Monday, November 30, 2009


That's the sound of post-Ironman depression. Woke up with a stiff neck that hasn't loosened up and the day has progressed to encompass a ridiculous tit for tat at work that I've been dragged into, I'm trying to cut out those extra training calories from my diet and I'm starving, and I'm just left thinking that my time was too slow, that Alex, Esther and Zdenka had their own party around the 14 hour mark and I was too slow to attend. I feel like I'm reliving the loneliness of that last lap again.

This is just not acceptable - I was so privileged to be able to have a body that I could take around and around that course.

Back to the rest of my life

The recovery continues, I'm tired for sure but mostly I'm a little bored to not be training. I got used to a regimented life - every day, every week, every month I knew what I was going to be doing. It's good to get away from that and I need to understand that 2 naps, Wii playing and minimal housework this weekend is quite acceptable. Alex and I will be doing Arizona again in 2 or 3 years. We loved the area and want to test ourselves against the same course again. I know that with greater fitness and a tri bike I should be able to get some time back. If I can get through with out GI issues that should be an hour better.

I'm going to keep thinking about adult onset athleticism so keep looking for posts. Big Clyde has me thinking about medals and trophies and the role they play in childhood and now in my triathlon life. I'll get back to you on that.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Postcript: In which I answer Ironman

Sunday, while Alex and I were racing, Stella was preparing to be born and Mike was preparing to die. The two of them haunted my thoughts all day. Mike's death was incredibly unfair, an avid outdoors man, athlete, teacher struck down by cancer almost before he and his family could absorb the situation. Stella's birth, the first grandchild on both sides - another girl/woman born into a family of legendary, strong, independent women. Coming in and going out.

What did an artificial event set up for privileged, pampered humans matter really in the end? But there you see was my answer for Ironman. Why did I deserve that medal, those bragging rights? I got the medal for embracing life as Stella embraced her life with her first breath, as Mike embraced his everyday that he taught, parented, canoed, and kayaked.

I've come to believe that the very essence of our humanness is found with endurance sports. They are seemingly solitary, self absorbed pursuits but those of us who take that route to life know, perhaps more than others, that we are a team out there. We are all Iron, those who swam, biked and ran, and those who encouraged and supported.

Please take your life and use it up, wear it out, get blisters, chafe and sunburns. If you choose triathlon, and I hope you do, I wish you well on that journey. You will take on a lifestyle that is unparalleled. Either way, drop me a line, tell me your story.

Episode 3: In which I roam the streets of Tempe looking to score some coke

Right, run next. Getting tired just thinking about it but that might be the first full meal that I’ve been able to eat in a few days combined with “champagne” and wine. Oh yeah, and it’s been a couple weeks since I’ve slept through the night. People, I’ve said it before and I’ll say again, it’s not normal, it’s not sane, it’s probably not healthy. But you’re waiting to hear what it’s like to run a marathon after a 180 k ride and a 4000 metre swim.

IT.WAS.FANTASTIC. for a bit. Then it sucked, it sucked so much my Dyson bowed down to the sheer suckage of it all, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Second dresser was no Gwen but I managed to get changed, pockets loaded with sugar and set out into the setting Arizona sun. My plan was to walk 100 steps and run 100 steps. The plan worked brilliantly. I felt strong, powerful, dare I say, iron-liscious as I set out on the first of 3 loops around Tempe Town Lake. It is a crazy weird rambling route and I’m still now sure how it worked even having run it 3 times so, for those who also attained Iron status on Sunday, bear with me as the chronology might be off. I doubt you guys knew what you were doing too. Things I remembered from the first two loops:

1. Janus charities had sponsored a tent for spectators to make signs for their athletes. Anita and Andreja made the best sign for Alex and I and I spotted that on my second time past. I saw so many signs with so much love and support that I found myself slowing to read them all.

2. Any race with a pirate aid station, (pirates direct from Tuscon) a Wizard of Oz theme station, a western theme aid station, complete with mock saloon store fronts and Johnny Cash on the sound system, is pretty much all right with me.

3. The Jon Blazeman foundation had a station. Jon died of ALS but not before he completed an Ironman, with swim fins strapped to his hands as he had no longer any control over them and rode his bike barely able to change gears or brake. The next year he was in a wheelchair watching. That was his last Ironman. Every time I saw them it put it all in perspective.

