I was excited to head to Ironman Whistler 70.3 for a number of reasons:
- First North American race
- First race in over a year that wasn’t Worlds or Europeans. Hopefully should be back at the pointy end!
- Local race. No travel for me 🙂
- First chance to put right the wrongs from European Championships
- First race for my coached athletes
As always triathlon involves early starts. Amanda picked me up and we set off to make sure we got there in plenty of time. The key at these events is to remain relaxed.
We tried to check in to the Listel hotel but the room wouldn’t be ready till 4 so I did my 20min pre race run. Then: register, briefing, check my athletes were ok, rack my bike and relax. I have the experience now to not get nervous until just before the start so the day before I go into autopilot.
Regestration, as always with Ironman, was plain sailing so on to the briefing at the Olympic Plaza. The timing worked perfectly and I managed to meet both my clients, Elton and Sayena. It was their first 70.3 but they both felt ready and excited to get going!
I don’t buy things at the expo as its horribly over priced. However, I had lost my swim shorts in Romania and my eye was drawn to the Funky Pants stand. I have always thought girls have such fun options for swimwear whereas men’s are black and boring. Not any more! There were so many options but I eventually settled on this jazzy pair!
Daniel, who I trained with and was also doing his first 70.3, joined us in the Plaza for the briefing before we cycled to the lake to rack our bikes. A local rule meant nothing edible could be left in our bags. Apparently the bears would go on a rampage through transition.
I also needed try my new Huub Varman wetsuit. Ideally you wouldn’t do this the day before the race but I had no choice.
It turns out being hot and sweating makes putting on a new wetsuit really hard as they are tight and sticky! Eventually it was on and time for a dip along with my new Huub goggles! Straight away it felt great, loose shoulders, tight fitting and so buoyant. Such an improvement on my Orca although it is 5 years old!
The wetsuit just slid off which was perfect as that is far more important!
I did my final checks before heading back to town for some downtime. On the walk back we went within meters of a black bear. If thats not an incentive to go fast I don’t know what is!
Before dinner I asked about breakfast but the hotel wasn’t doing breakfast. Oops!! They recommended a cafe but it didn’t even open till 7, no good. This just highlighted how Whistler doesn’t need the Ironman and the town doesn’t really adjust for it. Most host towns basically shut down when Ironman comes to town but Whistler has so many other hobbies it just continues as before.
Amanda and I popped out to get breakfast, apples, pastries and powerade. We met up with Daniel and a friend of mine from the pool, Sonia, for dinner at Carumba. It was a great pre race meal and so nice to relax with friends pre race. The only downside was the waitress trying to drug me with alcoholic ginger beer!
Finally back to the hotel, final checks. I am very methodical and go over things again and again. Set the alarm for 5am and sleep!
I didn’t sleep well so woke up early. I had planned to get to the run bag drop and shuttle bus for 6. However, as I was up I decided go earlier and messaged my team to do something similar. It was a wise decision as it was busy and the queue for the shuttle bus was already long. While we waited we got race numbers drawn on our arms and my age on my leg (this would turn out to be useful later).
The drive took longer than I realised which was annoying as I was too hydrated and really needed a pee! I survived and upon arrival set about sorting my kit.
Mostly it’s the bike. Shoes on the bike, elastic bands holding them up for a quick mount. Nutrition on the bike. Water bottles with gels in. Gels and Paracetamol tapped to the bike. Pump up tires. Triathlon is the most friendly sport, it never ceases to amaze. Despite being competitors everyone is willing to share tools, tape, ideas etc.
There is also a benefit of being an Ironman Silver All World Athlete (top 5% in 2018). You are all racked together in a simple location. Everyone knows what they are doing and there are some seriously nice bikes!!
Due to there being an Ironman and a 70.3 we had to be down extra early as transition closed well before our start. I killed time walking through transition to make sure I knew exactly what I was doing and where I was going, before watching the Ironman start. This can be pretty emotional as people are setting off on up to 17hrs racing!
