Penticton, British Columbia, Canada
The morning started bright and early at 4am, but it definitely wasn’t bright outside. Luke made me some oatmeal while I made sure I had all of my Special Needs bags and a couple of last-minute details for my bike. The day before I had checked my bike and my transition bags, which took a lot of pressure off for the morning of the race. At 5:00, we headed down the hill from our host’s house to find a parking spot. There were so many nervous people driving around, trying to find a good parking spot. We settled for a decent spot and walked the rest of the way, following the large group of people. We finally got to the spot where Luke and I were forced to part ways, as only athletes were allowed in certain areas. I saw lots of teary goodbyes with lots of hugs and promises to see them at the finish line. Luke and my goodbye was very similar and I think even he got a little emotional. So I was on my own to drop off my Special Needs bags and get body marked. I waited for the most difficult 45-minutes of the whole day to get body marked. It was a little frustrating, but I basically was in a bad line-up and eventually found a volunteer to mark me up with permanent black markeras number 2094. After that, I headed to my bike to pump up my tires one last time and to fill up my bottles with my pre-mixed Gatorade. I hesitantly made my way to the timing mat where there was a constant stream of “beeps” making it sound like the beginning of the end. Once I went across the mat, I knew that there was no turning back. This was it. I was on my way to becoming an Ironman.
Before the swim, I did a few strokes to “warm up” my body and prepare it for the 3.8km swim. Luckily, I ran into a Saskatoon triathlete and she helped to calm my nerves and we wished each other a great day. Soon enough the pros were off and 15 minutes later at 7:00am, the canon went off and the 2700 triathletes made their way across the massive water. Needless to say, it was intense. So many people making their way to the same destination taking approximately the same route made the whole thing a little difficult. However, I tried not to let the arms and elbows that occasionally slammed into my body disrupt my stroke or frustrate me. About halfway through I got a good fist in my right eye and had a lot of pain. So I flipped over to my back and took off my goggles as I did a bit of backstroke to recover from the pain shooting through my head. I have to say that I got hit by so many men that it was rather upsetting. I did not hit anybody, so I can’t figure out how other people can hit me. It upset me a little, but I knew that this was not the time to think about it. So I flipped back onto my front and continued through the course. I came to shore and looked at my watch and was very happy with my 1:31 time as it was only 1 minute more than my goal. As I ran onto the beach, I saw Luke standing in the front row yelling and waving at me. I smiled big for him and yelled out a quick “I love you” before I headed to the transition area to be stripped of my wetsuit.
The volunteers at this race were unbelievable. I’ve never been to a race quite like this before and it was so amazing to have people there handing the bags to us and wishing us well. It was so great. I quickly changed into my bike shoes and put on my helmet and gloves, took a gel, and headed out. Main Street of Penticton was absolutely packed with people. It was like coming in to Paris in the Tour de France. I wanted to go slow so that I could see my family. Sure enough, I spotted some of the matching orange shirts that they had worn with my race number on it and a picture of me ironed onto it. I waved and heard them shout out “There she is!!!” as I cruised by. I felt like a celebrity and couldn’t help but have a big smile on my face. I knew that I had to enjoy this because the next 180km would not be as much fun.
