Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Zuzka's Ironman Mont Treblant Report


As many of you know, I signed up for this race together with my sister, who got inspired after she saw me suffer have way too much fun at IM Switzerland last year J While I was home during the winter, I left her a book (Be Iron Fit by Donk Fink), which I used as a template for my training plan both last year and this year. My sister seemed to have been following the plan for the first 10 weeks or so (maybe even did too much while attending a training camp in early spring) but then kind of got off the wagon. She was supposed to come to the US a few days before the NEMS training camp but because by mid June it was obvious she wasn’t really motivated to train alone at home (Slovakia), I suggested that she comes a bit early – about 5.5 weeks prior to the race (the training camp was 3 weeks prior). This turned out to be a great idea – both for our training and for me having some extra company J.

My swim/bike/run preparation for IM Mont-Tremblant has been pretty solid. Strava says I’ve ridden almost 4,000 miles and ran around 1,150 miles this year prior to the race. (The crazy amount of running was also due to training for Boston Marathon, though I did run more and with more intensity even after Boston this year and also did longer runs right after my long rides (which was not so much the case during my training for Switzerland last year)) Garmin says I swam around 120 miles in 2014 so far but it might be closer to 150 miles since I don't record the swimming drills that usually make up 10-20% of my workouts. My swimming volume was probably still a bit low (especially compared to how much I rode and ran) but it was definitely more than what I did last year and it brought on some pretty significant speed improvements, which is what really counts anyway :-) I’ve also posted some good race results this summer (won my AG at Rev3 half and finished 3rd overall at Patriot Half with a 4:44 (a 24 minute PR!)), so I had pretty high expectations of myself at Mont-Tremblant. My goal was to go sub-10:30 (ideally sub-10:15) and to at least make the age group podium (and ideally qualify for Kona).

Well, I’m happy to report that at least my primary goals have been met J This is how it went:

Race morning:

Got up at 3:30am. I don’t think I’ve ever woke up so early for a race but we were staying about 5 miles away from the transition and given the limited parking space, we wanted to get there before 5am. We were done with all pre-race preparations by 5:20, so we decided to go back to the car to get money for some coffee. I temporarily forgot that the swim start was about ½ mile (if not more) from the transition area and as a result we ended up barely made it in time to get in about 5min of warmup before the gun went off for our wave. I wished my sister good luck and told her to take it easy, especially since this was her first triathlon and she’s never ran more than 20K at once! (though I think her cycling and swimming preparation has been decent)

Swim (1:09:41 – my goal was under 1:12, so I was very happy about this! Plus, this compared pretty well to other athletes too - 14th/49 in my age group and 446th/2317 overall):
Since I don’t think I’m a mediocre swimmer any more (yay!), I positioned myself pretty close to the front of my wave. The beginning of the swim was pretty relaxed compared to most of the races I’ve done. It got a bit more crowded as I started catching up with the waves in front of us. I focused on swimming smooth, swimming straight, passing people and, when possible, catching some feet moving at similar speed to my own. I also made sure I peed in the last 10min or so of the swim, so that I didn’t have to go (i.e. stop) on the bike right away. As I got up from the water and saw 1:09 on my watch, I was elated J

T1 (6:47 – no goal here but this seemed a little slow even with the supposedly 1/2mi of running total)
Sprinted out of the water and only noticed the wetsuit strippers when it was too late to use them. (Almost all the people around me seemed to have used them.) The barefoot run on the pavement made my feet a bit numb but they were OK by the time I got on my bike. I was a bit clumsy and slow in the changing tent (I noticed at least one person who entered the tent a few seconds behind me and left a few seconds before me) but given the length of the race, it probably didn’t matter.

Bike (5:32:20 – was hoping for around 5:30, so not too bad but next year I’d definitely like to be 5:15 or under)
My heart rate was a bit too high (high zone 3) for the first 5 miles or so but then I settled into a sustainable high z2 to mid zone 3 effort. I wasn’t too fixated on the heart rate but kept reminding myself that I should hold back, especially in the first half of the ride. I passed Ryan pretty close to the first turn-around on 117. It was nice seeing a familiar face! After the turn-around I kept looking for more familiar faces, specifically my sister, since I wanted to make sure that she made it out of the water OK (it was her first mass start swim) and was enjoying her ride. I finally saw her about 5mi after the turnaround and she looked pretty happy and fast, so yay! J

I did the first lap of the bike in 2:43. Not too bad. I suspected I’d be a little bit slower in the second lap despite having held back but I was confident that I could still come in around 5:30. I spent much of the 2nd lap passing (uphill) and then being passed (downhill) by another woman (not in my age group though). Usually I really don’t like this kind of situation because I feel it ultimately slows me down when I have to drop back too frequently but this lady was very good at passing me at a decent speed, so it was actually kind of nice having her to pace me for a bit. What was not so nice was that at one point we passed a group of guys who proceeded to draft of us. Oh well, I guess I need to get faster to make it harder for them to jump on my wheel next time J (we got rid of them in a few minutes anyway) I saw my sister again while going back on 117. She looked good and it seemed that she was still about the same distance behind me (about 10 miles) – impressive! I managed to catch up with a few more women the second time up and down the casino hill, so that felt good too.

As for my nutrition, my plan was to eat about 1 bar (Powerbar or Clif bar broken into 2-3 pieces) or 2-3 gels every hour. Since I didn’t really train with a sports drink, I decided to just stick with water for the whole bike (and potentially the whole race). It seemed to have worked out better than last year when I consumed both water and whatever sports drink they had on the race course (probably Perform). But then, the temperatures this year were much lower (55-65F) than in Switzerland last year (80-90F), so I probably didn’t sweat as much… In the end I ate 3.5 bars and 4 gels and drank 5 water bottles on the bike (about 3.5 liters). I had the last 2 gels in the last 35min or so, which I was a bit worried about but I didn’t plan to have anything in transition (or rather, I forgot to put an extra gel in my bike to run bag), so eating a bit extra towards the end of the bike had to do. I was pretty happy with how the bike went – 3 minutes faster than in Switzerland last year but my average heart rate was 155 (high z2) as opposed to 168 (mid to high z3)). I was ready to kill it on the run!

