Ironman Canada '12

Post date: Aug 29, 2012 1:16:10 PM

On Sunday, August 26 I participated in the Ironman Canada race in Penticton. It was a fantastic experience and I was lucky to have so many family members in Penticton to cheer me on. I'm especially grateful to my cousin Cameron and his wife Sue, who not only hosted Maria and me (and Mia Bella, our Italian Greyhound), but also my brother Robin, my cousin Adam and his wife Kris, and my cousin Sue and her whole family, with the addition of two more cousins visiting from Scotland. Talk about a full house!

I started the day at 4:45 a.m. I had a small breakfast of whipping cream and MCT oil. I prepared a bike bottle with water and electrolytes to sip before the race. Robin, Cameron and Maria drove me down to Main Street for body marking. After getting my shoulders and legs marked with my number (1500) we all went to Starbucks to stay warm until I had to go down to the transition area. At 6:15 I walked down to the transition area and borrowed a pump to inflate my tires to 120 psi. I put a couple of things in my transition bags. Finally, I put my wetsuit on and placed my dry clothes bag by the fence. Steve King, the legendary announcer, said the water temperature was a warm 21.6 C (great for me because I don't do well in cold water). I walked over to the beach, almost the last athlete to do so, and moved over to the left side of the beach, to try to give Robin a better shot of me starting. The horn sounded and the race was on. I, however, slowly walked into the water and put my face mask on and didn't actually start swimming until two and a half minutes had past. I was trying to avoid the chaos of 2600 people hitting the water at the same time.

The Swim - I wanted to establish a slow and steady rhythm to start and it went well. After about ten minutes already I had caught up to a fairly big crowd of other swimmers. It wasn't hard to find room to manoeuvre, though, and I felt like I was making good progress. I made the decision early on not to kick to avoid cramping. By the time I neared the end of the first leg (the swim is a triangle with legs of 1612, 450 and 1800 meters) the swimmers were quite crowded. I didn't realize that the bouy at the turn was a big white oblong one and found myself just swimming with the group around the bouy. By the second turn I realized that the big white ones marked the turns and I hit my lap button on my watch (46 minutes at that point). The swim back was good, but it was a bit tough for me to site because of the sun and because I couldn't really see the finish area. At 68 minutes I had a foot cramp and stopped swimming to stretch my foot. I was close to a buoy at that point and was quite surprised to realize I was still moving at a decent pace. The only way I can describe it is a man made current. It significantly sped up my swim. I was careful the rest of the way to relax my legs as much as possible and avoided any more cramps, although I could feel them just about to start in my right quad. I couldn't believe my time as I walked out of the water, over the timing mat and to the wetsuit strippers. I completed the swim in 1:28:49. My optimistic estimate had been 1:40, and as a result nobody was there to see me get out of the water. After my wetsuit was off I realized I was fairly cold. I started shivering as I made my way with my transition bag to the change tent. The tent was quite warm, luckily, and I changed into my bike shoes and socks (I had my shorts and tank top on underneath the wetsuit). I then put on my helmet and picked up my bike and made my way out of the transition area. My official T1 time was 14:10.

