Well that was an experience! I’ve had a full day to reflect on the challenges of the day and now that I’ve slept, rehydrated, and refuelled, I’m feeling pretty positive about my first half Ironman.
The day started early, 4:40 am to be precise, and I arrived at the race course in plenty of time to set up my transition area. This was accomplished by copying what the women to my immediate right and left had done. Laying out my gear took no time at all, and I wondered what I might be missing because my neighbours seemed to be very busy. Since I still had plenty of time before having to don the dreaded wetsuit, I stood and stared at my stuff for a while and rearranged my shoes four times.
It was finally time to make my way down to the water. I watched the pro men and women launch their swim waves, they were very speedy and very competitive. I chatted with a few other women in my age category, some like myself were first timers, others veterans. There was a nice spirit of camaraderie in the air and I wasn’t nervous. My plan was to stay to the back and stay wide. My plan did not include waist high weeds that got caught in my hands, around my shoulders and plastered across my goggles during the first 100-200 m. I found out later that the local tri club had done their best to clear the water of weeds, no easy task I’m sure.
Out of the water and onto dry land once again I huffed my way over to a wetsuit stripper. Flat on my back and legs up in the air. Jesus Murphy. Off came the suit, and with it a little dignity lost. But no matter, I was up and trotting to transition. Shirt on, helmet on, glasses on, shoes on, grab bike and off I went! I learned later that there had been some spectacular crashes out of bike transition but mine was uneventful.
That was a tough bike ride. The first 12-15 miles were steadily uphill, with a nasty surprise at about mile 21. This hill was so steep that in my downhill approach I reached 73 kph! I smelled burning rubber and realized later that it must’ve have been my tires. Sorry tires. The man in front of me tipped over and fell, others dropped their chains and some riders had unclipped and were walking their bikes up the hill. I made it up seated and safe and can say that Sydenham holds no fear for me now.
Returning from the ride I encountered walkers. Lots and lots of walkers. People that had passed me ages ago on the bike were walking the run course. It was hot. Really, really hot. Actually, hot isn’t an accurate enough description. Imagine a blast furnace on the surface of the sun and you get the idea. I knew I was going to be in trouble.
Out of transition I started that funny shuffling ohshitwherearemylegs gait that is supposed to mimic running. I made it to mile 2 before the heat hit me. I was running on asphalt country roads, no shade, no breeze. I could feel my skin burning. I wanted to die. In the distance I could see a water station, the heat radiating up from the road provided a shimmering effect and I prayed that it wasn’t a mirage. I made the mile, and discovered the bliss that a sponge soaked in ice water could provide. I kept going. I wasn’t running at this point, it was more like a walk shuffle; my shoes were sticking to the melted tar of the road. Up the hill, down the hill. Water station. Ice sponge. Turn around, head back to finish loop one. Back into park. Dry arid park, with big frigging stones that it was hard to walk shuffle on. I saw my friend Jen, and started to cry. I felt empty and I was just too damn hot. I said, ” I’m done. I want to quit. I’m too hot”. Jen was encouraging, so I kept going and left the park for lap two. The walk shuffle continued between water stations. I reached one water station that did not have ice sponges. I wanted to prostrate myself on the ground and weep. But since I couldn’t spare the salt or the water, I elected to shove ice down my top and pants and kept on shufflin’.
I don’t know what time it is, I’m too hot to care. Just finish. I’m at mile 9 and the sky has become dark. Oh sweet relief, clouds have obscured the sun. Oh, wait a second. Those clouds are black. Hmmm…is that a breeze? No, that’s wind. Big fat raindrops sizzle when they land on the hot asphalt. And that’s not my stomach growling…that’s thunder. And then ladies and gentlemen, the proverbial shit hit the fan.
Mile 10 or so, still shuffling. Full blown tempest. There was a paramedic in the road trying to wave runners, walkers, shufflers into a nearby barn for shelter and safety. He also announced that the raced had been cancelled due to the weather. He had his orders to drive participants back to the park once the storm cleared. To be honest, I entertained the idea for a half a second. Here’s my out, I thought, I can stop right now. Then I quashed it. There was no way that I was going to stop now. All support crews had been pulled, so those of us still out there were on our own. This also meant no more water or ice sponges, but the rain lashing at my face was quite refreshing so I shuffled on towards the finish line.
I was pleased with my swim, the goal was to finish before the cutoff time. My bike ride was tough, and I think this is where some of my inexperience showed. I didn’t know how to strategize. Should I have biked harder and treated each segment as a separate event? I also didn’t drink enough for the heat. I had my watch set to beep every ten minutes, and I sipped at my bottle but maybe I should have gulped. As for the run, I really felt in hours following that I had failed. I was quite disappointed. The heat kicked my butt. I had checked the forecast in the morning and knew it was going to be 46 with the humidex, but I didn’t know how it was going to feel running in that kind of heat.
So like I said, I was disappointed. But then I thought about it. I had endured an endurance event. I didn’t quit when I really, really wanted to, nor did I quit when I had the perfect opportunity to do so. So I’m actually quite proud of that. My first half Ironman was a good experience, I learned a lot about the sport and about myself. I’m definitely going to do another half, a full Ironman triathlon still seems insurmountable. After having completed this half IM I have more of an understanding of the mental and physical fortitude that it takes to complete a full IM, and I know that I don’t yet have it. For those of you copied on this email that have completed an IM, the respect and admiration I felt for you before has just tripled.
Thanks for the support everyone,