Ironman Canada 2015. My 3rd Ironman. I cannot understate how beautiful Whistler is in the summertime. For an Ironman venue, Whistler is tied in my mind with Lake Tahoe as the best places in the world to race. Neither course is “easy,” but Ironman isn’t about “easy,” and beautiful scenery makes any course a pleasure.
My daughter and I drove up to Whistler on Thursday morning. We met teammate Edytte (also competing), her mom Gail, and boyfriend Jarrad at the hotel in the village that afternoon. The hotel was perfect. Minutes away from Ironman village, T2, and the finish. Here we are pre race.
We breezed through check in and had a nice dinner out. Friday and Saturday was spent doing pre race logistics. We biked to T1 (at Alta Lake) and back then did some running on the course. We packed up our gear and special needs bags, hit the athlete meeting, ate some more good food (my first experience with poutine – now that is good stuff) and tried to relax. A few weeks earlier, the area had been hit by some extreme high temps and wildfires. We worried about the race getting cancelled, but fortunately the fires were under control and there had been some rain locally. In fact, race day was looking cool and rainy.
Race morning. Alarm at 3:30am. Had coffee and my usual pre-IM breakfast. Doubled checked special needs bags and put on some warm layers. Edytte and I headed to the shuttles at T2 about 4:30am. We had plenty of time at the start to hit the bathrooms (both real and porta pottie) and wait in the line for bike pumps. It was cold and I was starting to regret my choice of a sleeveless wetsuit. Earlier predictions had the water temp at about 73, but with the rain and cool temps, it was down to 69. Air temp at the start was about 50. The start is a deep water mass start. We had to tread water for about 5-10 minutes before the 7am start. I was getting quite cold and hoping that the adrenaline of the race would warm me up. From about Wednesday on during race week, I was also having some weird low back pain that really threw me off my mental game. I had seen my chiropractor, and also had taken advantage of the ART (free for athletes) at Ironman village. Treading water was hurting my back quite a bit and I knew the swim was going to be a tough one.
Side note – I love open water swimming. The week before I had done my favorite local race, the Fat Salmon 3.2 miler. I had a great time and was pleased with the results. I had no back issues then, but race week something was definitely going awry. Usually the swim for me is cake. This swim, however, was very tough. I should not have been bothered by the mass start and the amount of bodies in the water, but right away I knew I was not where I wanted to be. I kept getting whacked and grabbed, people were trying to swim over me or I kept running into someone. I could not get a clear passage so I kept trying to drift/swim to the right where there were less people. I was cold and not happy. I kept singing the most annoying song in my head that I could think of (doot doo do do do doot do do do do…this is gonna be the best day of my life…do do do do) over and over again to distract myself. My back was hurting, especially breathing to the left. It had started to rain fairly heavily and I was getting very cold. By the second lap I couldn’t feel my hands, I had a couple mild calf cramps and my arms were shivering in the water. I was very glad to see the finish. Looked at my Garmin 1:10. Crap! Disappointed. Despite my pace being 1:31 per 100 (which I am happy with), with the melee of the swim I ended up at 4663 yards (2.65 miles). This did not make me happy.
Had a wetsuit stripper get my suit off, thank goodness for those volunteers! I grabbed my bike gear bag and was shaking so bad the volunteer had to get me to an open spot in the transition tent. I was freezing and could barely talk. I very much appreciated the volunteer who helped me get dressed. SmartWool socks, compressions sleeves, bike shorts, SmartWool shirt under the jersey, sports bra, arm sleeves and gloves. Downed my bottle of double Genucan, grabbed my helmet, shoes, and glasses (clear lenses because of rain) and stumbled out of the tent to get my bike. The exit out of T1 is long. It was a blur in the pouring rain when I crossed the bike mount line. I barely remember the first part of the course. Other than it was very wet, very cold, and I was getting very numb.
Fortunately this course is hilly, so there were uphills where I could kind of thaw just a bit. But then at any downhill would freeze again. My teeth were chattering and my arms were shaking, I kept telling myself, dude, you have got to get yourself under control. Deep breaths. Calm down and stop shaking. You’re from Seattle. Biking in the rain is what you do. Other athletes were taking garbage bags from the aid stations and wearing them over their tops. Everyone was cold. The guy in front of me was banging his fists against his quads. I asked him if he was as frozen as I was. He said, yes, his teeth were chattering so much it was giving him a headache and that this was just ridiculous weather. Ok. Everyone is hurting. And we’re all in this together. I saw people stopping and pulling themselves off the course. Getting wrapped in space blankets and into cars. I can’t say I didn’t envy them just a little…the thought of calling it a day and getting back to a warm hotel shower was enticing. This is the first time in any Ironman that I have thought of quitting. Even at Coeur d’Alene 2014 when the wind was blowing so hard I was going 14 miles an hour, downhill, in aero, suffering in that damn wind…I didn’t think of quitting. I just kept pedaling and moving forward. I kept looking at my fingernails. Just please stay pink. If I saw blue I knew I was in trouble.
This course is pretty technical and there are a lot of wicked descents. Particularly going towards Pemberton. It was raining hard and I was worried about slipping. My hands were numb and it was difficult to feather the brakes. I’m not typically scared on descents but this was pretty hairy. I stayed in control and tried to play it smart. By the time we got to Pemberton the rain had thankfully stopped.
