Well, here it finally is folks. My post about the recent completion of my journey to become an Iron..Man. I can’t use the term Ironman itself, as this term is trademarked, and the race I took part in isn’t an ‘official’ Ironman event. Whatever. I still did the distance, endured the pain, and went through all the training. So I still feel pretty damn good about it 😉 As you’ll note, I’m calling this a journey, because it isn’t as simple as just doing a race. Getting to this start line involved about 9 months of training and sacrifices. I really couldn’t be a big party animal on weekends. Instead, I was up early mornings pretty much every single weekend, doing 6 hour bike rides or 3 hour runs or putting time in the pool. Often times, I actually had to do more than one of those per day. Yup, my weekly training regimen consisted of between 12 and 20 hours a week! Of course, rather than always just training, keep in mind I also raced during all this time, doing numerous triathlons and adventure races throughout the early season as well! But, since you’re reading this, it means that I made it to the other side. This post will be all about my race day, as the rest is essentially history at this point 😉 In order to help you understand the most about the day, I’ve done a few things for you. First off, head over to flickr for a folder full of race pictures. Secondly, since I had my Garmin on during the race itself, why not have fun and browse the Google map that I created, that includes some of the pictures? Good enough? Excellent, now on with the story.
Before I go on with the entire gory story and all the minute details, I’ll summarize the day and the results so that you don’t have to read it all if you don’t want to. Incidentally, in case you didn’t know, all my race results are available on the site here as well. You can browse the high-level results online, or even download a .pdf of all my detailed results. It’s just another little thing that I do for all of you 😉 So, about this Iron race. Here is the day in a nutshell. The entire race took place at Mooney’s Bay at the Terry Fox Athletic Facility.
First up, the swim, 3.8km on a 2-loop course in Mooney’s Bay starting at 6:30am. I came out of the water in 7th place, with a time of 1h10min
Transition took about 5.5min, getting set for bike.
Second up, the bike, 180km on a 12-loop course following the parkway along the canal. I finished that with the 13th fastest time, with a time of 5h50min.
Transition took about 4.5min, getting set for run.
Lastly, the run, 42.2km on a 4-loop course following the pathway beside the canal. I finished that with the 8th fastest time, with a time of 3h45min.
This was good enough to get me 7th place overall, 1st in my category, with an overall time of 10h55min58sec!
Now that you already read the spoiler, feel free to join me now as I relive that day in a bit more detail, from the days before, to the post-Iron party! It makes sense to start the story a few days before the big event. You see, when you last heard from me, I’d been busy partying, and relaxing, celebrating Rob and Anna’s wedding, and having guests from out of town. Monday morning, they left town, and Monday night, I went to the movies with Kev, Dave and Boris. Tuesday morning and Bam ! I felt like crap. This was not a good sign. However, I had about 4 days to get over the draggy feeling, and hoped it would pass. It’s not uncommon for endurance athletes to get sick in the last couple weeks before a big event due to the taper. While you’re training hard, your body produces a lot of white blood cells to fight off infection. However, when you reduce the training volume, the white blood cell count drops, leaving you a bit vulnerable.
So, that’s why I got sick I guess. Too bad it couldn’t have happened in the first 2 weeks of taper rather than the last one, but not much I could do. I spent he rest of the week completely resting. In fact, I even took Wednesday, most of Thursday, and Friday off from work, sleeping lots, drinking lots, and eating lots. Unfortunately, I pretty much had a full-blown throat infection, not just a little cold. I was genuinely worried about race day. Friday night, I headed down to the venue to pick up my race kit, and had hoped to do some quick training while out there. Unfortunately, I still felt miserable, and it was threatening to rain, so I bailed on that, and opted to just return home and rest. Well, that, and wait for some race wheels that I was borrowing for the next morning but hadn’t gotten yet! Yikes. I also still had to tune the bike once I got the wheels. Luckily, they showed up around 7:30pm or so, and I quickly tuned up the bike. I also got all my Eload ready, and all my gear laid out.
