Wednesday, November 28, 2012

IM Canada

Ironman Canada would be my 6th Ironman. I’ve always wanted to do this race, not because it’s another Ironman, but because it’s Ironman CANADA! This would be the 30th year Penticton would host Ironman, and from what I had read and heard while hanging out around the town, it’s a pretty special event for this small town. Unfortunately, this will be the last year for WTC to put on the race, but fortunately the Challenge Series will take over the reigns and I’m sure this race will be just as special for many more years to come. I’m not going to lie, I wanted to do well at this race and my goal was to PR my Ironman time of 10:23. It would take a herculean effort but felt I was up for the task. My training this past season included some extensive strength training early on and I had numerous 100 mile bike rides in the heat of the endless 100 degree summer. Character builders for sure. I also tried a running plan that, during my long run phase, had me running longer one week and then the next week I backed it down to 13 or so. I thought this would help recover my legs better. I think it worked pretty well. My 18 and 20 mile runs felt great. The only thing I would do different is to ramp up to 20 about four weeks earlier so I could get a couple more 18 and 20 milers in. For the trip out to Canada, I was glad to hear Frontier Airlines started flying out of Bloomington. They offer low fares and do not charge extra for flying your bike. As long as it’s in a bike case and doesn’t weigh over 50lbs, they only charge $25, the same as a piece of luggage. From Bloomington we flew to Denver and caught a connection to Spokane. After an overnight stay, we had an awesome 6hr drive straight north through the scenic countryside of eastern Washington. We even had a chance to drive past the Grand Coulee Dam, which we were pleasantly surprised to see.
We arrived in Penticton on Thursday which gave me enough time to get in a good swim at Okenagen Lake on Friday and check out some of the bike course on Saturday. I didn’t really spend too much time in the Ironman village/expo but it was worth checking out one day. We stayed about 30 minutes north in the small town of Peachland in a super great condo we found on VRBO, called the Duck n Pug. It was just the right size, had all the amenities for cooking some of our own meals, had a great deck overlooking the lake, and was quiet and relaxing.
I felt really relaxed on race morning, no anxiety, strong, recharged, and ready to rip. I studied a few videos and read a few posts about the swim start since it was a pretty tight beach when almost 3000 athletes are crammed in there. I wanted to avoid the washing machine start so my strategy was to start about 10-15yds left of center and in the front. I took off at a quick pace to get out in front of the group and then merged into the buoy line. The water temp was about 65-68 degrees (perfect) and the visibility was excellent. I got into a good groove and ended up following a few of the same people throughout the swim. This was a one loop triangular course with two long legs so it was easy to get into a pace and stay with it. About 200 yards form the finish, I lifted my head up and did a few breast strokes to see if I was lining up with the finish chute and as I kicked my legs back I kicked someone right smack in the face. I felt full on nose/mouth/eyes with my foot and I heard them gasp out in pain, and I felt kinda bad. I had the strange feeling they were trying to catch up to me so they could get back at me, so I finished that last 200 pretty quick. The swim finish was a short beach section that went right into Celebration Park and didn’t have much room for fans to gather around. I looked for Sloan but she had already headed out to the bike course in town. Swim time was as expected. I was hoping for a few minutes less than 1:05 but I’ll take that. Transition was so easy to navigate. I grabbed my bag and a volunteer luckily noticed I grabbed the wrong one. He quickly grabbed mine and we switched. That would have been an unpleasant surprise, for both of us! My bike was racked just outside the change tent so it was easy to find and then easy to make the exit. I was looking forward to the bike course. Sloan and I drove the bike course so I had an idea of what to expect. The first 30 miles had one sharp uphill section just outside of town and from there was gradually downhill. On this day, the wind was at our back so I was flying. I tried to be patient but it was hard to hold back. Rictor Pass was the first big climb of the day and I was looking forward to seeing what it had to offer. It was a 6 mile grinder with about a 6% grade and riders quickly bunched up. I was wondering if it was possible to get a drafting penalty in this section. The climb reminded me a little bit of the Lake Placid course. I didn’t try to push it, just spun it out and got over the hump. An awesome downhill plunge followed. The middle section of the course had long rollers and smooth roads. My calculations had me ahead of schedule and I was feeling pretty good so I kept the pedal to the metal. I was also making sure to hit each aid station and replenish my water. I had an 1100 calorie bottle of Café Late flavored Perpetuem along with a flask of Hammer Gel to keep me fueled. I was confident I was getting enough fluids because about ¾ way thru the bike, I already had to pee. Thought about stopping or letting it fly on the bike but decided I could hold it until I got back to T2. The middle section of the bike course was my least favorite section. They had us on an out and back section that, while winding thru fruit orchards and vineyards, had a poor road surface. I even lost a water bottle that had me paranoid I was going to get a penalty (like Wisconsin!). Once out of the out and back section it was a gradual uphill climb that had numerous false flats and long rollers that began to slowly eat into my energy. The next big climb up to Yellow Lake was ahead and it was about 16 miles or so long, not as steep as Rictor Pass but still a tough steady climb. This bike course is so dang scenic and challenging. I kept thinking to myself that this would certainly be a great place to train. As I made the final climb, I could see a big crowd of people lining the road and I finally got to see Sloan as well as the “Don’t Suck” sign! At this point I still felt pretty good. I knew the last 10 miles or so was pretty much all down hill and according to my calculation; I was on a 5hr 20min pace. Perfect pace I thought. I still had to pee and hoped I had taken in enough fluids. I got a little anxious riding the last few miles in town. I just wanted to get off the bike and see how my run legs would respond. I was on track to a PR, if I could run my run. As soon as I got to T2, I found my bag quickly and changed into my bright yellow Saucauny’s. I relieved myself which was a huge relief since I had been holding it for the last couple hours. Within the first mile of the run I could already start to feel my hamstring tighten and when I saw Sloan at the first turnaround, I told her I was feeling a little crampy. I didn’t panic and took in plenty of water at the first aide station. At about mile 2 ½ or 3 all of a sudden my left hamstring and quad cramped solid. If I straightened my leg my quad would cramp. If I bent my leg too far my hamstring would cramp. All I could do is stand there crouched halfway down. If I took a step or tried to walk I’d cramp. After about 2-3 minutes I was relaxed enough to walk and then started running again. This was not a good sign with 23 miles to go. I did not want to do a death march for that long! Plan B, start pounding water at every aid station. This seemed to work as I made my way out. The course started to get pretty hilly and there was a pretty good one around mile 10. I was able to run most of the hills and walked a few briefly. I also tried to pick up the pace on the downhills, using gravity to help me along. By the time I got to the turnaround, I was averaging about 8:40/mile pace. I had to pick it up if I was going to salvage this run. Nutrition wise, I was taking in Hammer Gel every 3-4 miles and also taking in enough Endurolytes to keep my electrolytes up and I thought I was taking in enough water to hold off the cramps but the harder I pushed the more my legs wanted to cramp. I just couldn’t push the pace without cramping. Running/walking through the hilly section on the way back completely destroyed my quads and I settled in to the idea that my PR was gone and I just needed to do damage control and finish in a respectable time. Once I got back to town, the crowd grew and more cheers from people kept me going. For the last mile and a half of the run the course the course had one last out and back before hitting the finish line. The crowd was crazy and people were yelling at me that I can easily break 11 hours, just need to keep it going. I thought to myself, sheesh, I have 15 minutes, less than a mile to go, I have no doubt I can break 11 hours. Just about then my left leg completely cramps up. Just like at the beginning of the run, I could not move. Try to straighten my leg and the quad cramps. Try to bend my leg and the hamstring cramps. All I could do is stand in one spot, crowd now yelling and screaming ‘don’t stop, don’t stop, you’re almost there!” I guess I better start thinking about that 11 hour mark now. It was all I could do to start walking and not cramp. Slowly my leg relaxed and I was able to start walking, then a slow jog, then running again. I will make it!!
Running down the finishers chute I just tried to soak it all up. This race was awesome. I’m so glad I got to do IM Canada. I’m thinking it may be a while before I do another Ironman distance race so I’m happy to get this one under my belt. Training for this Ironman was a long haul. I got a new job at the beginning of the year and with it brought more responsibility and longer days in the office. It seemed like I didn’t’ have the extra time and those extra little times to think about my training or plan things in my head like in the past. I found myself thinking about work and the added responsibility. That’s part of the reason I feel like it may be awhile before another one. After the race, my finisher volunteer helped me get to the athlete area and made sure I was ok. I was probably a little dehydrated so I tried to get in some fluids. I never really feel like eating or drinking anything after a race that long. I almost had to force in the food and water. After about an hour Sloan went and got my bike and gear and we headed back to the house. My legs were definitely cashed and I needed a good soak in the tub.
The next day we went back to the expo and the line for finisher’s gear was a mile long. I didn’t really need anything anyway. We went over and looked at my race pics and put in an order. That should be a good enough memory for this great race. Hope to get back to this part of the country some time soon.

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