Eventually we were called to the start. I handed in my street bag and straight away realised I still had my flip flops on! Oops. There were nice flip flops so I went back to the same volunteer and asked if they could help. She kindly put them in the big bag and amazingly I was reunited with them later in the day which I was so grateful about.
The 70.3 had a separate start pen to the Ironman where we self seeded by our estimated swim time. The problem was people had to keep moving forward so the swim times at the front got very mixed. The swim warm up was opened up to the side which I made the most of before returning to the pen and the mish mash seeding.
I kept an eye out for my athletes but it was hard as everyone’s in a wetsuit and swim cap. I was also on the look out for Amanda and Sonia who were somewhere in the crowd supporting. Would have been great to see them before the start but it was so busy I focused on my race plan.
Finally the hooter sounded and the front wave was off. I was towards the front as I wanted to be with fast swimmers. In hindsight I was too far forward but you learn from every race.
I ran in, overtaking people, diving as soon as deep enough and set off. For the first 100m I felt great and was going strong. However, this quickly fell away. I couldn’t find a good rhythm and it was pretty physical. My breathing wasn’t smooth and I felt I was fighting the water the whole way out to the turning marker.
Between the two turning markets I got on the hip of a swimmer. Unfortunately he was a big kicker which meant every breath I got a mouth full of water. I had to move away.
The way back felt better and smoother. I kept pushing as you never know how you’re actually doing. I can definitely still work on swimming straighter and maintaining my stroke form, especially as I tire. The last buoy just wouldn’t arrive but eventually I was turning back to the beach and the final push.
I grounded and ran up the beach. For the first time I wasn’t wearing my watch, as the swim time is irrelevant, so had no idea of my time. I grabbed the zipper on my back. It wouldn’t undo. Minor panic.
I had planned not to use the wetsuit strippers as I would be quicker but the zip really wouldn’t come down. I ran to a girl and she tried. She couldn’t. The head person came over. She couldn’t. They told me it wouldn’t unzip so tried to squeeze me out. One lifted my left shoulder while the other pulled the right shoulder down trying to get it over my elbow. It wasn’t going to work. This was costing me precious time and eventually we realised the only option was to tear me out. This was easy and a torn wetsuit is very easy to get out of!
I picked up my torn, brand new £400 wetsuit, and set off to pick up my helmet. As a reflection of how far I’ve come the issue went straight to the back of mind and I focussed on my race plan. Previously this would have been on my mind all race.
I grabbed my bike bag and pulled out my helmet. It was still in its plastic case. Idiot! I had ages before the start to sort everything and hadn’t checked it. It didn’t really cause a delay but these are small things I can improve on. Wetsuit, goggles and swim cap in bag and go find my bike.
With my bike I set off out of transition and to the mount line. This was my first time trying to mount with my shoes on the bike. I mounted, got both feet in and the elastic bands snapped as planned when I started peddling. Quickly reach down and do up the shoes. Again idiot. Having left bottles in my shoes overnight to make them wider for my feet the lower Velcro strap had come out so I only had the top ones. I did them up and cracked on figuring it would be fine. Again small things I can improve on.
The first part of the course took us on rolling roads till we hit the highway. I passed two people who had crashed, one being treated and the other already in a sling, which was a bit surprising as it wasn’t that technical.
The route proceeded down the highway out of Whistler before climbing up to the Whistler Olympic Park. On the way up I passed what was quite a major crash between two athletes on the way down. I didn’t see what had happened but they were both sat up and talking so hopefully ok. In general having the Ironman ahead on the course was great for the confidence as was constantly overtaking people.
In theory the bike course had great views of the ski jumps and Black Tusk mountain but I didn’t see either of them. Unfortunately racing is no longer a scenic tour of the countryside, its head down and push.
