Ironman Canada 2011
Now that Ironman #5 for me (#3 Canada) is in the books and 3 days later my head has finally cleared, it’s time for my race report.
My overall goal for this race and all the summer training was to be in top shape for skimo racing next winter. I made the decision to do an Ironman (after 3 summers off) while in Italy competing in the Skimo World championships. This sport requires a tremendous amount of aerobic fitness and Ironman prep as oppose to just summer ski training I felt would provide the impetus to be more focussed and intentional in putting in long training hours. So in light of this I met my goal as my fitness level was as good as can be for me.
With school starting early this year I had to fly solo as Deb is teaching this year and the 2 little ones didn’t want to miss their first day. I copied my plan I did for the qualifier “Desert Half” in Osoyoos earlier by simply sleeping in the back of my truck. With the warm weather and comfy futon it actually was a pretty sweet set up. I got to park close to the start. There were dozens of porta potties everywhere and my little totally equipped rig had everything I needed right at my disposal.
I tried a new line this year, I went far left. It takes you off course a bit, but the beach does curve up, so some of that is offset. The problem I had was that I continued to go left and was pretty far off course. There was absolutely no one where I was. Forget all those stories you hear about being kicked, dunked, swum over..... I was totally alone. And probably for good reason. I may have lost 5 minutes or more taking this sanity route. An on course canoe kept telling me to move back over. By halfway and the first buoy I was back into the fray, right in dead centre, which was ok as the pack of nearly 3000 had now spread out. Next time I’d start in the same place but move over quickly to get some fast feet to draft off of. My time of 1:17 was the slowest in 3 tries for me. I should have gone around 1:10. So I gave up 7 minutes.
After a relatively quick T1 (and getting yelled at for running so fast in the T1 zone by other athletes walking their bikes) I settled in to a controlled pace. That was the mantra for me this year... “control”. Or as my old ski coach Sten Fjeldheim used to say, “Overscrud”, a Norwegian term for “reserves”. In both previous IMC races I had no legs left for the run....this year was hopefully going to be different.
My first mishap happened going up McClean road, a steep, rough uphill. There were literally 100's of cyclists everywhere. Right in the middle of the road a fast swimming older lady threw her chain and veered left taking me and another guy out. She didn’t fall. We both went down hard. I was bleeding a lot from my elbow and knee with other assorted road rash. The elbow was especially annoying as the blood kind of coagulated on my arm rest and tore at my wounds every time I moved my arms off the pads. I could deal with that though.
We must have had a good tailwind going down to Osoyoos, but to me it didn’t seem like it. I just felt tired and a little “bonky”. I tried keeping up the eating, but it seemed my stomach was full and I felt bloated. Maybe I should’ve endured that long porta potty line for visit #3. Or maybe I hadn’t slept as well as I thought in my pick up RV. There was a drunken smart aleck that was yelling out ‘til past midnight at a couple other more obvious campers, “Are you Ironmen asleep yet?”.....funny guy. I figured you really don’t sleep that well the night before a race anyway.
As we turned to begin the more challenging part of the course I was kind of even relieved to start climbing up the 14km Richter Pass. Most years I’m ripping by people, but this time I was getting passed almost as much as I was passing. But all along I kept that run in the back of my mind.
My friend Myles Gaulin caught up to me. He’d flatted earlier. Myles is usually just a bit ahead of me in most races, except in Ironmans he crushes me. He had a 10:30 this year. Almost :50 faster than me. That’s pretty typical. I actually beat him last year in the Calgary ½, but for some reason I go slower than my usual competition in Ironman. Anyway, we rode together for a good bit of the climb and chatted away, so my pace couldn’t have been too slow, and yet given the conversation, not too fast either.
The climb seemed easy. So many of my long rides incorporated similar climbs (Storm Mountain, Radium pass, Sunshine and Norquay access roads, etc). Now the downhills and rollers. There are 10 roller hills. I’d done this part of the course at the Desert Half, so I knew it well...and from other rides too. I consciously held back on the uphills, but felt like I was still going ok.
