Since my uncle uses his aeroplan upgrade on me I'm a 50k member which means I get to use the express check in at Air Canada so I breeze through check in now. At least usually. For whatever reason, this time security wanted me to unpack my entire bike for them to inspect. Ugh. The big problem is that I don't just put my bike in the case. I also put all of my triathlon accessories in there. Shoes, helmet, wetsuit, etc. and this is all done very carefully to maximize my room. Needless to say I was not thrilled at this but I smilingly obliged because what else can you do?
After satisfying the pleasant security lady I threw my bag on the conveyor and made my way to passenger screening. This is also a breeze as I've got my NEXUS card which means I'm pre-screened by U.S. Customs and get to use the express lane. The great payoff with these express lanes is lounge time. The biggest benefit to my 50K status with Air Canada is use of the lounge.
I found a chair in front the TV and watched highlights as I ate my oatmeal and sipped my cappuccino. I was only interrupted once when I was paged to the front counter. The nice lady at the desk told me there was room in business class so I was being upgraded. HOLLA! I've had the pleasure of flying business a few times and it is just awesome.
As soon as the first page was made I hustled onto the plane and set myself up for the flight. The flight attendant brought me an orange juice so I had something to sip as I reviewed the breakfast menu. I selected the fruit plate as I was already quite full from my lounge breakfast. I was worried this flight was going to be frustrating because as we taxied apparently someone's emotional support dog needed its own support dog to stop it from barking. After take off, however, the dog quieted down and we didn't hear from it again.
SIDEBAR: When did we decide that dogs needed to go everywhere we go? Restaurants, sporting events, plane rides. Enough man, leave the dog.
I decided that even though it's quite a bit further to go from Ottawa than Toronto I would do the extra drive so I could check out our nation's capital. That's right my foreign readers, Ottawa is the capital of Canada not Toronto. Toronto is the capital of the universe (at least according to Torontonians).
PRO TIP: When you rent a car, pre book the smallest car you can be happy with. Then, when you go to pick it up ask how much it would be for a larger vehicle. It's almost always much cheaper than booking the bigger vehicle ahead of time.
I decided to go with a pickup as it was easier to transport my bike that way and that was a great decision. And it was only $5 more per day. I sent a quick message to the family I was staying with and told them that I'd be in Muskoka in a few hours. Turns out that was Alberta time. As a hurtin' Albertan I looked at the map and it said about 300km. So, it should take me 2:45 to get there. NOPE. The highway between Ottawa and Muskoka is a windy back country road that hits every small town you've never wanted to see. And there seems to be no rhyme nor reason to the design of these roads. They are more crooked than a politician and just as slow. This drive turned out to be closer to 5 hours and I arrived in Muskoka tired and ready to eat.
Fortunately, the Hayes clan were ready for me and we sat down to eat right away. I became friends with Stu, the father of the group, after chatting on the Internet. He is one of my faithful of readers and when I went to Toronto to speak he took me for dinner and drinks and we really hit it off. So when he saw I was doing the same race he was he invited me to come and stay with his family at a beautiful cottage right on the water at Lake of Bays.
Stu's wife Julie is an absolute angel and took great care of me while I was there and their kids Liam (15) and Logan (12) are a pair of sweethearts. They made me feel right at home and even let me stay in the bunkhouse so I had my own little place.
I had heard some frightening tales about the Muskoka bike course so I was glad when Stu said we were going to go for a ride and check out part of it. I was thrilled to see that the hills were a series of rollers rather than long sustained climbs. My body is designed to take on a short hill and then recover, I don't do well with the long ones. Plus, my weight helps me carry some speed into the next climb. We went out for an hour and then back and the only hill I struggled with wasn't even on the course. It was a grinder on the road between our cottage and the main road.
After getting back I was tired but very happy. Not only was I glad the course wasn't as daunting as I had expected but I also felt great. My liver has been acting up for the last 2 weeks and as recently as last Friday I wasn't even sure I'd be able to travel. This ride was the first exercise I had done in 2 weeks and it went well.
After a nice supper we sat down and watched Taken 2 and just hung out. It is so nice to have people to hang out with. When I go to races alone I often hang out at Walmart and buy things I don't need in order to pass the time. I made my way to bed a little early as we had an early wake up Friday for the Sunrise Swim.
The alarm went off at 540 am and I couldn't believe when I looked at the clock. I had slept through the night for the first time in 2 weeks. I hadn't been awoken by severe itching or belly pain. Things were finally looking up.
