Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Race Report: Challenge Penticton Full

So, here’s something unexpected. I’m posting my Challenge Penticton race report. Yes, it’s been three and a half months. And one might wonder why bother? Well, because. Because that day was so significant for me. For many reasons. It was about more than “just” the distance. Yes, more than “just” those 225.95 kms traveled. In the same way that the training was about more than the effort in those 580 hours of swimming, biking, running, lifting, and yogaing that lead me to the start line. And while revisiting the blog this last week, and looking back at my Facebook posts from race day, I realize the memories of race day are still pretty vivid. I don’t want to lose that day, so I’m going to try and capture it all here – 3 and a half months late, but here just the same.

When I read my training recap for the week before race day, it brings me right back to that nervous night before. Being withdrawn, in my own head, trying to imagine the day, how it would feel, whether I would rise to meet the challenge. The race morning photos capture well the nervousness I was feeling.
The walk to the start was dark.  I looked out at the lake to try and get a sense of how calm it was, but it was too dark to tell for sure. As we came near the entrance to the transition area, a volunteer told my family they couldn’t continue with me. As it turned out, we weren’t yet in an athletes-only section, and they could have stayed near. I was unprepared to be alone at that point, in the dark, and trying to find my way to the drop point for our special needs bags. But I found the drop off and made my way to my bike where I connected with friends, pumped up my tires, while trying to read the tire pressure in the dark, crossing my fingers that they were just right. After mounting my water bottles, stuffing my bento with Mars Bars and pumping my tires, there was plenty of time to stand around and be nervous. I made nervous chit-chat with friends who were competing, and those who were there supporting… my family nowhere in sight after having been shooed away earlier.  While waiting just outside transition we heard the announcement: non wetsuit swim for the pros.

I had a brief warm-up swim as instructed by my coach, and then stood around waiting for the start, a mass of nervous energy. I was most worried about the swim. But like all races, I just wanted it to start. The worst part of the day is before that start gun goes off, when the negative voices and the self doubt is overwhelming – and there’s nothing you can do. When the gun goes off, and you cross the line, it’s familiar territory. All those training hours. It’s time to get to work.

Challenge was a mass-start and fortunately the field was pretty small so it wasn’t really chaotic. I stayed near the buoy line as instructed by my coach, and settled into a rhythm. I got kicked a few times, had my legs grabbed a few times, but I didn’t let it alter my stroke or my rhythm. Celebrated that there were people swimming around me… even people behind me, and kept swimming. As it turned out, this was the swim of my life. I came out of the water in 1:38:51. I had been targeting 1:45. Thinking 2:00 was more likely. But still worried about the 2:15 cut-off. I swam faster than ever, and straighter than ever before… thinking maybe the course was a little on the long side, since my arguably straight swim came in at 4.23 km.

The only downside to the swim: my inability to multitask. Many times out there, I tried to coax myself to pee! But I couldn’t do it… couldn’t swim and empty my bladder at the same time. I wasn’t about to stop and tread water for the sake of getting this taken care of, finally accepting as I got closer to shore that I was going to have to waste time in transition. And waste time I did. There were only 2 porta-potties between the swim exit and the change tent, and the volunteer manning these johns was warning athletes not to use one of them. Someone’s nervous energy had um, overflowed, or something but the message was clear: you don’t want to go in there. So I waited in line, burning through transition minutes… not knowing how many… just waiting for my turn.

The change tent volunteers were fabulous. As I was taking items one at a time from my T1 bag and deciding what to do with them, a volunteer came and sat with me, grabbed the bag, dumped the contents in front of me, and asked what I need, trying to work through the bag in a logical order, and asking helpful questions like: “Do you need your swim cap?” [yes, it was still on my head] “I don’t think you do.” The run from the change tent to the bike racks seemed frustratingly long… running it in bike shoes anyway! As I rolled my bike across the mount line and prepared to ride, I could hear the announcer: “and here we have one of the last athletes to head out on the bike…” Uh thanks… Again, I didn’t know how much time I had spent in transition with that porta-potty wait, but I was feeling grateful to have the swim behind me, and ready to start the bike.

I loved the ride… well, most of it anyway. I remember feeling pretty great as I made my way along Skaha Lake, climbed up McLean, and road through my favourite section of the course, heading towards OK Falls. I made small talk with other racers as I passed them, thanked the volunteers, and enjoyed the day, the weather, and that I was actually doing it! All those weeks of training, and here it was, race day. And I was doing it! I’d made it past the swim. And the bike was awesome!

