I found out after the race that it boasts of the most difficult half IM in Canada. In a way, I’m kind of glad that I didn’t know this information going into it. Also, I now know why people do not opt to do this race as their qualifier for Ironman Canada. While it is almost a sure-thing that you will get in, you have to endure the wrath of the Desert Half IM course. This is no feat, I now know all too well.
The swim was fairly uneventful. I did have a personal best (PB) for a half IM swim by coming out of the water at 39 minutes. I did some drafting and I swam on my own. It is definitely the warmest lake swim I’ve ever done – it was 23 degrees on race-day morning, which made it just under the cut-off for wetsuits. They split us up into two heats: men under 50 in one and women and men over 50 in the other. It turned out to be all right and I only got roughed up a little bit. Well, the heats were about 200 people for each one, so it would be pretty unusual to be hit a lot from such a small number of people. I’m getting used to swimming with more people, so this race kind of nice and mellow for the start. It was two laps and I wish I would have looked at my split time. I’m sure my second one was faster than my first – I really need to iron out (no pun intended!) my race-day pre-race preparations so that I can get into my rhythm faster.
Once the swim was done, I knew that the big job was coming up. Everyone who knows me that I love bicycles. I love to ride bicycles, look at bicycles, fix bicycles, talk about bicycles, and pretty much everything to do with bicycles. I think they are fantastic machines that are super efficient and super cool to look at. However, on this particular Sunday morning, I hated being on my bicycle. I did know that this bike ride would be hard on my body, but I had no idea how mentally difficult it would be on top of that.
Let me paint you the picture of the bike course:
It’s in the dessert where plants grow sparsely without much water unless irrigated. The hills were hot and windy, no matter which direction you went. There was one flat section for about 10 km, the other 80km were hilly. The hills felt like they went on forever. FOREVER. Going out wasn’t so bad, but I was getting frustrated a little bit. I thought that it would be better once we turned around. I was wrong. Well, the flattish section was better going back because the wind was at our backs, but there was definitely more climbing coming back. I don’t know how many rollers there are, but it felt like 20. I cried once. I swore a lot. I wanted to bike off the side of the mountain just so that I could stop the torture. My body didn’t like the hills very much, but my mind hated them. It isn’t very often that I get so upset while on a bike. However, there was no way I was stopping after getting that far. That’s how I reasoned with myself. I just kept telling myself, “You can get off the bike very soon. We’ve come this far. We’ll practice hills for Ironman.” At that point, though, I didn’t even want to do Ironman. The Ironman course does Richter’s pass and the rollers, which we did twice during the Desert Half IM (once forward, once backward). My bike ride was almost 5 hours. HELL. ON. EARTH. The only other time I was so happy to be running was during Ironman Canada in 2007 when I was on the bike for 8 hours. Now I remember why: it’s the hills! NOTE TO SELF: PRACTICE HILLS!!! I live in the prairies, though, which makes finding hills kind of difficult. I needs to be done, though.
Once I got off the hills and off my bike, I was happy again. I cheered people on as they ran the 2-loop course. It was actually a lot of fun. On the bike I didn’t pee once, so I was really happy to pee several times on the run. Perhaps too often? I just looked at my official time and I spent about 15 minutes peeing. Although, one time I did not stop to go. This was the first time I’ve ever done that. I panicked at one point because I realized that I would be close to the 8-hour cut-off, but then I remembered that they added an extra half hour to this race because it is so difficult. NO. KIDDING! It was also very hot once on the run, about 35 degrees. It was a little bit cloudy, though, so it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. I took lots of water, gatorade, ice chips, and gross sponges to keep myself cooled off. According to my watch, I ran for 2 hours, 33 minutes. The official time was 2:48. I’m all right with all of it. I couldn’t believe I could even run after that bike ride. Not only did I run, but I ran at a fairly good pace [for me]. The extra bike time didn’t affect my run as much as I thought it would have. Plus, I felt great. I had no pain anywhere and my mind was clear and calm.
Also, once off the bike, I figured that I was in the clear in terms of my health. Thankfully, I was right. I did not have a relapse stroke or any problems whatsoever. I felt the best I have felt in a tri in a long time. I think I’m ready for Ironman Canada! Oh yeah, I went to the meeting after the race and they gave me a spot! So I’m definitely going and I’m really excited about it. I’m going to be trying to find some bigger hills around here. They are pretty small, so I’m just going to go up and down the ones we have many times.
My final race time was 7:42, about an hour slower than my worst previous half IM time. I was 88th out of 111 (not all finished). I was last in my new and very tough age category of 30-34 (even though I’m still 29). That being said, I’m really glad that I did the race and finished it and that I’ll be going to Ironman Canada. All THAT being said, I doubt if I will ever do that race again. It is so tough and so hot. A nice prelude to IMC, but it really kicked my butt.