The trials, tribulations and nonsensical babbling of a triathlete training for her first Ironman.

Friday, September 08, 2006

The Magical Mystery Tour - IMLP Race Report



My Aunt asked me “Why do an Ironman?” and my answer was “Because I can”. It seemed to be the right answer at the time but the more I thought about it, I came to the realization that it was about much more than the ability to do it. My friend and fellow competitor Mike Copeland (also known as CFL BIGWIG) were discussing our feelings of apprehension about the mass swim start when he hit the nail on the head. He said “How often in your everyday life do you get to feel this way?” That combination of anxiousness and excitement, that small bit of fear of the unknown. It’s not every day that we experience these emotions and I think that is why we do this—to remember what it feels like to be alive. My coach told me that I will have high points and low points throughout my Ironman day and I did. I experienced every range of emotion from apprehension, to joy to frustration and back to joy, all in the span of 13 hours. All while pushing my body forward in search of the finish line. It was my own little magical mystery tour and an experience I will never forget.


We arrived in Lake Placid on Thursday morning at around 11:30 am and the first thing we did was check in to our hotel. Gary had found us this AWESOME place at the Town & Country Motor Inn—they called it “The Apartment”. It was a huge one bedroom apartment with a full kitchen, king size bed, living room & bathroom. It was perfect. We had a barbeque outside and a little deck overlooking the pool. After we unloaded the car we headed down to the Ironman Village to do some shopping. I spent stupid amounts of money on Ironman gear but I figured how often will I get to do one of these? We wandered around for a bit, got some lunch and headed back to our apartment to unpack and get ready for our short afternoon ride.

We spent the next 3 days taking it easy, watching the Tour (yay Floyd?) watching the Weather Network packing our race bags and psyching ourselves up for Sunday morning. Friday night we went to the athlete’s banquet for some free food & inspiration. It was great to socialize with our fellow competitors. Saturday morning we woke to cloudy skies. The forecast called for rain and sure enough at about 11:00 am it started to pour. It rained ALL day. At some points it was coming down in sheets and the temperature dropped a lot. I started to get freaked out. I didn’t bring any really warm race clothes with me and the last thing I wanted was to freeze on the bike. I made some panicked phone calls to Sue (one of my training partners) looking for a vest to wear on the bike. Sue offered up her finishers vest from her recent Ironman in Idaho but I wasn’t about to wear that. Especially since I wasn’t yet a finisher of ANY Ironman. But, it was the thought that counted (thank Sue!). I resigned myself to the fact that I would just have to wear my rain jacket. Deanne and the girls came over around 7:00 pm to help me with my “race hair” and by 8:30 pm I was in bed. I actually managed to sleep well for about 5 ½ hours. I think I woke up at about 2:30 am and tossed and turned for the next hour and 15 minutes until Gary’s alarm went off at 3:45 am. Ugh. I knew all the 4:15 am alarms in training would come in handy at some point!


We woke to overcast skies and a sprinkling of rain. Apparently it was only supposed to rain in the morning and then it was supposed to partially clear up in the afternoon. I was ok with that. We ate breakfast and scurried down to transition with all of our bags and wetsuits in tow. I had butterflies dancing around in my stomach. I tried to remember to drink. There was so much to do and not much time to do it. I didn’t want to lose Gary at all. I wanted him to be by my side until we got into the water. We had trained for this together and he was such a huge part of my journey that I didn’t want to cross the start line without him. We saw Mike, Pat and Fred, all of them looked psyched and ready to go. We scrambled to get into our wetsuits and took the walk, hand in hand along the astro turf covered pavement to the start line on the beach. We were crammed like sardines on the narrow path to the beach. You could feel the tension in the air, it was almost palpable. It was hard to pick anyone out in the crowd as we were all encased in black rubber but luckily we bumped into our friend Pat just as we were getting to the water. He was very emotional and up to this point, I had been fine. This year had been a tough one for Pat. He had been diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma in December of last year and went through several rounds of treatments to beat his “little bug” (to quote him directly!). All the while, he continued to train. He was given a clean bill of health a couple of weeks before the race and decided to go for it. So for him to be standing there at the start line of this race was a HUGE deal. When Gary and I saw him, we both got very emotional and gave him a big hug. We wished him well and made our way into the water. This day would be special no matter what.

