Ironman began with my arrival in Penticton about quarter past 5 in the morning. This was about 15 minutes ahead of last year and it made all the difference. I walked right through the lineup for body-marking, got myself marked. Got the tyres on my bike pumped and headed over to the toilets before it really started to get busy. I scoped out a few of the pros getting their bikes ready and chit chatted with a few people. I then realized I had a long day on my feet ahead of me and went into the change tent to claim a chair for the rest of the morning to wait. There were some hilarious things going on that you’ll only see at Ironman. Most cannot be shared without a parental advisory. I realized that this is the reason that WTC has a minimum age of 18 years for competition in their events.
I was in my wetsuit by the time the pros went off at quarter to seven and made my way through the traffic jam and onto the beach with 5 minutes to go. I found my brother in the crowd shooting photos, not very difficult to find, he was the only one not wearing black neoprene. We had a little chat and I made my way to the front. I liked my choice of start positions last year and chose the same thing, second row, a little outside of center. I told myself that I had to go at the horn, no hesitation. Less people sang the national anthem this year than last when it felt like I was a part of a triathlete chorus line.
Then after all the hype, and talk, and waiting, and speculation it was finally underway. The horn went and it was just time for business. I tried my best to put in a solid effort off the start line to get myself in amongst some slightly quicker swimmers but after perhaps 200m I had fallen off the back of the leading crew of triathletes who had lined up near me and was swimming in clean water. The solution was to move towards the buoy line gradually where things were thicker and I soon found myself in amongst some better drafting in the river of neoprene. Nothing really surprised me about the swim. It was a long ways, it was pretty rough at some points in time and there was some unbelievably terrible navigation going on around me. I kept my head in the game and focussed on good long strokes, and keeping the breathing controlled. Eventually it was over and I was on my way out, none the worse for wear, but at the same time happy that I was finished with the swimming.
I had a fantastic transition, found some grass space to dump my gear bag and stuff the wetsuit. Helmet and sunglasses on and grabbed the shoes and ran barefoot to my bike. I got sunscreened by the volunteers and was through more than a minute faster than last year, very proud of myself. I don’t think doing it very much faster would be wise, starting with the shoes mounted to the bike isn’t permitted for the amateurs (with good reason) and running any faster would just spike the heart-rate.
As I headed out of town the passing began and while I was riding the aerobars it wasn’t possible to really work very hard at all because of the congestion. I reminded myself that I needed to have a very patient morning and treated this like some patience practice for the rest of the ride. I had also lost satellite reception on my GPS and it needed to re-acquire so it really felt like I just took the first 10 minutes to get going.
Once through town I started into the nutrition by pounding my first bottle of Gatorade and just rolled along easy to McLean creek hill. I held back as much as I could on the ascent, being passed by about a dozen guys, but the watts were still much higher than I would have wanted them. I found the speeds high with the tailwind and refused to push it, kept the watts on the low end and did my best to keep it even, meaning being passed on all of the uphills and gradually riding away from people on all of the descents. Nothing much happened from there until Richter’s Pass, just some easy riding and a lot of eating and drinking.
I mean a lot of eating and drinking. The nutrition plan was as follows:
- 2 bottles of Gatorade – 170 cal each
- 800cal of shot blocks
- 2 fruit bars – 240 cal
- 2 clif bars – 260 cal each (Subsituted one for another bottle of perform and a banana at end of bike because it was hot and I didn’t feel like eating so only 260cal)
- A bottle of Powerbar Perform beverage at each aid station. I took 8 bottles, and drank on average three quarters of each one for a total of ~1000 cal.
- Bananas wherever possible, which was less often than I would have liked, usually they were cut in half and only one person was doing hand-ups. Ate a total of 2.5 for ~300 cal
- I was targeting 550+ cal/hour. By my best estimate I got in 580-600cal/hour. I drank far more than I expected, not expecting to drink as much perform as I did, and didn’t really anticipate drinking much of any water except to follow food, I drank two full bottles of water, yet still only peed once on the bike course at around 120kms. The stomach felt fine the whole way.
Richter’s pass with a headwind and a power-meter is a humbling experience. Last year I rode past everyone on the hill convincingly, this year I rode past no-one convincingly and was passed by dozens. I gave Fernanda Keller a huge cheer when I went past her. That was actually a high-point in the ride, she is a total legend and I think it’s great that she’s still racing pro despite being past her peak. I summited the pass eventually, a bit slower than last year, having averaged 320 watts, right about what I had hoped to do, and then set off down the other side, face tucked down against the aerobars in a zero watt tuck.
The infamous rollers are next and I found myself in with a pretty talented group of cyclists here. I was of course faster on the descents than the rest of them as I was probably 30 lbs heavier than the next biggest guy. All in all though, it wasn’t bad, it forced me to stay focussed but it also prevented me from working the uphills because I didn’t want to enter the draft zones of the guys ahead of me and be forced to pass them. I did go to the front off the top of the final rise just before we rolled out onto the flats in Cawston and put my head down, got aero into the headwind and went to work, sitting right on 275-280 watts to get away from the group. After about 10 minutes I hadn’t just formed a gap, I had dropped them like rocks and I couldn’t even see them. Onto the out and back I was now moving my way through the pro womens field. I realized as I rode towards special needs that I was now unequivocally “off the front” of the race and the only age group guys remaining ahead were very spread out. I think from 100kms through to the finish I only passed about a dozen men before reaching T2 in sixth place.
