It's a bit long but here is my race report from Ironman Canada
Why do Ironman? Good question. That’s a really good question.
The alarm clock wouldn’t sound off for another ten minutes, but I swung my legs out of bed and looked at the overly bright blue numbers; it was 3:50 AM. I dressed, ate a breakfast of coffee, oatmeal and a blueberry scone, and was out the door by 4:25. Joe was waiting by the car. Melony drove us to within six blocks of the transition area; from there Joe and I made the quiet walk to body marking. Cotton ball clouds dotted the morning sky; perhaps it was going to be a good day.
At 5:15 the transition area was already crowded, the energy at these races is like a thick fog. I arrived at my bike to find that my rear tire was nearly flat. I had splurged and rented some carbon race wheels, and even though everything had worked perfectly the day before I couldn’t get any air into my tire. The presta valve was stuck deep inside the valve extender. I ran the bike over to the mechanics station, and after a few tense minutes the volunteer and I managed to get the tire inflated.
At 6:30 I pulled on my wetsuit and started towards the starting line. I am the first to admit to having an irrational fear of open water swimming, and me at the starting line of an Ironman is like an acrophobe stepping onto a tightrope stretched over Niagara Falls. I don’t fear heights, cats, dogs, mice, snakes, spiders, the dark, open spaces, tight spaces, crowds or anything else that I can think of, so being a little worried about sinking to the bottom of a lake while twenty five hundred frantic lunatics beat the living crap out of you doesn’t seem all that embarrassing. The swim leg of the Ironman is far and away the least physically demanding event, but it’s what keeps me awake at night. As I entered the water I looked at my hands, both left and right were shaking.
I seeded myself in the absolute rear and outside. The cannon went off at 7:00 sharp, but since the beach is so shallow I had to wade out a full minute before I could start swimming. I quickly realized the error of my phobic ways as I had to weave in and out of dozens of people who continued to walk through the chest deep water. The swim course hadn’t been set up until race day morning and consequently I hadn’t gotten a good sight plan. Fortunately I quickly realized that if I just headed towards a big hill in the distance I should be on track for the first turn buoy. My mantra for triathlon swims is to never stop; don’t tread water, don’t breaststroke, just keep grab’n and pull’n, grab’n and pull’n. I was surprised by how quickly I made it to the party boat marking the first turn, and after rounding the buoy I started to increase my pace. I had already knocked off a mile and had done it all on my own, avoiding contact also avoids any benefit from the current generated by the other swimmers. After rounding the second buoy I was headed for home and decided to get into the mix, no use in going solo anymore. I sighted off of the twin condos on the shore and was motivated by how quickly I was making progress. I got into a few scraps but nothing that I couldn’t push my way out of. I should have been here all along I thought, next time I’ll be more aggressive.
I kept a good steady pace to the end, but when I stood up I realized that I was still fifty feet from shore. I debated diving back in, but the crowd was too thick, and so I resorted to the high step water run. “It’s all gravy from here” I said to myself as I ran up the ramp towards the wet suit strippers. My transition was quick; no socks no gloves, no arm warmers, no change of clothes, just shoes, helmet and glasses. Melony, Sam, Sophia and Lori were outside the fence just ten feet from my bike; they cheered me on as I grabbed the most badass ride in the rack and started rolling.
The first few minutes after transition are always confusing; it took me a mile or two to get my bearings, but once I did I started increasing the pace. What exactly that pace was I had no idea as my bike computer picked race day to stop working.
When playing the Ironman game it’s easy to get caught up in numbers: wattage, pulse rate, lactate threshold, anaerobic threshold, VO2 max, and while as an engineer I like numbers I had decided to forgo all data input and just concentrate on maintaining a strong sustainable effort. Knowing my speed would have been nice, but I wasn’t about to stop and play with that stupid computer.
On the way out of town some hairback gave me a nice body check and almost sent me off the road and into the gravel. Worse yet the dude acted like it was my fault. Normally I would have jumped on the pedals and dropped the guy like a bad habit, but I had a long day ahead and so I kept my cool. At about mile 25 the crowds were starting to thin out and just as I was getting into a really fine groove I felt that terrible sensation of metal on pavement. Sure enough I had flatted, and worse yet it was on the rear tire.