4. There are a billion bridges over Tempe Town Lake and I was never sure which one I was one.

5. I can’t go from metric to imperial without losing my mind.

6. Seeing Anita, Andreja, Faith and Sedona on the run meant more to me than I can ever express.

7. There is a very bitter 7 time Ironwoman out there – she’s lucky he dumped her for that 27 year old and I’m glad she’s still in touch with the step-kids, they sound great.

So that takes me 2/3 of the way through the marathon.

As I passed the finish chute heading out to lap 3 I distinctly remember looking back at it and imprinting that image on my mind. I wanted that chute so badly. I had, I figured 2 hours to get back to it taking me to 16 hours. Not fast but within the 17 hour time limit.

The last lap for back of the packers like me is lonely and dark. Unbelievably there are still people out cheering you on, and, as it was 9 pm some of the university students were out wandering the streets looking for whatever it was we looked for back then. I was still feeling wonderful and thinking that I’d switch it up to 200 paces run/100 walk somewhere around the lap half way mark. That might allow me to make my goal of a sub 16 hour Ironman.

About 1 mile into the race you come across a fantastic aid station with massage tables. 500 metres or so before that I came across my Iron challenge. Standing on the sidewalk on a dark stretch of Tempe my gut exploded with cramping the likes of which I haven’t experienced since my wedding day. (great story there, if you’re not the bride or groom).

Now, it get’s graphic – look away if you want but this is the reality of pushing your body to the limit.

I stood there clenched, sweating, desperate. I had to make the aid station but I wasn’t sure if I could walk. We had been warned about public urination etc. at the race meeting. Tempe is beautifully clean and wants to keep itself that way. I had to make an aid station for the sake of all that is holy and beautiful in Arizona.

Something got me that 500 metres to that lovely, now mostly deserted aid station. Porta potties were right at the edge. Oh sweet sweet porta potty. We need not go into details. I had a small container of Vasoline in my pocket to speed my journey but I was starting to worry about how it was all going to hold up.

I grabbed some chicken broth and coke – I did not dare any food at this point. I had 3 hours to make the cut off and those 180 minutes suddenly weighted heavy on me. Regardless of GI issues I was still feeling strong when running. This was still doable.

What wasn't doable was a 17 hour finish for the ones just going out. I had no idea what to say to them. I as counting to 100 over and over again as I ran/walked, raced my plan. I could see my shadow as I went and I knew I was listing to the left and suspected I may have been foaming at the mouth. People yelled encouragement and I tried to wave my left hand to acknowledge the gift. I had no encouragement for the others.

As I ran/walked on the chaffing quickly became unbearable. I can’t even begin to describe it but next time a baby cries from diaper rash, he/she has my full sympathy - and baby isn’t running a marathon. The race became an agonizing trip from aid station to aid station looking for vasoline. I still don’t know where the vasoline went and I’m worried that it might suddenly reappear. I am a vasoline sponge.

The whole imperial measurements thing was confusing the hell out of me – I had no idea where I was and everyone who told me I had X miles and X minutes until midnight was, in my deluded mind, liars. I had no idea if I could walk it in with 2 miles to go and one hour – I had no idea what a mile was. The pirates were drinking beer and eating hamburgers.

My low point came about 2 miles, or 2 km from the end. I have no idea what time it was, I’m not even sure where I was but I was crying to a wonderful grandmotherly woman who led me to the porta potty and left the jar just outside the door. I was certain I couldn’t make it, they were certain I could.

Actually, I thought that was the low point. It wasn’t. The low point came just a little later when one of the many blisters that had formed on my feet broke. I could hear the finish line. I was broken, battered and so determined to get there that I thought about crawling the rest of the way. Sheer force of will somehow got me down the path and around the corner. At one point I could hear the finish line, hear Mike Reilly announce Ironmen in and I stopped and just took the moment in. Then I started to sprint and I rounded the corner and saw the lights and the hands reaching out to slap mine and I ran screaming “yeah, yeah, yeah” slapped hands, heard Mike say “Susan, you are an Ironman” and, best sight of all of the day, saw Alex wearing that damned grey sweater with the hood over his head. He was waving and came over and gave me the hug of a lifetime.

