Ironman: Check!

Tom Davis

Last Updated: September 16, 2009

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Note: Click on any image thumbnail to obtain a larger version.

Another note: There's a long, rambling description of pre-race activities, followed by the race report. Click on race report to go immediately to that.

A third note: Ellyn, my wife, added some of her thoughts at the wife's perspective, below.

Ironman Preparation

Beware of the slippery slope: I wanted to run marathons faster, so on the advice of a running and cycling buddy Chris, I joined the local triathlon club (Silicon Valley Triathlon Club: SVTC) because for a ridiculously low club membership fee I could attend coached track workouts every week. That seemed to work well, but being a triathlon club, I wasn't just around runners, and my friend Connie talked me into doing "just one" olympic-distance triathlon. That led to three olympic-distance triathlons and an "aqua-bike". The aqua-bike was just the swim and bike part of an ironman-length triathlon, at the end of which, with every large muscle group in both legs simultaneously cramping and the temperature sitting at 95 degrees F, I thanked every spirit in the universe that I did not have to begin running a marathon at that point.

But doing those races, of course I met up with some really nice folks, and I decided that the following year, I'd do a half ironman. (A full ironman is 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of cycling, followed by a full 26.2 mile marathon. A half ironman is a race with all of those distances cut exactly in half.) But even before the new year started, my friend Alan talked me into signing up for the full thing: Ironman Canada on August 30, 2009.

Swim Start So there I was (somewhere in the photo on the left), standing in a wetsuit in the water of Okanagan Lake with 2800 of my competitors, waiting for the starting gun.

I started training for the race in about December of the year before, with a very gradual ramping up which peaked about three or four weeks before the event, at which point I started to taper down so that all my muscles and other little aches and pains would be healed for the event. I used a coach (Lisa) and followed her advice fairly closely at the beginning and then more and more fanatically as the race got closer. There are lots of training plans to get you ready for an ironman, but the advantage of a human coach is that if something goes wrong (an injury or sickness or something) then the plan can be easily modified to account for it. I only had one major problem: I did "something funny" to my knee on an easy run and I basically skipped two months of running training while I let it get better. Of course we added more swimming and cycling to fill the gaps, and then started the running almost from scratch: the first test runs were only a mile or two, and I gradually increased them again. When I got hurt I had been running a 12-mile loop fairly solidly on a regular basis so that knee injury was quite a setback.

In addition to swimming, cycling and running, I worked on my core strength and balance (although I seem to be hopelessly handicapped in the balance department) via a Pilates class twice a week with Amy and a "Hard Core Training" class weekly during the winter (off season) with coach Lisa.

In total, I did about 500 hours of workouts from January 1 to race day, which comes out to about 15 hours per week, on average. So if you're thinking about doing an ironman, that's the commitment it took from me.

As my training peaked about a month before the event, I was doing over 20 hours of pretty hard exercise per week, and I sure wasn't having any troubles sleeping at night, either.

"Ironman is 90% mental and 10% mental" -- Jane

Since so much of a race like this is mental rather than physical, Lisa and I worked on some race mantras and mental strategies to help me get through the hard parts. I was most worried about cramping on the run, since I've had terrible problems with that before in marathons. My plan to avoid them was to concentrate on proper hydration and electrolytes on the bike, and for that reason, the main mantra I wound up using on the bike was, "I finish the bike fully fueled and ready for the run." and, secondarily, "I pay attention to my body's needs." Since I was also worried about going way too hard on the bicycle and "leaving the race behind on the bike course", the third most used and useful one was, "I apply my fitness evenly over the entire course of the race."

In past races I've had trouble with holding way too much tension in my body, so a number of the mantras were aimed at those, but for some reason, perhaps because the race was so long, I hardly ever felt tense. I was especially relaxed on the bike, and I sure would love to see that situation continue into future races.

Bicycle Man Bicycle Man Ironman Canada takes place in a little town called Penticton in British Columbia, just a bit north of the US border and about a four-hour drive from Vancouver. You've got to get a lot of stuff up there to race, since you need to have your complete setup for swimming, cycling and running. Since the race is relatively "local", the logistics weren't bad: there's a company that, for a very reasonable price, will truck your bike to the start from a nearby bike shop and deliver it back to the shop after the race. By "local" above, I mean close enough that there are sufficient athletes going from your area to that particular race. For some reason, this race is incredibly popular with my triathlon club and I and 18 others (and maybe even a couple of folks I don't know about) were going to do that race. Here's a sculpture made completely of old bike parts in front of a store in downtown Penticton. On the left is the whole sculpture; on the right is a close-up of the head.

I've traveled with bicycles on airplanes and it is a hassle. Even the smallest bike boxes are large and unwieldy and you have to partially dismantle the bike to put it into the box. Then, of course, you're worried at the other end that you didn't get everything put together exactly right, and there's not a lot of time for test rides: you're trying to do almost minimal exercise to be really ready for the race, so you're not tempted to really hammer up steep hills on the bike to make absolutely certain that everything works.

It was great to have so many folks from the club going to the race. On any weekend, it was usually easy to find a group of people on the club ride who were training for it, and consequently, who wanted to ride about as long and hard as you did. Similarly for running, and as a result, I only did one really long ride and one long run alone. The lone run was due to my own scheduling conflict, and the ride was when I took off with the usual SVTC gang, but hit a bump so hard early in the ride that I flatted both tires at once and there was no hope of catching the group after that.

Derek's Spectator/Athlete Guide

A couple of weeks before the race, Derek asked all of the SVTC participants to provide some information for his guide, and I think all of us who did so were really pleased that we did. Derek did a tremendous amount of work, and both I and my wife found it to be both useful and entertaining.

Each of us provided our predictions of best-possible times for each split, a description of what we'd be wearing on race day, a list of any super powers we had, and so on. Using all that data, he produced a list of times that we might arrive at various points on the course; not only at the obvious transition areas, but at the tops of Richter Pass and Yellow Lake, which are very popular spots for spectators. The guide also included all the important maps and profiles of each of the athletes and SVTC volunteers and spectators at the event, plus cell phone numbers so we could contact each other.

My super power was "Can blow a swim lead, no matter how large", and I certainly made use of that in the race.

Pre-Race in Penticton

Most of us arrived in Penticton on Wednesday before the race (which occurred on Sunday). The logistics were a bit complicated, so the extra time was nice, and it gave us newcomers time to drive the bike course and/or run course to see what things looked like, although in the case of the bike course, the preview was a bit misleading. Also, a lot of the major hotels in the area had six-night minimum stays, since IM Canada is probably the biggest money maker for them in the entire year. I think even without the six-night minimum that six nights was about right: we got in Wednesday afternoon, were busy until race day, and there's no way I would have wanted to come home on Monday after the race.

Penticton Flowers That part of BC is a beautiful area: lots of wineries and fruit orchards. At least the people I know did put off the wine tasting until after the race, though. On the right is a photo of me and Alan in front of a nice public flower garden.

"You can never do too little." -- Norm

Starting at least two, and maybe as much as three weeks before an ironman, it's pointless to do any hard training, as the die is cast, and there's nothing you can do to improve your fitness on race day, but there's plenty you can do to hurt it. So for three weeks, you "taper", gaining a little weight, and repairing all those little injuries that you incurred during the heaviest training days. (For me, the heaviest days included a full 112 mile bike ride on the Vineman ironman course with some friends who were getting ready for that, plus a couple of 80 milers on more hilly routes. My longest run was 22 miles on a local course similar to what I'd run at IM Canada.)

By the time we arrived in Pentiction, the taper was near the point, so we were doing almost nothing and thoroughly enjoying it. I loved a comment made by Norm, a fellow SVTCer: "[Near the end of an ironman taper] you can never do too little!"

