Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Ironman Canada, Whistler

After all the race reports I’ve written this is the one I've always wanted to write. There’s been so many with all kinds of tails of woe: punctures, vomiting, walking, penalties, mechanicals etc. I had to keep the faith that one day if I keep training and keep entering surely it will happen. Every dog had to have it’s day right? Even if it was years in the making. Well finally, after four+ years of let downs, this one fine day in Whistler this dog, had his day.

It's our day today, me and you Yukester.

  Each year the Hawaii Ironman is run in the second weekend in October and from September 1 the preceding year, there are several races around the world that offer qualifying 'slots', and for the 2013 race, I had entered a few. In fact more than a few. I was like the crazed housewife on a TV game show standing in the clear tube with lots of wind being piped into it and $50 notes blowing around her and 60 seconds to grab as many as she could. I’d entered IM West Australia (littering penalty and puncture - Fail), St Croix 70.3 (Double puncture - Fail), IM Cairns (Heat Stroke in did not start) and finally the last chance saloon, the 3am in the club looking around to see if it’s going to be another lonely night, - IM Canada in it’s new home of Whistler.

Got to be init to winnit, innit.

People who have read a few of my race reports (poor souls) will know how many times I’ve failed, and how much humble pie I’ve eaten in this sport, enough to make you gag on really, which I've made a habit of in races as well.  It had become tough to keep the eye on the prize and I did start to try and justify the let-downs thinking 'what the hell does it matter anyway'. But that was justifying it, truth is I had to get the bladdy monkey off my back. Despite having achieved some pretty cool feats in the sport including qualifying for the half ironman champs in Vegas twice (not taking the slot though), finishing top ten in the OD Age Group Worlds in Beijing, 5th overall in my first Ironman (Vineman), winning a triathlon over all (sorry for all the tooting of my own trumpet – no one ever accused triathletes of being overly modest), I still had not ‘ticked the box’ (am so over that expression but is apt here) of qualifying for Hawaii. 
To be honest it gnawed away at me every day. It dragged me to finish the sets I didn't want to and to start them too. Having a wife who was killing it and had won her AG in her last Iron Man by 30 minutes made my failures all the more apparent. I’d like to think I have never begrudged Ness her success and have had tears in my eyes watching her get her slots and trophies in the past, but there’s no denying it can be cold in the shadow. Especially with friends who are not in the sport, and even some who are classification just ‘qualified for Hawaii' and 'not qualified’. I knew I was good enough to qualify, but there's no point explaining the intricacies of qualifying, no one wants to listen to the hard luck stories. Either you've done it or you haven’t. And I hadn't.

No matter which way you look, it's either in or it's out.
Ironman Canada was one of the first Ironmans evert o be held outside of Hawaii, and had been going for 20+ years all in it’s previous home of Penticton. This year Penticton had decided to change to the “Challenge” brand and boot out Ironman, so Ironman was on the lookout for a new home. There was a bidding process and the biggest ski resort in Canada Whistler won out and both races were scheduled for the same day. It was an interesting parallel with Ironman Japan, which had moved from it’s previous home in Goto (which was still running as an independent race) to its new home of Hokkaido – near the biggest ski report in the country. Niseko's 'official' sister city is St Moritz, but in reality, it's Whistler. And I love both places.

Dunno why but despite being an Aussie from Sydney, the mountains excite me more than the sea. Always have.
As 'Ironman' was going head to head with a key foe (Challenge) they had thrown 100 slots at this race to make sure the punters would come. It worked, as the race sold out its 2,600 capacity, and poor 'Challenge Penticton' had only 800 starters.  Rich Wadders and me had decided to enter 9 months before as he was also a mountain man with his 2nd home in Verbier and we both wanted a crack at a slot. I was surprised that there were no flights from Singapore to Vancouver so went via Tokyo, where I needed to spend a few days to check in at the clinic, do some staff orientation and a few bike fits and then onto Vancouver. It happened that the weekend before was O-bon in Japan, which meant ultra-expensive flights. As I was busy in Singapore getting the clinic going I was thinking to fly after the expensive flights, spend a couple of days in Tokyo and arrive in Whistler on the Thursday or Friday before the race for a hit and run mission. Rich gave me some sage advice that I’ll always be thankful for, and said I should try and get to Whistler earlier to adjust to the massive time differences and recover from the long flight. And I'm sure that really helped me have a good day on race day.

