Race Repot: Ironman Canada

Let me start by saying this is a super long post and I apologize in advance about that. I just have so much to say about my experience at Ironman Canada and in Whistler. I don’t blame you for skimming and/or just checking out the pics!

Backing up a bit, as I said in my last post, we arrived in Whistler late afternoon on Wednesday and did a number of “to dos” on Thursday, including athlete check-in, picking up my bike from Tri Bike Transport, and attending the athlete briefing. 

After all of that was done, on Friday, Jon and I finally had a chance to be tourists in Whistler. 

Canada is the best!

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Friday: Gondolas!

On Friday morning, we walked from our hotel, The Crystal Lodge and Suites, on the “Village Stroll,” to Whistler’s gondola (Mont Tremblant gets a lot of credit for it’s adorable village, but this one is even bigger) and bought two day passes for the gondola. We took the gondola up to the top of Whistler, which is about a 20 minute trip. The views on the ride are beautiful, but at the top of the mountain (Whistler Peak), the views are truly breathtaking.

Snow in July!

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First sight stepping off the gondola!

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Mountains for DAYS!

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After snapping some pics, we took a short (less than half a mile) downhill hike to the chair lift that takes you up to the new Peak Suspension Bridge.

If I’m being honest, the chair lift was a little scary. There is just a thin metal bar preventing you from falling to certain death.

Once you get to the top of the chair lift, you can walk across the bridge. It’s purely an out and back now, although they are working on constructing a viewing platform at the far end of the bridge. The bridge sways in the wind and my husband is afraid of heights, but I have to say he was very brave!

The suspension bridge

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After we walked across the bridge we took the chair lift back down to Whistler Peak, did the (this time uphill!) hike back to the gondola, and then took a second gondola, the Peak-2-Peak to Blackcomb. Again, this was included in our day ticket which was about $60 Canadian.

Taking the chairlift down from the bridge

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The Peak-2-Peak is incredible as well. You travel over this beautiful light blue river and so many pine trees. 

Peak-2-Peak views

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There is a food court on the other side (Blackcomb side) and I was so starving that before I fully surveyed the landscape, I had already gotten in the taqueria line. HOWEVER (Steven A. Smith voice), you should learn from my mistake and instead walk past the food court to the restaurant – Christine’s – so you can sit outside, overlooking the mountains. 

Friday was awesome and I am so glad we spent the day just having fun. It definitely kept me from fretting about the race all day, too, which was a nice bonus!

Saturday: Shake Outs, Bike and Bag Check

The awesome thing about Whistler is that the Valley Trail makes it easy to walk or ride almost anywhere. I decided to forego the shuttles on Saturday morning and, instead, ride to T1 to check my bike and bike gear bag. It was maybe a 2-3 mile ride along the trail and super easy. While I was there, I went for a short swim in Alta Lake to get the feel for the water and my wetsuit again. After the swim, I took the shuttle to T1 to check my run gear bag.

Because of bears, we were not allowed to leave any nutrition in our gear bags or on our bikes. I was nervous about this at first, but #spoileralert it worked out completely fine on race day. 

Athlete guide bear warning!

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I went back to the hotel, changed into run clothes, and went for a 30-minute shake out jog. While I was doing all of this, Jon went for a scenic ATV ride, which he loved, so if you have family in Whistler and want to keep them out of your hair before race day, I definitely recommend this. 

After his ATV ride, while I was watching Netflix with my feet up, Jon went to Walmart to buy an insulated lunch bag for me to put in my bike special needs for my two bottles of liquid nutrition and Coke.  

Race Morning

I woke up at 3:15 on race morning to give myself plenty of time for breakfast and coffee before transition opened at 4:30. Breakfast went fine, but packing was sort of a mess. I discovered that I accidentally froze the Coke I planned to put in bike special needs. It was frozen SOLID and I was worried it wouldn’t defrost by the time I needed it. Then, as I was making my bottles, I tried to shake one only to have the top come flying off and my nutrition spill all over the kitchen. Finally, as I was about to walk out the door, I realized I couldn’t find my Garmin. It’s not like I couldn’t race without it – thankfully, I know I don’t need any gadgets to get through a race (thanks, Alyssa), but I did want to have it to track my nutrition on the run, especially. I ended up finding the Garmin and getting out the door around 4:35.

I walked to T2 to drop my nutrition in my run gear bag, and luckily-enough realized before it was too late that I left my bike jersey there, too. That would have been DISASTROUS so I am so glad I figured it out before boarding the shuttle to T1. 

The shuttle ride seemed MUCH longer than the shuttle ride on Saturday. Someone on the bus said we were taking a very round about way to get to Rainbow Park, which might have been the case. 

