Ironman Canada - The Journey Completed

Well, as some of you know I have spent the last five days in penticton awaiting the start of ironman canada - the culmination of training over the past 8 months. Today/yesterday was the moment of truth. For those who just like the punch line, I did it in 11:41:17, which was an improvement of 2hrs 45 minutes over my first ironman in austria. So this is now my personal best on what I describe as one tough course. The remaining details were roughly a swim of 1:11:00 (3 minutes behind goal time), transition of 4:47 (1:47 behind goal), bike of 5;27:00 (about 8 minutes ahead), transition of 4:47(2:47 behind and yes hard to believe but identical to T1), and walk of 4:53:00 (1 hour behind goal time). The day was full of sunshine and hit a high of 32 degrees. The good news for me is that a sub 12 hour ironman is an accomplishment that I am proud of. The downside is that it remains well short of the kona qualifying time I was shooting for; by at least an hour - an hour that I need to eliminate from the run.

The rest of this is my race report (I apologise in advance for its length), which thank goodness lacks some of the more interesting moments that I had in ironman austria. Skip it if you don't have the time or the inclination to read an ironman story.

The day began at about 4:40 am, which was early but I was tossing and turning so it didn't much matter. Ate my regular breakfast and met up with stewart (my adopted little brother - we decided he needs a brother to offset his only child upbringing) to go down to the race site.

It was well organized with a chute down main st where athletes entered. I gave Dianne a kiss goodbye and started to progress through special needs bag dropoff and body marking. Got to the transition zone, put air in my tires and put all of my nutrition onto the bike. A reminder for next time to check all aspects of the bike given you leave it overnight, because while nothing was wrong on my bike, Stew's chain was off and it is just not pleasant to jump on your bike only to need to fix a chain.

The place was teeming with athletes, most in the lineups to the porta potties. I got all that working at home so no need to spend time waiting in line. Went back to give Dianne a final goodbye. The pros went out at 645, which was my time to get the wet suit on and be ready - no pre- swim routine, just started wading out to the start line. At 655 they sang the national anthem (I sang right along giving myself goose bumps) and you could feel the stress rising in the crowd of 2600 athletes. This has got to be the most stressful time, waiting for the gun, not knowing what the next 10-17 hours might bring. At the gun, the fun begins, the piranha action of churning water and madness is unbelievable. I started swimming but then walked for about 15 m as there really was no room. While I have been in a few mass starts, I have not experienced the amount of body contact that this race had for almost the entire 3.8 km. It was constant with only short periods of calm. I got into a modest rhythm out to the first boat where you could see the divers sitting on the bottom of the lake - a quick wave and I was on to the next boat where we turn back for the return trip to shore. Just past the second boat I took a kick to the jaw as somebody crossed in front of me (I think they were swimming north to Kelowna!!). The rest of the swim was ok, although I could feel my swim cap coming off my head (the first time I have swam with my goggle straps under vs over my cap). I tried to pull it down but to no avail and lost it instead - I almost wondered whether they would give me a littering penalty. As I got out of the water my zipper was stuck on my wetsuit, try as I might I couldn't get it down, then I asked one of the wetsuit strippers to try. She had a problem although finally got it down. It then took some effort to get the wetsuit off. I felt like I had a strong swim. The sad news would come the next morning, when it was announced that a 66-yr-old had died on the swim, the first fatality in 27 yrs of running ironman canada. It is a reminder that we can't take anything for granted.

T1 was uneventful, about 90 seconds longer than I wanted but I chalk that up to the wetsuit. Oh yeah, like austria, I cut my foot again, just under the toe pad of the big toe, would feel that all day.

The bike started really well. I saw Dianne just down Main Street with her big pink inspirational sign ("take me to Kona - Ironman"), that brought a smile to my face. I focused on keeping the heart rate down while spinning my legs a little more aggressively to get the blood flowing. The first part of the course is scorchingly fast and I kept telling myself to take what the course gives you without blowing up. My entire ride I kept reminding myself to stay in the moment, this was just a classic Beaches Cycling ride to Lake Simcoe and back and that the tough stuff always begins after 90 km.

