Thursday, September 6, 2012

Ironman Canada Race Report

Ironman Canada Race Report
Penticton, BC
Full Ironman Distance
Sunday, August 26th

Penticton, BC. Swim start and city with Skaha
Lake in the background.

Just a quick pre-note, I write my race reports for both non athlete and triathlete audiences. So sometimes I explain things that may not be clear to a non triathlete and sometimes I don’t. I assume that not everyone is interested in the ins and outs of shin splints or saddle sores. :)

Finally, finally, finally. Race week had arrived. Our group including me, Sarah, Eric, and Monika arrived on Wednesday night before the race so that we would have lots of time to get all or our pre race preparations completed and get the lay of the land and weather. Thursday was spent doing check in, checking out the gear store and vendors, visiting the ART (Active Release Therapy) tent, picking up bikes, and grocery shopping. It was exhausting and I unfortunately woke up the next day with a very sore throat. So Friday was a little lower key with just a brief 5 mile shake down ride, shopping, resting, and the athletes dinner in the evening. Saturday again called for rest and I only left the condo to drop off my bike and transition bags. I felt much better than I did Friday morning and went to bed around 8 pm.  Sleep wasn’t ideal, I felt as if I woke up every hour or two thinking about what I needed to do before leaving the condo the next morning. Surprisingly, all during this lead up to the race I was not particularly nervous. I knew the nerves would come but I had too much prep and chores to get done before the race to start worrying about race day before it arrived.

I woke up to the smell of coffee on race morning and flipped over to see that my clock said 4:22 am. Ugh. Alarm did not go off so my day got off to a harried start. My throat was sorer than it had been on Saturday but there was no stopping now. Oatmeal, coffee, bathroom, swim clothes and warms ups on, grabbed special needs and swim bags and off Monika, Ellen, and I went around 5:10 am. Bag drop off, body marking, inflating tires, port-o-let line, good byes to Ellen, swim/wetsuit prep, and Omnipod (insulin pump) controller and CGM drop off were all easily accomplished by 6:30am and our group queued up to go through the start corral and down to the beach. One interesting bit was that the team at the table where I dropped off my diabetes tools marked my face with a blue zinc marker. I wasn’t sure why but it came into play later.

This is where the nerves kicked in both because the time was drawing near and because it gets really crowded in this area with over 2000+ athletes trying to get down to the beach. I grabbed on to Sarah’s arm so I wouldn’t get separated from the crowd and we started heading to the far left area of the beach. We hugged Monika good bye since she is a great swimmer and was willing to get in the crowds with the stronger folks. I definitely felt some emotion and anxiety at that point and I wished her a great and safe race. Eric, Sarah, and I made our way to the back wall to wait for the start. O Canada was sung, and we realized it was a little odd not to hear your own national anthem before a race but kind of cool too, and the countdown began. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…

Expected: 1:30
Actual: 1:28:44

We let the masses that were already in the water get out before us and patiently waded into the water. Eric headed further out to the left but I walked out right next to Sarah. Eventually we realized that we could be walking forever and needed to start swimming – so we did. The water temps were perfect, low 70s, and the visibility was excellent. I could see fish and grass below me. The course at Canada is a large rectangle with the last segment cutting back in to the shore to add a little more distance than on the way out. I decided before hand to take it easy until the last segment so I went out wide and easy and had LOTS of room. I knew this meant I was way wide of the buoys but it felt so good that I decided not to worry. For most of this segment I was swimming right next to Sarah and slowly passing a good deal of people. We were sighting off a ‘cut’ in the mountains in the distance because the turn buoys were so far out (remember, single loop course) that you couldn’t see them from the start. I was only touched or touched others a couple of times and got to the turn in a clean and easy fashion. I wasn’t even certain that I had gotten to the turn until I heard someone saying ‘swim to your right, swim to your right’ and had to re-establish my line.

The next short segment at the top of the rectangle was tougher. There were a lot of boats out at this portion of the course and the fumes were strong. I popped my head up to see what I should sight off of and noticed that Sarah popped up right next to me. I said ‘Hello there! Half way done’, we laughed and continued on. I had a little more bumping with fellow participants in this short segment as there was less room between all the boats and kayaks. I began to have an issue that I’ve never had before on a swim and was a direct result of my cold, “nasal stuff” (If you know me well you know I have an aversion to the words for nasal secretions) pouring out of my nose. Ugh. I blow out through my nose so it simply wouldn’t stop and felt gross.

