See? Even my French is getting better! I failed to mention two other momentous moments of the previous days in my Canadian Journey...
1) Solange, Anne's maman, was instructed to speak to me only in french while I was there because I requested the total immersion tour of Canada. That lasted just through the beginning of lunch on day one... and then abruptly ended because all I could say in response was "oui, oui" and then drink heavily. Conversation was limited. I will practice more for our next meeting.
2) Big John gave me a motorcycle ride through the hills of Muskoka on Saturday. This was actually one of the highlights of my trip (although I think he thought I was kidding when I told him that). There is nothing more freeing than riding a motorcycle with a big good-looking burly guy through a foreign country. Ok, that sounds weird, but owning a motorcycle was always on my bucket list until I had kids, then I gave it up. This was my replacement. Thanks Big John. Thanks FreeBird for loaning him to me.
Ok, so on to Sunday ~ race morning. I hate to say that I am such an experienced triathlete now that there is not much more I can write about my pre-race ritual than has been written in the past, but it is true. But there were a few differences this time. I actually got a good night's sleep the night before the race, likely due to my emotions of the day wearing me out. In addition, I had been trying not to snore all week long so I wouldn't disturb my roommate. Finally my body gave in to exhaustion. Sorry Crowe. Apparently my return to snoring interferred with her sleep that night.
I slept in on race morning later than usual and didn't have my typical "need" to show up to transition at the crack of dawn. It was actually kind of nice to just flow in, get marked, make my port-o-potty stop, set up transition and then go to the swim start. No time wasted standing around. The only negative was that I put on my wetsuit and walked to the swim start with the intent of getting in for a practice and then decided to make one more run to the pot-o-gold. Neoprene is difficult to get out of in a port-o-pot, and because of that I missed my warm-up swim. Actually I missed wishing the majority of my peeps good luck as their waves had already headed into the water by the time I returned. Oh well.
So there I was ~ just me and Boy Diva ~ like two virgins at a biker bar. Looking around everyone seemed more experienced than us. We stuck together as we entered the water and waited for our wave to move up to the start. Like a younger brother, Boy Diva informed me that he had just peed in his wetsuit. I informed him I had done the same. And then splashed my water towards him.
I couldn't see the buoys very well because my goggles kept fogging up and there was a mist over the water. I had reviewed the course ahead of time and had counted the buoys so I knew to just go one at a time until I hit the turn. I positioned myself front and center (which still cracks me up considering my history with open water). I think my logic is based on there being no one in front of me so I don't feel claustrophobic and I pretend that the rows of people behind me will just swim around me. Either way, in reality, I have accepted that I will get swum over, kicked, pummelled, and basically squished for the first 200 yards. Then I will have breathing room until about 800 yards when the next wave will do the same thing as they pass me. I find comfort in routine. I can count on it.
It is funny to me how much my swimming has changed over the past few years. There was no panic in this swim. I felt like I swam hard, but paced the way I needed to in order to keep my breathing consistent and to leave something for the end. I have learned that for me it's all about the breathing. If I lose control of that then I start to panic. Repetition definitely has its place in training, because I was easily able to fall into a comfortable rhythm of strokes and breathing. I focused hard on my sighting because I knew that I could shave off some time by going straight to make up for my lack of speed. I was pretty proud of how I was sighting until the final turn to head into shore. I miscalculated the current and felt like I had to swim at an angle to get back on course. My pride in my sighting ability got ahead of itself.
At the last three buoys I picked up my speed but left a little in the tank as I knew that I had a long run up a hill into transition. I was pleased with the sleeveless wetsuit I had borrowed from Vortex before the race and made a mental note to buy one. It saved stress on my neck and shoulders but allowed me to feel bouyant. I had only tried it out once in the pool during training so I was relieved when I found it worked well for me on race day.
I caught a few swimmers on the way in to shore and managed to position myself at their hips to benefit from their draft. I was proud of myself. I was even more proud of myself that while doing so I managed to pee while swimming. That was a first (sorry about your wetsuit Vortex). I smiled to myself and laughed out loud as I tried to keep breathing to my side.
I swam all the way, and I mean all the way, up to the steps... just like I had been taught. I figured any time I could shave off in the swim (my strength) would help me in the rest of my race. Again, I laughed at the irony.
As I got out of the water the two volunteers pulled me up onto the steps and I proceeded to slam my big toe into the wooden step at full force. I looked down and immediately saw blood pouring out of it. It stung and I thought I might have broken it but it felt numb from the cold water so I wasn't sure. I wasn't planning on using the wetsuit strippers but found myself being directed to lay down as they pulled my suit off of me. I was so distracted by my toe that I momentarily lost my transition plan.
Wetsuit in hand I hobbled away from the strippers and up the hill. The road was rough and cold and I kind of wished I had left shoes by the water to put on for the run. But then I figured it really wouldn't matter as there was not much "running" up the hill anyway. I made it to the top of the hill and saw Papa Canada, my first and only cheerleader of the race. I smiled and waved and tried to appear to jog into transition.
