“Let’s go to Whistler”
I chose this race because of where it sits. British Columbia is just drop dead gorgeous and the last weekend in July is perfect racing for my training calendar. It allowed me to build through the spring and be done in time to spend August with my family before the kids return to school.
We arrived LATE on Wednesday night and started the day on Thursday by checking boxes. First registration, then shopping expo, picked up my bike from Tri Bike Transport and then called it a day. I had already driven the bike course in April, so no need for a course recon mission.
Friday was busier. First order of business was dialing in my bike. I put on the disk wheel and applied all the requited stickers. I road 15 minutes on the 99 toward Pemberton and then flipped it. 30 minutes riding at very easy pace in a light rain. It was cold, but manageable. My bike checked out and it was ready to go. I also got in 30-minute swim at the venue, which is pretty. It’s a mile or so from expo, but the logistics were pretty simple. 1600 meters in another light rain and I was satisfied that I was ready.
Saturday was all about the bags. My wife took the kids out for a stroll through the village while I methodically worked my check lists to fill all the bags – morning clothes (swim stuff), bike bag, run bag and both special needs bags that I hoped I would not even need. Bags done, I was back at expo to drop run bag and board bus with my bike for the short ride to the swim start.
Dropping the bike was easy and I was done with it in about 45 minutes including a bus ride in each direction. There was a little rain to deal with, but I was getting used to it.
“Hope is not a strategy”
You may have noticed a theme… Rain. For 10 days, the forecast was rain on race day. When I packed to leave L.A., I loaded up a ton of extra gear. After Ironman Lake Tahoe in 2013, racing after an early season, high Sierra snowstorm, I was going to be ready. Lake Tahoe was my personal worst nightmare due to cold and I vowed to never repeat it unprepared again. The drizzle on Friday and Saturday gave the impression of more of the same on Sunday.
When I got the swim start the weather appeared to be very mild. It was overcast, but dry. There were storm clouds on the horizon, but I think we all hoped for more drizzle. The conversation in the morning centered around what to wear. Many people were adding another layer or some small change to their usual race wear, but others thought they would just soldier on as planned in a tri kit or one piece race suit. There was a lot of talk about “I hope it warms up”, “I hope it doesn’t rain”. Well, let me tell you, hope is not a strategy and many people were caught tri kit alone in a rainstorm. I think that is just linear thinking. Being unwilling to adapt and change goals and tactics based on what the course conditions present on race day.
At the last minute, I added a Rapha soft shelf to my bag not sure I would even use it, but it least it would be in bike bag where I could get it versus the in my morning clothes bag where I could not. I am profoundly glad I did that.
“Let’s all start at Once. From the deep water”
The water seemed warm enough. I wore a full suit and was excited to wade into the water for my first Ironman mass start. In my previous 3 outings, it had been a rolling start where we self selected our position in a line based on our forecasted finish. This would be my first time floating in a starting position with almost 2,000 other people ready to start a 140.6 mile race.
To be honest, I liked it! Having played water polo in high school, I don’t mind the contact and after the first 800 meters, the water seemed to open up and the race stretched out. I was nowhere near the pointy end, but I was soon with swimmers of similar speed swimming my own race.
Just after the swim start, I noticed heavy rain had started to fall on the lake. It continued for the whole swim, which gave me plenty of time to daydream about the pending bike ride and what to wear. I decided then and there to bring it all – every layer in my bag.
I finished the swim in 01:12:xx. Not my best. My PR in a lake is 01:07:xx at IMCDA in 2013. But, I think that swim was a bit short and based on my Garmin, this one may have been a bit long. All things considered, I am happy with it.
“What to wear for 112 miles in the rain”
Transition 1 took about 8.5 minutes, which is about 5 minutes too long, but everyone was running slow based on the weather. It just takes time to put on all that gear when you are wet. Tahoe had the worst men’s changing tent. That one was just a hot nude mess as guys came in from the swim at the normal rate but left at a far slower rate backlogging everything.
Above a video Nancy shot of the rain in the Whistler area during the bike ride.
At Whistler, the WTC seemed to plan better and the tent was larger. It was still pretty full when I got there, but I found a chair in the back near the exit. The tent was very hot and humid and I think it fooled people into thinking it was warmer than it was out of the water.
Having had my wetsuit stripped off already, which was crazy cold, I now commenced with adding layers. I was already wearing a mesh base layer (water wicking), tri shorts, tri-top and arm warmers. I wore the arm warmers under the wet suit because I knew they would be impossible to put on over wet arms. To that, I added a cycling jersey, a wind vest, a Rapha soft shell and I stared at a light wind breaker jacket. I decided to stuff it in the jersey pocket ‘just in case’. On my feet went socks (I never wear socks racing) tri cycling shoes and neoprene to covers. My hands had my best winter gloves. So Cal winter gloves, but the best I had. They are water resistant, but not water proof - a subtle, but big difference that apparently applied to all my gear. Later, every few minutes, I was able to squeeze ounces of cold water out of my gloves by simply making a fist and squeezing. I trotted out of the tent into a legitimate rainstorm. The temp on my Garmin at the start was 44 degrees. I later heard the “high” in Whistler during the bike leg was 9* Celsius. I am no math magician, but that’s 48* in America.
“It was just ugly”
I grabbed my bike and trotted to the mount line in my cycling shoes. Easy. 200 meters after mounting my bike, I realized my soft shelf was lame without the windbreaker jacket over the top. I quickly pulled over, dug it out of my back pocket and tossed it on. After zipping up, I smiled realizing I now had on 6 layers over my chest.
