If I never learn another word of French may these words never leave my heart:
I’ve spent a few days wondering exactly how this blog post was going to write itself. Lets be brutally honest I never really know in what direction the words that fester in my mind will take when I sit down with laptop in hand and fingers flying across the keyboard. I keep trying to make some cohesion of what it was like to participate in what was one of the most
scary, nerve wracking, stress induced, fucking totally awesome events of my entire life (and by life I mean the last three years I have been a full participate of this life I call my own).
So there is a little “method” to the madness of this post but in the end it might read a little chaotic because, again while I’m being honest in this post (cause you know I like to be honest while throwin down some words), my life was pretty chaotic the months leading up to earning that precious 70.3.
But you already knew that right?
Or maybe you didn’t. See, the last couple of months I’ve been very quiet during this “Ironman” journey. In all my other endeavors I’ve blogged openly. From the first 5k, the first 10k, first half marathon, and first marathon. I blogged about the training, the frustrations, the accomplishments, the blisters, the feeling of defeat and the ever loving feeling of “I am so kicking some serious ass!!!” But this. This time I kept most of it in. I shared what I could but (again with the honesty shit) it was sparse in comparison to the *other* life changing stuff because for the first time on this journey I didn’t know if I could actually step up to the starting line and move forward enough to cross the finish line.
It’s difficult to hear the barrage of people say things like “oh you can do it”, “look what you’ve been able to accomplish so far“, “we believe in you” when deep down inside what you want someone to say is “this is going to be hard“, “you will cry“, “you might not finish“, “Tara, your training has been good but let’s be serious about what’s in front of you and you need to be okay with whatever the outcome“
I felt like I wasn’t prepared. Both physically and emotionally. Probably more emotionally than physically but we all know they both go hand in hand. As the weekend came closer I stopped focusing on my physical well being and literally coddled my emotional self. Letting myself cry when needed. Allowing the panic to take over knowing it would pass. When I broke a sweat, I reminded myself that no matter what happened my heart was Ironman pure and whether or not I crossed the finish line, showing up was the real goal.
It’s one thing to wake up in your own bed, in your own house, in your own town and step up to a starting line. You feel safe. More confident. Maybe you swam/biked or run the course to familiarize yourself and become comfortable. It’s another thing to get up at 3:30a (after working 15 days in a row) and drive 14 hours straight (3 provinces and one time zone) on the Friday before Sunday’s race.
Then I repacked again.
I got Dusty all ready
(because I needed the reminder of who I was regardless of outcome while I drove)
And then we drove.
A really really really long time!
I hadn’t planned on getting to registration on the Friday we arrived. I thought I’d chill out for a bit, have a little food, maybe try to sleep and hit the ground running (pun intended) the next morning. But things never really go as planned and as soon as I pulled into Mont Tremblant I wanted to dip my toes in the “expo” waters (again pun intended) so I went and picked up my number. It probably wasn’t the smartest thing for me to do after being on the road for so long and ALREADY being an emotional mess.
I’ve never seen so many people “peacock” in one area before. Literally standing around with their bikes, looking at everyone else standing around with their bikes. It was kind of creepy. I kept thinking to myself “why do you bring your bike to pick up your race kit?” Was I missing something? I didn’t understand. Bike racking was Saturday. It was like some weird from of “cruising”. I felt way out of my league. Fancy wheels and “T” bars. Multiple bottle holders and technical machines attached to the handle bars. This was not your back yard triathlon. This was fucking Ironman and I was smack dab in the middle of it. This was serious business. Even the registration was serious business. Mimi and I tried to walk in together but they were having none of that. Athletes only. As soon as I gave them my name I started crying. I didn’t belong. They were going to laugh at me. Tell me to turn around and maybe when I have a better bike I could play….
“Tara, is this your first Ironman event?”
“You’re going to do great and we’re here to take care of you”
There were damn near 10 different stops just in the race kit pickup. Get your number. Get your bracelet. Fill out forms. Weigh in (what?????). Pick up bib. Pick up shirt. Okay hold on I need to take a breath! Pick up info packet. Here have a cool Buff in your favorite color (ORANGE!) from Merrell and finally let’s just double check that the bracelet matches the packet that matches the bibs that matches the I.D….
Take a close look at that picture. I’m not smiling. I don’t look excited. In fact I’m terrified. I’ve just finished bawling my eyes out having walked out of registration. I knew the emotions were going to be all over the place and I was okay with that. I didn’t get angry at myself. Every time I felt like I should just pack up and go home I reminded myself that this was something I’ve dreamed of doing since my love for triathlons was born. These people around me can peacock all they want. They were probably just as scared as I was and if they weren’t then maybe they’ve haven’t been on the same journey.
