O Canada! Part VI

The Cawston Out-and-Back has the potential to really discourage a triathlete. You've ridden more than 65 miles when you have to basically turn around and ride back nearly 8 miles in the direction from which you've just come. That can be really depressing if you think about it too much. So, in order to avoid depression, I didn't think about it. At all. I just looked at it as an interesting diversion in the course of the bike ride, and now, as I head out from the turnaround, I'm simply twice as happy to be heading the "right" way once more.

At last I finish the stretch on Upper Bench Road and return to Highway 3. I make the right turn and try to remember just how far it is 'til the climb to Yellow Lake begins. Despite the fatigue inevitably creeping up on me, I'm thoroughly enjoying myself. I really don't feel too bad, and I'm pleased with the pace I'm maintaining. At this rate I may be able to finish the bike in just six and a half hours! According to my computer I'm averaging between 17 and 18 miles per hour; I had reckoned that maintaining 16 mph for 112 miles would be just dandy. Hope I can keep this pace with Yellow Lake coming up.

I moo at the cows in the field along the road as the fellow in the blue jersey cruises past me. "They're probably wondering what the hell all these silly humans are doing out here," I remark cheerfully as he goes by. No response. Geez, you could at least grunt at me, dude.

A few seconds later another cyclist passes and catches up to Blue Jersey just ahead. I hear him speak to Blue Jersey and at last I understand why BJ appeared so unfriendly----the fellow is speaking German! Ooops! Oh, man, I'm an idiot. Duh. I'd forgotten just how international this event is. Well, I'm glad to know it wasn't just that I was too scary to speak to!

The climb to Yellow Lake begins subtly, almost insidiously. It's preceded by a long stretch of barely uphill road. By the time the real climb hits, you hardly notice a change in grade. With the changes to the bike course this year, Yellow Lake comes up at about 90 miles into the ride. This worried me only a little bit. After all, I've done much harder climbs late in training rides that were much hillier than this course. And I know for a fact that Yellow Lake is nowhere near as tough as Tunitas Creek Road (affectionately referred to in these parts as Tendinitis Creek Road).

The road gradually begins to tilt a little more. Up ahead I can see that traffic has been halted on the roadway, though I'm not quite sure why. The drivers don't seem particularly concerned; they're sitting on top of their hoods or sticking their heads out the windows and cheering us all on up the hill. Cool! "Good job, good job! Lookin' good, you can do it!" they holler. "Hey, that's easy for you to say!" I laugh in reply. "Anybody wanna get over here and give me a push?"

I don't find the climb terribly tough---I keep wondering when the hard part will hit (it never did)---I do find it long. The damned hill just never seems to end! "Almost to the top, almost to the top! Keep it up, lookin' good!" the cheering section assures us all. "Oh, yeah, right, that's what they were saying a quarter mile back down there," I whine goodnaturedly. "I'm not listening to any of you guys any more! Nope!"

After what seems an eternity of slow going, the road gradually, ever so gently, flattens out and I see the low barriers at the side of the road preceding the appearance of the twin lakes. Yes!!! There it is, the lake-whose-name-I-don't-remember on the left, and soon thereafter Yellow Lake (looking more green than yellow) on the right. Whew. This flat feels unspeakably good. Put it in the big chain ring and pick up some speed! Hmmm, and while you're at it, you might consider breaking out the windbreaker; the rain is spitting a little more, and that monster descent back into Penticton is coming up. With the sweat you've just worked up on that climb you're likely to become a human popsicle under these conditions.

Snaking along the narrow road between the Lakes, I fish the windbreaker out of my jersey pocket while keeping up a steady tempo. Clearly I could be going a lot faster right here, but I figure the time wasted fiddling with the windbreaker is probably well spent. Comfort is more important than speed right now...although I begin to doubt that as the zipper sticks and I can't get the damned jacket open. I eventually succeed in unpacking it from its self-pocket, but then realize that I'm in no position to ride no-hands long enough to put the bloody thing on and zip up the front. Hmmm. OK, no problem. I've been Voguing all day, so I guess now it's time to make a bold fashion statement. The windbreaker goes on backwards. Ahhh! No more cold wind on my soggy torso. This is a good thing!

A last couple of short climbs precede the final killer descent and I temporarily regret donning the windbreaker prematurely; the regret doesn't last long. Once I point my wheels down the big descent of Highway 3 I can only think how VERY happy I am to have toted the damned windbreaker over all 100 preceding miles.