T2 (3:33): Pretty smooth other than that after I packed my bike stuff into the bag, I put it on a chair and it fell and spilled all over the place. Probably lost 20 seconds by putting it back into the bag from under the chairs, lol.

Run (3:31:21 – the goal was around 3:30, ideally a bit under)
I flew out of transition and knocked down the first mile in only a little above 7 minutes, despite a few hills. For the first 8 miles, I was feeling pretty good and my heart rate was where it was supposed to be (mid 160s). The leading professional men that passed me around mile 2.5 were not going that much faster J (they were a lap ahead of me, of course!) I was averaging around 7:30min/mile (including a pee stop at mile 6), so for a while I naively thought that maybe I can even beat my standalone marathon PR (3:12). Yeah, right! J Around mile 9 I started having a slight stomach discomfort and a little bit of leg/hip/feet pain and my pace dropped to the 8min/mile range for a few miles. That brought me back to reality (i.e. adjusting my goal to finish in 3:25-3:30). I still managed to accelerate a bit before and after the halfway mark, mostly thanks to the amazing energy of the spectators and volunteers. Things started getting rough around mile 17. I still managed to pass quite a few people, many of them still on their first lap but I was definitely about 30s/mile slower than on the same sections in the first lap. Around mile 20 I caught up with a lady who seemed to have been leading the age group race earlier (she was in the 30-something AG). She checked what age group I was in and told me that there was another person in my age group not too far ahead and that I can catch her if I push it. I tried to push it but all I could do was about 8:30min/mile for the next 2 miles or so. My abs started hurting really bad (not sure if it was a stomach issue or just the ab muscles) and my legs didn’t feel the greatest either (what did I expect? That this was a walk in the park the whole way? :-)). I really just wanted to walk, which seemed pathetic with only 4 miles to go, especially given my earlier pace. I made a compromise and walked a bit at the aid stations and drank some coke (I was eating gels about every 5 miles until mile 16 but they didn’t really sit well in my stomach, so I decided to finish the race just on liquids). Eventually, the 30-something lady caught me back and once again told me to push it. I felt like a total failure because I really couldn’t go any faster than a meager 9min/mile at that point. I just couldn’t wait to be done with this! I walked a few more times, only for 10-15 seconds at a time but I still felt really embarrassed since I was less than 3 miles from the finish and not able to pick up my pace above 9:15min/mile even while running. Also, I really didn’t want to walk (or shuffle too much) in the last mile or so since there were so many spectators around. So I took my last walking break with about 1.5 mile to go and sucked it up. The crowd support helped a LOT and did manage to bring my pace back under 9min for the last mile and finish with a little bit of an acceleration. J
My overall time was 10:23:42 (4th/49 in AG, 13th/626 women, 141st/2317 overall). I should have been happy but I was mostly just relieved that it was over and a bit disappointed that I didn’t catch the girl (in my age group) in front of me. I wanted to check the results really badly but since there was no wifi and I didn’t have mobile data in Canada, I didn’t get to see the results until about 2 hours later (after which I was even more disappointed because of not even making what I thought was the podium in my AG (top 3)) My sister surpassed everyone’s expectations and finished her first Ironman (and triathlon!) in 11:44! I was so happy for her J and was especially amazed by her 4:08 marathon! We were both pretty beat up, so we headed back to our hotel soon after.

We almost missed the Kona rolldown at 10am the next day since we didn’t get up until 8am and had to pack and check out of our hotel prior to that. The rolldown did go as I expected - the top 2 women in my age group took the slots. However, the awards ceremony was a bit different than what I expected (in a positive way). Since this race was the North American Championships, they had a 5-person podium for each age group, so even with a normally disappointing 4th place, I still made the podium. J

In summary, I really enjoyed Ironman Mont Tremblant - the location, the people, my friends from NEMS and MIT, my sister and also the fact that I could train on the course a few weeks prior to the race. Also, would like to thank you everyone who supported me, cheered me on and tolerated my "occasional" fatigue-induced grumpiness in the months preceding the race and also during the race (special thanks to Isa, Eleanor and Colin for making the trip to Mont-Tremblant to support the MIT Triathlon competitors!) and thank you everyone who trained with me (even though I do not mind training alone most of the time, it is definitely more pleasant (and motivating) to train with friends!).

Sean Mahon's Ironman Louisville Hot and Humid Race Report

This is my first race report so bear with me, and I apologize for its length. I’ll break it down to 4 parts

The Weather: Humidity- Persona Non Grata

Ironman Louisville definitely deserves an entire section dedicated to the weather. I’ve raced in heat before, Ironman Canada in Penticton was 95 degrees, so I naturally ignored all caution about the Louisville weather. There is heat and then there is suffering. I should have known I was in trouble when the national weather service had a heat advisory for Louisville all weekend long. I’m from Indiana and I thought we had humidity, this humidity was impressive. It rained every night we were there. On race day the temperature was in the 90s and the humidity ranged from 65% to 75%-an improvement from the 85-95% the day before. Apparently more than 400 competitors needed some kind of medical assistance. Ironman Louisville consistently ranks as one of the slowest Ironmans globally because of the heat and humidity. In fact, after this year they are moving the race to October because of the weather.

The Swim: Current-a love hate relationship (Time 1:04)

The swim isn’t a mass start, but a time trial start. Everyone lines up and jumps off 2 piers one at a time into the water. The crazy part is the swim line forms first come first serve so racers started waiting in line at 4:00 AM for a 7:00 race start! My dad (he was also racing with me) got in line around 5:45 and even then the line seemed to stretch on forever. You start swimming between an island and the shore upstream for the first third of the swim. The current here wasn’t too bad, its mildly protected from the main current. However you have to swim for about 300-400 meters past the island and there you could really tell the current had a mean side. The entire time I just focused on rotating and not being a barge going through the water as Coach Bill will frequently call me. I also really worked on swimming downhill and sighting every 3 strokes. Visibility in the water was minimal, you could see you elbows but not your hands!

