Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The Trip and the Race... well, part of it.

We headed out on Tuesday with Kathi and Kevin Best following along as we took the maiden voyage with the utility trailer all decaled up with some of my current sponsors. I could not believe that the trailer could hold all that stuff and still had a bit more room. Our goal this year was to bring all the food we would need so that we did not have to buy anything up there since the dollar is weak and Canadian goods are so much more expensive. We were a bit worried about getting over the border with all the food, but they did not even want to look in the trailer and let us through. Otherwise we would have to sit at the border ands start eating a ridiculous amount of food.

We got to our condo just fine but ran into a slight room problem since they ‘thought’ that we would want to show up on Wednesday even though I had told them Tuesady. So we got into a fine room, but would have to move to the one that we stayed in last year the next night… no problem.

Wednesday was a beautiful morning and we were able to get things unpacked and situated. Kathi and Jessi did a phenomenal job making this condo like home… or at least the kitchen. We were set in all regards. I really appreciated all the work that they did before leaving up there so that we did not have to scramble and get things while we were up there. It sure made things run smoothly. They really took care of us athletes too making sure that we had enough food, the right food for meals and plenty of it.

Wednesday evening I went for about a 30 minute run that felt great. I ran along a river that flowed between the two lakes in Penticton. It was beautiful and still quite warm. I wanted to run easy, so this was a great place since there was not anyone around. When I got home, dinner was about ready and it was perfect. Another fine meal that hit the spot. As the evening progressed, I started to feel a little ‘stomach sick,’ but I figured it was from the run or something and would be gone tomorrow.

When I woke up Thursday, my stomach really hurt. It felt similar to when you spend a little too long at the bars the night before. Almost like I could not stand up straight. I still had a small breakfast of some Koshi granola and bran flakes. Afterwards I went for a swim. I swam for about 30 minutes and the swim itself felt fine. When I got to the turnaround point, I stood up and noticed that my stomach was still a bit bothered. I started talking with a guy and during the conversation I actually thought that I was going to puke. Nice first impression. So I swam back, grabbed some Recover Ease and retired to the bed where I would stay for about 7 hours. I tossed and turned and felt like I had the flu. I tried drinking as much water as I could, but as you know nothing seems to go down easy when your stomach is upset. After about 6 hours I noticed that I had started to break a sweat, which I thought was good. I started to feel a little less nauseous, which was a welcomed feeling. At about 6:00 Scott Ward showed up with his son Mitchell and that was when I got out of bed. I helped move his stuff in and started moving again.

The Bests and Jessi showed up shortly after Scott from the store and some vineyards to get dinner started since we would be having all the Tri Fusion people over for dinner. Which consisted of the Piciccis, Wyborneys, Bests, Thompsons, Scates, and some other friends of people. Of course, all kids were welcome as we had quite a dinner. During the amazing chicken and flank steak barbque, there was a 5k run that went right by our condo so we went out and watched. There were some pretty fast guys ad then there were some that… well… weren’t. There was a group dressed up like Kiss, and another guy running in a Speedo that should not have had one in his drawer. So it was quite entertaining. Though it was a great time with great people and food, my stomach was not feeling any better. It was constantly cramping to the point I was sweating when it did. We ended the evening with Scott taking the kids down to the ice cream parlor that was right below our condo. Very convenient. We stayed up for quite a bit and talked but knew that we need to hit the sack.

Friday was the last day to register so regardless of how I felt, I knew that I needed to get down there. I went down there to find no line and went right on through. Only bad part about being a bit late was that they ran out of labeled swim caps so I just got a plain one. I never really understand that. There are 2800 participants which means you order 2800 swim caps. No rocket science here, just common sense.

I also when for a ride with Kevin, Kathi and Jessi. We rode up to Summerland at a good pace. I was watching my power an heart rate and all seemed to be good there. Now if I could just get my stomach dialed in. I turned around after about 30 minutes so that I only rode for about an hour. Jessi, Kathi and Kevin continued on for a bit to ride about 2 hours.

