Monday, September 7, 2009

Ironman Race Report Part 1 – I Did It!

It has been nearly a week since I became an Ironman, and it still feels great to wake up in the morning and remember that I did it.

We were really lucky to be given a place to stay at Apex Mountain Resort, which is about a 45-minute, winding, steep, mountain-road drive away from the race site in Penticton but the place was big and best of all, free. We were totally cut off from internet, as well as the hype and nervous energy of Ironman.

This really helped my mental state, and I got tastes of the energy by going into town for a few swims in Okanagan Lake during the week prior to the race.

On one of the pre-race visits I bumped into Rena from Calgary, who recognized Hannah from this blog! I told her that she should be writing the blog, as she was doing IMC just 8 months after having her baby!

After very little sleep, I awoke at 4am and we were at the race site with thousands of others before sunrise.
Race day conditions were almost perfect. Sunny, just under 30 degrees and not much wind. The only bad thing was some low-level smoke from nearby wildfires.

I felt excited to get going, and kept my nerves at bay by joking around (these antics landed me a goofy photo in the local paper’s race results).

Feeling euphoric, I started singing along with the national anthem, but soon realized everyone else was listening in silence so I quickly shut up. Then the countdown and the air horn blew. People were friendly at first. I had seeded myself in with the 1:10 to 1:20 crowd so it took a few seconds to get moving and the water got deeper fairly gradually.

After a few minutes the chaos started. There were some very scary minutes with people grabbing and hitting. You couldn’t stop because it would only get worse. I was almost hyperventilating and thoughts of quitting were loud a clear in my head. I looked around and wasn’t even at the first buoy yet. I battled on for a few more minutes and my breathing calmed down. I started being more aggressive about holding my space but in a field of over 2600 swimmers in a mass start, it took until past the half way point to find water instead of bodies to swim though. The final leg of the swim was pretty much on my own, thankfully, and I relaxed into it and found it even enjoyable.

Oh yeah, and for the record, there is no ‘current’ effect sucking you along on the swim. It was like a washing machine, with water going every which way and having to swim left, right and every which way to avoid getting kicked.

I exited the water in 1:16:57, 73/159 in my division (W35-39), and heard my husband David shout “Way to go, Cheetah, you’re right on track!” That was good to know because I hadn’t thought to check my watch. It felt great to be done the swim.

I spent nearly six minutes in transition (I had to pee) and was then out on the bike. I had some problems with my water bottle – the internal bottle on the “Fuel Cell” kept rising up and out of the exterior bottle so I had to secure it down while still riding. I took the first 65 km very easy and ate 5 or 6 Cliff Bars and drank 3 bottles worth of Cytomax. I’m not sure when I’ll be able to face another Cliff bar.

When I got to the climb at Richter Pass I was still feeling strong and passed quite a few people. My family was all over me on the bike – they cheered as they drove by, they were on the side of the road, they were everywhere. At one point, as they drove by slowly (I know it’s frowned upon, but man did it feel great to have the support) I could just see my baby girl’s eyes peeking over the side of the window frame. It took a few seconds of talking to her and then I saw her expression change to one of recognition. Just then, they had to speed away to keep traffic moving. I was laughing for the next kilometre.

At the half way point I refreshed my Cytomax (really getting sick of it now) and stuffed in some roasted potatoes.

With about 2 hours and another steep climb to go, my bike shoes started to kill my feet. There’s always something that happens that is completely new and unexpected. It felt like my baby toes were jammed in a door and nothing I did could extract them out. At least it made me look forward to the run. I hobbled off my bike after 6:01:28, 31/159 in my division.

I spent a long time in transition (9:24), most of it in the port-a-potty. I’d never actually sat down in a port-a-potty before, but desperate times call for desperate measures. I felt better after the visit to the little blue plastic house and headed out on the run after taking a gel and grabbing a new Cytomax.
I ran a few km’s and started to wonder how I was going to do a full marathon. I saw Jordan Rapp, the men’s winner, go by. I slowed to a walk and did very little running for a few km’s. I saw Theresa Macel, the female winner go by and a few other pros. Eventually I got insanely bored of walking and was driven to run in order to get it over with.

