And the day is here…

To sit down and try to summarize all my thoughts, emotions, and retrospects from the past two years is a challenging task. For the first time in this journey, I’m finding myself at a loss for words. Part of the problem is that my emotions jump from one to the next in mere minutes – smiles to tears, laughter to screams – so it’s hard to say what I’m thinking. The butterflies come and go, so does the anxiety, fears, and even some excitement. I’m still not sure that I’ve quite grasped the magnitude of what I’m about to tackle tomorrow – swim 3.8K, bike 180, then run a marathon- it sounds like a bit like insanity, even to me. But what has been reiterated to me time and time again, is that the work is done. All I can do from here until race start is rest, shut off the brain and trust in the journey I’ve been on. Trust that everything I went through was a part of the bigger plan to get me here. The meningitis that delayed my first half ironman, the knee injury that threatened to end the dream, the popped out ribs, the colds, the heat stroke, bleeding toes, blisters, sun burns, and all the other cuts, scrapes, bruises and obstacles, were all a part of growing me into the person I needed to be to do this thing.
I still remember when I first told people I would do an Ironman. My dad looked at me with suspicion and said, “that is a really big race.” Some of my friends also gave me the same looks of suspicions, yet they smiled and nodded that I could do it. So, off I went – like an eager kid, hopping in with both feet and never looking back. Now here I am, less than 12 hours from hearing that start cannon – it’s a bit surreal.
Over the past few days, with all the buzzing of energy, sleepless nights, and unpredictable emotions, there has been one constant in my life – the support and it’s been that way since day one. Triathlon may be an individual sport, and on race day I have only myself to rely on to get me from point A to point B, but there is no denying that there are many people who have been by my side, believing, even when I doubted myself, that I could and would do this thing.
First and foremost, I would not have even stepped foot into this sport if it wasn’t for the three most important role models in my life, my mom, dad and big brother. My love for sport and competition, and relentless determination and stubbornness comes from one of three places and I have them to thank for telling me I could do whatever I set my heart out to do, even if it was Ironman. Through the journey they have been on the other end of the line to hear it all, to cheer me on, and to build me up when I was down. I also couldn’t forget the love of my sister-in-law who, despite not understanding anything about the sport, would often send me text messages full of Ironman related questions and words of encouragement. Her curiosity of my insanity oftentimes made me smile and I loved sharing my stories with her.

Then there have been my friends, who may never truly understand why I do what I do, but have been every step of the way. Whether it was coming to cheer me on at one of the world’s worst spectator sports, randomly volunteering at my races just to get closer to the action, talking to me about my training for hours on phone, or tracking me online – knowing you were there rooting for me every step of the way meant the world. I am especially grateful to those who made the journey to Whistler to sport a neon yellow ‘Team Couch’ support crew shirt and cheer me on for however many hours of the day this thing will take me.

I also can’t look back on these past two years and not think about my training partners, who have not only become friends, but my second family. I couldn’t possibly single any of them out because each of them has offered me something unique and priceless – from many words of wisdom, to shared tools, bike parts, tires and wheels, to shared homes, food, drinks, laughs, cries, dinners, hotel rooms, trips to Kona, chats in the hot tub, chats on the curb, and so much love. Their support over the past two years has been nothing short of incredible and inspiring. I will be thinking of each of them on race day and everything they taught me leading up to tomorrow. I could not have found a better group to go through this roller coaster with me.

Then there is coach. Before Maurice, I learned what I could from online videos, blogs and books, but his knowledge, expertise and ‘rain man’ way of looking at this sport was truly special and it’s because of him and his training program that I got to this day. Although he often said things I could only smile and nod at, he was able to look at my journey in a way I could never have comprehended. There were also times when I cursed his name. But in the end, he cared about us as athletes, and he went through every up and down with me, making damn sure I got here in one piece. I couldn’t possibly thank him enough for his patience when I chose to do keg stands instead of bike rides, for playing hockey or ball when I should have been resting, and for allowing me to ask all the dumb questions in the world. He has been one hell of a coach.
And speaking of coaches, I’ll never forget the woman who would teach me all the fundamentals I needed to know about swimming. Teresa was the one who helped get me from one end the pool to the other, and eventually into my very first open water swim. You never forget those moments or how they contributed to the overall success of my swimming.
In one last shout out, I couldn’t forget all the medical professionals I encountered along the road. From my massage therapist, to chiropractors, my athletic trainer, and hospital staff in Victoria – I saw some of them more than I had wanted, but they played an integral role in making sure I got here alive and in one piece.
As I turn off the light and try to shut off the buzz that invades my head, I will take one final thought with me, “It’s lack of faith that makes people afraid of meeting challenges, and I believed in myself.”

