August 26, 2012. This very day has been marked on my calendar for 2 years. Originally it was marked for 2011, but a little surprise (our baby girl) moved that date out out a year. I remember when I opened up my calendar to circle, highlight and star it. That seems like forever ago! Since that moment, I have done everything in my power to get myself to the start line of Ironman Canada.
I am not going to lie. This has been the hardest year in my life. I had a baby. My body has been constantly changing. I went from Corporate America career woman to stay at home mom. My relationship with my husband has been more bumps than paved roads. I have lost friendships. I have made new ones. I have been known for my reliability but have been flakier than a home-style biscuit. It has been an endless year of change. I had moments when I questioned if I even knew myself anymore. Talk about an identity crisis!
My days have been packed solid from the moment I rolled out of bed to the second I laid down to sleep. Over the course of 10 months I spent 530 hours and 23 minutes swimming, biking or running. Yes you read that correctly, 530 hours and 23 minutes. That is on average 2 hours and 10 minutes a day, 6 days a week. Then add breast feeding, sleeping, grocery shopping, eating, friends, strength training, family and volunteering on top of it. Training was my part-time job and to get to the start line, I needed to stay focused.
The weeks leading up to Ironman Canada were pure madness. As if my nerves were not already at their all time peak, I had so much to do! I needed to get my new bike built, visit the physical therapist’s office to be sure the AC strain in my shoulder was in tip top shape, workout, pack, raise our baby girl, find some race wheels, chat with my coach on race strategy, get the dogs health certificates, hydrate and rest. Where was a personal assistant when I needed one?
Finally, on Wednesday, August 22nd, 4 days out, my parents flew in from Colorado to make the journey with us. Together we packed up the car, the dogs and the babe and headed North. Penticton, Canada or bust! Penticton is located in the Okanagan Valley of the Southern Interior of British Columbia. Situated between Lake Okanagan and Skaha Lake. It is also known for producing some of the greatest Canadian wines. My kind of town!
On Friday, August 24th, 2 days out, I checked into registration, signed my life away and got my official Ironman wristband. The race was becoming a reality! As I checked out my competition, I mentally noted that the average body fat seemed to be running around 8-10% (if not lower). This was one lean and mean crew of athletes surrounding me! I spent some time in the merchandise tent, bought a few things but put them away. It is superstitious in my mind to wear clothing of a race you have not completed. I wandered around the expo for awhile, checked out the new Newton shoes and then headed to the lake for a practice swim.
The waiting game has officially begun. Now if the race could finally start, I would be able to calm my nerves.
4:30am Sunday, race day, my alarm went off, although I had already been awake on and off all night long. My goal was to get down my pre-race breakfast by 5am. I put my oatmeal, protein powder, chia seed mix together and started to eat. My nerves were getting to me already as I could barely eat more than a few spoonfuls. I packed it all up and took it with me in the car with me. My friends Andee, Teresa and Steven woke up early and escorted me to the start line. Andee, an Ironman veteran, reassured me that the day was going to be great and I just needed to have fun. Note taken. I entered the transition area to head straight for my bike to put my water bottles in their cages and pump up my tires.
Done and done. My bike was ready to go. (Look at her, isn’t she a beauty?) Next step: get my wetsuit on and head to the swim start. I was not acting like myself. My nerves had me stumbling around like an idiot. I could not figure out where I should go, which made me even more nervous. Good thing this wasn’t an IQ test because I would have failed. I stopped, undressed and put my wetsuit on in the middle of transition. I stuffed the dry clothes bag full of the outfit I was wearing and went to drop it off into the sea of bags. Now, it was time to walk through the Powerbar arches and sink my feet into the sand.
As I was walking towards the swim start, I realized I had my flip flops on. Perfect! Nerves – 2/Jenn – 0. How was I going to get rid of these flip flops? I looked into the sea of faces and found Andee, Teresa and Steven and quickly gave them my flip flops. Phew! I questioned if they had seen my husband, parents and baby girl. Unfortunately, they had not seen them. I was really bummed because there is nothing more that gets me fired up than seeing my family. I walked along the water, looking for my family but time was ticking and I needed to get into the water and get ready to swim.
As I stood in the water, I took a deep breath and looked around. I was amongst 2,600 fellow athletes and thousands upon thousands of spectators and volunteers. This was incredible!
A friendly Canadian who stood next to me was up for a chat and I found out that this was his 26th Ironman! Before we got too deep into conversation, Steve King, “the voice” of Ironman Canada, said “we are in our final countdown, 10 seconds to go.” I was expecting the spectators to count us down, instead the most amazing silence spread across the crowd. It was bone chilling. Then the gun went off. BANG! All of the athletes started swimming as if they were being hunted by a great white shark. Arms, legs, heads, bodies splashing everywhere. Oh boy, this was going to be fun! I dove in and started swimming. Swim, swim, swim, I was on my way.
