Muskoka IronMan 70.3 – Neil’s Story

Hi Everyone 🙂

In my big (massive) race summary yesterday, I mentioned that I was going to let Neil tell you about his experience on the Muskoka IronMan 70.3 course in his own words. Today, I make good on that promise.

Something that Matt’s dad Roy said a while back really resonated with me, and very nearly held true for Neil. Roy said that back when he was training for his full IronMan, something that he had to wrap his head around was the idea that even though he had done all the training that he could and taken all of the proper precautions, there was still a very real possibility that a) he wouldn’t even get to start the race and b) that even if he did start, something outside of his control could end his race prematurely. The thought hung over me the entire year.

Sometimes, as it turns out, the biggest challenge of the day has nothing to do with muscles or with hills or sweat or joints. Sometimes the toughest battle that an athlete can face in one of these events happens between their ears. When they would be totally within their rights and justification to call it a day and walk off the course, but something in their head just won’t let them give up.

I won’t say anymore, and instead will let Neil tell you his own IronMan 70.3 story. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!!

-Sara

Muskoka Ironman 70.3

September 8th 2013

The event started the night before going over all my equipment; making sure I have all my clothes together as well as any food I would be carrying. I lined it all up on the floor and packed it into my bag. I filled up my water bottles and left them in the fridge overnight. Next I determined what tools I wanted to bring along for my bike; it’s the one element to the race where things can happen that are not in your control, being prepared for some repairs is how you can take back some of that control.

I decided on a couple Allen wrenches, the sizes that I used that day to make sure all my bike components were tight, and a tire removal tool. With all that taken care of I walked through my transitions in my head; wetsuit, goggles, cap, timing chip to towel, socks, biking shoes, cycling shirt, sunscreen, sunglasses, helmet, bike to running shoes, sunscreen, and bib.  I felt really good with everything and so with that I went to bed. I was maybe in bed for 30 minutes when all of a sudden I jumped out and went to my gear. I pulled out my biking shoes and an Allen wrench and made sure my cleats on my shoes were secure. So if you can imagine I was totally happy with my gear setup when I went to bed, and yet all I could think of was if I had everything and was it race ready! After that wake up I managed to get to sleep only to wake up at 5:45am.

Skip past the usual morning jitters and past my plain old oatmeal. I got over to the transition area where my bike was already waiting, as it had to be in transition zone the day before. I took time to look over it and checked my tires pressure. Everything looked great. I then began pulling all my gear, food, and tools out of my bag and setup my transition area. I’m not a big talker before any events especially a big one like this. However, I did manage to say “Hey” to another athlete. Once I felt good with my setup I went and got my body marking done, and was off to the bathroom one last time before the start. It was now time to get going as the start was getting close. I put on my timing chip and wetsuit, and began the walk to the lake for the start with goggles and swim cap in hand. We all got to the start area and so I said goodbye to my supporters and past them some last minute warm clothes and shoes. With that I was in the water for a warm up swim.

Swim Start 2

After a few minutes it was time, and so I said my good lucks to Sara, who was doing the event along with me, and I worked my way right to the front of the start line. I had a fair bit of room around me which was nice, I always have a slight worry about getting kicked in the face during the swim but I’ve done enough events to know how to avoid something like that from happening. 10 Seconds! 5 seconds! And what once seem so far away had begun, and I couldn’t have been more excited!

I swim using the front crawl and before I knew it I was in a good rhythm with strokes and taking breathes. Everything seemed to be coming together great, and I remember thinking that I should push myself to go faster! Of course I continued at my pace, knowing I was only in the first 500 meters of the swim. That’s when it happened! Just like that I could feel another athlete touching my feet, so I tried my best not to kick really hard. The last thing I wanted to do was end someone’s chances of completing the Ironman 70.3. However, this person kept coming up on me and out of nowhere it seemed, I felt the whole hand right between my legs pushing on my butt and crotch! It shocked me a bit and so I slowed up and let the person move past me. I never did see if it was a guy or girl. This threw me off my rhythm for a little while, but I managed to get back into it and continued on. The rest of the swim went just as planned; I felt comfortable and kept up a good pace. I was always looking to the next Dorito buoy, until I had past the last one and was almost to the swim finish! As I was coming up to the swim finish the water got very murky and seaweed was catching on my arms and face. This is when I began thinking about whether or not to take my wetsuit off myself or to let the strippers do it. I left it to a last second decision! I reached land and looked for an open stripper; I saw a girl that was looking right at me, so I ran towards her but at the last second I decided I would take it off myself! The run to transition was about 300 meters basically all up hill. I ran up the hill like it wasn’t even there, I felt amazing, and the crowd/supporters were great!

