Ironman Canada Whistler Race Report
Signing up for two full Ironman races in the same month seamed like a great challenge. Even though I was concerned about recovery time after IM Frankfurt it proved to be enough (for me anyway) since I was just hoping to finish each and didn’t care too much about finishing time. “Not fast, but not last” is a line I heard this weekend which I will re-use to coin these two past races.
Major shout out to my buddy Igor whom I joined for this race. He has 18 IM finishes around the world including Kona World Championships under his belt. Traveling and racing with him is like having your friend, tri coach, nutrition couch, logistics guru and motivational speaker with you all in one person. Thank you man for getting me to the finish line! Had a blast, and can’t wait to do it again at Ironman Arizona later this year.
We stayed in an AirBnB which was a 5 minute walk from Ironman Village which was super convenient. I followed his nutrition and hydration plan leading up to the race which made all the difference in the world on race day. Our condo was an organized mess at all times. It actually wasn’t bad at all, but there is a ton of gear and stuff to deal with.
Speaking of nutrition, my new race day best friend is HotShots. It’s a 5 Hr Energy sized liquid meant to prevent and/or alleviate cramps and it worked like a charm. Beware, it tastes nasty and as the name implies is incredibly spicy. It’s a small price to pay if you suffer from painful cramps on race or training days.
The highlight of pre race activities was a visit to a restaurant called Christine’s on Whistler’s summit that you get to by chair lift or gondola. Allow 50 minutes to get there. It’s a hike to the lift and the lift takes a while but you’re rewarded with breathtaking views, great service and gourmet food. Hy’s Steakhouse was awesome too.
This race like Frankfurt had T1 and T2 in separate locations. Shuttle buses took us and our bikes to and from the start for check-in. It was relatively painless but took about an hour and a half round trip. Driving there yourself is not suggested because there is no parking. You can drive or ride there prior for swim practice, which we did.
The swim took place in a gorgeous mountain lake called Lake Alta. The water temp was perfect in the mid 60’s. Pleasant but cold enough to make for a wetsuit legal race. The course was a very simple 1.2 mile counter clockwise rectangle which you swim twice. This was another self seeded rolling start and I was pleasantly surprised that I experienced almost no turbulence, even around the turn buoys.
I started a bit too fast. 17 minutes in my watch read 1:51 per 100 which is way too fast for me so I slowed down and felt better. Each rotation to breath was welcomed with incredible views of lush forests and snow capped mountain peaks. Really pretty swim in very clear water. I was out of the water in 1:34:51. A bit slower than a few weeks prior but I was feeling really good.
Wetsuits strippers and a short run to the changing tent resulted in a very fast (for me) T1 time of 6:23 and it was off to the bike course. We drove the bike course the day before so we knew what to expect. It was not pretty. Actually it was more than breathtaking, the views and sights were amazing but the hills were hell. With total elevation gain of over 6,500 feet (1,989 meters).
The course is bookmarked by two intense climbs. The first starts at approximately mile 16 and goes for about 8 miles to the ski jumps in Callaghan. It’s intense but you benefit by doing it on fresh legs and get to make up for reduced average MPH on the return ride back down. Get ready to hit 40 MPH without pedaling.
Later you get to further increase your average MPH by flying downhill for 20 miles to a town called Pemberton. As exhilarating as that was, the only thing going through my mind was the return back to Whistler up the same hills. Call me a wimp but I couldn’t stay in the aero bars past 30 MPH. It was super windy and that combined with the speed had me up on the handle bars up to about 42 MPH. I was wobbly with a 402/404 wheel set. I don’t know how folks dealt with the cross winds at that speed riding with full disc wheels.
|This section looks just like IM Lake Placid
Before the return uphill you get approximately 40 miles of very flat road through farm land and more awesome mountain views. Towards the end of the flats I found myself in a group of 5 riders and we started shooting the hay and alternating positions. It was just like a group ride but drafting is not legal in Ironman and you need to maintain a 6 bike length distance and can’t ride side by side. I think we all thought that there is no way a ref would bother us since we were in the rear 200 of the pack but sure enough a ref pulled up on the back of a motorcycle and yelled at us to break up. No yellow cards. Too bad, I wouldn’t have minded a little break in a penalty tent.
