TL;DR: Back to Ironman Canada where it all started 4 years ago
Whistler (IM Canada) was my first Ironman in 2013 (race report); this year I wanted to go back to where it all started. The season kicked off with 70.3 St. George in May. Since then, it’s been a wild ride (ok, fairly standard regiment of work/train/eat/sleep) ramping up for Canada.
Some key differences this season:
- Raced to 3rd place in my first USA Cycling 40k Time Trial
- Attempted to significantly reduce sodium from my diet to decrease sodium necessary on race-day (this one sucked, but I think it was pretty effective)
- Stayed relatively healthy through the summer (the real key to success)
Joined once again by my incredible support crew (mom & dad), we flew into Seattle late Tuesday. Coach Ben and I got together for a ride around the old Mercer Island stomping grounds and a chat about the race plan on Wednesday, and we made it to Whistler on Thursday afternoon. The next three days turned into a waiting game, knocking out a few final prep sessions and catching up with teammates and friends I hadn’t seen in a while. I was feeling rested and ready to go!
The day before the race, I decided to save myself time race morning by getting all my gels taped on the bike at the condo. Anyone remember this photo from 2014? Whistler has a lot a bears, and bears love GU (well, bears love all food, so I assume they’d be down for packets of pure sugar). So waiting in line to rack my bike Saturday, I removed all my carefully mounted nutrition as this was not allowed until race morning. (And had I attended a mandatory race briefing, they probably would have mentioned this.)
Somehow, I ended up with lucky bib #123. At least I wouldn’t forget my number like I did in T1 at [Kona]… This gave me great bike positioning – right by the exit and the pro women.
The night before the race, I stuck with my favorite pre-race chicken & white rice and resumed the tradition of a pre-race beer, a Canadian brewed scotch ale (my mother is now convinced this is the secret to racing well).
I woke up at 3:30am (despite a 3:45am alarm) and decided there was no point in getting back to bed. Coffee, bagel, almond butter, honey, water, salt. Mmm.
I dropped my run gear & special needs at T2 and boarded the shuttle. It was uneventful other than accidentally popping out the valve stem of my rear tire and all my tape for nutrition not sticking from morning dew (though on the bright side, no bears attempted to enter T1 overnight).
Swim: 48:32 – 1st overall, PR
TL;DR: I can still swim fast, especially rocking a Zone3
If you’ve ready my race reports, especially for Chattanooga, you’ll know I’m a fan of the mass start with strong opinions of how terrible every other start is. This year, Canada was “self seeded” (line up based on your expected swim time) and I have to admit it worked pretty well, outside of not knowing when anyone else from my Age Group started (which makes it tough to race to the line at the finish)
I slotted into 3rd position in the “40-50 minute” group. Of the dozen or so in that group, only 2 of us actually did go under 50.
With a few minutes to go, I looked at our group and said “Hey guys, we’re going to be out there 9 or 10 hours. Can we all just agree to save some energy and not start in a dead sprint?”. They laughed at me. (So fine, they all spiked their heart rates, jumped into a sugar burning zone, and probably paid for it later in the run)
The start video is pretty comical. Two guys racing in at top speed, followed by Bruce at a gentle jog. Less than a minute in, one of those sprinters was treading water putting his timing chip back on. Always safety pin your timing chip. After that, I settled into my rhythm and passed them all. I felt the occasional tap on my feet and even backed off a bit at one point to see if he’d share the work, but he wouldn’t come around.
The water was amazingly smooth. Unlike 2013, we had some cloud cover so I wasn’t blinded by the sun. About halfway through the second loop, I hit traffic from swimmers on their first loop and spent the rest of the swim trying to hold my line and not run over too many people. I did go a little wide between the final buoy and the exit, but other than that it was a near-perfect swim.
One of the things I miss most about Washington was the easy access to open water. Outside of a tiny swim area, the Boulder Res is only open two mornings per week, and it’s a production. People everywhere, kayakers, checking in & out so they know you don’t drown. It’s great for safety and swimmers new to open water, but usually I just want to enjoy a quiet swim on my own time. As a result, I’ve spent a lot less time in open water the past two seasons and was a little nervous it would cost me a few minutes (especially since I pushed the 2013 swim too hard and paid for that with a high HR the first hour of the bike).
It was my first Ironman race in the Zone3 Vanquish wetsuit, which apparently made up for any swim fitness I was lacking. Love it! I came out feeling rested in a swim PR of 48:32.
T1 was uneventful. I had run through it mentally a dozen times in the past week, and while I can still make improvements, it was one of my smoothest IM transitions to date. I’m still in the mindset of not going through at lightning speed and making a mistake that will cost a lot of time later on.
