Picking up the Pieces: An Ironman Canada Race Recap

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I’ll be honest.  I knew going in to Ironman Canada that, with my recent injuries, the race might not go as I had envisioned it back when I began my training at the start of the new year.  But, if you had told me that I would face my first DNF because of near hypothermia, I wouldn’t have believed a single word.  I didn’t see this one coming.  At all.

Race Day: July 26, 2015

The alarm clock on my phone went off at 3:00 am.  I was able to pop right up (I probably wasn’t even asleep).  I remember grabbing my phone and going straight to my weather app for the day’s forecast.  The weather had been changing so much since we arrived the Tuesday before, that, while I knew the forecast had been calling for rain and cooler temperatures on race day, I had hope that the rain would do what it had done on the previous days.  Fizzle out.  My weather app told me:

  • 53 degrees by the time I hit transition
  • a drop in temperature to around 50 degrees just before the race start with the rain coming in at 7:00 am and lasting about an hour
  • only a hit-or-miss shower after 8:00; cool temperatures
  • winds around 4-5 mph

I remember saying to myself, “it’ll be a tough day, but you got this” and then I shut the phone, sipped some coffee and had breakfast #1.  Not long after, I got dressed, threw on some water-proof mascara and before I knew it, it was time to roll out to T2.

The hubs and I stayed at the Pinnacle Hotel Whistler which was only a short walk to the lot where T2 was set up.  I was dressed in my tri shorts and sports bra, covered by sweatpants, a long-sleeved shirt, a zip-up hoodie, and a beanie.  The temperature was very comfortable for what I was wearing.  When down at T2, I stripped down for body-marking, re-dressed, and then dropped off my nutrition in my run gear bag.  After a few words of encouragement from one of my awesome SOAS Racing teammates, it was off to the bus which would shuttle us down to T1 at the lake.

While on the bus ride down to the lake, I remember thinking to myself that the outside temperature really wasn’t all that bad.  In fact, I remember it being colder at the start of last year’s race.  The bus ride was dark and quiet.  Not too many words were shared by any of the athletes.  I just stared out of the window, trying to calm my mind and find focus for the day.

Our bus was one of the first few to arrive at T1, which was great.  I love getting everything settled and prepared for the day without fighting for space.  The first thing the hubs and I did was get in line to put air in our tires.  Once that was done, I racked Bullet and loaded him with my nutrition and water.  I dropped off a few items at my bike gear bag and then walked the route from the swim exit to my gear bag to the change tent and then to the bike rack, just to make sure I knew exactly where to go.  Then, it was time for my second breakfast.  While nibbling on my gomacro bar and sipping on a little pre-mixed Tailwind Nutrition, I looked up at the sky and actually saw a little blue peeking through some broken clouds.  Could it be that the weather really was going to work out in our favor?

A few minutes later, announcements were made that transition would be closing and that the water would be open for warm-up swims, so I wiggled into my wetsuit and left transition.  It was at that very moment that the rain clouds were starting to set in and there was a noticeable drop in temperature.  The hubs gave me a kiss good-bye, wished me luck, and hit the water for a warm-up.  I opted to wait until after the national anthem for my warm-up swim, and just as I was making my way in to the water, a light rain kicked in.

The water was a warm welcome from the cold, as it was around 67 degrees and the outside temp was in the low 50s.  I did a little swimming to get my heart rate up and then hunted for a starting spot.  I opted for a spot near the back and a good bit right of the buoys since I’m not the fastest swimmer.  As I bobbed up and down in the water, surrounded by 1600+ other pink and green swim caps, I thanked God for the moment, my health, the surrounding beauty, and the peace that was within me.  And then the 30 seconds-to-start warning was given….

The canon fired and all hell broke loose.  If you’ve never seen or experienced a mass start swim in an Ironman, it’s quite extraordinary.  Every athlete begins to swim at the same time, arms flailing, feet kicking, thrashing and smashing, and we’re all in search of our “piece” of water.  It’s quite funny how we all seem to want the same “piece” of water, too.  After a few seconds, I was able to get into a rhythm, although it was still quite congested around me.   I accepted the fact that it would likely be crowded until I got through the first 1.2 mile loop, and I was right.  Otherwise, the swim was off to a pretty good start.

I had set my watch to alert me when 45 minutes had passed.  I knew that I didn’t want my swim time to be more than 1.5 hours so with that alert, I knew that I needed to be starting my second loop or already on the second loop.  When my watch “buzzed” I was already on loop 2.  Yes!  And finally, some clean water.  However, with each sighting, I could feel the rain pelting down harder.  The lake wasn’t as smooth as it was with the first loop.  The wind had definitely started to pick up.  And then I started to notice that the water temperature felt a little cooler.  On the final stretch to the swim exit, I could tell that the weather wasn’t going anywhere.  The chop on the lake was starting to pick up, so I was thanking God again that I was just a few hundred yards away from shore.

