"There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered." - Benjamin Franklin
I'd like to say I was as jubilant when I crossed the line last Sunday as I was back in 2002 but I'd be lying. It was a difficult day and I was truly glad to reach the finish. I think it wasn't new to me anymore and therefore found it not as exciting as five years ago. I feel like it was a great personal accomplishment time-wise, it just didn't feel the same emotionally.
The whole week leading up to the race was unseasonably cool with a great deal of wind coming off Okanagan lake during the day. That didn't bode well for the bike on race day. Saturday and Sunday were very calm on the water first thing in the morning, very opposite to the previous days where it was quite choppy when doing our last few swim workouts. I treated the day more or less as a long workout. I know sometimes people will say to do that just so you stay calm and not to burn yourself out or get too anxious about things. Whereas I used to get up before an Ironman around 3:30 or 4:00 to eat, I got up at 4:30 and ate about 4:45, the same time before any race I'd done this year. I tried to keep the same routine. I walked down to the start in the dark with the music playing on the ishuffle and eventually wound my way to the body-marking line-ups. It was quite long but, hey, it was only 5:20, lots of time to get everything done. So I was close to the front and removed the headphones to get my shirt off to get me marked and the first thing I heard from someone in line was, "Man, you'd think they would have more body markers with all these people doing the race", in a real downer tone. I thought to myself that that guy has started his day out very poor and was only wasting energy on something he couldn't control. With just about 2500 athlete's registered, there were line-ups for everything all week - picking up race packages, buying clothing and merchandise, the carbo dinner, port-a-potties, the awards dinner, and picture pick-up to name a few. Like I said before, there was lots of time to get everything done. All we really had to do was pump up our tires, drop off the special needs bags and dry clothes bags, stand in line for the bathrooms and then swim.
I saw Tracey doing body-marking after mine was done so went over for a pre-race hug.
Not much was said as it had all been covered in the last few days. I handed in my bags, pumped the tires, hit the bathrooms and didn't really have a lot of time to just take in the moment like I usually do before a race. I had planned to just sit and listen to music and get my head in the game but it didn't happen. Before I knew it I was in my wetsuit doing a warm up swim.
The pros were off at 6:45 which left 15 cold minutes standing in the water waiting. Natasha and I were side-by-side and I have to thank her for convincing me to stay in a spot that was in-line with the buoys to prevent extra meters swimming. I told her that THIS was where the washing machine happened and we were going to get pummeled. I tried to sound strong and agreed to stay there instead of off to the side but inside I was cringing like a kicked dog. I feel bad because as it turned out I had the swim of my life and she was the one with the panic attack on this day. I haven't had very good experiences in open water races this year as those who read this blog can attest to. I was VERY anxious and apprehensive all week leading up to this. I figured once this swim was over it was all downhill. I had even pre-apologised to Tracey about how my swim time was going to suck. I saw Brent Cyr and we shook hands and wished each other well. Dave Simcox also walked by and we shook hands and said good luck. Dave lost a good training partner earlier this year after colliding with a person on roller blades so I imagine he had a lot on his mind that morning.
We left a small space in front of us as a cushion to start off easy. For some reason I had a good ten or twenty easy strokes and got my rhythm right away. After that it was just a matter of speeding up and settling in behind someone's feet. It was going so well that I changed the "angry" music in my head to "My Perfect Day" by the Cranberries. It kept me relaxed and actually enjoying the experience. It seemed every time we got close to a buoy, everyone closed in around me to get as close as they could. On a couple of occasions I could have hit them with my elbow (the marker buoys, not the other swimmers). Same with rounding the corners where they had houseboats sitting - it was a mad rush to get as close to them as we could but once clear it was smooth sailing again. I only got hit straight in the goggles once but several times was whacked in the back of the head by the same guy on three strokes in a row. That's when I was the better swimmer and stepped aside. It was a tremendous feeling getting closer to the shore and when you can hear the announcer you know you're close.
I ran out of the water and checked my watch quickly and saw that the time of day was 7:58 meaning I had broken an hour on the swim, something I'd wanted to do since my first Ironman!! That brought a smile to my face and after the wetsuit strippers almost dislocated my ankle getting the suit off, I ran past Tracey where she even checked her watch in amazement. Swim time 59:20, 104th overall, 23rd in age group, three minutes faster than '02.
There were so many chairs in T1 for a change I had a huge choice where to sit and lots of room to put my stuff everywhere. The volunteers were so good in both transitions, doing everything and getting anything you need. Can't say enough about them all over the course.
I found my bike and saw Mom and Dad and Steve and Bonnie on the other side of the fence wishing me well. It's so cool heading out onto main street with the streets lined with people cheering you on. The road down Skaha was nice due to the lack of headwind that was soon coming. It felt so effortless that I was surprised to have made it to Osoyoos in and hour and a half only. Then the work began on Richter Pass. We had a bit of a headwind off and on going up but the climb seemed manageable on this day. All the way up here as well were pockets of cheering friends and family of athlete's which is why I think it seemed so easy. Trish from Peninsula Runners was in her usual spot cheering the riders on. We actually had a good speed going down the other side so I figured we were going to be in for a long ride to Keremeos due to headwinds.