It was then the little seed began to be planted. Yes maybe they all had more expensive gear but we were all going to be moving the same distance. The 2 km swim they were doing: I was doing. The 90 km bike ride would be the exact same one I was doing. That half marathon to follow? Yhea I was running the same streets a these guys. Maybe they were faster. Maybe they were more prepared. Maybe they would cross the finish line sooner than I would but you can believe one thing: I would fight with every fiber in my being to cross that finish line. I stopped thinking about the people and started thinking about the miles. 70.3 miles. 70 of my toughest competitors. All I would have to do is knock them down one at a time. I saw a checklist in my mind. Mile one. Check. Mile two. Check. Until I got to 70…CHECK CHECK AND DOUBLE EFFING CHECK!
Race kit in hand I left as quickly as I had arrived because the day one of Operation “Holy Mother of God and Baby Jesus on a Unicorn I’m doing an Ironman” had officially begun and I was in need of some quiet time…
Here’s the part of the story in which I tell you about Brooke Brown.
Go look, I’ll wait.
Want to know how I know her? Cause she was my bunk mate…well my condo mate I guess is a better term. That’s right people I shared a living space with one of the pro’s!!! Talk about intimidation. That is until I spent exactly 3 minutes with her and realized she’s just about the freaking nicest person EVER. I thought I’d be spending an entire weekend with one of those “peacock-y” people up at registration and instead I roomed with someone that had an infinity for trucker hats, brightly colored socks worn with flip flops and McDonald’s.
(I’m totally blackmailing her with this photo!)
Saturday was a little more hectic but not in a “OMG I have to drive 14 hours, remember everything I packed, and not get lost” sort of way. Up early (of course) and some semblance of a plan in hand I did a short 5k on the run route to at least get a feel for the course. This was the only time I had to myself the entire weekend and it was a much needed “come to Jesus” dialogue with myself. I knew by the time I was right where I was at that exact moment some 24+ hours later I would have completed the longest bike ride of my entire life after swimming 1.2 miles. I stopped on the trail and thought “If I can just get to the running portion I’ll be okay“. I know how to run. I know how to run through pain. I know how to get myself moving when I feel like I can’t take another step. I began to cry again because the feeling of “what if I don’t finish” was washed over with “It’s going to be hard my friend but YOU WILL FINISH“. Funny story about stopping on the course trail: When you run you can’t get bit by mosquitoes. I wish I had known that because in those 2 minutes that I stopped, I got about 50 bites all up and down my legs and may have screamed like one of those characters being chased in a horror movie as I ran back to the condo…
Thankfully it was too early for any one else to hear me.
Back to the condo, it was time to put on the wetsuit (for the first time!) and do the one and only open water practice swim I’d done before Ironman. That’s right people; my one and only open water practice swim happened less than 24 hours before my event.
This was a tough swim. I was only in the water for about 20 minutes and I was exhausted. I swam out to that tiny little white buoy you can barely see in the right picture (at the tip of the little island). Panic set in pretty quickly but I just reminded myself that I know I can swim 1.2 miles. I did it multiple times and regardless of doing in a pool I was going to be okay. I’ve done enough open water swim to know the cold is only momentary and once I get warmed up I’ll just let my body take over. I’d already given myself plenty of time to complete the swim portion. An hour. In the pool I could do it in 55 minutes. With the wet suit and the excitement of race day I was pretty confident I could do it faster but an hour gave me some wiggle room to relax.
Having taken these few little steps of getting to know the course a little better was probably the smartest thing I could have done. The 5k was on the run route. The swim was on the beach in which I’d start and finally a short drive to see what my friend Leanne called the “back 15″…the last 15 km (8 miles for my American friends) of the bike route. The first 75 I’d seen because it was the highway in which I drove in on. The last 15? It’s up Mont Tremblant…Mont meaning mountain. Mountain meaning…well you know: Long up hill climb coming in, fast down hill decent coming out. I’d ridden 75 km (46 miles) as my longest training ride and that was well over a month before Ironman. This was the part I was most worried about. Would I have enough energy to go beyond my longest ride and climb the winding roads of Mont Tremblant for an additional 8 miles? The pep talk (inside my head of course) went a little like this:
“Okay listen, you know you can ride Peppermint for 75k. Everything after that is still a win because you’ll have gone farther than you’d ever gone. But listen Tara, you know you can go another 4 miles! Yes it’s uphill, yes that’s gonna suck donkey balls but come on are you gonna let a measly 4 miles stand in your way????? Just 4 miles in. If you can get those 4 miles done then you got this IRONMAN in the bag! You turn around and come down hill then on to your strongest event: The running.”
