I was awake before my alarm, which was set for 4 a.m. I don't think I slept for much more than an hour at a time the whole night. Even still, I was pretty groggy as I pulled on my race kit and made breakfast. Kirsty and Jason were up and helping me get what I needed, which was a pretty easy job as most gear had to be checked in the day before. Jason and I headed down to transition for about 5 a.m. as I wanted lots of time to do everything I needed to do and not feel stressed about it.
Since Jason was volunteering in the transition area, he came right in with me and his first job was to do a final check of my bike. Tires inflated, proper gear selected to start, everything nice and tight and dialed. I walked over to drop off my special needs bag, check my gear bags and add bottles to them, and got body marked. Incidentally, body marking took less than a minute, a much better use of time to standing in an eternal line in the days before.
I was pretty much ready to go by 6, an hour before race start, so I sat down and just hung out and waited. Jason was busy helping scores of others with their bikes. At around 6:30 I pulled on my wetsuit and went down to the start area. The pros were started at 6:50, so we weren't allowed in the water until they were all at the start line. Once they were all assembled, I jumped off a dock and did a bit of a warm-up swim. The water was still cold (duh), and dark (you literally couldn't see your hand when your arm was outstretched due to the silty, murky water). The sun hadn't emerged as it was cloudy, so with my tinted goggles I couldn't really see anything. A few of us laughed about having to swim blind until the sun was high enough to provide some light.
The gun for the pros went off, and then the rest of us swam up to the start line. I actually got a bit choked up for a minute, then that gave away to excitement as a countdown started. The gun went off and I sprinted off the line. My plan was to go hard for the first 500 metres so I could get a good draft. I went too hard though, and pretty quickly was gasping for air and had to take a couple of easy strokes to settle in.
Early on in the swim.
Not being able to see much in the dark water made the swim a bit strange. It was difficult to draft as you couldn't see feet in front of you. People were banging into each other (more than normal in a mass-start) because we just couldn't see anything. I felt like the Ganges river dolphin, which is blind, or like we were all playing bumper boats with each other. The other problem with the swim is that the turn-around buoys were red, and guess what colour the mens swim caps were? That's right, red. So I really couldn't tell if I was sighting properly for quite a while.
I didn't feel like I was having a great swim and figured my goal of 1:10 wasn't going to happen. But I told myself it was a long day anyway, and not to lose focus in the first hour of the race. It seemed like a long time until we turned around, and then bumper-boated back to the swim exit. I finally hit the stairs (made a bit easier to negotiate as they had volunteers help to pull everyone up) and figured I would be lucky to break 1:15. I was pretty surprised when the clock said 1:08 (my official swim time was 1:08:52, and 16th out of the water in the women's 40-44!). Yay, swim goal acheived!
Through the wetsuit strippers, and around the transition area - about a 400m run - to the gear bags. I dumped out my bag and immediately a volunteer was my personal assistant to help me get my bike stuff together. I then went through the sunscreen volunteers, where they smeared approximately an entire bottle of sunscreen on my shoulders - no chance of burning! Jason handed me my bike and I was out onto the course.
The calm conditions from Thursday were no more. It was windy, and the bike course is mostly out of town and quite exposed. The first of the three laps went by in a blur, and I rode really well and passed quite a few people. The bike course gradually gains some slight elevation to the turn-around point before descending back into town. Thursday I rode in from the turn-around in my 52X11 for a bit, but with the wind right in my face on race day, that gear remained unused. I knew I was riding much faster than in training, but my heart rate and breathing were under control, and my legs didn't feel like they were pushing hard, so I figured I was all good. I knew I could push harder but didn't want to blow myself up.
It didn't seem that much time passed before I was back in town, making the turn-around in front of the transition area. I saw my super cheering crew of Jason, Kirsty, Candace and Heidi, and headed out for another lap. The winds were picking up and becoming quite gusty, with signs being blown over and some athletes not able to hold their bike in a straight line during the gusts. As time passed, the winds grew stronger, so I just tried to stay low and aero. I rode really well on the headwind sections and it seemed that is where I passed people most frequently.
At the special needs pick-up, I grabbed my bag but it was smack in the middle of a fierce headwind section. So I quickly changed out my bottles and then stuffed some food down my top to get later, when I wasn't heading straight into the wind. On the crosswind sections in and out of town, I tried to lean a bit so I was using the disc wheel as a sail to help push me forward. In the headwinds I relaxed and just tried to make my arms heavy on the aerobars to hold the bike steady in the gusts. It was the tailwinds where I ate, stretched, and did anything that would have taken me out of the aero position.
