We got to Penticton the Monday prior to Ironman, giving us nearly a week to settle and get comfortable before the big day. Garth golfed; I did light training, laundry, and obsessed about eating too much but not enough for taper. Though I had packed all of my gear and had been waiting for this week for an entire year, I still think I hadn’t really embraced that Ironman Canada was upon me. In retrospect this was one of the smartest things I did – live in denial – but at the time I worried that my ability to block it all out was a sign of lack of motivation.
Before I knew it Thursday had arrived and it was time to pick up my packet, but rather than it being the exciting emotional moment I thought it would be it was just like every other packet pickup. Bib. Bags. Stickers. Swim cap. Timing chip. Getting herded through lines. Done. Except that following the pickup Garth PR’d a 5k in 17:17! And we went to dinner on Lake Okanagan! Watching and cheering for the 5k was actually one of my favorite experiences leading up to my race; it felt good to forget about my day and to support others. Of course I loved cheering on Garth, but it was heartwarming to see all of the Ironman athletes cheering on their loved ones and taking a turn as race sherpa and cheerleader. We all owe our families so much for allowing us to live our dreams.
Friday morning I felt not right. Through Thursday afternoon and evening I had experienced some pretty significant pain in my left flank, similar to when I’ve had kidney stones passing. To add to the equation, I know that I still have some left up there waiting to make their grand arrival. I must be delusional because the pain wasn’t even what was worrying me. I was mostly worried that if my kidneys weren’t functioning properly during the race I’d have some much more serious issues to deal with in terms of hydration management. I researched emergency rooms versus clinics and decided to start with the less major route. Thanks to Canadian healthcare and a walk-in clinic down the road my urine was deemed kidney-problem-free for only $55CAD. Magically my pain seemed to dissipate as the day went on too… Psychosomatic hmm?
Friday was dinner with my parents then the athletes meeting. The athlete’s meeting was much more action than I really wanted to deal with, but given it was my first IM I went. Luckily I found a friend who trains with Corpore Sano and sat with her and her friends; I couldn’t stand the thought of being alone to stew in my anxious thoughts and let the motivational videos get the best of me. Then came Saturday with bike drop off and Courtney and Thomas’s arrival (best friend and husband), meaning race day was next.
Thanks for the documentation, Meghan! Proof that I did in fact drop my bike and bags off.
The afternoon before the race we stayed home, layed low, and watched tv. Visitors came and went (parents) and Garth cooked an awesome dinner for us. I tried to get as absorbed as possible in HGTV so that I didn’t check my special needs bags for the 707th time. Strangely we were all actually tired at about 8 so I retreated to bed. I’d guess I was asleep by 8:30.
Note, I don’t mean to breeze through the week leading up, but it really was uneventful and not noteworthy. After an entire year spent preparing for this one day those final days leading up felt like… just another day. What needed to be done had either been taken care of, or wouldn’t be. My coach wrote me instructions and mentioned that in the couple of days leading up I should try to live in slow motion, that if someone said that I seemed “out of it” I was “doing it right”. That week went by quickly in the grand scheme of the last year, but each day was truly executed in slow motion.
When my alarm went off at 4am my gut response was to burrow back into bed, through the mattress, and to China, if possible. For the first time, ever, I had to accept the day. Every day of training had led up to this one; race day is the celebration of training, right? In my own mind that equation didn’t add up though. How do you know you can do it, until you actually do it?
Once I got up the dread and nervousness started to disappear. Normal things, like brushing my teeth, made me feel better. It also made me feel better that Courtney and Thomas were there both for distraction for me and for Garth to have friends to endure the day with. I went about a mindless morning crossing things off the list I had made the night before. Allergy pill. Water. Coffee. Breakfast. Water. Breakfast. Clothes. Inhaler. Garmin. Bags. Car. Drive.
We arrived at the start area around 5:15, and though at first it seemed embarrassingly early I quickly became grateful that I had so much time. It was a pain to carry all my stuff through body marking and check in and if I’d had to run through it I would have wanted to cry. Which I nearly did when I had to say goodbye to Garth, Courtney, and Thomas. I told them I’d come find them when I was done, and as soon as I said it I knew it was unlikely that it would happen. But I needed to think that I’d see them one last time before setting off on my day. I hoped they wouldn’t worry about me if I didn’t see them again until it happened on course somehow. I think Garth knew, because he gave me a hug and kiss and handed me an envelope.
I went through body marking, dropped my special needs bags in the marked boxes on the way to transition, and then got my bike set up. I tried to stay focused only on what I was doing and needed to do, and the early morning darkness really helped. But as the sun rose and transition lit up chaos grew. I was happy to run in to Meghan, practically literally, but quickly went on my own again to finish dropping bags and get a warm up run in. On my way to run I ran into teammate Teri and we did a quick lap of transition together. But again, I quickly went on my way. Seeing familiar faces that morning was wonderful, and terrifying. The support and love was overwhelming, but the witnesses holding me accountable for doing as well as I had trained to do was scary.
I ran my warm up with my wetsuit bag on my back. I did laps up and down the body marking/bag drop chute. My strides were shorter than usual, but I ran until I felt warm and it felt natural. When you’re doing 140.6 in one day, what’s 1 or 2 more for good measure?
Next I made my way back to transition to wetsuit up. I dumped my bag on the ground and saw Garth’s card. I looked at the closed envelope knowing that it would make me cry to open it.
Swim calm, fly on the bike, and crush the run like I know you can.
Tears. I tried to hold them back, but all I could think about was expectations and how I’d feel if I couldn’t meet them. What if I couldn’t follow his instructions? What if my swim wasn’t calm? What if I bonked on the bike? What if my fitness wasn’t where I thought it was on the run? With tears in my eyes I stripped my sweats, yanked myself into my wetsuit, and read the card one last time. It wasn’t a conscious effort, and I couldn’t replicate it if I tried, but for some reason the second time I read it I was calm and content. So I headed down to the water.
With about 20 minutes until start I got in the water and started warming up. I adjusted to the temperature, and slowly started swimming, just one stroke after the next. For once in my life I actually felt good in the water. I turned around and looked at everyone on the shore and realized that I deserved to be here, at the starting line. Thinking my panic-less warm up was a fluke I headed out one more time to feel and remember my rhythm. Smooth as butter.
Back on shore I looked around trying to spot my family, and just when I had given up I spotted Courtney’s neon shirt. Thomas and Garth were next to her. I waved and jumped up and down and they spotted me too. Having had a good warm up and seeing them raised my confidence immensely. I was ready to go.
(Disclaimer: I stole Meghan’s pictures here. Thanks for documenting the day, Meghan!)