Friday, August 31, 2007

Pain is temporary, Ironman is forever!

Ironman Canada Race Report - August 26, 2007
Penticton, British Columbia, Canada

The morning started bright and early at 4am, but it definitely wasn't bright outside. Luke made me some oatmeal while I made sure I had all of my Special Needs bags and a couple of last-minute details for my bike. The day before I had checked my bike and my transition bags, which took a lot of pressure off for the morning of the race. At 5:00, we headed down the hill from our host's house to find a parking spot. There were so many nervous people driving around, trying to find a good parking spot. We settled for a decent spot and walked the rest of the way, following the large group of people. We finally got to the spot where Luke and I were forced to part ways, as only athletes were allowed in certain areas. I saw lots of teary goodbyes with lots of hugs and promises to see them at the finish line. Luke and my goodbye was very similar and I think even he got a little emotional. So I was on my own to drop off my Special Needs bags and get body marked. I waited for the most difficult 45-minutes of the whole day to get body marked. It was a little frustrating, but I basically was in a bad line-up and eventually found a volunteer to mark me up with permanent black markeras number 2094. After that, I headed to my bike to pump up my tires one last time and to fill up my bottles with my pre-mixed Gatorade. I hesitantly made my way to the timing mat where there was a constant stream of "beeps" making it sound like the beginning of the end. Once I went across the mat, I knew that there was no turning back. This was it. I was on my way to becoming an Ironman.

Racking my bike the day before the race:

The transition area pre-race:

Before the swim, I did a few strokes to "warm up" my body and prepare it for the 3.8km swim. Luckily, I ran into a Saskatoon triathlete and she helped to calm my nerves and we wished each other a great day. Soon enough the pros were off and 15 minutes later at 7:00am, the canon went off and the 2700 triathletes made their way across the massive water. Needless to say, it was intense. So many people making their way to the same destination taking approximately the same route made the whole thing a little difficult. However, I tried not to let the arms and elbows that occasionally slammed into my body disrupt my stroke or frustrate me. About halfway through I got a good fist in my right eye and had a lot of pain. So I flipped over to my back and took off my goggles as I did a bit of backstroke to recover from the pain shooting through my head. I have to say that I got hit by so many men that it was rather upsetting. I did not hit anybody, so I can't figure out how other people can hit me. It upset me a little, but I knew that this was not the time to think about it. So I flipped back onto my front and continued through the course. I came to shore and looked at my watch and was very happy with my 1:31 time as it was only 1 minute more than my goal. As I ran onto the beach, I saw Luke standing in the front row yelling and waving at me. I smiled big for him and yelled out a quick "I love you" before I headed to the transition area to be stripped of my wetsuit.

Before the canon:

After the canon:

A couple of aerial photos:

This was me coming out of the water:

The volunteers at this race were unbelievable. I've never been to a race quite like this before and it was so amazing to have people there handing the bags to us and wishing us well. It was so great. I quickly changed into my bike shoes and put on my helmet and gloves, took a gel, and headed out. Main Street of Penticton was absolutely packed with people. It was like coming in to Paris in the Tour de France. I wanted to go slow so that I could see my family. Sure enough, I spotted some of the matching orange shirts that they had worn with my race number on it and a picture of me ironed onto it. I waved and heard them shout out "There she is!!!" as I cruised by. I felt like a celebrity and couldn't help but have a big smile on my face. I knew that I had to enjoy this because the next 180km would not be as much fun.

Here I am having the time of my life... for the first 5 minutes of the bike ride:

So off I went to take on the bike course. It was hilly and windy and long. Honestly, I think I've blocked most of the 8 and a half hour bike ride out of my memory. Going up Richter's Pass was tough, but doable. The hardest part was the turn-around portion of the bike where you feel like you're not really going anywhere because you end up where you started, and you know that the whole time you're biking that part of the course. However, at the middle of the turn-around, we got our Special Needs bags, which was pretty fun. I put in some Ibuprofen (which I quickly took for my sore knee, neck, and back), some blue Gatorade (orange and yellow Gatorade gets gross after a few hours), and some crackers (so as to eat something that wasn't Gels, Gatorade, or Clif bars). I took a little time to eat my crackers and I headed back on the bike. The only thing that got me through that part of the bike was knowing that my family was waiting for me at the last climb of the day - the Yellow Lake Road. So I kept going, slow and steady (I averaged 22km/hr on the bike, which is by far the slowest I've biked in a race for the past 2 years). The wind was really crazy throughout the day and it took me by surprise a little. I mean, I'm used to the wind, but wind AND hills?!? I repeatedly swore at whoever designed the course. Eventually, I got to where my family had waited for four hours and I could see the clump of orange on the side of the road. I had a crew of about 10 people, including my sister from Yellowknife, my parents, my aunt, my 87-year-old tough-as-nails grandma, some cousins that live in the relative area, and Luke. It was absolutely awesome! Luke ran with me for a bit and everyone cheered, clapped, jumped around and took pictures as I biked by. I kept going with the energy that my family had given me. It was what I needed to get me through the last 30kms, which were also the easiest kilometres of the whole ride. I had never been so happy to be running as I was after that killer bike ride.

