The end of an era

This weekend began a new era of cycling in my triathlon journey as I made the switch over from a roadie to a tri bike. Since clipping in on Saturday I’ve put in over 100 kilometres in the saddle, and I think I’m in love. It’s sleek and quick and light and it’s molded to me like a glove. But this new love has come at the expense of my old flame. This week’s post isn’t about breaking through barriers, or new challenges, or epic journeys, but about remembering Red Lightning, one of the most important partners I’ve had along the way.
He was once the light that shone brightly and mighty. He was old, but full of life, and I loved him. Now he sits, torn apart and left behind like a broken lamp that has no home. I stripped his wheels, pedals and saddle, then left him there in his fading blaze of glory. As I walked past him this morning, I felt an unusual and most abnormal feeling of grief. Together we have conquered mountains. We have crashed together, cried together and laughed together. I’ve yelled at him and spoke softly to him. We have had bonding sessions before races, and I even hugged him after races. But most importantly during those races we could drop faster, sleeker, prettier, and pricer bikes, because together Red Lightning and I were unstoppable. He was my first road bike and in some way I feel that since we started the journey together we should end it together, but alas sometimes change is good. It seems so silly to become attached to an inanimate object, yet in a year of so many challenges and first experiences, it’s hard not to feel that connection. It does become part of the experience and, for the most part, he fared me very well. Together we rode more than 1,500 kilometres, climbed more than 15,000 metres, raced in six triathlons, called one taxi home, crashed twice and conquered the biggest challenges of my triathlon journey. I know this isn’t the end of his road, perhaps maybe it’s just a break, but nonetheless I feel it’s important that at this juncture to look back on the memories. Nonetheless, no matter where the road goes, he’ll always have a place in my heart and together we will ride again, it will just be a different journey.

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The long and delirious road home