The Pemberton flats. Finally I was thawing. I could feel my toes and fingers again. I had been drinking fluids and taking in my nutrition, and was actually starting to feel like myself again. This was 3:15 into the bike. Thank goodness. For the first time I thought…I might actually finish this bike course. Pemberton restored my confidence as I ticked off fast 5 mile splits. It had become a completely different race. I was loving the bike again and starting to have some fun. I remembered all the times in training I did hard sprints down the Parkway or on Farm Road. Those efforts were paying off. At special needs I took another double Ucan and stuffed my spare tube and cartridge into my jersey (SN bags aren’t returned, I’m not wasting a $12 tube). Even with the stop, my split was 15 minutes and change. Sweet. Okay, this is starting to turn a corner. By the time we left the Pemberton flats and headed back up the big hill towards Whistler, I was warm enough to strip off my arm sleeves. There were still people coming down the hills and I was SO GLAD the roads were dry for them.
I felt strong on the hills and was grateful for them. The scenery is awesome coming back into Whistler. Here is the bike elevation.
As strong as I felt coming off the bike, I was glad to be done with that portion. 6:23, which I was happy with. Usually I get passed a lot on the bike but not today. All my hard bike training had paid off. I handed off the Vengeful One (good-bye, beautiful….) to a bike catcher and took off my shoes. A volunteer had my run bag and got me a seat in T2. This transition was much smoother. Peeled off my nasty bike stuff (wet and smelling like pee) and got into fresh compression sleeves, run undies and shorts, sports bra, tank, socks and trusty Boston 2012 visor. Pulled my shoes on hit the porta pottie. Then I was outta there.
Ah, the run. I felt good. There were so many spectators around, so much cheering, it was hard not to be glad to be at this point in the race. I stayed in Zone 1 and 2 only. There is a lot to see on the IMCA run course. You go on the trail around the Village, out to the golf course and along the lake. Its beautiful and although it seemed to take forever to get to the turn around, it was fairly enjoyable and I was feeling good. I struggled with some PF during training and missed a couple key long runs, so I wasn’t able to go the pace I have in the past at IM, but I was pain free (back and PF) so that made me happy. I had water, Gatorade, or chicken broth a the aid stations and had no GI issues. I saw my daughter twice on the trail. That cheered me greatly, as she updated me on Edytte’s race status, and I had her relay some messages to my husband, and to my coach (she had my phone and was texting them both). An Ironman run can get a little lonely, so I was grateful to have seen her, Gail and Jarrad out there cheering on the athletes.
Halfway through I was getting a hot spot on my toe. It hurt, but not terribly bad. I was mostly glad not to have any PF or other issues. The second half was long and it can be hard to be patient when you’re running slower than you’re used to. Those miles don’t go by very quickly. I like to break down the course into little sections and not focus on how many exact miles there are to go. It started to rain lightly at mile 20, and that lasted maybe 3 miles. But by then I was warm enough. Here I am late in the run.
You can hear the finish from at least 2 miles away and that this is a great part of the race. You’re been through hours and hours of swimming, biking, and running. You’ve been up, and you’ve been down. Now is the time to gather in the last little bit of exquisite pain and start getting mentally ready to be finished. Its excruciating and awesome at the same time to be creeping closer and closer to the finish. And at Canada they really make you suffer the last mile with lots of twists and turns. The finish sounds likes it coming from different directions, with each turn you make. Finally…there it was. The chute. I high fived as many people as I could along the entire chute. Sweet, sweet Ironman finish.
Into the hands of a volunteer. Got my space blanket, hat, shirt and picture taken. Then I wandered out of the finish area to find my daughter. I picked up a ginger ale from a volunteer station (nectar of the post race gods) and borrowed a cell phone to text her to meet me back at the hotel. She was a sight for sore eyes after waiting a few minutes (shivering in the lobby). I couldn’t resist taking a picture of what had brewed under my sock, and now I will share it with you!
Into a warm shower, had my daughter get me some juice and a cup o’noodles. I had a chance to warm up and talk to my husband and then my coach. I texted Jarrad and asked him if he wouldn’t mind picking up my bike and gear. Now that was awesome. Many thanks to Jarrad and Gail for picking up my bike and gear bags!
My Father in Law had done the San Francisco marathon that day. He is 76 years old, and a colon and larynx cancer survivor. He ran 4:35 to qualify for Boston. What a great day for him. After getting dressed I met up with Gail and Jarrad to go out to the course to watch Edytte finish. We hit Starbucks first. Gail and I waited about 3/4 a mile from the finish. Jarrad ventured further down the course to look for Edytte. Gail and I had fun cheering on people as they closed in on the finish. When we saw Edytte coming we yelled like crazy (as did the group next to us) and after she passed we went to the finish. Got a nice spot on the bleachers so we could see the chute. It was loud and amazing at the finish. Everyone was cheering and clapping and making noise. Singing along to the music. This was the one of the highest points of my day. Being in the crowd, watching the smiles on the finishers faces. Edytte look beautiful and I teared up watching her finish. The day was full of highs and lows and ended on the highest of the highs.
I want to thank my husband for all his support. For the many times he got up early and ran with me, and listened to all my triathlon talk. Thanks to my coach, Brandon Wood. I could not have done it without your guidance! And many thanks to my team at KR Endurance. You all are amazing athletes, and the camaraderie we have is second to none. I felt your support during the race and I thank you for that.