About 2 buoys into my swim, a man who was not swimming in a straight line came across my path and practically tried to swim right over me. I was unable to continue moving forward with him on my back, so I stopped swimming, treaded some water and yelled “you have got to be kidding me!!” Once he moved on, I got back into the groove of things. Swim, swim, swim. Oh, guess who found me again? Yep, you guessed it, Mr. ‘I swim like I am drunk’. Again, he tried to swim right over me. I started to wonder if my wetsuit said “free piggy back ride” on the back. I took another breather and then got right back to swimming. We hit the first Subaru buoy which meant it was time to take our first turn to the right. All 2,600 athletes had to make it around this buoy on the outside, which caused quite the traffic jam. I knew it was packed, but where were all of these air bubbles coming from? I looked down at the bottom of the lake, and there were scuba divers making sure no one was drowning. They waved to all of us as we swam by. Sweet! One turn down, one to go. I found that from Subaru buoy #1 to Subaru buoy #2 it was the most chaotic. People were fighting to get space and it was just nasty. I continued on but struggled to get into my groove. At Subaru buoy #2, I turned and said to myself, it’s time to take it home! I quickly picked up my pace and swam straight to shore. As I exited the water, I looked at my watch and found that I swam an extra 500 yards and completed my 2.4 mile swim in 1 hour 13 minutes. A big smile came over my face. One discipline down, 2 to go!
As I reached the shore, tore off my goggles and swim cap I raced to the wetsuit peelers who ripped my wetsuit off in seconds flat. A nice perk of racing an Ironman, they roll out the red carpet and do some of the dirty work for you. I picked up my bike clothes and hit the changing tent. As I entered the tent, I found a spot on the ground to quickly change as all of the seats were full. I stuffed my wetsuit into my bag and ran out of the tent on the hunt for my bike. Row #54, where was Row #54? Found it! I grabbed my bike and ran to the exit. 112 miles, here I come!
I jumped on my bike, clipped into my shoes and instantly my seat post sunk to my top bar. What? This should not be happening! Instead of stopping and fixing it, I figured that I just needed to ride a little bit and the Bike Barn team would be on the course to help. I pedaled for 6 miles until a friendly Canadian approached and asked if I enjoyed riding with my seat so low. I explained my situation and he suggested we pull over and fix it as he had an Allen wrench on him. We stopped, quickly adjusted my seat and then went on our way. Sure enough, 2 miles later the seat post sunk again. Seriously, this should not be happening! Another friendly Canadian stopped, handed over his Allen wrench. I was only 8 miles into the 112 mile ride, how the heck was I going to make it the whole way at this rate? I knew at this point I needed to see the folks from Bike Barn. I continued on my ride and as I was descending the McLean hill, I saw a Bike Barn support vehicle at the bottom. Sweet! I waved them down and explained my issue. In Canadian fashion, they took their time to solve the problem. One of the guys who was 75 lbs heavier than myself, tightened down the seat post and then sat on the bike. The seat post sank. He looked at me and said “oh boy, we have a problem!” (ya think?) He quickly looked for ways to solve the problem. The one that they came up with was to insert a shim into my bike. This would make the seat post thicker and essentially tighter so it would stop sinking. Where would we get a shim at a time like this? One of the guys took off, searching in the bushes. I rolled my eyes and thought “Now what is he doing? This is taking forever!” Like a prairie dog, he pops out of the bush with this in his hands:If I was irritated before, now I was starting to get pissed. What the heck was he going to do with Kokanee beer can? He trotted back to my bike all proud of himself and with this big grin on his face. He looked at me and said “You like MacGyver?” as he presented the beer can. I said, “Duh! Who doesn’t like MacGyver?” He said “Watch this!” His assistant grabbed a pair of scissors and they cut the center of the beer can out and threw the remainder on the ground. He held the piece up in the air and said “This is your shim.” I looked at him with disbelief and could officially confirm that I was pissed! A beer can is not a shim. This guy is a waste of time. Before he inserted the shim, he wanted to check to make sure there was not a crack in the frame. Tick tock, tick tock. He pulled out a mini flashlight and shined it on my bike. “Is there a crack in the frame?” I asked. “It appears to be that way” he responded. Tears began to form. The guys saw the tears in my eyes and said “You are more than welcome to ride the 48cm Cannondale road bike.” Which was conveniently strapped to the top of their support vehicle. I explained that my bike was not even 1 week old and gave them a version of my death stare. Without further discussion, they quickly assembled my bike, tested it and handed it over. They suggested that I reduce the weight on my saddle, which meant getting rid of my water bottles. They also suggested that I stand up in the saddle if I could foresee large bumps in the road. I took all of their advice and hopped right back in the saddle, looked at my clock, 35 minutes had passed. That was one long stop! I took the next 20 miles to get into my heart rate zone and most importantly, get my head back into the game. At this point, as much as I wanted to push myself to a Kona spot and make a Chrissie Wellington 2008 comeback, I realized with this type of time setback I needed to focus on doing my best. No quitting.