As we came around the second turn I popped up again to wipe my nose and Sarah stopped too. I assured her nothing was wrong other than my nose running and spent the beginning of my last swim segment wiping my nose again and again. The water chop also picked up precipitously. It wasn’t exactly windy, we had seen VERY windy the days before the race and just how choppy the water could get but even a little chop was disorienting. At this point I was getting frustrated and decided that I needed to focus on enjoying the swim as it would be the only time I would be doing my ‘first’ ironman swim. So I started looking at the mountains on the right as I was breathing. I must have gotten a little carried away though because I had lost Sarah and was way left of the rest of the field. At this point no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t seem to swim far enough right to get in with the crowd. I knew the course cut to the right but this was ridiculous.  Then my calves started to threaten to cramp and I couldn’t keep my toes pointed any longer so I had to drop them downward and drag them. Luckily all the swim training paid off though and I had the shoulder and arm strength to keep plowing along though not at a great pace. I began to think this is such a LONG swim, there is no way I am going to do 1:30 and had to resist the temptation to look at my watch. I knew there were red buoys that marked the last 500 meters of the swim and gladly saw them pretty far off on the right. I spent that last 500 meters willing and pushing myself to the right and making myself keep swimming though I could have walked. I paused to tread water and wade out so I had one more opportunity to empty my bladder (yes, triathletes totally pee in the water – as much and as often as possible) and walked out.

I finally looked at my watch and saw 1:26. Unfortunately I was standing on a bunch of rocks and had to flop back in the water and skim along the bottom to find a sandy area to stand up in.

I couldn't get my arm out of that sleeve!
Note the blue face marking to indicate I had left
something  on the table of the swim exit.
What I did well: I did manage to avoid the scrum of people and had very little contact. For all the waiting I did at the back of the pack and swimming off course in the last segment I clocked a good time. No doubt I could have done better.
What I could improve on: Hello! Not swimming off course! I am still confused as to how I couldn’t get back in line with the field. It would be one thing if the group was swimming to the left but it was to the right and that is the direction I tend to pull off course. Maybe learn to mix it up a little easier so that I get the benefit of the group draft.

T1 (Swim to Bike)

Here’s where the blue mark on my face came into play. As I ran up the beach I saw someone running towards me and then quickly away calling my number. I walked over the swim exit/timing mat and a volunteer immediately steered me to the table to get my pump controller and CGM which was handed right to me. Cool! I then went to the wetsuit strippers who seemed surprised when all the gels dropped out of my wetsuit – I had them stored there just in case my blood sugar went low. Got up from the strippers and then onto the transition bag area where my bag was handed directly to me and into the changing tent.

The tent was chaos but a volunteer intercepted me and steered me to a chair and dumped out my bag for me. She noticed my tremor and diabetes equipment so she stuck right by my side the entire time I was in the tent. I had clearly over packed as we couldn’t be sure exactly what kind of weather we were going to get the morning of the race – Penticton weather changes on a dime – but my volunteer reassured me that my cool weather gear was not needed. I changed everything, including my sports bra and checked my blood sugar – 124. Excellent! I took in a gel and opted not to turn my pump rate up. My volunteer applied sunscreen in all the right places that only a fellow athlete knows (concentrating on the shoulders and back) and I told her so. It turns out that she had done her first ironman at Mont Tremblant the week before. I congratulated her on her finish and away I went to get mine.

Expected: 7:00 - 7:30
Actual: 7:55:01

I headed out on Main Street and immediately began looking for the cheering crew; Ellen, Jesse, Stephanie, Belinda, and Jarrett. I saw them within a few blocks and got even more excited about being on the bike. I was ready to DO THIS! Temperature and conditions were again perfect for me, temps in the mid 70s to low 80s, bright and sunny.

Early in the ride along Skaha Lake.

I very much took it easy on the way out of town. Coach Mary had warned me that hammer heads would be flying by and they were. I definitely wanted to kick but when I looked at my heart rate I could see that it was higher than what I felt and knew I needed to chill out. At mile 16 the first test on the course comes, McLean Creek Rd., which is a fairly short but steep 9% grade. I very quickly started passing people but when I down shifted to my easier gears I immediately started hearing a bunch of grinding and skipping. Argh! I had to unclip and step off the side of the road at the steepest part of the climb. I got my chain properly placed on the cassette and started looking for an opportunity to get back on the road. Since it was such a steep area and there were lots of folks on the road I had to cross the street to the other side to get my momentum going again.