Once we hit the flat section into Keremeos the headwind really picked up. It was here that my character was tested. With all the riders it was hard not to draft and for awhile an obvious pack really formed. I was in the back and at first didn’t try too hard to stretch out. After awhile though my conscious must have caught up to me so I backed off....and was I ever glad! Just a few minutes later the drafting police showed up. The guy on the back of the motor bike stood up and was writing down numbers. I made a few comments to the person close to me....a confession of sorts, but mostly relief that I wasn’t busted!!
When I got to the special needs bags (my kids love this term... “special needs”. These are the kids in their school that are mentally handicapped. They tease me, “Daddy, you have special needs?!”)...I was really feeling good. Not tired. Not tired of riding yet. My customary kit at this point is a Red Bull, peanut butter/Nutella sandwich and a Snickers bar. I’d bought a couple of insulated lunch bags to keep everything cool. I stuck the Red Bull in my jersey pocket while I ate the sandwich, but it popped out before I had a chance to drink it. Now those things are expensive. Something like 3 bucks. If you add on the 7$ I spent on the lunch bag, that means that Red Bull cost around 10 dollars. There was no way I was going to let that ice cold Red Bull lay on the road, so even though it cost me a few minutes I stopped and retrieved it. Of course it started rolling downhill, so I had to chase after it. Then the hill was too steep to mount my bike, so I uncharacteristically took a break. I cracked open the Red Bull and walked up the hill while I drank it until I got to a place where I could mount my bike. To an average person that would seem like the obvious thing to do, but for a competitive Ironman fighting for every second it was a luxurious waste of time.....I made sure I really enjoyed that cold Red Bull!
Next up is the legendary Yellow Lake hill. The true Tour De France experience. During this very long, and at times, steep uphill there are literally 1000's of people cheering you on. Just like in the tour there are sections where there is just a 5' gap of people to ride through. As tired as your legs are at this point, I love it!! I didn’t get caught up in the hoopla though and held back, again thinking of the run. However, there were a couple of times that I ran out of gear and had to stand up to pedal. At these points I could feel that my legs could possibly cramp. Not as bad as Ironman 2006 for me, but not a good sign either.
Once the Yellow Lake hurdle is done, it’s mostly screaming downhills into Penticton. Unfortunately this year’s head wind took out all that easy riding and rest. This 25km section was the hardest it’s ever been for me in several outings. Usually you fly into town feeling awesome after the long descents. This year it was a struggle and great relief to finally be off that bike.
I knew my T2 was going to be slow for a couple reasons: 1) I had to pee the whole bike ride. I knew a porta potty stop would cost at least an additional minute, so I kept putting it off. Some Ironmen just pee on themselves on the bike. I tried that once and it took 2-3 days to get the smell out of my system. I swore I’d never do it again. 2) I changed all of my clothes except for my compression sox. As you enter the men’s change tent, a volunteer comes up with your bag to help you. Mine was mostly really great putting my stuff in a pile, except for when he mixed up what I was changing into with what I’d just changed out of. In any case, I knew there’d be a point where I’d be buck naked except for my compression sox. So there he was hovering over me. I gave him a little warning, “You might not want to watch this.” It actually helped me change fast with him there! Then it was on to the porta potty and then the run.
As I was running through the transition zone, someone noticed my Hoka One One running shoes and called something out to that affect. I think I was the only guy in the race with them, but it was a good move. These shoes have 3x the cushion of a normal running shoe. As bad as my legs hurt, I couldn’t imagine how much more the pain would’ve been. The day before the race as I was hanging out at Skaha beach I struck up a conversation with one of the 1,100 first time Ironman would be’s. He informed me his plan to run the marathon in “barefoot” running shoes. Actually not even the ones he normally used as those developed holes the week before the race. I thought of him during the run when my quads were screaming with pain and wondered how this rookie Ironman’s plan was working.
