Ironman Canada would be my second crack at the Ironman distance. After my first at Tremblant in 2013 I decided I’d only do another if I felt I could be competitive. I didn’t love the long training like I did the shorter stuff, so I’d need a big, audacious goal to motivate myself to do all those long workouts. In 2014 I didn’t do an Ironman, and really only ran from June – on after Syracuse 70.3. By focusing on running for 5 months I was able to make huge gains, and I decided in 2015 I’d give the IM distance another shot.
My training leading up to the race had gone well. I managed to be consistent and relatively injury free. I hit my goals on my big training days, and I thought I had my nutrition mostly sorted out. I was confident in my preparation, and I thought I’d given myself an opportunity to make a run at my AG.
Arriving in BC
Lisa and I had a flight out to Vancouver first thing Wednesday morning. We’d rented a car so we could make our way up to Whistler. Along the way we stopped at Granville Island, Stanley Park, and Lynn Canyon for some sightseeing. This was the first time in BC for both of us.
As we drove up the Sea to Sky Hwy we had gorgeous mountain views to keep us entertained. Before arriving in Whistler we decided to drive up the Callaghan Valley Road, it’s part of the bike course, and we heard it was a tricky descent. My first impression was that it would be fast, but very manageable.
Our condo in Whistler was right outside the Olympic Plaza, where the race expo was, and right next to the finish chute, and T2. Before we got settled in I headed out on a 10k run. I had intended to run part of the course, but got lost, and just ran through the trails. My legs were feeling good.
Thursday morning Lisa and I swam in Alta Lake. It was a gorgeous venue with Whistler and Blackcomb mountain as a backdrop. I felt pretty good in the water. After the swim I was building my bike, and when I was installing my seat post a screw broke off inside my carbon frame. This was a bit of excitement I wasn’t planning on. None of the places in the village could help me, but I was directed to a place just outside the village called ‘The Fix’. I’m not sure how they did it, but they got it out and had my bike back to me Thursday afternoon. With my bike put together I decided to ride up and down Callaghan. I rode it around my planned race watts (225) to get a feel for what it would be like race day. Coming down I was happy that I could stay in my aero bars for basically the whole thing.
Friday morning Lisa and I again swam in Alta Lake. It was really windy and the water was choppy. I’m a decent, but not great swimmer, and the choppy water really exposed a weakness of mine. I crossed my fingers for still water race day. Friday afternoon Lisa and I rode Callaghan together. I was growing familiar with the route, which would be helpful on Sunday. Friday afternoon I rode most of the run course. This was helpful because I now knew where the turnaround was at the far end of the course.
Saturday was check-in day. I did a short ride around the village to make sure everything was working well, and then it was time to drop off my bike, T1 bag, and T2 bag. In T1 rain had made the transition area uneven, I made note that I’d have to be careful running through there tomorrow. After that Lisa and I enjoyed LOTS of penne and garlic bread and relaxed.
I was up at 3:30AM race morning. I had tried to stay on Toronto time so I was able to get to bed around 8:30PM Saturday night and get a decent night’s sleep. I had a bagel with almond butter and honey for breakfast, and I started working on my first of two Gatorades I’d drink before the race. We were out the door on our way to the shuttles to the swim start by 4:45AM.
At Alta Lake priority no. 1 was pumping up the tire’s on the bike. Ironman encouraged people not to bring their own pump, so we got in line to use theirs. Sure enough the pumps they provided were lousy. I eventually got mine filled, and then when I was filling Lisa’s it broke the valve extender off her wheel (we saw someone else this happened to as well). We didn’t panic, I had a spare, we were able to get the extender switched out, and used a different pump to fill our tires.
I never do much of a swim warm up, and all I did before this one was a short, hard acceleration as I swam towards the deep water start. I positioned myself about 20m from the buoy line in the second row. This was going to be my first mass start. I kept to myself as I waited for the gun.
