I have a feeling this is going to be a LONG post, so grab a cup of tea before you go much further. The Husband is going to contribute to this post too (obviously) so it’ll be a joint effort – my sections will be in italics, his sections will be in bold. I’ve not called him ‘The Husband’ on this blog to be fancy or cryptic but to give him a little privacy…but after the race, I suspect his online anonymity is gone!
Before the Race
The night before, neither of us got much sleep. Rich got about 4 hours, I got about 2 hours which was frustrating. The adrenaline was already flowing! At 4am, we were both up, eating breakfast (toast, cereal, tea, nuun for the athlete) and then he left the apartment at 4.30am to walk to T2 to get the bus to T1 two miles out of town. I had a bit of a cry when he left. I was weepy for the whole day, it was ridiculous.
I was feeling a little tired, but excited that the day had finally come. I got to the buses, got marked up with my number – everyone was very jolly. I handed over both my special needs bags and walked straight onto a bus. The atmosphere on the bus was one of excitement, everyone was ready to go. Once I got to T1 at Rainbow Park, I found my bike, checked out my transition bag and got everything out and then went and stood at the side of the lake for ten minutes, getting my head straight. The lake was magical with amazing mist floating off it, it was like there was a fire under the water. It was amazing.
Once I’d woken the Dude and dressed the poor child, I strapped him into our stroller and ran the couple of miles to T1. The trail to the lake was thronged with people walking to T1, the roads were full of people biking there and there was a lot of excitement. We spotted a coyote running along a residential road just off to the side. When we got to T1, I was pretty overwhelmed by the size of it. I’d expected to wander up to the Husband by his bike and chat casually but it was HUGE and loud and buzzing. I knew pretty much immediately we wouldn’t find him, so positioned us right next to the lake on the edge of the water and got out our Union Jack so he could maybe see us from the water. As Rich said, the mist on the water was unbelievably beautiful, kind of unearthly. As the sun came up, it got more beautiful.
Swimmers got into the water to warm up and then the cannon went off for the pro men, then again for the pro women.The Dude kept asking when the ‘bomb’ was going to go off, which was a little off-putting. But eventually, the age-groupers swam out into the lake and along the ‘start line’ between two buoys, the cannon fired and they were off. The swim start was like nothing I’ve ever seen. The water literally came alive, it was like a tsunami of sharks ploughing through the water. It was utterly crazy.
I got in the water to warm up – I didn’t even hear the cannon but suddenly everyone started swimming and we were off. The swim was two laps of a rectangle and at first it was really hard to catch your breath, what with so many people all around and the cold of the water. A few people brushed me but I didn’t get kicked. I don’t do front crawl, I swim breast stroke and it was a lot harder doing breast stroke in such a big crowd as I had much less space than in previous races. I even managed to over take a couple of people doing the front crawl further in the race. Swimming is my least favourite of the disciplines, I found it a bit boring but just kept plugging away. Everything went pretty smoothly and sooner or later, I found myself climbing out the water and I’d done the swim in 1 hr 46. I was hoping to get in the 1 hr 30s but 1 hr 40 was more realistic.
Watching the swim was frustrating and a little boring. Once the drama of the start was over, there was nothing to do except chat to other supporters (all of whom were very friendly) and wait. We went out on the little pier for a while and saw two medical boats bring people in. I was so sad for them. Towards the expected time, we snagged a great position at the start of the chute where athletes set off on the bikes, there was no way we’d miss Rich, so we stood there and cheered for everyone. It was really exciting. One of the benefits of having a slower swimmer is that other supporters have moved on, so we saw him easily and he looked amazing, really strong and smiley! We shot back to the stroller and I pelted the 2 miles to Whistler village where we hoped to see him cycle south on the bike, but we missed him…the paths were packed with people doing the same and we were too slow.
