grist Mill I was expecting to see my cousin Cheryl and her husband, Mike. I was watching the crowd and I saw them almost at the last minute when I yelled and Cheryl almost dropped the camera trying to take a picture. I don’t know if it ever got it snapped in time. I wrote a note to her that said even though you pass by loved ones so briefly, the resulting contact stays with you for miles down the road and gives you a great lift. Time for one more pee before the set of climbs up Yellow when the black and grey and the orange guy went zooming by. Eventually I caught the orange guy going up a hill and made the comment, ‘...like a bad smell, I’m still here’. Near the top of Yellow was where Brent, Steve, and Luke were scheduled to be so I kept my head up looking for them. The hardest climbs seemed very easy as I was totally immersed in the day and when I saw the Soliton jerseys up ahead I knew I was almost there. I gave a wave and just started cranking. When I passed them Brent was running with me screaming and I don’t know whether I was laughing or crying or both. Once past the lake I stood up to stretch the back when my legs cried out in their own way ‘don’t do that!!’ by cramping hard. Okay, I said, I guess that last climb took its toll. I sucked back some gels and lots of fluid and steeled myself for the last couple of hills. Near the very top I saw Paul again and, man, were they making noise with bells and cheering.
Just after that encounter I passed by Jim Aberdeen, a fellow bus driver from Surrey. He was sitting in his wheelchair. I called out to him but I don’t think he heard me. Jim was the 2000 Canadian Master’s Champion of Canada in triathlon. He has done countless triathlons, Ironman Canada something like nine times, and Hawaii a few times. A few months ago he was out on a training ride with a friend and coworker, Mike McGee. Mike had asked me to go on that ride but I declined because I didn’t have enough time. They were riding down a steep hill when Jim was rounding a curve and hit gravel, sending him over the guard rail and down a ravine. He was sent to hospital where he underwent surgery. The doctors think he may walk again in a couple of years but if anybody can come back from a broken neck, it’s Jim. Just seeing him as I went by made me incredibly thankful for what I have and how life can throw you a surprise at any second so make the most of it.
Descending into Penticton they had our lane coned off so we had lots of room. I was massaging my crampy legs when I saw a huge pothole coming my way. I veered left and then saw I was heading straight for an orange pylon. I swerved left again and went over the yellow center line - an action that if seen by an official could have resulted in disqualification. Mental note: keep at least one hand on the bars.
Finally we had made it to town. What a rush flying down Main Street with lots of people lining the streets cheering and waving. Saw the gang outside our motel again. The bike to run transition was a short two miles away and boy, was it nice to jump off the bike and hand it to someone and then have another person hand you your gear bag. Time on the bike: 5:19. I made a point of thanking as many volunteers as I could. I sat in the change tent this time and emptied out my jersey’s pockets of extra crap, put the running shoes on, hat and sunglasses on, took a deep breath hoping my legs would hold out, and started the run. T2 time:3:05.

“Legend has it that that first marathon runner died delivering news to Athens. So YOU better not ease up now!”- Vince

Left the transition with the legs feeling a little crampy but I momentarily forgot about them as I started up Main Street and saw Mom, Dad, Steve, Bonnie, and Carly on the side of the road. After lots of high-fives and smiles, I continued on and settled into the game. The first two miles the legs got tighter and the cramps got worse until I thought I might have to stop again just like my first half-ironman in 2000. Once I walked the second aid station they started to feel a little bit better, surprisingly. I settled into an 8:00 mile pace. Up ahead was a guy who was neither gaining or losing distance. After a few minutes he stopped to tie his shoes and I ran past saying, “Hey, come on, I was pacing off you.” He caught up to me and we began talking. His name was Mark Andrews from Wisconsin, an engineer at Trek bikes. He has done lots of Ironman races and he was in the race to finish with a decent time. We decided that we would run with each other and talk to pass the time hopefully without any problem. We walked a bit through the aid stations and there were quite a few runners passing us. No big deal, we thought, as we would probably see them again later. How prophetic those words turned out to be. We were at around the six mile mark running about 8:45 miles when someone comes up from behind and makes this sniffing noise. I turn and it is the rider in the orange jersey whom I was sparring on the hills with and passed on Yellow Lake. I laughed pretty good at his sense of humor and wished him well.
At about the ten mile spot we started the really good roller section of the run. At one point Mark says he was going to walk a bit but I just pushed on. I felt bad because we never shared any parting words as I motored ahead. I think that first hour of running easy saved my race as it gave my legs time to recover and rehydrate and I thank Mark for his advice and company. He went on to finish in 10:33. The rollers to the half way point on the run didn’t seem as bad as some had said and I never walked up any of them which was the plan. At the turn around I grabbed a few more gels from my special needs bag but that was about it. Oh yeah, also my hat of inspiration. It sure helped knowing it was there waiting for me. I slipped it on and it was like a glove as I have worn it over three years of racing. It is now retired from running due to the wear and tear and countless washes.

