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IM70.3 Canada and IMCDA Race Report

In the span of 30 days I competed in Ironman 70.3 Canada in Whistler British Columbia and Ironman Coeur d’Alene (CDA) in Idaho.  This post sums up the month and is a bit lengthy.

Ironman Canada 70.3

My primarily goal this triathlon season was to peak for Ironman CDA in late August but also to compete in Whistler on July 30 as I had been wanting to get back up there to race the half Ironman distance, which was only it’s second year.  I had previously completed my first full Ironman in Whistler back in 2013.

I had been having a great build-up to Whistler over the past two months since IM70.3 Santa Rosa back in May and had been posting some great numbers in my workouts.  Due to the timing of CDA, I only had one week of taper for this race instead of my normal two-week taper but no big deal and I was in the zone.

We drove up Friday to Whistler and for whatever reason, everything took longer than It should.  Seattle Traffic, slow waiters, Vancouver traffic, Whistler traffic.  Kind of painful but still made it in OK and was checked in to the race Friday evening.  On Saturday morning I was planning to ride my bike to the race site and do a warmup swim before transition opened (because you can’t drive there) but I apparently forgot my bike lock at home (it probably would have been fine to leave it, but nothing would piss me off more than to have a stolen bike the day before a race) so I decided to skip it and just do my 50 min ride instead.  Was feeling great.  Weather forecast was about perfect – high of 75 with little to no wind.

IMG_0974Whistler Olympic Village - I suppose I should have taken a picture with the Olympic rings but that was tourist haven

Race morning I elected to walk the two miles to the swim start vs boarding the bus (it was actually a really nice walk).  I reached transition at 6:45am as we were told they would close transition at 7am as the full Ironman race would have started by then.  It turns out that they ended up keeping transition open so I could have actually arrived even later!  I spent the time chatting with a few others from Seattle – Mandy, Alex, Roland then eventually got into the swim line up.  I even ran into a guy named Barry who swims in the lane next to me at my local pool that I had never actually spoken to.  Small world.

At 7am there was no wind and the water looked great.  At 9am, there was some no-so-insignficant wind and some tall waves.  I think it might have been wavier than Santa Rosa.  Due to these conditions I decided to start off a little bit easy and build into it.  However, the good news is that for this rectangular-shaped course you start off into the wind via the long-side of the rectangle and head back with the wind.  After making the last turn it was a pretty sizeable crosswind so I tried to keep my direction pointing upstream into the wind to be a (hopefully) shorter course than others.

Swim time: 39:55, place in race: 570. 

Not my fastest swim, but it did feel good. 

T1 was cool because it involved wetsuit strippers – IE you pull your wetsuit down to your waist and they help pull it off.  Quick stop in transition (34th fastest T1 of the day) and I’m off on the bike.  T1 time: 2:40, place in race: 380 (yes I passed 180 people in T1).

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Riding along Sea to Sky Highway

Bike: pretty awesome.  The course is always going up or down and this favors me.  I’ve got the benefit going uphill because I’m a skinny bitch and I’ve really gotten better at keeping power up and staying aero in the downhill.  With exception of steeper hills (more than 7% or so) I usually pass more people going downhill than up.  The reason for this is that most people ride really hard on the uphill and really easy on the downhill.  I ride a little harder on the uphill and try to maintain power on the downhill – some people call this “flattening the course”.  I’d recommend this if you haven’t tried it – you do have to be comfortable riding at high speeds though.

The first part of the bike course was into the wind, then a turnaround with a tailwind, then the last 30km home was back INTO the wind with a big incline.  How big of an incline?  Well there were three significant descents on the way out where I was over 40mph most of the time in the tuck position, maxing out at 47mph (was trying to get to 50!).  This led for a pretty slow return on the way home and I kept thinking – “Yeah I’m glad I’m not doing the full Ironman today”.  Make it back into town and dropped my bike off at T2. 

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Finishers Chute

Run: My general strategy on the run is to go ridiculously easy the first 2-4 miles of the run (but it actually ends up being a reasonable pace – what “feels” easy tends to still be fast at the beginning) then gradually pick it up.  This course was slightly uphill for the first miles so I ended up not going quite as “easy” as I would have liked.  After the first four miles I usually pick it up for a bit, closing with the strongest final 3-4 miles.  Around mile four/five I realized that I wasn’t really able to pick things up – if anything I started slowing down.  Mentally I was struggling with this: “why is this going on?”  Could it be because I did not have a full two week taper?  Maybe, let’s just run along and see if I start feeling any better.  Mentally, I kind of shut down on this – I knew I have CDA coming up in four weeks and is the priority, I had gorgeous scenery around me, let’s just enjoy the day and see what comes of it.  In retrospect, I realized I just didn’t have it in me to go deep into the well of pain for this race.  There are probably only a few times per year one can really do that and I decided to NOT do it for this race. Part of me feels a bit guilty, but part of it is just being honest with myself.  After the race I met up with Alicia and her parents and enjoyed a bit of the Whistler atmosphere / environment before packing up and heading home the next day.

