Ironman Cozumel 2012 Race Report

Sea ouchies, jellyfish, crazy currents, language barriers, drafting penalties, melting tires, sodium lessons, heatstroke, fights with moustache, bags of ice, and deals made with moustache. All this to finish an hour and a half faster than my last Ironman. I can’t imagine a wilder or better way to close out the season.

It didn’t take me long after finishing Ironman St. George to sign up for Cozumel (or what I like to refer to as The Coz). They seemed like the perfect complement—the first and the last North American Ironmans of the year. After the travel logistics, brutal swim, crazy hills and hot run of St. George, I was looking forward to the opposite end of the spectrum an all-inclusive vacation with a fast swim, a flat course, and tons of support. The word “easy” never came out of my mouth, but it was implied.

My race goals shifted throughout the year, depending on what I was feeling like at the time. At first I was hoping to heavily build upon my post-St. George peak fitness throughout the duration of the summer. For the first couple months it actually worked. I continued racing almost every weekend until the end of June, when I completed an amazingly fast (for me) half-iron distance race in Welland. After which I was totally burnt out.

The rest of the summer was spent training for the LOST 10k swim, which also meant that weight management wasn’t a priority at all. On the contrary I was hoping to gain a little insulation and buoyancy. I figured with the flat course in Cozumel it wouldn’t matter too much anyway. My running was improving every week, so there was no reason to keep my weight in check. I realize this may be a bit of revisionist history to justify having never said no seconds of The Girl Annie’s decadent cooking combined with the increase in frequency post-swim recovery beers. Either way, I had a very enjoyable summer.

With four hours in the water in conditions like this, you might want some extra padding too!

The biggest difference between this race and St. George was the fall addition of training with power on the bike. It improved the quality of training almost immediately. At first I trained as usual by heart rate, but once I found the power level that it correlated to, I used power as a constant instead. It took a while to get used to how it worked, then after a few tests I found my training and racing targets. Without going into too much detail (I could spend hours on this alone), I figured out that I would want to target between 155 and 162 watts in Cozumel. A big range, yes, but I would start at the bottom and see how things went during the race.

Leading up to the event

The trip to Cozumel went very well. Annie, coach Ayesha, Mike, Erica, Roland, Ali and Marvin and I were all on the same flight. It seemed like most of the people on the flight were there for the race—maybe one third of the people waiting in the check-in line had bikes. Unfortunately that meant that all these bikes were unable to fit into the plane.

Once we landed in Cozumel, there was a woman from WestJet who was going through the lineup for customs with a list. This list had all the people whose bikes didn’t make the flight. Mine was one of the ones on the list. I have to give credit to the way WestJet handled the situation though. We found out while we were waiting in line, and we all got our bikes that night. They were flown into Cancun and then shipped to our hotels. It was actually easier, since we didn’t have to lug them around to our hotel.

The days leading up to the race were spent doing as little as possible. Thursday was suntanning and snorkelling at El Cozumeleño, the resort that Annie and I were staying at. I made an effort to eat as heartily as possible, without eating too much. I also started eating as much hot sauce as possible, and as much of a variety food as I could find. I was hoping to find if there was anything that would disagree with me I would find it early on, and not the night before the race.

While swimming and snorkelling at the hotel, I felt a few sharp pains on my exposed skin. The first was on my foot, then on my thigh, then another on my shoulder. I had heard about sea lice and jellyfish—that was actually one of my bigger fears of the race. What if they really hurt? What if I had a reaction? I still don’t know what these were. Apparently real sea lice are something that only affect fish. There’s another thing called sea lice, which is actually the tentacles of jellyfish which get dislodged from the jellyfish and cause a rash in areas where bathing suits cover. That wasn’t this. I think they were probably small jellyfish, but I really don’t know. I’m going to call them “sea ouchies,” one of which caused a rash on my arm that lasted a couple days.

Are these the Sea Ouchies

Early Friday morning I met up with coach Ayesha and Mike at Chankanaab National Park, the site of the start of the race, to get a feel for the water. The conditions were perfect. The water was crystal clear—you could see the bottom of the sea, which had to have been at least twenty feet down. I almost felt acrophobic!

That afternoon was the athlete’s meeting at Hotel Cozumel. There was no shuttle from the host hotel we were staying at to the meeting, but there were a group of us that split the cab. After the meeting, we made our way down the street to the Convention Centre to actually register.

Registration went very quickly and was organized well. What wasn’t very well organized was the expo its self. I’m not even sure if the official store was in the expo, but there was a booth selling gear. I didn’t bring down enough nutrition with me, since I planned on supplementing what I brought with what I was able to find at the expo. I also needed four CO2 cartridges (two for the bike, two for my special needs bag). Out of the three bike booths in the building, I found the least busy one, and managed to find the Gu gels that I was looking for. The only problem was that they only had double caffeinated espresso and blackberry ones. Still, I took what I could get, knowing that I would be able to supplement my nutrition on the course.

There was some time to kill between my registering and the athlete’s dinner, so Annie and I went looking for WiFi to be able to contact Alex and the rest of the group. We found a decent restaurant with a great connection, and ordered an appetizer and drinks. After the drinks, the expo started to seem less likely. Not knowing if we would be able to figure out transportation back to our resort (which was located at the far north end of the island), we decided to skip it. It sounded like me missed a fun time, with Roland renting a “Mexican Ferrari” to drive the group back into the town.

The day before the race

Saturday morning I did my final bag packing and bike prep.

I rode my bike down to the bike check-in and finally got a chance to run into Alex. He relayed a small tidbit of information from his coach—the current is weaker the closer to shore you are. The fastest way through the race would be to swim close to the shore when you’re going northeast, and further from the shore when you’re going southwest. This may have helped me more than I expected.

The lineup to get into the bike check-in. And hey look, there’s Erica!

On the shuttle back from bike check-in, I met a couple from Tennessee. They certainly didn’t look like the typical Ironman type—they weren’t wafer thin, and the man had a long beard and a Grateful Dead T-shirt. It was to be her first Ironman and his third. It was inspiring to hear what brought them down to do this race. He knew he could do a fast race, but he was going to do it with her. He had done Louisville twice already, and this time he wanted to share the experience. They certainly did a good job seeding the thought of a back-to-back Tremblant/Louisville double-header next year!

Back at the hotel, dinner wasn’t to open until 6:00. Annie and I headed to the main lobby/bar to have a couple drinks before it opened. It was busier than most nights. I hadn’t clued in exactly why that was yet—I thought it was just because there were more people there because of the event. I had a small glass of beer before the doors to the buffet opened. There was a mad rush and the entire lobby cleared into the buffet and filled the room. We all needed to get our nutrition in before the race. If it would have been open at 5:00 I would have gone then. It seemed like everyone else in the hotel had the same thought.

After last year’s pre-race dinner horribly affected my race, this time I chose much wiser. Chicken, rice, nachos, All-Bran cereal and beer. For the record, I think I may have found my ideal pre-race meal. I’ll give about as much detail as I did with my last report—everything nutrition-related was awesome between dinner and the end of the race.

Immediately after dinner it was off to bed. I didn’t fall asleep right away—nor did I have a particularly deep sleep, but it was deep enough. I woke up just before the alarm. I had been adjusting my bed and wakeup times by one hour per night, and it worked perfectly to get me moving at the right time.

Race Morning

The morning of the race, Annie opted to avoid the ride down to the swim start, and instead watch from the VIP area between transition 2 and the finish line. It worked out very well for her. She had shade and drinks for the entire day, as well as a direct entry point to the finish line.

I boarded the shuttle bus, and quietly zoned out, feigning sleep for the 20-minute bus ride to the start. It would be crazy enough at the start of the race—I didn’t need to get worked up yet. Even though I had an hour before the start of the race, there was still a mad panic from the minute I got there. I had to line up for the porta potty, drop off my morning gear and special needs bags, and get my tires pumped. I suppose those were only three seemingly minor things, but they took the entire hour.

First step was to pump the tires. I borrowed the pump from the athlete whose bike was next to mine. It seemed strange that my tires only had 80 psi according to his gauge. I had pumped them to the ideal 110 psi the afternoon before. Could they have lost 30 psi overnight? I didn’t think much of it, and inflated my tires to the upper limit of their pressure range.

After the (under-stocked) rest stop, I dropped off my bags. I couldn’t find the busses to drop off my transition bag though. Luckily, Ali’s husband Marvin called out to me and offered to take them to the bus for me! It couldn’t have worked out any better, since people were already starting to walk out onto the deck for the swim start!

While walking down the deck I was told by an official that compression socks weren’t allowed during the swim, and I had to put them inside my speed suit. I thought it was a bit strange. Actually, I was a bit pissed off. Similarly to the start of Ironman St. George, I was into a focused, selfish state. Take no prisoners in the swim. So when the marshall asked me to take them off I nearly snapped at him. Nearly. It wouldn’t have been worth it, and really for all I knew it could have been in the rulebook.

