Thursday, August 30, 2007

Race Day Part 1

The morning in the house was uneventful. Had breakfast and tea and packed the last few items in my special needs bag then we were off the join the queue to get bodymarked and into transition.

We had to wait a bit but as we were there relatively early we didn't face the chaos that later people did. Leah waited an hour and finally just found a pen and marked herself.
I pumped up my tires, put my water bottles on my bike and stood around wondering "now what?" It was too early to get into my wetsuit and I didn’t want to bug my friends by chattering at them so I wandered around transition taking in the sights. It was interesting watching people dealing with nerves in different ways - some chattering, some rearranging their gear, lots of people on their iPods.

Finally, it was getting close to race time. I donned my wetsuit, scarfed back my first gel of the day and headed out with Teresa and Stan to the beach. We wanted a clear swim so went way, waaaay to the far side of the beach as that would get us out of the crush of people (I had to laugh when I saw the overhead swim start photo as the densest crowd on the beach was the West side where we were!).
Eagle-eyed Andrew Louie managed to spot us and get a photo.

The pros started, then we sang “O Canada” and we were blasted with bad ‘80’s music until the cannon went off.

The Swim

My plan for the swim start had been to wait out the crowd and then go in so I wouldn’t be dealing with a crazy pack of people. When the gun went I started walking in slowly and let everyone get ahead of me. Luckily it's a shallow beach so I could walk for almost two minutes. I finally got bored of walking and got in and started to swim.

For the whole first leg of the swim (1,612m) I either had clear water or just one person in front of me that I could draft off. Not at all what I was expecting! This seemed to take forever but somehow when I started to see weeds and the sandy lake bottom that meant I was getting to the first turn it felt like I'd got there in no time. After the turn I was a bit closer to the rest of the pack but still on the edge then somehow, when I turned to do the return leg, I got right in the thick of things. By this point the pack had thinned out so it was more about negotiating my way through than it was about avoiding getting battered.

Near the end of the swim I did get clocked in the face, some guy was pushing me off my line and his elbow connected with my cheekbone. It didn’t hurt too much and I didn't mind as I felt that I had earned my place as an Ironman swimmer now that I’d taken a hit in the water.

The exit was fun, after almost an hour and a half of quiet swimming we came out to cheering crowds on the beach. As I stood up I spotted friends of mine and grinned and waved to them.
I checked my time and was thrilled I’d done the swim in 1:22. I knew I could do that time under good conditions but had been unsure of how I’d deal with nerves the crowding so I'd planned on 1:30.

The wetsuit strippers were hilarious. I wasn’t given a chance to get my suit down very far, they pushed my hands out of the way, yanked it down, knocked me over and whipped it off. It was dizzying, it happened so fast.

I had a fairly slow transition as I got changed, made a pit stop and stopped by the sunscreen ladies (I came out with one very white leg) before finding my bike and heading out.

The Ride

I'd been so afraid of the swim that I decided if I could survive that the rest of the race would be “gravy”. After my great swim, this meant I left T1 in an excellent state of mind.
The T1 exit was my first taste of the IMC experience. Both sides of the road were jammed with people crushed up against the fence trying to get a glimpse of their friends. Someone from my club managed to get my attention over the general din and waved as I headed out. The crowd thinned as I headed South on Main St. but there were still people every ten meters or so.

A quick jog onto to South Main and I was getting excited as I knew my Mum and sister would be waiting for me just before Skaha Lake. I saw them when I was a block away and waved and yelled so they’d see me.

As South Main became Lakeside Road there was a long line of cyclists riding beside the lake as far as I could see.

At this point it was impossible to stay out of the draft zone, there were so many cyclists. Most people were good and avoided blatant drafting but I did see two women riding side by side chatting for a good 15 minutes (they were wearing matching jerseys so it was really obvious). I was pleasantly surprised at the high level of bike courtesy, at some Olympic tris I’ve done the riders have been fairly rude and refused to give way or passed on the inside with very little space. Names on the race bibs helped too – when “On your left” didn’t work “MAXWELL!! On your left” was quite effective.

The first real hill of the course was Mclean Creek Rd and everything bunched up here. It was difficult to pass without crossing the centre line but I got through the crowd and to the top. The road went by various horse farms and there were few crowds and no traffic, it was very pastoral, quiet and pretty. The ride down to OK Falls is on a pretty rough road and it was littered with various items that had launched off bikes: gels, tubes, bottles, CO2 canisters, etc. At one corner there were five of the yellow splash-guard thingies from the Profile Design water bottles.

