Monday, September 2, 2013

Ironman Canada...bear hugs for everyone!

Ironman #5...the lead-up

Five days before racing Kona 2012, I fell ill.  I would subsequently be diagnosed with pneumonia, and needless to say it put a huge damper on my race.  I put every ounce of determination into finishing that day, and it was a heart, lung and body-breaking effort that left me shattered.  Crossing the finish line was a victory...but not satisfying.     

Ironman Canada's new location in Whistler was announced and before even leaving the Big Island I had already plunked my entry fee down looking for my do-over.  Knee jerk reaction to a bad race?  Absolutely.  But, little did I know that the struggles in Kona were only the beginning.  Four weeks with pneumonia, then major surgery, then various surgical complications put me in a sad state physically.  Although my doctor told me it could take six to twelve months to recover, I admit that my optimistic ears didn't hear "twelve" at all.  I heard "six"...then stubbornly believed I could make it "three". 

This year has been a lesson in learning that my body doesn't always do what it is willed to do.  When you are used to being healthy, coming to grips with the fact that your zip is zapped in a way that you cannot control is a hard reality.  My spunk was absent all year, and I became grateful to just train, albeit at a load much less than in the past.  Two weeks before Whistler, my iron level continued to lag well below normal, purely abysmal for an endurance athlete.  Rest and recovery was a bigger part of my training plan than ever before...and it was a huge leap of faith for me to believe it would be effective.    

At 6:59 am on Sunday morning, as I treaded water in Alta Lake waiting for the start gun, my goal was firmly at that finish line in Whistler.  I know well from experience over the last 12 months that finishing 140.6 miles can never be guaranteed - but just arriving at the start line healthy enough to race was a huge win.
Painting signs...and himself.  Perhaps just trying to be a smurf!
Don't stress out

Racing in Whistler was a luxury, and quite frankly the town absolutely nailed it.  No travel hassles, no long hotel stay, incredible happy people all around the village - it was basically like racing at home.  We arrived on Friday early afternoon, breezed through registration, and settled into the hotel.  There was even time for an afternoon dip in the pool with the kiddies, sans poolside cocktails (boo!).

Saturday was an incredibly easy day, starting with the kids race in the morning and followed by the normal pre-race duties.  Lily and Joey both ran the mile long "Ironkids" run (pretty impressive for wee little toddlers!), then the rest of the day was low key, relaxed and awesome.
Game face in the kids corral
The panic station

My recurring nightmares about Whistler always involved the swim.  The prospect of being amongst 2000+ athletes in a tiny little lake scares me like nothing else.  Well, except for snakes.  And if you told me there were snakes in the lake, I would have just stayed home.

Race morning was perfect - a little chilly, but clear and not windy.  Alta Lake was foggy as we entered the water and I took my place on the mid-right, a couple rows back, just as Coach Bjoern had instructed me.  (Of course, I had to see a garter snake on my way into the water which fully cemented my swim fear.  Swim AND snakes?)

In my wildest dreams, I found fast feet and a quick exit out of the chaos.

In reality, I got smashed, bashed, swallowed water and backstroked the first 300m.  I stopped just short of full-on panic, and moved to the left side to find less congested water.  I wanted to quit, oh how badly I wanted to quit.

The hotel concierge that had dropped me and another competitor off at transition earlier had the radio on.  The last song I hear before a race always gets firmly in my head.  Ironically, the song was not only one I knew, but as I sang it to myself (off tune and badly mangling the lyrics) over and over during the swim, it was pretty fitting.

You won't get much closer
Till you sacrifice it all 
You won't get to taste it
With your face against the wall 

Get up and commit
Show the power trapped within 
Do just what you want to
And now stand up and begin

Doubts will try to break you
Unleash your heart and soul
Trouble will surround you
Start taking some control

My panic station lasted an hour, 12 minutes...about 5 minutes more that I'd hoped, but I was grateful to be out of that mess and onto my bike.  I got through the hardest part, and was committed to finishing.

Ride like you stole it

Swimming may be my fear...but riding is my joy.  I love, love, love my new bike and had an absolute blast out there in perfect weather.  Could not have asked for better.  The Whistler bike course is tough, yes, but it could have been so much tougher had the hot, windy conditions I'd experienced in training prevailed!

I don't use gadgets when I ride - no power meter, no heart rate monitor.  My 901XT tracks time to refuel and completely disregard any other numbers it spits out at me (those are for Bjoern too look at later!).  I ride simply by feel, adjusting my effort when I need to, and always (always!) sticking to my predetermined intervals to eat, drink and take salt tablets.