Saturday started off with a good swim and a day of rest. I got all my gear together after a bit and took it down to transition at about 3:30pm. I also registered for the 2008 Ironman Canada as well. They allow athletes this opportunity and it seems like a pretty good option. I went home and relaxed. I ate some of Kathi’s spaghetti pie and consumed a ridiculous amount of fluids. Later we had dinner and then called it a night. Sunday morning would come soon, and sleep was pretty important. The status on my stomach was better, but it was still cramping and quite gassy… which Jessi can attest to.

Race morning came at 4:30am. No matter how well you sleep, it’s always early. I woke Scott up and we got our breakfast. Shortly after we got up, everyone else did too. Though they were not racing, active spectating requires you to be ready to go in order to get to all of he right spots on time. Lots of strategy is involved in doing it right. And let me tell you, these guys do it right. They go out on the course the days before to determine when and where will be the good spots to be. They know the intervals at which people are from one another, and they use all the technology they can to get updates from people who are watching from home on line to get placings at intermediate split checks along the way. They are the best. And they don’t just follow one person… they were following about 8 people. So as I left them at the condo, I know that I would see them again soon.

I have to say that I really like the support at IM Canada and how Penticton really embraces the race. But, let me also say that I don’t think I have ever been to a race that is more difficult to get around the start/finish area even for athletes. It’s pretty frustrating. I stood in a bodymarking line for aout 25 minutes… way too long. Someone eventually got a marker and started to hand it back in line to allow athletes to mark themselves. So finally I was out of that mess.

I went to my bike and made some necessary changes to my fueling and added a couple things to my transition bags. Other than that, I was ready to go. I started to change into my wetsuit with about 20 minutes before the race. But I also knew I would need one more bathroom stop. So with about 10 minutes before the race, I found myself in line for a porta potty. Not the best place to be, but the way my stomach was feeling, and cramping, I figured this would be a necessary stop. I was in and out and out and needed someone to zip my suit one last time. After that, I headed down to the water with about 5 minutes before the official start… plenty of time. I walked to a place that I thought would be an ideal spot for me and went straight to the front. As I was standing there, I saw Sam just a couple people over from me. Always nice to see a familiar face in such a huge race. This was going to be the largest mass start Ironman in history at about 2800 people. I definitely did not want to get in the wrong place in this start.

The cannon went off and I took off like it was a 400 meter swim. It was perfect, not a person around, I was moving forward, and feeling good. I eventually merged with a small group and swam with them the rest of the way. I did not feel as if I was working all that hard. I just settled in focused on my form and finally made it in. I swam a good swim for me at 56:17. I think I was 44th overall including pros. So I am anxious to see where I ended up as an age grouper.

T1 went fine. I tend to take a little extra time there to make sure that I am taking care of things I need to pay close attention to… like nutrition. I want to make sure that I get everything so I don’t end up getting out on the bike and find out I forgot something

I took off on the bike and was happy to be on it. It’s always hard to think that you will be on this darn thing for 5+ hours, and yet it feels so good in the first couple hours. I really paid close attention to my SRM powermeter. My heart rate (HR) was a bit high, and it normally is after coming out of the water. But I kept at a wattage that was well below my lactate threshold (LT). So even though my heart rate was bit high, the wattage that I was producing was well below my LT and therefore I should see a drop in my HR in a short bit. Regardless, I knew that my body was no longer creating more lactate that my body could not buffer at the wattage I was producing. But as the time clicked by, my HR was not dropping. I decided to trust the watts instead of the HR. A pretty aggressive decision, but it seemed like a good one.