Not ideal prep for an Ironman
I was very fortunate that some good friends Julie and Jonathan from Niseko had recently moved to Whistler and offered to host me in their lovely house. In fact there were no fewer than 6 friends who had lived or travelled to Niseko who I caught up with while I was in Whistler. Made me feel right at home.I arrived on the Monday and had a great week before the race, working on the computer and the food in Whistler was so good, I was eating fry-ups of coconut oil, high fat bacon, sausages and eggs all day and fatty steak at night and not eating any refined carbs at all. As the race was hilly I was working really hard to get the weight down and the high fat diet and carb avoidance just saw me get skinnier and skinner. Race day I was 83kgs, about as light as I get. And to think most stil think fat makes you fat. Blows me away that we've all been sold that con so much that people see a picture of a fatty bit of meat and think "disgusting" and yet see a picture of a massive cake and think - "beautiful".

Ironman food.

SWIM 3.8kms 58mins

The swim was in Alta Lake, a pretty lake about 4kms from Whistler central and it was a spectacular site. Simply perfect for an Ironman start. I had some trouble with my pump in the lead in to the race and needed young ski star Kai to help me pump it and it was still hit and miss. Rich W was going to help race morning, but he was also running late and with 20mins to go I still had about 60psi and the pump had just shat itself and nothing was going in.  Rich W gave me the good advice to seek a mechanic, which I should have done 30mintures earlier, but my typical race day IQ of 50 had already kicked in.  Fortunately the mechanics had a disc adapter so I got it pumped up, taped over the valve cut outs and racked with about 10minutes until the gun. The transition area had long since closed. The mass-crowd was all ambling to the water slowly over the mat in a daze, so I weaved in and out through them to the water. Too often nervous athletes get caught standing on the beach when the gun goes.

Pretty easy to navigate. Still heard some cut corners.
I entered the water and kept swimming out across in front of the start line until I was near the inside lane. Bobbing up and down for a minute or two before the start with steam rising from the lake, the mountains in the background and a hush over the crowd, the sun suddenly came out for a minute, and I couldn’t help thinking – wow – this is a really cool moment. I’ve always tried to be a self-appointed crowd controller at swim starts but usually fail. This start was totally different and restored my faith in humanity. There was no ‘creeping’ forward, no people bobbing about 100m in front of the start pretending they are invisible and oblivious, not even anyone jumping the gun, despite a 10 second count down. The North Americans just seem to have a bit more decorum & class about themselves than Aussies and Asians in the same situation.

Great swim start here.

Once the gun went I had a decent start but soon noticed there were quite a few really good swimmers here. I lost the first pack pretty quickly and was in the second pack for most of the swim. The course was really well marked with buoys every 100m with marks on them 1,2,3 etc. so you could tick off the distance as you went. First time I’d seen this and a really cool addition. The swim was two loops with no exiting the water, which I was glad of as I hate running after a swim and I stayed relaxed and swam easy-moderate throughout.

Not my best swim time, but I think the swim was a bit long.
When I sighted the lead pack seemed to have a lot ahead of me but there wasn’t as many as I thought. I exited the water feeling really fresh but still in a bit of a daze. The first thing I saw was about 30 volunteers with rubber gloves standing around looking at me. One was a spritely elderly lady with a exaggerated body language. She was beckoning me with a two armed motion almost pulling me towards her saying “come here, come here”. She reminded me a bit of the wicked witch of the west or some weird erotic dream of being seduced by an old lady sitting on a bed head that I’d had and tried to forget soon after waking up. She was drawing me towards her (hey it’s been a while OK!) and I finally managed to ask, “what is this” or something similar. Some guy shouted out “strippers!” not as in 'Badda Bing' stripers thankfully, more as in lie down and they will take your wet suit off for you. I’m not a big fan of them so quickly pivoted and went to try and find my bag. The poor old lady, but it wouldn’t be the first heart I broke on the day. I actually ended up taking too long to get the wetsuit off my heel and my timing chip was dangling by a single clasp of Velcro, so maybe I should have let her have her way with me.

You know you want it Big Boy.

BIKE 180kms (well 178 actually but who’s counting). 5.05

I was happy to see there were not many bikes missing from the racks so went out on to the bike feeling pretty happy. The bike course had everyone a bit scared. It was the talk of the town all week. Basically it broke down that there were rolling hills for 30kms then a decent climb "Callaghan" to the place where the biathlon was held at the winter olympics, then down to a cul-de-sac town called Pemberton, 50kms flat out and back from Pemberton and a final 30km climb from Pemberton to Whistler and onto the run.