Holy shit. Holy shit. These were the only words I could mutter out in delirium as I lay spread out in the back of my air conditioned car. My legs were burning, but somehow wanted to keep going; my skin was burning, like it was on fire; and my ass felt like it had been sitting on a steel pole for days. This is the aftermath of the biggest cycling adventure of my life, from Kamloops to Merritt and back again, totalling just under 200 kilometres in the scorching interior heat. It kicked my ass, and I learned a lot about myself, proper sunscreen application and hydration.
For the first 50 kilometres to Logan Lake I partnered up with a couple of the girls in the group and we coasted together in somewhat broken unison, drafting behind one another, then spinning separately, rejoining to chat side by side, and then flying down hills like children let loose after school. The scenery along the route was breathtaking, and the calmness of nature surrounding us made me entirely forget about what lie ahead. With each passing lake I would stare off at the glassy motionless surface, only to be interrupted by soaring birds, or floating butterflies. I had my iPod plugged in, yet the sounds of the world just waking up was too beautiful to be overtaken by my music.
As we descended upon our first pit stop in Logan Lake, the team regrouped to rehydrate and refuel before saddling up again for the next 50 kilometres to Merritt.
Part of the group took off ahead with three of us lagging behind enjoying the new stretch of road before us. Once again the landscape was incredibly calming and pristine. As we watched the group cycle in unison ahead three stunningly graceful deer pranced across the highway just in front of them. They must have been frantically trying to avoid collision with the oncoming bikes, but from my perspective, they just looked peaceful and majestic.
For the next stretch in our journey I would chase the group through the winding, rolling valley; tucking into TT, flying around the bends and absorbing the landscape before me.
Coming into Merritt I felt a little tired, but mostly strong, and exceptionally happy to hit the halfway mark where we could once again refuel, rehydrate and relax. Like toads sunning on a log we splayed out in front of the Husky station, eating foods high in sugar and salt, while some of the smart ones re-slathered lotions and lubricants. Within a few minutes, the rest of the gang who started later in the day arrived to join us and our little group had grown.
Ready to hit the road again for the final 95 kilometres we started off as a pack, drafting in perfect unison. We were maintaining a solid speed, and I felt comfortable that we would stick together at this pace for the journey home. Yet, slowly the pack started to wean as the fast ones picked up their speed and one group became two. More stunning scenery lay out before us, but within a few kilometres of hitting the highway it was rudely interrupted by the constant roar of erratic semi trucks barreling down the road. At times I wondered if they even saw  the pack of tiny cyclists on the barely-there shoulder beside them. I was terrified; one slight, wrong move to the left and we would have become pancakes beneath wheels that seemed to tower over us. If it came down to it, I would have leaped into the ditch to avoid such demise. As each roar came up behind me, my shoulders hunched in feared apprehension and it was all I could do to not close my eyes and veer off the road. As cyclists, we will always be on the losing end of a battle with any type of vehicle. Our lives are at risk on the open road, and accidents can happen because drivers are reckless and careless, which usually stems from impatience. It seems foolish but it happens, and so we ride with caution, and sometimes even fear. Unfortunately, this seemed to set the tone for the rest of my ride. I was rattled and I continued to unravel as the kilometres ticked away. I started to feel tired, my legs were feeling heavy, I could feel myself slowing. I was becoming less and less happy, and I wanted to burst into tears. Usually this is a sign of bonking, and that you need to refuel and fast, but even the happy colours of gummy bears, a gel and a chocolate bar couldn’t save me. For the first time I started to feel the heat of the sun bearing down on me and realized how dehydrated I felt. Two of my group mates realized I was on my dying last legs and told me that with 52 more kilometres to go that I had no choice but to keep on going. For the remainder of the ride they rode along with me, even as we slowed to a turtle’s pace, and even as I cursed at the world for really nothing in particular, and spat back up water all over myself. I drafted in behind them, while at some points Vince even literally pushed me along. The pain continued to intensify as my legs started to cramp and I could feel every pang within my body start to scream. The heat burned me into somewhat of a delirious state where the side of road began to look like moving waves and my training partner’s voices just began to muffle with the wind. I couldn’t quite think straight and at that point I don’t quite know how I was keeping my bike straight. Then I started questioning my insanity, and if I really had it in me to become an Ironman. Then I began to have a yelling match in my head and nothing really quite made sense. The only thing that brought me back to reality was a soaring eagle that landed with so much grace and power on the beach just beside us that I found a kick within my legs for one brief fleeting moment. Then it was back in my head where I began to repeat to myself, “home, home, home,” yet all I could think about was Cardiac Hill – our final climb of the day, which was slowly approaching. With more than 180k behind me and perhaps a bit of heat stroke kicking my ass, I was thinking about every which way this hill was going to live up to its name and actually kill me. So, when it finally did appear, curse words fumbled from my clumsy mouth, and Vince gave me words of encouragement like he was leading me into battle. With his hand on my back, he literally helped push me up that entire god damned mountain. Even as I sucked back oxygen like a dying cat and made horrible dry heaving sounds, he continued to push and continued to tell me that quitting wasn’t an option. My body screamed in agony and I yelled back to him that whatever my legs were doing, moving or not, it was all I had.
By the time we reached the top, I literally toppled off my bike and lay in a heap on the side of the highway. At first I was certain I would not get up as the earth spun around me, and I struggled to sit upright. I sat there with my head in my hand for only a minute or two before I finally decided I was no longer interested in hearing my internal voice whine any longer. So, with that I got to my feet, clipped in and carried on for what would be the longest 12k of my life back to home base.
We were out on the road for about nine hours, with a total riding time of 7 hours and 45 minutes. I can say without a doubt this was the biggest mental and physical challenge of my life. I learned that applying sunscreen more than once in a nine hour day is essential and that it should cover every last inch of your body. I learned that my bum is not as cushiony as it looks, and that eating a Snickers doesn’t always morph you back into your normal self. More importantly though, I learned how far I will push myself. For 52 kilometres I battled one of the toughest mental fights of my life – to give up or keep going. I chose the only option I’ve ever known – put on those big girl panties and keep going. Looking back on the journey, I have no regrets. It was a fantastic learning experience and now I’m that much more prepared for when I do it again.