Episode two: In which I pick pieces of Tempe Town Lake out of my teeth

So, right, off to the bike. Like most sane, rational would be Ironmen , this was the part I was most looking forward to. Only a freak would enjoy the swim and anyone looking forward to a marathon (I’m talking to you Molly) well, they are in serious need of some mental examination. Since getting my beautiful Doris Day last spring I’ve been really enjoying riding a bike again. Doris was preceeded by The Gold Child, a fine bike but a bike that never fit me properly. Doris is female specific, I am female, Doris is short, I am short, Doris is white, I am white… perhaps that’s reaching.

So, as I was saying, the bike was going to be my time to get nutrition and liquid into me, to enjoy the desert, to think about all the wonderful people and experiences that got me to this point.

Alex and I, along with never getting into Tempe Town Lake, also never got a chance to check out the bike course. It’s a 3 loop that runs into town and out into the desert on a highway with pavement like buttah. Arizona doesn’t get frost heaved roads. We love Arizona pavement.

I’m heading into the wind, staying in my little girl gear on the front, spinning at 90 RPMs cursing the wind but absolutely stoked that I’m on the bike, racing an Ironman. I feel great. A fellow competitor summed it up perfectly as she rode by me and said “isn’t this amazing”.

It was tough going into the head wind but I was thinking about the ride coming back down after the turn around. Coming back down also gave me a better look at the length of the false flat I had come back on. This was fun, I was in the drops and remembered to shout “weeeee” at one point.

The only annoyance was the groups of drafting athletes moving through the race course. I honestly don’t understand why I was passed on so many occasions by riders moving as a pack but I never saw more than one athlete in the penalty tent. If you showed up with your buddies, drafted off them and qualified for Kona then I hope some Hawaiian god gets wind of your cheating and smites you well and good.

Otherwise the first 2 laps were a joy. Riders passed energy and encouragement back and forth. My bib was on back with my name on it and it was wonderful to hear someone take the time to use my name and wish me well as they passed me. There are some great riders out there and I’ll tell you when ever some young (good looking) athletic (good looking) probably type A took the time to speak to me I found myself just a little lighter on the pedals.

One aid station was manned/womaned by young fit people and I’d like to thank the topless men wearing hula skirts. One seemed to be only wearing a leaf of some sort but, damn, I was moving too fast to really assess the situation.

The only problem I had run into at this point was asthma. I don’t generally get asthmatic on a ride, and only notice it once I finish a run or a race but starting on the 2nd lap I found myself choking and coughing when I tried to speak to volunteers. I wasn’t too worried as I didn’t want to get my heart rate and respiration up to a point of deep breathing but it worried me enough that I started on my puffer. I’m not sure if I overused it (probably), if the Cliff bar I got from special needs was a bad idea (maybe) or if my body just decided that it wasn’t happy with the situation but my stomach rebelled and blew up into a good big distended organ. Rule number two was “don’t puke” but there were times heading up for the third lap when I thought I was going to pull a Norman and give it a go on the bike.

I started to head from aid station to aid station looking forward to the run so I could stand up like a proper homo sapien and let all my organs find their proper place. I struggled to get into the drops to make the most of aerodynamics on the final head down the highway back to transition.

Episode one: In which I nearly drown

The swim is the part of triathlon that always seems to freak people out. Those people are on to something, the swim is horrible. You are encased in a wetsuit that when you are starting out feels like a coffin but then after a few races, starts to feel like your savior. People are peeing in the water all around you in an attempt to warm up their bodies. When the horn goes you know you are going to get jostled, maybe kicked, you will be groped. It’s really a very stupid idea.

I’ve never seen an Ironman swim live; I’ve just been in one. I know that it’s a fantastic scene as the water itself seems to take on a life of its own as it moves forward. I would love to have seen the Arizona start from the bridge above the lake but I have to say it was pretty cool down on the water too.

To get to the swim start all 2500 competitors had to first be channeled through the swim start entrance and then mass on the sidewalk that runs along the lake. Gradually everyone gets pushed to the water’s edge were we were all admonished to not hesitate and just get in. Alex and I hadn’t participated in either of the swims that were held as we thought that would actually give us concrete proof of how cold the water was and therefore leave us with something to really worry about.

In a word – cold, too cold for 4000 metres.

