Sunday, November 13, 2011

Better late than never...

The title is in reference to this very late Ironman Canada race report, but it also nicely sums up my result: I did finish my first Ironman race on 28-Aug-2011 in 12 hours and 42 minutes.

Am I happy with this result?

Good question - one I have asked myself quite a bit over the last few months. I know I ought to be. In all reality a sub-13 hour first time Ironman finish is a respectable result. Also, it was incredibly hot that day; in Penticton the forecast was for a high of 33°C and that makes it way hotter in the Similkameen Valley and to about 7-gazillion degrees running along Skaha lake in the mid afternoon with nowhere to hide.

And yes, in many ways I am really happy. I finished reasonably healthy and in good spirits. And after all, sub-13 was my "B" goal. With my "C" goal being to simply finish. The "A" goal was to finish in sub-12 hours.

One can, and perhaps should, argue though that I set my goals too soft. The A-goal should be nearly unattainable. That is, only if everything goes absolutely perfect should I be able to reach that goal. And with that said, it should have been 11 hours, with a B-goal of 12 or 12.5 hours.

But I am getting older, "of a certain age" per se, and I want to enjoy this sport still for a very long time to come. At the Oliver Half Iron race this year I promised myself to stop creating these kinds of goal-pressures for myself and just race for the fun of it. This promise, as it turns out, seems to be a work in progress...

So in all honesty, I am a little disappointed in the final time and know that I could, and should, have done better. Sub-12 is totally attainable for me. I know where I made the mistakes and ended up falling short. And with that I take comfort that this was a great learning experience and will serve me well in my next iron distance race.

Heck, it wasn’t just a great learning experience, it was a great experience - period!

Here now how it all played out.

Lawrence and I arrived in Penticton on Tuesday evening to be there nice and early before the race to acclimatize and get all the pre-race stuff done without any stress. On Wednesday we met up with our training buddy Gen and went to listen to Jordan Rapp speak at the Penticton Wholefoods. Thursday was race registration, Friday the athletes meeting, and Saturday bike check-in. Doesn't sound like much, but add in a little bit of training, cooking, and numerous trips to the local Starbucks and we were constantly on the go it seemed.

With Esther (not my wife Esther, but my training buddy Esther Lee) in the suite next to us at the Rochester Motel on Lakeshore Drive, there was naturally a lot of tri-geeking going on with all the meals we usually had together. Good times all in all and helpful to calm the re-race jitters.

Although Esthi (my wife this time) initially didn't plan on coming to Penticton for the race because of work, she found a way to make it happen in the last minute: take the Greyhound bus from Vancouver to Penticton on Saturday and fly home super early on Monday from Kelowna. That was a totallysuperwickedawesome surprise!

On Saturday evening, after a nice dinner, it was all about triple-checking the special-needs bags (the transition bags were dropped off the day before together with the bikes) and some more tri-geeking. My nerves were seriously out of control by that time.

Sunday morning the alarm got us up at 3:45 am. Holy F...! Really?! It sure felt like I had no sleep whatsoever. But there was a lot to be done: get the coffee and the oatmeal ready, slather on capacious amounts of SPF50, and make sure to put on the right gear including the timing chip. "Will I need long sleeve/leg morning gear? Ah, screw it... it'll be warm enough" (it wasn't).

Just before 5 am Esther (training one, the wife was still in bed), Lawrence, and I make our way to the body marking area. Just as we were walking down Lakeshore, Esther noticed that she was missing something... The wetsuit! Oops, that could be a problem. So we wait while she gets it and in then Eric who is another client of our coach Lara joined us as well.

Next up was the special needs bag drop off and after body marking it was on the way to the transition area we met up with Lara, who gave us final words of encouragement and advise. Especially with this heat we are to make sure to keep cool by dousing ourselves with water wherever possible and drink more water than usual.

In transition the first order of business was to make sure the bike is all set: pump the tires, put the first load of drink in the aero bottle, put the concentrate bottle in the down tube cage, turn on the Garmin 310XT and put it on the bike all set up for multi-sport starting with the bike, put the valve cover on my aero jackets (wheel covers for the rear wheel), and bring the bike pump over to Lawrence. When he was done I found Lara one more time as she was kind enough to look after it for us.

Finally time for chillin' out before we were allowed on the beach for the swim warm-up. I used this time to drink a bottle of Powerbar Perform (the official Ironman sports drink) and go over my race plan in my head another time.

