Monday, 7 August 2017

2017 Ironman Canada 70.3

Just 5 weeks after the Mont Tremblant 70.3, it was time to add yet another Half Iron distance triathlon to the list.  Sunday, July 30th was the Ironman Canada 70.3 in Whistler, BC.

Leading up to the race I felt very relaxed and confident. My recent success at Tremblant had taught me that I was fully capable of tackling another 70.3. While Whistler was a challenging course, Coach Powell assured me that if I could finish Tremblant, I could finish Whistler.

The day before the race, I dropped off my bike and transition bags. This race was setup a bit different. T1 and T2 were in difference locations and since the half iron and full iron races were going at the same time, transitions were setup as if it were a full 140.6 distance race.

This meant no real transition set up. Instead we had 2 bags, a bike bag and a run bag. Everything you need for the bike, you put in your bike bag. Helmet, shoes, gloves, etc all went in this bag. The same went for the run. I'll explain more on how this works as we get into the racap.

After a swim, the athletes briefing, and a Coach Powell meeting, it was time for final prep and dinner.

I woke up early on race day. The 70.3 did not start until 8:45, but I wanted to get there early to make sure everything was ready.

I drove Jen and Diana (Diana was doing the full 140.6 distance) into Whistler. Diana and I went to add our nutrition/hydration to our run bags before taking the shuttle to that start. We could not have our nutrition/hydration in our bags overnight due to bears. Jen took a nap in the car until it was closer to my start.

After a shuttle ride to that lake, I prepped my bike and bike bag. I met up with Andrew and a few other Coach Powell Athletes and we watched the 140.6 Ironman start. We were lucky enough to see the pros start out on the bike before it was time to start thinking about my race.

While we were putting on our wetsuits for a warm up swim, Jen found us. After some loving words from Jen it was time to get in the water for a warm up.

The water was cold, but not as cold as it was the day before. Although I found myself shivering. I could not figure out if it was the water temperature or nerves. After swimming for a bit, I let myself float out in the water. I looked around and took it all in. I was no longer shivering. I felt relaxed and ready.

I swam back to shore and positioned myself in the 35-40 Minute start area. At Tremblant I had underestimated my swim time and wanted to seat myself accordingly here.

Andrew came by and wished me luck. I jokingly pointed at the sign and said, "I'm in the right start group. Don't worry!"

While we slowly marched to the swim start, we were all excited. We all chatted about the race and other races we had done. I though about what I had said before Escape from Alcatraz. In 2 seconds this will all be over and I will think, that was it? But I had to start first.  

Jen cheered as I walked over the start mat and into the water.

The Swim

I walked thigh deep into the water before falling forward and starting my swim. 

The start angled to the right before starting around the swim course. It was a bit confusing. Most of us ended up swimming at an angle from the shore to the first turn buoy. I feel it would have been easier/better to swim to the first buoy then turn slightly right and follow the course. 

I found my rhythm and drafted when I could and before I knew it, we were approaching the first turn buoy. 

As we swam closer to the first turn, swimmers began to bunch up. I found myself with 3 swimmers in front of me and one on each side. I did my best to keep my pace and stay out of the way, but there was no where to go. I ended up hitting the leg of the swimmer in front of me. 

Immediately, the swimmer starting thrashing and kicking. He stopped swimming as I swam past him. I could see him shouting at me as he splashed water in my face. 

First off, this is a race. People get bumped. Calm down. Secondly, splashing? Oh no! Please don't splash me! I don't want to get wet!  

I made my turn and swam on. 

At this point, the sun was directly above the mountain in front of us. I stopped for a second to try and find the buoy for my sight line. I found a yellow buoy and began to swim again.  

As I swam I began to think something was not right. I stopped and took another look. I had been sighting the wrong buoy. I was looking at the first yellow buoy AFTER turn 2. I quickly found the orange buoy (turn 2) and looked above it. I made note of a spot on the mountain with no trees. I then used this for my sighting.

I made my way around turn 2 without indecent. 

Even after turn 2, my line was still wide. It took a long time to get back closer to the buoy markers. I kept my rhythm, my sighting pattern, and drafted when I could.

As we approached turn 3, it began to get crowded again. It seemed everyone was swimming angry, constantly bumping and fighting for position. I was cut off several time by swimmers suddenly veering left or right to get around someone. 

After turn 3 it was a straight shot to the swim exit. At this point, the water became very choppy. The wind had picked up and it no longer felt as though I was swimming in a nice calm lake. It was more like I was back in English Bay.

I kept my sighting pattern and made my way to the swim exit. I swam in as far as I could before popping up and walking onto shore. 

I peeled my wetsuit to my waist and for the first time, took advantage of the wetsuit strippers. I sat on the ground as volunteers grabbed my wetsuit and pulled. They handed it back to me as I thanked them and moved on.