I have to give a special thanks to Coach Bill and the entire tri team on my swim. I finished in 1:04:33 good for 44/170 in my age group and 431 overall! I couldn’t believe my watch when I got out-I was ecstatic! This was 17 minutes faster than my last ironman and I could really feel the improvement I had made in my swim. All those Tuesday night swims and OWS swims really paid off and having Coach Bill around can’t be understated. Thank You

The Bike: Horse Country

The bike was gorgeous. It’s nothing but picturesque houses and fields with horses hanging out, with the occasional Tobacco farm J. It became abundantly clear to me why they call it horse country (not a creative name). I would call the bike course fair with 5,300 feet of gross elevation gain but with the majority of it in the form of rolling hills. For some reason the GPS on my Garmin was acting up so I didn’t have speed or distance for the entire race and regulated my effort off of heart rate and cadence alone.

After my last Ironman my mission on the bike was to fuel up a lot, given the heat and humidity. I had 12 electrolyte pills, 4.5 cliff bars, 2 water bottles of Hammer Sustain, 3 bottles of water and 2-3 bottles of PowerAde Perform, and one banana piece. (I ate 1 banana before the bike and 1 before the swim). After the bike I was sick of PowerAde perform and it made me nauseous as well.

The first 85 miles of the bike went by well. Then around 1:30 PM-2:30PM the hell fire and brim stone god of the old testament decided to show us who was boss. The heat picked it up into high gear and the humidity decided to envelope you. I say envelope because even on the bike you could liteally feel the humidity. I ended up finishing my bike in 5:36:01 which I was surprised by as well. I had made a point to not crush myself and still averaged 20 mph. I think all those spinning classes really paid off!

The Run: Where I met my maker

The run was TOUGH! I started the run around 3:00 pm and at the point I was feeling really proud of my race. I had PR’ed massively on both my swim and bike, beyond my expectations. I knew if I could put together a 4 hour marathon I had a could break 11 hours and given my two marathons in May were 3:05 and 2:59 I felt pretty confident about my chances. However, those races were in sub 70 degree weather not in 90 degree weather and high humidity. I’m also not Felix J I started running an 8 minute mile for the first 2 miles but then quickly my body started rebelling and my pace dropped down to a 9-10 minute mile pace. By mile 11, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to run the entire marathon and by mile 14 my body was in full revolt and I had to walk a mile run a mile for the remainder of the race. I wasn’t alone, I saw several people collapsed on the side of the road during the run. At mile 8 I saw a woman walk up to the aid station to get water and she just passed out onto the ground like a rag doll. That and the countless other people I saw receiving medical attention definitely put the fear of god into me. The main thing stopping me on the second half of my run was very painful cramps throughout my entire core. It felt like my diaphragm was seizing up along with my entire stomach. I’m not sure what caused this but even still I have pain in my core when I lay down or take deep breaths. I’m still trying to figure out if it was something I did on the swim or just the heat, exhaustion, fitness and nutrition. It was a bit disappointing to have such an awesome start just to lose it on the second half of the run (especially since that’s my strong suit) but the second half of the marathon is also where the race part of the Ironman begins-so I can’t complain.

In the end my time was 11:56:31 good for 27/170 in my age group and 351/2095 and I massively improved on my swim and my bike. Unfortunately my dad had to DNF after mile 13 of the run which was disappointing. Given the conditions though its completely understandable. My main take away is PowerAde preform is not good, and makes you feel sick. I also need to continue to work on my nutrition. I did a better job of it this time but there is still lots of room for improvement. I also foolishly spent little time training for the run, expecting all my training leading up to my marathons in May would suffice. This proved incorrect and ultimately proved my doom.

I would like to thank the entire MIT Tri team. I really enjoyed training with everyone this past year and all of you helped me improve so much. Not to mention you made working out so much more fun! I’m now living in Chicago so if you ever find yourself in town please don’t hesitate to E-mail me.

Thanks for everything,


Sunday, August 10, 2014

IM Canada 2014 race report - Felix Moser

IM Canada 2014 race report

Race Report: Ironman Canada

Here’s my promised (and rather long-winded *apologies!*) race report. It’s the outpouring of thoughts from many long training days, in some cases dating back several years, as well as the raw experiences and lessons of the race. I hope it’s a gratifying read for friends and supporters, a useful one for triathletes, and somewhat entertaining for everybody. I wrote it in the form of a scientific paper, ‘cause science!

TL;DR (Abstract):

I wanted to do an Ironman. I trained for it. I did it. I got lots of help along the way. It’s an interesting event, but not for everyone.

Why I dunnit (Background):

Doing an Ironman has been a long-standing goal of mine. I’m fascinated by human endurance. It’s just amazing to me what humans can endure and survive when they set their mind to it. I suppose there’s mystery in seeing how far that boundary can be pushed. My fascination played out mostly through my love of distance running (esp. marathons), but when I found out about Ironman distance triathlons, it was the next logical, ludicrous step up. Marathons are stupidly long events that test human endurance and athleticism, often beyond what the body is evolved to do. Doing a marathon AFTER a 2.4 mile swim and 112 mile bike ride just seemed ridiculous and pushed the boundaries of what I thought possible. So… I wanted to see if I could do it.