I followed Norm's advice, but it was amazing to see what some people (and not just a couple of them) were doing. On Friday before the race my wife Ellyn and I were driving the bike route and there were some idiots on fully-decked-out tri-bikes (so they were obviously there for the race) hammering their brains out 50 miles away from Penticton, so they were probably doing at least 100 miles. I took one 25-mile easy ride with Alan so I got a feel for the roads, and he arranged a loop route that took us on part of the bike course and we returned on the run course. The run is an out-and-back, so I saw the whole thing, but on a bike.

I was pretty worried about the weather. I'm "allergic" to heat, and the predictions weren't good: perhaps more than 90 degrees F. In the past, running marathons, I've almost always had a lot of cramping problems in the heat, and almost every marathon I've run has started pretty early in the day, and not after a 2.4 mile swim and 112 mile bike ride as a "warmup".

"Compared to how it looked last December, this ironman is starting to look a lot less theoretical." -- Me, two days before the race

Nobody knows exactly what causes cramping, and it certainly varies from individual to individual, but I suspect that my troubles come from hydration or electrolyte problems or a combination. For that reason, I was determined to try to stay ahead on both during the bicycle ride. A company called "SaltStick" sells a device that's sort of like a Pez dispenser that delivers one capsule of electrolytes at a time and holds six of them. I mounted two dispensers on my handlebars and loaded them both for a total of 12. Each capsule contains about 240 milligrams of sodium, and I set an alarm on my bike computer to buzz me every ten minutes. When the buzzer went off, I'd be sure to eat and/or drink something, and if the time was a multiple of 30 minutes, I'd also take an electrolyte capsule.

I'm not impressed with the SaltStick devices: one of mine works ok, but the other always jams when you try to reload it after it's empty. Alan uses them, too, and had one fail to work on his ride. They're not cheap, either, but at least they were able to deliver my 12 capsules during the race. A lot of people carry their electrolytes in a plastic baggie, but as Alan says, "The advantage of the SaltStick is that it only allows you to drop one at a time." I did see more than a few baggies full of capsules on the ground on the bike course.

On Wednesday when we arrived we didn't do much: checked into the hotel, and had dinner with the SVTC folks who were on the flights from San Jose with us: Alan, Alan's dad, JF, Norm, Tana and Dale.

On Thursday, three days before the race, I went for a 7:00 am swim to check out the lake. Just before we started swimming, a guy with a fancy-ass video camera told us he was filming for the event and wondered if we'd do some posed shots for him. Being glory hounds, of course we said yes, and we tried to look serious as we put on our goggles over and over, splashed ourselves with water, and finally, swam off into the sunrise. I was sure I'd wind up on the cutting room floor, but they showed the final video at the awards banquet at the end, and sure enough, I'm in there for a few seconds near the very beginning.

The water temperature was great! I don't care for cold water, and the water there was warm enough that I could have done it without a wetsuit if I'd had to. Of course you wear the suit for the added buoyancy (and consequently speed) if you're allowed to during a race. The water was brilliantly clear, too, so I wasn't too worried about coming down with Giardia or some other horrible affliction if I accidently swallowed any during the race. (That's certainly not the case at some local races where the water's so green you're a little nervous about even putting your foot in it.)

After the swim, we had breakfast and headed to the race headquarters to register and spend a fortune on random race-related crap. I got in the registration line first and it was a little bizarre. As we approached the line, a volunteer would say stuff like, "I'm taking 10 people with numbers between 1000 and 1250." It was like I imagine the bouncers in trendy clubs who want to admit the beautiful people and keep out riff-raff like me. Anyway, when I was finally admitted, it wasn't bad: we had to sign various waivers, get weighed (so that if you got into trouble on the course they could check your weight to see how much you'd lost, and presumably use that information to see just how dehydrated you were), collect race numbers, chips, random schwag, et cetera.

I decided to purchase a Canada Ironman "kit" (bike shorts and jersey) and a backpack built specially for triathlon. I waited in a long line, and when I finally got to the front, was told that they couldn't take Mastercard since their computer connection wasn't working. I was pretty pissed that they hadn't bothered to announce it to the line before spending 20 minutes waiting. But one thing that's good about this ironman at least: you get a lot of practice waiting in lines.

One other thing that ticked me off was that they gave us a bare racing chip with no way to attach it to your ankle. Then they said there was a free strap made of plastic with sharp edges that would undoubtedly cut into your legs after 140.6 miles of swimming, cycling and running, OR, for a "mere" five dollars, you could get a reasonable padded velcro strap that's standard issue at every other event I've raced. Bastards!

There was other nickel-and-dimeing going on as well: At least the racers got free admission to the two dinners (one for pre-race discussion and the other the awards banquet), but even the volunteers had to pay to get in. The dinners were very inexpensive to prepare: basically pasta and salad for the first, and that plus a little piece of chicken for the second. The cost of tickets were $25 and $30, respectively.

The bikes which were transported by truck from Cupertino arrived on Thursday afternoon after checking in. It's been years since I went cycling without cycling shorts and pedals with cleats, so I had a bit of trouble getting the bike back to the hotel dressed in slacks and street shoes. The "trouble" involved getting my pants against the greasy chain for a nice black imprint of the big chain ring on the khaki pants. (If you get that imprint on your bare leg, it's sometimes called a "cat 5 tattoo", since category 5 racers are the total beginners and it means that they're such bad riders that they slapped their leg against the ring.) At least my pants were hanging about two or three inches closer to the chain ring than my ankle was. But it did remind me of the "old days" when I always used rubber bands around my pant leg to keep it clean.

Tom Alan on a test ride
At about 3:00 in the afternoon on Thursday Alan and I went for the 25 mile ride described earlier to check out the bikes themselves and to get a look at the run course. The run is pretty flat with just a couple of minor hills. Who knew, of course, how "minor" they'd look when I'd face them after eight or nine hours of continuous racing? Alan and I appear in the image on the left, just as we're starting out.

On Friday Ellyn and I decided that we'd do a little bird watching, so got up at the crack of dawn and headed south to a spot Ellyn had discovered on the internet on Lake Vaseux, perhaps 40 km south of Penticton. It's right on the bike course, so we drove there, looked for birds for an hour or so, then continued on the bike course to take a look at the whole thing (or at least most of it) from the car.

We saw a fair number of birds, but nothing we didn't recognize. The only surprise was an unusual gray bird with a dark cap which I said looked a heck of a lot like the Gray Catbird we'd seen only in Florida. Well, sure enough, it was a Gray Catbird, which winters in the south-eastern US and summers in BC (and other places). We saw lots and lots of mallards and coots and got a look an Osprey. (I thought at the time it might have been a Peregrine Falcon, but after seeing more Ospreys later in the trip, I'm now convinced that's what it was. The falcon could be there, but given the time of year, it would have been pretty unlikely.) There was another hawk we saw, but only for a few seconds and we didn't get a good enough look for a positive identification. We got one life bird (a bird we'd never seen before) however, and that was great! It was a Bohemian Waxwing.

The bike course is pretty flat, with only two major climbs (Richter Pass at about 40 miles, and Yellow Lake, about 15 miles from the end.) After Richter, there are about 7 rollers and a great final descent after Yellow Lake to T2, the second transition from bike to run. There's something very misleading about the Yellow Lake climb: a lot of it looks flat, both from the car and from the bike, but Alan (and others) warned me about it. They said that I'd be riding "on the level" and suddenly I'd find myself pushing hard on the pedals but instead of going 20 mph, I'd be going 10 and have no idea why.

On Friday I took the day off and didn't get a lick of exercise, except that I probably walked six or seven miles on various errands, including returning to the race expo to purchase the bike kit and backpack, since they finally did get the Mastercard computer line working. I was supposed to do a 20-20-20 (20 minutes each of swimming, cycling and running, all at a pretty easy pace), but I did nothing (and after all, according to Norm, you can never do too little!)

On Friday night I attended the pre-race dinner and meeting. I didn't learn too much there, but it didn't seem like a waste of time, either, so I wasn't unhappy to have attended. I was glad I didn't pay the $25 for Ellyn to attend, though: if you weren't racing, I imagine it would have been terribly boring. I did eat dinner with a bunch of nice Canadians whom I met in the line going in.