The Swim

I got in the water about 150m from where I wanted to start the race and swam to the start. It took me much longer than I expected to get there. In fact, I wasn’t even sure if I was actually at that point when the race started. I barely even knew where the start line was, or when the race started. I saw a bunch of people around me and I was somewhat close to the shore. There was a horn, and everybody started swimming. I had no time to relax, hang out, or stand my ground. I just swam out and the race started.

The race started off rougher than it did in St. George. I know I was swimming faster (relatively) than I was then, but I still got hit by other swimmers. My goggles nearly got smacked off, and I got a pretty rough elbow to the face. Whether those hits were intentional or not, instead of just getting pissed off, I used it to my advantage.

Whenever someone would hit me as they were passing, I would draft them. Not just a wimpy little “I hope I can hold on to his feet” draft—I planted myself right on their hip. I practiced that during a few of the Cherry Beach swims in the summer with friends. The difference was that they were friends. I was mindful to avoid hitting them. I would stroke at the same rate as they did—working as a team. I didn’t need to do that with these guys. They were my enemies! They hit me!

I found some very aggressive swimmers to draft off of. I didn’t realize how strong the current was at this point. Looking at my Garmin data post-race, it appears that I was averaging a 2:15 pace for the first 700m before the turnaround. My equivalent pace for that effort would be around 1:50 (not taking into account drafting or the buoyant salt water), so I was at least 30 seconds slower than I should have been.

After the first turn we had the current at our backs. I could feel the speed through here. I still had some good enemies to draft off of. I managed to stick to the same guy for most of this section. The current was amazing. For the next 2.1 km I was averaging a 1:20 pace. I’ve never kept those speeds up for longer than 50m at a time. I could see that the buoys had drifted southwest, because there were little trenches in the sand where the sand bag anchors for the buoys had been dragged. When I checked my watch at the halfway point, it looked like I would finish the swim in under an hour! I was hoping for 1:05 if the conditions were to be absolutely perfect, but this was just crazy! At the last turnaround I realized why—after we made the turn we had almost completely stopped moving.

The current didn’t seem too bad at first. I had a decent group to draft off of, until everyone seemed to split. I couldn’t understand why. Someone had jumped ahead, and I wanted to get back on his feet (or onto his side). I gave my biggest effort of the swim, and within a minute I had caught up to him. But when I looked up, it didn’t look like the scenery had changed. The next buoy was still a far ways off. Then the current got even stronger and I was making less and less progress.

I thought back to the tip about the shore having less of a current, so I tried to swim alone toward there. There was a man in a boat who was directing me back into the pack. Then the water started to appear blurry. I thought my goggles were fogged, but when I looked up to the shore it was crystal clear. The current was so strong that it actually distorted the view. As the my watch showed 1:00, then 1:05 without much forward progress being made, I had a sinking feeling that this might be another St. George. I had a slight panic, and then realized that I’m not alone in this. All I could do was put my head down and see what I could get done. I dipped into my reserves, and instead of the easy pace I had maintained most of the race, I pushed through to try and get this swim done.

The final 1000m of the swim averaged a 2:30 pace. The numbers weren’t all that bad, but that did not reflect the amount of work that had to go into it. It was tough. Still, I was very happy with my very respectable time of 1:12! I think my drafting technique may have pissed off some of the competitors. In the run from the swim exit to transition, I was body checked hard as I was passed by one of the guys I drafted off of. I held in my cursing—maybe I deserved it. Or there were kids around. Either way. Jerk.

I had heard that 10% of the entrants were unable to finish the swim within the 2:20 time cutoff. This is a much larger number than last year, where there were no people who missed it. That would be nearly 300 entrants! It was actually comparable to the number of DNFs in St. George, which was one of the highest ever.

Transition 2

Because of my bib number (2001), I probably had the best location for my transition bags. My T1 bag was the first bag in the middle top rack. I flew into transition and tried to find a volunteer. They seemed slightly disorganized, but I managed to find a kid to help me unzip my speed suit. I showed my back to him, and said (what I thought would be universally-understood) ziiiiiiip, while I pointed down hurriedly. He touched the zipper and gave me the thumbs up. I shook my head and again said “zip down-down-down” as I pointed down again. Again, he touched the top and gave me the thumbs up. We did this four times before he realized what I meant and finally unzipped the suit.

I tried putting on my wet compression socks, but there was no way they were going to go on over my feet. I just threw them back in the bag and ran down to my bike.

Unlike in St. George, we were allowed to keep our shoes on our bikes. This made transition much easer, since I could just run barefoot through transition and hop on the bike at the start. It went perfectly, and I was on the bike in no time. Total transition time was only 4:44, which was much better than I expected.

The Bike

The bike went very smoothly. I popped a double caffeinated gel, and started hydrating right away. I needed to rinse out some of the saltiness in my mouth from the swim as well. I had my power target range of 155-162, and I stuck to the bottom-end of it. I figured I would play it safe for the first lap, then reassess for the other two. It was dead simple on such a flat course. Set and forget. What could possibly go wrong?

Halfway through the first lap I refined my “legal” drafting technique. For the record, I do not consider myself an illegal drafter. I know it may be like how nobody in jail thinks they’re guilty, but I really believe this. I don’t subscribe to the idea that whatever you can get away with is considered legal. I have never voluntarily joined a draft pack, and I’ve done whatever has been in my power to be as honest a competitor as possible—not just to be within the rules, but within the intent. However, when you’re playing by the book, and immediately letting off the gas as soon as someone passes you, there are times where you’re not going to go anywhere at all.

When I was passing people, I most definitely did a proper “legal” draft. When I was within 10 metres of the bike in front of me, I would stick right behind them, pass within 30 seconds, then hop in front. When you’re lucky enough to be able to pass a large, spread out group, you can essentially have a draft the entire time. During these passes, I kept my power the same, but my speed would see an appreciable increase. Alternatively, if I kept my speed the same when someone passed me, I saw my wattage drop from 155 to 135. Very tempting to try to hold on to that for a few seconds…

I started off where I was completely letting off as soon as someone passed my front wheel, and got to the point where I would let them pass, hold on to them for just a few rotations of the crank, then slowly let off. Just a few rotations. Well within what I considered legal. It simply cancels out the freewheeling you had to do when they passed you. Net effect is zero, right?

While I did this behind one particularly strong rider, I heard a whistle from an official on a scooter. I thought he was pointing at me. I really didn’t know if it was meant for me though. Was that even a penalty, or just a warning? Was he even pointing at me? I thought that was legal enough. How would I find out if that was a penalty or not? I had a lot of questions, and no one to answer them, so I continued on toward the next penalty tent where I could ask.

A couple kilometres later, I heard a thwacking sound coming from my front tire. Very similar to a flat, but the tire wasn’t losing any air. I had picked up a piece of electrical tape that got stuck to my tire. Smartly, I unclipped my right foot and tried to scrape it off at 25 km/h. Instead my foot got caught in the spoke and it got spit out and away from the bike. Maybe not the brightest maneuver ever.

The official at the penalty tent was not on the ball. I was standing there patiently while he was processing the cyclist before me. While this was going on, there were volunteers who took my picture and scratched a big red mark through my number with magic marker. By the time I got to the official to ask if I had a penalty, my number was already on his list. His English wasn’t good enough to be able to figure out what I was asking, so I just took the penalty. Maybe I deserved it. I’ll take it.

While I was waiting for my four minutes, there was a guy who came into the tent asking if anyone had a spare tire. Not a tube—the whole tire. I didn’t have one. Nobody else understood what he was asking. If I had one I may have offered it—but I would soon find out that I would have regretted it.

The support coming back into town was amazing. There were so many locals on the street cheering. The ride through the city with all the turns made it so much fun. There was another cyclist on the course who told me that on the second and third laps it gets even better. I couldn’t wait.

Just before the start of the second loop, I heard Annie yell out my name. I tried to tell her about the penalty when I saw Alex standing beside her cheering too. It was great to see Alex, but I was hoping to be able to see him on the course. Before the race he wasn’t confident that he would make the swim cutoff. The conditions wouldn’t have helped that. It put a bit of a damper on the excitement of being in the town.

I slightly increased my power output for the second lap, but still kept far off from the upper limit. It worked well for the first lap, so I didn’t want to take any chances. My heart rate during the whole race was considerably higher than I had experienced in training (about 10-15 bpm). Since my power numbers and perceived exertion agreed with each other, I chose to ignore my heart rate and use those two. I attributed it to the heat at first, and later to the caffeine intake. I didn’t have enough non-caffeinated gels, since every time I grabbed (what I had hoped to be a non-caffeinated) gel from the aid stations, they had double caffeine. So much for getting nutrition from the course. Note to future self: don’t rely on what’s available on the course for nutrition.