I made down the hill through the slalom course of lost bike bits in one piece and into the crowds at OK Falls. The whole ride was like this, long stretches of quiet beauty then into the high energy of frenetic crowds.

The ride down to and through Olive and Osoyoos was great – mostly flat with a strong tailwind. The only real excitement here was when I was stung by a very angry wasp – the sucker did not want to let go of my arm. It hurt like crazy but was a minor issue over all.

Through Osoyoos I started to get excited, or rather more excited (I was having a fun day). As I neared the Husky Station I felt like a kid on Christmas morning. I turned the hairpin bend, headed northwards and saw the hill up Richter pass – I got to go up the hill!!!!! It was at this point I realized I probably need some serious psychiatric attention!

Seriously though, I'm not a great cyclist on the flat but I'm much stronger, compared to others my speed, going up hills than on the flat and just this year I discovered the joys of screaming downhill at top speed, so hills are fun for me. Richter would be my first time on the ride to move up a few places.

I got into a good spin and passed person after person on the way up. I saw Karen and George, who’d been at the July training camp with me, and said hi and wished them luck. There was a pull out for cars about two thirds of the way up and side of the road was full of cheering fans. It was at this point that I discovered the crowds really like athletes who were smiling – I was having fun anyway so I was smiling to start with but by the time I passed them I was grinning ear to ear.

You don’t get to descend right away with Richter, you get a bit of a down then another hill before the serious downhill starts. I couldn’t get to that descent fast enough! On the down I got as aero as I could and thought fast thoughts. I couldn't help myself and had to yell "Yipeeee!" As soon as I was at a sane speed again I whipped through the options on my bike computer to see how fast I’d got. Max speed of 75.42km/h! New record for me.

After Richter there are a series of rolling hills, depending on who's counting there are 7-9 of them. They were big enough to slow people down on the upside and pick up some speed coasting down, my kind of riding so this was fun. Along here I caught up with Teresa, who I'd done most of my long training rides and runs with. We leapfrogged and bit and caught up on each other's races while doing so – 15 second conversations as one of us passed the other.

Nearing Cawston it flattened out and the wind picked up a bit. The only part of the course I hadn’t done was the Cawston out and back so this was the only bit I was unprepared for. The out was fine, largely because we had a strong tailwind. My special needs bag was actually there at the special needs pick up so I got to replace the potatoes I’d lost when while descending Richter. (I’ll give you my nutrition details later so I don't bore those of you who aren't interested.)

I took what I needed from my special needs then headed back. The tailwind that had pushed me out was now a brutal headwind. Added to this was the fact that the ride back was largely an ascent, so it wasn't particularly fun. My speed dropped dramatically and it was an effort to keep my heart rate down and my spirits up. I did pass a few people and tried to obey the drafting laws while getting the maximum advantage in passing (I rode like my Dad drives, get right to someone’s back wheel before pulling out to pass). Hopefully I managed to stay within the rules!

We turned off the out and back road onto Highway 3A. The wind dropped for a bit but then slammed into us when we reached Olalla. Again, it was a grind and it was sooo tempting to just jump on someone’s back wheel and draft. I didn't, however. I couldn't pass anyone so I got little respite from the wind. I've read a few race reports from pros and very good age groupers who all seemed to struggle with the wind so felt much better about how I did after the race.

As we neared Yellow Lake Hill I got excited again, not just because of the hill (I really do need help!) but because my Mum and sister would be there. I saw them at the base before they saw me, my sister started jumping up and down and yelling and cheering, which is uncharacteristic for but very cool to see. My Mum was my race photographer (now that her pre-race sherpa duties were done) and got a couple of good pictures here (see left).

I got into easy gears, kept my cadence high and attacked the hill. Someone from my club was there and cheering too. Now I was smiling and passing people and the crowd seemed to like that, which gave me a huge boost and really helped push me up the hill.

At the top the road along the lakes was flat and, best of all, sheltered from the wind, so I got into my aero bars and finally managed to spin easy and get up a good speed. There was a bit of a descent, another small climb then a much more fun descent (max speed approx 70km/h) then the final real climb of the race. There were quite a few people here to cheer so lots of positive energy to help me up.

After this, a long gently winding downhill then left on Highway 97, at which point we could see Penticton. Yay!

Once into town the crowds gradually got bigger and crazier. I could see a one of the male pros (not idea which one) racing to the finish line, which was very cool. What a feeling to think that I was in the same race as him, even if I was many, many hours behind.