The gun went and we were off. My focus was to move forward for my first 50 strokes and then evaluate where I was. I was ready for the contact of a mass start, but it never came. In fact, this swim had the least contact of any swim I’d been a part of. I breathe to my left so I could see the buoys every breath. I liked that they numbered the buoys; 7 going out and then the turn, 1 up, and then 7 back. As I swam I was feeling really good and I could feel the draft of a huge pack of swimmers from a mass start.
I didn’t wear my watch, but when I completed the first of two laps I couldn’t believe I was already half done. The second lap I swam right along the buoy line as the pack had thinned out. After the turn at the far end a girl swimming next to me hit me in the face on her stroke. Luckily she hit me square in the face, so it didn’t knock my goggles off.
After the turn at the far end of the course I began to think about what I needed to do for the rest of the day. I went through transition in my head, over and over, (towel, HR, shirt, jersey, helmet, shoes, sleeves), and reminded myself to not leave transition going too hard. As I swam towards shore I kept swimming until my hands were touching the bottom (a lot of people stood up early). I ran out of the water and towards the wetsuit strippers, not knowing my time because there was no clock.
Swim – 1:02:53, 1:39/100m, 170 Overall, 15 AG
As I ran through T1 I noticed just how hard it was raining. I had taped yellow stripes on my T1 bag so it was easy to find. I made my way into the change tent and was surprised at how full it was. There were no chairs so I found some space in the middle and got to work. Because of the cold I was moving a little slower than I would have liked. I took the time to towel myself off, and in hindsight I think this was a very good decision. A lot of people got really cold right off the bat on the bike. I was able to start the bike dry and build some body heat before I got completely soaked though. I was able to find my bike without a hitch, and ran through transition ready to really get my day started.
T2 – 4:45 (just call it slow)
On the bike it was immediately evident that this was going to be a difficult ride. I rode out of transition eager to begin riding my race watts(225W), but that wasn’t possible over the first few kms. The route from Alta Lake to the highway was hilly and winding. A lot of riders were all over the place, and I can’t entirely blame them because the road was slick. A half dozen times I had to hit the brakes as I was passing someone in this stretch because they swerved to the left. I just made sure to keep the rubber side down and get to work on the highway.
On the highway the route straightened out which made it easier to pass. By this point I had started to shiver and my clothing was soaked. I rode a little harder than I should have to try to generate a little more heat to try to get my body temp up. The first 8k I rode at an AP of 230W and a NP of 250W (braking and then accelerating out of the Alta Lake area caused this poor VI).
Out on the highway I began my nutrition. My plan was to drink a bottle of Gatorade an hour, plus 1/2 a waffle every 15minutes until 4:30 on the bike, and then a gel at 4:45. Grabbing a half waffle out of my bento was really tough because of the lack of dexterity in my fingers. I had to wait until a slow uphill where I could concentrate on grabbing one.
The course is quick to the bottom of the Callaghan climb, and that made it really cold. I was happy that the field was pretty thin and riders were mostly keeping to the right, as it made it much easier to pass. The climb up Callaghan was routine, after I had done it a couple times. I knew the first section was steep and slow, and then there were some quicker sections on the way up. I rode up at an AP of 234W and NP of 238W. My intention was to ride the climbs 230-240W because I knew there would be some descents that I would spin out. When I pre-rode Callaghan I never went through the gate at the top and I didn’t realize how much further the course actually went. When I made it to the turnaround at the top I reminded myself that most of the field was behind me, and I had to be careful riding down.
The ride down Callaghan wasn’t nearly as fun in the race as it was in the days before. I was up on my base bar and brakes for long sections of it, as opposed to be tucked down on my aero bars. The roads were really wet and I had to be careful. There were a few people climbing up Callaghan who had crossed the yellow line, which could have caused big trouble if someone riding down went wide. I knew near the bottom of the climb there were to fast sweeping corners, first a right, and then a left, where I’d have to check my speed. My brakes were slipping more than I would have liked them to, but I made my way to the bottom, still keeping the rubber side down. At the bottom of Callaghan there was an aid station. I still had 1 bottle of Gatorade, but I wanted to pick up another. When I tried to take a bottle from the volunteer I couldn’t get my hand to close around it, I was too cold. Good to know this now, before the next aid station where I would need a bottle.