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With Alicia post-race

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Excellent post-race food - beer and poutine

Lake Meridian Sprint Tri

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Seattle Green Lake Triathon Group at Lake Meridian Triathlon

Two weeks after Whistler, I felt like doing one of my favorite local races – the Lake Meridian Triathlon.  They offer both a Sprint and an Olympic distance triathlon.  I have participated in the Olympic distance the past few years (having nabbed 5th, 2nd, and 3rd in my Age Groups).  With CDA in two weeks, I could either compete in the Sprint and go as hard as I want or race the Olympic and only really focus on one of the three events while keeping it relatively easy on the other two.  I elected to go with the Sprint.  This also served as a good opportunity to try out my new Swimskin in a race, which I had purchased in anticipation of Ironman Cozumel later this November.

Short summary: the swim skin is much more convenient to transport to and from the race but definitely not as fast as a wetsuit (at least for me).  The additional buoyancy from the wetsuit really aids the position (and speed) of the swimmer.  In the end, it wasn’t a super-fast swim, post-race analysis has me at 63rd position after the swim.  Another quick T1 had me passing 28 people putting me into 35th position getting onto the bike.  One of the luxuries of the smaller races is that I can actually count the number of people in front of me at turnarounds to get an idea of where I am in the race.  At the turnaround I was in 20th position and passed a few more before T2.  Another quick T2 has me out on the run in 17th position.  Now the fun really begins.  I track down about 5 people before the turnaround and then pass a few more after the turnaround to finish in 8th overall and actually won my age group in a triathlon for the first time.  Granted, the Olympic distance probably attracted many of the fast athletes but it’s still pretty awesome considering I did my first triathlon in 2012 and was 80th out of 167 and this race I finished 8th out of 206 finishers.  It was a great confidence booster.

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ost-race candid shot (via Tracie Gayler photography)

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aking first place in my age group at the Lake Meridian Sprint Tri

 

Ironman Coeur d'Alene

Which now leads us to the main event, Ironman Coeur d’Alene at the end of August, or IM CDA for short.  CDA has a bit of an interesting history with me as it is only about three hours of where we used to live in Eastern Washington and I had actually considered doing that as my first Ironman race back in 2013.  Ever since then, the race (illogically) seemed too “close” or “common” to do the race in prior years - I suppose I thought it would be around forever so that I could participate any time and I would want to choose more “exotic” Ironman races.  Well it turns out (after I had signed up) that 2017 would be the final year running the race - primarily due to lower participation numbers in the event.  My guess is this is due to perhaps some oversaturation of Ironman races in North America, the difficulty of the course, and/or the slight decline in popularity of triathlon as a whole.  Or maybe more people just felt like me - “I’ve never done it before, but it’s been around a while so it must not be that special”.  

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ur Airbnb host had a sweet cruiser bike - maybe I should ride that instead?

Having had a really solid several months of training this year along with some well-executed races this year (such as the two races above), my confidence was high.  I knew that the race would be a challenge, and that there would be some dark periods, and that it would be hot - the forecasted high was 93 degrees F with it hitting 90 by about noon.  I was expecting it to be particularly challenging miles 7 - 23 of the run (kind of a long stretch!) where I would have to dig in and be prepared to tough it out.  Pre-race prep went well - low stress, I completely shut out from work the 48 hours before the race - removing any additional mental stresses.  I even had an Airbnb one mile from the start so I didn’t have a long way to go in the morning.  I had a nutrition plan with electrolytes to account for the heat and was ready.  

 

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Racked and ready to go - with the coveted end-of-rack spot!

Race morning came and everything went smooth.  Prep my nutrition, check over bike, calibrate power meter, take care of bathroom needs, warm up the arms a bit, quick dip in the water, and get in line for the rolling start just behind the 1 hr, 16 minute sign.  No stresses, good energy, I was ready.  Race start happens and I even get to high-five Mike Reilly (the “voice of Ironman”) before going into the water.  

