Ironman Canada 1998 - Part 12

The warm friendly darkness wraps me in its gentle embrace. The scorching hot day has melted into a balmy night fragrant with pine needles and a light breeze blowing off the lake. What a magnificent time and place for a run.

My legs surprise me with their bounce and snap. Like a high-strung dog straining at its leash, they've been held back to a walk for hours; now the clasp on the leash has been released with a decisive Click! and the dog takes off at full speed.

I'm in a unique position as I motor boisterously down the dark road. The majority of athletes remaining on the course at this point are, almost without exception, walking. I buzz past walkers in ones and twos and call out encouragement as I go by. In the darkness I detect looks of genuine surprise from several, and more than once hear a bemused, "Whoa, where did she come from??" I have to laugh---under normal circumstances TriBaby would never pass this many people on the run. In this tweaked situation I actually feel fast; it's delightfully ludicrous, deliciously absurd.

Gerry and Jane are each somewhere not too far ahead, and my ambition is to catch them before the finish. This focus keeps me moving fast, a short-term goal obscuring the total miles I have yet to run. My eyes strain through the darkness at each walker I pass. Gerry and Jane, the rabbits to my greyhound, draw me onward as fast as my legs will carry me.

Cruising around a curve of the road separated from the lake only by a low white concrete barrier, I begin to hear footsteps gradually approaching from behind, light and quick, the only other set of footsteps out here moving as fast as my own. I suddenly understand the surprise felt by those whom I've passed up to now---anyone moving with any speed at this point is a startling anomaly.

As the footsteps draw closer I turn my head and remark, "Wow, somebody's still feeling good." The lights from the next aid station just barely touch us, and in their dim illumination my eyes fall upon a tiny man wearing an enormous grin. He laughs and says something in reply, I'm not quite sure what. I smile back and fall in step beside him, marvelling at the lightness and speed of his stride. Although he's caught me from behind, I realize he's not going too much faster than I am. As a matter of fact, he'd make a great pacer. Think I'll try to stay with this guy.

We trot together into the aid station and walk through, taking on chicken broth and water. At the far end of the station I wait for my friend to catch up to me, and we resume our run.

My new running companion is a diminutive Japanese man who doesn't quite come up to my shoulders. He's clearly a better runner than I, but my long legs make up for his foot speed, and the rigors of the day have levelled our abilities. I grin silently as I listen to the counterpoint of our footsteps on the pavement, his two steps for each one of mine. This lovely, rhythmic sing-song carries me hypnotically along at a pace I probably couldn't have maintained for long on my own.

Occasionally we exchange a few observations about the day and the race, but mostly we just run. Kozo's English is far better than my Japanese, but even at that conversation is a bit tough for two folks in the latter stages of an Ironman. I do learn that Kozo has done Ironman Japan twice as well as Ironman New Zealand. However, today, he says, was far tougher than New Zealand. "Very difficult here!" he says.

We run, side by side, mostly silent but for our breathing and our footsteps. How strange and how wonderful, I muse, to find myself running side by side with someone so physically and culturally different from myself, from halfway around the world, sharing this same marvellous challenge and experience, this beautiful evening, this magnificent place. Somehow it is perfect. The sensation is impossible to express, it's an intangible, inexplicable emotion, a feeling of oneness and rightness and unity. It defies all attempts at analysis or description; it's time just to savor it.

Kozo and I sail along, and I continue to scrutinize those we pass, still looking for my friends. I'm sad to see Heather, the girl with whom Rebecca and I had walked a few miles early on, finally conceding to exhaustion and fatigue, sitting dazedly in the back of an ambulance somewhere around the 21-mile mark. My heart goes out to her, but I'm glad she's calling it quits; she does not look good, and hasn't for some time.

Closer, closer, closer to town. As we leave the lake behind and near Lakeside Park small knots of spectators appear in between aid stations. They seem particularly excited to see two runners exhibiting so much energy, and they cheer heartily. I'm especially gratified to see the older folks out in front of the retirement home---these same marvellous people who were there at 8:30 this morning, cheering as I hammered by on my bike. Wow, I wonder if they took breaks throughout the day, or perhaps they worked in shifts! I pause to applaud *them* as we run by, thanking them for their enthusiasm and endurance.

Somewhere out there we do finally find Gerry. He's walking with another athlete and looks reasonably strong and happy. He'll clearly finish in good shape. I ask if he's seen Jane, and he answers that she passed him a while back. My second rabbit awaits! By this point we've run beyond Gerry and his friend, but I holler a "Congratulations, Gerry, I'll see you at the finish!" over my shoulder. Then Kozo and I are gone.

We soldier on. I find myself tiring now, but my faithful pacer does not flag, and neither must I. Without saying a word Kozo and I have formed an understanding that we are now doing this together. We walk the aid stations, taking in sustenance; whoever gets to the end first slows until the other catches up, at which point we resume our run. We have forged an unspoken but unshakable alliance. We're in it for the duration.

