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Monday, August 31, 2009

Race Report: Subaru Ironman Canada 2009

This is going to be a long one... I want to capture everything so I can look back at it and relive this tremendous experience!

Race Day

Up at 3:45am to give myself plenty of time to get to the race site. Ate a bowl of Frosted Flakes (brings out the tiger in you!) and we headed down with my small entourage of my wife, sister and mom.

Other than body marking, there wasn't much to do, and there was 2 hours to do it... so I more or less hung out in transition pacing around nervously. I snacked on a bunch of goodies I'd brought and drank Gatorade.

The Start

I joined my fellow age-groupers in the water about 10 minutes before the start. There wasn't much opportunity for a warm-up, but I did manage to flood my suit and get in a few strokes.

The atmosphere was insane... 2500 people all standing in the water ready to go, the huge crowd behind us (including my supporters!). I almost teared up, it was overwhelming.

I seeded myself toward the back and the outside like I'd planned which I was hoping would give me some clear water to swim in. They lifted the rope for the start and away we went... well almost. I waded in behind everyone and just waited, probably for about 1-2 minutes. It's a long day, no sense rushing into the crowd and getting kicked in the head or something. When I finally saw some clear water, I started my swim.

Everything felt amazing right from the start - I was calm and smooth, and mostly had clear water around me. That changed when we hit the first turn... everyone bunched up and I found myself getting whacked around a bit. Mostly I was able to avoid the random feet and arms, but a few times I got dinged. It disrupted my flow a bit, but other than that no serious consequences.

I hit the end of the swim with a lot of people around me, so I knew I had a pretty decent swim by my standards. It's my weakest leg and the one that I was most concerned about.

Swim result: 1:32:12 (2314/2595) 203/219 M30-34

Transition 1

I ran over to pick up my transition bag and headed into the tent to change. It took me quite awhile to get changed into my bike clothes, lubing up, I think most people's transitions were long, it's a different animal from a typical triathlon where you just throw on your bike shoes and helmet and go.

Time: 0:08:14


The bike started out badly - I tried to get clipped in and then realized my chain had fallen off. In my rush to get it back on, I sliced open my thumb on the chainring! I hopped on the bike with a bit of a gusher going from my thumb... I momentarily considered stopping to take care of it, but my competitive spirit said "suck it up, walk (ride?) it off"... it clotted soon enough so didn't end up being a big deal.

As I was having my drama mounting my bike, Sister Madonna Buder went by me. She is 79 years old. I quickly re-passed her, though, which I'd be a lot more proud of if she wasn't a 79 year old nun! She's incredible... this year she finished in a time of 16:54:30, just 5:30 before the 17-hour cut-off...

I settled into a rhythm and headed out of town. The first part of the course runs from Penticton to Osoyoos, it's easy and mostly flat (other than the one big climb up Maclean Hill Road). I was a bit disturbed at my speed, it was faster than my intended average at 31km/h, but I felt like I was biking well within myself. This was going to be a long day so pacing was critical.

Every town we passed through was lined with spectators... it was an amazing feeling, they cheered, shouted out to people they knew and to those they didn't... the support on the entire course was nothing short of amazing, I hadn't expected it at all.

After Osoyoos is the first major climb, Richter Pass. It's long and fairly steep... this is where the triple chainring paid off, I had a set of lower gears that most people don't. I span up while those around me were mashing, it was great! The only thing that wasn't great was the optical illusions ... several sections look downhill but aren't, or look flat but are uphill. I'd scouted the course with my dad in a car and we didn't realize where the top actually was... so that was an unpleasant surprise.

After Richter was a long scary downhill. now I've been at 60, 70km/h before, but that was in a straight line. Turning at that speed is terrifying, even if it's gradual! I had to back off, I hated to do it, but I was very worried I'd bite it and earn a trip to emergency rather than to the finish line (and I later saw some guy on a stretcher in a neck brace who had done just that).

The ride into Keremeos and the out-and-back were where I started having some muscle cramping. I've had this really hose me in the past, but today I knew I was ahead of where I needed to be so I shifted to a lower gear and span. This seemed to alleviate things, and once I hit the special needs bag pick-up at the turn-around I felt much better. I downed the cold coffee with sugar that I'd packed (mmm...) and went back at it.

The last big challenge was the climb up to Yellow Lake. In the car, this looked harmless, but with the cramping and the fact that it was 150k into the ride? It became very harmful in a hurry! I actually stopped to catch my breath mid-way and get my energy back... that seemed to help.