Oh yes, Eload. I should mention that an important part of the strategy in a race like this is your nutrition plan. Over a 12-hour event, you need to figure out just what your body not only needs, but can handle. To figure that out, I’d done some measurements in training sessions to figure out just how much fluid my body needed in order to stay hydrated, and not drop by more than 3% body weight. My plan called for about 8 bottles on the bike ride, and then intermittent eating and drinking on the run, as best as I could manage. The bike is the best time to eat and drink, as it is easier on your body. I also planned on a few gels on the bike, and the run. I opted for no solid foods, just to make the digestion easiest. I also spiked my Eload with extra electrolytes to make sure I wouldn’t suffer from cramping later on in the day. Anyway, enough about the nutrition, let’s get back to race day, shall we?
Saturday morning came far too early. The good thing is that due to the Benylin night-time tablets I’d been popping, my nights of sleep weren’t too bad, with me managing to get a solid several hours of sleep at a time, although I generally woke up once or twice a night. My alarm went off at 4:30am Saturday, and I got up pretty much right away. I needed to make sure I had the time to eat my food, and drink a liter of fluids at least an hour before the race start. We were out the door around 5:30am, and in the parking lot at Hog’s Back by 5:50am. Sadly, it was still dark. And cold. What a way to get motivated for a long race, eh? The stadium lights were on, so that we could find our way around the transition area to get things set up. Luckily, they had allotted us extra bike racks, so I had lots of room to lay out all my transition gear. I got Jody to do my body marking, then went for a quick run to warm up along the canal. My lungs didn’t seem to want to co-operate. I had to cough lots, and was a bit short of breath. Oh well. Swimming might be interesting, right? Back to transition, and a quick trip to the porta-pottie to empty out the tanks. The I realized I had less than 5 minutes to the start!! Crap!! I didn’t even have my wetsuit on yet. I quickly got into it, and made my way to the beach.
Luckily by the time 6:30am rolled around, the sun had started to come up in the sky. It looked like it would be a great day for a race. I got to the beach, and popped in my ear plugs. I’ve taken to wearing them for long swims just to make things a bit easier on me. Then I pulled on the swim cap, and finally the goggles. The countdown was just getting underway, and you could feel the nervous energy in the air. When the gun went off, it was all a little surreal. No one ran into the surf, or tried to be a hero. To me, it just seemed like a calm shuffle into the water. That suited me just fine. The water was actually quite warm compared to the air, so it was nice to get in and start swimming. I put myself a little ways back in the pack, and just concentrated on my sighting and stroke technique. I was happy to have the ear plugs, as it really helped put me in my own world. With them in my ears, it blocked out all the pandemonium and helped me stay calm.
I’d love to say the swim was dead easy, but it really wasn’t. It just seemed like a really long swim. Not super-tiring, but slow and long. At one point, me goggles were too fogged up, and I stopped to clear them. I didn’t get them back on very well due to the swim cap (causing a bad seal), and they kept filling back up with water. That slowed me down a bit, and made me lose my focus as 3 guys passed me. That got me sufficiently annoyed, so I just pulled the goggles back on as best I could, and caught back up with some feet, and vowed to just follow them around the rest of the course. My sighting seemed to be going pretty well also, and a couple times I found myself having to avoid people who in my opinion weren’t going in a straight line.
For a lot of the two lap course, I found myself pretty much in sync with 2 or 3 other people. I found myself coming to the end of the swim at pretty much the same time as two of them, but managed to be the first out of the water in our little group. I was extremely surprised when Jody let me know that I was the 7th out of the water, and that the swim had only taken me 1h10mins. Yippee for me. Maybe the cold wasn’t going to hold me back after all. I started my jog up to the transition area, where I spent a mere 5 and a half minutes getting ready for the next six hour of racing on the bike. I put on bike shorts, a bike shirt, and turned on my Garmin . All told, I’d say I did pretty well in the transition, because even though I hadn’t planned on being super-fast, I still didn’t dawdle at all.