My resolve is tested on the long, gradual slope at 23 or 24 miles heading back into town. Man, this hill is NOT that steep, why does it feel so hard? Kozo's birdlike frame virtually flies up the grade; TriBaby's statuesque mass galumphs. "I *will* not drop off; I *will* keep up with him," I admonish myself.

On the short gradual descent on the other side I get my revenge---this time it is Kozo who has to work a little to keep up with me!

At last we make the turn onto Main Street, and I'm pleasantly surprised at the number of people still out here cheering on the athletes. It's right around 10pm, and a little over a mile to go! A couple more aid stations, a little more chicken soup, a little more water. Kozo and I laugh and smile and thank the people cheering for us. The spectators seem to especially like us, we are such an odd couple---the tiny Japanese fellow and the tall blonde Amazon chick.

The last long stretch of Main Street seems to go on FOREVER. The thing that always stands out in my mind about this part of the run is the seemingly infinite line of traffic lights stretching into the distance the entire length of Main Street, marking off all the blocks you have to run. We're running harder now, urged on by the crowd, and I'm counting off the traffic lights as we knock off one intersection after another. I don't dare allow myself to see the particular buildings or landmarks on either side of the street---that would tell me too much about how far we still have to go. I just focus on the traffic lights, gleaming red, now green, now yellow, now red again in the distance.

Gradually, ever so painfully slowly, we approach the heart of town. The crowds and their cheers swell the closer we get to Lakeshore, and we pick up the pace ever so slightly. The adrenaline is really beginning to flow now! With just three or four blocks to go I spy a determined figure jogging just ahead of us---it's my rabbit!

"Shadetree! Here I come! Come on, see if you can hold me off!"

Jane is jogging, slow but steady, and I quickly realize that there won't be any down-to-the-wire, neck-and-neck battle between the two of us. "You're almost there, Jane, you're gonna make it!"

Kozo and I blast by Jane, who calls out a greeting and urges us on. Another Ironvirgin will soon cross the line! In the meantime, I've gotta get myself over that line, and there's not too much farther to go.

The crowds are enormous, and hundreds of hands reach out for high- and low-fives as we pass. Kozo and I hit as many as we can, especially those of the little kids. This is where the sense of accomplishment really begins to sink in, as the desire of these people to share in our achievement, our celebration, is made tangible in every congratulatory slap. What a high!

We ride this wave of approbation, running, smiling, laughing, and suddenly there it is! The decorative lighting suspended above the intersection of Lakeshore and Main Street, the final turn, the last 100 meters.

The crowds peel back, held at bay by the snow fencing lining the finishing straight. The lights of the finish chute draw us in like moths to a flame, driving, driving, heeding the siren song of the line. I feel a sprint surging through me, but realize that Kozo doesn't quite have that much power left. I scrub the speed and instead pump my fists in a salute to the crowd as we soak up the last meters together. Then, just before the line, I reach out and grasp Kozo's hand, raising it high in triumph as we break the finishing ribbon together.

What a glorious, unexpected race! What a day, what an adventure, what a triumph. As Kozo and I grind to a halt he turns and offers an enormous smile and a handshake. I eschew the shake in favor of a big bearhug, followed by a bow and, in my best Japanese, a "Domo! Domo harigato!" How can I possibly express to this man how much his companionship has meant to me as the capstone on this marvellous day? How can I tell him what a gift he has given me?

15:11:53. Fifteen hours. Not a PR, but how much more this day has meant than any PR could have. Every Ironman is a journey, but today's race proved to be a particularly rich and meaningful journey. How grateful I am for those fifteen hours, and how grateful I am to those who made this finish possible.

Thank you to everyone who made IMC such a sumptuous experience. I especially must thank Rolf, John, and Gibbo for goading me into continuing the marathon, and Rebecca for showing me that there can be so much more to this race than just a fast time.

Did I realize a return on my investment in Canada this year? I'd say so.


I thought I would share here a note from Rebecca that she wrote after reading part 11 of this report. I hope that it helps convey the depth of feeling inspired by this race and this day. Personally, I was incredibly touched by Rebecca's words, and I look eagerly forward to following her exploits at Ironman USA in 1999.

From Rebecca:

(trying desperately to not let my co-workers see the tears rolling down my face)

you'll still be there for my first IM finish -- if not in body, then in spirit. i *never* would have gotten as far as i did without you; i never would have entered had i not read your experience in '97. i did make the right decision, though it was so tough. and you're right -- a lot of it was mental. at mile 19 -- after all i had been through -- that finish line was completely arbitrary. it could have been a million miles away; my ironman had been fulfilled and it was over. my desire is deepened, and though i might not see you at IM USA next year, you'll be with me the whole way, and the finish will be sweeter than ever. i'll let out a "whoo-hoo" for you.

thanks, tri-baby.


Return to the Ironman Canada '98 Report Page.