Neil Swim Finish 2

I got to transition and pulled my wetsuit off, my swim cap and goggles were off earlier, and dried myself off with my towel starting with my feet working my way up. I was then able to get my socks on, biking shoes, and cycling jersey with all my tools and food. I went to put on sunscreen but I couldn’t get the spray to work, dumb child locks, so I threw it down and put on my glasses and helmet. With my bike in hand I worked my way to the bike on section! I can’t stress enough how good my body felt at this point. The swim felt great and my transition was quick, I was well on my way to reaching my goal of 5 hours 50 minutes! However, an Ironman 70.3 is not just about how physically strong you are but also how mentally strong you are, as I would soon find out!

 

I was now on the bike, the part of the event I was looking forward to the most. I made the most progress on the bike during my training; as well I just got a new bike only a couple months earlier. Things started out great; I was right on pace, and climbing hills effectively. Once I got about 3km in I told myself I needed relax for the first 30km and make sure I get in the appropriate food and water. So that’s when I began using my gears as efficiently as possible, not getting too carried away going up hills, but maintaining an average pace of 30km/hr. At this point I would like to ask a couple questions. What would you do if your race plan was turned upside down? Would you be able to adjust your plan? Would you be able to overcome the fact that you would no longer be reaching your goal but instead just look to finish?

Neil Bike

At kilometer 8 is when disaster struck, and one of those things that isn’t in your control happened. I was working my way up a steeper hill on the course and so I decided to switch to my smaller chain ring, thinking that I was pushing a little too hard up this hill and a couple previous hills. Everything shifted fine and I got to the top of the hill, at which point I went to shift back to my large chain ring. When I made the shift, all of a sudden I heard a horrendous clunking noise coming from my crankset and front derailleur.

Instantly I started cursing in my head, wondering what happened. I pulled over to get a look, and to determine if I could fix it. I pulled off my cycling jersey and laid the bike on its side. This is when I saw that my derailleur was too low and was caught in the large chain ring. I did my best to clear my head so I could focus on repairing the problem. The problem was that my head was racing out of control! I was mentally frying myself out, and couldn’t see a solution. At first I thought my race is over! Emotions started up and I stood up with my hands over my head. I was disgusted with my bike; I couldn’t believe it broke down, and that it was so early in the race.

A couple of cyclist yelled to me if I needed help, but I told them not to worry about me and to continue on. I didn’t know what to do for a few moments, so I went to my tools and pulled out the Allen wrenches, spreading them by my bike. I took another look at my derailleur and decided to try and move it anyway possible; I just couldn’t get it to sit properly. So I put my shifter to the lower chain ring and forced the derailleur over. I would no longer be able to use my large chain ring, which means no high gears, which also means I’m no longer going to be able to travel at 30km/hr.

I got back onto my bike and started out again. All I could think about is how I had finisher clothes waiting for me at the finish that would have to be burned, and would I be able to live with the fact that I couldn’t finish my first Ironman 70.3. I started thinking about what my supporters would think of me and how would I explain to friends and co-workers that I couldn’t finish. With all this running through my head, again all of a sudden, Clunk! Clunk! Clunk! This time I swore out loud, and pulled over. This was maybe 100 – 150 meters past my first stop. I had a look and this time it was my chain contacting my derailleur! Again I put my hands on top of my head and said “How can this be happing to me? At this race!”! I went to get my Allen wrenches from my jersey and realized that I only put one back in, I had left the others at my previous stop.

