I decided to fly up to Canada the Monday before the race (6 full days ahead) to make sure I had time to get my bike rebuilt and deal with any issues that might come up from breaking down, packing up and flying my bike. Last time I flew my bike, my chain ring got bent and I didn't want to feel rushed if I had to order any broke/damaged parts the week of the race. Luckily, my bike showed up in tact and it was a seamless rebuild. The only issue with that was, I was there way too early. I had too many days prior to race day to wait for race day come. I did the best I could to rest and try not to get anxious about race day. I strolled around the Village, picked organic blueberries at a blueberry farm, and watched the Crossfit Games online from my hotel room (that was VERY motivating!).
My family (parents and husband) arrived on Wednesday evening. Once they arrived, I felt like time flew by. Before I knew it, race day was here.
My pre-race dinner was at our hotel (BBQ meats, salad, roasted potatoes, gluten-free beer and ice cream). It was not a traditional pre-race dinner for me, but it seemed to work out just fine. I was able to get a full 6 hours sleep the night before the race. My alarm went off at 3:15am race morning. By 3:45am I had down 2 pieces of gluten free (and egg free) toast with apple sauce and had warmed 1 cup of rice and bone broth for the road. Again, not a traditional pre-race breakfast (the toast part), but I had no blender in my hotel room for my traditional pre-race morning smoothie. We headed out the door at 3:45am to walk to T2 where I dropped all my run nutrition in my run bag. I said goodbye to my parents and Sean (who were body marking athletes before they left T2) and jumped onto the 1st shuttle to head over to Lake Alta. I was the first one on the first bus. I put in my headphones and started to wrap my brain around my goals for the day. On the way over to the lake, I ate the broth and rice (most of it). All my morning nutrition was down 1 hour and 45 minutes before race start.
Once I arrived at Lake Alta, I headed straight into T1 to load nutrition on my bike, pump tires, etc. With so much time to spare, I had time to walk to waters edge and visualize my swim and T1. The lake was beautiful. There was a slight fog hovering over the water which let me know that the water would be warm. And it was. 18.2C/64.76F which felt like the perfect temperature for racing!
Most of the group from TS Life re-grouped and we all did our warm up run together. Being away from my GCTC family at home, it was SOOOOOOO NICE to have athletes from TS LIFE there racing by my side. Once we finished our warm up run, we all split back up and finished our own pre-race routines. One last stop at the porta-potty. Wet suit on. Morning clothes bag dropped. VESPA CV25 down. Line up in the coral for the swim start. It was here that I re-connected with my family. Got my final hug and kiss and started to focus. After the Canadian national anthem, the pro men went off. I looked over at my Mom and Sean who were both teared up from nerves, and that set me off. Butterfly's in my stomach and a somewhat sick feeling (which I knew would all go away as soon as my feet hit the water). Ugh...the longest 5 minutes of my life just standing there waiting. Could the time pass any slower!?!?
Once the cannon went off for the age group start, it took about 3 minutes for me to reach the waters edge. Although I would much rather have a mass swim start so I know where I stand in my AG throughout the day, the rolling start was calm, which I appreciated. I was able to get into a rhythm early and I felt really good. This course is a double loop swim course with 7 left hand turns. The first loop was smooth. I checked my watch as I made the final turn of the first loop. :31.25! WOW. My swim goal time was 1:10 and I was shocked to see my time. I didn't feel like I pushed hard and I knew that if I stayed focused, I could beat my swim time. Well...I didn't. My issue with this swim course (and me being a middle of the pack swimmer), the turns (all 7 of them) get very congested. I'm use to it, but I don't like it. As I made my way around the second swim loop, the congestion at the turn buoys seemed to be getting worse. When I made the 5th turn, some guy grabbed onto my ankle around my timing chip and pulled me down and backward. My adrenaline surged. There is nothing like the feeling of someone trying to push you underwater to set you into fight or flight mode. I'm use to bumping elbows, getting knocked around a bit, even getting swam over some...but this was different. A clear aggressive move by some other athlete. I completely lost focus. My leg cramped, my heart was pumping and I was pissed. In my moment of anger, I stopped sighting and before I knew it, I had swum a good 20 yards past the next turn buoy. WTF! I immediate thought to myself, REFOCUS!!!! This is not going to ruin your swim or the rest of your day! Let it go. So I did. I refocused on pulling and mostly letting my legs drag behind me so they wouldn't cramp more. I finished the swim (much slower the second loop...lesson learned!) in 1:07:45 (ahead of my goal time) and in 11th place.
