Doing it all the hard way...

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Guest Post Ironman Canada

This is an account by Feral Dave of his participation in last Sunday's Ironman Canada.

This year's Subaru Ironman Canada was the 30th anniversary of the event, which was the very first Ironman distance triathlon in North America and featured about 2700 participants from all over the world.    The Ironman triathlon consists of a 2.4 mile swim (3.8k), followed by a 112 mile bike ride (180k) and then a marathon  - 26.2 mile run (42.2k).  What makes it particularly difficult is the sheer amount of time involved and the requirement to run so far after your legs are spent from a very long and hilly bike ride.   

This year’s event was the final Ironman Canada before a new sponsor takes over with a new name so it was pretty special to participate in the last one.  I even stayed until the final participant crossed the finish line just seconds before the midnight cutoff.  It was pretty emotional for her and everyone there at the finish line.   We also were able to watch 82 year old Sister Madonna Buter complete the race to the roar of the crowd a short time before. She is the real Ironman!   Also participating in the race were Dick Ensslen, Ed Wong and Ed Russell (known as the "Dick Eds").   The Dick Eds have completed an amazing 29 consecutive Ironman Canada races.  While most of the participants looked like the very fit, low body fat athlete you might expect, many of the folks finishing towards the end were quite the opposite and looked like the "before" picture in a weight watchers commercial.  It was inspirational to see people push themselves for 15-17 hours and finish in the dark of night after the support staff and crowds along the route were long gone.   It proved to me that virtually anyone of sound mind and body can do this type of race if they put their mind to it.  (Evo comment: I think a sound mind PROHIBITS participation in these events)

The race took place in the Okanogan Valley, which features Lake Okanogan, Skaha Lake and surrounding towns.  It is an absolutely beautiful area, enveloped by mountains, scenic valleys, and a plethora of wineries and golf courses.  This is a "be back" kind of place, triathlon or no triathlon.  The people of Penticton are very friendly, extremely supportive and the race was very well run.   Thousands of fans were enthusiastically cheering along the course, which really helped spur us along. My parents and my Uncle Jon Lee and his spouse Lena were there to cheer me on, along with my fantastic coach Hallie Truswell and 20 members of the Pauole Sport Triathlon team from Seattle.  Unfortunately the Farrell clan from Seattle was unable to join, but they were there in spirit.   My main inspiration during the race was my cousin Monica, who passed away this past spring from cancer. Thinking of how tough she was throughout her struggles at the end of her life helped me push through some of the difficult parts (which were obviously nothing in comparison to hers).  

Here's the blow by blow on the individual legs of the event:

ironman-canada-swim-start.jpgSwim:  Unlike most triathlons that stage the start in a civilized way by age group, this was a mass start with all 2700 amateurs jumping in the water at 7AM and swarming out into Lake Okanogan like a giant school of salmon .... more like piranhas.   The picture of a prior year's event gives a good sense of what it was like.  After the start, I immediately tried to get to the outside of the mob and head out to the buoys. Unfortunately, there was no avoiding the crowds.   Swimmers were constantly jockeying for position and I could feel people clawing me and bumping into me and the churn of water from people kicking in front. It was difficult to see much and I had to remain calm and stifle the urge to panic. Fortunately I managed to avoid a thump in the head like the one that derailed one of my team mates, cracked his goggles and gave him a headache.  After a while things calmed down and I got into a good rhythm.   It felt fantastic to be out there after lots of rest and pre-race fueling, coupled with the exhilaration of starting the event after so many months of preparation.  Before I knew it (2.4 miles and 1 hour and 11 minutes later) I was heading out of water and up the beach and to the transition area where I was met by "strippers" ......  no, not scantily clad Canadian lasses, but wetsuit strippers. I went into the transition area, got into my bike gear, picked up my bike and was off.  

Bike:  As I mentally switched gears to the bike mode, I was hit by a rush of fresh air, a burst of sunshine and the sounds of throngs of people cheering us on as we headed out of town.  The first 35 miles of the race were downhill and downwind.  I was flying and enjoying the scenery of Skaha Lake, cooking along at 22-25 mph, seemingly effortlessly.   We went by vineyards, orchards, lakes and the town of Oliver, and into the town of Osoyoos on the Washington border.  We then turned into the  wind and up the road to Richter Pass.  This was a moderate 1,400 foot climb that didn't cause me much of an issue given my previous trip to the French Alps this summer.   After reaching the summit, I blasted down the other side of the mountain at speeds well above 40mph. Everything still felt great.  We then had a long stretch of rolling hills through farm lands and before I knew it, almost four hours on the bike had gone by and I was over 2/3 of the way through the course.   As I hammered through the rolling  hills, a pattern developed.  I would pass everyone going up hill and then people with aerodynamic race wheels would zip past me on the downhill.  I kept seeing the same racers over and over again.   On good advice, I rode to keep my heart rate in check and resisted the urge to go hard and "race others" who passed me.  I also made it a point to consistently and systematically take in fuel, ingesting a special sport drink mixture recommended by my coach and taking in over 2400 calories on the bike, along with liters of water and electrolytes.  The best part of the bike ride was the steep climb up to Yellow Lake at mile 94.  There were hundreds of people lined up on each side of the road cheering us on, Tour de France style.  They had funny signs, music and kept calling out my name (as it is printed just below our number).   All I could do was smile and laugh because I was having a blast.   Finally I reached the summit at mile 100 and thought …damn, I have gone a long ways ….. I am tired and I have 12 miles to bike and then a marathon yet to go.  I started to feel pretty cooked and the temperature was well into the 80’s and getting hotter.   Fortunately the final miles were mostly downhill and it gave me a chance to catch my breath and regroup as I headed back into town.  I was re-energized by the crowd as I made it back to the lake and transition area. 