Around the back half of the island I felt a thump-thump-thump from the back tire. At first I figured I must have picked up another piece of tape, only this time there was more of a feel than a sound. I looked back and the tire looked slightly out of round. No big deal I thought. I just wanted to make sure before I passed the bike special needs area. I had a spare tube and a couple CO2 cartridges, so if I needed anything there, maybe I would grab them.

When I stopped and had a look at the tire, I noticed it was actually beginning to split and separate at the seam. It was like I had too much air in the tire. But how could that be? I started riding again when I realized what I did that morning. I added 30 pounds of pressure using someone else’s pressure gauge. Not only that, but I did it early in the morning when the temperatures were cool. I was riding on some very hot, fairly rough pavement. When we were racing cars, we would see tire pressures jump up to 25% between the time we pumped them up and when we were on the track for a few laps.

I immediately pulled over again and let out a bit of pressure from the tire. After that, every twenty minutes or so I would squirt water on the tire to try and keep the temperatures down. Not sure if it helped, but it managed to hold out for the rest of the race.

Coming back through town I tried to relay to Annie that I may end up having to get a new tire somehow, but she was cheering so loudly, and there really wasn’t anything that could be done anyway.

The thump-thump-thump continued to get worse throughout the third lap. I was getting stressed out, and I started to get a bit of a headache. I didn’t know why. I’ve had them before from dehydration, but I was going through a bottle of water at every aid station. I was drinking more than I usually did, and I was still stopping to pee twice a lap. I figured maybe that was the problem, so I took a few salt tablets which coach Ayesha recommended I keep in case of an emergency. Did you drink too much water? Take some salt.

I’ve never used salt pills before, and before this point I’ve never been convinced that it’s been a problem for me. I’ve taken nutrition containing _some_ sodium, but I’ve always believed that if you hydrate properly you’ll never need to take pills. The difference was this time I was not hydrating normally, and I had no idea what to do about this headache.

At the same time my power dropped off considering the effort required. It got really hard to continue at the same wattage, so I listened to my body and backed off. My heart rate and my body were telling me that I should ignore the power numbers. Two against one again. I didn’t know if I was pushing too hard. Maybe I had too much caffeine (the aid stations had completely run out of gels by this point). If my issue was salt or hydration, maybe that would cause this too. I started cooling myself off by pouring water on my head. I didn’t know what helped me recover, but twenty minutes later I was feeling mostly back to normal.

Transition 2

It was a great relief to make it back to T2. The total bike time was 6:02. I’m slightly annoyed that I was unable to get under 6:00, which would have given me a 30 km/h average, but considering how I got there I’m still pleased. Annie caught me coming in and again coming out of the T2 tent. Pretty surprising, considering I was in and out in only 1:41.

The Run (well, sort of run)

The start of the run did not feel very good. I knew it was going to be a long afternoon, but I wasn’t expecting it to be that bad. I wanted to be conservative through the run too. I knew that if I would be able to run eight minutes at a 6:00 pace then walk two at 8:00, I would be in great shape to finish within my 12:00 target. Maybe. As long as I could keep things up and maybe skip a couple walk cycles.

I started the run by skipping the first walk cycle. The support walking out of the city was amazing. I wouldn’t have been able to walk if I wanted to. It was a bit of a mixed feeling having all the people cheering when I really didn’t feel very great at all. This was not like last time when I couldn’t stop smiling. It was an effort just to keep moving.

I didn’t see too many friends on the first loop. Mike was finishing up his first as I was starting. I think I saw Ayesha too, but things really started to get a little blurry.

There were mini missions that I would play in my head during the run to try and keep myself entertained. First was dealing with the math involved in reaching my sub-twelve hour goal. Another one was was to see how long I could hold off Erica from passing me. In St. George I had the same mini mission, and we had a great (walking) battle during the marathon. While I was walking before the finish of the first loop I saw a flash of pink pass me—I knew it was her. It wasn’t over yet though. I was going to skip the next walk cycle on the way in to town, and I was going to skip it again on the way out.

It seemed like the whole town was there to cheer us through the turnaround. There were so many people in the middle of the street giving high fives—there was only a narrow path for people to run through in single file. It was amazing to have this support with this group of latin drummers playing music at the perfect tempo for running. It was as much a dance as a run at this point. Annie was there again to cheer, where she asked me how I was doing. The only response I had was “I feel like death.” Apparently the drums didn’t help that much.

Coming out of town, I saw another flash of pink as Erica passed me again (or not—really at this point things weren’t feeling normal anymore). By the first aid station coming out of town things were starting to get fuzzier. I felt like I was drunk. I started talking to myself, which isn’t exactly unheard of for me during a long ride. Only this time I was talking back. I didn’t know what was going on. Volunteers were offering peanuts at the aid station, and despite what may do to my stomach I took them. That tasted like the best food I ever had.

Still I was unable to run in a straight line. I didn’t realize at the time, but I also had stopped sweating. I was still drinking water, but I was having problems coordinating the water to actually go in my mouth! I started walking when my walk timer went off, then I had the good sense to keep walking. The solo conversation continued. Part of me was arguing that the reason I was feeling so disoriented was because I had too much caffeine. My blood pressure was too high, and I needed some tequila to bring it back down. The other part was arguing that it was because I was drinking too much water, and I needed more salt to counteract it. Obviously they didn’t see the connection between salt and tequila yet!

The debate started to get heated as I saw Erica run by in the opposite direction. I wanted to cheer her on, but at this point all I was capable of doing was making an exaggerated happy face with two thumbs up. Eventually both sides of George agreed that the real culprit was my Movember moustache. I was still grabbing everything I was offered at the aid stations, so while this argument was going on I somehow ended up with a bag of ice. I put this bag of ice on my head, then I moved it to my chest. I put it under my armpits, I put it in my shorts. From there it went back to my head again, and over and over until the whole bag melted.

With about five k left in the second lap I was mostly recovered. I cheered Ali as she passed me on her final lap, looking amazingly fresh. She would go on to secure a Kona slot. At this point I made a deal with moustache that if he brought us back into town running then I won’t shave it. It worked. I started sweating again, and I ran the last two kilometres into town to the cheering and the drums.

This time I stopped to talk to Annie. I told her about how moustache saved the day. I knew she thought I was a little bit crazy, but then I confirmed it by talking about everything happened, and how I finally realized I had heatstroke. But despite all the setbacks, the real reason I made it was because of moustache. Moustache brought me back to her, so he’s going to live another day.

The third loop was about as miserable as you could expect. I spent most of the time walking, sometimes talking to people, sometimes just taking the time to reflect. I got to cheer Melanie from LOST as she was walking in the opposite direction. I saw the couple from Tennessee walking together. The woman hadn’t been able to make the swim cutoff, but she was able to rejoin the run. I later found out that she walked over 55k between the swim start, transition, our hotel and the marathon. I met a guy who was going to propose to his girlfriend at the finish. He was running with the ring, and he was getting excited as he was starting to close into the finish. He kept me running as long as I could, but eventually I had to let him go and finish on my own.

After a couple false starts, I finally managed to run it in to the finish. The drums were still going, but the crowds had thinned out. I was going to make it, but nowhere near my twelve hour target. Not even close to my second or third 12:15 or 12:30 goals. But I was still going to come in before the goal I had set at the start of the third lap—thirteen hours.

When I turned the final corner into the finish chute, I was able to run faster and better than I had at any other point in the race. I saw 12:57 up on the clock, and gave an unintentional fist pump when I knew I would make my goal. It was a great finish, and I was super excited. It wasn’t really a letdown that I wasn’t as excited at the finish as I was in St. George. But I wasn’t.

More than anything, I was relieved that the marathon was over. I got my medal, my pizza, my picture, and sat on the ground with Annie for a half an hour before I wanted to do anything. I wasn’t looking forward to the walk out of town for a cab, but there was one about 100m out from the finish offering rides. It was all we needed. It got me back to the hotel—and of course the beer—quicker.


The last couple days of the trip were nice to unwind and catch up. Annie and I were able to get in a nice recovery swim together, she had a run, and I had a very helpful recovery spin. I was finally able to descend steps again. I was too lazy to make the awards non-banquet, where Ali got her Kona slot, but we were able to make the after non-party at Señor Frog’s. There didn’t seem to be too many athletes showing up there—most must have just stayed at their resort.