Before T2 though I had to ascend Yellow Lake which went by very quickly, keeping the head low and working on preventing wattage spikes. I was soon at the Green Mountain Road and just kept it rolling up to Yellow Lake proper where I saw my cheer crew, heckled them a bit for wasting such a beautiful day watching a race instead of riding their bikes and then took off down the hill. No brakes this year was a significant improvement to the pouring rain and hail of last and I loved the descent which wasn’t even as fast as it could have been as I was dealing with a head-wind. When tucked down with my face to the aerobars I did get a few twinges in my upper quads letting me know that they’d been working. Nothing surprising, this happens all the time to me, but it was my first warning that the legs weren’t necessarily going to be happy for the rest of the day.
As I rolled into town I came upon Paul Tichelaar and as I crested the hill in town I shut it down and rolled easy into transition. If I would have known it was the difference of 5:00:22 and 4:59:59 I probably would have kept the watts up. Instead I took my feet out of my shoes and spun the legs out, waved a bit to the crowds. They were going ballistic, it was like I was in the top 10 overall or something
Average Power = 270 Watts – Normalized Power 290 Watts – Intensity Factor = ~0.73 – Variability Index = 1.074
Click image to enlarge
I was handed the wrong bag in transition and when I ran into the change tent it was tied in a bit knot. I tore the whole thing open to dump the stuff out…. and out came a yellow towel. This isn’t my bag. I was on my way back to go get my real bag when someone came running, they apparently had figured out their mistake. I dumped the bag on the ground, socks, shoes, quick sunscreen spray on the shoulders, and a bottle of coke. Go. I had frozen two cans of coke with added salt in a bike bottle and left it in T2. This was to force me to take it easy on the first mile of the marathon and it worked well. It also got 300 calories into my system and got me rolling on the caffeine. I think this was an excellent strategy again and I split the first mile in 7:48. I had seen Paul run into transition as I was running out so I expected him to be catching me any second but it was taking him a while. It turned out he had stopped for a washroom break and when he caught me at about mile three I agreed to run with him.
The pattern of the aid stations was starting to get underway, I tried to drink two cups of coke at each mile, replace my sponges with two new ones, and dump as much ice down my top as I could get my hands on. Normally that was about four cups. As I left the aid station there was always water and I tried to get a cup onto the top of my head as well. It was working well and despite running in 32 degree weather without a cloud in the sky and a tailwind I was managing to feel rather comfortable on the run. My HR was right around 155bpm and holding steady and so I continued along with Paul running about a 4:45 pace/km for the first 10 miles. I had been running 4:40 in most of my recent brick runs and holding to about a 4:50 pace as my default cruising pace during the past month so I felt that 4:45 while ambitious wasn’t unreasonable. My mind started racing for a little bit when I realized I was running in fifth place overall in the age-group race alongside a former Olympian and on track to beat my wildest dreams for an ironman finish time. I realized the danger of the situation, both physically and mentally and calmed myself down. I then decided I was not going to allow fear of the unknown slow me down before I needed to and because I was good on calories and core temperature and not feeling the least bit challenged by the pace I decided to continue. It was a risk I was going to have to take, and if I started running slower I had absolutely no guarantee it was going to mitigate the main risk I sensed I was taking, that being that my muscles were going to give up on me.
I started to really loose the strength in my stride at about 10 miles, landing and toeing off was feeling OK but the middle section of my stride was really feeling weak. It wasn’t the greatest situation to be in at all but when it happened it wasn’t a huge surprise. It was the final six weeks of training playing themselves out again for me, many workouts had been limited more by strength than by aerobic capacity and so it was only logical that my racing would be limited in the same way.
I walked my first aid station here and then walked the biggest and steepest hill on the course. There was no point in running it if the muscles were already screaming. I got to the top and got back running but the pace was now slower as I was having the onset of mild cramping in most muscles between my waist at my knees. Things continued and I walked the rest of the aid stations on the way to the turnaround, my pace was blowing out but I wanted to keep pushing onward. Just before the turnaround there is a very steep section of descent and as I walked down there to spare the quads a bit of eccentric loading it just wasn’t enough reprieve, they let me know that they were basically done for the day. I rounded the corner at special needs, scooped myself some more frozen coke and water from my bag and walked briefly while I drank. I got myself back up to a run towards the base of the climb away from the turnaround but when I got there I realized that the charade of racing was over. I was going to be walking most of the way home and I could either start walking now voluntarily or be forced to start walking in another mile or two. If I waited ‘till I was forced to walk I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to walk all the way home at all and so made the decision to try and optimize the finish time from here on out by just walking as fast as I could.
It turns out that when I’m good on energy and in a relatively good mood like I was I can walk pretty quickly with my long legs. I was holding it well below an eight minute per kilometre pace and just got down to business.
The rest of the walk home wasn’t comfortable at all for my legs. The heat wasn’t so bad though as we had a headwind on the return. I was getting myself access to ice and coke every mile and the view was as good as it could get, I mean I was just across the street from an Ironman playing out in the lives of 2800 people! I made the most of it and eventually I realized that if I kept pushing my walking pace I still had a hope of coming in below 11 hours. That kept me going pretty good and I was even able to pick up my HR slightly on the way to the finish. On lakeshore drive everyone was screaming at me to run in to the finish but I just kept the walking up, the run wasn’t about to happen now if it wasn’t going to happen for the past 12 miles and I knew better than to try.