THE SWIM (also known as the Human Mix Master)

Gary and I said our goodbyes and I love you’s 5 minutes before the cannon went off. He is a much faster swimmer than I, so I swam across the shore to the other side of the bay. My plan was to start near the back so I didn’t get pummeled by faster swimmers. It would have been a great idea had I seeded myself with people that actually swam my pace rather than the group I got stuck in. But anyway, I was near the shore, trying to remain calm, when I realized that my goggles were starting to fog up. So, I take them off, put them in the water, wipe them out and put them back on. Within minutes they were fogged up again. 3 minutes left till the start. Crap. No time for me to go and get my other goggles. I put them in the water again and give them another rub and put them back on. Fogged up again. ACK! I can’t see anything. To top it off, it’s already foggy out. Great. This should be fun. 1 minute left. The music is blaring and Mike Reiley is counting down to 7:00 am. BOOOOM! Off goes the cannon and I start jumping up and down yelling “WOOOHOO!” to the sound of U2’s “Beautiful Day” blasting out over the beach. Into the melee I go. Wow. I had to swim with my head up for the first few hundred meters so I could find somewhat of a clear path amidst the 2100 + other swimmers that were in the water with me. The rest of the first loop is pretty blurry. I know I swam way off course (since I couldn’t really sight). I made it to the first buoy without getting too beat up. When I got around the buoy, I got whacked in the head by a passing swimmer. All I could think was “I have to get out into open water”. I desperately wanted to be away from everyone. I couldn’t get a rhythm going. I was getting tossed around by the churning of the water. Had I been able to train in a washing machine, I think I would have been a little better prepared for the jostling I experienced. I eventually got stuck behind a pack of people that I could not get around. I was barely swimming, the sheer force of the water was moving me forward. It was a very strange sensation. I finally made it to shore to start my second loop and who do I see but Rick and Rooster standing in the water cheering me on. Rick snapping away with his camera (no wonder he took 800 pictures!). I waved hello and ran across the beach hoping to get away from the slow pack I was in. I checked my watch just before I got back in the water and it said 39:40 which is slow for me. I had been hoping for about 36 minutes for the first loop. Oh well. I had one loop left and then the worst part of the day was over. I managed to find clear water on the way out to the turnaround buoy so I got a good rhythm going. Again, at the turnaround, I got pummeled. This time I got kicked in the arm. Ouch. I soldiered on and managed to find a spot close to the wire that the buoys are attached to that sits 5 ft under water. It is a straight line right back to the shore. So, I didn’t have to worry about trying to sight. I followed that wire (swam into a buoy while I was at it) all the way back to shore. I got out of the water in 1:19:56. SAD! Oh well. The worst part of my day was over. Now it was time to have some fun. I ran to the first “peeler” I saw and he got me out of my wetsuit in seconds. I thanked him and ran off down the path to transition. I was looking for my parents in the crowd—I hadn’t seen them at all yet. I heard my name and looked up to see Gary’s Mom cheering me on. I waved and headed in to transition.

T1 (Mayhem under the Big Top)

I’ve done triathlons before but not on this level. Since an Ironman is such a long event, most people prefer to be comfortable so you have the opportunity to change into “fresh clothes” for each leg of the race. I run into the change tent with my bike gear only to find complete pandemonium. There isn’t a seat available and the ground is all wet. Normally I’d just dump my bag on the ground and grab what I need. No go here. I finally find a chair (right by the door, how lovely) and I get myself sorted. Took a lot longer than the 7 minutes my coach said it would (I was 15:27 in transition—oops). I finally got out and got my bike. Now to the longest part of my day.