Saturday (the day before race day) I was supposed to take off, but I did a "0-10-10" instead, sticking with Norm's advice. I'm a good swimmer, but basically dislike doing it, but I liked working the legs a little on the very short bike and run.

Nutrition Strategy

As mentioned above, I was very worried about hydration and electrolytes on race day. In addition, I decided to repeat what I'd done in the Boston Marathon a couple of years previously: I stopped all caffeine intake about three weeks before the race, figuring that I could get a much better jolt from caffeine on race day if I hadn't used any in a while.

I decided to cut the caffeine "cold turkey" rather than tapering off. I figured if I got a headache, I'd have a little and taper rapidly. As it happened, there was no headache at all and I figured there'd be no effect, period. But the next morning, after doing my usual early-morning ride with friends, I found that by 9:00 am I needed a little nap. I woke up at noon, so it's pretty obvious that the caffeine was doing something for me. By race day I was back to what seemed like normal, so I hoped the caffeine might be able to give me a little push later in the race.

"If you're feeling really good 80 miles into the bike leg, you're probably going too fast."

You hear various things, like "the real race begins 80 miles into the cycling stage," or, "the real race begins at mile 13 of the marathon." I decided that the second was most likely to be true for me, so I decided not to ingest any caffeine until the midpoint of the marathon, and then I'd have a couple of blockbuster doses. Clif makes gels with 100 milligrams of caffeine each which I put in my running "special-needs" bag (more on that later).

That was my caffeine strategy. Some fellow racers also had an alcohol strategy and I did too, but mine was different from theirs: I continued having a couple of glasses of wine (or beer) right up until the night before the race. After all, "they" say that you should never do anything on race day that you don't normally do, so if you've done every workout with a roaring hangover, it would be nuts to race without one. I did not do all my workouts with a roaring hangover, so I figured I could go either way on race day. And I decided not to go the hangover route.

For hydration and electrolytes (my biggest worry) I decided to take lots of salt capsules (that include sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium and vitamin D) during the race. I figured 12 capsules on the bike and 10 on the run would do the job. In addition, I ate gels with extra electrolytes during the run, and at all the aid stations salty pretzels and warm chicken broth were available, and I planned to eat those and drink the broth as well. I also "salt loaded" for a couple of days before the race, eating some pretzels and salting my dinners a bit more than usual.

For fluids, my plan was to take on only water at the bike aid stations and to try to drink two bottles between each pair of stations. There were 11 aid stations on the bike, so if I stuck to my plan that would be 24 bottles of water, including the two full bottles I had on-board at the beginning of the bike leg.

Rather than taking on Gatorade at the stations, I carried one other bottle of Perpetuem by Hammer Nutrition which I mixed at about 4 times the normal concentration. I'd take a sip of that and wash it down with a lot of water. I planned to go with two bottles like that on race day: one at the start, and one at "special needs". That worked out really well during the race.

Other than that, I just ate and drank what I felt like on the days before the race, which was pretty much the same sorts of things I'd been consuming at home for the past few months.

Final Preparation

During Saturday I made final preparations for the race. I racked my bike and handed in four plastic bags of stuff: two for transitions and two for "special needs".

I decided that I didn't want to mess with pumping up my tires on race morning, so I inflated them the evening before to 120 pounds, figuring that they'd be down to about 110 on race day, which is what I wanted. In fact they were at 105, but I rode them that way, not wanting to take a chance of breaking off a valve stem on race morning.

Transition bags On the left is an image of the bags on our hotel bed as I was trying to organize everything the day before they were to be checked in.

Two of the bags were for the swim-to-bike and for the bike-to-run transitions. They're labeled with your race number and placed in numeric order in lines on the ground. On race day there are volunteers to make sure you can find yours in a hurry, no matter how fogged your brain is. Putting the stuff in bags like this makes you think very carefully about exactly what you may want in transition, and allows you to put in extra stuff that you can decide on at the last moment. For example, I had two hats in the bike-to-run bag, one with "Lawrence of Arabia" flaps on it in case it was really hot. I also added some compression bands for my calves that I might decide to use if cramping seemed imminent at the time. I also put a couple of energy gels in each, not knowing how hungry I'd be when I arrived in the respective transitions.

Shaving Since most of the guys (and almost all the gals) had their legs shaved for the race, I decided to do mine, too. I think that shaving (for guys) is mostly to make it easier for the doctors to treat road-rash after a bicycle crash, since it's certainly not going to help with swimming speed with your legs in a wetsuit. But since everybody was doing it, so did I. There I am on the right. If you look at the enlarged image, you can see a purple strap on my right wrist. Those straps were worn for the entire week by all the athletes, and it allowed us to get into all the athlete-only areas. Another nice thing that was arranged is that every one of us got a parking pass for the week to park in any legal spot, but without feeding the meters. That sure made life easier!

Final Supper On the right is a group of us at our final supper before race day. From left to right we have Ellyn, Alan's father John, Tana, Dale, JF, Erica, Alan, and yours truly.

At about the 80-mile mark on the bike course and halfway through the marathon we could optionally leave special-needs bags which we could pick up at that point. We knew exactly what would be available at the aid stations, so if there was something else we wanted, we could get it in those bags. For my run bag all I had were a couple of high-caffeine Clif gels, but for the bike I allowed myself some more options. My friend Chris who had done IM Canada a few years previously told me she'd included a can of Pringles, giving her the option of a huge salt load which she used. I had previously done an aqua-bike race and at about the 80-mile mark they'd had peanut-butter sandwiches which really hit the spot for me. So I had both Pringles and a sandwich in the bag. I also knew I'd need more of the Perpetuem so I had another ultra-concentrated bottle of that which I froze solid on Saturday night, hoping it would still be cool when I finally got to it on Sunday (and it was). The special-needs bags were delivered on Sunday morning, so it was likely to work.

Although we had to turn in the two transition bags the day before, I knew I'd have access to them on race morning (and to the bike itself), for any final adjustments. That was lucky, since after turning everything in, I thought of about 8 things to change on race morning.

Race Morning

The race started at 7:00 am, so I set my alarm for 4:30. I immediately ate a peanut-butter sandwich and a couple of hard-boiled eggs with generous salt, to continue with my salt-loading. I had an electrolyte capsule and plenty of water. I also smeared my exposed parts with sun block. Three of us (myself, Alan and JF) were driven to near the start by another SVTCer, Erica, with our two special-needs bags and a "dry clothes" bag.

Pre-body marking Everything was well-organized inside: we immediately turned in the special-needs bags. Next in line was "body marking", where your race number is written on your arms and legs and your age is written on the back of your calf. On the right is a photo (from left to right) of me, Alan and JF, just before body marking, taken by Suzi.

I think body marking has become an anachronistic tradition: in the early days of triathlon, it was your unique identifier, but in IM Canada, for example, you were already required to have your number on your swim cap and since everybody that I saw wore a wetsuit for the swim, all their body marking was hidden until the bike leg. But on the bike leg we were required to have a number on the front of the helmet, on the frame or seat post of the bike, and on our backs, either pinned to the jersey or on a race belt. On the run, the race number was required to be visible on the front of the jersey, or on a race belt. Also, many people wear compression socks to help with circulation, and that covers the leg and calf numbers, perhaps for the entire race. Finally, everyone was wearing a timing chip so the fact that we'd passed various checkpoints was recorded by computer as the race went on.

On the other hand, the marking is traditional, and it's fun to show off your numbers to your friends for the next few days until they finally fade away. I've heard that some folks "touch them up" with black markers so they'll last a few days longer. But whatever, we all got body-marked.

