I arrived in Penticton the Tuesday before race day in hopes of acclimatizing to the heat and for extra time to rest and relax. We stayed at the Shoreline Resort which was great for its proximity to the race start, Okanagan lake and its full kitchen, although prices were sky high for the week of ironman.
I swam, biked and ran each day getting used to the hot and dry conditions of the Okanagan without pushing the intensity. I spent the rest of my time relaxing in the hotel or on the beach. I’d already put in all of the work, now was time to focus on staying healthy, relaxed and well rested.
The days went by quickly with registration on Thursday, the pre-race meeting on Friday (“mandatory”, but trust me when I say it is not mandatory) and bike check-in Saturday. I remember looking at my watch at 5pm Saturday evening knowing that if everything went according to plan, I’d be done the race in 24 hours.
Despite what I expected, I slept soundly until my alarm sounded at 4am. My breakfast was oatmeal, a banana, a cup of coffee and water. I felt focused and relaxed (my two half irons in June and July were paying dividends).
I arrived at body marking at 5:30am and lined up in front of 81 year old Sister Madonna Buder. If seeing an 81 year old about to do her 37th Ironman doesn’t inspire you, I don’t what will. Her smile and energy made me remember that while this race has been my focus for the past year, lifelong health and happiness are far more important.
Next, I checked on my bike, got my tires pumped up, and relaxed in the transition while eating a Cliff Bar and sipping on water.
Watching the pros start at 6:45am got my adrenaline going and I felt ready to go! I quickly got in the water and did my usual 200m warmup.
I lined up in the center, 4th row back. While I’m sure this decision turned out to be a good one time-wise, I definitely experienced the full “washing machine” effect. There were a few people that swam over me and two full on ankle grabs, but 99% of my fellow racers were doing their best to keep moving forward within a very tight space. After 1000m I found some space and started to get into a rhythm behind some feet and carried this rhythm until 2000m when I started to get tired and had some cramping in my right hamstring. I thought to myself- just relax, your halfway through the swim, I can do this. It seems corny now, but positive thinking throughout the day kept me moving forward. Finishing the swim, I asked the guy beside me “what’s our time?” and he responded enthusiastically with “1:15”. That got me excited as well. What I was most worried about before signing up for Ironman, the swim, was now complete!
Swim to Bike transition 3:41
Ironman transitions are different than other triathlons. There are so many competitors that your transition equipment is in two separate bags, your “swim to bike” and your “bike to run”. As I exited the swim, I picked two wetsuit strippers and they got it off in one pull (nice work!). A volunteer handed me my “swim to bike” bag and I ran to the change tent and put on my helmet, bike shoes, sunglasses and race bib before running to my bike. A solid transition.
First off, let me assure you that I’d received plenty of advice regarding what NOT to do for the first 15 minutes on the bike. I nodded my head each time thinking to myself ya, ya, I got it.
As I started the bike I was really thirsty and concerned about my right hamstring cramping up. I wanted to get in a couple of salt tabs right away and the densely mixed Carbo-Pro in both of my bottles was all I had to wash it down. The problem was, once I started drinking, I couldn’t stop and I took in almost 800 calories within the first 30 minutes of the ride. I knew I’d made a huge error and could already feel the consequences, severe bloating in my stomach. I stopped taking in calories for the next hour and moved over to a bottle of water from each aid station. This seemed to prevent the bloating from getting much worse for the first 70km, but after that I could feel my stomach steadily getting more bloated and painful. I never felt like I needed to throw up (I know, too much information), but it prevented me from pushing the pace like I expected to. This was frustrating, but I tried to focus on my nutrition plan knowing that if I stopped taking in calories or fluid the day would be over.
I hate to admit it, but I definitely had some moments of weakness during the ride. Each time I thought my stomach had settled and I tried to pick up the pace it responded unkindly. I had a few yelling matches with myself to stay motivated and keep working. I’m sure the cyclists around me thought I was suffering from heat stroke!
My highlight of the bike was coming up Yellow Lake through the incredible crowds and seeing Allison cheering with her parents – THANK YOU!!!! Fan support makes a huge difference!
I never got into my normal zone on the bike (weird, because I’ve never had this on a training ride), but I still managed to come in only 6 minutes behind schedule. This tells me that I could have made up 10-15 minutes on the bike – shoulda woulda coulda!
Bike to run 1:55
Another solid transition where I even managed to get my bike shoes off while riding the last few kilometers into town (this was the first time I’d done this, but it was easy with no issues, although I recommend practicing first). I did a flying dismount from my bike, rolled it to two volunteers, got handed my transition bag, ran to the change tent, put my runners on, switched race belts (my run one had gels on it), and ran out of transition putting on my hat while I got sun-screened by two volunteers. Hard to make up any time here.
I knew from the start of the run that a 3:15 marathon was not in the cards (I now know that this was my most ambitious goal). I started out the marathon doing a 3:30 pace which would have put me in with a 10:20 total time. I said to myself – I can do a 3:30 marathon, keep every kilometer below a 5 min/km pace. This lasted for about 5 kilometers before my stomach said no way. The day was hot, it was tough to take in enough fluid, electrolyte, and calories, but I think I need to work on pushing through the pain.
My mind started to wander early in the run. I began walking every aid station where I would put two cups of water on my head, drink two cups of cola, and put a cup of ice down my back. Every second aid station I would take in a 160mg salt tab. I’d turned into the walking dead. Friends cheered me on and I couldn’t even manage an acknowledgement. I was hurting.
I hit the turnaround at 1:49, on pace for a 3:38 marathon. I was not feeling very good. My pace continued to slow, I continued to walk the aid stations. I knew I was in rough shape when Noah passed me and all he said was “have a salt tab”. I couldn’t manage a response. I was pushing as hard as I could and didn’t have any energy to communicate. It was a low point. I wondered why I was doing this and didn’t think I would do another one.
Allison has often questioned whether or not I’d ever really experienced “hitting the wall” in previous marathons. I now realize that I hadn’t, this was my first experience and I had definitely hit it during IMC.
I kept up my pattern of walking the aid stations and tried to push the pace while I was moving, but I was shuffling away at 6 min/km pace by this point. I did manage to pick it up during the last 3-4 kms because of the incredible fans and probably salvaged a couple minutes.
I was absolutely shattered coming across the finish line and needed a couple of volunteers to steer me towards the food and a chair. Sitting down never felt so good!
Jordan Rapp (men’s winner of the race) had an incredible speech that he reposted on his blog. I highly recommend that you have a read. It was insightful, inspiring and covers off why many people make the decision to do an Ironman. Here’s my favorite part:
No one in this room has a burning desire to be, “typical.” That is not why you do an Ironman. You do an Ironman because you want to reach the stars. And you want to do it the hard way. Because that is what makes it special.