Here goes… a good, old fashioned (LONG) race report for Ironman Canada 2014. As the title states, my Ironman journey continues on.
I toed the line for my first Ironman this past Sunday, Ironman Canada in beautiful Whistler, BC, Canada. The short story is that the day ended at 123.6 miles for me after GI issues that began late on the bike did me in about 9.2 miles into the marathon. While I did not finish (DNF) the race due to those issues, I thought I would share my thoughts on the race with those interested. This post will also serve as a reminder for me of the details of the day if ever I forget them.
I left the condo at 4:30am and headed over to T2 to drop off the Special Needs Bags. From there they shuttled us over to T1 at Rainbow Park at Alta Lake. I got over there at around 5:10am and immediately started to get ready. Ironman provides great support in Canada including lots of pumps, help for the bike and water stations for bottle fills. At around 6:20, after finishing with a warm up jog, I took my Gatorade Gatorlytes (Salt Supplement) and my Gatorade Endurance Carb Energy Drink and got myself ready to get in the water. We were set to start at 7am as a mass start with the cannon. As I lined up to get in the water, I got to see my son Austin and my girlfriend Stephanie. Perfect.
I got in the water just before 7am at the 3 minute “warning”. My starting position strategy was to stay to the right because I breathe to my left. This would allow me to catch a draft off of another swimmer while keeping the course to my breathing side. I decided to wait 3-4 minutes after the cannon to actually start my swim. This would allow me to avoid the washing machine factor as much as possible. There were a couple of hundred of us that had the same strategy which was good. This would allow there to be people to sight and draft off of. I was going to take the swim easy. My goal was to exit the water in 1:35 – 1:40 leaving me plenty of time in T1 if I needed it. I ended up swimming a 1:47, which is slightly slower than my already slow planned pace. I hustled out of the water and felt pretty great after the swim. I had a little bit of the normal dizziness but they weren’t too hard to shake.
Transition 1 (Swim to Bike)
I didn’t have a goal for transitions. It’s my first Ironman. If I needed extra time in transitions to get myself together, then I would take that. As I mentioned, I felt great so I didn’t need a lot of extra time to get myself together, but I did take a little extra time making sure that I had everything I would need for a long and tough bike ride, especially on the nutrition front. It was still a bit cool, so I decided to wear my DFW Tri Club Bike Jersey over my Gatorade Endurance Team Tri Top. That was really the only thing that was a decision point for me in T1. I got dressed, grab my ziplock with my Lara Bars and Gatorade Chews and headed out to the bike.
I volunteered at Ironman Canada in 2013 so I had driven much of the course. Driving the course helped me understand what the climbs looked like out to Callaghan and then out to Pemberton, which is where the bulk of the 6,500 feet of climbing comes from. Leaving T1, I took it easy for the first few miles. As easy as I could given that we had some small climbs out of Rainbow Park and toward Hwy 99, which is the main road here. I got onto 99 and headed right toward Callaghan. The rollers from Whistler unit the turn off to Callaghan were slightly challenging, but were fine and the crowds lined the road the entire way. As you make the right turn off of 99 toward Callaghan, you are faced with the first of a pretty long and steady climb. At about 1:40 into the ride, I had my first hiccup. A front flat on a recently changed tire. I’m glad it was a front because those are just easier to change. I got the tube on the Zipp 808 Clincher swapped in about three minutes, which is pretty darned good and as you will learn later, pretty important. I got to the top of the Callaghan climb and turned around and headed back down toward Hwy 99 for some climbing back past Whistler toward Pemberton. You get some rollers after Whistler with a couple of short climbs, then a big downhill into the Town of Pemberton where you get to your special needs bag for the bike. I lost my chain for the second time on the downhill, but I rode it out and stopped briefly to get it back on. Pemberton to the second turn around is flat. It has almost no elevation. With that said, some of the roads on the flats are rough and required some focus to make sure I don’t end up in a crack or a pothole. I tried to ride the flats faster to make up time that I gave up on the climbs early on and to leave myself time to tackle the last long climb out of Pemberton toward Whistler. I started to feel my first GI issues at around mile 80 while I was still on the flats. I was keeping up my salt consumption being that it got as warm as 98 degrees according to my Garmin 510. I kept the water flowing as well, especially after taking in anything with a calorie. at around mile 89 I started the big climb back to Whistler. I was just over 6 hours into the ride at this point and while the bike cutoff was on my mind, I felt as if I would be fine to make it by the 5:30PM cutoff time. At around mile 94, I lost all my