The next thing to do is get in a bathroom line. For some reason there are never enough bathrooms and everybody's got to go just before the race. (Actually, if all you need to do is pee, it's "traditional" to pee in your wetsuit when you're standing in the water waiting for the start so if there's a bathroom line crisis, you're still ok.) After that, I went to take care of stuff I'd forgotten to do the day before: I'd forgotten to put my bike in a "suitable" starting gear for the race (typically a couple of notches down from "normal"), given that you'll just have finished a 2.4-mile swim. I put dark glasses in my swim-to-bike bag, rearranged the electrolyte capsules a bit, added compression socks to the bike-to-run bag, et cetera. Then I put on my wetsuit, put everything else, including my prescription glasses (my sunglasses and swim goggles are also prescription, so I was never as blind as a bat), into the dry-clothes bag, turned that in, and headed for the water. I thought that the 4:30 wake-up time was generous, but with the long bathroom lines I only got to the water with about 10 minutes to spare, and I hadn't wasted any time.

Finally: Ironman Canada!

My swim is (unfortunately) my strongest leg of any triathlon. I usually am first out of the water in my age group. I say "unfortunately", because the swim is the shortest part of the race. In the case of an ironman, the swim takes about an hour, the bike, about six, and the run, about five for somebody like me (or at least that's what I was hoping). So speeding up my swim by 10% would gain me six minutes. Speeding up the bike by 10% would gain me 36 minutes.

The Swim

In all "official" ironman races, of which Ironman Canada is one, there is a mass-start: everybody (other than the pro racers) goes at once. In lots of other races there's a "wave start", where each age group start is separated by four or five minutes and it sometimes takes an hour for each group to get going. At IM Canada that would have been hopeless. Unfortunately, that meant that in 2009, there were about 2800 people who would be trying to start swimming at the same instant. By "official", I mean there's a company that has a trademark on the name "ironman", so others (of exactly the same length) are called "ironman length" or "long course" triathlons.

The course at IM Canada is a clockwise triangle, with a straight line of buoys out to about 1700 meters before you come to the first turn. Obviously, the shortest course would be to start next to the first buoy at the front of the pack and swim straight to the last. But that's pretty obvious, so there's terrible crowding near the buoy and the start there is totally chaotic. Being a mathematician, I knew that if I started, say, at the front of the pack, but about 30 meters away from the first buoy and parallel to it, but swam the hypotenuse directly to the last buoy before my turn, I'd probably miss almost all the chaos. By my calculation, I'd have to go farther, but only a little. In fact, if the angle at the start was 90 degrees (which is about right) and my 30-meter estimate was right, my swim, instead of 1700 meters to the turn, would be 1700.26 meters: less than a foot longer.

That plan worked perfectly: I was only in the chaos for 30 seconds or so, rather than for 20 minutes, and I had virtually clear swimming up to the first turn. By then we were so spread out that there were no problems for the rest of the swim course. Out of the 2800 starters, I beat all but 341 of them, and I was first out of the water in my age group. I thought I'd swim it in an hour, but it took me 1:03:35, although I thought I was moving pretty well. There might have been some currents. On the way out I didn't notice anything, but on the way back there were some weird waves that actually seemed to be pushing me toward shore, sort of like I felt as a college kid, body-surfing in the Pacific. Swim Finish On the left is me at the end of my swim leg, with one arm out of the wetsuit.

I've now raced two ironman-length swim courses, and in both cases, although I felt great at the end of the swim, as soon as I tried to stand up, I felt much more tired and uncoordinated than I'd have predicted. What's usually recommended is to swim until your hand touches the bottom, at which point you stand up and start running. I did that, but when my hand hit the bottom and I tried to stand up, there were a lot of small boulders on the bottom and I found it hard to walk, as tired as I was. So I swam some more, adjusting my stroke so the pull was closer and closer to my chest, and I got on my feet when the water was a lot shallower (and less bouldery.) I couldn't manage a run until I'd gotten into transition, and only after I picked up my swim-to-bike bag did I start to jog.

Tammy, Suzi, Debbie Immediately after you get off the beach onto the grass there are a bunch of crews of "strippers". In fact, three SVTCers (Debbie, Tammy and Suzi) had volunteered for this job, but in the chaos I couldn't immediately find them, so I was "stripped" by an unknown pair. In the image on the right we have, from left to right, Tammy, Suzi and Debbie, taken by somebody on Tammy's camera, and the three of them are waiting in line to sign up for Ironman Canada 2010. It's sometimes hard to get the wetsuit off, especially if you're cold and/or tired, and that's the strippers' job. As I walk-jogged from the water to the grass, I unzipped the back of my suit, managed to get my arms out of the wetsuit arms, and pulled it down to my waist. When I found a pair of strippers they had me lie down on my back, they grabbed the suit arms, and as I raised my butt, they pulled off the suit in about two seconds. I probably would have struggled with it for a minute, being tired and clumsy and probably with pretty cold hands. Then they each take one of your hands and pull you to your feet.

Talking to Debbie, Tammy and Suzi later, it turns out that stripping is a lot of work. In addition to pulling off perhaps hundreds of suits, they also have to lift hundreds of people off the ground. It's like doing lunges for a couple of hours, there were a lot of sore shoulders and backs among the stripper volunteers. D, T and S wanted this early job so that as soon as the swim part was over, they could go cheer on other SVTCers, both on the bike and run course. I also saw Erica on my way either to the changing tent or between there and my bike.

At the pre-race meeting the night before I heard a funny story from one of the Canadians at my table. Apparently, a year or two before, there was a Japanese racer who didn't know about the strippers, and when he got out of the water, a couple of them started helping him. He spoke no English and they no Japanese, and although he seemed pretty agitated, he seemed to be in good shape, so they helped him off with his suit. Well, he wasn't wearing anything under it! He'd planned to strip himself in the privacy of the men's changing tent.

There's a giant men's and giant women's changing tent filled with chairs and volunteers. It's great! You dump out your bag, change what you need to, and then take off and let the volunteer clean up the mess, stuff it in your bag, and put the bag back in numerical order where you can pick it up at the end of the race. So I had my wetsuit in hand, took off the goggles and swim cap, and then put on helmet, dark glasses, socks, race number attached to my race belt and cycling shoes. I was already wearing my cycling shorts and jersey under the wetsuit. I didn't eat anything. I didn't take the time to put on gloves, either. They're mostly to avoid road rash in case of a crash, and I wasn't planning to do that.

The Bike

I ran my bike out of transition and hopped on just past the "mount" line. The first part of the course runs down Main Street in Penticton with hundreds of spectators cheering. Although I didn't feel that the swim had tired me out much, especially since I don't kick: I mostly just use my arms, it was surprisingly hard to get up to speed. From the way I felt, I thought the bike ought to be going at about 22 mph, but my speedometer said more like 14 mph.

But after a couple of minutes I warmed up and was getting the 22 or so that seemed right. It's weird how you can be tired and not notice it, other than via an electronic measuring device. I was almost completely "instrumented": heart-rate, elevation, speed, time, et cetera, were all one glance away. It turns out that during the bike race the only thing I paid attention to was my speed, the total distance so far, and the total time, so far. I've got a power meter, but it's a PowerTap and lives on a training wheel hub rather than on my racing wheel. I trained a lot with power, and that would have been nice to know, I think.

For about 2 months before IM Canada I had ridden on nothing other than my tri-bike to get thoroughly used to it, and on race day the only thing that I changed about the setup was to put on race wheels rather than my training wheels. I've got Zipp 404 wheels that I like a lot, but they're pretty expensive, and I'd hate to crash them in training. They're a little heavier, I think, than the training wheels, but they're a lot more aerodynamic, and that more than makes up for the weight. They have exactly the same gearing, too: 12-25 in the back. Except in a big crosswind they're no harder to handle than the trainers. I am looking forward to getting back on my road bike when my legs get a little less sore: the tri-bike is built for speed; not necessarily for control or comfort.

Since, in my estimation and in the estimation of many others, the race doesn't really begin until late in the bike leg or even late in the run, you have to be careful. You're in perhaps the best condition of your life when you get on the bike, just a little winded from the swim, and your body feels like you should be riding the bike as if you had just stolen it. But with 112 miles of riding and 26.2 of running ahead, most experienced ironpeople would consider that to be a really bad idea.

