Monday, 22 June 2009

Chinook Half Ironman Race Report 2009....

I'll admit it...I've been procastinating in writing this race report. I have so many feelings about this race I needed some time to process them. Had I written it the night of the race, it would have leant towards the negative direction.

Normally I am a Pollyanna - always looking for the silver lining and being positive. This race was a tough one for me and I struggled dearly to hold that train of thought. As all stories go, I'll start from the beginning...

As mentioned on an earlier post, my plan was to push some mental and physical boundaries. I was going to jump onto the pain train and take it for a ride. I assume it was because of this that I was more nervous for this race than the last two Ironman races? Who knows. By the time we got to the race and I was all suited up ready to go my nerves were calm and I was feeling ready to roll.

FIGURE 1: THE SEARS POSE (R to L: Jen, Linda, Keith, Yours truly)

I love that time before the race when you get to mindfully get all your gear ready and go over in your head your transitions to make sure you have everything all laid out properly. I also love running into tri buddies that you haven't seen since last season and doing a quick catchup on things.


I took a big chance and faced a fear by standing in the front of the swim start, thanks to some encouragement from Julie. I'm not a fast swimmer so I wondered if I'd be drowned, but this was a small group and I stayed to the left just in case.


When the start happened I leapt into the water with much enthusiasm. I swam hard the first bit and kept my head down, also thanks to Julies advice. I was gasping a bit for air, but unlike times before I kept at it rather than stopping or going onto my back. Within a while I was into my rhthym of breathing and strokes: 3 strokes, breath, 3 strokes, sight/breath, and so on. My mind always wanders when swimming, but I kept pulling my thoughts back to what I was doing. I think this is the best swim I had in regards to keeping on track and staying focussed.

It was hard to swim to the second buoy because the sun was shining directly at us. For some reason they had a small buoy and a large one, I swam to the small one (with others) and had to make a sharp left turn to go back then swim around. I think I'll write to the director about having two buoys out there...

I did, for the first time ever, almost swam over top of someone. I would never do this intentially of course. I had my head down and was doing my thing when I felt a body partially under me. A fellow had stopped for whatever reason and I didn't see him. I apologized, as did he and I went on my merry way. I always think it's sweet when something happens and both people are apologizing. Just reinforcement that we are all out there doing our best and not trying to intentionally disrupt another.

At one point I was saying a Buddhist chant that we do in our meditation group just to keep my mind from wander. My group was actually having a Mindfulness Day that day so I figured it was my way to contribute as well.

The swim felt pretty fast, but my time wasn't any better than other times. Maybe the second best time I've had in a half at 40:44 minutes.


I got out of the swim and ran to T1. It's a bit of a distance, but nothing unusal. I was sucking wind the whole time, but finally got to my bike and got going.


The ride...well, this is where things start to go a little pear shaped. Compared to the last two half Ironmans I've done this ride was the toughest. There is a lot of climbing here. I wasn't afraid or intimidated by it because this is what I ride regularly. I did, however, want to push myself as much as I could at the same time as being smart and having some leftover for the ride back and the run.

I was doing okay for the first while, although my legs were burning from the get go. I said to myself, keep the burn happening it means you are working hard, but watch the heartrate on the hills. I was having issues with the little number they give you to put on the top tube of your bike. It kept flapping at my knee. I remembered the pictures of Katies leg from the same type of thing and thought, screw this and ripped the number off and put it into my bento box. I felt much better after!

I saw Keith get off his bike and work on his derailler and was quite concerned about that, so that filled my thoughts for a while. I also saw him almost hit the road sign and was worried that his head was more focussed on his bike than going straight and he might get into an accident. I was grateful when he passed me after a while because I knew he was ok and back in the race.

Soon enough more passing started. Usually I don't mind being passed, but after a while the negative thoughts started bombarding me. I knew I was getting farther and farther back and I was starting to get a little ticked at that. I was fighting the negative demons in my mind. I would question why I was out there and why I was still racing the same as when I first started. Then I would chastise myself for the negativity and jumping to conclusions about my racing when I wasn't even at the turnaround. It was an all out war in my head.

I've practiced mindfulness and staying present for quite some time now so pulled out some tricks to keep me centred. This worked although I was still being hit with negative thoughts and having to push them away. I was fully aware of how much energy this was taking away from my ride, but it seemed there was little I could do to stop it.

I was almost at the turnaround when I spotted a truck on the road edge with it's hazard lights going. I sometimes have troubles seeing clearly when I'm racing because I have prescription glasses on and I think with my head position in aero I start going crosseyed or something. It's bizarre, I know. So as I get closer to this truck I see a placard in the back window which I have to close one eye to read. It says, 'Ride to Conquer Cancer Ahlete In Training'. Ahhh. The truck is moving very very slowly so I have to go over the rumble strips (so not good on the hoochie coochie after so many kilometers of riding) and try to pass him! I am also praying i don't get a 10 minute penalty for going over the white line that I'm not supposed to go over.

As I pass the beaten old pickup truck, I see an older dude on the front seat puffing away on a ciggie. I was not pleased to get a few lungfuls of his smoke and was coughing a bit. As I got by him I saw someone doggedly riding a bike in front. She was definitely not a cyclist (if one were to judge by her attire), but she was doing her best with head down and hair hanging in face. It was actually a kind of Fellini moment. All I needed was a clown with red balloons to pop out of the trees...

Instead I had the aid station RIGHT THERE! AAAAGH. I yell for a banana and they give me a FULL banana with a bit of the peel pulled back. What the heck? How can I eat this.... TURNAROUND!!!!

Yup, as I was contemplating the banana I noticed the turnaround was immediate from the aid station. I grabbed onto the banana and my handlebars and turned left quickly hoping I wouldn't fall over. I was so flustered and preoccupied with all that was going on I didn't even check for traffic! Not good. I took a couple bites of the banana and tossed it again hoping I wouldn't get a 10 minute penalty for littering. I didn't know where else I would put it and it was close to the aid station.

After the turnaround I noticed my watch said 2:04 hours. I was thinking "Holy crap, if this ride is going to take me four hours I'm going to be totally pissed!" It had been a headwind on the way out and honestly I thought I had a headwind on the way back. No idea. I knew I would have some nasty climbs on the way back, but that this was more of a downgrade so I decided to take full advantage.

I pedaled my arse off on the way back and seemed to have some good speed. I sort of stopped twice to check on a fellow racer who was walking (his chain broke) and to tell the aid station that he needed assistance. Other than that it was go, go, go.

My mind was more quiet for the ride back, thankfully, and I found I was singing some Prince and Meatloaf songs. What a combination eh?!

Finally, I was back in T2. My watch said 3:36 hours for the ride, but my official time is 3:42 with the two transition times put in there.

I didn't feel too bad as I headed out on the run...but things were about to change.

I ran past Linda, Shannon, Dad, Jen, and Dale and was so happy to see them! It is amazing how smiling faces can lift your spirits!

I'm not sure of my run pace, but my heart rate was up there. I can say I was pushing it, but it didn't feel unreasonable. It took me a little while to settle into a groove but eventually I did. I passed Keith a little bit in and he told me he wasn't having a good day. I reminded him to take it step by step and that I was happy he was there.

The course was nice as it was down in the park, but the climb out of the park was the worst hill I've ever encountered in a race. I didn't bother to run up it as it was so friggin steep. My power walking kept me right behind the one person I did see walking up there so I figured it was all good.


My first lap went by fast and I didn't start feeling my low back till near the end of it. It was starting to get warmer out, but really it was a gorgeous day for racing. Jen said my time was 1:07 for the first lap, which I thought was pretty fast for a race - the best I've done in a 10k race was 0:54.

Shortly after I started running the second lap the pain train started to derail. My low back and right glute (the icky one) started to complain to me. The complaining got louder. Then the fatigue hit, and my mind started to go into the negative zone again.

This time I started to recite (in my head) one of my meditaiton chants. This kept all thoughts at bay and kept me in a good pace, when I could run. I had to walk on this lap and was not pleased, but told myself I had to power walk and would only do that for a few feet before starting to run again.

There were two volunteers who came up to me when they saw me walking and started to assess what was going on and encouraging me. I said I hurt, but was ok and just needed a very short pity cry. To be honest I wanted them gone so I could do this, but I was also thankful that they were so kind. Shortly after I started thinking about Tigger and that's when the tears came and I couldn't breath. I realized this SO was not helping so started back with my chanting and focused on my technique.

I did this for the rest of the race and it got me through. Trust me, thoughts of quitting were very near the surface, but I knew that my discomfort was not a good enough excuse and I had to push myself to keep running.

Finally I was done. Time: 6:50. Give me my friggin medal and let me pass out!!!



After the race Jen and Dad made sure I was ok and kept me walking. I hurt like I never have after any Ironman race. I wasn't sure I could get any solids in me either, but needed something. At one point I was talking to a friend of mine and nearly passed out. Jen saw me folded over and Carl with his hand on my back asking if I was okay so she jumped up and came over to help me out. I sat in the shade and started eating Linda's Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Ginger Cookies that she'd made for me. (Thank you a million times!!) I swear, they were miracle cookies because even though my body hurt like a son of a gun, my dizzieness and fatigue started to go.

