After graduating just over a year ago, I was fairly burned out on swimming but didn’t want to give it up completely. Having road biked a bit and figuring running wasn’t that hard (it is, I was wrong), triathlon was the easy answer. I was hooked after my first triathlon in last July.
I moved to Redmond and started at Microsoft at the end of last summer. I knew I needed something to keep me occupied and thought “why not an Ironman? That sounds fun!” As naïve as this was, it ended up being a great choice. Moving to a new state without knowing anyone was tough, but training always gave me something to do.
I joined VO2 Multisport (team close to campus) and started training with coach Ben Bigglestone. A side note on Ben and coaching: no matter what level you’re at, if you’re looking to bring yourself to the next level, I highly recommend it. Coaching for a year is cheaper than a new set of race wheels and you’ll get a much bigger (and long-term) performance gain. In all my years of swimming, I’ve never had a coach with the level of knowledge Ben has. This race would not have been successful without his coaching.
Transformation from swimmer to triathlete was tough. I was good at swimming. I enjoyed swimming. I was not good at running. I did not enjoy running. After months of training, I still prefer a swim to a run, but I don’t hate running anymore. I also started eating a lot healthier and shed 20lbs of upper body muscle and some “padding” around the ribs.
Still in the kids AG (18-24), I had a good chance of the podium and maybe even Kona.
TL;DR: Swimmer turned triathlete looking for a new challenge
Training & Setbacks
Training ranged from ~15-25 hours per week. This typically meant I ate, slept, worked, and trained with not much else (which I was perfectly happy doing).
I only had two main setbacks: a month long illness in early February and shin splits in April/May. For the latter, I ended up seeing Dr. Jacob Perkins at Elite Sports and Spine (another recommendation – he worked wonders and is a triathlete himself). Coming from the swimming background, I lacked a lot of stabilizing muscles in my hips/glutes that most normal kids who run around build up. Some rehab and squats and I was ready to go.
I kept swimming with a Masters team through the spring. The summers had 1-2 pool workouts and 2-3 open water swims. When I started swimming open was, I was convinced I was faster in a speedo than a wetsuit. It took me a while to appreciate all the benefits of the wetsuit…
Biking included a lot of hours on the trainer through the winter and spring. Thank goodness the sun comes out in the summer because that got pretty boring after a while. My longest ride as of May was 60 miles. By July it was 150. Unfortunately, I’m about as flexible as a brick. My stem still has every spacer under the bars. I’m not very “aero” (yet).
Running, the ugly duckling of my sports trio, ended up progressing quite well. My longest run a year ago was 6.2mi. My longest run before the race was only 16.5 miles, but I was consistently putting in 30-40+ mile weeks.
Lake Stevens in July was my first half and it went very well, giving me some good confidence in my training coming into Whistler.
Though I really started training last fall, I started tracking every workout with Garmin Connect January 1st. Here are some fun stats:
- Swim: 272 miles in 150 hours
- Bike: 4,520 miles in 259.5 hours
- Run: 776.5 miles in 113.5 hours
- Total: 530 hours in 236 days = 2.25hrs/day
TL;DR: Stayed fairly healthy, had a great coach, and trained a lot
After a quick (wet) race rehearsal on Saturday morning, I felt great and ready to go. I packed my transition bags and was ready to go to gear check-in when I discovered my rear tire was flat. Cue panic. I spent a good half hour changing the flat as I *thought* I found what had caused it (a tiny sharp stone picked up on the wet road) but wanted to be absolutely sure. I came very close to just throwing my gators on there but put the now clean race tire back on. Flat fixed, I checked in my run and bike bags, then scoped out transition. My bike was about the furthest it could be from the exit, so it would be a long run with the bike out.
Dinner was a simple plate of chicken and baked potato. A few hours later, I had a snack of bread, almond butter, and beer, and was off to bed. I actually got close to 6 hours of sleep.
TL;DR: A flat the day before the race scared the crap out of me.
Up at around 3:40am and ate my delicious bagel, almond butter, honey, banana, and coffee (with plenty of water too). I expected to be super nervous but was pretty calm. I got to T1 early enough so that if my tire was flat again (if I didn’t get Saturday’s puncture culprit) I would have enough time to swap out the tube and tire. It was still firm, so I was good to go. Wetsuit went on, but apparently I didn’t put enough body glide on my neck (it chaffed so bad it’s scabbed over). Got out into the water 20mins early for a good warm-up (and pee). One GU down 5 mins before race start.
TL;DR: A normal pre-race routine
The plan for the swim was to conserve energy (but be in the first pack) and see what happened.
I had a great position at the start until the guys on both sides creeped 2-3 feet further forward, blocking me out. All of a sudden, everyone started swimming. I guess I missed the cannon? So I started too, battled for a minute, found some feet, and hung out for a while. We had two lines going, but the leader on the inside kept going wide. We were moving pretty well but it felt very easy.
