Warning this is 5 pages and is more of a journal for my memory than a “short story”. Enjoy.
Ironman Canada 2009 – Race Report
The day started with my alarm going off at 4 am, with a 7 am start I wanted to have my 3 packets of oatmeal 2.5 to 3 hours before the race start. Other than getting up to relieve my over hydrated bladder I had a surprisingly solid 6 hours of sleep. I ate my oatmeal in bed as I flicked channels on the TV, taking advantage of the last hour to rest my legs.
Alexandra and I left our motel room at 5:25 and walked the 15 minutes to the transition area in the dark. Surprisingly this walk down Lake Shore drive was one of the most emotional parts of the day for me. After dreaming about this day for 17 years I couldn’t believe it was actually happening, I was choking up and holding back the tears. It really is true when people say that the hardest part of these endurance events is getting to the start line and after 17 years I finally made it. As we got closer to the transition area the crowd of athletes walking along side started to swell and my anticipation level greatly increased. Before entering the transition area we stopped briefly to look out at the flat calm lake as day break was happening.
As we entered transition Alexandra and I held hands tightly knowing that if we lost each other now it was a good chance we wouldn’t find each other amongst the other 2600 athletes until after the race. Fortunately we had to set up our bikes in transition the day before so there was little for us to do in the morning beside pump up our bike tires, check over our bikes, pee, stretch, get our wet suits on and warm up. As we were herded into transition we had to drop off our “special needs” bags for the bike and run (they are bags that we can put goodies in that will meet us at the half way point of our bike and run). Next was body marking where they write your race number on your shoulders and your age on your leg.
Alexandra and I split up to pump up our tires and rejoined in the bathroom line. As Alexandra waited in the massive line for the porta potti I stretched and tried to do some last minute visualization of the day. As I sat on the grass “relaxing” I check my hart rate and noticed my “resting” HR was 92! My usual HR is between the mid 30′s to low 40′s, I was just a little excited. I was getting antsy with 15 minutes to go before the race start because Alexandra was still in the bathroom line and we both wanted to do a good warm up. Not wanting to mess up my warm up she told me to go on to the start but for the last 11 months as I dreamed about and visualized every aspect of the race it always started with us saying our good byes and good lucks on the beach with a big hug and kiss before entering the water and I wasn’t about to miss that opportunity.
We said our good byes on the beach and went our separate ways in the crowded water. With Alexandra being such a phenomenal swimmer I didn’t dare start next to her in the front row.
The Swim 3.8km – 1:01:02
With 2600 athletes the swim start ended up setting a world record as the largest mass swim start in Ironman history. Being a pretty good swimmer but certainly not the fastest I decided to start on the second row. With this many people I was expecting the swim start to feel like a massive washing machine or a water polo game with no rules. It turned out to be not so bad, as I swam the first 100 meters with my head up water polo style. I was afraid that with my head down I would get a kick in the face and risk losing my goggles or teeth…. As the swim progressed I felt strong and kept looking for pockets of open water to swim in. At the first turn I was surprised to see a SCUBA diver on the bottom of the lake looking up and waving to me as the bubbles ascended from his respirator. It brought a smile to my face. I found the biggest difference in this swim compared to all the other triathlons I have done was that the water seemed crowded the whole way. I actually got kicked in the face around the 3 km mark. Good thing I was hit square in the goggles and it just helped reapply the suction I was slowly losing. As I approached the beach it was So Cool (the first of a few So Cool moments in the race) to see the massive crowd waiting for us, probably 5000 people or so. Spectators were standing in the water up to their waist on two sides, creating a funnel for us to run through to transition. I ran out of the water with a huge smile on my face and heard a few people yell out my name. I was happy with my swim, I swam hard but at a comfortable pace it felt like a great warm up for the rest of the day.
Transition #1 – 3:20
As I entered transition I was greeted by the famous wetsuit strippers. When I came out of the water I took off my wetsuit down to my waist and then lay on the ground in front of a couple “strippers” for them to rip the suit off my legs. They told me my time was 1:01 which I was very happy to hear as I would have been pleased with anything under 1:05. I was through the change tent and on my bike in no time.
