Not sure what kind of a race report this is going to be. It’s taken me just over 3 weeks to write it. I’m glad I waited though because I completely changed my mind about what I wanted to say and how I felt about everything.
I do know this – I learned a lot that day, experienced things that I realize now are new challenges to overcome, and re-affirmed my belief that things happen for a reason. They say if you learn even just one thing from a race, that’s still a success. So here we go…
To start, I really felt prepared for the race and of course our wedding after. Everything was in place for the wedding and it was going to be small anyway so I wasn’t even letting that interfere with my race focus. My training went well and I felt calm and ready. However, after arriving in Penticton Thursday night, there was a stream of things that I did that I know better not to do. I’ll get to that in a minute.
I woke up Friday to rain – first time I had ever seen that here in Penticton. Of course it was raining. It was my race curse! I didn’t let it get me down because quite frankly, I don’t do the heat well so I was hoping for cooler weather come race day. Friday’s registration went really smooth and there wasn’t a lot of athletes milling about the village. I checked out a few tents and then we went for a nice lunch at the Hooded Merganser – We decided not to go to the athletes dinner – despite that it is “mandatory”. This was a good thing for me. I know that from many of Marc’s races in the past that this is not something you want to do if you don’t want all the hype to get you worked up. Too many people talking about what their race strategies are can make you lose your focus. So we visited friends who were renting a house in Naramata Bench and it was a very relaxing evening.
Saturday morning, I went for a 20 minute run and felt great. Followed that up with a 15 minute spin on the bike to make sure everything was okay. Marc did the same and realized he needed to make some adjustments and then off we went to check our bikes in – where we noticed that there wasn’t a lot of room. They didn’t have that many bike racks and crammed as many bikes as they could together. I already had a premonition that this wouldn’t be good – but at least I didn’t have to set up a transition area. At this level, all your gear is in separate bags that volunteers give to you during transitions. That afternoon, we got our gear ready. I cross checked my transition list and had everything ready – even cut up my rice cakes (which later, discovered they were too big) and put them in my transition bags and special needs bags. There – ready to relax. No. No, not really. Fate wasn’t going to let that happen.
Now I’ve said before, I am not good company the day before a race, regardless of the distance. I prefer to keep myself isolated from people for good reason. Although I still felt calm and ready, I prefer to stick to a tried and true routine that I had finally mastered last year in order to stay focused, eat properly and in a timely matter, and get plenty of sleep. I do not subscribe to the “you don’t need much sleep the night before a race” myth. It doesn’t work for me. Just like filling up on pasta and meatballs the night before a race doesn’t work for me either. So here came mistake number one when Marc said “let’s have everyone over at our place to barbeque tonight!” I should have put my foot down, realizing that Marc hadn’t trained much and probably didn’t really care all that much about the race. I think he quickly forgot his first Ironman Ceour d’Alene back in 2006 when he couldn’t handle being around all the people we were staying with the night before the race and needed quiet time – and a quiet dinner. Well, I agreed. So we picked up marinated chicken breasts and peppers pre-stuffed with cooked brown and white rice. Both were loaded in spices by the way (I think you know where I’m getting with this). This is NOT what I learned to eat before a race. On top of that, we had to wait until 7pm for my cousin and her husband to get back from grocery shopping. Another big mistake. We should have had dinner between 3 and 4pm.
I was agitated that night and didn’t want to visit much. I had a hard time keeping up with the conversations going on because, frankly, all I wanted to do was chill out and go to bed. I wanted desperately to be left alone and was cursing myself for agreeing to visitors the night before a race. I never do that. NEVER! So I went to bed agitated after company left. Bed time wound up being 10pm rather than the 8pm I had originally wanted. My gut was bloated at that point from all the spice in the stuffed peppers and chicken. I drank water to hydrate and settle my tummy but that led to several pee breaks in the middle of the night. I tossed and turned – probably getting about 4 hours of total sleep.
Morning came and I put on my Betty Designs tri outfit. Despite the lack of sleep, I felt mentally good. I even felt a little giddy. I made myself 2 Eggos while sipping on Skratch Labs when after my third bite, I hacked. No – didn’t throw up – just gagged. Marc said “what was that?” and started laughing. I laughed as well and said “I just gagged!!” Well, after doing that about three more times, I decided that liquid calories might have to do. So I sipped on that as we walked over to get body marked and into transition. I was listening to ACDC – “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If you want to rock and roll)” on my ipod and was entertaining Marc with my fancy dance moves and singing (not! lol). A nice volunteer pumped up our bike tires and away we went for one more bathroom break and get into our wetsuits.
