Ironman 70.3 Canada 2016 Race Report

Pre-race

The inaugural IM 70.3 Canada was not on my schedule or even my radar, aside from cheering on some of my teammates and friends.  However, two weeks ago, I had a catastrophic bike failure at Vineman, something that had never happened to me before in my years of racing.  We pour everything into doing our best, and when it’s taken away suddenly, it’s 1) difficult to integrate into our expectations, and 2) forces us look at things in a new way.IMG_8657

I’ll say more about that in my Vineman report, but my experience in Canada confirmed that this situation was somehow working out for the best.  Things don’t always go as planned, or sometimes it takes longer for things to come together again after a failure, but I’m thankful that this one did.

When Ben suggested doing Whistler, it seemed logical.  I’d raced a 70.3 four weeks before Ironman last year, so why not again?  I had concerns that my training had been a mess with a slight taper and all the travel around Vineman.  Then, my DNF left me without the fitness boost of an actual race.  Would I recover quickly enough after Whistler to get back into heavy training?  I trusted my coach on that and signed up!  One of my long time best friends had room in her condo for me, and Brian wasn’t traveling and could get the girls to their camp over the weekend.  I decided on a “quick and light” version of travel, leaving for Canada Saturday morning before the Sunday race.

I liked the simplicity of it:  my bags and gear were organized and ready before I even left my house for Canada.  I didn’t have to bring a ton of extra training gear, clothing or bike parts.  I left at five AM, arrived at nine, checked in, rode my bike to transition, racked it, swam part of the course, and after dropping my run bag in T-1, I was done!  Kari, Michelle and I made dinner in the condo and went to bed by eight-thirty.

(I can’t help contrasting this simple race weekend experience with Boise over three years ago, during which Laura and I had timelines and spreadsheets and discussions about it months in advance.  Seven 70.3s later, a race weekend seems much simpler and way less intimidating.)

Race morning, we were up at four and walking out of the condo by five.  We put our food in our run bags (not allowed the night before due to bears), and the athlete shuttle brought us out to Rainbow Park on Alta Lake.  We had almost three hours to wait in T-1 as the full Ironman racers got started.  The morning was clear and gorgeous.  Mist rose off the lake with mountains in the background.

 

Swim

The swim start was a self-seeded rolling start, the second time I had experienced this.  As with Victoria, it was rough.  The sub-30-minute swimmers were many and aggressive.  Someone even challenged me at the lineup about what kind of time I would swim (27, I said, feeling quite positive, and also because I had just been challenged) and then said he needed to stand in front of me because he’d swim a 26.  Please, go ahead.  I don’t want someone swimming over me.

Well, swam over I was, anyway.  I like to pretend I’m a fish when things get physical, protecting myself but wriggling through the masses gently.  A hand on my back pushed me all the way under, a first for me.  An elbow to my goggles knocked them loose.  But I swam on, thinking “I’m a fish” and not exerting myself and trying to feel calm and smooth.  After about five minutes, my personal space cleared and I was on my way.  I found a guy to draft for most of the way around the single loop, following his bubbles and keeping my strokes calm and smooth.

Time:  27:42
Division Rank:  1

 

Bike

At this race, we receive all the benefits of a full-distance Ironman, because that’s going on at the same time, two hours ahead of us.  We had wetsuit strippers, a changing tent, and handlers.  I grabbed my bike bag, threw on my shoes and helmet in the tent, and was off. 27_m-100728641-DIGITAL_HIGHRES-1321_060020-2603253

I was nervous to start, thinking of my shifting failure two weeks previously.  I shifted gently as I headed south on 99 from Whistler toward Callaghan.  The 70.3 course turns around just after the right turn on Callaghan road, so there’s no real climbing there.  In fact, the first part of the course was a lot of slight downhill grade.  After the turnaround, both bike and car traffic made me very attentive.  We rode in a coned-off section of 99 North, but the road had little manufactured divots to avoid the whole time.  The slight climb back toward Whistler was crowded with cyclists.  After passing Whistler and heading toward Pemberton, I was distracted by the scenery for a few minutes.  The lake to my right was a bright green, and snow-capped mountains rose up behind that.  I watched for people in my AG to pass me, but didn’t see many girls aside from a few twenty- and thirty-somethings.

After the turnaround before Pemberton, the hills began to seem demoralizing.  As I got tired, negative thoughts crept in: that I’m a terrible cyclist, that I’ll never be good on hills, that I’m moving at a crawling pace… it was neverending.  But then suddenly (it seemed, with the metric course being slightly shorter) it did end, and my bike had worked the whole time, and I wasn’t too slow!, it was time for the run.

Time: 2:49:42
Division Rank 2

 

Run

The temperature was climbing into the high seventies, maybe even higher, and the run started with some short, steep ups and downs on the Valley Trail.  This uneven grade continued for most of the run, making it hard to settle into a rhythm anywhere.  But my run felt good during the first part on the gravel of the trail.  Around mile eight, near the turnaround, I began to feel really done, and then a teammate, Samantha, came up behind me.  The run is her strength, so I was so glad to see her and gain a little of her energy for a few minutes as she came up beside me, we chatted for a bit, and then continued on.  I saw a few other friends on the run:  Kari, Karoline, Jennifer and Brad.  I knew others were out there, including some friends and teammates doing the full distance, and knowing that added much to the experience of being out there.  It’s always a joy to be racing with friends, and the camaraderie on the course makes the experience all the more rewarding.  When there was just a two-mile stretch to go, I saw one of my competitors just up ahead of me and when I passed, she called out some encouragement as we ran on toward the finish.  It turned out that it was the first place girl in my age group who would come in ahead of me by 38 seconds, but we weren’t sure at the time how far behind me she’s started the swim.  The last part of the run wound through Whistler Village and into the finish chute on Blackcomb Way. I crossed the line, grateful and elated, and even a little surprised to have completed a race with everything happening the way I hoped it would.  It was a beautiful day in the 70s, with the mountains on which I’d skied all around me, and an awesome feeling to complete my last race before Ironman CdA.

