End of August last year I watched Ironman Canada in Penticton, and signed up for the 2006 race. For the past year that's been the primary goal that I've been working towards. Skip ahead to my training plan and race report.
I rode up to the race with a woman who has done a few ironmans and qualified
for Hawaii. And so that I'll remember them and others can benefit too,
here are Val's ironman tips:
Our longest ride before this was 120k, so the goal for the day was to complete the ride without hurting ourselves. To begin with we started a good half hour late, having underestimated how long it takes to drive to Chemainus. We knew we were heading in the right direction when we saw a big group of yellow-jacketed cyclists coming the other way. That's okay, you're allowed to start late as long as you can make it to the first control point in time, and that wasn't a problem. After the late start everything went incredibly smoothly. It didn't rain, the wind was pretty favourable, we had no flats or mechanical problems, and didn't take a single wrong turn. It just doesn't get any better than that. It took us 8 1/2 hours of ride time and an hour and a half of breaks and we felt pretty good the whole way through. The check points after every 50k broke the ride up nicely.
So overall I felt as if I could have kept going except for the pain in my seat. Ouch. No chafing (Mountain Equipment Coop shorts), but pressure (and afterwards, numbness—I thought that only happened to men, but it happened to me). It is pretty obvious when you look at my saddle that it wasn't designed for cushy padded comfort, but not only is it hard, it's narrow—apparently because serious cyclists tend to have big thighs. That's funny, I always thought I had big thighs too, but there's room for a wider nose on the seat.
August 7th, A P.S. on long ride painsI've now got a Profile TriStryke seat, which has a nice fat nose with lots of padding and a cut-out. It's definitely better. The other problem I had on the 200k ride, which has showed up on long rides since was a pain in my feet. Right under the ball of my foot, as if there was a wrinkle in my sock. Getting off the bike would make it feel better immediately. I mentioned it to my physiotherapist (Michael Coey at the Cedar Hill Sports Therapy Clinic: he's really good, he's fixed my feet twice as well as giving me this advice) and he suggested that it was due to the way my toes tend to curl back a little instead of sticking straight forward. He gave me a couple of little foam pads to stick to my insoles just under the instep and they seem to be working.
When we turned off Sooke road, it was a relief to get away from the traffic, but those hills! When we left Sooke, I read an average speed of 26km/h so far. By the time I got home it was down to 23.7. I don't even want to do the math. I did one set of screaming downhill turns, but even as I enjoyed it I knew I was going to pay for it with an uphill. It seemed like all the climbing was done in my lowest gear, standing up, and all I can say is that I'm surprised how well my legs took it. I was tired and really slow, but my legs weren't actually screaming. Mike was suffering more than I was because a) his bike weighs a ton, b) he rides in running shoes and toe clips which has got to be uncomfortable when you're pushing hard because c) like me he has a double chainring but his lowest gear in the back has two fewer teeth. Ouch.
I did go into it feeling pretty confident. None of the three distances (2k swim, 93k bike, 20k run) were scary on their own, and I'd done about three bike rides that took as long or longer than I expected the entire race to take me. Two nights before the race, when I was feeling a little touch of nerves, wondering whether I had everything together, I caught sight of my refrigerator door, which has all my race numbers to date stuck to it, and I realized every one of those races went well. Probably this one will too. And indeed, I managed to hit all the important things on the “things to do before the half ironman” list (train with power gel, buy aero water bottle and practice with it, get new tires, put on new tires and ride on them once, buy disposable bottles of Gatorade for the special needs on the run, etc.) and the race went off extremely well.
I had to get up at four thirty in the morning, half an hour earlier than the usual crack-of-dawn triathlon start, and even so, there was none too much time to get everything set up before the 6:55 start. The women all started together as the largest wave: 236 of us. I thought I was fine with open water swim starts, since I did three of them last year (and I guess I think I'm a kayaker, I can handle this), but I found myself a little uptight on this one. Too many feet near my face. It took me a while to settle down and get comfortable, although I guess it always takes me some time in a lake swim before I feel I'm swimming well. I had a few moments of intimidation about the race, but managed to squash those by reminding myself that I could handle the distance. As I came up the beach at the end I tried to smile for the camera and whip my nose clips off on the beach before I started fumbling for the zipper tag. My transition wasn't great as my wetsuit is hard to get off the legs, but it was okay.
