This is an old article, it’s from my first Ironman, and I still get a lot of requests for it, so I figured I’d re-post it here on our new website. I will get my Ultraman 2011 article up soon too for your reading pleasure!
Ironman Canada, August 28th, 2005
I didn’t sleep too much during the night, I never seem to before a race. We talked about that around the table on Saturday and it seems I am not alone. Some of the veterans said that it was the sleep Friday night that counted, because nobody ever slept well the night before the race. Too much to think about, too much excitement, too much worry. I was up before the 4am alarm by more than 15 minutes, and starting to get ready. Maybe it isn’t nice to hear, but I headed straight for the first big success of the day: a sit down bathroom session. To the uninitiated, this may seem a bit strange, but to a triathlete, it is a huge victory. Having to go #2 during a race is a huge inconvenience and very uncomfortable. Stopping for a pee is relatively easy to do, and easier for guys than girls. For this reason, an early morning movement is a great thing!
I knock on my coach’s door to wake his wife Hayley who was also in the race, she said she was already up, which doesn’t surprise me.
Dressed in my one piece race suit with my timing chip on my ankle I wash up, and it’s time for breakfast. One of the golden rules of racing is: ‘don’t do anything different on race day’. So oatmeal, cottage cheese, and cut up peaches is breakfast. I also have 3 servings of espresso Hammer Gel. Many triathaletes have a few cups of coffee, but I hate coffee. We do it for the caffeine. Not because we need to be alert, but because caffeine has some amazing anti-pain properties and assists in the long session ahead. Caffeine works on the central nervous system and stimulates it to respond optimally to stress, and an Ironman is a huge stress on the body! Soon Annie is up and she and Hayley laugh and poke fun at my massive breakfast, stating that they could hardly eat before a big race. I eat a good breakfast every day, and so am fine with it. Plus, it would be nearly 3 hours before we jumped in the water at 7am. I would be done digesting most of breakfast by then and my body would have turned it into useable fuel. I carb load (increase my total caloric intake and carbs by 20%) for three days ahead of a race to ensure that my muscles are full. The day before the triathlon is a ‘mock triathlon’ where I do all three disciplines: swim, bike, run in short time periods of high intensity. A 15 minute swim which has sprint accelerations, then a 20 minute bike, again with sprints or hills, followed by a run of 15 minutes with accelerations. This serves to let me check through all of my gear bags and make sure I have everything I need and nothing I don’t, plus it empties my muscles. This simulates them to store more energy from the food I eat for the rest of that day.
Back to race day, I feel as if I am in slow motion as I think through every little detail and make sure I have everything. Another sit down in the bathroom makes me very happy. Now I know I won’t have to go during the race, or if I do, it probably won’t be until the run. Soon the time comes to head down to the village for body marking and to drop off the special needs bags. Body marking is having your race number written on your arms and legs with a permanent marker. It’s not that permanent, it washes off during the day from all the sun screen and sweat. They also write your age on your right calf. The mood in the morning is tight, but fun. People are nervous and some are scared, but a lot of joking around and smiling breaks that tension and the volunteers are awesome!
It’s not quite light out yet, although it is easy to see now as I head over to special needs to drop off my bike and run bags. The Special Needs bags are filled with stuff you think you might need during the race. You are not allowed outside help other than the aid stations, otherwise you are disqualified. I will talk about what is in my bags in the race description. The weather looks to be great today, hot and sunny is the forecast. Although the heat makes the race very difficult, I have raced in cold, windy, rainy weather a few times, and that isn’t any fun either. Weather isn’t a choice, just something to deal with on race day, so being happy or sad about the weather is pretty much irrelevant. Still, I am happy about the weather.
After the body marking and special needs stuff is all done, it’s time to walk over to the bike and make sure everything is there, place the bottles of liquid protein/carb/electrolyte mix into the holders (2 liquid, 3 frozen), place the food bars and energy gel in their places. One of the bottles on my bike is between the narrow aerobars and has a straw that sticks up, allowing me to drink my recovery fluid without coming out of my tuck.
I inflate the tires and go over to go through the transition bags for the hundredth time. I deflated my tires over night, because the temperature changes a lot from the day before when I dropped my bike off in transition. Some people had blown tires in the bike storage just from the heat rising in the afternoon. I heard a few pop on Saturday. I inflate my tires to 100 PSI even though I like to ride them at 120. A wise move as I see hundreds of flat tires on the course during the race, many from over inflated tires. The heat is supposed to hit 30 Celsius or more today, and the pavement will be 40 at least. If you put 120 PSI in your tires, it could easily climb to 140, and then any little rock or bump will result in a blown tire. Checking through my swim to bike transition bag, I see that everything is there: towel to dry off, bike shoes, dew rag, sunglasses, helmet, and Q-tips to get the water out of my ears.
I hang the bag back up and head to the Bike to Run bag. Running shoes, socks, fuel belt and still frozen jugs of electrolyte drink. It’s all here.
I take a deep breath, pick up my dry clothes bag and head towards the swim start area. Inside my dry clothes bag is my swim cap, goggles and wetsuit, along with a fleece top and bottom, warm socks and a jacket.
I forgot to place a bottle of energy drink in my bike special needs bag, so head over to find the bag and put it in, then over to the swim start area, looking for a washroom the whole time. I line up at the washroom by the swim start and laugh at the fact that there are no women lined up, but a dozen men. You never see that in any other event, but here, the women make up just over 30% of the field, so we get to line up. After a while I go over to the door and yell “pee fast guys we’re up soon!”. Just after that, a guy comes out and says “there is nobody in there at the urinals, the line is for the stalls.” Sweet! I ask if anyone in the line ahead has to just pee, and they are all in line for the other reason, so I rush right in to 3 empty urinals with a few guys happily behind me for the same reason. Perfect!
Outside on the boardwalk, I walk with the other serious faced athletes through the archway to activate our timing chips and head out to the beach. I put my wetsuit on and breathe. With my sandals off and in the dry clothes bag, I toss it to the side, knowing that with 4500 amazing volunteers, someone will see it, read my race number and take it to my numbered hook back in transition. I’m sure there is some place that my bag is supposed to go, but I don’t know where it is and at this point, I don’t have time to think about it. It’s putting a lot of trust in the volunteers, but I know it is well placed trust.
The scene before me is amazing: 2240 plus athletes crowd the beach. Some are quiet and sober looking, some are smiling and laughing with others, some hugging, some crying. Some are hopping up and down to warm up, while others stretch and move their cold bodies. If it wasn’t for all of us athletes messing about, the water would be like glass, calm and perfect. The pro’s get a 15 minute head start on the swim, so they are out in the water doing some sprint swimming to warm up, or arm circles and stretches. The horn goes off and the pro’s sprint into action as we all scream and cheer them on. A minute or two later we are invited into the water to warm up, which is a relief. Getting into the water feels great and a few solid powerful strokes out into the lake have me feeling more relaxed and loose. It is really important for me to do some warm up swimming, otherwise my shoulders spend the first 2 minutes of the swim wondering what I am doing and they ache. On the way swimming back in towards shore, I clunk heads with a man swimming out, we are both ok, but it serves as a preview for what is coming next! Even in the warm up it’s chaos and I get an idea that the swim might be really congested. 2240 plus people in one spot, swimming for the same buoy, this will be interesting! We are called back to shore to get ready for the main start, and we get the pro update that world champion Simon Lessing is in the lead after 12 minutes – no surprise, he is a 5 time world champion at the Olympic distance and now trying to break into the Ironman distance with some success already. He is at Ironman Canada to try and qualify for the World Championships in Hawaii in 6 weeks.
Oh Canada is led by some acclaimed lady who sounds very nice, but drags out each note longer than I’ve ever heard our nations anthem sung before. It makes it impossible to sing along, so I just enjoy the moment.
The tension is amazing in the next minute or so, as I turn and shake hands and wish good luck to the athletes around me. It’s an Ironman tradition that the announcer explains. A young lady from Britain asks me where I think she should start. She says she thinks she can do the swim in 1:05 (which is pretty darned fast! I am hoping to clock a 1:10, which would be my best time ever). I tell her my strategy of being in the middle front, a few ‘rows’ back. It lets the strong swimmers jump out fast and I get some water to swim in right away, then just defend the swimmers from behind. I find this easier to do than trying to find a space to swim for the first 10 minutes. She says it sounds like a good strategy and stays beside me. I focus on the water in front of me. The first buoy is a long way out, and the first corner is over 1.6kms away. Behind, beside and in front of me are over 2200 athletes, all tensed and ready to jump in. It is a truly amazing feeling: the tension, the worry, the excitement, the fear, the anticipation. It’s all here, right now, in this moment. We are in Ironman Canada! The largest Ironman in the world. Second oldest next to the world championships in Hawaii. It’s a privilege and an honour to be here in this moment and a million things run through my head. Will I get really beat up in the swim? Will my bike ride go well? Will I get a flat tire? Will my stomach keep working? I’ve never done a marathon before, how will I feel after a 7 hour bike ride, after a one hour swim? Can I actually finish? Can I do really well? Can I break 14 hours? 12? I wonder where my Wife is in the crowd. Can she see me? It’s funny how many thoughts can blast through your mind in a minute.
