I stepped into the slightly choppy and cool waters of Alta Lake on race morning with quiet confidence. Over the past six weeks, the pieces of the puzzle had finally begun falling into place for me and all I had to do was push them together. It seemed simple enough.
Moments after the gun blasted, I followed my training partner, Tracy, into deeper water and dove in. Almost immediately I felt the swirl of the draft pull me along. Slightly ahead of me, I could see her feet kicking away as they stuck out from the bottoms of her black and purple lined wetsuit. I kicked ahead towards her and hung on. Ever so often I would look just slightly upwards to follow along. By the last turn buoy on the second lap though, I lost her and was greeted by a chaos of bodies. I was forced to fight my way through to open water as I practically grabbed legs and other body parts to move them out of my way. The second lap was tougher and slower as I worked harder to sight and fight myself through the water.
When my hands finally hit the grainy, wet sand back towards shore, I looked down at my watch and was ecstatic to see a 1:12 time. This was an incredible start to the day – I couldn’t wait to get on my bike.
Almost immediately after turning right onto Highway 99, I felt a kick of wind. I knew this was going to be a challenging ride. By the time I was 120 kilometres in and riding the flats in Pemberton, I could really feel the wind and heat. Cruising along at a respectably quick pace without too much exertion was a good sign that the ride back would be tough. And, adding to the impending misery, I was also beginning to feel waves of nausea hit me like a ton of bricks. I brushed it off thinking I was sick of drinking warm, goopy, sugary concentrate. Then again, perhaps it was also some foreshadowing I should not have ignored.
After climbing back into Whistler through hot hell and wind, I hit the ground, literally running. For the first few kilometres I was in a comfortable pace ensuring not to go out too fast. Then a few kilometres later, that wave of nausea came back to haunt me with a wrenching pain that sat on top of my gut like a large, hard rock. I was not long into my marathon and I was already growing anxious with what this would mean for the rest of my day. The run had been my downfall last year, I was hell bent on not letting that happen again.
At the next aid station, I hurled myself into a porta-potty and proceeded to hurl out my guts. I was shocked at the amount of liquid that seemed to pour out of me, and in a variety of colours. I was worried about losing that much water but I had to get rid of the pain. Once I was sure there was nothing left, I hurled myself back out the door and onto the run course. My cadence picked back up and I felt like a new person – smiling and ready to rock it.
It was about 15 kilometres later when the hard, large and painful rock in my gut came back. The nausea slowly creeped back in too and the pain started to feel intolerable. Again, I hurled out my guts but this time it did nothing to help. My pace was slowing and I knew my body was quitting on me. Eventually, I was reduced to a walk. At times, I held my arms above my head, then massaged my guts, then tried to eat or drink, but there was no reprieve. I couldn’t keep anything down and my race went from competing to survival.
For the kilometres that I walked, I carried a heavy burden. While slowly watching the time on my watch tick away, I felt like someone was ripping at my heart. There were waves of nausea, coupled by waves of disappointment, followed by seizing in my legs. Learning how to embrace disappointment and carry on is a difficult thing to do.
With about 9 kilometres to go, as the pain had mildly subsided, I gave myself no other option but to run. Every pounding step ached in my legs, in my heart, in my guts, yet I was not willing to walk another step. The finish chute, when it finally came, was anti climatic – I just wanted it to be over. I held my head high, shoulders back, smiled, and high-fived complete strangers, but I could barely raise my arms at the finish line.
In the days after my race, I have struggled immensely with a darkness of disappointment. What was supposed to be a massive PB day for me ended in heartache. Looking back on my day, I now know that I made a costly tactical error in my hydration and nutrition. My body shut down because of a mistake that I made. That is a difficult realization to come to. My journey to the start line of Ironman this year was not just about the past eight months, it was about the past four years – four years of dedication, sacrifice and bloody hard work. I had a different ending that I had rehearsed in my mind, not this one.
If you had asked me while I was out walking on that course what my next plans for racing would be, I would have told you, firstly to fuck off (yes, I was in a dark place) and secondly that I was never going to swim, bike or run ever again. Even a couple days ago, I would have called this race and myself a failure. Today, after looking at this experience with a much clearer and more rational mind, I’m celebrating what did go right and I’m embracing this mistake as a learning opportunity and I’m moving on. “Success does not consist in never making mistakes but in never making the same one a second time.” I can’t wait to get back on the horse and try again.