The swim start was about 200 metres away and I flipped onto my back to do the backstroke to the start. My plan was to start in the centre towards the back and I thought that that I could hover by one of the bridge piers to wait out the 15 minutes or so until it all began. I was feeling great. My mind had been so calm the past couple days and I was pretty sure that the day was going to be everything I had wanted it to be. First Ironman, what did I know.

I ended up hanging off a kayak with a few others talking to one of the lifeguards as we waited. The atmosphere was so positive, so festive, I’ll admit, I teared up in my goggles. The choice of ACDC’s “For those about to rock, we salute you” blaring out of the sound system struck me as perfect. The American national anthem started and I was surprised that everyone around didn’t start singing it. Americans are so gloriously patriotic I was certain this would be a big moment for them. I know that if I ever do Ironman Canada I will be sobbing through the anthem. As it was I was pretty choked up for someone else’s. Then, for the last part suddenly everyone around me started singing and the energy surged, the horn/cannon/gong, something went and we were off.

I started out doing back stroke cursing the cold water, singing 99 bottles of beer. The plan was to get through all 99 bottles and then alternate backstroke with crawl every 10 bottles. That was the first plan that crashed and burned in the reality of Ironman. I could not keep my head in the water, it was just too cold. Backstroke also gave me a wonderful view of the race. The race site is directly under the flight path of the airport and a plane went over every minute or so. There was a helicopter hovering, I could easily turn my head and see all the spectators on the sidewalk around the lake. A group walked as we swam, keeping pace, holding signs. It was incredible. The plan to freestyle went out the window.

I sighted off the bridge and buoys behind me pausing occasionally to stare into the rising sun trying to get sight of the red, turnaround buoy. In driving beside the lake the buoy appeared to be just past the second bridge. From water’s level, NOT SO MUCH. I was starting to get rather angry at the buoy – my love for the colour red was waning, I started to worry about finishing the race. My emotions kept flipping from absolute desperation to unbelievable joy. Generally the odd number bottles of beer were happy, even bottles mocked my efforts. 20 bottles of beer, oh my god, what was I thinking I can’t do this, 19 bottles of beer and I was finishing in 15 hours easily. It was that fast. I’m pretty sure that people have been committed to mental health facilities with more stable emotions than I was experiencing during that swim.

The great part about my number three rule for the day (don’t stop), is that eventually you get there. The red buoy appeared I turned directly left, swam to the next red buoy, turned left again back to the bridge where it all started.

That was my 2000 metres, the longest open water swim I had yet done. My body was great for 2000, the next half started to become a struggle.

Did I mention that it was cold? My feet were numb, odd number bottles weren’t giving me any love and I stopped several times to find shoreline landmarks to concentrate on. Swim to that set of stairs into the lake, good, now to the light pole, guy in blue volunteer shirt, next guy and so on. I started to feel the water slip over my head (remember I’m on my back), took in some too many times, spoke to a few kayak lifeguards as I got my bearings and just kept swimming.

I started to understand how people drowned. It did cross my mind a few times for the first time ever. My panic attacks in the past never actually focused on anything that concrete – it was always just an overwhelming need to get out of the wetsuit, out of the water, out of the race. This was a very rationale, intellectual mental journey. The cold was sapping my strength and it became difficult to keep my mouth and nose up out of the water. I was very close to kayaks the whole time and I don’t think anyone has drowned at an Ironman without a heart attack preceding it but, wow, that was a dark place to go.

Happily, just keeping swimming got me back to the start, back to the future, back to the rest of the race.

I expected some disorientation when I came out of the water, I had swum the race distance a couple times already in a pool and it does take a moment to get your land legs back. That, however, was in a warmer pool with a much shorter duration of swim. I was dizzy, to volunteers took me by the arms and walked me to two more young women who peeled my wetsuit off. Another volunteer walked me over to my ride bag pickup and I managed to grab my bag and head inside to Gwen, dresser extraordinaire. Gwen had my socks rolled down for me, my arm warmers also preprepared, shorts out, jersey ready, sunglasses in helmet and I still couldn’t have told you my name. I don’t know how I put it all one but I did and ran off to find Doris Day – all pretty and shiny in the Arizona sun.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