The final push

Just over a week ago, I dragged my body in my front door, passed out on the couch and didn’t wake up for almost ten hours. My body was beaten. There was chaffing in places I didn’t know could chafe, there was tender skin where there used to be toenails, I had blood stained socks, clothes so soaked in sweat and mud they could only be described as hazardous materials, and muscles that would scream if I put them near a bicycle or tried to make them to walk too swiftly downstairs.

Two weekends ago I packed up my bags with my training crew for one final push of training at Whistler. One final suffer grinder fest of a weekend. For four days, we trained, ate, slept, moaned, groaned, stretched, and otherwise tried to discover new ways to work out the pain of sore, tired muscles. Between Friday morning and Monday afternoon, we logged more than 500 kilometres on our bikes, stomping on the pavement, and flailing through the water. We endured tough elements with daily relentless headwinds, white caps on the lake, smoky skies, torrential downpours and even some heat from the glaring sun. There were workouts that had me in tears, screaming in pain, cursing at Mother Nature, and otherwise questioning my sanity. I lived mostly on a diet of liquid sugar – gels, powders, and gummies. I craved salt and longed for real food. Some nights I slept like a baby, other nights I tossed and turned, unable to find comfort. With each passing morning I would wake up more weary, wobbly and hobbly than the last. It was a massively intense weekend – I couldn’t wait to taper. But like all the crazy weekend workouts our coach plans there is always a rhyme and a reason for it. Sometimes it’s not abundantly clear, sometimes you have to search for the method behind his madness, but on this weekend, in particular on the second day, it became quite obvious.
In the morning we rode down to Pemberton and out through the meadows to the turn around point. From there, we did a time trial back into town before breaking at the gas station, then time trialling back up into Whistler – a total of 130K. Once back at our hotel, we rested for about an hour, only able to consume nutrition we would have on race day, before heading out on a 21K run. As I stepped out of the front lobby, a torrential downpour started beating off the pavement. We were in for a wet, cold adventure.
For the first 5K or so, I hobbled along, not feeling well and blowing drops of cold water off my nose. It didn’t feel good, and I started to lose a bit of hope. Here I was on the run course, already doubting if I had it in me to complete the full race in just a couple short weeks. As we re-grouped before heading down the trail, I hoped to make it the full 21 without crawling back home. I sauntered off at my turtle pace behind the group, just doing what I could to keep moving. The kilometres were slowly ticking away, and with my head looking down most of the way, I really had no idea where we were going – I just sort of followed the feet in front of me. After about an hour I looked up for the first time and saw a wooden foot bridge crossing Green Lake. Instantly I recognized it from when I spectated at Ironman last year as one of the bridges on the run course. A smile spread wildly across my face. It finally dawned on me that I was on the race course and that in two weeks I would be back on that bridge competing at Ironman. It was in that moment that I recognized I was ready. I also recognized why coach dragged us all the way to Whistler for one last suffer fest – it was a chance to test ourselves and see firsthand the beast we would conquer. We would either find peace in knowing we were ready or run away screaming. I was grateful for the peace of mind.
If you had asked me the week before training camp if I was ready for the race, I would have shaken my head with an air of defeat. There were days when I would lie in bed crying in pain and wondering where I steered the ship wrong. My body felt done and I was almost positive my journey was not going to end the way I had hoped. Today is a much different story, and despite the challenge of that final training weekend, I’ll be forever grateful I endured it. Come race day, I’ll be looking for that wooden bridge and hoping it has another kick for me.