Speaking of blasting: BOOM! The cannon fires and it begins!!! Ironman Canada is started! I power through my first strokes and the bumping and thrashing starts immediately. A few strokes in I remember to push start on my watch timer, then continue to swim through the mess. I am definitely on defense as hundreds of people swim all around me. The contact is constant and sometimes painful as hands and arms contact my thrashing feet, clobber my head and arms. I run into some feet ahead of me too as I overtake slower swimmers and it’s general mayhem. At one point I stroke with my right arm as I get a smack in the head from the left, and roll to the right for my breathing stroke. Just as I am about to come up for air, I get hammered on the right leg while the person next to me splashes a bucket of water into my opening inhaling mouth. My instinct is to stop, tread water and sputter and breath. “Don’t you DARE! You’ll get creamed!” my inner voice shouts! I shove my head back in the water, cough out the water and come up on the left side in a very defensive, rear looking, head turn. This allows me to grab a good breath of air and resume my normal bilateral breathing. Good. The chaos continues and I can breathe again. Finding any sort of rhythm is not possible where I am – too many people. I just try my best to keep something going and adjust with each hit. I keep a good attitude, because I know that we are all just trying to get through this, nobody is trying to hit anyone, it’s just a side effect of the number of people in the water. I could be way at the back or out to the side where it is safer, but I chose to be here in the middle front, trying for a good time. At one point some guy brings his head out of the water at a particularly congested part and says something like “I’m trying to get by on your right!” to someone beside him. Whatever dude, keep swimming, it’s not like they are trying to stop you, it’s just physics – too many bodies in one piece of water. I understand his frustration though, it’s tough out here. It’s relentless and never lets up.
In the other races I’ve been in, things would have settled in by now. The group would have stretched out and everybody would have found some space to swim in. Not here. It’s packed, and the bumping continues. The water starts getting more shallow as we near the banks of the other side of the lake, and I see a SCUBA diver lying on the bottom watching us. There are dozens of them here for our safety, in case someone gets in big trouble, they inflate their life vest, come to the surface beside you and give you air immediately. It’s a good system, the outer kayaks would never reach the people in the middle should they start to have trouble. I am a certified diver, so I grin, must look cool from down there, all these people thrashing about. Rounding the first buoy feels awesome, like I’m getting somewhere! We head straight into the rising sun and sighting the buoy’s gets tough. While swimming in open water the goal is to swim a normal few strokes, then use one strike to rise your head clearly above the water and splashing, see the buoy, then lower back into the water and continue swimming. There are no lines to follow in open water swimming, and hardly anybody swims straight naturally, so you have to keep on correcting your swim to make sure you stay on course. Case in point, I’m swimming along and some guy who either cannot see the buoy, or is attempting to leave the middle goes swimming diagonally right across my path. In a heartbeat I have my hand across his low back and am swimming almost over him as he kicks me in the stomach and continues to my right. Thankfully I was prepared for the moment and tensed my abs, and continue swimming. At one point someone is trying to come up behind me or something and they actually start grabbing at my ankles and pulling at me. That isn’t cool, so I kick really hard and the grabbing stops. I am ok with contact, but grabbing is just not nice, or fair, and it won’t be tolerated. A few little spots of clear water open up here and there and I actually get to enjoy a few strokes. It never lasts more than a few seconds though and fills in with bodies. Soon it’s time for the next right turn to head towards shore! I start to really get jazzed about that – it feels great to know that the hardest part of the swim is ending and my favourite part of triathlons is coming: the bike! I pick up my pace a bit and increase my kick speed to get some blood to head into my legs. I am sure I am almost smiling as I get closer and can see the bottom of the lake getting more and more shallow. I can hear the announcer calling out the names of people as they cross the timing mat and the computer chip on their ankle sends their name to the announcers computer. It’s very cool and I am really looking forward to being finished with the swim!
Finally I get shallow enough to stand up and start running in to shore. I start pulling my wetsuit top off and down to my waist, ripping off my goggles and swim cap. Running up onto shore and over to the wetsuit strippers I spot one and ask for a hand. She grabs my suit and pulls hard, yanking the wetsuit off my legs and feet and then hands it back to me. “Thanks!” I yell and run past towards the row after row of ‘swim to bike’ bags. I count the rows; 1,2,3,4 turn right and run halfway down. I grab my bag from its hook and run to the change tent quickly. It’s packed and smells hot and muggy from all the wet men changing quickly and drying off. I spot a seat, plop down and rip open my bag. Grab the towel first to dry off my feet, put on my skull cap (kind of like a white toque made of quick dry material – keeps the sun off my head and holds some water from the aid station sponges to keep me cool), bike helmet, and special carbon fiber cycling shoes. I clip on my race number belt with my name and number tag already pinned on it, and head out to grab my bike.
Passing rows from the change tent over, the rows are marked and I run to my row, turn left and go up about 12 bikes. My bike has all of my food already on it and is ready to go, so it’s just a quick grab and run on my awkward cycling shoes out to the mount line. I do my best to remain calm and enjoy the moment, while being in a hurry. Right. Hopping on the bike and crossing over the timing mat to log my time in transition (called T1), I speed up lakeshore drive to the turnaround at 1.2 kms. I have a trademark bike whistle that I like to do on the bike, it’s a whistle, whistle, HYAH! Followed by two more short whistles, like a cowboy would do. It gets a good laugh out of the volunteers near the start of the bike leg and in the stands. I love to do it, because it feels like I’m letting my bike know it’s time to go hard and fast, like I am on a horse, instead of a bike. Some days I feel as though I am as close to my bike as you would be to a horse, we spend enough time together. My bike’s nickname is “Little Skylark”, after my bright red 1970 Buick Skylark. I don’t really tell people about that name, it’s just my quiet nickname for my bike. My car is fast and powerful, and so is my bike when I’m on it and in the groove.
Lakeshore drive is lined with screaming people and it is all a blur as I convince my body to switch from swimming to biking. It’s pretty easy though, I’m really good at this part. I love to bike and it’s my strong suit in the race. My biggest goal today will be to stay calm and resist the urge to hammer the bike too hard, leaving nothing for the run. I am not wearing my heart rate monitor or anything (coach said to go by feel) so I have to just trust myself and work at being fast, without getting out of breath or slamming my heart rate too high.
So far I feel great, and things are good. I sip a little bit of my recovery drink and drop into my aero bars for more wind efficiency. Quickly I realize that there are too many people around, and too much cause to be ready at the brakes, so I switch back to my outrigger handlebars and just stay low. Breath, remember to breath! I go roaring past my wife, Hilary and the rest of the gang from Alberta: Patrick (my coach), Annie, Ralph, Debbie, and Patrick’s kids, Dawson and McKenzie. Their Mom, Hayley is in the race with me, and probably ahead of me by 12 minutes or so, she is a much faster swimmer than I am, but I will catch her on the bike somewhere. I will catch a lot of people on the bike, that’s my strength. I remember thinking that during the swim, as people passed me for the first half of the entire swim and I got antsy about being passed so much ‘that’s ok, I’ll see you on the bike’ I thought. It was coming true, it seemed like I was passing a person every second or so for the first while, sometimes groups of people in a single push. The first part of the bike is up a long steady hill from the lake shore up and out of town towards Skaha Lake. It’s a great place to warm up the legs in preparation for what is to come. I follow my coach’s words and only sip recovery drink, I have been instructed to wait to eat until after the McLean Creek hill is done. I don’t want to upset my stomach, and I need to let my body warm to the idea of cycling after a long swim. Too much too soon will just cause bloating and discomfort, plus an early bathroom break requirement. From what my coach has said, and all that I have read, it’s best to settle in and relax for 20 minutes or so, then eat. Peter Reid, Canadian triathlete and 3 time Hawaii Ironman World Champion says of Ironman competition: “It’s so physically demanding that ironically, it usually comes down to who’s smartest.” It’s so true, and as much as I have intellectually understood his words, now I feel them. It would be so simple to hammer right now. Mash my feet into the pedals and power hard, blasting through the first 30kms, screaming past hoards of people. I could easily do that. Then I would hit Richter pass, the first mountain range, which I could probably hammer out pretty fast as well. On to Yellow Lake at full steam would be fun, and feel good. But then the marathon would arrive, and I would be empty and lose all my time on the run, if I survived it. No, that’s a bad plan. The first part of the ride is about setting a good solid pace and feeling good. Eat while you can and stay strong.
