7 months after preparing for the end of July, the end of July presented itself and I felt ready. Very ready. I was fit and strong and I had dreams of how my race would go; of what my time would be; of possibly placing since there were only 11 other women in my age group. I was confident and I was ready. I was surprised.
The Warm Up
We flew up to Vancouver on Thursday before the race. The flight left late and then they couldn’t get the door open when we landed and we missed our bus to Whistler by 3 minutes.
The woman at the desk, who had the patience of a Saint in the face of me muttering dirty, nasty swear words under my breath, checked us through on the 5PM bus but then another group asked if there was some way to catch the bus further on and she said that we could get a taxi and maybe catch it in Vancouver. We ran out to the taxi stand and I asked Kaaren “where are we going” to which she responded “oh crap – I don’t know!” so I had to run back in and ask where the bus stopped in Vancouver. We may have been a little preoccupied.
And thus began Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride with the loveliest of British cabbies who, at our request, drove like a maniac. Not that you can be all that maniacal in Vancouver, the 4th worst traffic city in North America, but he gave it his all, even cutting through an alley and then a hotel drop off area, getting us to the bus with moments to spare – VICTORY!
The rest of the ride was calm and uneventful, save for the pre-race jitters. Yes, I had them – at least a bit. I was confident but considered myself to be appropriately positioned on high alert, listening to my body and leveraging the tension to stay focused on my pre-race needs.
Friday we checked in for the race and then went for a wee swim. I had taken both a long sleeve and a sleeveless suit and was trying the full this time. The first thing I noticed is what rough shape the thing was in. And then I realized I had grabbed the wrong suit – this was my ancient Blue Seventy, not my newer 2XU. Oh well…. I got it on and realized it had soft material in the arm pits and it seemed like the best mistake EVER!
We did our swim and got back to shore and as I was taking the suit off a funny thing happened. CUWEEEEEK! I managed to rip the sleeve almost all the way around, about 3/4 of the way up from the wrist to the elbow (and yes, cuweeeeek is the sound neoprene makes when you rip it). Brilliant! All I could do was shake my head, laugh and go to the Expo to buy some repair goo, which I did. I also bought some arm warmers thinking I might wear the sleeveless with arm warmers but ultimately decided on the full because who wants to try something new on race day? No one! Due to the consistently harsh treatment of my wet suits, I am a master at fixing them and this one was fixed easily in spite of the nearly 6 inch rend I put in it. Oh well – moving on!
Up at 4:00 we moved through the standard morning routine, culminating in hopping on the bus to the lake, lugging our special needs bags and some water to fill the bottles. I got all of that set up and then pulled on the wetsuit and cuweeek! I ripped a big hole in the hip – yay! I knew it didn’t matter because I’ve been down this road before (did I mention how hard I am on my wet suits) so I shrugged it off, zipped up, and headed for the water.
The Swim – in which our heroine rises and falls
Probably my favorite part of racing is the pre-race excitement. Music is blaring, the sun is coming up, the air zaps and crackles with excitement and I generally find myself standing in the water or at the water’s edge smiling and dancing. This race was no different. It was a beautiful morning!
BOOM! The cannon went off and me with it – I was right in the washing machine but not getting harmed. After some minor jockeying I managed to find a spot in the swirl where I could just get pulled around the course. I was in heaven until we came around the final turn buoy for the 2nd loop and some guy’s stroke clobbered me in the back of my leg. It responded by starting to cramp and I made my first mistake of the day – I grabbed on to a boat. I looked at my watch and it said 42:10 and I was so very pleased – right on track for a 1:25 – 1:30 swim Awesome! The problem with hanging off a boat, I have now realized after my Alcatraz fiasco, is that when you stop swimming and hold on to a boat, the legs come up, the knees bend and the cramp intensifies.
I got the cramp under control and took off. The cramping persisted and moved to my other leg, as well. I did my best to kick with straight legs, keep my feet flexed, breath on the other side, focus on my arms, you name it. I just kept going, fighting cramping the entire way and then finally, finally, I was swimming toward shore. I got out of the water, looked at the clock and my face fell hard – 1:47. I was at least 20 minutes behind where I thought I would be and only 3 minutes ahead of last year and I was not happy.
T1 – regaining my equanimity
As I ran for the changing tent I thought, “shake it off, girl – you have a long way to go and you are in much better shape than last year – it’s going to be fine”. I managed a pretty fast transition (6:50) and off I went on my bike.
The Bike – Digging for Appreciation
The beginning of the bike course is a short, shallow hill up and then a pretty speedy hill down and then you go through town with everyone cheering and then you start climbing out toward Callaghan. As soon as we started climbing my legs hurt – really hurt. My quads felt like I’d been to a heavy spin class the day before. And now I was worried and wondering how I would ever make it out to Pemberton if I couldn’t even manage this first loop. Again, I shook it off and just focused on riding, hoping my legs would settle in.
The ride was hard. Every minute of it was hard. I did not feel strong, I did not feel ready, I did not feel trained. I did my best to have faith that I was strong and ready and trained and to move as fast as I could. I told myself to look around at how beautiful the scenery was and to be thankful that I had the health and vitality to be on my bike, engaging in this race. I kept going. I got up to the Olympic Park and then in what seemed like mere moments was back down in Whistler. I drew on the crowd energy there and smiled and waved. Kaaren, my training partner, passed me as we came through there saying “I can’t believe I caught you this fast!” and I said, “I Can! See you at the finish!” and headed out to Pemberton.
This is the really hard part of the race but by now my legs felt better. My climbing was okay and I never felt like I couldn’t do it. I got to special needs. swapped out one of my nutrition bottles for my frozen Coke and the woman there said she would just leave my bag across the street, behind a phone pole. Good enough.
