Man, this post has been a long time coming.  And I couldn't be more thankful for the opportunity to write it.  So please - grab a coffee and settle in.  It may be a long one, but it's a good one!

Pre-Race

Our Ironman journey began on Wednesday night.  Since Steph and Rich were also racing, we decided to caravan to Whistler with a stop in Jasper Wednesday evening.  Steph's sister, brother-in-law and nephew live in Jasper and it was such a fun treat to visit with them and stay for the night.  It also helped to break up the 13-hour drive, which was so beautiful otherwise.
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Leaving Jasper for Whistler.
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One of many terrible views on the drive to Whistler.
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Another horrible view on the drive to Whistler.
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Just mimicking some bears at a gas station pit-stop...
We continued to Whistler on Thursday morning.  Following another nine hours and some twists and turns on 99 which I thought were going to be the end of me, we were in Whistler Village and checked into our hotel, the Summit Lodge and Spa.  (Sidenote: I booked the hotel on Priceline, my first time ever using that website.  We got the room for an amazing deal, booked just eight months out from race day.)  I would highly recommend this hotel, especially for those racing Ironman Canada in 2014.  Our room was spacious and included a kitchenette and balcony (key for wetsuit drying!) and was super close to the finish line.  That evening, we grabbed dinner at Sushi Village and called it a night.  I slept nine hours and was so happy for some quality rest.
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My most favorite Olympic rings EVER.
Friday was a busy one.  The day started off in the Ironman expo/village area at Athlete Check-In.  We completed our paperwork (this basically contained our medical information and emergency contact information), received our athlete bags and were able to do some damage in the merchandise tent.  (Seriously, lots of damage. Even Shaun went crazy!)
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Signing my life away to race.
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Checking out our athlete bags in the Village.
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Dr. Steph performing minor surgery on my nagging bee sting area.
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All checked in and no turning back!
On Friday afternoon, we grabbed Mexican (ceviche!) for lunch and then took a spin on our bikes and rode the run course so that we could see what we'd be getting ourselves into.  With Rich's help, I also bought and replaced the cleats on my shoes.  (Super glad I did that pre-race.)  Rich and Steph also went for a quick swim in Alta Lake, but I opted to head back to my hotel for a shower and some rest before the opening ceremonies/rules meeting.

Having only been to the athlete dinner in Kona (I know, what an amazing and unforgettable one to begin with!) I was really looking forward to attending the opening ceremonies in Whistler.  Ironman Canada decided to do something different and instead of hosting a dinner, gave each athlete a $25 voucher good at a number of higher-end establishments in Whistler.  I personally LOVED this as then I wasn't forced to eat food I couldn't/didn't like, and it also gave you time to catch up with friends and family.

Shaun and I headed to the village and enjoyed the hour-long opening ceremonies.  There was entertainment from a First Nations group, some fun facts about Ironman Canada participants, and of course, everyone's favorite stories of those overcoming some of life's greatest obstacles to compete in Ironman Canada.  Remember: no matter how bad your life may seem, someone is always fighting a greater battle.
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2013 Ironman Canada Opening Ceremonies
If you follow Ironman races at all, you know it's perhaps someone's greatest moment in life to hear Mike Reilly announce them as an Ironman when they cross the finish line.  Well, Mike wasn't able to announce Ironman Canada due to his daughter's wedding occurring the same weekend.  I couldn't even tell you the name of the main announcer because they immediately told us that Tom Ziebart would also be filling this role.  Now to most of you, the name Tom Ziebart means nothing, but to me?  I let out the most excited squeal as I used work with Tom when I was with FH/Gatorade and was in Kona with him in 2007.  Suddenly, everything was aligning perfectly.

On Friday evening, we met Rich, Steph and two other friends from the shop who were in town for the race, Jan and Briggita, for dinner at the Wild Wood Pacific Bistro.  The restaurant was not crowded and we were able to enjoy a great meal and even better company.  Again, I am so blessed to have found my Edmonton friends-now-family.  After heading back to the room, I clocked another nine hours of sleep and was really feeling good about my rest.