What can I possibly write about the bike ride? It was 180 freakin kilometers! Can you picture that? 12 long laps of the Colonel By Parkway! There’s really only one thing you can do in a situation like that… pedal. Over and over. My strategy was quite simple really. I wanted to keep my cadence around 85 RPM for the whole way, and keep my heart rate around 140BPM . Of course, I wanted to have both of those, and still manage to do over 30km/h. Could I do it? I was about to find out. As soon as I took the first turn from Hog’s Back onto the parkway, I was hit my the headwind! The wind was blowing pretty much due south, which meant all the way downtown (and downhill), we’d be fighting the wind. On the plus side, the return legs would have the wind at our backs, helping us up the hills. Although it wasn’t a super-strong wind, it was steady. The whole day in fact!
Lap 1 was actually really nice, because there was no one else on the course at that time of the day. Given that I was in 7th, there really wasn’t any reason to expect an influx of people. Each lap was going to take around 30minutes, and I really enjoyed the first one. It was peaceful, sunny, and just a touch on the chilly side. This motivated me to get the engine running well. I didn’t drink anything for most of the first lap, as they recommend you spend the first 20 minutes just getting warmed up. After the first lap, I was changing bottles every couple laps or so. Jody and I had worked out a pretty good system. She was up at the Hog’s back turnaround, with a cooler bag full of water bottles for me. As I came up for a turn, I’d swap an empty bottle for a full one, and then pace my drinking to make sure I stuck to my hydration plan.
By the 2nd and 3rd laps, the bike course got really clogged up. There were numerous other races, with a lot more people in them running at the same time. First came the Sprint Triathlon super-studs, all of the them really flying. It made you want to really hammer it, but you had to tell yourself that they were doing a completely different race, and you should pace with them. Shortly after them came the 1/2 Iron competitors, which were also a pretty fast bunch, vying for the Eastern Triathlon Series points standings. Again, they were going faster than I planned on, and I had to put on the brakes a few times when I wanted to push it. Luckily, they weren’t all fast, and it felt good to have the chance to pass some people along the way during that long ride. I was also fortunate enough to start seeing some other ‘fans’ along the race course during the bike and for the rest of the day. I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank the following people for cheering me on all day. Thanks to Jody, Darren, Karli, Grant, Bonnie, Maya, Natasha, Kevin, Dave, and Darcy! You guys made all the difference when I needed it.
As the bike leg wore on, I was happy to see that I was able to maintain a pretty steady pace throughout the whole thing. The tricky thing about a 180km bike ride in a triathlon is that you don’t have the opportunity to draft off of anyone. It’s illegal in a race. So you’re basically out there on your own the entire way. It’s funny, you spend months training alone, then you get on the race course and have to do it on your own as well. At least on the run you can tag along with others. I was really starting to get tired of the north-bound legs, with the wind in my face. The turnaround was always a blessing. As the day progressed, it got to be so I could pick out some of the iron-distance racers. The last couple laps, it seemed I was always close to one other fellow. He pass me going into the wind, but as soon as the turnaround came up, I’d “blow” by him with the wind at my bike. I don’t know if it was my light weight, or the race wheels I was using, but either way, it made me feel pretty good.
Overall, I was very satisfied with the way the bike worked for me that day. I was comfortable for most of the 180km ride, only getting out of the aero position a few times to stretch out my back and legs. I guess it pays to be flexible. I hit a few low spots, but it seemed that the two times it happened, I had the right strategy. I’d basically choose that lap to have a pee break. So, I’d stop, get off the bike, use the porta potty (and stretching at the same time), hop back on, grab a gel shot, and take a good swig of water. Both times I did that, it seemed to put me back in the right spirit and gave me fresh legs for a bit. It’s amazing what just a little mental break can do for you. The end of the 12 laps was still quite a nice feeling. Even though most of the race the announcer was calling me off by one lap, they finally got it right towards the end. I knew my count, and had the GPS distance to prove it. Seeing the number hit 180km was awesome. I haven’t gone that far in a single non-stop ride all summer! I cruised to the dismount line, happy to see Jody there snapping a few pictures. My time ended up being 5h 50mins! I had targeted 6h, so that was great. I was now well ahead of my target schedule. I was 13th overall in the bike leg, so still doing well.
