Doug’s Excellent Adventures at Ironman Canada

8 09 2009

Posted courtesy of Doug’s Blog.

Thursday morning around 10:20 a.m. Jolene dropped me off at the airport. It was an uneventful day of flying. Met Michael Kelly and Susan Davis at the Spokane airport, got a rental car, and drove to Penticton. Beatrice, (a.k.a. Navigon on the iPhone), gave us a small run-around in Spokane but all in all things went pretty smoothly (well, okay, there was about THIRTY miles of grooved pavement and one-way traffic, but besides that things went well). The city of Spokane isn’t particularly pretty however the drive up highway 395 was.

We arrived at the rental house sometime after 8. The driveway was pretty hard to find – an unlikely in-between sandwiched in two other driveways. Finally pulled in and saw that there were no other cars or signs of habitation. The three of us debated what to do for a good fifteen minutes – text messages, a phone call, and brainstorming all possible ways we might have gotten the wrong address. I finally got out of the car to knock on the door and found the sticky note, “Gone to dinner, come on in!”

Friday morning we walked into town, visited Tri-Bike Transport to pick up my gear, and went for a quick swim. The water is SO clear. I was concerned about the wavy conditions since I’ve never been in water like that. I felt like I was “flying” over a miniature forest of trees (well okay, they weren’t trees obviously, they just kinda looked like them) at the bottom of the lake. It really was surreal to glide over the undergrowth in such clear conditions – quite a contrast to the Boulder Reservoir where your hand disappears about a foot from your face.

Walked back up to the house, got the car, went into town to get registered. Very smooth process later in the day – definitely a good idea to wait until the lines went down.

Friday night – dinner at the house, crashed out early, waited for Jolene to make the late-night drive into town. Her flight didn’t get into Spokane until 11-something and she didn’t escape the airport with her rental car until almost 12. I saw her at around 4 in the morning after her somewhat eventful drive across the border, getting lost in town, and finally figuring out where she was on a map to get here to the right address. That’s dedication for you!

Saturday morning – Went for a short bike ride to check everything out. Bike was working well though the shifters needed some tuning. I decided to leave it alone since it worked and I didn’t want to screw anything up this close to the race. We rode into town, checked the bikes and transition bags, and got ride back up to the house. The crew made a fantastic pasta dinner that night. Everyone was there: Me, Jolene, Michael Kelly, Susan, Mike B, Jocelyn, Paul, Michael Stone, Kitty, and Ivy. Great meal, some good laughs, and lots of carbs to burn the next morning. I was stuffed. I think I ate more in the two days leading up to the race than I ever have in the past. I felt calorie-saturated, though as I was to discover on race day, I don’t think I gained a single pound in the end.

Race morning: Woke up early, had breakfast, and got ready for the big day. I personally need a lot of mental focus race morning to walk through everything that’s going to happen during the day. I like to imagine all of the key events in the race and make sure I haven’t forgotten anything. Got a ride down to the race from Jo, dropped off one special needs bag for the bike (which I never used), found Mike and Jocelyn and wandered over to the beach for the swim start. Looked around for my girl but didn’t see her (though she was there taking photos of course). 15 minutes prior to our race the pro racers were released. The countdown to chaos begins! 3, 2, 1, and the flags are lifted, officially beginning what promises to be a long day of physical and mental exertion. More than 2600 athletes, 140.6 miles, and a very special brand of fun.

The swim was chaotic of course – how can you put 2600 people in the water at the same time and expect anything different? There were quite a few bumps and unexpected detours but nothing really bad ever happened. No elbows to the nose or goggles knocked off my face. I think I swim fairly conservatively in that respect. When I feel someone swimming over me, I kick a little harder just to let them know I’m there, and if they’re on my side I bring my elbows up a little to make sure their arms, elbows, and hands tend to deflect above my head. I probably pay for that with a slower swim time, but I suppose it makes me feel pretty secure and non-stressed for the start of the day. It paid off as I had a great swim (for me at least) at roughly 1:10 and I actually enjoyed the whole thing.