I stopped everything I was doing, slowed down and took several deep breathes and cleared my head. This is when I was able to turn around all my thoughts and focus on my bike and getting it road ready. I sorted out that if I only used my 4 – 6 lowest gears that the chain would not touch the derailleur, and no damage would occur to any of components(I made the decision that it would be better for me to try and continue riding instead of waiting for the mobile bike support van). With that decided I looked at my watch to get a base time, to determine if I would be able to make the cut off time, and figured that if I could make it to the 34km aid station there might be a bike support station and I could get it fixed there. At the same time I would keep my eye out for the bike support van. So I started out back on the bike with 86km to go! This time though things were different! I said to myself that my race was not over just yet, and that they would have to take me off before I would surrender! I thought about the finisher clothes and felt that I deserve to wear them and I will wear them when I get to the finish! I knew all my supporters would be right there cheering me the whole way regardless of what time I came in at! This is when I decided that this would not be my last Ironman 70.3 and that I would return next year to conquer Muskoka in better shape and with a fully operational bike! I also thought it would be great to share my experience with my friends and co-workers, but it would be better if I started the story with I am an Ironman 70.3 Finisher! I began shaping together a new goal, that wouldn’t take full shape until the 34km mark.

I will tell you riding with only your low gears is not easy as I learned over the course of the next 86km. Your cadence is a lot higher, and well you can’t pedal down hills or even flat sections until you slow down to 20 -23km/hr! So I would pass a lot of cyclists up hills, but then on the way down they would just pass me right back. That took a while for me to sort out but I was focused on getting to the 34km aid station, while watching my watch for timing. 15 kilometers! 25 kilometers went by! I started thinking about where my supporters would be on the course. I knew a couple spots they might be close to so I started watching out for them. I finally got to the 34km aid station, where there was a time stamp so people online could track your progress. I asked and asked if there was any bike support, but no luck. I wouldn’t be getting my bike fixed at this point!

I continued on, getting into a bit of a rhythm with pedaling up hills but then coasting till my speed dropped to about 23km/hr. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that I wasn’t going to see a bike station at the 62km aid station either, and that I was in for the long haul with my current bike situation. I was feeling good physically, and mentally I was starting to feel more confident! At around the 50km mark is when I saw my supporters for the first time on the bike. I knew that they would be wondering what was going on with me, as I was way off pace. Was it bike mechanical problems or was I suffering? As I pulled myself up the slight hill and saw them I first felt embarrassed, because obviously things were not going as planned. However, I shook that out of my head, and then yelled to them that I couldn’t go into my top gears! I was hoping this would explain my situation, so people didn’t have to check in with medical tents. After that the kilometers just ticked away slowly, I checked my watch and knew by this time that I was going to be well under the cut off time. That lifted my thoughts and that’s when my new goal of finishing became solid! I started doing math in my head and came to the conclusion I would be finishing around 7 hours 30 minutes. I wasn’t totally out of the woods, but things were looking great. My next worry was my cadence. I was biking at an incredibly higher cadence than I was used to, and so I was really worried about my legs for the 21 kilometer run.

At the same time I was wondering if Sara was going to catch me, I planned out what I was going to say to her if she did and encourage her to continue riding! I was just going to explain my gear situation and that she should keep to her race plan and not worry about me and that I would meet her at the finish line as finishers! Turns out she was catching me but we never did end up meeting on the bike. As for my higher cadence issue I started really focusing on conserving my legs, which meant utilizing every hill to its fullest and using my gears efficiently up hills.

At long last I saw the bike support van! The only thing was that I was at the 85km mark, and so I didn’t stop for repairs, I continued on with what I had. I made it up the last few hills before the final turn to the transition area (Deerhurst). When I made that final turn to Deerhurst all the emotions of what I just went through came rushing back! I HAD MADE IT! There might have even been a few tears, but they were tears of joy! I just made it through the toughest section of any event I have ever been in. I didn’t care about how the run was going to go, because I knew that whatever the run threw at me I would be able to work through it.

I got closer to the bike dismount area and I started looking for Matthew, I wanted to let him know that I wasn’t sure how the run would go and that I would be slower than expected. I saw him not far down from the bike dismount area, and I yelled to him that things were going to be bad! I figured that would get my thought across in a few words. At that time I was feel good, I was just unsure how things were going to go. I racked my bike, switched to my running shoes, this time I managed to get the sunscreen to work, and started out for the run start. That’s when I was stopped by an official saying I needed my bib on! I ran back to my station and clipped on my bib belt, and then ran out of transition!