I started seriously pursuing this goal when I joined the MIT Triathlon team three years ago. The collegiality, resourcefulness, and support of everybody on the team kept me coming back. I had no swimming experience and knew squat about cycling. First year, I did a sprint and then an Olympic. I stuck to a couple of sprints and Olympics the following year, mostly because I was trying to graduate and couldn’t commit the time to train for the long course triathlons. This year, I went on the MIT Cycling team’s training camp in SoCal. Going on some long rides with them (and tying on some runs after the rides) gave me the confidence that I could handle an IM. After returning from the training camp, I signed up for Ironman Canada in Whistler, BC. I chose this race because it was still open, it was in a location I knew would have mild weather in the summer (turned out to be somewhat wrong), the course seemed relatively flat (embarrassingly wrong), and I wanted to see Vancouver and Whistler. My goal for the race was simply completion. Based on my Half time of ~5hrs, I was tentatively aiming for 10-11 hours, but given that it was my first IM distance race and based on how my training turned out, I was aiming just to finish and have fun.

Training (Materials & Methods I):

I worked up my run training for the Boston and Providence marathons in the spring. Some injuries set me back a bit, but the training gave me a good base for the run. Following the spring marathons, I focused on the swim (my weakest event) while increasing my weekly bike mileage. I signed up for the Season Opener sprint and the Rev3 Half in Quassy as training races. I also bought an old Cervelo P2C tri bike from someone. It was a good deal and I knew a better bike would help a lot over 112 miles. Nutritionally, I did nothing special: lots of fruits and veggies, high quality carbs, and a little lean meat. I had dropped to ~153lb from ~170lb a year ago in preparation for the Boston marathon, which I knew would help speed me up on wheel and foot. Here’s some math to justify this: If you’re running a 7 min/mile for 26.2 miles and you’re taking 180 steps per minute, then you’re making 180*7 min/mile*26.2 miles = 33,012 strides. If you weigh 10 lbs less and lift 10% of your body weight vertically with each stride, then you’re lifting 10*0.1*33,012 lbs = 33,120 lbs (16.56 tons) less body mass over 26.2 miles (~3hrs). Energetically, that adds up.

Training went well at first. I was adding 10% distance to the bike every weekend, riding the trainer in the evenings for 1-2hrs during the week. I’m not a morning person, so I’ve never been able to do those 3hr morning rides. I was also adding distance to the swim and was even getting faster mostly as a result of conditioning. I did almost no weight training, which was a mistake; weight training brings a lot of benefits, but I just didn’t have the time and energy for it. For running, I kept it at a light 30 miles/week to try to heal some tendonitis that wouldn’t go away, eventually adding 10%/week in distance. By the end, I was doing two training sessions per day about 3 days a week. This, plus the long workouts, began wearing on me physically and psychologically. IM distance training, done properly, is incredibly time consuming, and the physical and psychological rigor of it is probably the most challenging aspect of the whole thing. By the last month, my training had lapsed a bit due to training fatigue and a few setbacks.

Setbacks (Experimental error)

I managed to get hit by a car while riding the new Cervelo. I was fine, but the frame on the Cervelo was cracked. This made it questionable whether it could be ridden at all. I took it on a few short test rides, and seeing that the crack was relatively small and wasn’t spreading, I taped it up and decided to ride it sparingly until insurance came through for either a new frame or a new bike.

I hit a mailbox about three weeks before the race while attempting my 110+mile long ride. Stupid mistake. Looked over my shoulder during an uphill left turn and swerved into a cluster of mailboxes. Moving slow, didn’t even fall. But I looked down and a patch of skin on my left arm had been flayed back a few inches. Didn’t bleed much, but clearly needed stitches. Some nice people drove me and the bike to the Leominster hospital. I got stitched up and then rode 40 miles home. Still managed a 90 mile day, but not quite the same when 50 miles and 40 miles are separated by a 4hr wait in the ER. Unfortunately, the stitches meant no swimming for at least a week. A week later, I tried swimming, but the wound look like it was opening and I popped a stitch. On Bryce’s advice, I decided to wait until it mostly healed, just to avoid risk of infection, a trip-killer (if not a me-killer). Bryce said most of the endurance gains were in the tank by then, anyway (he was right). This happened right when I was supposed to be peaking with swimming. I ended up swimming a few easy km the week before the race once the wound had mostly healed, just to get the muscles working again.

Also, the tendonitis in my left leg wouldn’t go away. That, in addition to the hot, muggy Boston summer made me cut a lot of my runs shorter than they should’ve been. Aaannd my Newton Gravity III race shoes tore two weeks before the race. The tear was similar to what ended my last pair of shoes, and I was worried that I would get a horrible blister.

So, going into the IM, I had not done the planned full distance workout for even a single one of the three events. This basically forced me to make my race strategy as conservative as possible: on all events, go easy for the first half, then ramp up only if I’m feeling good.

I was very confident I could complete the distance. The course was open for 17 hours, and the course cut-off were generous. The lack of sufficient training, though, meant that it wasn’t going to be easy and that I would likely wear out before the end of the race. I had hit the wall early during races before, and it’s not a fun experience and can become quite miserable. Knowing that my training wasn’t enough to avoid it, the coming pain was my greatest source of anxiety in the weeks before.

Pre-race (Materials & Methods II):

IM forces you to show up two days before the race for registration. I think it makes the logistics easier for them (IM logistics are a difficult feat as it is) and sweetens the deal for the community, which get an extra day of IM tourism $ pouring in. The registration was quick, and left me with little else to do that first day than work on Karen Smyer’s patented 3-2-1 beer taper at a nearby microbrew. My taper might have been a bit steeper than hers.

The day before the race, we brought our bikes to Transition 1 (T1) and dropped off our transition bags. T1 and T2 were in different locations, so we had to prepare two bags. IM transitions are done a little differently than in shorter course triathlons. When you leave the water, you are first helped out of your wetsuit by a volunteer, and then you grab your T1 gear bag (includes ALL your bike clothes) and go into a large tent to change. Once the bike stuff is on, you toss your wetsuit in the bag, hand it to a volunteer, and then head to your bike. T2 is similar. You hand your bike to a volunteer, who racks it for you, you grab your bag from the ground and head into a tent to change. Coming out of the tents, you can also get lathered down with sunscreen by volunteers. Pretty awesome that pretty much the only thing the volunteers DON’T help you with is using the bathroom. Just in general: the IM volunteers were AMAZING throughout the event. I’ve never been to an event where volunteers do so many complex things on-demand so quickly. And they were incredibly friendly (maybe a Canadian thing?).

