Ironman training started 4 years ago for our instructor Bonnie Stewart. With the goal of completing Ironman Canada before she turned 40 she threw herself into preparation. After having two kids, she had to get her fitness levels high enough to bring her dream to life. In 2015, she did just that. Read on to get the full story from this amazingly talented woman.
"When my friend Joy and I completed our first 1/2 Ironman distance race (70.3km) in Calgary, I knew I could for sure meet my goal of completing Ironman Canada. We both signed up for the full Ironman the day after. The excitement of completing the 1/2 distance pushed us to sign up for the Ironman the day after. I've been told numerous times I am crazy and asked countless times why I would ever want to do such a thing.
The night before Ironman Canada Whistler, we realized although we had an awesome room with really comfortable beds...we also had the room right above a night club. We called down to the front desk to express concern and they moved us to a quieter room - Thank You Delta Whistler!
Our alarm woke us up at 3:30am and we started our last minute preparation obsessing about the weather and thinking about what clothes to bring with rain in the forecast.
My nerves were running in hyper speed. I could barely eat 1/2 a bagel and drink a few sips of coffee before nausea hit me. I had to calm myself down before heading out to the shuttle. I had been waiting for this day for years - I was overwhelmed, excited and totally terrified!
The bus was full of first timers and seasoned Ironman triathletes. I tried not to listen to other racers plans because I didn't want to second guess myself and my strategy for making it to the finish line. So I focused on not puking instead (haha). Arriving and seeing almost 2,000 other athletes was incredible. I went to my bike, added my gels, water, Gatorade and other nutrition. I grabbed my gear bag and added some extra clothes. The lake was like glass, a huge improvement to the previous days during training. We put our wet suits on and put our morning gear in the bag provided...and then it hit me - Holy shit! I'm at friggin' IRONMAN!! This is it!! Woohoo!!! The countdown started to get in the water - goggles on, a big hug to my buddy wishing each other the best of luck - and in less than 17 hours we were going to cross the finish line.
The swim; two loops 3.8km long. A mass start with almost two thousand people freaked me out a bit so I started towards the back and outside until I got into my groove then I'd see what I could do about speeding up. I did manage to get a good rhythm going until I got hit so hard in the ribs with a fist, foot, head or some body part. It took my breath away but didn't stop me. I passed lots of people and moved closer to the buoys. I was stuck in a group of other swimmers getting kicked and swam over but it didn't phase me, the rain started and was pretty heavy at the end of the swim making for rougher water but I finished in 1hr 20mins. I was so happy to get out of the water.
My transition was brutal. I decided to start the bike in dry clothes even if only dry for a few mins. I did a full wardrobe change. I had so much help from a wonderful volunteer whom helped me get my dry clothes on. Dry tri suit, arm warmers, 1/2 gloves and a cycling jacket. Because I could only stomach 1/2 a bagel in the morning, I knew had I to get my nutrition under control also with the terrible weather I had to be on top of my game. If there's a next time, I will definitely pack full finger gloves.
The bike 180km in difficult hilly terrain. The beginning of the bike was freezing. I could not stop shivering and dreaded the downhills. My fingers lost feeling before hitting Calaghan Valley and the shivering was completely uncontrollable. I was beginning to worry about hypothermia. Calaghan Valley was welcomed with open arms. The climbs were hard and awesome. I could feel myself warming up a bit and even though I love hills, I knew I had to reserve my energy for the rest of the ride, plus I was wasting too much energy shivering, I had to stay in control. The scenery was unbelievable, so beautiful!! The descent from Calaghan Valley was gorgeous and so cold, it was raining so hard. At this point my fingers and most of both hands were completely white with no feeling, my upper body was shivering non stop and I had to control my legs because they started to shivers also. I had to push through this; there was no way I was going to let hypothermia get me. Something I used to try to keep on my game was to remember my race number. I started to get the numbers mixed up so my focus to Pemberton was repeating the order or my race number and smiling. I saw the pros making the uphill climb out of Pemberton and looked forward to that knowing I would be warm again. The rain stopped when heading into Pemberton and waiting for me was my special needs bag with food, ibuprofen (yay!!), and a card from a special friend. My hands were still not working at this point so one of the wonderful volunteers helped me open the envelope. Inside was a card with words of encouragement and a sweet message from a dear friend and her family. We both cried but having that waiting for me was just the push I needed, plus the warn tears felt nice on my freezing cold face. The flat section was awesome. I remember passing an open aired barn with a wresting ring in it thinking that was a crazy thing to see and imaging the parties they must have. At the 110km turn-around, I finally got feeling back in my fingers and felt good. So much wasted energy being so cold equalled so much wasted time on the bike but that couldn't be helped. I saw Joy at this point and we cheered each other on, it was so good to see her!! Heading back to Pemberton had its challenge with a head wind and heading into one of the aid stations I realized I could not unclip my feet from the pedals. One of the volunteers tried to catch me but I fell on the ground. All was good though, she felt terrible but no injuries and I assured her if that's the worst thing that happened to me, then it's a great day. I filled up with gels and Gatorade and prepared for the climb back to Whistler. The sun came out and 35km of climbs awaited me. Like I said, I love climbing on a bike. I was able to make the climbs and this time I looked forward to the very few downhill’s to cool off. The climbs were hard, very hard. Another athlete and I played tag for most of the hills. I'd pass her on the up hill and shed fly past me on the downhill. Coming into Whistler I finally saw my awesome family cheering hard on the side of the road. My kids were jumping up and down cheering hard with my Husband and Mom. The last couple of km's the spectators we cheering so loud, it was awesome!!! I could hear people crossing the finish line being called an IRONMAN, that was going to be me.....in 4-6 hours. I completely forgot I couldn't unclip from my pedals and into transition I had to yell for help and ride into the fence grabbing it with my hands so I didn't fall off my bike again. The awesome volunteers took my shoes off of me because they were still attached to my bike, took my bike and gave me my run gear bag. I made the bike cutoff with 25 mins to spare. Phew! It felt so great to be off my bike. At that point I didn't care if I ever saw my bike again. Haha!