I was flying by people. I think I caught all but one, maybe two, female pros before I even got to Richter Pass (45 miles ish), and they started 15 minutes before us. I passed Heather Fuhr early on in the bike and I wasn’t too sure if that was a good sign or not. Normally when I have been deep into the pros on the bike early on it meant that I was riding a bit too hard. I wasn’t sure if that was the case here or not, but I continued on. I ended up maintaining the same wattage on the climb up to Richter. I was still feeling good and staying in control I thought. I was on top of my nutrition, but my HR was still not stabilizing where I thought it should be. I crossed the first timing mat and was in 1st in my age group. I don’t know where I was overall, but I was definitely up front. After the 11k rolling climb up Richter, (a few false flat sections), I started to notice that my stomach was cramping. Nothing crazy, but it needed some relief. I knew on the backside of Richter there was a pretty long descent. I should be able to soft pedal down that and get thing back in check. Nope, wasn’t able to do that. There were some severe headwinds that dwindled what should have been a 45 mph coast, to a tempo paced pedaling yielding about 22 mph. No much of a rest. I stayed focused and continued on. No people passing me, and I did not understand why. I felt like I was crawling.

After I got to about the 60 mile mark things went from uncomfortable to bad. I started taking in gels and then immediately throwing them back up. I would imagine that anyone coming from behind would think that I had a really bad congestion problem because when gel comes back up that quickly, it just looks like snot. I bit sticky though. I knew at this point that I was in a bit of trouble. Low on energy, no fuel, cramping stomach, about 50 miles to go, and a relentless headwind. Not good. At about this point I did see Jessi, Emma, Kathi, Kevin, Jennifer, Natalie, and Greg which was nice to see. Unfortunately when you are in the mental and physical state I was in, it really I hard to respond to the cheers. You just want to get to the end of the bike.

At the aid stations nothing sounded remotely good. I knew that I needed something in my body that would actually stay down. So I went with the old standby, bananas. Not a lot in them, but they were staying down. I was able to muster my way up Yellow Lake (another major climb) and then started the descent into Penticton. Normally this downhill is a nice, high speed descent for about 15k. A good rest before the marathon. But, luck would have it that it was another headwind all the way down. It was so severe that I passed a guy with a disk wheel (he passed me up Richter) that had one hand on his aero bars and one hand on his base bar to maintain stability because he was getting blown all over the road. I could definitely feel the wind. Even with my 808s, I was getting quite a bit of turbulence. I can’t imagine what the lighter women were experiencing. I ended up passing quite a few people coming into T2. I came into the tent in 31st place including all pros. Not too bad really, but when I got off the bike I cold hardly stand up. My stomach was so cramped up, I just hunched over and walked to my T2 bag and sat in the tent. It was at that point that I needed to think about what was going on. As I was being aided by a volunteer as he dumped out all my gear and was organizing it for me, I told him that I thought I was probably done. I don’t think it really registered with him, but he eventually went to help someone else and then eventually came back to see how I was doing. I asked if he could go and get my dry clothes bag. He said that he wasn’t sure if he could or not, but he was able to and I just kind of sat there watching people come in and transition. I was able to see Scott and Martin, but that was it. I guess Sam transitioned out in the field. I was hoping that they would all have great races, but I knew my was at its end. I have to say that it was pretty fun watching people come through and take off. There were some very interesting techniques.

After I got my dry clothes bag was able to call Jessi. Never really thought about ‘needing’ a phone in my transition bag, but glad I had it. They were still stuck in traffic but were on their way in town. I know Jessi felt really bad and wanted to do something, but there really was nothing to do. I just needed to get out of there and get some food in my body that would stay down. I thought I would just walk back to the hotel room and take a shower. While I was in transit, Emma called and left a message for me on my phone that was basically saying that she hoped I was okay and that my tummy was getting better and that they were on their way. It made me cry to think that I would not have the chance to carry her across the finish line this year. I really did not know how to explain this to her, or even if I did, if she would understand it. It was hard enough for me to drop out of a race (first one ever), but even harder to think that it might have disappointed her day as well.