The flat 50kms looked tasty.
As I’m not much of a climber (too heavy) I didn’t think it was a good course for me, but I didn’t get passed on the bike and the climb up to the biathlon range at Callaghan was not that steep – max 10% so I just tried to climb in the bars and keep the power meter below 350. I was even passing a few. On the turn-around at the top of the climb, I was surprised to see I was coming about 6th overall and there was only one guy ahead of me in my AG. One guy was out in front by himself but the others were within 30-60sec. Damn this is going better than I thought. The descent was pretty cool and I made up one or two spots, For nutrition I’ve totally gone off the gels and had decided to get into the sweet potato on the bike as I'd worked hard to become a 'fat burner' and wanted slower release carbs. I'd prepared them the day before, however not being the best cook I’d boiled it (poorly so it was still raw in the middle) and then cut it open and poured olive oil over it and lashed it with salt. I had two big schlongs of them wrapped in foil, but while eating it the oil drizzled all over my hands and descending at 70+kph and bar tape that is a slippery anti-chain oil marking, it’s probably better if your hands are not coated in olive oil. 

Slippery little sucker.
 Then going through Whistler town there were lots of supporters out and the weather was great. A nice part of the ride. On the way to Pemberton I finally caught up with the guy leading my age group and another youger Aussie guy. I was tempted to ride through them but thought of the 50kms flat ahead and thought I should take a breather and ride with them for a while. There were a few nasty climbs and a moment or two when I wished I had a 28T cassette but they passed soon enough. The three of us swapped the lead quite a few times on climbs and descents, and all three were vey good at keeping the legal draft distance. Through Pemberton with quite a few locals out cheering, seemingly unbothered by being marooned for 10 hours in their quaint town (would not have bothered me either) and onto the 50km ‘Pemberton Flats’ and my plan as posted on my blog was to bludge for the first 15-20kms then hit it solo.

Pemberton, a gracious host of the Bike Course

 First the guy in my AG took the lead and road for 8kms in front. I was sitting third feeling guilty. I was at 7ms but going easy. I was doing 190-200watss, just as planned and was almost yawning. The younger Aussie guy then went to the front and did 8kms and I stayed back soft-pedaling and concentrating on not encroaching the draft zone. 

Not that bludger....

We were going along about 38kph, but third wheel makes such a difference and the two behind (me and the other one) were solid on the draft zone. 18kms into the flats and I’d had it and hit the front at 270-80 watts, which was about 43-5kph and said sayonara to me two mateys. I did feel bad as I’d often berated pace line bludgers for not doing time on the front, but today was different for me. I felt I’d paid my dues at the front of pace lines in spades, and just for these 18kms it was my turn to bludge and cash them in a bit. Sorry guys – no time to explain my actions but on my moral radar I’m OK with them.Also it was only a small fraction of the bike course total, aside from that time and a few kms at the end of the Pemberton climbs, I was pretty much without much help from legal drafts. 

........this one!

We had passed 2 or 3 others and at the turnaround 25kms in to the flats I saw there was only the one guy out in front, leading the AG race and I was 2nd. The Aussie guy had left my AG guy and as we crossed over after the turn-around he said, “wait” to me, he was killing himself to latch on. Sorry mate I thought, I’m not waiting today.  I ended up putting a gap on those two and bridged up to the leader. I thought I’d take a breather behind him for a while but after going 42kph the leader's 38-39 plus the legal draft made it too easy. I sat back for 30seconds but was soon running up his ass and had to go around and pass him.
Who's that chick?? Must be lapping her. Oh one loop course. She must be pro and started 7mins ahead. Definitely. Must be. For sure.
 I was surprised to see the packs coming through the other way. The guys who were probably 10th-40th in the AG race were in full-on pelotons, not pace lines – 3-4 wide and packed in really tight. I’d never seen packs like that so close to the front. Only in the middle of the field, which I could not care about. Considering these guys were getting a free ride while I was smashing myself with my nose in the wind I was not best pleased. I had put all the thought and effort into my bike and had a great service before the race by Singaporean 'Zen' bike mechanic guru Gabriel Tan (9060 4004) he had it going as good as it ever had, finding and fixing many faults with it. My tyre selection was right for a change too, I went for Conti 4000 20mm front and 4000s 23mm back, both with Michelin latex tube 20-23 front and 23-25 back. I'd almost gone for the Bontrager Aerwong 19mm front and R4 aero back but decided to go for the better puncture protection of the Contis. I hit a few rocks hard so was glad I did. The aero efforts I’d made were paying off big time as I could see all the aero mistakes other guys were making. Funny how many people are so dismissive of aero and even after you post a great time still say – "mate you didn’t need to worry about the aero your legs were so strong”.  Or “forget that aero crap and just train, that’s where the gains are” as if it’s impossible to train and put effort into improving aerodynamics.  Anyway luckily most are still dismissive of the importance of aero as it makes it easier to get a higher ranking. I ended up averaging 40.2kph for the 50km "Pemberton Flats".

