Race Report: Ironman Canada

I know no one cares about me doing Ironman Canada anymore. It was six whole days ago! I’ve moved to LA since then! I started a Masters fellowship program!

But, it was a big race for me and before Ironman I always wondered what people thought during Ironman. Well, it turns out mostly you think: ‘keep on keeping on’ and ‘this sucks, this is the worst.’ So, here’s how it went down.

The short version is here.

Long version:

The days before were wrapped up in questions and logistics and dropping things off and eating and laying out bags and errands and logistics. I asked pretty much everyone I saw questions: How choppy is the water usually? What kind of swim start is it? Do you stop to get your Special Needs bag on the bike? How do I run through this transition – what’s the layout? But, once it was race day, it was just a race day like any other.

I think they changed the swim start, because it wasn’t how anyone said it would be. It was an in-water start, which is The Worst and I was freaking out about how much that’d suck, but it was actually fine. You could start anywhere between the shore and the first buoy, so everyone was all stretched out across an invisible line in the water. I had a great spot, but then people started crowding in and inching forward past the invisible line and suddenly the cannon went off. (Even though they’d been announcing a countdown every few minutes, they stopped with about four minutes to go, so the start was a surprise.) The swim was rough and stressful for 100m or so, but that’s not bad.

After about 15′ of normal swimming I started dry-heaving underwater, which I thought only happened in saltwater but seems to happen in lakes now too. When that happens it usually makes for a rough day, so I was worried the whole day was going to be shot 15′ in. I slowed down a bit, burped underwater some to sort out my stomach, rolled a bit more onto my side to get bigger breaths (since it appeared I was swallowing a decent amount of water and having a hard time catching my breath), and it sort of settled.

The swim was great. I just kept swimming along, thinking about my arm position, and hit the first lap in just under 30′. I was so ecstatic. Everything is going great, right on goal! Keeping up the steady strong pace, I started to catch some people on the second lap. I’d swim next to someone for a bit, then drop them and move up. Towards the end, I felt slow and awful and shitty, but I was still moving along and knew I was going to have a great swim time, so Ironman Lesson #1: Even if you feel awful, you may be doing great.

I came out of the water in 1:01– after definitely NOT picking it up in the last 100-200m from the start buoy to the shore, when everyone else dropped me. This was about five minutes faster than I thought I’d swim and I was pretty confident it was a good sign for the whole day. You could not have convinced me at that point that I wasn’t going to go 10:40 for the race, based solely on my swim.

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A note on transitions: I have no idea how people spend seven or eight minutes in transition. I felt like I took my fucking time. I stopped in the sunscreen station to get them to put sunscreen on my shoulders. I stuffed food in my pockets. I took my own wetsuit off (because wetsuit strippers confuse me). And it all only took 2:40. I don’t know that I’m ever going to lose my Olympic-distance-style transitions.

Once I was on the bike, I almost immediately started getting passed. I had, somehow, decided I was going to hold 140 Watts on the bike — based on my zones and what I’d thought it’d take to go 5:50 or so on this insanely hilly course. But, that plan meant keeping it under control at the beginning and then trying to hold the hell on at the end.

While I was keeping  it “under control,” I got passed by hundreds of people, maybe thousands. The bike started out rolling and then, after 45′ or so, we turned straight up a ski resort. The climb was steady and I let my watts rise a bit but not too high. I ate and ate and drank and drank. But, I didn’t feel great and it was getting discouraging getting passed by the entire field. After descending — which would have been fast and fun without other people on the road, but was sketchy with so many athletes riding poorly in their aerobars — we headed back the way we’d come. I stopped to pee about two hours in and kept telling myself I was totally on pace, doing fine, and I was not allow to worry about any other athlete until the second half of the run. (NOT THAT THAT ENDED UP BEING A PROBLEM.)

My stomach was still not feeling great and I was burping and having a hard time catching my breath, especially at the top of the ski resort. Maybe the elevation was worse than I thought. Maybe the fact that my stomach was bothering me last week was just unfortunate timing. Around halfway, I threw up a little on the top of my bike — which was a nice surprise for the volunteer who grabbed my bike at the end. After that, I had to switch to just gels and whatever I could keep down. I threw up, but really just water, one more time later and stopped to pee one more time.