I ended up staying in the T2 tent for about 45 minutes before I left. I saw quite a few familiar faces. But I eventually had to do the ‘walk of shame’ out of the transition area and out of the race. It’s pretty hard to get outside the ‘arena’ of the race. Once you are in it, you pretty much have to come across the finish line. So I went to Mike Reiley (the voice of Ironman) and he opened the gate and was able to let me out. I’m just glad he did not say, “Roger Thompson, you are not an Ironman!” Kind of funny, but a little depressing too.

I eventually got back to the condo and was able to shower and get a little food in. Shortly afterwards, the crew arrived. I was able to hook up with them and we went out on the course to cheer everyone along that was still out there. As we stood at the 22 mile mark, I found it difficult to watch those people who were finishing in the tops of their age groups come by… the same people I was substantially ahead of going into T2. It’s amazing how much better we feel when we are on the sidelines. But I know I was only fooling myself thinking that I would be up there running that fast.

It was great to see my fellow Tri Fusion friends and be able to cheer them along. It was great to see them all: Martin, Sam, Scott, Keats, and Vicki. I could tell all of them were digging deep and were determined to get to that finish line. I think Vicki was the only one with a smile on her face. The American version of Natasha Badman.

We hustled back to the finish line to try and catch them finishing, but missed a couple of them. No matter where or when you finish an Ironman, you always feel like you won the whole thing when you come down that blue carpet. It’s a phenomenal feeling, and one that is well deserved when you accomplish the distance.

We eventually saw everyone in the park after they finished. I knew they all pushed themselves way beyond what they probably thought they would that day. I knew Sam dug really deep after seeing him in a mild form of shock after the race. I know this race was an important one for him and he left it all out there.

The benefit from racing is that you always learn something from it. No matter what happens, you walk away with a new knowledge about yourself. Some good, some bad. It’s what you decide to do with that knowledge that advances you forward, or potentially keeps you from reaching your goals.

We eventually went to have dinner at a place that was on the run course at the final turnaround with bout 600 meters to go. We ate there for about 1 hour and saw people making that final turn to home. It was pretty inspiring seeing the determination of all the people out there. Some were running, and some walking. But one thing was for sure, they would finish this monumental task. I applaud every person out there that finishes one of these events. Whether it be an 8:30, or a 16:59.59. You overcame so many obstacles that stood in your way not only in the race, but in training as well.

I have to say a big Thank You to all the people who were there supporting me on Sunday. From those out on the front lines at the race, to those people at home texting Jessi and calling her with splits, results, and support. I know that not all people can make it, but it truly does mean a lot to me that you care. When I cross those timing mats, I know that it sends a little ‘hello’ from me to all of you that are waiting to see how things are going on-line. I knew that there would be great question when I did not get a T2 split, but I figured you would contact Jessi and she’d let you know.

In the condo Jessi, Kevin, and Kathi sure helped to make the trip fun and easy. They prepared all the meals. Jessi and Kathi planned all the meals beforehand which made each meal so easy… well, for me anyway. No worrying about where we would eat and the menu. All that was taken care of before we even left. And we even got it all across the border. Nice! Kathi sure said some kind words to me as well after the race that really helped me out. Though she has never dropped out of a race, it seemed like she knew what I must have been feeling.

And to my dear wife Jessi who was there for me and knew that this was not an easy decision, but kept reminding me that it was the right one and not to ever second guess it. She reiterated that there really wasn’t a choice, this is what you had to do. It’s always hard, but when you have the support that I did, it makes its palatable and allows you to learn and look forward.

So thought this race was not necessarily a ‘success,’ I learned far more than if I would have PR’d it. A lot about me, and those around me. It’s the mental aspect of all of this that is tough to train. And that is what was tested on Sunday.

Thanks for reading. I hope you always come away from every race you do with something new about yourself beyond what place or time you got. Sometimes you have to look deep. And other times it is right there in front of you. Because it’s often the people right there in front of you that you learn the most about.

Thanks to all of those that helped to make this an amazing trip. It’s truly one that I will never forget.