Arriving in Whistler on Friday was a different experience to any I had before. Looking left and right as I drove down the Sea to Sky Highway I would see athletes zipping around on their bikes and running in preparation for their races. From the outside it seemed as if the entire population of Whistler had been replaced by athletes and their families.
After arriving in town, I checked-in for the race and picked up my bike from the transport service. I quickly changed into my cycling kit and went out for an easy hour spin in order to check out the bike course I would be riding on Sunday. To no one’s surprise within the hour I had already covered over 800 feet of climbing.
Saturday morning, I woke up early to head out for a quick swim in Alta lake (where I would be racing). By the time I had arrived to the lake at 7:20 am, it was already bustling with athletes, coaches, and teams getting a final swim in before the big day. The short 15-minute swim went well and the water temperature could not have been any more comfortable. Getting back to the hotel from the lake I changed into some running gear and finished off all my pre-race warmups with a 15-minute jog in the 92-degree heat. A quick athletes briefing was next on the agenda along with bag drop-off and afterwards I spent the rest of the day lounging around in the hotel resting up and waiting from my friend Russell to arrive.
Going into the race I knew two important facts.
- The bike course was going to be extremely hilly with over 4000 feet of elevation gain.
- The temperature throughout the day was going to quickly rise to around 94 degrees Fahrenheit
Taking these factors into account, I knew the day was going to be all about having a smart racing strategy and playing towards my strengths. This meant that I would focus a lot of my energy towards swimming and running with a controlled and steady bike. I didn’t necessarily have a goal time in mind for the race, but anything under 6.5 hours seemed like it would be a win considering the conditions. In terms of nutrition on the bike, the plan was to eat 2 cliff bloks every 30 minutes (32g carbohydrate/hour) with about 16oz of water/electrolytes every hour. For the run I would consume a cliff blok at each aid station with some water and drink some Gatorade every so often (very specific, I know!).
The morning alarm sounded at 4:00 am sharp on Sunday morning for a breakfast of peanut butter, banana, bread and blueberries. After sorting out any last-minute race needs, Russell and I caught a 5:30 shuttle to transition area 1 where the race start was located. Although it seemed I had plenty of time to prepare for the 7:20 am start, after waiting in line for 25 minutes to pump my bike tires (for future reference, bring your own pump!) I was short on time to change into my tri-suit, go for a 5-minute warmup jog, put my wetsuit on, and make it for the 7:00 am warmup swim! However, with some speed I managed to get everything done and be ready to stand in the start corral at 7:15 am in preparation for the start.
As we waited in the starting area for the swim, we self-seeded based on expected swim times. I went just a little bit in front of the 40-minute swimmers with my expected time of around 38-minutes give or take some. At 7:20 am the athletes slowly started moving forward and by 7:27 I was standing right in front of the start mat. “Here we go!” I thought and with a final breath I ran down the rocky beach into the water with a dive. After a few dolphin dives it was finally deep enough to settle into my stroke pattern. The first half of the swim went extremely smooth as I pulled my way into the inside lane near the buoys. Near the halfway point, things quickly began to change. The swimmers began to pull tighter together and I was starting to run into people legs and was constantly getting cut-off by the people to the front and sides of me. Despite the challenges I managed to swim around (or jump over) the other athletes. This continued until the ending chute into the blue arches. There was one moment near the end where I was making a lot of contact with another swimmer and he decided it would be a good idea to stop, shove, and yell at me. I shrugged this off, and continued swimming until I could feel my hands brushing against the sand at the bottom of the lake. A few dolphin dives later and I was running up the beach into the changing tent to prepare for the bike with a swim time of 36:46.
Nailing the swim put me into an extremely positive mood as I changed into my socks, bike shoes, helmet and sunglasses. Before I knew it, I was running my bike out of transition and leaving rainbow park for the start of some long biking. Still booming with energy, I attempted to take it easier than I felt I needed in order to save my strength for the long climbs ahead. The bike section of the race was difficult with 4300 feet of total elevation gain, however, I managed to stay steady and follow the plan of eating every 30. The only minor dent in the plan occurred about halfway through the bike when I realized I had lost one of the packs of cliff bloks. This would mean after 2.5 hours I would run out of food. However, the perk of using the same nutrition as is provided on the course is that I was able to pick up a replacement pack at the next aid station. Throughout the entire bike section, I think I may have only passed one to three people while being passed by hundreds of other athletes. Despite this being somewhat demoralizing, I knew I had to stay strong and follow the plan. Soon I would get to the run where I would able to put in some real work. After 3:25:47 I was into transition area 2 to prepare for the last section of the event.
By the time I hit the run it was already over 90 degrees Fahrenheit outside and it was only going to warm up. Running out of T2 I did not bother looking at any distance or pace. Instead my watch was turned to my heart rate that I attempted to keep below 180 beats per minute (going any lower would have meant walking in this heat due to my lack of zone 2 training). If my heart rose over the cap I would slow down a bit, and if everything was looking ok I would maintain the comfortable pace I was running at. As I ran I began to comfortably pass other athletes who were barely running or walking. This gave me a little boost of confidence with each pass as I knew they had all gone out too hard on the bike section of the race. Each time I hit an aid station all of my focus turned to attempting to cool down my core body temperature. This meant water going over my head, throwing ice into my shirt and pouring water down my back. Unfortunately, with so much focus turning to my temperature I neglected drinking Gatorade and only had been eating a cliff blok and drinking water to flush it down. All was well, and I did not take a single glance at my distance or pace until about 8.5 miles into the run when I began to really ride the struggle bus. The heat was taking its toll, and my lack of electrolyte consumption near the beginning of the run meant that I was fairly salt depleted. This problem revealed itself as I began to experience spasms in my upper calves and lower hamstrings. At first these spasms were few and far between, but by 11.5 miles it was happening more and more often. My run slowed down quite a bit in the last 2 miles of the race, but I was proud to have only walked for a total of 2-3 minutes when I needed to get up the hills that were producing too much muscle pain. One hour and 57 minutes later I ran my way down the red carpet and was officially a half ironman with a completion time of 6:07:23!
My family quickly found me near the finish line looking pretty beat up after leaving everything had out on the course. Looking extremely depleted and unable to get any finishers food down, I was shown into the medical tent to put my legs up and rehydrate. Within seconds of putting my feet up on a cardboard box, I felt shooting pain through my entire left leg as my calf muscle cramped up. Shouting out in pain a volunteer quickly rushed to my side to help me stretch the muscle in an attempt to loosen it and get rid of the pain. After a few minutes of massage, I felt substantially better and continued to lie there for about twenty minutes drinking Gatorade in an attempt to replenish some of the salts I had lost. I am so grateful to the medical staff at the event. They were extremely kind to me (and everyone else there) and I don’t know what would have happened had they not helped me in the immediate half hour after the race. Unfortunately I forgot the red bracelet given to me to hand out to my favorite volunteer back at the hotel, but without a doubt I would have handed it to the volunteer who had helped me in the medical tent. Once my short stay in the medical tent was over I hobbled my way home for pizza, rest and time with my family and friends.
Overall, I am extremely impressed with the entire journey I have undergone in training for Ironman 70.3 Canada. Prior to signing up for this event, I had never seriously swum nor competitively rode a bike. This did not hold me back, and by the time I got to the event I was fully prepared for the challenges that faced me. Additionally, the course and weather were both extreme challenges for this event. No matter how proud I am of having completed the event, I am infinitely prouder of being able to address these challenges with a strong strategy that would ultimately see me through. Where my triathlon journey takes me after this, I’m not sure. What I do know is I will be moving onward and upward.