The route north on Hwy 99 wasn’t as nice as I thought it would be. We had a pylon-ed area in the middle of the road to ride. The problem was that most of the time we were riding on wet paint and over road reflectors. Also the lane felt quite narrow, especially anytime you passed someone. This may have been a non-issue if it wasn’t so wet, but it did make me anxious when I was riding downhill on slick paint.
Riding past the town of Whistler was a great adrenaline boost. There were all sorts of people cheering and it made me forget about being so cold for a couple minutes. I picked up a bottle of Gatorade as I began the long descent down into Pemberton.
On the descent to Pemberton I felt the coldest I’d feel all day. The hills were fast, as we had more of the road to use, which meant I could really drop the hammer. My teeth were chattering for a lot of the descent. I’d picked up a bottle at the aid station just before the descent, but when I tried to drink from it I figured out they forgot to remove the seal under the cap. Over a couple of the uphills that break up the descent I removed the lid. My hands were far too cold to have the dexterity to take off the seal, but I was eventually able to bite through it. At this point I was well behind on hydration, but I didn’t want to get a stitch from taking it all back right away.
Part way down the descent into Pemberton the rain stopped, and I wouldn’t see any more rain on course for the rest of the day. On the descent into Pemberton I was more concerned about nutrition, and staying on the road, and my AP for the ride had drifted down towards 210W. I made the decision to aim to ride about 220W for the rest of the ride, and not try to make up the lost watts.
I didn’t stop at special needs because I only had a spare tube in there. At the aid station past special needs I grabbed a bottle of Gatorade, but dropped it when I was trying to put it in my cage. My gloves were really slippery, and at this point I decided to take off my right glove to help prevent dropping anything else. I knew I couldn’t afford to drop any more bottles today, and I’d need to slows down at every aid station to make sure I got them.
I felt really good on the Pemberton out and back. It’s completely flat and I cruised along at about 38km/h. I slowly picked off riders in front of me, passing a couple in each direction. As I got towards the end of the flat I saw Lisa riding the other way. It was great to see she made it down the hills in one piece, and gave me a little boost to keep going. By this point I had warmed up and was no longer shivering.
I’d only driven the route from Pemberton back to Whistler once, and I hadn’t ridden it at all before the race, so I wasn’t completely sure what I was in store. The GTA doesn’t have any climbs like this one to simulate what it would be like. I was just going to keep my power under control, and keep my cadence as high as possible.
At 149k into the ride I knew there was a tricky little downhill switchback. It was no longer raining, but I still slowed right down because this wasn’t the point where I wanted to make a mistake. I made it through there without a problem and then continued to climb.
At an aid station around 152k I picked up another bottle that didn’t have the seal removed. Fortunately I picked that one up at the start of the aid station and I was able to drop it and get another from the last volunteer.
Riding down into Pemberton I was so cold that I hadn’t really taken note of how many steep descents there were, or approximately how long they lasted, so riding back up I wasn’t entirely sure how much work I had to do. Also, the dirt and mud on my bike was beginning to dry so the silky smooth drive train was gritty and making noises. Probably not the biggest deal, but something I was thinking about a lot as I worked my way back up to Whistler. An age grouper rode past me on an uphill at about 160k. He told me that we were on the last big climb before it levels out towards transition. This was music to my ears. I had been holding my watts at 218W on the climb, but I was ready for my watts to yield a little more speed.
From 161k to transition it isn’t flat, but it’s gently rolling hills that really got my legs going. As I was climbing my stomach felt full, and my legs were a little lethargic, but now I was feeling great again. I passed the guy who had pulled away from me on the climb, and my spirits rose as I moved towards transition. At about 170k I began to see spectators again, and I got excited to run.
