It’s official: Statements that used to start with, “If we ever do an Ironman again…” now start with, “When we do an Ironman again…”
On Sunday, July 29, 2018, Tyler and I finally got to hear those magical words: “You…are…an…IRONMAN!” Those words symbolized the end of a 35-week journey filled with blood, blisters, sweat, tears, early mornings, late nights, and more than a few sacrifices. They also symbolized a new beginning for us; one filled with more inspiration, positivity, love and admiration for each other than ever before.
Tyler and I signed up for Ironman Canada in December of 2017 after binge-watching Quest for Kona, a documentary series following Ironman hopefuls on their quest to qualify for the Ironman World Championships. We were also inspired by the Ironman journeys of Tyler’s old wrestling coach, my former boss, and a colleague.
We didn’t own bikes. Our only swimming experience was from playing in pools and lakes as kids. We had never done a triathlon, much less a long-distance triathlon. (Good thing we knew how to run!)
Thanks to those 35 weeks of training, two bikes from eBay, some swimming tips from my teenage sister and YouTube, and hearts overflowing with determination, none of that mattered. We were going to become Ironmen.
After 20 hours of travel, we finally arrived in Whistler, British Columbia. It’s a breathtaking place. If Lord of the Rings had a resort where hobbits and wizards skied in the winter, mountain biked in the summer, and hiked every day in between, it would look exactly like Whistler.
We were surrounded by snow-capped mountains, frosty blue glacial rivers and beautiful green lakes. We were electrified by the energy from thousands of Ironman athletes who anxiously paced around Whistler Village, waiting for the big day. It was as if Mother Nature and Mankind played all their best cards at once, filling this little village with more beauty and energy and soul than anything I’ve ever seen before.
Our alarms went off at 2:45am. The bundle of emotions I felt made it hard to speak, so I remained silent as we ate breakfast and got dressed. We watched a video about “Charlie Rocket” – an inspiring hip-hop mogul turned Ironman – for some game-day inspiration.
We walked out of that hotel door, wetsuits in hand, at 4:00am. We would return 19 hours later as Ironmen.
I panicked. I can’t explain how or why it happened, but as soon as my body plunged into the crystal-clear waters of Lake Alta, I had a panic attack.
My pulse went through the roof. My breathing became short and choppy. I felt like I was being strangled by my wetsuit (a wetsuit I had worn before without issue), and my mouth filled with water every time I tried to breathe. The legs of my wetsuit filled with water, dragging my legs down towards the bottom of the lake.
After a few moments of pure panic, I realized this problem wasn’t going to go away. It wasn’t a matter of taking a few deep breaths, sticking with it, and trusting that I would eventually get comfortable. I couldn’t swim freestyle. Period. I couldn’t even put my face in the water. I needed to adapt, and I needed to do it quickly.
So I swam the 2.4 miles doing a combination of backstroke, breaststroke, and doggy paddling. Yes. I literally doggy-paddled the Ironman swim. I was drinking lake water like most people drink Starbucks. I kept swimming off-course because, well, you can’t see where you’re going when you’re swimming backwards. But I kept going anyway.
I was terrified that I wouldn’t meet the swim cutoff time due to my horrific toddler-style swimming technique, but I never, ever considered quitting. I obsessively repeated two phrases in my head:
Don’t quit. Never give up. (Conventional but powerful advice from the Ironman athlete briefing two days prior.)
Just keep swimming…just keep swimming…just keep swimming, swimming, swimming. (Yes – that’s the song from Finding Nemo.)
I just kept swimming. I didn’t quit. I didn’t give up. And I made it.
After drinking an exorbitant amount of lake water during the swim, my stomach was doing somersaults. It cramped so severely that I could hardly catch my breath as Tyler and I started the bike portion of the course. I stopped twice to lay on the side of the road, squeezing my stomach with my fingers to soothe the cramps.
My stomach was in such a state that I couldn’t eat. I was wearing a jersey full of bars and gels and special treats we bought just for the race, and I couldn’t eat a bite of it. Between the swim and the bike, for the first 10.5 hours of the race I survived on Gatorade and a single chocolate chip cookie.
Once again, I feared that we wouldn’t make the cutoff time. My legs ached, and my energy was drained from the lack of food.
Don’t quit. Never give up. Don’t quit. Never give up…
We finished the bike a mere 30 minutes before the cutoff time.
After a few miles my stomach cramps finally subsided, and I started to feel…well…AMAZING! I had energy! I was excited! We could DO THIS!
Then Tyler got sick. The unrelenting heat and sun turned his stomach upside-down, and before we knew it he was the one who couldn’t eat or drink. It didn’t take too much longer before he was retching on the side of the trail, hardly able to stand (much less walk or run).
We set some new rules for ourselves: Walk uphill. Run downhill. Do whatever you need to do in between. Dump ice and water on yourself at every aid station. Sip soda or Gatorade whenever you can. Most importantly: Don’t quit. Never give up.
We walked some. We ran some. We kept trying, and trying, and trying.
Before the race, my uncle (an Ironman himself) told us that the spirit of the day would carry us farther than we could imagine. He was right. The spectators lining the course, the amazing and encouraging race volunteers, and the competitors themselves radiated energy and positivity, and we weren’t going to let them down.
22 miles into the run, I knew we were going to make it. I fought back tears as we finished those last miles side by side, with cheers and cowbells ringing through the air around us.
We fought for nearly every mile of that course, and after 15 hours and 58 minutes we crossed the finish line hand in hand.
We weren’t the fastest racers, and we certainly weren’t the most talented. But we had heart, we had the support of family, friends, and strangers alike, and we had each other. Those three things carried us across that finish line and turned us into Ironmen.
Want to read about our top 5 lessons from Ironman Canada? Check out Ironman Canada, Part 2: Lessons Learned!