Exiting Penticton and zooming by Skaha Lake felt good as my body adjusted to the task at hand. Drafting other riders is illegal in Triathlon racing, contrary to events such as the Tour de France. We have also been told that drafting calls will be limited to ‘obvious intent to draft’ for the first part of the race. It’s a question of sheer numbers, there are so many people on the bike course at the start, that drafting is impossible to avoid in many cases. I practice my surging and blending anyway, figuring it is better to get used to it now. Surging and Blending is when you surge ahead to pass someone, then blend back into the line three bike lengths back from the person ahead and far enough forward to avoid cutting the person behind you off. The right turn up McLean Creek road comes up fast it seems and the big hill awaits our fresh legs. We basically grind up the side of a mountain for a while, then turn and come back down after about 5 kms, arriving downtown Okanagan Falls where we turn left onto Highway 97. The road is open to traffic, so we have to be cautious and stay right. Grinding up the mountain side I am stunned by the number of people with flats. They are everywhere! Every second or so I pass someone with a flat it seems. Later I find out about the tacks on the road. Seems some jerk or jerks threw thumbtacks on the road in a few spots even though the entire route is swept 20 minutes before the cyclists arrive. Somehow I miss them all and I alternate my standing climbs with some seated spinning in my easiest gear. The hill is pretty steep at times and the temperature is climbing fast. A couple of the orchard farms have turned their sprinklers out a bit to hit the road and the water feels great in the blistering sun. I watch my breathing and make sure that I work hard, but keep my heart rate down and prevent overexertion. I’m feeling great and things are good. It’s fascinating to read names and numbers of the cyclists I am passing and the few that are passing me. Athletes have their age written on their right calf as well and it’s fun to read who’s older or younger. It’s one of the cool things about triathlon: age or sex is irrelevant. I have been solidly passed by men and women 10 and 20 years older than me in addition to younger. It’s the great equalizer; this sport. It doesn’t matter how old you are, where you come from, male, female, grandfather, granddaughter, whatever: it just matters how much you trained and what shape you are in. It’s a very personal sport and the only real competition is the sheer physical challenge versus your inner demons and limitations. Coming off the top of McLean Creek road I get my first taste of downhill speed and it feels great! Like 5 time World Champion triathlete Natasha Badman, I love to hammer on the downhills where everybody else coasts. Another thing that my friend Dominic (an amazing cyclist) taught me is to hammer on the crest of a hill where everybody rests after the big push up the hill. As the hill surrenders and rounds off, people slow down and breathe, I gear down and push harder. Those two things make me a very strong cyclist and fast. After screaming down the hill, I settle in to the business of drinking my recovery fluid and eating a Vel bar: peanuts, cashews, sesame seeds, figs, raisins and honey. 305 calories per bar with a nice balance of slow digesting protein and fast carbs. A half a bar plus the recovery drink of 335 calories gives me around 485 calories per hour. So far, everything is going to plan and I’m feeling great. I grab one of my recovery drink bottles and fill up the aero bottle for the next hours fueling placing the empty bottle back in the cage on my bike.
The crowds begin to form on the 97 as we head out to Osoyoos along rolling hills and past hundreds of orchards. Occasionally there are signs on the telephone poles that say things like ‘Go Ironman’ or one of my favorites; ‘pain is temporary, pride is forever!’ Several times groups of cyclists bunch up and drafting is unavoidable. A few times I press out of the group and crank my way up to a spot alone in the single file line ahead, but within a few seconds, the group catches me again. It makes sense that it happens, it’s easy to go very quickly in a group (called a peloton in the Tour de France) because the lead cyclists take the wind, then back off a bit and someone from behind takes the wind. The wind sharing means that no one person is facing the wind the whole time and the end result is higher speed and fresher legs. This is illegal in triathlons because the goal is to see who is strongest on their own. Like I said though, it is tolerated to a small degree in the initial stage because of sheer volume. I do my best to avoid the packs and stay true to the spirit of the sport. My nutritional plan continues as I approach 90 minutes on the bike and things are going well. I have felt my urge to pee growing the past 20kms and decide that a port-a-pottie at the next aid station is a good place to empty. I have to wait for about 3 minutes in a small line but feel way better for it. As I wait, I stretch and move my legs to help them rest for the coming challenge. Back on the bike and blasting back through the clusters of people; I end up back in a small group. A few comments are tossed about here and there, but mostly it is a quiet effort with just the sound of the bike gears, tires and heavy breathing. At one point several people are pressing to get in front of others and make their own space out front, and I commented that we all must be in a hurry to get to Richter pass. This gets a few laughs as we let off a little of the tension. It’s a funny thing to rush towards an 11km long mountain that will stretch on for half an hour. Richter pass is the second climb, and arguably the toughest. It is steep and has very few breaks in it, making it a real grind. Yellow Lake is longer and higher, but has many little flat or less steep sections.
At round 3 hours into the race (nearly 2 on the bike) I arrive at Osoyoos and turn right up Richter Pass. The hill hits right away and the air is filled with the sound of gears changing as we all settle in for the big push. A minute or so into the climb there is a loud ‘pow’ as someone just behind me blows a tire. A heat flat is my guess, as I don’t see anything on the road to cause a tire to go. I suppose it could be anything though and I continue with my positive thoughts about strong, full, fast tires and a fast bike. A flat tire will steal 6-10 minutes from your day. That equates to about 5kms on the bike, unless you have to wait for a support vehicle, then it’s up to 45 minutes or more and a 20km loss of pace. I met one girl who had 7 flats in the race! Most cyclists carry two spare tubes with them and after that, you have to wait for the Bike Barn support car, and they are very busy today!
I’m really enjoying my day so far though, and feel great! I’m steadily passing people here and there as a course marshal rides up on a motorcycle. As the motorcycle driver keeps a steady pace, the marshal informs us that the drafting leniency is over and that riding in packs will result in immediate penalties. It’s not a problem going up Richter, drafting at 10kms an hour while standing doesn’t accomplish much, but she has a good point. There was a lot of drafting in the 5kms before Osoyoos, it was getting out of hand, but also hard to avoid. I say thanks, as do a few others around me, and they roar up a few dozen cyclists to repeat the warning. Drafting penalties are one of my biggest fears in the race. An athlete is allowed 2 drafting penalties, marked with a diagonal slash across your number. Each of the first two permitted drafting slashes means a 4 minute penalty in the ‘sin bin’ at transition. A third penalty means a DQ on your number and you are out of the race when you reach the Transition area and not allowed to run. Plus it looks terrible on your race number, which I plan on framing! My goal is to ride draft free and penalty free, so I work hard at passing anybody I am close to and keeping the road ahead of me clear. Grinding my way up Richter pass I can feel the sun getting hotter and hotter as we get closer to noon. The people on the side of the road are great and lots of fun. Many of them have dressed up in crazy costumes like gorilla suits, Hawaiian gear, men with clamshell bikini’s on, face paint, girls with crazy bright wigs, fluorescent outfits and fishnet stockings, it’s great to ride by all the mayhem and noise. My coach, Wife, and cheering section from Red Deer said that they would be somewhere on Richter pass so I keep scanning the crowds to see a familiar face. Any little distraction helps take my mind off my legs and lungs, which are wondering when we are going to stop. We don’t have any hills remotely as large or long as this where I train, so my body is not used to such a push. I’m mentally ready for it though, and I smile at how much I am enjoying the effort. Near the top of Richter Pass I come up to Hayley, my coach’s Wife. She is doing quite well and I come up beside with a big “Woo Hoo! How’s it going Hayley?” She’s doing well, and asks how my swim was. She says her swim was rough too, but she had a good time out and the bike feels good so far. I wish her a good race and continue my push to the summit. Soon it is time for the big screamer down the back side of the mountain pass and I am loving it! I hammer the pedals and drop right down into a tuck position until I am going so fast I start passing vehicles. After about 5 minutes of straight tucking, my arms begin to ache a bit from holding a static position, so I adjust a bit. Normally I would rest my elbows on my aero bars, but the road is pretty curvy with lots of cars and bikes, plus there is some wind. I keep my hands wide on the outer handles where the brakes are, just in case. An ambulance siren comes up from behind and soon roars past me headed down to the bottom of the pass. It’s a rotten feeling and I hope that whoever is involved is ok. I’m screaming down a mountain at probably 70 or 80 kms an hour, riding a pop can with a piece of Styrofoam on my head and spandex on my body. Crashing at this speed is devastating and staying focused, positive and solid is key. There is no room to let your thoughts stray or your focus to shift in this moment. In a few moments I am at the bottom of the pass and in the flats at the bottom. I see the ambulance off to the right attending to someone on a stretcher. The bike is back a hundred metres from the scene and it looks pretty messed up. I say a little prayer and press on, keeping my focus on my safety. Coming next are the 11 witches (as my friend calls them). 11 rolling hills that force you out of the seat, gearing down and then gearing back up and cruising down again. It’s the perfect terrain for me because it is just what I train on in Alberta all year. I use my solid strategy of hammering the downhills, grinding the uphills and powering the last part of the climb. I am passing people constantly and it feels great. All the while I am watching how I feel and it’s all good. I keep sipping my recovery drink from the aero bottle and on the flats and eat another half of a Vel bar. I rip down one of the bigger rolling hills and in the distance see a small group of cheering spectators on the side. I recognize Ralph first and then the others and let out a yell. They all realize it’s me and go nuts cheering me on as I scream up the next hill where my wife, Hilary is standing with the video camera rolling. She yells some encouragement and I wave and cheer as I zoom by. Soon after; Hayley passes by the group and then they pile in the van and drive to the next place to watch. As they drive by, Hilary sticks the camera out the window and grabs a couple of photos.
