Ironman Canada 2016 - Whistler Race Recap
Well, it’s been a week and a half since Ironman Canada, so I thought I’d give you a little reading material while you sip on your morning coffee. It was a tough day, a long day, a grinding day. Obviously. Fun… not so much.
Race morning was perfect. Up well before my alarm (3:30), nothing unusual there. Got about 4 hours of sleep, more than usual. Caught the first bus to the swim start, prepped my bike & walked through transition several times… while doing my best not to look any other athlete in the eye (the deer in the headlight look is not very reassuring when you’re about to race 226km!). Transition is a funny place come Ironman morning. Outside of a few athletes feverishly running around, asking questions about course directions & recounting all of the things they didn’t do to fully prepare for the race, there is very little talking. As for me, there was nothing to speak of really, definitely felt calm before the storm was to hit. The goal for me was to qualify for Kona or bust. Not the best attitude, as that strategy really has a large chance of failure. With each passing year it seems like athletes are getting faster & there are less qualification spots per race, so having only 1 (very ambitious) goal leaves you with the very real possibility of falling short of what you want to achieve.
The swim was good. Not great, not bad either (for me!!). Other than 30 seconds of nearly going into a panic attack for no real reason at all, the swim felt nice & easy. When the anxiety started creeping in I was able to utilize my self-talk skills I’ve been practicing. Realizing how fortunate I was to do a race like this, taking small glimpses of God’s amazing creation when turning to take a breath (for those of you who haven’t been to Whistler you HAVE to go!!) & counting my strokes all helped to settle the nerves & find my groove. Swam a 1:13 which was decent for me, but well behind my competition that was aiming for a high placing. Still, I felt good.
Then the bike began and the fun was over. My legs felt HEAVY. As in filled with lead. Full of lactic acid. Burning. And this is in the first 5km of the 180km bike leg! Hmm, weird I thought to myself. Oh well, the legs will come around. I was sure of it. They just never did. Going up Callaghan Road was rough. 4 climbs of 10% & my legs were shot. But it’s early in the race & you have no choice but to push on & pray that things will turn around. Entering the race my training told me that I was ready for a solid bike split. I’ve never really told too many people this, but I have a slight obsession with biking a sub-5 hour Ironman split. I’ve come in at 5:01, 5:05 & 5:06 before, but never under that magical 5 hour mark. I know Whistler isn’t really the course to do that with all of the climbing in the last 30km, but I still felt it was possible, almost probable. The legs just wouldn’t have any of it on this day. Getting passed on the pancake flat section from Pemberton was a real soul crusher. That section is my bread & butter, just find a gear, get into a rhythm & grind away. But when a couple guys passed me & I had no way of keeping up it was soul crushing. And this was with 70km to go! This is where the mental game gets very interesting. Do you let your mind tell you that you’re not good enough, that your training wasn’t enough, that you’re not as strong as the rest of the field? My wife has been fantastic in getting me to work on my mental game. She even makes guided imagery audio recordings (yes, even with her voice!) for each race I do to get mentally prepped for the day. Well, here’s where it came into play. With my competition riding away from me up the road I was having a talk with myself while pedaling away. Over & over, “Am I stronger than the rest? YES!!” Seriously, out loud for anybody to hear. 50, 100 times… not sure. But a lot. And I started to believe it. I’d like to tell you that I then found my legs & finished amazingly strong, but that would be a lie. But I did push hard all the way to the end of the 180km. I got passed a couple more times before the end, had my confidence bruised a little more, but never quit. Slightly demoralized the bike was finally done, 5:17 later, well off the pace I was expecting.
Then the real pain began. When I felt like mailing in the marathon & simply finishing it to finish it, there was my wife running alongside me. My first thought was… oh my, Nicole is keeping up with me & she doesn’t run, how slow am I running? But she told me how far my competitors were ahead of me (I researched everyone in my category ahead of time!!)…and then told me that I was faster, I was stronger & I was the best runner out there…so have the run of your life! Funny thing, but I actually believed her in the moment. Problem was, I pushed above my planned pace in order to make up time. I knew that I might blow up, but I was again willing to take risks. Remember, Kona or bust? So the race was on again. I won’t bore you with how much pain it really was (sort of like small knives to the quads with each step sound about right?), but at the end of the day I was able to run a 3:15 marathon, good enough for best run split in my age group by 6 minutes. Seeing my wife, 4 kiddos & the Poettcker’s (Kurtis & Cariann, great friends of ours) helped so much out on course. They were incredible at giving me time splits each time I saw them, and provided a huge morale boost each time I saw their smiling faces. It’s amazing how good people can make you feel when your mind is begging you to stop. Great stuff, I appreciate them so much, my biggest fans.
In the end it was a good enough race for 4th in my age group. Happy with effort, slightly disappointed with result. Some people tried to convince me beforehand to try IM Coeur d’Alene again since they were offering almost double the Kona slots that Whistler was, but my thought process was different. If I podium at IM Canada who cares how many Kona spots they offer, it will be good enough anyway. Well, turns out 4th put me on the bubble again. For the 3rd race in a row. And this one hurt, real bad. 3rd place was only 60 seconds ahead of me, 2nd place 63 seconds. This was to be my last chance to make the IM World Championship for the foreseeable future. I spent the evening of the race calculating how many KONA slots would be allotted to my age group; 3 or 4. The next morning at the award ceremony, I discovered 3. Ugh… As it turns out, the 2nd place finisher couldn’t take his spot as his brother is getting married that day. What?!! Seriously?!! So that spot rolled down to me & I gladly accepted it! It was one of those feelings of pure elation. No money, no fame, no status…NOTHING could take away that feeling. And I want others to experience that same feeling of pure satisfaction. There is no fame, fortune or status in this sport (in fact, it costs a few bucks)… but it is a sport where we challenge ourselves to find out what’s inside of us. You may not know it until you try it yourself. But I also believe it parallels life in a lot of ways. You get out of it what you put into it. You either do the work or you don’t. You commit fully or you don’t do your best. You surround yourself with the best team that allows you to succeed. It’s your choice.
Now the training road begins again... the road to Kona for the Ironman World Championships.
On a final note, one of the true highlights of the race was coming across the line with Sheldon Timms, a friend of mine who is an amazing athlete. What are the odds of 2 buddies from central Alberta who live 5 minutes apart, completing the day together amongst 1500 athletes (2200 if you include the half IM athletes). One of my favorite moments in this sport for sure, you’ll be reading about him making it to Kona one day soon as well. He didn’t have the race he wanted either, but I admire his ability to push hard all the way to the end. He’s proof that even when you want to stop you can convince your body to push through searing pain in attempt to reach your goals. He has my full respect & I thank him for pushing me to get better!