Run:  The moment I had been waiting for (and also dreaded) had arrived. I changed into my running gear, quickly stretched and headed out of the transition out into the crowds.  The run had begun.  I was excited because I had completed the swim and bike faster than expected and the run is typically my best event of the three.  I was poised to have a great finish.   However, it’s hard to describe how hard it is to run after biking 112 miles and 5,000 feet of elevation gain.  Most of the muscles in my legs hurt and the ones that didn’t felt like Jell-O.    I tried to get in a rhythm, but it just didn’t seem right.  I saw my parents on the sidelines and that helped my mood, but it just seemed that I was in for a tough afternoon based on how I was feeling.   As I left town, I saw my coach Hallie who gave me some encouraging words, but then quickly the crowds diminished and the temperature started to rise.  It was getting late in the afternoon and the hottest part of the day, into the upper 80’s.  My stomach started to hurt and I felt nauseous. The “blazing saddles” effect kicked in as the massive amounts of sport drink and energy bars took its toll on my digestive system.  I pity the people behind me.  I started to feel severe pain in my right hip flexor and my
IMG_0016.jpghamstrings were hurting as well.  At this point, it was mile four and I had already hit the wall, something that usually doesn’t occur until mile 18-20 in a marathon.    I kept remembering the words my coach had told me “the Ironman really doesn’t begin until the second half of the marathon.”   I was thinking that if feel this lousy now, how am I going to feel at the 1/2 way point when the event "begins"?   I had no choice but to just kept going and stopped at every aid station, telling myself I would run until the ½ way point and then walk to the finish line.  It was all I could do to keep going mile after mile.   I drank only water for a while and took some ibuprofen that I carried with me, then started to feel better. At the ½ way point,  I picked up my “special needs bag” that was waiting for me and I asked a volunteer pin a picture of my cousin Monica on my chest and I was finally able to take in some food. From that point on, bystanders kept cheering us on and saying “do it for Monica”.   That really helped a tremendous amount and increased my resolve.   I decided not to walk like I had earlier thought and kept running, oblivious to pace, just wanting to get it over with.  Soon I hit mile 15, then 16, then 17 and I started to feel better for some reason. I was passing most athletes along the way at this time, most of whom were like walking wounded, quietly suffering through their own battles.  Some were slumped along the road with injuries or just too tired to carry on.  I saw two ambulances pass by me in the back half of the race.  As I hit mile 20, it was UPHILL for the next four miles and facing a headwind.  I was really not happy with the race director at this point.  The same place that made the first part of the bike leg so easy many hours before and was now coming back to bite me.  I pounded on, step after step with the pace and grace of Frankenstein and eventually found myself at mile 24.  Sheer adrenaline and the energy of the crowd carried me through to mile 25.  One more mile to go. The finish line was in sight and I could hear the sounds of the announcer.  Despite a cramp in my right hamstring I hobbled my way down the final stretch and jaunted through the finish shoot like a gazelle, finishing just before 7pm with a time of 11:53:46.  I heard the announcer say in a British accent, David Farrell from Seattle, you are an Ironman as I crossed the finish line banner.   

Here's think to the results if you want more info (my bib # was  1452)

After a great time with family in Penticton and my parents at Harrison Hot Springs,  I headed back to Seattle for the real reward waiting at home. 

100_1586.JPG100_1557.JPGConclusion:  Most people consider this type of thing "crazy." Admittedly it's a bit kooky and requires intense discipline and a fair amount of sacrifice and training. Why would anyone voluntarily subject themselves to this?   Mid-life Crisis? Perhaps, but the reward of setting a challenging goal and achieving it, as well as pushing yourself and finding out just how strong you are is very satisfying. The Pauole Sport team's motto proved to be true for me "you are stronger than you think you are" as well as the adage "pain is temporary, pride is forever."  Both of these applied to me Sunday and are applicable to any of life's challenges, whether self imposed or otherwise.  

Evo notes:
Like the cycling snobs that we are, we self-rightously dismiss and ignore anyone riding a Tri bike. You may think a TT bike is a Tri bike. Don't worry; many make that mistake. The tip off is the water bottles.  If you see multiple bottles behind the seat, or one of those phallic drinking tubes, it is a tri geek.  We sincerely love Feral Dave, and he rode with us in France (note the shout out in the write up).  In fact, more than once, when we finished a long day Dave went out for a run while the rest of us whimpered like starving orphans.  Dave worked hard for this.  Congratulations Dave.

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