There was a time a few months back I went in to a two week slump in my Ironman training. I trained a little, but basically dropped off for that two weeks. I saw Hannah Pate one day having coffee at Octane. I talked to her about her experience racing Ironman Florida. She reminded me to ‘own’ my race and be fully present in the moment. She said something that later on my friend Gina Hamel also said – Enjoy every moment of your Ironman because it will be over before you know it. One final thing that helped pull me from my fear of failure was from a podcast another friend Jimmy Harrison shared with me. It wasn’t anything hugely profound, but something I needed to hear. ‘If you let fear take control of your race it will win, not you.
I started using visualization during my long training days and quietly in the evenings. I never listen to music in my training. I day dream about racing a perfect race. I hear the words “Heather Hagan, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!” I mentally race my race over and over. I even throw obstacles in to the mix and have to mentally recover and develop a plan B, then plan C until I succeed.
Race day I woke up as planned at 4:00am. I planned to eat right away then hang around the condo foam rolling and stretching for an hour before leaving. Pat and I gathered my special needs bags and morning clothes bag and walked the 1 mile section of Valley Trail to T2. At T2 I was body marked and dropped the special needs bags off. T1 and T2 were in different locations. So, a continuous loop of buses shuttled all athletes to Rainbow Park, the location of T1. I rode the bus and ended up sitting right next to a guy Pat and I drove the bike course with on Thursday. Pat rode his bike and met me there. I checked the pressure of my Speed Concept’s tires and added a wind vest to my bike gear bag. I had 30 minutes until start time to chill out with Pat and put my wetsuit on. 10 minutes to start we kissed our goodbyes then I stepped in to the herd of athletes plodding towards the timing mat.
The Whistler course is a deep water start. All athletes must cross the timing mat before the cannon booms, but you don’t necessarily have to go in to the deep water until you want to. I made a final adjustment to my goggles before dolphin diving in to the cold water. The start line was 200m out from shore. I used this distance to find my breath and calm my heart rate. I got to the start area and treaded water about 6 rows back. About 30 seconds before the cannon I made a last minute decision to move to open pocket about two strokes away. I was ready.
The cannon boomed and it was happening, the beginning to a long day that would fly by. For the most part the first lap of the swim was very crowded, but manageable. A few times I got in to a traffic jam of people. To resolve this I would take a strong right arm stroke and raise my chest to find an open spot then adjust. This maneuver got me out of tight situations about 5 times on the first lap. I never inhaled water, got kicked or pushed down. The second lap thinned out and I remember with every breath I was watching my own Ironman race in awe. I watched the graceful paddle boarders and looked off to the snow capped mountains. I was swimming and enjoying the moment. Before I knew it, it was over.
I ran through transition and found my gear bag. The changing tent was a scene of all female volunteers with very naked and half naked athletes. This wasn’t the moment to be bashful. So, I ran to the far end of the tent (closest to the exit) and stripped off my bathing suit to change in to my Team Momentum race kit. I chose to make a full clothing change. Pat had a wonderful suggestion for me to wear cleat covers on my shoes for the run to the mount line. Brilliant! The cleat covers were already on my shoes from the preparations the previous day. They prevented grass and dirt from interfering with clicking in or out of my Speed Play pedals.
On the bike I cautiously rode the first hill crowded with athletes. I mentally shifted gears from the adrenaline rush of the swim to calm ground that was going to have to remain steady during an extremely challenging bike course. Many pros there have compared the Whistler bike course to Kona; Whistler for its unrelenting final 12 mile climb and Kona for its wind. The first section of the ride was through Whistler Village towards the Callahan Climb summiting at the Olympic Ski Park. This climb was a hint of what was to come. Callahan took me about 45 minutes to climb and 8 minutes to bomb down!
