It was a beautiful summer morning (well whatever you can call 4am) and I was in the bed looking up at the ceiling of the house in the loft with my mind racing. I wasn’t nervous at all, that’s just not me. It was the 2.5 years of preparation that was about to pay off. In less than 3 hours I would be jumping in the lake with 2800+ other athletes in pursuit of a title: Ironman! I have no idea what the stats are as far as the first timers, but I wouldn’t consider myself that. I had done this race in my head over and over again. I had run through the finish chute countless times during my runs. I had crossed over the Richter Pass’s summit every single time I head up Cypress. So this was just another day at the office for me: a first time pursuit of the Ironman title!
One of the things attracted me to the sport was the ability to race myself and better that time with each race and each training session. I know I have no limits physically and mentally aside from what I tell myself. Getting past these limits and stepping out of my comfort zone is what this is all about. My good friend Adam was the person that got this in my head. Living life is stepping across those comfort zones. Forget about proving others wrong, you have to prove it to yourself. If I start living by other people’s standards, I will end up on my death bed regretting what it could’ve been and what I could’ve done. Again that’s not me!
Back in the bed staring at the loft’s ceiling looking over and Jenny is peacefully sleeping without a worry. I decide to get out of the bed and head down to the kitchen and start on my breakfast. The house is really quiet and I am trying to keep it that way and not wake anyone up. Start preparing my pre-race PB&J sandwich as well as my pre-race electrolyte drink. A routine that has worked every race and every training morning. The longer I was up, the slower the clock was ticking. Head back upstairs to shave and have a shower, have to look good for my Ironman debut.
Out of the shower and ready to roll I start going through my list. I had everything organized on the floor in the living room and layer by layer I get my tri-suit on. Not a big fan of the two-piece suit, but no choice there! Anyways as slow as the time was going by, it was 5:30 before I knew it and we had to head out. Say the good byes to everyone and Jenny and I jump in the CX-5 to head out to Lakeshore Drive. Park a few blocks from the beach and started walking there. End up on Main Street walking towards the casino. I was marked with my number and age and I was ready to get going and was getting antsy. Kissed Jenny good bye and put my head phones on and got in the zone.
Jody Wisternoff’s October 2010 mix is my go to pre-race music. This typically follows by a 5 minute recording I did with Saul Miller so I can calm down and visualize where I need to go mentally. I get my wet-suit on and I have about 10 minutes to get down to the beach. Based on my chat with Mark and another one of his athletes, the best place to be is on the very right side of the beach since we are allowed to swim on the right of the markers for the first few hundred meters. This gives me a straight shot toward the turn around as well as keeps my out of the craziness of the mass start. I don’t mind the kicking and getting elbow to elbow with other swimmers, but it is a long day and using up unnecessary energy this early is pretty pointless.
Gun goes off and it looks like 2800+ animals are let loose. Some people are slowly walking down the beach in the water while others are running and jumping in. If you didn’t know, you would think that some people are in a different race trying to get the fastest possible 400m ever! Anyways I gotta do my own thing: left, right, left, right. Repeat that 8 to 10times and then a quick look ahead to make sure I am on course. It was a bit easier on the way out as I could follow people with the same pace as me and just check once in a while to make sure they were on course as well. Anyways, got to the turn around point at about 1900m and have a quick look at my watch and 49min had gone by. That was pretty close to what I thought I could do which was an hour and 40min swim. Start swimming back towards T1 and that’s when that plan goes out the window. I noticed the waves were getting higher and higher and at some point they were probably 10-12″ in height and breaking over my head every time I tried to breath. Fortunately I did swim in Osoyoos about a month and a bit before with really high waves and was used to the situation. I started timing my breathing between waves and switched most of my breathing to the right side. However the waves had slowed down my swimming and stepping out of the water I see 2:00 on my watch. No big deal, I was out of water and running towards T1. I was relieved that the swim was done since it is my weakest of the three disciplines and was looking forward to the bike.
Out on the beach with my wet suit around my waist I run towards one of the many volunteers and get down on my back and BAM the wetsuit was off. As I am putting on my helmet and grabbing my shoes to run to my bike, I am going through what I need to do on the bike. Keep it calm and light, calm and light, calm and light. My slow swim had one good outcome, the transition area was quiet and only the age groupers on the other side still had bikes racked up. My bike was one of the only few on the track in my age category. Grabbed the bike, waved at everyone and ran out. Over the mount line and before I knew I was heading up Main with thousands of people on either side of the street cheering. It is pretty difficult not to push hard at this point, but all I was thinking about was my HR and not running into someone.
Heading out of the town, the crowd had died down and I was travelling South on the side of the lake. A road that I was pretty familiar with thanks to the couple of races and several training rides and runs I had done there. The first couple of hours of the ride is a really high speed section of the bike course that you have to be really careful. You can easily get carried away and use up more energy that you should and end up having a difficult run (more of a walk than a run). I wasn’t about to do this. I have promised myself I wasn’t going to walk the run and to be able to achieve that, pacing the bike was essential.
The bike course was flying by. Before I knew it and much faster than my training rides I was at the bottom of Richter Pass and was ready for a nice climb. A climb that I had spent countless hours perfecting at Cypress, a local mountain, to best of my abilities. I was going at my goal pace and HR zone and was feeling great. I saw Mark at a few points up the mountain and he was worried that I was pushing too hard. I assured him that I was sticking to my race plan and carried on. The nice downhill section on the other side of the mountain is followed by several rolling hills, 7 to be exact. This section of the course is very technical and training in the aero position definitely pays off here as the untrained are riding out of aero and not carrying speed on the downhills to help them up the hills. It was in these rolling hills which I later on found out I had perhaps spent more energy than I should’ve. This is where a power meter would come handy. The hills are short enough that even if you go all out, the HR does not have enough time to respond. Power is more instantaneous unlike the slow response of the heart rate which typically is about 20 seconds or so behind. Adding the fatigue at this stage of the race and HR will become even less relevant.