The Swim

I’ve been working pretty hard on my swim the past year - having gone to a few sessions where they film me underwater and give me some advice.  My pool times have been improving conservatively 5 seconds per 100 yards - my body position has been better and I’m working harder.  Perhaps the biggest difference is that I have all-but-abandoned the “breathe every third stroke” so that you end up breathing on both sides pretty regularly.  It seems that most introductory-triathlon material seem to recommend this - on one hand it is nice to be able to look on both sides of you, BUT what I realized is that for me, when I do this, I have worse body position whenever I breathe to my left AND I do not take in as much oxygen since I am not breathing as often.  I think this lack of oxygen has been a major cause of many of my swim panic attacks over the past years.  I can’t recommend it strong enough - abandon the “every-third-stroke” breath for beginner triathletes!

Anyways, to my frustration - despite having gained great speed and feel for the water in the pool - it just simply hasn’t been translating to triathlon races.  My times have actually been slower, albeit likely due to having some windier/wavier swim courses than usual (such as Whistler above).

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eeling good after completing loop 1 of the swim course

However - CDA was just about perfect.  The water was great, perfect water temp (71), the water is pretty clear, waves weren’t too bad for most of the course, and actually the rolling start spread everyone out.  I completed loop one and looked down at my watch and saw a time that was 37-something and was pleased, especially considering it took me 40 minutes at Whistler to complete the same distance.  Loop two went just about as well as loop one - I focused on form - getting on the side, engaging the catch early, brush the thumbs next to the side on the pull, and keep the body taught.  I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve ever said this - but I was really enjoying it and I wish the swim was longer.

Time: 1:17:43 (a three minute PR!).  Place in race: 372

Quick T2, feeling great, and get out onto the bike.  Place in race: 272.  

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DA Bike

The CDA bike course is kind of like a boomerang with two out-and-back sections.  The first out-and-back is 14 miles total and the second one is 40 (along with most of the hills being here).  My coach and I chose a really conservative target power to ride for the course, and I was on track to hitting that - with minimal periods of stupidy (riding harder than you should early in the bike course).  The hills on loop one were easy (they usually are), and I’m coming back into town finishing up loop one and feeling pretty great.  However, around mile 60, my legs did start to feel a little weaker (not unexpected, riding 60 miles is pretty tiring).  But it was also starting to heat up and I was getting hot.  At an aid station back in town around mile 70 I started dumping water on me which seemed to help a bit.  However, about five miles later we started climbing up the largest hill and then I started to feel a bit lightheaded and dizzy.  What is going on?  I’ve never felt that before - it was starting to get a little danger zone and so I immediately tried to drink some more water, take in my extra electrolytes I didn’t think I would need, and I eased up a bit.  I couldn’t believe how low my power was for going up a hill and it was frustrating.  I haven’t felt this bad on a bike in some time and that I can say I was actually not prepared for that.  It was a dark period for a little while (which happens) and I was very much contemplating saying “it’s not my day” and dropping out.  I definitely swore off ever doing another Ironman again (which most definitely happens during every Ironman :) ).  My calves and hamstrings started cramping a bit - I took in all the electrolytes I had with me and then I ended up getting off my bike at at aid station around mile 85.  I stretched out my hamstrings and stop and drank some Gatorade.  I did start to feel a bit better but much of the damage was done and I could never really get back into my groove.  The rest of the bike ride was relatively uneventful - it was low power, low confidence, but good aero bike position.

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Total time: 6:36, place in race: 327

Fairly disappointing - this marks my second slowest Ironman bike and perhaps the first time I ever went backwards in placement on a race.  So much for the negative split power plan.  I’m thinking - how am I going to do this damn marathon - I guess I could walk it.  

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unning along - however - equipped with Rocket Fuel!