Descending was very difficult

On the last day Annie and I rented a car and met up with Alex and his wife. We drove the bike course, did a tequila tour, ate at a restaurant on the far side of the island, and saw some ruins. It was exactly what we needed. Time to chill out and recover. Of course not everyone got the same memo—we ran into Ali at the ruins. She, Marvin and her friends had ridden their bikes out along the most pothole-filled road to get there. They endured an unexpected storm, and ended up covering around 60 km over the day!

That night the group of us from Toronto had a great dinner in town—the perfect way to close off a great week away. I admit that I may have had been partially responsible for a few hurting faces the next morning in the airport. Tequila is the one Spanish word that seems to roll off my tongue quite easily.

There were a few people upset when we landed back in Toronto when their bikes didn’t make the trip. Mine was one of them again. While I was at the counter there was a man complaining about how the past five years he has taken the same flight on the same week, and they’ve left his bike every time. Those are pretty bad odds, but I’m not sure how they could get around it. I had to wait a couple days to get my bike, but I still got it back in one piece.

Not sure how to close this off. It was an amazing trip and a great race. I feel very lucky to have had such great people to share it with. That’s all, the end.

Polarman 2013

Why spend the first day of the year nursing a hangover, when you can actually do something that will help cure it? Following in the theme of other bar-inspired triathlon events such as Stupidman and Unsupportoman: Introducing Polarman 2013!

The Swim

The swim takes place at 12:00 noon at the base of Sunnyside Pavilion, as a part of the Toronto Polar Bear Dip, in support of Habitat for Humanity. To enter the race, you would be required to fundraise a minimum of $30 for the event. Since there’s no actual swim, and not everyone is interested in jumping into frigid water without a wetsuit, there’s a bit of a change from a traditional triathlon.

Whoever would like to do the dip automatically gets a three-minute bonus subtracted from their time at the end of the race. On top of that, the person who stays in the water the longest gets an additional three minutes subtracted from their race time (for a total of six minutes).

For those who are unable or unwilling to swim, they can choose a swimmer as a proxy for them. If they choose the swimmer who stays in the longest, they will also get the winner’s three-minute bonus (just the three minutes, not the full six).

Transition 1

There is no rush for the first transition. All participants can dry off, warm up, and get their bike gear on in peace. The timed portion doesn’t start until the bikes leave en masse.

The Bike

The bike course is a 12.5k route that starts at Sunnyside Pavilion, travels west along the Martin Goodman Trail, then up the Humber Valley Trail to Old Mill. From there the trail goes out to the main street, turns right, goes down a cobblestone street, and up a fairly decent hill. At the top there is a left turn, a steep descent, and then the course follows the same route back.

In case of deep snow… well things might just get a little interesting.

Preliminary route is available here.

Transition 2

Simple enough: throw your bike in the car or lock it up.

The Run

The run is a simple 5k out-and-back along the Martin Goodman Trail. It encircles Marilyn Bell Park (the first person who swam across Lake Ontario), and ends back at the transition area. Here is the preliminary route.

Transition 3

This ends the timed portion of the event. From here, all participants will meet back at the transition area / finish line for the last participant to finish. At that point, the trip is made to as-yet-to-be-determined location.

The Recovery

From here, participants will be able to consume Irish and Spanish coffees and greasy food, thereby eliminiating any last possible side-effects of the previous night’s escapades.

This is a work in progress, so everything is subject to change and will be updated as it goes along!

Ironman St. George race report – part 3

This has been split into three parts. This is part 3, which covers everything after the race. Part 1 is everything leading up to the race, and part 2 the race its self. Hope you enjoy it!

Immediately after the race I was guided by my “catcher,” who is a volunteer who… well… catches a lot of people who collapse at the end of the race. I didn’t think I needed it, but I was wrapped in a foil blanket, and tightly guided past the medical tent (“do you think you require any assistance from the tent?”), and into the food area. I had a couple slices of pizza, and hung out with other finishers and talked about our races.

E came in soon after and we took the shuttle back to the hotel so we could come back for our bikes. We had a bit more pizza and some ice cream sandwiches. We could hear the last finisher in the background, but we couldn’t move quickly enough to get there in time. We did manage to see the fireworks though.

Days 5 and 6

The day after the race was spent doing absolutely nothing. I started my preliminary race report, caught up with all the comments from friends, and read as many reports of the race as I could. I missed the awards, which started at 7:00 am the next day, opting for bed instead. It was worth it. This is where I noticed how bad my burn was.

The next day we headed to Bellagio back in Las Vegas. It was one of the best decisions of the trip. It was relatively inexpensive, centrally located, and (unexpectedly) had a 50m pool. Walking wasn’t too painful anymore, so I went around checking out what was different, had something to eat, then went back to the pool to get in a short 900m recovery swim. It was much harder to swim than I expected. I felt very sloppy after all the survival mode swimming I had done a couple days earlier.

Brian from swim recommended a mountain bike tour shop in town. I wanted to do a tour, but they weren’t offering anything during the week for one person. Instead I just rented a full-suspension mountain bike, bought a map, and went out to Red Rock Canyon for what I expected to be a relatively light recovery workout. It wasn’t.

The first loop was one called Dinosaur Teeth. It was classed as an intermediate trail. I wasn’t sure if that was referring to the fitness level required, or the balls required. Turned out it was both. The first 5 km were completely uphill. I was moving along fairly well, and only fell once before I reached the peak.

Of course I took some video too. You might want to turn down the sound—it’s still pretty windy.

The descent was fairly technical and fast. I was riding my brakes down most of the way, and there was no way I could stop smiling. I forgot how much I used to love mountain biking. This is something I need to do more of.

The loop was just over 10k, which took about an hour. I used one water bottle and felt pretty good. I went back to the gas station (I must have visited this gas station every time I’ve been to Vegas), grabbed a sandwich and some hydration, and went back out for a different loop. This one was about double the distance. I only had room for one water bottle on the bike, so I downed a litre of water and Gatorade before I left, thinking that would be enough. It should have been—if the ride lasted two hours.

Dead Horse Loop was a much harder trail to follow. I missed the first turnoff, and ended up taking a fire trail to climb the first ascent. Once I met up with the trail it was gorgeous. Every turn the scenery changed. One minute it would be dry, boring desert, then the next the ground would be yellow. Then it would turn pinkish, then deep reds and browns, to rocky whites. The vegetation changed colour and density at the same time. It was surreal.

After climbing a switchback (which I thought was the Devil’s Escalator), the climb just got worse. My GPS was showing a 25% grade (it was actually only 19). I had to walk the bike up the rest of the hill, mostly because the rocks were insane.

The descent from this wasn’t as much fun. It was still rocky, so I wasn’t able to build up much speed. About an hour and a half in, while still descending this hill, I pretty much ran out of water. I was still traveling away from the car too. This made me slightly nervous. Even though the bike shop said there were always people out there, I hadn’t seen anyone on this trail at all. There were fire trails, but how exactly would I get rescued if something happened?

This is where I decided to turn around without completely following the trail. Apparently I just missed the part where you get a scenic view of Las Vegas from the top of the mountain. Did I mention how much climbing this trail had? It started at 1400 metres, and the peak was 1600 metres—one mile. That’s 600 feet right there, but when you include all the ups and downs the total was 700 metres, or about 2300 feet.

Just after turning around, I came across a pack of wild horses. I really thought wild horses was just an expression. They were spooked by me just before I took this video (and they ran off soon after).

Right after that I started the final descent. I read in the map that it was called the Three Mile Smile. For some reason I was thinking it was called Three Miles in Heaven, which might have been something completely different.

I wish I had some imagery of this, but it was way too amazing to stop. It went back through the deep reds and browns from earlier. It was very technical and very fast. I didn’t take it easy either. All the worry of running out of water was forgotten, and my ear-to-ear smile came back. The three miles were over way too quickly. If I had more time and more water I might have actually done it again. Just amazing.

After dropping off the bike, I quickly drove back to the hotel for a quick dip, got dressed, and started the trip home. It was much easier on the way back, and this time we weren’t charged much for our bikes.

And that’s it!

Ironman St. George race report – part 2

This has been split into three parts. This is part 2, which covers the race its self. Part 1 is everything leading up to the race, and part 3 is everything that happened after the race. Hope you enjoy it!

I had an unusually unsettled sleep before the race. I dreamt about our swim group being at Ironman Cozumel, where coach Ayesha was asking me why I was drinking Sustained Energy just before the race. In another dream I was being chased by spies, and ended up stuck halfway up a bridge with no way to get up or down. I knew I was dreaming, and if I jumped I would just wake up. But there was something holding me back. What if this was real? Luckily I woke up before having to make that decision.

I quickly ate a bagel, drank a coffee, had 3 scoops of Sustained Energy, then went downstairs to wait for the shuttle van to the start of the race. There were some granola bars and cranberry juice in the lobby, so I had some of that too. It couldn’t hurt, right? It’s an Ironman, I’m not going to be pushing very hard, and I’m not running. I could eat anything, right?