My mind went into super focus mode, tire irons out, wheel off, tire off, tube out, tube in, tire on wheel on, irons and tube into rear pocket and back on the road. Don’t think about all of the people going past, don’t even look at ‘em, even when Amy came by yelling “hey Mike” I kept my head down. Once back on the road I realized that I hadn’t checked the tire for any glass or metal, maybe something was still in the tire, what if I flatted again, I’d have to patch the tube, that would take at least twenty minutes. Worse yet I had flatted on this same tire only two days before, just after I’d had the race wheels installed; two flats in less than thirty five miles, no way was I going to make it another ninety. Panic started to push its way in, all these months spent busting my ass only to end up carrying my bike ten miles to the next aid station. Normally I’m an aggressive rider, but now I had to tone it down, I couldn’t risk hitting a pothole or running over a pile of glass, I couldn’t just put my head down and go, I had to keep my eyes locked on the road and hope for the best.
Starting up Richter Pass I spotted my coach. “You got a spare tube?” I yelled. No luck. I hadn’t ridden the bike course prior to the race and so I didn’t know what to expect from the infamous Richter Pass. The grade was steady and moderately steep, no big deal, I stayed in the saddle and just kept turning the pedals over. I was surprised by how many people lined the road, and as I neared the top Cynthia stuck her head out from the crowd and shouted “you look great Mike keep going.” Cynthia, by the way, is awesome. At the top of the Pass I spotted Sam’s plaid shorts, holy cow what a blessing: Melony, Sam, Sophia and Lori were out on the bike course. Having friends and family out there cheering me on gives me such a lift, I was grinning for the next ten miles.
I cruised through the rollers feeling good, I was staying hydrated and maintained my nutrition plan of three hundred calories and eight hundred milligrams of sodium every hour, but by the time I started on the out and back I began to feel the hours in the saddle. The roads were rough and the wind was picking up, I can ride hills all day, but put me on a crappy chip seal road and listen to me whine. At the special needs station I stopped for a quick shot of caffeine, and turned to go, but just as I was leaving I noticed two inner tubes on top of a cardboard box. “Hey can I have these?” I asked a volunteer; “sure,” he said “you want some CO2 also.”
“No, wait wait yes I do. I need a threaded one.”
“You got it man,” he said and pulled out a handful of brass colored tubes.
I stuffed the cartridge along with the two tubes into the already crowded rear pocket of my tri jersey.
Two minutes after leaving the special needs station I heard the clank clank clank of a CO2 cartridge hitting asphalt. “Hey you dropped your CO2,” called a woman’s voice. I pretended not to hear.
A minute later a fit thirty seven year-old pulled alongside me, “you dropped you CO2 back there.”
“Who me? Really?”
“Don’t worry it bounced off the road.”
“Thanks for letting me know.”
“I got a spare. You need one?”
“No thanks, I have one in my jersey.” I dodged a bullet on that one.
Finally we got off the farm road and started to head back towards Penticton. There wasn’t much of a wind and the road was nice, so why couldn’t I get going. I was in my small chain ring huffing and puffing along, I was expecting to get passed, but nobody was going by, as a matter of fact I was passing riders. “What’s going on!” I thought to myself. After about twenty minutes of struggling I spotted a big crowd up ahead, people were lined up tight forming a narrow corridor just big enough for a bike and its rider. Folks were yelling and running along with the bikers, “oh my God,” I said out loud “this is Yellow Lake,” I’d been climbing for ten miles, no wonder.
The last twenty miles of the ride were a Godsend: basically it’s a downhill scream into Penticton. The cross wind was pushing hard on those Zipp 808’s and I had to white knuckle it on the bull horns to keep from going through the windshield. Near Highway 97 the traffic was as a standstill, but just before the turnoff I spotted those plaid shorts. How did Melony manage to get them here, even now I’m still not sure.
The northerly wind blowing off of Skaha Lake nearly sent me skidding across the road; those whoosh whoosh disk riders must have really had a fight on their hands. I slowed down and started spinning as I turned onto Main Street towards T2, no cramps, no stomach issues, and while I can’t claim that I was looking forward to running twenty six miles, I at least wasn’t dreading it.
I handed off my bike, grabbed bag 1058 and headed into the changing tent. I took the first seat by the door and as I was putting on my socks when Joe came over and sat next to me. “How you doing?” I asked as I pulled on my shoe.
“Feeling okay,” he replied.
“Didn’t burn yourself out on the bike did you.”
“Maybe, we’ll see.”
