We brushed this under the carpet and proceeded to the huge security line up. US border control is in the Airport here in Canada and we were eventually met by the familiar stern face of the guard. After the interrogation she said 'and where is your Esta visa?'. We look at her gormlessly. She then blankly tells us we should have done this online before arriving at the airport and she has to turn us back. We cannot enter America! We are currently only 45 mins from our house, I have sweat pouring down my forehead and veins pulsing in my neck. In our defence we did have a Visa from our road trip to Ohio in May which was still valid but apparently only for travelling by land, not air. We did the walk of shame dragging our bike boxes and luggage out of security to look for a computer to apply online. We found the esta computer and time was getting tight. Filling out the forms, stressed, with a crap shaky mouse was not the best 20 minutes of my life but we (Genevieve) eventually completed them and our two 30 digit confirmation numbers appeared on screen. We were half way through writing down the second one when the screen timed out and reset. I was close to tears! Another extraordinarily stressful 10 mins to retrieve it and back to security. Sarah meanwhile was wondering where the hell we were having seen us backtracking out over her shoulder 30 mins previously. Border guard # 2 was friendlier and I am sure seemed to imply that our old Ohio visa would have sufficed but we couldn't be sure. Anyway, bags dropped off, 6 Co2 canisters removed from the bike boxes (why do I always think I can get away with this?!) and with 15 mins to spare we made it onto the plane for the 5 hour flight to Seattle. The views out of the plane window over the mountains as we neared Seattle were amazing. We had made it into Ameeeerica!
We refused to give Air Canada any more money and showed them who was boss by not buying any food on the flight. We were subsequently starving when we rolled off the flight so stuffed our faces with bagels before heading to baggage reclaim. The building was empty except for all our luggage piled up on the floor, bikes and all. Maybe spent too long on lunch! After a loooong wait for the hotel shuttle we made it there. This is where the next round of problems started, all related to credit cards. Sarah's card had not been working whilst ours was working sporadically and it was declined at the hotel reception. After trying it again later it cleared. Short term panic over. We headed for the light rail to get the train into Seattle for some sightseeing - at the unmanned station all our cards were not accepted by the machines. Our only option was to get to an ATM, the nearest one being back at the airport! Sarah managed to get $100 out which seemed to empty the machine but it was something. We spent the rest of the day in Seattle, around Pike Place market. A very eclectic place with a lot of history and some very strange people. We sat outside with a coffee at the first Starbucks (also the slowest service of any too I think) and watched the world go by. It felt like we were sitting in the viewing gallery of a high security mental hospital at times, or Glasgow with the sun out. After finally succumbing to pitchers of craft beer and nice food we sloped off back to the hotel for a pretty good nights sleep.
We squeezed our way out of the parking lot and hit the highway - Genevieve sat in the middle on the pretend seat and feeling all the bumps with our stiff suspension and all terrain tyres. This beast is designed for towing trailers, not a 5 hour drive on the highway!
After an uneventful journey with some incredible views we arrived at our perfect hotel (we struck gold with this one) and had just enough time to head down for athlete check in. The race is set is a beautiful small venue - very much like IM Switzerland. The tented village and transition is all laid out in a small grassy park next to the lake amongst the trees. We felt like we were entering a local sprint tri rather than an Ironman. Complete opposite to Tremblant last year. After a browse round the expo and dinner it was early to bed.
Friday morning we were up and out to test the lake. It is notoriously cold, which it was but nothing we couldn't handle. It was also windy and the lake was pretty choppy. Everyone was practising swimming parallel to the beach but we practised swimming out into the waves and back as we would be doing on race day. It was a tough swim and we left the lake shivering and not oozing with confidence. The afternoon race briefing was good - only 30 minutes and to the point. Much better than previous ones with lengthy speeches from Sponsors and local dignitaries. No one wants to listen to all that pre race!
After building all the bikes I laid out all of mine and Genevieve's equipment and race bags on the bed. Sarah did hers in her room then came back and curiously started making a list. We went through and checked her packing and all that was laid out on her bed was a Garmin and a helmet! Time to go shopping! After buying a few non-essential items such as nutrition, tri shorts and running shoes (?!) we had a practice ride and run then relaxed for the rest of the day.
A monumental storm passed through on Friday night and apparently this was not a good sign for the swim conditions for race day. We went down for another practice swim on Saturday morning which was much the same as Friday, but we felt slightly better. Practice bike and run, bike and bag check in and rest. We were ready and we just needed the weather to calm down. Fortunately the wind was forecasted to drop overnight.
