Ironman Canada Race Report (long)

Ironman Canada Race Report (long)

Post by Jack Birecree (D47 696 » Sat, 11 Sep 1993 23:55:29

We arrived in Penticton 8 days before the race. I did this to acclimate myself
to the weather and to have a little vacation. Our condo was right on the beach
about a half mile from the race start. Great location! When we arrived, the
weather was pretty warm and the beach looked pretty appetizing, so I really
buckled down and tapered. Beach book... I could feel the
strength return to my legs.

Penticton is a tourist town about 200 miles east of Vancouver, just north of
Washington state. The town is built between two lakes and bordered by some of
the most beautiful mountain scenery you have ever seen. It is the kind of place
I would go for a vacation even without the Ironman. The town derives it's
livelihood from tourism and they know it. We were treated like kings. Everyone
was very friendly and went out of their way to make sure we had a great time.
Tourist towns in the US could take a lesson from this place.

During the week leading up to the race we developed the fine art of TV taper.
Basically we sat on our butts and enjoyed the vacation. We went for one short
run on Monday and a short bike on Tuesday. During the week we rode the bike
course in Augie's rental car. "Doesn't look very hilly at all," we
though. On Sunday evening we both agreed that a car is not the place to review
a bike course. Otherwise we rested and practiced our souvenir shopping.

As race day approached, the town became a sea of neon. There were tri-geeks
everywhere. There wasn't a vacancy in the entire town. All the massage
therapists were booked solid so it took Augie a little hunting to get the first
of his many massages for the week. Bike packs were a common site down Lakeshore
Boulevard throughout the week. The residents seemed to enjoy it as much as we
did. On Friday (two days before the race) I wandered out to the beach in the
morning and it looked like a race was in progress. There must have been 300
swimmers in the water all thrashing about. "WOW! What's it going to be like
with 1200," I wondered.

The days leading up to the race were packed with activities. There was a pro
seminar with Tinley and Ray Browning (quite interesting although it had a
decidedly pro perspective), pasta parties, race expo, bike safety check,
souvenir hunting, etc. It was a lot of fun, but in the back of my mind a little
voice kept warning me of what was to come.

The day before the race we had to bring our bikes down and check them in as
well as turn in our bike and run bags for the next day. After I put my bike in
the racks, I spent about an hour just wandering around in awe of the
two-wheeled technology in that coral. There was some serious coin spent on
these toys. Almost all of them were hi-tech. It was impressive!!

The night before the race I turned in at about 8:30 so I could get a good
night's sleep. HA! My heart was beating so fast I thought it was going to jump
through my chest. Talk about nerves! I finally dozed off at about 3:30 AM only
to have the alarm wake me up an hour later. "60 minutes of sleep....I'm in some
serious trouble." No sense worrying about it now... So I got dressed and we
headed down to the start.

The race site was a hubbub of activity. Everything was organized. I got
numbered, picked up a bag to leave my sweats in, got two timing straps (one for
the swim and one for the bike), and dropped off my special needs bags, all in
about 10 minutes. (The special needs bags were plastic bags each competitor
could pick up at the halfway point of the bike and marathon. I put some power
bars in my bike one and a change of shoes in my run bag) These people
really know how to run a race. My nerves were really on edge now.... I put on
my wetsuit and took a position on the right of the masses to await the start.
The pro's were over on the left side of the swim trying to get an advantage,
but the kayakers were keeping them in check. Talking with some of the other
competitors, I found out that 1 or 2 hours was the average amount of sleep. (I
still didn't feel any better about it...).  Even the ironman veterans had
trouble sleeping.

As we got closer to the start, I noticed that there wasn't the usual
jockularity there normally is before the swim in shorter triathlons. Everyone
was in quite contemplation of what was at hand and most of them were just
starting out into the water. This sure did a lot for my nerves!

The swim course was triangular in shape with the first leg consisting of 1.2
miles in the nearby lake. The water temperature was 66 degrees and calm...a
little on the cool side but near perfect conditions. Everyone there had a
wetsuit, with about half of them full arms and legs. At 7 AM the cannon fired
and I was off. As you might expect with 1200 people hitting the water at the
same time, there was a lot of congestion. Swimming is one of my strengths, so
I started near the front to try to avoid some of the commotion, but it didn't
seem to do much good. After about 3/4 of a mile I was still in a tight pack
getting kicked and punched constantly. I kept popping my head up looking for
some open water but there was none around me. Just legs and arms. OUCH!