I had a slower than I would’ve like out and back section which is more or less flat. This however helped with a bit of recovery. Even though I was slower than I thought I was passing everyone on the bike and was mentally happy that had paced very well to this point and did not feel any significant fatigue for the last big climb, the Yellow Lake!
It was such a great experience to get to the main climb and see all the families and volunteers cheering on the side of the road. You almost forget the burn in the legs and the sickness in the stomach from all the fluids and concentrated sugar than you have been taking for several hours. Riding on the side of the Yellow Lake with the beautiful view I start thinking about my upcoming transition and the run. Heading downhill in the twists towards Penticton can be unnerving due to the wind and higher speed down the hill. However the thought of being off the bike in a short time makes is much easier. Riding on the West side of the lake down the hills I can see the airport and the city. Flying by the sea of cars sitting there I was telling myself glad I am on the bike. It was a nice feeling. I was expecting I couldn’t wait to get off of the bike at this point. However I was pretty comfortable and was trying to take in as much as I could from my surrounding and try and enjoy the experience as hard as it was in my physical and mental state. Heading back down Main saw my parents and they waved and shouted a few things which I cannot recall. More familiar faces coming towards the transition and the sea of people surrounding the street was a calming and inspiring moment. I cannot barely recall my transition from the bike to run. It almost feels like I blacked out and next thing I remember I was running down Lakeshore drive.
This section of the run is a really big tease. Basically you run the first mile and half of the run on the same part of the course that you run the last mile and a half of the run. A quick glimpse of the finish line and telling to myself “see you in a few hours” and I was around the corner and heading towards Main. I was running at a pretty decent pace at this point and what I thought was going to be my race pace. However this only lasted 3 or 4 miles and fatigue kicked in. This fatigue looking back now was more due to lack of food than anything, but I knew I wasn’t going to walk. I kept on running, although at a pace that was over a minute slower than what I had planned.
Pounding the pavement on the East side of the lake is mentally difficult. Long sections of flat road with a couple of turns and a hill becomes strangely familiar quickly as this pattern repeats itself over and over again. This doesn’t get much better witnessing the poor souls that are walking at this point or worse yet are throwing up on the side of the road. However I tell myself must go on and try to ignore what I see around me and focus inwards. The run is where all the daemons inside you can poke their head up. Whatever you have hid inside your souls and tried to ignore will come to surface now. You quickly learn to roll with the punches and keep moving on. Observe your thoughts and let them go!
Of course an outside “help” makes me jump out of this state of mind. A friendly home owner on the side of the road is spraying runner with water to help them cool. It is not a hot day and this doesn’t really help. However before I could get the words of “no, thanks” out my mind mouth I was already soaked on one side of my body as well as one of my shoes. I didn’t think too much of this until about 2 miles from the turn around point in OK Falls. My left foot had started to be really uncomfortable under my toe and this was due to my wet shoe and sock. The large blister was feeling awful and I was really looking forward to the change of socks I had in my special needs bag in OK Falls. Heading down the hill I saw Mark on his bike and he was asking me how I felt and I told him pretty good. He said I was looking good and should keep up the face and was happy I wasn’t walking! Even up the hills I was running. I felt like if I started walking, it would be hard to run again.
Put on the fresh socks I had and started heading back up the hill out of OK Falls. The foot was not feeling any better and each step felt worse. However I knew as I was told and read over and over again that the halfway of the run is the halfway of Ironman race mentally. I couldn’t let a small pain in my foot get to me. This was when I started remembering was Saul had told me and recorded for me. Started to concentrate more on my breathing. I told myself over and over again that pain is temporary. It will subside. It might last a second, a minute, or an hour, but it will subside. Repeating these is what got me back into town. I am not going to lie, there where moments that I had goosebumps. I thought about the sacrifices, about the Saturdays and Sundays I got up at 7am and went out riding with an amazing and dedicated group of riders. The rides up the mountain while it was raining and snowing out. The times I went out and ran even though every single part of my body didn’t want to. The 30min runs after the 4 hour difficult rides and leaving the group that were heading out for coffee because I had to do a brick. I enjoyed all those and it was what got me to this point. I had tears in my eyes. I was glad it was dark. It would be odd seeing someone crying and running back through the city. Once I was in the city I knew the crowd would get me to the finish line. I was heading down the hill on Main towards the beach. I heard my name and noticed my parents and my dad trying to run beside me. He managed to run half a block and I said I see you soon and kept going. Around the corner and I hear my name again. Look and see Mike and he starts running with me. I was probably half a mile or so and he got me to Lakeshore Drive. I see the finish line on my right, however I had one mile to go.
I see Jenny and her family and wave. I was feeding off of the crowd’s energy. I was starting to pick up the pace. I hit the turn around and was running back. I could see it, I could feel it, I could smell it. I was getting tense and all I could think of was running faster and faster which at this point was no where close to a sprint. I saw Mark and he told me one of the best suggestions I could’ve ever heard. He said “look around and enjoy the crowd”. I was too tense and so focused on just running that I had forgot to enjoy the crowd. So I did I started looking to my left and then to my right and I saw all these cheerful people that had spend all day cheering for their mom, or dad, or son and daughter, or brother and sister, or just cheering for someone they didn’t know because they find it inspiring. It felt like I suddenly had more energy, it is hard to describe. I noticed it every time at the end of each race. This is why I race; this is why I am addicted. I started to sprint. I start to run from one side to the other side high five-ing the crowd and get through that finish line with my arms in the air. I did it. I am an Ironman. Over 14 hours of racing just flashes right before my eyes like it all happened in an instant!