Ironman Whistler 2016
Sunday July 24, 2106 Swim 3.86Km Bike 180Km Run 42.2Km
It was 6:50am and Good Feeling by Flo Rida was blasting on the speakers as 1,400 athletes were waiting to embark on a three sport, 140.6 mile test of physical endurance, mental fortitude, and spiritual depth. The sun was cresting over the green mountains and steam was rising from Alta Lake as athletes, spectators, and volunteers waited with terse anticipation. The feeling is ubiquitous—that feeling of fear and excitement. There is an incredible vibe that echoes throughout, when thousands are brought together in unity and purpose. There is potential in the air, and it palpable. This is the start of the 2016 Subaru Canada Ironman in Whistler B.C..
I crossed the starting mat and my time officially began. The surrounding athletes seemed very lax about the swim start—perhaps due to the length—however, I wanted to swim, not walk. I strode past the other racers who were casually walking into the water and started my 3.86Km swim with zest. I had divided the swim into quarters: relax and take it easy, find a sustainable rhythm, lift the pace if possible, and then ease off for transition. It was simple, but having a plan allowed me to focus on smaller, more manageable distances instead of thinking about the whole race at once.
As I settled into an easy, fluid rhythm I began to analyze how I felt. I had put a lot of emphasis on nutrition for this race, and I was hopeful that it would work well. My pre-race meal—eaten at 3:30am—consisted of a plant-based smoothie with brown rice and a cup of cold pressed coffee. It was not the typical Ironman breakfast, but it was what I had used in training. I had bars, gels, and a variety of fluids that I had strategically placed in various bags that I would pick-up throughout the day. The high nutrient breakfast had left me feeling satisfied without feeling stuffed. My body could focus on exercising without diverting too much attention towards the digestion of food. My mind felt focused, and my body was relaxed and strong. It was early on in the race, but I felt good; my diligence was being rewarded.
The pack turned left and swam east towards the rising sun. The glare that reflected off the water was blinding; I could not see the next swim marker. Chaos followed as hundreds of swimmers started bumping into each other like too many people trying to fit through a door at the same time. A giant game of Follow the Leader ensued as everyone hoped that the person in front of them would keep them on course. This was by far the most technical, and congested area of the swim. Turning away from the sun was a relief and the swim pack relaxed as a result.
My body felt great and my mind was dialled in. I knew at this moment there was no place I would rather be than swimming with these fine triathletes. After 1,000 metres I started to lift my pace. I was throwing caution to the wind by accelerating much earlier than anticipated, but I was excited and feeling confident. After all a plan is just a plan. I increased my turnover and watched my hands methodically scoop the water in front of me and push it down past my hips. My arms were constantly moving as they propelled me forward with speed and efficiency. I completed lap one and started the second with gusto.
I was in the zone. That beautiful place where one is truly present because they are doing something that requires their full attention. Trying to hold onto the zone is impossible; it can only be felt. Passion and love are at play, and time seems to compress. I had 500 metres left in the swim, it felt like I had been swimming for less than thirty minutes, when in reality I had been in the water for nearly an hour. I had held a much quicker pace for much longer than I had planned. I wanted to continue swimming quickly, but I knew I had to prepare for the six hour bike ride that was close at hand. I relaxed my stroke slightly and kicked harder to increase blood flow to my legs. I had been preserving my legs for the bike ride by allowing them to trail behind me, and by using my arms for propulsion. Now I needed them to wake-up!
I delightfully exited the water and began to peel off my wetsuit. I had previously dropped off my gear and memorized exactly where it was located—I had even made notes in my journal during preparation. Take the middle path to bag number 716…turn left down the second row of bikes…I was ready. I proceeded to the change tent after some assistance from a wetsuit stripper. I did not rush, but I did move with purpose. I sat down in the large white tent next to a few other athletes and immediately ate an energy gel. It had been more than four hours since I had breakfast and my body was shaking from the cold, hard effort of the swim. I smoothly put on my homemade sunscreen and left all the unnecessary gear behind: wetsuit, goggles, arm warmers, and a cycling vest. I strapped my helmet to my head and began a brisk walk to my bike while I simultaneously munched on an energy bar. I found my black Norco with ease and headed out to the road.
It was just past 8am when I started cycling. I was soaking wet and cold; I relished the warm patches of sun that bathed the road. I peddled cautiously, despite my desire to move fast so I could warm-up. Again I had broken the 180Km bike ride into quarters, much like I did with the swim. First was the climb up Callaghan Road, my goal was to ride at a relaxed pace and consume food and fluids to recover from the swim.