On the bike it was crowded. Being part of the biggest swim wave and being a somewhat better cyclist than swimmer meant that I was doing lots of passing. However, I think doing lots of passing means I ride faster because I get in the habit of pushing forward. Last year I would hold back from passing people if I felt I didn't really need to, but this year I've been passing everyone I can catch. At any rate, whether it was excessively fast pacing, or the swim to bike transition, it took a little while before my heart rate came down to something that looked sustainable. I ended up riding faster on the bike than expected, which was great. The nutrition on the bike was: a gel (Clif shot) every half hour and a total of five bottles of Gatorade, which must have come to between three and three and a half litres. There wasn't much available on the course in the way of facilities, so I tested out one of the less well-known long-course racing techniques: peeing on the bike. Turns out to be harder than you think, and if there's a way to avoid getting your shoes wet I'd like to know about it. Since there were always other cyclists nearby, I hate to think of what the person behind me thought, but I didn't hear any cries of horror or notice any dirty looks. I don't think that amount of drinking was excessive because I've heard people talk about drinking a litre an hour, and my bike ride was 3:11 with a 41-minute swim before that to make up for as well. I don't drink that much on my training rides, but I don't sweat as much on my training rides either.
During a good bike ride the question of whether I'm going to be able to run floats through my mind occasionally. Although I'd been doing brick runs (runs right after a bike ride), they were always short and rides they were coming off were always fairly low-intensity, so I was wondering how it was going to work today. But I found I practically bounced through the first kilometre of the run and had to make a bit of an effort to slow down. My legs felt surprisingly strong during the run and I was able to just keep running at a decent pace without feeling like I wanted to stop. I switched to eating a gel every 20 minutes on the run (except for the last hour when I only had two) and drinking every aid station, but I can't get that much drink into me from a cup so I had stashed a bottle of Gatorade with two gels and some Ibuprofen taped to it at the special needs station. It was there when I started my second lap of the run and I was able to run and drink for a while and then ditch the bottle in the garbage. Around kilometre 15 I slowly caught up to Taralyn and was able to help her out with a couple of my Ibuprofens as her legs were hurting (I don't normally take Ibuprofen in races, but I needed it for menstrual cramps this day). We ran together for a while and then she dropped back a bit and I went on alone. My pace for the run (1:52 for 20k) ended up being the same as my pace at the half marathon I ran in March, which I was very happy with. The neat thing about triathlon is that it's apparently easier to run 20k after four hours of swimming and biking than it is to run 20k after, say, running another 20k.
At the finish line you are practically grabbed by volunteers who rip off your timing chip for you (which is good, because taking it off yourself would involve bending over) and put a finisher's medal over your head. Then as long as you're upright and coherent they let you wander off. What I needed was to go to the bathroom, get my bike out of transition and lock it up, rinse off in the lake (might be worth bringing some biodegradable camping soap to wash off the sunscreen, road dust, sweat, Gatorade etc.), get some food and put on some dry clothes. In between there were congratulations to be exchanged with various Y Tri Club people I ran into.
The main aftermath was two big blisters on my big toes in spots where I've never had blisters before, an interesting blood blister on the ball of my right foot (didn't hurt) which is still there two weeks later, and some chafing in one armpit. Plus some sore muscles of course. It was hard to tell how long it took to recover because I got really sick the Tuesday after the race: woke up at three thirty in the morning and threw up for a few hours. Must have been food poisoning because there were no flu symptoms, but it knocked me down far more than the race did.