I found my blue bike bag and made my way to the change tent. I found a chair near the back and dumped my bag. I stuffed my swim gear in and started to get ready for the bike.

I dropped my bike bag (now technically my swim bag) and found my bike. I made my way out of the large transition area, under the spectator arch, up a small walkway, and to the mount line. 

As I made my way to the mount line, I positioned myself way up and on the right. The mount line was very crowded and on an uphill, I did not want to end the bike early.

Jen was there raking pictures and captured a great series of me knocking my water bottle off while trying to get on my bike. 

After retrieving my water bottle, I clipped in with my right foot and pushed off. I was not able to clip in with my left foot, but luckily Coach Powell has us do single leg drills quite often. 

I powered up the incline one legged and clipped in at the top. The bike had started and my day was about to get much worse.

The Bike 

As the bike course took us up on Alta Lake Road, I noticed my watch had not been lapped yet for T1. I hit lap and it said "Run Started." I must have hit it twice accidentally. I cancelled triathlon mode and put it in bike mode and restarted it. Not a big deal, I just won't have very accurate data after the race. It still worked fine for monitoring rpm, pace, and heart rate. 

As the course winded it's way toward the Sea to Sky Highway it became very crowded. As the hills started, several bikers flew past me on the uphill. It was way to early in the race for me to be charging up hills. I took them nice and slow. 

As I started down the first downhill, my problems began. The conditions had become very windy and I chose to run my deep aero wheels. On the first downhill, I was knocked uncomfortably around by the wind.

I have been having issues with this setup on my bike since a training camp in May. On the downhills in windy conditions the bike does not feel stable and begins to shimmy (Speed/Death Wobble). It's strange because I had been riding with these wheels for almost a full year with no issues. But today was windier than any other race I've done. 

The bike course turned right on the Sea to Sky Highway and took us through Whistler. There I saw Jen, Andrew, and a few people I train with in Vancouver. They had come up to cheer us on.

After riding past Whistler Village, the course narrowed and with the windy conditions and crowded course, I became very frustrated. My memory of this section was a blur.  

I tried to pick up speed on the downhills, but the wind would catch me and push me all over the narrow, crowded course. It got so bad that at one point I contemplated quitting.

The day before at the athlete briefing, the speaker said that the only thing we can control is our attitude.  I decided to just do what I could with what I had and push on. 

I was so focused on trying to control my bike in the wind that I had not been keeping up with my nutrition/hydration plan. Additionally my heart rate was higher than it should have been. 

I pushed on and tried to stay positive. I saw several other Coach Powell athletes on the other side heading back to Whistler. We cheered as we passed. 

The course took a right turn onto  Callaghan Valley Road then became a climb. As I climbed, I noticed the wind had died down. Maybe once I got to the turn around, I could give the downhill a solid try.

I made it to the aid station, refilled my aero bottle, mixed in my electrolytes, and headed to the turn around. Once at the turn around, I gave the downhill a try just as the wind picked back up.

I could not catch a break. 

On the way back toward Whistler Village, I continued to fight the wind. On one downhill I said screw it and went down no brakes.  

Halfway down, my whole bike began to shimmy wildly. It was the same thing that happened when I almost crashed at the training camp. I relaxed and eased on the brakes. As the bike slowed, I was able to steady it.

I was frustrated. Downhills used to be fun. I enjoyed going downhill at speed and making up time. What is going on? I should be destroying this course! I should be bombing down the hills and using the momentum to get up the next. I felt as if I'd lost my edge. 

As we climbed I tried to pass another biker who was riding on the left side of the road. I did the standard 'On your left' call but he did not move. I said it louder and louder until I ended up passing him very close.

Once I passed him I realized why he did not move. He was wearing earbuds. I tried to get his attention to let him know that was illegal, but he was ignoring everyone. 

I don't usually like to call people out, but earbuds on an Ironman course is not only illegal, it is dangerous. So bib #3922 Nate Bullock from Bothel Washington, you are lucky you did not get disqualified. 

As the bike course continued, it was split by the road's double yellow lines. On each side of the double yellow lines were 2-3 foot divots with road reflectors in them. This split the bike course so only 1 rider could pass at a time. On the down hills, if one rider was passing, there was no room for the faster riders to pass without someone hitting the divots. I was almost forced into a divot while trying to pass someone when a faster rider tried to pass me. I was forced to the other side of the divots and almost forced the rider I was passing into automobile traffic.

With the windy conditions and over crowded conditions, this whole section was extremely dangerous, especially on the fast downhills. 

Still frustrated, I rode past Whistler Village and out on the long out and back. The course flattened out a bit and I was able to enjoy the beautiful scenery as we rode past Green Lake. 