What can I say about this part of the race other than it’s a long time to be pedaling. The bike course in Lake Placid is beautiful. It’s also quite hilly as it is in the Adirondack Mountains. You have a couple of downhills and then you start climbing. A couple of small descents and then you hit a HUGE downhill (10 km almost straight down). It was just before this downhill that I lost the little netting that goes into my drink bottle to keep the Gatorade from flying out all over the place. Oh ya. How annoyed was I? By the bottom of that 10 km downhill, I was covered in Gatorade. So this was going to be my day. Peachy. But, I was still smiling despite that little mishap. I didn’t really care, I was doing an Ironman! As I was whipping down the hill into the town of Keene, I happened to glance at my heart rate monitor. I was going 70 km/hr down that hill! On two skinny wheels! WOOHOOO! I motored along through the towns of Jay and Upper Jay and finally hit the climb into Wilmington. There was a dude dressed like one of the Harlem Globetrotters running up the hill cheering people on. He was AWESOME! I made it up the climb to Wilmington to the start of the little out and back. Just as I head in to the out and back I see Gary. He was looking good and he cheered me on. A few minutes later I heard someone else scream my name—I had no clue who it was but I figured it had to be Mike. I found out after the race that it was. FINALLY—I had seen some people I knew! I rode to the turnaround at the out and back and when I got there, there was a huge tent set up with MASSIVE speakers blaring AC / DC’s “Thunderstruck”. Gave me a little push to pass a few people. I was feeling great. I was still trying to be a bit conservative as I knew that I had to come back and do all this a second time. I motored along the false flats by the waterfall—they didn’t seem half as bad as the last time I rode along them. Climbed up the 2 Cherries (they have named the hills on this part of the course). Next was the 3 bears. Baby Bear was no problem. Mama Bear wasn’t too hard either. Papa Bear can be a bit of a pain. This time though, it was amazing. Easily the highlight of my bike. It was PACKED with people on either side of the road ringing cowbells, cheering people on. They parted as the riders came up the hill—it was like riding The Alp D’Huez in the Tour de France! There was guy with a megaphone yelling “Allez Allez Allez!” It was crazy. This is where I saw all my friends. I saw Silvia with her mom. Silvia had a walkie talkie with her so I can only assume she was radioing ahead to Rick to let him know I was coming so he could get my picture. I get to the top of Papa Bear and I see some of the girls. Further along the road there is another nasty little climb and this is where I see Rooster and Rick—they are going nuts along with everyone else. I’m grinning from ear to ear at this point. You can’t help but smile. I round the corner onto Mirror Lake Drive and stop to get my special needs bag. It was sandwich time. I stuffed a piece of my peanut butter & nutella sandwich into my mouth and got back on the bike. YUM! I rounded the corner in to town and saw Sue & Mon cheering me on. Finally I was heading out on to my second loop. I had no clue how long that first loop had taken but it was longer than I had thought it would be. Just as I head out on to my second loop I pass Gary’s family. They were all dressed in lime green t-shirts that had our names on it along with something else. I couldn’t read it though. They were all jumping up and down. I yelled WOOOHOO as I passed by them. Again, I was smiling. That smile stayed on my face for quite sometime—all the way in to the town of Keene. It was at this point that I started to feel really crappy. I had a hard time eating or drinking. My stomach was not a happy camper. I didn’t want to have another sip of Gatorade. I managed to eat saltines and drink water. That was all I could handle. I started wishing I was off the bike. I was starting to hit a low point. I thought about what Richard (my coach) had said to me. I had to figure out how I was going to cope with this. A line from a Rush song came in to my head and I repeated it all the way to the climb to Wilmington: “It takes a little more persistence to get up and go the distance”. I forced myself to eat more Powergel and I finally managed to get some Gatorade down by the time I got to the start of the out and back. Just as I rounded the corner to the out and back I saw some more lime green t-shirts and I heard my name being hollered. I look up to see my parents and my sister. FINALLY! I yelled as I passed them waving and smiling. Just what I needed. The smile was back on my face and it never left. I headed out to the turnaround in a fantastic mood. I was chatting with a few other riders, totally in a good mood. I hit the turnaround and they were playing “That’s the Way I Like It” so I gave the crowd a few disco moves (arms only mind you). I got some whistles & cheers for that! Only another 20 miles left. I saw my parents again as I left the out and back. My sister was yelling “You Look HOTTTTT!” which made me laugh out loud. Yeah, I’m sure I did—covered in Gatorade, Powergel and sweat. SMOKIN’! I continued along past the Waterfall and the Gorge, up the Cherries (which hurt a lot more on the second loop) back up to the Bears, which just about killed me. Most of the crowd from the first loop had moved on but there were still some people there cheering us slower folks on. My friends Kim & Deanne were still there and offered me some support. Less than 5 km left till I got off my bike. THANK GOD! I rode along Mirror Lake Drive around the “hot corner” and down the hill into transition. Got off my bike and happily passed it off to the smiling volunteer that greeted me. Off to get ready for the run. (Final bike time was 6 hours 58 minutes)

T2 – A Welcome Break

I ran into T2 with my bag of running stuff. It wasn’t remotely as crowded as before (which means I was ridiculously slow on the bike). I got the same seat as last time and peeled off my cycling gear. Nasty. I quickly donned my running gear and looked around for my gel flask. It was nowhere to be found. Oops. Luckily I had opted to keep one in my bike jersey pocket from the bike so I had some gel left. I found a volunteer to spray me down with sunscreen and off I went.

THE RUN – 26.2 mile Shufflefest.