The weather started to warm up. I was getting nervous as I only had 1 water bottle and the water stops were fairly spread out. Hydration on a hot day is like a science experiment. Too much, you get sick. Too little, you get sick. Since I only had 1 water bottle, I had to take hydration very seriously. As I approached each water stop, I would pour 1 bottle all over my body to cool myself down and take the second water bottle with me. I had not even hit the hills yet and I knew from mile 40 on, that I had some serious climbing to do. Here is an elevation map to give you and idea of what the course looked like:
As I made my way on the course, cars would pass by us as the lanes were still open to traffic. Some cars in support of the race, others annoyed by the delays. As I made my way towards the city of Oliver, I heard a car coming up behind me screaming my name. The voices were familiar but I thought they were just reading my name on my bib number, so I did not think much of it. The car approached and I looked over and it was my friends Teresa, Andee and Steven! They were screaming my name, blasting music and tossing pom poms around. Seriously? This was so cool! We chatted for a moment, I told them that I was now sponsored by Kokanee beer and then they took off. They leap frogged me the entire day on the bike course. I got multiple comments from fellow athletes about how awesome my support crew was. I couldn’t agree more!
I climbed Richter Pass like a rock star and spent the 3 mile descent resting and getting nutrition in my belly. I got the new bike up to 35 mph on the downhill, which is a huge feat for me as I struggled getting the old Cervelo up to anything over 28 mph. The miles leading up to the next mountain pass, Yellow Lake, were full of rolling hills. Luckily on a short out and back section my teammate Jawn and I chatted for a bit, making the time fly by. As I approached Yellow Lake, I was not feeling very good. I was definitely bonking. I backed off a bit, ate a bunch of nutrition and hydrated. Within a few miles I started to feel better. At the top of Yellow Lake I found an overwhelming amount of support. My friends, old teammates, The Cycling House crew, local Seattle teams who were not just cheering, they were going bananas! The fans made me feel as though I was racing in the Tour de France. My mood perked up immediately. Not to mention it helped knowing in the back of my head that it was downhill into town from here.
As I descended Yellow Lake, I saw a familiar car up in the distance. As I got closer I recognized a few familiar faces. It was my family. Yipee! Seeing the faces of those I love most makes me giddy inside. I sat up and gave a big wave as I went flying down the hill. They went crazy screaming my name, honking the horn and cheering. This put a huge smile on my face and made me laugh out loud. Wow, there really was not more than 10 miles on the bike course that I was not supported by a familiar face. I am so very lucky. (Yes, that is my mom hanging out of the sun roof with her homemade sign).
As an athlete, the best part of the course was biking through downtown and into transition. The energy was overwhelming and I found myself dancing on my bike. Yes, there were a few fist pumps in there too. I was so proud to have made it through the 112 hilly miles and still feel really good. I got to the dismount line, I hopped off my bike and hit the ground running. 2 disciplines down, 1 to go! Let’s run.
I grabbed my run bag and went into the change tent. I sat on the floor, took all of my bike gear off and slipped into my running shoes. Ah, they are like slippers. I stood up and ran out of the change tent. A volunteer came running after me telling me I had to exit on the other side of the tent. Seriously? I ran back through the tent and out the other side leaving transition feeling great. I had a huge smile on my face and high fived the crowd all the way out of downtown. My coach and I decided that I would run 9+ minute miles until the half way mark and if I was feeling good, then I could drop to 8 minute miles. I continuously reminded myself to slow down. I was feeling good and wanted to speed up! Let’s be honest, I had a marathon ahead of me and that is one long way to go.
There was a moment around mile 8 when I was by myself. I could hear the reeds of the bushes in the lake hitting against each other, the shuffling of my feet and the in and out of my every breath. It was the most peaceful moment of the entire day. A Kara Goucher (my running idol) quote came to mind “Your greatest runs are rarely measured by racing success. They are moments in time when running allows you to see how wonderful your life is.” Wonderful it is! I am thankful to have had this moment because from mile 8 on, it was a mental and physical battle.
As I reached mile 11, the hills started. At the top of the first hill I started running down the other side. I realized that I was heading downhill for awhile now. Which meant one thing. I am going to have to go back up that hill to get home. Ugh! At this point anything more than a 1% incline was felt in every inch of my body. At mile 13.1 I picked up my special needs bag and ate the Advil that I had left for myself. A little less pain would be a good thing at this point.