I could see runners on the run course and a sign for the 70.3 run turn-around. I made a mental note, once you get to the lake you are almost at the turn around. 

Around 50k, the course took a huge downhill. Due to the wind and what ever was causing the speed wobble (aka Death Wobble) on my bike, I had to take this section very slow. 

Everyone else on the bike course was flying by me going at least 50kph. I became very angry. This was the section where I should be making up lost time. Instead, I was riding my brakes all the way down.

Halfway down the hill, some volunteers and police officers where signaling for us to slow down. As I rounded a corner I saw a biker laying on the side of the road with a volunteer supporting her neck. Leading up to where she was laying was a very long skid mark on the road.  

It looked like she had lost control, tried to stop, and went off the road down into loose rocks. Maybe it was a good thing my bike was not letting me speed down hills today.

I looked over at the athletes coming back up the hill and wished I was climbing rather than descending. Careful what you wish for. 

After a long climb, we made it to the turn around. After the turn around was another downhill before going up the very long hill we came down.

The uphill was long and grueling. To add insult to injury, there was a strong headwind. The headwind was so bad, I stopped once because it felt like I had a flat tire. It seemed like everything on this course was out to get us.

As the course leveled back out as we passed Green Lake once again, I took a look at my watch. Definitely no PB on the bike today. I was well over my Tremblant time as well. I still had a long way to go and a half marathon to run. I began to worry about the time cutoff. The only thing I could do was to keep moving forward.

As we came back into Whistler Village, I knew I was almost done. I saw Jen and she cheered me on. She could tell I was hurting. 

The course took us off the Sea to Sky Highway, then looped around under it. We were now riding through Whistler Village on our way to T2. I was so ready to be done with this hellish bike course. 

The way to T2 was lined with spectators cheering for us as we rode in. After a few twists and turns, the mount line came up fast. 

I tried to unclip but for some reason, I could not. I yelled to a volunteer that I could not unclip and he would have to catch me. I slowed and he grabbed my bike. I tried to unclip while he was holding the bike and he lost his grip.

Down I went.

I landed on my left knee but managed to keep the bike from hitting the ground. I laid there for a minute not wanting to move. For one, I did not want to get up too quickly in case I was hurt, and secondly, after that bike course I could barely move anyway.

The volunteers scrambled to get my bike out of the way of other riders. I got up as they all asked if I was ok.  

I saw the volunteer start to take my bike (in this race volunteers take your bike for you at T2), but my watch was still on it. I yelled, got my watch, and hobbled to find my run bag.

I found my bag and made my way to the change tent. My bag had my run shoes and a smaller bag with everything else in it.  The plan was to dump the bag, put on my runners, put my bike gear in, grab the small bag and go, putting on the rest of my gear on the run.

After the fall at the mount line, that plan went out the window. I sat and took my time. I grabbed some water then hobbled out of the change tent.

The Run

My knee was hurting and bleeding and my heart rate was jacked. I walked a bit, letting my body settle before starting to jog very slowly. 

I saw Jen again and she could tell that something was wrong. I told her what happened and she asked if I was ok. I told he that we would find out. 

The more I ran, the better I felt. I was still exhausted but the pain in my knee was better. I walked up a small hill and looked at an athlete keeping pace with me.

"I am not sure what this says about either of us but I am walking up this hill, you are running, and we are both the same pace."

He brought a much needed smile to my face when he laughed, slapped me on the back, and said, "It doesn't matter. We are both out here crushing it."

The course then a did a loop around Lost Lake. It was nice and shaded. I walked most of the uphills and ran when my body would allow. I passed the time by reading all the encouragement written in chalk on the course. 

There were lots of spectators sprinkled along the course.They gave me several much needed boosts then they read my bib and cheered me on by name. 

After the loop around Lost Lake, the course opened up before turning right on Blackcomb Way. This area was packed with spectators cheering for everyone. I saw Andrew, Jen, and several other friends along this section.

After the turn onto Blackcomb, there was a group of people cheering from a tent. They said they had beer and would give me one on the way back. I told them I would remember and hold them to it. 

The course continued before turning right into the Riverside Resort. As we ran into the wooded area it became very dark. It took a second for my eyes to adjust to the shade.

As I ran through the thick forest, Run Through the Jungle by CCR got stuck in my head.

I kept my pace as best I could and stayed positive. It was easy to stay positive as I saw several other Coach Powell athletes either coming back the other way or passing me. High fives and Whoohoos all around.

After an aid station, the run course opened up and took us along Green Lake. I saw the iconic bridge that in all of Ironman Canada's promotional photos. I knew I had to run across for a good photo.