I immediately started thinking about the descent that was coming next. It wasn’t a long one or particularly that steep but it was going to be my first test of several that was to come. I have very much feared descents the whole season, my hands start trembling and then the trembling gets into my body and translates into my bike. It’s frightening and makes me feel out of control. It occurred to me that while I had tried saying positive affirmations and mantras, I hadn’t tried singing. I’m not much of a singer but thought I would give it a try. I then started thinking about what to sing, something that would express the feeling I wanted to have. I wanted to feel safe and secure so I thought of the song ‘Peaceful Easy Feeling’, which I don’t at all care for, but the chorus says what I wanted to feel:

And I got a peaceful, easy feeling
And I know you won't let me down
Cause I'm already standing on the ground

So as I went down the other side of McLean creek I started belting out the chorus over and over as loud as I could. And it worked! After months and months of fear I was beyond thrilled to be doing a descent without fearing for my life. I had a few people pass me but that was quite a change from having a ton of people go by like a typical descent.

Next part of the course is a fairly flat 20ish mile stretch in a valley past Okanagan Falls, Oliver, and Oosoyos. This is where I planned to put in some speed and I got going. A few miles in though I became aware of a headache, thirst, and the need to pee. Uh oh – tell tale high blood sugar signs. I pulled out my Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM) which I expected to warn me but the monitor was showing '???' which means it is not able to read my current blood sugar. Before it had gone out though it was definitely trending up which meant that I was likely dealing with a very high blood sugar. I began scolding myself for not turning my pump basal rate up in the tent. I really should have known better even if my blood sugar was good. My body just isn’t used to going that long with minimal insulin. At the moment I was kind of stuck as I couldn’t make an on the fly basal adjustment on the bike, so I just promised myself to stop at the next aid station in Oliver. The thirst drove me to go through 2 bottles of water within the next 8 miles. Again I very consciously took time to appreciate the beauty of the mountains rising around me and the fruit orchards on the side of the road. I thanked God for bringing me on this far on the journey of the last 4 years and even shed a few tears of joy. Race day really is a gift.

Just as suspected my BG tested at 458 when I got to Oliver around mile 35. Ugh. It was a definite setback but not anything that would count me out. I went to the port o let to use the bathroom, put more chamois butter on, got more water to fill my empty bottles, and dialed up 2 units of insulin to bring down my high blood sugar. I could have used more but didn’t want to risk getting a rebound low blood sugar. I also kept eating and following my nutrition plan since I had made the mistake earlier in the season of stopping my eating when I had high blood sugar. (Thanks for that advice Vic K.!)
Back on the road and a right hand turn on to Hwy. 3 to go up the first big climb of the day, Richters Pass. I again immediately started passing people and it was pretty easy going though I was gulping a lot of water to make up for the high blood sugar. A couple of miles into the climb I passed a woman who told me that Sister Madonna Buder was just ahead of us. Sister Madonna is a legend in the triathlon world. She is a nun who began running marathons in her 50s and then moved on to triathlons. In the 25+ years since she has started doing triathlons she has completed dozens and dozens of ironmans and opened up age group after age group. If she finished this ironman, she was going to set the record as the oldest person – man or woman – to complete an ironman at age 82. I rode up to Sister Madonna and just started blabbing at her what an inspiration it was to be doing this race with her and that I had first seen her at Ironman Canada 5 years ago and her spirit had inspired me to give triathlon a try. She was very gracious to have someone blabbing at her on such a steep climb and said thank you and wished me good luck. After going past Sister Madonna I stood up for a few seconds to stretch my legs and got my first indication that something wasn’t quite right as both my quads painfully tensed up. Uh oh. There was nothing to do but sit down and keep going. I went maybe another couple miles and finished my water bottle and got to what I knew was the last short climb before the descent off Richters. I very much needed water and didn’t want to risk an on the bike water bottle switch from back to front so I pulled off to the side of the road. Bad idea – when I turned to get my bottle off the back of my bike my right quad cramped very painfully. I immediately began begging God and everyone else in the vicinity for mercy and rested my helmet on the arm rest of my aero bars. From that angle I had an up close view of what was going on with my quad and it made me queasy. My muscle had gone entirely slack and I could see the fibers twitching under the slack skin. It was stomach turning and I felt faint. People riding by me began to notice that I wasn’t looking good and began to ask if I was alright but I couldn’t speak to them. This was the closest I came to quitting. I seriously considered it but thought that I should at least try to make it down Richters before throwing in the towel. So I just sat on my bike with my head cradled in the arm rest for what seemed like a long time until the twitching and nausea subsided. There is no telling for certain what caused this cramping. Since my surgery my body doesn’t process minerals and electrolytes that efficiently so I am already magnesium and calcium deficient so cramping isn’t something new for me but I suspect that what really happened was that I was drinking a LOT more water than usual due to the high blood sugar. I had been drinking my Perform drink and taking my salt pills too but they were probably more diluted than usual.