T1 was smooth. I was athlete #106 (the first age group athlete was #100), so my bags were right at the front. I headed into the women's changing tent where I had a wonderful volunteer named Christine helping me get all my stuff together for the bike. I decided to pack all of my bike nutrition on my body so I wouldn't have to stop for my special needs bag on the bike. That meant I was shoving a lot of food in my pockets. Helmet, socks and shoes on (they wouldn't let us clip our shoes on our bike) and glasses in hand (they were going to fog up if I tried to put them on in T1) and VESPA Junior into my sports bra. I thanked Christine for all her help and raced out of the changing tent. My parents and Sean were standing on the fence line right by my bike and all I could hear was Sean yell "GREAT SWIM" as I grabbed my bike and ran out. I saw other TS Life supporters on my way out of transition all yelling well wished for me. Thank goodness for them. T1 in 00:04:33. Not bad.
As soon as I got out on the bike course, I immediately took the VESPA Junior. I had my watch set up to alert with a vibration every 15 minutes so I would be reminded to eat, drink and take salt. My nutrition plan for this course was to eat often and start early. This course is harder than any other Ironman bike course I've done and I didn't want to get behind on anything. I packed 1,400 calories of food on my body and had extra bars in my special needs bag just in case I dropped something. My nutrition goal was 200cal/hour and 800mg sodium/hour. All 3 of my bike bottles were full of clean water and I wanted to get as much water down as I could. My race goal was to finish the bike as close to 6 hours as possible. I wanted to get up the climb to Callahan and back into town in 2 hours, then through the Pemberton meadows and back onto the highway in 4 hours and 30 minutes. I had my watch set up on average mph pace and I knew I wanted to leave the Pemberton meadows with an average of 20mph. I knew it would only drop (and drop fast) from then on as I climbed back up into Whistler.
Nutritionally, I had packed Go Macro Bars, Endurance Bites, Honey Stinger gummies and 2 Huma Gels on my bike. I ate the Go Macro Bars and the Endurance Bites on flats and descents (I made sure I chewed them well...but they still required more digestion) and saved the Honey Stinger gummies and Huma Gels for the climbs when I needed the sugar to hit my blood stream fast. I also took 5g BCAA at mile 56 of the bike course. I stayed true to my nutrition plan. I think I only missed one salt tab during the ride when I was climbing a steep section of the course and didn't feel my watch go off. I never felt hungry. I never felt thirsty. I didn't run out of food or water. I felt like I nailed my nutrition plan. Timing was more or less spot on as well. I was able to keep my goal pace up to Callahan and back into Whistler. I told my family to expect me at the top of Blueberry Hill at the 2 hour mark of my ride. I passed them at 2:00:57. Ok, 57 seconds off my goal. Pretty damn close!!! I continued to ride at my goal pace down to Pemberton and through the meadows. During this time of the ride I was passed by both Brad and Ian (both TS Life athletes). Brad was focused and in the zone, but Ian and I chatted for a moment about the swim before he headed on with his race. My goal to get out of the meadows at 4:30 on the clock was SPOT ON. I turned the corner out of the meadows to head back to Whistler and my watch read 4:30.22. BAM! But, now for the hard part. I remember at the 3 hour mark of the bike ride thinking, "I'M 1/2 WAY DONE!" only to realize that the last 3 hours were going to be ALL work. No coasting. Just constant pedal pressure the whole time. Deep breath...you got this!
From mile 90 on, it would be all up hill. And about 6 miles of that climb was freshly paved. When I mean fresh, I mean they finished paving it the day before at 2:30pm. With the heat of the day at hand, this section of road was soft. Not long into the climb, I started to pick up a lot of debris. It made the climb a bit more challenging as I was catching rocks and dragging them between my rear tire and my frame. Frustrating. I didn't have the tool needed to adjust the limiter screws and the last aid station I passed didn't have a mechanic. Ugh. Onward. Marla (another TS Life athlete) caught up to me at this point and we spent the next few miles exchanging encouraging words while we passing each other back and forth. Around mile 110, she passed me for good. If there was one spot in the race where I would say "I hit a wall," it was here. It was everything I had left to make it last 2 miles back to T2. Again, thank goodness for spectator. They are the reason I made it back to T2. When I entered T2, my parents were standing there to cheer me on. I was able to finish the ride in 6:07:22 and I was elated. Moved me from 11th to 7th.
Just like T1, I had a personal volunteer to help me with all me needs. I tried to make quick progress in T2, hit the porta-potty, downed my VESPA junior, and headed out onto the run course. T2 completed in 00:03:18.
