O Canada! Part VII
"I could do the swim, and I could do the bike, but the marathon would kill me. I don't even think I could run a marathon by itself."
For the longest time that was my perennial statement regarding the concept of an Ironman. Swim 2.4 miles? Sure; it might take me a long time, but I could do it. Bike 112 miles? No problem, biking is the easy part. But run 26.2 miles? Forget it. I wouldn't stand a chance.
Despite my certainty on this point, somehow I'd gone ahead and committed myself to this Ironman Canada thing. Have you noticed a theme running through this race report? Can you say, "DENIAL"? Well, you see, when I signed up for IMC, I simply denied the existence of the marathon part. "Oh, well, it's a year off, and maybe by then I'll be a better runner." Yeah, right, and maybe marathons will get shorter.
One year and 500 miles of running later I'm beginning my first marathon, and it doesn't look any shorter. My longest run in training totalled only 16 miles, and that took three hours. What the hell am I in for now? Since this thought is too scary to contemplate, I don't bother thinking it. Who needs to think, what good will it do? Don't think--- just run.
Turning off Lakeshore Drive on to Main Street, I am in a state of ecstasy born of purest denial. 26.2 miles? What's that? Who's doing that? Not me; I'm just out for a little trot after my bike ride. It's a long brick workout; let's see how far we can go.
I round the corner and am greeted by a deafening chorus of "Go, Tricia! Go, TriBaby! You look great!" Wow! Skippy and Cindy sure have powerful lungs. Oh, no, I see, they've recruited reinforcements from the surrounding crowd---- Gee, thanks, everybody! Nice way to start the run, I must say. I grin and call out, "Hey, Skip! Here I go!"
A gal at my elbow remarks, "Wow, I'm gonna stick close to you! You've obviously got quite a cheering section out here."
"Yeah," I reply, "but I can assure you, you don't wanna stick with me---I can't run." I'm immediately proved correct as she trots off ahead in short order. Nevertheless, the grin remains on my face as I gambol amongst the throngs lining downtown Main Street. Wow, what a mob! This is great. Sure gives a body an energy boost. Rubber legs? What rubber legs? I feel marvellous!
I approach the first aid station prepared to just cruise on through, maybe grab a cup of AllSport and keep running. I stretch forth my hand to take a cup on the fly when a tiny voice somewhere in the depths of my consciousness suddenly commands, "Walk the aid stations. Don't wait 'til you feel lousy; start now, while you're feeling good. Run between aid stations, walk the aid stations." Amazingly, my endorphine-drugged brain retains enough good sense to realize the wisdom of this idea. I walk. Hey, who's in a hurry? I've got all day.
To tell you the truth, I had been practicing the religion of Denial with such fervor up to this point that I had never once thought out or planned a strategy for the run. Nope, not once. I think I figured that if I made it that far, the right approach would miraculously make itself known. Lucky for me, that's exactly what happened.
So I walk through Aid Station #1, guzzling down AllSport and thanking the volunteers. I finish my libation, toss the cup at the nearest garbage bag/box and resume a happy little trot, still grinning from ear to ear like an idiot. Hey, which way to Skaha Lake?
How to describe my marathon? Looking back upon it, I find it hard to remember many of the details because I was so focussed on simply experiencing "the moment". Moment to moment, there was no "before" and there was no "to come", there was simply Now---now, with my legs solidly pistoning and my feet slapping the pavement. Now, with the grey sky and the cool air, with the cyclist hurrying past on his way back to the transition area. Now, approaching the next aid station, arms swinging, heart thumping, lungs filling and emptying as I consider, "Water, AllSport, or fruit?"
I could not think about "before" because that would remind me to feel tired. I could not think about "to come" because I could not know for certain exactly what was to come. Oh, yes, I had ridden the course and I knew where the road curved and climbed and dropped and flattened---in that sense I knew perfectly well what was to come. But I could not know (nor did I wish to contemplate) what was to come *for me* on those curves, climbs, drops, and flats.
The next hours hold the power to exhault or to terrify; I cannot spare the energy for either emotion, so I simply run. Each moment exists as a perfect sovereign entity, immediately forgotten as the next takes its place like an endless row of dominoes where the fall of one is the catalyst for the next.