At the first turn things really got tight. I got my goggles kicked and water
got in on my right eye. "No time to stop and take care of it now, I'll have to
wait till it thins out a bit." Little did I know it would never thin out. It
continued to be chaos around me with no open water and constantly bumping into
the other competitors. As I rounded the final turn and headed for the finish I
looked up and we were swimming right into the sun. This made land sighting
almost impossible, but since I couldn't swim anywhere but straight ahead anyway
this was not much of a dilemma.

As I exited the water and entered the transition area, I checked my watch.
58:55. WOW! Five or ten minutes faster than I thought I do and 7th in my age
group. The crown at the waters edge was 5 or 6 deep. They were cheering wildly.
As I came through the timing gate, two volunteers grabbed my wetsuit and
"peeled" me out of it in 2 or 3 seconds. Fantastic. I grabbed my bike stuff and
headed into the changing tent where more volunteers were all around to help you
out. One put my wetsuit into my wetsuit bag for me, another was going around
with vasaline asking if anyone needed any. "What a race!"

After a 5:38 transition, I was on my bike heading out. The bike starts out
right up main street and it was lined with spectators. People were cheering all
over the place. I had to hold back a little because I wasn't used to this much
attention. After we left the town I fell into my groove.

The first 40 miles or so were flat or slightly downhill. It was averaging 22+
mph without expending much effort at all. I had my watch beeping every 15
minutes to remind me to drink and I was trying to consume as much as I could.
They had aid stations every 5 miles on the bike and at each one I took at least
one water bottle, sometimes two, and drank them. In all, I think I drank over
30 water bottles during the course of the bike. They supplied an energy drink
called Endura as an electrolyte replacement and water. Endura is pretty vile
tasting, but I figured I needed all the help I could get, so I drank it
exclusively. They also had cookies, grapes, cantaloupe, and bananas at each
station and I grabbed a few of these also.

At 40 miles we encountered the first of 2 major climbs. This one heading up
Richter pass.  It was not super steep, but it was long....7 miles long. I tried
to remain seated to save myself for the run. I'm not sure if it was the
climbing or the scenery that was more breathtaking. Probably the hill, but the
view was awesome.

After Richter there was a screaming downhill. 45 MPH! Hang on! WOW! What a
rush. Just after Richter, we headed back north and encountered a headwind.
Apparently the sun had heated up the mountain air enough to cause the thermal
winds to kick in and they were coming from the north, directly in our face.
OUCH! The last half of the bike was almost exclusively north. This wasn't going
to be easy.

50-90 miles was a series of rolling hills. Had to gain enough momentum coming
down one hill to get you halfway up the next one. Still I remain seated through
most of them to save my hamstrings. My quads were starting to get weak.  The
road surfaces were spectacular. At least 100 of the 112 miles were on "perfect"
road surfaces. I've never seen such great roads. Not a pothole to be seen and
the only traffic I saw was spectators leapfrogging to get a shot of their

At 90 miles we hit the second major climb. No quite as long, but with dead legs
it sure seemed harder. This one had a lot more spectators along it so it became
important to look good. I remained seated for most of it, but occasionally got
up and powered up some of the particularly steep parts. After this there was
another 45+ MPH downhill. WOW! And this was still INTO the wind! When I finally
began to slow at the bottom there was a small town that was also the halfway
point of the run. The crowds were already thick. What an event!

With about 12 miles to go I dropped my chain ring into the small cog and spun
for the remainder of the ride. With about 5 miles left on my bike, I went by
Ken Glah, the eventual winner already out on the run. He looked pretty fluid. I
hoped I would feel as good.

As I pulled into the transition area, I thought I was in the olympics or
something. There were bleachers bordering the last half mile of the finish, all
packed with people cheering wildly. You couldn't help much but smile. This was
terrific. I rode right into the bike c***where someone took my bike from me
and racked it. Another person handed me my run bag and pointed me in the
direction of the changing tent. I glanced at my watch and it read 6:56. My bike
split was under 5:50, (about 19 mph average) and physically I still felt good.
I was about 30 minutes ahead of where I thought I'd be at this time in the

In the changing ...