I had my very own amazing volunteer help me get ready for the run. I decided to change out of my tri shorts and into running shorts, put on some clean dry socks, grabbed my jacket just in case it rained again and headed off for the run.
The run a two loop 42.2km Full Marathon. The beginning of the run felt awesome. I couldn't believe how amazing I felt. My legs were working, the volunteers and spectators were cheering hard and I was going to do this!! I filled up on some chomps, and before I knew it, I was at the first aid station. They had ripple chips, the best chips I’ve ever had in my life. I obviously needed the salt. My strategy was to walk through all the aid stations and uphills and run everything else. I saw my family again and was able to hug them, their cheers were awesome!! There s a spectator with a sign saying, "Free Hugs" I took a free hug and kept running until I hit another group dancing. I joined the dance party for a few seconds and kept going. My strategy was working. At one aid station I would have water and a banana and the next I would have Gatorade and chicken broth, the broth was so good!! I would randomly have a sip of Pepsi and oranges at other aid stations to mix things up a bit. At the 24km mark was special needs, I looked forward to the ibuprofen waiting for me and wasn't interested in anything else I had spent countless hours preparing thinking of what I "might" want at that point of the day. On our way around Green Lake, a few runners warned us of a bear up ahead. Sure enough, someone on the road had some bear bangers and we saw a massive black thing run into the bushes. I didn't think anything of it until the next day. Haha. That's when the rain started again. At the start of loop two, I passed a man I thought looked quite familiar. I saw on his bib his name was Merril. It was Merril Schwartz! I had watched his Kona 2011 finish on YouTube numerous times. Look it up, 2011 Kona Ironman Finish line....grab Kleenex. I also got to see my friend Simone cheering us on, she gave me a huge hug and smothered me with kisses and words of encouragement, I was so happy to see her. Moments later I saw her husband on the final few km's of his run before becoming and Ironman, woo hoo!!! The last loop was slow for me, I was tired but determined. I passed the last checkpoint an hour before the cutoff. I had 10km to go and that's when I saw Joy!!! We hugged each other and cheered on because next time we'd see each other would be at the finish line!!! I got to pass my family for the last time. I walked for about 2km and chatted with another runner until the last 2km to go and got back into the run. I got this. It was a windy way to the finish line. As the spectators got louder, my smile got bigger. The lights were bright and cheers were loud. There was the finishing chute. Hands were out, screams were loud and the music was super loud. I high 5'd everyone I could and those words I've been waiting years to hear: BONNIE STEWART, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!!!! I did it. I was in disbelief and so happy. A wonderful volunteer put an emergency blanket around me, gave me a finisher shirt and hat ( my favourite pieces of clothing right now) and brought me to a tent for my finisher photo. I thought I would ugly cry my way down the chute, but I don't think I had the extra energy to cry and the push from all the amazing people at the finish line is the best experience ever. THE BEST!! I got to see Joy's family and Stacey, it was so amazing to see them and get hugs from them. I was looking for my family and that's when I saw my husband. My kids had fallen asleep moments before I crossed the finish line. A short while later Joy crossed the finish line. I was screaming and trying to jump up and down cheering her on but my legs wouldn't let me. We DID IT!!! Ironman Canada, you were one tough cookie!!
Update: It is now almost Christmas – five months since Ironman Canada. For about a week post Ironman, I was asked numerous times if I would ever do another one. My response: “No way. Are you crazy. I have no idea why anyone would ever do more than one!!”
My updated response: "I'm already in training for the next one"