I was still feeling bloated and uncomfortable but my mind was calm. I calmly walked over the timing mat an onto the beach. Marc was already in his wave start. Everyone was calm and relaxed – despite the fact that the water was choppy! Well, accomplishment number one. The choppy waters didn’t bother me and my swim went really well. There was no anxiety! First time ever! Despite swallowing water and trying to fling my arms over the waves, I was passing people in the wave group ahead of me. My trunk rotations were awesome. Coming back to the beach, I was gliding swiftly to the shore thanks to the current. I got out of the water two minutes slower than Marc at 1:32 – walked up the exit, pointed at two wetsuit strippers and headed directly toward them like I had done this a billion times. I got my T1 bag and headed to the change tent. I didn’t ask for help but I think now I should have. Too late now. I made it out the other side of the tent with my Oakley’s on, helmet on, gloves on and grabbed my bike – knocking over the woman’s bike next to me of course (remember my premonition). No time to pick it up, I shouted at a volunteer and he looked after her bike. I felt bad but I had a 180km bike to conquer. I mounted, passed my cousin and our wedding photographer, Marc’s dad and step mom, and I was off!
This was the beginning of the end for me. After 10 minutes I tried to eat my rice cake and gagged again. So I drank my sports drink instead thinking I just needed to give myself some more time. Unfortunately, this continued for the next 40km. I tried to relax, taking in the amazing scenery, and just stay focused. I knew that an 11km climb was coming soon and realized I needed something in me to be able to keep going. I started grabbing gels from the volunteers. Those were forced down. I grabbed a banana by accident. Tried to eat that and almost threw up. I kept drinking water and taking salt pills but I was rapidly running out of fuel since I couldn’t swallow anything. Right when I started feeling better so I could eat, I picked up speed. That was a mistake. Trying to go fast and gobble down much needed calories is a no-no and I knew better but I wasn’t thinking. Then it came – Richter’s Pass. Thankfully I knew how long it was after talking to Marc and his friend Andrew so I didn’t feel defeated at 6km and there was still a big climb in front of me. But it was tough. I did make it but after that, I had 5 rollers to make it through before special needs and at this point, I knew I was done. I couldn’t even get over 15km on the flats. Then I realized that hours had gone by before I had gone to the bathroom. I sat up in the saddle – but nothing. I was dehydrated and out of calories to burn. Looking at my watch, I thought if I could at least make it to special needs at 120km, I might be able to push myself another 60. But the reality was, folks, logic stepped in and shut me down. I was going to end up in the med tent after the bike. I had a pounding headache, couldn’t keep food down, was dehydrated and even though my legs felt fine, I knew I wasn’t fine. I packed it in at 100km, knowing full well that even if I did make bike cut off, it would be a narrow margin and I might not make the 41km run after. At the aid station, I pulled over and they called the sag wagon.
I didn’t feel disappointed – even though I do now. But doing the math, I knew I probably wouldn’t have made it anyway. I just kept getting slower and slower. The sag wagon picked up three more people – and I found out later a lot of people packed it in early that day – but I knew that despite not training, Marc was too stubborn to do that. We passed him on the course and he looked beat up. I thought if I get back to the bike dismount in time and he sees that I didn’t make it, he might give up. Right.
They wouldn’t let me in to get my gear until 5:30pm – had an hour and a half to wait, despite the fact I already had my bike. I found my friends and family and hobbled over to them with my bike and in my bike shoes and told them my story. We saw Marc coming in an hour before bike cut off. I would have been an hour behind him if not more so I did make the right, but tough, decision. At that point, I was telling everyone that I wouldn’t do this race again. I had decided that I realized my limits out there and that was okay. Of course, writing this now, I have changed my mind. I managed to do a lot of research and thinking about what went wrong and I now definitely want to do this again – but that will be in another blog. I promised Marc we would take next year off – but I will definitely do a half and take what I learned from this day into my half next year and get another PR. Maybe even start coming in FIRST in my age group since I made it to third twice this year in the sprint distance!