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Here’s what I ate. I actually think it was a good amount of calories and drink and everything, so no, I don’t know why my stomach sucked:

– Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Clif Bar
– Two Chocolate Chip Z-Bars
– A pack-and-a-half of margarita cliff shot blocks
– Four vanilla Clif gels
– One-and-a-half cookies (I modified my chocolate-chip cookies to include some protein and slightly more salt and less butter, so it was basically a tasty bar, but it was a little dry)
– Three bottles of Gu2O, one-and-a-half bottles of Perform from the aid stations
– Two-and-a-half bottles of water

(It got a bit hard to count bottles because you were grabbing and tossing and dumping, but I think that’s about right. My only real guess about everything, particularly since I got SO thirsty later, is that I require more water. I’ve noticed this in the past when I drink a lot of mix and less water.)

I just kept trudging along until the turnaround on the long flat out-and-back section. The turnaround came 15′ earlier than I expected and that was the most exciting event of the day. I did the math and was positive I was on pace for a 5:48. Yes!!! I, then, had one good hour. For one hour, I killed it. I passed people. I held my 140 Watts easily. All that was left was the last 40 kilometers back to town. This was going to be great! It would be no thing to do it in 10:45!

Then, I hit a bad spell. The worst and longest bad spell of the day.

After I stopped to pee the second time in Pemberton, all that was left was a bit of rolling and some gradual uphill back to Whistler. Or, at least, I thought it was a gradual uphill. Somehow when we went out to Pembertion on the highway, I missed the fact that we had gone down some long, steep hills. It was impossible to miss that we had to go up on the way back.

I was so thirsty, dying of thirst, but I couldn’t keep much down. It was hot and I was dripping and I could barely get my legs over the top of the pedals. How is this hill so steep? It has to end at the top, right? But, it just kept going. I thought it’d be fine to hold 140 Watts going back uphill, since going up tends to be easier on power numbers, but it was impossible. I was struggling so much. With 20 kilometers left, (which is about 100 miles in) I knew I wasn’t going to break six hours, even though that was the fastest 100 miles I’ve ever done. I got so discouraged. I went far, far into a hole. My legs were so dead. This was so long to be on your bike. I suck at biking, biking sucks, my legs suck. As it got more rolling and less steep, I tried to just stay tucked and aero, since my legs were giving out. All I wanted was to get off my bike, but all I didn’t want to do was to try to start running.

We had to go around and around at the end before finally pulling into T2 and I tried to pump myself up. Even though I was discouraged about riding a 6:08, I tried to remind myself that I knew there was a chance it’d take me six hours. It was 6,000 feet of elevation! This was a hard course. I could still go sub-11 hours if I ran a 3:45. The only problem was that now sounded impossible.

Again transition took me no time, even though I felt like I was moving so slow. My bone spur on my left toe was throbbing when I ran across the grass, so it’s good I took the time to put on regular running shoes — not triathlon shoes. But, as I headed out, I wanted to cry. I was overcome with the desire to start crying. The last thing I wanted to do now was run.

Screen Shot 2014-08-02 at 4.06.27 PM

A few things kept me moving at the beginning:

– I was in 5th in my age group I thought (4th pretty soon after I passed someone towards the beginning). You don’t quit when you’re on the podium.
– I wasn’t running as slow as I felt like I was.
– Maybe things would come around.
– You never know what can happen.

The whole run was marked in kilometers — a sign every 5K. That allowed me to completely disassociate from the distance. I didn’t think about it. I only looked at how fast I ran each 5K. The first one wasn’t great, but wasn’t awful. The second was faster. The third was slower, but still not bad. Then, things got a bit blurry for awhile.

I was so thirsty. All I wanted to do was sit down in the shade and chug a gallon of ice water. That, however, was not a great idea for continuing to run. So, every aid station (and there were a lot of aid stations) I grabbed cups of water and Gatorade. I thought it’d pass, but it didn’t. Instead, I got cramps too. And, I was still thirsty. About an hour in, I started walking most of the aid stations, but made myself promise that meant I’d run between them. I felt slow and terrible, but I was moving, so even though I thought it’d be unlikely I’d meet my time goals, I just kept hoping I’d come around.

I hit the 20K — a marathon is 42K — on pace for a 3:52 or so. That’s fine, I thought. It’s not what I wanted, but it’s ok. Even if I slow down, and I will slow down, I’ll be right around 11 hours. That’s fine. It’s all fine. Just keep moving.

I had one good 5K and then things went dark for awhile. I never noticed everything going bad. I thought I was slowing down a little, but I was actually slowing down a lot. I walked twice outside the aid stations and made deals with myself. Otherwise, I kept shuffling. I figured that eventually I’d finish. (In reality, at the lowest point, I think I was running 9:30 pace when I was running and mostly I was running 8:50s or so, but if you walk every aid station every 2K then it adds some time.) The problem was that somewhere around 13K to go, I stopped caring. I didn’t consciously stop caring, but another girl passed me with a few miles to go — one of the people on the side yelled that I was struggling and she could catch me and I wanted to be like ‘no, no, I always look this awful’ — and I just thought: ugh, she’s running so fast. Ironman Lesson #27 or whatever we’re on: You can not lose focus; you have to keep consciously choosing to go as fast as you can at that point.

