Sep. 8, 2008

Ironman Canada Race Report

OK, here's the belated story of my day at Ironman Canada. (Note: I'll update this post with better photos when I finally get access to a damn scanner.)

Up at 5:00 AM for a breakfast of oatmeal and scrambled eggs on toast. Very dark... Nothing much to bring with me other than my wet suit and some dry clothes to change into after the race. I drove down alone with Amy and Jill following in their car. If we couldn't get a good parking spot Jill was going to drop us both close to the transition area. As it turned out we both grabbed a spot quite close so Amy and I headed in. It was still quite dark and chilly when we got to the body marking area. Numbers and ages were inscribed and we headed over to our bikes to check tire pressures. In a fine pre-race performance I managed to get through the porta-potty line three times. Met a few friends and acquaintances, made some new ones. Went over to the PowerBar tent and had a few cups of Gatorade and a gel. I had decided to wear full cycling shorts on the bike course, so I pulled my wet suit on over a swimsuit. The Pros started shortly before I got to the beach, so I only had time to let the layer of leaked water warm up before it was time to await my start time in the chest-deep water at the front edge.

At 7:00 AM the gun went off and we dove forward. I held my ground fairly well and didn't have any significant contacts. It was a bit tight heading out for the first 5oo m, but I just focussed on staying on the tail of the person ahead of me. At the first turn things got a bit tight again, but by the time I was heading back toward the beach things had opened up pretty well. I was still feeling strong, but my mind started to wander and I managed to swim significantly off course twice. As I came ashore the last 50 m of shallow lake bed was covered in small boulders. Ouch! The water's edge proper was sandy though. Swim - 1:00:49, 12/246 in M45-49, 138 overall, avg. pace 1:37 / 100 m.

I spent 5:32 in transition, a bit longer than usual because I had to strip off my swimsuit and pull on cycling shorts. I took care putting my new left foot/right foot cycling socks on properly (more about them later) and then grabbed my bike and ran to the mount point. The one thing I forgot was to get some sunblock. I worried for the whole ride that I would burn and pay the price for that forgetfulness later in the race.

I was looking forward to the bike course with great interest. It had been an inspiring drive two days before. The first several kilometers out of town were lined with cheering spectators, which was nice. Although it was moderately uphill I was really pumped and kept a fast pace. I settled down once we hit the shores of Skaha Lake because I knew I had a long day ahead of me. The first half of the ride was fairly uneventful but beautiful; moderately rolling hills and open mountain valleys. But a lot of slower swimmers rode past me in pace groups, drafting each other. This gives a big advantage in saving effort, but is against the rules. Sigh. I knew it would happen, but it was disheartening to be passed by so many cheaters.

At a few points throughout the ride I felt like I was losing power, or perhaps tire pressure. I kept scrutinizing my tires as I rode, but it boiled down to "false flats", which aren't related to tires but rather a description of a section of road that looks flat but is actually a gentle rise. I finally realised that I just had to keep the effort fairly steady and let the speed take care of itself.

Immediately after Osoyoos the climb up and over Richter Pass began. Eleven kilometers of steady upward road! Never too steep though and even more beautiful. I got through it fine and really enjoyed the descents. There were lots of spectators along the climb, it felt a bit like the Tour de France. I cheered them back and hand-slapped lots of kids as I chugged upwards. My feet were starting to get sore though.

This is where the new socks crop up in the story... I discovered upon arrival in Penticton that I had left a sock behind and needed to purchase an extra pair. I decided it was safer to ride in new socks than run in them, so I bought the only kind of thin cycling socks I could find. These socks were "asymmetric" Sugoi socks, with left and right foot construction. They were slightly thicker on the side at the base of the big and little toes. This thickness unfortunately made my cycling shoes too tight and after about 80K both feet started to feel painfully hot on the outer side of my little toes. I ended up stopping twice during the bike, once at about 120K and again at about 150K, to restore the circulation. Lost about 15 minutes of time in total, but got a bit of a chance to recover.

My final stop was just after the crest of Yellow Lake. Yes, a mountain pass can have the name of a lake. I didn't have much trouble on this pass either and loved the vibe from crowds again. I stopped because my feet were still killing me and I knew there was a big descent just around the corner. There was a first aid station there too, so I got my first splash of sunblock on at about 1:00 PM. Luckily the skies had begun to cloud over in the late morning. The descent was fantastic! I felt like a god roaring down the sweeping highway roads. Amazing speed and I never had to touch the brakes. Coming back into town there was one last gentle hill and then a final descent to the transition area. Big crowds again and I was super excited. I was waving and shouting and the crowd responded, which pumped me up even more. Bike - 6:03:11, 87/248 in M45-49, 786 overall, avg. pace 18.5 mph.

My second transition was 4:21. I changed shorts again, pulling on my compression running shorts and walked out over the timing mats getting my legs ready to run.

The run started well with a short out-and-back along the shore before heading back alongside the bike course on a longer out-and-back course. Big encouraging crowds again, but I had to focus on keeping my heart rate down. As I reached the edge of town I began to have trouble. At first the ball of my left foot felt hot. After a few kilometers I stopped to check my socks, but I think this recurring problem is a muscle tightness issue. I was back underway pretty quickly, but a much more serious problem cropped up a few kilometers later. Stomach cramps! I felt worse and worse, and began taking walking breaks even though my legs felt pretty good. Once I was out of town we also faced a strong headwind.

I ended up walking a good five or six kilometer section of the course where it follows the shore of Lake Shaka and stopped in three aid stations for about ten minutes each waiting for the cramps to subside and drinking chicken broth. At the last stop I chatted with a South African nurse and as I left she told me that I had looked pretty pale when I had arrived. So what happened? I figure I had drunk too much Gatorade on the bike and nothing was getting digested. A heavy stomach was bouncing around, causing cramps. After my last recovery stop I pretty much returned to form. I had spotted a team mate, Trevor, go by during one of my stops and I wondered if I would be able to catch him. The first half of my marathon took 2:51:24, the second half 2:11:27. That's a serious negative split! I caught Trevor after the turnaround. It began to rain gently around then, which actually felt pretty good. I ran well until about the final five K when heel blisters started to slow me down and my legs started getting cold from the rain. But there were big crowds again, and I got a boost from that and from chatting with other racers. My aching feet were forgotten in the finishing stretch and I crossed the line strongly, soaking in the cheering crowd. Run - 5:02:51, 142/248 in M45-49, 1243 overall, avg. pace 11:34/mile.

After the race it all came home to roost. I had a pretty emotional hour talking to other finishers and getting a post-race massage. When I came out of the massage tent though I started to shiver uncontrollably, so I stumbled over to the med tent where I got some more of the magical warm chicken broth and wrapped myself in warm blankets (instead of a wet mylar film). The volunteers brought all my race bags to me so I could finally get into some dry clothes. I sat there in the war zone for about twenty minutes.

When I emerged from the med tent I dropped my bags at my car, returned to the transition area to get my bike, bought a bottle of champagne for Amy, Jill and I to celebrate with, and got back to our cottage around 10:00 PM. I never made it back to the finish line to watch anyone else cross. After a quick shower I lay down for a nap and stayed there...

Listening to: King of the Mountain by Midnight Oil from Blue Sky Mining.

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