The bike course is 112 miles. First athletes cycle south for about 10 miles and then up a BIG hill to the Olympic Park, then back down and then north to Whistler again. Then they head further north to the town of Pemberton and then up an out-and-back on a flat road through an amazing glacier valley…and then they cycle back to Whistler. That final stretch from Pemberton to Whistler is pretty much entirely uphill and it’s brutal. This was a difficult course!
The bike is my strongest discipline and I was looking forward to this course. I passed people right from the start – my slow swim and relatively strong bike means I overtake lots of people, which is good for the spirits. It was initially mostly downhill and then a long grind uphill to the top of the mountain, but then I flew downhill – they actually posted volunteers at one corner to slow people for safety’s sake. I climbed back up to Whistler and saw Cat and the Dude cheering at the side of the road. I flew past them in a blaze of glory and only just heard and saw them in time, and then I flew down the long downhill to Pemberton!
The long out and back from Pemberton was harder than I’d anticipated – the ‘out’ was slightly uphill and into a headwind which made me struggle a little, but the ‘back’ was slightly downhill and with a tailwind so I flew! I saw my mate Doug on the way back – he’d crashed his bike badly and I later discovered he’d separated his shoulder nastily, had pushed on for many more miles but eventually had to give up, which was really sad. Back in Pemberton, we had access to our special needs bag – I got my trail mix and some extra gels. And then it was time for the long, brutal climb back up to Whistler. I knew how hard it would be so loaded the bike up with three litres of energy drinks beforehand. I saw many other riders only take one or two bottles and they suffered as a result. I saw loads of people stopping and struggling and even walking their bikes up the hill. I just ground my way up. It was also the hottest time of the day, which made it harder. On the whole, my legs felt really good and mentally I was in a good place for the entire race. I had an angry moment when a bee stung me – that was just rude. Eventually I was cycling through Whistler back into transition. I saw Cat and the Dude waving and cheering as I cycled into T2 and then the bike was over. I did it in 7 hrs 43 – I’m pleased with it given the hilliness and the temperatures that day.
We had a lot of time to kill during the bike course. We went out for breakfast and to the playground in the village and then went back to see Rich cycle north through Whistler on his way to Pemberton. It was really good to see him looking so smiley and happy and comfortable. We then headed home for food, showers and to update Facebook where so many of our friends were cheering us on remotely. We went out for lunch and I tried to give the Dude some time to chill and play. Eventually it was time to go out and watch him come into T2. The Ironman website gave estimated times for his arrival – they were about half an hour out but it was fun to cheer anyway, and we got a glimpse of Courtney speeding in. Eventually, he arrived, still smiling and we dashed down to the exit to T2 where he’d head out to the run. He came through looking calm and collected, and we got to hug and kiss him and tell him how proud we were of him!
The run was two loops of a 13.1 course. It heads through the woods around Lost Lake and then out towards beautiful Green Lake before coming back to the village. It’s mainly paved although there’s a longish stretch of firmly packed trail. It’s also a mix of shadiness and exposure and the temperatures were hot when Rich set out on the run – probably in the high 20s/80s.
My legs felt surprisingly good when I got off the bike. I knew that fueling and hydrating were going to be what ‘make or break’d’ my Ironman so I was really careful throughout the bike course. The first few miles of the run course I managed about 10.5 min miles and it felt great but then I came out of the tree cover and the heat really kicked in so I started walking up the hills and running the downhills which is pretty much what I did for the duration. There were some really quiet stretches of the course and other sections where 200 or so people were there screaming and yelling. I just took it one mile at a time – I was aiming at 11.5 min miles as I thought I might still have a chance of coming in at under 15 hours but as the miles ticked by, I realized I wasn’t going to do it. I was a little disappointed but I had no extra power in my legs to speed up. It was good to see Cat and the Dude at mile 13, I got to give them some kisses and then I was off again.