I got out to Mclean Creek, the real first climb, with an avg speed of 39k/hr and a heart rate in zone 1. Mclean Creek is a tough short climb and already people were being challenged. I was spinning easily, feeling strong and passing a lot of people. The decent from here is fast and winding, so full attention is a must. From Osoyoos to Richter Pass there is more flat road with lots of great scenery. I kept the wheels humming and avg speed was still 38. Richter is a tough climb with as much as 9% grade but it comes at you in three stages. I thought I would need to come out of richters with at least an avg speed of 34 to maintain my goal pace. I kept aero the entire time, passing almost everyone who was grinding rather than spinning - I had an avg of 34.8 (goal-check). The decent from Richter's is spectacular, with mountains surrounding you and speeds climbing to 75 km if you have the nerve. It was here that it really hit me how truly fortunate I was to be racing at this site, have the support of my family and be in a position to race Ironman. A great feeling to be sure.

The next time I saw Dianne was just outside of Kerenos, just before the torture of the out-and-back. I wasn't expecting her there but like a mirage, there she was dressed in a grass skirt with that sign "Take Me to Kona, Ironman!" It got me smiling again. The out-and-back is testy as the wind was coming up and the route is psychologically a challenge as you are going in the wrong direction for a significant amt of time. At the end of this piece a special needs bag awaits, which I decided I didn't need and so just kept on going (note to self, I have never used my special needs bags). The next big effort was slated for Yellow Lake, a climb I thought was easy when I hopped out of the car and climbed it on Thursday. Hmmmm, funny how 140 km on your legs takes its toll. Yellow Lake is a great climb for spectators who line both sides of the road. Dianne had made it around to this point too to give me some more support as a steady climb unfolds. I kept focused but also had some fun with the spectators who are yelling out your name in support. I always tried to post a smile, ask for the odd beer and engage to keep my mind off the hurt. My heart rate was still well managed and when I hit the top of Yellow it was time to let the dogs out. The plan was to keep it strong to here and then push hard for what is largely 20 km downhill to Penticton. My average had now dropped to 32.3 and my goal was to get it back to 33 by T2 with only about a 10th of the ride to come. On the downhills, anytime I hit 55 km/hr, I just tucked in and rested the legs in prep for the run.

At this point I reflected on nutrition and hydration. I had taken in 5 water bottles, 4 of which were filled with eload/fly mixture. The plan had been for 6 bottles but I felt somewhat bloated (parental advisory re forthcoming details). I had managed to pee twice on the bike while in full motion, I can now call myself a real Ironman! The plan for food was for 8 gels and two clif bars. I only managed 4 gels and 1 bar. Note to self: make sure the gel mixture flows properly in the flasks. I also took in 2 electrolyte tablets as the heat was constant. So I was worried as I headed into transition that I wasn't as fuelled as I should be, but my stomach had no patience for more. I probably replaced about a quarter of an estimated 7000 calories I had worked through.

T2 was fantastic, so well organized relative to Austria. As you come in, they take your bike from you and call out your number for the transition bag. You grab it and head for the tent. There a volunteer empties the bag for you and helps sort things out, packs your bike stuff into that bag and gets you on your way. Once out of the tent, 3 women slather your body with sunscreen.