Neil Run Start

I got out onto the run course, and things were going well. I was moving along fairly quickly, I seemed to be close to my original goals pace! I passed a few people and the kilometers started dropping. I had an idea on where my supporters were going to be, and I was excited to see them! So much I even started planning out what I would say to them as I passed! At about the 8km on the run is when I did finally see my supporters, and as I ran by with a big smile, I yelled to them that I peed my pants like the professionals will do, adding in a hand gesture. I of course then declared that I was kidding! I actually had to stop a couple kilometers earlier to use the portable toilet.

I continued past them and this is when things got a bit more interesting. I was caught in an everlasting battle with several people who were doing a run walk. They would walk up the hills, where I would pass them running, but then they would pass me running down the hills. Déjà vu, anyone! That’s how my bike went! Anyway, this went back and forth all the way to Deerhurst. I passed my supporters for the last time before the finish; however this time I was no longer wearing the big smile as things were now getting tough physically. Just as I passed them and crested a hill is when I saw Sara. I was starting to struggle so there wasn’t much said but I told her she was doing great and to keep going!

Neil Run

At around kilometer 15 is when things really hit me and is when things flipped on me. I knew I could make to the finish by this point, so mentally I was feeling great but physically I was slowing down and my body was wearing down! I was now at the opposite end to the spectrum; I went from all mental, to all physical! I just kept my feet moving! I got to the final hill before the chute to the finish line, and I saw that the same athletes were going to walk it so I said to myself that I would pass them one last time and I would not let them catch me until after the finish line! We got to the hill I passed them and caught up to another lady just ahead of them. As I passed her she complemented me on completing the Ironman 70.3 for the first time and at the age of 25! I thanked her and continued on, only to have her pass me in the chute. I congratulated her as she passed as I knew I would not be able to catch her. However, the men that I said I wouldn’t let pass me were getting close and so when one of them just came up behind me I threw on the jets one last time all the way to the finish line! I crossed the line ahead of him, but that wasn’t the highlight! I FINISHED!

Neil Finish

I am an Ironman 70.3! It took me a little longer than expected (7:18:03) but I couldn’t be happier with the outcome! I wear my finisher clothes with pride and I’m looking forward to the next one! I learned a lot from the event. I now know that even if the worst happens I will be able to adjust accordingly! In saying that I hope anyone that reads this can take away that you can overcome any adversity big or small, and that there are always supporters out there waiting to help/cheer for you! Thank You!

-Neil

Neil Medal

Future Plans

Muskoka 70.3 2014 – Redemption

Ironman Canada Whistler 2015 – Next

*I have since fixed my bike, and it was a fixable problem I encountered. However I didn’t have the proper size Allen wrenches on me during the bike to fix things. You can bet I’ll be carrying them from now on!

*The derailleur mount had a loose screw.

Earlier in the weekend, Sara and I had been talking about what the absolute worst thing that could happen out on the race course was. Sara figured it was drowning during the swim, I figured it was keeling over and dying 4km or less from the finish line on the run. I’ve done some thinking about it, and I’ve finally come up with the right answer.

So what’s the worst thing that could happen during the race?

“Walking off the course and giving up”

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2 thoughts on “Muskoka IronMan 70.3 – Neil’s Story

  1. To both Sara & Neil…. Thank you so much for sharing your Ironman 70.3! I’m so proud of you both & consider your stories a tremendous inspiration for me (my biggest fear is, and always has been, the bike). By the time you read this you may/may not know that I have registered for the 2014 Muskoka 70.3! Aack!! Right now, I think I’m still in shock, and I’m sure reality will set in soon 😉

  2. Jean!! Oh my goodness!! Roy has been filling us in on all of the details, but HOW EXCITING!! I am so excited for you, and for all of us for next year!! I hear you, I was in shock until about August of last year (maybe I’m still in a little bit of shock, LOL)!! You will be great, can’t wait to trade training stories this year!! 🙂

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