Finally recovered and on my way again up the short, final climb and then a screaming fast descent off of Richters. I knew this was going to be the biggest descent test of the day but once again my singing the chorus of Peaceful Easy Feeling paid off. I sang it with much more frequency and a higher volume than I had coming off McLean Creek Rd. but it was still paying off. No one passed me on this descent, I felt like I was FLYING!

Next up was the 7 Rollers section of the course which covers 10 miles. These aren’t rollers like we think of here in Georgia, they were more like a real roller coaster. Very steep down hills followed immediately by very steep up hills, truly like what you would see on a roller coaster. I passed quite a few people on this section simply by keeping my speed up. I saw Meg from Atlanta at this point and it gave me a boost to see someone that I knew and have a brief chat with. Then the out and back to where our Special Needs bags were. On this part of the course I saw Monika and Eric but wasn’t at all sure how far behind them I was. I got to Special Needs and decided to stick to my plan to stop, eat, and use the bathroom. For those of you who are cyclists and triathletes I will confide that I have been nursing a saddle sore for months that was really bugging me at this point. Bugging me so much that I used these words to describe it the next day, ‘it felt like it had grown fists and was punching me over and over’. So yeah, I had to tend to that too. I checked my blood sugar and got 248. So a little more of a bolus to try to bring that down further but I was much happier with that than I had been back in Oliver.

Off again to what I thought would be my last stretch on the course – several miles through Keremos and Olalla until the base of Yellow Lake. I wasn’t setting speed records at this point and was just feeling tired. I got to the base of the Yellow Lake climb and just began grinding away. This really isn’t that difficult a climb but since it comes so far into the course, around mile 80, it feels worse than it is. I also for the first time that day began to become aware of the heat and just how little water I had left in my bottle. By this time I had gone through at least 6 bottles of water and 3 bottles of sports drink and was once again running low. So I was again forced into the position of starting a climb without easy access to water. I began the ascent and pushed through several miles and again pulled even with Sister Madonna. And this is where I got OWNED by an 82 year old nun. As I approached the sister on the penultimate climb of Yellow Lake she stood up and powered up over me and past a lot of others. One guy started saying ‘I just got chicked by Sister Madonna!”. And there were several people that were already walking this particular climb so she was stronger than a lot of us. The heat unfortunately had taken its toll on me so I had to sit back on the saddle and then stop to put more water on the front of my bike. Again, I felt faint and nauseous and little squiggly lines swam in front of my eyes. I took a few sips of water and finished the last climb. There was an aid station at the top where I stopped to get more water. The volunteer noticed that I was trembling and sunburnt and kindly suggested I get off the bike and into the med tent to cool down. I obeyed and was given a thorough check out. I was a little concerned that they weren’t going to let me go on but after sitting in the shade for 5 minutes, drinking a bottle of water, and showing them that my blood sugar was OK (185) they let me continue on after reapplying sunscreen to my shoulders and face.

Finally I was feeling good and knew this was it. After the climb at Yellow Lake/Twin Lakes it is downhill almost all the way into Penticton. Several more screamed choruses of Peaceful Easy Feeling got me down Yellow Lake and I only got passed by one person. That’s even with several curves headed down the mountain. The fact that I got past this fear on race day is nothing short of miraculous in my book. My teammates would probably tell you the same. I also saw the cheering crew as I turned onto the last stretch of Hwy 97 to go back into town. That gave me a huge pick me up. I passed by Meg again at this point and we chatted for a few moments and then I tucked into aero to finish the descent. That’s right, me in aero on a descent. I was thrilled beyond belief to be finishing this ride be descending strong and happy.

Belinda and Jarrett pulled even with me in their car and I yelled over to Belinda that I had several spots of trouble but that I was staying focused and positive. I did begin to worry a bit about my time but tried to push that out of my mind and only think about finishing the bike in a happy place.