Being a spectator in a triathlon is tough and Ironman is even tougher. It’s hours and hours of standing around scanning athletes, waiting for the one you are there to see and then ZOOM they rip by and the moment is over. With all of the traffic to contend with at Ironman, it takes a good chunk of time to drive to a good viewing spot, then wait for maybe an hour or two until your favourite athlete passes. That moment lasts about 10 seconds, and if you aren’t glued to the face of each athlete coming next, you will miss the moment. This group is watching for me, Hayley, and a couple of other friends from where we live. It makes for a long day of standing around and waiting in the hot sun, in the middle of nowhere. I am truly grateful for them because I get a huge boost of excitement whenever I see them along the road. It’s a real treat for Hilary to have my Coach as a guide for this huge event. Knowing where to go, what traffic to avoid and when to be where, is a big asset.
As I crank along the last of the 11 hills, my right knee starts to hurt. I talk to it a lot, saying things like “ok, come on gang, let’s give the right knee some help here. Somebody loosen or tighten or whatever is needed. We still have a few hours of biking to go, so this needs to be solved.” The joint is pretty sore and hurts mostly when I try to power through the pedals in the seated position and a bit in the standing position. I shift my muscle efforts to use the backs of my legs as well as the tops and try to adjust the tension around and see if I can find a place where it either doesn’t hurt, or it gets a break.
Blasting past Cawston, I reach the place where we turn right and hit the out and back road. We have had a tail wind along the valley floor for the past ½ hour and that has really helped, but now we turn back and hit the wind straight on. To make matters worse, the out and back road is rough, kind of like little cobble stones. I hope to see some of the leaders on their way back, but the big leaders are well past by now. The road out to the turnaround has lots of hills again, similar to the main road. With the wind and the rough road, it feels twice as hard and my knee is really starting to talk to me. I keep feeding it positive energy and happy thoughts, hoping it will settle down, and not get worse. It’s really hot out now and as I pass an aid station, I grab for a water bottle, which I use partially to drink, but mostly to soak my head through my helmet, and then a shot goes down the back and then front of my tri suit to keep me cool. It’s funny; I thought I wouldn’t need the aid stations as I am pretty much self sufficient with all of my food on board the bike. As my water bottles empty though, I’m only too happy to ditch them at the aid station garbage area and grab fresh, ice cold water. It not only feels great to drink, but it really is helping to keep me cool. I take this as a good time to have some energy gel – basically sugar, carbs and caffeine in a thick gel. The caffeine offsets some of the pain and provides a boost of energy, and the sugar and carbs serve as high density fuel. It seems to take forever to get to the turnaround, but soon I see people eating things that are not very portable; chips, chocolate bars, bags with sandwiches in them, bagels, etc., and I know that the special needs booth is coming up fast. I begin to try and remember what I even put in my bag the night before. I remember that I put in two bottles of frozen recovery drink – they’d be thawed out by now and hopefully still cool, as the stuff on my bike is hot from the sunlight, and getting a little gross to drink. This is partly because I am getting tired of it after 3 ½ bottles, and partly because it is hot instead of refreshing and cool. Then I remember that there is a mini Pringles potato chips container in the bag, along with a frozen Snickers bar and some Sharkies energy chews. Now I’m pedaling a little faster in anticipation of the bag, mostly the chips. I’m not much of a chip eater, but right now some salty, dry chips sound like heaven after all the hot sugary recovery drink, honey nut bars and gel shots. Finally I can see the aid station in the distance and I sit up and coast in, telling the announcer my race number as I approach, while negotiating the turnaround among the other cyclists. I pedal a few hundred metres and thank the volunteer as I grab my special needs bag and head up a ways to a clear spot in order to root through it. I grab the Snickers bar that was in the freezer all night, it’s still nice and cold. I shove it and the sharkies down the front of my tri suit, jam the two recovery drink bottles in the rear bottle containers and reluctantly throw out a brand new Bike Barn bottle that I had bought yesterday. Rats, I should have thought of that and placed the good bottle in the bag instead of the crappy old bottles. You have to load up the special needs bag as if you won’t grab it and assume it will be thrown away, so I put junky bottles in it. Now, I have to make room on my bike for the fuel, and the empty container has to go, so I toss my brand new bottle and mash my feet into the pedals, gathering speed out of the turnaround area and getting back into race mode. I have the Pringles in my left hand and start munching away by leaning down to stick my tongue in the container. A chip sticks to my tongue and I munch away happily while I try to maintain a good speed along the rolling hills of the out and back. At least the wind is coming from behind now which helps out, what a relief! ‘Just one more hill’, I think to myself, ‘and then a run and I’m finished.’ Yah, right, as simple as that, eh? The ‘hill’ is a mountain range that runs for over 14 kms up hill, and the ‘run’ is a marathon, my first ever. Still, I’m ready for it and continue to eat my chips and keep my speed up. I get through about half of the chips before they get too hard to eat and I toss them at a garbage bin and have a bite of the Snickers bar. The sweet chocolate is just awful and I throw it out at the next aid station along with the Sharkies. I can’t stomach anything sweet right now and it’s just baggage at this point. I settle back into getting some power into my pedals and getting my speed up to full as I crank up the last few big hills of the out and back. There are a few tough ones, but I feel pretty solid, even though my knee still hurts. I spot a volunteer picking up garbage and discarded bottles and yell out a thank you. They look up and say ‘thanks’. I have done that several times during the race and will continue to as much as I can. The volunteers here do so much work and picking up garbage seems so unappreciated, yet is so critical. To have the ability to just toss something you don’t need at any aid station and know that it will be picked up is a gift, and I am grateful for it. Finally I turn right out of the Cawston area and on to the last stretch of highway before the Yellow Lake pass. I’m still passing people and being careful not to draft at any time. A motorcycle comes up from behind and rides by me and I glance over to see that it is the Marshal. She smiles and nods at me and they continue on. I guess they have been watching me pull out and pass people, keeping my distance and respecting the rules. Nice. I have seen a lot of race numbers with slashes on them, so I know they are giving out penalties, and I’m happy to be staying within the rules. It feels good to be caught doing something right in life and I smile as I begin the climb to Yellow Lake. My knee seems to be settling down a little so that is great news. I decide that the time has come for another pee break, as I can see crowds building ahead and I have had to go for a half hour or more. The side of the road up ahead has a little extra width, so I pull over and do my thing. Much better! Now I’m ready to climb the last mountain pass before heading back to the transition area. As the climb gets stronger and steeper, more and more people are lining the side of the highway cheering us on. I’m standing on the pedals and feeling great, it feels almost like running. My knee feels a lot better and I am still passing people quite regularly and being passed very seldom.
