Many factors, usually training, fitness, nutrition and equipment, combine to affect race performance. For Ironman Canada 2003 there was an additional factor: smoke. Forest fires were raging north, south and west of Penticton. One of those fires knocked out a transformer 2 days before the race leaving the town without electricity for hours. Another fire caused the closure of Route 97, which is part of the bike course. Just 20 miles north of Penticton, 30,000 people were evacuated the day before the race due to a fast moving fire and 248 homes were destroyed. I really thought the race would be cancelled. So did most other participants. At Saturday's mandatory pre-race meeting, Graham Frasier revealed that he had spent Friday evening writing a seven-page speech, to be delivered at the meeting, explaining the decision to cancel the race. But the people of Penticton didn't want to see the race cancelled. That spirit, combined with a very favorable shift of the winds and an altered course, saved the race. I must admit, however, while I was eating my pre-race breakfast, I still wasn't confident that IM Canada 2003 would happen. But it did and it was awesome.|
Because the swim course is marshaled by firefighters, who were busy battling the fires, the usual 1 loop deep-water out-and-back course was changed to a 2 loop shallow water one. Okanagon Lake is very shallow for about 100 feet so 2100 wetsuited people (actually only 2099 were in wetsuits: 1 guy was swimming sans wetsuit) went running into the water. After being pummeled in Lake Placid because I started too near the buoy line, I went way way way to the outside this time. As a result, my only body contact throughout the entire swim was 2 slight toe taps, although I wouldn't have minded a little body contact as it might have warmed me up (actually, thawed me out!!). The water was so cold (think Walden pond in early May) I had no feeling in my hands after about 500 yards (I had foolishly brought my sleeveless wetsuit. I saw only 2 other sleeveless suits). I spent the remainder of the swim trying to push away negative thoughts. After what seemed like eternity (the only problem with starting so far to the outside was not being to draft anyone), I finished the swim (my time was nearly identical to last year's). I got out of the water and blew my nose at the exact moment the official race photographer took my picture. I don't think I'll frame that picture. Oh well, off to the wetsuit strippers. Let me tell you, the Penticton strippers are fast and efficient. They beat the Lake Placid strippers hands down. Next it was off to the bag rack and, since there was no requirement that athletes go through the changing tents, I put my shoes, helmet and gloves on at the rack, handed off my wetsuit, swim cap, goggles and bag to a volunteer and headed for my bike. For some unknown reason, on my way to my bike rack, I reached back to check for my asthma inhaler (I tuck it into my back shirt pocket) and discovered it was gone. I panicked. Given the smoky conditions (we were warned to expect 6 miles of thick smoke on the bike near Vasseaux Lake) there was a good chance I was going to need that inhaler (and the filter mask I was carrying too!!). I had no choice but to turn around and head back to the transition area. When I got there, a volunteer was waiting for me: the wetsuit strippers saw the inhaler lying on the ground and gave it to a volunteer with, apparently, instructions to be on the lookout for a frantic woman. That was me. After thanking the volunteer, I again headed to the bike.
The bike racks were arranged in a big "U" with the low-numbered pros at the top of one arm of the U and the amateurs following them in order by number. Because the amateur numbers were assigned first by sex (all males then all females) and youngest to oldest within each sex, the highest numbers (that is, the oldest women) were racked directly next to the pros, at the top of other arm of the U. I thoroughly checked out the pros' bikes when I racked mine on Saturday: the pros are probably still washing my drool off their bikes. The first mile or so of the bike is in town and I flew past tons of spectators thoroughly enjoying myself. The first 40 miles of the bike is rolling hills (with the exception of one short but steep get-out-of-your-saddle-and-climb hill around 9 miles) through peach fields and wineries. Just before the 40 mile mark the course takes a sharp right turn through the Husky station parking lot and the real work begins: Richter Pass. Richter Pass is three long and fairly steep climbs interrupted by 2 short plateaus. Altogether, it is 10k long. There was complete silence here: everyone was working hard. After Richter Pass there is more climbing. In fact, the climbing keeps on going to mile 92, Yellow Lake, which is the highest point on the course. I had been warned by veterans of this race that the climb to Yellow Lake would really hurt, that I would be wishing I had another gear. I actually didn't think it was that bad. In fact, when I got to the top I was thinking, "That's it?!?!" The neat thing about the Yellow Lake climb is that it is on a two-lane section of road. Since one lane is coned off for the race, the vehicle traffic only has one lane. That means that traffic in one direction is stopped while traffic in the opposite direction is on the lane and the people in the stopped traffic get out of their cars and cheer the cyclists up the climb. Maybe that's why I didn't feel much pain on that climb. After Yellow Lake it's all down hill - really downhill. I was doing 56 miles an hour on curving mountain roads in strong crosswinds. This was not for the faint of heart!! Once I got back into Penticton, I had the wind in my face to the finish and the wind was strong. I was in my small chain ring and working (and passing people!!). I finished the bike 52 minutes faster than last year. I was (and still am) ecstatic.
After a visit to the changing tent and the porta-loo, I was off. Unfortunately, my legs (actually, my entire body) weren't ready to run so I walked and stretched for a bit. Finally, I picked up the pace after a quarter mile or so. Because the run course was three loops of 8.75 miles completely within town, there were spectators lining every inch of the course. The course went by our motel six times and Richard was out there with the camera each time. (Actually, he admits that he had come out the first time hoping to catch me as I came in on the bike and was shocked to see me running already). I walked/ran the first loop with an Australian woman but she proved too fast for me so I got dropped before the start of the second loop. What the run course lacked in hills (there were no hills whatsoever), was countered by the boring "scenery." I mean, how excited can you get about seeing the local Wall Mart six times? Around the halfway point of the second loop I totally lost my concentration and started walking far more that I was running. In fact, I walked the entire last loop. Finally the finish line approached. As with last year, it was magic. The announcer shouting my name and hometown, telling the crowd that I had done Lake Placid last year and the crowd cheering. I love the IM finish.
I love IM. I love the training and I love the race. For me, the race is a celebration of the training. That said, I realize that I was blessed again: I was happy all day and able to finish with a big smile. Yes, I had negative thoughts as I was freezing in the water. Yes I am angry with myself for being lazy and walking when I could have run. No, I didn't have the race I want and feel I am capable of having. But I never hit the point of questioning why I was doing this race or of wanting to quit, and I had no mechanical or physical problems. And, I experienced the magic of the finish line again. With luck and good training (and an understanding husband) I'll experience it again next year.