Carrie Grinter: Ironman Canada

People Who Inspire Me: Carrie Grinter

So often someone does something that inspires me.  I have taken to asking them to write for this blog so I can go back and find inspiration in their words and maybe you can too.  The first installment of this is Carrie Grinter.  I first met Carrie when we both participated in the 2010 Ride with Lance. Both of us found common ground in our awe of Lance, but also our passion for riding and in turn, triathlon. She is an Iroman. Carrie participated in her first Ironman this past July.  She is someone who pushes herself out of her comfort zone and makes a complete commitment to her goal and then does what it takes. Here is her tale…

By Carrie Grinter

Before I started in this crazy sport called triathlon I thought that people who did Ironmans were insane.  That they literally should be locked up.  Who wants to spend that much time swimming, biking and running? And furthermore, who would want to do that?! Sure, I had seen the famous Julie Moss ‘The Crawl’ video before and though ‘what kind of sadistic person does that to themselves?” Fast forward to me getting into the sport, finding the most amazing supportive group of friends I will ever meet, and then signing up for an Ironman. Oh crap. I actually signed up for one. They have charged my credit card and there is no turning back.

At first I thought how am I ever going to fit all this training in and be able to actually do this event? A friend of mine, Roger, was my coach and helped me through all the doubt that I would have ever had plus more. The training, as bad as it sounds, was enjoyable. I could not wait to get on the bike and do long rides on the weekend or to do my tempo or speedwork (notice how I do not say how much I enjoy my brick workouts and long runs!). Getting in the pool and doing the long swims and seeing my time get faster and faster and my body feeling less and less pain with each workout.  We ran in the rain, cycled in the high winds when it was 40 degrees outside and swam in between the thunderstorms. I had amazing workouts where I felt incredible and where the distance felt easy and then there were days where I literally thought I would fall off the bike. I started to see improvements in all 3 disciplines and was loving it! Trying to figure out what to eat,  nutrition wise, was probably the hardest part of the training and is 90% of the race.  You don’t eat, you don’t go. As simple as that. I tried everything under the sun and finally found my perfect mix or what I thought was my perfect mix. I skipped workouts, did extra workouts, was tired, cranky, couldn’t eat enough, couldn’t sleep enough, couldn’t get enough of the training and lived and breathed Ironman for 6 months. That was my life: Ironman. I was possessed.

Carrie 6As race day approached I doubted myself, doubted the training and time I put in, doubted my legs, doubted my nutrition plan, doubted my mental fortitude.  I don’t think I have ever doubted myself as much as I had for this race. But why should I doubt myself?  The pro’s after all did the race in 8+ hours, but then again some pro’s can’t even finish and this is their job. I defintely did not want to DNF or be the last one coming through the finish. That was not my goal or idea for Ironman. I wanted to compete. Do well. Prove to myself and to everybody else that I could do this amazing challenge.

The 2 weeks leading up to the race were the hardest part of all the training.  It’s taper time. You’re supposed to be resting and reducing your mileage to let your body prepare and refuel so it’s at it’s optimal performance peak, but it is frustrating as hell! You think that you’re going to lose everything that you have worked towards, those extra seconds off your pace that you worked so hard for that you thought you would collapse. You’re so hungry you can’t possibly cram enough food into your body. You want to sleep but feel guilty for sleeping because you think you should be training. Your body starts aching from all the training and now the rest. But that’s how you know you’re ready. That’s how you know you pushed your body to the limit. It’s finally telling you that it’s ready and that you did your time.

The days leading up to Ironman when I was on site were so surreal.  I participated in Ironman Canada so I flew to Penticton, BC 5 days before the race to aclimatize, get over jet lag and ‘rest’ (not that there is much time to rest). I remember going to register when I got out there with my friends Connie, Paul and Joseph. We each registered got our packs and then went to line up for our wristbands.  Once the amazing volunteers put the wristbands on our wrist there was a mixed feeling of denial, regret, excitement, surprise and confusion. This is actually happening. I just registered. I have my wristband on with my number, that means I’m ACTUALLY doing this. Cue denial.

The workouts for the next few days went by, the resting was minimal.  For me the worst thing was to sit in my rented house and be by myself. That’s when my brain attacks with every negative thought. I spent a lot of time with people at cafes or hanging out at the different Ironman events.  It was hard to enjoy the beautiful Okanagan before the race but there is something to be said about taking a ‘relaxing’ ride through the mountains on the course that you will be racing in 3 days. It’s rather nerve racking. We made sure to drive the ride as well when we were there and thankfully we did!  It made me realize that Richters Pass (the first of the 2 hills) wasn’t that bad. I had ridden hills that long before. Yellow Lake on the other hand was not such a treat. It’s short and steep and the road was under construction and it’s also at 150km into the ride.