Two professional photos:

Here is me at the Yellow Lake hill:

My support crew waiting for me at Yellow Lake:

They waited for 4 hours for me to bike by:

(I have the best family ever!)

In the transition, I immediately noticed the sting from chaffing that had started in the swim and continued on the bike. I have never chaffed before in a race, but I sure did this time. I chaffed under my arms, at the back of my neck, and where my heart-rate monitor sat. I now have a new appreciation for Vaseline and the volunteers who were so kind as to apply it for me. Honestly, they were the best volunteers ever!

The run was my most dreaded part of the Ironman, but turned out to be the best part of the race. I saw my family 3 times before I headed out onto the long part of the 26-mile run. Before I left downtown, I gave all of my family big hugs and my grandma stepped out onto the road and said that she was coming with me. I laughed and said, "Let's go!" But I ended up going at it alone. I ended up passing lots of people throughout the marathon because I had saved my legs for this and also I was feeling good from the adrenalin. It is really amazing stuff. At the turn-around, I got my second Special Needs bag and ate some more crackers, took another ibuprofen, and drank some purple Gatorade (and ended up carrying the bottle with me for about 6 miles). After the turn-around, the sun went behind the mountains and I got to run in the dark. It was hard to tell where the inclines were (I walked all of the uphills and most of the aid stations), but it was pretty cool to run on this mostly deserted highway (because of the race). All I could see for miles were the purple glow-sticks that were given to us by the race helpers. It was pretty cool and I loved every single moment of it. I think that's what I love the most about races - the preparation is the hard part, but being there and doing it is the best feeling and I live in the moment more than I do in any other part of my life. It is a beautiful thing.

Here I am starting the marathon:

My 87-year-old grandmother drove 15 hours to watch me race:

Here is the professional shot of my run:

Coming into downtown was awesome. The crowd had gathered mostly at the finish line, but I got to see two of our hosts on the side of the road and they ran with me for a few blocks. I got to chat with them and they were so excited that I was doing well and could talk. Not only that, but I was smiling. I knew that the end was near... very near. So they dropped off and headed to the finish line themselves. I came around another corner and took my family off guard by seeing them before they saw me. They ran with me for a few blocks and were also impressed with how good I was doing. I was smiling, chatting, and genuinely having fun. They headed to the finish line while I did the extra 1km out-and-back before the finish line. It was crazy because I could HEAR the announcer saying names and I could hear the music and I was so antsy to get there. So I started sprinting and passing people. A couple of guys made some comments about my youthful age and I just laughed and waved. The last 50 metres is kind of a blur. I saw my family and I gave a whole bunch of high-fives as I came into the finish area and I closed my eyes as I crossed the line. I only vaguely remember the announcer say, finally, after 12 months of training: "Crystal Clarke from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!!!!"

My space cape to keep me warm at the end of the race:

It was an amazing feeling and an amazing day. It was one of the best days of my life and I feel so privileged to have been able to be in such a race with such amazing support-people. Not only did my family come and be so amazing, but I have had a super supportive group of people in Saskatoon that dealt with me on an ongoing basis, from my chiropractor to my friends to my counsellor. I honestly could not have done this without the support of all of them. That being said, I have to thank Luke the most for putting up with me for the past few months. I have been training for this race for as long as we've been a couple and he has been more supportive than I could have imagined and I'm excited to continue our life together.

My support crew:

My mom and dad:

My biggest supporter:

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Today is the day

It is 2.5 hours before the canon goes off and I'm completely ready. I had a good night's sleep. Well, mostly. It was a little restless, but for the most part it was a good one. We went to bed at 7pm, which I don't think I've done since I was a kid, except when I was sick.

Today I plan to stick to my race plan and take it easy on the swim and bike, and walk up the hills and at the aid stations on the run. I hope to come in to the finish line within 15 hours and I hope to come in with a smile on my face and with my family standing proudly at the sideline. I feel very lucky to be able to take on this challenge and to be so close to completing it. Today I will be an Ironman.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

My Birthday and Warm-up Race

I have to admit, I'm extremely nervous. In 10 days I will be doing the race. I'm still reading "Going Long" and apparently it is normal to have doubts and feel nervous.

