It’s been a few years since I did a race report, and I have never blogged before, but this seems the easiest way to share the experience with my family and friends. For anyone else that may stumble across this, I hope you find some helpful information. Forgive my amateur effort. I am not a social media person.
I signed up for Ironman Canada a mere 5 days after loudly proclaiming that I was retired from Ironman after Ironman Florida last year. 2012 had some rough patches for sure, and I was mentally done with training. I finished IMFL in 11:02, 9th place in the women’s 40-44 age group. That seemed like a pretty solid accomplishment to me, and a good place to end it. But I received some good feedback from my husband and friends, and it didn’t take long for the itch to set in. I’d been following the Ironman Canada change in venue to Whistler, British Columbia and signed up rather suddenly. I wanted to go someplace beautiful for my next race, someplace I was excited about seeing, and Whistler did not disappoint.
Logistics: I traveled solo to this event, no family or friends. I carried only US currency, and only one business in Canada wouldn’t take it. I booked a small townhouse via alluradirect.com, which is similar to VRBO. I stayed in Glacier’s Reach, which is two blocks from T2, and a short walk to the grocery store and central Whistler. It’s a little quieter there since it’s not surrounded by the restaurants and shops. One of the nice things about Whistler is that there are simply so many options for lodging, and it’s all decent. The prices were not all jacked up for Ironman week either, at least not when I booked in winter. I paid the standard summer rate, which was under $100 a night.
I used Tribike Transport to get my bike to the event. It was well worth the 3 hour drive to Kansas City to drop it off. My trip into and out of Vancouver was a complete cluster, and it was nice not to have to worry about whether my bike and I would end up at the same airports. Hats off to the Delta gate agents on both my inbound and outbound flights, they were incredibly kind to me. They did their best to get me where I was going the same day and upgraded me for free so I would be as close to the front of the plane as possible. The front of the plane wished me luck and let me by as I prepared to sprint for my connections. One flight I was even let off before first class, which never happens!
I used an Endurance Nation training plan, and leaned on my friends for support and advice. I had been on the EN team for the year prior, which was a cool thing but reverted back to being self coached this year. If I had not had such a solid network of knowledgable friends and some decent experience of my own, this entire experience could have really sucked. This is a challenging course!
Pre race nonsense: Since I was there without witnesses or anyone sane to talk me out of this foolishness, I decided to do the underpants run. I’m more than a little modest, and this was way out of my comfort zone. The turtleneck sweater and baggy sweatpants run would be more my thing. Or maybe the Burka run. I was hoping for 30-50 people to hide behind but nooooo. There were ten. 10!!! I don’t know if they didn’t get the word out, or if people cheesed out because it was cold and rainy, but there was nowhere to hide. The people that showed up were so funny and nice, that even though I was dying for an escape route I didn’t leave.
I wore a pair of my husband’s boxer shorts and the only bra I own that isn’t 10 years old and held together with tape. The shorts are at least 15 years old though, and way too big. I love to sleep in them because I used to be too fat to fit them, but now they practically fall off me. Ok, maybe they weren’t the best choice of attire. Esther was our fearless and very attractive leader (I have never looked as good in my underwear as she did in hers). She led us through the village, past all of the shops and restaurants where people were sitting outside eating breakfast. People cheered, laughed, took pictures and video… It was hilarious and completely embarrassing. We did exercises in two different spots, and I had to keep hiking my shorts up. I’ve had 4 kids including a set of twins and no plastic surgery… I really have no business running around without a shirt on. I was very glad when it was over!
I pretty much kept to myself after that, doing the normal pre race stuff and listening to music like any aging metal head would. This youtube video is really me…
I won’t kid you, I hit the weather jackpot. The morning was cold, but the forecast was for sun, light winds, and 75 degrees. I slept pretty well the night before the race, which is a first, and woke up 10 minutes before my five alarms were set to go off. I was excited, but oddly calm. I was able to eat a decent breakfast without wanting to hurl, also a race day first. I arrived early and caught the first shuttle from T2 to T1 at 4:30 am. No, I was not standing there tapping my toe impatiently at 3:45! It looked to me like they had plenty of buses to get everybody there, but it was probably a 10+ minute ride.
