O Canada! Part II


My Ironday begins with a whoop and a bellyflop into the shallow water. As it turns out our starting position couldn't have been more perfect; a nice cushion of water enables me to get horizontal and begin swimming right away, and while it's certainly crowded, it's hardly the free-for-all one might have expected. I've had tougher swim starts at Danskin.

The usual bumping and jockeying for position phases me not at all; it's just like any other race, I've been through this dozens of times and am quite at home. Stroke, stroke, splash, breathe, lift your head to sight, swim around the guy in front of you, stroke, roll, kick, breathe, navigate, kick the guy behind off of your legs, sprint for the gap between the two fellows in front of you, stroke, stroke....

So here I am, at last the moment has come and I am beginning my very first Ironman. Even now I can't help but see the absurdity of what I'm doing. I'm not the least bit fearful or nervous. Believe it or not, the overriding emotion of the moment is pure, unadulterated amusement. I can't help it, it's just too darned funny! *I'm* doing an Ironman. And what's running through my head? "Vogue! Vogue! Let your body go with the flow, baby, you know you can do it! Strike a pose---Vogue! Vogue!"

I'm a poser! What on earth do I think I'm doing here? At odd moments throughout the preceding days I would burst forth in peals of spontaneous laughter that left Skippy glancing at me sideways with not a little concern. Had TriBaby finally flipped over the edge? Was she going to lose it before she even got to the starting line here?

Naw. If anything, the laughter offered proof of my sanity, indicating I was well aware of the ridiculousness of my presence in Penticton for this event. I was going to tackle the legendary 140.6, and it was just too silly for words. I *had* to laugh. The alternative was too scary to contemplate.

So now here I am, stroking my way blithely through the unceasing melee of thrashing arms and legs as the litany of classic stars (and others) dances through my brain: "Greta Garbo, and Monroe; Dietrich and DiMaggio; Marlon Brando, Jimmy Dean--on the cover of a magazine; Grace Kelly; Harlow, Jean---picture of a beauty queen; Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers danced on air. They had style, they had grace; Rita Hayworth gave good face. Lauren, Katharine, Lana, too; Bette Davis---we love you. Ladies with an attitude; fellas that were in the mood. Don't just stand there---let's get to it: Strike a pose, there's nothing to it---VOGUE!"

Attitude, yeah! That's what I've got! And it's gonna get me through this thing. But attitude or no attitude, I sure do wish the pack would break up; this is getting downright tiresome. That's the trouble with being a perfectly mediocre swimmer: you're surrounded by all of the other mediocre swimmers and you never spread out. Darn! And the chop out here, Ay yi yi! It's almost like Alcatraz. The stiff wind blowing across the Lake from the North is kicking up a steady parade of 6-inch swells that pack just enough punch to be annoying.

Well, I Vogue my way successfully through this mess to the first turnaround boat and spin stylishly around it to the cheers of the occupants. The short leg to the next turnaround boat worries me a bit because I can't see the line of buoys, so I put my trust in my fellow mediocrities and follow their lead. I wind up zigging a little bit but it doesn't appear to be too damaging. At last I reach the second boat and swing gratefully around it, carefully avoiding the crush of swimmers directly on the keel. OK, here we go, the final leg, and am I glad! I'm getting mighty tired of swimming. I resist the temptation to cop a look at my watch--don't do it, kid, just keep swimming, less than a mile left to go.

The noxious chop that plagued us on the way out now gently helps to push us back toward shore. Thank heaven for small favors! Thank heaven, too, that the overcast is keeping the early morning sun from blinding us on the return trip. Of course, that overcast might not prove to be such a good thing later on if it doesn't let up, but for the moment it is a good thing.

All right, let's be honest now: I'm getting REAL bored here! I want this swim to be over 5 minutes ago. "Vogue" has worn a wearisome groove in my mental record player and I'm ready for a little change of pace. I keep looking up to sight on the hot air balloon back at the transition area, but Damn! It just never seems to get any closer. After three or four such disappointments, I begin to get cranky. Will this never end??

At about this juncture I encounter The Feet. The Feet are attached to a maddening man with a beard wearing an Ironman wetsuit who just happens to swim at exactly my pace. So what's wrong with that? Well, nothing, except that right now I'm really cranky, and all I keep seeing is this guy's feet, and they're long and white and skinny and THEY NEVER MOVE. I swear, the man never kicked, not once; he just dragged his long skinny white feet along behind him--and directly in front of me. I cannot escape them! I try swimming to the left, but somehow, The Feet appear once again immediately in front of me. Now I veer to the right, heading directly for the next buoy. No dice; as if by magic, The Feet appear in all their inexplicably maddening glory, directly before me. Aaaaagh! Is there no escape??

At last, in a spasm of desperation, I summon all the sprinting power I have left in me and blast away from The Feet in a decisive manner. Whew! At last, I have lost The Feet! They'll plague me no more! And look, the shore's only about 200 meters distant. Hammer time, let's bring it home.

Stroking away for all I'm worth, I remind myself of all those awful 100 meter repeats in training and try to replicate the effort. Sure, it hurts, but let it hurt---you're almost done with this bloody swim! With just about 30 meters left to go I switch gears and begin dolphining as hard as I can in the shallows. Transition area dead ahead, Cap'n! We're almost home.

One last dolphin, and now it's time to stand and run. Hit the split button on the watch---1:12:00 flat, right on schedule. Reach for the wetsuit zip cord as I stride awkwardly to shore and peel the top of the wetsuit down, catching the sleeve stupidly on my HRM receiver, darn it! All right, all right, don't sweat it, you've got all day. First course is finished, now it's time to serve up a little bike ride....

Continue the race....