Final race thoughts: it's great to be in a club and have club members in the race and on the course. Thanks to everyone who came out to watch: Connie with the cowbell, Chris and Michelle, Carolyn, Liz, I'm sure I'm missing some more people. It was great seeing Jeremy, Jon, Rob—twice, and finally Taralyn on the course, as well as JoAnn and Alison at their volunteer posts. And finally, the friendly fellow racers who I passed back and forth with were great. One guy gave me the best encouragement as I ran by him for the last time a few kilometres from the finish. He said “That's it, now make it stick this time”. Thank you!
Photos: the above picture of me coming in from the bike course is from Mark Creery's picture collection. He gave me permission to show it here; thanks!
A couple of the nice things about the organization: bike check-in is the day before race day. You get a wristband with your number on it, put your number on your bike frame, and drop off your bike in transition. Transition is guarded overnight and nobody can take out a bike without showing a number on a wristband that matches the number on the bike. They also guarded the bikes until after the awards were finished. Awards were inside at the nearby community centre, which was air-conditioned and had a sit-down lunch (and family and friends could eat as well, by donation).
The bikes didn't get rained on overnight, but when I came in on race morning, what should I find but that my bike is crawling with ants. One of the annoying things about the Profile aero bottle that sits on your handlebars is that there's no lid, so that you can pour in more drink on the fly. What that means on the roads around here is that a lot of whatever you're drinking splashes out onto you and your bike. Overnight the ants had discovered the splashes of Gatorade left over from recent rides and spread the news. And then, of course, I filled the bottle—which, remember, has no lid—with Gatorade and let it sit for an hour while I went off to swim. By the time I came back after the swim there were ants in the bottle, walking around on the mesh plug that's supposed to keep your drink from splashing out. So I spent the first few kilometres of the ride picking ants out my aero bottle.
The bike went well. Not too speedy, but on such a hilly course, I was satisfied. I set a new speed record coming down one of the rollers. Riding through there in June, I had found I hit 70km/h on my aero bars on some of the downhills. This time through I wasn't going as fast, as there was a slight head wind, but on one downhill, there was some traffic. A big RV passed me and then sat in front of me for a few moments, and it must have sucked me along in its draft because I later read off a maximum speed of 77.4 from my computer. I know this probably sounds totally insane to anyone reading this who isn't a cyclist, but hey, it was only for a few moments. And for what it's worth, I was on my base bars, with my hands on the brakes, and this was a fairly straight, roomy, and uncrowded piece of highway, no crosswinds, which I had ridden twice before and which had been checked out before the race. And the thing is, my bike feels absolutely rock solid at high speed. No wobbles, no sounds, just perfectly smooth and stable and the brakes are excellent, so I just tend to let it run on those long straight downhills. (I slow down if there are crosswinds, narrow shoulders, or if there are possible deer-jumping-out conditions.) Because rock solid or not, sometimes I think of “meet the sausage creature”.
Anyway, apart from the brief speed record moment the ride was uneventful. I enjoyed it and smiled through the whole thing. With my gear ratios (39-53 in front and 12-25 in back) I'm in my lowest gear on the uphills, but I don't have to stand up and I'm very comfortable just cranking along. There were some great spectators who I saw a few times on the course and who did a lot of cheering.
The day was hot and sunny, good practice for Ironman, and I may have dripped a little sweat on the bike, but it was on the run that I really felt the heat. I sponged off at every aid station and let the bystanders spray me, and it definitely helped, but I really felt like I was just trudging along. I saw Taralyn a couple of times on the run and I distinctly heard her say something about “torture”, although she was holding it together just fine. I ended up running quite a bit slower than as the New Balance Half, but bad though I felt my run was, there were those who were suffering more: my ranking on the run was better than for the bike so it seems that a lot of other people faded even more than I did.
I finished this race in 6:13, 25 minutes slower than the New Balance Half, and about 8 minutes slower than Taralyn. To compare the two races: this race is about 5k shorter on the bike, has quite a bit more climbing, and is 1k longer on the run. I was one minute slower on the swim, about 8 minutes slower on the bike, and 16 on the run (with the extra kilometer), and that's ok. I'm happy with the bike ride, and although it would have been nice to run faster it was an ok time for a hot run after a hard ride.
