It’s been a while since my last post (understatement!). At first I didn’t post because I was busy, then after IMC last August I didn’t want to write about it for a while. It took me a while to make peace with my performance and then this long to get around to blogging again. I enjoyed blogging back when so hope to continue.
Ironman Canada 2008 was a tough event for me. I had a good swim, died on the bike, experienced dejection and chilling rain on the first half of the run, then came back a bit on the last half of the run. Overall time was 14:09:53, which is my slowest Ironman out of four. Again I learned that there are no miracles on race day – you get the race you trained for, minus whatever trouble comes your way, plus whatever extra you can give on race day. I was undertrained on the bike, and that’s the race I got.
After the Lake Stevens 70.3 in July, it was clear that my run and swim were OK (if slow) but my cycling speed and strength were woefully beneath what I needed for the hilly, 112 mile IMC course. I kicked it in gear (pun intended) and did a couple of ~100 mile rides (generally flat to rolling), 1 hour hill repeats on Lakemont Blvd, and some 50-60 mile hilly rides. I was hoping that would be sufficient to get the job done.
The event is in Penticton, BC and this was the 26th year. The town goes all out for Ironman Canada. Every B&B, hotel, motel, etc. fills up, and it’s tough to get a place. Theresa had booked Lana and I in a B&B about 20 miles up the east side of the lake in the Naramata area. About two weeks before the event Lisa decided she wanted to go along, so we three left early Friday morning in order to make the athlete-checkin-and-packet-pickup cutoff time. It’s about a 5 hour drive and we went straight to the Okanagan Lake race venue and checked in, then headed to the B&B. It turned out there was a mix-up with the reservations and such – no kids allowed, and only two people to a room. I had to negotiate around that for a while until the owner of the B&B let us stay. Note that when you negotiate a place to stay in a town with every B&B, hotel, and motel full, you’re pretty much at the mercy of the kindness of strangers. So we were not off to a good start. Also Naramata may be 20 minutes away, but every twist and turn on the road causes a slowdown so we were 40 minutes out of town.
Saturday morning we went downtown to check out out race expo. I saw a number of people I knew from JFT2 and from the local racing scene. Then we had some breakfast at Tim’s before I took a short 3 mile run around downtown while the girls checked out the street festival that was setup on Main Street downtown. Next we drove the bike course so I could get a sense of what I was going to do the next day. The bike course through the valley is exceptionally beautiful – even my daughters thought so. A far cry from the Arizona deserts where I’ve raced my other Ironmans. The hills didn’t seem to bad. Richter Pass had been rumored to be a killer, and while it look long it wasn’t steep. Eminently do-able. I was surprised by the size of the hill later in the course. They weren’t the “rollers” I had heard about (although there are plenty of those), there are out-and-out hills especially approaching Yellow Lake.
Sunday morning we headed down to the race start and managed to get there early enough to find a fairly close in parking space. I almost DNFed before I started when I handed my car keys to Lisa, said my goodbyes, and then headed to the race start as the girls went off to find some breakfast. THEN I realized my wetsuit was still in the car! Five minutes of chasing back after them before I lucked out. Note to self: race day checklist! At least I could call that event my morning warm-up run.
Soon enough I was standing in the knee-deep water of Lake Okanagan, waiting for the starter’s cannon. I was confident about the swim and the run, and the bike would be what the bike would be. BOOM! and I was swimming! The swim is an out-and-back affair, clockwise which is good for me since I breathe to the right and could see the buoy line. The swim was fairly violent. A lot of thigh slapping, foot slapping, and side bumping. At one point I was drafting pretty well behind someone, and suddenly his feet disappeared in the murky water. I was wondering “What happened?” just as he kicked me hard in the face – he had switched to a breast stroke to sight and I had caught up too close. I have never been kicked so hard before. Just shy of starting a nosebleed. Great.
I was out of the water in 1:25, which was about what I hoped for based on training. My day was looking up! T1 was uneventful, and soon I was flying out of town on Main Street. The bike course is a single loop, which I’ve never done in a race so I was looking forward to that. My speed out of town was high, my wattage was good, and the start of the race is slightly downhill. I did manage to see Lisa and Lana at the pre-arranged spot on Main Street as I zoom zoomed past.
All was well for the first 30 miles, then hmm I started to feel an old familiar pain in my left knee. This pain has plagued me on and off for years ever since I injured it in training years ago. It’s a deep dull throb and the only while-riding cure is IT band and calf stretches. I hadn’t felt it in months though, so I was stunned that it was back now at the worst possible time. At 40 miles I stopped to stretch it, burning valuable clock time. I would continue to do that every 15 to 20 miles, so I probably spent 20 minutes off the bike just stretching my legs.