Even if I didn’t *feel* ready, I was ready. Ready to start. Ready to conquer the fear of “can’t” and “you never will”. It didn’t matter the outcome because I’d already won. Just being in the middle of all this emotional chaos and still moving forward made me realize that even if for some reason the finish wasn’t happening for me I wouldn’t be afraid to keep trying. The fear of the unknown was what had plagued me the last three months.
What was unknown was known and what was fearful was no longer…
I racked Peppermint.
I gave her one last kiss and said “see you tomorrow”
I hit the expo and shopped my little heart out!
Here it was. Ironman Mont Tremblant. 70.3. I slept great. Nerves were calm. I was ready. 70 of my toughest competitors were waiting for me to knock them off one by one and I was giving myself the entire 9 hours to do it. An hour for the swim, 5 hours for the bike and 3 for the run. My focus was the “back 15″. If I could get there and back before the 5 hours this race would be mine. I could walk a half mary in 3 hours if I could only run every few minutes. Nothing else matter except those back 15 and it would be a while until I saw them.
Transition box in hand, as much food as I could get down and a fierce need to get moving we head back down to the village.
Transition box in place.
Wet suit wiggled into.
Aaaaaaaand I got to pee!
Mimi and Leanne decide to head over to where I would be coming out of the water (in a totally different location than the start) so one last hug and “see you at the finish” found me all alone with 40 minutes until my start time. It was exactly what I needed. I got into the lake for the next 20 minutes, acclimating to the temperature and peeing in the wet suit for good luck (and since I peed like a gazillion times I gave myself A LOT of good luck).
Slowly but surely they made there way through the athletes until it was my turn. 150 of us all stood there on the beach waiting for the fireworks to go off. 150 of us 40-44 year old women about to embark on a 70.3 mile journey. I looked up at the sky, watched the flares light up the early morning, took a deep breath and began…
Swim 1.2 miles
This was a tough swim. Not because of temperature. Though apparently if it had been 2 degrees colder they would have cancelled the swim portion. It was tough because the younger competitors catch up to you right quick and just when you have a “groove” you’re getting swam over. I’m not a competitive swimmer. I’m not an angry swimmer. I’m an “oh look there’s a lot of people around so let me just bob here for a moment while you all pass me” kind of swimmer. The good grooves I was having were short lived just because I had to keep bobbing in the water waiting for other people to pass me. And I don’t know if you know how far half a mile is but that’s pretty far when swimming straight out into a big open lake…a very big, very open lake. I wasn’t worried though. In fact I didn’t think about too much of anything but staying on course, saying hello to the volunteers on surf boards and not running into the swimming feet in front of me.
It wasn’t until I was about 3/4 of the way through the swim that I began to feel a lot of fatigue. The muscles in my calf and feet were starting to cramp a little from the cold. I was sort of over the swim portion but unlike the pool couldn’t just stand up, hop out and shower off. I was worried the cramping would hinder the rest of the event. As soon as I could touch land and tried to stand up both my feet cramped up pretty bad but it subsided as soon as I took a few steps. People around me were jumping out and running towards the bike transition…
I looked at my polar.
Let me walk to transition.
Oh side note: Wet Suit strippers are awesome!
It’s quite a ways to the bike transition so I’m not too eager to start running. The concrete is cold. People are screaming “Allez, Allez”, I’m feeling quite good and I just want to take in this moment. I’m in no big hurry so I wait to run until I hit the red carpet to give my legs a good “shake out” and get them ready for the bike portion. I have a lot of room at the transition area as most of the women I started with have already finished and headed out. Fine by me! I took the time to sit down, dry off my feet, cram some food in my face, put on my jersey and make sure I had all the food I was going to carry with me (and by food I mean GU and home made Larabars). Sunscreen on (check), Helmet (check), Sunglasses (check)…
Bike 56 miles
This really was quite uneventful. I mean I peddled…a lot. I looked at all the other bikes around me… a lot. I reminded myself that just because all these bikes had all the fancy smancy stuff we were all on the same course… a lot. Aerodynamic helmets. Aerodynamic wheels with no spokes. Fancy clipped in bike shoes. Peppermint wasn’t about to let some expensive bike make her feel like she didn’t belong. She rode like a champ. In fact she rode better than a champ. I didn’t need all that fancy stuff to get me through the first 75 km (46 miles). I needed my strong legs and Peppermint.