That feeling continued through Oliver and as I made my way up Richter Pass. There was a noticeable thinning of the “crowd” after leaving Oliver, as the Half athletes parted ways. Climbing Richter felt effortless. I felt like I was owning the climb, passing several riders, but not feeling like I was pushing too hard. Richter was the first place I would come across a genetically blessed family of 4 whose presence out there was a highlight of the day. I don’t even remember their names except that their oldest daughter’s name was Tessa! As I rode by on Richter, I called out “I love this hill!” and one of them called back “It looks good on you!”

I would see them again several times throughout the day… along the rollers, nearing the top of the Yellow Lake climb, on the run course, and then again at the finish line. A beautiful family from Kelowna, radiating positive energy, coming out to cheer on strangers through a very, very long day.

After Richter came the rollers, and I found myself riding at a great pace along them. I spent a lot of time in aero during the race – something I’d done precious little of during training – and enjoying the speed boost it gave me. And this is where I think I made one of my race day errors. My nutrition plan for the day called for a mix of Carbopro, Clif bars, and a Mars bar on the out and back. I had planned them so that I wouldn’t be eating solids right before climbs, and would alternate water and carbopro as a result. I was riding faster than anticipated and had made adjustments when I got to Oliver. Eating a Clif bar earlier than planned, drinking water instead of Carbopro. My Garmin was set to chirp at me every 10 minutes on the bike to remind me to drink. Unfortunately, when I was on the rollers, I continually ignored the chirp, not wanting to lose momentum by coming out of aero to reach for a bottle. I kept telling myself I’d drink on the next climb when I’d be coming out of aero anyway. And then the climb would come, and there’d be someone riding it slower than me, and I’d use the opportunity to pass them instead.

As I approached the Cawston out and back, the wind picked up and it started to rain. This was perhaps the only portion of the bike course that I didn’t love. I was beginning to tire, I knew I still had a lot of riding to do, and the weather was lousy! I was also beginning to do the math on my calories and water and knew I was in trouble. When I got to my special needs bag at the turnaround, I drank the Red Bull in it, left everything else, and continued on. I grabbed a bottle of water at the water station Gina was working, and started making my way to Yellow Lake. Other riders were beginning to slow down at this point, and there was a lot of riders to pass, the mood of everyone seeming a little less jubilant than earlier in the day.

My race plan had called for a pit stop at the Cawston turnaround (if I needed it), otherwise at the top of Yellow Lake. In my long training rides, this was usually the point mileage wise, were my body demanded it. But not today. This was probably when it dawned on me that I had screwed up my nutrition plan. I had intended to take in 1500-1700 calories by the time I got off the bike, and consume about 3 litres of fluids. When I got off the bike, I’d taken in 800-900 calories and just 1.5 litres of fluids, with a good third or more of the fluids taken on after Yellow Lake.

I had been worried about the ride down the switchbacks to Penticton… because I suck on the downhills but with a lane closed to traffic, I just relaxed and tried to enjoy the ride down. It was nothing short of fabulous. And perhaps a little terrifying with the cross wind. At least that was the remark of a rider who caught up to me at the bottom!

I can honestly say that when I got off the bike, I have never wanted to run a marathon less.  I was happy to get off the bike, but the prospect of a marathon? I felt pretty awful. Not awful in the spent muscles, low energy sense, but awful in a nausea-think-I’m-going-to-throw-up-maybe-I-could-just-lie-down-for-a-while sense. No time for that though… there was a marathon to run.

I ran out the first km, then stopped to use a porta-potty. One of the volunteers at the aid station said I looked like I needed a gel so I grabbed one, and kept running. My sweet Tessa was waiting on the course as I ran back past our hotel, and I went in for a hug, grateful to see her, soak up some love, try and draw some positive energy. I didn’t want to run this marathon. I wasn’t about to quit, but I had just over 40 kms left to run, and I didn’t know how I was going to pull it off. Andrew approached with a smile of encouragement and I remember saying: “I don’t feel good”. But I continued on, focusing on finding my stride and settling in, knowing a slow shuffle was better than a walk.

About 20 minutes or so after grabbing the gel, I thought I’d better take it in. I knew I was underfueled getting off the bike and that I couldn’t run the marathon on empty. I took the gel and my stomach cramped almost immediately. I kept running. I was carrying a hand-held water bottle with GU Brew in it, and tried to sip from it, but found I couldn’t tolerate the sweet liquid. As I ran, it felt like it weighed 40 lbs. I tossed the bottle at an aid station, tucking the bottle holder into my tri-top pocket… and kept running.

