I spent a large portion of my childhood living on the Big Island of Hawaii, where the Ironman World Championships are held. Watching the Ironman year after year had a huge impact on me, and at a young age, it became a lifetime goal to complete the Ironman. I grew up a long distance runner and swimmer, but biking was something I was really uncomfortable with. In 2013, after finally purchasing my first ever road bike off of Craigslist and having finished multiple half and full marathons, I decided it was time to start the journey toward completing the full Ironman. I began doing sprint and olympic distance tris which I found to be intimidating at first but quickly became an addicting rush. In 2015, I took the plunge into the 70.3 distance--twice--and loved it. Yet, all of these triathlons that I had done up until this point had been self-coached. I had found adequate plans online that helped me to get through the smaller distances, but they did not provide me with the confidence I needed to take on the full Ironman.
After signing up for Ironman Canada, I realized what I needed was a coach. And that coach was Shawn. The very first time I met with Shawn I already knew that completing the Ironman wasn't going to be a problem. He immediately gave me the confidence that I was lacking and explained that through putting in the work with the right training program, that I could easily meet my goal. Over the course of 5 months, there was never a time that I felt I couldn't write to ask Shawn a question about my training or the race. I don't think there was a single message that I sent that he didn't respond to within 20 minutes. He helped to modify my training plan so that it worked for me no matter what my schedule was. And it did work.
Ironman Canada is in Whistler, and while Whistler is hands down one of the most beautiful places on earth... It. Is. Hilly. Knowing this, Shawn had developed my training plan so that it involved plenty of hill workouts leading up to the race. So while I was nervous, I knew that I was plenty prepared. I didn't have a goal time for the event--just wanted to make it to the finish line in one piece.
On the day of the event, I felt rested. I had miraculously slept well every night leading up to the event--in part due to my confidence from all of the training I had done. Lined up in my pink swim cap in what felt like a sea of green caps, off went the starting cannon, and we all headed into Alta Lake. Swimming has continued to be my strongest of the 3 disciplines over the past few years, so while I was nervous for the event in its entirety, I knew I could treat the swim as a warm up and still be out of the water in a decent amount of time. Two loops in the lake attempting to avoid the never ending traffic-jam of people, and I was done. Transition was a breeze thanks to the AMAZING volunteers, and after a brief, disorienting moment of misplacing my trusty road bike (ha!) amongst the sea of very spendy-looking TT bikes I was through T2.
While I was most nervous for the bike portion, and its near 7,000 feet of elevation gain, I knew I had worked the hardest on training for this part. Slow and steady was my motto here. I actually enjoy climbing, (Ok...more like don't mind it TOO much) and there was PLENTY of enjoyment to be had on this course the entire time. I felt absolutely great for the first 80 or so miles. The views were spectacular, my legs and lungs felt fresh, my nutrition was on point. Then mile 90, and the enormous climb back to Whistler village came. I slllllowly made my way up the hill back to Whistler Village while athletes around me started to deteriorate from the heat, wind, and of course--the climbing. But even though I didn't feel fresh, I felt strong. My legs never ached, my head was clear. I had zero thoughts of stopping.
Through T3 and on to the run. I quickly realized I was significantly nauseous after the difficult last 30 miles on the bike. There were a few attempts to get some rhythm going, but I just couldn't stomach it...literally. This was particularly frustrating because my legs felt AMAZING. My training had prepared me to run on tired bike legs, and they were ready, but my guts were not. After 13 miles of shuffling along and only being able to ingest ice chips and Pepsi, I made it to the oh so holy special needs bag. I had packed myself a ginger ale which I drank nearly all of. Suddenly, I was back in business. I couldn't run the entire rest of the marathon, but my legs continued to feel so incredibly fresh and I was able to run quite a bit more. Never once did I experience a cramp or any sort of pain. All of the training had truly paid off.
When I finally crossed the finish line, and they announced, "Tonya Oyala, YOU are an Ironman" I felt differently than I expected. Sure, this was a monumental moment in my life--arguably one of the biggest--but I KNEW I would do it. It wasn't a question for me. It wasn't a surprise. Training for the Ironman was what the Ironman was really all about. The long weekends on my bike, the early hours in the pool...I had put in the work, and the work had been incredibly hard. I had made this training a major part of my life, and it had changed me. With proper coaching and training, I know now that anything really is possible. The Ironman Canada finish line was just one of the many pinnacles that I will continue to have in my life. Thanks, Shawn, and Steelhead Coaching for making this possible for me.