I absolutely love being on the bike. The speed is addicting and exhilarating. It is simple: drink, ride, eat, repeat. I began the climb up the Callaghan Road and noticed how slow the speed was. I felt like I was riding at a conversational pace—good, I thought—it was still early days. I comfortably reached the top of Callaghan Road and began the descent. I had averaged twenty-eight kilometres per hour up until this point, and I needed an average of at least thirty to finish under six hours. I was happy, the climb was over and the average speed was decent, especially when it correlated to how easy it felt. I started to ride downhill as I watched other cyclists climb the road I had just ridden.
The sun was shining brightly against the bright blue sky as the athletes continued their endeavour. I was delighted to see my family when I returned to Whistler. They cheered, and I smiled; a strong support group is vital for any triathlete, and I was grateful for mine. I officially entered phase two of the bike: the descent to Pemberton. The goal was to maintain a relaxed pace and continue to fuel and hydrate. I knew I was not just eating for now, but also for later—I still had a marathon to run! I crouched low on my bike and kept my eyes narrowed as I reached speeds in excess of seventy kilometres an hour. My wheels voraciously spun as I allowed the momentum of the road to spur me forward. I pulled up to a portable toilet at eighty kilometres to relieve myself, thankfully there was no line-up and I promptly returned to my bike.
Pemberton arrived quickly and with it, the special needs station. The bike course had food and fluids stationed at twenty kilometre intervals, in addition, there was the special needs station at ninety kilometres. This station allowed athletes to put specific items in their bag that might not necessarily be found at the other stations. As I turned into a Pemberton, I cycled into an empty grocery store parking lot that was closed off for the race. “Seven—one—six!” A man proclaimed into a radio. A moment later I rounded the backside of the store and saw a sea of red bags. Volunteers hurriedly found bags and delivered them to the appropriate cyclist like waiters at a fast food joint. A kind lady was holding my bag and she proceeded to hand me one item at time as I allocated them correctly.
“You’re a gem!” I said to the volunteer as I downed a can of coconut water and continued on my way.
I had dubbed the next section—the third section—the Meadow Flats , which entailed of a flat fifty kilometre out and back ride. Flats are fantastic because they are fast and conducive to holding a steady rhythm, but they are also monotonous and boring. As hard as hills are, I actually find flats more challenging; they are a mind game. I had also planned to push the pace during this section. My speed settled around the mid-thirties; I knew anything above thirty kilometres an hour was time in the bank. I aspired to gain time on the flats as the climb back to Whistler would be rigorous.
Time and distance crept by at a crawl. My back and bum were starting to ache from maintaining the same position on the bike for so long. I could see other cyclists dotting the horizon like the first stars that come out at night. It was easy to get distracted without any corners or undulations; I tried focusing on a smooth cadence and keeping my speed consistent. I stood out of the saddle to change the rhythm and to stretch my back. I regularly took sips of coconut water to pass the time. Slowly the flats went by as they continued with their mind games, but I was up to the task. I celebrated the 120Km mark and the turn around with an energy gel that contained caffeine. I could use some mental stimulus, I thought, as I peered at the spellbinding, flat road.
The turn around brought a change in direction, and with it a change in the wind. Up until this point I was unsure what way the wind was blowing, it was slight and therefore difficult to gauge. I chuckled to myself as my speed increased due to the fact that I was now riding with the wind. It was only a slight increase in speed, but still an increase—the remainder of the Meadow Flats would go by quicker.
I happily finished the Meadow Flats and began the final, and most gruelling part of the bike course: the climb back to Whistler. I had previously driven the course and failed to realize just how steep the climbs were—my speed was dropping drastically. The sun beat uncaringly as sweat dripped off my face; my coconut water was now hot. I was rueing my gear ratios as my speed plummeted on the steep climbs. For the first time in the race things were not going well.
Normally I prefer to have higher cadence while climbing as the higher revolutions puts less strain on the muscles, thus preserving them for the run. However, I was on my granny gear and my cadence was very, very low. I wanted to ride quicker, but I knew if I put too much force on the pedals that I would wreck my legs for the run. I was mad; I had wanted to excel during this part of the course instead I was losing time. It was at this point of misery that someone shouted, “cold Gatorade!” I had planned on completing the whole race on my own nutrition, but my coconut water was hot and I was bored of the taste. The temperature was rising, and my senses needed something new. I grabbed the Gatorade and sucked it back like a college freshman drinking a beer. It was so good. That moment again enforced two of my mantra’s: listen to your body, and a plan is just a plan.
Approaching Whistler was a relief, the longest discipline of an Ironman was soon to be behind me. I was under six hours for the ride, but I was more motivated that I had nearly five hours to complete the marathon in order to finish under my goal time of twelve hours. I had estimated a 4:15 marathon—the run being my weakness—any additional time was a bonus. I was grateful for a solid swim and bike split. I relaxed as I approached the second transition.
