Wednesday, September 27, 2006

IMC 2006 -- The Swim

The alarm went off around 4:00, not that I needed an alarm. I had slept fitfully most of the night. First off, I was afraid I’d miss the alarm and second, it wasn’t my bed. Nerves weren’t as big an issue this year as they were last year. Last year, I couldn’t eat for several days prior to the event and I darn sure didn’t sleep. This year, eating and sleeping weren’t really a problem.

After making some coffee and eating some toast, I realized I’d forgotten my Boost Plus at home. That was something I was going to ingest 30 minutes or so before race start. I would be starting the race out at a calorie deficit. That wasn’t good, but there was nothing I could do about it now.

I quickly ate my breakfast and got dressed, putting my special needs bags into a backpack. I remember all too well what it was like trying to carry the special needs bags by their skinny little plastic handles. They stretch out by the weight of their contents and those skinny little handles bite into your fingers causing pain before they cause numbness. I didn’t want whoever was going to transport my bags this year to experience that.

Feeling ready, I headed out the door. I reminded myself to take it easy getting to the race start. I wasn’t racing yet, I wasn’t late, so I didn’t need to hurry the mile or so to the race site.

Almost on automatic, I dropped off my special needs, got body marked and headed to the transition area. I checked my bike tires and they seemed to be fully inflated. I added my water bottles to my bike and filled my front aerobar water system. Before I realized it, the time had come to put on my wetsuit and head for the start.

On my way, I ran into Kelly Heizenger, an incredibly gifted over-40 athlete, who I am really glad will never catch up to my age group. Finally, after the Canadian national anthem was sung (the refrains of which I would hear in my head THE REST OF THE DAY – and I’m not Canadian!), we moved en masse to the swim start.

As I headed out to the beach, I saw Darcy on the sidelines. She waved excitedly and I smiled back, but in my haste to get in the water, I didn’t stop. I regret that now as she could have taken a picture that may have been only slightly more flattering than the one she did get of my swim exit (I’m astonished she was able to do that much).

I entered the lake and prepared to flood my wetsuit with the cool morning water. This first part is always one of the hardest for me. As soon as I get over the shock of the chill, I’m usually okay, but if I don’t do this first, I’m prone to panic in the first part of the swim. After a few strokes, I felt relatively comfortable and I continued to marvel at how calm I felt. Gone were the butterflies that plagued me last year. While some niggling doubt remained regarding my ability to finish the bike, I was feeling mostly confident.

Back on the beach waiting for the cannon to go off, I saw Seujan. We hugged and chatted briefly, then moved off to find our respective positions in the water. Seujan is a bit of a fish, so she moved closer to the front. I’m not as confident as that, but more confident than I’ve been in years prior, so while I didn’t move to the front of the line, I did manage to position myself somewhat in the middle of the pack. No longer did I feel the need to position myself way off to the side and in the back. I only hoped I wouldn’t get clobbered by anyone as a result of my decision.

Before I knew it, the cannon sounded and everyone surged forwards. It was hard to want to swim right away for three reasons. First, I hadn’t yet reached the official start line (a row of flags hung up over the water, second, I was still only knee deep in water, and last, because no one else started swimming until the water got a little deeper.

As I began swimming, I did my best to find the path of least resistance. That meant I did what I could to not run into other athletes. I don’t know anything about drafting and have yet to practice that particular art form. I wasn’t going to start it now.

One of the first things I noticed, though, was how loose my timing chip strap seemed to feel. Mind you, I have opted for one of those extremely comfortable neoprene straps. If you've never used one, I highly recommend you get one. They are so comfortable you don't even realize it's there, they don’t cut into your ankle like those damned plastic straps can, and they are just nicer looking than the plain velcro straps.

Anyway, during the swim, I was absolutely convinced the damn thing was going to come off and find it’s way to the bottom of the lake, then I’d be on the hook to cough up the dollars for its replacement. As such, I found myself doing very little kicking. Instead, I tried to pretend I had a pull buoy between my knees and I'd lift my hips in an effort to take advantage of the natural buoyancy of the wetsuit.

I managed to stay relatively contact free during the swim except a few times. This can be extemely difficult to do. Ironman Canada is a mass swim start (as are most Ironmans) and not the more civilized wave start of smaller (and usually shorter) triathlons. There was one time, though, when someone was touching my feet so repeatedly that I resorted to kicking very quickly and strongly just to lose them. Geez, but that was annoying. To be honest, though, I was worried that my chip strap was loose and I was afraid they would inadvertantly grab it and I would end up S.O.L.!

I remember NOT looking at my watch. I didn't want to be distracted by how much time had passed, how far I had gone, how much further I had to go, how fast I might or might not be, so through supreme effort on my part, I refrained from looking until I climbed out of the water. When I did, I was both surprised and thrilled. It read 1:33 and change. OMG! When did I get that fast? Of course, the official time was 1:34:44, but that was definitely faster than the 1:42 I did last year. Wooohooo!

I did make one mistake during my swim and that was at the swim exit. I learned early on to swim until my hands touched the bottom. I didn't do that this year and I should have. Since I didn't, I ended up losing some time just because I was fighting water that was hip deep when it should have been no deeper than my knees.

Well, lesson learned, and I headed in to T1...