I read a nice description of ultra running (foot races longer than a marathon) in a book called "Born to Run": ultra running is basically an eating and drinking contest, with a little exercise thrown in. That's what I wanted to do on the bike leg. In my previous experience with the ironman-distance aqua-bike that I raced the previous year, my bike leg for 112 miles was about 6:04. I rode (without the swimming warmup) roughly the 112-mile bicycle course for the Vineman race about six weeks before IM Canada in 5:55 but with no run afterwards, so my plan for Canada was to aim for about a 6:15, since I figured I'd be in much better shape than for either of the previous rides, and that would hopefully leave me in condition to race a non-catastrophic marathon.

"[It's] an eating and drinking contest with a little exercise tossed in."

You can actually digest food on the bike, and on the run, not so much, so I planned to follow the "Born to Run" advice. During the entire ride, I rode my own race, and let anyone pass me who wanted to. I tried never to sprint, and at almost all times, I tried to keep the gearing a couple of notches lower than what I would have used if I'd just been out for the bicycle ride. There are no steep climbs in IM Canada, but I did find myself in my 39-25 (the lowest possible gear on my bike) from time to time, so I was following my advice.

In addition to eating all the gels, bananas, et cetera that I could on the course, I drank almost all the highly-concentrated Perpetuem from both bottles, and drank about 20 bottles of water in addition. When I got to the special-needs area at about mile 80, I rummaged through my bag, decided against the peanut-butter sandwich, but crammed down about half of the Pringles and exchanged my empty bottle for the still-cold bottle of Perpetuem.

My bike is rigged with an aero bottle mounted in front of my face with a straw, a bottle on the down tube, and two slots for bottles behind my butt. The aero bottle always contained pure water, and the down-tube bottle the concentrated Perpeteum. I tried to pick up two 24-ounce bottles of water at each aid station, to empty one into the aero bottle, drop the empty right away, and to cram the other full bottle into a slot behind my seat. Then, if everything worked according to plan, I'd empty the aero bottle with sips by about the half-way point to the next aid station and would refill it with the other bottle stored behind my seat. When I got to the next aid station, I'd jettison the empty bottle and pick up two new ones.

"Creative thinking will not be your strong suit when you have ironman brain."

I only picked up water until the last aid station, where the devil made me take one of my bottles as Gatorade instead, and I still don't know why I changed plans. I took a couple of sips, and basically carried the nearly-full bottle of Gatorade to T2, the bike-to-run transition. I think the lesson is that unless there's a really good reason to do so, you should stick with your plan. Before the race, your brain is working at 100%; by the time you're 80 miles into the bike, you've got ironman brain, and it should not be counted on to come up with the most logical answers.

As everywhere else, the volunteers at special needs were great. It was just before a turn around on a short out and back, and on the way out, you yelled your number. Thirty seconds later, after you'd turned around, a volunteer would have your bag for you. I was going to take it, go up the road a hundred feet or so, and rummage through it, but my volunteer insisted on holding it open for me while I swapped bottles, gorged on Pringles, and crammed a few gels into the Bento-Box just behind my stem. I probably spent less than 30 seconds doing it and I was off. She then discarded the mess and got ready to serve the next rider.

I realize I'm a bit out of order here, but I kept a real lid on the speed for the first 40 miles (where so many people screw up by going way too fast), and then enjoyed the easy climb up Richter pass. Well, it was easy at my speed. There's a fabulous descent on the other side, followed by about seven rollers. I don't even know how long they were, but they seemed a lot easier on the bike than I thought they'd be when I looked at them from the car a few days earlier.

After the rollers and more basically flat riding came the out and back where I picked up the special-needs bag and finally returned to the main road at about 80 or 85 miles. Shortly after that was the climb to Yellow Lake, which is the last climb of the entire race. Both it (and Richter Pass) represent about 1000 feet of climbing, but you don't go all the way down to where you started on the other side of Richter, so there's about 1500 feet of descent between the top of Yellow Lake and the T2 transition.

As opposed to the rollers, when I drove up to Yellow Lake, I could hardly tell that I was climbing, and when I got on the bike, I could have sworn, at points, that I was going downhill, but I was pushing hard on the pedals, and going 13 mph. There's some sort of demon-inspired optical illusion going on there and folks I passed or who passed me at that point had the exact same impression.

The last part, at least, is obviously a climb, and it was really nice. It made me feel some of what the Tour de France riders must feel like when they're going up l'Alpe d'Huez: cheering spectators crammed in on both sides. We got that for a few hundred meters and the TdF guys, of course, got it for kilometers. But even a couple of hundred meters gives you a real rush.

I did have one problem that I'd had before: During the climb up to Yellow Lake the bottoms of my feet felt like they were on fire. I've had this happen a couple of times before on long rides, and it started when I switched from Look Keo pedals to the Speedplay pedals I now use. I've asked around and looked on the internet and a few people have reported the same problem. It may also be related to the shoe/cleat combination, and I was using Shimano shoes during the race. I've recently switched my road bike to Speedplay pedals, too, as well as my Sidi road bike shoes, so it'll be interesting to see if I get the hotfoot with that combination. The heat wasn't debilitating, but it was annoying.

So it's not just the volunteers who are wonderful, but it's the spectators, too. There were a lot of folks similarly cheering on Richter Pass, and both it and Yellow Lake are way out in the boondocks.

Tom high-fiveing Stan Near Yellow Lake Debbie, Suzi and Tammy were there, cheering for all the SVTCers. They had with them "Stan" a blow-up doll wearing the SVTC kit. We all tried to high-five Stan on the way by. In the image on the right, I'm starting to raise my hand for a Stan high-five. Thanks to Tammy for this photo.

Other than a few short, gentle uphill pitches, it's all downhill to T2, and that was nice. I rode mostly at very high speed, "soft pedaling" my feet around with almost no pressure, and helping to relax my legs to get ready for the run. The final trip into town was back along Main Street, which was also packed with cheering fans.

The only dangerous part of the bike course was in the aid stations. You don't want to stop, so you grab bottles, food, et cetera, on the move. Some people drop bottles or food, so you have to watch the ground, too. Also, other riders, going slowly, can be a bit erratic, and I was dodging one of those erratic riders when I hit a traffic-control cone and nearly fell over. Luckily it was a very light-weight plastic one. In general though, and this is pretty obvious, the ironman riders are pretty good relative to the ones in the shorter races, since they've had to put in thousands of miles of training on the bike to get ready. We're generally not as good as pure "roadies", but I felt a heck of a lot safer on the roads than I do in the shorter triathlons I've done.

Actually, there's one other dangerous part of the bike course and that's the first couple of kilometers. All kinds of badly-packed junk was falling off of bikes: bottles, bottle cages, bags of food, bags of salt capsules, energy gel packets, et cetera. But you're not trying to do anything but ride, so in general they're easy to dodge. I did discover, however, that when you ride over a full, sealed gel packet, it makes a very satisfying "pop".

I did pretty much what I wanted to, though: I finished the bike in 6:18:21, and my target had been 6:15:00. There was some more good news, too: I was apparently keeping up with hydration, at least, since I had to pee once on the bike course and immediately after I changed to my running gear in T2. In retrospect, maybe I should have been going even slower, since I did that 6:18 with a lot more headwinds than I'd been planning. The ride, in fact was not a "4H" ride: heat, humidity, hills and headwinds, but a "3H", including all but the humidity.

In an official Ironman race, in addition to the strippers at the swim-bike transition, there are "catchers" at the bike-run transition. You don't need to re-rack your bike; you just hand it to a volunteer and run into transition. The pros actually "throw" their bikes: they give them a solid push toward the bike racks and volunteers catch them and put them away, hence the name, catchers. Erica, the SVTCer, had volunteered to catch bikes, and that's a long job, since by the end of the bike ride people are a heck of a lot more spread out than after the swim. She didn't actually catch the bikes, but took them from the catchers and re-racked them. The idea was so that the catchers could never get behind. If there wasn't an Erica-like person to hand it to, they'd put it in a temporary rack and return to catch the next one. Erica said it worked pretty well, but it was a long day for her, and she said she was pretty sore at the end.