The day before the race we had to set up our transition area. IM is different than other triathlons because the transition is set up a day before and you have your swim to bike bag  (all of your cycling clothes, nutrition, creams etc), bike to run bag (clothing, shoes, nutrition etc), special needs bags for both the bike and run (these are bags that are put at the half way mark of the bike and run and that have anything you think you might want or need halfway through those points). Packing these bags literally took me 2 hours and was so nerve racking.  I went though the check list a thousand times before I decided I was ready to drop it off in transition.  You want to make sure you have everything you might possibly need in those bags.  So, now my special needs bags are in transition, my bike is dropped off and all I need to do is eat and go to bed!

Sleeping that night was surprisingly easy. I thought I would have a lot of issues but none at all. I woke up, no panic attacks ate as much food as I could possibly eat (I was aiming for 1,400 calories and I think I got in about 900).

Getting to the race site was an incredible blur. It’s so dark out, yet there are thousands of people walking around everywhere. The streets looks as though it’s a Saturday afternoon on Yonge Street.  We went through body marking and pumping up our tires (if you borrow race wheels make sure you know how to pump them up before the morning of the race!). I got my wetsuit on walked into the water to start my warm up.

My training partners and I had agreed to find each other on the left hand side of the swim start. Once I got into the water for my warm up I was sure I would never find my friends with all the people in black wetsuits and blue or pink caps. Somehow a group of us found each other and stood at the wire with the rest of the 2,900 of my new closest and crazy friends. Being with them at the start helped to calm my nerves and make me feel like we were just doing an open water swim together….with a few thousand other people.

Carrie 2As the race is getting closer to the start you hear the helicopter roaring overhead and the announcer telling you the pros will be off soon. As you’re standing there in thigh deep water trying to make sure that your goggles don’t fog, the announcer introduces the national anthem. You sing with the rest of the athletes and the thousands and thousands of spectators (that was one of the things that truly amazed me was the number of spectators and how long they stay!) It’s an incredible feeling to be singing your national anthem and knowing that you will be going into this amazing race that will prove everything, yet nothing to yourself.

As the gun goes off you dive into the water with your new friends. It’s a free for all. A giant washing machine of sorts. People will be swimming around you, some will walk, other will dolphin dive. Nobody is in a groove yet and your own patterns are continuously disrupted for the first 700m until you fight for your place while trying to make sure not to be kicked, pulled back or swam over. Once you get into your groove the excitement is over and people are more cordial. After all, this day is long and no one wants to waste energy. You continue the swim trying to stay out of trouble. In the IMC course you swim out 1600m, turn 450m and swim 1800m back to shore. Swimming is one of my stronger suits so I felt fairly comfortable in the water and didn’t feel like I had been in the water nearly as long as I had been.

As you are nearing the end of your swim you see people starting to walk in earlier than you would in any other race. There is hardly anyone running out of the water. People take their time, get their bearings and chat to fellow competitors. Once you are into transtition it is a unique experience. You are directed to the ‘strippers’ who tell you to lay on your back as they rip your wet suit off and tell you where to go to get your swim to bike bag. Now it’s time to yell your # to a volunteer and they either will direct you to your bag or grab it for you then it’s off to the change tents. In the change tents no one worries about stripping naked, you chat to the volunteers, get ready for your long bike ride and maybe start eating something.  Outside of the change tent they had the people who slathered sunscreen on you and off you went to find your bike.

Carrie 4Running out of transition with your bike you are bombarded with just how many people there are and how loud the cheers are. Everybody is cheering for you, rooting your on, letting you know how your swim is. Funnily enough, you can’t hear a thing. The focus and concentration of getting ready for this epic journey on the bike is starting.  Riding through town was incredible. You set yourself up for this pace that you hope that you can keep up with because the excitement sets in that you are actually racing in an Ironman. Once you get into your groove you start to realize that this will be a long day. Nutrition happens immediately. Can’t forget about this or your day is done. You see people on the side of the road with flats and hope and pray that this won’t happen to you and think what you would do (note to self: learn how to change a tire before race day). You have to learn how to judge your race pace vs a sustainable pace for IM. You want to go fast but make sure that you don’t go too fast because you still have another 5+ hours on the bike. You go through periods where it seems easy and you are flying by people and then moments when you just wish that you could get off this thing and start running. You keep eating and drinking this whole time. Never forget to eat. Yellow Lake was a mind bending time for me. 150km into the ride and a steep climb. You’re starting to feel tired and just want to get back into town and all that is standing between that is this hill.  The good thing was that people lined the road, Tour de France style, where they are right in your face cheering you on and running beside you and you are crawling up this hill. When you have someone yelling your name cheering you on and being your biggest cheerleader you can’t help but think how helpful that is that how you can do anything.  Again, for me, much like the swim, the bike flew by. In all my pictures on the bike I have a huge smile on my face loving every second (except for Yellow Lake)

Riding through town nearing transition is emotional. You just swam 3.8km and then rode 180km and all that is standing between you and greatness is a measely marathon!

