Monday, September 5, 2011

"Like a dog with a bone", or, the Subaru Ironman Canada 2011 Race Report.

One week later.  

How would I describe my race?  I thought to myself, somewhat unglamorously, like a dog with a bone.

Stubbornly persist, and you will find that the limits of your stubbornness go well beyond the stubbornness of your limits.  ~Robert Brault
Photo Credit to Sue S. 

Although it seems slightly embarrassing to admit, I have yet to take off my ID bracelet, the shiny, silvery, sparkling ring around my wrist.  I was told cut-off time was yesterday at 5:01 p.m., but, when the time came, no one cut if off my wrist.  And it's on today.  I think though, it's time to take it off and start fresh.  It does appear that I am not finished with this storyline yet.  Because I'll get a new one in less than 5 weeks.  I think there is a metaphor somewhere in there.

I won't lie, I've been having a hard time conceptualizing what to write as a race report for this year's Ironman Canada 2011.  I love to write.  I wish it was my part-time job and all the rest I could spend on my bike, in my running shoes, or attached to a kick board in the pool (yes, I do like kicking).  Sometimes, however, the push to write and describe and help people understand what it was like to be in my shoes for the day, is difficult for reasons unbeknownst to me.  I think it is due, in part, to the fact that I still may be suffering a bit from shock from it all.

So I came 5th.  Ok, that's good.  5th of all women.  That's really quite good.  I was the first female amateur finisher.  That's terrific.  I won my age group of W30-34.  That was my specific race goal, although I told almost no one about it, and until I crossed the tape at the finish line, I refused to believe it was true.  I qualified for Kona, which was the overarching goal of the year.  I'm sure you can look up all the stats if you want to, but I am also impressed that I finished 67th, men & women inclusive.  I thought that was pretty nifty.  There are lots of numbers, & if you're interested, you can find them here .

I don't find it's too interesting to go into a point to point, bit by bit descriptor of the race, because either a) you are a triathlete and you are quite familiar with the process, or b) you're not a triathlete and find the nitty gritty boring and would just like to know the funny parts, or, the sad parts.  I don't know if I have overly funny or sad parts, as my goal of the race was to stay consistent and focused on task.  How boring.  But, boring often yields results.  To appease all parties, here goes a short summary of race day and any follies or foibles along the way.

I must mention before I start, that I have been given a great advantage to be able to stay with our lovely home-stay Ann once again, although this time she would be away for the race.  That said, she still opened her home well in advance of the race and allowed us to stay.  Acclimatizing to the heat, as it turned out this year, was a major advantage.  I can't thank Ann enough for being so gracious as to have us stay there so comfortably for race week - but I'll thank her again anyways!

Race week last year was stomach turning for me.  I wasn't comfortable, always intimidated by flashy triathletes cranking out big workouts leading up to the race.  They were twitchy, hardcore, ready to race. Like a stable full of racehorses (not implying anything WADA wouldn't approve of here, don't get your knickers in a knot).  I didn't feel like I belonged, I wanted to stay up on the hill and just slide into the crowd on Sunday and race.

Flash forward to this year.  Knowing how I finished last year (10:58:34 I believe), I looked around and thought, "Ok, I am generally faster than most of these people" (I finished I think, 349th, of 2800 or something like that). So in my mind that worked out to me being able to look at an imaginary group of 10 people, and being faster than 7-8 of them.  That improved my confidence, and lessened the burden of intimidation quite a lot over last year.  People were ripping along Eastlake road with their bikes, I cruised along and studied the run course, taking a big swallow of pride every once in a while when I saw a speedy lady firing along.  It's ok, I thought, you're not racing today.

Days roll along when you're up there, and in the last few days it just came down to me wanting to race.  I was tired with everyday waiting and my body just wanted to go.  Horse in the gate.  Blinders on.  My imaginary jockey on my back with a whip, waiting.  All of a sudden, it was 3:30 in the morning, and in a very calm and organization fashion, life arranges itself and you're down at the body marking gate.  My ability this year to sit back (mentally) and take in much more of what was around me this year, was quite eye opening.  I wasn't the only one feeling sick to death about it all last year - in fact, that was the sense I got from so many other people.  Again, feeling quite calm about the whole thing, I just went and got all my jobs done.  Body marked.  Tires pumped.  Nutrition on the bike (funnily enough, I had drank all my powerdrink whatever in the days leading up to the race - woke up and realized I had none - which was fine - someone had given me some electrolyte tabs walking along the Farmers' market - so at least I had some sodium & potassium on board).  Honestly, it really didn't bother me.

