Ironman Canada 1998 - Part 2

"Do you have a copy of the race program? I need to get all my guys' numbers so I can cheer you all on. I clean all your rooms, so I especially want to be rooting for you out there."

This from our maid at Spanish Villa on Saturday afternoon. Unbelievable. But then again, we are in Penticton, so why am I surprised? "I'll make sure we get you one; I'll leave it out in the room for you. Thanks!"

Typical in Penticton.

We were on our way to Overwaitea to pick up a few last-minute items. For those who have never experienced Overwaitea---well, you just haven't lived. The bins at Overwaitea are a religious experience. Virtually any comestible under the sun may be procured in bulk from these bins. Joe picked up a bag of fortune cookies. TriBaby went for the giant gumballs, and Skippy helped herself to pistachios and stuffed Spanish olives. We also got a few more prosaic items, like salad dressing and mostaccioli pasta. Had the craving beckoned, however, buttermilk pancake mix, rice cakes, shredded cheese product (!), confectioner's sugar, and any number of other delectables were readily available for bulk purchase. Amazing.

Wandering the aisles of this cornucopia, you realize that half the people around you are fellow triathletes---the shaved legs and race T-shirts are a dead giveaway. The rest are friendly locals. The popular items for the triathletes include bagels, bananas, bottled water, and pretzels. The locals buy everything else.

One thing I did not need to pick up at Overwaitea was salt. At the Carbo Load the evening before I had experienced a surge of panic upon suddenly remembering the one thing I had forgotten to pack before leaving home: table salt to mix into my bike bottles. Aack! With the way the weather was shaping up, this amounted to an enormous gaffe. Doh! Quick, slip the salt cellar into your pocket! And try to remember to bring it back when we come back here for the Awards Banquet.

I leave the Carbo Load party looking furtively over my shoulder, the Violent Femmes echoing in my head: "I hope you know that this will go down on your permanent record." In some Middle Eastern countries, stealing salt is a crime punishable by death. I hope no one saw...


Steve King is whipping the expectant crowd into a frenzy. "Let's get ready to send these athletes on their way! Let's begin couting down now, from 5: 5, 4..." BOOOM!

Ooops, so much for the countdown, guess it's time to swim.

1724 of us begin churning the waters of Lake Okanagan to a foamy froth. Being a mediocre swimmer, you've placed yourself in what you deem a reasonably clear but aggressive spot toward the right of the group and in the middle. The initial crowding isn't bad at all, and you figure, "Hey, no problem, just like last year."

But last year there were 73 fewer swimmers out here.

Uh huh.

OK, admittedly, the first minute or so isn't bad. Then it gets ugly.

You are walled in by a swarm of swimmers from which there is no escape. OK, so just try to swim forward. And keep trying. And keep from getting swum over, run into, kicked, punched, and dunked.

The ChampionChip strapped to your ankle gets slapped 4 or 5 times until you yelp with pain and certainty that the tendons will be permanently scarred. Pairs of swimmers from either side swim convergent paths directly in front of you time and time again, forcing you to stop swimming or risk being their vector when they collide. And when someone lands a haymaker squarely on the bridge of your nose, knocking your goggles slightly awry and causing stars to dance before your eyes, you scream aloud in frustration. "Holy crap!" you marvel. "This is no swim, it's a boxing match! Now I know how Sue Latshaw feels."

The Maytag agitation cycle never lets up all the way out to the first turnaround boat. You're plowing more than swimming, and forget any notions of finding space to stretch out, relax, and focus on your stroke. You try a couple times to seek calmer water at the edges of the pack, but eventually abandon this idea when it becomes apparent that doing so will either get you clobbered or require you to clobber someone else. Resigned to your fate, breathe a heavy sigh and hope that others in the pack around you will tire soon and fall off the pace, leaving you a little room to SWIM.

Round the first boat, fight your way to the second, and head for home. Ah, the melee relents just a bit. Perhaps we can try swimming now, eh? Head down, stretch out your stroke, rotate the hips, relax.

In retrospect, perhaps it was just as well that the first two legs of the swim were so chaotic; this last leg seems interminable! There is still bumping and jostling to contend with, but far less than before. You actually have long periods of freestlye instead of free-for-all, but freestyle proves to be...well...a lot more boring. You keep looking up to sight on the hot air balloon back at the transition area, and the damned thing just NEVER gets any closer. So you put your head back down again and stroke, stroke, stroke, look up, and Crap! Still a million miles away. Not only that, but your shoulder's starting to hurt. Oh, great. Sigh.

Last year at about this point we encountered The Feet. This year we find entertainment in the form of Legs. Legs are encased in an Orca fullsuit, and they belong to a triathlete with absolutely the ugliest swim kick I have ever witnessed in my 6-year racing career. Instead of long lines and fluid propulsion from the hip alone, each kick for this fellow involves active participation of every joint from hip to toe. I am fascinated! Everything bends in vigorous concerted spasms apparently aimed at generating forward motion.

Of course, the disconcerting thing about this is the realization that Legs and I are barrelling along at precisely the same pace. Ouch--- what could I _possibly_ be doing in my stroke that could equal this??! Be afraid, be very afraid....

Gradually, ever so gradually, the lakebed appears beneath the murk and comes into focus below. Thank god! But there are still hundreds of meters to be swum. Okanagan appears particularly shallow this year, and you recall that, while fighting your way out on the first leg of the swim, the bottom had remained visible for a ridiculously long time. Keep your head down and swim, kid! Keep heading for that damned balloon.

At last the bottom comes tantalizingly nearer, nearer, nearer still. First beds of kelp, then sandy shoals, then...yuck, rocks. Oh, man, I don't remember any rocks, who dumped these out here? The last 50 yards or so are a minefield of stones buried in 8-10 inches of water. You stop and attempt to stand long enough to check your watch---cool, 1:12:something, right on last year---Ouch! Then promptly plop back down and get horizontal, opting to drag yourself through the shallows rather than trying to hobble awkwardly over the rocks. With just a few yards remaining you rise unsteadily and head for the beach. Ouch! OK, hit the split button and reach for the wetsuit leash. Oh, yeah, and remember to rip off your cap and goggles before the photographers catch you. Say "Overwaitea!"

Continue on to Part 3...