“What are you saving your energy for?” - me

As soon as we started running back to town, there was this huge head wind and I thought my circles would get blown off my hat. It also rained a little bit. With one more pee out of the way I was ready to bear down and go for broke. I don’t think anyone passed me on the second half of the run. I have never worried when people pass me during the run portion of a race as I like to go hard on the bike and just hope for the best on the run. Today was no exception. I pushed my legs for all they were worth and kept myself just this side of cramping which is a new experience for me. There were people walking. There was a Japanese fellow with a garbage bag around him to keep warm on the shoulder of the road walking with a lean to him and a very vacant stare. I must have received a hundred comments on my hat from volunteers and spectators over the last half of the run. That was a great feeling.
I walked the aid stations only to grab a drink and keep going. Soup was being served which went down good except for the one stop where it was so hot I couldn’t drink it. By then I had passed all the Gatorade and water. Good thing the stations were every mile. Around the 18 mile mark I was trying to figure out my final time by where I was at the moment and if I kept on running at such and such a time. Well, I don’t know where my head was because I somehow managed to convince myself that if I ran six minute miles (six minute miles!?!) for the last eight miles I would be under ten hours. Mental note: never try and do math during the run portion of an Ironman! I started picking up the pace giving it everything I had. Finally I did the calculation again and concluded I should have put eight minute miles into the equation instead of six because that’s all that I could manage at this point and slowed a bit. Talk about being out of it. I was totally freaked that Carrie and the kids would not be ready at the finish line. I had visions of me running up to people and trying to find a cell phone to call my wife on her cell phone and tell her I was coming in.
Up ahead I saw a familiar black and grey jersey. Remember the guy who would power down the hills ahead of me? I don’t know if he was ahead after the bike or passed me on the run but I passed him and said hi. He looked at me with recognition in his wide eyes and said “HOLY SH*T!!”. I guess he was surprised to see me.
Finally back to the flats of Main Street where I saw Paul’s group again. As I passed the Motel I saw Carrie’s Mom and Dad, Barb, Jason, and Brent and Monika. Brent ran with me for a bit asking how I felt. All I could muster was, “ouch”. He rode his bike to the finish to tell Carrie I was coming and it was good he did as she was not ready for me yet.

“Pain is only weakness leaving your body” - Kelly

Every thought now was the finish line and seeing Carrie, Hannah, and Elias. I had run down that chute to the finish with them in my head a thousand times over the last two years and now it was down to fifteen minutes. Unbelievably, up ahead I saw ol’ orange jersey. I gave him a pat on the back and some garbled words of encouragement and kept going but he never tried to keep up. We gave each other a big handshake of congratulations at the finish area. The spot where you turn left towards the S.S. Sicamous was definitely a mental rough spot. I could hear Steve King announcing the last few runners who were going to make it under ten hours. His voice just faded as this last little run takes you about a kilometer away from the finish line. Eric and the guys from last year’s master’s swimming said he saw me at this point and I apparently was wearing a mask of extreme pain and did not even hear his yelling. By this point the inside of my leg was cramping and spasming to the point where I was thrown off balance during the strides periodically. At the turn around everything changed. “It’s all good”, as Luke would say, summed up what I was feeling. My legs were no longer an issue and I had a huge grin on my face. When Eric saw me coming towards the end, he said it was like Jekyll and Hyde how I had changed from pain to elation.
Finally they were there. The last fifty meters hand in hand with the family and the dream was complete. Carrie yelling at me and me not even hearing a sound from the screaming crowd. Big hugs all around for her and the kids after crossing. I yelled something to Carrie that I have been saving for about six months to say. But those were for her ears only.
Time on the run: 3:40. Overall: 114th out of 2040. Time: 10:08.
After meeting Mom, Dad, Brent, Jason, Steve, Bonnie, and Carly (thanks again for the gifts) by the Peach for pictures it was back to transition and some food and a massage. Then waited for Evelyn to cross the line and it was back to the motel for champagne. Just a little glass as the stomach was still a bit queasy.
We watched from Main Street outside the motel racers come by until 11:00pm. I felt a sense of awe at these people who were still going at sixteen hours plus. I know each journey is relative and unique to each person but I have to give those who have that desire to finish after such a long day credit. It was a very personal experience cheering for them with my finishers shirt on and them seeing me knowing we each had our own long days. I think most appreciated the fact that we made the effort to stay and salute them.
For every athlete that has ever competed in anything, there is a support group that, without its existence, would make the task at hand that much more arduous. I need to thank those who undoubtedly made a huge difference in my training this year even if was only to offer encouraging words or to ask me how training was going. They are: Carrie, Hannah and Elias, Mom and Dad, Wayne and Ruth, my coach, Chris, all the people at the pool in Richmond especially Coach Tracey (and the cool banner they hung from the Slumber Lodge Balcony), friends and family who contributed ‘circles of inspiration’: Imke, Brent, Jason, Rob and Karen, Jeff and Diane, the Barbers, the Andersons, Barb, Jessica and Alanna, Gill and Grant and Grace, Dave and Nova, and especially my training partners Evelyn, Steve, Luke, Neil, Paul, Bill, Vince, John, and Kelly who put up with a lot of my doubts and negativity over the year.

“At the end of each journey is a destination. At every destination there awaits another journey.”

Most of you know my next journey is a twelve week trip to the Justice Institute for the Fire Fighter course. Please excuse me for disappearing off the planet for that time as it will be busy. I always feel saddened at the end of the racing season but this year I am already excited about starting again in January. Until then, my utter thanks for everyone who actually finished reading this whole story and hope you came away with something from it. Darin.

No comments: