Triathlon Training, Life with Dogs, and the Pursuit of Happiness
Friday, August 31, 2012
Ironman Canada Race Report
Grab a beer and have a seat, this is going to be a long one. Going into IMC, I was not racing with the intent to PR...this is a hillier, more challenging course than the one I've done twice at IM AZ and I really just wanted to put together a solid day of racing out there. The goals I laid out in my head were as follows: PR the swim (pleasepleaseplease finally have an IM swim closer to what I'd trained like, being that this one would not take place in the speed-sucking dark waters of Tempe Town Lake), tighten up my transition times even more (because - yes - I like being the goddess of fast transitions), put together a solid bike where I would hope my size would be an advantage on the many climbs and just in general sit back and fuel for the run, FINALLY have a good IM run (or at least, closer to my capabilities), and for the first time finish when there was still light in the sky (taking advantage of it being summer and lighter later up north).
Interestingly, I wasn't nervous leading up to this race. I was a little concerned that I didn't seem nervous at all - I wondered if it meant my head wasn't in it, if I'd lost my motivation to race, if I should be worried - but I just sort of laid out my gear, walked through my plan and locked it all into my head. The couple days before the race could more be characterized by boredom, as Nigel, Kristi and I sat around our gorgeous rental house stuffing our faces with carbs and resting our legs. Even race morning, I was able to eat without forcing the food down. We all walked down to the start, dropped our special needs bags and bike nutrition off, and then just hung out until it was time to put wetsuits on and head down to the water. Even there, with the minutes to the start ticking down, there was none of the blind panic and self-doubt that usually accompanies a race start for me. I'm always apprehensive that the swim will somehow turn out slower than expected but I was just ready to get on with it already.
I lined up a few rows back from the start line...don't hate, I know I'm slow but I don't mind body contact at all so I'd rather take advantage of all the draft offered by a thousand people swimming by me. And then the horn blared, I waded a few steps further into the water and dove in and started swimming.
The water in Okanagan Lake is so clear, you can see the bottom for quite a ways out and it's very easy to follow the bubbles/feet of other swimmers. I had full body contact the entire time, just swamped with people, but wasn't bothered at all. The more people around, I figured the more draft I was getting and the faster I was therefore going. I did have a knack for getting trapped between 2 men who would veer in and clobber me, then veer back out apart, but I just kept on their hips and then swam past them. Yes, for the first time possibly ever in a swim, I passed people! At one point on the return leg to shore, I realized Sister Madonna Buder was swimming alongside me and I totally grinned at her. Then I realized I could swim faster than her and got my butt in gear to the next set of feet. Overall I swam very relaxed and easy (as per my race plan), mostly on the feet of others, until I hit the bottom and waded the ~25 yards out of the shallow water and up to the finish arch.
Got wetsuit stripped, grabbed my bag, ran to the changing tent, threw shoes/helmet/nutrition/race belt on, ran all the way to my bike, and I was out of there. T1 Time: 2:08(IM AZ 2011 T1: 4:17)
I took the first 1/2 hour extra easy and then the first 40 miles flew by quickly and easily, as they were mostly downhill with a tailwind. This bike course is so beautiful, I just could not wipe the grin off my face. I held race watts on the flats and found myself passing people fairly often, then passing even more as I spun easily up the hills and they'd all pass me back on the downhills.
Around 40 miles in, we made the turn to start climbing Richter - time for even more fun! The hills were challenging but really nothing too bad - I was passing people even spinning up easy - and I loved the fast descents (topped out at 38 mph, which isn't much but I have less to offer gravity than others). I probably exceeded my watts slightly in a few spots just trying to get away from drafting-like situations, including a woman who wanted to chit-chat and told me all about how she was paranoid about drafting because she'd gotten penalties in her only two 1/2IMs but was then sitting right behind a whole crowd of people every time I saw her.
I had heard the out-and-back is the mentally draining part of the day where the lows come but I enjoyed it - I saw Kristi, Nigel, my brother and screamed for them all so it was fun.
Then it was time for Yellow Lake, and I passed my husband and Kristi's husband (the two Jeffs) on the side of the road right before the big climb. I felt fabulous the whole way up and just kept eating and eating and drinking on schedule. We had some wind but it was never so bad I felt it made a huge difference - I got tucked on the descents and aero in the flatter stretches and the miles just kept ticking off. Surprisingly the low mental moments never came, maybe because the scenery was constantly changing and I was well fueled and hydrated throughout. I was happy and grinning so much my face hurt.