We then waited for Keith to come in and cheered him on.

So you may be wondering after reading this why I was upset or having to figure things out. I did succeed in some areas of this race. I hopped on the pain train and stayed on till the very end. I have now gotten off the pain train with no need to ever go back on it and am handing back my ticket. Oh, I should mention that I did leave absolutely everything I had on the course!

I think my ride time was likely pretty good considering the hilliness in comparison with the other races I've done. However, I was still in the back of the pack. I'm really not happy I was in the back of the pack - but the thing that bothers me more than that, was that I cared I was in the back of the pack! Weird, I know.

Thing is, I wanted this race to be about me, and not what others were doing. I didn't want to care that I was in the back, again, but I did and I do. Those thoughts just don't fit into my values or how I normally think. So I'm quite upset by this. I want to race and I want to work hard, but I want to have fun too and not be concerned about the other competitors.

Is it possible to race and not be concerned about others? Because if I can't do this, then I choose not to race because it's no longer fun.

I'm also disappointed because I've been doing this triathlon stuff for 3 years now and yet I see no great gains in my racing - again it's the whole back of the pack thing. Okay, that's partially true. I do see large gains in my mental ability - had I not been mentally strong my day would have been done part way on the bike. I would have stopped, but rather I acknowledged the negativity, tried to beat it back and kept going forward. I also know that my biking improved, although perhaps not as much as I thought it would.

Urgh. This race was so frustrating for me. I had such a battle happening in my brain and there still is! I pushed so hard yet didn't do much better than normal. I was bombarded by negative thought which is so not how I want to be! I'm not sure where to go from here. I mean, I am doing Ironman Canada - this is something I have to do for myself and to honour Tigger. After that though, I'm not sure.

Lots to think about.

Now to get back into a more positive write up.... Thank you so much to Jen and Dad for coming so far to be cheerleaders!! I am very appreciative of that fact and it's because of you two that I wasn't a Grumpy Gus! Thanks to Linda for being here and being so thoughtful in baking me gluten free cookies - they saved me! Thank you to Dale for seeing me race and missing part of your soccer game to see me finish the first lap of the run - you are a sweetie! Thanks to Shannon for sticking around after his race and cheering us too. Congratulations on 2nd place in your AG!! You are a rockstar mister!

After the race I had a wonderful dinner with Keith, Linda, Shannon, Melinda, Dad, Jen and Dale. It was so great to be with this amazing group of people. It helped put things in perspective in that this was only a race and friends and family are way more important!

FIGURE 9: DINNERTIME! (L TO R: Linda, Jen, Moi, Dale, Keith and Shannon (orange shirt))

Thank you as well to everyone who gave me their well wishes - you helped me get through this race.

Peace out my wonderful friends!


  1. Wow, there is so much to this post...But first and foremost I want to tell you that you are my hero. Seriously. I have always admired your positivity and "Pollyannaness" because it takes a very wise and mature person to look at the bright side of things all the time. That being said, it is also realistic that once in a while we get frustrated with ourselves and can't get our minds out of those negative places. I know you weren't happy about your finish comparted to everyone else, but you did in fact have a major accomplishment with this race: you didn't let your mind beat you and you made it to that finish line after giving it everything you had WHILE being nice to a lot of people on the course. I think you are the best kind of athlete there is. We always tell our kids in tri club that it's not about what everyone else is doing but rather racing is about you and your personal journey and how you make it through your journey. It looks like you had a tough journey but came out a better person because of it. I have these "I'm quitting triathlon" kind of thoughts too but I have started to realize that they occur mainly during longer distance races/training rides and runs. So maybe the answer for you is not to quit altogether but to work on shorter distances, esp. if you do truly care about how you do in relation to the rest of the pack: maybe you can focus on getting faster in the shorter distance races rather than trying to go long AND get faster all at once.

    If none of this advice is appealing to you then I say move down here (or I'll move up there) and we can all go camping and go to music festivals together. But just so you know I refuse to see a) Meatloaf or B) REO speedwagon. :)

    Congrats, Susi, I think this one was a victory for you.

  2. Whoever would have thought that the mental struggle would be harder than the physical struggles? I think you did great to tough it out and stay strong. I wish I'd thought of ripping off the top tube number. Technically, we had a wind out of the north the entire ride, meaning a cross-wind, which means with bike speeds (even for us) it feels like a head wind. Those two volunteers, the one with the clappers and the other with the bells? Yeah. They were on me like the white on rice.

