I bailed on cycling with friends today to sleep in, drink coffee, and write, even though it’s beautiful out. Who am I?
The past week has been characterized by that awkward but familiar post-Ironman out-of-sortsness. For me, this means having trouble summoning anything resembling energy and passion. But there’s a sweet, disinterested laziness, too. I basically turn into the most boring person I’ve ever met, or a yogi who’s hit some transcendental state.
As a little more fatigue leaves my body every day, I slowly return to my old self—which finally happened this afternoon over beers in the sunshine on Commercial Drive.
It was a week of mental fog and fireworks on the beach, recovery swims and dusk bike rides, mountain hikes and punishing work hours. I capped off the week on Friday with my brother’s yoga class (followed by Vancouver’s best pastries at Chez Christophe next door). Throughout the class, he wove in the theme of combining vision and venture in our pursuits: Vision (planning, dreaming) without venture (doing, executing) is just hopeful daydreaming. And as a good friend of mine likes to say, “hope is not a strategy.” On the flip side, venture without vision is empty busy work, going through the motions.
As my bro massaged my sweaty feet, I thought about how spot on this is when it comes to Ironman. You plan and dream and plot. Vision). You set goals, and then every day you get up and do the same damn thing over and over again—thousands of strokes, pedal revolutions, and footsteps. Venture. On race day, the two come together like the amazing fireworks show we watched on Wednesday. The explosion holds a wide spectrum of potential, however: beauty and disaster, order and mess. (FYI: Those links are to corresponding race reports.)
My day fell somewhere in between.
I committed to this race late, after a long off season/major life changes, and period of fence-sitting. But those last 8 weeks got all of me. I worked hard on my run and saw real progress. I showed up on race day with the best I had.
This particular race week goes down in my history books as one of the most relaxing ever. There was zero traveling involved, as this is a backyard race for most of us. A friend and I drove up to Whistler early in the week and spend a few days at a friend’s cabin working and getting our final workouts in. There were plenty of satisfying snacks, chats, and, as you can see, Zen-ing out over coloring books and wine.
My parents arrived on Friday, and, thanks to my NBD attitude, helping my mom navigate the logistics of her own race (bags and check ins and nutrition, oh my!) was easy and enjoyable. (Read her race report here.) Our condo was just a wander from the finish line and T2—and more importantly, to Pure Bread, a standby over the course of the weekend. (I need more Lavender Earl Grey scones in my life.)
As I posted the night before with the below picture, Ironman Canada marked my sixth Ironman, in the year 2016, at the ripe old (race) age of 36. My bib number was 510 (5+1+0 = 6). I thought I was destined to swim a 1:06, ride 6 hours flat and place 6th in my AG.
Race morning followed suit and unfolded with zero drama. We woke up in time for coffee and breakfast (my maple syrup/coconut butter/raisin rice pudding strikes again!) and were at the shuttle buses in T2 in no time. We popped our nutrition in our run bags, jumped on the bus, and headed to Alta Lake.
I’m not sure if it was the mellow music they were playing in transition (Coldplay’s “Scientist” and Iron and Wine-esque indie tunes, really? Where’s my Katy Perry?), but I had to keep reminding myself that I was racing. After pumping my tires, putting my bottles on my bike, and visiting my bike gear bag, my mom and I bought coffees on site (an Ironman first!) and I enjoyed a half hour or so catching up with other racers, friends, and colleagues on site.
Then all of a sudden it was go time. I suited up, dropped my morning clothes bag, and did a quick warm-up swim before seeding myself near speedier friends. The morning was serene: you could not have painted a more beautiful Ironman swim start. An otherworldly mist rose slowly from the surface of the water, making way for hundreds of pink and green caps ready to take on the day.
I swam a 1:04, good for fourth out of the water in my age group. This tells me that a) my 1:03 swim PR last August in Copenhagen was not a complete fluke, b) I am now officially a decent swimmer, and c) that my technique-focused winter of swimming at UBC paid off, as painful as those 7 pm dark bike rides to the pool in the rain felt at the time. (Swim Strava link.)
In T1, another Ironman first: I dropped to the grass to have my wetsuit stripped, and when I stood up, intense Charlie-horse type cramps hit both my quads simultaneously. I hobbled through the change tent, sunscreen station, and to my bike. I am still confused by this—it hadn’t been terribly hot in the days leading up, and I’d hydrated normally. The only time I’ve ever had cramps like these has been after international flights. Moreover, these particular type of cramps usually leave a lingering pain, almost as if the muscle has been injected with a strange “cramp poison.”
My project over the first few k’s was to try to shake out the cramps as best I could. I didn’t think they were due to dehydration, I downed three salt pills and jammed nutrition into my mouth to try to get a jump on recovery. My legs would barely move, and I spent the first 20 minutes of the bike unclipping and stretching my quads. Slowly, the pain dissipated and I could focus on scanning every single 70.3 rider on their way to Callaghan for my mom, looking for confirmation that she’d made the swim cut-off.
The 5 hours and 43 minutes I spent in the saddle of my P3 was by far the best part of my day. I felt comfortable and happy, as the two smiley photos above show. The course is challenging but beautifully distracting, and the screaming fast downhills more than make up for the climbs. By the time I hit Pemberton Meadows (and my Ms. Vickie’s salt and vinegar potato chips) I was feeling awesome. Around the 70 miles mark I caught two women who I assumed were leading our 35-39 AG. The three of us would go on to play (legal) cat-and-mouse for the remaining 30-40 miles miles. I also caught up to my coach and good friend from San Diego, both strong cyclists, so I knew things were going well.