I jogged off to the transition, to get ready to the dreaded marathon part of the race. Again, I didn’t really dawdle long, but I took the time to peel off the bike shorts (leaving just my tri shorts on), as well as change shirts. Off with the helmet and bandana , on with my 5 Peaks cap. I even stopped long enough to lather on some fresh sunscreen, since I knew I’d be out there for the next 4 or so hours, and wasn’t sure they’d put any out at the aid stations. Shoes on, and before I knew it, I was jogging out the far side of the stadium, after a respectable 4.5 minute transition. Normally after a long ride, I’d have a nice shower and meal, but not today! Okay, not totally true, on a lot of long rides I’d immediately go for a 20 minute run, just to get used to the shock of changing to the run in the race.
So here we are, faced with the most daunting part of the race in my opinion. Mustering up the mental and physical energy to run an entire marathon after already givin’ ‘er for the past 7+ hours of racing. Luckily, this is the one area I’ve really been focusing on the past few years. Getting to be a stronger runner. I didn’t necessarily do as much running throughout the summer as biking, but I knew my body could do it, and would do what I told it to. However, I did have a few nagging doubts about doing this after the bike. I purposefully told myself to keep the pace reasonable off the bat, so that I wouldn’t blow up towards the run. A lot of people had told me that unless you’re a real experienced Iron-dude, you WILL walk at some point during the marathon. My secret goal was to not walk at all, and to finish strong, and fresh(ish) looking. So with that in mind, I started pounding out the kilometers at a pace of around 5min.18secs.
Right off the bat, I was fortunate enough to run into (not literally) the guy I’d been sort of shadowing on the last few laps of the bike. His name was Daniel, and he was from Montreal, doing his 3rd Iron-distance race ever (all within the last year!). He was a super-nice guy, and we happily chatted as we pressed on. He was having his strongest race to date, and hoped the pace could sustain us. However, he said that he always drops the pace a bit towards the end, and has normally ended up having to walk a bit. I encouraged him, and said that if we just ignored what we were doing and ran on, oblivious to the race, I’d get him to the finish line by 11h00. He sort of laughed, but was hopeful, so on we ran. Once again, my fan club was out in force along the course, encouraging my every step when they could see me. They also got to know Daniel, and cheered him on too. He loved having the extra fans. We ended up doing our first 1/2 of the marathon pretty much together. Unfortunately, he had to make a nature break, and that wasn’t in my cards during the run. Apparently he hadn’t gone at all during the bike, so he was definitely due. I urged him to try and catch back up with me, but I wasn’t about to slow down if I could help it. In the end, everyone has to run their own race, right?
After pulling away, I started having the doubts again. We had started as three, and I had gradually dropped the other two guys. Was I making a bad decision in pushing myself like this? Could I keep it together and keep up the pace. Already we had dropped to about 5m30s pace, and my goal was really to just keep holding on to that. I did a mental self check, and found I still felt really good. I’d taken a few gels on the run so far, and even treated myself to some salt pills, as well as some smarties. My latest drink also included some Coke, which they say is a God-send on the run portion. I was definitely a nice change, but didn’t give me wings or anything. I had nothing to do but just push myself. There was no one else with me for 95% of the course, just the brief moments when I’d see my fans.
The third lap was probably the toughest for me. However, I (with Jody’s help) had made one key move right before the third lap. I picked up my last bike bottle that had Eload in it. I think it saved my race to a degree. You see, part of the problem with aid stations is that their far apart for starters. Then, you have to get just a little cup of liquid (half full). If you don’t choke it back pretty quick, it spills out all over, if you’re not walking (which as you’ll recall I didn’t want to). Then, you’re left with another problem. Sucking back too much liquid at that point in the race is hard on the stomach, and can cause gas or nausea, which I’d felt just a big of. However, with my own bottle, I was left to casually take little sips whenever needed, and also able to just smile and say thanks but no thanks as I cruised through the aid stations. I passed a lot of other racers who were forced to walk a bit and each person I passed (even though I most likely wasn’t gaining any spots) gave me a little boost. I’m happy to report that I wasn’t passed by a single person on the run that was doing the full iron. Instead, I grappled back some of the spots I’d lost on the bike.