The crowds on this climb were so cool, it was like the Tour de France. They lined both sides of the road, leaving a narrow path for us to go through as they shouted encouragement. The roads were covered in chaulk writing, "Go Daddy Go!", "Go Fred!", etc. It was absolutely amazing, I was hurting and grinning at the same time.

(Actually that sort-of sums up Ironman - hurting and grinning)

I thought that from Yellow Lake to the end was downhill, and much of it was... but not all of it! There was still one more climb after the lake, and in town there was a slight up-hill (and a matching headwind). I suspect neither of these would have bothered me much at kilometer 20, but at kilometer 175 they were tough.

Just before the end of the bike course I heard someone yell "it's Jon!!!"... I looked over and there was my best bud from school and his wife. I went from grimacing and fairly miserable to smiling again.

Nutritionally - My goal was 300 calories an hour while on the bike, mostly from Gatorade. It has 180 cal per bottle, so I figured if I could get down one and a bit of those and a banana I'd be in good shape. I even got in two bottles some hours when my stomach would take it... this seemed to work out really well, I stuck to it during the bike and my stomach cooperated.

Bike result: 6:50:34 (1937/2595) 184/219 M30-34

Transition 2

This one went quicker, I changed very fast, lubed up again (can't have enough lube!) and took a quick bathroom break before heading out.


They should really call this a "Shuffle" instead of a "Run"... it is so hard, there was little left in the tank, and here I was starting a marathon.

My original plan was 5 and 1's - 5 minutes running, 1 minute walking. This went out the window at about 5k, I just didn't have the juice for running that much at a time. This was a dark patch in my race, I walked up hills, ran down them, and alternated running and walking everywhere else. I was way into the red at this point and with 5+ hours ahead of me this was going to be a killer run.

Along the way I saw people in various states of distress... one guy was puking louder than I've ever heard anyone puke. Not really the sound you want to hear when your own stomach is in dicey shape! Another guy was giving up, he told a passing runner to tell the people at the next aid station he was done. He sat there with his head between his knees looking down... I felt awful for him, and it reinforced that I had to be cautious so that wouldn't be me!

At every aid station (1 mile apart) I took two cups of Gatorade. This was a lot of liquid but I knew I needed the energy, badly. With the frequent walking it seemed to settle OK, and as I approached the half way point things started feeling a lot better.

I picked up my special needs bag at the half distance. I decided not to take any Tylenol for fear of upsetting my stomach, and I didn't have any blisters or rubbing so no need for Body Glide. But the Swedish Berries? Those I needed!!! Whoever said "put something in there that'll make you smile" was right. :)

The second half of the run started with a bunch of uphill sections, which I mostly walked, but I could feel myself recovering energy. When it came time to run again, I had something in the tank, it felt great! So I alternated walking and running, now running much more than I was walking. The aid stations were coming up quicker and the Gatorade was doing the trick (although by now it was like drinking vinegar or something - blech!).

With each mile I could feel Ironman getting closer. As we entered Penticton again, I picked up the pace... now I knew I was going to finish, but a new goal emerged - sub 14 hours. Main street was lined with people, incredible, all cheering and calling out your name or number. As I rounded the corner off of Main street, there they were - my family! My wife, my 3 kids with their banner saying "Go Daddy Go", my mom and dad, my sister, my mother-in-law... I was flush with emotions and excitement, it was so awesome to be doing this and to have them be a part of it!

There was one last hurdle - the loooong out and back. You pass right by the finish line, but then have another mile or so to run... it's diabolical. I had to do a bit more walking, all the while checking my watch for that 14:00:00... I rounded the turn and it was a straight shot to the finish.

The feelings in that moment are hard to describe... I had left the beach 14 hours ago, and now here was coming to the finish. The lit up finishing chute, the spectators in the grandstands cheering, it just filled me with awe. I checked my watch one last time, then charged for the finish. I threw my hands in the air and yelled "YES!!!" as I broke the tape at the finishing line...

Run result: 5:20:24 (1459/2595) 135/219 M30-34
1st half: 2:45:53
2nd half: 2:34:31 (I negative split the Ironman marathon!)

Overall result: 13:57:55 (1689/2595) 161/220 M30-34

You ARE an Ironman!

And there it is - I am an Ironman.

There are a lot of things I am proud of in my life, but as far as accomplishments go this is the top of the list. It took years of transforming myself from an inactive pudgy guy into a fit triathlete. I first heard about Ironman when Andy from "The Bachelor" said he was one... I looked it up and thought "wow, that's insane, I could never do that!". I was wrong!

