Ironman Canada 2003
"I need to dispel the rumors" Graham Frasier announced to 2000 Ironman triathletes at a special pre-race athletes meeting on Thursday evening. "The race is NOT cancelled due to the Kelowna fire. It will go through".
As I sat on the grass in Gyro Park breathing in smoke from the nearby forest fires my immediate and somewhat intuitive thought was that Graham appeared to be overconfident. I was certain that the worst was still yet to come.
So, of course the worst came. By Friday afternoon a new fire started near Vaseux lake, only a few miles from Penticton at almost the exact same time as winds in the area unexpectedly grew to 30 gusting 50km per hour! Unfortunately, high winds don't blow forest fires out like birthday candles. Instead, both the new Vaseux fire and the Kelowna fire exploded. The highway and a key section of the Ironman bike route was closed. All athletes staying in the nearby towns of Okanagan Falls were on 1 hour evacuation notice. That night over 200 homes burnt to the ground in Kelowna. Things were looking pretty grim. And then the power went out in Penticton, and all of the businesses were forced to close their doors. Including the restaurants as 2000 hungry athletes and their families hunted for some dinner.
By Friday night, Graham Frasier was writing his race cancellation speech. It would have been unprecedented - never before in Ironman history has a race been cancelled for any reason. He was loosing volunteers and medical personnel to fire fighting efforts, the highway and part of the bike route was closed, and there was concern over the health hazard of over 2000 triathletes becoming smokers during the Ironman.
It seems that evilness comes in waves. That same day on a training ride through town I came the closest I have ever come to getting hit by a car. It was an elderly gentleman turning left across traffic into a strip mall. The only obstacle stopping him from getting into the strip mall parking lot was me (and my bike). He evidently saw an opening in traffic while not seeing me and totally gunned it. His front bumper missed my back tire by an inch as I skidded sideways in a really cool Starsky and Hutch move. I got off my bike shaking and stood on the sidewalk trying to breath deep and calm down.
But what a difference a day makes. I think the evil wave passed. Saturday morning saw the sun shine for the first time in weeks. The wind died and changed direction clearing the skies of smoke and allowing fire fighters to work the night through to open the highway for Ironman. With some last minute changes in the swim and run course to accommodate a limited number of volunteers, the race was back on!
My swim was predictably slow - 1 hour and 14 minutes (a sucky 61% in my age group), but it was the easiest swim I've ever had in an Ironman distance race. When the start cannon went off, I dashed as far as I could go to the left and swam the clockwise loop on the outside near the support canoes. I had clean, clear water all to myself the entire swim.
The 180 km bike ride over two passes was downright pleasant except for having to get off my bike to pee 6 times! Note to self: go easy on the water the day before! I was trying out a new hydration/nutrition plan which consisted of a half flask of Hammer Gel http://www.hammergel.com (about 300 calories) each hour, 20 oz of water per hour and 4 electrolyte replacement tablets per hour. My energy seemed very consistent through the bike race allowing me to finish strong with a personal best time of 5:36 which put me at top 18% of my age group.
About the only real problem all day was the stomach stitch when I started the run. I've been having this similar problem since I started Ironman distance races. It seems that my diaphragm is somehow effected in my hunched over bike position such that when I stand up and start to run, it cramps up and causes some very uncomfortable pains while running. My first hour or so was a slow jog trying to rid myself of the stomach cramps. Luckily, they went away (as they always eventually do) and I steadily picked up the pace throughout the remainder of the marathon. I finished the 26 mile run in a somewhat disappointing 4 hours 6 minutes which was good for a top 26% finish.
I crossed the finish line 6 minutes short of breaking the 11 hour mark with a total time of 11 hours, 6 minutes putting me at the top 24% of my age group. Almost 30 minutes off my last years Ironman Canada time - very cool, but still a good 45 minutes from Hawaii qualifying times. I still have a lot of work to do, but I'm slowly making progress.
In the finishers area, I met up with my buddy Greg who also chalked up a personal best of 11 hours, 18 minutes. We compared blisters (I'll lose at least 3 toe nails this race), then I went out to meet up with Helen and the kids. I told Helen to make dinner reservations for 6:00 sharp as motivation to finish in under 11 hours. I missed that by 6 minutes.
Unfortunately, this evil wave did not dissipate for some. The next day we read that there was one bike accident which resulted in an overnight hospital stay for one unlucky female triathlete. A call from home that day informed us it was my good friend Tammy Wing who was hit from behind at an aid station, crashed hard, and suffered a badly broken ankle. And nobody knows who hit her - the culprit took off before anyone could get the race number. What a trooper Tammy is though - from her hospital bed, she made her boyfriend line up at 8:00 am the morning after the race to sign her up for next year!
After one heck of a LONG, action packed summer, I'll be taking a couple of weeks off from training. I have a half marathon in Banff at the end of September and full marathon in October in which I'll make another attempt to qualify for Boston marathon. Next year, both Helen and I are signed up for Ironman Idaho and Ironman Canada where I will hopefully continue to chisel away at my finishing times.
The Elite ready for ACTION
Krista and Iron Dad (rehydrating at Salty's)
Ironman Canada 2003 swim start