As the crowds continue to increase, it feels better and better to hear their cheers. I try to imagine what Lance Armstrong feels like in the Tour when he is grinding his way up a really big mountain. I will climb for maybe 45 minutes, where as he will climb for 4 or 5 hours. Of course, I can’t draft anyone here like they do, but that hardly plays a big role at this speed. I have seen Lance’s face enough to know that I probably look similar; serious, mouth slightly open, eyes focused straight ahead, standing on the pedals, rhythmically grinding out a tempo to my breathing and beating heart, while people scream and rattle their cow bells. It’s kind of surreal and I feel a little bit like a hero. People say all kinds of wonderful things to encourage us along; “You’re doing awesome! Great job! Keep it up! Nice pace!”. Some people even say my name, as it is printed on my race number on my back. They shout from behind “Way to go Scott!” and stuff like that. It’s almost fun in the midst of the struggle to press on harder and harder as the mountain gets steeper and steeper. There are a few breaks in the Yellow Lake Pass, where the road gets less steep and almost feels flat and it feels great to have a bit of a ‘rest’. Soon the steeper part of Yellow Lake comes up and it is a steady climb. Now it really feels like the Tour, there are people all along the right side of the road, and the people in the vehicles that have been stopped on the left are spilling out of their cars to cheer us on! It seems that the traffic has been stopped, and the people in the vehicles got caught up in the celebration and have left their vehicles to cheer. It feels great, and makes the time standing on the pedals easier somehow.
I’m not too clear how long exactly I was standing on my pedals grinding up Yellow Lake Pass, but I think 40 minutes is a fair estimate. It was a long time and a lot of work. There was an aid station on one of the flat sections and the water bottle exchange brought me cool water to soak my head with and squirt down my suit, to cool off. Then the crowds started to thin out as we crested the ‘fake summit’. Yellow Lake Pass has a steep section that ends in a nice little downhill cruiser for a few kms, and feels like the end, but around the corner is one more steep section before the final downhill to Penticton. In this nice downhill section, I am pretty much alone. I have fought my way to a place in the race where the person ahead of me and the one behind me are quite a ways away. I am alone in the race for the first time in a while and a feeling rushes over me. A feeling of pride for what I have done so far, for how great I am doing, for how good I feel. It’s amazing and powerful. I finally get it. I feel proud of myself for the first time in my life. Truly proud of myself. I did this. I got here. I am doing this well, on my own merits, from my own training and my own dedication. I start to get misty eyed and emotional and it feels amazing! I look over at my shadow and grin like a kid who just did something really cool. Talking to myself I say something like “I’m really proud of you man, you are doing awesome!” It feels great and I clear my eyes and hammer the pedals, gunning for the final summit. Standing on the pedals and pressing hard I pass a few more people and grind my way up to the top of the pass and sit back down. I hit the gears into full power and hammer the pedals hard. Glancing at my watch I see the time is 6:32 and I can hardly believe it. Six hours and thirty-two minutes! Including the swim?! Holy crap! My goal for the bike alone was 6.5 hours! I don’t have far to go until Penticton, and it’s pretty much all downhill! I start to do the math and realize that I could be in Transition in 7 hours, which would leave me 5 hours to do a marathon. I get a big grin on my face and drop even lower into my tuck position. By now I am screaming down the mountain and passing people like mad. I pedal until I cannot pedal that fast and then just cruise. I know I can pedal my bike hard up until about 65 to 70 kms an hour and then I can’t pedal any faster. I am easily going faster than that by 10kms/hr. My hands are wide on the outer bars and my index fingers are on the brake levers just in case. As much as this is fun, and making up some serious time, it’s also very dangerous. The winds coming up the valley are really strong and shifting constantly as we swing left and right around the big curves along the road. Traffic is moving too, and I am actually passing cars going down the mountain. In a few places, the orange safety cones marking the cycling lane have been blown over and are in my path. As I pass another athlete, I swerve to avoid a cone and think for a moment what would happen to me at this speed should I hit a cone. I cancel the thought immediately and think of my bike as strong, supported, safe and fully functioning. I think of my way home as clear and stay in my tuck. I can tell that lots of others are getting a bit freaked out because they are on the brakes and I am passing people consistently. My arms ache as I have held my tuck for about 15 minutes now and I breathe into the pain and keep tucking. I try my aero bars, but they are way too twitchy and I switch back to the outer bars. Winding down and down and down we make the left turn back onto Highway 97 and I can see Penticton in the distance. Still lots of downhill left to go though! I sit up a bit for a second and release the tension in my arms, stretch my legs by pressing my hips forward, and then drop right back down into the tuck. The curvy road turns up hill for a few short climbs, then gets back to downhill and we scream into Penticton. Up the streets and on to Main street we go, to hammer down the long gentle hill towards the lake. Soon we get to the section where the road is only open to racers and the number of fans jumps back up. People are screaming and cheering and it feels awesome! We cross over the runners path and there are volunteers there telling cyclists to watch for runners, and vice versa. Everybody keeps alert and the people I can see all cross safely and continue down the hill. I increase my pedal RPM and try to have my legs shift focus to my running muscles in the front of my legs. The last part comes up fast as buildings rush by and hundreds of people line the streets. I debate whether to leave my shoes on, or take my feet out of them until I remember that the volunteers grab our bikes and we are to run to the bag area and change tent without worrying about the bike. So I unclip my feet as a volunteer catches the handlebars for me. Hopping off my bike I begin the familiar run through transition with my bike in hand when the volunteer says “It’s o.k., I’ve got the bike.” “Oh, right! Thanks!!” Funny how I was just thinking of that and still went right into my familiar habit of running my own bike through T2. Running. Now there’s a weird concept! My hip flexors at the top of my legs where my hips connect to my legs are not really interested in letting go of the position they have held for the past 6 hours! I’m kind of hunched over and gimpy as I try to run in my cycling shoes. After a few steps, my body starts to slowly let go and I can stand more upright and I hustle to my ‘Bike to Run’ bag and then to the change tent. Plopping down on the chair; I rip off my shoes and helmet, put my socks on, jam my feet into my shoes, put my fuel belt on (that’s an elastic belt that holds small containers of water or, in my case; elecrolytes), and spin my race number to the front. Right. Ready to go! A volunteer grabs my gear bag and says “Have a good run!”. I thank him and head out, stopping briefly to stretch for a second and get my legs to join me. Jogging through the transition area I smile, as I notice how few bikes are back home. I stop by the sunscreen table and a couple of young lady volunteers start slathering the white lotion all over my exposed limbs. It’s awesome, and fast! Once I’m all slathered up, I give a big thanks and blast off to head out to run a marathon. A marathon. Wow. I’ve never run a marathon before. This should be interesting!
I feel great though and I have a plan! Run 1.6kms to each aid station and walk through them getting fuel and cooling down. It’s gotta be well over 30 degrees Celcius now and the heat will end your day if you don’t prepare for it in advance. I remember a dvd of Hawaii Ironman that I have watched a few times, where Chris McCormick is overheating and eventually falls out of the race. Peter Reid passes him on the run and the announcer says something like; “McCormick is in trouble and trying desperately to cool down, Peter Reid is cooling down to prevent problems. It’s the key to winning.” At the first aid station I skip the Gatorade, grab the water and soak my head. I stuff cold wet sponges in my tri suit front and down my back. Next I grab some watermelon. Oh lord that is the best watermelon I have ever had in my whole life!!! I have never tasted anything so delicious and satisfying! Wow! Thanking the volunteers, I pick up my run again and feel great! 1.7kms down, just over 40 to go!