nutrition that I had onboard. I threw up. This was the first time I had this happened to me on the bike and I really didn’t know why it was happening at the time. I had followed this same protocol throughout my training. This stopped me for about 12 minutes as I got myself settled and took in some sips of water. I got through it playing the infamous words of the character Billy Bob from the movie Varsity Blues in my head… “Puke and rally!” I said to myself as I started to get myself together and look to continue. I waited about for 15 minutes on my resumed ride and took in some more of my Lara Bar and chased it down with some water. Around 20 minutes later, I was stopped down again with the same issues. This stop cost me another 12 minutes or so. Same deal. I got myself settled and through it, sipped some water, repeated the infamous words and started to make my way back to T2. Now I was up against the bike cut off and I knew it. I had about an hour and ten minutes to get back into T2 and I had about 15 miles to go with some climbing left. It wasn’t going to be a lay-up considering my condition at this point. I was running on fumes, literally. I can only keep water down with sips of Gatorade Endurance Formula. I made it over the hill and into Whistler. As I made my way into the village area on HWY 99, there were still people yelling for those of us that were still out there. They were pulling for us to make that time. One man yelled that I had 5 minutes until the cutoff, which I knew because I had turned “Time of Day” on my Garmin while I was riding the flats. I wasn’t sure if I could make it and admittedly, I considered just cruising it in. That consideration left as quickly as it arrived as I decided that I would make that cut off if it killed me and I would make the decision while in transition if I could continue. I wanted the option to continue to be mine and mine alone. Well… I made the cutoff. By SIX SECONDS. My official time race time when I got off the bike was 10:29:54. The cutoff was 10:30:00.
Transition 2 (Bike to Run)
I got into T2 and I felt pretty terrible. I had nothing in me at that point except for some water and Gatorade Endurance Formula. I just sat there for a while. I knew the clock was ticking. I knew time wasn’t on my side. I had six and a half hours to finish and become an Ironman. One of the volunteers in the tent finally looked at me and said, “you know you have three minutes to get dressed and out of here, right?”. That pissed me off, frankly. I said something back to him like “are you serious?”. He responded with, “Yes”. That pissed me off more. I grabbed my run gear, stripped off the wet bike clothes, popped on the run clothes, powdered up the Newtons, grabbed the nutrition I would try to use, and headed out.
I got to see my kids, Stephanie, my dad and my friends Doug, Stephanie, Gina and Josh right away. That was really helpful to my spirit. I started shuffling off as Gina, a multiple Ironman finisher including Canada in 2013, reminded me. She told me to just shuffle quickly and keep moving. I started to do math in my head. Could I do it? Yes. I could. I just needed to keep moving. Even at 15 minute miles, I would make it. I shuffled my way through a first mile at around 13:45 / mile. I hit aid station 1 and grabbed some sports drink, water and pretzels. I drank the sports drink while I took more salt capsules and took the pretzels and water with me and continued my shuffle. No sooner than I got them down did they come back for a visit. I can’t think of a better way to put it than that. After that, I was slowed to a fast walk, watching my average pace on my Garmin Fenix 2. I hit the gravel trail at some point where there were some pretty good-sized hills. It was before mile 3, that much I know. I was feeling extraordinarily lethargic at this point. Like I was sleepwalking. I think it was the fact that I had no calories to fuel myself on. I made it to the aid station after the gravel trail, which I think was at mile 3 or 4, which is where the first medical staff member started to look me over. He asked the question I didn’t want to hear right off the bat. “Do you want to stop?”. I didn’t answer him. Just then, a local training buddy from Dallas saw me. It was crazy that he appeared when he did, but it was good that he did. Josh is coached by Raul, my coach, so we share that in common. He sat me down and asked how I was. I remember answering him, but I don’t recall exactly what I said other than that I started getting sick on the bike and haven’t held anything down since then. He coached me through sipping some water and chewing some ice. He grabbed me some pretzels and sports drink. I sipped that and tried to get the pretzels down slowly. After around 10 minutes of Josh coaching me back to some semblance of energy, he stood me up and told me to get after it at 4 miles an hour. I took off, turned the corner and saw Stephanie, Austin and Allie. Stephanie had asked the entire corner of people, which seemed like 100 to scream for me when I came by and scream they did. It made me smile. I don’t recall smiling much on the run, but I do recall that smile. I hugged both kids and told them I loved them. They told me that they were proud of me. That helped me so much. I said a few