We both got up and headed out the door, “see you in five hours,” he said as we started running.
Within the first quarter mile I could tell that this was going to be a long marathon. My subconscious mind had turned against me – the gutless bastard. My fighting spirit had completely evaporated. I didn’t feel exhausted, my stomach was fine, my legs were heavy – which is normal - but mentally I was gone, I just didn’t want to be in the race anymore. My right hip had been bothering me for two weeks and I had a slight limpy gimp, but the pain wasn’t serious, I figured if I could push through the first few miles the pain would go away.
As I approached the first mile I saw Stephanie and Cynthia, and before they could yell I said, “I feel terrible, I just don’t want to go on,”
“It’s all mental, be tough be tough.” Stephanie shouted as she ran alongside.
Cynthia crossed the road to catch me on the return of the short out and back, she passed on her positive energy, but it just wasn’t sticking.
I climbed the hill out of town and began to feel a little better. The weather was overcast and probably mid seventies, perfect for an afternoon marathon. As I passed the 10k sign the leader passed me on his way into town. The wind blowing off of Skaha Lake was cool but not chilly; I couldn’t complain about the conditions, but by mile eight I was going from aid station to aid station. Still I couldn’t put my finger on the problem, I really didn’t feel all that bad, and I figured that if I could just keep it together and continue with the 4:30 shuffle I could finish in under twelve hours.
At mile ten I started Coke, it was ten miles early but what the heck it kept me going. At mile eleven I made the first of three sit down pit stops at the blue porta-potties. What do you expect I told myself, you’ve drank about two gallons of liquid and haven’t eaten a single thing all day.
Lori was standing beside the road at mile twelve, a welcome surprise made even better because I knew that Melony, Sam and Sophia must be nearby. How did they get out here I wondered. Mel and the kids were at the turnaround near OK Falls. Melony later confessed that I wasn’t looking so good and that she purposely didn’t talk to me so that I wouldn’t be tempted to just have her drive me back to the hotel.
I grabbed a drink of NOxplode at the special needs and started back towards Penticton. At least I was now heading in the right direction. Mile fourteen is up hill and I grunted up without stopping. I knew that if I followed the lead of the majority of the other runners and started walking I’d find it nearly impossible to get going again. Miles fifteen to twenty two are a blur, my right hip was really hurting now and I just focused on getting to the next aid station where I could get some warm flat Coke and a piece of fruit.
The mile twenty two aid station is located in the middle of a long gradual uphill climb into Penticton. I figured that I’d walk the quarter mile out of the aid station to the top of the hill and then I could run the downhill plod to the finish line. I did some speed walking to the top of the hill and started running, no go. I had no strength or stability on my right side, I tried again and again, but I just couldn’t stand the pain of my right foot hitting pavement. If I was going to walk it was going to be fast, let’s get this over with.
Somewhere between mile twenty four and twenty five Tina came by me with an effortless fluid gate, she was eating up the other runners. Tina had played her cards right and was going to finish strong. I hit the crowds at mile twenty five and no way was I going to do the walk of shame, and so I started running. That half mile run down Lakeside was a cruel joke “why the hell are they making me run away from the finish!” I nearly screamed out load. I made the turn around and headed for home, the pain in my hip was making me sick. I motioned Stephanie to run with me for a while, she did and it helped. I crossed the line and two volunteers grabbed me. “Let’s go to the medical tent,” one said.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because I think you might pass out.”
“I’m not going to pass out,” I replied as I saw Melony, Sam, Sophia and Lori outside the fence.
The volunteers stuck next to me as I went over to see Mel. It was good to see her. One of the volunteers asked if I wanted to go get my photo taken. “No,” I said, “I want to wait for my friend.”
These two folks were dedicated; they walked me back to the finish line and stuck with me while I waited for Joe. While we were waiting a third volunteer asked if I wanted to go to the Med. Tent. “Why do I look like I’m going to pass out,” I said jokingly.
“Yes.” She replied deadpan.
Luckily Joe crossed the finish line just at that moment. We hugged, got our photo taken, picked up our stuff and headed for the hotel. Thankfully I could still walk despite not being able to lift my right foot off of the ground. As I walked down the sidewalk towards the car a lady reached out and gave me a doughnut, man that was one good doughnut, and that’s coming from someone who knows doughnuts.
The best I can say about the day is that two out of three ain’t bad, and I learned if a Canadian offers you a doughnut – take it.