Stupidly I hadn’t actually ridden the final km’s into transition in the days leading into the race, so I wasn’t quite sure where I was going; I took my feet out of my shoes far earlier than I should have. I made it to T2 without any sort of mechanical (I’ve dropped my chain in a few races), and even though I didn’t actually know where I was in the race, I felt like I was in the hunt.
Bike – 5:23:05, 33.43km/h, 22nd Overall, 2nd AG (Garmin)
I hoped off my bike as I ran into T2 on the left side of my bike. I made eye contact with a volunteer on the right hand side who I was going to hand my bike to. For some reason one of the volunteers on the left reached across me, grabbed my handlebars and tried to pull my bike in front of me. This caused my bike to go crashing to the ground in front of me, and I tripped over it (after the race I also noticed I cut the top of my foot in the fall). I was able to pop back up and keep moving through T2. I grabbed my bag and went into the change tent. There was only 1 other athlete in the change tent, and he left just as I was opening my bag. I would be changing into full running gear for the run; split shorts and a singlet. I did this for two reasons. First, I find the pad in run shorts can be very uncomfortable on long runs. Second, I wanted to run with the mentality of a runner, and not a triathlete who had just swam and biked for 6 and a half hours. I ran out of transition as I applied vaseline to the back of my arms and put on my watch. The race was on!
T2 – 2:27
Bike for show, run for dough. Most triathlons are won or lost on the run. Pushing to shave a couple minutes on the bike can leave you walking on the run. My most ambitious goal of the 3 disciplines was my run, I planned to run under 3:10. If anyone wanted to try to run with me I was happy to let them. I had ridden 180k at race watts, and then done a 27k run at race pace (4:30km) twice in training, and I felt confident in my ability to execute. I ran out of transition a little hot, closer to 4:15 for my first couple of kilometers. I was ready to have a stitch and run through it, because it happened on both of my simulation days (from 1k – 7k), but it didn’t come.
I passed 2 people in the first couple of km’s out of transition. Neither seemed to be in my AG, but I wasn’t sure. About 5k in a spectator who was cheering me on told me I was in 2nd in my AG. This got me excited, it was the first time all day I had an idea where I was, but I didn’t know if this was reliable information. I was feeling strong as I ran, and I was getting a lot of encouragement from the spectators. An unintended benefit of wearing run gear is it made me recognizable and memorable for a lot of spectators, who recognized and remembered me every time I went by.
As I neared the turnaround at the far end of the course I realized just how good of a day I was having (or maybe it was how poorly of a day others were having) when I saw how few people were in front of me, pro and AG combined. One of the pros (I don’t remember who) told me I was 7th amateur as I was running towards the turnaround, I thought it was pretty neat that he counted them out and shared that with me. After I made the turn I looked at my watch and realized nobody was within a couple of minutes behind me. I was running well, and I had no intention of being caught from behind.
At every aid station along the way I was grabbing coke. I didn’t have plans to take anything else, but I would listen to my body. At about 16k I decided I’d take a gel at the aid station, I was feeling hungry, which I assumed meant I needed more calories.
As I was running back to the village and towards the start of my second lap I passed someone in a black kit, and for some reason I felt like he was in my AG. I don’t actually know if he was or not, but looking back at the results I did take the lead in my AG sometime on the first lap. I didn’t have spotters to relay this message, I found this out after the race.
I completed the first lap just better than 4:30/km pace. My quads were really sore and I was getting really fatigued. I just reminded myself I’ve run 27k in training, so this isn’t even new territory yet, I’m fine. I focused on running tall, hips under me, and kicking back strong.
