One of the highlights of the post race dinner was the Race Director admitting that he named his race the Chinook 119.1 mostly to make fun of the World Triathlon Corporation. You have to be pretty brave to name the entire event that you plan something that you think is a joke. He has to hope that people either understand his sense of humour or is thick skinned enough to not care that people think it’s a silly name who don’t understand the jab at the world’s leading long course triathlon corporation.
I mention that because I think it gives a good idea of what kind of people run the race… they are there to put on a very high quality event and have a fun time doing so. That’s what it’s all about to them and it really sets the tone for a fun day for the rest of the athletes, myself included. Today was one of my funnest days of racing ever. I don’t think I’ve really had a race day that in general I didn’t find fun but pretty much all of today was a good time except for a tiny stretch of the run course… but I’ll get there soon enough.
I like to start out my race reports with a brief description of the taper. My last blog entry included a description of my final days of high volume. From there on out I dropped back primarily the training volume but kept the intensity up. I realized that there was a possibility that during my taper for the Yakima River Valley Marathon that my intensity actually went up during the taper instead of maintaining it as that was a full 20 day taper. My training stress wouldn’t actually be dropping off very much if I cut volume and boosted intensity and the recovery wouldn’t occur. I did my best not to ramp up the intensity too much… okay onto the description. Wednesday I did my typical interval session on the bike and then brick run of about a half hour. Thursday I went hard in the pool and Friday I did an easy 50 minute open water swim with some friends from the club. Saturday I did a sustained ~threshold on the bike for 30 minutes into a brick run of 50 minutes. I did this during the heat of the day and did the ride on my rollers on the patio in the backyard in 32 weather with no wind or breeze. I wanted to prove to myself that I could function in the heat to give myself some confidence if it turned out to be hot on race day. I didn’t fall apart in the heat nor did I thrive but felt okay about racing in hot weather if that turned out to be the situation. Sunday was off except for some pretty crazy dancing at a wedding reception. Monday I did an abridged version of my pre-swim run and then swam for an hour. I did my last run on Tuesday composed of 10 short hill repeats which I capped at about my running threshold effort. Wednesday I was coaching the bike workout and did a rolling hill simulation to get my mind in game for the rolling hills of the chinook half course and skipped my brick run. Thursday I took it silly easy in the pool and Friday was also off. I tried to make sure I didn’t go anaerobic anywhere during my last week and was successful with that although I did push the intensity up close to threhold in all three sports’ final workout not including the lazy swim on Thursday. I got to Friday evening feeling physically alright, no muscles were still tired from training but I wasn’t feeling super fresh and charged up like I have been during some tapers (I have other times cut even more volume than this)
On to race day. I didn’t try to do breakfast a full two hours before the race because my stomach would be growling so finished my meal at 6:30 for an 8:00 am start and ate a banana while setting up transition. This was my first time decking out the new bike for a long course race so had the spare tubular and CO2 behind the seat, gatorade on my new cage on the aerobars a la Steve Larsen and a couple gels and 2 packages of shot blocks behind the steer tube. It took a long time to prep everything compared to any other horsing around training or other little races, kind of a surprise. I don’t want to imagine sorting out special needs bags and all that jazz for IM on top of this.
I was a bit rushed with putting on the wetsuit (decided to put in on at the 5 minute warning for the start!) but because I am fast at that compared to some of the others from Triathlon club *cough* Lesley & Becky *cough* I got it done in time and joined the masses on the sand. I didn’t really warm up so to speak but loosened up my shoulders. My first 200 yards swimming is always my easiest and fastest so why not include that in the race right?
We got to the countdown and soon enough we were off, I looked around for some feet that were kicking well to follow but the first pair I got on weren’t going in a very straight line so I left them and ended up going alone most of the way to the first buoy which is weird because this is the portion of the race where the pack is at it’s thickest. I picked up some feet as we turned directly into the sun after 400m and was happy to follow them as I couldn’t really see anything sighting anyways. He seemed to be going straight so I trusted him. I know it was a guy because he wasn’t kicking… most guys don’t kick in triathlon swimming that I know of anyways. I still felt like it was a bit of a drafting feeling but going around the next buoy I lost him. Sighting was alright again and I finished the first km solo. Out of the water my watch said 17:40 which was pretty good, on track for approximately the goal time of 35 minutes. If I got some good feet to follow I might still make it… but I couldn’t find the feet once back into the water after the on-beach turnaround.