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Ironman Canada Race Report (long)

Post by Michael J. Gils » Tue, 14 Sep 1993 20:04:44

We've had several race reports already, so I'll try to offer a
slightly different look at the race.

We got into town Wednesday after driving up the Crowsnest Highway
on the way up from Seattle.  It was a spectacular drive and well
worth the extra time (compared to driving from Spokane).

Thursday, a pair of us biked/drove the bike course.  At what would
be the 88 mile mark, we mounted up and finished the last two miles
of the last long (15 miles) grade and did part of the winding
descent back toward town.  The descent is about an 8% grade and had
some vicious crosswinds.  Since traffic was heavy, we descended with
the brakes on, averaging about 35 mph.  The curves were more easily
negotiable on a bike than in a car, which had been a concern.  I
felt confident that this portion of the course would be no problem
on race day, but the crosswinds had caused my partner, Barbara, a
lot of concern about the stability of her new bike (Kestrel) and
wheels (Zipps, front and back) in a descent.

Friday, we met and swam out and back on the final leg of the swim
course.  This was good preparation for race day because we discovered
that there was absolutely no visibility due to sun glare.  I had been
advised by an Ironvet that there were microdunes in the sand on the
lake bottom which ran parallel to shore.  We found that these were
an excellent navigational aid.

Afterwards, Barbara drove to Richter pass with the intention of
descending the far side of Richter, which is straight descent, to
prove to herself that the instability was due to crosswinds, not
the bike itself.  Unfortunately, all she managed to prove was that
if it got _really_ windy, the bike was going to be hell.  On the same
descent that Jack Birecree and others reported 40+ mph on race day,
she achieved 17 mph while pedalling hard.  As you can imagine, this
had us worried about wind conditions on race day!

Saturday, did the check-in, athlete parade, etc.  In bed at 11:00 pm
and slept soundly until 4:15 when the alarm went off.  I had spent
the last year working on the mental part of racing and had pictured
myself sleeping soundly the night before the race.  It has really
paid off this season because unlike previous years, I have not lost
any sleep before a race.

On the advice of a pro cyclist, I had a large conventional breakfast
(eggs, pancakes, fried potatoes, etc.  I don't know whether this
helped, but it didn't have any negative side effects - heavy or queasy
feeling - during the race.

I lined up on the left of the pack at the start and immediately began
drafting.  The first turn was the first time I got knocked about - not
at all what I expected in a mass start.  I stuck with the woman I was
drafting until 1.8 miles, when she began to tire, and glued myself to
the toes of another swimmer.  This strategy paid off: my time was 1:13
but I had kept my heart rate in the low 140's and felt fresh leaving
the water.

Like Jack, I had to hold back in the first miles of the bike because the
crowd in town really gets you pumped up.  Like the swim, my strategy was
to keep my heart rate high enough for a (hopefully) decent time, but low
enough that lactic acid didn't accumulate.  In retrospect, I think I was
too conservative.  Anyway, I came in around 8:10 and was on target for
13 hours.  

The first half of the marathon went well, but I made a serious
mistake in eating unfamiliar food and paid with stomach cramps for the
next two miles.  Unlike my peers in this race, if things got to the point
where I was barfing, then I was going to drop out.  (I saw a nubmer of
runners who would run a bit, barf a bit, run a bit more, barf a bit more...)
At around the 22 mile mark I started to get a little light headed due to
lack of nutrition.  At the next aid station, a little Leppin Squeezy and
water fixed things and I finished feeling very well, although far short of
my goal time (13:52 vs 13:00).

The next day I ran about a mile first thing, testing for soreness.  My
legs were fine, but my traps were mildly sore and my abs were very sore.

As Jack noted, the race organization, the volunteers, and the townspeople
treat you very, very well.  It's hard to imagine, but they make you feel
as if you are the most important participant in the race and they make it
a very personal experience, which is remarkable given the number of
athletes.  Completing an ironman is very satisfying, but the welcome we
experienced in the OK valley will have us going back next year for vacation
and in '95 to race...

Mike Gilson