I dismounted and handed my bike to a volunteer and walked to the change tents. I slid on my shoes and filled my running bottles with coconut water. I stepped back into the sun and saw a large crowd cheering those who were embarking on their 42.2Km run. “If Trump can run, so can you!” a sign proclaimed—I giggled quietly to myself.
My legs were heavy as if lead weights had been attached to my ankles, the bike ride had taken its toll. My run plan was simple: run to the feed station, walk through the station and take on nutrition, then repeat. Simple an easy. Every ten kilometres or so I would have a gel. If I felt good I would lift the pace during the final eight kilometres. For now, I just wanted to ease into the run.
The marathon began with a loop around Lost Lake; being a Sunday I saw many people lazing away the afternoon. I was slightly envious of their languor as I had been up since 3am and exercising since 7am. Despite the relaxed beach vibe I knew there was nothing I would rather be doing than racing my first Ironman.
The first ten kilometres went by rather quickly. I felt good considering I had swum 3.86Km and cycled 180Km. Once again, coconut water had been my preferred drink during training, however, shortly into the run I knew it was not working. I proceeded to have a cup of Gatorade, chased by some water, at every feed station. I would also dump ice down my jersey, my running belt—which held my gels—conveniently held the ice at my midsection. I barely noticed the heat.
The first quarter of the run was done, but it dawned on me that I still had thirty-two more kilometres to run. I was still ten kilometres away from even being halfway! I was not wearing a GPS watch, but I could tell that I was moving slower than planned. This was not only my first Ironman, but my first marathon! I was realizing how far 42.2Km was to run. I was engulfed by despair. I was having a doom moment, but I knew I had to keep moving forward. An object in motion stays in motion. I just needed to keep moving.
Seeing my family brought me out of my momentarily mental malfunction, and back to the present. My name was printed on my bib and spectators would shout, “great pace Jason!” Why thank you, I happen to agree, this is a great pace! I thought. I ran past the campsite my family and I were staying at and wondered if I could squeeze in a nap—better to focus on running and eating.
My pace was holding as I started the second of two laps. This was new territory for me as I had never competed in an event this long in duration or distance. I was nervous. Every endurance athlete has bonked due to malnutrition, the weather, or poor pacing. There is little you or anyone can do if you bonk. Bonking is like running out of gas while driving; things are trying to work, but they are working inadequately. I hoped my pacing and nutrition would be enough to see me to the finish swiftly and without bonking.
I was a little relieved when I reached the thirty-four kilometre mark, as this was the place I would lift the pace and try to hold it until the finish. If I bonked now I would at least be close to the end. I slammed my last gel and gradually increased my speed like someone slowly entering a cold lake. I could feel the stress that had built up in my legs, but they held without cramping. My stomach felt great, and my mind was sharp. Finally I was having the run that had eluded me all season. My speed did not become faster, but substantially faster. I was running like I did not know I was capable of. I marvelled that my body was still able to produce such speed after eleven hours of exercise. I was bounding, and I started to reel in those ahead of me. My legs and lungs were burning, but I kept going. There is no tomorrow; I did not have save energy for anything else. This was it, the final race of the season, time to lay everything on the line.
I turned off the main course and entered the final kilometres of the race; this part of the course was empty by comparison. I kept running—holding my thundering pace knowing that the faster I ran the sooner the race would be over. I ran up an incline and hung a left; I could see the arch of the black finishing line. I had watched races on TV to help visualize this moment. I had trained for hours and hours and had declined staying up late or going out. I had lost fourteen kilograms by completely changing my outlook on nutrition. My family had come to every race, and had supported me immensely during training. I had transformed who I was, all for one moment: to run down that black carpet to the sound of cheering spectators, and to hear those glorious words, “JASON, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!”
Swim 1:08:29, 1:46/100m
Bike 5:50:37, 30.85Kph
Run 4:20:54, 6:11/Km
Total time: 11:29:59
Racing an Ironman was one of the best days of my life; I had so much fun. The energy that is created when so many are brought together in unity and purpose is truly magnificent. The Ironman plays no favourites. Everyone from the fastest of Pros to the last finisher all complete the exact same course. I firmly believe that given enough time, and a positive attitude that anyone can complete an Ironman. I have met many who say they wish they could do an Ironman, but then say that it is beyond them. I tend to disagree and tell them they are more capable than they think. Like any challenge the hardest part is making the commitment to yourself, and then starting. Remember that you do not have to have all the answers before you start, you will learn as you go. There are resources—coaches, friends, books, and blogs—on racing and training for an Ironman. Make the commitment to yourself, today!
Too few are brave enough to test their limits and risk failing. Too few are willing to push their mind, body and soul to the limit. Too few are willing to step outside their comfort zone and expose themselves by accepting a monumental challenge. These few call themselves an Ironman. Your day is waiting. Join us.
Vist Ironman Canada for more information.