Heading out onto the third lap.
I had to laugh at the weather. It was a perfect end to my season of getting pounded by storms when I was out riding during training. Pretty fierce winds, rain, and even hail! But I did get it all, as there was also some sunny parts. Mother Nature decided to play all her cards that day. But fine, because after when I had trained through this fall, I could handle just about anything.
Riding smart paid off, as I smashed my goal of sub-7 hours by coming in under 6:30. Turns out my bike split was 6:26:43, and I was 25th in my age group (out of over 160 of us) back to transition! Solid! I was pretty pumped with my time, but kind of laughed to myself when I realized that I would probably be running the 42km slower than I rode the 180.
Again I had a personal assistant in transition (the volunteers at IMAZ were amazing!), and headed out onto the three-loop run. The run was this weird figure-8 which I couldn't quite make sense of when looking at the map in advance. After three loops, I definitely get it now!
Off the bike and onto the run.
My first loop felt great, and although I am a slow runner, I knew I ran the first loop well. I got lots of great cheers from my crew when I headed out of transition, and then Jason and Candace were freaking out as I came through the first loop of the figure 8. At the end of the lap, my whole cheering crew were setting some sort of decibel record as I ran by and out onto the second loop.
Part-way through my second lap, Jason met me at the beginning of the bridge and ran alongside for a couple of minutes. Then I met everyone else, including my Dad who had come to watch some of the day, and got some great encouragement as they cheered me on. I didn't feel like I needed anything in my special needs bag yet, so I left it for my third loop.
Heading towards my cheering section on the bridge (second lap).
It was about half-way through my second loop that the run started to get hard. That makes sense, as that was about as far as I ran in training, and of course I had swam 4k and biked 180k (and run 21k) already that day. It was also dark, as sunset was around 6pm. It made it feel a lot later since it was so dark, and some of the "other side" of the course wasn't lit. But I kept going and moving forward, only stopping briefly once to slather some vaseline on my toes where I could feel a blister starting.
Coming back through transition at the end of my second loop, Kirsty ran with me for a bit to remind me of our plan and training accomplishments. That was really great as it gave me a boost, as did running through the crowds with everyone calling my name. I love that your name is on your race number, as I get way more out of hearing "Go Alison!" being called from complete strangers, especially when things are getting tough.
Mentally, the third run loop was really difficult. It was dark, and I went over in my head all the places I still had to run before the end. That loop took a long time. Additionally, the run was almost all on concrete, and the bottom of my feet were starting to hurt from the impact. I grabbed my special needs bag that time, but gave some of it to Jason as I didn't want a few of the things I had packed. I did want my long-sleeve shirt, as it had cooled off quite a bit once the sun went down, and the wind coming off the lake was getting uncomfortable. Jason walked with me for about 10 minutes, then I headed off into the darkness of the other side of the course. I knew I had to keep it together, so I tried to keep a rhythm and concentrated on my run goal of moving forward.
I was headed back towards transition at the end of my third lap, and Jason, Kirsty, Candace and Heidi all met me just before transition to cheer (scream actually, they were pretty jacked on caffeine by that point) me on before my final mile. That last mile was awesome as there was a crowd the whole way, so I ran probably the fastest mile of my day. At the corner just before the finish line, I saw my Dad waving again, and then I was running down the chute and crossing the line. A volunteer grabbed me and walked me over to my super fans, and I was done. Run split was 6:33 (about 13 minutes slower than I thought I would run - but goal achieved as I kept moving forward the entire time). The icing on the cake was my finish time: 14:20:51, a whole hour faster than I did in Penticton an entire decade ago. Yeah!
I didn't want to hang out at the finish line, so I was loaded up into the car and delivered back to the condo. The ice-cold pool came in handy, as I sat in it for about 10 minutes icing my legs. That actually felt pretty good, but my blood pressure dropped and I felt like I was going to pass out. But Kirsty, being a nurse, knew what I needed and got some fluid and food into me, and I went straight to bed. We all chatted for a while, and then it was lights out.
I'm really happy with how my race went. I accomplished all my goals! Thoughts start to creep in - should I do it again... I don't know if I'm ready to make that decision yet, but I have to admit I'm not ruling it out at this point...