Transition 1 was a busy affair. Exiting the swim beach is actually a little painful as the rocks on the bottom are large and uneven. My advice to those doing this is to swim as close as possible to shore before standing up. It’s tempting to walk/run it in very early as the water is shallow; however the lake bottom is less than ideal until you’re much closer to the exit. A quick run into the transition area to collect my T1 bag and into the changing tent. There were a LOT of volunteers in here, but at this early stage of the day, even more athletes and thus I (and I think most people in the group) did not receive any personalized attention. You’ll probably be on your own at this point so just be efficient and get your bike gear on. I opted to leave my bike shoes off at this point and run to my bike barefoot. (Note that you are not allowed to leave your shoes on the bike – you must have shoes on your feet before mounting the bike.) I put my shoes on at the bike and ran it out to the T1 exit. All in all I think this took me a little more than 5 minutes. Not spectacular – I’m sure I could have streamlined the process a bit – however it was quick enough and more importantly much faster than the transition times from IM Wisconsin which was all I was hoping for (a goal that was virtually guaranteed due to the nature of Wisconsin’s transition area).

Off on the bike ride! The first stretch of the course is actually pretty mellow. I chose to really take it easy here, taking to heart some advice coach Michael Kelly offered in the last few weeks leading up to the race. My plan was to ride the first 70 miles as conservatively as I felt I could and then really pick it up in the second half. I think a lot of riders probably busted that section of the course out much more quickly than I did. There’s a short climb before Richter Pass which I didn’t think was terribly difficult. Then the fun begins! For those of us in Colorado, I will say that I feel this course favors our riding terrain in that there are longer steady climbs and steep descents. The rollers are also much longer and typically gave a bigger payout with nice steady downhill sections. Having said that, there IS a fair bit of climbing at this point so be prepared. I also had to pee and opted for the “on the bike” experience for a second time (the first being in Wisconsin and it ended with a shoe full of warm yellow water). The strategy this time was to snag a bottle of water and host myself down as I was… hosing myself down. Worked out just fine! Felt much lighter for the climb at least. There was a good crowd at the top of the pass to give some much-needed encouragement and a nice sendoff down a long and gorgeous descent.

On the way down I had one freaky moment as another rider closed on me from behind. I was in my aero bars enjoying the speed, likely going around 40 MPH, and I heard this guy shout “oh!”, felt a hand push my butt, and then I heard him crash right behind me. I only had a moment to glance back but I can’t imagine he made it out of that one in good shape. I can only guess that he was tucked down in his aero bars, didn’t see me until he was about to run into me, gave me a shove to “fix” the situation, and wound up crashing out instead. It happened so fast I didn’t even get an adrenaline rush – it was just an instinctive wobble-correction and then the other guy crashed. Awful. I hope he was OK and damn am I glad he didn’t push me over at that speed.

After the pass, the course retreats to a series of long rollers up to the funky T-shaped out and back. I enjoyed this section of the course though it could be mentally challenging for many riders. The road is also rougher here so be prepared to have your butt massaged by your bike seat.

The final difficult section of the bike course starts at the base of the climb to Yellow Lake. This climb was actually shorter than the elevation profile led me to believe. I think it’s because the out and back portion of the course actually starts a subtle climb which then significantly increases at the entrance to the pass. It IS pretty steep and I was in my granny gear for the entire climb. Also be prepared for the throng of incredible supports on this climb. I felt like I was riding a stage in the tour – it was slightly overwhelming, especially since I was working my ass of just to get up the pass, but looking back I’d say it was a highlight of the ride. It’s just intense!

Don’t be fooled once you get to Yellow Lake. You are most certainly NOT done climbing at this point – there are actually several climbs to follow. I think it was more of a mental letdown as I had heard you’d be mostly headed downhill after this point. There is some good downhill riding to be had but not until you climb out above the lake itself. From that point, you start to get your payback in the form of a series of descents back down into Penticton. You know you’ve got it in the bag when you see the big lake below you and the city in front. It’s not a free ride, but you can seriously kick some butt in the last section of this course.