As challenges go, when you train so much things are whittled down to a science.  You should swim about this fast, bike about this fast, run about this fast, give or take a few minutes.  When I looked at the forecast climbing and climbing throughout the week, I thought, "Ok, great.  A new challenge", and I honestly meant it.  I also know that I seem to do well in the heat (please no jinxing myself here....).  I can take on loads of fluids and process them pretty well, and most certainly that came in handy last Sunday.  I don't know exactly how much I drank, I don't keep track, but between each aid station I came close to finishing 3/4 of each water and powerdrink bottle, so if every aid station on the bike is ~18-20km apart, you can do the math.

But first, the swim.  This will be the only time I really struggled during the race.  I am now a faster swimmer than I was last year and knew that it would be more advantageous to me to start closer to the front.  This would also be my first experience with getting literally smashed in the swim.  I believe what had happened is perhaps slower swimmers started up front (why, why....doesn't it scare you to have 1000's of swimmers coming to drown you?) and then faster swimmers behind them start piling up, which slows down the swimmers behind them, who pile on your pile, and so on and so forth.  I had no where to go except over other people.  It was really uncomfortable.  I had no where to put hands in the water, nothing to pull, just a sea of neoprene.  I took a solid punch to the head, and that was a bell ringer.  I was instantly disoriented, but really had no where to go but forward, and within a few seconds realized I needed to not be emotional about that and just solider on.  Because it was war out there.  And anyways, I do well when punched before races, so now I know I also do well while being punched during the races.  Bring it.

I must have been in the worst area because I know it wasn't like this everywhere.  Looking at an aerial shot of the swim start, I know where I am.  I'm in the white froth.  So....just trying to maintain a heart rate (not that I have a monitor but I just know what that ticker is doing) under 200bpm, and getting enough oxygen, was often the motto for minutes at a time.  Now, I'm sure the current kept pulling us along, but it certainly was not a well executed swim start.  Knowing where we turned, I would say that I was battling from about 100m, until about 1200m.  That is a lot of wasted energy. Well, depends on your definition of wasted.  It certainly wasn't wasted if you look at it from the "I'd like to live through this swim" viewpoint.  Knowing the pro-start was about 60 or so people, I think it would be nice to switch to pro solely for the purpose of the swim start.  Perhaps that's not the case either, but being in a shark tank with thousands of thrashing pirañas is not much fun either.  The second half of the swim was just lovely, and I had wished it had all been like this.  Oh well.  Nice to end it on a positive note, all the same.

So, that was the swim, and it was all over in 1:08:39.  Slower than anticipated, happy to be moving on to the next challenge, as I always am in this sport.

The bike is long but this year it really felt short.  Crowded, certainly for the first 1/3, but then when hills come I find I pass quite a few people and then it thins out on every successive hill.  I make no apologies about my ability to climb.  I love it, and I'm good at it.  I think that might make some gentlemen upset.  I don't care.  Someone made some commentary at my road bike as I was climbing along, "Guess it's nice to have a road bike hey?" was one fellow's remark.  "Yes, haha, it IS nice".  "See you on the flats" I said.  I don't know if I ever saw him again.

The bike was to me, really quite unremarkable.  I felt very lucky not to be victim to what appeared to be tacks along the first section of the course.  My heart really does go out to those who had to contend with that, an unfair happening as it really is just a roll of the dice & that takes fair play out of sport, something of which I hold in high regard.  To anyone who is reading this and had that unfortunate mishap, congratulations to you for maintaining a positive attitude and continuing on with the race.  Sport isn't just about times & results, it's also about the ability to overcome & persevere on so many levels.

The bike can be quite lonely for the last couple of hours.  Albeit solitary, it is beautiful, the Similkameen valley swallowing you up as you ride along it's valley.  This year, I was comforted by the fact there was no black lurching sky, no finger of grey whirling it's way down towards the Yellow Lake climb, ready to soak & chill to the bone as it was last year.  This year, it was all blue sky.  Hot blue sky, I might add.  I really never had a problem with heat on the bike, but as anyone who did the race knows, it was a little bit windy on the way back down the climb, which, at 160km, sort of takes a vice grip to your energy stores and puts the pressure on to the very end.  You are rewarded however, with heaps of cheering fans (the fans! the unbelievable fans!) along the sidewalks of what was turning out to be a very hot day in Penticton.

So no problems on the bike.  No time wasted.  You know what I mean.  No near misses, no troubles with anyone.  Really, boring is beautiful sometimes.  My bike was completed in 5:34:34.  Neat time.  And I must say, not to shabby for a road bike.  Although I am thinking a tri bike would be nice...