While I tried to get my GI issues under control, I tried to get in as much water as I could, and not attempt to take in any calories. I walked through every aid station and took a cup of water, and a baggy of ice cubes, filling the bra of my tri-top with ice… by now it was HOT, with no reprieve from the sun as we ran along Skaha. I still wrestled with stomach cramps, visiting several porta-potties, but I was able to keep going. A shuffle of a run, walking the aid stations, and eventually the hill leading out towards OK Falls. It was through this section that I saw Dan and then Taimi, feeling encouraged to see them both.

At OK Falls, what a blessing to have Gina’s friendly face and words of encouragement, delivering me my special needs bag. Truly running on empty at this point, I knew if I could even walk the rest of the way back, I’d finish, I’d make the cut-off, but it wouldn’t be the race I wanted. I choked back a Red Bull… disgusting but I have to admit, good advice from my coach… and grabbed the Ziploc bag of dried fruit I’d put in there as a treat, and I started to make my way back to Penticton.
I think at this point I had taken in enough water at the aid stations to recover from the nausea and gastro-issues I’d suffered through on the first part of the run, and I was able to tolerate the dried fruit. I nibbled at it from time to time, and picked up my pace… remembering a shuffle is better than a walk, not wanting to be a part of the “death march”. The second half of the run was much better than the first… better hydrated, some calories, and a reprieve from the heat, I found a pace and was able to settle in.

When I got to the 39 km aid station, I was offered beer… yes, beer! I’d been having a talk with myself at various points on the run, thinking about what I wanted when I finished… coffee, no a beer, no coffee, no a beer. I’ll tell you, that beer at the aid station, few things have gone down as easy!

Through the last few kms, it gets pretty lonely. It seems like most of the athletes that you’re going to pass, you already have, and there weren’t a lot of spectators. It was dark, quiet... lots of time to think… reflect on the training, the day, the challenges.  When I set out on this journey, I’d been focused on the 17-hour cut-off. I worried about not making it in time. About still being out on course when the fireworks went off at midnight… like my own personal Hunger Games! When I hired my coach, he said quite confidently that I would finish in under 15 hours. I knew how long my swim had taken, how long my bike had taken, how long the run was taking but I had no idea how long my transitions were. Still, I was pretty sure I was under 15 hours. Not sure how much under… but under.

At the beginning of the day while chatting with friends pre-race, I had confessed that I had tucked a lip gloss inside the pocket of my water bottle holder so that I could apply lip gloss before coming in to the finish. One of my friends laughed and assured me that I would not remember that I had it, nor would I care what I looked like. Au contraire! As I approached the finish, and spectators started to line the street, I grabbed my lip gloss from my pocket and tried to put it on while running… a lost cause. So I stopped, applied my lip gloss, tucked it in my pocket, straightened my outfit and my race number, and ran in to the finish. Andrew saw me stop short of the red carpet and believed I was overwhelmed and having a cry… nope, just getting ready for that finish photo!

Running down the red carpet towards the finish is a moment I’ll never forget. I remember hearing a thunderous banging noise as I ran toward the tape. It took me a moment to realize what it was… spectators, learning over the fencing, banging their arms against the signs. It was amazing. I looked up and saw the time on the clock: 14:15. I was elated. Can you tell?

After the race, we stuck around for an hour or so, waiting to see how friends were doing, chatting about the race. The finish line spread offered little for vegans… “I can get you a white bun with condiments” Andrew offered. Pass. After an hour or so, we headed back to the hotel… climbing the stairs to our room – a painful obstacle! Back in the room, I celebrated with a beer, leftover pasta from two nights earlier, and a bag of Snapeas, then went to bed listening to the fireworks. I do regret not heading out to sit on the beach in front of our hotel, watching the fireworks, and toasting the experience with some champagne. At the time though, there was no way I was going to go down and up a flight of stairs!

I slept for about an hour, then woke up, in a world of hurt. I’d have traded my finisher’s medal for an Advil at that point! Adrenaline kept me from getting back to sleep, so I tried to lay absolutely still – because every time I moved, multiple things hurt – and spent some time on Facebook, reliving the day through Andrew’s pictures and comments from friends. Imagine my surprise to read that a friend had watched my pre-finish lip gloss application on the live stream! LOL

When I watched my finish line video, I can hear the announcer say something along the lines of: “Congratulations Karin. You met the Challenge today. And folks, not only did Karin meet the challenge but she has lost more than 120 lbs” [little cheer goes up from the crowd] “Karin, you are an inspiration.” But you know what he doesn’t say? He doesn’t say “you ARE an Ironman”. Now logically, I think what was said should mean a heck of a lot more than what wasn’t said but… I still need to hear it.

So 2015… IMC. Yes, it needs to be done. When I told my coach, he said sub-13 was possible. I corrected him… “you mean sub-14”. “No, sub-13.” Well… we’ll see.  31 weeks and 5 days… 

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