From the Olympic Park it was a long decent back to the highway and down towards the turn point before heading back up to Whistler. I was feeling strong as I turned to make the climb back. Only a few people had gone past me which either meant my swim had been awful or my bike is improving. It is usually a procession of people flying past! A couple of people in my age group had escaped (age on leg), but mostly I was holding people or only losing time slowly with my strongest leg still to come!
The nature of the course, lots of climbing and descending, made it very hard to get a stable rhythm or settle on my target numbers. Hilly courses may help slightly weaker cyclists as I could push on hills and rest a bit on the downhill.
As we climbed back up to Whistler my legs started to feel heavy. It was the same spot my legs had blown up on the Gran Fondo (Vancouver to Whistler) the year before which wasn’t ideal. I dug deep and tried my best to keep the numbers strong as I was nearly there.
Passing the 80km marker was a low point as I thought it was well behind me. People were starting to pull away ahead but on the upside no one was catching me and I was alone on the road. I may have to get used to riding alone as I improve.
I eventually reached the town and had to prepare for the run. I took my caffeine gel and paracetamol. As I went through the technical approach to T2 I undid my shoes, slipping my feet out and cycling with them on top of my shoes. I came in successfully completing my first flying dismount. We were lucky enough to have bike catchers so I just let go of my bike and a volunteer caught it. I felt bad as it sort of fell in to her but I was off in to T2.
Grab my run bag and in to the change tent. Shoes out, which already have my socks in. Socks on, shoes on (nearly fell of my chair), helmet in bag, grab my bundle (nutrition, glasses, watch and race belt, all elsatic banded together) and set off.
Once running I broke the band to sort everything out. This was a new technique for me and it paid off as I had the joint quickest T2. Easy time saved.
I don’t time the swim or bike so had no idea how I was doing but it was time for my strongest leg, the run. After disappointing myself with my run in Romania it was time to put that right.
It took a few minutes for my watch to locate the satellites so I was running without numbers. I pushed hard as it takes my legs time to loosen up off the bike and I would adjust once it synched. 4:15/km the target.
First we did a 5km out and back which was constantly up and down. This made it hard to pace so I used average pace and made sure I pushed on the down hills as its free speed. I was feeling great and chasing people down.
After running through the edge of town we headed out towards Green Lake. I was no longer catching as many people but was feeling great and holding a strong pace. As people appeared I just focused on them and tracking them down.
At the third aid station the Pacific Spirit Tri Club were volunteering. Was great to see some familair faces and a cheer to push me on. Shortly after the lead runner came back past me the other way. I counted about 10 people and then gave up and focussed on what I was doing.
I was really having to dig deep now as it was getting hard. It was easy to push myself up the hills but it was on the downhills where I really had to focus. You can really gain some speed but its so hard on the legs!!
The route back had the most amazing views (not my photo unfortunately). I was in quite a lot of pain so appreciating it was difficult. There was also no one to chase, I was very much running alone. Suddenly out of nowhere I heard someone behind me and shortly after he came past and there was nothing I could do. I wanted to get though without being overtaken but at least he wasn’t in my age group.
As I went through 15km there was one dilemma left, my nutrition. I usually take a gel at the start and at 5, 10 and 15km. But this time I took one 1 on the bike so didn’t take one at the start of the run. I had one 5km and then was feeling the pace so took one at 8-9km rather than 10, then 13-14km. The dilemma was whether to take my last at 18 and would it have time to make an impact.
At 17 km I was feeling good so I decided to go to the end without the last gel. Up to 19km I was ok with this decision but the last couple of km’s were really tough and I could feel myself slowing, despite still overtaking people. Another lesson learnt and to be put right next time.
The road eventually brought us towards the finish line although there was one mean twist. We had to run past the finish shoot and do a loop through the town before we got to finish.
I gave it everything I had down the finish straight and got a nice surprise as saw Kayla, Andrea and Marianna with some amazing signs cheering me to the finish. They had mentioned they might come to Whistler but I didn’t expect to the seem them!