Redemption – Merritt Loop Round 2

Just like any other weekend morning, I was brewing away in my kitchen like a mad scientist, measuring and calculating calories and bottles of water, following a formula to ensure that I had enough to get me through a long ride. On this morning, I was fuelling up for the annual 200k Merritt Loop – a ride that just the previous year had kicked my ass. There really is no other way to describe the aftermath of what that ride did to me. I set out to as a Merritt Loop virgin to conquer the day and instead wound up being conquered, and sitting on the side of the road in delirium trying to figure out where I went wrong. The suffering began with about 50K still to go. My body decided that enough was enough, and for the rest of the journey, I wobbled to and fro, suffering with every stroke of the pedal. In the end, I was angry that I had failed, but in failing, I had learned. I learned the importance of calorie and hydration intake, I learned the key to pacing and above all, I learned how to suffer and survive – an extremely important learning lesson that you won’t find in any Ironman training handbook. Ever since that day, I have been seeking redemption, a chance to conquer that ride and to finish strong. I thought this was the year, so on this morning I had a prize in my eyes.
We hit the road just after 6am to give ourselves lots of time, and with a forecast of 35 degrees we wanted to minimize our time in the late afternoon heat. Just the same as last year, the ride from Kamloops to Logan Lake was calm and enjoyable. There were some gentle climbs to get us warmed up, and quick descents and rolling flats. As we arrived in Logan Lake, still bushy-tailed and bright-eyed, we laughed and swapped stories of the beautiful morning, and reminisced about the freezing cold we encountered at this exact location a couple months ago on our Tunkwa loop. This time we were happy to be warm and dry.
Once re-fuelled, we descended from Logan Lake along the windy stretch to Merritt. Sailing along the smooth curving pavement, we were treated to a gentle fresh morning breeze, the sights of deer and soaring birds, and an incredible tail wind that pushed me past speeds of 75 kilometres per hour. It was sheer joy – just the simple sound of my bike roaring against the pavement and the wind screaming past my ears.
As we stopped for the first time in a while just outside town I could feel the afternoon sun heating up, and as I looked behind us at the long stretch of road that had just been my playground, I realized we would be paying for the enjoyment later. As any veteran cyclist knows, a great tailwind out, means a great headwind home.

After refuelling in Merritt and taking a few minutes to stretch out our legs, we saddled back up for the journey home. With our bikes now facing east, I could instantly feel the hot, dry wind pushing back against us, almost as if challenging us to carry on. For almost 100 kilometres, we would trudge through 30 kilometre an hour headwinds, gusting to 45 in 35 degree desert heat. My neck began to tense, my shoulders began to ache, and the fun started to waver. Every stroke of the pedal felt like we were going up against a hurricane and the heat pouring down from the searing sun as we rode along the exposed asphalt made me feel as if I was melting. With about 30 kilometres to go, the pain within my aching muscles forced me to pull over more than I wanted, and it was in this moment I realized that on this day, redemption would not happen.
As we approached Cardiac Hill, the last, long steep climb of the day, I had vivid flashbacks to last year when Vince pushed me up this mountain. On this day, I longed for the push of his hand because there was a hint of possibility that I might either start going backwards or come to a standstill and then topple over to my death. As I started to pedal, I tried not to think, I tried not to look too far ahead, just pedal, one, two, three, one, two, three. The ache in my quads was excruciatingly painful. I still don’t know how I made it to the top, maybe I blacked out and an angel carried me, or maybe I just made it on pure insanity. Either way I made it, but it was not in the fashion I had hoped. As I pushed out the final rotations of the pedals, I practically fell off the bike and crumpled in a heap on the ground. If a picture was worth a thousand words, this one tells the whole story. There was no super hero pose or grandeur moment – just defeat.

We still had about 15 to 20 kilometres to go and at this moment we came to the stark realization that we had completely run out of water – there wasn’t even a drop. We were nomads in the desert and it was a dire situation. Even if I had water, I would not have wanted to drink it. I could no longer choke down anymore nutrition and even the thought of the water bottle touching my lips made me gag. Instead, I would opt to dry heave, my body revolting against the torture of Mother Nature beaming down upon us. For the remainder of the ride, I would mumble my words in a way that had me sounding like a drunken fool. Even when we had friends come out to meet us on the highway with ice cold water just outside town, I could barely choke it down before staggering back off on the road. I was desperate to finish and hell bent on not quitting. Damn that last 10k – it felt like the longest 10k of my life.
After almost nine hours in the saddle, and more than ten hours after setting out on the road, we finally arrived back home. I don’t even remember how I got off my bike – just walking in the door of my friend’s air conditioned house where we lay on the cold tiled kitchen floor moaning. I had a cold cranberry juice in one hand, a bottle of Advil in the other and a cold cloth pressed against my burning head. Redemption did not happen. I did not come out the victor- in fact I was a hot, pathetic mess.
The aftermath of this ride haunted me for nearly two days. Mother Nature was the victor and my demise came in the form of heat stroke that kept me shivering with a fever and riding out the waves of aches and pains. The adventure may not have ended how I wanted it to, but sometimes you just have to chalk it up as miles logged and another challenge finished. I guess I have a date with Cardiac Hill for next year because my redemption is now long overdue.