Taralyn can only guess what her time was, unfortunately. They gave her a really great time, which had her winning her age group, but which we're pretty sure is incorrect. Wrong timing chip? You'd think someone else would come forward and say that their time was forty minutes too slow. As far as I know the mystery still hasn't been solved.
A few weeks ago I decided to explore Munn road, which is close to some of the roads I ride already, but is marked on the cycling map as being pretty hilly. It turns out to be winding, scenic, well paved, and with all the upping and downing advertised. There's one section marked 15% that I rode down, and then thought, I wonder if I could get up that? So I turned around and tried it. After all, I might want to ride this road the other way some day. I made it ok but I had to stop and wait for my heart to hammer its way back down to normal at the top. After Munn road, I took the Ross-Durrance road to get to Willis Point road, which then connects up to the rest of the peninsula. Ross-Durrance is kind of a neat road: new pavement again, no lines on the road—it's that narrow—hairpin turns and some more big hills, and very shady and treed in. Beautiful.
I didn't really do a build phase because my priority was mostly to build endurance. I did some faster running in March and April for the Times-Colonist 10k at the end of April, but that was the last of my fast running. The biking I tried to keep long but easy in the spring and then added a lot more hills in the summer. So almost all my training was at endurance intensity and that's why my training volume was able to go as high as it did without injury.
As far as I can remember, I think that January and February were the toughest months. The training was a big step up from what I was doing before, particularly the long bike rides, which were longer than they look from the mileage because some of them were done on my mountain bike when the weather was really bad. I think I was probably tiredest in February (the day of the first 115k ride). In March and April, my volume dropped down a bit and I felt as if I got a bit of a rest, and then during my biggest weeks in July I felt invincible. I think I only got sick twice: once in April with a cold and one stomach upset in June, although there were days when I felt marginal and skipped workouts. The only injury problems I had were: one single run that I missed due to having a stiff Achilles tendon for two days (I think I strained it when I had to squat down in the cold for a while trying to get a tire changed), and then twice I had pain in my foot that didn't stop me from running and which was fixed each time by one treatment from my physiotherapist.
I haven't done the race yet, so assessing my training is a little premature, but I think that if I did this again, I'd be less worried about being able to make the distances and I'd probably drop some of the really long rides in favour of more shorter harder rides. I'd also try to do a little more fast swimming over the summer.
Of course there's always room for improvement, but looking back on the year, I can say that I'm pretty satisfied with what I accomplished.
Here is an overview of what I did. For those out there who are also beginner ironman athletes, you may find it interesting. For the experts out there: please do not send e-mail telling me I'm screwed for the big race :-). Nothing but positive comments until after. My weekly hour count doesn't include weight sessions or my commuting bike ride (20 minutes) except for a few times when I took the longer route to work.
|race (all races fall on the Sunday at the end of the week)||long ride
|Mar 13||Comox Half Marathon (training day)||70km||1:58||12:00|
|Mar 27||Sooke River 10k (training day)||no long ride: sick||1:20||6:00|
|Apr 3||BC Randonneurs Tour of the Cowichan valley (training day)||200km||0:37||12:00|
|Apr 17||Sooke Triathlon (C priority)||no long ride||0:37||6:15|
|Apr 24||Times-Colonist 10k (B priority)||no long ride||0:51||6:00|
|May 15||Rhody Run 12k (training day)||90km||1:03||8:10|
|Jun 12||New Balance Half Iron (B priority)||93km||1:51||10:40|
|Jul 3||Desert Half Iron (C priority)||88km||2:07||11:50|
|Aug 21||Ironman Canada (priority AA!!)||-||-||5-ish plus race|
The main reason to race is that you'll never know what you can achieve until you race. Nowhere is this as true as when you do an ironman. You can do each event in training, but you'll never put them all together before the race. In fact, you don't even do the full run distance in training. Hence the need for faith. You start the race with faith in your training and ability and then you see what happens. A year ago when I signed up it was so hard to imagine being able to do this huge race that I felt I was doing something crazy. During the course of the year my confidence increased as my training progressed but there was a big gap between what I'd practiced and what I'd have to do on race day. And so, when I waded into Okanagan Lake and got in line behind the starting flags, I was thinking starting this race is a leap of faith.