On one of the more difficult climbs, I saw a tiny pink figure up ahead of me. I came up behind her, panting, and said “Mom! How are you doing!?” She said she was doing well, and mentioned how tough the climbs were. I carried the image of her out there rocking her ride at 60 years old with me the rest of the ride.
The last 5 miles went by interminably slow, as usual, as I wound my way through the village to T2. I had forgotten about my leg cramps, and I’d hydrated and fueled like a champ (Matcha Skratch with extra GU Brew Nude powder, 1 of Hailey’s “salty balls” in T1, 2 packages of Honey Stinger Chews, 3-4 gels). I popped on my Team Sunday Funday glitter hat—honored to join in the fun with some other local ladies—did the T2 thing, and soaked up the energy of a crew of cheering friends at the run-out. (Bike Strava link.)
Unlike in Copenhagen, I hadn’t set a specific mental strategy for the run. Looking back, I see now that on a whole, my mental game for this race was not on point. Sure, I was relaxed, but perhaps with that, I gave up some of my fight. Over the first 10k, I felt the best I’ve ever felt on an Ironman marathon. I was settling decently into my pace. Best of all, my familiar nemesis, Gus (aka mysterious esophageal pressure/chest pain who ALWAYS shows up and has threatened on a few occasions to make me quit the sport altogether) had clearly taken a literal hike that day. HE DIDN’T SHOW UP ALL DAY, and I was floored. Because of that, I put a new kind of pressure on myself “Come on Jen, you don’t have chest pain, RUN, for goodness’ sake, RUN!”
After a few miles along the shady, wooded run with a body that seemed to be cooperating, suddenly the quad cramps returned. As grateful as I was that I’d suddenly either outgrown Gus or was just having a lucky day, I almost had to laugh that this time, it was just something else—a more typical triathlete issue, really. Then, even though I was eating and drinking more than usual) I started bonking and the 4-hour marathon I’d been working hard for over the past two months faded out of reach. I had to stop multiple times to stretch my quads, and my legs felt heavier and heavier as I went, refusing to turn over.
I didn’t go to a deep, dark place on the run, I just stopped caring, which simply can’t happen in this sport. I forgot about the pre-race positive self-talk TED Talks I’d watched. I tried Coke, salt, gels, chips, and Gatorade—nothing worked. I considered finding my mom, dropping out officially, and finishing her race with her. That would be a good DNF story, right?? But I’d come so far, and it was a beautiful day, and so I just kept putting one foot in front of another at whatever pace would come. (Quote of the day the next day with friends: “Walking doesn’t feel any better than running, and you just look like a loser.”)
Turning right at the fork towards the finish line (and not the 2nd lap) felt wonderful, and as torturous as those the last few hundred meters through the village were, they were also magical. I’ve seen so many of those black finish line arches, and somehow they’re still so darn special. I picked up the pace, stood tall, and owned my 11:47-something finish with a smile, running into my dad’s arms (he’d been volunteering as a finish line catcher all day, bless him). Some of my coworkers were right there to greet me as well, which made me feel like a little Ironman rock star. (Run Strava link)
I found out my mom was in the medical tent for dehydration, so I beelined it to the massage tent to wait for her. My parents came over mid-massage (my mom was OK) and I grabbed my dad’s phone to see whether I’d come 6th or 10th or 15th. THIRD?!?! I shrieked, drawing the attention of the whole massage crew. “That’s impossible.” I checked Iron Trac. Yep, third. I thought about whether I’d have been able to pick it up if I’d known I was second off the bike, but that might not have helped. If you can’t find the fight within, how is another person’s placement going to change anything? I was pleased, despite feeling kind of guilty landing on the “real podium” (top three, as my friend texted me later) with such an abominable marathon time. “It’s whoever is strongest on the day,” my coach said to me later. Wise words.
After cleaning up and chilling for a bit, Kelsey and I went down to the finish line around 11:30 for the midnight finish festivities. I soaked in the energy, got my Katy Perry fix (thank god no Coldplay) and went to bed dreaming of Pure Bread scones in the morning.
Monday in Olympic Plaza was a sweet time. (And not just because of the baked goods.) Many of us showed up in dresses. Laurel and Britni got their slots to Kona. Steph got the women’s overall title, and Laura made the podium in her first Ironman. My mom made the podium too, and we all celebrated each others’ successes.
And just like that, another Ironman in the books. I tackled it with vision and venture, just with a little less fight than I needed to make my 4-hour marathon dream come true.
Regardless of the outcome, this race has been a gift—it has brought purpose, direction, and community to my life over the past few months (as I wrote about pre-race). It was my slowest Ironman to date, but my top three placement has got me thinking all week about the various ways we measure ourselves; what’s better, a 10:46 and 6th, or an 11:47 and third? A roll-down slot or putting together your best race and still not qualifying? Making the podium or setting a PR? Racing alone in a foreign city, or watching your mom crush it and embracing your dad at the finish line?
Ironman Canada, then, in a nutshell: “I swam and biked well, and I held on.” Maybe I didn’t fight, but I held on.
And sometimes, that’s all you can ask for.