I turned back to Hwy 99 through Whistler and the invigorating crowds towards Pemberton. There was another roller coaster descent down to Pemberton. The people of Pemberton were eagerly awaiting and cheering wildly. The aid station in town was the only time I got off my bike. I handed my bike to a volunteer and hopped in a vacant port-o-potty for a pee stop. I’m not sure why I bothered with the stinky poop hut since I had already proven to my poor bike that I was well hydrated.
The Pemberton flats were a little monotonous but beautiful. I saw some whacky people out in the meadows. I saw a young girl playing a violin and teenaged boy playing an electric guitar in the front yard of the family farm. A man on a galloping horse road next to me for about 30 seconds. It was amazing!
I knew I had the climb back to Whister looming ahead. So, I took my arm warmers and vest off then doused myself with ice water from a volunteer. I wanted to prevent any major change in my core temperature. I focused on taking long, deep breaths in the minutes before the base. I made a commitment to myself to push through smiling because I was doing exactly what I set out to do. Mid way up the ascent I saw a few people walking their bikes up a steeper section and a couple of people sitting on guard rails with their head in their hands. I shared some supportive words and spun on. Almost an hour and a half later I reached a section outside of Whistler that turns from 10-12% mountains to 5% rollers. Soon I reached the home crowds of Whistler.
I made a full change to 3/4 length Skins Active compression tights and a tri top. I had a Gore vest and Lululemon arm warms I would meet with in my special needs bag for the chilly night. Relying on my own two feet instead of my bike I took off for the run. I had a little bit of cramping in my abdomen the first two miles. The pain was of a level that would be distracting, but not truly a danger. I had a few Gas-X tabs in my race belt ready for this expected event. I took one tablet to be cautious. Ten minutes later I was powering my run by the winds of a gas turbine engine. The funniest part was everyone else was farting too! After 30 minutes of expelling thankfully only gas I felt 100% and picked up my pace. It started to get dark around 7:30. Soon the entire Valley Trail was dark without much lighting at all. I walked much of the next mile or two. Pat rolled up about mile 20 on his bike. He rode with me lighting the path with the bike’s headlight for about 4 miles. Pat stayed with me until we got back to an area close to the village that had lighting. After that he kissed me then departed for the finish line.
I had the next 20 minutes to reflect on my day and the past 10 months of training. Was it all worth it? Without a doubt, I was experiencing one of my proudest, exhilarating moments of my life. I could hear Dave Ragsdale’s voice declaring official Ironman titles upon people. I was so close, but was I ready? I looked to the front and behind to see if anyone was going to jeopardize my chance to have the finish chute all to myself. The last quarter mile the course brought us in to the Upper Village where crowds were standing behind blockades banging noise makers against the fencing banners. I saw a volunteer pointing both arms towards the right. She yelled above the crowd, “This is your last turn before the finish chute!” I took a deep breath when I felt a lump in my throat as I began to cry. Then I reminded myself a final time that all I wanted was to feel the euphoria of having the lights of the official Ironman finish chute radiate on my skin like the sun.
I made the corner and I was there. Everyone was looking towards me and I smiled ear to ear. I started down the middle of the chute then turned to the crowds lining the right side of the chute to bring them in to my joy. I high-fived every hand that was extended. Everyone was yelling my name! When I heard Dave Ragsdale say my name and my hometown I passed through an inflated arch and stopped. I made eye contact with a man on the front row and heard him yell, “Keep going! You’re not there!” WOW! I get to do this again! I had 10 yards to go. I sprinted on then heard by my first name only, “Heather from Birmingham, Alabama…YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!”
It couldn’t have been more perfect. The catcher braked my sprint and handed me off to receive my medal. My handler from there walked me through the Ironman bling of getting my finisher’s shirt and hat then having my picture made. I immediately left the athletes only area to find Pat. All I wanted was to go home to our condo and relax. My celebration had already reached its climax. The stars were aligned and I felt every single person’s supporting hand upon me. My Ironman experience was perfect.
Heather Hagan, CSCS
Entelechy Performance Coaching