On Saturday, I woke up and dove into my bags.  Let me tell you: the Ironman most certainly suits the Type-A individual.  With run gear, bike gear, and run and bike special needs bags, I had my work cut out for me.  (Seriously, it took me and my paranoia a couple hours to finish these bad boys.)
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My lifelines on race day.
I met up with Rich and Steph to drop my run bag off in T2 and bike gear and bike off in T1.  And then Steph decided it would be easier (and safer) to just ride our bags to T1 (true) versus toss them in a shuttle, so that's what we did.  After a short warm-up swim, we were on the bus and headed back to the Village!
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Run bag drop off in T2.
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#111 all racked and ready to go next to the pros!
Following an early dinner (which consisted of matzoh ball soup & roast beef sliders) I went back to my room to finalize my nutrition and special needs bags.  Not long after, it was 9 pm, which meant lights out for one final pre-Ironman sleep!

Race Day

Finally, we're getting to the reason you're reading this blog post.

On race morning, my alarm went off at 4 am.  Shaun grabbed me some coffee from the lobby and I drank that (you have to get things moving on race morning, if you know what I mean) along with a G2.  I also ate a piece of gluten-free toast with peanut butter and honey and one chocolate PowerBar.  At 5 am, I kissed Shaun goodbye and made my way to drop off my special needs bags and catch the shuttle to the swim start at Alta Lake from T2.
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You can barely see, but Shaun captured me walking to T2 from our hotel on race morning.
I had been pretty guarded with my goal time and plan for the race because I was afraid to set myself up for failure.  I believe in myself just as much as the next person does, but there are a lot of unknowns on race day.  My goal time was 14 hours and my race plan was to push my swim, maintain a strong pace on the bike, and then pace myself through the run by walking through aid stations and power walking all decent uphills.

Once arriving at T1, I added my nutrition to my bike, Rich pumped my tires, and I threw on my wetsuit and tossed my clothes into my morning clothes bag.  With the drop of the bag, I was headed to the water as the race was about to begin.  I wasn't too nervous and my stomach was not tossing and turning, which I was beyond thankful for.  

The Swim

The swim course featured a mass in-water start and two loops around Alta Lake.  Knowing 2600 people were planning to start this race, I got into the water early, took a quick pee in the wetsuit, and got myself to the front of the line.  I was so excited for the day to begin and said a prayer to myself following Oh Canada just before the cannon blasted for us to begin.

Overall, I would describe the swim in one word: PHYSICAL.  Wowzers, these athletes were not holding anything back in the water.  I was kicked in the chest, kicked in the jaw, toppled over, clawed and had my goggles kicked off, but what really frustrated me was when a man held my head under water.  Literally, he took his hand, put it on my cap, and held me under for a solid 15 seconds.  I couldn't believe that happened.  But rather than fight back and waste precious energy, I just swam past him and kept with my pack.  Thank goodness that happened to me and not someone who wasn't a strong swimmer; it would have easily (and unfortunately) ended their race.

I felt that my swim could have been faster, at least by five minutes, but the lake was so crowded that there was no where to go.  Even if I had been swimming my fastest, it wouldn't have gotten me much further.  But it was still a strong swim, and one that I was happy to leave behind!

Total swim time: 1:12.05 (15th in division, 120th in females, 647th overall)
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A look out onto T1 and Alta Lake pre-swim!
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Shaun surprised me at T1 with a great spot on the fence to wish me good luck on the bike!
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Happy with my swim and ready to rock & roll on the bike!
Swim-to-Bike transition total time: 12:36 (eh, could have been much faster but it was hard to change while soaking wet and I wanted to be comfortable for 180km!)

The Bike

Ah, the bike.  Also known as the part of the day I was most fearful for.  I'm not sure why, because it's the area I focused on most in training with endless trainer sessions, Banff to Jasper, and a handful of century rides.  Plus, I had my new bike!  But for some reason, I was worried I wouldn't make the cutoff times and with the possibility that a mechanical error could nip me in the bud, let's just say I wanted to start strong.

The bike course was not a walk in the park.  And actually, I liked it that way.  With 180km of hills (6600 feet of elevation gained; apparently this is now the hardest bike course in North America) and false flats, the course was very easy to break up into sections which really helped me to pace myself.  Alta Lake - Callaghan Valley.  Up Callaghan.  Down Callaghan.  Callaghan Valley to Whistler Village.  Whistler Village to Pemberton.  Pemberton out.  Pemberton back.  And finally, Pemberton back to Whistler Village.