Finally back in town on the last stretch of Main St. and I began ticking people off since I was on a flat to rising stretch and that is my favorite place to be. I went by Sister Madonna again and yelled ‘Nice job Sister – we’re done with the bike!’ and kept flying along. About 3 miles from the finish I heard something rattle to the ground. Figures – my continuous glucose monitor had fallen out of my jersey pocket. That pretty much illustrated how my ride went but there was no sense getting frustrated at this point. I just got off my bike, walked back to it and put it in my pocket and headed to transition. As I went in I saw Eric, then Monika not far behind him, and shortly after Sarah at the 2 mile marker for the run.

The bike course was a blast – definitely the highlight of doing Canada. Mountains, valleys, lakes, fruit orchards. It was challenging but so rewarding.

What I did well: I can’t say enough how excited I was to handle these descents. I am not sure that I am cured of this fear and am not anxious to put it to the test on the curvy descents of Georgia but this was my biggest fear leading into race day and it wasn’t even a factor.

I printed out my bike plan and taped it onto the water bottle that sits in my aero bars. This kept me aware of where I was on the course, notes on the big climbs, and what was to come. Worked beautifully and I was able to help others too.

Skaha Lake

McLean Creek
 Steep hill, first descent.
Vaseaux Lake

McIntyre Bluff


(Climb - 11km, 6%)
Climb to Richters:
•first slight uphill;
•then flat for a short breather;
•a tough 2.2 mile climb;
•followed by another breather;
•steep, shorter climb;
•followed by a downhill and aid station;
•then the final climb
Richter Pass
515 foot elevation drop over the next 2.5 miles
7 Rollers

(Approx 10 miles)
Series of seven  quick up and down sections
(Wind starts here)
Right on Upper Bench 7 miles out and back to Special Needs.
 (Windy, 2/3 done)

Climb to Yellow Lake:
1500 feet of climbing over about 20km of distance.  The climb is not overly steep, but long, hot, and usually windy.
Yellow Lake/Trout Lake
 Descent – left on 97

I highly recommended doing this if you have a long course that you’re not familiar with but I like to know what’s coming.

What I could improve on: Jeez – a lot went wrong and I think it can mostly be attributed to not turning down my basal rate in transition and probably resulting in dehydration and cramping. Never again will I make that mistake. All things considered I actually went pretty fast out there when you take out the multiple long stops I made and how run down I was. I think there was at least 50 min. to an hour in stop time. I am not sure that I will ever get to having less than 20 min. stop time as there is just too much I have to compensate for diabetes and nutrition wise but I can only improve on this in the future.


Again I had a full change of clothes planned for this transition. I considered skipping the bra and singlet change but since I had to change out of my bike shorts I figured I would go ahead and make the full change. The changing tent was much less crowded at this point since the large majority of the field was out on the run and the volunteers were awesome again getting all my needs tended to; wiping my feet, hands, and face and helping me test my blood. I don’t remember what my blood glucose was at this point but it didn’t require me making a pump adjustment. I got even more sunscreen applied, hit the port o lets, and was off to run.

Expected: 6:00 – 6:15
Actual: 6:26:01

I came out of transition actually feeling pretty good. The first couple of miles went fairly easy with me keeping up a pretty good shuffle. I kept thinking quick and light feet, quick and light feet. I passed by the condo and got to see the cheering squad and again got to chat and catch up with Meg. We went past the first aid station where I grabbed some Perform and an orange slice. My stomach flip flopped and I began to worry. I told Meg to go on without me and started a very quick walk. For weeks before the race I had been working on being able to do a fast walk as I knew that things could turn quickly on the run course – I just hadn’t anticipated them turning so soon.

And thus began a really long slog of about 10 miles of uncertainty and discomfort. I already had been doing some slow runs in my last few months of training and was confident that I could do the marathon ugly in 6 hours but with my stomach rebelling so early I wasn’t sure that I could make the cut off if things continued to go wrong. I ran/shuffled when I could but every effort to do that resulted in even more discomfort and nausea. Around mile 4 I got out to Skaha Lake which is a beautiful and peaceful sight so I kept my eyes directed out there and away from the other competitors that were coming back. I kept taking water and small bits of food at the aid stations but nothing was settling well. At one point I took a bite of cookie and threw it on the ground in disgust – that’s the closest I came to vomiting. Others were vomiting around me and I began to curse the fact that I had a strong stomach. I wasn’t thinking about quitting during this time but I did have to keep pushing out the thought that I wasn’t going to make it. I kept thinking about a saying Beth posted on my Facebook wall; RFM – relentless forward motion. I made myself walk fast, I swung my arms with determination, and I looked out at the lake. I pushed away negative thoughts and they were very persistent in coming. I thought about Cameron telling me one night after Master’s swim that ironman was a humbling experience. I was very much humbled. I cheered on my fellow competitors when I could and to thank the volunteers at the water stops but I wasn’t always successful. I did make myself thank each and every group of spectators I saw out along Skaha Lake. The people of Penticton really love this race and they come out and sit in their driveways to cheer us along. This cheering becomes critical later…