I came home in 4:46:33. Swim 33:04 (143rd out the water and a PB), Bike 2:38 (77th off the the bike and 3 mins short of PB on mountain course), Run 1:30:11 (PB), T1 3:34, T2 1:27 (quickest). 36th Overall, 33rd Male, 8th in 25-29 age Group.
As I went through the finish I was given a medal (bit embarrassing they put the distances in miles but put km’s!). A volunteer kindly asked if I was OK which was nice. It’s amazing how quickly you recover if you have done all the training, I was exhausted and hurt but my body recovered quickly.
After a quick chat with some of the people I had seen on the run I met up with Kayla, Marianna, Andrea and Amanada. We grabbed some food and sat in the shade chatting waiting for my athletes to finish.
Elton was the first home. He was super happy with his first race and his parents were so grateful when I saw them at the end. This was so much more rewarding than I expected and I am definitely looking forward to helping more people. Just need to find them now.
Next up was Daniel. He had a really tough swim but loved the bike, run and overall experience. Super happy to have completed his first race and is looking at future races and stepping up to an Ironman!
Last but not least was Sayena. She had considered not racing 6 weeks before due to injury and concerns about the swim. Her aim was just to beat the cutoffs and finish within the 8 1/2 hr time limit. Her swim of 1:05 was 5 mins inside the cutoff but given she started open water swimming a few weeks before and learnt to swim this year this was a great result. Her bike and run were better than expected and was so proud of her coming in an hour before the cut off. She was thrilled and again it was so nice to receive thanks from her her parents for helping her.
Amanda, Daniel and I returned to the hotel to recuperate and eat everything we could get our hands on, before returning for hero’s hour (11-12pm) to watch the end of the Ironman. This is quite the experience as you see people who have been battling cut offs for 17hrs. The emotion and the atmosphere was amazing. Although the atmosphere was nothing on Ironman Vichy and the announcer needed to do more. All he said was “so and so you are and Ironman.”
At midnight the finish line closed despite their still being athletes on the course which is always tough but for me it was finally time to sleep!!
The next day I stayed around for prize giving and World Championships roll down. Coming 8th meant I had a shot and I was hoping as its in Taupo, NZ, they might roll down. The first surprise was that the Pacific Spirit Tri Club came 4th so I got to go up on the stage with my club mates :).
Eventually they got to 25-29 and we had 3 slots. Only 1 person in the top 4 took it so I was looking good. 5th did. 6th didn’t. 7th did. I was pretty annoyed. A slot had not been an objective for the weekend but I had raced so well I had got my hopes up. What really hurt was the guy in 7th beat me by 17 seconds. On top of this I would have come 4th in the 30-34 age group which is meant to be harder. When you factor in the wetsuit issue which cost me at least 90s and was completely out of my control that slot was very much within reach (and a podium in the age group above)!
The silver lining is I ran an awesome race and have two more opportunities to qualify this year at Lake Placid and Arizona. If it doesn’t happen I have an exciting plan B so not the end of the world. I also have a number things I can improve on but the good news is there appear to be fewer each time 🙂
As long as I learn something each time and keep progressing I am happy.
Now a week off, then back to training with a focus on Lake Placid 70.3.
Overall the Whistler event was great. It is the most scenic course I have raced, just beating out Zell am See to top spot. Its a shame it is the last one as Ironman Canada moves back to the iconic Penticton course next year. It was very well run but there were some small touches that could improve it: briefing wasn’t great, didn’t flash the finish time as you crossed the line, water bottles were disposable plastic ones, no number tattoos. Not major points on their own but small touches that made races in Europe better. Time will tell if this was just Whistler or its the North American races.
HUUB Wetsuit Update
HUUB have agreed to replace the wetsuit free of charge and I am going to put it down to bad luck as it felt great. While they have agreed to replace it I do think their customer service could have been better. They have requested it be returned from Canada, they are paying, but wont send out the replacement until its been collected.
Should have the new one in Lake Placid as I hunt out that sub 30 swim as I haven’t got close to hitting my potential in the water yet!