It’s hard to know where to start with this one. I had a lot of excitement and expectation building up to this race. Especially after the let down of last year’s race. I was pretty sure I was coming into this one fitter, more prepared mentally, and more experienced. I was still nervous (does anyone NOT get nervous for an ironman?!), but not the same way wondering if I could even do it. Last fall I’d done a marathon which had gone relatively well – I’d fallen apart at the end (but doesn’t everyone?), and still managed to finish within my “B” goal time of 4:05. And I’d done the full swim and ride distance several times now and knew I had no problem with it.
Looking back at the race 3 months later I’m not nearly as emotionally attached to the race as I was in the days after or even first few responses to “So, how was it?!! You’re an Ironman now!”. (Read: I’m sparing you the full race report version ie. play by play saga of the entire day long race!) Even though I’m not training for an Ironman anymore, the last few months have been busy in other ways. I’ve been diagnosed with a chronic health issue (possibly part of the reason I’m not meant to be an Ironman athlete) which has taken up a lot of time and emotions, and it’s also helped to put the race into perspective for me. We’ve finally had time to be social – to hang out with friends more regularly, finally try an escape room (best thing ever!) and get back to doing things around the house. So, here’s the short and sweet version of my 2016 Ironman Canada race.
Race morning started off
bright and early – at 3:30 to be exact. My alarm was set for 4:30 but I just couldn’t sleep. I’m not sure how or why I woke up so early – I couldn’t get to sleep from restless, nervous energy till about midnight, so I was definitely not refreshed when I woke up, but I couldn’t get back to sleep so I tip-toed out and went downstairs to start making coffee and breakfast. I was so nervous that I could hardly eat breakfast, but I knew that I needed energy so forced down the bagel with peanut butter and banana and one egg. At 5:00 AM Nyssa and I headed out. The house we were staying in was on Crabapple Dr, exactly half way between the swim start and the shuttle bus pickup, so we were going to walk to the shuttle bus since we needed to get body marking done and drop off our run transition bags. We were kind of banking on catching a ride with some other race goers and figured anyone driving at that hour would be a part of the race and would offer us a ride into the village since we were wearing warmup clothes and carrying our race bags. Which is exactly what happened. After less than a minute of walking we were offered a ride by a friendly american and his cheering squad – perfect timing! Everything went smoothly right up to the race start. This year the race was implementing a rolling start, so after they played Oh Canada, Nyssa and I hugged and went off to our respective start waves.
The swim went relatively well. I knew I was a bit fitter in the swim but I wasn’t going to go for a faster time, instead my goal to come out with the same time as last year which would hopefully mean I had used a bit less energy. Somehow I managed to do exactly that and came out with a swim of 1:09:27 which I was very happy with. Even though the rolling start was supposed to make for a smoother more spaced out swim, I ended up getting swum over and had my goggles knocked off in the second lap which seemed strange to me since the year before, everyone had gotten nicely spaced out by the second lap.
The bike started off slow but well. I had my stopwatch set with a timer to go off every 20 minutes to remind me to eat or drink. I thought that not enough nutrition was the cause of my bonking last year and was determined to eat more no matter what this year. The climb up to Callaghan was slower this year, but I was also trying to conserve energy and not get into the mindset of racing anyone or even myself and to just ride at whatever pace felt comfortable. About 50km in as I was cruising through Whistler on a slight downhill, my chain suddenly jammed. I couldn’t move my pedals at all. Not backwards, not forwards, not even an inch. I tried not to stress out while stopping my bike and getting off to take a look. There were a few spectators nearby who came over to see what was wrong. They were aware they couldn’t help out without compromising my race so they stood to the side and just asked if there was anything I’d like them to do or if they could talk me through anything. But I couldn’t even figure out what was wrong. Nothing was moving. Everything seemed fine – the derailleur, the rear cassette, the chain, I just gotten it all replaced in May, but it was completely stuck. I had no tools on me other than to change a tire (but let me tell you , I was ready to change lots of tires with my 4 CO2 cannisters and 2 spare tubes!!) but no screwdriver or multitool which would’ve been helpful now. After about 25 minutes of fiddling with the rear derailleur I started to take off the rear wheel and noticed that the rear derailleur hanger was hanging with one screw half out (on the wrong side.. what??) At the time, in my race mode panic after fighting with the bike for 25 minutes I didn’t even clue in that the screw was stuck in the wrong side of the frame, I just saw that it was on it’s last thread and that it looked like the other screw wasn’t even in. Frantic, I put the rear tire back in and cranked the quick release as tight as I could hoping that that would hold it in place for the remaining 130km. That seemed to do the trick because the chain finally started moving again and I hopped on bike instantly to try to continue the race. I had just been reaching a breaking point where I’d thought I wouldn’t even be able to finish the race and was in tears as I got back on my bike. I knew how important it was to stay calm and get back into race mode so I worked on that for the next 5 minutes till I calmed down and got back up to speed. I think it helped a lot that I was leaving Whistler and there was mostly downhill for the next 30 km to Pemberton. I tried really hard not to think about the lost time, and to just have a good ride and get to the run. Which seemed to work pretty well. I rode the flat out and back from Pemberton to my parents place and back in the aero bars the whole time and kept up a decent pace. As with last year, when I reached the aid station my parents were running, and waved to them it felt amazing and gave me a huge boost of energy and excitement. The ride back into Whistler got a bit stressful when I heard something grinding on my bike. I was already nervous after the derailleur incident that something else would go wrong and I just wanted to be back to transition and done with my bike. I ended up making it to T2 with no issues after 7 hours and 5 minutes on the bike. Not the time I’d been hoping for, but close enough with the time lost dealing with the chain. I’d really been hoping and assuming that I’d be faster this year since I’d been doing so much bike specific training for the tandem racing and my training rides had all had better splits without conscious effort. But I didn’t want to be worried or stressed out about times, so after handing off my bike, I calmly walked through transition looking for my bag. Which I couldn’t find. And all the volunteers were busy helping others. It took me a while to finally grab what I thought was my bag and make my way into the change tent. My first priority was to get all the black bike grease off my hands and legs. As I was doing this a volunteer started taking stuff out of my bag to help when I realized the size 12 running shoes weren’t mine! So while the volunteer ran out to find my actual bag I continued to try to clean up the grease which was everywhere.