We all boarded the shuttle van and made our way to the bike-to-run transition / finish line to drop off our special needs bags. From there we boarded one of the shuttle busses that took us to the swim start. I tried to get a bit of a nap, which worked out surprisingly well.

(This and the next few images were borrowed from someone on Facebook. I can’t find who it was or where they came from, but please let me know if there’s a problem with me using them. They’re great shots!)


After we arrived, I went into a corner and spent my time getting my wetsuit on and mentally focusing on the race. I’ve heard that mass-start Ironman swims can be total free-for-alls. Most of the time in most races I try to enjoy myself. I don’t take things too seriously, and just go out for a good time.

This was serious. I didn’t talk to anybody, I didn’t like anybody. As we walked down to the swim entry if someone bumped into me I bumped them back. If someone stared at me I looked right through them. They were all my worst enemies, and I wouldn’t give any of them an inch.

This continued to the start line. I positioned myself right in the middle, and treaded water by kicking and waving my arms very widely. If anyone came near me I kicked them or pushed them. It happened more when everyone was forced to move back because for some reason we were continuously drifting past the start buoys. This should have given us an idea of what we had in store.


The swim started off very well. I managed to hold my own in the middle of the washing machine. My mantra for this part was “eat or be eaten,” which really helped. If someone hit me I hit them back. I didn’t move out of their way and I didn’t apologize (which I used to actually stop to do). I just went for it and made it my race.

That reminds me, the day before during a quick swim warmup, in typical Canadian fashion I apologized to someone who bumped into me. You know, I apologize, you apologize, and life goes on, right? This douchetard just gave me a dirty look. That was the last straw, where I stopped giving people the benefit of doubt.

I found some feet to follow, and the first 1k was finished at a 1:29 pace. That would have put me on target for a sub 1:00 swim! I was feeling very strong, and I actually enjoyed being in the thick of things. I was thinking back to what my lanemate Leanne said about how much she liked being in the middle of things, because everyone was confident and you knew what to expect.

This is where I got my earworm, which was a song called Wandering Feet by Noah’s Arkweld. The chorus of this song repeated almost continuously for the next 14 hours. Feel free to play this in a loop while reading the rest of the report.

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I managed to find some space on my own, and my sighting and directionality were bang-on. I was only sighting every fourth of fifth cycle of three strokes, and I didn’t have to make much adjustment at all.

The first turn was at the 1k mark. I noticed a few little swells before the turn, but it just felt like a small wake from a boat. Once we made the turn things got hairy. The wind picked up, and out of nowhere the waves were hitting us from the side. It was like we turned into a completely different body of water.

The swells apparently were 3-4 feet high with whitecaps. The water was spraying everywhere and it felt like it was raining. The tight-knit group spread apart right away. I’m pretty confident in the water, but I actually felt like this might be it for me. In my mind I was going through whether I had all my affairs in order, and how people at home would react to me drowning in a race. Suddenly all these people in the water, all these enemies became a group of people all trying to survive.

The second turn came up soon enough, and now we were going almost directly into the swells. They were offset just a bit, so during this time I switched to breathing unilaterally, just off to my left side. I had to adapt and learn how to be creative with my breathing. I was thinking back to the hypoxic drills we had done in the pool, and the different stroking and breathing patterns.

Even though the waves were very erratic, I was still able to develop a bit of a rhythm. I would sight the next wave when I was breathing (every other stroke), and then either swim underneath it, or try to ride the top. If I didn’t have an opportunity to breathe for a cycle or two, I didn’t stress out. I knew that I would get the chance eventually. For that I attributed the flip turns that I’ve recently started doing. Now I’m comfortable staying underwater with no air in my lungs. I used to think flip turns were pointless for triathletes. Not anymore.

This is where my new swim mantra came into play—this isn’t Pussyman, this is Ironman! If you make this, you deserve it. I started yelling Pussyman at the top of my lungs into the water when I was exhaling. When I came down off one swell and stroked into the air, I ended up yelled it out loud. There was a swimmer near me who (I don’t know if I imagined this) seemed to take offence. Enemy.

This is where my GI issues started to set in. I should not have eaten that much chicken the night before. Even worse, at this point I involuntarily threw up. It was enough to give me a very bad taste in my mouth. I lost my flow, and went back to survival mode.

At this point it was difficult to figure out exactly where to go. I could more or less see the buoys if I sighted at the top of a swell, but there didn’t seem to be any pattern to how they were laid out anymore. They had moved all over the place. There weren’t even many swimmers to follow—at least not that I could see. They were all over the place, either just trying to survive, or aiming for whichever buoy seemed to be the right one at the time.

I aimed for the buoy that was furthest out. No way I was going to get disqualified, even though there was a red buoy far off toward the island we were going around, which was supposed to mark the turnaround point. This smaller yellow one was just supposed to guide us. At least I wasn’t the only one—there were two others who did the same.

After rounding the buoy it was much easier. The wind was blowing us toward shore. I wasn’t going as straight as I would have liked. I was using the feel of the waves to guide me, and I was a little bit off. I had a few people on the dock pointing at me to get back in line, but again, I figured it was better to be outside than disqualified.

There’s a pretty good video showing what the conditions were like for us.

I got off very lucky. Analyzing the results book, there were 185 athletes who were pulled from the water. Many of the volunteers in kayaks who were there to help rescue swimmers ended up needing to be rescued themselves. Boats were lost and wrecked. There are so many stories on Slowtwitch and Beginnertriathlete where people’s days didn’t go very well at all.

There’s one post from some volunteers that has some brief video from on the water, and a bit of an outline of some of the boats that were lost.

I have seen some crazy days on a boat, but this – this was scary. As we headed back to the dock to drop off our first run of swimmers I was hoping like mad that my three swimmers were okay. The dock was crazy. We managed to get all of the swimmers off of the boat without smashing anybody and with them went RAR’s son (seasick and barfing) and the lifeguard. That’s right, I said the lifeguard. Gone.

Another volunteer on a paddleboard in this post

We decided to let the wind push us back to land while hanging onto each other. It’s a long way back and we are both in the cold water for quite a while. Ken starts heaving over onto my side of the kayak. His puke landing next to me in the water.

It was a hard swim, and I was so glad to have made it. I didn’t just survive it though. During transition the volunteer who helped me get my bag told me me time: 1:28. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but he said “that’s a pretty good time, considering the conditions. I hadn’t thought about it, but that was only about 15 minutes slower than my previous best! I rocked it!

Here’s a map of the route I ended up taking.

Transition 1

After grabbing my bag I was still feeling sick, and made a quick pitstop. I sometimes get dizzy after an intense swim, but this time the whole porta potty was spinning out of control. Adrenaline was still pushing me, so I got out as quickly as I could. I did what I could to walk straight so I wouldn’t attract any attention. My change room assistant was great. He laid everything out nicely and got me on my way.

The one issue I had was I didn’t think to bring any hydration for the start. I thought there would be aid station-type supplies there, so instead of starting with a couple water bottles, I had a couple small cups in my bottle carriers. Not a big deal though—I drank more than enough water during the swim!


This part of the race did not start off well at all. On my way out I discovered that my old Gamin—the one I use to display heart rate in big numbers—was dead. This wasn’t something I forgot to do, there is something wrong with it (which is partly why I replaced it with my 910XT). Still it was an annoyance, since I had to choose to show heart rate data on my wrist instead of other data, like elevation or grade.

The wind was still very strong. Reports were that it was around 40 mph. It was hitting me from the front three quarters. The wind was picking up sand, painfully sandblasting every exposed part of skin. I couldn’t believe how hard this was shaping up to be.

The next problem was at the bottom of the first short climb. I changed into the small ring and dropped the chain. I didn’t want to stop to put it back on, so I shifted my derailleur to the big ring and turned. I was pretty proud that I got it back on without getting my hands dirty. But now the chain would jump every time I put down any power.

I tried to keep going with the chain jumping. I figured it might only happen sometimes, or it might loosen its self up after a little while. It didn’t. At the next big hill I had to stop to try and have a look. I couldn’t find a stuck link, so I started again. It got worse, so I had to pull over for another look. I was kicking myself for not looking harder for the chain pin that I lost while packing. I could have cut the chain and fixed it in minutes.

After a few minutes I finally found the stuck link. I pulled out my multitool, and loosened it up. It took a couple tries, but then everything worked perfectly. Back on the road (still sans hydration, but back on the road nonetheless).

Due to my late dinner, I had to make some nutrition plan modifications on the fly. Instead of taking one gel an hour and supplementing with Perform, I just drank water and supplemented with whatever my body would take. I had taken in enough nutrition before the race even started. I had to give my body a chance to deal with it. I stuck with water, then once I could feel whatever I ate last start to get digested, I would take another. It was surprisingly easy to listen to what my body wanted, and I did a reasonably good job at avoiding overhydrating and overeating.

