Taylor Nystad: On Completing the Ironman

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Before completing her shifts at the studio, we just had to get one last story from Taylor regarding a major accomplishment in her life, completing the Ironman Triathlon. Taylor gives us a detailed account of what it's like to be in one of the most esteemed triathlons in the world. Congratulations Taylor!


 

4am:

My alarm goes off, but it wasn’t necessary as I had maybe slept for 30 minutes total since 9pm the night prior. Cue the anxiety attack. Everyone is now awake and getting ready. Me, on the other hand, am crying and considering handing in my timing chip. At this point I’m too afraid to race, I don’t feel ready. I force myself to eat something but I think I might vomit.

 

6am:

We’ve finally reached Alta Lake via the shuttle busses. There are athletes everywhere in the transition area. I feel a little better but still want to bawl my eyes out every few minutes. We get our bikes ready and put our wetsuits on. It’s time to say goodbye to our friends and family as we head to the lake to warm up.

 

6:55am:

It is 5 minutes to the swim start. Everyone is floating in the water. I then realize I have misunderstood the swim course and am at the front of the line. In reality I wanted to be near the middle as I am an average swimmer.

 

There are people everywhere, so there’s no chance for me to move farther back.

 

The swim:

The cannon goes off and instinctively I start swimming. I am literally in a human washing machine; there are people everywhere. I’m getting kicked, pulled, grabbed, and shoved. I know I have to stand my ground or else people will swim over me. The course is a two-lap rectangle, so I know I just have to endure this until the first turn. Once there, I decide to swim on the outside of the course. I know it might slow me down, but it’s a better alternative to swimming in the flurry of people. I end up swimming 4.5km, and am 10 minutes slower than what I originally wanted.

 

Swim to Bike transition:

Everyone is running out of the water to his or her transition bags but I decide to walk. In the swim I didn’t use my legs so I’m still feeling a little shaky. I grab my bag and make it to the change tent.

 

Let me just say now that the volunteers for this event are absolutely amazing.

 

A volunteer finds me and helps me with whatever I need. Trying to put on compression socks out of the swim was probably a bad idea. I don’t think I’ve ever had that much difficulty putting socks on. I get the rest of my gear on and run out to find my bike. Volunteers lather my arms with sunscreen.

 

Now it’s off to bike 180km.

 

Bike Km 1, Alta Lake to Callaghan:

There are cyclists everywhere. This was my first triathlon and cycling event so I was for the most part, unaware of what was in store. I pass people, and people pass me. The first portion of the course was mostly downhill which gave me enough time to settle into the new demands that my body was putting on me. I started off easy on my nutrition, waiting for my body to adjust.

 

Km 25 Callaghan- Whistler:

This was the first real climb of the race. 12km uphill to the top of Olympic village where the ski jumping venue is. But what goes up must come down. I had biked this portion once before in May so I knew what to expect.

What I didn’t know was how my body would fare going 180km. The farthest I had biked before in training was 100km, once.

 

I went with the philosophy of taking it one hill at a time, and to not push myself too hard.

 

I made it up Callaghan at a good pace. Going downhill Callaghan was a nice break for the legs. Once at the bottom of Callaghan was the climb back up to Whistler. This wasn’t too hard as you had some downhill moments to rest. I made sure to maintain my nutrition plan: 2 gels, 1 bottle of electrolytes every hour. If I had any inkling of a muscle cramp or GI issues, I took a sodium capsule right away.

 

Whistler to Pemberton:

Biking through Whistler was the first time I saw my friends and family since leaving Alta lake. You only see them for a few seconds, but it gives you a boost of energy. At this point I was three hours into the bike and was on track for my goal time. Whistler to Pemberton was essentially all downhill with the exception of a few small climbs. 1500ft drop in elevation to be exact. This was once again an opportunity to rest the legs to prepare for the 80km you had left once you reached Pemberton.

 

Pemberton Out and Back:

I finally received my special needs bag. Mine had an endurance drink, dried mangos, ibuprofen, sodium capsules, gels and skittles. You’re probably questioning the skittle part, but if I was in serious risk of bonking, I needed a rapid sugar dose. Skittles do the trick. I took everything from my special needs bag and put it wherever I could on my bike.