I don't have much to say about my transitions.  Efficient enough.  Volunteers are your greatest resource during this race.   Positive, encouraging, helpful to the enth degree.  They make it happen for you out there at the races.  I always wish I had more energy to thank them more, but I don't usually (or enough oxygen) so I hope that my thanks is transmitted along the karma express somehow.  I try to smile - always try to smile.

I must say at this point I really have no clue where I am sitting in the rankings, although this is quite important to me I'm not ready to get fussed about it yet.  At the out & back I did start counting females, and to my surprised realized that there weren't that many, although no way to really tell who was who, people are flying by so quickly.

Out on the run.  It always amazes me how much my body wants to run after getting off the bike.  It wants to get my butt off the saddle and stretch out and use some new muscles.  It likes the rhythm of running.  It likes to pass people.

Although well hydrated on the bike it became clear there was no time to waste in aid stations as I started to pass through.  It's just a well orchestrated (you hope) grab & dash the best you can using what little brain power you have to get the right things (   After missing a cup of water and worried that I would have to wait until the next station I sucked on a sponge.  Gross.  I now realize they fall on the ground, go back in the bin, get wiped on who knows what, but honestly, I was that worried about not getting enough water in.  However, that is the last sponge I will drink from.  Much better used on your head.

I don't run with a gps or garmin so I really have to rely on km/mi markings.  I checked the first couple of miles and my pace seemed good enough, and I felt really comfortable.  My overwhelming repetitive mantra for the first half of the race was, "Make it easy".  I must have said that hundreds of times to myself.  I have run a few marathons and I know, that every time I run a successful one, the first half just feels like a breeze, and of course, this also usually translates to a negative split.  I managed to do this again, as I did last year, not that I ever knew that at the time I was running.  I just cruised along (it is however, nice to cruise quickly compared to who is running around you, I won't lie) and noticed the odd woman with numbers ranging in the 30-34 range.

The inauspicious start to my run race I thought was pretty funny.  I chose to go with regular laces for this race because I wasn't liking how elastic laces where often putting too much pressure on the top of my feet.  So laces it was.  And laces really have done the trick all along - however, when you start dumping water, sponges, ice melting, sprinkles, guy with a hose and a good aim for triathletes - I didn't know that you laces can come undone more easily than normal.  So, upon passing a W30-34 contender, I promptly had my laces come undone and had to stop to re-do.  Then she re-passed.  Then I passed her back.  Then my laces came undone 1km later.  Then re-passed.  Then I re-passed, and at this point, had so much fluid on board that I was having trouble concentrating on the task at hand and had to visit the porta-potty.  That felt great.  Then, she had re-passed me in the process.  Eventually, I passed her again for the last time and I really never saw her again.

So you think that would be the end of it, but, you're wrong.  I managed to pass another girl in my age group, and right on time my laces came undone once more.  I laughed out loud and shouted "COME ON!" - and at this point I'm sure this girl thinks I'm going off my rocker and will eventually be victim to the side of the road shuffle.  Well, you guessed it, I retied with gusto and passed her again.  And then I just passed everyone else (although I refused to believe I had truly passed everyone.....when you are on the borderline of bloodsugar city you don't always believe what you hear, or see.....elvis?).

By the half way point I was told that was I was the first amateur.  I really didn't believe this and thought some girls had slipped through the cracks unnoticed.  At the turn around I noticed that it really wasn't too far back that a line of girls had formed behind me.  I grabbed whatever I needed at the special needs bag and started to formulate my plan.  It is a bit of a slug out of OK Falls, uphill, now into the headwind, and a bit of a mental turning point (good or bad).  Luckily for me, I had felt so good to this point that I was ready to get moving.  Arrogant or not, the phrase in my head was to "make them hurt".  So, up the cadence, up the speed, up the breathing a little, and stay true to my fluid & nutrition and stay on the gas for a while.  It's really odd to be ahead - I very much felt like I was being chased, yet at the same time reasonably confident in my abilities as a runner.  I passed a WPRO who was incredibly encouraging, and then realized, holy cow, what is happening?

By this point I started to believe the people who were cheering for the first amateur female.  Me?  I didn't expect this.  I was blown away with how supportive everyone was.  I don't just mean fans & spectators on the side of the road, although they are always impressive.  Participants (mostly women) coming the other way - giving their support and encouragement to me while they were still racing!  The smiles on their faces - just incredibly uplifting to me - although I'm sure my face remained quite straight, if my heart was on my sleeve they would have been able to see my appreciation.

