Michael Kelly’s Ironman Canada Report

15 09 2009

This race report got a little long.  Ok, it got really long.  Actually, War and Peace called at some point in the middle because they were worried I was going to take the title of longest novel from them.  I tried to keep the writing somewhat entertaining, but it’s still a little like watching a triathlon – you have to be really into this sort of thing to enjoy it.  You’ve been warned.

The Short Version

IM Canada rocked.  I had a great time before, during and after the race.  The swim was beautiful and not too crowded.  I swam a little too easy, but decided it was better that than swimming too hard.  The bike started out well, but to the fellow racer that so strongly encouraged me to crash: please pay more attention in the future, thanks.  The bike course is mostly awesome even when your shoulder stings and the seam in your shorts irritate the road rash on your hip.  The run course is really nice, and I felt pretty great until about mile 10.  To the resident at mile 10 who’s lawn I totally puked in, I’m really sorry.  To the resident at mile 13.5 whose lawn I napped in, thanks.  Mile 14 to the finish rocked, and passing about a dozen people in the last half mile was really fun.  Missing my goal time by 3 minutes was a little bit of a bummer, but a 7 minute PR and being able to leap across the finish line is still totally worthwhile.  The rematch is on the calendar for next year, and I’m already excited about the training and the trip up there with Fast Forward!

The Long Version

Pre Race

We flew into Spokane having heard that it was not that much shorter of a drive from Vancouver and the plane tickets were definitely cheaper.  It took us almost 6 hours to get to Penticton, and about 5 hours on the return trip.  Next year, we’ll be flying into Kelowna which is a little more expensive but only about 45 minutes from Penticton.  Well worth it to avoid such a long drive.  All of the logistics leading up to the race went very smoothly.  Our pre-race swim was fun – the lake is clear and beautiful and the atmosphere is very relaxed.  Packet pickup was easy – we picked a good time to go (1pm) after all the type-A triathletes had come and gone.  As type A minus athletes we have a big advantage.  Our pre-race dinner was great – good friends, good food, good times.
Everyone was surprisingly relaxed and yet still excited for the race.

Race Day

The forecast called for 92 degrees and no cloud cover, so I didn’t have to make any major last minute adjustments.  Breakfast went down well at about 4:30, and I packed a PB&J for a little later in the morning.  We piled seven of us into the Subaru and made the short drive down to the race site.  Parking was surprisingly easy and we were all able to get to our gear and do what needed to be done before the race start.  At about 10 minutes before 7, I was in the water swimming a quick warmup.  With a few minutes to spare I made my way to the starting spot I wanted which was right on the front and about halfway between the point right in line with the buoys and the far left edge.

Swim

Shortly after listening to the Canadian anthem the announcer counted down the race start.  I got a good clean start and was swimming in open water at a strong but not ridiculous pace.  No one climbed over me from behind and I was rarely crowded from either side.  When people got close I just made sure my elbows found them (gently) and I never had any issues.  Rounding the first turn at about 25 minutes I felt like I was swimming just a touch harder than I might like.  I caught a glimpse of my HR and although it was right about where I expected it to be, I made a point of making sure to draft very close on the feet of the person in front of me to keep my effort minimal.  After rounding the second turn to head back towards shore I felt like I was swimming a little too easy.  I tried to pass the person I was drafting off of, but it seemed like a lot of work and I decided that I would rather get out of the swim feeling like I had done nothing at all, rather than go harder than I should.  Although it was the right decision at the time, based on what I know now, I should have pulled closer to the main line of swimmers and used their collective draft to pull myself along a little faster and hope to find some feet that were accelerating at the end of the swim.
As it was, I got out of the water a few minutes slower than I hoped which was a little disappointing.  Still, I knew exactly why it had happened and I was totally fine with the decisions I had made.  Ironman is a long day and I had a lot of time to make up the 3 minutes that I missed my goal swim time by.

T1

I had heard from veteran athletes that the swim exit is a bit rocky so I continued swimming until the absolute last possible moment and had no trouble exiting the water.  I found my bag quickly and jogged into the very crowded transition tent.  I skipped trying to find an empty chair and just pulled up a spot of grass near the exit.  I keep my transitions very simple, so all I had to do was throw on my shoes and socks, helmet and glasses, grab some chamois cream, and stash my nutrition in my pockets.  Everything went smoothly and I even managed to stuff most of my gear back into the bag to make sure it didn’t get lost.

Bike

Normally I don’t run in my bike shoes to my bike, but as it turns out, my bike shoes are pretty easy to run in, as far as bike shoes go.
However, I didn’t count on the fact that my nutrition might bounce out of my pocket on the way.  I had more on the bike, so it wouldn’t have been a huge deal, but just after mounting the bike I was rolling along and another athlete came up behind me on the bike and asked if I had dropped them.  He then handed them off as we passed each other, and I really hoped that he would get that good karma back at some point later in the race.