At her volunteer meeting, she was told that they'd be issued gloves to handle the bikes. She thought that meant work gloves to protect the hands, but in fact they were latex gloves, since the incoming bikes were sometimes covered with urine, blood, feces or vomit. They never show that part of it on "Wide World of Sports", do they?

I spent about 8 minutes (8:23, to be exact) in transition, mostly because I needed to pee. I decided it was hot enough and cramps likely enough that it would be a good idea to put on compression socks. I also greased up my feet with Body Glide, changed socks and had volunteers slop on a bunch of sunscreen. I made the mistake of getting some on my forehead as well, which was stupid, since the hat covers my forehead, and then for the first ten miles of the run or so, sweat kept dripping sunscreen into my eyes.

Erica also waved to me during the bike-run transition.

The Run

It was a hot day: not as hot as it could have been, but hot enough, and in addition, the air quality was pretty bad, due to a bunch of nearby wildfires.

My plan for the run was pretty simple. There are aid stations every mile, and I planned to run between them and walk through each station, getting exactly what I needed: plenty of water, pretzels for salt, and so on. I also had 10 electrolyte capsules to eat during the run. I had my caffeine jolt ready in special needs at mile 13, and there was more available on the course, both in gels and as Pepsi. Every aid station had water, Gatorade, Pepsi, gels, fruit, hot chicken broth, and ice. I made use of all of it except the Gatorade.

I was aiming for a 4:45 marathon time, and was on-target until about mile 10, when the first hill arrived. I walked the hill, and then had a hard time getting going again. From then on, I alternated running and walking, basically walking all the hills (including the downhills, since my quads were starting to kill me) and to walk past the end of the aid stations until I felt better and then trying to run to the next station. It was really nice to have them about a mile apart: I could basically just think of the race as a series of short runs, "just to the next station".

As planned, I started taking on caffeine at mile 13, and drank a lot of Pepsi after that as well, but it didn't seem to perk me up much. I didn't feel bad about it, though: there were huge numbers of people walking, probably due to the heat and smoke.

The low point for me in most pure marathons is at about mile 18: you've been running "forever" and you still have 8 miles to go. This ironman marathon was no different. I walked almost the full mile from 18 to 19, but after that I began to get in a good amount of at least "jogging" during each successive mile.

During the run I was passed by Alan and JF, and since it's an out-and-back course, I did see a lot of other SVTCers going the other way.

Beginning at about mile 10, when the wheels began to fall off, I started doing the mental calculations about whether I could just walk the whole stupid rest of the way and finish before the 12:00 midnight cutoff (for a total race time of 17 hours or less). It was clear that I'd make it, so that was a big load off my mind. Finishing was my goal. I was pretty sure I'd not make my 13-hour goal, but knowing I was going to finish was a relief, and therefore any jogging/running I did was just icing on the cake.

Tom at mile 11 Tom at mile 15 The SVTC cheering squad, Debbie, Suzi and Tammy, were at about mile 11 or so (and since it's an out and back, at mile 15 or so) of the Marathon course, again with Stan. This time Stan got a lot of hugs from me and my teammates, both on the out and back.

On the right is a photo taken by Tammy of me going out at about mile 11. On the left is another of Tammy's photos of me, heading back at about mile 15, giving Stan a final hug with Suzi in the background.

The course has a fiendish end: you run back down Main Street, at the end of which, to the right, is the finish line, 30 meters away, but you turn left, run a half mile or so to a final turn around, and then back to the finish. Of course both Main Street and that final out and back are packed with spectators.

At about mile 20 I met a guy who was pretty well matched with me for speed and we run-walked most of the way in together. I think that helped both of us to run a bit more than we would have under our own power. In fact, I think that together we ran 75% to 80% of the rest of the race. I decided that I'd walk the last little bit of Main Street to get up the energy to put on a non-pathetic run on the final, crowd-crammed out and back, so that's what I did. I saw my wife Ellyn on the outward part of the out and back, but somehow missed her on the way back. But at least she saw me finish, even though I didn't see her. She also saw my swim finish, and to tell the truth, I was completely oblivious to everything other than getting to my bike at at that point.

Tom at finish On the left is a photo Ellyn took of me at the heading out before the final turn around to the finish.

My marathon time was a pretty pitiful 5:44:55, and I'd been aiming for a 4:45, so I was an hour slower than planned. In fact, looking at 5:44 and 4:45, you might think that maybe I'm just dyslexic: I just had two digits reversed.

My final time was 13:20:40, which was 20 minutes slower than my goal. I was first out of the water, had the 11th fastest bike ride and the 15th fastest run in my age group. I finished 11th out of 52 in the age group.

My Final Mistake

Tom Finish At the finish line I made my final mistake: one that I will never make again. I hit the ribbon with a big smile, with my hands up over my head, and two seconds later, I dropped the whole charade, had my head down, arms at my side, and looked the way I felt. That was the image that the race photographer caught! Now I realize why, when I watch race finishes on TV, that the winner always holds the smile, the tape, and the arms up for four or five seconds.

On the right is the official photo of me two seconds after my brilliant, smiling, hands in victory mode finish.

Post Race

What's amazing is how huge a part psychology plays in a race like this. As my friend Jane said, "It's 90% mental, and 10% mental." Ten seconds after crossing the finish line, I was a basket case. But if that finish had been 100 meters or 1000 meters farther along, I would have gotten there just fine, and collapsed just after that.

This is a well-known phenomenon, of course, and again, it's the wonderful volunteers to the rescue. One of the last jobs is the "catchers": the folks who catch the athletes at the end of the race. I'm sorry that I was so out of it that I don't even remember the names of mine, but they were wonderful. I put my arms over their shoulders and they slowly walked me to get my finisher's medal and bag, to get my timing chip removed, and then whatever else I wanted. I thought at first that a massage might be nice, so they walked me to the massage tent and helped me sit down in line, where there was about a 10-minute wait.

I think because of all the electrolytes and water I took in (19 capsules, lots of pretzels, electrolyte-enhanced gels and chicken broth) I did not have any serious cramps during the run, but as I sat there waiting for my massage, the muscles started to warn me that they were about to cramp. I was also really tired and wanted to close my eyes, and a nurse asked me if I thought the medical tent might be better. I decided it was, since I was really worried about getting massive cramps on the massage table, and those, for me, can be completely debilitating.

I got walked to the medical tent and sat down where a doc did a quick exam. The results surprised me a little. He said my eyes were dilated, but that might simply have been since I'd just removed the dark glasses, and night had already fallen outside. My blood pressure was something like 90 over 60, which is pretty good, considering what I'd just done, but the surprising thing was my pulse: 57. When I do hard exercise, I may get my heart rate up to 160 or so, and the minute I stop, it rapidly drops to about 90 or 100, but then it very slowly, over a period of an hour or two, gets down to normal, which for me is about 55. This was way too soon for a normal heart rate for me.

Anyway, since I seemed just to be tired (and on the verge of cramping) I just sat in the medical tent for 20 minutes or so, gently massaging my legs and keeping plenty warm with one of those mylar reflecting blankets. I got to see some stuff, however, that made me pretty thankful to see how little trouble I was in, relatively. One volunteer went out and collected my transition bags plus the dry-clothes bag and brought them to me so I wouldn't have to risk cramps trying to bend over and pick them up. Then, when I felt ok, a volunteer helped me up and walked out with me to make sure everything was ok.

I had no idea where to find Ellyn, since the plan had been that she'd keep an eye on me inside the finish area and meet me where I came out, but once I went into the tents, she lost me. There's a meeting booth where you can try to hook up with your friends, but as we were heading there I saw Alan and his father John, and they knew exactly where Ellyn was.

Alan volunteered to get my bike from the rack, and take it back to the bike transport area so I never had to deal with it again. While he was doing that, Ellyn and I started the very slow shuffle back to our hotel, which was near the far end of the final out and back. I took a hot bath (which has been very helpful in the past at combatting cramps) and after that I felt, relatively, pretty good. Alan wanted to go back to the finish and cheer in the final athletes, but since it was on TV, Ellyn and I just watched a bit of it on the tube.

