Tuesday, January 6, 2009

IMCA 2004 Race Report or Open Letter to my friends

Ironman. It was amazing. The whole experience from start to finish was truly awesome... does this feeling have to end? I hope not. Seems like it has been an idea for 20 some odd years for me. And a pretty steady goal over the last year. A daily commitment since May. Why do an Ironman? I bet there are a million reasons why folks choose to train 20 hours a week for months on end in order to put themselves through 140+ miles of pain, the likes of which they may never have experienced before. For me, it was a "reaching my potential" kind-of thing - something that I just had to do in order to be true to me. I've had to tackle many demons, injuries, health issues etc. over the years and work really hard in order to allow myself this achievement. It was neither too soon nor too late. I am an Ironman.

Ironman is different from any sport I've ever done. It's the only race that I've participated in where those who finish with longer times are held in equal esteem with those who fly through the course. No one can just do an Ironman. No one. Everyone has to put in the training. Everyone. In fact, the ovation at the awards dinner for those who finished last is longer and louder and much more emotional. Those who are newly crowned Ironmen and woman and those who are the true veterans of the sport all know the sacrifices, commitment and support it takes to cross the finish line. We are all equal in that.

Curtis, 30-34, from Calgary, a new found buddy with whom I traded places with on the bike for over 80 miles and last saw at mile 10 on the run when he succumbed to knee pain, asked me which was more difficult childbirth or an Ironman. I said Ironman; I never had to dig that deep to find new strengths during the birth of my child and my "labor" was 12 hours and 20 minutes. Becoming an Ironman was 20 years, 16 hours and 45 minutes in the making. Wouldn't it be nice to have an Ironman time matching the duration of my labor? I wish! Maybe someday. Maybe there’s my next goal. Maybe.

There are only a few life-changing milestones we go through in life: graduating from college, getting married and having a child are the most common ones. And now, for me, becoming an Ironman. I feel like, not only have I joined an elite group, but that I have grown as a person through the pursuit and attainment of this goal. It's awesome. Did I make some newbie mistakes? Sure. I didn’t plan on drinking Gatorade and I also didn’t plan on the Special Needs bags on the bike to be somewhere near mile 75. Who knew that, after I chucked my empty water bottle with accurate aim and precision into the bin that I would discover that the Gatorade bottles didn’t fit in my bottle cage? So I shoved them down my jersey (hey, if they can do it in the Tour de France, then I can certainly do it. I still have pink stains on my shirt … but I digress). And, I could have done without the two flats, the CO2's that didn't work, the wasp sting, and the really, really bad reaction to the epinephrine shot (story for another time). But nothing was going to stop me, not even the fact that I had missed my time goal by 3 hours! I may no longer be a top notch athlete and that's OK. But I still and will always have the determination to achieve the things I set my mind to and the humor to carry me through anything.

Will I do it again? You betcha, eh. Probably after hockey season, eh.

Here are a few highlights from my race:
• Having the canon go off and not being near the water yet.
• I never saw Ogopogo, the monster of Lake Okanogan. But I think I saw Oingo Boingo in scuba gear!
• Then there was the mortified semi driver who blocked the road about 30 miles into the ride, stopping hundreds of cyclists in pursuit of the finish. As we grew more and more upset, he began to stall and backed into a tree. None of us were willing to risk disqualification by crossing the double yellow line.
• Butt crack boy. OK, if you're going to do an Ironman, wear shorts that fit.
• Looking up at the town of Penticton 10 running miles away and seeing the endless string of green glow tubes bobbing up and down and reflecting on the lake in complete darkness. Totally surreal.
• Finding mental relief at mile 16 on the run when Ian and Jamie rode up behind me. I was worried that they were worried and I didn't want to worry about them worrying about me. Solved.
• Having my own Secret Service for about a mile: Ian blocking all those wonderful kids still out there cheering and wanting to high-five me. Really, at that point, I think my lats were made of ceramic and ready to shatter if I tried to move in a new direction. I never thought that high-fives could not only be dangerous, but horrifying as well! And Jamie had the task of blocking vehicles trying to cross; not that there were many, but he had fun shouting, "Hey, we have a runner here!" Remember, they too had just done an Ironman.
• Running down the finishing shoot and crossing the line - there are no words to describe that feeling. And finding Jamie, my brother there. I think, no I know I asked if I could do it again.
I want you all to know that I thought about each and everyone of you during the hours of 7:00a and 11:46p on August 29th. Really I did. I was out there a loooong time! There were several times when I was completely by myself, yet I never felt alone. Thank you all for your support, words of encouragement and inspiration. And, for some of you back home, for the emails and voicemails at 12:03a - your day was as long as mine.

One last thing ... they put on a spectacular show up there in British Columbia. The people of Penticton are absolute gems. And the volunteers were, in a word, awesome. Oh Canada ... thank you.


P.S. Here's my finishing photo. I had been practicing and planning on doing a double twist, triple ring, no foam latte dismount and sticking it at the finish, but just lifting my arms was hard enough! And really ... I'm using a stylist for my next big race - that shirt is sooo unflattering. What was I thinking? Oh, yeah, about finishing my first Ironman.

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