 

Once you leave Pemberton there is a 25km out and back of dead flat road in the valley.

 

This was the most boring part of the course. That turn around point could not come soon enough. I knew I had to fuel and pace properly on this portion because the last 30km of the bike was the most difficult. I wanted to bike at my original goal pace, but I knew if I pushed too hard, the rest of the bike would be a suffer-grind fest. It felt as though a hundred people passed me. I just had to remind myself that I was doing my own race and I was on pace to make the cut-off.

 

Pemberton to Whistler:

I have been dreading this all day. I had done this portion of the course back in May, and let’s just say it went less than ideal, as in I had to walk up a few hills. There was one last aid station before the climb so I stocked up on everything that I could. I had saved a few espresso gels from the special needs bag. These gels would be my saving grace: just enough of a caffeine boost to keep you going when there’s no fuel in the tank. I went into the climb saying I would take it one hill at a time, just as I had done earlier. Everyone who passed me in Pemberton, I caught up to.

 

It was 32 degrees and there was no shade. People were dropping like flies.

 

There were people on the side of the road, walking, vomiting, and a select few receiving medical help. My legs felt good and I knew to just take it easy. I ended up staying with a few other cyclists. We all talked to help distract us from the constant stream of hills that never seemed to end. I kept drinking as much fluid as I could. At one point even my water was so hot that drinking it made me feel uncomfortable. I just knew I had to keep going.

Reaching the final aid station was like finding water in the middle of the desert.

 

I knew I only had 10km to go and that the end was near. I just kept biking but by this point I felt like I was going to bonk. I ate whatever fuel I had left and popped sodium pills like they were candy. I finally saw my family back into Whistler. I had made the bike course before the cut off; I was ecstatic.

 

Bike to run transition:

I don’t think I have ever been so excited to get off of a bike in my entire life. If you ever want a free bike you should wait by the athletes at the end of the bike course on an Ironman.

 

After being on that bike for 180km you don’t want to see it ever again.

 

The volunteer who relieves you of that bike is an absolute savior. I get into the women’s change tent to switch to my run gear. Once again the volunteers are incredible and help you with whatever you need. I change my gear and head out onto the course.

 

Run Km 1-21:

I get out onto the run course and am surprisingly jogging. Well, more like shuffling. My jog pace was a fast speed walk at best.

 

I had 7 hours to do the run, but I forgot to put ibuprofen and sodium in my bike to run bag and I needed it badly.

 

I wouldn’t get any of those items until the halfway point, in my special needs bag. I just knew I couldn’t stop moving. At every aid station I drank pepsi or chicken broth for sodium and ate a gel. There were people everywhere on the course cheering you on which helped.

 

Km 22-41:

I finally have my sodium and ibuprofen, which helped immensely. Every step I took pounded into my knees. I knew I had done some damage but I wasn’t exactly sure to what extent. I had done the first half in just over 3 hours so I knew the odds were in my favor to finish. I had just less than four hours to do a half marathon.

 

They were going to have to pull me off the course before I would willingly quit.

 

By KM 30 my dad had caught up to me (he was also racing).  We sped walk the last 10ish km and ran on every downhill. We were close to the finish line and could hear the music and crowds going wild. We were so close but it all felt so far away.

 

The finish line:

We had finally made it into the village area. I tried to jog but I could barely sustain it, even with everyone cheering me on. I made the last turn and there it was, the finish line. Suddenly any pain in my body had disappeared. After over 16 hours I had finally made it to the runway of the finish line.

 

Everyone was cheering for me.

 

One person stuck out their hand to high five me, and the next thing I knew everyone was doing the same. Running down that finish shoot was Euphoric, a culmination of raw emotion and exhaustion. Cameras are flashing everywhere to capture your golden moment and the announcer tells everyone your name. I crossed that finish line, and for the first time in over 16.5 hours, I could finally stop moving.

Crossing that finish line is an experience that I will never forget. It makes all the hardships endured completely worth it. I believe that it will be a source of inspiration for the rest of my life; if I can make it through an Ironman, what can’t I do?

 

-Taylor Nystad