10 minutes later, I was finally degreased and in running clothes and making my way onto the run course. As soon as I left T2 I saw John running along and cheering which was exciting! He ran beside me for a bit until I waved him off so I could focus on my pace and get into the run.
My plan for the run was to take a gel every 7 km and to sip on water at every aid station. I had thought that the nutrition on the run was where I’d messed up last year and had been a huge focus on my training this year. I purposely kept my pace slow this year as I wanted to minimize energy loss and make sure I was able to digest my food. Everything was going well until the start of the second loop. I was on my third gel and I just didn’t feel like eating it. I was starting to feel nauseous and was worried that if I tried to push through and not eat it, it would backfire later so I let myself walk with the focus on getting the gel in. But I just couldn’t do it. It was completely unappealing and I was continuing to feel nauseous. At the aid station at the 22km mark I sat down to get rid of the nausea and realized I was sitting beside a friend and fellow Ironman athlete who was now volunteering. Hearing my situation he told me I was salt-depleted and needed to drink some chicken broth to get rid of the nausea and headache. He gave me two cups of broth and told me to walk until I could drink it all then I’d start to feel better. So I headed off determined to get it down so I could get back to running. I was slowly drinking the broth and walking around Lost Lake but not really starting to feel better, when suddenly I felt a lot worse and everything came back up. I vomited everything out. It was horrible and I felt horrible. I was also starting to get stressed out because I realized this was starting to feel a lot like last year. I slowly kept walking to the next aid station where a spectator had alerted the first aid staff that I was sick and on my way. They made me lie down while they took readings on all sorts of things and asked all sorts of questions. They seemed pretty concerned with my situation and brought me more chicken broth to deal with the head ache and chills that I was experiencing. After the last reading was taken they let me sit back up to finish the chicken broth.. when I promptly vomited again. At this point I was getting antsy to get moving again since it was going to be a long walk to the finish at this rate. They were skeptical of letting me go on, but agreed to as long as I had someone to look out for me. So they were able to get a hold of John who said he’d follow me along the course for the rest of the race. To make a long story short, this pattern continued for the rest of the race. I would try to eat or drink something (eventually only water) and a few kilometers later I would vomit it all up. At one of the next aid stations with 15km still to go, I was feeling pretty dejected after another sick stomach and was wondering whether or not to continue, when the paramedic there came over to me and said, “everyone feels crappy at this point, just get up and keep going!” I looked at her a bit dismayed, but also relieved and thought, okay, get up, I need to keep going! I eventually met up with a veteran Ironman-er named Sharon who was speed walking on target to finish in 17h. So I asked her if I could tag along and walk with her. She kindly agreed and chatting with her and knowing that I would be able to finish in time took my mind off my stomach problems and gave me some much needed positivity. I stopped trying to eat or drink anything except really tiny sips of water every second aid station as I knew it would just speed up my stomach troubles. I finally finished at 11pm, 16 hours 9 minutes and 56 seconds after starting my swim. 4.5 hours later than I was expecting. I didn’t feel that great sense of accomplishment when I crossed the line. I hardly even heard them say that I was an Ironman. I was so exhausted mentally and physically and generally dejected by how things had ended up and was just relieved to be done.
I never expected to be finishing with a glowstick. But I have to say, the last few hours of my race, speed walking with Sharon and all the other people we met along the way were pretty amazing in it’s own way. When you’re out there and you’re no longer chasing down a PB or a spot at Kona, and you’re just out there to finish, to make the last cut-off, to struggle through, it’s a different world. Everyone was encouraging each other, chatting with each other, helping in anyway we could and joking with each other to ease the pain and exhaustion we were all feeling. When we heard (bear banger) shots going off in the dark (there was a bear with her cubs up a tree over the course which had caused an off-road detour for use earlier in the race) an American walking behind me jokingly said something along the lines of, “So that’s how they pick off the stragglers up here?! That’s some good motivation to finish on time!!) before picking up his pace and heading off ahead.
I’m glad I did it. I’m relieved I finished. And while I immediately started planning my next attempt after finishing, I’ve since decided to step back and take a break. I think my body is trying to tell me that for the time being, races over 10.5 hours aren’t my thing. No matter what distance I am into the race, this seems to be the point in time where things shut down. So for now, I’m going to listen and stick to distances and events that don’t require full days of training and thousands of calories just to get through. I’m going to be guiding a half ironman with Christine next summer which is exciting since we haven’t raced together in 2 years, and I’ve been doing some casual training this fall with a few 10Ks thrown in. It’s going to be a change in mindset since for the last two years it feels like I’ve been consumed with all things Ironman, but I’m looking forward to it!