The loneliest lap of all was lap 4. By then, my fans had started making their way to the stadium to witness my finish, so that left me all alone, running along the canal. Well, not quite alone. There were the other 45 or so Iron-distance marathon runners out there, along with a myriad of clueless casual canal-goers. The marshals tried to let people about the race, but there were tons of idiots biking and weaving along the path, parents with jogging strollers, slow walkers, etc. etc. I’m not trying to say there’s anything wrong with using the canal, but the vast majority of these people had no appreciation for the state of mind a racer is in after already racing over 10 hours. There was no way in hell I could even take a single side step without cramping up or falling. The only thing I could do was one foot in front of the other, pushing and pushing. Mentally, I was pretty sharp, but the body was screaming for me to stop. Several times I had to yell at people. Things to the effect of “Get out of my way, because there’s no way I can get around you, and I don’t want to try going over you at this point.” It was a bit comical, and I was really saying it to be more funny rather than rude. Generally it would work, people would laugh, and move aside, and a lot of times even give me a little encouragement.
It was about this time that it started dawning on me that I was about to do it! I was going to become an ironman at the end of this lap. If nothing else, that really motivated me to keep running. Oh, and did I say running? Yes, running! True to my word, I did not stop and walk at all. I could have. Easily. But deep down, I knew it was a slippery slope. As soon as I took a ‘break’, it would get harder and harder to convince myself not to take another. So I had a serious talk with my legs, and informed them that they HAD to keep going. No matter what. Until I hit that finish line banner, they had to plod along, at 5min38sec per kilometer. And you know what? They did. Praise my legs, they did the job I had told them to.
Okay, so finishing the race in itself is not a discipline, but I like the look of having that as a story heading at this point, don’t you? My mind stayed pretty lucid throughout this whole race, and I think that my adventure racing background had a lot to do with that. People tell you that an Ironman is just as much mental as it is physical. Well, although I agree to a degree, I don’t agree to a high degree. It really is an all-out physical affair in my mind. AR is far more mentally challenging. So for me, I found it pretty easy to focus and get it done. There really is no comparison for the mental challenge of being in the middle of the woods, and 4am, after 36 hours racing, staring at a map trying to figure out where to go, with 3 team-mates in various states of awareness waiting for you to make a call. Unless you ever do one of these longer races, I’ll never be able to describe to you the mental highs and lows that go along with AR. No triathlon can ever touch that, which is why I still say I’m an adventure racer at the core. It takes you to a place these kind of races just can’t.
But I digress, we’re still trying to get to the finish line, aren’t we? So, I cruise up to the end of the last lap, and happily inform the marshall that I won’t be turning around this time, and thank her for volunteering and helping, but I’ve got a race to finish, with a big grin on my face. I was now a mere 700m away from the end. Coming around the curve on the final stretch to get to the stadium, I could already hear cheering. Were they yelling for me! Yes, they were yelling GO STEVE!!!! Thanks again to my wonderful friends for being there. I’ll admit, on the final turn, heading into the stadium, I got a just a little choked up. I had done it! Then, I was on the track, veering right and targeting my legs on that finish chute, 100m away. The announcer started calling out something, and I heard him say “Now there’s a guy that’ll be happy to hear me say he’s coming in under 11 hours, right?”. What?! I was shocked. I’d come all this way, and blew my goals out of the water, and was now coming in to finish under 11 hours in my first iron attempt! Suddenly, I was very glad I’d chosen to run the whole way, and I felt lighter than air as I crossed the line arms raised in the times victor’s “V” as the cameras snapped my picture.