It's game on

November 21 2009, T-1

The past few days have been a crazy ride. We landed Thursday afternoon and got to our absolutely fantastic suite shortly after. Scottsdale impressed us so much right off the bat. It’s clearly a very fit and wealthy town (sadly the two often are mutually inclusive) and we set out that night to find a spot for dinner.
Ironman keeps you busy before the race. Friday you venture to the race site to get registered during the day only to return at night for the pre-race meeting at the side of Tempe Town Lake. 2500 plus people sitting on folding chairs and sloping lawns all trying not to freak out. Friday night I felt great – I got to meet Barbara and Molly briefly but it was nice to recognize them and get a hug. The internet is so wonderful for allowing these connections with people I’m am just sad that the schedule has made it impossible to spend much time with them yet. Perhaps Monday while I suck back wine spritzers and talk about my incredible race prowess.
Today we dropped off our bikes and filled our 5, yes 5, bags. Bag 1 is for morning, and then evening, clothes. It’s got our swim stuff as well with lots of Vaseline for lubrication in the wet suits. Neither of us has swum more than 2000 metres in a wet suit so we need to remember to lube our necks up well. Bag 2 has the bike stuff, shoes, helmet, shorts, jersey, small bag of meds for bad stomachs, nutrition (about 1600 calories for the ride) and a letter or two from friends. Bag 3 is the bike special needs bag that you get half way through the ride. It’s got more nutrition in case you’ve lost yours to the road at some point. Bag 4 has run stuff, another pair of shoes, running shorts, new socks, new top, arm warmers and for me, a change of sports bra. I hope I get a very large matronly woman to help me into that – I’d like her to call me honey a lot. I draw the line at lubing up the twins however. That’s my special job. Bag 5 is the run special needs, available half-way at the 21 k mark. It’s surprisingly cold down here so we each have a shell in that along with another bag of meds. It’s all a big exercise in organization and, also in marriage as we “discussed” the whereabouts of everything and the schedule of events. Let the record stand that I was right about everything.
I have no idea what tomorrow will bring. I do wish I was sleeping better but my mind just won’t shut off these days. It’s not a case of anxiety as much as rehearsing everything over and over again.
I’m so lucky to have Alex to train and race with and I’m thrilled that with 3 loops on the bike and run I will see him and Esther, Zdenka, Barbara and Molly as we each move forward on our journey to the finish line.
Expected time is 15-16 hours for me, Alex will be a couple hours faster and is threatening to be drunk by the time I finish.

Friday, November 13, 2009

When Ironman asks

When Ironman asks why I am in Arizona I have to have an answer.

Ironman is the gatekeeper to lifetime bragging rights and you don’t get them if he’s not satisfied with your answer.

So, why am I in Arizona?

The easiest answer is because it is the next step in the ladder of fitness that Alex and I started climbing a few years ago. We started with try-a-tri’s, graduated to sprints, olympics and then last year to the half Iron distance. With the next double in distance available we had to step up to the challenge.

This is the right answer for Iron training, training Ironman was pretty satisfied with it – you go the distance, you double the distance, you progress along the way. The common saying is that if you can do the training you can do the race but although this answered the questions during training real Ironman, race Ironman won’t be satisfied with any wussy little next step of the ladder crap. He’s out for more blood.

Ok, so, next answer.

How about this? Fitness is the route to health and health is the first pre-requisite of happiness. I’ve borrowed that from Joseph Pilates but I hope he’ll lend it out. He hit the nail on the heat I think. The human body was made to move, not to sit endlessly typing, watching, clicking away the hours. We’re smart so we’ve gotten ourselves a pretty cushy deal with our sedentary jobs but we’ve let that drift into the rest of our waking hours. We’re not so smart now are we?

This works a little better. I’ve been at this enough to know how good this all makes me feel and I have no desire at all to stop. I want to be the old broad passing the youngsters at races, being the role model of a life lived well. I want to be the ordinary woman out on the streets showing other ordinary women that this is what we can do, that although modern professional sports may seem often to be the preserve of men only, there is a whole other side to athletics that can and should welcome everyone in to its lifestyle. That will, I know, keep me going when things get tough. Somewhere in the crowd will be someone who needs to see me going the distance to realize that what ever distance she can imagine is doable. I am woman, see me roar, and all that.

This will come a time however, when I won’t give a damn about who is out there watching. I will be tired, depressed, sore, hungry, and my clothes will itch. The finishing line will be a long way away and there will be no friendly faces. It will be dark for body and soul.

What will my answer be then?

I don’t know.