Bike: 5:21:55, 207W NP
TL;DR: Hilly and windy, I lost my salt, and I didn’t listen to coach Ben. But it turned out OK
This is the first race I’ve done twice, and it’s really interesting to look back at the differences from 4 years ago. For the bike especially, I’ve worked to get much more aerodynamic (in both position and equipment).
Out of T1 up a short but steep hill. There are some punchy climbs before hitting 99, but once there I cruised south, enjoying the morning cloud cover. Unlike 2013, where pros & faster AG athletes were flying by me, I was starting to pick off a few female pros. Around 10 miles in, I saw Ben and Jeremy and gave them a thumbs up. On a steeper section of Callaghan (first big climb to the 2010 Olympic ski jumps), someone in my AG flew by me out of the saddle (oh s**t, who is this guy?!); he had to be pushing 400W+. My nerves settled a bit as I passed him on the descent and we leapfrogged a few times back into town. He was clearly a strong athlete, but could use a little work on pacing (his bike split was faster than his run…). I was getting nervous about 40mi in when my speed was slower than I expected (looking back, it was right on target. Turns out I just can’t do math mid-race). Maybe this distracted me or maybe it was just bad luck, but around mile 45 flying down a descent at 40mph+, my tube of salt popped out of my jersey pocket, never to be seen again.
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned over the past 5 seasons is that something (probably a lot of somethings) is going to go wrong in a 10 hour race. Success will be defined by how you prepare and respond. The night before, I decided having a few spare salt pills in my bento box couldn’t hurt. It wasn’t perfect; I only had about half the salt I needed, but survived long enough to get my fresh tube in T2.
The wind continued to pick up through the day. There were a few solid tailwinds on the descent and a nice tailwind on the Pemberton “out”. Unfortunately, that made for a hefty headwind on the “back”. Despite the return being very slightly downhill and giving it an extra 10W, it was 2mph+ slower. This was the only section I was in any sort of pain; my left shoulder tightened up just as I hit the valley and made aero really uncomfortable. Of course, this is the 80 minute flat section where staying aero matters most. I stretched it (as aerodynamically as possible) every few minutes, but it didn’t loosen up until I was climbing back to Whistler.
One of the most bizarre encounters of the race happened as I was going out to the turnaround. An athlete flew by me, then rolled into an aide station and ran into a porta-potty. I saw him about a minute behind at the turnaround, but he didn’t catch me. I guess he really had to go when he passed me the first time. Personally, I use the “stand and deliver” method (climbing out of the saddle, relax and warm up your left shoe) for which I got major props by a competitor who passed me mid-relief (with a wide birth, he knew what was up).
The final climb back into Whistler went better than I expected. I had to over-gear a lot to keep power & HR down, but felt energetic. There was a lot of traffic from passing 70.3 athletes, but I never had issues with anyone blocking or weaving. Remember that wind that built through the day? It was pretty strong by the time I got back into town. How much? Despite being significantly more aerodynamic (see photos above) and giving it 30+ more watts this time around, it took the exact same amount of time as 2013.
Hydration & Nutrition
- My first bottle was Skratch (~100 cals), then I alternated caffeine/non-caffeinated GU every ~20 minutes. I had a few that were 5mins late, so instead of the planned 1600 calories, I hit about 1400.
- It’s always tough to tell exactly how much I’ve hydrated, but it was around 30-35oz/hr.
- Losing the salt pills, I was down from ~600mg sodium per hour to ~350mg/hr.
What would I do differently?
- Garmin alarm: Typically I run an alarm every 10 minutes on the Garmin. It’s a good reminder to drink, take a GU, salt pill, etc. I turned it off training at one point and forgot to put it back before the race.
- Salt: 4 “emergency” pills in the bento box worked well, but I’d also have a handful in special needs (and pick up only if needed, like today)
- Power: Despite promising Ben I’d cap power at 90%, I spent a lot of time (16mins) in “Zone 4” (90%+). This came back to bite me on the run. Listen to your coach, stupid.
For the power geeks out there:
- VI of 1.02
- That’s pretty low for this course
- VI of 1.00 is perfectly even power; the higher the VI, the more you’re damaging your legs for the run
- First 2 hours at 215W NP
- 2hr 22mins in Zone 3
- 16mins in Zone 4
- First 6 mins (out of T1)
- Same power/speed
- 165bpm vs 147bpm
- Callaghan climb
- 210W vs 222W
- 148bpm vs 137bpm
- 13.7mph vs 14.0mph
- Pemberton out & back
- 185W vs 196W
- 153bpm vs 144bpm
- 21.8mph vs 23.6mph
- 192W vs 207W
- 150bpm vs 143bpm
- 5:42:14 vs 5:21:55
Happy to report this was nearly 4 minutes faster than 2013 (where I spent at least 2 minutes peeing in a porta-potty because I wasn’t competent/stupid enough to do it running)
Run: 3:22:42 – 1st AG, PR
TL;DR: Running is hard, especially after 110 miles on a a bike
I never felt great on this run, it was a battle again something the entire time. Looking back, I think some of this was related to lower-than-ideal salt on the ride (and those 16 minutes I ignored Coach Ben’s power cap).