So off I went to take on the bike course. It was hilly and windy and long. Honestly, I think I’ve blocked most of the 8 and a half hour bike ride out of my memory. Going up Richter’s Pass was tough, but doable. The hardest part was the turn-around portion of the bike where you feel like you’re not really going anywhere because you end up where you started, and you know that the whole time you’re biking that part of the course. However, at the middle of the turn-around, we got our Special Needs bags, which was pretty fun. I put in some Ibuprofen (which I quickly took for my sore knee, neck, and back), some blue Gatorade (orange and yellow Gatorade gets gross after a few hours), and some crackers (so as to eat something that wasn’t Gels, Gatorade, or Clif bars). I took a little time to eat my crackers and I headed back on the bike. The only thing that got me through that part of the bike was knowing that my family was waiting for me at the last climb of the day – the Yellow Lake Road. So I kept going, slow and steady (I averaged 22km/hr on the bike, which is by far the slowest I’ve biked in a race for the past 2 years). The wind was really crazy throughout the day and it took me by surprise a little. I mean, I’m used to the wind, but wind AND hills?!? I repeatedly swore at whoever designed the course. Eventually, I got to where my family had waited for four hours and I could see the clump of orange on the side of the road. I had a crew of about 10 people, including my sister from Yellowknife, my parents, my aunt, my 87-year-old tough-as-nails grandma, some cousins that live in the relative area, and Luke. It was absolutely awesome! Luke ran with me for a bit and everyone cheered, clapped, jumped around and took pictures as I biked by. I kept going with the energy that my family had given me. It was what I needed to get me through the last 30kms, which were also the easiest kilometres of the whole ride. I had never been so happy to be running as I was after that killer bike ride.
In the transition, I immediately noticed the sting from chaffing that had started in the swim and continued on the bike. I have never chaffed before in a race, but I sure did this time. I chaffed under my arms, at the back of my neck, and where my heart-rate monitor sat. I now have a new appreciation for Vaseline and the volunteers who were so kind as to apply it for me. Honestly, they were the best volunteers ever!
The run was my most dreaded part of the Ironman, but turned out to be the best part of the race. I saw my family 3 times before I headed out onto the long part of the 26-mile run. Before I left downtown, I gave all of my family big hugs and my grandma stepped out onto the road and said that she was coming with me. I laughed and said, “Let’s go!” But I ended up going at it alone. I ended up passing lots of people throughout the marathon because I had saved my legs for this and also I was feeling good from the adrenalin. It is really amazing stuff. At the turn-around, I got my second Special Needs bag and ate some more crackers, took another ibuprofen, and drank some purple Gatorade (and ended up carrying the bottle with me for about 6 miles). After the turn-around, the sun went behind the mountains and I got to run in the dark. It was hard to tell where the inclines were (I walked all of the uphills and most of the aid stations), but it was pretty cool to run on this mostly deserted highway (because of the race). All I could see for miles were the purple glow-sticks that were given to us by the race helpers. It was pretty cool and I loved every single moment of it. I think that’s what I love the most about races – the preparation is the hard part, but being there and doing it is the best feeling and I live in the moment more than I do in any other part of my life. It is a beautiful thing.
Here is the professional shot of my run:
Coming into downtown was awesome. The crowd had gathered mostly at the finish line, but I got to see two of our hosts on the side of the road and they ran with me for a few blocks. I got to chat with them and they were so excited that I was doing well and could talk. Not only that, but I was smiling. I knew that the end was near… very near. So they dropped off and headed to the finish line themselves. I came around another corner and took my family off guard by seeing them before they saw me. They ran with me for a few blocks and were also impressed with how good I was doing. I was smiling, chatting, and genuinely having fun. They headed to the finish line while I did the extra 1km out-and-back before the finish line. It was crazy because I could HEAR the announcer saying names and I could hear the music and I was so antsy to get there. So I started sprinting and passing people. A couple of guys made some comments about my youthful age and I just laughed and waved. The last 50 metres is kind of a blur. I saw my family and I gave a whole bunch of high-fives as I came into the finish area and I closed my eyes as I crossed the line. I only vaguely remember the announcer say, finally, after 12 months of training: “Crystal Clarke from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!!!!”
It was an amazing feeling and an amazing day. It was one of the best days of my life and I feel so privileged to have been able to be in such a race with such amazing support-people. Not only did my family come and be so amazing, but I have had a super supportive group of people in Saskatoon that dealt with me on an ongoing basis, from my chiropractor to my friends to my counsellor. I honestly could not have done this without the support of all of them. That being said, I have to thank Luke the most for putting up with me for the past few months. I have been training for this race for as long as we’ve been a couple and he has been more supportive than I could have imagined and I’m excited to continue our life together.