Off I went alone again, someone picked up my feet at the buoy. I could tell because he was climbing up my calves all the way to hitting me in the backs of the knees. I pulled away with my arms and gave him a warning splash with my feet, I think he took the hint and left me alone. I tried to keep it steady and smooth as I was heading back into the sunrise and probably didn’t do it as straight as I could have but got there eventually. The final stretch to the finish seemed to go by really quickly and off I went up the beach. I wasn’t particularly speedy through transition and did an odd hopping along strategy down the carpet along the side of the row so I didn’t have to run on the pavement but did have to jump over all of the shoes splayed out on the carpet. Helmet on, race belt on, go! I’m sure I passed a dozen people through transition which is great and put me in a good mood for the start of the bike. I did mount with the shoes on the pedals which included a bit of a weave but there was a whole road to use and I’m convinced this is faster as long as you don’t screw it up. People say the only reason to do it is because the pros do it, I say the pros do it because it’s faster and I haven’t screwed it up yet.
I got going on the road and was up to 40 kph before I really realized it, I hit my highest average speed after about a kilometer, 44 kph! The gradual downhill probably helped but soon enough we merged onto Highway 22X and the quick bit was over and the hard work began. I could tell the story as I experienced it or as actually happened here. I had my aero helmet on and because it howls in my ears in any wind condition I wasn’t convinced that we had much of a headwind, the grass wasn’t moving all that much when I looked in the ditch. In reality we had a pretty serious headwind on the way out which starts out basically with a 20 km slightly rolling climb heading west. The kind that makes you wonder if you’re working hard enough or not when the average speed is falling. After that the hills are more distinct you’re either riding along mostly flat or going up or going down. Less of this gradual stuff which in my opinion is harder to do. I can ride along at a bit more than 20 miles per hour on the gradual climbs which is fast enough to warrant staying on the aerobars for the climb… but it’s tempting to stand up and hammer. I’m getting to the end of the gradual climb and the drafting police motorbike comes up beside me and pulls in ahead to watch the group of three riders who are up ahead of me. I watch them trade positions a bit as I slowly gain on them. Climbing our first steep hill I catch them and just as we’re cresting the hill I decide to make my move and push past them. I try to move by with enough speed that they don’t start pacing off of me which is obviously what they’re doing which has aroused the suspicions of the drafting police.
I roll through the place where the first aid station is supposed to be but there is nothing there other than a car with a few people sitting in it. I wonder what is going on and quickly decide that with my extra water bottle and the gatorade that I’m not quite done yet I can make it to the turnaround no problem just hoping that there is indeed an aid station there. Dad comes past in the car and I’m starting to realize that there is a truck driving half on the shoulder half on the road just a ways ahead of me. Dad stops in a driveway to take a picture and I ask “what’s this truck doing?”. The aero helmet prevents hearing an answer but I eventually figure it out. This is the lead vehicle. I’m leading the race!