The entire run back to downtown Penticton was like a war zone. Athletes were stopped on the side of the road stretching, throwing up, taking a breather and quitting. As the blisters on my feet screamed and my legs told me they were done, I wanted to stop and join the crowd. The one thing that stayed strong the entire day was my mind. I was not going to quit. Those last 13.1 miles my head was a broken record. “You can do this Jenn, only 10 more miles!” The response “Ugh 10 more miles, this hill is killing me, just walk.” The return response “No walking, you run hills like this at home with a stroller.” With conversations like this going on in my head, I did not stop running. Fast or slow, I kept on moving.
As I came to the final marathon stretch and ran under the Powerbar arch, I saw old teammates and my parents screaming my name. This was it. Only 1/2 mile to go and I was going to be an Ironman! I thought about speeding up and sprinting in. At this point, what was a few seconds if not minutes? I just needed to soak the entire experience in and enjoy every one of my final steps. There it was, the finish line. I zig and zagged my way to that finish line slapping the hands of the spectators. I did not just cross that finish line, I jumped across it and screamed “YES!” I was so excited to be there in that moment. My husband met me at the finish line and escorted me to the post race eatery and medical area.
All of my hard work payed off. Although the day threw curve balls my way from the very beginning to the very end, I never quit! Throughout the day, I thought a lot about the entire process and how that day made me feel. I learned that real friends will be there through the ups and downs in life and support me every step of the way, even if I change plans hundreds of times. When life throws curve balls, I am able to take it in and deal with it as best as I can. When I crash, I get back up, dust myself off, share my story a million times and get right back in the saddle. When I have laser focus on something, it is hard to break my concentration. When negativity enters my life, I like to ignore it and move towards the positive. Canadians are awfully friendly people and I like Canada, a lot! Prior to this year I could be quoted saying “I love change!” but I am reconsidering that statement. No matter what, doing what I love will always put a smile on my face, even if I am crippled in pain.
I am more than ecstatic to say that – I AM IRONMAN! No, I am Ironmama!
What will I be doing now? I am not sure. I am ok with that. For the time being, I am going to enjoy sitting down at the local coffee shop and slowly sipping my coffee. Why? Because for the first time in 1 year, I don’t have anywhere to be but there.
Be well, follow your dreams and take good care mamas!
I want to say a very special thanks to:
The Cycling House Crew – Linsey, Brendan, Owen, Drew, Kyle, Princess Byrnes, Mr. Seal, Molly, Christi, Frank, Danielle and Jason. You kicked my butt all over Tuscon, AZ back in February and your support has been incredible since! Seeing some of your faces on the course was awesome! My coach Rusty Pruden who was relentless. He pushed my limits and never once let me even think about quitting or training less than my potential. He is my inspiration and great friend. Mr. Crampy’s Crew – Kyle, Justin, Mac. I would not have made it to the start line without your diligence and late night bike building party! Advantage Pyhsical Therapy Crew – Lindsey, Chris, Tiffany and Ann. You all got me to the start line in one piece and with a smile on my face. Your team is amazing and I could not have done it without all of you! TN Multisport – Amanda, Tom, Bill, Vicki, Paul, Kirsten, Marc, Kim and Elizabeth. The cheers, high fives and support all over the course in Penticton were awesome! The Ironman Volunteers. For the endless cheering, water, snacks and support. You all have a heart of gold! Papa and Lolo. For letting me stay at Chateau Aspen and train for several weeks. Making many meals, watching our babe and coming to Penticton and watching the Ironman means so much to me, you don’t even know. Michelle and Matt. For letting me stay at Ranch Hermiston and train for several weeks. Getting our baby girl through one of her sickest moments. Making many meaty meals. Cheering for me at many races throughout the season. You are the best in laws a girl could ask for! Budman. For the endless talks about training, bikes, strategy and life. For the endless hours of babysitting. I feel so lucky that we live so close. 70.3 World Championships here you come! Tizzle/Glitter/Auntie T. For all the swims, support and hospital visits. You always put a smile on my face with your thoughtfulness. Faith/Auntie Fi Fi. We missed you at the race. Your support has meant the world to me. Especially in times of stress. Steven. Best friends don’t get any better than you! You have been more than patient with me this year and I appreciate all of the little things you have done to keep me on track. Andee. Ironwoman. Your pep talks and expertise were priceless. Your leadership in places for spectating was spot on. Lastly, my husband Joel. Thank you for catching me at the finish line, showering me in Veuve Clicquot and red roses. I know this year has been a bumpy path, but we made it and now we must celebrate!
I could not have done Ironman without this incredible village of support. It is an amazing journey and I am so glad that you were all apart of it. Thank you!