Thursday, September 2, 2010

Ironman Canada - one wild ride!

Four days post IMC, I am at a total loss. I started to write my race report a couple days ago and gave up, so now here I sit again trying to put this experience into words. It is damned hard. So I apologize in advance for the length of this post.

At 7am on Sunday August 30, 2010 I took my place with 2,800 other wetsuit-sporting athletes on a very busy little stretch of beach in Penticton, BC. At 6:09 pm I crossed the finish line only a few hundred feet away, an Ironman finisher.

The days preceding the race were (not surprisingly) quite anxiety riddled, but otherwise very enjoyable. A nice beach vacation. I tried not to think too hard about the task at hand - in fact, the worst pre-race moments came when I did think about the upcoming race. Of course, the night before the race had its requisite sleeplessness.

In retrospect, one of the best decisions I made was to buck up and stay at the Penticton Lakeside resort - the host hotel conveniently located right next to the transition area. I woke up at 3:45am on race morning and hustled over to body marking and transition as it opened at 5am. There were no lines and I got through my pre-race prep very quickly. This afforded me almost an entire hour of relaxation, quiet and my very own transition area potty stop in the hotel room before I went back to the start line at 6:30am to join the swim start chaos.

I know I have stressed this over and over, but I am NOT a swimmer. My race would be first and foremost about getting through the swim without incident. Standing on the right side of the beach facing Lakeside Drive, I did not feel confident. Swim caps and neoprene everywhere.

Breathe deep. You can do this.

I waited a few moments after the start to see what would happen, walked a few steps, and dove in. To my absolute surprise, I found open water immediately. Buoy 1. Still going. Buoy 2. I can do this. My normal "I hate this and want to quit" feeling that usually accompanies open water swimming was pleasantly absent.

It was not until Buoy 8 that there was a problem with congestion. The batting and pummelling started and I took a few looks around to assess the situation. Bad idea. Flailing swim caps everywhere. I felt the swim demon lurking. Great big yellow capped male swimmers were everywhere, kicking, grabbing, hitting. It was at that point that I somehow remembered Peter Scott's advice from my very first open water swim lesson: Be Spaghetti. If they hit you, move. If you hit them, be flopsy. Don't get hurt. Just keep moving along like a piece of floating, pliable, floppy spaghetti.

So in my disguise as a piece of pasta, I made it through what felt like a really, really long time in the water. Exiting the swim, I was just ecstatic. I had no idea what my time was, and really did not care. I was out. Goal #1 accomplished: do not drown.
Emerging from the chaos.  
T1 was clogged - I had to grab my own bag and fight for a spot in the tent. I dumped my own bag and started rifling through it - a volunteer started packing my stuff and helped a little with my socks and gloves. I waffled a over the arm warmers but put them on (they were a last minute addition to my gear bag) - this turned out to be a wise decision.

Riding down the first part of Main Street was surreal. Riders everywhere, people cheering everywhere. I was really here.

I rode fairly conservatively, but with a little tailwind it felt fast. McLean Creek Road was a total disaster - congestion everywhere. It was frustrating to be ground to a halt by all the riders on the hill. I looked down and saw 9kph and was really pissed off. Move it people!

I started eating and drinking at about 45 minutes into the ride. I choked a little on the bonk bar and had to immediately abandon my nutrition plan of bonk bars and GU chomps. They just didn't go down the way they did in training. No more. It would be gels and GU Brew, and that's it. Shortly after this decision, I launched a bottle of GU Brew concentrate off my bike and realized that I would now need to rely on course support to get me to special needs. Being Spaghetti would need to be my strategy on the bike too.

Average speed at this point was around 35kph and I was still caught in a lot of congestion. It was impossible to get past the hordes of riders and if you dropped back, you got caught in more riders. It was extremely frustrating since the riders were predominately male and I was not competing against them. So you can imagine how ticked I was when I got penalized for drafting just as a horde of male riders past me outside Oliver. Argh!!!! (I am not going to waste time complaining about the officiating but it is TOTALLY ridiculous to be giving drafting penalties to EVERYONE on the road. Where are we supposed to go???)

I used the penalty stop (aka the Sin-bin Stopover) to use the potties, refill my bottle and have some fuel. I hopped on my bike and made short work of Richter, and was really happy to see that I was passing the same people that I had been near and around prior to the Sin-bin Stopover. I felt good. The sun was shining. The top of Richter was like a little party....but I knew that this party was only getting started. The rollers and Yellow Lake were calling.

Top of Richter!
I rode pretty conservatively through the rollers (aka the 7 Bitches) and even forgot to count the ascents...when I hit the Seven Stones winery I knew that the heavy lifting was done. Or not. The headwind started blasting and my speed plummeted. The out-and-back section was tough work.