The other thing that I love about racing is the sense of connection with the other racers. Through most of our lives we find reasons why other people are different from us, but when you put on your wetsuit and goggles and wade out to the starting line, you're all there to do the same thing and there are no important differences between you.
Leaving transition and stepping onto the beach before the race and seeing all the other swimmers ready in their suits and caps, I felt excited and privileged to be part of this phenomenon. In the days leading up to the race I was suffering from a certain amount of race nerves, but I always knew that there was no way I'd want to not be racing.
I started off to the right for the swim, and the start was a little anticlimactic because I had to wade through rocky knee-deep water for a bit before I could start to swim. The swim was fine from there on. It was crowded to the point that I had to lift my head up and dog-paddle a few times to avoid people's feet, and sometimes I would get stuck behind people, but I was firmly maintaining the first element of my race mantra—calmness, patience, determination—and I didn't let it bother me. The last leg of the swim was the easiest. I felt as if I was swimming very straight, the crowd had thinned out, and I could sight on a big crane that was right at the finish. I was glad I'd been warned about the divers who were patrolling some of the buoys and the turns because otherwise I would have been a little surprised to see people down below. At the first turn the water was quite shallow and I saw a diver lying on his back on the bottom, watching the swimmers go by.
Where the swim required some calmness, the bike ride was more about patience. It's important to hold the right pace, keep paying attention to your pacing and nutrition, and not be too anxious to get up the hills fast. I had come up with some heart-rate guidelines, based on Going Long's recommendations and I stuck to those pretty carefully. Although it might be a bit of a pain to keep looking at your heart rate monitor, I much prefer it to just wondering whether I'm going too hard or not. Also, watching my heart rate keeps me putting out a steady amount of effort which makes me faster. The scenery was beautiful again, the supporters were great, and the weather was clear and heating up but not too hot. I saw quite a few people fixing flats, but no big groups of them as there have been in past years when there have been tacks on the road. Coming down the back side of Richter I saw an ambulance and then a cyclist on a stretcher. I saw his face and head looking unhurt although there was road rash on his arm and shoulder and I hoped that that was all, but I heard later that someone had crashed in that area and broken his pelvis, so that must have been him. One thing that surprised me a little was that there were people around me for the whole bike ride. I did my best to avoid drafting, but I was within four bike lengths of somebody in front of me for a good deal of the ride, no matter how many people I passed.
Beside my race mantra I was also thinking about the “smorgasbord on the bike” recommendation. I ate about seventeen gels (three flasks plus two loose ones) and one Clif bar over the course of the ride, as well as two electrolyte tablets. My goal was about 400 calories an hour on the bike and I think I made that. I could have eaten more during the first third or so on the bike but felt as if I was starting to fill up at the end, so I probably should have backed off on eating during the last hour and a half or two hours on the bike. Where I didn't take Gatorade I took water, mostly to pour down my back and over my head. It ends up in your shoes and smudging your sunglasses but it's worth it. I was tiring a bit on the last third or so of the bike ride, but I still felt good and didn't feel I was struggling at all going up Yellow Lake. I was thankful that I knew the course so well because it meant I wasn't worried about Yellow Lake.
I waved to my parents again as I turned into the transition area and got off my bike. I put on my shoes and ran out of transition and felt surprisingly good—for about three minutes. After I waved to my parents and started down Main street I was getting less comfortable running. After another half mile or so I wanted to stop running. After a few more minutes I was walking. My heart rate had shot up to 160, I was feeling the heat and getting nauseous and I really didn't want to run. I started walking one telephone pole and running three or four. Not ideal, but I was confident that I could just keep walking and doing a little running. I was pretty sure that things would get better. The only thing that worried me was this urge I was feeling to sit down, because when you sit down, you're not making progress toward the finish anymore. I met Antje and we commiserated, as she wasn't feeling very energetic either. She could walk faster than me, but I was running a little more than she was. Eventually I pulled away. At each aid station I drank a little cola or water, poured a cup of ice down my sports bra, which I would later put down my back and into my hat as well, and poured some water over myself. I really think that the heat was a major part of my problem. So I kept walking and running and getting water and ice and was feeling better and better as I got out of town, although just as I felt able to start running more I got a nasty stitch that kept me walking for a while.
