The air outside was chilly, the sides of the road were still covered with remnants of hard compact snow and the lakes were frigid enough to freeze you to the core, yet on a winter February day in Canada, it was race day.
With four teammates on a relay team we had to swim 300 metres around four large buoys in the pool, spin for 6.6K, run one mile on the indoor track, tag your partner and repeat. The course was short, but it was fast and the competition was unexpectedly fierce. In the hours leading up to the race that morning, many of us had already put in a full shift of training. We thought the race would be more about the fun and silly costumes than actually racing each other, but once that horn blasted, it was on.
The mass of swimmers churned up the pool like a surging motor boat kicking up a wave of white capped water. The draft seemed to propel everyone at an even speed cornering around the first buoy and then the second. Some bodies headed towards collision while others practically swam over each other. As they rounded the third buoy the lead swimmers quickly torpedoed away from the pack and the slower ones began to lose the momentum of drafting off the toes in front of them. Our first relay team member was surging out in front at a comfortable and incredibly quick pace. She seemed to almost skim across the water as she lapped the other swimmers with a calm, yet powerful stroke. As she drove towards the final stretch we all ran to the end of the deck and yelled with enthusiasm as we chased her out the door and into the gym. Like giddy kids with huge grins on our faces and endless laughter we cheered her on with each lightning fast rotation of the crank. The distance was short, but it was full steam ahead.
In just over 10 minutes, the kilometres ticked down to final decimal point, and with a somewhat clumsily hop, she jumped off the bike and bolted towards the track with the second and third place team closing in quickly behind her. Rounding the first lap, we showered on the encouragement and she powered by with a huge grin on her face. Never have I seen someone working so hard and having so much fun all at the same time.
As she rounded the last corner of the lap, our second teammate was tagged and we all ran behind him as he took off towards the pool and leaped into the water. Again, our enthusiasm followed our teammate around each lap of the pool, cheering for him to go faster. Then it was back in the gym, onto the bike, then onto the track, before it was my turn.
I was having so much fun cheering on my teammates, and caught up in the excitement, I almost forgot I would have to participate. Suddenly I felt a flurry of nerves rise into my throat and a rush of adrenaline creep into my fingertips. But without much more time to think about it, my teammate flew up to me for the tag and like the madness of the race I was off.
I surged through the water, feeling like a savage blood thirsty shark, cranking my way around the buoys and fuelled by adrenaline. But the fuel slowly began to taper on the second lap and my arms started to feel a bit heavier, my breathing intensified and I was forced to slow down or risk drowning myself. It caught me off guard. I swim these distances for warm up and generally at a much faster pace, but with the morning workout behind me, I wasn’t prepared for full bore. Life seemed to move in slow motion.
As I passed the final buoy for the final time, I saw the wall closing in and quickly tried to determine how I would get out of the water. Even with the deck at water level, I feared my arms wouldn’t be able to hoist me out. Perhaps I could launch myself like a beached whale and maybe roll towards the door, but I was narrowing in on my window for making a decision so without much more thought I simply planted my two hands down and miraculously pushed myself out and onto my feet. There was certainly room for error but I managed to make it happen. Next it was off to the gym where I threw on my shoes with exasperated heavy breathing before dashing over to the spin bike and letting my legs fly, almost as if they would pop out of my hip sockets.
It was just go, go, go – heart pounding, lungs heaving, everything moving at a million miles a second. Then it was, 6.4, 6.5, 6.6, slow the pedals just enough to jump off without tumbling over and drunkenly wobble onto the track. Just as I did with the swim I bolted away with adrenaline pushing me to go faster, but this time the lead settled in my legs and I sighed desperately wondering if I could make it eight times around this short track.
With each lap, I could hear my friends cheering me on and cow bell banging in the background. Their energy inspired me to briefly kick it up a notch before slowing down a little and then faster and then slower. The voices in my head then started to chime in, “do not stop, do not slow down, do not puke.” Finally I hit the final lap and the only surge of energy I had left was inspired by the fact the pain was almost over. With my partner in sight, I reached as far as I could, as if to not take any more steps than necessary, passed along the tag and proceeded to bend over my knees to catch my breath before running to cheer him on.
For one final time, we would run around like happy kids, cheering with excitement on the pool deck, then the spin bike and the track before he hit the final lap. As he narrowed in on the last 50 metres, sprinting with an energy I didn’t think was possible, we all tried to keep up and join him in crossing the line as a team and in third place.
This was one of those races where all the fears and nerves of a typical race day are replaced by wide grins and laughter. Where race kits involve purple wigs, tutus and stick-on moustaches, and the spirit and camaraderie of our sport shines brightly. Training for Ironman certainly has its days of blisters, blood, aches, pains, sweat, and tears, but for every one of those, there are a few more like this one – fun, happy, and invigorating.