Thursday, August 30, 2012

Ironman Canada Race Report


Of all my bucket-list races, Canada has always been at the top and now that I’ve competed in the race I would agree with previous racers that it was the best on the entire WTC circuit for venue and community support.

The swim start is a water start but the beach area is long enough that even with the start flags 200m off the shore you’re still only in chest-deep water. There was no countdown to the race start that we could hear out in the water and next thing I know the cannon had sounded the start. Everyone paused for a second, looked at each other with a look of bewilderment wondering what happened to the National Anthem and countdown. It was almost as though everyone realized at the same time that the race has started. I got into a good position and was swimming along with the main pack then 100m in, cough…hack…suck up some lake water. Out of nowhere, I receive my “Welcome to Canada” elbow to the throat. It’s amazing how a blow to the throat affects all of your senses. Your eyes water and vision becomes blurry, the lake water you violently sucked in blows out our nose, your ears ring, you can taste a mixture of algae/fish water and blood in the back of your throat, and you feel like going Jackie Chan on everyone in front of you. Losing the main pack and swimming 2.4 miles alone blows and is mentally difficult to push forward..

Now racing solo behind the rest of the pack, , all of the sudden there’s a kayak blocking my way. As I poke my head out of the water with a “Don't let me get in your way” look, I could barely hear her through my ear plugs. Looking in the direction she was pointing with her paddle I realized she was saying that I missed a buoy. As I lifted my goggles and looked back I realized that the white VIP boat was behind the white turn buoy. With the angle you swam into the buoy you had to look close to see it. I was sighting off of big orange buoys and didn’t realize there were rectangle white buoys on the corners. While I talked with her I could smell bacon! Did that sneaky Chuck Norris-like blow to the Adam’s apple throw off my sense of smell? I love bacon. I asked the kayaker why I smell bacon and she said it was coming from the VIP boat. No need to sight, jus t follow your nose. How unfair! Like it didn’t suck already that I was swimming by myself, now I had to swim an extra 75m back to the turn buoy and swim the back half with the smell of bacon engrained in my mind.

I exited the water alone, a little woozy from a bit of chop generated from the helicopter as it filmed the race. The plan for the ride was to maintain a steady effort through Richter Pass and then try to negative split the back half, especially after cresting Yellow Lake. We had beautiful weather on the first half of the ride with cool conditions and practically no wind. I tried to stay on my nutrition plan but being a little woozy gave me the dry heaves and putting in too much on an upset stomach can cause more issues. I wish I understood why I get motion sick so easy. I wasn’t feeling good for the first 40 miles and I was chewing Tums like I own stock in the company. I had no idea how far behind the bulk of the girls I was then on the out-and-back where you can pick up your Special Needs bag I got another glimpse of the girls in front of me. One of them was all red faced and veins popping out her neck, on a flat section. She was working way too hard. Luckily my stomach settled down before the climb over Richter Pass and as I crested the top I was looking forward for the downhill to add some mph to my average but instead of getting gravity to my advantage, instead I pushed into a stiff headwind. I made myself as small as possible and was glad to see 45mph on my Garmin at one point. Even with that, there were guys that I had passed on the uphill that flew past me on the downhill because they have a little more weight to help push them. As we neared the Yellow Lake climb I could tell I was making up more time on the girls in front of me and I thought for sure I would catch most of them by time I crested the hill or at least on the downhill. As I climbed I wasn’t making up as much time as I thought and noticed my rear wheel was starting to feel a little squishy. I t wasn’t flat and with only 20 miles I figured I’d ride it out and see what happened. I rode a solid time for the day, not the time I thought I would ride but the best I could do for the day. When I picked up my bike at the end of the race my rear tire was completely flat so I felt lucky I was able to make it without stopping to change a flat.

Exiting T2 there were a handful of girls right in front of me. I told myself to keep them close, the race doesn’t start until mile 18, keep it steady and work on passing them after the turnaround. The crowds were incredible and I had to keep forcing myself to slow down and not get caught up in the excitement. As I neared the turnaround I could tell I was gaining on some and losing time on others, I had to keep telling myself to maintain my IM pace. Then about mile 11 the wheels started to come off and it felt like someone had strapped a parachute to my back. My legs started to feel heavy and my stomach started cramping. As I ran I was trying to think of what might have changed that would be causing me to fell like this was the first time I had run a marathon. I think taking in too much nutrition towards the end of the bike was now starting to haunt me. I haven’t had nutrition issues for a while now, it wasn’t hot and the only thing I changed was how much I was taking in over the miles. It was time to modify the race plan and just try to hang on for the next hour. Every time I tried to push the pace I couldn’t. It just wasn’t going to be my day. I finished, which is an achievement of itself. Not how I had planned but eventually I have a good race. I ended up 7th and walk away knowing what I can change to make the next one better.

Next Up

As the season draws to a close for most athletes, some head to Vegas, others to Kona, I’m headed to Bend, Oregon for the Leadman 250; 5k swim, 223k bike and 22k run. I’ve raced part of this course before during Pacific Crest so I kind of know what the course will be like. There’s a portion of the bike I’ve never been on and I’m not sure how to prepare for the weather. Late September in this area is not exactly tropical. Morning lows can dip into the upper 30s and daytime highs typically only reach the low 70s. If I can stay warm enough during the 3 mile swim it should be a beautiful race. After Bend…I’m not sure. Austin? Arizona? Time off? Most certainly some family time.

Insights

I think the most costly mistake I made was not getting enough nutrition in early on the bike. It was kind of a catch-22, put fuel in on an upset stomach and you can just make it worse, not put enough in or put too much in and you can suffer further into the race. And suffer I did by putting too much in too late into the bike. The back half of the run was painful.

The thing to remember on this course is there’s more to the race than 1 climb on the bike. Go too hard too early and you can fade on the back half of the bike or end up dropping out part way through the run. Two girls went out hard off of the front on the bike, consequently one dropped out before making it 10 miles on the run, the other suffered through the run but lost her lead early on the run and probably thought about dropping out on more than one occasion. It’s a long day out there, you don’t necessarily need to win it within the first hour. The men’s winner was something like 6th or 7th into T2 and strategically made his move on the back half of the run.

There was a lot of controversy leading up to race day as the community of Penticton said goodbye to WTC and 30 years with the Ironman brand and welcomed in the Challenge Family for Challenge-Penticton starting in 2013. I don’t know the legality of the change and who has a contract with who until 2014 because I wasn’t racing it because of the race brand on the race. I wanted the experience of biking over the famous Richter Pass and Yellow Lake. So many people had told me about the amazing course and community support, I wanted to experience that for myself…and I was amazed at how right they were. I thought it was so much better than they had described. I have never been to another race that has as beautiful of a venue with the community support to back it. Everyone talks about it in a positive light and everyone I passed along the street while training would cheer and wish me luck followed by them announcing what Aide Station they would be at.  Moving this race under the Challenge Family is a good move that will bring the race back to the community and make it about the athletes. If you wanted to race here but are disappointed this race is no longer under the Ironman brand, I would still encourage you to make the trip. It’s not the name that makes this a bucket list race, it’s the community.