The first and last part of the run course is along Lakeshore drive. It allows a long line of spectators on each side of the road and also supports the local businesses (mostly restaurants). In a few hours, I will be returning to this road for the final out and back, that is, if all goes well and my body hangs in there. I know I have trained a great deal for the race, and I know I am in good shape and feeling great, but I also respect that this is Ironman, and anything can happen. Turning right onto main street; I begin the long slow climb up and out of town. It’s not much of a climb, but after 7 hours of swimming and biking, it feels like a little more than it might otherwise. I settle into my rhythm and feel pretty good, enjoying the spectators’ cheers as I go. Soon it is time for another aid station, about 10 minutes since the last one. I grab some more fruit and fresh sponges as well as some ice. I place the ice in my hat and put it back on, grab some more fruit, say thanks and move on. The ice is so cold it actually hurts in my hat, so soon after, I remove it and stick it down my front where it sits against my tummy. The cold feels good as the cloudless sky lets the sun beat down on us and the temperature climbs. Just after the third aid station, the pro’s come running by in the opposite direction. Chris Lieto is out font, then Stephan Vukovic (I found that out later) and then Simon Lessing. I learn afterwards that Simon gets passed in the final few kms by Nigel Gray from Ontario. Soon after that, the ladies leader comes by; Karen Holloway. Wow, they are 5 kms from finishing, and I have nearly four hours left to go if all goes well. It’s hard to imagine being that fast. The run is different than the bike in many ways, it’s harder and more exhausting for one thing, but I also find that since it is much slower, with less to worry about (like steering) I think a lot. I couldn’t possibly recount what I think about here in this story, it would take forever for one thing, but I don’t think I could even remember a tenth of what goes through my head. Often I spend a few kms running beside someone and we talk in broken sentences about where we are from, how many Ironman or marathons each person has done, how they are feeling, the weather, the bike, the swim, the fans, the road, any number of things. I think it’s really a neat part of the race; the camaraderie on the run. Talking to other freaks just like yourself who have spent huge amounts of time preparing for this one day and are now just trying to keep it together enough to get through it. Sometimes all the hope and expectations go out the window on the run and it becomes a matter of one foot in front of the other and gauging how you feel. Can I run faster or will I cramp up or run out of energy if I do? How is my stomach doing? I diligently walk each aid station, whether I am running with someone or not. I tell them my intent and they either walk as well, or pass me and keep on running. I am content with playing smart today, my first marathon inside of my first Ironman. I am thrilled with how I am doing so far, and if walking at each aid station allows me to eat and rest up for the next 10 minutes of running, fine by me. I know that I could break 12 hours, but I also know that I could push too hard and crawl in at 15 hours, so I keep my steady pace and rhythm going despite whoever is around me, passing me or being passed by me. It’s not their race, it’s mine and I’m going to run it my way. After the fourth or fifth aid station my stomach no longer wants any food and I know this is probably not good. It means my digestive system is shutting down from the stress of the long effort. Thankfully I know what to do, and the race organizers do too. At the next aid station, I accept the offer of a Pepsi and drink it down. I don’t like pop, I never have. I don’t drink pop in my life, I think it’s wretched stuff. I don’t like the bubbles, the sugar, the caffeine, the artificial colours, the acid or anything about it. For the average population it’s a terrible burden on your health and causes a host of problems. That said, it is the most wonderful thing I have drank all day and it tastes so good I can scarcely believe it. It’s not quite up there with the watermelon from the first aid station, but it’s close! So ‘why Pepsi?’ you may be thinking right now. What would possess the healthy gym owner guy to have a pop in the middle of a race? Simple. I read a great deal before the event, and have listened to many seasoned triathaletes talk of their learnings and it works like this; Cola restarts your stomach when it shuts down. It’s like booster cables for your digestive system. The acid in pop very closely mimics the natural acid in your stomach. Additionally, it is loaded with caffeine and sugar – very beneficial at this point in the race. The carbonation bubbles also promote stomach acids and digestion to begin. This means I can continue to take in nutrients to support my body in the hours to come, and it works! At the next aid station I take in some fruit and I can already feel that it goes down more easily.
Running along, talking with a fellow in a Hammer Gel outfit, I hear my name in the distance and see that Hilary, Patrick and the gang have made their way back into the city from the bike course. They are all cheering me on and taking pictures. Hilary starts to run along side of me and talk, I stop and tell her to hang on, I want a kiss! She runs with me for a while and is grinning and almost glowing. I ask her if she wants to run with me for a few hours and she laughs and says, “nope, that’s your job!” We exchange a quick “I love you” and I continue my journey to the next aid station.
Between this aid station and the last one, a wind has picked up from the south. It is blowing right in our faces as we run along the lake and it makes even the flat sections feel up hill. It’s kind of nice to have the breeze though, even if it is hot and in head on. I continue, at each aid station, to dump ice down my front and back, then place sponges in my suit and dump water on my head. I am focused on staying cool in spite of the scorching sun above me. I get so good at my cooling ritual that the ice isn’t fully melted at the next aid station when I refill with fresh ice. That is a good thing, it means that my skin in my core area is cool, which means my organs are cool and can function well without being affected by the heat. I have passed several people now on the side of the road throwing up or sitting down in distress over the heat. I will not be one of those people today, but I have stopped a few times to lend a cool sponge or some ice to a puker. There are ambulances constantly driving by, volunteers on bicycles, motorcycles and cars, plus aid stations along the whole route, so I know that even people in trouble are not far from help. One of the aid stations is run by a local Rotary club. I am a Rotarian and I shout out something like “Woo Hoo! Rotary! Hey, do I get a make up meeting pass for this?” A couple of them laugh and I take advantage of their hot chicken soup – fantastic! (In Rotary you are expected to attend a high percentage of the meetings, and when you can not because you are out of town, you can attend another club meeting and get a ‘meeting make up’ card.)
Like I have said, the run is so different than the bike, so slow, so much to see and think about, people to talk to. On the bike you can’t really talk to anyone because you can not stay beside them for long or you risk a penalty. The run for me is kind of a suffer fest. I work to get through it and keep going. I feel pretty good today, better than I felt at the Sylvan ½ Ironman, boy that was a rough day! It was cold and raining all day, I heard that 4 to 6 cases of hypothermia were treated. I got off the bike in Sylvan and didn’t feel my legs and feet until km 3 or 4! Today is different, so different it makes me laugh to myself. In the past few days leading up to this race I had seen a few people with the Sylvan Half athlete shirt on and I would always say something like; “Now that was a rough day!” and I would inevitably get back a very strong acknowledging look or comment. Anybody who went through that race won’t soon forget it. That was a tough day. In many ways it was tougher than today. Even though the event was half the length, it hurt more. I remember being way more sore on the run, probably due to the cold tendons and muscles not functioning. Today is the opposite end of the scale, it’s hot today and staying cool is the goal. One of my favourite things is the kids along the side of the road with water guns or garden hoses. They look excitedly at you and ask if you want to get sprayed. “Yes I do!” I always yell out enthusiastically. They blast me with cold water and giggle like crazy. I yell out a ‘thank-you’ and keep on running. What a treat for them! To be allowed to spray people and not get in trouble at all!
I continue jogging along and talk to a number of different people. Lots of Americans and Canadians are here. We talk about so many different things; the weather, the tacks on the road during the bike, the big hills, the rough swim, the road ahead. Several people comment on how well I am doing when they hear it is my first Ironman. I grin on the inside, knowing that they are right, I am doing well, and it feels really great. As we are running towards the hilly section of the run course something amazing happens; I pass Brian. Brian is a triathlete from Red Deer, the closest large city near my home town. We have trained together several times and share the same coach; Patrick. Brian has been to Ironman Canada 4 times before and this is his 5th. I would think he should be running a 10 hour race, but here I am, passing him on the run. He has had a sore low back this week andI think to myself that it must really be hurting for him to be in this position. I say hello as I run by and ask him how he is doing. “Not as good as you are!” He shoots me a half smile as he walks with another person. I wish him good luck and keep on running. When I first met him, it was with the Red Deer Triathlon group and we went for a long Sunday bike ride together. I saw Brian’s Ironman tattoo on his calf with 5 dates on it (he had 2005 put on it in 2003 before he did the race, knowing he would be here. Talk about commitment!). I remember thinking he was this amazing guy to be idolized, and I am sure I placed him on a pedestal, like it was an honour to be in his presence, me a lowly rookie, cycling with a 4 time Ironman! Yup, I was pretty green in the early summer. Of course this Ironman game was all new to me then, and he had been, where I wanted to go, so I looked up to him and still do. I had several more training days with Brian, he would actually e-mail me and ask me to join him as ‘one of the stronger riders in the club’, that was always and ego boost. Now I passed him. Weird. Welcome to Ironman. It doesn’t change anything for me, I’m here for my race, not his and I just hope he is o.k. As I run further along I come upon a lady standing beside an athlete lying on the ground. I ask if everything is handled, and she says he (the athlete) needs help. I continue to run ahead to get help and catch the attention of a volunteer on a mountain bike. I ask if she has a radio and she doesn’t. I tell her of the man down and she zooms forward to get help. In a minute or so, an ambulance zips by me headed to the place where the man had dropped. It’s a beautiful system, a welled-oiled machine. There is help everywhere and we are well cared for as athletes. You couldn’t ask for more.
Soon I come to an aid station again and decide to take a pottie break while I can. We have been climbing several hills, some really big ones, and the turnaround must be close, we are among houses again at the outskirts of Okanagen Falls. Trying to be in a port a pottie and wiggle out of a soaking wet tri suit that has had melting ice in it for the past 2 hours is, well, interesting, but I get the job done and head back out and resume running. We run down a long hill and finally get to the Special Needs bags. I call out my number and turn around and give out a little ‘woo hoo’. Half way there! Now just another 21kms and I’m done and will have finished Ironman Canada! First things first though, I have some special needs to attend to! I thank the volunteer and take my bag over to the side of the road. There are volunteers everywhere making sure people are o.k. and watching for signs of problems. These volunteers are awesome! Sitting feels good, if not surreal, and I open up my bag. I know what’s in it, I have been looking forward to it for over an hour; fresh socks and a tub of Vaseline petroleum jelly. My blisters feel like they have toes attached to them and it has been a pretty darned uncomfortable hour. My right pinkie toe is the worst, the blister is bigger than the toe. The other three or four are annoying, but not as painful. I cover my toes in the Vaseline and peel the new socks on, chucking my old ones out in the bag. Jamming my shoes back on and standing up, with a little effort, I am ready to go again. The Vaseline will prevent further friction and blistering, and should help ease the pain of the ones I have. I also had a vitamin fizzy in the bag, which would need a bottle of water to mix with. I hang on to it, but a few kms down the road I just toss it out. There are no water bottles available and I just don’t want the stuff anyway, so I toss it in the garbage at an aid station.