Coming into loop 2, the leader went wide again, so I cut to the inside and tried to stay on the buoy line. He lined up shoulder to shoulder and we paced each other. After making turn 1 (on the second loop), then sun had peaked over the mountains and even with mirrored goggles I was swimming completely blind. Thankfully I swam fairly straight and found the buoy line and we were able to make the next turn out of the sun glare without going too wide. At this point, the guy who led before wasn’t taking my feet (I wouldn’t have minded sharing the work but I guess he didn’t want to follow) so I eased up and got behind him again. Soon enough we were weaving through swimmers on their first lap and the group split up. I went buoy line, some went wide, and we all came back together for the final turn. Unfortunately, we had to cross through a mass of swimmers to get to the finishing stretch. I’m sure it was even worse for the pros. They could do some fine-tuning of that course.
Neck and neck, we swam in to shore. I know the smart thing would have been to back off and save energy but I’m a competitive guy. I built pace and the other guy dropped back (that was easier than I thought it would be). I exited as the first AGer with a time of 48:47 (2 seconds off of the first pro Bryan Rhoads’ time… guess I should have pushed the finish a little harder).
On a side note, I discovered later that the guy who I had been swimming with was actually a guy I swam against in college (who I’d never beaten before in the half-dozen races we’d completed against in).
TL;DR: I swam fast
You can imagine T1 wasn’t very crowded when I got there. I pointed to the biggest wetsuit stripper there and yelled “you!” as I landed on my back. That was my first wetsuit stripping and was rather fun. A volunteer had my bag and I was straight to the far end of the tent. There was a volunteer there who emptied my bag, grabbed my checklist, and handed me things in order. By the way, these volunteers (the entire race) were great. If you volunteered, THANK YOU!
I did put on socks for the bike and downed an entire water bottle (I generate a decent amount of heat on the swim and needed to replenish). My last 2 checklist steps were “Shami butter on” then “helmet on”. Well, once my hand was covered in shami butter, the helmet did NOT buckle very easily. It took well over 30 seconds to do this. The volunteer had my bag packed and I was out, grabbed my bike, and ran allll the way down to the exit.
Another side note, I watched a pro exit T1 before me and attempt a flying mount, fail, and have to stop (his bike ended up pointed the wrong direction, and I’m still not sure how he managed that). I was a few minutes into the bike before he finally caught me. I can’t really make judgments though given my execution of the T2 dismount…
TL;DR: Put on shami butter AFTER buckling your helmet. And even the pros mess up their mount.
The first few miles was just getting blow away by pros who bike much faster than they swim (or maybe I swim better than I bike?). Halfway up Callahan, someone from my AG flew by me (I thought I’d be well into Pemberton before being caught by my AG). Nothing else remarkable up and down Callahan, just sticking to my prescribed power. I peed on the bike for the first time ever on the way down to Pemberton. Hitting the flats it started to get crowded but I was able to keep my distance while sticking to power. All of a sudden, I hear a huge BANG. Initially I thought I had blown a tire, but then felt sharp pain in my shin. A hornet had hit my helmet, fallen on to my leg, and stung me. I flicked it off and tried to convince myself I wouldn’t have some freak allergic reaction to the sting (I’m not allergic, but was also not quite rational during the race either).
I was surprised to see the guy who had blown by me on Callahan was about a minute in front of me at the turnaround. Guess he went out too hard. A pause in pedaling to relieve myself towards the end of the flat section caused me to get passed by a stupid-big pack (3 wide, 10 deep? – c’mon guys). I sat off the back about 6 bike lengths and figured they would be easy to pass once we got to the climb.
As I’m a light guy and controlled my power the first part of the race, I thought the climb back would be easy. It wasn’t. I really hit my wall here especially mentally. 3 GUs per hour had sustained me so far but the glycogen supplies were depleted. I had to pee but it was all up hill. I realized both of my flat repair kits had gone missing and again panicked thinking of getting a flat tire. The plan to ride at 200W – 3.2W/kg went out the window and I went into survival mode. After a grueling hour and a half, I was back in Whistler and breathed a sigh of relief. Only a marathon to go!
Bike Time: 5:42:14. Not great compared to those who finished around me, but right on my goal time on 5:40. (The course may have been short, but I think we more than made up for it with the elevation gain, length of the transitions, and swimming wide)
TL;DR: Hit (but survived) the physical and mental wall of Pemberton to Whistler. Peed on a pack of drafters.
As I pulled into T2, right shoe came off of foot. And then the dismount line was there sooner than expected. So I attempted to both stop and unclip the left shoe, which ended in the bike sliding out from under me, me hitting the ground, and almost taking out the volunteer. I awkwardly ran into T2 with one bike shoe on. Normal T2 stuff here (visor, shoes, GUs, salt), though I was slower than I thought. A “quick” stop at the porta-potty and I was running out! Until I realized my shoes weren’t tightened and had to stop mid-run out in front of all the spectators. Oh well.
TL;DR: I suck at flying dismounts and forgot to tighten my run shoes.
