A few years ago, the idea of Ironman was hatched on the US Xterra Pro Series Circuit with my good friend Danelle Kabush. As we both are born in 1975, I suggested we do something special on our 40th year on the planet. I remember saying, "Let's go do that Ironman race in Kona". She laughed.
"Uh, Brandi, you have to qualify for that race."
Me, puzzled, questioned more and wondered why we couldn't just use our 'Pro' status (is there even such a status?) and just roll into Kona for a week of sun and sports. Once again, Danelle laughed. She said qualifying as a pro would be super hard, even as an age grouper would be difficult, and, we would have to train for it. I knew my body could not handle marathon training, as I have had too many stress fractures to count, and a few patella femoral issues in my track and field days. I also knew I did not want to invest the time to train; I was actually spending LESS time training on the mountain bike, and more time doing sports with my kids. I put the idea to rest as I was trying to link in a warm holiday/Birthday/ race.
And then, a month or so ago, my friend from Whistler, Trevor, said he could transfer his Ironman Canada entry to me if I wanted it. Free, corporate entry. Hmmm. I pondered the idea, but as June is a very hectic month for me at work and with the kids, I put it out of my head, as I was getting ready to do the BC Bike Race at the end of June. No time or energy for swimming and running!
After doing BC Bike race, seven days of 3 or so hours of single track, I figured I was pretty fit, so I texted Trevor and asked if the IM entry was still up for grabs. I am a July baby and just turned 40, so time to check things off the list. He said he would check, and in the meantime, I jumped into the Squamish Triathlon, wondering if I could still swim and run. I hadn't swum for 1.5 years, February of 2014 to be exact, and hadn't run since early May. Needless to say, I suffered, but thankfully the race was only Olympic distance, so I was able to finish with a bit of dignity. Five days before Ironman Canada, I received an email that I was registered. Oh geez. Time to start training.
My calves were still a bit sore from the Squamish Triathlon a week ago, so I figured I should lay off the running, I was going to have to run enough on IM day. Geez.
Friday, T minus 2 days to race. Hmmm. My good friend Malaika gave me a wetsuit years ago that Lori Bowden used to race in. She told me it is hard to get in and out of, but is very fast. Fast was what I needed, as swim fitness is not what I had. I squeezed into it and swam for 25 minutes in Brohm lake and figured my swim training was in the bag. Time to taper.
After my usual pre-race breakfast, I savoured my four shots of espresso at 4:30am and headed up to Whistler. The rain was torrential. Perhaps just a shower? This would just blow over, right? Seeing as though our province has been on fire for the past two months, it seemed a bit ironic for the one day sideways rain would be a day that I was going to spend 12 or more hours in the elements.
Swim: I am pretty comfortable in the water, but it depends what crowd I'm in when it comes to being considered a good swimmer. In the pro Xterra world, I was considered a pretty 'weak' swimmer, so I figured I should start far right of the buoy in the 'weak' swimmer area. Xterra had 800 or so with a beach start, this was 1500-2000 people, deep water start. The gun went off and it was not as chaotic as I expected, and I made it to the first buoy without much stress. A couple of shots to the head and goggles, but nothing to get upset about. I was a bit worried about swimming nearly 4km, as I had never swam that far in my life. Good God. Most my swim workouts a few years ago were 1 hour in the pool. Lots of breaks. However, I found the swim to be pretty peaceful, despite having hundreds of people splashing all around me the entire time. At the beginning of the second lap, I found a super tall guy who was a good sighter, had a nice consistent stroke, so I decided instead of fighting him, I would draft him; and stayed in his bubbles, right to the beach. The rain was pummeling down on us, the waves were starting to form caps; a storm was upon us.
Out of the water, I was thankful there were some ladies to pull the 'Extra Small Lori Bowden' wetsuit off me and I hustled into the women's changing area, where an absolutely amazing woman helped me get my wet bathing suit off and my dry Red Truck Racing kit on. It was hard to do much as my hands were kind of cold, but we managed to get my gear on and out of the tent I went, into the pouring rain. I should have done my research of the bike course, as we headed out south to the Callahan Valley I wondered how long the climb up was, and moreover, how cold I would be descending in the rain. Thankfully, I packed my Red Truck Jacket and mountain bike gloves, Dissent socks, which I tried to pull up as high as I could with cold hands. I felt great on my bike, and was feeling excited to do the ride. Even though I live in the corridor, I had never ridden up to the Callahan before, nor had I ridden up to the Pemberton Meadows and back to Whistler. Lots of firsts. The rain continued all the way to Pemberton, sometimes sideways. As I went back and forth with another girl I joked, as it was almost comical.
