Ironman Canada Race Report
Aug 31, 2017
It’s been 1 month since Ironman Canada and I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on my first Ironman experience. I tried to go into the race with little expectations. With it being my first Ironman (and my first triathlon in 12 years!), my main goals going in were to soak in as much of the experience as possible, learn from the race, and to just enjoy it.
To sum up my race: it may not have ended pretty, but I got it done. Here’s how it went…
The Swim – 3.8km
Since our accommodations were a few minutes west of the Olympic Village, the highway and roads were already starting to close for the race in the early hours of the morning. Instead of getting Chris (my husband) to drive me into the Olympic Village where I could wait with the other athletes for a shuttle over to Rainbow Park for the swim, I had him drive me as close to the swim as possible and walked just over a kilometer on the paved Valley Trail. This gave me a few minutes of solitude where I could mentally prepare for the day ahead and calm my nerves. I got to the swim/bike transition about an hour and a half before race start. Since we weren’t allowed to leave any food or nutrition items in our bike gear drop bag or on our bikes due to bears, I took some time to stash gels on my bike and fill up my aero bottle with Tailwind. I borrowed another racer’s pump to inflate my tires, did a quick check of my bike, and ensured I had it in an appropriate gear for the uphill start.
The swim is two laps of a rectangular section of Alta Lake. About an hour before the swim, the water temperature was announced as 66°F which meant a wetsuit legal race (I always secretly hope for a non-wetsuit legal race). I did a quick warmup and then settled into my wetsuit and made my way to the start. This race offered a rolling self-seeded swim start (similar to a marathon start), to help split up the mass start a bit. The professional racers started off first and about 8 minutes later, I waded into the water and started the swim. It took me a few hundred meters to get into my swimming groove. Even with the rolling start, there was still a swarm of swimmers around me and I had to adapt my stroke to avoid tangling arms and legs with other swimmers. After about 300m, I created some space for myself and settled into a good rhythm. The colour-coded and distance marked buoys were a nice feature and allowed me to ensure my pace was on track. I finished the first lap of the swim right on pace and finally was able to find a swimmer maintaining a similar pace and good buoy sighting to draft off of for the second lap. The swim felt nice and easy and I was able to stay relaxed for the majority of it. I came out of the water and made my way into transition at 1:12.
The Bike – 180km (1989m elevation gain)
I was a little nervous going into the bike, as I knew it would have a lot of good climbs in it and with all of my training being done in Edmonton, I seriously lacked training for biking in the mountains. The first 140km of the bike went really well. I was surprised at how I felt going up hills (must be all that mountain running!) and even more surprised at how confident I felt on the steep, technical downhills. At one point in the race, there was a man on the median of the highway dressed up as unicorn holding a sign that read “you may not believe in me, but I believe in you!” I had a good laugh and whenever I started to lose focus on the bike, I thought of the unicorn-costumed man and it somehow made me dig a little deeper. We entered the town of Pemberton after about 95km and I felt pretty good mentally and physically at this point. The Pemberton section of the bike was a nice, flat 50km on an exposed country road. The temperature was climbing and this section was hot! I was doing well in terms of nutrition at this point and started to take in a bit more water to account for the heat. Coming out of Pemberton was mentally tough knowing that the last 40km would be all uphill. The first climb was brutal. It was hot and way slower than it should have been and it was the first time since I got on the saddle that my legs felt tired. The subsequent climbs paled in comparison and I suffered through them, my anticipation for the run growing as I made my way back to the Whistler Olympic Village. I handed off my bike at 6:58 – a little slower than I would have liked, but I was pretty excited to be off the bike and headed out onto the run.
The Run – 42.2km
The first 2km off the bike went really well. It felt amazing to finally be off the saddle and my legs felt relatively fresh as I assumed my regular stride right away. I don’t really know what happened after that 2km mark, but something hit me hard. It could have been the heat, or my nutrition on the bike not being quite as tuned in as I thought, or the fact that the run course is not even close to flat. While my legs felt good, I felt like I hit the wall 2km into the run…not good. I stopped at the first aid station and tried to figure out what I was lacking nutrition-wise. I grabbed a gel and some water and walked the next 2km to the next aid station just trying to get the gel down. I grabbed some more water from the next aid station and took it in slowly, again walking into the next aid station another 2km away. I started to feel a little better and started running the flatter and downhill sections and walking the hills. The sight of solid food at the aid stations turned my stomach, so I had to opt for another course of action to get some calories in. The only electrolyte/liquid fuel source on course was Gatorade, and while I had never trained with it, it seemed the only option for me to make sure I could keep getting enough fuel in order to get through the run. I started taking in a cup of Gatorade at every other aid station, along with water at every station. At about the 12km mark, things started to look up and I felt my pace gradually picking up until I reached my usual marathon pace. I hit the turnaround point on the first lap of the run finally feeling strong and saw my friend, Paul, a few kilometers afterwards and we exchanged a few quick motivating words and urged each other onwards as he headed towards the turnaround point. I still felt strong finishing the end of the first lap of the run and heading out onto the second. My plan of taking in a Gatorade every other aid station was still working for me and my pace was holding steady. At about the 30km mark things started to go south again as I was suddenly overcome with nausea. I started to slow down as I approached the turnaround point on the 2nd lap. I saw Paul again at the exact same spot I had seen him on the first loop, and even though I had slowed to a walk at this point, I felt good knowing I had held a good pace for the last 15km. Paul looked concerned, questioned my walking and reminded me that I only had 9km left to go. I gradually picked up the pace, and immediately knew that I was going to be sick. I stopped on the side of the path and stayed there for several minutes emptying the contents of my stomach. A fellow athlete stopped to make sure I was okay and rubbed my back as the Gatorade kept coming up. When I thought there was nothing left in my stomach, I started to walk. I couldn’t run for more than a few hundred meters without being sick, so I alternated between trying to walk in a straight line and pulling over to the side to “feed the plants” as one athlete called it. I avoided eating or drinking anything at the aid stations out of fear of continued GI issues. I somehow kept this up until the last kilometer – I was not going to walk the last kilometer! I picked up the pace one last time and ran down Blackcomb Way, where I saw my husband and family cheering me on as I made my way to the finish line. I crossed the line in 13:28 as an Ironman.
Overall, I had a lot of fun! Ironman Canada definitely left me craving more and I am already looking forward to tackling another Ironman in the near future. I will definitely need to revisit the drawing board in regard to my race nutrition though, and hopefully I can fine-tune that so that I can finish strong next time.