Swim time: 1:30:34

I got out of my wetsuit, grabbed my gear bag and ran into the overly crowded change tent.  The roof of the tent was leaking in places so rain was splashing in areas, making it hard to even keep gear dry.  I toweled off the best I could, given the very little space I had, and threw on my tri tank, arm warmers, jersey, socks, gloves and helmet.  Although, it was a downpour outside of the tent, I threw my sunglasses in my jersey pocket….just in case something miraculous happened.  Stopped by the port-a-let on my way to Bullet.

T1 time: 13:46  (I have got to get better at this one!)

By the time I reached the bike out area, I was pretty much drenched from head to toe.  And this my friends, is where everything went all wrong.  Quickly.  I could feel the chill in the air but I was convinced that once I hit some of those hills heading out of Alta Lake, I’d warm up.  It was cold, rainy, and windy but I was managing okay.  That is, until I made the turn onto the main highway.    While there are a some good hills to warm up on, there are also some very fast descents on the way to the Callaghan climb.  At this point, the rain was pelting down, the wind felt like it was cutting right through me, and I could feel the cold setting in.  My body felt like it was shutting down and I hadn’t given it permission to.  With every fast descent, my body chilled even more in the wind and rain.  My feet felt frozen and my hands were losing feeling.  “Take in nutrition.  Drink.”  I kept reminding myself that my body needed those things but I was already having a difficult time grabbing my nutrition bottle.  “You’ll warm up on the Callaghan climb.  Just get to the climb and you’ll be fine.”  I told this to myself over and over.  I have never looked so forward to climbing in all my life. Just before the base of the climb, I could feel the muscles in parts of my body seizing up.  My teeth were chattering and I was losing power to turn the pedals over.  Then, the uncontrollable body shakes started.

I made the right-hand turn onto Callaghan Valley Rd, and once again, told myself it would be okay…I was going to warm up on the climb.  Unfortunately, it’s at this point that I only have a few memories as things got a little hazy for me.  A little ways up the climb I started to realize that something really wasn’t right.  I just didn’t feel right and I was still having moments of uncontrollable trembling.  I remember seeing Wes as he was descending.  He gave me the “ok” sign and I gave him the “it ain’t going well” sign.  I remember trying to change gears on my bike but I was struggling to actually move the shifter.  It was almost like it was frozen but the real problem was in my hands.  I couldn’t feel my hands and I felt as if there were no power in my arms to assist my hands.  There were parts of this climb that went by and I don’t remember what I was doing, what I saw, what was going on around me, but obviously I kept pedaling.  I remember thinking that if I was having trouble changing gears, braking on the descent was going to be tricky, too.  My next memory was of me reaching the top of the climb, looking around and seeing so many people off of their bikes.  At the time, it didn’t make sense to me.  I remember slowly making the turn at the turn-around, and this is where it just gets plain scary for me to think about.  I have exactly two memories from the descent.  1.  Not long after the turn-around, another athlete rode up beside me and said something like, “I know you’re trying to be safe (the roads were wet) but you HAVE to pedal.  Your body needs to warm up.”  2. I remember seeing one of the signs that showed the gradient of 10% downhill.  Other than that, it’s all a bit foggy.  My body was shaking and I couldn’t control it.  When I got to the bottom of Callaghan, I made the left-hand turn and came to a halt at the aid station.  I don’t know why I stopped or how I stopped.  Thank God I didn’t cause a wreck for anyone who was behind me!  I remember volunteers running towards me with blankets and helping me off my bike.  They wrapped me and helped me on to a heated bus.  Someone from the first-aid team came to check me out.  I remember having a few layers taken off of me and being rewrapped with the blankets and having my vitals taken.  I remember being asked a series of questions that I knew the answers to, I just couldn’t get the answers out quickly.  Sometime later (I don’t know how long), I was re-examined and told that I was starting to warm up, I was going to be okay, but my day was done.

I’ll spare the details of the meltdowns (yes, there was more than one) that followed once my mind started to clear up and I realized that six months of hard work, determination, and sacrifice had just gone straight out of the window.  A DNF is now part of my journey.  I’m not thrilled about it, but I also believe that everything happens for a reason.  This happened for a reason, and I may never know why, so the only thing I can do is to learn from it and move forward.  Time to pick up the pieces and get back at it!  Up next….Ironman Louisville! #redemption

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3 thoughts on “Picking up the Pieces: An Ironman Canada Race Recap

  1. I’m sorry you had such a bummer of a day, but very glad you are alright! Thankfully you are signed up for IM Louisville and can get some serious redemption!! I’ll be cheering for you lady!!

    Like

    • Thank, Kecia! I’m definitely looking forward to L-ville! Loved reading your IMBoulder posts and tracking you on race day. I was cheering all the way from SC. You had an amazing day!! You are a true inspiration!

      Liked by 1 person

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