Another slippery sucker. Wind don't confront me none.
Through Pemberton and I was leading the whole AG race, and there were quite a few spectators out giving a great cheer. This was the first time that has happened in a full distance official Ironman and in a big Ironman like Canada with 2,500 starters I couldn’t believe it – “Damn you’re having a good day,” I thought, surely, this must be ‘THE” day. The long 30km climb back to T2 had lots of hills and I was busting for a pee, which made it hard to pedal well, and the efforts on the flats were still stinging. The guy who was leading was pretty light and he re-passed me after 15kms or so. I was still putting out 250+watts but on the long climbs it didn’t feel like much and was not staying aero as much as I should have. One other guy I had not seen bridged up and I rode with him for the last 8kms or so, but he ducked into the penalty tent once back in Whistler so I guessed he was going extra hard knowing he had a 4min draft penalty to serve. I was glad they caught someone!

Decided at the last minute to wear the long sleeve top. It is more aero on the bike - I did feel bad for the laaadies I was depriving of viewing pleasure, but unfortunately; skin is slow.
RUN 42.2kms 3.38
Going into T2 coming 2nd was really awesome. The parking lot was really packed with speakers everywhere and the announcer was pumping me and everyone up. The crowd were giving me lots of love, so many surrounding the transition and lining the first 500m of the run. Some reporter with a big hairy boom mike was running next to me asking “what motivates you to keep going?” all I could say was “I wanna qualify for Kona”. Weird to be interviewed while running in the race, but could not help being flattered. It was so cool to see the locals into it as there seems to be no endurance/ road bike culture in Whistler. It's all MTB but I think in a few years that will change for sure.

Onto the run through the village and my only thought was – you’re 1st in your Age Group, top 14 go to Hawaii, and don’t you dare screw this up. So that became my mantra on the run “Don’t Fark it up, don’t fark it up”. God knows I had farked it up many times before. During the first 2kms a few savvy spectators said “You’re 80 seconds behind the lead age grouper”, next one “You’re 90 seconds down on the lead age grouper” thanks I said, but really I was thinking  - I’m not going for lead Ager the only thing I care about is how far ahead am I of the 15th place age grouper in my category. But who the hell had that information?

Is that a sponge in your pants or are you just glad to see me?
I finally found a quiet dirt path with no one around; a great place to pee and decided I did not want to pee on myself and probably had enough of a buffer to make it not worth it too, so pulled it out and went on a tree. As there was a dirt track and no one around I soon decided to keep moving forward. Yep – while peeing. I was walking forwards cowboy style with shoulder width gait drawing my zigzag mark off to the side of the path. Never pulled that one before had to have a laugh at myself.

Just don't tell the race marshalls will you Curtis.
I was feeling a bit smug and just running well within myself at about 4.45-4.50 pace to make sure I would not be walking home from the 30kms mark. I kept thinking that as long as I run 3.40 I’ll get there, there can’t be 15 guys running 3.25 surely. Surely! The first turn around point at 11kms in was a real litmus test. Not long after turning around I saw the big train of runners and with their numbers showing you could tell what age group they were in (aside from those guys who were hiding theirs - which was quite a few!). It was a bit of a wake up call. I was counting them off 1, 2, 3, 4 can't see number, looks about my age 5, 6, 7 etc. There seemed to be 15 guys in my AG within ten minutes behind me. Shizer, I thought this could quickly go badly wrong. Maybe today could actually be another day to add to my long list of failures. They all looked to be running so quickly too and I wondered how many of them had spent the ride in those packs and how they must be fresh.