I had brought my bike with me in a bike bag I had borrowed from the cycling team. Though I had reassembled it OK, it wasn’t quite fit right anymore, so I played around with seat height and position for a while before bringing it into T1.

On the way to T1, I had a celebrity sighting! Riding my bike down a bike/walk path, I saw a woman in her 20’s running towards me with absolutely fantastic stride and pace. When I took a second look, I started to realize who this was: Desiree Linden (nee Davila), one of the top US female marathoners. She came in 4th in Boston three years ago and set the American course record there. Here’s a video of her:http://running.competitor.com/2014/03/news/kenya-project-desiree-linden-pulling-stops_97245

When I rode by, I must’ve been staring, mouth agape, because she cracked a knowing smile. I later looked up the athlete list, and saw her husband, Ryan Linden, was #153. Ryan is also a fantastic runner. All this was later confirmed when Ryan got one of the M25-29 slots for Kona, and the announcer gushed for a bit about the prodigious Linden family. Pretty cool!

The quality of the other bikes in T1 I saw was absurd. Mine was probably one of the cheapest bikes there. I guess that’s what you get when you distill all the die-hard triathletes with expendable income. The median age was also considerably higher than what I usually see at races. Average age was probably in the 40’s. I think this is partially a function of cost. Race registration was $600. Hotel + flight cost me $1200. Add bus transportation, luggage, and food, it probably adds to $2500 for basics alone for one person. And a lot of people come with their families. Established, older folks probably have an easier time affording races that cost that much. I only had to sell one kidney to afford it, but hey, that also made me lighter. :)

The night before, I took an easy 4 mile run around a nearby lake, had a nice big pasta dinner with my beer, watched a bad movie, and went to sleep. Come 4 am, it was GO time.

The Race (Results):

Weather: beautiful, but hot: ~80*F by mid-day. Water temp: high 60’s. It was pouring a few days before, so I lucked out.

I showed up 1:30 hrs ahead of race start. Plenty of time to air-up the bike, tape on gels (they told us the crows and squirrels might eat them if we left them on overnight), put on sunscreen, use the porta-john, don the wetsuit, and drop off the “morning clothes” bag. I unwrapped the 6 Clif bars I was planning on eating during the bike and put them in the back pocket of my cycling jersey, which I would switch out for my tri top at T2. Three gels on the bike for quicker-burning fuel late in the ride before the run. Once prepped, I stood in the sunshine and watched the fog roll off the lake as the Canadian anthem was sung and the athletes made their way into the water.

The swim (2.4 miles; i.e. 3.9 km):

The lake and its water were beautiful. You could see for 5 meters in all directions, which really helped once the swim started. It’s a mass start: no age group/sex waves. All 1900-ish people start at once. This makes it a lot like swimming in a school of salmon for the first half mile. I don’t think I’ve ever been grabbed, smacked, and kicked as much as in those first 15 minutes since I left middle school. The clear water helped, since you could more easily avoid people. I don’t know whether it was the slow pace, drafting off 1900 people, or being super focused to avoid punches from other swimmers, but the first half mile flew by. I felt good and had found some room to myself to pick up the speed. At mile 1.2, I started to feel a little tired, so I decided to take 10 seconds rest every 400 meters or so. Mentally, I was just going one buoy at a time, and this made it manageable. I tried imagining Mitch yelling at me to swim faster; it helped. Transition went seamlessly. A volunteer wrestled me out of my wetsuit, I grabbed my bag, and changed in <3min .="" a="" and="" bike.="" headed="" i="" made="" nbsp="" on="" out="" porta-john="" quick="" strong="" swim="" the="" then="" time:="" to="" visit="">1:12:57. Right on target.

The bike (112 miles, i.e. 180 km):

The day before the race, I talked to other racers who had done IM Canada the previous year, and many ranted about the tough hills. This surprised me, since the elevation map I remember looking at appears very flat. Turns out that elevation profile graphs plotted across 112 miles tend to compress and flatten big hills. Durrr. Anyway, this reinforced my prevalent race strategy, which was GO EASY.

The first 10 miles of the bike headed mostly downhill south along Hwy 9. IM had arranged to block off the ENTIRE highway for the event, so there was NO traffic, which was lovely. Plenty of bike traffic, though. For a while, it looked like one long peloton with all the cyclists aero-ing downhill on the highway. Some people were definitely taking advantage of the density and drafting from person to person. Small packs had formed and were moving up the road in batches. One cyclist immediately in front of me broke a chain and had to peel off. There were aid stations every 20 km, handing out water, gels, gummies, bananas, etc. I decided to break a rule and grabbed a pack of powerade gummies, which I hadn’t used before but sounded delicious right then. They were actually quite delicious and my gut was fine, despite some fear at the back of my mind that I would end up re-enacting one of these reviews:


After 10 miles, we turned right up towards Callaghan, the (mostly deserted) site of the 2010 Paralympics. It was mostly climbing at shallow gradients. The road had beautiful views of some of the surrounding peaks, and the turnaround was followed by a welcome long downhill. I heard someone yell “here comes the fun part!” By then, I also realized that all the “mile” markers were in kilometers and were only placed every 20 or 40 km. I was grateful for this, since mile markers often just remind me how much further there was to go and keep me from getting into a comfortable groove.

Once we were back on the highway, it was 10 miles back to Whistler, followed by 30 miles down the valley to Pemberton. Much of the route was steep, and I started to realize how much climbing we would have to do the last third of the bike. I had been in aero position for most of the ride so far, and my shoulders began to get sore. Sometimes they get sore at the end of long rides, but this was too early. Shifting around, I realized I had fit my seat badly: it was too far back, which was straining my shoulders when I was down in aero. I debated stopping and readjusting the seat, but having no guarantee that the readjustment would fix it, I decided to tough it out and keep going. Additionally, my neck was getting sore, looking up from aero position for so long.