The Ride - I was pretty cold and starting the ride in my wet clothes didn't help matters. I took it fairly easy through Penticton, and then down Skaha lake we were in the shade so I was still pretty cold. I didn't really warm up until the first hill on McLean Creek Road. I found the ride down to Osoyoos pretty smooth. I stayed in my aerobars as much as possible, and I stopped at every aid station. I knew I would have to rest frequently in order to make it the whole way. I ended up stopping at every aid station except one. One psychological advantage of doing this was that I spent most of the ride passing people. I passed some of the same people over and over again (they took shorter or fewer breaks, or both). Because my swim time was better than I had anticipated I was able to relax a bit on the bike and knew that I would be able to finish before the cutoff so long as I could avoid devastating cramps. I had one scary moment on the ride between Oliver and Osoyoos. For much of the bike course the cyclists only had the shoulder to ride in and car traffic was flowing as it would normally. I was in the process of passing another cyclist when a pickup truck towing a huge camper-trailer passed us. The wind buffeted both of us and we both started to wobble, but luckily did not contact each other or go down. After Osoyoos we headed up the first big climb -- Richter Pass. I took it slowly and spent the first half chatting with another athlete. The pass isn't too bad as it's broken into about four separate climbs with flat parts in between. I was pretty happy, though, to reach the top and head down the other side. However, here I had my second scary moment. I was going faster than the cyclists ahead of me (I hit a top speed of 70 km/h) and wanted to pass them, but traffic was flowing on my left and it was quite heavy as I was going down. I had to be careful to find a path between the cyclists ahead of me and the traffic. In this regard the Ironman bike course is not as nice as the Fondo rides where the cyclists always have a dedicated lane. After Richter Pass is a series of rollers. I hadn't been too worried about this when I drove the entire bike course on Thursday morning, although that day the headwind was quite strong. Luckily the headwind was not nearly as strong, but as soon as I started up the first of the rollers I felt a cramp coming on in my right quad. I stopped immediately and rested it. This was the first time I thought I might not make it. I spent the rest of the ride trying to avoid cramping up. I took it especially easy going up the hills. By the time I got close to Crawston I felt that I had lost a fair bit of time (I was always comparing myself to my "virtual partner" on my Garmin, which was set at 22 km/h -- a speed that would generate a bike split of 8:11). So I started to pick it up on the flat section heading toward the out-and-back section. The out-and-back section is the only place on the bike course where you can see other cyclists going the opposite direction. At the end of the "out" is the special needs bag pickup. I had left myself a small bag of nuts, which I devoured and two more bags mixed with Superstarch and electrolytes. All in all I consumed five such bags on the bike course. So, including the nuts, my total caloric intake from the start of the swim leg up to the end of the bike leg was about 900 calories. During the entire race I never had any gastric distress, and I never really felt a lack of energy. After the out-and-back section is the long climb up to Yellow Lake. I was worried about this, but aside from the last pitch this turned out to be quite easy. The best part was finally seeing my cheering section!

They had waited for me for a couple of hours a few kilometers from Yellow Lake. I reached Yellow Lake and felt very relieved. I spent a fair bit of time at the aid station there. However, there was still a bit more to climb before heading back down into Penticton. On the climb to Twin Lakes my right quad started to cramp and I had to rest at the side of the road. I managed to make it to the top, though, and enjoyed the fast descent on the other side, especially as the cyclists had a dedicated lane. However, once Skaha lake came into view again I started cramping again. This time it was even worse, though, as my adductors were cramping, and it's pretty hard to find a way to stretch them out. I had to stop at a PetroCan station and found a comfortable postion to rest my leg with a bit of difficulty. I spent about five minutes there before resuming my ride. The rest of the ride into Penticton I tried to go as carefully as possible, and I managed to avoid cramping. My official time on the bike leg was 8:02:13 for an average of 22.4 km/h. The actual time I spent riding (according to my Garmin) was 6:59:50, though, for an average moving speed of 25.75 km/h. I spent 7:09 in the second transition putting my running shoes on and putting away my cycling gear.

The Marathon - After my appendectomy in May I decided that I would not train for the run, as it's the most taxing part of training. Besides, if I couldn't complete the swim or the bike there wouldn't be any need to run. So, I resolved that if I managed to make the bike cutoff (5:30 p.m.) I would walk the marathon, running only as needed to make the midnight cutoff. I ended up heading out on the marathon course at about 4:53 p.m. I was ecstatic since I realized that this probably gave me enough time to walk the entire course. At 100 meters/minute you can walk a marathon in 7:02. I had done some trials and knew I could walk about 108 meters/minute (at least for an hour or so). I made a decision not to run at all until the second half of the marathon, and possibly not at all. I started walking briskly away from the transition area and immediately saw my cheering section again! After the out-and-back section along Lakeshore Maria decided to walk with me until we reached Skaha Lake. It was nice to be able to talk to someone. I was going a little squirrelly on the bike. Normally I listen to audiobooks while cycling, but no audio devices are allowed during the race. I was feeling really good and the pace I was able to maintain at the start was averaging a little better than 14 minutes per mile (the marathon course was marked every mile, so I would press the lap button on my Garmin every time I saw a mile marker). At 14 minutes per mile I could finish the marathon in 6:07, but I knew I would probably take a couple of breaks, and I wasn't sure I could keep that pace up. In the end, I did manage to keep that pace, only slowing down slightly over the last couple of miles. Any thoughts of running were dispensed with when my hamstrings started cramping while walking up the first hill after the special needs bag pickup, which was located at the turn around point in Okanagan Falls. I was joined again by my cheering section once I hit Skaha Beach, and Maria and Kris walked me all the way back into town. Once I hit downtown I was met by Cameron and all my younger cousins who started a chant and kept me going over the last mile. I ended up with a marathon time of 6:15:46, an average of 112.3 meters per minute. At this pace I was faster than any of the other walkers I encountered, faster than some of the run-walkers, and faster even than some people while they were running, much to their frustration. I really enjoyed the beauty of Skaha Lake on the walk and I talked with a lot of spectators and other athletes along the way. It was truly a memorable experience and the most enjoyable part of the race for me. I was sending and receiving text messages on my cell phone along the way. I had brought my cell phone on the bike, too, sending out text messages whenever I stopped, to let people know where I was.

