Ursula K. McGuin
The weather was just about perfect on the morning of Ironman Mont Tremblant. Almost everything is perfect about this whole race, in fact. It is the best organized, most generously funded and supported Ironman I have ever seen, from the two air force jets that thundered over the beach at the race start, to the thousands of volunteers, both along the course and working behind the scenes.
|My wave starts at 6:54. Pink caps are waiting their turn.|
I started easily with a smooth stroke, happy with how well I seemed to be moving through the water without a lot of effort. The sun was just coming up over the mountain, which reminded me of many swims in years past in Penticton at IMC. The peaceful feeling was short-lived however. About 2000 metres in, the light-headedness I had noticed earlier got much worse. I started to feel dizzy and nauseated every time I turned my head to breathe. About ten minutes later I was sure I was going to be sick right there in the lake. Mercifully for the other swimmers, I wasn’t, but the feeling got worse, and swells from passing boats and wafts of outboard motor exhaust didn’t help. It was a feeling unlike any I have ever had while swimming and it began to drain my strength and my confidence.I slowed down quite a bit at that point, concentrating on just getting to the end of the swim. My arms and legs continued doing what they were supposed to, but at much reduced power. My head—as well as my body—was swimming. I also began to worry about the rest of the race, but hoped that I might feel better once I stopped being horizontal. As I exited the water I must have still looked fairly miserable though, because a medical volunteer asked me if I was all right. I wasn’t and I knew it, but I continued walking past her towards my wife and daughter who were standing on the sidelines snapping photos of me. I weaved unsteadily up to them and said that I wasn’t sure I could go on.
The medical people must have overheard me because in a few seconds there were two volunteers at my side, helping me sit down as swimmers trotted past on their way to the transition tent. As I babbled and blubbered to them about this being my eighth Ironman and that nothing like this had ever happened to me, I began to shiver uncontrollably even though there was a warm sun shining down.
Eventually the volunteers half-walked, half-carried me to the tent, where I was laid out on a stretcher, still shivering. I must have realized that I wasn’t going to continue the race now, and told someone so, because I was quickly and firmly strapped to the stretcher like a Dexter Morgan victim and heaved onto a golf cart for transport to the infirmary. At some point my timing chip was removed from my ankle and my Ironman was over.There were very few clients in the infirmary at this early point in the day, so I enjoyed the attention of about six medical people. I can’t say enough good things about them. They were efficient and competent while also appreciating the unhappiness of my situation. I was attached to a heart monitor by means of about a dozen electrodes stuck onto various parts of me. Apparently my symptoms resembled some of those of a heart problem. It wasn’t and I knew it; my heart muscle is indestructible, and the data confirmed this (in contradiction to a belief held by sedentary people that anyone foolish enough to engage in any athletic activity whatsoever is risking a cardiac explosion). After about an hour I was able to sit up and finally walk, and I was released into the bright morning sun to contemplate and live with the devastating reality of my very first Ironman DNF.
The mystery remains. As I write this a day later, I still have a light-headed sensation, but nothing close to what I felt during the race. A virus? Allergic reaction? Middle ear infection?I have always believed that it’s a mistake to think of Ironman as a one-day event. Too many things can happen on race day—weather, equipment problems, old injures recurring or new ones appearing—to pin every success metric on that one 15-hour attempt.
Instead I try to think of Ironman as a seven-month process of planning, training and preparing mentally and physically. In this way I know that even if I trip and break my femur on the way to the starting line, I will still have had the advantage, the experience, and hopefully the enjoyment of all the months leading up to race day.I know that the proof of the pudding is in the eating, just as I know that it’s an incomparable feeling to run under the finishing tower and get the T shirt; this is a given. But I have to believe that if you have been through the process, failing to finish the race is not a total failure, but rather something just short of a total success. My Ironman took me seven months, and all but the last day were wonderful; I’ll be back soon to capture that final day.