Well, I did it! Ironman Canada 2017 is in the books! To be honest, I can’t help but feel a little bit disappointed in the outcome. That said, I need to remind myself that finishing despite the barriers and roadblocks is what matters. It’s the perseverance; the ability to push through even when every speck of your being is telling you to quit. That’s what this race was to me and, when all is said and done, I asked for a challenge and that’s what I got.
The swim went off without a hitch. I paced it perfectly and felt calm and smooth throughout. I found a great group 4 or 5 swimmers that matched my comfortable pace and we all traded time at the front pulling the pack for the 55min duration of this leg. It was so much fun. At this time, I felt cool, calm, and collected and was confident going into my weakest leg of the triathlon: The Bike.
At transition 1 (Swim to Bike), I was a little disoriented since this was my first time racing a triathlon. I got out of the water and quickly was told to lie down so I could be stripped. Someone told me after the race that there was a sign saying “Make sure you tip your stripper!” and I feel pretty bummed that I forgot to put some cash inside my wetsuit to follow this line of etiquette. They tore my wetsuit off and I ran over to my bike gear bag to dry off, put on my socks, shoes, and helmet and grab my nutrition so I could stay on top of my depleted, well, everything. I start digging in my bag and realize that I had forgotten to pack any nutrition and I would be out of luck for the first 20km of the bike leg. NOT GOOD! Lesson learned and duly noted!
The first 20K of the bike went well. Although I was passed by what seemed like 100s of bikers in a short amount of time, I was able to stay focused on keeping my goal pacing and re-focus whenever I got distracted by the thoughts of being passed so much. The first climb up Callahan was enjoyable and I was feeling fine. At the turn around, I was excited to speed downhill but by the end of the descent, my legs started cramping. NOT GOOD! Remember the little mistake I mentioned about forgetting to pack my nutrition. Well, here come the consequences. I slowly ride through an aid station and grab Gatorade and anything else I think would help and wolf it down. The next 150km was…interesting to say the least. I knew it was going to be a challenge and I reminded myself that I asked for a challenge. I asked for pain. I asked for this to be a soul crushing experience so that I could use my mental skills to get me through it. I started to break the race into small and manageable increments and the fuel I received at the aid stations paired with stopping to stretch when I had bilateral quad, hamstring, and hip flexor cramping (the worst I’ve experienced in my life) got me through about 10 miles at a time before I started cramping up again. I was nauseous for the majority of the second half of the bike and my best guess is because of how quickly I was trying to down nutrition and fluids in an effort to stave off the cramping. I spun easy on my bike when needed and, a lot like Lt. Dan, kept saying to myself and sometimes out loud “Is this all you got!” followed by “You got this man! One rotation of the legs at a time! One 10 mile increment at a time! One climb and descent at a time! Deal with the cramps when they come back as needed but don’t get too far ahead of yourself”. I also did some mindfulness breathing and took in the beauty of the course which helped tremendously. I welcomed the challenge. I wanted to see what I was made of. Eventually, I completed the bike leg (I get shivers even writing the word “leg” because I automatically associate the word with cramping right now and probably will for a while. :-)).
At transition 2 (Bike to Run), the crowd is breathtakingly loud and encouraging. I see my family and this helps to put things in perspective. I remind myself that I’m doing this to show my kids and rest of my family that if you work hard and dedicate yourself to something difficult, you can accomplish things that may initially seem unimaginable. I give out some high-fives and let them know I’ve been cramping because I was worried that they were worried since my bike leg took longer than anticipated. I hand my bike off to one of the amazing volunteers and jog over to the transition tent readying myself for a new challenge: The Run.
I’m off on the run and feeling better. I was able to manage a good pace for the first 10km and was feeling hopeful. The cramping reared its head at some point in km #11 while going up a relatively steep incline on a trail. Calves this time and I tell myself: “Thank goodness it’s just the calves!”. During the rest of the run I had to dig deep. I walked the aid stations, walked the hills (big and small), and ran distances of .1-.3 miles at a time followed by no longer than a .1 mile walk. No more than that. I wanted to finish. That was the goal. Throughout the run course, I was so grateful for the cheers of the spectators and volunteers. I was initially surprised when I heard “Go Alex! You got this! Looking strong!” from a random spectator but remembered that my bib had my name on it. Hearing my name helped and hit home in a way I never expected. It didn’t matter that it was a stranger. I smiled every time I heard someone cheer for me and remembered the benefits of smiling. I high-fived other athletes and teammates as we passed each other on the 2-loop trail smiling and trying to help them smile. I also took stock of my surroundings! WHISTLER IS AMAZING! What does it look like? What does it smell like? What does it feel like to be part of a race like this in the middle of paradise? (It hurts but what a privilege!). All of it together helped and I eventually hit the finish line shoot!
For the last mile of the marathon, there were thousands of spectators cheering on the racers. In the background you could hear Mike Reilly (the voice of Ironman for decades) saying to each and every athlete as they crossed the finish line: “YOU…ARE…AN IRONMAN!”. If this doesn’t motivate you to finish, nothing will! I made it to the finish line shoot with spectators lining the barrier. I did my best to take it all in. I high-fived people on either side and raised my hands and yelled “WOOOOOOOOO!!!” as I crossed and Mike Reilly said: “Alex Crampton from Auburn, Washington. YOU…ARE…AN IRONMAN!”. I embraced my family and thanked them for supporting me. I could not have done it without them and I wanted to be sure they knew how much I appreciated them.
13:35:02 was my time. Not in the 12 hour club like I had set out to do but I finished despite the obstacles (everything before the “but” is BS, right?). I dedicated 10 hours a week to physical training and utilized sport psychology strategies throughout my training and the race. Could I have been more physically prepared? Absolutely! But I chose to train less than is typically recommended to have a lifestyle that was manageable and enjoyable for me and my family (note that I didn’t say: I couldn’t train more. It was a choice and one I’m glad I made). Could I have been more prepared for the logistics? More than absolutely! I’ll never forget the proper nutrition/fueling again! Could I have been more mentally prepared? Of course! There’s always room for growth. However, this was my strength! These mental skills allowed me to persevere in the face of a storm I couldn’t have dreamed of and for the rest of my life I can be proud of the fact that I am an Ironman!
P.S.: Thank you to all the RTB members for your support, your knowledge, and all the good times we have had together over the past several months! I couldn’t have done this without you!