||Ironman Canada 2005
Finally, the IM Canada race report is in! As any 1st time IM'er can appreciate, it has taken a little while to get all of this out of my head and down on paper so I apologize for the delay!
About 20 LA Tri Clubbers made the jaunt to the beautiful town of Penticton to participate in what is said to be the 2nd toughest IM in North America. Sadly, two of our club mates (Travis with a bike crash and Jonathan with a tuna can incident - yeah, we'll just leave it at that) were sidelined in the last weeks and plea as they may (A in skill set!) they were unable to negotiate permission to race. Kevin and I headed up with the hopes that the adrenalin of race day would keep our newly rehabbed knee injuries abay.
The 10 day weather forecast predicted a 30 - 60% chance of rain on race day and although I experienced storms driving from Vancouver, it was hot in Penticton itself all week as we trained. It made it difficult to prepare both mentally and physically (even what to wear) as you knew the storm was coming, yet you were training in Wildflower weather. The storm never manifested and, instead we awoke on race day to a beautiful, sunny morning. As Steve King said, "You know trouble lies ahead when you awake to such a beautiful, calm morning." He also later said there are several IM years that go down in the history books to be remembered. In Canada, '98 is one of them because of the record heat. 2005 has been added to the books. The calm, clear blue sky of the morning turned out to be a teaser for what lay ahead in the day: heat and unbelievable, tornado-like wind storms- fierce enough at times to even force the likes of top pros Simon Lessing and Chris Lieto to walk during the marathon!
Highlights from the day:
This year's race started with the largest number of athletes ever in IM history. Nearly 2300 athletes entered the perfect temperature water of Lake Okanagan and all but 3 exited in the allotted 2:20 time. It was truly a testament to the strong field that came to play in Penticton. The man who won the Iron Spirit award had twice before tried to conquer the waters and failed and this year, exited the water at 2:07. He went on the finish his first IM and truly showed what one can accomplish with a lot of hard work and perseverance. 100 shouts for the volunteer support out on the waters who did a tremendous job keeping athletes safe. The waters were very well manned, especially considering how packed it was and the frog men with their "thumbs up" made at least my swim all that more special. Now, for most, getting out with 2300 other athletes in the water is not that big of a deal. But, for me, coming in at not much more than 100 pounds, let's just say, there were a lot of athletes in the water that seemed, well, pretty big out there. And, unlike when a pack of women brawl in the waters, there are no exchanges of "sorry". It's an all out slug fest in IM. I've never personally swam a mass start and certainly never swam with so many men (IM is a 70:30 ratio). But, I have to say, despite the numerous "dunkings" and "bear hugs" as we neared each buoy, I had a good time fighting back. I loved that I could see the fish, the frog men, and the other swimmers. Okay, no one could see any buoys once we turned past the first boat because of the blinding sun. But, aside from that, the swim course was an awesome experience for me!
On an interesting note, while 400 less athletes started the race in 2004 than in 2005, only 2 more athletes finished in 2005. What transpired between the end of the swim and the remainder of the day is why they say every Ironman is unique - you just never now what is going to happen on race day!
After getting warmed in the T-tent, sun screened and double checking that I had everything for my ride, I headed out for the second part of my IM, still on a high for completing the swim. The day was already warm and the spectators were lined several deep along Main street. After riding flat for about 10 miles as you head out of town, you enter farm lands for a series of rollers and turns. Here came the first surprise of the day. Cyclists were lined up along the side of the road changing tires like you've never seen in a race before. Heck, this was getting better attendance than Brian Morel's 101 clinics! I personally passed at least 50 riders and 7 support vehicles in less than 3 miles. Stories later unfolded - the record was 7 flats but 4 and 5 was not unheard of; numerous pros dropped out because of lack of spares. Tacks purposefully thrown on the course were the culprit - a repeat from 2002. Was it a disgruntled local or a fellow athlete? It is a shame in either case that someone can be so petty.
