Many Roads to IronMan, IMAZ Race Report by Christine Walsh

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Two years ago at the family Thanksgiving Dinner, I was asked what my next athletic goal was. Under much duress,   I stated that I sort of, kind of maybe, perhaps, wanted to do an Ironman. Once said out loud, it became my goal and my nephew, Michael, joined me for the two year adventure to get there.

Our first year of training culminated in a half ironman in Syracuse and volunteering for Ironman Arizona 2011 to sign up for the race on November 18, 2012.

My  friends Kathleen Robb and Peter Cooke introduced me to the Triathalon Club of Burlington.

Training began with the Tucson camp where I had the privilege of excellent coaching (Greg Pace, Barry Shepley and Miguel Vadillo) and meeting  so many amazing athletes which was followed by a summer of training with TCoB and Runners’ Den athletes. Each time I met an Ironman I asked for her/his one piece of advice:  the most common was “enjoy your day”. I found the suggestion preposterous really—how was I to enjoy the most grueling mentally and physically demanding day in my life?

Then one by one, I watched my friends compete in their Ironman, some in person, some via my computer, often into the wee hours of the morning. Some with amazing times, some scrapping in just under the wire and some not to be.  I was in awe of their achievements and somewhat doubtful if I would be able to succeed.

Finally my turn. I left a snowstorm in Calgary to the warmth of Arizona on the Tuesday before the race.  Michael and I were fortunate to stay with Gord and Ester Pauls, seasoned ironman athletes, friends and mentors.

The year I spent worrying about the temperature of the water was allayed by the practice swim on the Saturday before the race. The temperature, 62F, although cool was similar to many of our swims and easily manageable. The morning of the race came very early. Man there is a lot of things to do to get to the starting line, special needs bags dropped off, bike tires pumped, body marked, wetsuit on, try to find some Vaseline because of course forgot mine, morning bag dropped off.

Greg Pace advised it was the training that got you to the start line that made you an Ironman. My friends Pat and Rose sent me a quote, “you are 10 times more than you thought you could be”.   It was true, I was ready. Unlike any previous race I was peaceful, calm and ready for the day, ready for my race.

Michael and I held hands and jumped into the water about 10 minutes before the gun time. We joined the other 85 athletes from Canada as we swam to the start. Michael fixed my watch (yet again); this would be the first time I would use a watch in a race.  I said “see you on the course” (a triple loop swim and run) before swimming ahead into the first third of the swimmers. Many athletes were clinging to the side of the canal—cold water if you are from California—the most populous state for the race.

The sun was rising, the crowd lined the bridges overhead and the sides of the canal, the American national anthem was played and the gun went off.  The swim was ‘shuffling’ at first, it was so crowded and then it began. I would have to swim to just past the next bridge, turn around and come back. I could do it. The swim was like nothing I had ever experienced before, a shark tank, arms flaying legs kicking, pulling at ankles, missing breaths, swallowing water. I was all good. I was just swimming with almost 3,000 of my closest friends—why did they have to be so close? Just before the bridge, someone actually apologized for a rather nasty blow to the head. “Its ok”, I said—but it wasn’t, my goggles were gone—into the depths of murky Lake Tempe. Well I hadn’t prepared for that one (now I know—put your goggles on before your cap). Hmm plan B, you can swim ‘old school’ sans goggles. After trying that for awhile I gave up and attempted to flag down the kayaker- waving hands, yelling didn’t work (good thing I wasn’t in real trouble) so I elected to breaststroke across the moving crowd—I was on the far side, the kayaker on the inside. He said he didn’t have any goggles, nor did he have any idea where I could get a pair. A passing swimmer overheard and handed me his slightly too big but gloriously purple extra pair of goggles and my race was on again. Again in the fray of it, stopping to clear the goggles and sight frequently I was finished and pulled out of the water at 1:16. Still within the time I had wanted between 1:15 and 1:30…

Thanks random swimmer!

In transition I stopped for a picture with my friends. Changed from swim suit to tri top bike shorts and lube everywhere. On the bike! Three loops of an out and back course. Slight uphill going out, slight downhill on the way back. The watch kept beeping every 10 minutes reminding me to drink/eat. I didn’t pack my own nutrition because after arriving back from the athletes’ dinner Friday night at 9:00 pm in a panic, just realizing I needed to have my bike and run bags and bike ready to go early the next morning, my friends prepared ziplock bags full of stuff. Turns out it was almost exclusively gummy things—argh.  After a couple of hours and I was cursing the insistence of the watch.  When I finally looked at my watch (until I started my third loop it was covered by my arm warmers) I confirmed I was on pace.  Having no idea what I could do on the bike and still have legs for the run, Greg suggested I should try to maintain a 30-32km pace. So I did finishing the bike in 6:02. It wasn’t as bad as I thought and I still love my bike, just not this week.  Also don’t throw away your Eload when you toss your arm warmers.

Back to transition, change to tri shorts and more lube.  And I was off and running, well sort of. They must have missed putting out that first mile marker because it took sooo long to get there.  Now the mental game. I had no real strategy for the run except try to run. I settled into a 25 light standard run followed by a 5 light standard walk with various cheats as needed, which I am sure is usual IronMan protocol.  I met up with Michael on my second loop and his first (I believe he adopted a “mostly walk” strategy). In comparing notes about how we were feeling I said my legs were a bit sore, and he asked if I had taken any pain medication. Although I had stashed pills everywhere (I was battling a persistent cold) of course I had forgotten to take any. His walking companion pulled out a baggy full of pills and asked what I would like. I took two of something and then started running again. Friends Ester, Martine and Beth ran with me a bit on the start of the third loop. I met many great people on the run (including having a chat with Barry Sheply) read lots of good signs, volunteers were fabulous (including the one that opened up the gel for me with her teeth) and I ate just about everything on the course except for the pretzels- yuck. After about 5:09 of that, I was done. I finally heard what I was aiming for for the past two years; Bill O’Reilly told me I was an IronMan at 12:46. I came 6th in my age group.

A few hours later Michael was also and IronMan. Later that night in bed I thought, I never have to do that again! Today, a few days later, I am ready to see what next year brings. My one piece of advice: no one does an IronMan alone.  Surround yourself with people who inspire, encourage, and support you, There are many roads to an IronMan and you will find yours.