There's a 79-year-old nun, Sister Madonna Buder, who has raced Ironman Canada for years, and holds lots of course records for her age group. Last year she failed to make the midnight cutoff, so everyone was hoping she'd come in on time this year. This year she finished in 16:54:30, with five and a half minutes to spare, and the crowd went wild. She's now got the record for the oldest woman ever to finish any ironman.

Tom Alan and John Tom Alan and John On the left is a photo of Alan (on the left), then me, then John (Alan's father) after the race. Alan and I are wearing the finisher's T-shirts. On the right is a photo of a bunch of us at the awards banquet. From left to right, we have: Erica, JF, Alan, Tom, Norm (in front) and Craig.

The Wife's Perspective

I have known Tom for over 30 years, long enough to know he has various obsessive phases- getting a PhD, being involved in a start-up company, buying lead type printing presses, running marathons, Burning Man, beekeeping, etc. He had done triathlons in the distant past, but recently took up training again and decided to do an Ironman.

This turned out to be a major event for both of us, and I am very happy to say that the event was successful. Here are some random thoughts from me:

The decision to do the Canada Ironman was a wise one for many reasons. First, there were many wonderful people from the Silicon Valley Triathlon Club who were able to help us, advise us, support us, and without them, I think the event would have been way less fun, and possibly not as successful. Second, the location is absolutely beautiful. Lake Okanagan is fantastic- thanks to Alan, we had a motel room right on the lake, which also happened to be at the turn-around on the running course. The lake is crystal clear and by my estimate, was relatively warm, in the low 70s. It was shallow for a long way out, and made for a good swimming opportunity for family members. During the 6 days we were there, I swam four days- two with my wetsuit for practice, and two in just a bathing suit. I am fairly cold-averse, and it was wonderfully comfortable. Once you were about 25 yards out, there was some plant life and some large fish to see under water. The lake was surrounded by the Canadian Rockies- wonderful scenery.

It was also a great place for a first Ironman. For the spectator, there were plenty of chances to see the racers. Fortunately, I accompanied Alan's 81-year-old father, John, throughout most of the day. This was his third Ironman Canada watching Alan, so he knew all the right places to stand at various times of day to get the best views and pictures of the participants. That helped to make the actual race fun for me.

With our motel right on the race course, I could go back to our room while Tom was out for 6+ hours on the bike course, etc. The local TV channel had complete coverage of the race including all the finishers, and while I was there, I saw the leaders all finish, as well as several of the hot SVTCers who finished early on.

The location of the event (Penticton, British Columbia) couldn't have been better. Nice to have a race in the same time zone (Tom doesn't do well with time changes), and it was a prominent fruit-growing area, with peaches and cherries in season. On Saturday, the day before race day, there was a Farmer's Market in town, and there was a wonderful selection of produce and crafts for sale. I sent Tom back to the motel to rest, and continued to comb the streets until noon myself.

The restaurants and bars were all very friendly and well-stocked, and clearly enjoyed all the business at the end of the tourist season. It was unusual for us to go into a restaurant and ask for separate checks for eight people, and have the server not bat an eye. One evening, I was not charged for the wine I had ordered, and the waitress explained that she had inadvertently brought me the wrong one, so she didn't charge me. All the race participants got special notes from the mayor to place on the car dashboard to indicate they were not to get parking tickets during the week. I can't imagine a US city being so accommodating!

The race itself was incredibly well organized, except for a few minor details. At the end of the race/run, they monitored the participants closely for worrisome signs, made sure they were hydrated and fed and thinking clearly, able to walk, etc. Then they were sent out to pick up their bicycles and race bags. Unfortunately, there was one small gate through which they were to enter the bike area as well as leave, and there were race officials checking the IDs of the entrants and those exiting with bags and bikes.

I decided to stand there to wait for Tom. At one point, one of the participants passed out at the gate. Calls rang out for "Medic!", etc. and fortunately the guy came to very quickly. He was clearly dehydrated and exhausted, but they eventually loaded him into a wheelchair and carted him off. Of course, this halted all ingress and egress traffic from the area, but most were understanding. I had to decide whether I would respond to the call, but when I saw him coming around quickly, I decided to watch and wait.

Tom and I had not set up an official meeting place at the end of the race. Alan and his dad had. John (Alan's dad) and I were aware that both Alan and Tom had finished, but we couldn't find either of them at the end. We waited and waited and waited amongst the crowds, and John finally went to the massage tent and ultimately the medical tent, and was able to receive no information about who was in there and if his son was there.

Finally, Alan emerged and was fine, and we had word that Tom was in the massage tent and OK.

When Tom came out, it was quite awhile after he had finished. He was trembling and felt as if he was about to cramp, but fortunately he didn't. I was a bit nervous about how we were going to walk the half mile back to our motel. Alan kindly dealt with Tom's bike, and we managed to walk back slowly, having to announce to him each curb where he would have to step up or down, and have him find a pole or something to hang on to. Tom had no idea which direction to go, though seemed otherwise cognitively relatively intact. When we got back to the motel, he plopped into a chair, and we were joined by JF, Alan, his dad, Erica (who had done an incredible job as a volunteer helping SVTC folks, racking bikes and nursing a fellow racer injured in a bike crash), and I sat outside noshing until midnight, when we watched Sister Madonna cross the finish line on TV.

I would like to understand more what is going on physiologically with these athletes at various points in the race. There is a general consensus that people need to hydrate and eat salt tablets throughout the race to replace losses. Clearly, with hydration, you can tell if you've had enough or too much by the need to pee. However, the salt issue is a little trickier to judge. We've assumed that low sodium was the reason for some of the serious cramping late in the race or after the race which Tom has experienced in the past. It would be very interesting to do some actual measurements sometime rather than all this guess work. The companies which made these electrolyte supplements are making a fortune.

Along those lines, the gear people had and investment in equipment is enormous. The people who are into this tend to be gear-heads anyway, so part of the sport is clearly the techno-aspect. Nearly everybody had a tri-bike, and there is equipment required for each of the three sports, all with the latest bells, whistles and technology. Not only is this a sport which requires a huge time investment, but a cash outlay (from fancy bikes, outfits, wetsuits, trainers, GPS/timing watches/heart-rate monitors, coaches, practice events, salt dispensers, special running packs, etc. etc. etc.)

However, a positive aspect was that the athletes I met at this event seemed much less "puffed up" about themselves. At other events where I've accompanied Tom, we have met people who can only talk about other events they've done and how wonderful they are, and are not at all helpful to newcomers, and only want to show that theirs is bigger than yours. This was certainly not the case at Ironman Canada with our experience. Perhaps the level of athlete required to get there is so much higher, that finally nobody cares about such things. It was a joy to be around such positive people. Very inspiring.

(well, to a limit- I haven't signed up for a triathlon yet...)

Tom's Random Observations

Maybe it's just me, and I'm sure there are lots and lots of people who disagree, but I'm not nearly as impressed with the professional triathletes as I am with the amateurs. The pros get paid while the amateurs do it purely for the love of the sport, and have to cram in their training with everything else they do in their lives. It is fun to watch people who are really fast, but if you're racing yourself, you only see a few of them for a few seconds, at best, going the other way, if you're lucky enough to be on an out-and-back course.

At the awards ceremony, at least all the amateur winners got up on stage for a quick handshake and photo, but the pros got the red-carpet treatment. I guess this time Sister Madonna did pretty well in the adulation department, and I was really happy to see that.

Heck, they don't even start with the rest of us: no chaotic swim for them, and no crowding on the bike.

I've seen questionnaires wondering how important it is to me when I choose a race to know that there will be high-powered pros in it, and my response is "not at all".