Just a couple of miles into the bike another athlete had dropped something right in the middle of the one lane we were riding in.  She had gotten off her bike and was warning other athletes about it while trying to find a way to step into bike traffic to try to retrieve it.  I certainly didn’t want to run into her or the small container she had dropped so I moved over to about 3/4s of the way across the lane.  After I had moved over, another athlete came past me on my left, and then cut over too quickly.  His hip hit my shoulder and I leaned against him to keep from falling over and to notify him that he had just run into someone.  He kept pushing towards me, and unfortunately I kept leaning into him thinking he would straighten up.  Instead he simply pulled away from me, leaving me leaning on air.  A few seconds later I was sliding on my hip and shoulder across the road towards the curb.

I stayed very calm but stood up quickly to check to see that I was ok.
I could tell I was going to have some nice road rash, but otherwise I felt ok.  Two spectators reminded me to check my bike, and I lifted up the rear end to checking that the pedals still turned, which thankfully they did.  The front brake had been pushed out of position, but that only took a moment to fix.  The only real casualty was my water bottle cage which had broken off and was beyond repair.  I had another cage which I had luckily installed a couple of days before the race and fortunately it worked great.  After one last deep breath I took off again and made a very conscious effort to ride no harder than I had been riding before.

As I started riding I worried that I had bruised my hip in such a way that it would affect my run, similar to a MTB crash I had earlier in the season that had kept me from running for a couple of weeks.  It didn’t feel that serious, but then again I had a marathon to run which under the best of circumstances is not easy.  I tried not to think about it, which honestly wasn’t that difficult since the sting from the road rash plus trying to maintain a steady pace, plus remembering to eat and drink on schedule was more than enough to occupy my little oxygen starved brain.

As you might expect, compared to a crash, the rest of the bike course was really pretty fun.  I got passed by people on the climbs because they ride much harder on the uphills than they do on the flats.  I kept my heart rate within 5 beats or so of where I was riding on the flats and felt great.  The descents on the course were a lot of fun.  None of the were particularly technical, but I still managed to pass people in some of the turns and in some cases just by pedaling whenever the descent started to flatten out and tucking whenever it was too steep to pedal.

I checked my watch after the first 40 miles to get a rough idea of where I was at time-wise.  I was WAY ahead of schedule even though I had been riding extra easy for the first hour.  A tailwind and an overall loss of elevation make for some fast miles.

Richter Pass was entertaining.  Someone had told me that it was three pitches, but I wasn’t sure what constituted a “pitch” so I was content to just keep climbing until the road went downhill.  Even as I started going downhill I could see another big climb up ahead.  It looked like the world’s biggest roller.  As it turns out the top of this next climb is actually lower than the top of Richter pass, but all I knew is that after descending for a minute I was busy climbing again.  Once I crested this climb I got a nice downhill and then enjoyed some flat to lightly rolling country roads until the out and back section.

The out and back section was a little tough because you end up heading back the way you came on a parallel road for 7 miles, the roads are a little rough, and there are more small hills than I felt were strictly necessary at this point in the race.  At the end of the section I picked up my special needs back and enjoyed a still somewhat slushy Dr. Pepper which I had frozen the night before.  I also picked up the rest of my nutrition and a little more chamois cream.  All very welcome treats!
The return trip was fine and when I finished I thought I was pretty close to the climb to Yellow Lake.

Just after the out-n-back things started to get a little tough.  I was expecting the climb to Yellow Lake and looking forward to the descent on the other side.  Instead I was faced with about 7 miles of very gradual uphill – just enough to slow me down, but not enough to justify sitting up and settling in for a climb.  Not expecting this section, and not knowing how long it would last made this a rough section for me.
Fortunately, I have a very stubborn auto pilot which settled me in at the appropriate effort level and chipped away at the miles until I reached the start of the climb to Yellow Lake.

Climbing up to Yellow Lake was great.  Any time I get on a climb, I start getting passed by people.  This has nothing to do with my climbing skills (which are solid) or my power to weight ratio (favorable).  It’s simply due to the fact that most people push hard uphill just because they feel slow when they’re climbing.  Since I knew there was a descent on the other side, I was willing to push the effort slightly (heart rate
5 bpm above target) but no more.  I waved goodbye to all the paste eaters knowing that I would see them soon.

After the climb I was very much looking forward to the descent.  I was at a point in the race that I just needed to regroup for a minute or two and I felt that the downhill would be the perfect opportunity to do that.  When I saw the sign reading 200m to go, I was stoked.  When I reached the “summit” I was suddenly less than stoked.  It was flat for as far as I could see (at least a couple of miles) and there was a bit of a head wind.  Bummer.  Again, I had to just let the auto pilot kick in and I cranked out the next 5 miles of flat (including another small
climb) without being particularly happy about it.

