Ironman Canada 2012 – The Maiden Voyage

When I get asked about how this race was for me I always seem to first reply with “as planned”.  Probably not the most exciting response but it’s the best way that I can describe it.  I obviously follow that up with fun, painful, and AWESOME but it’s really hard to do justice describing one’s first Ironman.   

We arrived at 5am on race day.  I got body marked, pumped my tires, did all my set up and then realized I had about an hour to burn before even putting on my wetsuit.  It was a bit odd; this was the first race I’ve done where I didn’t feel nervous.  It’s a bit ironic because it was the biggest race I’ve ever done and my entire year of training was focused on this as my “A” race.  I think it came down to how prepared I felt for this race through the training plan Sean had set out for me, swimming, riding and running the course at camp, the race plan, the fuelling plan, and the fact that I played the race through my head so many times.

The MASS start

I started the swim front and center.  It’s really not that bad as long as you don’t look behind you!  It didn’t feel much different than the Oliver Half density wise except for the turnaround buoys where it got a bit congested.  I did some drafting for the first 1000 metres but soon became frustrated with others’ inability to swim straight (this is assuming that I’m obviously not the problem).  I opted to find open space to swim in after that.  I could’ve pushed harder in the swim but chose to conserve my energy.  I’m pretty happy with my swim time.  I will need to work on getting this under an hour for next year but I’m really happy with the progress I’ve made this year considering my lack of swimming background.  It’s really quite obvious when I swim beside the Cheena swim club on weekday mornings.  I’ll be swimming all out and these kids will just kick my ass with ease, they’re like four feet tall.  Note to self, my children will be joining swim club.  It’s too humiliating trying to learn to swim beside these kids at this age.

I rolled through T1 with ease.  The volunteers were amazing, I got stripped, given my gear bag quick and had someone deal with my wetsuit for me, I felt like a VIP; however, the volunteers applying sunscreen seemed a bit confused when I ran over to them, I thought from my pasty white complexion it was clear I needed a thick coating of SPF60.  After politely implying I was in a bit of a hurry they lathered me up and sent me on my way.

Getting onto my bike was a comforting feeling.  This is always the fun part of the race.  Up until IMC, I have always hit the gas as soon as I’ve strapped my feet into my shoes.  The race plan on this day; however, called for a different approach.  Riding out of town conservatively is no easy feat.  Friends, family and hundreds of other amazing spectators line the streets loudly cheering for you regardless of what position you’re in coming out of the swim, you feel like an absolute powerhouse because you’ve been tapering all week, and you’re done the swim!  It’s really hard not to floor it at this point.  I chose to stick to the plan though and cruised out of town working on getting my heart rate down to where it should be.

“Take a deep breath – calm down….”

By the time I got to McLean Creek hill I started to get caught up in a bit of a pack.  I kept a steady pace, but if I passed one of these guys they would soon after be surging to pass me back.  Fine by me, I was happy to see people wasting their energy early on.  Once we were up and over the hill and on the way down to OK Falls I realized it was already time to take a leak.  I’m still pretty green to the whole triathlon scene and have never actually taken a leak on my bike.  A friend mentioned it was easier to do it coasting downhill so that’s where I tried it.  To my surprise I relaxed pretty quick and was proudly soiling my pants in no time.  But if you do choose to do this PLEASE be courteous enough to make sure there’s nobody too close behind you.  I had to hit my brakes at one point to miss getting a full on golden shower and I was well outside of the drafting zone.  But then again it may be a good tactic for deterring people from staying out of your drafting zone.

Before I knew it I was rolling into Osoyoos and starting the climb up Richter’s Pass.  I always welcome climbing because it’s an opportunity to get out of my aerobars.  I chose not to grab a new water bottle at this point as mine was still about half full and I thought there would be one at the top of the first big climb.  Why carry more weight than you need to.  Probably not the best decision I made all day, the aid station ended up being a lot further than anticipated.  I ran out well before I got there but made sure I slowed down enough so that I wouldn’t miss one here.  The pack spread out a bit during the climb but quickly formed again once into the rollers.  This time there was a few more guys and there definitely seemed to be some drafting going on.  I chose to stay at the very back of the pack to avoid any penalties and wait until the right time to make my move.  I was starting to get excited at this point, there’s something that feels super badass about hitting the gas on my bike and making some passes.  In this case the group was about 10 deep and it felt amazing.  I thought they would follow and stay with me for a bit but I built up a gap right away.  Soon after I started reeling in some of the pro women.  This was a big confidence booster.  I know how strong these girls are so to be catching some of them before the out and back had me stoked.  I kept my head down and kept motoring.  There really wasn’t much wind on the course on race day.  I’ve experienced the headwind in Cawston and it can be pretty demoralizing.  To be perfectly honest I would have preferred some wind if it would have given me some more separation from the fleet footed running specialists. 

The climb to Yellow Lake was a grind.  It’s really not that tough of a climb, but when you’re doing it 130k into your ride it really sucks!  One positive thing to say about the climb, if there is anything positive about it, is the people cheering along it.  I felt like I was climbing a stage in the Tour de France in sections as there were people tightly on both sides of me cheering like crazy with their cowbells.  It was amazing.  It definitely gave me the extra boost I needed to get up and over.  Coasting back down into Penticton, well, was GLORIOUS!