Shortly after the special needs turnaround, I pass Brian again. He must have picked up his pace and passed me while I was sitting down. He’s walking again as I pass him, and when he sees me, he starts to run again. As he catches up to me, I ask how he’s feeling and he says he’ll live. He says something like, ‘as long as I can beat you, I’ll be fine.’. I kind of smile and say, “whatever man, I’m just happy to be here.” He smiles and says that’s a great attitude and we continue running together. He says I look like I’m doing well and I tell him I feel pretty good. He says I look like I could break 12 hours, and I reply that that it is my goal. We talk a bit about a few other things, but mostly we just run beside each other. On one of the big hills he drops to a walk and I join him. It’s a really big hill, and for whatever reason, I decide to walk for a while too. After a few minutes though, I decide I don’t like walking and get back to running, not that there is a huge difference on this hill! Brian catches me again, at the next aid station, as I am enjoying the world’s greatest food: hot chicken soup! Man, that is good. The hot chicken broth goes right down into my stomach and seems to be instantly absorbed into my system. It’s like jet fuel in the best sense of it! The salty hot liquid is heavenly and I get back to the business of running. I pass Brian again and keep on running, I know from my watch that I have to press hard to make 12 hours. I will continue to walk the aid stations, but then I must resume running again as soon as possible. It’s starting to get more and more real as I run along. I can see the edge of Penticton coming up and to make matters better, clouds are forming and the sun is being hidden a occasionally. I am really happy to see the sun covered, even for a few minutes, as it is so hot out, that any shade feels amazing! I have looked at my shoulders and I can see even in the bright sunlight that they are turning red. That’s not good, because most of the sunburn damage occurs after you leave the sunlight, so I know I am going to be red and there is nothing I can do about it. Having the sun go behind the clouds will at least stop things from getting worse. Finally, I am running up the last big hill of the marathon and I feel fantastic (in my head) about it. My body is not too pleased at this point, but that will be over in an hour or so. My ‘run’ up this last big hill feels more like a 100 year-old man shuffling along, than an Ironman, but I keep shuffling. One of the spectators yells out some words of encouragement and I smile, then ask her: “Am I still moving?”. She enthusiastically says “yes, you are doing great!” I keep on pressing and soon, the last big hill is behind me and I know that it is a gentle downhill now, all the way to the lake. What a relief! Coming to the aid station, I walk and enjoy some Pepsi again. Brian comes running up and grabs something too. We start out together and chat a little, but not much. We are both pretty tired and just keep pushing. Soon he drops off again and I keep on running, catching up to a lady I have seen off and on during the whole marathon. She has a team diabetes jersey on and when I come by she asks if she can run with me. “Sure! It’s great to have company!” She says that I look strong and she needs someone to pace her and keep her going. It’s funny, I think to myself that I don’t feel very strong, but hey, if it helps you keep going, that’s great. We run together for the 1.5 kms to the next aid station and I tell her that I will be walking the aid station. She says o.k. and walks a little too, but starts up her run sooner than I do, so finds someone else to run with. With about 6 kms to go, I see Hilary, Patrick and some of the gang ahead of me. By this time I am in full suffer mode and don’t really change my focus or rhythm as they run up to me all excited and smiling. They run with me for a few feet and ask how I am doing. “I’m hurting.” I reply. Somebody says something like ‘you’re doing great, don’t think about the pain!’. I tell Patrick that I saw Hayley and that she is walking. He asks if I have seen Brian and I tell him he is behind me. They all slow to a walk and let me go and Patrick says “keep it up, you’re almost there!” I yell back at them “I won’t quit!” at which point several of the spectators go nuts and scream words of encouragement. A few minutes later, Patrick drives by me in the van with everybody in it and they tell me to keep it up. Hilary says “Good job Bud!”. Patrick tells me that I can break 12 hours if I can keep my current pace. “You got it, Coach!”, I yell back. Hilary says “Go Scott! See you at the finish line!” and the van load drives off to park and get everybody a place at the finish line area.
After a few minutes, Brian catches me again and we resume running to the next aid station where I do my usual walk and refuel. At that point, I think Brian kept on running, because I didn’t see him again on the race, and he finished 4 minutes ahead of me. I stick to my plan and keep cooling down with ice and fueling up to keep my energy levels going. Coming out of the aid station I end up beside a lady and we run together. After a while of talking about the race and the run, we exchange names; “Katherine, from Toronto”, she says. She really wants to break 12 hours and so do I, so it’s perfect, we keep a good pace together and have slowly increased our speed. We are both clear about how close it will be to make 12 hours and that we really must push. We are getting ever closer to downtown and the number of fans is increasing. There has been chalk on the road with words of love and encouragement for the whole race course, but now there is more and more of it. I read a lot of it and smile, taking in the words for me, even though they may have been written for another person. Things like ‘you are doing great!’, ‘I’m proud of you’, ‘go Ironman!’, lots of stuff like that. It’s very motivating and distracting too, which is also a help at this point. Lots of the spectators read our names as we go by and say encouraging things using our names. It’s pretty cool, like the whole world knows who you are. Katherine and I are running a great pace now and have about 4kms to go. I know that in training I can run about 5 minutes per km if I am fresh. That would mean 20 minutes. We are clearly slower than that at this point, probably 7 or 8 minutes per km, and we have around a half hour before the 12th hour turns over on the clock. That means 28 to 32 minutes, not including walking the aid stations. That means we have to hurry. It feels so good to run beside someone and Katherine feels the same as we talk about it in our broken sentences. We walk quickly and briefly through the last aid station before Lakeshore Drive and I mostly just cool off and splash water on myself. My stomach is no longer interested in anything, and I am close enough now that I know I don’t need to fuel any more. Katherine begins to fade a bit and I encourage her to keep going. She tells me to go for it, she will keep pushing, but she has to slow down. I wish her luck and keep pushing. Running along the last stretch of downtown; I scan the pavement for chalk. On Saturday, Patrick and his kids, along with my friend Annie, were chalking the road here.
Annie wrote “Fly Skylark Fly 663”. Since I know it is there, I look for it, and I smile when I see it. It gives me a boost and I speed up. At the 2 km remaining mark, the run turns left towards the west end of Lakeshore Drive where the SS Sicamous paddle wheeler boat rests. Lots of athletes have told me how they don’t like this part, because you can see the finish line 200 metres to your right, and then you run away from it for a kilometre. I don’t even notice the finish line, nor do I look right. I know my goal is to the left and I am very focused on that goal. It’s seems funny that people were finishing a few feet away from me and I don’t remember even being aware of it. Just the road ahead of me existed and I kept running. My pace was quickening every few minutes as I found new reserves. About two-thirds of the way up Lakeshore, there is another aid station and I grab ice, water and sponges. This time I do not stop to walk, nor do I slow down. I thank the volunteers and keep on running. The crowds are thick now and yelling tons of encouragement. I round the turn at the SS Sicamous and head towards the finish line. The finish line. Wow. It sinks in. I have completed 225 kilometres and have 1 to go. And I have to hurry. I don’t even look at my watch at this point, it’s too late. I know that I have to push as hard as I can and find new energy. Every second counts and I have to push. I don’t want to collapse before the line, but I also don’t want to leave anything out. My pace quickens. I feel half like I want to collapse and half like I can fly. I focus on the flying feeling and speed up. At around 800 metres to go, I can see the black top of the finish line arch and I focus on it like my eyes are connected to it. At about 500 metres I am running nearly full out and I can see the numbers ticking by: 11:55, 11:56, and I speed up even more. Out of the corner of my eye, to the left, I see Patrick and the kids and then Hilary, they are screaming out something encouraging and I retain my focus on the numbers. I think I smiled at my Wife, but all I remember for sure is sprinting. I remember running so fast it felt like my legs weren’t touching the ground any more, like I was weightless. At 11:57 I knew I had made it and I slowed for the last few steps to allow the man ahead of me to finish without me running him down. I decelerated across the line and let out a yell of total elation as I looked at the sky with my fists clenched and my arms raised. What a feeling!!! I did it! I frikkin did it! Ironman! In under 12 hours!!! Holy crap; I did it!!!