It was a perfect day with near cloudless skies and temps in the high 80’s. Fortunately there was little humidity but it still felt pretty hot. In the heat and at approximately mile 80 you start the long ascent back up to Whistler. These were not short, couple hundred yard climbs, they were LONG. Hills are my kryptonite and it was a 5 MPH (if that) slog for over 2 hours. I managed to pass about 5 folks but only because they got off and walked their bikes on some hills. The constant strong headwind coming down from the mountain added insult to injury. Even on the flats in between the climbs it was hard to go faster than 10 MPH. End result, an 8:09:42 bike split. I’ve never been in my saddle for that long and never thought I would look forward to running a marathon this much. By 5 PM I was finally in T2.
|Actually, this is a pic of T1, but you get the point
With Frankfurt fresh in my mind I was not going to repeat anything silly on this run (see previous post). There was some elevation gain but not bad at all. Just over 1,000 feet (316 meters) on a two loop course. Taking my friend’s advise I went out super slow at 11 minute miles for 2 miles to get my bearings. After that I decided that I will not push it and just enjoy the scenery. I had 7 hours and was really looking forwards to finishing strong and celebrating without the nausea and dizziness of Frankfurt.
I actually felt surprisingly good after that long bike leg. I mentally broke up the run into three 10’s. Thinking of it as 10 miles plus another 10 miles plus a 10k (6 miles) would get me to the finish line. I kept at the 11-12 min/mile pace until about mile 7 where there was a bit of traffic and someone led the way through it and I followed stride by stride. And I kept following for about 2 minutes when I looked at my watch which read a 9 min/mile pace. Surprisingly I felt totally fine at this pace and kept it up for a bit until slowing to about 10:30 but still faster than I was running to this point. The mind is incredibly powerful, it can both slow you down and speed you up.
Following others proved powerful and thank you John from Calgary at miles 11 to 14 and MaryAnne from San Fran at miles 19 to 22 for leading the way at a pace I was not planning on running.
An unexpected event occurred at around mile 12 where I noticed 4 guys carrying a stretcher on the running trail. I immediately felt bad for the athlete that I thought was in there but then noticed it was a pretty deep stretcher and it was not an athlete but a bear.
Apparently a mother bear got separated from her cubs with a trail of runners in between them and started acting aggressively. Fortunately the local authorities were prepared for this and tranquillized the family and relocated them.
Read the story here: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2015/07/28/ironman-whistler-bears_n_7890682.html
From this point forward I made sure I was near someone whom I felt was slower than me. When confronted by a bear you don’t need to be faster than the bear, just faster than the person running away next to you 🙂
|Don’t know if this is a real pic or PhotoShop
|It started getting dark at 9 PM and by 9:30 it was pitch black which started reminding me of the Ultra Marathon back in March (story here). At the race briefing the race director actually suggested having a head lamp which some folks did (will consider adding it to my tri packing check list). It was very dark but the trail was still visible until the final mile where it was pitch black and a bit unnerving. There were lights with generators in some sections prior so I don’t see why they couldn’t have had the same all the way to the finish.
Anyway, run time ended up being 5:12:41 and the finishing chute was as alive and kicking as ever making every finisher feel like they were claiming first place. Being that this was in an Olympic Village added a lot to the experience. Final finishing time was 15:09:34 and with that Ironman #7 is in the books. Looking forward to a quick recovery and to get my mini-me to the starting line of her college adventure.
Spectators are always carrying signs in support of someone. The one that stood out to me that I noticed both at the swim start and twice on the run course was a sign that simply read “Be Grateful”. I am VERY grateful to be able to participate in these events and for the support that I receive. Thank you!
Almost forgot, this is a great aerial recap of the entire race. Keep an eye on the elevation chart at the top left. https://www.relive.cc/view/g13270952542
This year Ironman ran the full distance race and 70.3 on the same day. It was basically a half sandwiched into a full with over 4,000 participants. It didn’t cause too many issues other than some extra bike traffic in parts and a sea of people trying to get their bike and gear back at the end. There were no crowds when you finished at 10 PM or later like me 🙂
Aid stations were plentiful and very well stocked. Super friendly volunteers. Canadians Rock!
The spread at the end (food/drinks) was a bit disappointing but we went out to celebrate so it didn’t matter. Igor had a chance to get his stuff, shower, change, eat, watch a few episodes online and then come back to see me finish. Did I mention he is very fast?!??