more things that weren’t too positive about my situation to Stephanie. She quickly broke out her middle school principal on me and told me to get going basically and told me what I needed to do pace wise. At that point, my average pace was at around 19 minutes a mile. I needed to chop that down significantly to 16:05 according to her math, so shuffle off is what I did. No quit even though I came very close at that aid station that I saw Josh. I made it two aid stations without any more GI issues. I then hit the 5th aid station and grabbed the same rotation that had seemed to be working for me. Sport drink down the hatch, water and pretzels while on the move. I did the same at the next aid station and as I turned the corner toward the bridge over Green Lake, I lost it all. Almost on a very nice spectator who helped me get myself going again. This was somewhere around mile 6 or so. I repeated the “puke and rally” again, this time out-loud. He laughed. It was at this point that I saw a volunteer on the phone with the medical staff about me. I didn’t have the time for another tending to beyond what just had. Average pace was just below 17 minute miles. So close to where I needed to be according to Stephanie’s calculations, which I trusted. She made this race as important to her as it was to me. The fact that I was in the 16’s motivated me to keep going, so I did. I ran off. No medical checkup for this guy. Not at this point. I got over the wood bridge at the lake and shuffled up to who I later realized was the last person that crossed the line that night. A Timex team member named Walter. We didn’t talk, but I remember telling myself that if I could stay close, I had a shot. I shuffled past the aid station at mile 7 which would turn out to be a pretty important aid station in my Ironman story. I made it to the turn around out by Green Lake which had a couple of slight grades for that part of the run. I was at 16:25 per mile at the turn around. I recall being pretty happy to see that mostly because I was in the high 19s at one point. As I made my way toward mile 9, it hit again. That lethargic feeling. Sleepwalking is the only way I could describe it. I remember turning the corner toward the same aid station that was at mile 7. It was just past mile 9. The med staff folks basically saw me stumbling around. Apparently I wasn’t able to hold a straight line while I was shuffling along. They sat me down and covered me in mylar. I was sweating, but I was cold. I checked my vitals and I remember him saying that my blood pressure was low, but not dangerously so. I recall telling him that I wanted to get up. He told me to stay put. I told him that I didn’t have time. I needed to get moving. He told me to stop looking at my watch and to give him a few minutes. He followed that up immediately with, “how are you feeling right now?”. I explained that I couldn’t keep food or liquids down since late on the bike. He asked me how many times my food revisited and I told him 4 or 5 so far. He basically told me that my situation was beyond the point that it would improve. He explained that the best case scenario was that it would stay the same, but that wasn’t the most likely scenario since the temps were about to drop which would add to the issues because my body would need more energy to heat itself. He then asked me what I wanted to do. I told him I didn’t want to quit. He then told me that it wasn’t my quitting and that it was my body not cooperating any longer. He told me that there was no shame in my stopping. I looked at my watch. A long time had past. My average pace was back up north of 20 minutes. He asked again how I felt, I believe to get me to evaluate it for myself, not because he wanted to know. It was at this point that I told him that my day was done and that my mind had pushed my body as far as it could go that day. His name is Shandor. Thankfully, I got his phone number from when he helped me contact Stephanie to tell her my day was done. Shandor was amazing to me and I was very happy to get to express that to him in the days after the race. I also look forward to having a beer or two with him on my next trip to Whistler.
All in all, I swam the 2.4 miles, biked the 112 miles and ran 9.2 miles. That’s 123.6 of the 140.6 miles I signed up for. It was a journey that started on May 29, 2011. That journey now gets to continue. I learned so much about myself on Sunday. I learned more about myself on Monday when my focus on the positivity of what I could take from the day wavered and I lost my emotions about it for a while. I never let the kids see that I was upset with myself about it. I am proud of what I did that day. I’m even proud about my decision at that last aid station. Raul told me not to do permanent damage to myself during our last lunch meeting together at Chiladas to discuss the race plan. That helped me focus on what was the right decision versus what would have been a selfish and ego-driven one. The decision to stop was about more that me. It was about my kids. it was about my dad. It was about Stephanie. It was about all the people who I knew were supporting me from thousands of miles away. I needed to stop so that I could continue. On another day in some other place and that is what will happen.