I come bombing down the big hill with the truck just ahead of me, I get quite a bit of dust in my face and have to spit some dirt out. Here I come to a roadside pullout and there is a Budget rental truck in the ditch. There’s a guy with gatorade, great. I have my own personal aid station and he passes me a bottle as I have just finished my first. Off I go, wondering what exactly is going on until I am almost at the turnaround. The Budget rental truck passes me again within a kilometer of the turnaround and I watch as they leap out and the same guy who handed me the gatorade 15 kms back hands me another. Quite deluxe service! He also nicely tucks a banana in my back pocket for me and I make the turn and head back. It’s a bit downhill but only barely, it’s here that I realize how hard of a headwind we’ve been battling on the way out because I’m quite quickly cruising along at 55 along the flats. The gap to second place is longer than I would have guessed but I feel like I’m sticking to my race strategy so I don’t get too concerned about going to hard. I was to try and take it easy on the way out and give myself the liberty to pick it up a few notches for the ride back into town on the condition that a) my nutrition was on schedule (need to get in 1200 calories by the end of the bike) and b) that I was able to do so without compromising any aerodynamic position later on. (not allowed to get an achy back by pushing too hard). My nutrition was ahead of schedule by 100 calories already so I really cruised here, trying to capitalize on the tailwind as much as possible. I don’t want to go too fast that the Budget rental truck doesn’t catch up to me again to set up the course aid stations ahead of me as we drive but I’m lucky that I have the big hill to climb which takes a while and the truck does get ahead. Unfortunately I do the next three kilometers coming down from the hill and onto the flats at 65-70 kph and the truck never gets out of sight. He pulls off the road and as they’re setting up the table I come through. They have a gatorade to hand to me and I take it and keep cruising. The foil cap under the cap hadn’t been removed so as I cruise along at 60kph I’m undoing the screw top and peeling the foil off with my teeth and screwing it back on so I can get a drink. I’m having a really fun time now and get it in my head that I’m chasing this truck. Faris Al-Sultan in an interview after Kona a few years ago commented about chasing the video helicopter all the way to Hawi, I had my own little version here except this was a truck.
The long course merges here with traffic from the Olympic distance triathlon and I think I entered their field about 4/5 of the way back through the pack. That meant that absolutely no-one else was doing more than 50 kph and so I was hauling along and passing loads of people which became a bit nerve wracking at times because one person going 36 kph down the hill passing someone going 35.9 kph down the hill quite rapidly forces me to go 3 people wide down the shoulder. This is back on the long gradual descent into the city that I had described and at no point does my speed drop below 45 kph here. The police are doing an excellent job with traffic and I’m very rapidly into the community again and heading for T2. I finish the bike in 2:31 and change which is pretty good, about the fastest I anticipated I could go, 10 minutes faster than I though I would go, and fast enough by about a minute to set a new bike course record. I’m also 100 calories over my 1200 calorie goal which I’m happy with.
My T2 isn’t super fast but I try to limit the time as much as possible because I know it’s counted as part of my bike leg time. I’m wearing socks which is never a fast choice but for a half marathon it’s a necessary choice for me. I’m off for the run. The first 200m go splendidly and I’m happy and thinking that this will go well. Then I very rapidly start to feel cramps coming on in my quads (Vastus Medalis for those of you who are interested – that’s an aero-position cycling specific muscle also if you are interested in that too). I’m wondering if this is going to mean a very painful run or a very painful walk, I’m actually kind of hoping to negotiate with the muscle for a third alternative of a pain free walk versus a painful run. Hopefully things can correct themselves I think. I get out my e-load and take 4 little pills, that’s half the batch. If it’s going to help it will take a while I tell myself, motivation to keep running for the time being. I try to focus on my breathing instead of my legs. I’m actually breathing corresponding to an appropriate effort and that’s encouraging even though I feel like I’m going super slow. I remind myself of the race plan, I’ve allotted the entire first 5 kilometers to focus on getting my running legs together. This isn’t what I had anticipated meaning by that statement but that’s what it means now. I’ve done a pretty good job of distracting myself for the first 10 minutes until I head down the hill into the park and the muscles start to feel like they’re going to leave the verge of cramping and enter the realms of serious cramping up. Okay, I tell myself, this isn’t 5 kilometers yet it’ll come around before 5 kms is done and I do pause for a 5 second stretch of my right hamstring (actually it’s higher up, maybe bicep femoris?). I get some gatorade in me and keep going. Kilometer marker three is arrived at just under 15 minutes and I’m actually pretty surprised. I have to pee and this is the only washroom on the course except for maybe being able to find one back in transition so I take the opportunity. The little standing still break actually does me some good and by the time I’m back out on the path I’m feeling better. I’m pretty sure I’m not going to cramp up in a ball and start crawling. I don’t worry about selecting an appropriate pace until the 5 km marker, I’m just running as I feel comfortable to do so. Kilometer 5 comes at 23 minutes and I’m obviously starting to move efficiently at last.
The gameplan is to try and take it easy for the second half of this first loop, open it up on the first half of the second loop and then try to hold on as well as I can for the last 5 kilometers. I do back off the pace a bit at the 5 km marker but all is well and I try to run as smoothly and evenly as possible, the sudden movements are more likely to cause trouble than the steady and repeatable ones.