The run is a bit of an odd duck, as you do a little out-and-back along the lake before you head out of Penticton to OK Falls where the turnaround is located. I tried to eat my peanut butter and jam wrap but it wasn't going down, so I chucked it into the nearest garbage. Going south on Main St out of the core, I felt like my stomach was deserting me again. I felt a little dizzy spell but nothing major and so kept putting the feet in forward motion. I think this lasted till the second aid station at which point I shuffled through. Took in some banana, put ice on my head, a few body sponges and kept moving. This would be consistent for all of the aid stations, while the plan was to walk every other till about 32k, I didn't want to miss any volunteers, so i dedicated myself to walking each one and thanking everyone ;).
This is one tough run. I saw Dianne again at about 5k and handed over my fanny pack, it kept moving all around so I just got rid of it and carried my bottle and gel flasks. So the shuffle began for 16 challenging km to OK Falls. This run is nasty for a "lakeside run". Naturally you think that should be flat, lakes only go up and down via rapids, there are no rapids, just a road that climbs and descends cliffs alongside the lake. But there were two nasty climbs on the way out that reminded me of Scarborough Road going north from Queen St, then there were probably 3 other hills that were more like Willow, with one that steep like Fallingbrook (for those not in Toronto or don't know the Beaches area my apology - but feel free to come and visit, we can run some hills together). I was getting my butt kicked. It wasn't as bad as Austria but it was hurting. Once again, I couldn't push through hurt to get it done, something that I have to work on if I ever want to qualify Kona. To make it worse, the organizers play a nice little trick at mile 13.1 or km 21.1, you descend that Willow Ave like hill to get to the turnaround and your special needs bag (again nothing I put in there did I use - jujubes wouldn't go down, chips weren't appealing and I was sure hoping I wasn't going to need that long sleeve t-shirt). Of course what goes down must go up and so it was that you had to immediately climb back up that stupid hill.

Nutrition on the run was a bit comical. I didn't know what to do at this point so I started taking in bananas. Those of you who know my exploits in Austria will recognize this magical fruit as the one that saved my butt. Well, it seemed to work here, so I added in the odd orange, a pretzel or two, some chicken broth. Combined with ice on the head and sponge baths at every aid station, I was going to make a sub 5 hour marathon. While I was being challenged a lot of people were falling prey to the run course. An ambulance was passing me every 10 minutes or so to pick somebody up whose body had packed it in.

By mile 18, I started taking Pepsi every other aid station while still sipping eload. Two more pees on the run suggested I was getting hydration, perhaps too much. The good news was that every aid station was chock full of whatever you needed (except for a fresh pair of legs).

The last 3-4 miles of the course are fabulous. They are mostly downhill as you head back into town. The town comes out in full force, cheering you on and calling out your name. I tried to keep a smile on my face although the legs were yelping at this point. I decided that I needed to run these last miles at better than a 9;30 clip (an easy jog on a training day) to beat Christian's Ironman pb (I am only a little competitive - I know it is just me against the course). As so it went. The only little nasty left was the final 1.2 miles. They make you pass in front of the finish line and do an out-and-back along the Lakeshore Drive. It is great for fans/family (Dianne was here cheering me on) but it is a real pain for the finish. I don't remember my name being called out for the finish, but I do remember breaking the tape. I was a two-time Ironman.

After recuperating for about an hour, Dianne and I made it back to the hotel where I had an ice bath. The legs were throbbing but that helped followed by a hot shower. We decided to go out for a bite to eat. It was inspiring at 10 pm to still see a slew of people making the death march down Main St to the finish line. I have been there and I think it takes as much work and mental fortitude to finish in 16 hours as it does to win in 8:25:00.

So that was my day, a very respectable time although it fell short of my goal. It just means I have to do this again. Hopefully my kids will take me up on the offer of doing an ironman anywhere in the world once they turn 18. That means I will have three more shots at qualifying for Kona!!

Thanks to the BCC for letting me share my experience and providing a ton of encouragement. See you all soon on a ride.
qb

Views: 20

Comment by Alexx Hooper on September 1, 2009 at 7:34am
QB, what an amazing story - I just realized that I'm perched on the edge of my chair, and my stomach has tightened up in knots just reading about your journey! You are a truly inspiring person. Thank you for sharing your internal dialogue - even the details about nutrition are fascinating. I can't imagine how you can pace yourself so well for such a long, grueling test that uses every ounce of energy, while challenging you mentally as well. I am truly in awe of your accomplishment, and got goosebumps reading about it. Congratulations! You did a marvelous job at something that is truly awe-inspiring. Thanks for sharing your experience!
Comment by Kerri on September 1, 2009 at 10:05am
QB - just so proud of you and the incredible heart and soul that you put into this! What an accomplishment from start to finish! Awesome! 2K
Comment by DRU on September 2, 2009 at 8:01pm
Geez QB, you're just awesome! Great, great job! Many cheers! Andrew.

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