Ok, so here’s where things get a bit interesting. I thought I’d “overscruded” my legs for the run, but quickly realized that probably wasn’t the case. I started the run, and with all the 1000's of spectators around the transition and start/finish area, it seemed easy...until mile #2. That’s when the first cramp started. Every Ironman I’ve ever done (4 previous) I’ve been totally messed up by cramping muscles. Always in my calves (hence the compression calf sox I was wearing), and in my quads if I went too hard on the bike. Sure enough, at only mile #2 I felt my first quad cramp. In the past quad cramps reduced me to a walk, but this time I was hoping for a miracle cure...one that I was packing on my newly purchased Ultimate Direction fuel belt.
Only 2 weeks before IMC I was listening to a podcast and they were interviewing an exercise physiologist that did his dissertation on alleviating muscle cramps by imbibing pickle juice. It seemed kinda weird, but intriguing. I followed up by sleuthing around the internet and found an abstract from his paper. In the research they found that only a very small amount is needed (2 oz/ 80ml) and sometimes just putting it into your mouth worked. I didn’t try this at all in my training and didn’t even know if I could keep it down. Besides, who wants to train to the point of cramping? So when that first twinge came, I thought, “Here we go, let’s see if this stuff works.”
Guess what? It did work. Miraculously. In under a minute the cramping stopped. 2 small swigs of the brine was good for about :30 minutes. I kept the regimen up and had zero cramping the entire race. If you’d know how bad I always cramp up in these super marathons then you’ll realize how astounding it was to have no cramps whatsoever on this day....an especially hot one at that!
Looking at my watch I could see that a sub 11 hour Ironman was within grasp if I could run my goal time of 3:45. It’d be close and in the 35C weather probably pretty impossible for me to do, but I went for it. Over the first 10km (first 1/4) I actually was right on pace. I felt amazingly good. For the first Ironman ever I was actually running and not shuffling along nursing spasmodic legs. However, that heat (90+ F) was just too much. For the next 20km I had to slow down.
At the ½ way point it was time for special needs bag #2. Of course there was a cold Red Bull waiting for me. Man did that thing ever taste good!! It propelled me up the 2 mile uphill immediately after the turn around mid point. I have a mantra that I developed in my first Ironman Canada back in 2004. After the turn around on the run I tell myself that every step is one more step closer to home.
By the time I started to get back into town and through the 20 mile mark I was having a great time. My legs were really hurting, but it was so much easier with no cramping. I could run through that pain and continued to do so, even turning up the speed with 5 miles to go. This was by far my most enjoyable (if you could call what we go through “enjoyable”) Ironman run. As I finally hit main street and the spectator lined Lakeshore drive I told myself, “really enjoy this.” Instead of the usual grimaced painful look and desire to simply get this thing done, I had a huge grin and did my best to soak it all up. What a blast!
I saw my friends Mark & Julie Kent that came out to watch me finish. I gave a short wave. It means so much to have someone there that cares for you, if only to be a witness to the accomplishment you’ve just completed.
Some things in life we take for granted....like chairs. As you read this you’re probably sitting in one right now. But I’ve never appreciated a chair as much as at an Ironman finish. After hammering for 11+ hours, to finally sit down and get off your feet and legs is THE most wonderful feeling you think you could ever experience. I sat, smiled, drank a Dr Pepper and just soaked up the wonderful feeling of not having to propel my body forward anymore. Then it was off to the medi tent to finally clean up my 10 hour old road rash.
As any Ironman will tell you, the couple of days immediately after the race are still quite painful. The soreness in your legs is astounding. They’ve done biopsies on marathon runners and found that they have permanent scarring and muscle damage. I can only imagine how much more for an Ironman marathoner. The painful soreness in my muscles bear testimony to this. Yet, it doesn’t take long for you to begin planning next year’s come back. As the pain memories fade, the exhilarating, victorious recollections increase.
I guess after a 3 year hiatus I’m back in the Ironman game!