Time:  1:43:49
Rank: 2

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Finished 5:05:15
Div Rank: 2
Overall Female Rank:  9

My finish placing gave me a slot to the 2017 World Championships which will be held in Chattanooga, TN.

Nutrition:  800 calories (gels) on the bike, but no salt because I dropped my salt tube.  Three bottles of water.  400 calories on the run, plus salt and water.

Post race:  An immediate visit to the medical tent.  Sometime during the bike leg I noticed that my eye was cloudy and I really couldn’t see out of it.  I assumed I’d gotten some anti-fog chemicals in it, which worried me enough to go to the med tent after finishing, where they performed a variety of tests and rinses.  The physician finally determined that I had a swollen cornea.  I assume it had to be from the kicked goggles during the swim, but fortunately within 24 hours it was back to normal.

At home, I had a few light workout days, then building to heavier training by Thursday.  I had soreness and a tired feeling through Tuesday, and then turned the corner to feeling more like myself on Wednesday.

Thank you to my husband Brian who is always so supportive of me, me even on a last-minute dash to Canada.  Thanks to my coach Ben Bigglestone, who always has a good backup plan and gets me back on my feet!

Ironman Vineman 70.3 July 10, 2016

Ironman 70.3 Vineman was my eighth IM 70.3 start and my first IM DNF.  This race was a reminder to me that life isn’t certain, and we are definitely never in control of it.  As well as we can plan and prepare, anything can happen.  I’ve been lucky to have had many great races, and just one flat tire ten years ago that resulted in a DNF.

We made this event into a family road trip to Napa Valley, stopping in Bend to see friends, and then spending a couple awesome days in my favorite city of San Francisco before finally ending up at our rental house in Windsor.  It was probably second only to Austria for an enjoyable race-cation!

Race morning was like any other.  I always tend to waste some time worrying about an unrecoverable situation beyond my control, such as a flat, a crash, or an unrideable mechanical, and this time was no different.  I woke up early, ate a bagel and peanut butter, carpooled to the start on the Russian River, set up my bike and then waited around.  We had to drop off clothing bags early, and I actually did my warmup run in the wetsuit.

The swim was uneventful.  I found a strong swimmer to draft, but couldn’t quite pass her, which is the perfect drafting situation.  We swam downriver first, and it was so shallow near the turnaround that my fingers touched the bottom and I had to bend my elbows to keep swimming.  I tried the technique of “dolphining” (pushing off the bottom with my feet), but it seemed to break my rhythm and I wasn’t very skilled at it.

As I approached the beach, I ran through the bike transition sequence in my head, and then it was time to run across the beach and do it in reality.  Again, uneventful.  The bike course started on River Road, then wound around on the curves, through the woods and under a bridge.  My heart rate settled into the low 150s as I biked through the woodsy setting.

As I was preparing to climb near a vineyard around mile 11, I heard a sickening clank of metal on metal.  My pedals locked up and I rolled to a slow stop, almost tipping over, my mind going a million miles ahead of me.  I jumped off my bike and began to yank the chain out from where it was stuck between the rear wheel and the cassette, not believing what I was seeing:  a broken derailleur hanging at a horrifying angle, and something missing from the bent parts poking out everywhere.  In total denial, I kept yanking on the chain, thinking if I could jut get it dislodged I could do something.  My hands turned black from the grease and my watch, which I saw was at 33 minutes, crept to 35, and then 40.  When the chain finally came loose, I saw it had a broken link.

Teammates came by, each of them looking strong and speedy, but clearly feeling awful for me.

After awhile, I began to walk my bike slowly down the road until an Ironman truck pulled up.  The mechanic took one look and said, “I’m sorry, but you’re done.”  I got in his truck and he asked me to hand him my timing chip.  It must have taken me a good hour, plus the handing off of my timing chip to let go of the idea that I’d be finishing this race.

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As with life, we can train and prepare, but nothing is for certain.  One friend said:  Those things that are out of our control are the most frustrating and heartbreaking.  A word that’s been going through my mind lately is “trust,” as in trust the process, and trust the journey.  I’m someone who wants to plan ahead, prepare, think and worry about any foreseeable outcome.  Life can throw us curve balls, and this race was a reminder that all we can do is to do our best, and when things out of our control don’t go the right way (or, when we fail at those things seemingly in our control), we have to honor the disappointed feelings, but then pick up and move on.

The bright side is that there were no injuries to myself or anyone speeding up behind me as I stopped.  And even brighter was getting to do this a few weeks later!

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Follow up:  Some forensics determined that my derailleur may have been bumped out of place due to a minor accident in San Francisco a few days before the race.  The shifting was off just enough that when I shifted to the large ring on the rear cassette the chain slipped between it the rear wheel, causing the lockup and virtual explosion of the parts.  Fortunately it was an easy fix, and Northwest Tri and Bike had me rolling again the next week!