Did not see this lil fella - maybe would have broken 3.30 if I did!
From then on I was running more scared, but still determined to keep the pace steady and walk through every aid station. As people passed I had to remind myself to let them go, everyone's got their strengths and yours is not running so just let 'em go. It became clear that the 100 slots on offer in this race had drawn a lot of people who are on the cusp of qualifying and the fields were very deep. I had quite a bit of support from friends during the run and got through it without feeling too bad or going to any really dark places, extended walking or the like. I even managed to pick up the pace after 30kms a bit but had another few in my AG pass me. I saw Trevor Wuertele in the lead of the men's race, who is a Canadian whose wife Heather has won about 5 Ironmans and his previous best finish was about tenth. I thought - surely today is the day of the husband.

Run course was great. Not much flat though!
It was not until the last 2kms when I finally let myself think today was going to be the day. I saw Suzie Bates and Eric from Tokyo days with about 1.5kms to go then Morag, Kal, Julie and the kids with about 1km to go. I really started to get overwhelmed and after that there was a winding part through town for 500m that I’ll never forget. 

1km to go, surely ten guys can't pass me from here - Kal, Maggie, Julie and crew gave me a big cheer. An awesome moment for me and stoked to share it with some friends.

I was starting to choke up and could not believe it. Then into the long downhill into the chute and I saw some more Niseko mates Amy and Paul from Mt Merry, who were waving a bright yellow Kutchan flag with Jaga-kun, the skiing potato on it– awesome! The chute was packed with grandstands – did the airplane giving high fives for ages and had never been happier.

Words can't describe this feeling.
After the race I went for a massage and more ex-Niseko friends found me and said hello – Yukiko who had worked for us as a massage therapist two seasons before. As I was rolling over after the  ‘front” side of the massage I felt a bit nauseas and asked for a sick bag. I ended up doing a very small vomit in the bag and some Dr saw it and made me go into the med tent. I was trying to tell them vomiting was very normal for me, and it would be weird if I didn’t’. Still they took me to the med tent and I tried to talk my way into an IV but fell short.

They forced me to assume the pateint role. I was fine..... If only they knew the troubles I'd seen.

The guys Julie, Morag and Kal were so kind and helpful in the little duties to complete the day, I felt like it was a hometown race. So good.

Not that I’ve won a big award but this is a big life achievement for me, that I thought might never hapen,  so please let me indulge in a few thanks you's before the band starts to ramp up and I get hooked off stage – to my wife Vanessa who has been so kind, patient and thoughtful and such a great wife making so much lovely food over so many years it makes my head spin. She kicked my but to get me out to do sessions more than a few times. Of course massive thanks to Coach Woody (Alun Woodward) who has been a big big help right from the day we decided to race ironman, am so happy I decided to pick and stick when it came to a coach. It would have been too easy to blame my failures on him, but he only ever did a great job with me and I knew it and appreciated it all the time. 

Thank you. You like me, you really......oh you don't and you think it's all a bit of a wank. That's cool. Understandable really. There's kids starving in Africa. 
Other people who really had a big influence on my triathlon life whose advice has made a big difference to me and the way I think about the sport that I'd like to mention: Kristian Manietta, & his wife Charlotte Paul - got me started on the right foot from early on in my tri career. Matt Koorey and Rob Pickard gave me some really great advice on a camp, Nick Croft also came to Niseko for a camp and gave some great advice. Super coach Brett Sutton - who is a massive presence in triathlon coaching so many world champs, Kona winners and even a gold medalist, I've hung on his every word for years to great effect and despite having never met me was kind enough to reply to several queries I’d asked him without any financial incentive. Mum and Dad have been big supporters and gone to great lengths to watch me race, not only today but even when I was a kid racing cross country and for dragging me and the other 6 kids on cycling trips, and the few big charity rides Dad and I did from Kosciusko to Sydney and Melbourne to Sydney, when I was a teenager and which I’m sure are partly to thank for my strength on the bike.

I love youse all

Now it’s onto the victory lap in Kona, no big goals for that race, just to have a fast bike split, brandish my wristband obviously around town and lap up the day. My Mum and Dad have decided to make the trip and are even going to fly in for it!! Can't wait.

Camera man did not need to ask me to smile = )


  1. Great report mate. Aero-weeny Win

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