Following the hills, the road flattens through farms and vineyards until you hit the first of two steep long climbs of the day. Richter Pass is a 6 mile climb, similar to Latigo on a warm, sunny day. As we headed out of Osoyoos into the climb, I was about to learn the advantages and disadvantages of being a small female in Ironman. Just before the climb, a man passed me and said "Are you ready to climb?" to which I responded with a look of despair that I what I really needed was to pee (sorry, but if you are going to read the report, you need to know the truth of these things!). He indicated I just needed to make it to the top where there would be a porta-potty. Yikes! Fortunately he was wrong and there was an aid station at the bottom of the hill. But, with every porta-potty comes a line. The men in line grew frustrated and started going behind the facility. But, being female, I chose to wait. Yes, perhaps an experienced IM would have gone on the fly. But, well...I'm a first timer and all about comfort! And, the 5 minutes added to my time (okay, several times during the day) was well worth the comfort of dry shorts to me! Back in the saddle as I climbed I was glad to learn I had at least one advantage of being a small female on climbs: I got a lot of support from spectators. It certainly helped (especially later in the day when the legs were not so fresh!)
Following the long climb is a series of "challenging" rollers that go on for about 30 miles. With the heat rising, and the beautiful views, I started to have flashbacks of Wildflower - only in high winds. Once you start climbing, there is nothing flat about this course. It is hill after hill...but, admittedly, with gorgeous colors. And, then...just as you get in the groove of flat roads once more, you turn to begin the "out and back" portion of the course.
Ah, the "out and back"...a 30km narrow gravel road that begins at a bee farm and has you ride on a hill just above from which you just came--out and back once more. It is a journey of survival...of feeling that you are going nowhere fast. And, then the winds came...and added to the feeling you really are never going to get anywhere...least your special needs bag...which is conveniently located just past the turn around mark. In most IM races, the special needs bag is located at the 1/2 mark. In this race, it is located at the 76 mile mark - just past the med tent. After you pass the bee farm, you start to wonder if it is a coincidence that the med tent is located on the same road. Are you allowed to call out "Epi pen" instead of "water"? The top pro finisher got stung as did I and about 20% of the field. Seriously, a lesson to all is if you know you are allergic to bees make sure you carry an Epi pen. You never know what is on a course and it would be sad to end your race because of an allergic reaction!
The winds had died down and so returning from the out and back was a much simpler journey than getting in. And, then comes the final climb. Now, the final climb is a bit unnerving because you know there is one final "big climb" that is next to a Yellow lake. But, since you have a lot of time out there for internal dialogue, and there are several false climbs prior to this climb, your mind starts to play tricks. The miles continue to click by and somehow you convince yourself that the course has been changed or it's not by the lake after all. As each "do-able" false climb passes, you convince yourself further that the course must have been changed because of the winds, or the little pond to the right must really be a lake and now all that is left is that hairpin descent...and then suddenly you hear a roar in the distance. There is no mistake: the "big one" is upon you. You know it's here because of the number of people lined up along the sides of the road, music playing, costumes, BBQs grilling. For me, it was a moment out of the tour de France. Spectators with pom poms and horns, in costumes, riding aside me, cheering me on. People singing "Go Jamie, Go Jamie". My legs were burning and it was all I could do to muster a small grin to let them know I appreciated the support but the encouragement was phenomenal and gave me the extra boost to crest the final hills.
And, then...the winds returned...and not like earlier in the days. (If you were a fast rider, you apparently encountered most of the E-ticket winds on the run.) These winds were out of control. Signs were being strewn across the road. Fences were down. And, every time a truck drove by, your heart skipped a beat (the roads are open to traffic and at this point in the course it is a one-lane each way main highway). There were 3 people ahead of me and in the entire descent, no one passed me! Two of the three went into the right side rail in the wind and the third dismounted her bike and walked down the hill. I went airborne several times and my only thoughts were "I wonder if I can protest my DQ if I cross the center line if my wheels are not touching ground?"I unclipped my left foot just in case my bike got too out of control and I played with tucking and rising, my hands positioned at the brakes - all just in case I needed to abort as I flew across the highway in the winds. But, I challenged the winds and managed to get up to 43 mph as I descended. At one point the road flattens and a man behind me came up and said "Wow, that was some ride you went on!" I thought "I'd rather have been watching someone else on that ride!"