It was actually quite simple:
  • Quick warm-up in the lake
  • Start the swim somewhere in the middle, relax and try not to get bothered by the vast number of people
  • Try to move through the swim to bike transition quickly but without rushing.
  • The goal for the swim and T1 was to be 1:30 or better.
  • Take the bike easy - really easy due to the heat and to save myself for the run. For nutrition I planned on consuming 6x roughly 750ml of my Infinit Nutrition formula in a slightly higher concentration plus lots of extra water from the course. My aero bottle had the first load ready to go and I had a triple concentrate for the following 3 hours on the bike which I would dilute with water from the aid stations. At special needs I had another bottle with a double concentrate for the final hopefully less than 2 hours. Should I fall behind in time and need more nutrition I would take Perform from the aid stations.
  • Again, move quickly through T2 without getting flustered by rushing it too much.
  • My goal for the bike and 2nd transition was 6 hours or better.
  • The plan for the run was simple: run only one mile! Well, 26 times that is. I was going to run - ideally at a 6 min/km pace - from aid station to aid station and walk along the aid stations while taking on Perform, cola, water, and sponges and ice as needed. In the end I planned to finish the run in 4:30 and thus the overall race in less than 12 hours.

Simple, right? Ahh how wonderful plans are! Here is what actually happened:

Bumped into Gen and after a big hug we were off for a short swim. Back on the beach it was waiting around for the pros to go at 6:45 and then, finally, after about a year of training and waiting and anticipating, I was lining up at the start of my first iron distance race: Ironman Canada 2011.

Lessons learned: other than some slight training modifications and attitude adjustments in the immediate pre-race prep I wouldn't change a thing.

3.8 km Swim
Utter madness! Swimming with nearly 3,000 other people is quite something that is hard to put into words. The expectation would be that it thins out over the course and while technically it does, it really doesn't. Look at successive areal pictures of the swim start and you'll notice that everyone is spread out over hundred some-odd yards along the beach and is than aiming for and swimming towards the first sighting buoy. It actually started out with decent space but soon turned into a totally annoying washing machine. Whenever I wanted to swim faster to get out of a tight spot, I seemed to get into more trouble. So in the end I mostly just relaxed and slowed which seemed to get me in a better swim position. I really cannot say that I expanded much energy swimming. Instead the energy that I did use was to fight off people that got a little too aggressive.

Result: 1:16:42

Lessons learned: different from race to race, but at IMC I would start further to the right and in general I need to become a (much) better swimmer. I believe there is a huge advantage coming out of the water in less than 1:10 hours that goes well beyond the few minutes saved.

There was no way I could have run out of the water and through transition. It was complete gridlock and just walking was slow going. I did find a pair of volunteers to strip off my wetsuit rather quickly and was on the way to get my swim-to-bike gear bag and into the change tent. The tent too was super busy and I actually had to look around to find an open chair. Then I got a bit discombobulated and things slowed some. But I got all the right gear on eventually and was off to my bike. Saw Lara and the Right Shoe gang cheering at the bike exit and felt happy and good to be on my bike.

Result: 0:05:40 so swim and T1 well within plan

Lessons learned: be much more methodical in the steps involved and pack the gear back accordingly in sequence.

180 km Bike
I could go on writing up all the gory little details of the bike ride but have come to the conclusion that summarizing is a better way to go.

I took the bike ride easy. With the temperatures of the day and all good advice received, this was probably not a terrible idea… except I took it WAY too easy. My goal was to race at an average of about 180-190 watts and that would have been plenty conservative. I ended up averaging only 169 watts. Doesn’t seem like much, but it would have made all the difference in the world. This was really dumb too as I had the read-out right in front of me on my Garmin 310XT.

The other interesting thing was that the arch of my left foot started to get really tight at about 90k and kept hurting more and more. I thought I’d be fine carrying on until the Special Needs at 120k where I planned to get off the bike briefly anyway. On the way there I was already not pushing much with my left foot anymore and instead pulled on the pedals to make up for it. Not the smartest thing to do in general – and especially not if you plan on running a marathon after the bike ride. When I tried getting off the bike at Special Needs, I almost fell over as I couldn’t stand on the left foot. So I took some time to try and massage the pain out of the foot and when I put the shoe back on I didn’t tighten the strap as much.

The remaining 60k were much better but the pain was not going to go away completely so I carried on pulling up when it got too bad and that kept me going alright. When the right arch started feeling tight as well I immediately loosened the strap a bit. Hey, I am not completely stupid, right?

The pain and foot issues aside, the bike ride was awesome! Really awesome! Keith from North Shore Athletics, loads of people from SpeedTheory, Darryl at one of the aid stations, and of course Lara was on the course as well cheering. I know that Esthi was out there as well, but I don’t remember seeing her on the bike – just knowing she was there was great though.

Result: 6:16:02

Lessons learned: Hey numb-nuts! This is a race – not a casual-weekend-club recovery-ride! Look at your power output and if you feel way too relaxed you may want to think about picking it up. And another thing, numb-nuts… when it hurts, it’s not likely to magically stop hurting over the next 30-90km. Do something! And do it now!

