Memories of Muskoka 70.3

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On Sunday afternoon, I crossed the finish line for my second half-ironman. And despite a few snags, I honestly had a blast.

The first time I did this race, I was so scared and nervous that I didn’t fully appreciate the beautiful scenery or take the time to thank all the volunteers. I wanted to do it better this time, and that started with my training: I didn’t.

That doesn’t mean I wasn’t exercising. I kept up my sprint/Olympic distance training this spring (but still need to swim more) and maintained my marathon fitness. I just wasn’t doing the super long rides from last year, partly due to scheduling issues, partly because I wasn’t toeing the line to compete this year.

Despite the lack of training, going into the weekend I was feeling super strong and confident that I would finish smiling. Of course, there’s always a snag. The night before the race, my hotel was hosting a wedding. The hours of people yelling and slamming doors was accompanied by a power outage, which saw our room temperature skyrocket. Waking up on race morning I felt seriously tired and dehydrated, and did my best to get some fluids back.

My nerves were mostly under control until I had set up in transition. That’s normally the point where I start to feel out of my league next to all the tri specific bikes on the rack.

Luckily at this point I saw a familiar face (follow @sunshine_runner on Instagram, she’s great!) and had company for the wait and the long walk down to the water.

Then we were off! The water was warm and, even though the first stretch of the swim was into the sun, I found a steady rhythm and was enjoying myself and the views. Maybe a little too much, as my swim ended up being really slow.

Then it was through the ‘strippers’ for help with my wetsuit and up the hill to transition. I always put my helmet on first to avoid risk of penalties and then ate a Gatorade chew as I slugged some water and pulled on my cleats. Next thing I knew I was on the mount line and off to tackle some hills.

My bike ride was really good. I felt like I was keeping a comfortable pace – my goal at a race this hilly and this far – and was thanking the volunteers and spectators along the way as I knocked off the kilometre markers. Before I knew it, there was one last hill and I was off my bike and into transition again.

A quick swap of cleats for shoes and helmet for hat, another chew and more water and I was back out on the course. As I was leaving on the first kilometre I saw Gentleman Friend, which is always a nice energy boost and a reassurance that he too survived the swim and didn’t crash his bike. You know, normal first year of marriage worries.

On the run my ‘race’ started to go a bit south. Some stomach problems slowed me down but I tried to enjoy the pace – thanking volunteers, high-fiving children and chatting with other runners about the Ironman events they’d recommend and such. Around the 17K mark, I could tell the heat was getting to me. Normally I don’t have any trouble in hot weather, but I had stopped at every aid station for water and put ice in my hat every time it was available. Despite those efforts, I could tell my skin was hot and my brain was really fuzzy. I had trouble doing basic math – like how much further I had to go at that 17K marker.

I still (barely) got a personal best. I was surprised how emotional the finish was for me – I wasn’t racing and it was a ‘been there, done that, wear the t-shirt’ kind of race. But coming around the final 200M I felt like my first finish wasn’t a fluke, I really earned that Ironman medal and I was super proud of my fitness. I finished feeling like if my stomach hadn’t let me down, I could have run a faster race.

As I downed multiple bottles of water and Gatorade (for the record, the lemon lime felt so much more refreshing than the orange) and waited to cheer Gentleman Friend across the line, I was already plotting out the next few years of races, the inevitable full Ironman and questioning whether it is finally time to work with a coach and see what I’m really capable of. Big plans, and big questions. But if I can finish the hills of Muskoka with nothing worse than an upset stomach and some new (horrible) tan lines, why not?