I got to hear those sweet, sweet words on July 24th, 2016 after completing a really long day on the Ironman Canada course in Whistler, BC. Huzzah!!!!!!
It’s been a while since I’ve posted…as the race approached (from about 3 months out), I found myself getting quieter and quieter. I didn’t want to say too much about my training out loud – but I’m now finding it hard to articulate why…I think part was fear, part was doubt, and part was disbelief that I was actually going to go through with this crazy adventure. If I wrote about it, somehow it would be real. Silly, right?
Let’s see if I can capture the last little while in a few words and a few more pictures…
The Lead Up
The last few months of training went well. Volume went way up, with many long bike rides and an endurance camp that had us covering 2km of swim, 38 km of run, and 318 km of bike over 4 days when we were a month out from IM Canada. That volume weekend included the windiest gran fondo imaginable, with the last 50km being uphill and into the wind (and not in the way our parents tell us they used to walk uphill barefoot in the snow uphill both ways to get to and from school each day)
Before that, we completed a 5 hr ride on the computrainer, followed by the Calgary Half Marathon the next morning on tired legs.
(that computrain ride was so long our coach showed up with a pillow so she could take a nap while we rode)
We also warmed up for IM Canada with an Olympic distance race at Wasa Lake, where we all had personal bests and lots of fun.
And before we knew it, we were tapering and getting ready to head to Whistler…
We drove over 2 days, arriving on Wednesday evening after a gloomy and daunting jaunt through the back roads of BC. Our condo turned out to be across the street from T2, the finish line, and the Olympic Plaza (where the expo and briefing happened), which was fantastic! We could easily attend all the event hoopla (much to the detriment of my credit card after coming out in the gear tent…3 times), or retreat away from all the energy into what we called our “bubble”.
On Thursday morning our helmets went on for breakfast and for practicing tire changes. I know, it’s silly – but it works for us! There was much rejoicing as we refreshed our memories about how to change a tire (we brought a spare one to practice with), and a decreased amount of swearing the more we did it.
We messed around with our gear (since neither of us really knew what we were doing, how to pack things up, or what we should be packing), checked in, got our bracelets, beer (there was beer in our race package), backpacks, and wandered around Whistler Village.
Friday brought more of the same puttering and hanging out in the bubble, with a short bike ride and a practice swim in a windy and choppy lake during the day, and a dinner that evening with our coach and support crew. Nerves were in full swing at this point, but we still managed to enjoy our time, and our coach gave us each a card and a note of encouragement.
Saturday we finished packing up our bike-to-run bags and our special needs bags (I packed WAAAAAAY too much in my special needs bags – live and learn). We dropped off our bikes, our bags, and retreated back into the bubble. I cooked us supper that night (which was also my breakfast the next morning), and we were off to bed early.
My alarm was set for 3:45am, but I was wide awake at 3:24am so I got up and started to get ready. I like to give myself lots of time to have breakfast and get myself together so that I don’t feel rushed. I knew that it would be a really long day, and I wanted to start it off without any more stress than was already there! Coaches Shannon and Candice had volunteered for body marking, so we found them as soon as we wandered over at 4:50am (it was just across the street from where we were staying, so we didn’t have far to go). Shannon had been practicing drawing flowers and other designs, so we were well decorated. While I had been nervous in the days leading up, this morning I was cool, calm, and collected. I trusted my training, the taper, and that I had done enough work to finish what I was going to start. I felt solid, and when coach Shannon asked me how I was doing, I replied with a smile: “I got this”.
We dropped our food into our T2/special needs bags (there couldn’t be ANY food left on the bikes or in the bags overnight, as bears are very present in Whistler), and then loaded onto the bus that would be taking us to the lake.
That bus ride was surreal. I’ve been on several different bus rides that would drop us at lakes to begin a race, but this was THE bus ride. This was the bus ride we had been working towards, the reason there had been so many early mornings, so many early evenings, so many long training days, and so much given to be there that morning. It’s funny – we started this journey together 6 years ago with our first sprint triathlon – and here we were, on the bus, on our way to the swim start of IM Canada. My heart was full, and I was so grateful to be on this journey with these amazing friends and training partners.
When we arrived at the lake, it was beautifully calm. Again, surreal – mist rising up from the water in the background as the athletes pumped tires and got their bikes ready.