In Pemberton, we went through town center and then towards Pemberton Meadows. The course flattened out into a stretch of idyllic valley farmland. The field had not yet thinned out, and sporadic aggregates of cyclists still peppered the course. I wasn’t paying attention and got too close to a cyclist ahead of me. I must’ve stayed there for a while, because a race official on a motorcycle drove by and wove a red card at me: 4 min stopping penalty for drafting. I thought it was a fair call, since I HAD been drafting, though unintentionally. Still, with a field that size, it’s fairly difficult to always keep 3 bike lengths between you and the next person. Occasionally, cyclists in front of me would clear their nose and I’d get sprayed, which served as an unpleasant reminder to stay back. Once, I saw someone’s seat dripping and was about to pass them and tell them their bottle was leaking; fortunately, I quickly figured out that no, it wasn’t, and dropped back. But people are always passing and slowing down, so avoiding drafting in a crowd is an active process that falls by the wayside when you get tired.

By now (Mile 80ish), my shoulders and neck were very painful. To counter it, I was mostly up out of aero position and stretching every few minutes. That probably cost me some extra effort fighting the wind, but the shoulder pain was just too much. By the time the penalty tent came up, I was really welcoming the 4 minutes of physical rest. I also appreciated the small bit of conversation with other racers and the officials in the tent. After 5 hours of solo riding at zone 2 effort, you just get bored. One of the officials was even kind enough to give me some of her personal sunscreen, since I realized mine had mostly worn off during the swim and I was getting very burned. Again, the volunteers that day were AWESOME.

From Pemberton, it was another 30-something miles back to Whistler, most of which was climbing, much of it steep. Weighing around 153 lbs, I was lighter than many other cyclists, and started to pass a lot of them on the climb. It also helped that there was no more benefit to the aero position while going so slow, so I could rest my neck and shoulders more. Moving slow removed the cooling breeze, though, and it got hot. I sweat through my clothes and sogged up my remaining unwrapped Clif bars; nothing quite as unappetizing as a sweat-soaked Walnut Raisin Clif bar. I also ended up drinking all my water and got pretty thirsty. I had some Perform (i.e. Gatorade), but it was just too sweet and salty for being so thirsty. Fortunately, I managed to get another water bottle at the next aid station and pulled into Whistler feeling pretty good, excited for the run. T2 went seamlessly. A volunteer grabbed my bike, I grabbed my bag, changed in the tent, handed off my bag, got lathered down with sunscreen by a couple of volunteers in nitrile gloves (weird experience), made a quick visit to the porta-john, and then headed out on the run. Bike time: 6:06:13.

The Marathon (26.2 miles, i.e. 42 km):

The run was two 13 mile loops along some pretty cycling and hiking trails around Lost Lake just north of town, through Whistler, and an out-and-back to Green Lake. The route led along many of the condos in the resort and was convenient for people to come and watch, so the course support was fantastic, even if we had to dodge the occasional strolling family.

I went out a bit too fast, since I was excited for the run (the “easy part” in my mind) and was getting pumped from the crowd support. Some big hills on the way out to Lost Lake forced me to slow a bit and remember how long a marathon really is. My pace stayed around 7:30 min/mile for much of the first half (I’m usually hitting 6:00 min/mile for marathons), partly because I was intentionally trying to save energy, but also because I was already feeling tired from the bike. I was not alone. Many of the racers I saw were walking. I slowed to a walk at all the aid stations, drinking lots of water and the occasional bit of Perform, cola, or energy gel. It had gotten to about 80*F, which was hot for running, so I made sure to pour lots of water on my head. The only problem drenching yourself in water is that it soaks the padding of your shorts, which makes them heavy and start to chafe. I ended up chafing in places you never, ever want to chafe, but following some readjustments, felt a lot more comfortable. The first half flew by. The additional nutrition, the crowd support, and the beautiful views of the emerald Green Lake helped.

Things started to fall apart by the second loop around Lost Lake. I started to feel crappy. Small pains began to build. A tightness in my middle back. A soreness in my left ankle. When I’m physiologically feeling strong, I can usually run through these things. However, the previous 200 km or so were catching up to me. By the time I was out of Whistler on the second loop, I hit the wall. Here’s a great video of me hitting the wall: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0afkmgjg0J4&t=0m39sSo, I found myself in what Adam Jones has so lovingly termed the “pain cave.” It’s not a nice place. And there were still 15 km (9 miles) left to go. So, I took lots of nutrition at each aid station and walked sporadically every quarter mile or so. Weird new pains crept in. My core muscles were painfully tender to the touch, and ankle tendons were now achingly tight. Mostly, I was in a physiological and mental hole. Miserable. Probably the worst I felt since my first marathon six years ago.

I tried to distract myself with the views of the lake and the crowd support, but all I wanted was to stop. Water didn’t refresh me, food felt fallow in my stomach. I wanted to give the finger to every chirpy little kid shouting advice (e.g. “keep it steady!”, “remember to hydrate!”), lie down, and take a nap. I wasn’t alone. You could tell who was on their second loop of the marathon by how bad they looked. The first loopers looked tired. The second loopers looked tortured. They had lost, sunken expressions and were all walking, barely shuffling along. The second loop more closely resembled a death march than an athletic event. I had seen the end of marathons. People overdo it and breach their physical limits before the end of the race. I was reminded of the elevation “death zone” climbers talk about, above which the human body starts to die. In that zone, energy flees the body faster than it can be restored, and the body shut down, gradually, certainly. The same thing was happening here, >10 km to go.