I didn't do it alone... my wife is very understanding and supportive as I take off on Saturday morning for a 6 hour bike ride or try to slip in a run after supper. My kids are my best fans, and I couldn't have done it without any of them. And a final thanks to Paul from Iron Motivation - without his group triathlon swim lessons, I might never have even tried to do triathlons... and his invaluable feedback in the last month lead to a comfortable swim.

Where do I go from here?

I want to do the Muskoka 70.3 next year, and another stand-alone marathon. I'm also planning to do some trail running, something I've been meaning to do but haven't got to.

I'm not in any rush to do Ironman again. It's incredible, inspiring, amazing... but also expensive, time-consuming, and painful! I can't see myself leaving it behind forever, but for now, this chapter is closed.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Ironman Checklist

I've maintained a race checklist for regular triathlons, but with Ironman comes some changes.
  1. Comfort is more important than a quick transition: I will change into sport-specific clothing rather than use tri shorts the entire race as I normally would
  2. There are two places on the course where you get to pick up additional gear/food you have packed, called a "special needs bag". One is during the bike, the other during the run.
  • Food (Bar of some sort, Gatorade)
  • Water
At swim:
  • Goggles
  • Swimsuit
  • Swim Cap (provided)
  • Wetsuit
  • Sunscreen
  • Body Glide
  • Gel

At the transition to bike:

  • Bike
  • Helmet
  • Gloves
  • Sunglasses
  • Socks
  • Bike shorts
  • Cycling jersey
  • Towel
  • Cycling Shoes (+ orthotics inserts)
  • Race number
  • Race belt
  • Watch
  • Gel
  • Shammy Cream
On the bike:
  • Bike
  • Pedals
  • Water bottles (with Gatorade or eLoad)
  • Pump
  • Spare tube
  • Patch kit
  • Duct tape (wrapped around chapstick)
  • Tire levers
  • Multi-tool
Bike Special Needs:
  • I can't think of anything... I have a tube, patch kit, etc on my bike. Maybe something yummy to eat?
At the transition to run:
  • Running Shoes (Reflective tape applied)
  • Duct tape (wrapped around chapstick)
  • Race belt
  • Socks
  • Shorts
  • Shirt
  • Long-sleeve shirt (wrap around waste if not using immediately)
  • Anti-chafing cream/stick
Run Special Needs:
  • Tylenol
  • Caffeine in some form (chocolate?)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Ironman Race Plan

I've been mulling over a race strategy for months now, going through it in my mind. With two weeks to go, it's time to commit to it!

Overall theme: Pace to finish. It's a race, but the first race I need make sure I can win is against the clock counting down 17 hours. Anything else is gravy.


Goal: exit the water feeling fresh
  • Start away from the craziness - outside and behind most of the field
  • Find an easy pace, focus on being smooth and relaxed
  • Breathe to one side, get plenty of air
Going out too hard here could cost me a lot by the end of the day, going too easy won't cost me more than 10 minutes. It's important to keep calm and smooth. Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.

Transition One

Goal: fast but calm

No running, catch my breath. Change quickly, lube up, sunscreen up, and go!


Goal: eat as much as I can tolerate and get off feeling like I could have gone faster
  • Eat 300 calories per hour
  • Target pace between 25-26km/h
  • Spin the climbs, conserve energy, be smooth
Pace - normally I'd go by feel, but I'm hesitant to do that after my experience at the Toronto Marathon last year. Tapering makes you feel amazing, and a pace that feels good at the first kilometer may be a disaster by the last one. So I've chosen a target average speed is a relatively easy 25-26km/h. This should let me leave the bike with something in the tank for the run.

Hitting that average will be tricky... there are two big climbs on the course, each followed by long descents. How high does my average have to be before the climb? At the top? I don't know. I'm looking at the 100k mark as being a good indicator, though, since it's at about the elevation of the start. If I'm below 25km/h I will know that I have to pick it up a little, if it's above 26km/h I'll know to back off a little.

Transition Two

Goal: fast but calm

Change and go, not much more to say!


Goal: get to the finish before 17h00 is up
  • Walk breaks from the start (5 and 1's)
  • Stay slow - 7:00/km or slower
I have been using walk breaks in training, 10 minutes of running followed by 1 minute of fast walking. In the race I will start with 5 and 1, and hopefully hold it through to the end. I've never done anything for over 13 hours, so I don't know what to expect.

Stay smooth, stay slow, and concentrate on finishing before 17:00 is up. Don't risk the finish for a faster run time, stay on plan.