Crossing the finish line in an overall time of 16:08:05 was an unbelievable experience for me. I had told many people that my goal was to be the last official finisher, with an emphasis on "finisher", and I truly would have been very happy to have crossed the line a few seconds before midnight. I was always focused on finishing, as opposed to finishing in a particular time, but especially after my appendectomy I started to view the race as something more like climbing a mountain. The goal was simply to finish. The time really didn't matter. I made a plan and, amazingly, was able to execute it, with each leg turning out a little better than my plan. The absolutely ideal weather certainly helped. Had the race been two or three days earlier I'm not sure I would have finished. The winds were very strong on Thursday and Friday. Friday morning I went for a short swim at 7:30 in the morning. The winds were howling and the lake was choppy. I'm not sure I would have finished the swim, and the bike would have been much more difficult. On Tuesday after the race there was a thunder storm, which also would have made the end of the bike difficult and the marathon miserable.

Once I crossed the finish line I was presented with my medal and then I was very surprised to be handed my finisher's t-shirt and cap by a former student, Natasha. She was volunteering with the intention of signing up for next year. Good luck with the training, Natasha! After a quick official photo I was met by my cousin Sue, and her son Hayden. They had spent the afternoon and evening volunteering in the medical tent along with Sue's husband Tim and their cousins from Scotland, Claire and Blythe. Hayden escorted me to the food and drink area, but I didn't feel like much. During the first half of the marathon I ate bananas and cookies and so I wasn't very hungry at the finish line. I did feel like a massage, but unfortunately they were not taking any more clients. So, I went with Hayden back to finish line and into the bleachers to await the arrival of 82-year-old Sister Madonna Buder. She was hoping to become the first woman over 80 to finish an Ironman. I had passed Sister Madonna on the bike a couple of times (she kept getting ahead of me when I took breaks), and then I passed her again, not looking too good, at about mile 11 on the marathon. She ended up finishing in 16:32 to wild cheers from the fans. Maria and I went to her book signing in Penticton on Friday and chatted with her, and we'd also chatted with her last year in the finisher's area when she failed to make the bike cut-off by one minute.

A few years ago I was talking to someone who had done multiple Ironman events, and I was extremely impressed. However, he said, "Anyone can do an Ironman. You just have to put in the time and effort." I'm not sure I believed him at the time, but I do now. A few years ago I thought it was a ridiculous goal for me to do a marathon, and now I've done three (not including the one in the Ironman). But to do an Ironman was an even more outlandish goal than doing a marathon. However, it was a goal that I pursued for the last two years. I volunteered at the 2010 Ironman Canada initially with the intention of signing up for the 2011 race, but I decided at the last minute that I wasn't ready. So I volunteered again in 2011 and did sign up. It has been an incredibly rewarding experience. I highly recommend it to anyone contemplating it. Will I do another Ironman? I think I will, but not for a few years. I would like to be a much stronger cyclist before attempting another Ironman. I'm looking forward right now to not having to worry about what I'm eating, when I'm going to squeeze in my next workout and otherwise focussing an enormous amount of mental energy on the Ironman.

Some numbers for me, and the 2012 Ironman Canada race:

  • My time: 16:08:05

  • Overall place: 2249

  • Swim place: 1964

  • Bike place: 2403

  • Run place: 2082

  • "Men 45-49" place: 300 out of 325

  • "Men 45-49" swim place: 270

  • "Men 45-49" bike place: 312

  • "Men 45-49" run place: 274

  • Winner's time: 8:48:30

  • My time as a percent of winner's time: 183.2%

  • Number of athletes starting race: 2576

  • Number of athletes finishing race: 2423

The transition area just before the start of the race.

Walking the marathon route, along Skaha Lake. Incredibly beautiful!