At the pre race meeting, they stressed the importance of respecting the local bear population, and making sure that all trash ended up at the trash drops during the race. They advised after dark finishers to bring a headlamp for the run. Post race, there were photos of bears on the course and I did talk to a few after dark finishers who had seen bears on the run course. Despite all of the warnings about the critters, people left food on their bikes at check in the night before, and in their swim to bike bags. My bike was racked on the side closest to the bike out, and near the woods. When I arrived in T1 on race morning, I saw at least two bikes that had gnawed on nutrition laying on the ground near them. And I saw one T1 bag that had been pulled open, and a tri top with food in it was dragged out. Lots of critters!
The Swim: Goal 1:16, Actual 1:18
The swim was deep water mass start. Water temp was 66, and the air temp was 50. Steam was rising from the lake, and with the mountains in the background it was a truly beautiful place. I got in with 10 minutes til start, and stood there shivering and trying to get used to the cold water. With 5 to go, I swam out to the start line and that was my warm up. I treaded water briefly, asking around to see what people were expecting for a swim pace and not really finding what I was looking for. With just a minute to go, I gave up and settled for a spot up front, far enough off the buoy line to avoid aggravating the faster swimmers. It was a straight shot to the first turn buoy, and it turned out to be a great place to start. Minor contact through the first 5 of 7 yellow buoys. Then I got the crap kicked out of me through turn 2 before things settled down. Sighting was difficult between turn 1 and 2 heading directly into the rising sun on both laps. I could just barely see the outline of the red buoy for turn 2, but the rest was easy to sight.
This swim was nowhere near as nutty as IMFL, but ‘that guy’ found me again. Remember THAT GUY? I’m not going to say a lot about it here because I really don’t have anything nice to say and the story really is a lot funnier when I tell it in person complete with hand gestures and profanity. At any rate, I was at the tail end of a group of male swimmers that overtook another swimmer. I inadvertently ended up partially swimming over him as the group moved closer the buoy line, and was likely not the only person in my group to do so. He yelled something, rammed himself into me hard enough to hurt, and gave me a thorough dunking. I spent the next several minutes trying to sync breathing with coughing up lake water, and hoping I didn’t have an asthma attack. I fortunately did not bronchospasm and just moved on with my race. I think he way over reacted to a minor incident, and if he had just swam back over me I would be less irritated. It was the yelling and purposeful inflicting of pain on a fellow athlete that I take issue with.
T1: Predicted 6 minutes, actual 3:42
I exited the swim in a disappointing 1:18. Wetsuit strippers got my suit off, and then I stood and promptly wiped out on the wet grass and mud. I managed to get up and run for the gear bags but something in my right anterior thigh hurt up near the hip flexor. I felt fortunate that I hadn’t sprained an ankle.
I was determined to race this race, so I bolted through the changing tents, dropped my wetsuit and bag in an empty space and ran on to my bike. I didn’t put on any additional clothing even though it was only 50 degrees, or stop for sunscreen like I usually would. I ran barefoot to my bike, putting on my helmet as I ran, and sliding into my shoes when I reached my bike. I thought about the arm warmers, but they didn’t go on in two seconds because I was cold, wet, and shaking, and that was about as much time as I was willing to give them. Hypothermia be damned, I was not going to waste time being comfortable after that crappy swim. I ended up having the second fastest T1 in my age group, at least among the top 12 that I looked at.
Bike: goal 5:30-5:40, actual 5:39
There are some really good write ups of the bike course available on other blogs, so I won’t bore you with my summary here. Search the internet if you are interested in doing this race. There was a lot available to me despite this being a new venue, and I felt reasonably prepared regarding what to expect from the course despite having never trained on it. I drove only the Callahan climb, and the short bits around Whistler. Callahan is worth checking out before race day; there is one tight turn that had me concerned. It was worth a look for me, just to reassure myself that it was within my ability level.
My Garmin Edge 800 picked up 6500 feet of climbing, I’ve heard both more and a little less from other athletes, but definitely more than what people signed up for based on the event website. My goal was to ride at a normalized power of 185.
Exiting the swim in the masses like I do results in a crowded beginning bike leg. Callahan is the first major climb of the day, on the way up to the ski jump parking lot where the first turn around is located. I passed a lot of people on my way to and up Callahan, but it was still very crowded. I probably spent too much energy trying to get around groups of cyclists before and after this section; people were pretty bunched up. It spread out a bit on the descent, but one guy was having a hard time holding his line and I had to brake hard to avoid him. It was a scary moment
My top speeds during the day were 44-46 mph, in a few different spots. I was amazed at how fast some of the men were going on the descents. I was working the 11t whenever possible and spinning out in the upper 30’s, but guys would fly by me like I was standing still. Impressive!