As I mentioned earlier, I climb a lot in training. And as we all know, what goes up must come down. So, it follows that I also do a lot of descending in training. I've also said I don't think of myself as a very courageous downhiller; however, all of that descending in training has to count for something.

I'd read reports of this descent being pretty dicey. Driving the course, it was tough to get a feel of how it would play out on the bike. I do recall that I was concerned that the shoulder seemed a little thin at a few spots. If one couldn't hold one's speed but was forced to use the car lane, it could be a little spooky.

Don't know why I worried.

I have the bike humming down that hill at 42 mph before I have time to think twice. On the straighter sections it's not too tough to hold 45mph. In the curves, of course, I'm forced to take it down to about 35 or so, but that's not so bad. Tee hee, what a blast! Just like zipping down Skyline Boulevard at home! Of course I'm lucky that the rain hasn't really been steady or hard enough to drench the pavement here. That's part of the reason I'm pushing the limit on this descent---I want to get down the hill before the skies decide to really let loose once again, making this ride a much scarier proposition.

The field has really spread out by this point, so I don't pass too many cyclists; those whom I do pass, I pass decisively. A couple of 'em look at me as if to say, "Where the hell did you come from??" as I holler "On your left!" and zoom by. Woohooooooo.....

At the bottom of Highway 3 we hook up with Highway 97 once again. Traffic is again backed up here, but we triathletes are waved through the intersection. I don't lose too much speed, although there is a short stretch of uphill and flat before Highway 97 resumes the downward tilt to which we'd become accustomed up on 3. I continue an all-out hammerfest on the shallower descent of 97, eyeballing Skaha Lake on our right and the run course that awaits us on its opposite shore. Won't be long now! I'll be heading on out, bound for that side of the lake in a matter of minutes.

A final long sweeping curve brings us back down to lake level and crowds of people cheer as we fly back into Penticton. A left turn on to Main Street and only two miles left to go! The rain pelts a little harder, and I'm grateful to have beaten it down the hill. I'm also grateful for my windbreaker as I hammer my soggy way through town back to the transition area. I begin to see runners headed out on the marathon and redouble my efforts with a renewed sense of urgency. Hurry up, hurry up, gotta get off this damned bone-shaker and get out on the run!

At last I turn onto Lakeshore Drive and fly into the transition area. Whew!!! 112 miles, done! I cop a quick look at my computer as I click out and run the bike through the rack area. 6:27:xx!!!! Wow! That's well under 7 hours, I don't believe it. "All right, who wants it?!" I cry to the knot of volunteers waiting to take athletes' bikes in the transition area. "Here, here! I'll take it!" cry 3 or 4 voices. I hand it off to the nearest volunteer and clop my way out of the rack area, grabbing some Allsport as I head for the running gear racks. Woooo! Excellent bike ride! I'm way ahead of schedule, and not a little overwhelmed. Whoops, don't forget to hit your split button.

Ok, take it easy, take it easy; find your bag, it's on the end of that rack over there. All right, now, head for the changing tent. You've still got a long way to go, keep your head on, lots of work to be done yet.

Into the changing tent and, just as before, a volunteer attaches herself to me and sees to my every need. In fact it's the same volunteer I had in the morning. Wonderful lady.

Again, I take my time in transition and make sure I'm comfortable. Windbreaker, jersey, cleats, cycling shorts off; singlet, running shorts, running hat, torso-pack on. And AH!!! Thank GOD for Jason. As a result of a conversation with Mr. Mayfield while packing my race bags, I'd decided to take the unusual (for me) step of packing a fresh pair of socks for the run. Jason, I can't thank you enough. I can't begin to imagine the horror I would have felt had I been forced to run that marathon in the rain-soaked, mud-blackened socks that adorned my feet as I finished the bike. I don't usually bother changing socks at T2, but there's a first time for everything; thanks to Jason, this first time probably meant the difference between finishing my first Ironman and an ignominious DNF due to frozen, blistered feet. What a big difference the little things can make!

Bouncing out of the changing tent I head straight for the portapotties. Emerging amid the mayhem of the transition area, I cry urgently, "Which way do we go to start the run? Which way?" A volunteer points me in the right direction and I'm off. Under the banner and whack the split button on my watch. Hey, look at that, I'm at 7 hours and 48 minutes; I didn't think I'd start the run 'til well over 8 hours. All right! Here we go, first marathon ever.....

Continue the race....