A quick dismount at transition and then I gave my bike away to a volunteer. Carol, a friend of Teresa’s who was volunteering in bike transition, saw me and yelled encouragement.

I grabbed my bike to run bag and boogied to the change tent – I could not wait to get my bike shoes OFF! A guy in front of me was more eager than I was, he took his shoes off as soon as he gave away his bike then ran through transition barefoot.

In the change tent a volunteer attached herself to me and helped me get my gear on, which was very cool but a little odd (I'm used to doing this sort of thing myself!). I stopped at the sunscreen ladies to get greased up then headed out for the marathon.

The Run (cue foreboding music!)

I've had it drilled into my head over and over that Ironman is all about the run. You can set a world record on the bike or the swim but if you tire yourself and blow up on the run after it's all for naught.

I spent the ride trying to keep my HR within reasonable limits and to stay fueled and hydrated. I'd run after every long ride all year so I was hoping I was prepared. I'd watched the runners exiting T2 last year and had tried to ready myself for the pain I’d be feeling as I started out on the run. I knew it would be hard and painful but I would tough it out!

I exited T2 and waited for the pain to hit. My legs were stiff and a tired but I could run. Yet again the crowd's cheering gave me such a boost that I felt like I had a tailwind pushing me along.

As I turned down Westminster to do the out and back on Lakeshore Drive, Clayton saw me and ran beside me, heaping on the encouragement and praise. Going down Lakeshore I was passed by several of the pro men heading in for the finish – wow they were running fast!

Andrew Louie was on Lakeshore and got a bunch of shots of me.

I finished the loop, went back past Clayton on Westminster and turned up Main to the cheering of Colleen and Carol, I could hear the Carol for about a block!

As the crowd thinned I spotted a couple of volunteers and slowed to ask them if the top woman had come in yet. That obviously wasn't the question they were expecting, I guess it was unusual for athletes to be interested in what was up with the top racers. They told me no, there hadn't been a woman finisher yet. This was very cool as I’d get to see the top women in their final push! Shortly after I saw Lisa Bentley bombing down Main Street, I’m a big fan so I yelled and cheered (she won, if you're interested).

I kept seeing people I knew on the run course, which was fun. Again, as I headed towards Lee Ave I kept watch for my Mum and sister and yelled and waved when I saw them.

The run was very cool as it's one big out and back and I got to see almost all the competitors. 15 people from my club were racing plus I a few friends from out of the club and various people I'd met through training so there were a lot of people to keep my eye out for. I knew Jean-Yves wanted to hit 10:30 so I was nervously eying my watch and looking for him. When I saw him it was 9.5 hours into the race and I was 1 hour into my run so I did the math and figured he'd hit his goal no problem. Yay!

After that I lost my ability to do math and estimate finish times but as I saw each of my friends running towards me I cheered and waved and asked them if they were having fun. When I spotted Joanne I bellowed out her name and waved like crazy. Jae Wan ran to the middle of the road so we could high five. Everyone from my club seemed to be running well and looked like they were having a good day. Although some of them might have been smiling because I was acting like such a nut!

The locals who live along Lakeside/Eastside Road are essentially blocked in for the day of the race so many of them make the best of it and pull out couches and chairs to watch the race and have mini block parties. As on the bike, if I smiled I got bigger cheers so, as I'm a sucker for attention and I was having a great day, I grinned ear to ear most of the way.

At Skaha Estates I stuck to the plan and walked up the hill. A few people passed me on the way up but I gained it back on the flat/downhill, however at this point it wasn't about passing people anymore, it was about keeping my pace going and my heart rate down. Terri, who'd trained with LETC in 2005, and I played leap frog for a while, to the point that she turned it into a game of tag. I'm pretty competitive so it was hard not to chase her down when started this!

We ran down into OK Falls to the turn around and special needs pick up. I grabbed my bag, fished out my long-sleeved shirt (the weather was cooling off plus I didn't want to lose the shirt) but left the peanut butter sandwich and gum drops. I high-fived Teresa's husband and her friend Neal then headed back up the hill I'd just descended to start my return leg.

On the run in we'd had a tailwind and now I had to face it head on. While I find headwinds on the bike soul-sucking, on the run they don't bug me so much but I was still concerned. Up the backside of Skaha Estates hill I walked and took the opportunity to chat with people. One guy was dying from sore knees and was absolutely thrilled when I offered him Ibuprofen.
I saw Teresa and Bronwyn and a few other friends and cheered and waved and asked about their races, everyone was still having a good time.