Race weekend! Oliver 1-54-10

I looked out upon the glassy, calm lake to see the sun reflecting brightly upon the yellow buoys marking my conquest for this morning. It was a beautiful morning for a race, but my nerves were firing into overdrive and I could barely stand still long enough to enjoy the scenery or pull up my wetsuit. Out of the corner of my eye I could see hundreds of seal-like people milling around the starting line; some warming up, some dancing around, some looking just as bouncy and jittery as I felt. I stood there on the other side of the chaos for just a few minutes longer pulling my wetsuit tight to my neck and ensuring that the sausage casing was wrapped around my body perfectly. Once I was satisfied and no longer felt the need to poke and pull on my second skin, I took a few deep breaths and plunged into the cool yet welcoming water to flap around. Satisfied that everything felt right I sauntered over towards the crowd where the pulsating rhythms of everyone’s nerves, adrenaline, terror and excitement pulled me in. The amazing thing about all the people you race with are the stories. Everyone has their own reason for being here; their own story, and their own failures and triumphs. For many people it will be their first race, and for others it will be just one of many. Yet most of us all have the same feelings that cycle through our minds and bodies just minutes before the starting horn blares.
In the sea of people, I managed to find my training partners and I couldn’t have felt more relieved yet overcome with emotion. Like everyone else we all have our own stories, and over the past six months we’ve been through it all together. For Vince, this would be his first half iron race; for me my longest (1-54-10); and for Yvonne, Mel, Mo, Tracy, Karen, and Pat, this was one of many they have done before, but it would still be new to them in their own ways, with different challenges and different goals.
Like a parade of seals we congregated around, posing for last minute photo ops, hugging, and talking swim position strategy before sauntering to our starting positions. Slowly we stopped talking and everyone focused on their own plan and absorbed themselves in their own minds. We had come to the starting line as a team, but we would now rely on ourselves to get to the finish line.
As we counted down the final seconds, I glanced around one more time to see the familiar faces beside me before the horn blared and like a blur we all meshed into a heap of flailing arms, thrashing legs and bobbing heads churning up the water. Hands punched me in the head, feet flicked at my face, and arms slapped against my back. I just boogied along, focused on getting around the buoys and back to the beach as fast I could all the while doing what I always do during the swim, repeat the wise words of Dory the fish, “just keep swimming , just keep swimming…”
As I rounded the second buoy I began to sight the beach and meshed in with the crowd to charge through the home stretch. It wasn’t long after that when my hands began to touch sand, and I took a few last strokes before clambering to my feet and flip flopping up along the beach. Then it was along the road where I would run another 500 metres to transition all the while pulling down my wetsuit and tearing off my cap and goggles. By the time I reached transition, I was exhausted and breathing like an exasperated woman in labour. With only one sport down, I figured now would be a good time to bring the heart rate down just enough so I could peel my wetsuit over my ankles, slap on my helmet and grab Red Lightning. Once I settled into my pace on the bike and shot myself pull of carbs and fluids, I found my rhythm and hunkered down for the 54 kilometre ride.
I felt strong. With all the miles and hill climbing Maurice tested us on during training, I knew I was well prepared. As I ticked off the kilometres, slowly the leaders from my training group, finished their 2 kilometre swim and began to catch me on the bike. They whizzed by, and I could barely muster any words, so I just dropped my head and churned my bulky legs a little bit harder, knowing I would never catch them, but at least I could chase them.

As I rounded the final corner and headed into my final transition I hopped off my bike, lost a shoe in the process, and just kept going. With Red Lightning racked back up, I remembered a last minute transition tip from Yvonne to slip on my shoes, grab my gels, race belt and hat, and get out of there.
The run course was empty and lonely. The half iron competitors were still on the bike, and my competition was far enough out of sight ahead or behind me. As I ran up past the iconic voice of Steve King, I could hear him rattle off my swim, bike and transition times, and about my journey of raising money for MS. It was the inspiration I needed to find a jump in my step as I moved my clunky legs a little bit faster. After turning down an empty neighboured road I found myself completely isolated and within half way of my run, I got lost. There was no clear markings and somehow I found myself down a trail that eventually seemed not so much a part of the course. I was confused and frustrated, firstly at myself for not knowing the route better but secondly at the race organizers for not clearly marking the course. It wasn’t long before I reconnected with a path that got me back on the right trail, but nonetheless I’m almost positive I took a small detour. It was enough to throw off my entire race, and I was angry for the entire second half of my run. My watch didn’t start properly, so I had no idea what my pace was or even how far I detoured. When I crossed the finish line, I felt more rattled by my deviance that I couldn’t even celebrate my achievement. I placed second female overall, but I will never know how far off my time was from my little escapade off the beaten path. It was almost enough to bring me to tears, then I remembered the story of when my dad once got lost on a triathlon run course, and I laughed in spite of myself. I took a few minutes to gather my emotions before running over to transition where I saw Yvonne coming off the bike, and I forgot everything about the past three hours.
One by one each of my training partners flew in on their bikes, and shot off on their run. Seeing them compete was all I needed to re-focus my energy and celebrate their successes. For the next two hours, I stood at the turnaround point of the run course and watched them all absolutely dominate this race. My energy was alive again, and I was overcome with pride. Each of them had a phenomenal showing, or as coach puts it, “excellent execution.” At the finish line as they all trickled in, we hugged and shared our triumphs, back together again just as before the race began. Each one faced their own battles and endured their own stories, but we came back together as a team and our experiences were celebrated as one.
10439029_10202940540487660_2134804175558332296_nIf you ask me about my race weekend in Oliver, chances are I’ll tell you all about my amazing training partners, and what they accomplished that day. Truth be told, I don’t really even remember much about my race, only that I got to finish with some of the most amazing athletes and people I have come to know. I learned that sometimes it’s ok to let go of the competition and the expectation that things will be perfect on race day. I also learned celebrating someone else’s success is just as rewarding as your own, if not, better.

Thanks to Katrina for the amazing photos!