How'd I Get Here?
Sign Me Up!
I swore around the start of my first Ironman (Mont Tremblant in 2013) that I'd never do another. Yet there I was, the moment registration opened last August, calendar blocked so nobody would interrupt me as I registered for Ironman Muskoka 2015...the BEAST of a course with a punishing bike that I knew (almost too) well from three 70.3 races and countless training rides from my dad's Baysville home over the years. I was pumped. I was determined. And then life happened.
Forks in the Road
I have a job and a community and a family that I love, and I like to give all I have to all of them. Sometimes I burn out. And sometimes my old friends anxiety and depression like to come hang out for a bit, and sometimes we get so wrapped up in what we're doing that it's hard to break away from them for a workout (or a visit or much of anything else that brings me joy). And as I was asking them to move along so I could get back to the good stuff, I lost one of my favourite people on this planet. So they stuck around a bit longer to keep me company.
At the same time, my body was trying to recover from a chest cold that wouldn't quit. Every workout was a disastrous mess of hacking, coughing, and miserable performance, followed by a day of more coughing and full-body exhaustion. I tried an inhaler, and it helped a bit, but I still struggled so I wasn't enjoying myself at all.
In the background, my training suffered and my goals started to fade from my consciousness. I went from time goals written on my mirror to "maybe I'll just try to finish" to "worst case, I don't do it...I'd sacrifice the entry fee, but at the end of the day, it's just money." (Yes, I know how privileged I am to be able to say that.)
Fine, I'll Do It
But...I'm stubborn (determined?). And my son told me the thing he was most looking forward to this summer was Ironman. (Dammit.) So in the late spring, I was back in business. Or at least getting there mentally, and training as much as I could in my very full life.
[Insert montage of your choice, but mine is backed by Pat Benetar's "Invincible"]
I drove up from London solo on Friday, which was probably good for everyone in my family, because my pre-race anxiety was at its peak. I stopped at my parents', and we all drove to Huntsville so I could drop off my car rental and get to registration at Deerhurst. I never cease to be amazed at the organizational powerhouse that is the Ironman brand, and this was no exception. Coming in near the end of the day, the crowd was gone, and I had time to chat with the lovely volunteers as I signed my life away and gathered up my race goodies and swag.
With that out of the way, Dad, Anna, and I went to enjoy a good feed at 3 Guys and a Stove (side note: go there), and we were all in bed at 9:30!
My boys got in later that night (that's another story for another time), and in the morning, we made our way back to Deerhurst so I could tuck my pretty bike in for an overnight, and scope out the Ironman store, because I simply cannot help myself. I bought the commemorative t-shirt, because my name is on the back, you guys.
After that, we had a whirlwind of family visits and anxiety and love and fun before my rather non-traditional pre-race dinner of steak, potatoes, and corn (every body's different...mine likes this) and another early (yet nearly pointless) trip to bed.
The Main Event
Up at 4 am, Andy, Jeremy, and Samantha joined me for the drive to Deerhurst as I made sure I had my nutrition, gear bags, and bike ready to go before getting into my wetsuit. I was feeling strong and happy. I met great people in transition, and said hi to a friend who lived on my floor in residence in my first year at U of T.
When I got down to the water, and zipped into my wetsuit, I felt ready to take on the world...and somehow at peace. I lined up according to the time I thought I'd do (1:30-1:40) and waited to enter the water. And as I jumped in and took off, I easily found my rhythm and urged myself to enjoy the moment and ignore the clock, which I did until I was 2K in at 43 minutes (a great time for me).
As I turned around the buoys, I felt the pure joy of surprising myself...and knowing I was headed back to shore. I spent the whole swim in an almost meditative state, feeling such gratitude for the cleansing feeling of the lake water around me as I moved. And when I got out of the water with a personal best at 1:28:11, I was on top of the world, and ready for the bike.
And was I EVER ready! I know this course. It's tough. Even for Ironman. So my plan was to take it easy for 15-20K as I settled in. I tried, but with all of those hills, riders get clumped together, and I live in perpetual fear of a drafting violation, so I would alternate between powering past people and coasting after they passed me. This is a course of constantly trading places as strong climbers passed on the hills, and solid all-around cyclists took over again on the downhills and rare flats.