Coach had told me I could take my time getting set in transition so I did. Maybe too long, but I took some nutrition, put on some socks, puffed on my inhaler. I figured a few minutes might make the difference in success as I knew this would be my most difficult portion of the race. I wasn't worried about the run. I'd face that if I got to it.
I went to start my Garmin which I thought was strapped to my bike when I realized the pin had disappeared from my quick release strap, rendering it useless as I couldn't secure it to my bike. I searched to find a spot to place the Garmin but couldn't find one anywhere. I knew I needed it for peace of mind if nothing else. I had pre-set it to monitor my average speed and needed it to keep me on track. Finally I shoved it as best I could into my Bento's bag and prayed it wouldn't slip out as I had to keep the bag partially open. At least this way I could look down every so often and fumble to check it when I needed to.
I took a deep breath and I wogged my bike out of transition to the mount line. As I approached it I realized I had left my race belt with my race number back in my transition area. Everyone else had theirs on. I decided I didn't have time to run back. I'd risk the penalty. I mounted my bike. Here we go. It's gonna be long, it's gonna be hard, but I will go as far as I can and do the best that I can. That was my mantra for the day.
I had already experienced how tough the first few miles of the bike course were, but I relied on the play-by-play my teammates had given me for the rest of the course that they had driven. This was the first time I was glad I hadn't ridden the course ahead of time. Normally I like to see the course, where the turns are, what the half-way mark is, and to find mental landmarks along the way. I think that would have defeated me before I started on this course. I knew it was going to be brutal. I might as well be surprised by it.
The biggest hills I had ever ridden were in St. Francisville. Unfortunately, they didn't compare to these. It wasn't long before I was being passed frequently by other riders. I had the displeasure of being in the second to last wave of the race at the start. That meant that I would be alone sooner than usual for a very long race. I accepted this fact and went with it. No point in letting it bother me. I think I may have passed one person in the entire bike portion. I played leap frog with two others but they eventually got me during the last 10 miles.
I tried to pace myself. I knew from past experience that there was no point in trying to blow it out on the bike. Slow and steady was my plan. I tried to keep my cadence up and not mash. It was hard when I found myself in the easiest gear, mashing, up the hills. At one point I was sure I might over-dose on my inhaler. I wasn't sure what the maximum dosage was but I was pretty sure I had consumed it.
When the hills got tough I would focus on the ground about fifteen feet in front of my tire and just pedal. I couldn't look at where I was going because the hills were too mentally defeating. I'd just pedal and breath. Once I got to the top of the hill my legs would be burning, shaking, and so fatigued, but I was amazed at how quickly going downhill rejuvenated them. It was almost like a flush. Fast pedaling with no resistance and by the bottom they felt ready for the next hill. Well almost ready. At one point I remember thinking that I actually preferred this to riding flats. That thought went away later.
The scenery was beautiful. Granite cliffs jutted out of the thickly wooded forest. Everything felt different. The air was crisp and clean. There was hardly any garbage along the course. I could hear the gurgle of small water falls and creeks along the route. I let myself fall into that world as I pedaled. When the hills got tough I would imagine my Dad's spirit running next to me, pushing me up the hill. I tried to smile through the discomfort and reminded myself that I was here for the experience and what an experience I was getting! There were those moments along the way that reinforced why we as triathletes do these events. When you fall into what I call "the zone" and everything just blurs out and all you hear is the sound of your steady breathing, and you feel your heartbeat in your temples, and you feel the sweat on your arms as you monotonously, steadily, repeat the same motion over and over. One, two, three, four, pedal, pedal, pedal.
I learned quickly to love the downhills. I have never gone that fast on a bike. I have no fear which in itself creates some fear. I love speed and adrenalin. I may be a turtle uphill, but downhill I am free.
As I approached the first town I got excited knowing that there was an ice cream shoppe along the route. I had actually put some Canadian coins in my Bento's bag in case I decided I needed some encouragement to continue on. When I reached the town I found residents sitting outside along the street with their cowbells cheering us on. There was a fire-boat in the lake shooting its water cannon up in the air, and a firetruck blaring its siren. It was a great distraction and it made me smile. I saw the ice cream shoppe but decided I didn't need it. I knew I wouldn't have stopped but it was nice to pretend I could have if I'd wanted to. I can't imagine walking in with my biking shoes on and trying to explain why I was eating ice cream in the middle of a race. One can fantasize though can't she??
After the town was a short but steep hill leading up to the highway. It was the first time I had to get off my bike to push it up, but I was comforted that there were others behind me doing the same. I few kilometers past that I heard something fly off my bike and looked down to realize my Garmin was missing. I paused while I tried to think what to do. That was $200 worth of gear gone. I decided to turn back and look for it. After a quick search of the road I decided it was a casualty of war and that I must go on. I felt like I'd lost a comrade in arms. My only stress? I couldn't convert kilometers to miles so I never had a good idea of what I had left. I'm a math idiot. I tried to let it roll off of me.