    That stupid truck just before turnaround. It was bad enough passing on the road, that must have been a gong show as it got to transition. During the pre race meeting people were grumbling about having someone stopping you before turning around and making sure it was safe. Well, I'm glad they were there.

    It wasn't "almost hit the road sign". I actually hit it.

    I hear you about the back of the pack.

  3. In 'Born to Run' (which I'm going to lend to you the next time I see you), one of my favourite quotes is, "Race the course, not the racers." I've decided that when I start racing again, that will be my race mantra, no matter where I am in the pack (which is usually at the back).

  4. Oh hell, I can't go out there and 'not worry' about everyone else either. I'm still looking, I'm looking for their age group etc. BUT, the TWO races I've ever done that I'm most proud of weren't my fastest and weren't PR's they were the one's where I 'lost' third place 10 seconds - you know what, I didn't HAVE 10 more seconds. I laid it out there which is exactly what you did. Give it all, don't give up on the hill, don't give up on trying to pass that chick in front of you because you resolve yourself to the fact that you can't beat her. Effe it! Lay it on the line.

    Improvements - I got the most improvements in working with coaches (swim, bike, run - three different) on efficiency and form. While my swim times may not have changed a ton, I'm not thrashed when I start the bike, for example. I totally deconstructed my form in all three and got huge gains without more effort, per se.

    Pollyannaness - that's why I come here. You're the person on course that everyone WANTS to see for a kind word or smile! I just know it.

  5. P.S. the only way you're allowed to quit a race, is if medical is pulling you off...just sayin.

  6. Hi Susi, this is Linda - don't feel bad about the comparison thing. It is normal to compare yourself & is the hardest thing to stop doing. Noticing you are doing it is the start of stopping the behavior. Also, to compete is also natural - I think hard wired in the genes. You don't compete, Mother Nature is going to wipe your genes out of the pool:)
    I'm glad you were able to eat the cookies & that they did good things for you. When you mentioned the cookie after the race issue (never getting any because they were not gluten free) I could tell you felt a bit like the kid who never gets picked for games, so was glad I could ensure you had at least one race where you got all the cookies you could handle:) I promise you that if I can manage it, you will have cookies to eat after IMC too!

  7. You perservered, got the medal and finished! I am convinced some days we have it, some days the stars just aren't lined up and it isn't fun....congrats that you never gave up!!

  8. You finished!!!! In the land where the impulse to quit exists you finished!!! Nothing more needs to be said.

  9. Hello,

    I was checking google for news reports on the race (like Mike Bock suggested) and came across your blog. I just wanted to congratulate you on playing the mental battle to keep on trucking through the whole race.

    No matter how fast you get or how slow you go, when you are asking your body to perform at it's physical limits you're bound to end up playing those discussions with yourself through your head.

    One thing I might suggest you try doing for future races would be to break down the run into sections and give yourself a mental goal for each one. I read that you set goals for the race but if you make them a bit more specific and time limited you might find that they provide even more ammunition when compared to setting goals for the day.

    For example my run was split into 4 sections each of about 5 kms.

    1. find my running legs, don't worry about time or speed.
    2. keep things under control but try to start running steady, I still have a long way to go.
    3. Pick up the pace, try to go!
    4. Hold on to the good work that I've already done and survive to the finish.

    It provides a reason to change your focus when you reach certain destinations. It sounds to me like you spent the final 15 kms of the run in about the same mindset, if you have pre-planned changes you will have reason to get out of any ruts you find yourself in.

    P.S. I walked up heartbreak hill too on both laps.

  10. Geez, you have a lot of good advice on here.....and like everyone else I think you did great. I can so relate with getting passed on the bike and I don't know how to stop those negative thoughts either. Because after enough time it just gets old. Happens to me EVERY race. I try to tell myself that I'm a great athlete in my own right and that I'm lucky to be out here b/c that means I'm healthy. That usually turns things around but it is so hard.

    I think you had a great race and look forward to your reflections in future posts. I hope you stick with it! Congrats on a sticking it out and earning that medal (and helping Keith when he was down).

  11. Susi, I'm so sorry that this race wasn't all that you hoped for. That mental battle is a tough one. I ask myself very similar questions, most often while I am hating swimming. But ultimately I do love how all three sports come together and swimming is just a part of the package.

    You went out there and finished which means that you were able to get past the negative thoughts. I think we learn more about ourselves on the bad days - we learn where we need to improve, and eventually we see the silver lining in the situation.

    Congratulations on your race. Just keep up the good work and I know you will have a stellar IMC. Hopefully I'll see you up at GWN!

  12. I'm extremely proud of you for finishing Susi. Everyone has bad days/races, it's ok. You still finished what you started.