Oliver Half, June 2009
Photo by ASI
Every year since 2005 I've gone to Penticton to watch the Ironman. At the end of last summer I was watching Taralyn complete her third ironman, and I realized that next year was probably a pretty good year to do it again. I wanted to renew my membership in the club. I wanted to feel fit again. Whatever the reasons, I stood in line for three hours and paid my money.
The fall wasn't too great. I had a sore hamstring, a knee injury (hiking), and a slow half marathon. Ho hum. However, now the new year is on and so far my training is coming together. Knee feeling good, hamstring under control, getting some swimming in, and I'm beginning to conquer my fear of bike-riding in Vancouver.
We've joined a tri club (Pacific Spirit), and although they don't swim at six in the morning, they do swim in an outdoor pool. However, the water is well heated and there's an awning over the pool so it's turned out to be pretty reasonable, if not actually warm. The occasional dead leaf floating in the depths just adds some welcome visual interest as we glide along in the half-dark.
Yesterday I went out in the rain again and didn't mind at all. The difference? I was wearing the right clothes this time. In heavy rain I just stay home, but if I dress right I can run for up to about an hour in light rain without it bothering me. The challenge, of course, is that running is so sweaty that even the most breathable of the waterproof-breathable fabrics will generally end up with you getting more or less soaked from the inside. That's why I opt for non-waterproof clothes that slow the rain down while letting out most of my sweat. Here's the outfit:
I've been having a hard time biking here in Vancouver: more traffic, faster traffic, bigger roads. With the help of a fluorescent yellow cycling vest and the resources listed below I'm starting to get the hang of it but it's hard to find routes that don't involve either hairy traffic or else stopping every 50 metres.
However, if you're willing to stop a lot, there's an excellent network of bicycling routes, and once you get across one of the bridges into North Vancouver, there are some impressive Fitness Opportunities over there on Mounts Seymour, Grouse, and Cypress. I rode partway up Mount Seymour a while ago, and there was no mercy. The road went up on a relentless 8–9-percent grade, which you can calculate easily because there's a signpost every kilometre helpfully telling you the altitude. I made it up about 4.5 (out of 10) kilometres before I decided I'd enjoyed about enough for one day, but I'll be back. Rumour has it that Cypress has a slightly more gradual grade, so maybe that's a better hill to attack.
Last week Marc and I were doing one of our longest runs so far, a whopping 12k or so (home to Granville Island and back) (oh yeah, and I bonked on the way back and we had to walk for a bit), discussing the fact that the half was only a week away. We didn't feel very ready.
This was my first Vancouver race, and the SkyTrain made it a snap to get down to the starting line for the painfully early seven a.m. start. The race route went across the overpass beside GM Place and then went through some Downtown East Side streets that I don't think I'd ever seen before. There were a few people standing around outside various soup kitchens and detox facilities, but for the most part the streets were more or less deserted. We then ran through Stanley Park and eventually up a killer hill that I had no idea was there. I'd decided to start out fairly aggressively and then just see how long I could keep it up. It was raining, I was sore, and although I was more or less on track for a two-hour race I didn't think I was going to make it. When we ran up the long hill it seemed even less likely that I'd make my best time, but I was determined to go as little over two hours as I could. Marc was up ahead going for his ambitious time of 1:45 and I thought it would be nice not to be too far behind him.
I held it together for a surprisingly long time, but in the last kilometre I ran out of breath in a big way, between a stitch in my chest area and my not-so-happy lungs and had to take a little walk break before running rather slowly to the finish. Nevertheless, I made a 2:02:51 and it was better than I could have hoped for. Marc finished in 1:49 and change, a personal best.
Anyway, I just finished going through my race checklist. Here it is:
On the bike:
We left the house at five or so to drive down to Osoyoos where we'd already set up our bikes the day before. As we were getting ready in transition, the woman in the neighbouring spot asked me about the course “I hear it's pretty hilly.” I agreed and described the general profile (see the section from 60k to about 105 of the Ironman Canada route - click on Show->elevation profile).
After a relaxing swim with a draft from halfway through the first lap all the way to the end, I got an extra helping of sunscreen and headed out on the bike course. I love the scenery in this area, and the course for this race goes through the most beautiful section. I love the hills on the back side of Richter Pass, through the Similkameen valley. There was a bit of a headwind going out, which slowed me down a surprising amount going down the hills.