Back to my story. Marc, of course, headed out on the run despite seeing that I did pack it in. His friend biked out to him on the course and told him what happened to me and that made Marc want to try even harder to finish even though the last time he ran was probably a year ago. He told me later it was because he knew I worked so hard for this race and he had barely trained and that it was just unfair that my body let me down. So he felt it was up to him to finish and give me his medal. I managed to shower, eat with my friends and head back out onto the course when we heard that Marc hit the turn around point at 8:48pm and we found out his special needs bag had gone missing. Remember at the beginning I said that I re-affirmed my belief that things happen for a reason? Well, I knew Marc needed to see someone he knew. It was going to be dark and lonely out there. Last year his son headed out to find him. I knew that I was still in decent enough shape to hike back as far as I needed to in order to find him and keep him going. So I told his family and mine what I was going to do and headed out.
As I trekked along, the participants became fewer. The wind picked up and I had to hold my hat and lean into it to keep going. I passed several aid stations. The volunteers were still encouraging whoever was left. They never wavered and packed up until they knew the last person had passed them. So proud of those people! That encouraged me to keep going. Then it started to rain and I saw lighting off in the distance. I kept thinking, poor Marc. He didn’t have his special needs food and clothing to keep warm. I had to find him. I saw an ambulance heading the other way and I felt sick. Ahead of me were three girls trying to find their friend on the course so I kept following them. At 8km I saw two volunteers biking back with flashing lights. “How many more people are out there, ” I asked.
“Just two” they responded.
I thought I was going to be sick. Maybe Marc was in that ambulance? Maybe they had already brought him to the med tent. Then I saw the three girls and their friend heading back to the finish. Behind them was a figure that looked like a man, power walking in a great big t-shirt and a glow stick around his neck. It was Marc. I’ve never felt so relieved. He looked at me with a big grin and said “Hi Sweetie! I better book it if I’m going to make it!”. He told me a volunteer gave him his t-shirt to stay warm. (another reason why Penticton volunteers rock!) We walked/ran back together. I texted my family that I had found Marc. He was the last one left at that moment but eventually dug deep and passed the woman in front of him in the last 2km – so he was second last. Now you might think that being one of the last finishers was a horrible experience but it was so cool! Nobody had any idea how little he trained and he was going to finish this race, even if he didn’t make the cut off.
The Challenge Pen finish chute was amazing. I got to run with Marc over the finish line. They had a conga line going right in the finisher’s chute! As we ran through, I realized that if I hadn’t decided that I couldn’t finish, I wouldn’t have been there for Marc. I wouldn’t have trekked back to find him and encourage him to the finish line and I wouldn’t have been able to cross with him. Things happen for a reason. I had wanted badly for us to finish this race together and although we didn’t technically finish, we both crossed that finish line together. The best part was that Challenge Penticton let him have a finisher’s medal and t’shirt. The Challenge Penticton folks rock. They knew that despite coming in after the cut off that he still did the full race (he was about 20 minutes past midnight). Marc turned around and gave me his medal – but I insisted he wear it and they let me put it over his head in the finisher’s area.
Marc still wound up in the med tent for about 10 minutes. I then hauled him back to the hotel room. He showered – we went to bed – and the next day moved on to the next event, getting married.
As for me, well, like I said, I changed my mind about giving up on an iron distance race. I am not quitting. Quitting would be easy. No, I’m going to take what I learned and do battle in 2015. Maybe Challenge Pen or maybe back to Ceour d’Alene where it all started for Marc and I. The gagging? It shocked me since I had never experienced it before. But I found out after I had some time to do some research that it was called “gag reflex” and was due to a combination of anxiety and excessive exercise. It is definitely not a rare occurrence. A friend of mine said she knew exactly what I was going through. It happened to her every time before a skating competition – but of course she said she could finish because she knew it was only a few minutes so she could get through that with little calories. I didn’t think I was feeling anxious but seriously, even the most seasoned pros have a little bit of race day anxiety. I just need to know how to control it. I also need to control my speed. I was going way too fast once I started feeling better and therefore had trouble now digesting food.
What a science this sport is!
So that’s it. My story is not ending and this blog will continue. This was just a first race that taught me things – things I can work on for the next one – and maybe I had to stop to help Marc. Plus, I conquered my fear of open water and battled tough waves to nail an awesome swim. I also made it up Richter’s Pass so I know what to expect next time. So I didn’t fail. I’m still pursuing sub 17. If Sister Maddonna can do this at 80, I still have time to work on my goal!