Out of the gate, heart rate was a little too high (mid 150bpm), so I spent the first half of the run continually backing off to keep HR in a sustainable zone. I could be running faster now! Yeah, if you want to walk later like you did in Chattanooga.
Despite not feeling amazing, I did really enjoy the first loop. The beginning is well shaded with plenty of support. Perhaps the best was constantly seeing/high-fiving teammates from the 70.3 and full out on course. That was the primary reason I chose Canada and what was so painful about Chattanooga (besides the 115deg heat index) – doesn’t matter if you’re having a good or bad day, seeing a friend will lift your spirit.
At the mile 8 turnaround, I saw someone from my Age Group around a minute behind and panicked a little (a lot). The downside to a self-seeded swim is you don’t know where everyone else starts. He could have started 5 minutes after me and been the virtual leader on the course. I had to pick up the pace! No Bruce, you need to keep your heart rate down.
That came back to bite me at the start of the second loop when energy levels dropped hard. By the climb to Lost Lake around mile 13, I was convinced I would not finish the run. It’s amazing how fast negative thoughts slip in. How could I possibly do another 13 miles? I’m going to get caught. Why am I here? My legs won’t work. Why would I want to go to Kona, then I have to do this s**t again.
I had just grabbed my special needs bag, complete with a cold bottle of Skratch. Tip: throw a beer koozie over both ends of a frozen bottle race morning and it should still be cold by the time you grab special needs. I backed off slightly, got a boost from a few spectators (especially mom!), and sipped my skratch (and had a nice pee running down the Lost Lake descent). It’s strange the stuff that pops into your head at this point in the race. Today it was David Goggins.
“In a race, you hit several walls. Every time you hit a wall, it’s a big deciding factor… You are looking for that door… Once you open that door, and you go through it, your mind resets and it gives you a few more miles.” – David Goggins
Things were looking up until I hit another wall at miles 20 and 21. Legs had nothing left and stomach was sour. I couldn’t stand to take another GU (was up to about 22 at this point; that’s more calories than most people eat daily). This time, it was Coach Ben’s advice that popped into my head: “Run the first 20 miles with your mind and the last 6 with your heart”.
I switched to Pepsi at the aid stations and started ignoring my watch. My right groin and left hamstring were cramping and I was running on fumes, but I was still running. I saw Ben & Jeremy, my mother, and friends from Team VO2 and PR Performance. All of a sudden, it was mile 25 and I gave it everything I had left.
Finish: 9:38:20, 1st AG, 6th Amateur, 29 min PR
I flew down the finishers chute (thankfully slightly downhill) and nearly collapsed on the catcher. She kept asking “Do you want me to pour water on you?” (which was really confusing because I just wanted to drink the water). Eventually, I found my parents and hobbled over to the finishers area. No medical needed this time!
I slowly got some Coke and pretzels down, but had to lay down as my hands and feet wouldn’t stop throbbing/buzzing. After 20 minutes, I still didn’t have blood flow in my hands; so much for no medical this race. Thankfully, they just monitored me and assured me it was just a result of capillaries opening post-race. It took another 20-30 minutes before I was “good” to go.
At that point it started to sink in: I had punched a ticket to Kona!
Team VO2 Multisport had a lot of fantastic performances, which we celebrated together over dinner at the Keg (which had far less beer on tap than the name would suggest). 5 podiums and 4 slots to the 2018 70.3 World Champs in South Africa.
75 days between Canada and Kona (2013 race report).
I couldn’t walk normally until Thursday (knew I should have done that Ice Bath…) so the next few weeks will be focused on some very easy sessions to recover. Then I’ll build back into a 6-7 week training block, and finally enjoy a short taper before taking off to the big island.
No one finishes the race alone. Special thanks to:
- Mom & Dad for the endless support and especially for putting up with me when I am a nervous wreck the few days before a race.
- Ben, not only for coaching but being a great friend. Looking forward to spending more time in Kona!
- Friends & family for support back home. Especially cousin Emma who is racing her first triathlon Sunday!
- Team VO2 Multisport – Inspiring performances, from podiums to racing & finishing their first 70.3. It was great racing with you!
- Coach Michael & team Lovato – I’m in the best run shape of my life with those Wednesday group runs.