It was now quite nice out—not too warm but sunny at least. I ran out of transition on relatively fresh legs, which was great. I took off down Main Street, past the screaming crowd, saw my friends and family—high fived them as I went by cheering and grinning from ear to ear. This was the last leg of my journey and the one I was most comfortable with. I had run marathons before so I new what to expect—sort of. It’s one thing to run a marathon, it’s another thing altogether to run a marathon after riding your bike for 180 km. I have to say, I felt pretty good. I ran downhill out of town, past the horse stables, down another large hill. By the time I got to the bottom of that hill, I had a really bad stitch. Time to start walking. I walked through the first aid station, drank some water, took a couple of electrolyte pills and continued walking. I saw the race photographer so I smiled and gave him a little pose. After that I started to feel better so I started running. I saw my hubby—he waved and asked how I was doing—I was still smiling so I wasn’t doing too badly! I saw Mike & Pat, they both looked strong. I saw Fred, he was looking good too. I ran all the way out to the turnaround. Only 20 miles left. I ran almost all the way back to the big hill but I stopped and walked for a bit. I would go through periods where I felt great and could run no problem and then all of a sudden I would feel completely spent. It was at those points that I ate something. That usually made me feel a bit better. I ran along back into down to the cheers of people I didn’t know, up the “Degree of Difficultly Hill” (it’s a nasty steep little hill that heads into town). I saw all my insane friends cheering me on. I smiled all the way up that hill even though it HURT. My heart rate was through the roof but I didn’t care. I was having fun. I ran past the crowds, past the Olympic Speedskating oval (I could hear the crowds as the finish line—oh so cruel!!) and out to the next turnaround. As I got to the turnaround there was a house with tent set up and a kid playing “Ironman” on his guitar. He couldn’t have been more than 12 years old but he was pretty good!! That made me smile even more. I walked around the turnaround as I was at another low point—I had just popped an advil in the hopes it would take away the massive full body ache that I was experiencing. I knew the marathon would hurt but this was an entirely new sensation. My legs actually felt ok (I think they were just numb) but the rest of my body HURT. My feet hurt, my shoulders hurt and I was just tired. I had been moving forward since 7:00 am that morning. I had no idea what time it was or how long I’d been out there for (for some stupid reason I re-set my watch for the run) all I knew was that I wanted to stop. But I couldn’t. I still had 20 km to go. 20 km. My coach told me to think of the marathon as 26 mile repeats. One mile at a time. I got to the aid station just out of town and grabbed a Gatorade. I stopped my brave shuffle here and started walking. I walked for a while. I chatted with a fellow competitor for a while. He was hurting too. I think I walked for about 2.5 miles. I started to run when I got back to the horse stables. I ran down the big hill and along the road to the turnaround. I saw Gary going in to town. He looked great. I saw Pat as well and he looked awesome. I kept eating gel and drinking at the aid stations. I saw Mike—he was hurting. I had to yell loud for him to hear me. I was on a good wave at this point so I was cruising along at a decent pace. I passed a bunch of people having beer—“Where’s mine?!?” I yelled. They all laughed. God, did that ever look good. I’m sure I would have passed right out had I even had a sip. But the thought was enough to keep me going. I was getting close to the turnaround. I saw my friend Fred up ahead. He was now having a tough day. I ran past him and asked if he was ok. He said he was fine but he stopped sweating (that didn’t sound fine to me!!) so he was trying to take in as much liquid as possible. Then, there it was, the Turnaround. I ran around it, grinning. 10 km left!!! WOOHOO! I was starting to get excited. I had no doubt that I would finish, it was just a matter of when. I passed a few more people. I felt great. Then, about 15 minutes later, I felt like crap. I got to an aid station and they were giving out chicken broth. I remember Rooster saying that was the best thing he had on race day so I took a cup and gulped it down. AHHHHH….who needs beer when you have chicken broth!!! It was liquid gold. I chased it with a bit of water and kept going. I had some more at the next aid station followed by some water. A few minutes later that feeling of fatigue hit me again. I started walking. I walked to the next aid station. I had some watermelon and a piece of banana and some more Gatorade. That seemed to help as I started running again. I was on a good wave again and there was only about 6 km left to go!!! I ran up the hill to the horse stables and who do I see but Deanne with her camera in hand. She takes a shot of me as I run by and offers to take a shot of my butt—I yell out “Sure, you might as well cause it ain’t gonna look like this forever—I can guarantee you it’ll be a lot bigger by the end of the year!” That put a smile on a few people’s faces. I was chuckling about that for a while. I hit another aid station and decided I needed some sugar. Time for some flat coke. I drank almost the whole cup as I walked through the aid station. SO GOOD. I started running again, I was getting closer to town. The sun was starting to set. I figured it was getting close to 8:00 pm. I was almost home.