As I started the final descent I got my chance to regroup and after just a minute I felt much better.  I worked hard to get up to top speed and made sure to pedal through and flattish sections to make as much of the downhill as I could.  Although the downhill came much later than I would have liked, it made up for it by being slightly longer than I expected and dropping me off right in Penticton, less than 5 miles from the finish of the bike.  The last few miles I ended up having to make the choice between working hard and passing folks or just sitting up and taking it easy to avoid drafting penalties.  I chose the latter and it paid off by making the transition from biking to running very very comfortable.

Calories: 2100 (370/hour – exactly as planned and practiced)
12 Fig Newtons (600 cals)
18 Clif Bloks (600 cals)
1 Dr. Pepper (300 cals)
4.5 Gatorades (600 cals)

Fluids: 136oz  (24oz/hour – 8oz/hour lower than planned) 100oz Gatorade 24oz Dr. Pepper 12oz Water

Sodium: 6390mg (375mg/8oz for 1200mg/hour – exactly as planned and
practiced)
16 salt tabs (5440mg)
100oz Gatorade (950mg)

T2
I had a moment of concern getting off the bike.  My hip was a bit sore
from where I had crashed on it and I wasn’t sure it was going to loosen
up.  I slowed to a brisk walk, picked up my transition bag and headed
into the tent to change.  I took the opportunity to stretch my hip
before putting on my shoes, hat and fresh sunglasses.  When I started
jogging again, my hip was feeling better and I just hoped it would hold
up for the run.

Run
The run started off VERY well.  I felt much better than I had ever felt
starting an IM marathon.  My plan called for holding back by 30 seconds
per mile for a pace of 9 minutes/mile.  Without a GPS watch I had to
guess a little at the speed, but I had a pretty good sense of where I
needed to be and I came through the first mile in 8:45.  I walked the
aid station casually, and ended up running the next mile in exactly 9
minutes.  At this point I looked at my watch and realized that with if I
could run a 4 hour marathon I would break 11 hours easily.  This seemed
incredibly doable since I had run sub 4 the previous year with
significantly more discomfort.  I was relaxed, running well, and felt
that I had nailed my bike nutrition.  As an added bonus, my stomach felt
pretty decent and I gingerly tried a a clif blok at mile 2, a half
banana at mile 3, and then a gel at mile 4.  I even tried a couple of
pretzels for a little extra salt but were too dry to be really worth the
trouble.  Since none of those things tasted that great I went back to my
original plan which was to rely on mostly liquid nutrition.  I wanted to
hold off on the coke until I really need it, so I alternated Gatorade
and water at aid stations, and continued on the salt tabs (3/hour).

I came through mile 6 at exactly 54 minutes feeling like I had barely
started running.  Perfect.  At this point the plan called for picking it
up by 30 secs per mile and I was ready.  Over the next three miles I
started to feel a little fatigue, but nothing unusual or unexpected when
hitting a pace that was appropriate to my fitness.  My stomach starting
feeling a little worse, but again nothing I hadn’t experienced before.
I don’t remember feeling that bad when I hit the big hill at mile 10.  I
shortened up my stride a little and pushed on up completely under
control.  At the top I suddenly realized I didn’t feel very good at
all.  I pulled over into the shade and immediately vomited up the entire
contents of my stomach.  It was a substantial volume of fluid, easily
30oz when it was all said and done.  Although my stomach now felt a lot
better than it had in miles, I was left feeling a little drained.  I
found a buddy to run with for the next mile or so and really took it
easy.  After about a mile I was feeling better so I picked up the pace
every so slightly.

I felt good enough for the next couple of miles until the turn around.
After rounding the turn, I again pulled off into the shade.  I was
feeling pretty weak and light headed and thought it might be a pretty
good idea to sit down for a bit.  I put my head down between my legs and
that felt so good I decided that lying down completely might not be a
bad idea either.  That felt even better and so I decided to lay there
for a minute.  I could definitely feel myself improving, and I figured
my body would tell me when it was time to get up again.  As it turns I
didn’t have to wait that long – the paramedics stopped by to say hello
and that kinda kicked me into gear.  Like a lot of competitive souls I
don’t like appearing weak and so when the paramedics asked me if I was
feeling ok I of course answered that I was.  When they asked if I needed
help sitting up, I assured them I could do that on my own and sat up
with what I hoped was convincing speed.  Then they asked if I need help
standing up, and I of course had to show them that I could do that too.
The light headedness hadn’t completely subsided so I leaned against a
telephone pole just in case.  I’m pretty sure the nice paramedics were
still waiting for me to collapse so after a little bit more polite
conversation I decided it was time I started running again.

