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Another step, another milestone: Ironman Canada 2018

The Zebrasuit, by EpixGear
A distinct memory from Sunday's race stands out among all others that linger in my head. I'd just returned from Green Lake, finishing the first loop of the run. I hurt. I staggered. I really had to pee. Having to follow the arrow on the path that diverted me away from the finish line really messed with my head. What awaited me in the fourteenth mile involved one significant paved climb, followed by multiple steep paper cuts of climbs on the gravel path to the turn around at Lost Lake. My motivation to continue waned like the sphincter control holding back a gusher of overly concentrated urine. I dribbled, and I finally gave in when I spotted a porta potty at the aid station. My lead cyclist who followed me over the entire duration of my run looked relieved as well, taking the opportunity to get some ice water from the exuberant kids otherwise distracted by the excitement of handing water to such poor, overheated adults. Sitting on the John, I lost my lead position.

In truth, my day panned out just as well as I had dreamed. Alta Lake resembled glass in the early morning hours as we rolled in after the professional men to start our two laps. I remember spotting the sun just coming up over the mountains as I rounded the turn buoy on my way to start the second loop. Somehow I managed to hang onto the right hip of the same swimmer for what felt like 90% of the time. Seeing the easily distinguishable yellow stripes down the side of his torso and legs reassured me, a confirmation that my failing, fatiguing arms continued to keep me on pace. I touched my feet to the lake bottom and ran myself over the timing mat to end a swim that now stands as my Ironman personal best.

Ladies in the change tent looked excited and eager to share that just two other women had beat me out of the swim. Honestly, this surprised me. My swimming had, in the past, kept me from racing competitively. This instance confirmed what my coach, Derek, emphasized during a conversation after the 70.3 World Championships in Las Vegas in 2013: I won't win a race in the swim, but I will set myself up better when I put up a faster time. Apparently, marrying the pool this past year paid off, and more hours of quality time together, swimming in chlorinated water, can only propel me further.

I love my BMC Time Machine 01. Check
out Mojo Cyclery, Spokane's BMC dealer.
One hundred and twelve miles on my bike sure seemed like a lot when I just left transition to embark on the first of a three-loop course. Add in what amounted to just over nine thousand feet of elevation gain in that time period, and I felt I needed to conquer a monster. Three loops, however, allowed me to better break up the seemingly monumental endeavor, and three, thirty-five mile rides did not sound as unpleasant. In training, I'd prepared for the distance and elevation profile. The heat, though, I did not. Regardless, I decided to focus on staying hydrated, and I ended up consuming so much water I peed three times off my saddle (sorry, dudes.) Electrodurance by F2C nutrition provided me the essential electrolytes my muscles craved, especially by the third lap. I witnessed people walking their bikes up the short, steep climbs on Alta Lake Road. One guy misjudged a corner and flew off the turn into the bushes in front of an official overseeing another woman who had apparently crashed before him. I remember thinking how much this looked like it belonged on the footage of the Tour de France. Jesus, Lord. What is happening?!

That bike course, only second to the refreshing swim in Alta Lake, will draw me back to Whistler next year. Perhaps the race director can make some changes for the better regarding Alta Lake Road, but to change the course so as to not include this section would truly disappoint me. It served as a huge relief when it offered a reprieve from the sun, shaded sections with wooded scenery for distraction, and entertainment from locals playing obnoxious music.

Then, there remained the run. The marathon. While the heat didn't bother me on the bike, it certainly did the run. I found my legs rather quickly after dismounting my bike and handing it off to the gracious volunteers who babysat it for the afternoon. Volunteers in this change tent confirmed no other woman had beat me through it. Thoughts bounced around in my head, well aware of what can happen over the course of an entire marathon. Shit. Bad shit happens.

This feeling of uncertainty grew especially concerning when I pulled my wet socks off to reveal completely macerated feet. Apparently, concentrated urine is as corrosive as they say. I secretly wondered how far I'd go before blisters would develop and grow so painful as to eventually slow me down. I pushed the thought aside and sprayed my feet with TriSlide before I donned some dry, powdered socks. My attempts to thwart impending disaster felt so pointless.

Shoes on over my soft feet, I ran out of the tent and sensed my lead bike lady chauffeur to my right. I enjoyed this feeling of another first experience. She stayed behind me for the duration of the run, yet she never spoke to me. She conversed with volunteers, she chuckled at some rather ridiculous comments directed toward me, and she inspired fellow competitors and spectators to throw words of encouragement at my back when they realized I'd passed them as first woman. All these aspects of the run probably contributed greatly to keeping me present and pushing me onward despite the blisters that eventually did develop by the fifteenth mile. At this point, I also transitioned to consuming coke sooner than I had wanted to, but my nutrition felt too thick to get down. Also, my muscles started to spasm.

I started downing Electrodurance salts like kids consume Pop Rocks candy. Tipping the canister to dispense them under my tongue, the fear of cramping made me ignore the stinging of salt on my chapped lips. Professional triathlete, Rachel McBride, cheered me onward to the turnaround at Green Lake, and she told me to simply put one foot in front of the other when I asked how the heck she did this. I quickly realized just how mentally tough those successful, professional women have to be, and it inspired me.

All turned around and ready to throw in the towel, I embarked upon the last six miles with death in my eyes. If not for my bike lady chauffeur, I'd have crawled off to the side and jumped in the lake. Yet I started to regain what little composure I had left and reminded myself of all the sacrifices I'd made to make this day happen the way it actually appeared to be unfolding. I channeled the thoughts of another Canadian professional, Heather Wurtele: Don't screw it up now, Meghan. You can hurt worse than this. Don't be a bitch. 

I approached Rachel again, who stood to the right of the trail, on my side. I must have looked as bad as I felt because her cheers seemed more fervent. "Dig deep, Meghan. You really have to dig." She likely knew then what I didn't know: Second place woman ran faster than me and was successfully closing the gap.

That last mile. Holy mother of God. My pace had slowed, I tripped on the smallest of rocks. I couldn't feel my legs anymore. I know not what kept them moving toward the red carpet. Yet the moment I'd envisioned and described for my coach had finally arrived: Smiling, I'll run down the finisher chute, cross the line, and hold the tape over my head for the first time as first woman finisher.

Only, in the end, I wasn't. I had lost my lead position one minute and six seconds prior to crossing the line. It took some time, but I have accepted the outcome. I accomplished what I set out to do seven months ago and earned my first slot to Kona in my third attempt and Ironman finish. I experienced a new depth of my lowest lows and somehow managed to make it to the medical tent when, upon crossing the line, I let my head fall to my chest and delirium take hold. I didn't care how good all professionals looked and carried themselves to their podium positions like they had not just buried themselves into the ground. Instead, I let volunteers hold me up; I heard Bryan's voice to my right. An overwhelming sense of numbness overcame my feeble attempts at stoicism, and I accepted help to lay down on a cot with my feet up over my head. The medical student handed me Gatorade and encouraged me to drink it. I had not felt nauseous until that foul liquid reached my stomach. I puked and wished for my F2C Hydra-durance.

Whistler has yet to disappoint me. Its beauty overpowers its difficulty. I hope the twenty percent DNF rate does not affect the continued appearance of this race on the Ironman circuit. Prepare well; race well. With that said, much effort and work remains to train for an entirely different race in Kona. Thank you for the support sent via emails, facebook and text messages, and by simply following my progress on the Ironman tracker over the course of my day. I am blessed, and therefore, will be found on the massage table at Elements while my therapist works out all the problems I have created, once again.
Cooked. Well done. Nothing left. 

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