Stu and I jumped in the truck and made our way to the swim start. This Sunrise Swim is a fundraiser for the local hospice and was only dreamed up a month ago. Being it was such short notice they didn't think it was going to be much but 125 people signed up and I think they're going to need to look at relocating next year. It was such a great time I think they'll be much bigger in the years to come.
We went off in waves of 20 and Stu and I were wave 3. The water was perfect and there was enough room that I didn't hit anyone during the entire thing. The course was out around a small island and back and measured about a mile. The coolest part was that 50m from shore was a floating coffee bar and I jumped out and had some joe and a juice. After enjoying my locally roasted Muskoka coffee I swam the final small leg back and grabbed some breakfast. The highlight of which were the cinnamon buns from the local bakery. They reminded me of the ones my mom makes from my great-grandma's recipe. Om nom nom.
Stu had contacted the swim's organizer, Rich, about me possibly speaking and they were good enough to give me the opportunity. So as things were getting ready to come to a close they gave me the mic and I shared my story in hopes that:
1) people will see that cancer is a living sentence, not a life sentence (thanks for this Stu) and,
2) athletes will ignore the fact that they're healthy and get regular checkups.
People seemed very receptive to my talk again; but like I said, you've gotta be a special sort of mean to boo a cancer patient :)
We retired back to the cottage and relaxed for most of the rest of Friday. I watered up, got some salt in and took a nap.
One of the unfortunate things about races is that most of them have done away with the athlete dinner. Instead they have opted to include a voucher in your package for a local restaurant. This is cool as it helps get the community on board but it was nice to sit down with your fellow athletes at other races. Anyway, the Hayes and I decided to go to 3 guys and a stove for supper and this was a great decision. The food was absolute spectacular. I had the BBQ plate and it was chicken, ribs and brisket cooked perfectly. Ontario is not known for its BBQ but this was superb.
Once home we watched The Blind Side and chilled. I managed to hold it together this time and that was good because the first time I saw this film I was on an airplane and I bawled like a teenage girl. Such a tough guy.
Saturday was pretty chill. We turned our bikes and transition bags in and relaxed. I took a chance to walk Main Street and see Huntsville. It's a cool little town with lots of boutiques and restaurants. It was an early bed time as tomorrow was the big day.
The alarm went off at 5am but, as usual this wasn't a big surprise as I'd been up every couple of hours to check my watch to make sure I hadn't slept it. I threw on my sweat suit and headed into the main house for some coffee. After a small breakfast of some bars and a banana Stu and I quietly made our way to the truck trying not to wake anyone. At this point I missed the unlock button on the remote and hit the panic button setting off the truck's alarm. Real smooth.
It was about a 20 minute drive to the shuttles so we headed down the road and onto the buses. We got to transition with about 15 minutes left before it closed. This is perfect as some races I've been too early and you stand around and go crazy. We made the 5 minute walk to the swim start and got our wetsuits on and seeded ourselves based on expected finish time.
The new trickle start is so much better than the mass starts were. It's a swim, not an MMA fight so having open water around you is really nice.
The horn went off and we made our way into the water. The water was a little colder than I had expected but after 100m or so I warmed up and was quite comfortable. I had my suit on well and was gliding pretty nicely. I only took one shot during the swim and it was a kick to the jaw that slammed my teeth together but that's Ironman. It was a single loop course and so there was no break and you seem to go out forever. But when you make that turn to head home you know you've covered some good ground.
I came out of the water in 1:26 which is slower than I'd like but considering my training schedule lately wasn't too bad. My health has been wonky lately so days when I feel good I focus on the bike or run and the swim has to wait.
The run up to transition was quite far and was on an asphalt golf cart path so it was tough on the tootsies. I gingerly made my way inside to the bags and started getting dressed. This was unusual as transition was inside a ballroom of a conference centre. Normally it's a tent in a field so this was trés posh. I threw on my bike kit and was off.
THE BIKE FROM HELL
When I left transition and got to my bike at the racks some ass hat had knocked it over and it was sitting on its side. This did not impress me but I picked it up and went on my way. The biggest downside was that when my bike got knocked over about 2/3 of my water had spilled but I didn't notice and I ran out of fluid about 5km in. The ride started out as normal as any other. There's a tough little section leaving Huntsville where you have as one quick up and downs and then it's relatively easy for 15km or so. At the first aid at 26km I was feeling good and trucking along.
