Friday, September 24, 2010

Ironman Canada - Race Report

Where to begin?

Completing an Ironman has always been a goal of mine. I am not sure when I got the idea that this might be “fun” but I knew it was something that I would do one day. After cheering on all my friends at IMC 2009, I stood in line, paid my $600 and decided that I would dedicate the next year to train for IMC.
Over the past year I have trained and enjoyed the entire experience. From training ride #1 to race day – the whole experience was far better than I ever imagined. I spent the year focusing mainly on the bike. Of all three sports, this was the one I had the least experience. Luckily I am married to one heck of a cyclist (10-time National Champ!) who coached me along the way. Together we put together a program that would be “bike heavy” while keeping a good balance between training and life. Luckily for me, I made a career change in January which left me with 2.5 months between jobs = one big training camp. I spent my time off riding in the cold, wet, winter hoping that come August the hard work would pay off.

I decided that I would spend the majority of the summer training with just a couple of races to remind myself what to do on “race day.” My thought was that if I spent too many weekends training, I would sacrifice the big training blocks that needed to be done. I was lucky enough to have two solid races as a lead up to IMC. The Oliver Half Iron was my first chance to test myself and see where I stood in June. I followed up Oliver with the Calgary 70.3 which gave me some experience working through a transition very similar to IMC. I took away some valuable info from both races as well as tested my race nutrition to make sure everything that went in my stomach, stayed where it should.
My race week officially started on Tuesday morning when we packed up the car and headed to Penticton with Mark and my parents. We arrived Tuesday afternoon just in time for me to go for a VERY WAVY swim in Skaha Lake. I spent the next few days swimming, biking and running on the course and getting settled. It seemed strange, but all week it didn’t feel like race week. For some odd reason, I wasn’t nervous – I was simply enjoying the experience and spending time with family and friends.

The day before the race I had my first “freak out.” I went for an easy hour ride out to MacLean Creek Road with my race wheels and it turned out to be a very windy day. I had trouble keeping my bike on the road and started to think Ironman might not be such a good idea after all. When I got home from the ride, I got Mark to switch out my front wheel and instead of going with the fancy tri-spoke, I settled with my regular spoke wheel. Aside from that minor incident, I was ready to go!

Mark getting my bike ready for the "big day!"

Race morning came earlier than expected (thanks to an overeager friend wishing me good luck via text message!). I stayed in bed and relaxed and dozed until 4:00am when the alarm went off. I had my first breakfast, got dressed, loaded into the car and made my way to transition. Mark joined me while I dropped off my special needs bags and got body marked. After a quick kiss goodbye, I made my way into transition to get my bike ready. I made friends with a fellow competitor and we helped each other pump up our tires. I also ran into a whole crew from the North Shore Tri Club which helped ease my nerves. This was just a really fancy training day! Shannon and I hit the bathroom lines early and still had plenty of time to chat, put on sunscreen and get our wetsuits on. As I made my way to the beach, the whole experience really set it. The pros were off warming up and everyone was excited and ready to go. Somehow I found my family in the crowd, said a quick hello and headed to the water to warm up.

Once the pro’s set off, I spent nearly the whole 15 minutes warming up. The water was much warming than the air so I kept going until I heard the 3 minute countdown. I found my way to the front of the line and lined myself up with the buoys around people who “looked” like swimmers. We all wished each other good luck and before I knew it, the gun went off!
I have to admit that this is the first time I have experienced a hectic swim start. Normally (being a former competitive swimming) I start at the front and rarely have to deal with the crowds. IMC was a little different with 3000 people and it took me until the third buoy to finally have some clean water. I settled into a good pace and counted off the buoys, one by one. The swim went by fairly quickly. I move from group to group, but spent most of the swim by myself, setting my own pace.

Coming out of the water was the most incredible experience. People were lined on either side of the water and my only thought was “don’t trip!” I managed to get half my wetsuit off before finding the two biggest wetsuit strippers who had my wetsuit off before I knew it. I easily found my bag and made my way into the change tent. The change tent was almost empty when I got there so I had three lovely ladies who put on my socks and shoes, helmet and race belt. The ladies also insisted that I put on my arm warmers – which I later thanked them for!