It took me awhile to get into the groove of the run. As expected, my legs felt heavy and I was tired. I managed to keep, what felt like, a steady pace out of T1, but when my watch alerted at mile 1 with my actual pace, it was way off. My goal was to hold a 9:00/mi pace for the duration of the run. I knew it wouldn't be easy, but it was doable. At mile 1, my watch showed 9:35/mi pace. Mile 2- 10:12/mi pace, mile 3- 9:20/mi. It wasn't until mile 4 that I started to be able to hold a sub 9:00/mi split, but it didn't last long. By mile 6, I was averaging around a 9:40/mi pace. At this point, I just held on. I managed to keep a steady run pace until mile 13 when I had to start walking hills and through aid stations. I didn't walk long, but the short break was enough to get me running again. And when I did run, I felt ok for while. Then I needed to walk again. Every time I walked, I reminded myself that this walk could knock you off the podium, but I couldn't motivate myself to keep up with a run. I was surrounded by athletes walking from aid station to aid station, and was hearing people saying to me "you look great" and "you've got a great pace." I guess it's all relative. I was able to see all the TS Life athletes out on the run course at least once and that was very motivating to keep moving. I definitely have a team mentality and I didn't want to let the team down. And I certainly didn't want to delay anyone's post race celebrations.
Nutritionally on the run, I didn't take on much. I planned to eat about 150 calories per hour if I could, but knew that would be a stretch. And it was. It was hot by the time I hit the run course and I wanted to keep my blood in my legs and out of my gut as much as possible. I had 3 Huma Gels (1 per hour for the first 3 hours), water at every aid station and 200mg sodium (Salt Stick) every other mile (approximately every 20 minutes). I took my special needs bag at mile 16 in hopes of grabbing another Huma Gel, but I didn't have one in there. Darn it!!! Instead, I took the VESPA Junior and dropped everything else. From that point on, I used aid stations. I took on a few cups of Coke, an orange or two, ice (LOTS of ice) and even a small handful of pretzels. I carried a pack of Honey Stinger gummies with me for the entire run, but they sounded horrible and I never even opened the package.
Like always, I was happy to finally see the finish chute. I found Kristian, Dane, Mack and Charlotte and was able to give them high fives and then found my parents and Sean closer to the finish line. This is when I REALLY wish for a mass start. I was the only female in the chute, but because of the way they start the race now, you don't actually know where you stand in your age group. I would have loved to have stopped and given hugs and kisses, but instead, it was high fives all the way across the line. In the end, I was off the podium by 38 seconds. 38 SECONDS! ARGGGGGG...it's really hard not be upset over that, but that is how the cards fell on that day. And I can honestly say that, besides my loss of composure in the swim, there is nothing I would have done differently. I'm sure that by pushing on the bike I outdid myself for the run, but I don't regret it. I feel like that was what I needed to do to feel confident on my bike again. I ended with the 5th fastest bike split in my age group on the day and I am proud of that. Despite being 30 minutes off my run goal time, I still had the 10th fastest run split in my age group on the day, which might show how hard it was for all of us.
Although I hate this picture of me in the finish chute (I was happy, I promise), I love that Kristian, Dane and Charlotte are all in the background smiling. (Dane is probably smiling because he knows he can finally hit the bar for a beer.) I was the last TS Lifer to finish, but I don't think I gave anyone enough time to go home and shower first (or maybe I did, I don't really know if that's true).
In the end, I finished the marathon in 4:30:43. Far off my goal time, but I know I can come back next year and do better. Unfinished business in Whistler. I'll be back.
I'm proud of myself for my result in Canada. I made some small mistakes, but nothing that I didn't learn big lessons from and I won't take with me to the next event. Although we have our moments, I'm forever grateful to have a coach who doesn't put up with my BS and pushes me to be better and better (not just as an athlete, but as a human being). I feel confident that my goals are within reach and that I will actually enjoy the path it takes to reach them.
I can't say enough about my parents and my husband who bust their buns to be everywhere they can be on race day. The support they provide during all the training day and on race day are invaluable to me. Especially to Sean. I don't EVER take for granted how damn lucky I am to have the best husband in the world. I feel so lucky to have a best friend/husband who supports everything I do. He is the reason I stay sane, can get through these long days mentally and believe that I CAN. Thank you, Sean. You mean the world to me.
Coming up next...Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Mooloolaba, Australia. Can't wait for that party!!!!
Tiana Rockwell is a certified nutritional therapist, avid endurance athlete and dark chocolate lover. She believes that by eating REAL food, we can balance our body and reach optimal health and wellness!