I didn’t see my family yet, and was desperate to ditch my still-full Cytomax bottle, yet too cheap to toss it. The thought of passing it off motivated me to run - amazing how your judgement changes after 8 hours of going all-out.

Finally I found my slow and painful groove (nothing at all like running fresh, even after running 3 hours). I saw my friend Chris Allan go by the opposite way and he looked strong. With two miles to go before the half-way turnaround, I saw my husband David. He had the handycam and was there with Sean Rogers, a friend of ours who had come to watch. Totally against all rules, they ran along with me and cheered me and other racers on.

At the turnaround I saw my parents and my mom even ran along with me for a bit. David saw my gritted jaw and decided to keep running with me. He ran beside me, sprinting ahead to whip up the spectators into a cheering uproar and then filming me. I was too tired to protest. He was the most awesome supporter ever. Everyone around us got extra cheering as a result. I walked the aid stations and gradually made my way into town. Finishing under 12 hours looked possible, but it would be tight.

My discomfort seemed to increase exponentially during the last 5 km’s. I felt as though I had nothing left and was running on autopilot but I knew I couldn’t quit. I literally couldn’t stop, otherwise I knew I’d never start again. On the IMC course, you pop out near the finish line but then have to do a cruel out-and-back that seemed about 2 km’s. Thankfully, I saw many of my friends and supporters: Erin and Andrew Harlos, Brian, Brenda and their daughter Sophie (who high-fived me), Ken Lee, Jill Savege, and others I heard but didn’t see.
At long last I stepped over the finish line and felt such relief and happiness that I was crying and laughing at the same time. I was an Ironman! It was a magical moment.

My final time was 12 hours, 3 minutes.

Post Race
I felt like an Ironman for at least 5 minutes before my gut turned to something significantly less solid than iron.

I spent the next hour in the medical tent until I could walk out and see my family. In another cruel turn of events, we had to get my gear out of transition (I had forgotten to bring the little pass for a designate to do it).

David accompanied me and when we were almost at the front of the line to get out, I had to make a desperate search for the port-a-potties again. I barely made it and David made me keep the door unlocked because I guess I didn’t look so hot. Finally we got back to the car and loaded up. I vomited twice on the way home (not in the car, thankfully). I showered and fell into bed, but I couldn’t even take in a sip of water. At 4:30 I woke up, and then it would be two more days before I could sleep because my body felt so wired and tired at the same time.

Two days after the race (Tuesday) we ventured into town. Everyone was gone. The place was almost back to normal. I felt like I had just missed a great party. We went for lunch at The Bench and David struck up a conversation with a neighbouring party at the restaurant. Turned out to be Belinda Granger. She autographed my race guide. I felt complete.


  1. Congrats Alison! We are so proud of you!! I loved hearing about your race. It sounds like an unforgettable experience and to have David and Hannah cheering you on... how wonderful! We hope to see you guys soon. love, Andrew,Kristi and SYDNEY!!

  2. You made me cry! You are an Ironman oops I mean Ironwoman!!!
    Congrats Christine xo

  3. congratulations! loved reading the report. i can totally imagine how cool it was when hannah recognized you on the bike!

  4. Congratulations Alison! Your report gave me goosebumps and I'm so happy for you that you were able to accomplish your goal and you now feel complete.

  5. Congratulations on a great race and thanks for a great blog! I actually found yours quite some time ago- you were just pregnant and considering an IM and am glad to hear that you had such a great race in Canada- I raced there as well and unfortunately did not fare nearly so well- I crashed at about mile 92 on the bike and received medical transport to the finish. My injuries were thankfully minor, but in the course of recovery I somehow became was/is still a huge surprise (I had actually considered entering IM AZ b/c I really wanted to capitalize on my fitness) but couldn't figure out why my recovery was not going as planned- anyhow I am very interested in reading about your training post-partum and will read thru your archives to see what you did- clearly it worked because you had a great race!! I am very much looking forward to racing again and redeeming myself in another IM event!! Thanks for being an inspiration!

  6. Wow, this is so inspiring! You are great! Really!
    I am pregnant with my second right now, but want to do some triathlons after I have the baby. I am nowhere even close to doing an ironman - just mini triathlons :) I did a couple last year before I got pregnant, and really hope I can resume after the baby comes! Wish me luck!