After spending two and half months off of running, my secret wish during every therapy session was to get on the start line of Subaru Ironman Canada. Once I started running again, I knew that I would have to train smarter, to be flexible with my routine and to maximize every single session. I have always said that success isn’t measured in victory alone but in all the bits and pieces that get you to the start and finish lines. I truly just wanted to be part of the Ironman race environment and crossing the finish line in first place was secondary to the privilege of racing.
Race week was a pretty good test of my ‘I am just happy to race’ mantra. It was a challenge to sit in interviews and press conferences as the ‘favorite’ and as the ‘runner’ wondering if those credentials still fit. It was easier to convince myself to be the best I could be when I was at home and out of the race environment. But, I didn’t give any control to the perceived pressure. There was no pressure. Naming me as a favorite and a good runner was a compliment. I rephrased any expectation to win as good wishes from people who cared about me.
Probably the neatest ‘good wish’ that I received came from Doug Alward, a friend of Terry Fox. Terry is a Canadian hero who ran a marathon each day with the goal of running across Canada to raise money for cancer. He had lost his leg to cancer and was doing this epic run with a prosthetic. His journey was cut short when the cancer invaded his lungs and ended his young life. Doug had listened to my Subaru motivational chat on Thursday and felt moved to inspire me in return. So, prior to taking my seat for the Power Bar pro panel on Friday, Doug gave me an actual photograph of himself and Terry taking the first step of the Marathon of Hope. And Doug quoted Terry on the back of the photo – “One step at a time. One telephone pole at a time. One mile at a time”. This became my theme for what was my little marathon of hope. This photo, quote and gesture had more impact on me and on my race than Doug could ever have imagined.
I did not wake up on Ironman race morning – I was already awake. I did not sleep a wink the night before. Rather than say that I was nervous, I’d like to say that I was anxious and excited to be part of the wonderful day called Ironman.
My race day strategy was to swim and bike aggressively and hopefully run more conservatively than usual. Because of the proximity to the Hawaii Ironman and my limited run training, the marathon would be a long run session in preparation for the World Championships. Besides, I wasn’t sure what sort of marathon I could run and my number one goal was to run every mile not just 13 good ones. I would do my best with what I had – one mile at a time.
The professionals started 15 minutes ahead of the age group athletes which makes for a very clean race start but very few feet to draft. I swam with some other athletes but I never really got those fast feet that I always hope to follow. By the end of the swim, we caught up to the pack ahead of us and I managed to finish up in a pretty good swim position – maybe fourth or fifth about 7 minutes down on swim leader Linda Gallo and about 5 minutes down on Andrea Fisher. As it turned out, Linda exited the water in 2nd place OVERALL – how amazing is that?
I felt good on the bike – content but prepared to race hard. There were a few other women in my swim group who I tried to drop on the flats out to Ritcher’s Pass, but I just couldn’t shake them. Then, the road goes up! Going up Ritcher’s Pass, I was totally in my element. I love long, steady climbs especially into a headwind like we had on race day. It was there that I put time into the women behind me and gained time on Andrea and Linda. By the top of the Pass, I had caught Andrea and was about 4 minutes down on Linda.
Andrea did re-pass me on the long descent but we managed to have a pretty good battle out on the hilly rollers that follow Ritcher’s Pass. It was very windy on this section and it definitely took some energy trying to keep upright through the wind gusts.
Once we hit the flatter road and the out-and-back, I had found a good rhythm and was now in 2nd place behind Linda. During this section, I could see my time gaps to my competitors and knew that I was having a great ride. By the end of the ride, I had slipped to 3rd during the 15 km descent into Penticton but I was still pleased with my ride. It was my slowest ride ever at IMC, but it was probably my best ride on a very windy day.
I started the marathon in 3rd place about 6 minutes down to Linda. I really did not want to hear any splits because I was intent on running happy and focusing on ‘one step at a time, one telephone pole at a time, one mile at a time’. I was pretty darn sore and tired when I started the marathon which was a good thing because my sore heel became just one of my ailments instead of THE pain!! I repeated to myself over and over again how happy I was to be there and how it was my choice. During my re-hab months, I had spent a total of 60 hours lying in a hyperbaric chamber wishing I was running. I had grimaced in pain as Dr. Galea injected my heel weekly still wishing I was running. I would lay with my eyes and fists closed while Dr. Scappattici stuck acupuncture needles up, down and around my calf and my heel wishing I was running. I had done so many heel raises, stability exercises and plyometrics with Steve Hill wishing I was running. And here I was, at Subaru Ironman Canada with the opportunity to do what I had wished for. So every time I wanted it to be over, I’d probe deeper into my subconscious – ‘are you sure?’ No, I wanted to race – pain and all – I wanted to be here running and I was. In fact, I was winning. I passed Linda at about 10 miles into the marathon. I was leading the 25th anniversary of Subaru Ironman Canada – my first Ironman 10 years ago in 1997.
As I approached the finish line, I was ecstatic. I had got to the start and finish line of Subaru Ironman Canada and I had won!!! This is my most satisfying victory to date – not because of some extraordinary effort or record breaking time – but because I won that race on heart and determination. It was a team effort – Dave, Galea, Scap, Steve Hill, Lance, family – it was not a solo effort. The odds were stacked up but we smashed them down with wholehearted desire.
Now it is onward to the Hawaii Ironman World Championships. I am in Hawaii right now preparing for the race with Craig Alexander, the 70.3 World Champion. I feel well recovered from Subaru Ironman Canada and ready to push on through the lava fields. I have a very special reason to be racing in Hawaii this year aside from my usual goal of personal excellence – but I’ll save that news for another note.
Thank you so much for your support, encouragement and loyalty.