On top of my GI issues, the course turned into the headwind. This also coincided with the majority of the hill climbing. Most of the hills weren’t too hard on their own, but when you combine them with the wind, I barely got out of my smallest gear for the first 90k.

I took it very easy for the first lap. I kept my heart rate below 130 whenever possible, which meant that I was climbing most of the hills at a snail’s pace. I was okay with that. I’ve heard people talk about pacing so much, that I didn’t want to take any chances. At least not for the first lap.

I was actually excited to get passed by the pros, who were on their second lap, just before the Veyo wall. Not that I actually know who they are (I thought one was the arabic speedo guy, but I don’t think it was now). There was a bit of a buzz with the riders around me when this happened. It was pretty neat!

Just past halfway of the loop is the biggest climb of the course—the Veyo wall. I was looking forward to this hill, because once it’s done there’s only one more before the final descent. With an average speed of 13 km/h through most of the climbing I was looking forward to the change. Surprisingly the hill wasn’t very hard at all. There was a strong tailwind that basically pushed us up the whole way. I just straightened my back like a sail and rode up slowly but steadily.

The Veyo rest station was my last urgent pitstop. After being as rested as I had been for the whole way up, I was pumped full of energy. I flew out of there feeling awesome. I passed about eight people on the last uphill, then with the crazy tailwind and steady descent, I flew back.

I’ve hit high speeds before, but nothing like this on roads as smooth as these. I had no problems spinning out in my top gear, which was around 60 km/h. In training I realized that the only time I would ever need a bigger front chainring (I run a 46t cyclocross ring) would be if I had a very strong tailwind while going downhill, while on extremely smooth roads. Exactly the conditions that I had at that point. I regretted not fitting my 50t ring, because I was flying and wanted to go even faster.

I was passing people like they were standing still. I was pushing hard, and when I would see someone in the distance, I would ride right behind them, trying to make the most of the minimal draft I would get before pulling out to the side and passing them. Of course this was well within the time allowed for passing, so the benefit was probably too minimal to make a difference. It didn’t matter though, it was a hardcore feeling.

I don’t think I’ve ever had felt that good on the bike. It’s amazing how I went from the worst hell to the most adrenaline charged experience after one short stop.

The second lap was more of the first. The winds died down slightly, and I bumped up my heart rate by 10 bpm. I wasn’t planning on running the marathon, so I figured the time saved would be worth it. I already had a good idea I’d be able to finish, so now I wanted to give myself a bit of breathing room for the walk/run.

When it got time for the second big descent, I started hearing buzzing between my ears. It sounded like a bee was circling me. I didn’t see anything, nor did I see one in my shadow. I was wondering if it was real or not. Could this be caffeine-induced psychosis? Maybe my head was playing tricks on me. It went away, but it only came back a few minutes later. This is when I decided to lay off the caffeinated gels for a while.

The end of the bike was solid, and I was feeling great.

Here’s a link to my TrainingPeaks data and a view of my data.

Transition two

I made quick pitstop, met up with my volunteer, and changed into some running shorts. I was surprised how quickly it all went. Made my way out and that was it.


The run was the easiest part. This is coming from someone who doesn’t run at all. After I exited T2 I just couldn’t stop running. I was so excited to be in the final part of the race, I coudln’t wipe the smile off my face. That smile actually lasted the entire first lap. I ran for the first 3k, then I switched to a “run downhill, walk uphill” strategy.

Each lap was 14 kilometres, and for the first lap I kept up my run downhill/walk uphill strategy. I also ran most of the flat sections too. There were so many spectators giving tons of encouragement and support. Their cheering and comments were more helpful than I had expected.

There were numerous rest stops, and it was hard not to treat all of them like an all-you-can-eat buffet. I took on a bit too much on the first lap, so by the second I needed to take things a little easier. I spent most of lap two slowly walking. I met up with a couple guys who were into ultra marathons, and we just chatted a bit.

Somewhere near the end of lap two, I saw E walking in the other direction. She wasn’t too far behind me. She asked which lap I was on, and I said the second. I could have sworn she said she was on her third, so I told her to have a good finish. She passed me just before the finish line, so I strained my ears to hear Mike Reilly call her name. I didn’t catch anything. I thought she must have finished really strongly.

During the next out-and-back I saw E was still walking. By this point she was probably about two kilometres ahead of me. I was fully expecting E to “chick” me. I might be a slightly better swimmer, but we’re about equal on the bike, and she’s a much faster runner. There were others during the race who I was going back and forth with. There was one named André who was wearing an Absolute Endurance singlet who I was sparring with on the bike (as well as an NRG Performance athlete ahead of me), but E was too good of a target to resist. I’m going to ignore the fact that I later realized that she wasn’t racing, and if she wanted to she likely would have beat me. [rematch, cough cough]

There was one more uphill, two more downhill-then-uphill out-and-backs, then one more out-and-back. Maybe it would be better if I drew a diagram.

Each of the prongs of the fork were downhill on the way down, and uphill on the way back. After I saw E at the point marked “Spotted,” I ran up almost the whole hill. Then I ran back down the next out-and-back. Closer to the turnaround I saw that I was slowly gaining on her. On the last out-and-back loop I ran even faster down the hill. By the time I got to the bottom of the third prong, I was only seconds behind her.

This is where the pain in my feet plateaued. It wasn’t going to get any worse, so I just keep going. I didn’t think this would ever happen. It was a great feeling. Well, maybe great is a bit of a reach, but it was still pretty awesome. I could run!

I climbed the hill doing a total speed walk, and I soon I ended up passing E. I think I gave her some encouragement, but I didn’t want to give too much, in case it actually worked and she started chasing me!

From the top of the hill there were only 6 km left. I tried to run as much of it as I could. When I was walking I was speed walking. My arms were moving around like mad. Spectators were cheering, telling me I looked fresh, and saying nice things about how my pace was looking great. It helped a lot, even though I felt like a bit of a fool for throwing my arms around like a madman. But really, at this point there really are no inhibitions. I’m here to finish this race, and I’m not letting anything get in the way. My big smile from the first lap came back, and I knew I was going to finish this race strongly.

The final 2 km were all automatic. I turned off my brain, and just told myself that my body was under autonomous control. Rounding the last turn before the finish, I knew my body was suffering, and I wanted to stop so badly, but the roar of the crowd was pushing me anyway.

I coudln’t believe how many people were there at the finish, and how much noise they all made. It was amazing. All down the chute there were kids with their hands out giving high fives. I was running faster than ever, and had the biggest spring in my step. I hit all of them. Crossing the line was amazing. I didn’t hear Mike Reilly call my name (apparently he butchered it), but I didn’t even care. That was just awesome. I couldn’t believe how happy I was.

It was amazing knowing that there were people who were at home watching the finish. Every time I passed a timing loop, I imagined them being at home, checking my progress and keeping an eye on what I was doing. It really helped me to keep going, especially knowing that there were people who were staying up late at night to watch the finish, which was broadcast live.

George Dee-doh-POLE-ass, from Toronto, Canada, a 37-year-old first timer! Hrm. I must have missed the “you are an Ironman part.” I suppose this means I need to sign up for another one. Cough cough.

Here’s the TrainingPeaks run data and chart.

Continued in part 3

Ironman St. George race report – part 1

This has been split into three parts. This is part 1, which covers everything leading up to the race. Part 2 is of the race its self, and part 3 is everything that happened after the race. Hope you enjoy it!

I couldn’t see anyone, nor could I see any buoys. I went from being okay to feeling really unsafe. Getting to a boat was safely was the priority. It was never a question of should I or shouldn’t I. And then it went crazy. People were screaming for help, and you could here the sheer terror in their voice, especially one man, “help me, please someone help me”. I was yanked out by what turned out to be two direct competitors of mine, crumpled on the floor of the boat and focused on calming myself. At age eight I was a near-drown, so some of this was that same wild eyed fear. The boat next got the man who was screaming and he joined me on the floor sobbing. The comments were the same, “this is my xx Ironman and I’m a 1:10 swimmer.” – LittleCat via beginnertriathlete

I wasn’t expecting to actually do an Ironman this year, especially one this early in the season. I put on a pretty thick layer of winter insulation at the end of last year, so after the holiday cheer I pushed hard to burn it off. I didn’t realize how effective it was until I went for a run and came back relatively pain-free. I figured maybe this year would be doable after all. Then after a comfortable 160k bike ride, split between my swim mates Alex and E, it really seemed within reach.

I think E may not have been completely serious when she suggested coming out to St. George to do the swim and the bike. I joked about signing up for it for weeks, and never thought I’d be able to—but I felt really good so I signed up for the full race anyway. Why not? I was in the best shape I’ve ever been in, and it was still six weeks away.