Where I go from here…
I plan to make no firm decisions for at least a week from the time I return on Friday, August 1. I won’t register for anything hastily and without careful deliberation. Ironman Canada will not likely be my first completed Ironman. I have already signed up to volunteer at Ironman Chattanooga with one of my best friends, Josh Pittman, his dad Steve and his wife Ruann. I’ll be there supporting my friends that are racing there this September and I will be there competing in September 2015 alongside the Pittmans, which will be incredible. That was planned before I ever left for Whistler. I’m kicking around the idea of going after Ironman Texas in May 2015, but as I stated, I will not make that decision for a while. Nor will I make it without thinking it through and discussing with my brain trust.
There will be another trip to Ironman Canada for me at some point. I love this place. I love the people here. The locals, the volunteers and the staff were all such beautiful people to us all week. We got everything we needed from them and more. This is one difficult course. Especially the bike course. That said, it was the most beautiful 112 miles that I have ever had in the saddle. I’d love to tackle that again in large part because of the images that I have from that ride that will be with me for a long time. Until next time, Whistler!
Special thanks to these folks throughout my journey. I hope you all are up for a little longer ride than any of us imagined…
I’ll start with my family that came here and supported me. My Dad made the trip from NY to Dallas and then on to Vancouver. He was at Boston with me in 2013 and was directly across the street from the first bomb when it went off. He returned with me this year and was there when I finished. He means the world to me and I really appreciate his love and support. He’s a great dad and grandfather. My kids have been looking forward to this for a very long time. Not just the trip to Whistler, but my attempt at Ironman. They understand the sport well and both appreciate it very much. Seeing them before and during the race meant everything to me. My son Austin has decided to focus on cross-country and track because he has Ironman in his sights. He’s 12. I wish I had triathlon in my sights at 12. I love them more than words can express. Stephanie being here was so incredible. She owned this race like it was her own. She made sure that I was rested and that I was prepared. She made sure that I was in the right frame of mind. A positive one. Right up until the end. Stephanie is the most positive person that I have ever met in my life. She has me thinking a completely different way. She’s changed me for the better in a short period of time and I really appreciate her for that.
I want to thank Doug Silk, the future Mrs. Silk, Stephanie Ellis, Gina Crosswhite, and Josh Moulthrop. They are not only my Gatorade Endurance Teammates, but they were my #FurtherFasterForever teammates before we were lucky enough to become a part of the G Team. If you don’t know what FurtherFasterForever is, click the link because it’s an incredible community of people from across the country that pull for each other and push one another toward our goals. The four of us raced Ironman 70.3 Oceanside together. Doug, Josh and I ran the Boston Marathon together with Stephanie’s support, and Doug and I both toed the line at Ironman Canada together. He had a bike crash at mile 77 that put him out of the race with a separated shoulder, as well as hip, hand and wrist injuries. It wasn’t the best day for either of us, but we had some of our closest friends there to help push us while they could and comfort us when we needed it. Josh made the trip from San Diego to Washington, where he met Gina. He scooped her up and drove her up to Whistler from Bellingham. Gina could not drive herself because she had a bike crash during a long training ride and had surgery a week earlier. What a trooper and dedicated couple of friends we have. If not for #F3, I wouldn’t know them. I’m confident that we will be friends for life. That’s the power of this group.
Trent & Jennifer, Raul & Marta, Stearns, Lora, Avram, Travis, Clayton and the entire TriShop Staff. I feel like Norm from Cheers at TriShop. They have got to be sick of seeing me from time to time. What I love most about TriShop is that the knowledge and experience is shared and it’s FREE! I cannot tell you how many times I repeated to myself the first lesson that Trent taught me the week that TriShop opened. We were talking about racing and race strategy and during that conversation Trent said to me “You swim to the bike, you bike to the run, and you race on the run. Make sure you have what you need to run well in every race.” It’s simple, but it stuck and I try to share that with others as well.
My coach, Raul Cardenas. He’s simply great and I not only appreciate his coaching and mentorship but I very much appreciate his friendship.
The DFW Tri Club Coaches and Athletes. I love being associated with this group. It’s an honor to be a coach with what I consider to be some of the best coaches in the country. It’s a bigger honor to get to coach our members toward their goals and see them succeed.
The athletes that I coach and most specifically my triathletes Melissa and Chris. I cannot tell you how many times you both were on my mind during this race. I didn’t want to let either of you down. I wanted to lead by example. I hope you will find the positive in my day that I did. I look forward to seeing you both through to your goals for well into the future.
The family and friends that have supported me along the way. I can’t name and list everyone, but please know that if you have told me that you were inspired by me at any point, I thought of you throughout the day. Likely more than once. I hope you can deal with more of the same moving forward.
Whoa Canada! – My Ironman Journey Continues On0