During the first loop, the weather was perfect. Slightly overcast, and hardly any wind along Hwy 117, the one spot in the course where I could pick up some speed and feel like I was riding well.
Which I was. I surprised my family in Baysville, where I felt like a celebrity between my spectating family, the loads of volunteers who know me at the bottle drop, and the local fire department (including my dad) working the medical station.
I was having a great ride all the way through that first loop, until about 90K when I got off for a pee break and felt myself wobble. The wobble stuck with me in various forms as the heat picked up (and I slowed down) through the second loop.
From the bike special needs stop to Dorset, where the sight of my family (Andy, Jeremy, Mom, and Karola) lifted my spirits, I was miserable and incredibly unkind to myself. After that moment of joy, I soon hit 117 and a headwind, which broke my spirit once again.
By the time I hit Baysville, I didn't like any of this Ironman business anymore. When I saw Anna at the volunteer station, I told her I might stop after the bike, but that I didnt want to disappoint anyone. She reassured me that I was what mattered, and that helped.
When I saw Dad (and Nanny) soon after that, I said the same thing...that I was considering scrapping the run. And I saw the look on Dad's face...most certainly not disappointment at all. After I made the turn onto Brunel and started feeling stronger again, I realized it was his, "yeah, right. Let me know when THAT happens look." He knew before I did that there wasn't a hope in hell I wasn't doing this thing. I spent the next 20K focused and ready to run, finishing my bike with ANOTHER personal best at 7:24:03!
Now, that RUN! I know they tried to flatten it out, but you really just can't around there. I know that. And I was actually fine for the first 9K or so. I was figuring it out, running between each aid station, then stopping and walking while I munched and sipped away on whatever goodies were handed to me.
I think one mistake was that I indulged in too many goodies at the beginning of the run. But, you GUYS, there were pretzels AND chips AND grapes AND oranges AND bananas. I know better than to eat pretzels AND chips at one station and then eat again at the next station and then at the next. But I was disoriented and dumb. And I paid for what I ate (and my performance on my swim and my bike).
Anyway...the run was tough, but lovely. The crowd support in Huntsville was incredible (partly because it included Anna, Aunt Sue, Samantha, and some triathlon buddies). After that first turnaround, though, I fell apart. It was all I could do to find my running gear back to Deerhurst, and much of the time, I just walked and dreaded the turnaround for yet ANOTHER loop.
As I hobbled up the hill toward Deerhurst, I was thrilled to see Andy, Jeremy, Mom, and Karola again. It was bittersweet, as I knew about half of the people around me were finishing up while I was only halfway there, but as my kid ran me up the hill, I felt strong and proud.
About 500m into lap two, I felt something sharp in my knee. My first thought was, "I didn't even want to DO this run...I had to wait until I'd done a full LOOP before getting hurt?! " But then I dug into my well of determination, walked it off for a minute, and realized I was fine.
Or...as fine as I was going to be a couple kilometres before hitting the wall. And did I EVER. As I turned into Hwy 60, I knew I was in for a LONG night. I just had nothing left. It was all I could do to get one foot in front of the other, though I did pick it up so I'd look strong passing Dad and Samantha where they were waiting—where they knew I'd get lonely. And they were right.
As we turned off the big road and into the quieter neighbourhood, I felt utterly defeated until I happened upon a couple other folks who were having a tough day, too. We chatted as we walked, and then I found Anna and Aunt Sue in Huntsville, and then I found the strength to run (shuffle?), and then I walked with someone else as I struggled, and then I ran, and then I found my daddy and my cousin once again, and then I walked, and then I found another friend, and then I ran it in after seeing Mom, Andy, and my awesome kid once again.
In that moment, as I found another gear (one that, in hindsight, I wished I'd found much earlier on that brutal run), I didn't care one bit about my speed on the run, because I was seconds away from THAT voice.
"Rachel, YOU. ARE. AN IRONMAN!"