I spent most of my 27th year of life training for this race and I hope that I don't look back on it and think it was a bad idea. Last Friday was my birthday and I had so many well-wishes for a wonderful year. Honestly, I can't wait to not train for this race. I love training, but lately it has become cumbersome and all-consuming. I can't run without thinking about it, I can't bike without making sure my cadence is correct, and I can't swim without thinking "Can I do this 2 times more?" I can't wait to enjoy training again. It has become work for me, when it is supposed to be a hobby.

The past few weeks have been very difficult and I've struggled to maintain my mental health. In fact, right after my last post I went to emergency for anxiety and was put on medication. Ironman has been a major factor in my anxiety lately and panic attacks have been ruling my life and my training for the past 6 weeks or so. It was my last resource and I decided to take it. I have decided it's better to do that, finish the race, and still have friends than to continue living "on the edge." So far, it's helped a lot and I've been able to stay focused.

On Sunday was my "warm-up" race in Waskesiu. It was a great race. I wasn't very well-rested due to my good friend's wedding the night before, but the lake was calm and the sky stayed clear for the whole thing. The swim was longer than 1.5km for sure, but I kept my pace steady and I raced my race. On the bike, I really held back and had a hard time doing that. I wanted to kick it up and beat my PB, but I had to remind myself that this was not my race. On the run, I have to admit that it hurt a little. My left Achilles heel was sore and my hip flexors were tight... probably due to my lack of yoga as of late. However, I went with my pace and I reminded myself that next year I can rock out on this race. This year I have a different goal. So I was more than 15 minutes behind my PB set last year of 4:05 and came in at 4:22. I ran across the finish line with my cousin who is 9 years old. My family was all there, including my 21-year-old brother and my 86-year-old grandma. My boyfriend's family was also there. It was so nice to have so many people cheering me on as I came past them on the bike and in to the finish of the run.

So now I am mentally preparing for the race in only 10 weeks time. I'm going for short swims, bikes, and runs (ie. nothing over 30 minutes, 1 hour, and 2 hours, respectively). Every run I do, I end by imagining running across the line and having them call out my name: "Crystal Clarke from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan - YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!" It gives me shivers to think about and it feels so good when I imagine it, which is nothing compared to what it will actually be like after the grueling 15+ hours I will be on the course.

I'm excited, but so scared. And I've heard from numerous people that I'm not the first person to have Ironman drive them crazy. If anyone reading this is considering doing Ironman, make sure that your life is fairly consistent and grounded before you decide to do this race because it can bring up every little change and make it seem huge. Maybe I should start a counselling agency for people embarking on Ironman. I wonder if such a thing exists already.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Tapering, Counting Down, and Mental Training

I honestly think that hardest part of this race is going to be the mental part. While I am pretty good at pushing myself and mentally preparing myself, this is going to be an event that is beyond anything I've done before. It's so exciting. I started re-reading the chapter of Going Long that talks about mental training. Apparently at the start of a race people either think that they have not trained enough and they are going to fail or else they think that they are #1 and they are going to win their age category. I think I fall in the middle somewhere; I believe that I have trained to the best of my ability and knowledge at this point in my life. Sure, I could have trained more this winter and summer, but I had good reasons not to. So I'm focusing on the fact that I am ready and WILL finish this race. They have some interesting techniques in the book that I haven't tried and would like to incorporate in my training in the next few weeks as I start to taper on the amount of training.

I have a really hard time with tapering. I'm sure most triathletes do. The idea is that one doesn't tire out before the race. It makes sense, but I'm not cutting down on my training a whole lot until next week. The weekend after this one coming up is a 'C' race. Last year it was my A race, but this year it has been demoted to C because I am basically using it as a really intense brick workout. It ensures that I taper correctly before the triathlon because I'll taper for the race, recover from the race, and then keep tapering for Ironman. So while my quantity of training is decreasing, I'm hoping to keep my quality of training at a high standard.

Yesterday morning I went for a wonderful run in the morning. I've been training in the heat to mentally prepare myself for the "I'm going to die in this heat" that I will be thinking during the race, but I decided to give myself a break and just do a run that I enjoyed. And I did. It was GREAT! I did a nice tempo 40-minute run and it was just wonderful. Now I remember why I love this sport... I get to do all of my favorite things! I don't even have any stats for it right now, I just went and it felt good. Maybe that's a stat in itself.

Only 25 days to go!