I headed out to the flat section, went aero and hit it as best I could. I didn’t feel great and it was getting hotter but I just did my best. Part way back I called out to a spectator and asked what time it was and she said “2:11” and I thought that was okay because I had until 5:30 to make the cutoff and that was 3 hours away. Seemed like I had time. I had time. For sure… I had time. When I finally got to special needs the aid station was broken down and they were tossing all the special needs bags into trash bags. My heart sank. I explained about how my bag was supposed to be put aside but it didn’t matter. The lady who did that did not communicate it to anyone else and my bag was gone. I still had a bottle of nutrition so I just said, “thank you for being out here!” and took off.
Then the really hard climbing started. At this point the ride had gone on for over 90 miles, it was almost 100 degrees out and the hills are very steep. Last year I had to push my bike up the steepest one but this year I made it up in my saddle – YAY! I passed a lot of people who were pushing their bikes and I felt good about the fact that I was not. And then my leg cramped. I was going downhill so I just worked it out while I rode, being extra careful around the left hand curves because I couldn’t bend that leg to counterweight the turn. I managed to keep the rubber side down, though and all was well – until I started climbing again. Then my quads started cramping and I had to get off the bike or risk falling off. I pushed the bike a little way up the hill, worked out the cramps and got back on.
More hills, more people pushing their bikes, one guy screaming in agony because his legs were so cramped up. I offered him some salt but he said he was fine and I kept going only to hear him scream “I can’t breath!” Dang! Then I heard someone else calling for a volunteer to help him so I kept going.
Finally I got to the fateful last aid station. I stopped to get water and had a chat. One guy said, “It’s only 15K – you’ve got this!” and a woman came over and said, “It’s 20K and you have over an hour” Sweet Jebus- once again I found myself in roughly the same place from a time perspective as last year. It took everything I had not to break down in frustration and anger. I looked up the hill and she said, “That’s the last long hill – you’ve got time – you can do this” and so I did. I rode up that flipping hill and then the next one and the next one and finally I was in Whistler and the people were still there cheering and I rode as hard as I could because I knew it was close. I made transition with 10 minutes to spare. Holy hell…. I made it.
The Run – Chasing the Cutoffs or Running from Bears?
A couple of seconds after someone said I made it by 10 minutes, a man said, “you have 8 and half minutes to get out on the run course” WHOA! A volunteer picked up my bag and said, “can I help you” and I said, “I think I’ve got it” and she said, “no no – let me help you” and she did. She helped me get my shoes off and on, get my gels in my hand, clipped my race belt on me and I flew out of the tent yelling “THANK YOU SO MUCH – YOU ARE AWESOME!” That took 3.5 minutes.
And so it went. I ran a little, I walked a little, I felt like puking. I stopped at the aid station and sipped water, I sipped coke, I kept moving. I walked for a while. Then I tried to muster the energy to run from aid station to aid station but I really felt sick. I drank my Gatorade, I sipped water. I ran 45 seconds, walked 15 seconds which worked great. And then I would feel too sick for that and I would walk. And on it went.
The volunteers were amazing. The crowd was amazing. The support at this race is phenomenal. I death marched, I jogged, I walked. I saw Kaaren at one point and we high fived. I finally made the turn around and then got back to Special needs which I knew was the first cut off. It was 8:30 so I was a full 30 minutes ahead of the cut off – woot! Kaaren’s family was there and her daughter had made me a sign. I was too stupified to think to get my picture taken with the sign. I was totally preoccupied with moving forward. So much so that I almost went the wrong way and was in danger of cutting the course! A savvy volunteer figured it out and sent me off in the right direction.
The sun dropped and it got cooler which was great and I was having more success with the run/walk but I still felt sick. I would tell myself to just keep going – 1,2,3…14,15 GO! over and over and over again. It finally occurred to me to use sweet Bia to measure the intervals, so I quit counting and looked at the watch. It got darker – it got very dark. There was stretch of path that had glow rings marking the line down the center and no other light. I kept thinking if a bear walked out of the woods I would hit it broadside which would probably really piss off the bear – so I ran.
At one point a guy coming the other way said “bear ahead, bear ahead” which I took to be some odd, formal type of encouragement until another guy said, “there’s a bear on the left” Holy shit! Another guy pointed and said, “see – he’s right there” I’m happy to say that although I had really wanted to see a bear, I didn’t want to be quite that close and I did not see it. Maybe it had moved on. I moved on. I was seriously chasing the clock now as I had to get to the turnaround by 10:30. It was 10:10 and I was wondering where the hell is it??!! I kept asking people but they didn’t know. It’s 5K up there, it’s 3K up there, it’s 4K up there. OMG – never mind. I ran. I made that cut off by 4 minutes. Repeat – 4 minutes! Other people were behind me and the volunteers were saying “you’ve got this!” but I knew they didn’t and sure enough, they were soon driving past me in the back of a golf cart. These poor people had done all but the last 7.5 Kilometers of the race and they were pulled off. I sped up.
I ran through the scary dark part and then it got lighter and then I could hear the finish line. I ran and it was right there – just to my right. But I had to keep going straight. And then it was behind me. Oh cruel world! Oh damned fortune! But I ran some more. Then I went around a bend and the finish line got louder. And then another bend. And then a straightaway. And then finally, finally I was at the top of the chute – I was coming in!
I ran down the chute and the people cheered. I put my arms out, palms upward and gave the sign for ‘applause’ and the crowd went nuts. I put 2 fingers up in the air and the crowd roared. I put 2 thumbs in the air and the crowd roared more – it was awesome! I heard “Pamela – YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!” and I was done – I had finished. After almost 17 hours of pep talking myself into continuing and chasing cut offs I was there. I was done. I was grateful.
This is a happy ending but wait, there’s more…. (next post)
The first person down the chute is not me. There is no sound.