I stopped briefly at special needs to load up on GU Brew, shotgun the best V8 juice of my life and do a little pee-pee dance outside the potties before giving up and, um, watering some tumbleweeds. I know that this cost me some time and kind of regret stopping - next time I skipping the potties and am going on my bike!

Refreshed, energized and ready to roll, I came out of the out-and-back feeling great.

And then I saw the cloud.

The biggest, blackest, bad-ass storm cloud you have ever seen was perched right in front of me. The wind kicked up. The rain started. The hail started. I grabbed my bullhorns and held on for dear life. Teeth chattered. I can't remember exactly, but there may have been swearing.

I was cold, hands numb and totally delirious by the time I peaked Yellow Lake. The crowds, in their rain gear and umbrellas, did nothing to inspire me. I wanted off my bike. Now.

The ride down from Yellow Lake was easily the most terrifying ride of my life. The pavement was soaked and slippery and I had no braking capacity. The cross wind gusts were errant and threatening to throw me off my bike....I held on for dear life. Each kilometer closer to T2 made me hopeful and when I rounded Main Street onto Lakeside, I was just so so thankful. Anyone who says luck has no place in racing was not there on Sunday. I was so very lucky to be back in T2 in one piece.

T2 was less congested and much easier to get through. However, the fact that I now had to run a marathon was a reality I did not want to face. I denied.  I balked. Went to the potty. Stalled like a little kid at bedtime. Crap. 42.2 k to go.

Little steps, little steps, one mile at a time. My run mantra. Coming out of T2, I dared look at my watch - 2:20pm. If I could run a four hour marathon, I would be finished just over 11 hours. I immediately banished the thought - it was too early for predictions. Little steps, little steps, one mile at a time.

The run plan was this: run the first 5k and then start walking each aid station. No matter how much I felt like conquering the world, I would walk the aid stations. And the hills. I drank from my Camelbak regularly, had a gel every 45 minutes and just stuck to this strategy.

And it seemed to work. Breaking the marathon down into little pieces was less daunting than trying to conquer the entire thing. Every time my stride would start extending, I drew it back. Little steps. High cadence. Heart rate 150. Keep it light. Keep it smooth. I started passing people. When the brutal stitch started in my left side, I willed it to be gone.

Keeping my cool along Skaha Lake
Skaha Lake was sunny and calm on the way out to OK Falls and it was a perfect afternoon. Then, as quickly as the vicious cloud had appeared on Yellow Lake, the blasting wind made an appearance. The return trip to Penticton was like running in a wind tunnel, complete with water splashing from the whitecaps on Skaha. I had sand in my eyes and the constant wind just sapped my energy. I was so thankful to finally reach the houses at the north end of Skaha, to enjoy the respite that they offered from the howling wind.

At Cherry Lane mall, I allowed myself to believe. The run plan had worked - I still had spring in my step (although a cramp was nagging in my calf) and I felt pretty good down Main Street. The crowds were energetic and inspiring. I could do this! 40k mark. Turn down Winnipeg. I saw my family waving at me from the crowd on Lakeside and felt a leap in my heart. I was almost there!

Almost. What must be the looooongest 7 minutes in sport lay ahead of me. The Most Painful Seven Minutes of My Life. You see the finish, and you run away from it. Evil. Yet somehow, you find the energy to pick up your feet and continue running. There is no way you are walking now, dammit.

After making the turn on Lakeside I felt like I was sprinting (although anyone watching me will probably tell me otherwise). I saw my dad, gave a few high-fives and the next 500m passed way too quickly. The noise, the crowds. The finish line. 11:09 on the clock and I was done.

Just like that, the incredible journey was over. I had put my heart into this thing - swam, biked and ran in every condition imaginable, put aside my fears and did it. No more doubts, no more anxiety. I made it.

My favorite picture from the race is not the one of me at the top of Richter. It is not the one of me running along Skaha or high-fiving along The Most Painful Seven Minutes of My Life. It isn't even the shot of me breaking the tape at the finish line.

No, it's the one of me the day before the race with my two biggest fans - my niece Lily and my dog Bogey. We were sidewalk chalking in front of the finish line. Later that evening, after finishing the race I stopped and looked down - and saw Lily's scribbles on the pavement. It was the best part of the day.

Congratulations to everyone out there on Sunday racing, cheering and volunteering - you are all an inspiration to me. Thank you to all the iron-fans and supporters who have been there for me, not just on race day, but over my entire journey. I could write a whole blog of thank yous and I hope to thank each one of you individually in the days and weeks to come.



  1. Great race report Richele and congratulations not only on your first Ironman, but on winning the opportunity to compete in your second at Kona!

    Your athleticism continues to be an inspiration.


  2. Thank you for letting me be a part of your journey to become an Ironman. I was so excited to see you out on the run course last Sunday.