I'll admit the first 40km did not feel great.  I was getting adjusted and for some reason, my legs always take forever to warm up on rides.  But by the time I was coming back down Callaghan, I was relieved and feeling strong.  I was keeping my cadence high and settling into my aerobars really well.  I was riding up hills in my bars, enjoying that power source moreso than sitting up, and for me, taking the downhills at a quick pace.  I hit 90km at 3:30 and was very pleased.
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Saw Shaun at about 60km on the bike. He waved a Terrible Towel and I gave him a 'woo!' and thumbs up!
When I was in Kona, I had asked some of the triathletes what they thought about for the 112-mile bike ride.  Many commented that they just counted their cadence over and over and said mantras to themselves.  I tried to channel my inner World Championship Ironman, and focused on this as well as getting in my nutrition.  In total on the bike, I ate one chocolate PowerBar, one cashew butter MacroBar, three bags of Honey Stinger energy chews, one PowerGel and five bottles of Gatorade.  Oh, and I also grabbed some potato chips in my special needs bag.  The saltiness was incredible!

The final 90km of the bike included 60km of flats and 30km of climbing back to Whistler Village.  I settled into my bars for the Pemberton flats and was pleasantly surprised to be passing a lot of people.  It was this road that made me feel like I was meant to be here.  Meant to be pushing it on the bike, meant to be struggling, meant to be pushing myself out of my comfort zone.  I saved a bit in my legs for the hills back to town (which were pretty brutal - I passed many grown men walking their bikes) and rolled into the Village with a huge smile on my face.  The bike was done, and now it was up to my own two feet to finish the race for me.

Total bike time: 7:12.57 (52nd in division, 328th in females, 1497 overall)
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On the beautiful and challenging bike course.
I biked into the T2 chute and handed off my bike to a volunteer before grabbing my run bag and heading into the change tent.  I had a wonderful volunteer helping me with all of my stuff - she got my shoes ready, took my Advil out for me and really ensured I was set to go for the rest of the race.  I ran (wobbled?) out of the tent, had some sunscreen slathered onto me, and off I went!

Bike-to-run total transition time: 8:54 (SF swimmers, that one's for you!!)

The Run

If you want a flat run course, Ironman Canada is not for you.  But if you want a scenic and fun trail course, Ironman Canada IS for you!

The first five or so miles of the run had me a bit worried that it was going to be a long marathon.  My legs were struggling to comprehend that we had to run following that bike and took a while to get into a groove.  But after that, they did, and it made the race a lot more fun.

Knowing I'm no speed demon, I decided to walk each aid station (which I did at each 70.3 this year) and I was really happy with my decision.  At each aid station, I had a cup of water, a few sips of a sports drink, and a cup of potato chips.  I also added in chicken broth towards the end and took one gel for each 13.1 mile loop.  Knock on wood, my stomach was on my side and I had zero cramping and stomach issues.  This may have been the greatest accomplishment of the day, to be honest!

Throughout the run, I did my best to maintain a steady pace without pushing things too much.  I wanted to finish strong and I wanted to enjoy myself.  I was smiling the entire run and thanking all of the volunteers and spectators.  After all, without them, we couldn't have been out there racing!  In fact, a few women commented to me that I was having so much fun that I didn't even look tired or sweaty.  Let me assure you, I was sweating.  My black tank was caked in salt.  But I was going off nutritional energy and adrenaline, and it was pretty awesome.

I saw Shaun at mile 12 and he ran with me for 100 yards or so.  I told him I was doing well and he told me that he had talked to my mom, best friend Erin and some others, and that everyone was pulling for me on Facebook!  That was really so cool to hear and to know that so many people genuinely cared about what I was doing.  I told him I'd see him again in 12 miles and off I went!
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At Mile 12 of the run!
On my second loop, my blisters really started to make their presence known.  But hell, I was doing an Ironman, no blister was going to stop me!  I maintained my pace and followed my plan and before I knew it, I was reaching the 25 mile mark.  I can't quite remember where I last saw Shaun, but I know he told me that I just had to run down the hill and around the corner and then I would be there.  I kicked up my little legs and ran the best mile of my life to the finish line!
Total run time: 4:50.37 (47th in division, 288th of females, 1303 overall)

