“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
On Sunday the 24th of July, I raced my first ever Ironman 70.3 in beautiful Whistler, BC. Crossing that finish line was a dream come true—my personal “just for me” bucket list goal to celebrate my 60th birthday last November. Seven months of training and hard work wound down as I listened to coach Jen and dutifully tapered the two weeks before the race.
We took an early morning flight to Vancouver the Friday before the race, picked up our rental car, and drove to Whistler. It was a beautiful, scenic drive. Upon arrival, I headed straight to the bike shop where I’d rented a road bike identical to my own dear Black Beauty. Momentary panic took hold when they didn’t have the correct pedals they’d promised, but they tracked down a pair for me. We then headed down to the athlete’s village to meet Jen and her friend, checked in, and attended the athlete briefing (which was very inspirational). We checked into our condo then headed out for dinner at a nearby golf course.
Saturday was a busy day as I packed all my various bags, picked up my bike, and delivered everything to the transition areas. We did a practice swim in Lake Alta too, which I found tough due to choppy conditions and pre-race jitters. After a simple supper of white rice and chicken Tikka Masala, it was off to bed at 9:00 pm.
On race day, I woke at 4:00 am after a great sleep. Jen had prepared her delicious race-day concoction of rice, bananas, maple syrup, coconut butter, raisins and who knows what else. It was so good with a lovely mug of hot coffee. We walked down to T1 and hopped on the shuttle to the lake. It was a perfect and relaxed morning as we watched the sun come up over the mountains and shared another cup of coffee.
Just before 7, Jen and her pals were off for their swim. I had another hour and a half until my start. It was lovely to relax, settle in, and visit with my hubby, who’d biked down to watch me start. After donning my wetsuit and doing a few sun salutations to calm myself, it was time. As I entered the water, I realized this was IT: Everything I’d been working towards for many months came down to this moment. I resolved to give it my all and enjoy every part of the day, which included a spontaneous decision not to look at my Garmin watch even once.
The 2km swim went fairly well as the lake was beautifully calm. I was so happy to make the cut off time! After having my wetsuit pulled off by the volunteers, I put on my helmet, shoes, and gloves, grabbed my bike and was off.
The 90km bike portion of the race was spectacular. Even though I hadn’t done any hill training, my heavy seated climbs and standing climbs in my spin classes all winter made all the difference. And the very windy (aka “prairie mountains”) rides I’d done had helped, too. Our total elevation gain on the 70.3 was 3,371 ft, more than I’d ever done before, but the rewards along the way were exhilarating descents and stunning vistas.
On one of the climbs, I heard “Mom, is that you? How’s it going? I’m so happy you made the swim cut off!!” The second half of the course was by far the toughest, with most of it very hilly. After 4 hours I was happy to get off my bike at T2, and realize that I’d made the cut off time!
I changed into my runners and visor. It felt great to shake out my legs as I started off on my half marathon. I wasn’t sure how this part of my race would go for me because of my recent stress fracture, but I heeded my doctor’s advice to take one Alieve and one Tylenol an hour before getting off the bike. I managed to run about 60% of the course, and power walked the rest. I was thrilled to not have any pain in my ankle at all.
By this time it was really hot. The aid stations along the way provided welcome relief as I refueled with energy gels and shots, and stuffed my race top with cups of ice. It was pretty awesome to see Jen three times on the course, too. Her sunny smile and “you’re doing great, mom!” were so encouraging.
As I neared the finish line, the throngs of cheering spectators calling out my name gave me the extra push to pick up the pace. Then I saw my hubby on the side of the road too, cheering me on with a huge smile on his face.
Then I saw that big black arch, FINISH. I heard the announcer call out, “Sheri Ward from Winnipeg, Jennifer Ward’s mom!” I threw up my hands in the air and smiled from ear to ear. I actually did it! This big dream of mine came true. I could hardly believe it.
After falling into Don’s arms and walking around a little, I started to feel off. A medical volunteer told me I didn’t look well and took me to the medical tent. By this time I was feeling tingly all over, my eyes were throbbing, and I felt really light headed. I laid in that tent for almost two hours. The doctor said I was dehydrated and hadn’t had enough salt, even though I’d had lots of Gatorade and salt tablets as well. They gave me chicken broth and more Gatorade, and I slowly felt better. He also said my body had gone into shock, having never done anything like this before.
Don and I had some pizza, then found Jen in the massage tent. We were both overjoyed to realize she had placed third in her age group, and I’d place second in mine! We all hung out for awhile in the athlete’s village, enjoying the post-race vibe. After heading back to the condo for a well-earned hot shower and a cold beer, we spent the evening relaxing and re-living every exciting detail of the race. (Thanks, Don, for your patience!)
Monday morning we packed up, checked out, and headed down to the Olympic Plaza for the awards ceremonies. It was thrilling to be on the podium and equally exciting to see Jen up there as well. (Read her race report here.)
And just like that, it was all over. It was one of the most exciting and happiest days of my life. I was filled with a deep sense of joy and contentment as we drove back to Vancouver. I haven’t experienced any of that post-race fog either. A few wonderful hot yoga classes (Matt, you’re the best!), a great 95 km recovery ride on Sunday, and a few days at the lake with a dear friend have helped me transition smoothly into my post-race reality.
What have I discovered about myself through this experience? I have learned that I am a strong, healthy and determined woman. I have realized that I can achieve anything I put my mind to. I have come to appreciate the power of my heart and soul and believing that anything is possible.
Dreams really do come true.