Days 1 and 2 – transportation and registration

The logistics required just to get yourself down to a race like that are a bit more complicated than most trips. Picking up race wheels and bike box, disassembling the bike, figuring out transportation to the airport (airport limos won’t fit bike boxes), paying extra for the bikes (the way out cost $100), flying, forgetting your iPad on the plane [sigh], picking up your bike and your iPad, lugging the box to the car rental, upgrading to a minivan, driving two hours to the hotel, and lugging the box to your room.

Dana all packed up and ready to go

Bike, transition bag, and suitcase.

I heard using a service like Tri Bike Transport is worth every penny, but I seriously doubted it until this. If they would have come to Toronto for this race, it actually wouldn’t have cost much more at all, considering I would have gotten away with a super cheap rental car (and saved on gas too). Not to mention the time and effort saved disassembling and reassembling the bike. Next time.

Registration was fast and simple. It was very similar to Syracuse, with a similar-sized expo area. I picked up some CO2 cartridges, some odds and ends, bike bottles. E and I finished the day by doing a lap of the bike course and having some sweet pie at Veyo Pies.

It was an early night—thanks to the time differential, it wasn’t too hard to pass out before the sun set.

Day 3 – bike and bag check in

We were required to check in our bikes as well as our bike and run gear bags the day before the race. As opposed to Syracuse, this bike transition area was considered a “clean” transition. This meant that the only thing allowed in the bike area was our bikes. Everything else, from our bike shoes, to socks, to nutrition had to go in a separate bag. The same applied to everything we needed for the run.

Another thing that was different for me was that it was a split transition. This meant that our bikes and bike gear go into one transition area, then our bike-to-run transition is done somewhere completely different. This happened miles away in town. So we had to drop off our bikes and gear in one place, then head downtown to drop off the run gear. At the same time, according to E’s training plan, we had to fit in a small workout in each discipline. First a run (which we did from the hotel), then swim, then bike.

It was our first open water swim of the year. I was happy how well I’ve come along with being able to swim straight. The water felt a little crisp at first, but I quickly warmed up, and just got comfortable in the water. I was supposed to swim a bit more than I did, but I was just happy to be in deep open water again.

Next we dropped off our bikes in transition. I wanted to be as prepared as possible, so I took pictures and a short video of where my bike was located. It wouldn’t be hard—I was almost right in the furthest corner, but I wanted to make sure. When I come out of the water I can be pretty stupid sometimes.

Of course might as well add the video I fell asleep watching that night

Next I dropped off my gear bag, and made a visual note on where to get it from, as I get out of the water

After a quick lunch, we made our way to the second transition area to drop off our run bags. I lucked out again, where this time my bag was in the absolute centre of the area. How could it be any easier to find?

Across the street was a cute general store (St. George is adorable), where we had some ice cream…

…then I went out for another drive of the bike course. I wanted a bit more video and a few more shots to have a better idea of what to expect.

I also got a bit of (what we were expecting to be) the hardest hill on the course—the Veyo Wall. Sorry about the sound quality, it was much windier than expected.

I was looking for something “clean” to eat, so I picked up a broiled chicken and some pasta salad for dinner. By the time I was done eating it was actually time for bed. There was a long day ahead of us…

Continued in part 2!

This isn’t really Unsupportoman

A few things today made me realize that there really is no such thing as Unsupportoman, and if there was, it would be a pretty sad thing. This afternoon while catching up on the #IMSG hashtag, I came across this post where this woman was thanking everyone who brought her up to this point, where she’s ready for her race.

All this training (and rest) has really made me reflect on my life to this point. I didn’t just get to this place over the last 6 months. It has been a journey over a decade in the making. There are so many people who have been there. So many turning points I’ve navigated. I have to pause and applaud so many people in my life. Here’s the short/long list (in no particular order and definitely not all inclusive) 🙂

While my journey for this race hasn’t been particularly long, it is a huge part of a much bigger one. I mean my story isn’t special. It seems like most people who get into these types of events have slayed dragons of their own. Part of this for me this is a big “fuck you” send-off party to my fat, lazy, weak former self. Other parts are personal.

Add everything up and it’s not just a race. Yeah, I’m joking that you can string together a *man of your own. It’s not really that big of a deal. The training isn’t that bad, the distances aren’t really that long, you’ve got ample time to finish. I wouldn’t say it’s easy, but if you’ve done the training and luck is on your side, anyone can do it. It’s not a brand, or an excuse to get a logo tattoo. It’s not about numbers, data, scores, timing, or output. It’s not even about finishing the race.

What that post started to make me realize is it hasn’t just been my journey. There have been so many people who have been there with me all along. The old friends who have listened to me go on incessantly about the minutia of training every freaking day. The ones who gave me encouragement when things were looking bleak. The coach who understood when my head was out of it before I did, and helped me through it. The like-minded tweeps who are sharing the same experiences and giving encouragement of their own. The pool lanemates who pushed me harder and gave me reason to laugh. The friends who I know will be watching my splits during the race. The friends who have been through it before—understanding what I’m about to go through better than I do—and knowing exactly how to help.

When I left the pool early tonight, the whole session stopped to say bye and to wish us luck (and shit—apparently in French this is a good thing). It felt so good to have such a warm send off. I sat in the car for ten minutes before I could get myself to leave. I wanted to hold on to that moment just a little longer.

It made me feel really lucky for having all these types of people in my life. This man is completely supported. That’s what this is all about.

Okay, so can I get an </emo> tag or something in here? Sheesh. Now back to our regularly scheduled geek out.

Two years ago today…

I’m excited to be in the final stretch of training for St. George—tapering starts this week. Last night was a bit of a rough swim workout, but this morning came around with a bike and run brick workout.

The run was pretty quick. Not a total balls-out effort, but since I was wearing tri-shorts, compression socks, and my clear lens glasses I felt a awkward shooting for tempo pace, so it was a bit stronger. I’m still super happy that over the 3.7k, I managed to average a 5:09 pace!

This is why I love going back through my archives of past rides and runs. It turns out that two years ago today I coincidentally did the exact same route. I can’t believe how much improvement I’ve made.

Last year / this year / change
Total time:
26:02 / 18:36 / 7:26 faster
Pace: 7:08 / 5:09 / 1:59 improvement
Heart rate: 164 / 161 / 3 bpm lower

I’m still surprised. Granted I was just starting to run again a couple weeks before this. My usual pace at the time was closer to 6:00 when I was actually running, but even comparing the same route to my peak last year (just before Syracuse), I’ve still made considerable improvement. This is just awesome.

Another brick in the (Veyo) wall

Yesterday my race partner in crime and I were trying to get an idea of the size of the biggest climb during our race: the Veyo wall. It’s pretty big. We had a look at some elevation maps, and it didn’t seem too bad to me, relatively speaking.

1.6% grade with a couple steep climbs. Not that big of a deal. Especially when you compare it to a couple of the bigger climbs in the city, like Pottery Road and Rosedale Valley.

Sure, Veyo is longer, but it can’t be as steep as Pottery. It’s probably just like Rosedale Valley, just a bit longer. I exported the data and scaled it to be approximately to scale and placed Pottery (the steeper one) on top.

That little speck just before the wall on the right? That’s Pottery Road. Crap. I added Rosedale Valley and duplicated Pottery road enough times to be able to replicate the climbs of the course as best I can.

I’ll have to do two and a half climbs of Rosedale Valley, then two climbs of Pottery road, followed by two more climbs of Rosedale Valley, then Pottery Road again, one more Rosedale Valley, four continuous climbs of Pottery road, followed by one more Rosedale Valley.

And this will have to be done twice. Wow.

At least compared the my biggest and most brutal climb done yet—Scenic Caves in Collingwood—the wall is actually not quite so bad.

I know I can do it, and I know I’ll be fine. But it’s still going to be brutal.

Estimating power output (aka: talking myself off the ledge using data)

There are a lot of neat things you can do when you’ve got data from a proper time trial. One of the things I’ve been doing is estimating what my power output is, and what it should be during my race. Here’s an outline of my last time trial as shown in TrainingPeaks.

For comparison here’s a similar time trial I did back in October.

I don’t want to make too many direct comparisons between the two, because there are a lot of different factors. The one in October looks better, since my heart rate is lower, and the whole time trial was over a longer distance. This week the weather was about 10º C lower. I was wearing more clothing, including a jacket that was blowing in the wind. Positioning was different in both, there are different length cranks. For the record, I’m seriously considering switching back to a 165mm.

The main point is that using a 20 or 30 minute average speed on a flat course, you can get a rough estimate of what kind of power you’re putting out by using this calculator.