Then I was in my wetsuit, our national anthem was playing, the cannon sounded, and I was slowly moving forward toward the rolling swim start. At this point I wasn’t with my training buddies anymore (as we had all seeded ourselves differently), and I had the opportunity to reflect on what it had taken me to get there. I’m not a crier, but there were tears. It was overwhelming. And in that moment, I was fiercely proud of myself.
As we waded into the water, the guy standing beside me reached over and we shook hands. And then we were off!
The swim was brilliant. The water was calm, and at the perfect temperature. I had scaled my swimming way back in training, as I was struggling with swimmer’s shoulder for the past several months. I never did get a 3800m swim in prior to the race, but I wasn’t worried about completing the swim. My shoulder held up, I stayed on course, and didn’t get pummeled. I was ready to be out of the water as a rounded the last buoy, and when it was finally time to stand up, I had a huge smile on my face. I don’t know if it was the same guy or not, but whoever was next to me reached out and shook my hand as we got out of the water, both of us grinning like fools at each other. It was a solid swim for me – 1:29.
T1…hahahaha…I had NO idea what I was doing. Thank goodness for volunteers. I swam in my sports bra and a pair of tri shorts – and changed into bike shorts, compression calf sleeves, socks, a sleeveless bike jersey, and De Soto cooling sleeves. Good grief – that was a lot of clothing to try and put on!
I had studied the bike course. Read race reports. Trained hills, hills, and then some more hills (including a ride up Highwood Pass). And still – I think that NOTHING could have really prepared me for that beast of a bike course.
The first climb was fun. Up to the Olympic park where they had the ski jump was challenging, sure, but I had fresh legs, I knew to be conservative, and I enjoyed the ride and the scenery (then bombing all the way down after the turn-around!). As a heavier athlete, physics is on my side for the descents, and I have to remind myself not to smile with my teeth or with my mouth open on the way down to avoid swallowing bugs. I brought electrolyte with me (as I struggle with what they had on the course), and I quickly got the hang of grabbing water at the aid stations, dumping it on my cooling sleeves (as they only “cool” when they are wet), and tossing it before leaving the aid station.
Then there was some rolling up and down, before we hit the huge descent. And by huge, I mean 32km long. This was punctuated by some steep and nasty climbs, including “suicide hill” that came out of nowhere and had me stopping for the first time at the top to dump water on my sleeves and try to cool off. The down, down, down again into Pemberton, where I stopped at my special needs bag to refill my water bottles, grab some more nutrition, apply some more sunscreen, and hit the porta-potty (for those who know me, you’d be shocked I didn’t go until now and wouldn’t have stopped if I wasn’t already off my bike at special needs). And on to the flat section of the course.
I thought the flat would be good. I’m strong and steady on a flat course, and again, physics is in my favour as a heavier athlete. But it was not good. It was hot. My ass hurt from sitting in the saddle for so long. I was starting to get tired. And it was hard.
(and it was stunningly beautiful)
So I ate, drank, fueled, and got through it.
What goes up must come down (and vice-versa), and at km 144 I started the long, slow, steady climb back toward Whistler.
(haha chipmunk cheeks – stuffed with larabar, I believe!)
WHO puts a mountain at the end of an IM bike course? Who would do such a thing?!? It actually did come out of my mouth while passing (or being passed by) others who were on that mountain with me: “there is a special place in hell reserved for whoever designed this f(*#er”. I was overheating, so I stopped at every aid station to shove ice down my shirt and into my cooling sleeves, and was losing time like crazy. For the first time that day I started to worry about making the cut-off, but I tried not to focus too much on it. When the worst of the climb ended and I was onto the rolling hills back into Whistler, I found my legs around and picked up some speed. And made the cut-off!
See that face? That’s a face that is willing to do ANYTHING to get off the bike, even a marathon.
T2 was tough. After getting off the bike and getting out of the heat, I was dizzy and found it hard to keep my feet. I was a little disoriented as well, and couldn’t figure out the order in which I needed to put on my clothes. I changed into a tri kit, and was trying to put on my sleeves before my shirt. And I was trying to hide how woozy I felt, because I was worried that someone would make me sit down (and that I wouldn’t be able to get going again). At that point, I was knew I’d be walking much of the marathon. And I was ok with that.