Now it was just a matter of going from aid station to aid station (a friend described the marathon as“26 picnics") and sucking back chicken broth, flat Pepsi, Gatorade and the occasional gel. I walked the aid stations, partly for a rest and partly so I wouldn't be wearing the soup. At the aid station at mile 20 I caught up with Joanne's uncle and walked with him and chatted for a bit.
As I came to the end of the lake it really started to feel like the home stretch. At the next aid station I spotted Andrew, one of the club coaches, and he gave me a hug and ran with me for a bit. My Mum and sister were just down the block so my Mum got a great photo of Andrew and I running together. I yelled something incomprehensible but happy to my family and coach and kept going.

The next stretch was a gentle but long rise so it was a matter of watching my HR and adjusting my pace accordingly. Once the road flattened out I upped the pace a bit. At the 23 mile mark I checked my watch and saw it was 7:37pm. I thought about trying to break 13 hours but knew there was no way I could do 5km (3 miles is approx 5km) in 23 minutes. I totally forgot that I set all my watches five minutes fast because I'm late for everything so I actually had 28 minutes. I decided not to go for it as I didn’t want to bonk right at the end then changed my mind and figured what the heck, might as well go for the glory!

The crowds kept getting thicker and I thought they were just cheering because I was running strong, but it was because the 13 hour mark was approaching. When I turned onto Lakeshore Drive for the final out and back Mike Reily was whipping the crowd into a frenzy to cheer on people to break 13. I came around the corner onto Lakeshore going fast and smiling so got a great cheer. The energy was unbelievable. I saw my sister on the other side of the road and waved and told her to stay there – she was going to cross the finish line with me. (Not really suere where she was going to go but I was almost 13 hours into IM so I can be forgiven for not making sense!)

I skipped the last aid station, made the 180 turn and headed back to the finish. At this point I figured I was going to go for it for sure. I saw my sister and bellowed “We're going to break thirteen!!!” She took off like a rocket and I had to tell her to slow down!

I was bombing down the finishers' chute and apparently Mike Reily was yelling my name and getting the crowd to cheer me on to the finish, I didn't hear him as all I was aware of was the finish line and my sister. I grabbed her hand and lifted it in the air as we crossed the line. I didn't break 13, I missed it by three seconds and my final time was 13:00:02, but I could care less as the finish was the most spectacular moment I've ever experienced.

I figured I’d do the run somewhere around 5 hours, anything under that would make me happy.

My run split was 4:31:18. That surprised me a lot.

I also had a negative split on the run, I was about 8 minutes faster on the return.

To sum up, the day was fantastic, I had almost everything go right – perfect weather (cool and overcast), a clear swim, no mechanical issues on the bike, good nutrition and hydration and no major physical issues. Having my family there was so very cool and talking to my Dad after the race was great as he'd been watching it all online and was telling me all my stats.

Everything I'd heard about the volunteers, locals and crowds being fantastic turned out to be an understatement. I'd love to do the race again but I don't know if I'll be able to match this – either in terms of my performance or in terms of how incredible the day was.


Just so the gods didn't get jealous, however, it wasn't a pristinely perfect 24 hours. About 3 hours after the race my body did a Cleo. When I was a kid we had an ill-tempered and mostly insane siamese cat named Cleo. When we came back from a one or two week family vacation, she'd be all over us, purring and rubbing against against us, insisting on sitting our laps or twining between our legs as we tried to unpack. A few hours after we'd returned, however, she'd remember that we had abandoned her and she would savage whoever she was closest to (usually me).

At about eleven that night I lost the ability to stand and my entire GI tract went into serious distress (I felt like the Pepto Bismol jingle was all about me). My body was MAD at me, that's for sure. My Mum was ready to take me to emergency but Teresa is a marathon veteran (she's done 14) and knew what to do. I spent most of the night on the spinning bathroom floor and didn't really sleep so I was quite out of it for most of Monday.

T'was the Week Before Ironman ...

I'd spent vast amounts of time preparing for IM, not just physically but mentally – picturing the swim start and the crowding there, mapping the transitions, visualizing the bike course, planning the run course, etc.

I had also steeled myself for the week prior being totally insane – crowds and lines and nervous athletes everywhere. I was steeling myself to be brave and trust my plan and not be tempted to change nutrition/strategy/tapering based on urgings from the hordes of crazy iron people.

In thinking through the pre-week craziness I forgot to take into account that 1) I'd arranged to stay in a house well out of town and 2) I was going from working full time and having a crazy workout sched to only having an hour or two of scheduled anything per day. Life in the Penticton the week prior was very, very quiet.