I think the fact that I simply couldn’t run more during training hurt me on those last nine miles. My body just wasn’t holding up to it. My legs hurt so, so much. The problems I have — my left foot (which may or may not need surgery eventually) and my left knee — hurt but they weren’t debilitating. Mostly, my body just fucking hurt. I trained a good amount. And, if I had tried to run more on my torn foot muscle or when my left knee and bone spur were acting up, then I would have been hurt before the race even started. So, I trained what I could, but I don’t think it was enough running.

Right up until the last mile, I genuinely thought I was going to run a 4:05 or so and come in around 11:15-20. Instead, I ran a 4:18. Oops.

And, then I was done. And, even though I had had almost no reaction to all the hundreds of people cheering the whole course — I was just too focused on moving forward — the end made me almost start to cry. I high-rived small children. I raised my arms over my head. And, then my head rolled back and I fell forward. You can’t quite see it, but this is basically as my knees buckled:

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So, yes. I biked about 15′ slower than I wanted and ran like 35′ slower. But, I also didn’t know if I’d be able to do it at all well or if my body would hold up with all the injuries and problems. This kind of thing is not my thing. Going hard for an hour is my thing.

I’m tempted now to try again. Just sign up for a race in a month and cash in all the fitness. Of course, that sounds awful, though. But I don’t know if my body could stand training harder and more for another one.


27 thoughts on “Race Report: Ironman Canada

  1. I’ve been waiting for this! Great job out there. I’m always impressed with people who do IM (and the training involved) because I know what it takes — I just have no desire to do it myself. Loved the report.

  2. Congratulations, you are an ironman!!! Well done, I went over 13 hours in my first IM and it took me…9 tries to break 11 hours 🙂 You’ve got so much going on with your life now, just remember “stress is stress” and it will all come together eventually. Find a race that’s local and easy to get to if you’re gonna race in a month but also realize your body probably needs a month to recover especially if you are starting school! P.S. Make sure to eat lots! Post IM pig-out!!

  3. Congratulations on an amazing accomplishment! Your dedication and focus is an inspiration to me. I love the bad-assery grit sprinkled into all you do. Heal up, settle in to new beginnings, and reflect on your awesomeness. Be proud of this!

  4. What a GREAT report! And it is precisely great because everyone who’s done one (or fourteen…) of these things has experienced, at one time or another, everything you describe. It may have felt like a nightmare, but way to go for getting it done. I am disappointed, however, that you didn’t thoroughly dissect what it’s like to step into a Port-a-Potty that’s been steaming in the sun and when you’ve already got a weak stomach. You would have given that poetic justice. Next Ironman….

    1. Hah, after the first two trips to pee on the bike, I didn’t visit another port-a-potty. I was so thirsty and dehydrated I think that wasn’t a big problem. And, fortunately, the stops on the bike were early enough that the port-a-potties weren’t bad.

  5. I know it’s not exactly the race you wanted running-wise, but I’m sure you’re right about how your foot injury / inability to run as much as you wanted in training affected things. When it comes to injuries you can only do what you can do. Everything I heard about the bike course was that it was just insanely hot & miserable out there for everyone, so great job pushing through that last awful stretch as well.

    I am still seriously impressed — congratulations on an *amazing* accomplishment!!

    1. I actually didn’t realize it was hot, I just assumed I was Ironman miserable, not hot miserable, but yeah, it was definitely a rough course. Thanks! Good luck at Santa Rosa.

  6. Congrats! Now you know what it’s like to do/be an Ironman, which I gather is pretty rad. It seems reasonable either to want to do another one or to never want to exercise for more than an hour at a time ever again.

  7. […] Ironman may not be my thing. I’m not sure yet. I’ll have to do another before I decide. I’d like to qualify for Kona at some point, just so I can see what it’s like — kind of how I had to watch a bunch of “Girls” to make sure I was right that I didn’t like it, back before hating Lena Dunham had gotten passe and vaguely sexist. I may not ever be able to qualify, though. I need to get at least 45 minutes faster and not hurt; possibly, the woman’s amateur field needs to get less insanely competitive (and some people need to go ahead and upgrade out of the amateur field); and, still, Kona may always be out of reach. It is one of the most competitive amateur events out there, so I totally respect that. I do. […]

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