Greetings friends! Let me get right into this race report. To summarize the events of the Iron-distance race that I just completed, it was the greatest challenge I have taken on when compared to all my races before. Not for the physicality of the race, but for the will needed to complete the event. Indeed, this race had almost nothing to do with the swimming, biking, and running, and everything to do with sheer determination, and the assistance of good friends willing to help me get to the finish line with their own spirits. Yup, it was that kind of a day folks. I’ve said before that you only get out of a race what you put into it, so I had not been expecting the best race ever, given my lack of preparation, but I got way more than I bargained for with this doozy. Please join me on my journey by reading through the remainder of this blog post. I will indeed try not to pontificate too much, but there is much to say. As usual, don’t forget to check out the pictures from the race, then read on for the rest!
First off, let’s just get the good out of the way. I finished the race! In fact, my standings at the finish line put me in 24th overall, 19th male, and 3rd in my category with a time of 12:57:40. A full 2 hours longer than the first time I tackled an iron-distance tri in 2007. In that race, I trained specifically for the race, putting time in the pool, on the bike, and running in the months leading up to the race. This time, I was banking on my built-up endurance base and desire to finish. In and of itself, that SHOULD have been enough, and by looking at my performance in the swim and the bike, things looked good on paper. I’d planned on 1.5hours for the 3.864km swim (completed in 1:21:18), 6 hours for the 180km bike (completed in 6:03:18), and a reasonable 4 hours for the 42.2km marathon. However, you’ll note that my actual marathon time was 5:25:59! So just what happened? Therein lies the crux of my race report.
Rewinding only slightly, I should mention to you all why I chose to race in the iron-distance triathlon in Ottawa at Mooney’s Bay. In a word: Rudy. In two words: Rudy Award. I’ve talked about it in the past, but this year was finally the chance I had to actually complete the award. To get it, you need to complete 5 events in a calendar year. The winterlude triathlon, the Gatineau Loppet, Rideau Lakes tour, a marathon, and an iron-distance tri. This was to be the final event in my bid, and I aimed to finish, no matter what. As luck would have it, that would soon be put to the test.
Leading up to the race, the forecast kept changing from day to day. For most of the week, it seemed apparent that we would get some rain. While the idea of getting rained on for part of the day didn’t have me too excited, I’ve done it before, and knew I could cope. There are worse things than being wet for a few hours. So what might be worse? Well, heat I suppose. I would soon become very acquainted with heat, as on race day, temperatures spiked so that at one point, with the humidex, it was about 42 degrees celsius! Yup, that’s when the wheels came off for me, and several other racers battling it out on the course, united only by our desire to finish the race and end the suffering.
At 4:45am on Saturday, my alarm went off, and by 5:30am, Deanna and I were out the door. The race start was for 6:30am, and I had to get my transition zone stuff ready for the long day. Before heading out, we checked the forecast again, and saw that there would be no rain in store for us. Once on site, I got my gear laid out, did my body marking, and headed to the beach for the swim start. Since I’d only been swimming 5 or so times in 2 years, I had low hopes. As it turned out though, it was my strongest leg. It was quite nice to be swimming in the still and calm of the morning as the sun began to rise. I felt good, and stayed in my zone. I focused on my stroke, and made good progress, coming out of the water in 15th place. All was going well so far.
Next, up, 180km of cycling up and down the canal, twelve times in total. I knew the focus of this leg would be to ensure that I ate and drank lots to keep the engine firing on all cylinders for the marathon to follow. I had enlisted the help of Deanna to act as my soigneur. As I would pass by her on the loops, she would trade out my empty bottles for full ones of Nuun, my drink of choice. The first couple laps went pretty well, as I had changed into proper bike clothes and made sure to coat myself in plenty of Vaseline to prevent chafing. I could tell that it was warm at this point, but I didn’t feel too badly about it. However, I started noticing that it was getting difficult to eat and drink properly. This manifested itself in a few ways. Firstly, I had the distinct impression that I was slightly nauseated the whole time. Every time I started to eat something and wash it down with drinks, I seemed to have to wait longer and longer for my stomach to settle. In fact, somewhere during my second lap, I had to pull off and use the porta-johnnie to deal with some GI issues.
After that stop, I thought that my troubles were gone, but I believe it was actually only the beginning of my woes. I kept pressing hard for the majority of the bike ride. Initially, I was able to hold and average speed of about 32km/hr. However, as the laps ticked by, the speed dropped to just under 30km/hr. The main reason it didn’t drop lower was that I was now blessed with some great fans on the road. Of course there was Deanna, but at other parts of the course, there was now Chris and Agnes and their newborn, as well as Kevin and Liam. As well, there were all the great volunteers along the course who I’d started to get to know. With all of their help, I kept pushing on, and was quite happy when I saw that my final lap was finishing off, and I was just at the 6 hour mark. In my mind, the final 4 hours I had presumed for the marathon should go well.
After racking my bike in the transition zone, I changed quickly into my running clothes, and also slapped on more Vaseline to stay in good shape. Sadly, I forgot to apply more sunscreen, which would mean I’d probably get a bit of a sunburn on the run. If only that was all I’d get. I left the stadium and started my 42.2km run with relative hope. I didn’t feel great, but assumed that as I put in a few kms, things would improve. After the first half lap, I noticed my pace was already way up. I seemed to be getting slower and slower. Not only that, I was now pretty much completely unable to drink and fluids or eat any food, and my body and limbs felt heavier and heavier. I had no idea that the heat had gotten as high as it had, but it was becoming more and more apparent.