Just after leaving this stop I felt a feeling I knew all to well. I got nauseous, and then I felt a warm sensation all across my abdomen. SKIP TO NEXT PARAGRAPH IF YOU DON'T WANT THE REAL DETAILS. I had pooped and because my spandex holds my bag firmly against my stomach there's nowhere for the stuff to go so it goes EVERYWHERE. Unfortunately I have no way to predict when this will happen and I don't have the ability to clench. There's no muscle there. I was 25km from the next station so I soldiered on but I knew what I was facing when I got there. It was shortly after this my chain dropped for the first time. This isn't a huge delay but it is a hassle. You have to get off and manually get your chain back onto the crank. Any time you stop your bike your time suffers so that's a pain. When I got to Dorset I pulled into the aid station and quickly got into the porta potty. This situation required 10 minutes, 2 bottles of water and a half a roll of TP to deal with. I know it's gross but this is what I have to deal with. I dealt with it as best I could and got back to it. Fortunately that was the last time I had an issue with that this race but it was plenty.
The next 70km were fairly uneventful save for two more chain drops. Stu and I had ridden 2 hours just a couple days before and my bike was functioning perfectly so I figure whoever dropped my bike in transition bent or misaligned something. Thanks homie!
The fourth time my chain came off was the big issue. Instead of coming off my crank (the front gear by the pedals) it came of my rear casette, and to the inside. When this happened it immediate seized my rear wheel and threw me into the ditch. This is actually fortunate as the roads were open and a car could easily have hit me had I gone the other side. Luckily I was climbing out of Dorset and was only doing about 10km/hr so I didn't get hurt, just a few scrapes. There was an aid station just up the road (at 121km) so I road towards it and now my chain started slipping. Every couple of pedal strokes it would slip and catch. I pulled into the aid station and requested a mechanic. Fortunately there was one on the spot and he made a few adjustments to what he thought was wrong and sent me on my way.
This adjustments had no impact on my bike and I spent the next 25km cursing my bike as the chain slipped and clunked. I arrived at the next pit stop around 146km and once again requested a mechanic. This time a van rolled up with a whole set up. He had a bike stand and all the tools. Nice! After trying similar adjustments as the first guy he realized one of my chain links had actually twisted and when it passed over the gears it would jump. So, now it was time for a total chain replacement. As you can imagine this takes some time and then I had to quickly jot down my info so they can bill me for the chain. Totally fair but Kim always gives me a hard time for my shopping at Ironman. Now I've discovered a way to actually spend money DURING the race!
I got back on the road about 40 minutes later and was thrilled at how my bike felt. It was like a new ride. It responded to everything and was just awesome. I was checking the time as I needed to be into transition by 5pm and I had to push it a little to make sure I would get there. I didn't have another issue the rest of the bike. Except for the hills but that's my problem. The Muskoka bike course prides itself on being one of the toughest on the circuit. With 7300 feet of climbing it tests anyone and when you're already having a day from hell it's even trickier. There's one hill in particular at about 80km and 160km that is not very long but is straight up. On the first lap I rode it but it spiked my heart rate and I felt it for a while. I decided that on lap 2 I would walk it and it turned out to be a great decision. I watched a guy ahead of me stand on his pedals and really push it. Then at the top he got off and tried to recover. I walked past him, got on my bike and never saw him again.
The last 8km back into Huntsville is the worst part. There's a couple of climbs that test your will. Admittedly I had to rest on both of them but I got up. After summiting the final hill you can cruise into Huntsville for about 2km. I arrived at 445pm. 15 minutes before the bike cutoff and about 8 hours and 10 minutes after I started my bike. Ugh.
I made my way into transition and finally got to try my custom Sugoi race kit. It's super comfortable and looks damn good I must say! I headed out the door and was onto the course at exactly 500pm giving me exactly 7 hours to do the marathon. This meant I had to maintain 10 minute kilometers or better to finish by midnight. I hit km 1 in 8:30 and was happy but by km 5 my pace had dropped and now they were taking over 10 minutes. Just before the 8km mark I did the math and there was just no way I was going to cross the line by midnight. I contemplated continuing on for the sake of it but being that I race again in 4 weeks I thought better of it. Why torture myself fruitlessly? The aid station called for a ride and once again my Ironman ended in a pickup truck.
This time made me particularly angry as it was some outside influences that helped to stop me, but that's the nature of the beast. After heading back to the start area I changed into my dry clothes and grabbed some pizza and pasta and hung out. Eventually I made my way to the finish area to wait for Stu to watch him finish. It was tough watching everyone cross the line as I know that feeling and really wanted it this time.
National War Memorial
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
I decided to pay homage to my late father during lunch. He always said his favorite meal was a loaf of bread and a hunk of cheese while sitting on a rock. I couldn't find a rock but I did make my way down to the Rideau Canal and sat and thought about him. It was a really nice afternoon.