On the second lap the course was far more crowded. There were runners, slow joggers, and walkers all over the course. I looked at my watch far less than I usually would in a race, but was aware that my pace began to slow. I was okay with that because I was still 4:3X/km. I had to be selfish at aid stations, a lot of people were walking through them, so I would dart in and out of people grabbing what I needed. At about 25k I recall feeling a little light headed and I wanted to get a gel, but the aid station didn’t seem to have any. Okay, just get to the next aid station in a couple km, and get one there. When I got to the aid station around 27k I yelled out for a gel and the volunteers told me they were at the end. I got to the end, and there was no gel. I got a little concerned, but I kept moving forward. This part of the course loops through a parking lot, and at the other side of the lot a volunteer ran to give me a gel. My saviour, this was really helpful because my energy levels were plummeting. I got it in, and then began counting down the distance to the turnaround.
The final few km to the turnaround was likely my lowest point. I saw Lisa on course in this stretch, and don’t know that I even managed a smile. My stomach was turning, and my quads and hamstrings were on fire. I just focused on keeping my foot-speed up and getting to the next aid station.
It was a great feeling getting to the turnaround on my second lap. All I needed to do was run home. The course was far too crowded to know who I might be able to run down and who was just behind me, so I didn’t think about that at all and just ran. From the far turnaround to the finish is about 9k. Okay, I can run for 40 minutes. Then 8k, 36 minutes, I can suffer for 36 minutes. 7k, there’s a 7k loop I run all the time, this is no problem. 6k, about 27 minutes, I can do that. 5k, I’ve likely run 5k bricks 40 times this year, I know I can do this. Inside 5k I began to accept that I was going to make it to the finish. It was still hard work, but I was really enjoying it. So many of the people I was running by for a 4th time knew my name from my bib and were cheering me on and telling other athletes to move to the right. It felt like I had dozens of spectators on course because there were so many people singling me out when I ran by.
I ran back towards the village and I kept an eye on the trail for the To Finish turnoff. I made the right hand turn and I went from being surrounded by other runners and spectators to calm. There weren’t really any spectators on the path that went around the village to the finish chute, and I couldn’t see anyone in front or behind me. It was about a mile to the finish and I reflected on the journey. I didn’t know what place I was in, but I was very proud of my effort, and what I’d managed to accomplish. I turned off the path and back onto the road towards the finish. You need to do a little loop inside the village before you’re done. I made my way around, and was in the finish chute. Still nobody in sight in front or behind I slowed my pace a little to look around and enjoy it. I gave a few high fives and crossed the finish line. I did it.
Run – 3:12:02, 4:33/km, 11th Overall, 1st AG (Garmin)
Overall – 9:45:12 (and not chick’d)
I crossed the finish line with a mixed bag of feelings; I was sore, proud, and emotional. I thought they announced I won 25-29 as I crossed the finish, but I wasn’t entirely sure, and in that moment it didn’t really matter. 30 weeks of training (and realistically a lot more than that) went into the day, and it all came together for the race. This was my first AG win in a big race. I was in some pain, but I could walk. I missed my goal time of sub 9:40, but given the conditions I was very happy with my performance. Looking back at the day I can’t think of anywhere that I made a big mistake.
I made my way to the massage tent to get off my feet and try to loosen up some of my muscles. From there it was food, dry clothing, and then back to the finish to cheer Lisa in.
After the race a lot of people asked me how excited I was to go to Kona. I don’t think they got the response they expected. I said I wasn’t going. Kona has never been a big goal of mine, and after the race I was so mentally and physically taxed that I couldn’t imagine doing another in a couple months. Besides the fact that Kona is uber-expensive, I’m just not ready to take on another Ironman so soon, and the heat on the run in Kona could make it turn into a real miserable day.
Little do many of you know, I have a number of sponsors I have to thank for getting me here. First of all a big thanks to Goetz rentals, who provided me with space to keep my bike and trainer. Next, thanks to my bike bag sponsor, Nicole and Sean. Without them my bike would have never left Toronto. And who can forget the folks at Bulk Barn, who continue to give me the 10% student discount even though my student card is almost 10 years old; their jujubes powered me through countless trainer rides. Finally, a big shout out to Bakersland Stroopwaffles, you don’t give me a discount but you’re a hell of a lot cheaper than Honey Stinger!