From the beginning of the ride to the end, I rode a hard but steady effort, moving from 122nd female to 12th.  (Yeah, I know.  Swimming lessons required.)  I pushed the flats and descents, and rode steady but easy up the hills - I felt great.  It's pretty awesome to rip up a bike course as stunning as the one in Whistler.  Time flies by when you have that kind of scenery.

My special needs bag in Pemberton failed to materialize, so I decided to take a pit stop at an aid station to load up on fuel and water, and take a much needed potty stop (oh the sheer bliss of fresh chamois cream!).  Pemby out-and-back was a hammerfest for the power riders (read:  men), and the small female riders at this point were getting overtaken by big packs.  Taking a little rest break let me continue riding my race the way I wanted to - at my own pace!  No way was I blowing my race by overcooking the flats before the ride back to Whistler.  The female riders (age groupers and pros) around me were doing a great job of riding legal - it was nice to see the other women were sticking to their pacing as well and not getting caught up in the packs.

The return from Pemberton to Whistler, as expected, was a bit of a slog and I reminded myself to ride easy, light and in my low gears.  Eat, drink, focus on getting into T2 feeling good.  With nothing left to do but pedal *softly* back to town, I turned my attention to my surroundings.  Whistler is a seriously gorgeous setting for a race - the view over Green Lake on the return into town is breathtakingly stunning.  If you missed were working too hard!  :)

Hang in there 

Almost done!
I exited T2 with a group of four other girls, and we quietly ran along until the first aid station.  It was impossible not to feel energized by the crowds coming out of T2 and onto the run course. Because the first part of the run loop is through town, I got to see friends and family several times and it made me feel light.

I felt pretty damned fantastic for the first 7-8k of the run and loved the course - the constant variation in the terrain made it possible to run in the moment, and it is so nice to run on soft gravel!  Because the course turns and rolls, it was easy to compartmentalize the course into manageable pieces.  Not being able to see a formidable stretch of road ahead of me was definitely a mental pick-me-up.

Unfortunately, at the Green Lake turnaround, my stomach was giving me warning signs.  I was paying the price for using nutrition I had never raced with before...and my marathon turned into walk/run/omigod where are the port-a-potties when you need them?!  Anyone who has raced a marathon understands this feeling - you just do what you can to keep moving amidst the tummy gurgles.  Hope for the best, hang in there.

It wasn't pretty, and it wasn't my best run...but I got it done with a 3:41 marathon and even had a smile on my face at the end.  The last loop through the village was an absolute hoot and I relished the last few hundred meters up through the finish corral (of course, not until after I had shoulder checked!).

Quick chicks! 

W35-39 podium!

The town of Whistler, the organizers and the volunteers absolutely nailed it.  The crowds were happy, loud and inspiring.

We could not have asked for a better race day conditions, and the stunning backdrop makes this an absolute must-do race.  It is a tough, fair course that makes you forget the pain with its stunning beauty.  

Final time was 10:29:36, good for 12th overall and 3rd in a crazy competitive age group (11 of the W35-39 went under 11 hours, and the first place went 10:01 for 5th overall).  I'm honored to keep such amazing company as these fast chicks!   

Big huge Whistler bear hugs are in order...

Dan and my family.  Your support means the world to me. I so looked forward to seeing you out on the run course and hearing the kids scream as I passed by.  (I do, however, know that you were sneaking off for cocktails between my run laps.)

Coach Bjoern and Steph for your tough love and levelheaded support.

Tamasin, Lawrence, Greg, Dave, Trina, Steve, Geoff, Ron, all rocked it.  Big hugs for the training and life inspiration over the last 9 months.

Each and everyone of the Team Ossenbrink super-fans, Corinne + family, Jeanne + Jonathan, and Geoff + Pat, who were out there screaming their lungs out (and giving up their weekend to volunteer...YOU made this event a huge success!)

Speed Theory for your support and that wicked fast ride, and Jonathan at Compressport for helping alleviate a last minute gear panic!
Hotel treats!  Yeah..I ate the cookie.  There's no gluten in that, right?


  1. Hi Richele,

    what are the salt tablets that you take during your IMs?
    I think I lose a bit of extra salt, and it's something I should maybe experiment with.
    Thanks :-)

    1. I have used SaltStick tablets for the last eighteen months as other brands upset my stomach. Not something you want to try for the first time on race day, but worth trying out if you need to replenish your electrolytes. They need to be taken with lots of water as well...salt tabs alone will not help if you are not hydrating! If you can get an understanding of your sweat rate, that is a helpful guide to start replenishing.