This was my first visit to Canada so the trip to Whistler was highly anticipated for me. I will say, that the drive from Vancouver to Whistler is just amazing. Lots of thick green forest mixed with steep rock faces and aqua-blue water. The scenery did not disappoint. We got in to Whistler the afternoon of Thursday before the race and settled in to our hotel before walking though Whistler Village. The village reminded me a lot of other mountain ski towns in the summer such as Tahoe. The venue seemed a bit different from other Ironman events I have been to. Normally, Ironman seems to be the center of all activities, but in Whistler, Ironman seemed like a small event amongst a lot of other visitors and activates around the area. The downhill mountain bike scene seemed to really be front and center in terms of what people where there for. What’s great about the village is all the food choices and even a nice grocery store for anything you could ever want in addition to lots of options for coffee and dessert.
I made my way down to the Ironman village, and picked up my race wheels from RaceDayWheels. What was nice about this trip is I didn’t bring any wheels with me. I brought only my bike, which saved me an extra checked bag. I used my Ruster Sports Hen House with their new carat case to pack up my Dimond bike (super easy by the way) and just put my rented wheels on when I got to Whistler.
On Friday morning, after coffee with the family, I decided to take my bike out on the road for a quick ride and make sure everything was in working order. The weather report called for scattered showers throughout the day and I wanted to get out before more rain came in. On my ride, the roads were pretty wet, but at least it wasn’t raining (I hate riding in the rain). I rode 15 minutes on the highway toward Pemberton and then back. The roads, aside from the puddles, were in great condition, and I was looking forward to having the whole lane for the race instead of just the shoulder. I spent the rest of the day, relaxing with the family and enjoying the area by doing the Peak2Peak gondola ride.
Saturday morning was bike check-in day. They had early bike check in at 9:30 for AWA athletes, so I packed up my bike and run bags and rode the 2 miles to Alta Lake and T1. There weren’t many people there yet as the shuttle busses hadn’t started yet. I racked my bike and covered the aero bars and seat with some plastic bags I had. I really didn’t like the idea of leaving my nice Dimond in the rain all night. Right after I checked in my bike, I got my wetsuit on and swam an easy lap in the lake. The water temp was great. Basically, it felt like swimming in a pool, not too hot and not too cold. There was a bit of chop from the wind which made going out a bit harder than coming back. Overall, it seemed like a great swim venue.
The rest of Saturday was just relaxing with the family (and checking the weather every 3 minutes). The weather report for race day showed a lot more rain than both Friday and Saturday. I was a bit worried because I really never ride in the rain, so I wasn’t excited about spending all the time wet on the bike. I figured rain was still better than being hot.
Sunday morning my alarm went off at 4:30am. I actually got a decent nights sleep, falling asleep a little after 9pm and only waking up a couple times at night. My goal was to eat breakfast before 5am to give me a couple hours before the cannon went off. Breakfast was a couple bowls of granola and milk with raspberries and a sliced apple with lots of nut butter on top. After breakfast and getting dressed I made my way down to T2 to get on the bus to T1. I was happy it wasn’t raining yet, but the ground was soaked and the sky didn’t look too promising.
T1 had its typical nervous energy as everyone went about their morning routine. I didn’t have much to do as I decided not to even pump up my tires due to the wet road I knew was ahead. I spent most of that hour talking with friends and trying to enjoy the experience. I finally put on my wetsuit and headed toward the water to watch the pro start. I tried to wait till the last minute to get in the water as I didn’t want to waste any energy treading water before the start, and I’m not one to warmup before an Ironman.
I really like mass starts. They are much more energizing for me. When the cannon went off, I started my swim fairly strong and settled in with the masses of others, trying to find feet to follow. There wasn’t too much contact as I didn’t start right along the buoy line, but a little offset, towards the shore to try to find a cleaner (but longer) line to the first turn buoy.
On the way to the first turn, I could tell it had started to really rain…hard. I felt bad for all the spectators out in the rain watching. Then I started to think how wet I was going to be on the bike. The first and second turn got a bit tight, but I slowed down and took my time around the buoys.
Overall, the swim was pretty uneventful. I really only have a couple speeds when I swim, so I don’t really think about pace, but just try to swim strong without too many hard efforts. Towards the end of the second lap, we started coming up on swimmers finishing their first lap. Things got a little more chaotic as the group I was with tried to get around and find a clean line. After the last turn buoy, it felt like there was a lot more chop in the water, and that last segment really seemed to take forever.
I walked out of the water and over to the wetsuit strippers who helped me get my wetsuit off, then I was off to the changing tents.
Swim Time: 00:59:29
The first thing I noticed in the tent was how hot and muggy it was in there. It was also really busy. I had to find a chair toward the far back because most of the chairs were already taken. I guessed it was due to the bad weather and everyone taking a little longer to put everything on. I struggled for a bit getting my arm warmers on and rolled up… not too easy when you’re wet. I put on my shoes, helmet and gloves and headed toward my bike. I did have a wind breaker in my bag, but chose not to put it on since at that time, I wasn’t cold at all. Probably a big mistake.
T1 Time: 05:33
It was raining pretty hard when I got on my bike and started settling in. Just a few minutes into the ride, and I was already soaked through and starting to get cold. Within a few more minutes I could feel my jaw shattering and my whole body started to shiver and shake. I was getting really really cold, and I couldn’t stop shaking. I wasn’t hungry at all, but I tried to get in some nutrition by drinking some of my UCAN and eating a gel. My goal was 300 calories and hour on the bike from mostly UCAN and a few gels (just to mix it up). It was really hard to even drink from my bottle as my jaw was tight from shivering so much. By the time I got to the base of the Callahan climb, I was in full convulsive shivers.
