Ironman Canada 2002

Ironman Canada 2002

The 2002 IM Canada was a race I was looking forward to with great anticipation. I was hoping that I would finally get my ticket to Kona. The training leading up to IMC 2002 was as much fun as I’ve ever had training for a single race. After a spring time filled with the Boston Marathon, Half-Ironman California, and the Fort Morgan Half-Ironman the summer flew by. It was already August and IMC was around the corner.

The days leading up to the race were beautiful if not a little warm. The small town of Penticton, BC in Western Canada was celebrating IMC’s 20th anniversary. There was a lot of excitement in the town and you couldn’t help but feel psyched to race. I was feeling good in my last few workouts, my biking was strong, and my legs felt nice and fresh during my runs. I was coming out of my taper just like I wanted.

The morning of the race I set up my transition bags, loaded my bike with my nutrition for the race and headed for the swim start. I swam an easy couple of hundred yards and felt ready. I positioned myself back off the front line, maybe 3-4 rows back. The race start was the largest ever in an Ironman. There was something like 2,040 starters. I was to the right of the Pro’s starting pen, and when the gun went off it was bedlam, just like always. I started out easy and waited for some people to clear some room for me, but it didn’t happen. I was stuck swimming in a crowd. Almost immediately I had some lower abdomen cramps on my left side that were pretty painful. I reached down to loosen my wetsuit but it didn’t make a difference. Next I stopped and tried to massage the area but it was too painful and I decided it would go away. Each time I would pull my left arm through the water to the finish of my stroke, the pain got worse. I kept on swimming. In the meantime I was thinking I could swim a 1:03 even with the problems. What I didn’t factor in was that I was swimming crooked due to pulling too strongly on my right side. So every time I looked up to spot on the buoy, I was swimming on an angle toward it. I was cruising along pretty easily and finally found my rhythm and my own space in the water. I hit the shore in 1:07 something – my first thought is “Wow they must have measured this course long” – and my second thought was; “No big deal, let’s go catch a lot of people on the bike” and that is precisely what I did. I exited the water officially in 1:07:43, 691st overall – easily my slowest IM swim in three years.

My plan on the bike was simple – ease into the ride and at the top of Richter Pass (a 5 mile climb at the 40 mile mark) drop the hammer. I rode strong all the way to the bottom of the pass – I kept passing throngs of people – I couldn’t believe how far back I really was at this point. Just for an example, at IM California last year I was 343th out of the water. I was more then 300 people further back at IMC. As I started the climb – my legs were just dead – not much different then a training ride at the end of a long week. I caught this one guy on the climb and he asks me how my day is going and I reply that it’s going well. I then ask him how his swim went and he tell me he swam 59:00 – I had made up 10:00 minutes on this guy in 40 miles – I was moving right up the field. After the 5 mile climb I started to feel better and decided that I should start picking up the pace. My watch was beeping every 20:00 to remind me of my food intake and my legs were coming around. From that point on, I was passed by very few people. I kept moving up and kept focusing in on a few riders at a time up the road. My miles and miles of riding this summer were paying off. After the 80 mile mark is when this race gets tough – it’s the slow gradual climb up to Yellow Lake. It’s one of those – it doesn’t look like you are going uphill – but you are. And you are just gutting it out and having a long conversation with yourself. I had to pee at mile 40, but decided to wait, but I still hadn’t gone and I wasn’t about to let anyone pass me so I kept telling myself to have discipline – I’ll pee when I get to the bike transition. My conversation with myself was something like this: “Hey – go faster” – and the reply to myself was, “I am doing the best I can” – “Well, figure out a way to go faster then” and on and on it went. This was the only bad patch of the bike leg that I had and I have to say that I felt real crappy but I managed it pretty well. Even though I slowed, my effort stayed up there and I was able to remain positive. When I was close to the top of Yellow Lake I stood and just powered past a few others who were struggling up the last few meters. The noise on the climb was crazy. There were cowbells ringing, people screaming and green Martians were dancing on the side of the road (ok maybe I imagined that part), but it was LOUD!

I hit 100 miles in 5:00 hours exactly and I was pumped knowing that the final 12 miles all downhill to the finish and my goal of 5:30 on the bike was a possibility. I just had to average 24 mph on the final stretch and I was going to hit the mark. I rolled into T2 at exactly 5:30:59 – and headed to the changing tent for my favorite part of any race, the run. Bike place was 291st overall. I had passed 400 people on the bike.