As soon as I crossed the finish line, a volunteer was there to 'catch' me and make sure I was OK.  I assured him I was, so he led me to my race medal, finishers hat, finishers shirt, insulated wrap, a bottle of water and post-race photos.  I also found Steph and Shaun waiting for me and was SO happy to seem them as an Ironman!
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Cycle-Logic Racing Team at Ironman Canada! We missed you, Courtney!
Overall Ironman time: 13:37:09 
After taking in the sights and sounds of the finish line, I headed back to the room for a hot shower (amazing) and some sleep.  I don't think I really slept much that night since every single part of my body hurt.  Think of a giant bruise, times one million.  That's how I felt.  But I was still riding my Ironman high and it didn't matter.

The next morning, we met Rich and Steph for breakfast (bacon has never tasted better) and went to the roll down ceremony.  Unfortunately for Steph, there were four Kona spots in our age group and she came in fifth and there were no roll-downs.  But she still had an epic race (10:54!) and is destined to make Kona in 2014, I just know it!
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Steph receiving her award.
Before hopping in our cars for the 13-hour drive back to Edmonton (which I would never recommend again following an Ironman, God Bless Shaun...) there was just one final thing to do.
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Ironman down, Olympics to go?! ;)
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And with the one who helped make this all possible :)
Overall, racing Ironman Canada was one of the best days of my life.  After months of training and sacrificing, it was such a pleasure and honor to be racing with so many great competitors.  I know I have a soft spot in my heart for Whistler, but it truly was the most perfect race venue.  The volunteers were amazing (friendly Canadians, eh!) and we couldn't have asked for better weather for race day.  From start to finish in Whistler, my Ironman experience was everything I dreamed it could have been and more.  I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to train for and compete in the race, it truly is a blessing.

There are so many people to thank for making this race possible that I will most certainly need to dedicate another blog post to them!  I was beyond overwhelmed by the support and encouragement that so many of you shared with me throughout my training, leading up to race day, on race day and following the completion of the event.  I am inspired by each and every one of you for many different reasons as I hope I helped you tell yourself that no dream is ever too big.

As I said on Facebook, exactly one year previous to the date as I crossed the Ironman finish line, I started my new life in Canada.  I had no friends here, no family in the country and no job.  But I had dreams.  Don't EVER lose sight of your dreams.  You can do ANYTHING you put your mind to!
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2013 Ironman Canada Finishers Medal
 


Comments

Aly
09/05/2013 09:49

Julie Mason -- you are a rockstar!! What an inspirational post on how we all need to set and chase our goals, even when life throws mental, personal or health obstacles in our way. Congratulations on becoming an Iron(wo)man!

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Julie
09/05/2013 12:18

Thanks, Aly! It was a long time coming but I think that made it even sweeter :) Really appreciate your support and excitement!

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09/05/2013 09:55

Julie! Congratulations on a fantastic race time, and well done you on finishing in high spirits. Onward, to the next race!

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09/05/2013 09:57

PS. Don't forget to change your bio page to include IM Canada 2013! :)

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Julie
09/05/2013 12:19

Ah good catch, done! Do you think another Ironman is in your future??

CQ
09/05/2013 10:16

You. Go. Girl. Way to slay that beast and congrats on being an Ironman.

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Julie
09/05/2013 12:21

Thanks, CQ! Did my best to represent the G squad out there ;)

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Jaclyn
09/05/2013 14:47

Julie! You are truly inspirational! Congratulations !

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Jen
09/06/2013 07:57

So amazing Julie! You should be so proud of your major accomplishment, and we are all so proud of you! You had my whole family and everyone we were at the beach with cheering you on :) I was even giving them live updates while tracking you. CONGRATULATIONS!!

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Erin
09/06/2013 11:58

Amazing amazing amazing! So proud of you! Loving the 8:54 transition time. :)

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Susan
09/12/2013 11:42

This is so incredibly inspiring. Thank you for taking the time to write every detail, as it really is so interesting to read.

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Brad
01/14/2014 13:43

Just read this, awesome job at the race. Phat Guru too!

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04/04/2014 10:08

Congrats, Julie! This was a great race recap. My brother just did Ironman Los Cabos and I am feeling very inspired to do one myself!!!

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