T1 Set-up/Swim Start

I can’t remember exactly what time I got to T1, but I had a number of “to dos” to accomplish there and I was trying not to forget anything. I filled my bottles, put air in my tires, lubed my chain, and then walked to my gear bag to put in my gels and my aero top.

At this point, I was starting to feel pressed for time and I still needed to get my wetsuit on. I found a small patch of grass to try to get my suit on (you need room for this torture) and I made a small pile with my chip, safety pin, gel, Garmin, and cap nearby.

After struggling to get my suit on (only if you have ever done this yourself do you know how awful of a task this is), I tried to walk back through the throngs of athletes to my place at the start only to realize I dropped my Garmin somewhere. Now, the start is VERY crowded. We were packed in there like sardines, so you can imagine how unpleasant it was to try to retrace my steps looking for my Garmin, feeling like I was running out of time. Sure enough some random guy said “Did you drop a big watch?” (that was a low-blow making fun of my very out-of-date and style Garmin, if you ask me, but I digress…). He proceeded to tell me that they had it at morning clothes bag drop-off. So back through the crowd of athletes I went and sure enough, they did have my Garmin at the bag drop. In the process, I dropped my pre-swim gel (yes, seriously).

I walked back AGAIN, found the gel, and then my spot among the 1:31-1:40 crew. Whistler has a rolling start, which means you need to line up based on your estimated swim time. I have not done as much swimming this year as in prior IM training cycles, so even though swim conditions were rough the year I did Tremblant, I figured my swim times would be comparable. I stumbled across some very lovely ladies waiting for the start. We all chit-chatted and it was nice to keep things relaxed before the race (no one in the 1:31-1:40 coral is too intense, as you can imagine…). I asked one of the very friendly ladies to zip and close my suit for me.

Soon enough the race had started and we were moving toward the water.

The water is quite shallow at the start and lots of folks walked pretty far into the water. I know that it’s always better to swim as much as you can, so I tried to start swimming almost immediately.

By about the second buoy I could feel my suit coming undone in the back, so I treaded water for a bit as I fixed that, but then got back on my way. I sang a song in my head to distract myself (I am a nervous open water swimmer).

For me, the swim is always about just getting through at a slow and steady pace and while I loved the rolling start initially, it’s of limited benefit on a two-loop course, and even less so when there is a 70.3 race starting mid-Ironman swim. Not only did we have the fast IMers lapping us, but also the first few waves of the 70.3 men, which was not pleasant. I got pummeled, especially at the buoys. I learned my lesson and took the second loop MUCH wider so that I would be out of traffic.

I got out of the water in 1:39 (my slowest IM swim), got my wetsuit stripped, grabbed my bike gear bag, and headed into the change tent. The volunteers were awesome and I tried to move swiftly, but thoughtfully, so that I didn’t miss anything. 

Bike

I felt very shaky at the start of the bike (combo of nerves and adrenaline, I imagine) and there was a notable descent with some turns right from the get-go heading back to the village, so I sat up and took some deep breaths and told myself to just calm down and take it easy until I could settle in. The 70.3 athletes were sharing the course as well and things were quite congested for most of the first lap. Temperatures started warming up fairly notably about half-way through that first lap and together, the climbing and heat really started slowing me down in lap two. 

I will say that, especially in these conditions, I did not like the fact that you either had to do special needs early or late, not right at mile 56. I ended up stopping at mile 70-something and I had been out of my liquid nutrition for some time by that point. My Coke was completely defrosted in the heat and that was a great treat. I took my two bottles out of the insulated lunch pack and then I had the brilliant idea (if I do say so myself) to take the two ice packs out and put them into my jersey pockets. I am still so proud of myself for that! I’m fairly certain I’ve never loved Jon more than I did in that moment. I also took my zip-loc baggy of pretzels and I was on my way.

Speaking of Jon, I saw him three times along the bike course, which I loved. That is one nice thing about a multi-lap course.

Even on a perfect weather day, this bike course would have been challenging (8000 something feet of climbing supposedly), but with temperatures in the mid-90s, in the full sun with no shade, it was especially challenging. By the third lap, I was picking up both water and Gatorade bottles at every aid station and I was stuffing bottles down my shirt so that I would be sure I had enough. 

As they had explained to us at the athlete briefing, the course is really 3 and 1/3rd loops. There was a split with a sign that said to continue straight ahead for laps 1, 2, and 3, but to turn right for the finish, and I was SO glad to finally make that righthand turn. 

I dismounted, handed my bike off to a volunteer, and walked into transition. There was no jogging happening here. I was double-fisting water and Gatorade as I stopped to complain to Jon about the heat, and then picked up my gear bag and headed into T2. 