The exit of T2 was long, and by the end I was running about a 6:15 pace. The goal was to NOT run too fast the first mile. My bad. I settled into pace (8:00-8:15s) and hit it the first 4 miles. Then I was ready for my nutrition, some honey stinger waffles, which were delicious and therefore good for running, right? Wrong. After ingestion, I ended up with near-GI distress and an abdominal cramp. Of course I didn’t put it together for another 15 miles that it was the waffles (which I had never taken on a run before) causing stomach pain and GUs went down just fine. You know how everyone says “nothing new on race day”? Well, NOTHING NEW ON RACE DAY. Lesson learned. At some point around here, I lost my tube of run salt pills. Fortunately, I had 2 extra from the bike left to ration. I also added in a cup of Perform at aide stations. The stomach pain cost me. I was now running in 4th position which I knew was outside of a Kona spot (we would either get one or two). Finally, I stopped at a porta-potty for a minute. No dice on relieving stomach pain, but it gave me a mental boost. I built back into the race knowing I needed to run down 2 people. And there were still around 18 miles left to race. The 10 mile marker was a big milestone. I now had less than my longest run ever to go. I somehow found comfort in that.
I don’t like to walk during races, even through aide stations; the change in pace/effort doesn’t work well for me physically or mentally. This became my goal: no walking. Just keep running. All of a sudden, there was someone from my AG, walking through an aide station. Goodbye. At this point I still hadn’t figured out it was the waffles messing with my stomach. I had gotten a GU down a few miles earlier, so by mile 14 I was feeling well enough to eat more. A few minutes later, the stomach was not happy. Then it hit me: “I wonder if these waffles aren’t sitting well?” Duh. Ok, just gels until the finish. By the time I got to the out and back turnaround, I was 5 minutes behind my AG leader and only 3 behind the guy in second. 6 miles to go and I sped up.
I could see myself getting closer to #2 as we ran on. The, all of a sudden, I saw him up ahead walking through an aide station. I ran through (still attempting to grab water and Perform, I almost got clothes-lined by a guy who was walking and reached out to grab something. I limboed under his arm, apologizing to him as my legs nearly cramped and gave out). As I couldn’t see #1, I ran sneakily behind #2, pacing him up the final hill, then down, then past my family all cheering loudly. As we approached the final aide station, he again slowed down to walk through. With less than 1.5 miles to the finish, I didn’t need anything else. I broke into a dead sprint. My Garmin has a nice blip there; I don’t know if it’s accurate, but it has my pace at a 4:00 mile for a few seconds. By the time I reached the course split to the finish, I looked over my shoulder and he was nowhere to be seen. The last mile was painful, I paid the price for my acceleration. At every sharp turn (and there were many), my hamstrings and glutes felt they were going to buckle. One last check over my shoulder as I ran down the finishing straight and I was clear. I did think about attempting to pass the athlete in front of me, but he wasn’t in my AG and I didn’t want to spoil both of our finishing photos. Also, I was in a little bit of pain.
I crossed the line, gunning for a 10:15. There’s a photo of me past the finishing arch when it says 10:15:59, but my official time was 10:16:00. For my first Ironman on a course as tough as that, I couldn’t ask for much better. I barely heard the announcer say “Bruce, you are an Ironman!”
No catcher was needed, but they were certainly there. I was a bit wobbly. It took a while before my stomach was ready to get food down. Also, like at Lake Stevens, there was NO CHOCOLATE MILK. As I’m sure you know, “Got Chocolate Milk” is an official sponsor of Ironman (and apparently a pretty shitty one, because again I don’t “got chocolate milk”). 2 strikes, guys. I take my chocolate milk very seriously.
Run time was 3:34:52. Not too bad for a first run over 16.5 miles.
TL;DR: Nothing new on race day!!! And I don’t know if I’ll ever let myself walk through an aide station after this race. And if there’s no chocolate milk at my next m-dot race, I’m never doing another one.
Post-Race & Monday
I took my first ice bath, which may have been more painful than the finishing stretch of the run. I didn’t fill it too high, and did notice that the parts of my legs that got in the ice (calf, hamstring) were much better the next day than my quads and upper glutes. I guess things coaches tell you to do are, in fact, good for you.
This was also my first midnight finish line experience and was awesome. I was absolutely cooked being out there for 10 hours. I can’t imagine what sort of pain the 17 hour folks go through. It was very inspiring to watch.
I had not one, but two beers that night. Living large.
Kona was still uncertain as M18-24 had around 1.2% of the finishers. I had trouble sleeping in Monday (with the whole legs in pain thing) and was there to check at 8:30am. 2 slots. I was going to Kona! Oddly enough, the guy who won turned down his spot. We chatted about it after the podium and he said he just didn’t think he could finish another one of these in 6 weeks. He makes a good point…
The biggest immediate challenge will be recovering in time without losing too much fitness. I may not be 100% for Kona, but should still be able to rock the swim and enjoy the rest of the day (as much as you can enjoy a 112mi bike ride and 26.2mi run in brutal heat and winds).
Next season will be 70.3 focused with a goal of qualifying for Worlds as it rotates to Mont Tremblant. I’ll be moving up to M25-29, so it won’t be an easy task. I need to get much more aggressive on the bike (flexibility and core) and improve running durability (run more).