Blog

Ironman Canada 2018 Race Report

Ironman Canada 2018 – when the preparation is near perfect, but the execution is not. 

After an awesome experience in Austria back in May, I’ve had a great leadup of training into Ironman Canada in Whistler 2018. Additionally, I have the following going for me: 

  • Familiarity with the course (having raced in there twice, including my first Ironman in 2013)
  • Convenience of the area – Whistler is only a five hour drive from Seattle. We have been there many times before and have stayed in the Westin numerous times before. The Whistler is even dog-friendly and were able to bring both of our dogs for no additional charge! Plus, no time-zone change.
  • Climate familiarity – Whistler is a pretty close climate to Seattle. Mainly it’s not overly hotter/more humid than Seattle so there is no need to try to adjust
  • Course profile – being a lighter athlete, hills are my friend compared to bigger athletes 
  • Racing in Heat – while no one prefers to race in heat, I’ve had two hot Ironmans and knew what to expect and what to do, even with forecasted temps in the low-mid 90’s.

I felt I had many advantages leading into the race. When the forecast kept confirming a projected high of 93F, I wasn’t fazed. Sure Ironman Coeur d’Alene was hot last year at around 93F, and it was terrible, but I persevered and learned a lot. Ironman Cozumel last year was around 88F and in general it went great. This was my race to see just how well I can perform and place.

Getting to Whistler and to the race start was rather uneventful in a good way! The dogs were even well behaved in the hotel! 

Untitled
Good dogs (for a change) in the hotel room

Swim:

I would even say the swim was uneventful in a good way! My swim form and fitness has continued to improve. I recall when I did this race 5 years ago, I was so nervous – I had to sidestroke over half of the first lap. It wasn’t until swim lap 2 that year when started where I finally calmed down. This year, all good. I was swimming a solid line drafting off others most of the time, no real issues, everything felt good, all is well.

1:15 - nearly a 3 minute PR over Ironman CDA last year!

Bike:

Now that we have a three loop course, it is known that the loops will get progressively harder. Not only are you more tired but it gets hotter in the day to double the difficulty. The first loop is great, taking it “easy” but the power numbers are looking good. Loop 2 is a little tougher, but that’s expected. Loop 3 starts to get uncomfortable. One because my crotch is getting a bit unsettled in the bike seat, but a quick stop at special needs for some just-in-case chamois cream helps. Two because I decided one week before the race to change out the foot bed liners in my bike shoes. In the couple of rides up to the race I had no issues, but after 4 hours my right big toe was rubbing and incredibly distracting. It felt similar to a new blister forming while doing a long run. It was also hot out, which isn’t unexpected, but the heat plus my big toe (plus the hills) were basically draining my will to push harder on the bike. My friend Robbie caught up to me on lap 3 on one of the longer climbs which helped me snap out of my funk for a bit, but that only lasted about 10-15 minutes until we started the slog back towards town. I decided to basically just ride along and complete the ride and focus on having a strong marathon.

2198_042755  
Enjoying some descents on the ride

6:45 – yikes, my second slowest bike split (behind my very first Ironman Canada in 2013)!

Run:

First, I’m super glad to have my bike shoes off, no more rubbing of the big toe. Fortunately there’s no loss of skin, so I borrow some body glide of another competitor to put it on the toe, and put on my running shoes. It’s normal and expected to either not want to run or feel like I can run after the 112 mile bike. I try to ease into it the first 6 miles, and with the heat I pre-gave myself some permission to walk at first in order to get the body used to running and keep the heart rate under control. I do start running but my stomach doesn’t feel that great. I try to burp out as much air as I can but resort to walking a bit while I continue to burp. Plus, walking did help me keep my core temp cooler. I certainly did contemplate quitting – I already had five Ironman finishes, what is a sixth one worth? 

But I knew I could walk, I could even walk the entire marathon and easily complete in 17 hours if I had to. Since I wasn’t injured or having trouble staying upright, I did convince myself quitting was not an option, that I would absolutely complete this thing. So I walk up the hills and aid stations putting ice in my jersey and water on my body/head. I run the downhills and try to take my first gel at about 3km in. Surprisingly it goes down and stays down! Hooray, maybe I’ll have some energy and be able to run now! After about one minute of running at my marathon pace/effort I look down and see my heart rate is in the high 170s, which is high zone 5, or similar to if I am sprinting. Hm, that’s not good. I slow down and walk and HR goes back into the 120s (zone 1) after about 10-15 seconds. Let’s try again – after about 30 seconds it’s now above 180. This isn’t good. I walk and manually check my pulse to make sure it’s not an issue with my chest HR monitor and sure enough, I count 17+ beats in 6 seconds. This seems bad. So I alternate running for about 45 seconds, walking for 15-20 until HR is below 130, or until I get to the next aid station where I continue to put more ice and water on myself.