You enter your weight, bike weight, position and tire type, then adjust the power level slider until you show your average speed showing in the velocity window on the top. In my case it’s showing that I’m putting out about 172 watts. Actually, I didn’t realize that adjusting the temperature would make as much of a difference. Supposedly if the temperature were 22 instead of 7 and I posted the same time, my power output would only have been 164! So pat myself on the back, I’ve probably made progress!

I realize that I’m probably making a big mistake here, since it’s supposed to be a rule that as a triathlete you’re supposed to boast huge numbers, even if you have to make them up.

Using the same adjustment as we did with threshold heart rate, that means that my 1 hour sustainable power output (FTP) would be 169 (172/1.02). There’s something we can work with. I had a look for what percentage of your FTP you should be using for Ironman and half-Ironman distances. Ironman should probably be around 50-60% of your FTP, and a half-Ironman should probably be about 8% higher than that.

In my case, that would put my Ironman power target at 86-103 watts, and my half-Ironman target at 93-111 watts. Double checking that now with my actual half-Ironman bike split, and plugging that into the calculator, I was putting out about 117 watts. Probably a little more when you factor in the hills. This was about 70-75% of my FTP. A little higher than it should have been, but I wasn’t saving anything for my run, since I knew I was walking the whole way anyway.

It’s a nice way of double-checking your work. It looks like that is accurate enough. I should be able to work closer to 60% of my FTP during my Ironman. Again, I’ll be walking most of the run, so I don’t need to worry too much about blowing up on the ride.

The thing that’s been concerning me about the bike course is the climbing. There are some brutal hills on the course. I’ve prepared myself for The Veyo Wall, which is a mile-long hill at about 12% grade by doing a harder hill in Collingwood. I’m okay with that. But what worries me is the average 1.5% grade that lasts 40 km. There are no hills in this area that can compare to that. This will be completely new territory for me.

If I just plug the numbers into the calculator, using my estimated power output, I should be able to climb that 40k at an average speed of 18.8 km/h. Yes, that’s slow. But at least I won’t be surprised, and I will know that I should not be worried by it. As long as my heart rate stays in the right range, and my speed stays close to that, everything should go as according to plan.

Time trials and errors

There are no shortages of warnings coming from experienced triathletes warning against making last-minute changes to your training or race plan. Way to state the obvious, I thought. Granted, I used my biggest race of the year last year to break in my new bike, but I knew what I was getting into (somewhat). I couldn’t understand why anyone would use the last few weeks before a race to try something different, when they know what they’ve been doing so far has been working for them. This week I have a much better idea of how that can happen.

It started while preparing the nutrition for my long rides the last two weekends. I’ve never had any issues with nutrition on long rides before. I just bring a lot of Perpetuem or Sustained Energy powder, drink it as I’m thirsty, and I eat whatever I feel like whenever I get hungry. It’s pretty simple, and it works well. I take anywhere from 100 calories per hour to 350, ranging from almost pure carbohydrate to mixes of everything.

What got me worried was reading about everyone else’s nutrition requirements. Most athletes (or at least it seems like most athletes because of how vocal they are about it) have very specific nutrition requirements. I went to check out the sites of nutrition companies, and even their recommendations vary hugely. I was left with more questions than when I started.

How many calories do you require per hour?
How much sodium do you need?
How much do you hydrate?
How well will you handle other foods?

None of the recommendations gave a definitive answer. You just have to rely on trial and error. So basically after all that I just went back to my previous long rides (thankfully I had detailed nutrition logs), and estimated what I would need based on that.

The end result of all that research? Keep doing what you’ve been doing.

After those rides, I noticed that my heart rate was much lower than it was expected to be. I’ve been using 167 bpm as my threshold heart rate, which I used to base all my heart rate zones on. Basically your threshold heart rate is the maximum heart rate that is sustainable for one hour of exercise. They are usually different per sport. For swimming it’s not practical to use heart rate, so instead you use pace times. I use a 1000m time trial, and use that to grade the effort of all my training swims.

Using 167 as a threshold rate, that would mean that the upper limit that I should allow my heart rate to go would be the top of zone 2, which would be 161 bpm. But while I was on my rides, I felt like about 135 was my upper limit. If I pushed above that heart rate, I would feel burning, and get tired quickly. Something wasn’t right. I continued my rides based on how I felt, and based my target heart rates based on that. So I would try to keep it around 130, and occasionally push to 135-140 on hills. It worked well for me, but I was very confused how there could be that much of a drop.

After attending one of his seminars on Ironman nutrition, I contacted Nigel from NRG to look into getting some proper instrumented lactate threshold testing done. He was very helpful in calming me down. I know that I should just continue as things are, but I just needed someone else to say so. He told me that waiting until after I’ve recovered from Ironman St. George would be the best time, and after I’m a couple weeks into my first or second build cycle after. That helped a lot. But I was still curious on whether my heart rate zones would have changed or not. I thought your lactate threshold was supposed to go up when your fitness increased, not down!

Googling for information wasn’t very successful. That’s a pretty difficult search term to come up with, so I asked Slowtwitch for their thoughts on the subject. The first handful posts were very helpful, then it turned into a big debate about whether training above threshold is beneficial or whether it would inhibit aerobic capacity. In other words: will training hard make your endurance better or worse? Still very helpful, and a lot to think about, but not necessarily helping to clear my mind.

My semi-automatically-generated TrainingPeaks training plan programs one time trial for each sport on recovery weeks. I’ve never actually done them on previous recovery weeks, but I figured this would be a great opportunity. Nigel mentioned that recovery weeks aren’t the best time to do testing, but I was scheduled to do them anyway, so I figured I’d give them a shot. Maybe they would be enough to make sense of this all.

It turned out that I killed every benchmark that I attempted. First Ayesha scheduled a surprise 50m and 400m swim benchmark for Wednesday. Great timing! My previous best 50m time was 37 seconds. I’ve done it three times, but I’ve never been able to beat that. This time not only did I do it in 36 seconds, but I didn’t feel like I was going to puke after.

This set me up well for my 400m benchmark. I started off a bit too fast (trying to keep up with someone in the lane beside me), and I ended up getting passed by a lane mate. That held me up for six seconds (wow, I really like my Garmin for lap-by-lap reports), but I was able to draft off him for the rest of the session. Did that affect my times? Yes, absolutely. But I’ll go with it. He was very consistent, and he was actually lapping at a slower pace than I was doing before he passed. So we must have both drafted off each other. My final time was 6:50, which was two seconds faster than my best. I’ll take it—I know I can reproduce that, I just need to be more consistent.

Those didn’t do anything to change my swim threshold (since I use a 1000m benchmark for that), but they helped boost my confidence (the lack of which has been causing me to scramble for last-minute changes to my race plan).

Next was 5k run time trial. This was actually scheduled to be a tempo time trial. Based on my previous threshold heart rate (which was 177 (!?!)), that meant that I was supposed to maintain a steady heart rate of 167-169. It turned out that it was pretty much impossible to maintain. I ended up just pushing as hard as I could for the full 5k, trying to get as close as I could. Effectively it was a full-out 5k time trial. So I was able to use that number as my new threshold heart rate, which was 161 (the average over 5k) divided by 1.02: 158!

I revised my previous runs using this new rate, and it seems to make a lot more sense.

Last night was my 30-minute bike time trial. I went down to Cherry Beach, which is absolutely flat, and did one 7k lap to warm up, then pushed as hard as I could for 30 minutes. I estimated I would be able to get just over two laps done. I nearly finished three! I covered 12.43 km for an average speed of 34.4. Wow! End result was that my heart rate average over the last 20 minutes was 161—the same as it was for my run!

After revising my previous rides with these new heart rate zones, it shows that I was actually properly pacing myself during my 180k rides. Until I get proper testing done, it looks like I’ve got some decent zones to work with.

This morning I was scheduled for my 1000m TT in the pool. It was busier than I would have liked, and I didn’t get enough time to properly warm up, but I still pulled in my best 1000m benchmark yet: 18:18, which beat my previous best by three seconds. Not a huge margin, but considering the conditions I’m very happy with that. Not to mention this is in a 50m pool, compared to the 25m pool where I set my previous benchmark. That’s worth a few seconds a lap! This also changes my new threshold pace to 1:49 from the 1:50 that I’ve been using. Yes, its only one second, but it definitely counts.

So what am I to take from all this? Keep doing what you’ve been doing. Keep listening to your body. Keep pushing on. This is going to be a good race, and if you try and make any changes now, you’re just going to end up screwing yourself up.

Update: Sunday I hopped in for another TT—this time a 2000m swim in the 25m pool. My time was exactly double what my 1000m was the day before: 36:36! This means that this week I’ve beaten every previous time I’ve done, other than my 100m swim benchmark. Awesome week.