The Bike 180 km – 5:32:08
The first 5 km of the bike you ride straight up though Main St. in Penticton where the crowds seemed like they were three deep cheering us on from both sides of the street. This was another “so cool” experience. There wasn’t anyone directly in front of behind me so for a moment it felt like thousands of people were cheering for little ol me.
The Ironman is such a long day I knew pacing, patience and nutrition would be key if I was to finish around my goal time of 11 hours. The one major thing I was scared of was cramping up on the run and the three major factors that would cause me to do that would be going too hard on the bike, the run or not having the proper nutrition (the 4th element to long distance triathlons). After my experience running my first Marathon in May, blowing up / cramping around mile 20 I knew I didn’t want a repeat of that performance. I decided I would race conservatively and try to stay within my predetermined heart rate zone throughout. Truthfully I raced scared all day. My nutrition plan for the bike was to take in 300 – 500 calories an hour, about 1 -2 gels, 1 Cliff bar and a liter of Gatorade an hour.
The first hour on the bike I think I was a little too excited as I passed a lot of people and struggled to lower my heart rate to the comfortable zone I was going for. After an hour I managed to get my heart rate into my target zone and I went on cruise control for the next couple hours. I passed a few people and a few passed me. Going up the famous Richter Pass, an 11 km climb, was the next time we saw large groups of spectators which felt great to see. As I passed a guy going up the pass he commented on the view and I realized that I had just been staring at the wheels in front of me. At that moment I took a breather and slowed down a little to eat and soak up the amazing view of the Okanogan Valley. Going down Richter Pass was a lot of fun, we had our own lane to drop several thousand feet. After the decent down Richter Pass we enter a section with several rolling hills and then a flat out and back. I found this stage the most challenging of the course, I had just passed the 100 km mark (in three hours) meaning I was a long way from the start but still had a long way to go including another mountain pass at yellow lake. The temperature was well over 30oC here. I was half temped to get off my bike and visit one of the many fruit stands for lunch. It was during the out and back section that I experienced cramping in my hip flexor for the first time ever. I had no idea what was going on (I didn’t know it was my hip flexor until speaking with the massage therapist after the race). It felt like the arteries in my groin where going to explode as pain shot down my quadriceps. The pain would alternate from leg to leg so for a while I would pedal with one leg while I tried to shake out the other one. While experiencing this I became scared and pissed off at the same time. Until this point I was happy with my bike time and average speed and now my race was in jeopardy.
I was now headed for Yellow Lake which would mark our last significant climb before the 25 km decent back into Penticton. Despite my leg issues which would come and go the climb up Yellow Lake was one of my highlights of the day. There were so many people out on this part of the course including my family with 4 Newfoundland flags. After a pretty quiet section it was so exciting to be cheered on again. On one stretch of the climb there are spectators on both sides of the lane screaming and yelling, many people are waving signs and others are dressed up. This was another So Cool moment; it almost brought tears to my eyes hearing all these people cheering me on. For a fleeting moment I felt like I was in the Tour de France and was smiling ear to ear. The steep winding decent into town was fun and a little scary as the wind caught my aero wheels (thanks Ron for lending them to me). In the flat section heading into town my leg cramps came back and I just wanted to get off the bike. Just before turning back onto Main Street it was nice to see Alexandra’s family out on the course. In my experience the good thing about pain on the bike is that it doesn’t usually correlate to pain on the run, those are different pains….
Transition #2 – 4:55
Coming into transition I handed my bike off to the volunteers and headed for the change tent. As I was putting on my running shoes the volunteer asked me if I am going to change my shorts because he saw a pair of running shorts come out of my bag. I was so out of it I forgot I wanted to change my shorts. This was the first time in a triathlon I decided to change into running shorts but I was worried about chafing with the Tri shorts. I headed out of the change tent and hit up the sunscreen girls. You just stand there like you have gone through airport security and 2 or 3 people lather you up with sunscreen in a couple seconds.
The Run 42 km – 4:02:26
My main goal for the marathon was to avoid walking at all costs (other than aid stations).