The run was a 3.5km run out, and 3.5km back, for 7km total loops, repeated 6 times. The first lap hurt. The 2nd? I felt like it was absolutely destroying me. At the far end of the loop was Deanna, Dave and Meghan, out there to cheer me on. However, my energy was decreasing with every step. On the way back to the stadium on that 2nd lap, I came face to face with the distinct possibility that I might not succeed. I had stopped sweating now, and although I didn’t realize it quite yet, I was at a minimum suffering from heat exhaustion, and in fact, was likely close to heat stroke. Not a good situation when I still had most of a marathon left to run.
I was shortly thereafter joined by Pete Dobos who was on his bike. He kept me company for most of the way back to the stadium. At times, I had to suck it up and just walk for long stretches. It was absolutely demoralizing. In chatting with him, we came up with the conclusion that I needed to get my core temperature down. The best way to do that would be to dive into Mooney’s Bay when I got back there, and that is precisely what I did. It felt absolutely amazing, but still wasn’t enough to get me fully back in the game. If I thought lap 2 was hard, lap 3 was an absolute nightmare. In all my races in all the years I’ve been racing, I have never been so unsure of the outcome. The only thing that was certain was that I needed to see this through. The reality in my mind was that I’d either finish the race, or be taken off in an ambulance.
Once again, at the far end, I had the mixed fortune of seeing my friends. Seeing them caused a few things to happen to me. At first, it was nice to see familiar faces. However, it also made me want to throw in the towel and just join them on the sidelines. I felt like I was reduced to basically crawling at this point. I sat in the dirt at the side of the path and put my head down. Dave had been awesome enough during the last lap to get me some cold water, Gatorade, chocolate bars, and even an ice cream sandwich. Nothing was working though. I was pretty much in tears at this point. I honestly had NO IDEA how I would be able to finish, nor did I even want to. For their part though, Deanna, Dave, Meghan and Pete were awesome. Not for one second did they let me believe that I wouldn’t finish. Dave told me I was looking good, even though I know that was a lie.
However, a funny thing happened. I got back up, and just started walking again, starting the long trip back to the stadium to finish lap 3. Once there, I’d be half done, and could start thinking about the finish. Deanna walked along with me, and when I found the energy, I’d pick back up to an easy jog / shuffle. Eventually, Deanna told me she was going to get her rollerblades so that she could keep me company. She headed back that way, and once again, Pete showed up on his bike to keep me company. Once at Mooney’s Bay, I dove in the water again, entered the stadium to finish lap 3, then on the way out for lap 4, dove in the water a 3rd time. This appeared to finally start to help me. Pete made the observation that I was now over the hump. 3 laps down, 3 to go!
On this lap, I finally found my legs again, and was able to manage a jog for most of the way. I was a little cooler, and managed to get more fluids into me, and even had a bit of food. Unfortunately, the damage had been done already to my body, so I was unable to get any real speed under my feet. However, even at my slow jog, I felt 10 times better. In my mind, walking the marathon, although it would have been possible, was not the way I wanted to finish the journey. I had to feel that I was truly racing. Towards the end of lap 4, Deanna found me once again, and I was happy to report to her that I was moving for real again. Unfortunately, she had to duck back home to walk the dog. However, at my pace, and with 2 laps yet to go, I knew I’d be about 2 hours. Another dip in my ‘pool’, and I kept going. The next time I’d see her, I would hopefully be almost finished.
Laps 5 and 6 went by mercifully uneventfully. I focused all my energy on just putting one foot in front of the other. Drink and eat as much as I possibly could, and offer support and encouragement to all my other fellow competitors. Suffice to say, I was not unique in my level of suffering. There was a large portion of the iron-distance racers walking much of the course. A lot of them also had the support of spouses, family, and friends as well, walking with them on their laps, offering encouragement and support. I was very touching and emotional to see. As they say, no one is alone in their journey to complete and iron-distance tri. It may not always be as physically evident as it was there, but mentally, everyone has people helping them with every step.
Nearing the end of lap 6, I could taste the finish line. Deanna had once again joined me on the rollerblades, and I only had to finish the last few hundred meters into the stadium in order to finish the journey. Highlight of lap 6? 6 cheezies that I got from a spectator. They propelled me, smile on my face through the last little bit. Then, nearing the final turn, another great booster. A group of people I’d asked to cheer for me earlier had taken the task to heart, and upon seeing me, broke into great cheers of Steve! Steve! Steve! It was amazing, and all I needed to hear to keep me going to the finish line. The last 200m into the stadium is a blur. The announcer called my name and some other stuff about me, and I saw the finish banner being held for me to run through, which I did, with arms held high. It was done, and I had been victorious. The hardest fought finish I’ve ever had to endure!
There were a few celebrational pictures, then it was off to collect my things and make our way home. The pain and stiffness of the effort were already setting in on my body. I could barely walk, and I was still quite badly dehydrated. I finished my night off with a delicious meal of rotisserie chicken, before finally trying to go to sleep at 10pm. It was a very fitful sleep that night, and after the awards breakfast at 9am the next morning, the whole event is now but a memory. I’m proud of the accomplishment, and now have to get back to the task of recovering, especially since I have races for the next 3 weekends as well! No rest for the wicked, right? So ends my story, and I hope you’ve all enjoyed it. Thanks for reading, and don’t forget to check back for my next story. Thank-you to all those who have helped me on this journey. Without you, I’d never have gotten as far as I have.