As you get into transtion you give your bike to a volunteer and you don’t care what they do with it. You have a new mission: RUN! Get into your shoes, throw your hat on, get smeared in sunscreen again and go. Running out of transition you get to see the full effect of the crowd. Those same people that you saw 5+ hours ago when you were leaving on the bike are still there, still cheering, still supporting.

You start running out of town and you may feel great, you may not.

Before I continue I must say that running is my least favorite thing to do. It’s like having an ice bath: it hurts so much, yet feels so good and you always procrastinate doing it but it really does help.

Carrie 5

I felt great for the first 8k, I was rocking along, I was getting warmer and warmer and trying to figure out how to cool down. The spongers that the volunteers were giving out weren’t helping by just being in my hands so under my jersey and onto my shoulders they went. As we passed by people’s homes they were sitting outside of their drive way spraying us with their hoses, as we ran by the lake there were people cheering us on from their boats pumping music and all along the course there were incredible people that took time out of their day just to cheer you on.

Twelve kilometres in my body decided it wasn’t having anymore of this running thing and I was running/walking from bathroom to bathroom. I was eating, or I wasn’t. I don’t remember but either way I’m sure it wasn’t enough calories. A slightly embarasing thing about running, yet if you are a runner you will understand the dreaded GI issues, and I was having them worse than I ever had them before. When something like this happens you just have to re-evaluate. My new plan was to start feeling better then I would run again. If I didn’t feel well then I would walk.  There is no shame in that and you start to meet people on course who are suffering just like you are. You have an even bigger bond now than just Ironman. Once I got to km 25 I knew I wasn’t going to get better unless I stopped for a bit. I stopped at one of the aid stations and the amazing volunteers (never forget to thank them! They do an amazing job and are vital to these events!) helped to cool me down and force food and water into me (and one even offered me his slice of pizza!) After 20 minutes of sitting around and watching people pass me by I decided that I felt better, my body temperature felt better so I went back to my race. I started feeling progressively better.  Out came the chicken soup as it started to ‘cool down’ , and I use that term lightly as it was 34 during the day and 28 when I finished. I had read that on course as it got darker there would be chicken soup. I thought, “Ok, that sounds weird,” but everybody had insisted that you drink the soup.  Take the chicken soup. It will never have tasted so good. It’s almost magical and you will think that it can cure anything and everything! The rest of the race was a walk and run and my last 10k was actually the fastest 10k split of my race. As it starts to get dark you think to yourself, hell no, I am not racing in the dark and that pushes you to go that much more.  For IMC as you run back into town you have to run away from the start and then come back at it. It’s so mentally challenging because you just want to stop. It feels like you have been going forever (because you have) and all you can hear is the cheering of the crowd and you want to be there with them. You stop to walk and the spectators keep telling you it’s only 2k more then you will be an Ironman.  When volunteers were telling me this I would start to get emotional and have difficulty breathing and have to stop again (that happened a few times in the last 2k). You just keep going, you know what’s coming, the feeling you will get and what you will think. You keep running. You want to finish strong and fast. You want to make yourself proud. You need to to prove to yourself that you did this insane feat. You want to show to those who doubted you that you could do it. You want to be an Ironman!  You run towards the finish with that last kilometer to go and you hear the cheering getting louder and louder and the bright lights come into focus. You want to bottle up this moment in time to keep it forever and remember this feeling.

CarrieThe last 500m were a blur. I saw the finish and was a woman on a mission. I just went for the finish. Nothing could stop me at that point. I ran up to the finish line and crossed that finish line and heard the announcer say “Carrie, You are an Ironman!”.  I immediately started crying, not tears of pain, but tears for more emotion than I could know how to express. I did it. I was an Ironman. All the hours of training, the sacrifices, the new found joys, the people telling me I could never do it, the obessesing over every little detail paid off. I was an Ironman and nobody could ever take that away from me. I pushed myself, mind, body and soul for 6 months in training then again on race day and learned more about myself in those 6 months and on that race day than I have could have ever learned.

There is something about Ironman. It bonds people. It’s an understanding, an acceptance into something so truly unique. Ironman for me was the best day of my 28 years. I would do everything again in a second. It’s such an incredible feeling to be racing and pushing yourself, learning about yourself and then accomplish this amazing feat that you once thought was impossible.

I can not wait to learn more about myself and see how much more I can push myself and can not wait to make more friends who I will be bonded to forever because we are part of this amazing group of people. I can’t not wait to run through another finish but mostly, I can not wait to be an Ironman again.