Cheering on the run was much easier than the bike – we saw Rich about four times in all. IM don’t put mile markers either on the course itself or on the course map which made working out where to be and at what time quite difficult for spectators, but we pulled it off. Every time we saw him he looked good, which was comforting as his online tracker seemed to imply he was struggling and fading. One particular time we saw him, I’d been so worried and was expecting him to be in a dark place but instead he was smiling and plodding along comfortably. We got a little more time at home, resting, and then we collected his bags from T2. They weighed a TON so I had to put them in the stroller and make the Dude walk back to our apartment with them. I ran about 5 miles and walked at least another 5 over the course of the day, all pushing the stroller. I was pretty exhausted too at the end.
When it got dark, it was both good and bad. It was good because it was quite magical running through the forest at night with the others and glow-sticks and it was much cooler, which was brilliant. But it was bad because the tiredness kicked in. I just wanted to go to sleep. The last two or three miles were especially hard – I’d given up on breaking 15 hours so mentally I was a little down. But at about mile 25, volunteers started shouting that I was going to do it, that I was going to be an Ironman and it suddenly got really exciting and amazing.
With an hour to go until Rich’s expected finish time, we were at the playground in Whistler village. It was hell on earth – exhausted, overwrought children high on sugar and adrenaline were screaming round the playground, whilst exhausted, drained mothers sat glassy-eyed by the side. Everyone was knackered. At 8.30, I put the Dude in the stroller to go to the finish line and wait for Rich. He lasted about a minute and crashed to sleep. He didn’t wake up until the next morning.
The finish line was utterly incredible. Crowds lined the chute, they screamed and cheered for every single finisher. The music was blaring – how the Dude slept through it I’ll never know and the adrenaline was sky-high. I cried for pretty much every finisher and I wasn’t the only one. Watching these exhausted people run down to the finish line was deeply moving. Some people show-boated their way (especially the older guys). Some were grinning like crazy people, some were fighting back tears. It was really special.
Approaching the finish line, in the half mile before, there were so many volunteers cheering you on. My legs felt suddenly light, like I could run 7 minute miles. I came round the corner and I saw a tunnel of people and noise and light and music. I was looking for Cat and the Dude and thought there was no way I’d find them in all this. And then I saw the Union Jack hanging over the fence and saw them. I ran over to kiss them…well, kiss Cat because the Dude was fast asleep. (Cat’s note: I had no idea I could scream as loudly as I did when I saw Rich. Everyone around me looked round to see where this yelling was coming from, but Rich heard me). I took the flag from Cat and then flew down the chute to the finish line, far too fast. It was over way too quickly. I should have walked it and savoured it. I heard the guy saying my name and that I was an Ironman
It was all very surreal, like it was happening to someone else. A volunteer took charge of me, put my medal over my head, made sure I was okay – she didn’t seem too worried – and then I was given my hat and my t-shirt, a space-blanket and then I went for my finisher picture. And then I was ejected into the Olympic Plaza where I met Cat and the Dude and I sat there, eating pizza and thinking ‘what now?’
It was actually quite anti-climactic once the finishing chute was over. All that noise and glory and suddenly you’re eating pizza on a dark field. My body was so tired and exhausted. We didn’t stay long, we walked slowly back to our apartment.
Three Days Later
We’re now home in California and Rich’s had a little time to process everything.
I feel like it was one of the best experiences of my life. It’s brought home to me that nothing is impossible. Possibilities are only limited by your imagination. It still feels a little surreal. In three years, I’ve lost 60lbs in weight and got from not being able to really play soccer for an hour to going and doing an Ironman. My mind hasn’t really caught up with where I am now – I still think of myself as that old, overweight me.
I’ve also felt a little down in the past few days. We’ve been working towards this for so long and now it’s over and it feels a bit weird. I’ve been thinking about my next challenge as I definitely need something to work towards…and I’m thinking the Boston Marathon might be it!
You have all been incredible with your messages of ‘Good Luck’ and congratulations for Rich after his race..please don’t feel obliged to leave any more comments at the end of this very long post. Thank you all for your amazing support and remote-cheering across the world. My blog is only small but I am unbelievably grateful for every single reader who followed the events of this weekend. Thank you from all of us!!