Ironman Canada – Whistler, July 26th 2015
Ironman Canada was never going to be easy, I knew this. This would be the toughest race of my life and I knew I would have to dig deep…often. My preparation for the event had gone reasonably well; I’d built up a solid bike and run base and lengthened swim workouts. I’d practiced my nutrition and hydration in the intense and often severe heat of the Las Vegas Desert. My coach, Chris DeMarchi, was confident in me, and I was starting to feel the same way.
I came up to Whistler on Wednesday to finish my taper and get a chance to pre-ride a bit of the course. I have not properly tapered for a race for a long time so I was feeling very rested going into the event. I had a hydration and nutrition plan all worked out, but tried to keep in mind that this would likely be different to my ‘Vegas Desert Hydration Plan’. The weather was looking to be colder and rainy. I adjusted my attire in that I decided to wear socks and arm warmers in addition to my normal two piece tri suit.
Race morning came and although I was very anxious, I was somewhat calm. It hadn’t started to rain but the sky was full. The race begins with a deep-water mass start of around 2000 age group athletes all going off together with the gun. It was a two-loop swim in a long rectangle. I positioned myself somewhat to the side but in the front line so to get a good start. The gun went off and I pushed hard to settle into a nice steady rhythm and position. Even though I knew we were spreading out, somehow it felt like everyone would get to the corner buoys at the same time. I was very much aware that by this point the rain was lashing down around us. I held strong and kept pushing. Only a couple swift elbows to the face and goggles knocked once but minor setbacks if that. I was eager to keep steady. I exited the 2.4mile swim 9th in my age-group (very surprising for me) in a time of 1:07:37.
Exit the water, down on ground, wetsuit off, into changing tent. A very lovely volunteer helped me don my already very wet arm warmers and I put on my socks thinking to myself what a fat lot of use the talcum powder was. Anyway, out to my bike and away.
The bike course brought more and more rain. It was truly torrential at this point. I was very aware of the voices in my head reminding me not to go too fast in the first part of the bike. I stayed true to this and only pushed to a pace where I didn’t feel like I was working, only moving along. I did start to pick people off but managed to stay calm and true to my plan. The descent coming down from the Whistler Olympic Park was terrifying. I had brand new brake pads for the Zipp 404 wheels I was using, but the rain posed such a high risk for disaster. I played it reasonably safe on these initial descents. Climbing back up to Whistler village, the cold started to kick in. I could;t feel me fingers and I was starting to shiver a little. The rain still not letting up, we began the fast descents down towards Pemberton. This is where things really got worrisome. Now the circulation had left my hands and they were bright white. I would lift my hand and arm to reach for a gel but I couldn’t do anything… I was stuck. The shivering had gotten so intense by this point I could feel my whole body beginning to spasm. Descending, brought more cold and I could barely control my bike. My eyes started to become very heavy. I remembered my special needs bag would be in Pemberton, and in there was hope….a Snickers bar. In Pemberton I pulled up to the aid station and volunteers immediately had my bag open and asking what I needed. I could only mumble and vaguely point in the direction of my food. I was beyond cold and expending a lot more energy than initially planned with all this shivering. A volunteer opened my snickers and all but shoved it in my mouth. It was delicious! I could feel I was crying because there was warmth on my face. Suddenly the volunteers were putting gloves on my hands and a jacket on me. One volunteer looked at me in the eyes and said “Ok, now you will warm up and you WILL finish this, you WILL be an ironman. Now get off down the valley and we’ll see you on the way back”…I kid you not, thats how it went down.
Straight down the valley I went and sure enough I started heating up. Eager to make up the energy deficit I started to panic eat. I had eaten the snickers, energy chews a couple gels, all in the space of about 20mins. I forgot to look at my watch so my timing restarted for eating breaks. Aw crap. I grabbed a gatorade at an aid station. Because whats better to wash down sugar than more sugar…
The climb back up to Whistler village is a long unforgiving one. No lie it goes on forever. My legs still felt good at this point so as long as I changed up my position every so often, stayed in a low gear for the tough climbs I was fine. I had no idea where I was in the standings, I was just grateful to have made it through the cold. It turns out almost 15% of people did not finish at all and of those 15% most had to turn in the towel on the bike because of the wet and cold. That being said 15% is an inspiringly low number…Ironman breeds a certain hardy type of athlete, one for whom giving up is not often an option.
I came back into the village and up towards T2. The village was buzzing with spectators and supporters. I finished the 112mile bike in 6:03:50, 3rd in my age group.
Onto the run with DRY socks and shoes! BLISS! I set off at a steady but VERY manageable pace with intentions to kick it up in the last 6miles and to walk through the aid stations. Well I didn’t stop at the first couple as I really didn’t need to, but after the second station, my guts started churning. I managed to push that feeling away for a while but my 13k I had to stop, I darted for the portaloo… Unfortunately this went on for the next 15-18km 😦 with each spasm in my stomach and gut my legs felt heavier and stiffer. I looked at my watch, seeing my goal disappearing from my eyes. Ok new plan, just make it aid station to aid station. With about 5km to go a girl in my age group past me, I foolishly thought she must have been on her first lap as she looked very fresh and had changed into an entirely new outfit from the bike. I now realise, considering how wet everything was and my own levels of chafing, that really wasn’t a terrible idea… Anyway, with 2km to go and the finish line so close I noticed up ahead that she too made a turnoff for the finish line. Unsure of my standings at this point but vaguely hopeful still of a podium spot I somehow picked up the pace. I lengthened my stride and ignored all the screams of fatigue and pain. All I could hear were the voices in my head from friends and family whom I knew were cheering me on from afar. With just under 1km to go, I overtook her, unsure of whether she’d respond, I cranked it up another gear. Now sprinting through the village, I regret barely being able to appreciate the crowds at this point. I was so grateful throughout the whole course of all the people out there supporting and cheering for us. I saw the finishing shoot and glancing over my shoulder, without this girl in sight I began to smile. Savour the moment.
“Lisa Leonard from Las Vegas, Nevada, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN”
I crossed the line with a smile on my face with a marathon split of 4:06:35 and a total finishing time of 11:27:11. I finished 6th in my age group, 40th women and 198th overall out of 2000 athletes.
I was disappointed to miss out on a podium spot (place up to 5) and to have ran so poorly knowing I could do better…BUT…after I nice pep talk from my coach and some reflection, I am extremely proud of this, my first Ironman. I learned so much from this experience. I have trained relentlessly whilst juggling a full time job as a Physical Therapist, which as most age groupers will know is no easy task. We do not have the luxury of recovery time or endless training hours and yet we all show up and get it done on race day. I’m proud to have joined this special albeit slightly mad, group of athletes who have earned the right to call themselves Ironman.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank my Coach Chris DeMarchi, my teammate Rachelle Jorgenson for pushing me to enter this race, my roommate Michelle whose love and support has been invaluable, My Mum who introduced me to this sport as I watched her compete in triathlon and whose endless strength, love and drive has brought me where I am today, My siblings Jessica, Eva and David, My Dad, my whole family! And all of my friends in Las `Vegas, Balmedie and world wide. I am so grateful of the love and support I receive from you all. I have only just caught up with all the Facebook posts and comments but it really brought me such sincere gratitude and joy to feel and read all of your best wishes and support. Thank you. It’s for you that I will race again, that I will continue to push and push as far as this road will take me. That road may have branches with off road trails and mountain bikes but the goals remain the same. Thank you all once again for believing in me.