But something else here was different. Something remarkable. There was a sense of control. People KNEW they were at an end. They had expected it, they had planned for it. They knew it well. About half the field was first timers, but everyone was an experienced athlete that knew this feeling. And they knew it could and would be survived. The forge was burning hot, but no one was melting. So, they persisted. Nobody stopped. I had seen people vomiting, I had seen one guy sitting with medics, everybody had deeply pained eyes, but nobody was quitting. They slowed, sure, they felt like shit, but they kept going. These were some determined, stubborn people. And I was one of them. I kept going. With 2 km to go, I picked it up a little. I had clearly made some mistakes in race preparation and execution, but I was going to finish it like an athlete, controlled, aware, and running. I forced a smile and took it home, one last loop through the pedestrian area in Whistler and a left turn down the finish chute. Marathon time: 3:12:34.

The finish chute was narrow, with people cheering on both sides and a camera pointed at the finishers to feed big video screens by the crowd. I attempted a smiling victory arm pump. It probably looked more like I was cramping, since a medic immediately asked me if I was alright. A volunteer drooped a medal over me and escorted me to the finisher t-shirt, hat, water, and massage tents, in that order (!!). I first sat in the tent for about 10 minutes, letting my body catch up a little, rehydrating, eating a banana. After 10 minutes, I felt good enough to ask for a massage, which was mostly an opportunity to lay flat for a bit without someone asking me whether I was dead. Not sure how I would’ve answered to that… Also, why stretch yourself when you could have someone else do it? Regardless, the massage felt great. I gorged myself on pizza, juice, and good conversation with other finishers before grabbing my bike and bags from T2 and heading back to the hotel and showering.

One of the most remarkable moments of the day for me was watching the last people come in right before midnight. Following a big meal of poutine and more beer, I headed to the finish line to watch the last athletes come in. Cameron had said it was worth seeing in his IM New Zealand race report, so I wanted to see it, too. At marathons, the crowd thins out more and more towards shutdown (here at +17 hours, midnight). Here, it was the opposite. The crowd grew and grew. They cheered louder and louder for each athlete. Music blared. Flood lights and large crowds on both sides had turned the finishing chute into a tunnel of light and cheering silhouettes. The announcer kept the crowd going, announcing every athlete’s name and yelling the signature “You ARE and Ironman!” as they crossed the finish line. Occasionally, family would rush out and embrace the athlete as they came through. The athletes were usually covered with visibly sticky amounts of salt, sunscreen, gu, urine, and other runoff, so I imagine everybody wanted a shower later. With five minutes to midnight, the official shutdown time, the crowd began rhythmically banging the sides of the barricades, waiting for that last athlete. For a time, there was doubt whether they’d make it. Then, the crowd went wild. The last Ironman staggered through, just ahead of the shutdown officials on bikes. Euphoria all around. The last athlete had made it home out of the forge. The crowd, being made up of other athletes and their families, was incredibly supportive and clearly very invested in everyone who came through. There was a distinct community here, and they welcomed and celebrated their own.

Total race time: 10:41:16. 89/1909 overall, 17/188 M30-34. Time was about what I expected. Placement was waaay better than I expected.

Lessons (Conclusions)

I made a few mistakes through the course of training and race execution. I’ve listed the lessons I took from these mistakes below.

*To transport your bike, you need to disassemble it. Be SURE to mark all moving parts that have been fit to you with a sharpie before you start to take it apart. This will give you an easy visual cue to re-fit your bike once you reassemble it. Otherwise, you’ll have to re-fit it to yourself, which is tricky to feel out and you’ll likely not get it quite right. Every poorly fit piece of the bike is going to = pain later.

*Apply sunscreen during each transition. Don’t assume the sunscreen you put on before the swim will stay on. The water and wetsuit may rub it off or absorb it. Don’t be shy about asking volunteers to help you out.
*Penalties aren’t a disaster if/when they happen. Use them as an opportunity to rest, eat, or even make bike adjustments. This might pay out for faster performance later.

*Take the time to use the porta-john during transitions. 30s there are worth the minutes you’ll lose being uncomfortable or trying to pee on the bike later, especially if you fall during the attempt.

*Be wary of cyclists in front of you peeing or clearing their nose. You’ll get some aerial flotsam even three bike lengths behind them.

*From another racer: if you pee on your bike, make sure you haven’t tied food or gel packs right below your seat.

*It’s almost cliché to say that the swim is just a warmup. But I’ve been surprised with how true this is. It’s an almost completely orthogonal muscle set to the other two sports. As long as you don’t over-exert yourself, you’re fine. The swim primarily determines when you start the bike, which (for the competitive) is important mostly because it determines how many other cyclists are around you for the first 50 miles. Lots of slow cyclists in front of you = lost time.
*Don’t treat the run like a solo event. Your legs will be wasted and your tank will be approaching empty, and you will not run a PR in that distance. Regulate your effort.

*A Z2 run burns energy a lot faster than a Z2 bike. On the bike, you can sustain a moderate effort all day and eat enough not to hit the wall. The run burns faster, and you can’t eat much during it anyway. Prepare for the run by eating lots on the bike.

*When looking at the elevation profile of an IM course, realize the X-axis is 112 miles and that even big, long climbs look relatively short and flat when illustrated.
*Keep a training calendar, both planned and what you actually did. This is a great guide for what’s coming and is a confidence boost for when you see how much you’ve actually don’t. Don’t get lazy.