The scenery was amazing. As I ran, I made sure to look around to take it all in.

As the course took us around Wedge Park and along the Sea to Sky Highway, I knew from the bike course that we were close to the turn around. It was here I saw the top women pro athletes for the full ironman on their back and ultimately to the finish. 

As the course took us along the bike course, I was sure to cheer on those still out on the bike course. They were out there doing the full 180k. I knew what 90k did to me and could not imagine what they must be going through. 

I made it to the turn around and started back. For a while, I was running with a nice man named Gerald from London, Ontario. We chatted about the race, past races, and future races. He asked where I was from and we chatted about how much we both loved Vancouver. Eventually we got separated, but it was nice to have someone to run with for a while. 

Around 15k, I turned to another athlete and said, "Today's theme is, 'This Sucks, but we're gonna finish.'"  

She laughed and said that she felt 'mostly dead.' I laughed and said, "But mostly dead is slightly alive."

She laughed and we each went back and forth quoting The Princess Bride in relation to the race.

"Think we will finish?  It'll take a miracle!"

I told her to enjoy the rest of her day. As I ran on, I shouted over my shoulder, "Good luck storming the castle!" 
She shouted back, "Good luck storming the Finish Line!"

Just after the aid station before Riverside Resort, I saw fellow Coach Powell Athlete, Diana, who was racing the full 140.6 distance. We cheered and high fived, 

As we ran 'through the jungle' again, I saw an athlete running in full firefighter gear. I was sure to encourage him as he ran on in the heat. 

As we ran along Mons Road, I saw another full distance Coach Powell Athlete Vicki. This was her first Ironman and I was sure to cheer her on!

I soon found myself back on Blackcomb Way. I passed the tent from earlier and shouted, "Some one here promised me a beer! I remember!"

We all laughed and I ran on.

I turned the corner and saw Jen one last time before the finish. I knew I was close. 

The course looped back around the parking lots before heading into Whistler Village. After looping around before Blackcomb Way, the course took a left turn.

I joked with the volunteers and spectators that this was torture. The finish line was in sight right in front of us, but in order for the bike course to come through, the run course had to do a little loop.

I turned left, ran down down a hill before loping back up and over. As I ran through this section of the village, the sides were packed with spectators cheering for me. The crowd once again included fellow Coach Powell athletes. 

I ran over the bridge, took a right, then a left. Then it was straight to the finish.

I ran down the finish chute to the roar of the crowd ready for the day to be over. I saw Jen out of the corner of my eye but was too focused on getting this over with.

I crossed the finish line with no sign of celebration. I just wanted it done.


I received my medal and finishers hat and moved through the finishing area. I met Jen who looked up my times for me. I was not happy with my times.   

My lines on the swim were off and I most likely ended up swimming more than 1900 meters. I should have done better on the bike given all the downhills. My run was on par for a 70.3 run, but still could use some improvement.

At the time, my goal of doing an Ironman one day seemed fleeting

It is now a week after the race and after some reflection I feel a bit better about my performance. 

Next time, I will watch my sight lines more closely on the swim. My swim time was not bad and was my second fastest 70.3 swim time. 

Ironman Canada 70.3 is one of the toughest bike courses out there. I chose to use my deep aero wheels to build my confidence back up. It may have been the wrong choice, but I chose to try. Plus, I cannot control the wind.

I will work on descents in my downtime to build my confidence back up. Vancouver has no shortage of hills to work with. I will have the bike looked at to see if anything can be adjusted to make it more stable at high speeds in the wind. It may just be that those wheels are not good in high wind and I need to experiment with alternative wheel set ups for specific conditions. 

My goal for the rest of the summer and fall is to run a marathon. It's been over 3 years since I have run one and this will be the perfect time to work on my run game. 

Like the drill sergeant or sensei in the movies, Ironman Canada 70.3 has shown me my weaknesses not to break me, but to show me where I can improve and excel. 

I look forward to working hard to improve on these areas and possibly tackling this beast of a course  sometime in the future. 

Thank you for taking the time to read my race report. I know most of it seemed to have a negative tone, but to quote a great movie, we fall so we can learn to pick ourselves up. 

1 comment :

  1. Great report, as usual, Joe. The fact that it was a tough race only makes it that much more amazing that you persevered. And it's great that you are so honest about your experience with the race - your tone isn't negative - it's inspiring, because through it all you KEPT GOING! And you have taken away valuable lessons. I swear the tough races make us better athletes much more than the easy ones.

    You and those darned wheels are definitely gonna have to come to a reconning, though. I hate the thought of you feeling like you were on the edge of a dangerous crash for so much of the time. I hope you can find a way to make them work for you but ultimately staying safe and enjoyIng your experience is way more important than whatever theoretical speed advantage they may confer.