Exiting the swim

I jumped on my bike and started to settle into a good moderate pace. A lot of people started passing me, but I tried to stay conservative knowing that the course was going to get harder and harder as the day went on. The ride out to Osoyoos went by so quickly and before I knew it, I was on the climb up Richter. I made a point of eating every 20 minutes after many prerace lectures from Mark. I also made sure to drink quite a bit and I had to make an effort to do so since it wasn’t very hot. Richter Pass and the rollers were much easier than when I rode the course in May. I tried to keep a steady effort and stay focused along the way. At some point out by the rollers, the wind started to pick up and the clouds started getting really dark. By the time I got to the “out and back” the sky was dark and I knew it wouldn’t be long before it started to rain. I opted not to take anything from my special needs bag as I had packed plenty of food and was feeling good (and therefore didn’t need my Snickers and Redbull!). By the time I was finishing up the out and back the rain really started to come down. The wind was brutal but I kept my head down and tried to ignore the rain as much as possible. I was so focused on just pedaling hard, that I didn’t even realize I was on the Yellow Lake Climb. Sure enough, just like everyone told me, there were people lined on either side of the course cheering us along in the pouring rain. I couldn’t help but smile and laugh when I saw my husband and his buddies dressed in beaver costumes on the climb. Mark ran with me for a few meters, wished me good luck and promised me that he would see me on the run course. I kept climbing in the rain and wind, but couldn’t stop smiling. I ran into friends all along the climb and before I knew it, I was at the summit and heading downhill into Penticton.

At one point during the ride it was "sunny!"

Normally this would be my favorite section of the course. However, at this point it was still pouring with rain and incredibly windy. As I descended as fast as I could (safely), I was thanking those lovely volunteers in the change tent who made me put on my warm warmers. I was still cold, but at least I had something to cover me up. I passed a bunch of people descending Yellow Lake and I was very thankful I had changed my wheel selection the day before the race. Sadly, there were ambulances at multiple corners picking up people who had washed out going around the corners. I tried to keep looking ahead and focusing on Penticton where it looked a little “sunny.”

Gotta love the support from the North Shore Tri Club Beavers!

As I hit T2, I was happy to be off the bike and starting the run. The lovely change tent ladies changed my socks and shoes, repined by race number which had almost blown off on the ride, grabbed a gel and I was off. The first few miles felt great. I settled into a moderate pace and smiled and waved when I saw my family and friends. At this point, I should note that I decided NOT to race with a watch. I didn’t wear a watch on either of my two previous races and felt that I knew my body well enough to know my limits. Also, I knew that chances are, if I was having a bad race, I didn’t want to know how slow I was going!

As I ran, I focused on one mile at a time. I also tried to refuel more than normal because I didn’t take in enough food or water on the last 30km of the bike. At one point I had the great idea that I should probably visit a Porto potty as I hadn’t gone all day. This was probably not the best idea, as I had a couple of rough miles as my stomach settled down. Remarkably I started to feel better once I reached the hills towards OK Falls. Having trained primarily on the North Shore, I found the hills easy and gained momentum as I passed people who were walking. At the turn-around, I ran into a bunch of friends and family – tried to wave and smile and went on my way.

Almost done!

I was lucky enough to have Mark and Steph out on their bikes throughout the run. They would cheer for me, ride a mile and meet me to cheer again. It was something I REALLY looked forward to. Steph was the ultimate cheerleader while Mark remained calm and cool and kept saying that I was doing great. I had NO idea how fast I was running. I just kept counting down the miles and soaking up the experience as much as I could. Steph and Mark met me at mile 24 where they cheered me on and told me that the clock was at 10:30 and if I moved my butt, I would finish around 10:45! The last two miles, I pushed as hard as I could. I smiled and waved as friends and family greeted me along the way. As I ran through the finishing chute, I also saw my time for the first time that day – 10:44:43!

I felt great at the finish! I had two fabulous volunteers that helped kept me company until Steph managed to weasel her way into the athlete area. I couldn’t believe it – I had finished my first Ironman! Eventually I was able to get up and meet my family who had braved the terrible rain and wind to cheer me along all day. I honestly couldn’t have done it without them.

In the end, my splits were as follows:
Swim – 55:21 (1:28/100m)
T1 – 2:36
Bike – 5:43:56 (19.5mph or 31.3km/h)
T2 – 2:36
Run – 4:00:16 (negative split by 44 seconds!)
Total – 10:44:43

I finished 6/77 in my age group or 268 overall (12th amateur female). Unfortunately my age group was MUCH faster than previous years so I didn’t qualify for Kona. But, I did qualify for Clearwater 70.3 Champs in November earlier this season and I am really looking forward to a fast, flat and warm course!