The course is coned off into a narrow lane through Whistler. Spectators lined that section, and they were very close and loud with their cowbells. It was really pretty cool. After that the entire Sea to Sky highway was closed to vehicle traffic. I don’t know how Ironman managed to make that happen, but it made for a much better ride for the athletes.
Pemberton Valley is flat and fast, and decent sized draft packs formed there. The guys around me were doing their best to ride legal, while pretty big pelotons of faster age groupers went by in the opposite direction. I could hear them talking to each other like it was your average Sunday social ride. Lots of media and medical motorcycles, not many refs to bust things up.The valley was beautiful, and the crowd support in Pemberton was really great. It was a nice area to eat, drink, and enjoy the scenery.
I paused only briefly at two aid stations for fluids the entire ride, and skipped special needs. At about mile 80 I passed a small pack. I briefly chatted as I went by, nice group of people. I thought they were long gone behind me, then a guy going the opposite direction yelled out “nice peloton!” I looked behind me, and I had at least 10 people on my wheel.
The climb back to Whistler was slow. My hip flexor still hurt quite a bit from my fall in transition, and I’d had 90 miles to worry about it, so I ended up not picking things up effort wise after Pemberton. I ride a compact crank with an 11-28, so I had plenty of gears. I rarely used the 28, but was glad I had it anyway. Overall, I ended up not riding as hard as I thought I should have, but finished the ride feeling well and not tired.
Numbers for the ride: I had not quite 5 bottles of fluid (I’m part camel), 500-600mg of sodium per hour, and about 360-380 calories/hr. That’s the high end of caloric intake for me, usually I barely get in 200-250 calories/hr. (I’m 5’10”, 146lbs)
My normalized power was 179, TSS 290, IF .71, VI 1.09
I undercooked the bike relative to what I had planned, I was a little disappointed with my time, but thankful that I had not blown out my aching hip flexor and was oddly not tired. Did I mention that I was not tired?
T2: predicted 4 minutes, actual 3:36
The volunteers had my bike quickly after I dismounted. I ran barefoot to the tent. Before dropping my gear bag off on saturday I had sprayed the insides of my socks with Trislide and stuck them in my shoes. They went on easy, and I didn’t blister.
Run: goal 4:10, assuming I could run the whole thing. Actual 4:10
Once I started running, the hip flexor and thigh pain felt a little better, and eventually faded into the noise of everything else that hurt. I’ve had some fairly significant knee issues this summer, resulting in mild atrophy of my right quad. I adjusted my training and managed to get the inflammation under control before race day, but I figured it would give me trouble at some point during the run. I set off at a pace that I expected to be able to hold for 20 miles. I hoped that’s how long my knee would last before it became too painful to run on. It hurt intermittently during the bike and run, but I don’t feel that it was ever a limiter. For as much pain as it gave me the last few weeks, I am just amazed and thankful it wasn’t the problem I expected it to be on race day. My feet took an absolute beating though, and sometime early in my second loop I started to have quite a bit of pain in my left foot.
The run course is part gravel, part paved trail. I loved the gravel sections! I don’t care if it’s a little slower to run on gravel, they were my absolute favorite part of the run course! It was about 10 degrees cooler in the woods, and quiet. Only the occasional spectator or volunteer, and I really enjoyed the mental break from other people. The crowd support on the paved sections was great, but after being around so many people all day, I appreciated the opportunity to have some quiet to settle my mind for a bit. Just me and a few other runners doing their thing.
I averaged probably 200 calories per hour on the run, although the last 10 miles are fuzzy in my memory. I did a caffeine taper the two weeks before race day, which was very helpful. I used a caffeinated gel twice on the bike and twice on the run, and it eliminated that desire to take a nap on my aerobars or by the side of the trail. I don’t drink much caffeine to begin with, so for me it was as simple as switching to half caff coffee.
The run is a constant up and down, few stretches of just flat. It’s very scenic, and there aren’t any no mans land out and back “i hate this place” sections like there are on other courses. It flowed nicely. I did not see any bears, but I know they saw me!