Richter Pass was a good steady climb, with the hot sun on my back and many cheering supporters lining the course. This was the best part of my ride by far. The descent into the valley was fine, and now I was starting to feel my thighs along with the knee ache. More stretching, and I dropped my effort level down to 150-160 watts since I knew there were hills yet to come. The valley has rolling hills, and each one took a little more out of me. At the midpoint there is an out-and-back loop off the main road to get to the special needs pickup at the 60 mile mark. This is only a few miles, but it was remarkably tiring. The road is rough, the sun was hot, my knee hurt and my legs were tiring. The special needs is at 72 miles, and I was pretty dejected at that point in the race. So for the first time ever in a race I just stopped, ate my food, rested a bit and stretched. I spent about 12 minutes off the bike at special needs preparing myself for the last 40 miles.
I left in better spirits and resigned myself to a slow hard slog back to town. The climb to Yellow Lake was the final straw for my legs. I had done 60 mile hilly rides, and I had done 100 mile mostly-flat rides, but here I was at the 80+ mile mark climbing a tough hill. And then on the descent – my reward for that climb – was that it started to rain heavily. The long steady downhill into town was an exercise in speed control. I wasn’t one of those nuts flying down the hill pedaling hard. Instead I was coasting near the shoulder. Soon enough I was back in town with a total bike time of 7:27 at an average speed of 15 mph. I was hoping for 45 minutes to an hour shorter. But you get what you train for, and so it goes.
T2 was uneventful although a bit slow as I stretched out my legs for the run, then off I went at a slow pace getting my legs used to running. The run course is an out and back along most of the bike course, down to Okanagan Falls and then back to Penticton. There are several fairly steep hills on the course which I planned to walk.
The rain was lightly falling and I was chilled in a short time. I wasn’t dressed for this weather. I had thought Penticton in August would be cooler than Arizona in April, but I never thought it would be cold, and yet cold it was. I must admit even though my time on the bike had been slow, I wasn’t motivated to try to make it up on the run. Running is usually my strength, but I was experiencing my first emotional “low low” in an Ironman. I walked a couple of hills that I could have jogged, telling myself I was “saving my legs” for the run back. No, not really. My salvation came at the turnaround point, where a friendly couple was handing out used clothing to anyone who needed something. I took a dark blue long sleeve T-shirt, and with that I no longer felt chilled. The emotional cloud was lifting, and I was no longer feeling that low-low.
At the turnaround I was hoping I still could break 14 hours. I ran faster and felt stronger on the way back to Penticton, and was again enjoying the event like I had not since that knee pain set in at mile 30 on the bike many hours earlier. About 5 miles from the finish I was passed by a guy juggling three red balls as he ran. This is called “joggling” in case you’ve never heard of it. Well, that brought out the old competitive spirit – no way was I going to be passed by a joggler! I picked up the pace and was soon back in town. Too bad there’s a small out and back segment along the waterfront, this was longer than I thought and combined with the long slight uphill into town I had a 5:01 marathon, crossing the finish line at a total time of 14:09:53. I intentionally made sure I was the only person in the finish chute so for the first time ever I could hear Mike Reilly (the Voice of Ironman) say “Bruce Morgan! You … are … an Ironman!”
I had no medical issues after the race. My knee was fine, my legs were acceptable, and I was happy that the damn thing was just done. I found LIsa and Lana, who had watched me finish from the stands. I found some pizza and some fruit, and finally found the girls. They say that the race venue isn’t super spectator friendly – lots of barricades to keep the spectators off the course, so lots of long distance walking to get to the designate places to cross.
My last surprise of the day was next. The girls had spent time in the SUV reading and staying out of the rain, and the story was: ”Uh, Dad? I know you told us not to, but we turned on the lights so we could read, and now we think the battery is dead.” So my post-race time was spent calling CAA and waiting for a jump, and that took long enough that all the restaurants in town had closed.
Monday was more fun. We slept in, then packed up and had a very pleasant and leisurely brunch on the outdoor patio restaurant at the Lake City Casino, next the race expo. I signed up for IMC 2009, said “Hi” to a few people I knew, and then we drove back to home. On the way back we took the route down to I90 which was much faster than the Stevens Pass route we had taken to get to Penticton. I’ve done all the routes (north to Vancouver then east, Stevens Pass, and I90 then north) and the I90 route over Blewitt Pass is clearly the best way to get there.