I ran up the Degree of Difficulty Hill again to HUGE crowds of people. This time it REALLY hurt. I was smiling despite the pain. I was almost finished my Ironman journey. Only a couple more miles left. I heard my name and I looked up to see Gary and my friend Kim cheering me on. Gary had his finishers medal around his neck. I was surprised to see him out here—I figured he’d be at the finish line—I was so happy to see him. Kim was yelling “you’re looking GREAT—you’re going to be an Ironman!” Yup, just a couple more miles and I could sit down! I was on a high at this point. I ran along up the hill and on to Mirror Lake Drive. The course is a bit cruel in that you have to run out a mile past the turn off to the finish, turn around and run back before you can enter the Olympic Oval. I didn’t care. Mirror Lake Drive was PACKED with people. Their energy propelled me forward. That and the overwhelming desire to sit down. I got to the turnaround and thought about crossing that finish line. I had to remember to remove my sunglasses! I ran down Mirror Lake Drive to the entrance of the Olympic Oval—took off my sunglasses just as I heard my name—I couldn’t see who it was but I waved—turned out it was my Dad. I heard my name again and looked up to see Sue who yelled “You’re going to be an Ironman!” just as I turned on to the Olympic Oval. I then heard my name again and saw Mike in transition cheering me on. I saw my Mom jumping up and down and waving so I waved back. As I ran along I heard them playing “Bittersweet Symphony” and the tears started to well up in my eyes. After 10 long months, I was finally at the end of my journey—The Magical Myster Tour that is Ironman. I figured I would bawl all the way to the finish line but then a little boy, about 4 years old, stuck his hand out for a high five just as I rounded the top of the Oval and at that moment, the tears stopped and a HUGE smile spread across my face. I gave him his high five and turned the corner to the last 100 meters of my Ironman road. I heard Mike Reilley yelling my name—“here comes Phaedra Kennedy a 35 year old Producer from Toronto, Ontario in her FIRST IRONMAN!” People were cheering, I high fived another kid, grinning the entire way. As I headed towards the tape I heard “Phaedra YOU ARE AN IRONMAN”. I had waited 10 long months to hear those words. I crossed the finish line to see my smiling husband holding my Finishers medal. He placed it around my neck with tears in his eyes and said “I’m SO proud of you” and gave me a hug. Of all the things I felt, saw & experienced--THAT was the best part of my day. What a journey. It took me 13 hours, 15 minutes and 37 seconds but I was officially an Ironman.


There are SO many people that were part of my journey and so many people that supported me in my quest as well. Thanks to my family for being so supportive and understanding and for coming down to Lake Placid to witness the insanity. It meant A LOT to me. Thanks to Gary’s family & mine for making those FANTASTIC “TEAM KENNEDY” t-shirts. They were great. Nice and visible! Thanks to my coach, Richard Pady, for putting together a “sane” and totally doable Ironman training program and for talking me through all the stupid things I worried about! Thanks to “Les Tri Filles”—you AWESOME bunch of ladies who have graced me with your friendship and who ALL made the trip down to watch. Thanks to my training partners: Pat for providing perspective (you AMAZE me) Mike for making me laugh and keeping things fun, Fred for providing all of us with the most entertaining Ironman training memory (I don’t want my bagel TOASTED) Rick and Sue for inspiring me to join in the “Tri for a Cure” and for being such awesome thoughtful people and Gary, well, what can I say except that this is all your fault and I love you for it. You were my voice of reason when I was doubting myself, my sounding board when I was losing my mind and my pillar of strength when I felt like I couldn’t go on. Words cannot express how much that means to me.

Also, a big shout out to the coolest bosses in the world, George & Sandi. You guys supported me 110% and I really appreciate it. And to all the awesome people I work with at Westside as well for their words of encouragement—it meant a lot.

Thanks to everyone who supported me in my quest to raise $7500 for the Canadian Breast Cancer foundation. To date I have raised just over $5,000! You have until August 31st to make a donation if you haven’t had a chance to do so yet.

One final note—if anyone out there knows the guys from Rush, thank them for making some of the most inspirational music to train to. Their tunes got me through many a tough workout.

Many people have asked me, “Would you do it again?” and my response has been “Hell yeah!.” Maybe not next year but I think I have a few more Ironman’s left in me yet.

Until next time….

Phaedra “Ironman” Kennedy


Blogger Suds said...

I finally remembered to come back and find out how thing went for you. That was an AWESOME read. Congratulations on your amazing accomplishment Phaedra!


8:52 AM

Blogger Suds said...

Hey Phaedra, What's next for you?


3:28 PM


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