Just then Bill came up to me. Bill was assigned to me for the next 10 minutes to make sure I was o.k. He had a big smile for me and looked in my eyes and asked how I was doing. “Great! Unbelievable!” “How are you feeling?” “I’m not sure yet.” Bill asked if I was dizzy or light headed. “A bit light headed” I said, “but I feel good.” A lady placed the finishers’ medal over my head and I thanked her with a huge grin. Bill walked me over to another volunteer who asked what t-shirt size I wanted. She handed Bill my large finishers’ shirt along with an Ironman runners cap and silicone rubber bracelet that said ‘Ironman Canada Finisher’. Another volunteer handed me a bottle of Gatorade and Bill walked with me through the chaos of the finish area and over to the food and reunion area. I drank some of the Gatorade down, feeling thirsty and then picked up some watermelon. Bill continued to ask how I was feeling, asking if I was cold or anything. I talked with him a bit about feeling great, just tired and almost out of my body. Just then Annie and Dianne came screaming up to me cheering and yelling things like “You did so awesome! You looked amazing!! Holy cow you finished so strong!” We exchanged big hugs and I grinned and laughed. Bill asked if they would be with me for a few minutes to make sure I was fine. He handed my hat and shirt to Annie and we thanked Bill as he went back to catch another finisher. These volunteers are amazing! I spoke with Annie and Dianne for a bit and then said I was going to head over to the Transition area to get some warm clothes. They said “congratulations” again and headed back out to watch more people finish and look for Hayley to come through. Inside I knew that one of the reasons I wanted to head over to transition is that I was not feeling well. The Gatorade was not sitting well in my stomach at all. I walked over to the transition area and bent over a dirt flower bed area and threw up. Instantly a volunteer was there with her hand on my shoulder. “Are you o.k.?” I threw up some more, then said “Yah, I’m o.k., I just had some Gatorade and my stomach is not impressed. I threw up again, and by then there were 2 more volunteers and a medical guy with badges on his white shirt, at my side. I stood up and the medical-ambulance-looking guy asked if I was o.k. I tell him that I avoided Gatorade the whole race and then had some at the finish line and that caused me to throw up. He said he had better take me to the medical tent just to make sure I was o.k. I thanked the other volunteers and headed over to the tent, a few feet away. I was given a seat in the assessment tent and a volunteer nurse, Maureen I think, asked how I was doing. She gave me some pretzels to chew on, but I thanked her and said I had tried one of those just before I threw up. She asked if I would like some chicken soup and I said, “that would be great!” I said that I was starting to get cold and in a few seconds she had a volunteer there to get my race number and go get my dry clothes bag for me. I thought to myself that it was over 12 hours ago that I left my dry clothes bag in some random area near the beach at the swim start. Not remotely anywhere official or handy, but I knew that it had my race number on it. Sure enough this volunteer arrived in a few minutes with my bag and all my stuff in it. These people are so amazing! They had found my bag and taken it several blocks to the transition area, placed it on the hook with my race number and made sure I got it. Wow. In the meantime Maureen had given me a silver space blanket and some soup. It is amazing how good something so simple can taste! My favourite meal in the world was now this soup. Sitting-in-the-medical-tent-after-Ironman-chicken-soup. Best meal ever. While I sipped my soup and waited for my dry clothes to arrive I had watched people come into the tent. It was a powerful scene. They have over 30 Doctors and Nurses who volunteer their time for the event. All of the supplies are provided by the race organizers and all of the labor is volunteer. It’s amazing. Athletes would come in with a volunteer on either arm and you could tell in the athletes’ eyes that they were no longer present in their body. They had just run the race of their life and were completely empty. A vacant stare and rigid limbs supported by caring volunteers as they were escorted, non responsive, into the back of the medical tent. At one point a crash cart would come zipping through with a few volunteers calling for a clear path and somebody on the cart in fetal position, shaking badly and an IV tube already in their arm with saline solution being put in to rehydrate their body. I was pretty clear that as soon as my dry clothes arrived I was out of there! My seat needed to be clear for someone who really needed it! Once my stuff arrived, I threw on my fleece and got out of my running shoes (good lord did THAT feel good!) into some dry socks and sandals, and headed out; thanking everybody for their help. I wandered over to the massage line up, thinking that it wasn’t too busy now, and the line up was fairly short. I spoke with a fellow from Japan who had done many Ironman competitions and this was his favourite. He must have been easily in his mid 40’s and it was fun to speak with him. I was soon in the tent and over to see Andrea, who owns an aromatherapy shop in Kelowna and does massage as well. The tables we are on are actually banquet tables with bubble wrap packing material on them. Whatever. I climb aboard and relax. Andrea works gently but firmly on my tired muscles. When she works on my feet it feels so amazing I can hardly believe it. There is nothing like making yourself feel horrible in order to appreciate feeling good. The massage is amazing and feels wonderful. Andrea and I have a great chat about the race, life and other stuff. She is a wonderful lady and does a great job of making sure I am cared for. True to the volunteers in this place, she was scheduled for a 2 hour shift and had been there for over 4 hours now. She holds up a blanket while I change out of my tri suit and into my fleece. Getting out of the wet suit was due to her observation, as I was cold at one point and she suggested that I get out of my suit. I instantly felt better and walked out into the world to find Hilary. I knew she had probably been looking for me, but I really had to take care of myself first and I knew she would understand that.
I walked around the spectator area for a while, watching people finish and then made my way back to the food area. I had some fruit, a bagel and pizza. The pizza sounded like a good idea, but didn’t sit all that well. Hilary found me and we shared a massive hug. She was grinning at me constantly and said all kinds of wonderful things about how proud of me she was. It was a great moment and we held each other several times.
We walked over to the spot in the street where Patrick and the kids were waiting for Hayley and said hello. Patrick lit up when he saw me and gave me a big hug and said congratulations. He asked me how I was feeling and kept one eye on the road looking for Hayley. Hayley was late, far later than predicted. Hayley had a great swim and a solid bike, so even walking the marathon, she should have been in by now. Something must have gone wrong and we were pretty worried. I needed some food and something to drink, and I knew just what I wanted: Tim Horton’s. It was about three stores away from where we were sitting, so I walked over alone and got a large Iced Cappuccino and a 12 grain bagel. The first sip of that ice cap was again, a new record for how good something could taste. I sat on the curb, ate and relaxed while the rest of the group watched for Hayley.
After about 15 minutes she came running along in the dark and we all cheered wildly for her. She looked o.k. and as she ran by she told Patrick that she had some trouble but was feeling better now. Hayley had over 2kms to go, so we knew we had 10 minutes or more to get over to the finish line area.
We headed over and watched Hayley finish in a time of 14:18:13. That was still a pretty good time considering the size of the event and the challanges she had! After that Patrick took the kids home to the house and I went over to find Hayley in the athletes’ area. I found her, we grabbed our bikes and gear and walked over to meet Hilary and put everything in the van. We drove to the house and unpacked, then sat down and toasted our success with a glass of champagne. What a day! I checked my cell phone and there were 3 messages waiting: Mom, Mother-in-Law and my best friend. I called everybody back and had a nice talk with each of them. Very cool.
At 11:15, Patrick and I headed back down to the finish line to watch the final finishers come in. It is a very emotional time and tremendously exciting! The emotions run high as we cheer these athletes home after a grueling 17 hours. The final finisher of the night, Cheryl, looked like she was not going to make the cut off at midnight. She had a long way to go and was not running at a pace that would get her across the line in time. The crowd started to cheer her on and encourage her. She began to increase her speed and had a person on either side of her and a few behind her; cheering like crazy. Soon she was running faster and faster as the crowd looked up the road towards her, then back at the clock, then back again. I would guess the crowd to be well over a thousand people and everybody was on their feet and screaming as she crossed the line in a time of 16:59:58. 2 seconds to spare. What a finish!
Around 200 people did not finish the event, which is actually pretty amazing when you think about it. Most people finished on a very hot day for a very tough event. I think that’s fantastic myself.
I picked up my finisher’s certificate on Monday and I was 571st across the line, (although a week later the website shows me as 572nd). I came out of the water in 1271st place and hopped off the bike in 644th or something like that, then finished 571st. I passed 600 people on the bike! Wow. So despite my body complaints, I lined up Monday and paid my entry fee for the 2006 Ironman Canada competition. I plan to spend the year getting stronger in the run and swim.
Next year my number one goal is the same: Finish. Beyond that, I would love to be faster than this year. My big goal is to be close to 10 hours and qualify for the World Championships in Hawaii.
Thanks for reading and sharing my experience, and thanks to everyone who was there to cheer me on; Hilary, Patrick and the kids, Annie, Ralph and Dianne.