The day I became an Ironman!
The sport of triathlon has always intrigued me but I could not swim a length without being exhausted. Five years ago I started taking swimming lessons and then started to do a few sprint and Olympic distances. In 2010 I wanted to celebrate my 50th birthday by completing a half ironman distance race. The race I selected was the Mussellman triathlon. It was a great accomplishment to achieve that day; however I was left with a feeling of “unfinished business”.
So the dream started to take hold. I joined BLAST Triathlon Club located in Hamilton where I had an opportunity to meet people who are familiar and experienced with the sport. I talked with many of the club members about their training schedules, race experience, nutrition and equipment needs. Sometimes the advice was overwhelming.
In 2011, I completed 70.3 Muskoka, which is a tough and hilly course. Throughout this process I had to work on overcoming some fears. Swimming in open water and ascending and descending down hills on a bike. Practice and experience did help with this process. I decided to tackle Ironman Canada. Why? I heard it wasn’t as tough as Lake Placid, it was in Canada, and the timing was good for me. The real training began in January 2012. I had never been so tired in all of my life; from early morning coached swims, personal training, spinning classes, as well trying to fit in work life and family responsibilities. The summer was filled with 2 training camps, long runs and rides with various training partners. Before I knew it, I was tapering and on a plane to Penticton, British Columbia.
The Ironman distance consists of a 3.8 km swim, 180 km bike and a marathon of 42 km. The distance itself is grueling. When you factor in mountains and heat and time cut offs, it becomes that much more difficult to achieve.
Race Day-Aug 26, 2012: I got up very early to try to eat, I was very nervous and feeling very emotional. So many thoughts were going through my mind. “What have I done by signing up for this, can I do this, and it is so far!” Before I knew it, I was dropping off my special needs bags, body was marked, and then it was time to say good bye to my husband Jim. I was so fortunate to also have my personal trainer, Kristina Plachecki, come out to support me that day. She is also an Ironman, coaches Blast Triathlon Club and provided me with personal training for weights and core strength. She also had to endure the whining and endless hours of listening to me processing this whole experience.
The Swim: As I was standing on the beach, I managed to find Jim and Kristina. That helped calm the nerves somewhat. The national anthem was played and off went the gun. I waited on the beach for a bit, and started to walk in the lake which was a pleasant 22 C. I started to swim and it felt like any other race-just a lot longer and quite crowded. I waved to one of the scuba divers and before I knew it, I was heading to shore. Sister Madonna-82 years old, was just ahead of me. I collected my transition bag but I took way too long in the tent (14 mins) getting changed – oh well, on to the bike.
The Bike: I had a strategy that didn’t work out the way I wanted. I remember people saying, have a great day and then I thought-wow I am really going to be out here for the day and probably the night as well. The race course is spectacular. I couldn’t believe the views (we drove the course earlier in the week) but to ride it is another thing. I remember feeling how lucky I am, I have the opportunity to be part of this race that has been going on for 30 years, and they recently announced it was going to be the last. How lucky am I to be healthy enough to even attempt this. My strategy was to take my time and not burn myself out. I did this too much however, by taking too long at the aid stations, talking to people and cycling at a too easy pace. Climbing Richter’s pass, which is about a 14 km climb, was brutal, and by then it was hot. At 120 km I stopped for my special needs bag and had a sandwich, etc. I met a woman and we started to talk and she stated- I’m not sure if we are going to make the bike cut off and I don’t care. I replied- we only have 60 km left and then I thought, oh oh, I do care, and I better get going, and I dropped her. I didn’t eat and drink enough, and by the time I started to approach Yellow Lake I was feeling dehydrated. I received encouragement from a woman, who was from Hamilton and from a farmer with a crazy western accent who told me- yellow lake is only 3 miles away darling. I thought, ok I can do this. When I got to the top I saw this man screaming in pain from cramping on the bike and then I thought- I have got to get away from him ( I could feel his pain) and started on the descent. Did I mentioned that I have a fear of descending –well that left immediately as I knew I had to make up time. Careful what you wish for Barb- I said out loud and laughed as I was now going down into a headwind- very difficult to gain any speed. I arrived in transition and I heard the announcer saying-here comes Barb Hill from Caledonia with only 2 ½ minutes to spare! I grabbed my clothes bag and went into the change tent. The volunteer was nice but directive. She kept saying- “you have to keep moving, no stopping- do you understand”. I just nodded my head. I spent only 6 minutes in transition this time. I knew the run was going to be tight for time, and it was going to be stressful.
The Run: I started out on the run and it was still hot. I ran by the bike transition and I could see a woman who had not made the bike cut off, and I will always remember how devastated she looked. I felt so bad for her. I saw Jim and Kristina at the first mile marker. “Were you worried about me”- I said to them. “Oh yes, we were they replied.” Jim took my picture, and I chatted to Kristina a bit and then I was off for the next adventure. I met some great people on the run- I ran with a woman from Chicago who kept encouraging me to eat. Then I met Kate from Oregon. We chatted about so many things and we started to do the math about what we needed to do in order to finish the race in time. She eventually left me and then I was alone for a while. By then it was nighttime. Left with my own thoughts, there were some dark moments feeling full of doubts, and then I would think about my friends and family who were tracking me at home. All those thoughts kept me moving forward to give it my best effort. I have never quit a race in all my 30 years of entering races. Even during the late hours many local residents were still out there cheering and the volunteers were amazing. As I started heading into Penticton, a young woman started to run and chat with me. I wish that I had asked her name, to thank her later. At this point I still wasn’t sure if I would be able to make it before the midnight cut off. At about 4 km from the finish there they were- Kristina and Jim. Kristina ran me in –constantly providing words of encouragement. It’s amazing how you can manage to dig deep to pick up the pace knowing that the time deadline was looming.
The finish line was filled with lots of people wanting to high five, congratulate and cheer for me. I kept saying out loud I did it waving my hands in the air. It was the most incredible feeling crossing that finish line. My time was 16 hours 57 minutes 12 seconds, but I WAS AN IRONMAN! Over a hundred people didn’t make it that day. I feel so fortunate that I did. I am also grateful to be surrounded by so many supportive family, friends and co-workers who took the time to listen to me telling tales about my training, and encouraged me to go after this dream and make it a reality.
Barb Hill, Ironman