I knew that based on where I saw Monika, Eric, and Sarah when I was coming in on the bike course that I should see them heading back in somewhere between miles 9-11. Sure enough they did and that was a little bit of a boost. When I saw Sarah coming I waved her over to the middle of the road. I really thought about telling her that I didn’t think I was going to make it but didn’t want to voice that thought out loud. Instead I said that I couldn’t stomach anything and asked what I should do. As it turns out Sarah was having the same issue and she advised that I just keep sipping and forcing myself to nibble.
I reached the big downhill that signaled being close to the turn around. This was a relief both mentally and physically as I was able to trot/shuffle for quite a while on the momentum of that downhill and all the way to special needs. I saw Tushar with other folks from IronTeam LA and getting to chat with Tushar for a few moments also gave me a huge boost right before I sat down with my Special Needs bag.

You would think that being concerned with my ability to finish that I would have skipped Special Needs, but I had a secret weapon in that bag that I needed. A photo collage of my family. I grabbed that photo and sat down to change my socks and apply more body glide since I could feel blisters starting to form. A wonderful teenage boy who was volunteering chatted me up and helped me change my shoes. He thought I could use a bottle of water so he went and got that for me. I ran over the mat at the turn around and realized I had gotten to the half way point in a little over 3 hours, unless something went way wrong I was going to make it back in time. The sun set and I was given a glow necklace along with the rest of the crowd out on the course. It was time to get this thing done.

After the turn around I continued to see people on the left side of the road for the next 2.5 miles. I saw Meg within a few minutes of turning around so I knew something must have gone wrong for her (turns out she was dealing with more intense nausea than me) and I hoped to see her again soon. And then there was no one on the left side and it was obvious that people must have been pulled off the course. Night completely fell and all you could see was glow necklaces bouncing ahead. I kept sipping my water and running the down hills and felt better and better.  

Somewhere between mile 16 and 17 I ran right up behind Sister Madonna and was getting ready to give her a cheer but she ducked into a port o let. She looked strong though and I was absolutely certain that she was going to make it to the end. My appetite started coming back and I started pecking away at fruit and a little bit of gel at the water stops. I kept refilling my bottle and sipped away. For several miles I felt much better and was running more than I was walking. I passed quite a few people. But around mile 20 my body began to break down. My lower back, and the base of my spine in particular really began to throb with each foot step but I had experienced this on my long runs before. My feet were also very sore but that was more annoying than painful. I kept the fast walk going when I wasn’t running.

It was extremely dark by this point and pretty desolate along Lake Skaha. A cool breeze was blowing off the lake so that was refreshing. I put my little clip light on my watch so that I could point it at the road to check for cracks or obstructions. I also began using it to look at the picture collage of my family that I had in my hand. I talked out loud to my Dad and Sister about what I was doing, why I was doing it, how much I missed them. I tried to find someone to run or chat with but it wasn’t happening. This was turning into the long slog at the end that pretty much had to be done on your own.

Close to mile 20 and finally back in the Skaha Bluffs neighborhood where the neighbors were *still* out in their driveways cheering us on. They were amazing and it gave me a goal – I ran up to and beyond each group of neighbors. I thanked them profusely for being out there. I can’t say enough good things about the people of Penticton. I have never experienced a community so invested in and supportive of an event. 10pm on a Sunday night and these folks are sitting outside their houses in the cold cheering us on – unbelievable! Someone was playing music – and I caught the strains of Jessie J’s ‘Domino’. I never particularly cared that much for this song but I put on a dancing demonstration in the middle of the road and bought myself some more cheers. I looked at my watch and realized that if I really put my mind to it that I could finish under 16:00 but I honestly didn’t care. I was having fun and knew I was going to finish and it was more important to me to have fun.

