2022 IRONMAN 70.3 - Victoria
May 29th, 2022
Fumbling around in the dark, CRACK! My pinkie toe catches the base of a cabinet. To hear that little bone break and to feel that little bone break, I am instantly in a spot questioning what is worse, the pain emanating from my left foot or the contemplation of what this means for the rest of my day. Who plans for this to happen? And on a race morning too!
The moment passes and I grab my pair of Altra running shoes before heading out the door. If this day is going to happen, it was not going to be while wearing tight-fitting Nike shoes.
Needless to say, I am late driving myself to the event. Unlike the scouting mission on Friday to figure out the Beaver Lake to Hamsterly Beach shuttle service, the parking lot is an absolute zoo. Quick math in my head and a warm-up swim is out of the question. Two strikes against me and I am not even on a shuttle bus yet.
Finally getting to my bike in the transition area, I hear an event marshal calling out, "Transition closes in 8 minutes!" Breathe. Bottles on the bike: check. Bike computer turned on: check. No time to hunt down a track pump so I burn a C02 cartridge and top up the tires. Breathe. With my swim kit in hand, I walk out of transition.
1750 athletes and a rolling start allows me lots of time to pull a wetsuit on. Minutes ago, I had no time to spare; now I have all the time in the world.
40 minutes passed. I am cold even while wearing a wetsuit. It is almost my turn to enter the water when event announcer, Greg Welch, says something into the microphone about "creating another wave". Patience, have patience.
46 minutes after the gun went off, I am across the timing mat and walking into the lake. It is not nearly as cold as last week but immediately, I am struggling to swim.
I have never felt in such a foreign place. My right goggle filled with water. I deal with it. Almost immediately, it fills again. A gulp of lake water, and then another. My entire life, I have been very comfortable in the water. What the expletive is going on? Am I in some weird dream?
Despite the struggle, I make it out to the 100m buoy, then to the 200m buoy. The choking on lake water is not getting any easier, maybe even worse. My mind questions, "Is it realistic to continue like this?" The nightmare continues beyond the 300m buoy. This could not have been a more disastrous start to a race.
All of a sudden, like with the snap of a finger (or a little toe), the mental block clears. I am swimming, I am breathing, and everything in my world is as if, that first 300m anomaly never happened. Well, apart from that right goggle still being filled with water. I only need one eye to sight anyway.
My race is finally underway!
I am at the 900m buoy and catching the back of the wave of swimmers released before me. Now it's time to pick my way through the pockets of swimmers on the rest of the course.
Rounding the final turn for home, my rhythm is good, things feel super easy, even with my right eye closed. If I had to do it over again, I would have worn my goggles on the outside of both swim caps. No time to stop; I have swam this lake enough to know where to go.
While the first trip to the far end the lake had yellow buoys numbered in ascending order, the leg back has orange buoys numbered in descending order. I spot the number "4" on an orange buoy telling me I have 400m to go. I work that out to being in the lake for another 7 more minutes, give or take.
Getting vertical and out of the water is a non-issue; no wobbles, no cold water headache and I can finally see with both eyes. I can feel my heart-rate while jogging up to transition. Breathe.
I take one last look at the weather. To the south, a building westerly is turning a marine layer into ominously dark clouds over Victoria. Experience tells me to the north, up the Saanich Peninsula, the weather should be pretty good. Arm warmers and my Gabba (cycling top) but no gloves, no tights. Helmet is on, let's go!
Gingerly though because pseudo-running with cycling shoes kinda sucks with a busted pinkie toe.
Riding on Old West Saanich Road and I am feeling good, maybe too good. Lessons are still fresh from the training ride 8 days ago and I am careful enough not to cook things at the start. I carry momentum where I need to and chilling out where extra effort would be of no benefit; pedalling my race bike is fun.
Along the Hunt Valley segment of the bike course, a young guy, 24 years old, on a road bike, introduces himself to me. I ask him if he is local to Victoria; his reply being "No, Collingwood, Ontario." He heads up the road but on Martindale, I pass him back.
Just before Mitchell Farms, he goes by me once again, quite strongly too. I am left thinking, "He's got some legs, I won't be seeing him again."