Double fisting water and Gatorade as I walk into T2

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Walking into the change tent in T2

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Run 

I also walked out of T2. It was so hot and I was worried about what the run might bring. I walked to the port potty to pee for the first time since the swim (not a good sign), and then to the sunscreen station. All of a sudden a lightbulb went off and I realized I left my salt in my run gear bag. I told the volunteers and they started digging through the bags trying to find it. There was no way in hell I was going out on that run course without my Base. I ended up going back into the change tent and finding my volunteer/bag/salt in there after several minutes of searching, thus an almost 10 minute transition time! Whoops!

I finally got going and I started to jog and it was apparent pretty quickly that it was going to be a hard day. I told myself I would not be walking and I would just “trot” along because even a super slow run is better than a walk. I started counting cadence in my head “1-2-3-4 trot trotty trot trot” (yes this sounds insane – totally The Shining-esque – but it really did distract me!). I allowed myself to walk through every aid station to drink, put ice in my bra and pockets, get ice dumped on me by the volunteers, and to eat something. I walked a couple of steep hills, but other than that I really did just keep trotting. It sounds so silly to be proud of this, but I am so damn proud. I could have walked that entire run and finished in 17 hours, but I didn’t. I didn’t want to have any regrets.

After Mont Tremblant I had given Jon a lot of shit about not coming out to cheer for me after the first loop of the run and luckily, he learned his lesson. I saw him not once, not twice, but THREE times and it was such a huge boost to me. Running near the village was great anyway because of all of the spectators and the very large aid station nearby, but there is something extra special about seeing your hubs out on the course and having him give you a few words of encouragement. 

The volunteers were awesome as well. They were literally dumping cups of ice on us as we went through the aid stations. I’m sure it wasn’t fun for them to be out in that heat all day either, so I really tried to thank everyone as I went through.

For the last 2-3 miles of the run, I started feeling very lightheaded and nauseous (which I know is a sign of dehydration). I told myself to just keep moving and the sooner I could get to the finish, the sooner I could get to my husband. I did worry about passing out, but I thought about 2015 CdA and I knew my friend Ashley (and others, including Alyssa and Leslie) had finished that race in temperatures that were 10 degrees warmer. I just kept going. 

Luckily enough, some sections of the run course were shaded and you could really feel the temperature difference in those areas. 

At one point on the trail, a spectator told me I was only 2.5 blocks from the finish, but unfortunately, that was only true for spectators. The race course looped around the village and even though it sounded like we were SO close to the finish at one point, I could hear the announcer’s voice getting farther and farther away as I ran. The moral of this story is that you shouldn’t say anything about the distance to the finish if you are unsure of the actual race route.

Soon enough, I saw the finish and I got emotional. It was such a brutal day and I knew I had given it all I had. I started to tear up a bit, but kept things together. There was an older guy crossing the same time I was and I knew that might mean I wasn’t going to have a great finish line photo, but I didn’t even care. I just wanted to finish.

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I moved through the finish area very quickly and reconnected with Jon. I told him I felt like I was going to pass out. We walked very slowly, arm-in-arm, back to the hotel room, as I was chugging water. He had already taken care of getting my bike out of T2 and to Tri Bike Transport AND getting my morning clothes and gear bags back to the hotel room – husband of the year for sure!

Check out the salt on my visor/sleeves!

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Monday: Green Lake and The Nineteenth Hole

Thankfully, we planned for an extra day in Whistler after the race, which was awesome! We didn’t have to set an alarm for Monday and it gave us one more day to explore. I took Jon to Green Lake so that he could see what I could see during the run. It’s actually amazing how different it looks without all the athletes and the aid station.

Green Lake 

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After that, we decided to find somewhere outside to have a late lunch and we ended up at the golf course. The food was fantastic and the views even better. 

My final thoughts on the race are this – everyone raves about Mount Tremblant, but in my opinion, Whistler blows that course and venue completely out of the water. Yes, the multiple loops aren’t ideal, but the course is just so beautiful, and the volunteers and spectators are just so awesome. (2) Even though this was my slowest Ironman BY A LOT, I am very proud of the effort I put in on race day to get across that finish line. (3) Finally, this training cycle was extremely difficult for me, as I faced a number of personal and professional challenges, including the death of my much beloved, almost 13 year-old, Yorkie, Alexander Hamilton. I couldn’t have gotten through it without the support of Jon, Alyssa, Megan & Jen, my boss, Teresa, and others. I am so thankful for them.

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Next up for me is the Cloudsplitter 100k in October!

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