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!)

Pre-race

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.

Swim

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!

Bike

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.

Run

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


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