I was keeping as close to a 20 km/hr pace as possible and when I finally reached that pivotal 75 km mark I felt really good. I’d been eating/hydrating well. I wasn’t tired. I got to the “back 15″ and saw Mimi, Leanne, Jen and Isabelle all waiting there to cheer me on. I gave them a wave to let them know I was good to go and started up the long 4 miles in.
The back 15 kicked my ass. It kicked the ass of every rider out there. I had to quickly devise a plan in order to abide by the number one rule my friend Erin told me:
I had to granny gear it most of the way using a 25 up/ 50 down method. Meaning I stood for 25 revolutions and then sat for 50 revolutions. It was slow going to get those 4 miles done but not once did I walk my bike no matter how bad my legs wanted me too. I saw too many people walking those fancy bikes up that mountain and I wasn’t about to be one of them. I knocked down those miles one by one in my head…
48 of my toughest competitors left in the dust…
52 miles in and it was time to head back into the final portion of this Ironman event. I’d made it to the top! I knew at that exact moment I was going to finish this damn thing. I looked down at my watch and I was an hour ahead of schedule. I’d be down in transition in less than 20 minutes. I’d have 4 hours to complete the half marathon. I turned around and Peppermint and I started flying towards the village…
I’m not lying when I say fly. Because I was at the back of the pack I didn’t have to worry about other cyclists being too close to me so there was nothing but open road between me and the transition area. I know what 40 mph feels like. Erin warned me that you can get some serious speed coming off the mountain…I was like a kid on their first roller coaster. Screaming in exhilaration I prayed I wouldn’t crash but wanting as much speed as my courage could muster. I screamed at bikes going up the hill “not too much farther!!!!” “Keep going!!!!” “The fun is about to begin!!!!” I let my entire emotional self take in the last 10 minutes of the ride (cause while it took me an hour to get up, it only took 10 minutes to get down) and looked toward the last portion of the event. I wanted to be out on the road running. I wanted to get that damn race shirt on, the medal over my head. I wanted to be an Ironman more than anything I could remember wanting and it was only 13 miles out of my reach.
Because I had so much time left I pulled into the transition area and once again just took my ever loving sweet time. I was going to finish. I was going to finish faster than I anticipated. Now it was about feeling good. I high fived the announcer. Danced a little to the music that was playing and when I laid my eyes on Mimi from across the way I jumped up and down like a kid on Christmas…
Run 13.1 miles
I had devised a plan long before I hit the course. I was going to walk through every km sign and every water stop. There were 13 water stops and 21 km signs…one minute at each. If I didn’t need to walk at a km sign then I could keep going but under no circumstances was I to run through a water stop. Water in my lucky hat, water on my head, water in my mouth, a little flat coke and if needed a banana…if I stuck to that plan then I could keep going. Running was my strong event and even though I was tired and got passed a lot on the bike course this was where I’d catch up to many of those people. Slowly but very surely mile after mile I ran by people and knocked the last 13 competitors off my list. It was an out and back route. Mostly flat (thank goodness) but during the last few miles I had to add a “walk up hills” if needed addendum to my plan.
This is where you see the most people cheering you on. I don’t speak a lick of French but every word of encouragement boosted my moral. Out of 2500 participants, coming in this late in the afternoon means we are few and far in between but it didn’t stop people from standing on the side of the road to watch you run by with a loud and hearty “Allez Allez”
I hit km number 18 (mile 11) and the emotions began to build way up. I’m exhausted. Two more miles seems like forever. I kept telling myself that even if I walked the rest of the way I’d be done in less than 30 minutes. I plug away at the miles.
Even at a mile away from the finish I can hear the announcer. I feel my heart beat faster (as if that’s possible). I look down at my watch and it says I’ve been moving for 7 hours and 20 minutes. I think about Mimi waiting for me with my race shirt. I think about how hard it was for me to start this journey (both 3 years ago and 3 months ago) and in less than 15 minutes I was going to complete my first Half Ironman. I thought about all the people that feel they can’t. I thought about all the people that will never muster up the courage to stand up and take control. I thought about the life I left behind in order to find the life I have in front of me. I thought about how good a beer and some poutine was going to taste after a long day of kicking the ass of 70.3 of my toughest competitors…
And then I was done.
(My emotions in this exact moment could not have been captured more perfectly.)
Official time 7:35:09
This post is long winded. I cried. I stopped and took a few breaks. I looked over my pictures a gazillion times picking out which ones to use. But if you could give me a few minutes of your time please stay…
Behind every Ironman is someone that loves and supports them beyond measure.
(My Dearest Mimi: Thank you.)