Once back into the city I ran into some congestion. We were riding peloton-style for a good 3 or 4 miles simply because there was no other option. The course narrowed to less than one lane and there were too many riders coming in to avoid drafting. We also slowed to around 14 or 15 MPH so it really didn’t matter – I suspect we all would have been through the gate sooner without the traffic. My GPS also froze at this point and I really didn’t know what my bike split was.

Finally to T2 – drop off the bike with a volunteer, run to retrieve your T2 bag, and head into the tent. This time the throng of athletes had thinned enough and there was a volunteer to help me with my things. I tossed all my bike gear on the ground, put a *$#@-ton of Body Glide on my shoes, strapped the gooey monsters on my feet, and headed for the exit. (I opted to race the entire day with no socks, hence the need for body glide in the shoes.)

The first 1/3 of the run went pretty well for me – I was definitely on track for a good running day. Unfortunately fatigue and minor GI distress struck around mile 10. I slowed down at this point, taking an extra walk break beyond the aid station to settle myself and bring my heart rate down. I think I’d simply had too much sugar and not enough salt to cover myself at this point in the day. I took some extra salt capsules and only water for a few aid stations and things settled down for the most part. I was still quite fatigued though, enough such that I really didn’t have the mental or physical gusto to make the mile run to each aid station for my short walk. Also worth noting is that the run course is relatively flat in the first 1/3 and then becomes much hillier in the outer miles. It follows the lake for the most part but the road also follow the contour of the surrounding hillsides. My strategy at this point was to walk the uphill sections and run as much of the downhill and flats as I could. It was definitely the weakest point of the race for me.

4-ish miles from the end I saw Ivy again (he was EVERYWHERE – how did he do that?) and I finally got up the nerve to ask “what time is it?”. I had mentally set a goal for myself to finish this thing in under 12 hours and at this point it was a complete unknown. I actually thought that I had gone so slow on the run that there was no way I’d finish in time. Ivy answered with another question, “What’s your PR for this distance?”. I told him 13:04 at Wisconsin last year. He took one more glance at his watch and said “You’re going to have a very good day.”. Turns out I had 55 minutes to complete the last 4 miles and still be under 12 hours! This really lit the fire under my ass and I started running harder (which means running again at this point :D ). Kitty passed me somewhere around this point as well, looking for all the world like a woman just out for her Sunday afternoon easy jog.

The out and back “Kona-esque” finish is a little rough – the last straight-away before the home stretch seems awfully long, but once you round that corner you are basically done. I also saw Jolene for the first time on the course (though of course she’d been there at all the key transitions and I was too focused to see her) and I have her a huge kiss. Finally the clock looms into view and I read 11:48. I think to myself that if I bust my ass I can buy 10 minutes extra beyond my goal time. It’s actually amazing what the body will still do for you at the end of a really long day like this. My mind said “go” and the body followed at a pretty rapid pace, crossing the finish line at 11:49:34.

Finishing the race is an experience in its own right. The volunteers are there for YOU and will absolutely take amazing care of you. They were awesome and I am very grateful for their generosity. Pizza hand-delivered to me, inquiring if there was anyone else they could find, ushered straight to the massage line, and wouldn’t let me go until they were sure I was completely OK and in good hands.

Some random thoughts:

To Jolene, you were awesome and such a great supporter. Thank you SO much for helping all of us out with transportation and being a rock-star out there on the course. I can only imagine how long the day is for a spectator and you handled it (like you do everything else) with amazing stamina and a great attitude. You are the best and I love you.

To the team: Training with all of you this year (Canada, Louisville, Wisconsin) has been awesome. I am constantly inspired and pushed by your individual spirits. For some of you this comes in the form of the right words at opportune moments, for others it’s the spirit of friendly competition that’s driven me to push harder than ever before to keep things interesting.

To Scott and Michael: Being a coach must be hard with so many athletes, competing schedules, ups and downs, bad weather, injuries, doubts, fears, and of course the daunting task of logistically organizing a schedule to get ALL of us to the start in the best possible shape. Somehow you both did just that and every single one of us has made it to the start and finished! I have no doubt the MOO racers will also experience the same success we’ve already seen at Canada and Louisville.

Can’t wait to see what 2010 holds for all of us.

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