Mum caught a beautiful sunset from the porch.

I went a little nuts with all the spare time and took up pacing as a new hobby. I kept trying to sit down then realize I was wearing a path in the kitchen tiles with no recollection of ever having left the couch. Next time I’ll bring a sudoku book or start on my macramé a little early!

Laying out the items for my gear bags could have taken up some of my time but that made me nervous and it took quite a while to commit to it. When I finally was done, pulling the drawstring closed on the bags felt terribly final and quite intimidating.

My Mum came in town for the weekend so it was fun taking her into transition the day before (they let people bring in their "sherpas") and showing her how it all worked. Walking her through helped keep me calm and forced me to actually visualize my route for race day.
Then it was an early pasta dinner, an early night and, strangely, my best sleep of the whole week.

Saturday, August 18, 2007


So the IMC bib numbers were released this past week - makes it all feel very real and very close. It also reassued my paranoia that I'd somehow messed up my registration or accidentally withdrawn.

The past week has been nuts. In a month I've gone from a 25 hour workout week (the training camp) to 8.5 hours this week. I am wired, strung out, have no attention span, no short term memory and am a walking disaster and a complete gong show. I feel like I've been living on a diet of triple shot espressos laced with pseudo-ephedrine. I managed to leave a bike wheel in a liquor store - considering that I'm not drinking at the moment that's a fairly impressive acheivement.

Who knew having this much energy would be this exhausting.

I have the okay from Alan to put in some intensity work this weekend so I can burn off some of the excess.

I'm sure some of this is nerves but I am looking forward to Ironman. Sometime in the past couple of months the dread I was feeling has dissipated, at the training camp I realized that it might actually be fun. I think that once I get through the first km of the swim it'll be great, and I know I can survive the swim.

I feel like a kid in the week before Christmas - how many sleeps left??

Monday, August 13, 2007

Someone at N A Sports Has a Sense of Humour! Part 2

The athlete's guide is now posted on the IMC website. I took a quick scan through and came across the following very useful piece of advice on potential medical hazards:

"Trauma - Try to avoid it."

Never would have thought of that on my own!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Someone at N A Sports Has a Sense of Humour!

In my inbox today I had a message with the subject line: "SIMC WIthdrawal 2007 Notification."

I think my heart stopped beating for a full minute. Withdrawal Notification? Yea Gods, did I accidentally push a wrong button somewhere and take myself out of the race? If you check to see if your name is on the Participant List more than 50 times are you automatically out of the race as you're clearly too much of a freak for them be associated with?


Turns out it was benign (mostly):

"Dear Subaru Ironman Canada Participants,

We will be assigning race numbers to the 2007 Subaru Ironman Canada on Friday, August 10. If you are not racing and do NOT wish to have a race number assigned, please let us know by hitting reply to this email (leaving the subject line intact) on or before Friday, August 10. Be sure to include your name in the body of the email. As per our entry policy, the refund deadline has passed and you will not be entitled to a refund nor do we allow rollovers to another year.

If you have any other inquiries, please do not use the “reply” function to this email and instead send a new email us at and be sure to include the subject of your inquiry in the subject field as it will help us route your inquiry and expedite the response.

Jane GainsforthN A Sports, Inc."

I laughed at myself then forwarded the N A Sports email to Teresa with a note about my reaction so she could laugh at me too. I think I forwarded it. I didn't reply, did I? [insert hold music while I go and check my email.] Yes, I forwarded it!

I wonder how many of the 2,800 recipients of this email had the same reaction as me? Must be interesting to have to power to cause close to three thousand panic attacks with one email.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

What, You Have to Kick?

I swam in the pool today for the first time in several weeks. After about 12 straight sessions in open water wearing a wetsuit, this was a rude awakening. I had to kick! My legs didn't just happily float along with no effort required from me, I had to DO something with them! How absolutely horrifying.

I had also started to feel somewhat muscular while swimming in my wetsuit. I had lots of great swims in Okanagan lake, Sasamat lake and the ocean and I was feeling strong, and toned, and even (don't laugh) a little brawny. Turns out that 3mm of neoprene can give you delusions of grandeur. Serious ones. Being in the pool reminded me that I have not, in fact, added any muscle mass. I still felt strong but my arms felt more like chopsticks than an imposing set of pipes! It's actually surprising that I go anywhere in the water considering the twigs I'm using to keep me moving.

Aside from a little bit of humility, it was a great swim. Being in the pool isn't the most exciting thing in the world but change keeps things interesting and putting in a structured workout in the water felt good.