The final descent brings you back into the outskirts of Penticton, by Skaha Lake. It was only there that you could digest the gravity of the winds. The resort beach was in a state of disarray. Rec boats were overturned. Beach towels were wrapped along the fences. Vacationers were chasing down flying blankets, clothes, and sails. The calm lake had turned into a choppy ocean and sand and trash was flying every which way. The roads are crowded with traffic so on the bike you have to navigate carefully. With the winds, it made for a tricky ride. But, as I sailed (with a tailwind by this point), all I could think was "I am riding in this wind!! Me, who is petrified of the winds am riding in this storm...whoooeee!!" The last few miles of the ride through town was a breeze and I came off the bike feeling strong and ready to go for the marathon.
Except one thing...my heart rate monitor went on the blitz in the high winds and was reading "00". No time, no HR. I tried fiddling with it and it went blank. No time, no heart rate. I got so involved with trying to fix it that I nearly forgot I was sitting in the T2 tent when I was supposed to be participating in a race! I finally gave up on fixing and resorted to Plan B- I was going to have to do some walking to control my heart rate - as otherwise I could get into trouble with my HR too high, and my knee still nursing my injury. I ran the first two miles but my body gave me no reading on how I felt. I just felt off, which is unusual because I usually brick really well. But, from the past, I also know my HR can get really high at the beginning of my brick...and that can translate to big trouble down the road. So, I decided to walk for a bit...to gain control of my HR. I took in the crowds, got some nutrition and enjoyed the walk. The support was tremendous.
About mile 5 I decided to run again but as soon as I went into a stride, my knee told me otherwise. It seized up and I immediately resorted back to Plan B. My decision: either walk which I knew I could do at a reasonable pace and ensure completing the IM or run as much as I could and risk my knee giving out, in which case I could find myself sidelined and not making it in. I reassessed my goals for the day - which was to complete the IM and to do it injury free. Having 6 weeks ago nearly given up the dream because of my knee I aimed for completing. Time was of no real value to me. I was enjoying every minute of the day - I didn't really care about my time. I had rocked my swim and bike. Now it was time to take in everything that the marathon had to offer. And, I did just that. I joined up with the "A train" - a group of Vancouverites who have each completed 8 IM's. They walk the marathon every year. How or why is still a mystery to me. After a mile or so, I was beckoned by another Vancouverite, an ultra runner who was completing his 8th IM and was having a bad day - his knee was on the edge and he had heard me say something positive about the day and asked me to come join him because he needed to hear "that boost again." We started conversing and somewhere between mile 7 and 9 made a pact to keep each others pace throughout the course.
The marathon went by without too many glitches. The course is an out and back through town, past Skaha Lake and some amazing homes. As evening falls, the setting is something to revel in. My legs held out and I only had a short bout of miscommunication with my body. I was unsure what it wanted, as I had been out much longer than predicted so I began the "3 shot" method - every aid station we took in a shot of water, gatorade, and chicken broth. It worked - I recovered and we were able to maintain our power pace. Other walkers joined our little pack off and on and we high-fived all the little kids along the route. It was unbelieveable how many local folks stayed out into the wee hours to cheer the back of the packers in. The winds picked up and we had to wear our sunglasses in the dark to keep sand from getting in our eyes. But, for the most part, it was a beautiful walk - one I could not have appreciated so much had I been running (not that I didn't want to run!) In the end, we ran the last two miles together to the finish line. My legs felt great, I felt great and I reveled in the end of my first Ironman.
I may not have gotten to run the marathon I trained and dreamed of. But, I got to swim and fight with the big boys, to ride the ride of a lifetime, have Lisa Bentley tell me "I rocked" and have a stranger named Tony thank me for pulling him in and being such an incredibly positive spark...These things were just a small portion of what made my incredible journey of the IM so worthwhile. Things that will always be cherished.
Every LA Tri clubber finished the race - some had awesome days and set PRs- others had to settle for just finishing. Hilary Biscay finished 10th in the F PRO with a 10:36! Wes and Chris posted impressive 11:17and 11:24s! George and Linda finished hand in hand and gave the crowd a little PDA at the line. And, in her 1st IM, Catherine Scola posted a super impressive 12:33 (36th C-rank!).
Congratulations to all: Dan, Joe, George, Linda, Brooklin, Catherine, Gil, Jesus, Mark, Kevin, Wes, Steve, Eddie, Colin, Hilary, Chris, Tim, Gary, Rob, and Ray (I hope I didn't leave anyone out!) On a personal note, thanks for all the support, the advice, the friendship...and for being a part of my priceless IM journey. This club rocks!