IMC HR
Crazy spiking HR

I tried to take another gel around mile 8, I took about a quarter of the gel and noticed an immediate gag reflex, I put my head over a trash can for a few seconds, but don’t quite throw up. OK, this must mean I can’t take any gels. I start to switch over to Pepsi, thinking that might settle the stomach. I continue my run/walk approach monitoring my HR and it looks like the HR settled after about 10 miles. I recall at 24KM/15 miles I tried to eat a chip at an aid station and about 15 seconds later I was on the ground vomiting along the side of the path – mostly all of the Pepsi/Gatorade I had been drinking. After the medical and aid station captain talked to me for a bit to make sure I didn’t have heat stroke, I had a little bit of Gatorade and an orange and was on my way and I felt MUCH better. Hey I can run again! This was fine for the next few miles but then I thought I should probably take in some more calories but any time I tried to eat/drink my stomach would be upset forcing me to walk to consume/digest. It basically became a game of running the flats/downhills and walking the aid stations and up-hills. It was effective, just not fast. At one point I saw my friend Loren, who was racing and guiding a blind athlete through the entire 140.6 miles (no joke!), he saw me walking and said - "Hey Eric! Hey ... don't fucking walk!". That actually made me laugh and I did run for a little while, at least to the next aid station. I then felt more obligated to run in feat that he would see me again and yell - so it was actually quite effective encouragement!

After passing by at least half a dozen athletes collapsed along the side of the path or getting tended to by medical personnel, I think I probably made the right call to take it easy. Fortunately, it did cool off a few degrees when the sun went below one of the mountain peaks and I did run home the final few miles. In the last mile I passed about 15 people, including 5 just before the finishers chute. It was the fastest I ran all day, I just can’t help myself but to do a finish line kick. This of course made me wiped at the finish line, where I had my head over the trash can because I felt nauseous, but didn’t throw up (until about 30 minutes later when I ate a small piece of pizza). 

2198_058233  2198_068029   

Run: 5:19 - oof. My previous slowest was 4:35 at CDA last year. So a new PR slowest?

Total time: 13:29, 384/1149 finishers (+289 who dropped out after the swim) – so top 33% of finishers, top 27% of those who started the day

Untitled
The post-finish state!

This was, by far, my slowest Ironman race. While I had minimal time expectations due to the heat, I wasn’t expecting to have quite so many issues with the body and my will to compete. It’s a bit disappointing to come in with all of the benefits mentioned above and feel like I have little to show for it. I’m sure there are plenty of learning opportunities on specific things I did or didn’t do, and many I have written down. But ultimately, Ironman is really hard to race to your potential - this difficulty is one of the draws! It’s hard to manage your pace, your nutrition, the weather, how you’re feeling. It takes a lot of focus over a long time. This was my third Ironman in 11 months and I just didn’t have that focus/will on Sunday when things weren't ideal, such as the weather and my bike show annoyance. So I eventually decided to focus on just putting one foot in front of the other. Of course that spiking heart rate on the run wasn’t a good sign either – maybe if I HAD the will to push I could have blown up and put myself in medical to NOT finish the race? But the good news is I completed the safely race in one piece, and that fortunately my good preparation still had me finishing ahead of the majority of other competitors even on a sub-par day for me. So that’s not bad. In the end, I am usually my own biggest critic and I have to not be too hard on myself. I still did a lot of things right and, for the most part, enjoyed the experience despite the physical challenges. It was certainly pretty cool to see a lot of friends racing on the course and cheering from the side.

I will likely take a break from full Ironman racing. The satisfaction I am getting out of racing Ironman are no longer clearly outweighing the cost of racing them, so I think it’s time for a break. Shorter races, including half Ironmans are still rather “enjoyable” and I plan to continue those. On these shorter races, nearly every time I can execute to the best of my ability on the day, which is really the most satisfying to me. With the Ironman, it’s rare I can say that. Maybe someday I’ll do another Ironman, maybe that focus/will can return. But for now, six Ironman finishes isn't too bad... I suppose it's six more than most people!

My next big race is the Chicago Marathon in October, where I hope to qualify for the Boston Marathon. Hopefully it’s not 90+F in Chicago on October in the morning!

 

2198_087765
It's probably hard to notice the color, but apparently my skin looked very "green" at this point.

Untitled
Ironman #6 complete

Untitled
Lama - Iron dog