Ruminations (Discussion):

Would I do it again? Maybe. My biggest issue was the amount of training time needed and how boring, tedious, and lonely the long workouts can get. If I were to make another attempt at an IM, I would need a flexible work schedule and would want to train consistently with a group that have the same goal and are doing the same event. The Tri team was a godsend in that way; I’m not sure if I would’ve had the patience to do ALL of it myself. Also: the expense of the race is inhibitory. I just can’t afford doing these very often on a postdoc salary.
Should triathletes strive to do an Ironman? Is IM the pinnacle of triathlete athleticism? No. Like many ultra-endurance challenges, these races are largely arbitrary. There is no magical power to the distance. I would only recommend IM to seasoned triathletes who are comfortable with long distances in each event and are looking for a challenge. If you are a triathlete (or any endurance athlete), you should never feel that you need to do an IM (or ultra-type event) to prove yourself. You can be an excellent athlete and find plenty of challenges in shorter courses. There is no onus on anyone to ever do a long course if they are not interested in it. Don’t ever let anyone make you feel like you are less of an athlete because you have not completed a long course. Is Usain Bolt a lesser athlete than Meb Keflezighi, and vice versa? No. Different events, different challenges. Neither would ever compete in the others’ events, and because they are both excellent athletes, they still have great respect for each other’s ability to overcome each events’ challenges. This is true for different sports and for different people within the same sport. Someone who is 200 lbs might not outrun someone who is 150 lbs across most distances, but that doesn’t mean they’re not an athlete, working their hardest. I personally reserve the most respect for those who overcome the greatest challenges, not those who are simply the best as something. In the end, it’s only you vs. your challenges.

Could anyone do an Ironman? Yes, probably >95% of people could. One of the competitors was a 78-year old female amputee. Team Hoyt competed in Kona (and they earned their spot). The last athletes I saw cross the line in Whistler were not lean, young people. They were often overweight, older, and in some cases even ill-prepared. But they made it. After 6 years of doing endurance events, I’m convinced that you can train almost anyone to do an endurance event of most any length. If you TRAIN and PREPARE for it, and you do it correctly, I’m convinced almost anyone can cover almost any distance in a reasonable time.
That being said, who would want to willingly subject themselves to that? What drives so many to complete such an arbitrary, crazy ordeal? The reasons are probably as many as there are people who do it. Some people do it for bragging rights. Some people do it because it’s a metaphor for obstacles in life waiting to be overcome. Some people just love the athleticism of it. For many, I believe there is a fascination that fuels us. A fascination with limits and what happens when they are crossed. 26.2 miles is absurd. But can I do 30? 50? 100? Will I surprise myself? How much of me is left when I have emptied out all I have on the course and look back? Will I find more, or will that be all? To experience the mystery of one’s own limitations and then to pull, tug, rip at the curtain until it falls away to reveal a new view... I believe that discovering more where you thought there was nothing may be among the most thrilling experiences of being human, and that this fuels our addiction to endurance events.


Many, many people have contributed to me reaching this goal. Below I’ve listed just a few, in rough chronological order. I’m sure I’m leaving some out; if you are one of them, please know that you still have my sincere gratitude.
Jen Wilson: Encouraged me to join the tri club, with fateful results. Jen’s been among the most supportive and helpful people I know. I can’t say enough for her leadership and logistical genius as an officer in the Tri and Cycling teams.

Ben Woolston: On my first triathlon club ride to Walden, Ben pulled my sorry squeaky commuter-bike dragging ass as all the way to Walden. This left a lasting impression. I knew here was a group of people that supported each other, even when it was inconvenient. Everything Ben has done as officer in both the Tri and Cycling teams speaks to that mentality.
Sam Nicaise: One of the first people I met when I went to my first Tri practice, and one of the perennial leaders of the Team (and in the collegiate division). He probably has one of the best attitudes of anyone I’ve ever met, indefatigable despite strings or injuries. It’s a rare, rare day when Sam isn’t smiling and telling a good story, even if he’s wearing a boot. And his vegetarian recipes are fantastic.

Coach Bill: One of the seed crystals around which the team nucleates, Coach Bill’s workouts have been among the highlights of the being part of the Tri team for me. His advice on everything from swim stroke to injury treatment as well as his encouraging words have proven invaluable.
Mitch Hsing: Mitch dove right into Tri team in his first year and left an immediate impression for his abilities, deep knowledge, and (fantastic) sardonic humor. Thanks for kicking my ass in the pool, Mitch.

Isa Brachmann: Isa’s great attitude is constantly reflected in her ready smile and willingness to help out teammate. My swimming stroke would be a lot worse if it weren’t for her tips. She’s also led an incredible number of newbie rides out to Walden, which really helped me get more confident in my cycling and swimming. No bonking!

Bryce: Not sure where I’d be without some key advice from this seasoned veteran of the sport. His presentation to the team a year ago served as the template of many of my training and race strategies. He continues to inspire with his feats of endurance insanity.
Samuel Johns: I’ve met few people who are as supportive as Samuel. He’s shared countless bits and bytes of advice on everything from training strategy to race nutrition. I’ve been deeply impressed with how dedicated Samuel has tackled every challenged this sport has thrown at him, and I’m at least as excited for his IM at Mont Tremblant in three weeks as I was for my own. Best of luck Samuel!
Zuzka Trnovcova: A die-hard champion of the sport and Ironwoman who’s also been incredibly generous with advice and equipment. She’ll also be racing IM Mont Tremblant with her sister in three weeks!

Adam Jones: Another Ironman, his advice brought me up to speed with long course racing and served as a great first guide to the Ironman experience. Also coined the immortal “pain cave”.

Cameron Thornberry: For anyone who’s followed his quest for IM New Zealand throughout the past year, you know how this guy’s incredible attitude can inspire. He fought through so many setbacks and maintained and fantastic optimism throughout and showed me that being hit by a car and being injured are no excuse for not kicking ass! I really hope he lets me fly-along in his F18 once he finishes Navy flight school.

All the other members and officers of the Tri and Cycling teams who have been great friends and supporters to me: Arthur, Robin, Paula, Becca, Jose, Morgan, Dina, Eleanor, Justin, Benoit, Sara, Olivier, Jen & Greg Sieczkiewicz (who helped me right after my car accident), Arnout, Tom, Alex, Sean, Jeff, Ali, Nic, Rose, Alex, Saskia, Akansh, Marianna, Georgia, Kasia , Leslie, John, Stephanie, Chris, Anton, Kate, Shaena, Corey, Beth, Stephen, and Dave, among many others.