After the rollers it was the dreaded flat section to the out and back turnoff where all riders encountered their worst fear - wind in your face the whole time. It wasn't a nice gentle breeze either, it was like driving through a tunnel with your windows down having a big semi-truck beside you needing new mufflers. Deafening. It was tough for me because there was no one in front of me so I couldn't gauge whether I was gaining or losing on anybody. Just like a training ride it was tough just keeping your head down and slogging along. It was here that fatigue started to creep into my legs and back. I was stretching every few minutes which was a big distraction from staying in the aerobars. I finally hit the turnoff for the out and back and was met with a tailwind out to the turnaround and the special needs bags. I hadn't used as much of my CarboPro 1200 as I thought I might so I didn't even stop to pick up a new bottle.
Once I got headed back to Yellow Lake there was the %$@! headwinds again pretty much all the way to Yellow Lake. Once on the climb however, there was nothing and I was climbing strong, mostly in the aerobars. This section is just like the Tour de France where there are people lining the roads making a little cheering tunnel for you to go through. Unlike the Tour riders, I heard everything they were saying and took as much strength from it as I could. Everything from "looking good", to "almost to the top", to "great spinning", and, my favorite, "Nice arms" to which I responded I would gladly trade them for new legs.
From here there was literally no one in front of me all the way back to town. It was the loneliest part of any race I'd ever done. A big hello to Damien from Peninsula Cycles on this section. More headwinds past the Penticton airport and then all the way down Main Street. The crowds once again got me pumped up and I started looking forward to the run. Bike time 5:16, 59th overall, 10th fastest in age group, three minutes faster than '02 (there's a trend here).
The run this time made you go through town then towards our motel near the Sicamous boat. It was here that I finally saw Carrie and the kids for the first time that day. There were high-fives all around and then I headed out of town. I saw a bunch of people including Jim from the Cactus Club Cafe (who has agreed to sponsor my trip to the Netherlands. Thanks Jim!), now off to OK Falls!
At first I didn't even feel like running. I thought about how I was possibly going to complete this course feeling like this. I kept up with the CarboPro I had on my water bottle belt and it gave me the energy to move forward. We had a tailwind again which made for warm temperatures when the sun peeked out the few times it did. When I got to around eight miles I kept telling myself only five more to the turnaround, then four more, and so on. It got a little easier at this point and getting to the halfway point was cool as it was right where Day 1 of Ultraman ended last year. I started getting hot spots on the bottom of my toes around here and wondered if it was because of the brand new shoes I was wearing (gasp!!). I know, never try new equipment in a race but these Adistar were familiar to me and they never got any worse, I didn't even end up with blisters.
All the way back I just kept thinking of finishing and stopping. Nothing else. It was CarboPro and Pepsi that kept me going. There were two guys in my age group that passed me but I didn't have the killer instinct to try and go with them. I had picked up the pace towards the end of shorter races this year but I think I was afraid of cramping or blowing up and not being able to salvage anything from the run. I didn't want to walk in the last few miles. I saw Peter and Dave Burns at the Skaha marina on the way back and that gave me more fuel to keep going. Then it was Jim again where we turned off Main street and I knew I was almost home. On the final stretch I took a couple looks over my shoulder and was alone by about 100m. I felt I could sprint this section if I needed to. I didn't see anything on that last bit except the finishing arch. Breaking through it felt like I'd done a long training day and I just needed a rest. There were no fireworks in my head, no, "I can't believe I've done it", just a deep satisfaction of finishing a hard day. I didn't know until Jason from Calgary told me that Rob Neidermeyer had given me my medal. I don't think I even looked at him. Run time 3:23, 57th overall, 9th in age group, 13 minutes faster than '02. Overall time 9:45, 29th overall, 4th age group. Proud of that.
We watched many friends come past us later at the last run turnaround before the finish but the cold wind coming off the lake drove us back to our room to see the rest on TV. I did manage to get out around 11:30 in time to shake Steve King's hand as he came by; him overcoming some serious issues to get through the race. The lunch we shared in town earlier that week was the highlight of my whole Ironman trip this year.
That was my sunset triathlon for I don't know how long. Maybe I'll be back for the 30th anniversary...
Now I have to say thanks for the many people having a hand in my best Ironman ever:
Of course the list tops out with Carrie, Hannah and Elias, always understanding and accepting of me leaving early and getting home late; Paul Williams and everyone at Peninsula Runners; Lorne from Adidas; Keith at North Shore Athletics who, with Lorne and PR, got me a spot to compete in this year's race; Ferg Hawke and his generous supply of CarboPro products that powered me through this and other races through the year; Tracey and her wonderful swim coaching and even better friendship; all the swimmers at Watermania that made a tough thing easier to get out of bed for; and finally anyone who wished me well through the year and cheered me on at races. It was a great time.