In T2 I take a minute and try to stretch my hamstrings and start off in 295th place.  Knowing my legs are probably shot from the bike ride - I start off at a conservative pace and frankly my confidence a bit shot.  It is warm out, to say the least.  I did start off feeling semi-satisfactory - a great thing about the CDA run course is that it goes through a neighborhood and many of the neighbors were out with their hoses offering to spray people down - it was great.  Energy wise I was extremely spent and my hamstrings and calves started cramping at times.  I resigned to walking at aid stations and up hills - it became an afternoon of issue management - how can I make myself feel better: typically it involved taking in more salt, nutrition, etc.  I also developed an effective cooling strategy - ice down the back and a little in the front of the jersey (and occasionally in the shorts), water on top of the head with the visor on but tilt the head back slightly to prevent the water from coming over the brim.  Despite the weather being over 90 degrees, I never truly felt “hot” while on the run due to the cooling strategy.  Nutrition started to get tricky at times as my stomach was becoming picky, after mile 15 it didn’t really want any gatorade or gels so I had switched to Coke fairly religiously.  I recall my fellow triathlete friend Loren’s comments about Coke (summarized): “It’s so bad for you, the only acceptable time to drink Coke is during an Ironman”, which made me laugh.  Alicia was a cheering champ near the start of each loop with her cow bell and dancing which was also a boost.  I did get a second wind around mile 13 when I took some “Rocket Fuel” from the BASE salt tent (thanks to Phil Nelson for intro’ing me to the BASE salt folks beforehand) which seriously helped - mentally and physically.  This second wind lasted a good 8-9 miles until about mile 22.  It was a pleasure to see some friends who were racing their first Ironman - while I was almost to the turnaround of lap three I came across Tony on his lap two and I walked with him for a few minutes to chat about the day - after that it was time to get this thing done.  Finally, one last guilty pleasure was seeing a number of athletes laying down in the grass in defeat due to the heat - while I obviously don’t wish any ill-will towards them it’s reassuring to see that others are having trouble and that my day could be a lot shittier.  Calf cramps hit me at times which caused me to do a super weird shuffle so I walked a bit until they became “normal”.  Once I hit the park near the turnaround - I was home free.  On a multi-loop run Ironman course, there is a fork in the path - more loops go one way, finishers go the other way.  I can’t tell you how extremely satisfying it is to finally take that path for finishers.  I had a huge smile and even started pumping my fist - it was a really hard day for me and I persevered.  Turning onto Sherman Ave with the finish line was even more amazing - I was surprised at how many people had lined the streets.  My smile was even bigger, nothing hurt any more.  I heard Mike Reilly (the voice of Ironman) announce my name and crossed the line of my fourth full distance Ironman race.

Run Time: 4:32:54 (by far my slowest, but what are you gonna do), Place in race: 199 (out of 824)

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inishing up a tough day

Af the finish line I saw my friend Jeff who was volunteering as a finish line “catcher” (not everyone is coherent and/or able to walk well at the end of the race).  I received my medal, finisher's hat and TShirt, and then gave Jeff a hug and in the embrace I cried for about 10 seconds.  It was a huge emotional release and couldn’t help it - it wasn’t the day I wanted but I persevered and found a way to keep going at find a way to bring the intensity back.  I composed myself, got my finishers picture, and then laid down on the grass for about 5 minutes with my heart still pumping.  I got up and went to get some athlete food - Alicia asked me to get her a piece of pizza and I picked up some oranges, grapes, and chicken broth for myself.  Before I gave her the slice of pizza I took a bite and had an immediate gag reflex.  I spit out the tiny bite and thought I would be good, then within five seconds I was puking (pretty much all liquid).  Pause and repeat four times more.  Glamorous.  Another 30 seconds and I was feeling much much better.  A volunteer brought me a wet towel to clean myself up with and then I drank some Gatorade and Chicken Broth and no more issues.  A little later I was able to eat the grapes and oranges.  Eventually grabbed my gear and headed back to the Airbnb.  Once I had my phone it was amazing to see all of the congratulatory messages on social media and for that everyone.

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mile time - I look so glamorous with all of the salty sweat.

What I learned

I learned a lot about how my body reacts to heat.  Ultimately, I just didn’t take in enough electrolytes for what the weather dictated - and once I realized the issue I needed to react faster.  It’s hard to simulate the heat + intensity + the duration of workout and so I didn’t know what my body would need, but I believe I now have a better plan for future hot races.  I also realized I made two minor mistakes - one is that I need to bring calf sleeves for hot races - I don't know if it would have prevented my calf cramps but it probably would have helped.  The second was that I was about to use my 3x sodium Clif Shot bloks but changed back to regular at the last minute thinking that I had enough electrolytes.  Again - not sure it would have solved but it wouldn't have hurt.  I also learned a lot about issue management - the day was constantly about figuring out “next best action” - what should I do now that will help me get to the finish line the fastest?  Usually it’s to take in more nutrition but sometimes it honestly is to slow down temporarily (with the goal of picking it up later).  Things ebb and flow in a long race and there will be times when I do start feeling better.  

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fter the finish - I sat here for at least five minutes.

While I am disappointed in the outcome, I am not at all disappointed in the journey. I do actually have another Ironman race later this year in Cozumel, Mexico in late November and I hope to apply my new lessons about racing in the heat.  I also find it somewhat comforting to compare this to my race at Ironman Wisconsin three years ago - I still believe that was my “best executed” Ironman race, having fully achieved my physical potential for the day and I finished just within the top quarter of all racers.  This race, I had a really tough day having severely underperformed but still finished at virtually the same percentage ranking.  

What’s next is to take some time off from training and pick things back up in preparation for Ironman Cozumel on November 26.  It will be hot, humid, and windy.  After this month I would like to think I better prepared for that and hope to get closer to solving the puzzle that Ironman racing and put in a strong performance.

Some other various pictures (mostly from Whistler)

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