Got off the bike remarkable well but could not run or even walk properly. My left foot hurt like hell. So I hobbled to the gear bags, got mine, and continued to hobble to the change tent. Before putting on running shoes I had to try to massage some of the pain out again. Eventually I got impatient and just kept going. Had a porta potty pee stop and walked more than ran to the volunteers with the sunscreen. All lathered up I finally started actually running out of T2 and onto the run course.

Result: 0:06:30 – between bike and T2 almost 30 min slower than I had hoped for.

Lessons learned: be much more self-reliant as far as sunscreen is concerned. Not sure if I ever get to the point where I would forgo the porta potty for time savings…? Other than that, same lessons as T1.

The first 5k of the run I was doing really well. Perhaps even too well as my average pace was slightly faster than then planned-for 6min/km. This quickly corrected itself in the next 5k. Even though, at the 10k mark I was bang-on at just over an hour. From here on things started to unravel. My foot was killing me and that not enough, now also my hamstring started to object – really no surprise there. Add in the no-shade-heat along Skaha Lake and I was just not in a good way at all.

As mentioned earlier, I was planning to walk through all the aid stations, but after some 20k (now I was at 2:16 hours and clearly bleeding time) I walked all the uphills as well – the real and the perceived ones. At 30k I was at 3:33 hours and already nearly a half hour behind schedule on the account of walking just randomly. At 40k I was at 4:43 hours but now with the end near something resembling a second wind had kicked in and I was pushing it again. Or whatever passes at this time for ‘pushing it’.

Although I finished the run in a time that I would rather not advertise and the various pains were really annoying, in retrospect, there were so many great moments too:
  • Esther passing me at … I don’t know where – maybe at 15k in? And I knew that that was coming and well deserved for her.
  • Seeing most of my training and racing buddies along the way; even tough didn’t have the energy to properly acknowledge them.
  • All the people cheering – the ones that knew me, including Amanda and Ben on their bikes and Keith on his scooter, the assorted Right Shoe athletes not racing that day, the ones I didn’t recognize because my brain blanked out.
  • The ones that so enthusiastically cheered for everyone. Like the one with the sign saying “Looking Good! Got Stamina? Call Me! ###-####” which made me smile every time I came by it.
  • Then with less than 2k to go, Esthi was on the side of the road and started to run with me. And all I could think of was “Hey! I could get DQ’d for that!” And I actually told her to not run with me. Clearly I am claiming brain-fart on that one.
  • Along the finishing stretch was Murray from Speed Theory and cheered his lung out! That was awesome
  • Then, just before the finish chute, was Lawrence (who finished nearly two hours ahead of me) yelling out “Klaus Schoenwandt, you are an Ironman!

See, the one thing I really wanted, was to hear the incomparable Steve King announcing exactly those words when I cross the finish line. Except when I came in Steve was on break and that iconic line was not being used as much as it used to be in previous years. Lawrence did a great job making up for it though!

Result: 4:57:22 – Ouch!

Lessons learned: hmm not sure. I think that much of this falling apart can be blamed on all the events preceding it. Clearly the one thing that I could and should improve in is mental toughness. And overall I need to do a much better job at weight management. I started the race with just under 190 lbs or so and I should really be at least 10 lbs less than that for an event like this.

In a nutshell: can’t wait to do another one! Challenge Roth 2013!

Special Thanks:
First and foremost, I owe a huge thanks and debt of gratitude to my wife Esthi for her infinite patience and generosity – both with my time and financially the way I emptied money into the black hole that is first-time-Ironman-racing. Love you lots!

Naming all the others that so much contributed to this awesome experience would be way too much so I just use short form here.

Coach Lara, Rand, Danny, Leigh, Heather, Eric, Vittoria, Lorena, Amanda, Ben and all other Right Shoe athletes, Keith from NSA, Jeremy, Doug, Murray, Mike and all other Speed Theory Vancouver peeps, Shaun fromPacific Rim Multisport, KC and Janka and the other coaches from Fastlanes, Peter “Seahiker”, Jason, Darryl, Sarah and Matthew and all the other athletes who have made training so much fun, Timberly and Laura for keeping me well aligned, and all my friends who had to listen to me tri-geeking way too often and still kept a smile on – thank you all! I could have done it without you and I wouldn’t have wanted to in any case.

Notably absent from the list above are my good friends and training partners Gen, Lawrence, and Esther. A very special thanks goes to you for sticking with me through all my random complaints and for not giving up on me but pushing me on instead. I am very happy and honoured that you trained with me and shared your experiences and advice along the way. You guys are awesome.

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