The lead male car approaches when I'm about 2 miles out, and I rejoice at the small personal victory this represents--- I had anticipated that the overall winner would be finished by the time I started my run. Now, however, I have the opportunity to cheer him on from the course, and I do so with a whoop and a holler. "Who is it?" I inquire of the spectators scattered at the side of the road with their race programs. "Noel Harrington!" somebody replies. I don't even see the next racer for another 5 minutes at least; the guy has a helluva lead.
Chug, chug, chug. "Go, Tricia from Redwood City!" Hey, that's me! Spectators are looking up racers' numbers and cheering us on by name. "Woohoo!" I respond with an enormous grin. Slap, slap, slap go my feet on the pavement, Cheer, cheer! go the spectators. Pitter, pitter, patter goes the occasional raindrop. Male racers fly by in ones and twos, heading for home. And here comes the first woman! "Go, girl! All right, you're flyin'!" I had expected it to be Lori Bowden but this was somebody else, someone I didn't recognize. Lori, however, was not far behind, perhaps two minutes. "Go, Lori! You can get her; Go, girl!" Just incredible how these gals can run.
5 or 6 miles out and I'm running along Skaha Lake; racers on the opposite side of the road become more numerous. Jan Wanklyn flies by, and soon after comes Holly Nybo with her distinctive gait. "Go, Holly! Lookin' good!" I cry to the local pro whom I frequently see in the locker room at the Stanford pool. It's always a kick to see Holly at the races, she's amazing.
I reckon I should start seeing some of the faster RSTers pretty soon. Scanning the faces across the road serves as an excellent distraction and keeps me motivated. The first familiar face belongs to Joe Foster, who appears exceptionally smooth and strong. "All right, Joe! You studmuffin, you look GREAT!" "Go, Tricia! Lookin' strong!" he shoots right back. Wow, what a day he's having! And Cindy was right, that red Rip'n'Hammer singlet was definitely the right choice. ;-)
At about this point I'm starting to think that a portapotty stop would be a REAL good idea, and I anticipate the next aid station with zeal. I hate to stop running when I'm feeling so good, but I know I'll feel much better after a pit stop. Ah, there it is! What a relief..... Little do I know that this is only the beginning of a love affair I will carry on with the little blue boxes for the remainder of the run.
Popping out of the box I trot over to the aid tables and partake of food and drink, exchange pleasantries with the volunteers, and continue on. Iron Pete appears across the way and I cheer heartily, "Go Pete!" He does not look happy, and I realize that he is beyond his goal time. Nevertheless, he offers a hearty greeting and soldiers on, headed for home. Hey, Pete, don't sweat it; even if you're not making your goal time, you're doing one helluva job out here. Do it, son!
And so it goes. I trot my way along, slow and steady, and surprisingly comfortable. I keep an eye on my heart rate, holding it between 60 and 70%; it's not long, however, before keeping it down is no longer an issue--- it takes more effort to try to keep it up. I remember the food/drink heart rate correlation: If you have trouble keeping your heart rate down, you need to take in more fluid; if you can't get it up, you need more calories. Bearing this in mind, I make a point of keeping the fuel coming in: Grapes, melon, orange slices, cookies, PowerGel, AllSport. Eventually, I decide to just ignore my heart rate; the fuel intake doesn't seem to make much difference, so it's time to do this on heart alone.
Eat. Drink. Run. Pee. Eat. Drink. Run. Pee. Eat. Drink. Run. Pee. Damn, I wish I was a guy! I can't tell you how many times I see guys just step over to the side of the road to answer Nature's call. I waste more time popping in and out of those damned blue boxes. Well, it beats a post-race stint in the medical tent with an IV, I guess. Grrumble grumble grumble...
Cheer on the other athletes. Grin at the spectators cheering you on. Thank the aid station volunteers. Look for familiar faces across the road. Go, George! All right, Ray! Bruce, you animal! Everybody looks like they're many miles into a marathon in an Ironman; the strain shows. And yet, they all look strangely happy. What a unique experience an Ironman marathon is! It's almost surreal, that peculiar blend of agony and ecstasy, and so few people in all the world ever get the chance to experience it. For me, at this moment, the experience is everything.
Continue the race....