Past the neighborhood and approaching the turn on to Main Street the walking wounded began to get a little ugly. I began to see the stumble and shuffle of people that were REALLY hurting. All the racers were cheering them on to keep them going. A couple of people sat down on the side of the road or on benches. Sad to say but that was likely the end for them. Less than 5 miles to go sounds SO close but when you consider that they were going to need to do 15 – 20 min. miles it didn’t look like some of them had that in them any longer.

Down the outskirts of Main St. Penticton until I saw Jesse coming up the sidewalk towards me. I can’t even remember exactly what I said to him but he walked along side me until we got to Ellen, Stephanie, Jarrett, and Belinda. Belinda fell in step with my fast walk and I started jabbering away at her about my day – I was obviously missing having company. Less than 3 miles to go and on to downtown Main St. I grabbed some Pepsi at the last water stop to keep me going and began the trot/fast walk to the end. About a mile from the finish I saw the cheering squad again and gave them my sunglasses, long sleeve shirt, and glow necklace but kept the photo collage with me to go over the finish line. I could see that Ellen was bursting with pride and excitement for me and that got me even more excited.

Left turn onto Lakeshore. At this point you are mere feet from the finish line and can hear the party but you still have to go out about half a mile on Lakeshore and turn around to come back. People on the street were beginning to tell me that I was going to be an ironman and that made me want to run it in – so I did. Turn around and heading for the last half mile. I looked at my family picture again. Last quarter mile and asking my sister and dad to carry me to the finish line. And then I was in the finishing chute and at the party. I always heard that there is nothing like the party at the finish line in the last hour of an ironman and I can tell you that it’s absolutely true. Music, lights, cheering, people beating the boards on either side of the chute. A little bit of tears but a whole lot of laughter and excitement. I high fived everyone I could get my hands on. I heard my name. I screamed with excitement. I danced and I jumped onto the finish line and through the tape.

Just a little excited before hitting the finish line.

Jumping onto the line!

Expected: 15:00 – 16:00
Actual: 16:16:29

By the way, I felt FANTASTIC after my finish. My finish line catcher seemed shocked that I felt so great. He asked me what I wanted and my response was PIZZA! I got my medal, cap, and tshirt, took my finishers pic and went straight to the food tent to start scarfing down some pizza. I felt plenty good enough to go get my own bike and gear out of transition.

What I did well: I didn’t let the dark moments suck me under but that took all the will power I had. I don’t think you can describe that feeling accurately – it’s just something you have to experience for yourself. Much different and darker than anything I’ve ever experienced in a shorter distance race.

I realized a little too late that just getting water at stops wasn’t enough hydration for me. At least I did realize it and it saved the back half of my race.

What I could improve on: Ptttthhhffft! Who cares! I got exactly what I wanted – to dance and celebrate at the finish line. I didn’t need to visit the medical tent. I’ve regretted choices I’ve made and my finishing times 9 out of 10 times I have done a race. But not this time. There's no way I would trade in my finishing experience for a better time.

Blood Glucose ranged from 124 – 458

This shows how one small mistake with diabetes can potentially ruin your whole day. I should have known better but was lulled into maintaining status quo on my basal rate since me level was so good in the tent after the swim. I really didn’t think I could rise over 300 points within 90 minutes. This happened even despite a note in my bag telling me to turn my basal up – I just ignored that based on a split second decision.

At least I stuck with my nutrition plan even when my blood sugar was high. I very much appreciate Vic K.’s advice on that from Eleven Lake Oconee because I easily could have ended up in a much worse place with high blood sugar, dehydration, and bonking. I might not have recovered from that.

My Words of Wisdom/Lessons Learned

All along the way of this journey I had people tell me their experiences and some of them were like nuggets of gold that influenced how I trained or what I thought about on race day. So if I had any wisdom to impart it would be this:

·         If you’re not a great distance runner – learn how to walk fast. You would be shocked how slow you can walk when you’re tired and hurting. Practice walking fast so that you have that gear on race day. Pump your arms, keep your feet moving. This saved my butt.

·         HYDRATE! To use the cliché if you fail to plan you plan to fail. I drank more that day than I ever did in training but I was still dehydrated.

·         Know what you want on race day and stick to it. If you want a certain time – train for that and pursue it with all your might but don’t let missing that goal sink your race day. I wanted to finish with plenty of energy to celebrate and to not visit the med tent. I almost lost sight of that and am glad I got my head on straight because I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Some Final Thoughts before Heading Out to Canada

So it’s almost here, 6 days until Ironman Canada and it’s hard to believe that this goal I have been working towards for over 8 months has finally arrived.