Except for the pain in my foot and everything else that hurt, I felt pretty decent until mile 18. Mile 20-26 was just trying to tune out pain and not slow down too much. It felt like someone had taken a sledgehammer to my foot, then rolled me down a mountain. My pace definitely faded in the last few miles, I think mostly due to lack of focus because I really just hurt a lot, everywhere. I’ve never had so much pain during a race before… or maybe I’m not remembering well. Maybe it’s like child birth and you forget. I was fooled by that little memory blip a few times too until the 10+lb kid number 4.
At mile 25.5, a girl in my age group passed me. If I’d have been thinking, I would’ve hung behind her and tried to pass her back closer to the finish line. I wasn’t thinking, and passed her back fairly quickly. I had no idea what position I was in within my age group, but I suspected I was in the top 10, or very near it. She obviously noted the 42 on my calf and took off. Not a chance in hell I was going to catch her, but I kept pushing in case she slowed down. Another 40 year old lady then caught me, noted my 42 and ran right by me. I was hurting pretty bad by that point, but the finish line was close. I ran as fast as I could, knowing I wouldn’t catch the two that had passed me and hoping I wasn’t about to lose another place. I fell from 10th to 12th in that last half mile, which hurt physically and mentally. I had been thrilled with my run until that point. I ended up finishing in 12th place, 11:15:31. 11th was 6 seconds ahead of me, 10th was 34 seconds up. I was 56th woman overall, and 452nd finisher out of 2171 finishers. That was an 8 minute ironman marathon PR for me, on a much harder course than my previous race. I’ve come a long way as a runner, but I still have a lot of work to do. Getting passed when you are almost done really sucks.
The finish line volunteers must have noted my relatively large size, because the catcher that met me after the finish was a man that was almost as tall as my husband, and a good 50 lbs heavier. I can imagine the discussion at the finish line among the catchers when they saw me coming…”big girl coming, send in the line backer!” He was a rock, and was quite literally holding me up while they took off my chip. Then he practically carried me over to get my medal and finisher photo. I wish I had gotten his name so I could thank him!
I couldn’t do any of this without the support of my husband and kids. I try to minimize the impact of my hobby on their lives, but there is no hiding ironman training in the last 12 weeks. This was an insanely busy summer, but never once did my husband complain about cooking dinner, driving a kid somewhere, or manning the home front when I needed to get in a long ride. He is generous, loving, and supportive, and is my biggest fan. I am blessed.
Kyle’s Bikes, Ankeny, IA: You are simply the best bike shop in town. Thank you so much for taking such good care of my bikes, and for putting up with me.
DMOS/Smart Honda women’s race team: thank you for the support, friendship, and encouragement. You all have made me a stronger and faster cyclist.
George Vargas and Rev Endurance Cycling: I wish I had met you earlier in my training years, your advice has been invaluable. Thank you for the support, the encouragement, and for challenging me to train harder than I thought I could.
Kristin Bienert and Chris Keller, my swim friends: You guys kept me motivated all season long, and I’ve never had so much fun at the pool. Maybe someday I’ll keep up!
Greg Grandgeorge and Dan Gilliatt: Thank you for the email support and advice. As busy as you guys both are, you have always been willing to provide an answer to any question I have. Thank you so much!
Liz Bryant: Thanks so much for the swim workouts and advice, and for the company on training rides. At the very least, I am a better and more confident pool swimmer, and I’m sorry I let you down with my mediocre swim split. It should have been a little less mediocre 🙂 I appreciate your confidence in me, and I’ll keep working at it.
Special thanks to Ronni, Lori, Roberta, and Carla and Kevin Evers. I appreciate your responses to my emails and texts last week, and your prayers comforted me more than I can say.
Dave Freeseman, Rock Valley PT: Thank you for getting me to the start line in one piece, again.
After hobbling around Whistler for a few days, struggling through the airport, and finally making it home, my very painful left foot still was not much better. I have crutches and a boot from the last time I broke my foot, and had been using those planning to give it some time. I did however finally cave to the pressure of my friends and have it xrayed friday. There is no obvious break, but a stress fracture won’t be visible for another week. I knew this, which is why I was waiting to go in…Anyway, thanks for caring! I’ll be fine!
- Race Recap: Ironman Canada Whistler (theironmaidensquest.wordpress.com)