Back to the focus of riding my best ride. I am staying on top of the sugar, drinking often and importantly, being fast on the appropriate points of the bike course. My quadratus lumborum (QL) is happy this morning too.
Nailing the water bottle and gel hand-ups at every aid station makes for a fun game within a game. Hitting garbage bins when disposing of empty bottles though, I am 2 of 3 on the day; something to work on.
Riding up Willis Point Road is all easy effort this morning. This is the only out and back section of the course and the largest hill. In my opinion though, the most important climb on this course is just after this one. I am taking notes on the wind gusts and how riders are handling themselves on their way down. The slow riding up this hill is my opportunity to take the arm warmers off.
The roll back down Willis Point Road is with a just bit more caution than on the previous hills; this morning is prime for an infamous local crosswind to pounce. Today, I am lucky.
After Wallace Drive, the bike course turns northbound, up West Saanich Road . A long line of motorists, hoping to go in the opposite direction is stopped by traffic control. I see many frustrated drivers except for a woman who is out of her car to cheer on some triathletes; she even has a bell to ring. This is the hill to conquer and for whatever reason, that bell makes pedalling up the grade easier.
Cresting the hill, I still cannot answer if I'd be able to comfortably run. I am realizing that my day might only be these last ~20 minutes on the bike. My decision is made; I start to turn that crank a little harder.
On the final segments of the bike course, I am passing lots and lots of riders; many looking like they are done and wanting off their bikes.
Me? I am having a blast!
Just before the descent down to Brookleigh Road, I ride by none other than Mr. Collingwood. I give a quick shout out to let him know who is zipping past on his left.
Bike is on the rack, socks on and I am about to see if my day is going to be the next 2 hours (running), the next 5 hours (walking) or the next 5 steps (DNF). Out of the corner of my eye, I spot Collingwood already running out of transition; he just passed me again! I smile and think to myself, "He's running well, I won't be seeing him again." I head out transition, forgetting about my toe.
On the run, my legs feel like any other brick session. I am settling into a comfortably hard effort, confident that my legs are about to come around.
A couple kilometres in and I notice that I am in a nice spot and the trail is flowing by. My pinkie toe is sore but nothing acute. Hey, this is just might be doable.
I pull a gel from my back pocket, my second caffeinated Maurten gel of the day. From the 300m point of the swim until this gel, things were clicking along really well...
It starts with a gurgle, then a bit of a pucker.
Going through the aid station at the south end of the run course, I grab a bit of water. Nothing with calories; it's time to play things safe. I count a 2 deep line for the port-o-johns so I press on. Concerns about my sore toe being a limiter are replaced with the threatening condition of a brewing gastrointestinal event.
The next aid station is no longer an option but hats off for local course knowledge. A short, 70m detour up a hill at the Beaver Lake Nature Centre led me to the public facilities. Inside, I have the whole place to myself. Everything is spotless, a fresh porcelain bowl, and a sink, a mirror and warm running water to freshen up with. It was as if the Parks Dept. was just in there to clean too!
Feeling like a new man, I am back on the trail.
Just 14km to go and finishing is in no doubt. No more caffeine for the rest of the run, I am sticking with simple Gatorade.
12 km into the run and another problem to solve. My foot catches a tiny rock putting me on the ground hard. Bashing my knee and scraping up the palm of my hand, I can not be any more embarrassed. How many countless times have I run this very trail, going in this very direction? It is just a tiny bit of blood. I am mad at myself as I press on.
Just up the trail, I pass a familiar coloured tri-suit. "Let's go Collingwood, run with me!" He obliged.
Running with a new buddy is just the ticket for trip back to the south end of the run course. My knee is aching from the fall. My toe is aching from pretty much, all day but the comradery with Collingwood over the next ~5km is great. We share stories about our new triathlon journeys and I can't help but think about how I could have, should have, started mine at 24 years old.
Finish line is in sight. I raise my arms up and attempt a flex. Maybe not my fastest time but a certainly a time that I can say that I conquered.
And the pinkie toe... Acute oblique undisplaced fracture through the mid/distal shaft of the left fifth proximal phalanx. No intra-articular extension.