By halfway through the race my neck issues were kicking in as expected. I did what I could do to change position, distract myself, and finally I just sucked it up and pushed on. I did allow myself to stop every 20 miles or so and stretch for a minute, and that seemed to help keep it under control. I found that the thigh burning was a good distraction in itself.
From about the halfway point of the bike course I started noticing that a motorcycle official seemed to be checking on me quite a bit. I actually took comfort in seeing him around as no one else was around by that time. We got to where we would strike up conversation and he rode next to me chatting. He never mentioned that I didn't have on my race number like I was supposed to. I think he felt sorry for me by that point and knew that no penalty would hinder me in any way.
The last 12 miles were the worst. By then my legs were fried. I had to get off my bike and push up almost every hill, even the small ones. I would ride the downhills and repeat. I told myself at least I was making forward progress. I was nearing five hours on the bike and decided if I needed to "eliminate" I might as well do it in the woods versus wasting time running to a port-o-john in transition. I "made like a bear" and took care of my business...and got back on my bike in time to be greeted by my referree friend coming around the bend. I asked if I was dead last and he said that there were still plenty of people behind me. I think he was lying because I never saw but two and then they disappeared into the distance as they passed me on a hill.
Finally I made it to transition. I was so relieved and glad the bike was over. I took my time walking my bike to the rack and sat down to change my shoes. I wasn't sure what to do at this point. I honestly didn't think I would get that far so facing the run was never really in my head. I found myself changing socks, putting on my running shoes, a long sleeve shirt (because again I figured I might be out there on the course alone forever and it was getting colder), and robotically started jogging towards the run exit. On my way out I heard Thunderbird's name being called out as he crossed the finish line. Christ. I have a long way to go and he is already through. I trudged on out to the course to be greeted by the first volunteer who looked at her watch and said, "they still let you out onto the course?".
If that doesn't instill confidence I'm not sure what does. I'll admit. It was hard to be the ONLY person running out when everyone else was running in through a cheering section of bystanders. I was bothered by it at first, but then decided to just let it go and do what I could. The weather was perfect for me. I love to run in the cold and it was just the right temperature. I couldn't run up the hills as my legs were fried, but I did run the flats and the downhills and was pleased with what I was able to do. I started giving high-fives to the runners coming in, and they were all very supportive of me. At one point a runner told me I would have to run an 8 min kilometer in order to finish on time. My pea brain couldn't comprehend what that was in American so it frustrated me. I looked at my watch and knew it took me under an hour for the swim, five hours for the bike, and that left me about 2 hours and 44 minutes to finish a half marathon. I also knew that my best run of a half marathon was 2:20. With my Garmin gone I had nothing to pace me, so I just ran when I could run and walked when I got to a hill. I decided I'd go as far as I could go.
Next thing I knew, my motorcycle ref was riding alongside me. I gave him the thumbs up and asked him if I was last. This time he said yes, that I was the last one out of transition before they closed it to the run. He was going off shift but wished me luck. I kept on, passing the constant stream of runners coming in. Finally I hit a crossroads. Literally. The finishing runners were coming in from the right of me but my route took me straight ahead through an empty intersection and off into the unknown. I slowed up to think. I felt okay at the time but knew I wouldn't make the cut-off. It was one thing running and having people around, but it was another to be out there solo. If I had not already lived this scenario in NOLA 2010 then I might be willing to push through it. But I had been there, done that. It's no fun being solo, having no aid, no ride back if you get stuck, the course being taken down around you, and no finish line to return to after a 9.5 hour day. I know. I was there. If there was a pot of gold at the end, maybe. But even my team's incentive to give me the spoils of their betting pool expired after 8:44 minutes. There would be no gold, no medal, no point. I didn't need to prove anything to myself. Not today anyway. I could be happy with what I accomplished on this day. I had already surpassed what I had thought I was capable of.
I turned around and blended into the runners coming in. I felt a bit like an imposter at first because I appeared to be "finishing" the race. I decided to run what I could of it. I estimated from start, turn around, to finish I wogged a 6k. As I neared the finish I darted off the course through the grass behind transition to get to our tent. I refused to run through the crowd of onlookers and pretend I did something the others really had. Oh well. What I had done today was my success and I would have to celebrate it myself. No medal, no shirt, no glory. Just slinking back in behind the fences after a long day of exercise.
And thus ends my race report. All in all, I am glad I participated. With every race comes lessons learned and more insight into ourselves. This race, this week, this trip was an end to a difficult time in my life. September 2011 - September 2012 is now over. I don't recommend doing what I did - scrapping through training, losing focus on my goals, struggling with what life has dealt. But that's where I was and I did the best I could at the time.
What happens next? I'm not sure. I have enjoyed the freedom of making my own decisions, good or bad, regarding my training, family, job, health, and schedule. I'm tired of goals yet I'm drawn to them. I miss the way my body looked two years ago when all was well in the world, but I struggle to find the focus to get it back. There are things I still want. Goals unreached. I just have to decide how badly I want to try and reach them. That's where I am right now. Contemplation Stage....
Le Tour De Canada 2012 - a memorable experience! Thanks to all who shared it with me and to Coach and her family for being ambassadors for a great country!