That's it! To the finish! :)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Triathlon Pace Calculator

A great calculator for calculating race pace:

I know it's awesome because I wrote it! :) Enjoy.

Any feedback is welcome, or let me know if there are any other calculators you might want to see.

Features I'm still planning to implement:
  • Imperial units (currently only supports metric)
  • Pace band generation based on the paces chosen (for run/bike)

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Lessons Learned in the Pool

I had a private swim lesson with our local tri club's swim coach. I was just hoping to get some last minute advice on my stroke, a few things I could brush up on in the closing weeks of training.

He noticed a few things right away. Some of them I was aware of, some I wasn't.
  • Breathing - bilateral wasn't working for me. This was a bit of a surprise, I was always told to do bilateral. However I found myself out of breath now and then, so I would cheat and breath on every stroke now and then. My coach pointed out that this break in rhythm was consuming my thought process, and being deprived of oxygen even a little was a bad thing. He told me to pick a side and breathe every stroke for now, until I improve alot, then go back to it someday.
  • Breathing late - I'm still not sure exactly what I'm doing wrong here, but I start my breath too late in my stroke. I think it's because I'm relying on the pull to rotate my body, which is wrong. Need to figure this out.
  • Looking up - I try to look down, honest, but I keep raising my head just a little... and this throws everything off enough to slow me down. Look straight down, then look across the water when it's time to breath.
  • Pull straight back - I was keeping my wrist locked, so at the end of the stroke I would actually be pushing the water up instead of back. This is wasted energy that is doing nothing to propel me forward - instead the hand should be kept perpendicular to the water
  • Slap the water with my feet - every so often, do a kick that tests where the water level really is. This is a tool to help make sure your feet aren't sinking.
That's it for now - I'm sure there are other things I need to learn but it was a lot to take in during one lesson! I'll have another session with him in a week or so to go through it again and hopefully identify any other issues.

Fast swimming, here I come!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Cyclists and Stop Signs

I read this article in the Toronto Star, and debated it around some internet forums.

The premise: bikes don't stop at stop signs.

To most people, this is probably a pretty obvious conclusion. Personally, on my bike, I only stop at stop signs if there is something to stop for. No cars, no bikes, no pedestrians, I go.

I suspected - but did not have proof - that motorists did the same thing.

I enlisted the help of two senior statisticians:

And we headed off to the all-way stop near our house in Whitby.

We hung out there for awhile, until my statisticians demanded their compensation (a trip to the playground).

The results:

12 stops, 39 non-stops. Pretty close to the Star's discovery with cyclists, only motorists don't have the "clip out" excuse. Some of them almost stopped, slowed to a creep, but many just looked around and blew right through.

Oh, and there were 2 cyclists not included in the tally. They didn't stop.

I asked my oldest daughter what she learned. She replied "I learned that most people don't obey the law!". I'm not sure that's a lesson I really wanted to teach her so young... but here we are!

Tapering for Ironman

My tapering plan varies from sport to sport:
  • Run: 4 weeks
  • Bike: 3 weeks
  • Swim: 1 week, but not really a taper at all...
The Run Plan

This weekend is my last run training weekend before the taper, so instead of my usual 20-25k long run I went for a 27k, and chose a route with some hills and elevation changes. It went fine, no issues, comfortable distance.

Plan for the next few weeks:
  • 18k, short run of 10k
  • 15k, short run of 7k
  • 12k, short run of 6k
  • Race weekend! Short run of 5k during the week
Intensity will stay the same, slow and steady on the long runs, comfortable tempo on the short ones.

The Bike Plan

I always feel good on the bike, like I can recover from anything. This is something I need to watch in the run-up to the race!
  • 130k (pre-taper)
  • 80k
  • 50k
  • Race weekend! Short bike prior.
The mid-week rides will be around 20-25k instead of 30-40k.

The Swim Plan

I haven't been doing a lot of long swims, mostly because I have more to gain from doing speed work (focusing on fixing my form). I did a 3000m session today, that was my longest ever, and that should be about as long as it gets for me. So there isn't really a need to taper, my volume is pretty low already.

In the last few weeks, I'm going to get in a few last open water swims. I also have a few sessions with a swim coach, just to see if there's anything we can identify that might help me out.

Ready to Rock!

It's nice to be done the bulk of the training and be looking toward the finish line... I feel confident I've done what I need to do in order to be ready for this race. Of course I won't know for sure until I hear those words... "you ARE an Ironman!" But I think I'm there, I'm ready, let's do this thing!