I was really looking forward to the long climb up Callahan by then, hoping I could up my power and warm up a bit. No such luck. Sitting up out of aero, I got hit with more wind on my body and it made me even colder. I was starting to become really miserable. More miserable, than I have ever been on my bike and definitely the longest I had ever been that cold. All the way up Callahan, I kept thinking about how was I ever going to run off this bike feeling like this. My whole body was shivering and my lower back was even shivering and aching. I was really worried about all the wasted energy my body was using shivering: I needed that energy for the run.
Going down Callahan was really bad. I was ice cold. I tried to take it really slow, but I didn’t have much braking power at the time. My wet brakes on carbon wheels weren’t really doing much to slow me down. On top of that, I could barely squeeze the brakes, my hands were so cold and my bike was shaking like I had speed wobbles from my shivering as I went down. After making it down Callahan, I made my way back to Whistler village and then out toward Pemberton. The whole time, I was just doing what I could to stay warm. I was freezing and shivering all the way to Pemberton.
Once I made it down to Pemberton and started the long flat section, the rain started to ease a bit and I started warming up. I began to feel a little better and even stopped shivering. It wasn’t till then I was really able to look around and enjoy the beautiful scenery. I still felt pretty strong along the flat and was able to hold power and get back to focusing on my nutrition.
The long climb back to Whistler seemed to go on forever. Most of the climb back wasn’t too steep, but there were sections that had a good grade and really slowed me down. From Pemberton, I had about 20 miles up climbing to make it back to Whistler. The first 10 miles had some good climbs broken up by some short downhills. The second 10 miles was a lot better and was just a slight uphill grade, but I could at least stay aero. This last section really got me tired, and I was seeing my power harder to hold where I wanted it. I was just ready to get off the bike.
I finally made it back to the village and tried to stretch a little while coasting through all the chutes until T2. I was still very stiff and my lower back was more tight and sore. I finally was able to get off my bike and make it into the T2 tent.
I was really slow moving in T2. I left my arm warmers on, just in case the run was cold, but took off my gloves and even changed out my socks for dry socks. I was really moving slow. I had to hit the washroom on the way out in order to get everything out of my bladder, and that added another couple minutes to my already slow pace getting to the run.
Right away on the run, I could tell it was going to be a tough day. I usually have good energy from the crowd and seeing family coming out of T2, but this time, my energy was low and my body was already achy. I had to really slow down my pace and I was really worried I’d be walking later in the run based on how I was feeling. Right out of T2, there is a nice climb which really hurts. So right away my heart rate felt like it shot up and my pace dropped back to what felt like a crawl. On the gravel and dirt trails, I wasn’t feeling too great. My stomach started to bother me and I had to walk a small hill because I didn’t have the energy to run it. Due to my stomach being upset, I really wanted to stop and rest to see if I could reset myself, but I kept moving past aid stations without stopping.
Around 4 or 5k, I saw a bee land on my chest, and then felt the sharp pain of its stinger. I cursed out loud. I figured this was a sign I needed to stop. I found the next aid station and stepping into a porta-potty and sat down. I looked for the stinger in my chest, but there wasn’t one there, just a small red mark. I ended up sitting there for about 4 minutes. I knew now, my run time was going to be way off my goal, but at least that took some pressure off me to go too hard. I eventually made it back on course and started running again. My average pace had dropped to 8:30 already with the stop, not good compared to my goal and what I knew I could do.
I slowly started to feel a bit better in my stomach. Just stopping somehow reset everything and I began to feel normal again (normal for the marathon part of an Ironman). I was able to get my pace back to 7:50 or so, which is still slow for me, but much better than walking. I ditched my arm warmers as the sun started coming out from the breaking clouds.
I mentally, just thought about completing the first lap. After 13 miles, I gave myself permission to take Pepsi at the aid stations (I was only doing on-course Gatorade till then). Also, mentally, after the first 13.1 miles, it feels like the home stretch. I made it through the first lap and started the second lap. I then told myself just to keep it up till mile 18. Mile 18 seems notorious for when the wheels really start coming off for most people. At mile 18, I was still going, slowly, but still chugging along.
What was nice, was I never really got to that deep dark place at mile 18 or 20 like I knew could happen. I think maybe the slower run helped not burry myself too deep after that brutal bike.
I finally made it to the turn off, where you go left to make another lap, and right to the finish. I was almost there…. Or so I thought. That last section seemed to go on forever. There was a little more uphill, some windy paths, and a long loop up through the village path before making it down to the finish shoot.
I was able to ear my name being called as I crossed the line.
Run Time: 3:35:26
Race Time: 10:24:44, 8th in AG
It was truly an epic day. Hearing the stories from others who went through similar challenges on the bike, made me feel a lot better. Through a lot of the bike and run, I thought I may be walking to the finish, so I’m really happy I was able to keep going.
I’ve never been a bath person, but I have never wanted to get in a hot bath so much in my life as when I finished. After getting my stuff and hobbling back to the hotel, I sat in the hot bath until I finally got some feeling back in my limbs.
I’m really happy I chose Canada as the venue for my first Ironman of this year. It’s a great location for this great race. Even though, the weather wasn’t ideal leading up to and on race day, it’s still a great place for family and athletes. I also learned a lot about myself from this extra-hard experience. It was even sunny and warm the next few days while we finished out our vacation in Whistler and Vancouver.