I’m off to the out and back stretch here and will get my first look at what my gap is like back to second place. I hit the turnaround and awaken the people who are sitting there to check my name off the list. “Wow, I guess our job starts now” is the sentiment of their statement even though those aren’t quite the right words. I’m congratulated and off on my way back. I keep watching for white numbers (red numbers are the Olympic distance athletes) and none seem to be arriving. I’m just about to complete the 1 km out and back section when Kyle comes by (I would learn his name later). He’s surprised to see how far off I am and I’m even more surprised to see how far ahead I am, this is weird. It’s hard to gauge the speed of someone going the other direction but I’m not convinced he’s going to catch me but I’m also not convinced that he won’t. I don’t really have any way of knowing anything about the gap so just keep trucking. Up the heartbreak hill and I don’t want to try any stunts so grab my water and gatorade at the bottom and walk up the steep pitch. Once on the gradual pitch I start running again, it feels pretty good and I head on back to transition to start lap 2. Transition is supposed to be an aid station but no-one expects whoever is in first place so there is nothing there for me. I don’t even really know where to look for water so I just keep going.
I am wary of the cramping coming back when I go through the same section of path (not because it’s bad path, it’s just because it’s been 50 minutes since my last dose of electrolytes) and I decide to take three more caplets. Off I go down into the park and I realize that it’s starting to heat up, it’s actually hot, certainly not the 19 degrees that was forecast. I slow down at the next aid station and pick up gatorade and water from the table so that none gets spilled. I need to get as much in me as I can. The last bit of water gets poured inside the front of my tri-top which can now evaporate kind of like a second skin to sweat from. The chill helps and it’s about here I realize that this is where I’m supposed to be speeding up. The missing water had me distracted but now I’m in the shade for 2 kms and I pick it up a few notches. I do at least 3 kms at around a 4:20 pace which for me is at the end of feeling like I’m running fast. It’s a good feeling and the cramps in the muscles have decided to depart for good. I get a cheer from Dad and head off to do the out and back, getting a chance to see my split back to the next guy again, is he gaining or fading, is there a new guy hunting me down or not?
It seems like the kilometer goes by pretty quickly to the turnaround and I get two volunteers to cycle with me in to the finish from here. It takes quite a while to see Kyle again who is indeed still in second place. He’s about 100 meters further up the path than last time so maybe 200 meters gained… but I’ve got more than a kilometer on him and am feeling alright. Gatorade and water at the last aid station and I’m walking up the steep section of the hill. No last minute cramping allowed. Off I go up to the finish, it’s fun to have some people along the way cheering and the announcer gets peoples attention. When you’re the winner people actually pay attention to the announcer and turn around and watch. It’s kinda weird, that never happened for 19th place.
I’m pretty happy to stop running and I don’t fall over which is some sort of success. I just want to lay down right away but there’s nowhere to lay so I have to keep walking which is probably good for me. My total time was 4:46:11 which is pretty good. The bike course and swim course are longer than the official half ironman distance so based on the paces completed today my comparable time for other half ironman races would be 33:58 / 2:21:17 / 1:38:59 = 4:34:14. That’s reasonably quick considering the relative difficulty of this bike course to some of the other ones out there like GWN or the Calgary 70.3 race I’ll be doing in August. Hopefully I’ll be able to ride close to 2:20 which I guess I showed today isn’t completely outrageous and then if my training progresses in direction I’m going to try to bend it I could run closer to 1:34:XX (ie sub 1:35). Who knows about the swim, 1700 people might be a washing machine that I don’t deal well with or maybe it’ll just be far easier to stay on people’s feet and I’ll wind up swimming a bit faster. I’ll hopefully also figure out this cramping stuff and not deal with it in a race again. I haven’t had it in training to the same degree so maybe it’ll be tough to figure out in detail, who knows exactly, giving this a trial run was the purpose of racing prior to tbe big show in August.
Oh, and the stat streak that I’m proud to continue. No one who has ever swam slower than me has finished ahead of me in any triathlon to date.