In hindsight, I think I laid down for pretty much exactly the right
amount of time.  I think if I hadn’t stopped I would have been in really
bad shape, and if I had stayed down much longer it would have been more
than I needed.  As it was, when I started running I got the chills badly
enough to cause my teeth to start chattering, which was definitely not a
good sign in 90 degree heat.  Fortunately, it passed after a couple of
minutes and at the next aid station I started in on the coke.  I started
feeling better almost immediately and felt like I was back on pace.  At
the next aid station I had two cups of coke, and at the next I
discovered that I could take the ice they were offering and dump it in
the coke which made it even more palatable.  Every aid station from
there to the end I had two cups of coke and was running like a champ.
Although I felt like I was running 8:30s, with the aid station breaks I
was closer to 9 minutes/mile.  Given the setback I had received at the
turn around I just wasn’t concerned about my pace and stayed very
focused on my effort.  I was pushing as hard as I felt I could do safely
given the number of miles left in the race.  When I hit 5 miles left to
go I felt really good, and powered up the hill into town passing people
left right and center.  The next few miles are rolling to slightly
downhill and I pushed for all I was worth.

At about mile 25 you pass within spitting distance of the finish line
before heading directly away for about .6 miles.  As I passed, I could
hear the announcer telling the crowd to give it up and cheer hard to
bring as many athletes as possible in under 11 hours.  I looked at the
finish clock and saw that with only a little over 6 minutes remaining I
was not going to be one of those athletes.  Still, I wanted to get as
close as possible so I pushed as hard as I could.  About 9 minutes later
I crossed the line, thrilled to be an Ironman for the 4th time.

It’s hard to explain the feeling of being simultaneously thrilled and
disappointed.  I raced as hard as I could have on the day.  I played the
game as intelligently as I knew how.  I had a good plan, the best I
could come up with given my experience and the knowledge that I had
begged, borrowed and stolen from everyone and everywhere.  I had
practiced my plan to the best of my ability all summer.  I executed the
plan better than I had in any prior race – for once I never had a real
lapse of concentration or execution.  Despite not feeling as good as I
would have liked on the run, I still managed a very respectable 7 minute
PR for the race as a whole.

All of these things together, combined with the excitement of crossing
the finish line healthy and happy, truly thrilled me.  Still, there was
a part of me that was disappointed to have missed my goal time by such a
small margin.  There were so many ways in which I could have made up
those three minutes.  I could have swum a bit more aggressively, I could
have avoided crashing on the bike, I could have taken more salt, or I
could have started on the coke earlier in the run instead of aggravating
my stomach with solids and Gatorade.  There’s a part of me that is
disappointed that I didn’t perform as well as many of my team mates.
Another part of me is scared that the next time I get to the start of an
Ironman that I won’t be as fit as I was this year.  I’m scared that I
won’t have the same good fortune to remain uninjured for the entire
season, and I worry that the conditions next year will be worse, or that
I’ll experience a more significant problem during a race.

And then I just take a deep breath and let it all go.  I raced as well
as I could have on the day and there is absolutely no sense in second
guessing the decisions I made on course.  I’ve certainly learned from
the decisions that didn’t work out so well and I’ll incorporate
everything I’ve learned into next year’s plan.

There’s no point in comparing my performance to anyone else’s.  Every
athlete is unique, the day’s conditions and the course affect everyone
differently.  If I’m worried about my fitness next year, that’s good –
it’ll keep me motivated and excited to start training again next year.
I’ll keep these feelings close to my heart all season and use it when
I’m dreading the winter, or the hard workouts, or the long workout days.

There’s also no point in worrying about the weather next year – it will
be whatever it will be and 12 years of racing and training in all
conditions has me better prepared than most to handle whatever mother
nature throws at me.

And I can’t believe I’m worried about the race not going as “well” as it
did this year – I crashed on the bike and puked on the run!  Sure, it
could have been a lot worse, and I’m very very grateful that it wasn’t,
but let’s be honest – it could have been a better too.

Regardless of what the race throws at me, I’ll do the best I can with it
and when I cross the line I’ll be proud of how I handled and the day and
I’ll celebrate the fact that I am privileged enough to even attempt a
2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride, and a 26.2 mile run.  The fact that
I get to take on a challenge like this with my wife, with good friends
and great teammates is way more than any person has a right to ask for.
Thanks to everyone who helped make the 2009 Fast Forward Ironman season
so memorable, and here’s to F4 Ironman Canada 2010!

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2 responses

16 09 2009
Mary Mc

Another GREAT race report Michael!!
Makes me want to do another IM : ) …

GREAT JOB ~ Way to persevere!!

17 09 2009
Steve van Schouwen

great job michael!
Congrats on ironman #4!!

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