The first mile of the run my legs felt dead and I was very worried, normally in triathlons I find my first mile the fastest as I feed off the crowd and my legs still want to turn over at a high cadence as it I was still biking. I stopped at the first aid station and took two salt pills (which I had been taking during the bike as well). I had such a hard time getting them out of my makeshift pill bottle AKA tick tacks jar I almost lost it. There was so much variety at the aid stations I totally forgot about my nutrition plan. There was water, Gatorade, Pepsi, power bars, gels, chicken soup, and other yummy treats. The next time I needed my salt pills I just give my tick tack case to a volunteer and asked them to get two for me as I focused on drinking water. They were more than happy to help, this helped keep my sanity and sodium levels up.
After the first couple miles the course flattened out and I started to get my legs back, this was a great relief. I settled into a conservative pace, forgot about the time and focused on my heart rate. I knew from my training if I run at a conservative heart rate I could run for ever and if I pushed it there was a good chance I would blow up as I did in the marathon back in May. I also revamped my nutrition plan and stuck to it. The aid stations were placed every mile and felt like shining glimmers of hope glistening in the distance every time a saw one. I was pleasantly surprised how frequent they came. I walked for about 30 seconds at each station making sure I actually consumed the fluids rather than spill them all over me which usually happens. I couldn’t afford to miss any calories. To overcome the daunting feat ahead, running a full marathon after going for 6. 5 hours I decided to just focus on each mile checking them off as I went by, this seemed to work well. At no time in the run do I look at my running or overall time as I knew I would be depressed to see how slow I was running. It is amazing what kind of physiological games you can play in your head in a race this long.
As I rounded the cone at the half way point of the out and back course my confidence grew and I thought I may actually be able to do this thing. Heading back toward Penticton? too I was keeping my eye out for Alexandra and the rest of the NL contingent. The run course is closed to cars and not near any towns so there are few spectators in the middle section making it a little lonely at times. I remember thinking; I just want to see a familiar face. Soon enough I saw Alexandra coming in the distance, I was so excited to see her and hear how she was doing. We kissed and talked for a moment and were on our way. I am sure I picked up the pace a little after our encounter.
My next big focus was getting to mile 20, in the world of marathons mile 20 is known as the place where the race starts. I passed through the 20 mile mark in relative comfort and gained a huge amount of confidence. I thought to myself “you got this.” At this point I started pouring cold water in my face at the end of the aid stations which seemed to put an extra step in my stride. At 5 km to go my confidence was soaring, and I pick up my pace. I was a little shocked by the energy I had left and start encouraging others as I passed (of course I made sure they weren’t in my age group..). Heading down Main Street my smile grew with the crowds. At this point I could hear the race announcer call out the time, it was 10:40. Until now I had no idea what my time was and if I was even close to achieving my 1st goal of finishing under 11 hours. About 1.5 km from the finish I spotted my mother (and the rest of my family shortly after) yelling and frantically waving the NL flags. Once again I started to get choked up and was grinning ear to ear. Somehow my speed continued to increase and I felt like I was finishing a 5 km race as I sprinted the last hundred meters to the finish.
At Ironman Canada they have over 4000 volunteers and they are incredible!! After speaking with many athletes who have competed in Ironman’s around the world they say that, besides the beautiful course, the volunteers and community spirit around this race is what makes it the best!
Overall the experience was well worth the huge amount of time and energy I had committed to training over the past year. I feel like I raced at a conservative pace mainly because I was so scared from everything I had read about competing in your first Ironman. I was very surprised how much energy I had left during the last 5 km, which is the way you want it I guess. Other than the leg cramping during the bike, my race couldn’t have gone more according to plan and for that I am ecstatic. My training, pacing, and nutrition all paid off.
To complete a 17 year goal in good style is a pretty big deal for me. My ultimate goal was to finish standing with a smile so finishing strong under 11 hours felt awesome! Many people have asked will I do another Ironman and it is hard to answer that right now. I am still letting it all sink in and am enjoying be goalless for the time being.
Thanks for following along and joining me on the journey over the past 12 months. Your encouragement and support was phenomenal.
I would encourage you all to look at your bucket list (things you want to do before you kick the bucket) and figure out what Big Hairy Audacious goals you are going to tackle next. I now have one less item on my bucket list and that feels great!
Finish Time 10:43:49
Place 229 out of 2602