Up the Pemberton meadows, so 110km in, I was still feeling okay, and then my right knee started hurting. Not good. I had some knee issues 12 or so years ago when I was a runner, and was just getting into road riding. I had felt this pain before and began to worry. I backed off the pace, which was kind of sad, as I was around a good group of riders, but seeing the bigger picture, I knew this was the right choice. Being on a road bike with no TT bars was also a hindrance, it was hard to get down into a comfortable position for 40 or so kilometres of flats and wind. After 150km, I was kinda over the whole bike thing and really just wanted it to all be over. Damn. Still in Pemberton, and I needed to climb my way back up to Whistler. Thankfully, the rain had stopped, and the roads were starting to dry. I spotted my sister in the feed zone and pulled over for some of these amazing energy balls she had for me. Life saver! I vowed I would not eat one gel the entire day. Personally, I dislike gels. The give me gut rot, and I would rather eat real food, or somewhat real food. One Prima Bar and two Lara Bars later, I was hungry and a bit bonky so I enjoyed my sister's energy treats. Check them out
Climbing the hills from Pemberton to Whistler, I was hoping as a mountain biker I would be flying past people, but as we got closer, my knee reminded me to hold back. I recalled my conversation with Mel McQuaid a few days earlier when she said I was nutso for attempting this race with no training. She advised me to bail after the bike and not to run. She said if I hadn't been running 50km's a week consistently, then the marathon would be bad. Well, I'm not one to listen to much advice, but 170km's into the bike, I started to make deals with myself, recalled my conversation with Mel, and gave myself permission that I could park my bike in transition and call it a day. As I rolled into Whistler, the crowds were growing, the cheers were loud, and I realized I might I have to at least start the run. Into the run transition tent, yet another amazing woman helped me get changed. I told her I thought I was done, and it was okay, my knee was a bit sore, and I might just shut er down. She didn't say much back, but simply got all my run gear out, helped me change my bra, socks, and shorts, got out my sunnies and visor, and shooed me off. I exited the tent to see crowds of people lining the barricades and I realized I had to just start running. Ack. I wanted to walk and hide! The crowd lifted my spirits and blew much needed energy and inspiration my way, and I was off.
Around the first corner I saw my favourite friend Leah. I pulled over and almost had a tear, as I didn't think I could or should do the marathon. She hugged me and pushed me on my way. Another hundred meters down the road lined with people, were my kiddies. They were running and calling me from behind, they had just missed me, so I turned around and ran to them, getting the hugs and kisses I had been longing for since Pemberton. My dear friend Amber told me I could do it, and again, off I went. Surprisingly, as I made myself plod away the steps, it was not that bad. I ran to each aid station, walked through, drank a bit of water, and then carried on. The second aid station in Lost Lake was full on my Grade 8/9 Girls Basketball team from my school. My throat did swell up, many emotions were at the surface and my whole body felt electric as I passed through the station and they cheered me on like I was so sort of champion. I was inspired for sure, so I kept running, and ran pretty much the whole first 21km. Along the way I picked up a guy from Georgia, as we were shuffling the same pace, walking the aid stations, and running in between. He kept an okay pace and as he had already finished 6 Ironmans, he told me we could do around 12/12.5 hours at this pace. I was stoked, as I figured I would be 13.5 hours for sure…
At km 22, my knees told me they had run enough and the pain made me walk. This is where the true testament of will power began. Seeing dozens and dozens of people shuffle by me; yep, it was tough. But, I know the difference between good pain, and bad pain. This was not pain I was willing to push through, especially not for 20km. I was humbled and amazed at the determination of the runners around me. They were super focused, not much chatter. I imagined the hours and hours of training these people had endured, and almost envied their experience, as it had so much more meaning than mine. My friends along the way saved me, and having some companionship to distract me from the reality that I had to walk for over 3 hours, was a game saver. I figured that I had come this far, I wanted to finish. Seeing so many local mountain bike friends cheering me on kept me going, but validated that I was a bit insane to be taking on this race unprepared. I ate only grapes and chicken broth at the aid stations, my stomach was the boss, and I listened to what it said. Last 5km, I could hear the finish, and I started to shuffle. Leah, Trevor, Samantha, and my cousin Kelly, all ran bits and pieces with me, and when I finally got to the last kilometre, I could taste the finish line. Coming through the finishing chute, there were the two treasures of my life, little blondes, poking their heads out from behind the barricades saying "Go MOMMY". I blew them both a kiss and cruised through to be told, yes, Brandi Heisterman, you are an Ironman.
Ah, so that is my Ironman experience. I am so pleased to have done it, and even more pleased that I didn't have to train for it. Checked off the list of things to do, I think I am lucky to have survived, and I'll be happy to only volunteer next year and help other IM athletes achieve their goals.