I Think I Know This Much Is True About Ironman Canada

I Think I Know This Much Is True About Ironman Canada

Morfee Lake.  1975. Early Saturday morning.  The swim instructor spits and snarled, “Everybody get in the water.”  My brother Eddie and I shivered and slowly crept in.  Growing up in a pool-less northern British Columbia town meant that swimming lessons happened in the lake.  (We later got an outdoor pool and even later got an indoor one) But the damage was already done.  From the first moment of those early swimming lessons on swimming was an addendum to other adventure activities.  It was a necessary skill we needed to have after jumping into the lake from the local Tarzan swing.  It was a skill we needed to have to get back to the kneeboard or water saucer or slalom ski that the boat driver had successfully dislodged from underneath us.  As drivers, we were not friendly.  It was a skill needed in order to get back to the rock bluffs from which we had just cliff-jumped.  Swimming was survival.

Dawson City.  1976.  I was barely eight years old and happy to make new friends in the local pool while we were there on a family vacation.  I thought this other kid, Marvin, was my friend…until he snickered and attempted to hold my head under the water for as long as possible.  My sometimes supportive big brothers Eddie and Amp were having a good old time in the deep end of the pool (where I was not allowed to be) while I was trying to catch their attention so that they could come into the shallow end and beat Marvin up.  No such luck.  They continued to have a grand time and I tried to figure out how to stay alive.  Swimming was survival.

Okanagan Lake.  2012.  Standing in the water at 6:45 AM watching the pro athletes gracefully flow through the lake to buoy after buoy I tried to convince myself that I was a real swimmer now, not just some wisecracking kid who swam simply to cause as much of a splash as possible.  At 7:00 AM when the Ironman officials released us joeandjoanaverages into the swim course I quickly reverted back to the kid who had tried to learn how to survive in the water so many years ago.  Marvins were everywhere grabbing, yanking, donkey-kicking and elbowing all of their friends.  The Ironman swim was on…and I was in it…and I was overwhelmed…and it was fun.  Ironman swimming was survival.  I know this much is true.

I love bicycles.  I won a 10 speed Sekine once at some local community function when I was ten years old.  I don’t have that bike anymore.  I can’t remember exactly what happened to it, but it likely died a slow death after one too many trips on its own trying to find a resting place on the front lawn after I had hopped off it early…as kids do.  Or did.  Well, I did anyway.  Like everyone in my hometown, I went through a lot of bikes as a kid.  I took delicate care of some of them and I was downright cruel to others – if you consider riding your bike straight off the dock at first beach into Morfee Lake cruel.  It survived and so did I.  Bike riding was pure childhood fun.

In 1996 I rode my 1993 Kona Explosif equipped with slicks across Canada.  Well sort of.  We started in Calgary and ended up first in Charlottetown before extending the trip to Halifax.  And we took the train through part of Manitoba and northern Ontario.  Nonetheless, it was both a grand ride and a grand way to see our wonderful country.  We spent days cycling, late afternoons setting up camp and evenings visiting bakeries or pubs before seeing how long we could stay awake.  We rode more on days when we felt good and less on days when we didn’t.  Cycling was transportation and it was pure adult fun.

Exiting Okanagan Lake alive was a joyous experience for me at Ironman this year.  The joy could not last though as I, like all the others, quickly attempted to get to my bike so that I could get going on the 180-kilometre route.  I was looking forward to this bike ride.  Like I said before I love bikes and I love cycling.  Unfortunately I do not really like either maintaining or fixing them.  I do it but I don’t like it.  So when I attempted to improperly change gears and push hard to the crest of McLean Creek Road my bike argued with me and decided to lose a few parts.  Oops.  With the rear wheel now refusing to move I was forced into immobility.  This was not fun.  Alas, twenty plus minutes later the mechanical support people arrived (thank you thank you thank you!) fixed my bike, gave me a quick lecture on proper gear changing and sent me on my way.  Freedom was ahead once again.  Woohoo.  Except it got difficult.  And I had to ride when I wasn’t feeling that great.  And I learned that it is very easy to lose stuff, like your food and nutrition bottles and mind, while trying to push hard through a 180 km ride.  And the bakeries and pubs were off limits for now.  But it was fun.  Pure Ironman fun.  I know that much is true.

Everybody runs as a kid.  It is easy and it is fun and it is natural.  Every adult who still thinks he or she is a kid runs.  It is not quite as easy and it is not quite as fun and it is not quite as natural, but we do it because we are kids disguised as adults.  At least I think I know that much is true.

Over the past several years I have had some absolutely wonderful experiences running races anywhere from 5K (rarely) to 10K or 21.1K or 42.2K or 50K (often) to 50 miles (several times) to 125k (once) and to 100 miles (once).  In every instance, I have been able to run more than not run.  Although extremely difficult at times I have always been able to rely on muscular wisdom to persevere through running races.  I have been relatively successful in pretending to be a kid running for fun.

Carefully handing my Ironman bike to the volunteer so that the bike would not be hurt (oh how times change) I became eager to get my Brooks Pure Flows on and to get out there on the marathon course.  This run was going to be fun.  I was going to be a kid happy to have survived an anxiety-provoking swim and a challenging bicycle grind.  I was now a runner and I was going to run…even when my muscles began to lose their trusty wisdom.  Even when my calves and groin and hamstrings and biceps and deltoids tried to retreat inward and my kid-like natural running intentions turned into erratic Elaine Benes type of dance moves.  Ironman running, whatever that was, was going to be fun for me.  And it was.  Sort of.  I know that much is true.

I feel very fortunate to have participated in the final Penticton Ironman Canada.  I have oodles of admiration for any athlete who has completed any or all of the thirty Ironman Canadas.  It is a difficult task that requires serious devotion to swimming, cycling and running, along with a whole lot of other tacit knowledge of course.  From a wisecracking, splash provoking, bicycle busting, pseudo-serious running kid-adult I raise my glass to all of you.  Ironman Canada is serious stuff.  (I think) I know this much is true.

Wally Lamb, 1999

  • Caitlyn

    September 18, 2012 at 3:19 pm Reply

    Mike, what a wonderful, wonderful essay. Tempted to use it class. 🙂

    • Mike Palichuk

      September 19, 2012 at 5:19 am Reply

      Thanks Caitlyn! Feedback like that from an English teacher of your stature is much appreciated. If any RCAP students want to read about my experience I would be more than pleased 🙂

  • Nancy Tinari

    October 2, 2012 at 2:36 am Reply

    Very fun to read, Mike. I hope you never grow up completely.

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