I tried something new during this race: salt tablets. I know: never do anything in a race that you haven't done in training, and in particular don't put anything in your mouth that you haven't tried before. But I did. I talked to a sales person at Peach City Runners about a problem I've had in long, hot races, where I seem to stop absorbing my Gatorade and gels. She pointed out that the combination of Gatorade and gel is probably too concentrated to be easily absorbed, and suggested that I stop getting away with this when conditions become more extreme. So I came up with a new plan, which is to drink water supplemented by salt tablets part of the time. The label on the bottle said that each capsule contained about 200 mg of sodium, which is equivalent to about half a litre of Gatorade (and I think my bike bottles are 700 ml). So one tablet for each bottle of water. (The brand is “Salt Stick”.)
I was going to do this later in the race, but the first aid station had only water, so the first capsule went down less than an hour into the ride. It was fine. On the ride I combined water and Gatorade, although most of the water went over my head and down my back. On the run I drank only water, and quite a bit of it, and took a few salt capsules. It seemed to work. It seems like I often have stitches when I drink water during a race, but this time I got only the slightest stitch near the end (when I hadn't taken a salt tablet for quite a while).
The run was quite slow, but I felt as though as long as I kept eating gels, drinking water, sponging off, and soaking my head every chance I got, I'd be able to keep running. Luckily the run course is pretty flat, and there was some overcast throughout the race, which was a blessing. Afterwards all I wanted was to do a face plant into the lake, which was indeed a great relief.
I never did manage to come up with a very good explanation for why I was doing it the second time. The best I could come up with is that I wanted to feel the excitement of being one of the athletes again. The popular athletic shirt slogan says that pain is temporary, whereas pride is forever, but in my experience the pride has to be regularly renewed. So last year, when signup day came around, I couldn't think of a reason not to.
You see, the thing about registering for an ironman is that it's a powerful distractor. It provides a big enough goal in your life that you may be able to ignore for another entire year the fact that you need to make some changes in your life. But I had just made some changes. I had moved to Vancouver and started a new job, or rather abandoned my previous line of work, so it seemed like a good year to do it.
So the year passed and I did some training, along I wasn't all that methodical. I tried to follow the most basic preparation system outlined by Gord Byrn and Joe Frield in Going Long: do a 4-k swim, a 6-hour bike ride, and a 2 1/2 hour run sometime in the (can't remember how many weeks) time before the race, and it'll probably go ok.
There were lots of people staying at Taralyn's house before the race, but I was the only one actually racing. One race morning Marc and Taralyn with some other friends piled into two cars and we set off to the start. I dropped off my final bags, got body marked, and headed into transition to get into my wetsuit.
When it was halfway on, there was an announcement asking if anyone had any spare goggles. Now, it happens that I always carry a pair of spare goggles, and they're always the same ones. There's a story behind these goggles, which is that one day I showed up for a group swim at Elk Lake and discovered that I'd forgotten my goggles. These people lent me a pair of goggles and I wasn't able to return them once I finished my swim, so I've been carrying the good samaritan goggles ever since, hoping to be able to help someone out with them, or maybe to finally run into the black Subaru Forester people again. So I was all fired up to lend out the good samaritan goggles, but by the time I found a volunteer and offered up the goggles, they apparently had had enough offered already. Go ironpeople!
On the beach, I ran into Yvonne. She's an acquaintance from Victoria who does a lot of long races, who I have an uncanny ability to run into wherever we are. I first met her during my first ironman, when I recognized her name on her race number and introduced myself during the bike ride. We hugged and wished each other well before taking up our starting places. I started on the right again, unwilling to mess with something that's worked before. I had a great swim out there: lots of room. I swam on the right of almost all the b Apparently the word is that the conditions were really bad, but I missed the worst of it.
The fabric is incredibly light and thin, so much so that it's a good thing that the white panels are placed over parts of the body where a little translucence is ok, but it makes the suit noticeably lighter than my old one and much faster-drying. The chamois is a real one, made of some kind of foam material and not just a layer of fuzzy cloth as it was in my old suit (although that worked pretty well). There are a few panels of a mesh material, one on the back of the suit, and two small ones on the sides of the thighs. These are the only parts of the suit that still show some slight "ironman stains" after being laundered after this last race. There are two little pockets on the back of the suit. Don't put your empty gel wrappers in there because they fly out, but other stuff seems to stay in all right.
By the way, the placement of the black and white panels is good: most of the shorts and the front of the suit are black, which is good for modesty, not showing Gatorade splatter, and changing tires, while the back of the suit is mostly white, which is of course cooler in the sun.
My only problem with the suit is that I find it a little short. I'm 5'7" and 148 pounds (172 cm and 68 kilos), and I have a somewhat long torso for my height. When it's wet, the fabric stretches a little and clings to your skin. However, at Ironman Canada the weather was cool enough that I allowed the suit to dry out instead of pouring water over myself as I would in a hotter race and I did find that I was pulling the legs of the shorts down during the ride and run (no leg gripper elastic).
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