I did not like the system provided for signing up for Ironman Canada 2010. In the past you could sign up, but then you'd have a couple of weeks to make up your mind and commit with an actual check for the entry fee. This year, you had to commit to doing it the following year before even doing the race. For someone like me, who had never raced an ironman before and had no idea how really unpleasant it might be, there was no way I'd commit the $550 at that point.

Thank You!!!!

I'm sure I'll leave somebody out, but an amazing number of people made my ironman experience as good as it was. There are way too many people in SVTC to mention, for example, since I did some riding, running and swimming with so many of them.

Most important is Alan, who talked me into doing the race in the first place, but also provided all sorts of advice, secured the motel rooms, was a great training partner both on the bike and on the road, and who was a great buddy in Penticton, before, during, and after the race.

The person who put up with the most, my wife Ellyn, was willing to come to the race and help scrape up the pieces at the end of it. She also put up with hundreds and hundreds of hours of training, and with a partner who sometimes couldn't stay awake past 8:00 o'clock.

My coach Lisa got me ready for it (training schedules, phone conversations, mental preparation, race mantras and hard-core training), and thanks to her, I never had any real question about whether I'd finish.

It was great not only to have Erica at the race as a volunteer, but to hang out with the gang before and after. I also did a fair amount of riding with her, but not much running, since I can't keep up.

My main running partner, Kristen, did almost all the long runs with me, both in Ranch San Antonio, and around the reservoir in Los Gatos.

I did a heck of a lot of my shorter training rides with our early-morning group which we call "Safety Third": Debra, Chris, Connie, Tammy, Denise, Laura, Rob, and sometimes David and Siamak. We also did a fair number of long rides together on weekends. In addition, Connie was the gal who got me started on triathlon, and Chris had tons of ironman advice, and did a lot of long runs with me, too.

Thanks to Amy, my Pilates teacher, and to the SVTC swimming and track coaches: Laura and Sherry, respectively.

Thanks to Katherine, with whom I did a number of long, hilly rides.

It was great to spend so much time with all the SVTC folks in Penticton. Other than those mentioned above, I include JF, Craig, Norm, Dale, Tana, Tammy, Suzi, and Debbie. There were other SVTC folks with whom I trained a lot but who weren't in Penticton, since they had done other ironmans already. The main ones are Warren, George and Bob.

I also need to thank Jane, a gal I met on an internet social site in a triathlon discussion group who talked me into doing the long-course aqua-bike last year that made it clear that I might be able to handle the real thing. I actually met her at the aqua-bike race, although at that point she was completing her first full ironman, so didn't get to stop when I did.

Thanks to Derek for producing the race guide.

Finally, thanks to Randy, Eric and Nick: three ironmen with whom I spent a wonderful weekend up near Healdsburg helping them to preview their Vineman long-course triathlon. They've told me there's a secret Ironman handshake and password, so they'd better show them to me now.

Random Official Photos of Me

These photos were taken of me by the official race photographers:




Note to my Coach

Here's the message I sent to my coach with some of the gory details a couple of days after I wrote the document above:

Hi Lisa,

I hope you are having/had a great time at Burning Man. It's now Saturday afternoon, and I'm sorry that I won't be there for the burn tonight. I imagine that you're starting to get revved up for it as I type this.

Earlier, I sent you (and lots of others) a web pointer to my complete race report which is pretty long but just the thing for friends who have not done an ironman.

I finished (and actually there was no point during the race where I wasn't convinced that I would) but I sure fell apart in the run. I was hoping for about a 4:45, but I walked a lot of it and managed a dyslexic 5:44 :^)

Everything else went almost exactly according to plan:

First out of the water, at 1:03 (my target was 1:00).

Good first transition: about 5 minutes.

I held back for the whole bike course, never pushed hard, ate like a glutton, drank like a fish, and loaded myself with salt tablets up until about mile 90. I was aiming for 6:15 and got a 6:18. I was sure I was keeping up on water since I had to pee on the ride, and again in T2.

With the pee, putting on compression socks and carefully greasing my feet, T2 took about 8 minutes.

I did the "run between aid stations, walk the stations" strategy for 10 miles and was on-track for a 4:45 or maybe 4:50, but then the wheels fell off, and I felt I had to walk the big hill at about mile 10. I found it harder and harder to get running after walking the aid stations from then on up to my low point at about mile 18, where I think I walked from 18 to 19. At that point I perked up a little, and did more and more running until the end, where I ran the entire final mile.

I starting taking on caffeine at mile 13, according to plan, and it didn't seem to help, but didn't seem to hurt, either.

The good news is that there was no cramping and it was pretty hot, so maybe electrolytes and fluids are the answer. I had a HUGE salt load: salted HB eggs plus a salt capsule for breakfast, 21 capsules of 240 mg Na during the bike and run, a half-can of Pringles at special needs on the bike, lots and lots of pretzels, and perhaps 6 cups of chicken broth on the run. We had dinner with an ER doc last night and it blew her mind to hear how much salt I took on during the day. I didn't ever feel like I was overdoing it, and I'll bet I sweated out most of it, since there was no edema in my feet the next day and friends who loaded on a lot of salt like I did couldn't even see the blood vessels in their feet the next day.

On the bike I drank about 20 24-ounce bottles of water, and of course had water at every run aid station, so there was plenty of water to wash out all that salt. At the Vineman aqua-bike last year I "only" had 13 bottles of liquid, and was clearly dehydrated and cramping at the end, with similar race temperatures, but a higher speed (about 6:04 instead of 6:18).

I'm not sure I could have done better on the run: although when I walked past the ends of the aid stations and finally talked myself into starting to run, I could always do it, and I always could start the instant I finally decided to. On the other hand, when I did finish the race, within seconds my legs were starting to get those pre-massive-cramp feelings, and in fact they started in the medical tent at the end. If I'd gotten the massive cramps at, say, mile 20 my total time would have been far worse. I did run the whole last mile, and that could easily have been the thing that pushed my legs to the verge of cramping.

My final time was 13:20, and I was aiming for 13, so it's not a catastrophe, and even with the missed time, I was sure happy and pleased with myself to finish!

About the only thing I thought about on the bike was the mantras about "finishing the bike fully fueled and ready for the run", and "applying my fitness evenly over the entire course of the race". I sort of invented another mantra on the bike as people passed me, and I absolutely wanted to ride at my own pace: "Keep a lid on it!"

Some really good news: almost never during the race did I feel tense. The only times I noticed tension was during some of the high-speed bike descents, and I didn't need a mantra; I just said, "Relax!" and that worked fine. I never felt tense during the run; just completely exhausted. I tried a couple of the mantras during the run, like, "I draw strength from the energy around me," but it was like I didn't really believe it, so it didn't seem to help. Maybe, in spite of the disbelief, I should have tried tapping it in, hoping to fool myself into believing it?

I felt like total crap all evening after the race, but couldn't go to sleep until after midnight. The next morning, however, all systems seemed to be "go" and we ate like pigs and went wine-tasting during the day to get ready for the awards banquet in the evening. When I hit the finish line, I told myself, "Never again!", but by the flight home Tuesday, I was already telling myself "That wasn't so bad!"

There is no way I could stay off the bike for the whole week as you prescribed. (I have, however, had NO problems staying out of the pool, away from Pilates and away from any running :^) I rode the loop slowly on Thursday and enjoyed the ride a lot. Today I rode the loop and a little more with two other IM Canada guys and felt pretty good after 40 flat miles that were not fast, but certainly not slow, either (i.e. nobody passed us).

I haven't signed up for anything (other than the Santa Cruz triathlon in a couple of weeks), and I certainly do want to try out a bit of running before I do it, but psychologically, I'm already up enough that the CIM marathon in December sounds good. Maybe the post-IM depression will set in soon, but now I feel fine.

I'm also seriously thinking about signing up for IM-Regensburg (Germany) next year. It's a new event for that venue, but it looks good. It's on August 1, so I wouldn't miss Burning Man, it's got a hilly bike ride and a dead-flat run. Also, I think I can talk at least one other SVTCer into doing it.

Let me know when you get back; I'd love to talk to you!

-- Tom