You can probably tell based on the lack of posting here on my blog that I have busy. In addition to training I’ve also had some projects that I have been participating in at work have also gone into production. And there has been all the organization and finalizing details for my trip to Canada. While the workout time has been cut way back in the past few weeks (aka the taper), the day to day stresses have not been. And then there’s sleep – I’ve been getting lots and lots of sleep. Between 8-10 hours a night and often a nap at lunch time or at 5pm.

I expected to feel fantastic during the taper as I usually do when I am training for a half ironman. My typical taper pattern over the last couple of years was to feel rested and energetic. Not this time, I generally felt lethargic and irritable. The irritability could definitely have a lot to do with the stress going on at work and personally but the lethargy was definitely bringing me down. I also have just a lot of little ouchies going on, my typical shin splints but also a sore left knee, tight calves, sore right shoulder, etc. Coach Mary reassured me that this was normal and that I was only experiencing what a lot of other people do during a taper. Lesson learned: ironman tapering doesn’t necessarily compare to previous experience and don’t expect it to.

Do I feel ready? Absolutely! I have put in the training and I feel confident of my ability to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, and run 26.2. This training has been KILLER and I have had some training sessions that tested me to my limits but I know I can do all of this even in tough heat so I feel ready to go in that regard.

During my last long-ish taper ride a couple of weekends ago I experienced one of my most dramatic low blood sugar episodes of the season. It was my own fault in a way, I had forgotten to turn down the basal rate on my pump before leaving the park lot but I still ended up getting an uncharacteristic drastic drop very quickly. I think a lot of people have heard stories about diabetics who get very angry when they have low blood sugar, to the point where they get outright violent. Well, I wasn’t violent but I was very ANGRY about the situation. My trusty training partner and friend, Sarah, recognized that I had a low blood sugar and tried to suggest that it might be time for a break but I wasn’t having it. Sarah had to pretty much scold me off the bike because she began to get concerned for my safety when I was weaving on the white line when it was a little wet outside. It took about 10 minutes for me to recover and Sarah had to endure about 5 minutes of my negative attitude and thoughts. Here’s a picture we took to commemorate the experience, keep in mind that this is after I recovered so I actually do have a little smirk on my face.

Don't let this be your low blood sugar face.

And finally, my thoughts about what is coming up in 6 days…

I have thought a lot about what might happen if something goes wrong race day. I have a plan for almost every scenario but I have also been giving some thought to the biggest question of all – what happens if I don’t finish? I feel like this is a little taboo to talk about. Like it’s a thought that I shouldn’t even entertain but I will none the less.

So there is a lot that could go wrong for me on race day. I’ve got plan A, B, C, and D for all the potential diabetes issues but a ‘perfect storm’ of issues could happen that I can’t recover from. I’ve occasionally had some stomach cramping during the past few months that has been very painful and very intense, if that issue rears its ugly head on race day it may be too much to bear.

But the biggest challenge I see now is my fear of descents. I think it must be really hard for people who are not familiar with anxiety and fear to understand how a person can be so debilitated by fear but it is worse for me to experience that fear than it is for me to experience pain. My plan is to just take the course as it comes and to pull over to the side of the road if the fear gets so great that my body and bike begin shaking.

On the bright side though, I really think once I get on the run that the hardest MENTAL part of the race for me will be over. That is not to say that I will not suffer on the run since I most definitely will but there won’t be any fear and that will be a tremendous mental boost for me.

But what if I don’t finish? I have given it some thought and I am ultimately OK with that and here’s why.
 In the list of words that describe who I am - ironman won’t be in the top 5 and possibly not in the top 10. Some of those words are:
Care Giver

I have completed this training and had to bear through a lot of difficulty. No one gets to the end of ironman training, if they’re training sincerely, without perseverance and difficulty. But they were already found qualities and they aren’t qualities that will go away if I don’t finish my race in 17 hours on Sunday, August 26th. So if I don’t make it – that’s really OK. I’ve already completed – an won – this not so literal race.

Race day updates will be provided in real time on Facebook via the Susan.K Ironman Canada Tracker page. It will be pretty late for those of you on ET since I will be on the West Coast so feel free to wake up on Monday morning to the news of how it went. I will be posting some pictures and maybe some brief thoughts pre-race on the Facebook page but this will likely be the last blog post until the full race report.

Thank you, thank  you, thank you for all the positive thoughts, energy, and prayers. I will take all I can get.

Much Love,