Just after crossing the line, my legs did what they normally do at this point in a race. They revolt just a little bit, and I stumble and nearly fall. Luckily people are there to make sure I’m okay, which I assure them I’m more than 😉 After all, I was made of Iron at that point. I hit stop on my watch, and that’s when I saw for the first time that the run course was not the 42.2km I expected, but read only 40k. WTF ? I’m too tired to care, and assume it was just an error. Rather than go on about this fact, I’ll point out now that it was in fact short by 2+km. I think the far end turnaround had been mis -placed by about 300m, adding up to the shortfall in 4 laps. However, my position and effort wouldn’t have changed, but I wouldn’t have broken 11hours in that case. The clock said 10h55min58sec. That extra distance would have put me probably around 11h07min. Still incredible.
So, I crossed the line. Dropped the timing chip, grabbed a banana and water, and hobbled over to hang out with my friends. At that point the announcer started reading my rather lengthy bio for all to hear that were there. It was a bit strange, but also quite satisfying to hear him tell them all about my old days of drinking and partying, and my transformation into the racer before them. Sure its selfish and narcissistic to hear about yourself, but I figured I’d earned my moment. The next racer was another 10 minutes back, so there was time to read my stuff. Cool! There was a round of pictures, hugs, and thanks, and then it was pretty much over. I was done. All that was left was to head back over to my transition area that I’d set up so long ago that day, and pack up all the stuff that I’d left laying around. Luckily that didn’t take too long, because by this point, I was truly looking forward to laying around on the couch, and maybe eating some food. All after a shower though. I got it in my head that I wanted some greasy Chinese food as well, so on the way home, we popped into a place and made an order for pickup, which Jody could get while I was grabbing my shower. The rest of the night was spent just chilling out, watching TV, and stuffing myself. Then, I had to catch some zzzz’s, as the next morning, we had to be at the awards breakfast by 9am.
THE NEXT DAY
7:30am came sooner than I had hoped. What? That early on the first day that I could actually relax a bit? Yup, had to get to Dow’s Lake and Malone’s in particular for the Iron-distance finisher’s breakfast. While there, we enjoyed a tasty buffet breakfast, and got to hang out and chat with the other athletes. Jody and I ended up sitting with Daniel, my running mate, and his wife, who had also done the iron the day before. It was a pretty fun time. After eating, they got to the awards. I was pleasantly surprised there to find out that I’d come first in my age category. In fact, I was the first person under 35 to finish the race. Not too shabby. I was feeling relatively good, and although walking up and down stairs were a bit of a challenge, I’d have to do plenty of if later on. After all, we were hosting a party at our place! Yup, I had sent out invites earlier in the week for a Post-Iron party, since it was a long weekend and I’d be able to actually drink and not worry about consequences to training 😉
As the post is already excessively long, I won’t bore you with all the details of the party. Suffice it to say, I had a great group of friends show up, and we partied outside on the deck for lots of the afternoon and early evening, then moved to the basement for more drinks and partying. There was some impromptu jamming in the studio, and also some hard core Guitar Hero playing. It was just what I’d hoped for and I had a blast. Hope everyone that made it had fun too. Some keeners were even kind enough to bring me celebratory offerings. Including a bottle of Screech, some beer, and a bottle of Alize. Thanks guys! You really shouldn’t have, but I’m enjoying them just the same 😉
To close off, I guess I’d just like to say thanks once again to everyone who’s supported and helped me along the way. In particular, a huge thanks to Jody for putting up with all the training and all my associated cranky moods when things would get to me. I think the end result was worth it for me, and I hope you think so too 😉 I’d also like to just tell anyone who’s wondering if they could do it. Yes, you can. No doubt. But you have to want it, and you have to be willing to work for it. Nothing comes easy. If it did, we’d all be handsome, rich, famous, and fulfilled. So get out there. Want it, and get it. You get out of life whatever you’re willing to put into it, and I wish everyone success and happiness! That’s it for my iron post. If you’ve made it this far, why not write me a little comment to let me know you read my story? Thanks!