My transition was quick and I was on my way. About 10 steps in I knew things weren’t going to be easy. My legs didn’t feel bouncy or full of energy; they felt tired just like when I was climbing up Richter Pass. I told myself to slow it down and go easy. The first mile is slightly up hill and I hit the mile in 7:25 – and I thought, “Wow that was not as easy as I would have expected.” Right then, I should have committed to not looking at the watch the rest of the race but I wanted to see where I was and how I was doing. At mile 2 and 3 I had hamstring cramps – a sign of dehydration? – and then I had to finally take a pee break at mile 4 – yup 4 hours later from when I first had to go. The next five miles were flat and decided to stretch out my stride and pick up the pace – I looked at my watch at each mile but it wasn’t telling me what I wanted – I was expecting miles in the 7:25 range but I was getting miles in the 7:50 range. I hit the rollers from miles 9-12.5 and I felt like I was really slowing down even though I wasn’t being passed by many people. In the first twelve miles I think three or four people passed me.

I totally let myself get into my head as I neared the turn around. I saw Larry M. and right behind him was Paul D. I tried to look cheery and strong, when in fact I was hurting big time. In retrospect, I should have feigned being weak like Lance Armstrong did last year in the Le Tour. Instead I gave my rivals (friendly rivals) motivation to keep their running pace up. At the half way point, I looked at my watch: 1:42. Thinking that was bad, I went into a funk. I started walking on the return leg, and I wasn’t as motivated to catch those guys. The run in was a struggle for me. I started running with a nice guy named Rafael from Lafayette, CO. We ran a few miles together, chatting between breathes. His pace was faster then mine and I had to let him go. Around mile 22 I had a self talk. I decided that I did the best I could with my training leading up to the race and whatever went wrong on race day, well I’ll figure that out when I get home. Then I had this revelation: A 10:30 something Ironman is NOT too shabby and I had better have a good attitude about that. I didn’t want to act like some spoiled athlete just because I didn’t reach my goal of 10:00 hours. I had a great summer of training, had lots of new training partners, and I was about to finish my 5th Ironman and fourth one under 11:00. I think a lot of people would be okay with that. I wasn’t satisfied with my performance, but at some point you need to say: “I did my best.” – I was and I did.

At mile 23, a guy came running by and encouraged me to run in with him. I found out his name was Andrew and he was from AZ. We ran together until mile 25 when he told me had to catch some rival of his in front of us. I saw Melanie at Mile 25 as well. IMC is cruel in the way you turn away from the finish line when you are 20 meters from it. You are sent out to run a kilometer out and kilometer back (1.2 miles total) and then you finish. Melanie handed me a small American Flag and I carried it the final mile – boy I was motivated to carry my flag. I ran the last mile in 7:00 – and I came across the finish line in 10:37. My run split was 3:54. I wasn’t disappointed at all in my race. How could I be? Ironman number five was on the books. I must be maturing or something – yeah right.

I’ve had a 2 weeks to digest the race and here is what I think went wrong:

I was too cold at the start of the swim. I should have started out faster or stayed out of the water after I warmed up.
I think all the climbing I did on the bike was done with too low of a cadence. I was powering everything. I think with a more efficient pedaling cadence, I would have climbed better.
I don’t think I ate enough on the bike. I probably consumed less then 2,000 calories for the whole ride. Chances are I was 1,000 calories short on the bike.
I could have used more water on the bike (I took less then a bottle) and maybe a few salt tablets. The cramps on the run could have been avoided with a little more sodium.
I could have taken a water bottle with Coke in it on the run and put one in my special needs bag. The race used Pepsi, and I just don’t think it has the same kick as Coke.
A subtle difference to some, but a big one to me.
I will either do better math in my head or not look at my watch at all. When I got home I figured out my run split (pre meltdown). This year at IMC, I was 1:00 off my 13.1 mile time (half way) compared to where I was last year at IM California. IMC is a much tougher run course then IM California. To be close to my run PR at the half way point tells me that my run training was good, but my pain management and mental focus needed to better on race day. I’ll work on those.
Things I did right in preparing for the race:

I had great swim workouts. I wouldn’t change a thing there.
My bike volume was good as was my intensity. I would test more consistently though.
I would run more mile repeats on the track and add more run volume earlier in the year. I tried the quality over quantity approach and my ‘bread and butter’ has always been volume, not intensity. Need to remember that next time.
Core strength was a great addition as was the daily stretching.
That’s all she wrote from this report. I’m looking forward to the next one, whenever that will be – the calendar is doesn’t include an Ironman next year.
Keep your goals high and keep striving for them. If you don’t try, you’ll never know what you can accomplish.

Train Smart and see you at the races,
Mike

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