By the time I got to the half way point I was feeling not too bad and had even managed to stomach a shot of gel. I greeted my parents again, got a kiss on the cheek from my mother (pretty brave, I was pretty grungy), and went through my special needs. I changed my socks, got the fresh gel flask, stuffed the emergency pills in my pocket (Pepto-Bismol, Ibuprofen, electrolyte tablets, Gravol and Imodium—none of which I needed), and headed out again. Just after the halfway I ran into Evan and he walked with me for a few minutes and gave me some advice for my stomach issues. But from then on I was able to keep running between aid stations for most of the way, walking up the hills just because it seemed like a good idea. By this point in the race, there was a lot of walking going on. I saw a few people being loaded into what Taralyn calls the “ironman hearse”. I didn't talk to that many of the other runners because there were just too many, but I tried to offer some encouragement to people who looked as if they were struggling, and when someone looked really bad I just had to ask them how they were doing. I offered one woman my Imodium after I saw her forced to run into the ditch for the second time. I remember walking up a hill with about five guys near the end of the lake. They were all fit guys, but they were the picture of weariness with their shoulders drooping and it was great.
Eventually I made it back into town and I ran down Main street, past the Safeway and into the downtown area. There were spectators all along and they were all wonderful. The stream of runners had thinned a lot, but the spectators still clapped and cheered and I kept smiling and nodding and waving and saying “thank you” to them because I couldn't not acknowledge their support. I was still running, but my legs were hurting and my toes were beginning to be really uncomfortable. During the course of the run my shoes had gotten a little wet and that always makes for nasty blisters. Or maybe my shoes just don't fit me right. Downtown the crowd suddenly got thicker and as I ran through there the road was covered with chalk messages for runners and the cheering was amazing. Coming through the last little detour I picked up the pace and started seeing a lot of people from the Y Tri club as well as my parents again, and that made it easier to turn away from the finish. Suddenly someone told me that I had ninety seconds and I could still make thirteen hours. I though “that's what you think” but I speeded up all the same and it turned out that the finish was right in front of me. I put on a bit of a finishing sprint and then all of a sudden it was over. I ended up eleven seconds over thirteen hours but that's fine. Every second counts equally.
In my memory it was daytime right up to the finish and then all of a sudden it was dark. My volunteer “catcher” held on to me, put my finishing medal on me, and got me my shirt and hat while someone took my timing chip off me. I stood up against the wall for my finishing photo (which turned out badly: goofy grin, eyes closed), and then I started wondering how I could meet up with my parents. Trying to figure out how to get outside the barrier to the lake side of the finish was like trying to figure out how to get out of a maze, so I left the closed area to hang out in the park where people were meeting up with family and friends. I soon ran into JoAnn, my parents, and then Taralyn as well, who had finished twelve minutes before me. I didn't feel too bad, just stiff and sore and a little wobbly; I don't think I could have passed one of those walk the line drunk tests. I'm kind of sorry that I didn't stick around to watch other people finish, but I just didn't have the energy to go spectate. It was hard enough to get my stuff together and get home.
As far as the aftermath and recovery is concerned: my digestion was a little upset right after the race and my legs were sore for about four days. I was also just tired and doing some extra sleeping, especially because I didn't sleep well the first two nights after the race. It's been a week now and I've ridden my bike to work a couple of times and gone for a swim, both of which felt great, but I'm enjoying taking a break and only doing what I feel like. Just basking in the fact that the ironman ball and chain has been replaced by the ironman laurel wreath.
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