One of my favorite parts of the race was definitely riding down Main Street.  There was no one ahead of me, no traffic, and not many spectators yet at this part of town.  It was kind of eerie.  As I got closer in I saw the race leader running out of town.  Alright, this means I’ve had a pretty good race so far.  Now for the tough part, a marathon, something I haven’t actually done before.

Hammering on the way back through town

T2 was quick, it’s amazing when someone racks your bike for you and someone else brings you your running gear, I could get used to this!  As I ran out of transition there was someone else running with me, right away I noticed he was in my age group.  As soon as we hit the pavement he was gone.  There was no way I was keeping pace with this guy, it would have been suicide.  He would eventually finish 6th overall, top amateur and finish with the 3rd fastest marathon split on the day, his girlfriend was no slouch either, though an amateur as well she would finish with the fastest women’s time overall.  Something for Jenna and me to aspire towards!

“Just don’t blow up!”

Right away I could tell I was just going to have to run my race and not dwell on what was happening around me.  Jenna offered race position info but I declined, I didn’t want to know, it was going to be tough enough just trying to have a solid run let alone worry about racing anybody at this point.  I kept a comfortable pace out towards the lake.  I did my best to smile and try to enjoy it, I had an idea of the dark places I would be going into later in the run.  Sean was out riding his bike, he rode with me for a good portion of the run feeding me positive words and also giving me some good pointers on things I wouldn’t have thought of that really helped through the run, you would think cutting corners on the run would just be common sense but when your mentally fatigued it’s pretty easy to lack sense at all.  When I arrived at the turnaround there were some familiar faces, Dave and Kathy Hobbs, I scored high fives running on the way in and again running out, it’s amazing how those things can help you forget how you’re feeling temporarily.  As I was rolling out I saw another familiar face, one that I didn’t welcome as much.  James chased me down in the Oliver Half and I could see he was about to do it again.  I was hoping I’d built a big enough gap in the swim and the bike but unfortunately for me he had a stellar bike that day and he’s a great runner.  We exchanged some positive words and he went on ahead.  Pretty much from the turnaround all the way back along the lake was a struggle to keep my pace, all I could focus on was moving one leg in front of the other.  I had originally intended to pick up my pace somewhere along here but all I could think about was just holding on.  Just after I passed the Marina, Gillian Clayton who was now leading the women’s race caught up to me and passed me.  For the next couple of miles I just focused on her and tried to keep her pace.  The pain was almost numbing now, my mind was beginning to zone out, it was something I haven’t experienced in any other race.  As we got closer and closer into town the cheering seemed to get louder and louder.  The benefit of running behind Gillian was that people were going crazy for her, it was incredible and I was totally feeding off of the energy.  This was the pickup I needed.  Without giving it any thought I started picking up my pace.  I slowly edged in front of Gillian again and ahead I spotted an age grouper in my category.  All this time I had assumed I was sitting in 3rd but apparently I was in 4th.  I zoned in on him and made the pass.  “3km’s to go, I can do this, just like any other of the tough workouts I’ve attempted and survived, I can do this.”  It got a bit hairy running down lakeshore, people were starting their marathon and it was a bit congested.  Worst of all some cheeky race director thought it would be a good idea to have you run right by the finish line when you still have at least another mile to go! 

This moment right here is why people do these again and again and again…

Catching my first glimpse of the finish line once running back down Lakeshore was like nothing I’ve ever experienced, nothing really compares to it and words can’t properly describe it.  The crowd was absolutely electric, it was a steady stream of high fives, I felt like I was flying.  I would finish the race in 9:30:48, 20th overall and 3rd in my age group, about 49 seconds slower than I would have liked but I can’t complain, a year ago there’s no way I would have thought this would be possible in my first ironman attempt.  After crossing the finish I took some good advice from my friends Clive and Lorraine and the other amazing volunteers and made my way to the med tent.  I was feeling pretty nauseated at this point.  After sitting at the entrance waiting for a bed I was asked to perform a test, if I could stand up and walk around for a few minutes without puking I would pass.  I failed this test miserably and was escorted to a bed.  The first aid volunteers were great, they me back up and feeling as good as I could within 30 minutes.

Official finishing time – 9:30:48

I can’t thank enough everyone that supported me leading up to the race and during: my wife Jenna, my parents Bill and Cindy, my second parents Jan and Pete, my coaches Sean and Tara-Lee, and all of our friends that cheered for me along the course or showed interest following updates online and of course the amazing volunteers that made this event possible, they’re second to none.  Having success doesn’t happen without having a solid support system and for that I feel truly blessed.

I’m really looking forward to racing here again; I can’t wait to see what lies ahead after another year of training.  I’m mostly excited to see how Jenna fairs in her first attempt at the distance at Challenge Penticton 2013 along with all of the other Ironman virgins I know that have just signed up, should be another amazing year!

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