Now, at the same time this is all happening, I am also just a little bit terrified of letting this all slip away from me.  I was definitely feeling the heat, every once in a while the world becomes a little bit tippy, or fuzzy, and that was a little worrying, but it never seemed to get the better of me as long as I just stayed consistent to pace.  I now had realized I was in a position to win, more excited than anything to win my age group as that would solidify my goal for the year, which was qualifying for the world championships in Kona.  That's really all I wanted.  The rest of what was to come was one big bonus.

I was also trying for the sub-10 hr mark.  I started the run knowing that if I could run 3:10 that I would fall underneath 10 hrs.  I also realized that time shouldn't always drive your efforts, especially in a marathon at the end of 3.8km swim and 180km bike.  So I hoped for the best but realized I was running a different kind of race, a race for placing.  I could make an excuse for the fact it was hot but really I just didn't execute a 3:10 race.  What I ended up doing, after putting a relatively strong and consistent surge for about 12km, was to run within my comfort zone and contain the energy I had should I need to race someone to the finish.  I half expected someone to crawl up on my shoulder and make a pass.  I almost wanted someone to do it because I felt so confident in what I had left in the tank.  But long story short, no one was there.  At 2 miles to go, I looked at my watch and had about 14:05 left to make it under 10 hrs, which means running about 7:02 miles.

Crap, I thought.  Should I try?  Would I explode, cramp, end up walking and being passed?  I assessed the risk.  My body certainly wanted to just cruise.  My brain thought, you should give it a try (knowing pretty well I was going to miss it).  I did it anyways, I gave it a try, knowing second by second was ticking away.  It wasn't upsetting, just very matter of fact.  At a point I could hear Steve King announce there was 2 minutes to go until 10 hrs was up, then 30 seconds.  I was impossibly far away.  But I didn't slow down.  This train had got up to max speed and it was loving it there.  Sure, maybe I could have been more precise and ramped it up earlier, but the elusive 10 hr mark has become quite diminished in the face of every other mark that fell down upon me as I grabbed that tape.  I did it in 3:14:27.  I'm quite proud of that time, and even more so, that run.

It feels impossibly good to cross that line.

I finished in 10:01:58.  I heard a blur of Steve King's voice explaining I was the first female amateur of the day.  Then I really believed it.  The catchers asked if I was ok, I said yes.  I'm not sure if they believed me.  I must have looked shocked - and physical shock and mental shock can look quite similar, I suppose.

I have so many thoughts and feelings about the race, about my year I have spent focused on this race, with all my eggs in one big proverbial basket.  Some days I was sure of myself, other days I worried the earth's floor would be pulled right out from underfoot.  When people asked if I was ready for the race, I think for the most part I said yes.  I felt quietly confident.  There were many levels of great performances on the day and I have a great appreciation for all of them.  I may still be digesting my own.  I make no apologies for being happy with my performance.  This wasn't a fluke.  I worked for this.

In the same vein, I have had unbelievable support.  I have been given the opportunity to go after my dreams and complete them to the fullest, only realizing that dreams never really stop, they are ever ascending.  I have now done things that just years ago I truly would only have dreamed of.  And I'm just a regular human being who has been able to go after it with everything I have.  I am an incredibly lucky person in that sense, and I owe gratitude to those who allowed this to be possible.  Of note, I would like to thank my lovely sponsors for believing in me and supporting me this year.  So a big thank you to Aquadiva Swimwear Sponsorship, Reflect Sports, and The Massage Therapy Clinic at the UBC Aquatic Centre .  Also a big thank you to IMPACT Magazine for being so supportive and encouraging of local Canadian athletes - your support & recognition makes a big difference! Of course it goes without saying, if there is anyone who is interested in further sponsorship, this gal could certainly use it!

So that's it.  That is the race for me.  And now I have another one to do, in 5 weeks.  It's exciting and again, I don't really think I have a clue of what to expect.  But I'm looking forward to racing.  I love it.  I love the training too, I am looking forward to slowly getting back to that after one week off.  What else can you do but just enjoy all of this?  I don't know, but at this point that's how I feel.  There are decisions I will have to make down the line, but at this point, I have a job to do in of all lovely places, Hawaii.  I don't think it gets much better than that.

Time to sign off and wrap this up.  I will try my best to post a photo blog in the upcoming week when I gather a few photos together, but for now it's just the story.

Thank you for taking the time to read my never short thoughts & reports of my year's happenings.  I'll try to give you something worth reading about in another month or so.  Stay tuned :)

To everyone who helped make my race another one of the most special moments of my life, I thank you.


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