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

IMC 2006 Race Report (continued)

Just for Carole (she knows who she is)

I drove up to Penticton on Wednesday. Seems I always feel like I'm in a hurry, even when I'm not. There was plenty of time to get to Penticton, but I felt the need to get there lickety-split which means I was speeding most of my way there. When I finally arrived, I figured I'd averaged about 65 mph the whole way there. Considering some of the roads I was on, that was pretty fast. Darned lead foot.

Once I arrived, I checked into my hotel, put some of my things away, and decided to walk down to the Ironman village to see what was up. Not too many athletes had arrived yet, so the hustle and bustle activity was at a minimum. I snooped around the merchandise tents, and bought a polar bottle and some CO2 cartridges.

Then I walked back to my room, taking a picture of the infamous "peach" along the way. When in Penticton and someone says they'll meet you at the peach, this is what they are talking about. It's right on the beach and you simply cannot miss it.

Wednesday evening was spent just relaxing and reading a book. Reading is something I enjoy tremendously, but finding the time to read while working full time and training for an Ironman is next to impossible. However, one of my co-workers had suggested I might enjoy reading Ken Follet's, "Pillars of the Earth," and loaned me his copy. I read the first paragraph while at work and knew I would be completely and totally engaged in the story. I vowed to use my spare time pre- and post-race to read the book and I'm not sorry I did.

I spoke to my coach, briefly. We concentrated our conversation on my nutrition (which is something I'm still working on dialing in) and hydration plan for the bike and run. She told me to figure out how many more calories I was going to need for the bike (what I'd told her previously hadn't satisfied her) and we talked about how I could carry that many. So that night I also spent trying to figure out my calorie and electrolyte needs.

Thursday, I got up early and met Lori and Darin "at the peach" for an early morning swim. Lori is both a friend and training partner and has also competed in two Ironman's, but it was her husband, Darin, that would be doing his first Ironman. He had only just learned to swim within the last year, so getting through an Ironman swim was going to be a challenge. I'm very pleased to say he did really well.

After our swim, I headed back to my hotel room where I changed and prepared for a short bike. I went out on the IMC run course for about 8 or 9 miles then turned around and went back. On the way out, I felt good and was encouraged by how fast I was going. I figured since I was lakeside that I must be on a slight, albeit imperceptible, downhill. Then, again, the thought occurred to me that my taper was doing wonders for my bike speed. HA! I should have known better. The answer to my speedy ride was answered when I turned around. I'd failed to notice how choppy the lake was, but I can assure you, I took notice when I turned around as I had a rather brisk wind in my face.

Later that day I went back to pick up my packet. I got weighed. That was fun for a change as I weighed considerably less at this race than I did at last year's race. I would love to have seen what the scale said immediately after my race. I'm sure we all drop a lot of weight (mostly water).

Friday was a short run day and I did a few strides along the Okanagen River. During the summer, thousands of people float down the Okanagen River (more like a slough) from Okanagen Lake to Skaha Lake. It's not a white water ride or anything. In fact, it's quite leisurely. There is a business at the start of the river that rents out floats. At the other end, is a bus that takes everyone back to the start. One of these days I'm actually going to float that river!

Friday night was the carbo dinner. My hotel was close enough to the Penticton Trade and Convention center that I could walk to it. I got in line with thousands of other athletes. I felt a little lonely as there was no one else there that I knew, or if I did, I didn't know where they were. I did my best to strike up a conversation with the other athletes in the line. All night, I found myself explaining that, "no this isn't my first ironman...I DNF'd last year...I came back to take my revenge on the course." By the time the awards banquet came around, I was at least able to say, "no this isn't my first Ironman, but it's the first one I finished" with a very large smile on my face.

I'm always touched and inspired by all the athletes at the carbo dinner. I saw a man with pink hair. Funny, I saw the same man at the Super JocknJill Half Marathon two weeks later. That pink hair and wild tights are a little hard to miss. I have no idea who he is. Anyway, at least one of the athletes at the dinner had done over 20 Ironman Canada's. That's impressive.

Saturday was a very lazy day for me. I only had a 15 minute swim and a 15 minute bike. After I did my bike ride, I had to check my gear bags and bike into the transition area. Later that day, Darcy met up with me and I nuked my pre-race dinner. We chatted while my dinner cooked and she hung around while I ate. She left early in the evening as she also need to get something to eat and I wanted my quiet time. I was eerily calm this year. Last year, I had been so fraught with nerves I was unable to sleep or eat in the days leading up to the race. I think it's because I knew deep down in my heart of hearts that I wasn't really ready last year. This year was different. I'd done the training. I had put an extra thousand miles on my bike. This year, I was ready.

Sure, I still had doubts, but Pat didn't. Neither did my coach. They both tried to reassure me by telling me that I'd put in the training this year. Last year I hadn't done everthing that I needed to do. This year, I had.

Finally, it was 9:00 on Saturday night and I'm really enjoying the story I'm reading. Then it dawns on me. Hey, have a race in the morning! Like, hello? You need to turn out the lights and get some sleep. Before I do, I go to the door and look out at all the rooms around me (I had a pool view and all the doors opened onto the pool, so I could see them). Not a one of them still had a light shining. They were all dark. Everyone had gone to bed. So did I.