I headed out, and coach Shannon met me to check in. I told her I needed to walk for a bit to get my legs under me, and she reassured me that I was fine and encouraged me to do what I needed to do. It didn’t take long, though, before I picked it up (ha, not much mind you, but enough to walk/run and get a little more speed). For about the first 15km I walked up the hills, ran on the downhills and flats, and walked the aid stations. I felt strong, I was focused, and I was positive. Slow and steady
I made a new friend on the run course – a fellow from the states named Robert. We were moving at about the same pace with the walk-run, so I hitched myself to him and we spent the rest of the day together. My stomach started to complain, and his hamstrings threatened to revolt, so we found ourselves walking at a blistering pace – but one that we were confident would get us across the line before midnight.
We chatted, complained about the bike course, admired the scenery, and got through the marathon (which is a really, really long way to travel…just sayin’). I’ve death marched a half marathon before (in my first 70.3), and this experience was nothing like that. I was standing upright, and feeling ok. Any time I would fall behind (as I would take potty breaks along the way), I’d run a little and catch up.
Then…BEARS! On the course. In the trees right next to us. A mom and 2 cubs. Eeeek! I was extra glad I someone to walk with – especially since I knew I’d be passing that area again in a while, and next time in the dark! Kinda cool to see a bear in a tree on the run course, all the same.
The second lap we didn’t talk as much, but we were both still in good spirits. I had a scary few moments where my legs started to feel really wooden and they wouldn’t do what I wanted them to do. I didn’t panic, took some more salt, and made sure I was eating and drinking – and thankfully, the feeling backed off again.
There are some DARK areas of this run course, and neither of us had a headlamp or light with us. We were escorted by volunteers with bells through some of the wooded areas, as there was a fourth bear in the area. And we were diverted (other racers had been stopped earlier) around where they had tranquilized the momma bear and were trying to catch the cubs. They actually extended the finish line by 10 minutes after midnight to accommodate for the bear disruption. There were a tense few moments as we approached the turn-around on the last lap, not knowing exactly where it was, but knowing that we had a cut-off to make. We made it easily, and they were on our way back.
Coaches Shannon and Candice met us on their bikes (with lights) to keep us company through the darkest parts of the trail, and one of Robert’s friends met us with a bear bell to walk us through another area. As we got closer to town, his friend’s wife also joined us, with encouraging words and moral support. I also got a hello and quick chat from a fellow facebook Athena triathlete who had been watching for me, which was a really nice pick-me-up at that point in the evening.
And then we were rounding the corner in town and approaching the chute. As it was downhill, I found my legs and ran it in. And remembered that I was fiercely proud of myself, and enjoyed every moment of it. The crowd, the amazing energy, the blinding bright lights, and those magical words:
Emily Doyle – YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!!!!!
I was given my medal by Trevor Wurtle (I think?), one of the pro men. I really appreciate the tradition of the pros coming back to give medals during the “finish line party”, and how much us back-of-the-pack’ers are celebrated and encouraged.
(I was secretly hoping for Andy Potts, but hey, it’s not like I could have jumped on him at that point, anyhow 😉 )
I stayed just behind the finish line to watch a few more of the folks I’d been traveling with all evening cross the finish line – there was some great camaraderie and support out there (from volunteers and other athletes alike), and then it was time to head home. Thank goodness it was only across the road, and that I had the good sense to get up the stairs before really relaxing and having everything seize up. I *may* have bum scooted into my room after a 2am cheeseburger picnic on the floor across the hall so I didn’t have to stand up.
I relaxed and napped the next day, and had another dinner out with training folks. Again, the word that comes to mind is surreal – all of that work, and it was done.
So now I’m back to day-to-day life. I’m feeling fairly recovered, have been doing yoga, and have even started easing into running again. And I’m looking forward to what my next training adventures will bring.
For now, I’m enjoying the time with my two iron kids. So far I’ve heard lots from my oldest – “mommy, it won’t be that hard, after all, you did an Ironman!”. I’m still smiling and holding on to that.
Yesterday morning as I rolled out of bed early to get on the treadmill before work, I realized – I’m not just training. I’m an athlete. This is what I do. And that sits really well with me.