We woke after a remarkably good 7 hour sleep.
Imagine our horror then when we looked out the window at 4.00 am on race morning and saw the trees blowing sideways in the garden. It looked nasty and we knew straight away we were in for a tough day. Walking down to race start was horrible and the wind was not easing up. First sight of the lake looked like a washing machine. We got ourselves ready and waited nervously on the beach. it was about 10 degrees and chilly.
The pros went off first and we waited till 6.40 am for the rolling start. The time came and we rolled quickly through the narrow start gate. Genevieve and I headed left and I had the best ever swim start with clear water almost immediately. Sarah headed off right towards Seattle.
The water was so rough I didn't notice the cold. It was tough breathing and getting hit in face with waves from all angles. Despite this I felt like I was swimming well despite being constantly terrorized by two idiots wearing snorkels. Apparently there is no need to sight when wearing one - just look down and swim where the hell you want. You could tell progress was slow though by the time it took to pass each buoy - I felt like I was going backwards at times. Every buoy had people hanging off it and one detached and drifted away under the weight of all the bodies clinging to it!
Once we got to the turn around it was slightly easier coming back in before running onto the beach and back in for the second lap. I checked my watch and it said 33 mins. Only 1 min behind schedule. I started swimming again and I think the wind had picked up - it was even rougher! There were people everywhere just bobbing around and hanging off boats and I started to feel the cold. I eventually exited the water in 1.11. Seven mins behind target and my Plan A finish time was already out the window. Apparently over 80 people were pulled from the water and loads missed the swim cut off. One person in our hotel spent so long in the warming tent at the swim finish that she missed the bike cut off.
Anyway, no problems in T1 other than putting on socks with frozen stumps for hands and out on the bike. It was chilly but only until the first climb. It was still windy but not too bad through town. When we hit the I-90 south though that's when the wind hit. Long open climbs, over 45 - 50 km head wind and officially the most time I have ever spent in the small chain ring in a race. What a grind. The turnaround eventually came and the journey back was quicker but not quick enough to make up the lost time. Some serious ass twitching on the descents when the cross winds took hold. I was overtaking one guy when a gust blew him across the road and his front wheel clipped my back wheel and we both just stayed upright. The second loop was a real leg zapper and just more of the same. Coming back into town there is a long no-passing zone and about 20 of us got stuck behind one lady on her first lap just free wheeling through. We were all shouting at her to pedal but she seemed oblivious to the fact that 20 people were lined up behind her. Off the bike in 5.50, well over 30 mins off target. When I eventually came into T2 I dismounted gingerly and knew immediately I was in for a tough run - my hamstrings felt wrecked from pushing so hard into the wind for so long. T2 was slow for me as I had to hobble through like an old man. Onto the run and I usually have to hold myself back but not this time. My effort level felt like I was running 4.45/km as planned but my Garmin said otherwise. The 2 loop route twos and fros through the houses before tracking the lake side then hitting a nasty hill which you climb, descend, turnaround and run back up and over again. The support and feed stations were incredible. I have never seen so many people walking the marathon though - it seemed like only 1 in 10 people were running and I was moving at a pace that I didn't even know I could do it was so slow. I ran the first 24 km non stop then walked the feed stations from there on but continued to pick off other athletes in my age group. From 5 km out I pushed harder and chased down several more people. As I finally took the left turn onto Sherman Avenue I could hear Mike Reilly and the crowds and lifted the pace again. I looked at my watch for the first time in hours and couldn't believe it - 10 hours 57 mins. I knew I was behind schedule but not by so much. 30 mins behind on the run as well. I hammered it down the finish chute in the rain high fiving the amazing crowds and crossed the line in 11.00.29. Not too bothered by going over 11 as it was already my slowest ever Ironman.
As I sat and waited for Genevieve the wind seemed to die down and I looked at the lake and it was completely still. Typical! Genevieve and Sarah both had similarly tough races but both finished strong. A real tester for Sarah on her debut Ironman! Genevieve ran herself into 11th place - good but also way off target.
We did one thing in this race that we have never done before and that was head back down to the finish line to watch from 11.30 to midnight. What a truly amazing experience - Mike Reilly's energy at the finish was just awesome and at 11.55 when we thought there was no one else to make the cut off, we could see a tiny light in the distance. Mike ran out into the dark and pushed the guy all the way in and across the finish with 2 seconds to spare. The crowds just went ballistic. At 12.04 another finisher came over - a 74 year old guy who crossed the line and collapsed into a crowd of volunteers. Very humbling sights to watch and put our own achievements into perspective.