I bombed down the descent back into town and it went by quickly even in the headwind. I even managed to pee on a guy who was drafting off of me on 97 along Skaha Lake (I probably would have been a few minutes faster on this ride if I hadn't coasted multiple times trying to pee on the way up Yellow Lake and been unable to). Before I knew it, I was rolling back into town and getting my feet out of my shoes to prepare to hop off the bike. Bike Time: 6:48:22(IM AZ 2011 Bike: 6:49:48) TrainingPeaks data file
I was a little slower in T2 because I stopped to have the volunteers put sunblock on my shoulders and back of arms and lubed up the bottoms of my feet with Aquaphor (I ran sockless). T2 Time: 2:16(IM AZ 2011 T2: 2:28)
And then it was time to run! For 9 months, since IM AZ, all I've been thinking about for this race is that I want to set myself up to have a good run. You know, one where I'd actually RUN instead of end up walking half of it.
I felt a little tight when I hopped off my bike but I just relaxed and tried to give my legs time to settle down. A quick look at my watch in the first 1/3 mile and I forced myself to slow down even more (hello, 7:45 pace, nice to see you but this isn't the right time).
My legs really felt good for most of the run, so that's a huge step in the right direction for me as far as getting this IM marathon thing right. I stopped to use a restroom around mile 3 (boy, I was well hydrated) and then I needed them a few more times around miles 7-8 and at the special needs turnaround at mile 13ish. My bike nutrition made my gut a little burbly and I had some hormonal stuff going on that added to the problem (gosh, aren't race week surprises fun?!). But the fact is I held it together, stayed on top of nutrition (gels for the first 2 hours, coke and pretzels after that), drank and took my salt religiously, and kept running forward. I walked the aid stations between miles 8 and 21 - chug a cup of water, dump a cup of ice down my shorts (Best. Tip. Ever. thanks to eventual winner Gillian Clayton's pre-race blog post), drink Coke, dump water on my head, dump water in my handheld bottle, start running again. The middle hilly miles were my slowest and as I came back along Skaha Lake my pace picked up and continued to speed up all the way into town.
The last 5 miles hurt but I knew they would so it was no surprise, I just ran them continuously, maybe not smiling quite as much but still so happy with my day that I couldn't believe it. I seriously had to try to tune out all the wonderful spectators in the last couple miles, I was starting to choke up and that would lead to wheezing and then I'd pass out before the finish line! I was running the numbers constantly and I knew my multiple bathroom stops had cost me a sub-13 time but I also knew if I just kept at it I'd get awfully close. I flew through the last few downhill miles to the lake and pushed as best I could on the out and back to the finish line (again, so emotional I had to work to contain my brain and just keep my legs moving). And then the finish chute was there and I couldn't even wait for the volunteers to set up the tape across the line again, I just went for it.
Not only was this a huge improvement in the IM run for me (while still a bit short of my abilities, but I had a few difficulties on the day), it was also a marathon PR in general for me. By 20 minutes. Total Time: 13:02:22(IM AZ 2011: 13:44:56) Finally, I was able to give in to the emotion I'd be feeling for the past few miles. On a day that I'd never expected it, I'd PRed by over 42 freaking minutes. I'd stuck to my race plan, hearing my coach's voice in my head all day (really I should see someone about that...), and I'd put together a solid day on an Ironman course that was arguably more challenging than what I'd raced in the past. I saw Krista right after I finished - she'd had a HUGE day - and she read my face perfectly and knew what I was feeling and was able to celebrate that moment with me. I worried my finish line catchers a little bit with my wheezing but assured them this was normal for me. I flopped in a chair and waited for Kristi to finish and then hobbled back to the house for my cellphone, a shower and compression tights. I don't care who owns or runs this race (for those who don't know, it was announced in the week before the race that the city had signed a new contract with Challenge instead of renewing with Ironman), I HIGHLY recommend the Ironman/Challenge Canada course to anyone looking for a beautiful, well-supported Iron distance race. The scenery is to DIE for - best most amazing swim I've ever seen, stunning, challenging but very manageable bike course, and lovely run course. This was the perfect race for me to retire from Ironman, for now (it will be a few years before I do this distance again). When the time comes to do another, I'll be hard pressed not to return to Penticton - I haven't seen another course that comes even close to matching it.
Thank you to everyone for the kind thoughts, Tweets, Facebook messages, cheers in person and online - it truly made my day. Thank you to my coach for always believing in me and pushing me further than I ever expected I could go - I hope I made you proud! Thank you to my swim guru, Tim, who didn't laugh me out of the pool last December and instead worked with me nearly every week for 9 months to make me a better swimmer (it worked!). Thank you to my wonderful beardie friend Yvonne and her husband Gary who drove out and spent a week in Penticton to cheer for me (and take many of the lovely photos posted here!). Thank you to Dr Brink and staff at Premiere Spine and Sport for keeping me healthy while doing all this crazy training. Thank you to Concept Cyclery for keeping me rolling on two wheels despite many miles ridden and my best attempts at messing up my bike. Thank you to my training partners, who made this the best year ever in IM training and kept me from having to do it all alone. Thank you to my great teams, TrainingPeaks and Aquaphor, who support me in all sorts of ways! And thank you to my husband, who really doesn't get anything out of spectating triathlons but does it anyway because he knows how much it means to me.