The course quickly puts you on highway 99, the Sea-to-Sky Highway, and you make a right turn for the Olympic park at Callaghan Valley. Before even getting to the 99, I knew the day was going to be brutal and scary. The rain was now coming down in sheets and it was just ugly. The road was a river with huge puddles and water running both east-to-west and north-to-south based on the camber of the road. The first touch of my brakes had me worried. Deep carbon wheels in the rain are bad enough and my brakes just seemed inadequate for the task. They just seemed poorly adjusted. A couple times I was worried the brake levers would bottom-out on the bars before I would stop.
The road to Callaghan Valley is mostly a series of descents with a few little kickers. Normally, I would be pounding through here trying to keep my watts up, but I was just too scared. It was hard to see in the rain, the road was a river and I had no confidence in my brakes. As a result, I coasted and rode the brakes. Within 20 minutes, I realized all my layers were compromised and I was soaked to the bone. My feet were going numb - same thing with my hands. And, the rain just kept coming. Passing some one or, god forbid, being passed was awful. People’s tires just threw a fountain of water and road grit in your face whenever a wheel was within 10 meters of you. My white socks were black within the first hour.
I made the turn onto Callaghan Valley and I saw the most striking thing I have ever seen during a race. There was a Pro women sitting on the side of the road on her bottom with her knees pulled up to her chin. She was completely soaked (we all were). A race marshal had pulled over to help and put his heavy winter jacket over her. She was shaking violently from the cold and crying her eyes out. I was stunned as I pedaled past. Sadly, the scene, or something similar, was played out at every aid station I passed. Hypothermia was just destroying the field. Many were just wearing tri-tops and shorts, but others had on full winter gear and were cracking due to the weather. The water just sapped the warmth from your body at an incredible rate versus a dry cold day.
At this point, I started getting hungry. I had been eating per my plan, but the cold meant more calories to keep warm. I had planned for 250-300 calories per hour made up of bars, gels and chews. No Gatorade. Gatorade broke me during a race rehearsal after training for the entire build on just water. After that, I decided no Gatorade on the bike. I just drank water on the bike for hydration and chewed my calories for nutrition. It worked really well. I was able to eat more calories then planned by eating a stinger waffle at each aid station in addition to all the food I had on the bike and in my pockets.
The water had my stomach feeling light and healthy. As a result, I probably got closer to 400 calories per hour and was well hydrated. I peed once during the swim and three times on the bike during the ride. I also went once in T2.
I was just miserable and getting more so with each pedal stoke. The wet combined with the cold was just starting to hurt. It was also demoralizing.
“A frozen hurt locker”
Ironman Lake Tahoe in 2013 was very challenging. It had snowed the night before and temperatures were in the low 30’s when we started. While the air was a bit damp, for the most part everything was dry. The roads were in good shape and the sun was warming up. Hands and feet when numb and teeth chattered, but it was dry. I never felt sorry for myself or even considered quitting. I just prayed for the daylight to grow and the day to warm up.
At Whistler, the rain was very cold. I am told the storm was from the north and that meant very cold rain. Whatever the case was, the rain and wet was just bone chilling and the constant cold water hitting you in the face was demoralizing. It made me feel misery and sorrow. For the first time in a race, I was ready to quit. I tried to stay in my “little box”, but it quickly became a frozen hurt locker.
I got to the turn around at the top of Callaghan Valley and headed back down the hill. This was really scary. My brakes were way too soft, I couldn’t feel my hands and the rivers running around the road seemed lethal. All this was made worse as people seemed to be all over the road struggling with their own twitchy bikes and numb hands.
Going 40mph hour down hill into a rainstorm was just the worst. I was afraid to pedal and just coasted while trying to manage my speed. It was then that I threw in the towel. I decided I had nothing prove as a three-time finisher and was just going to pack it in. Why be so cold and miserable? Every race vehicle I saw had racers sitting in it trying to get warm up or catch a ride. The aid stations had people standing around in barrowed jackets and sweatshirts. The sensible thing to do seemed to be ride back to Whistler and just head straight to my shower with the plan to return my chip later in warm, dry clothes. I continued up the 99 at race pace while the rain continued to pour. It just sucked. No way around it. The shivering just saps your power and makes your legs hurt as you try and pedal.
About 2 hours into the bike, I got back to Whistler. The rain actually seemed to be lightening up, but was still falling. Both sides of the 99 were lined with fences and cheering spectators. As I approached Lorimer Rd., the road to the hotel, I saw fencing blocked it. My escape route was gone. In that second, for some reason, I decided to just press on. I don’t know why, but when I saw the road blocked, quitting just didn’t seem like an option. I don’t think I was thinking clearly, but once Lorimer was 5 meters behind me, I felt committed to finishing the bike. I may bag the run, but I was on my way to Pemberton, like it or not was my thinking. An Ironman day has so many highs and lows and I think I was holding on just a bit longer to see how low it would go in the hope of a high down the road.
The rain started to really abate at a point past Green Lake. It was still drizzling a bit, but based on the first three hours of riding it seemed to be much better. I was still concerned with braking and safety. Also, with a 50 tooth big ring up front, my 50/11 combination would spin out, so I coasted down the hills. This was going to hurt my VI, but I reasoned the fastest way to finish was on two wheels.
When I turned left and headed out toward the turn around point in the Pemberton Meadow, I realized I felt much better. At a lower elevation the temperature had come up and the rain was gone. The roads were puddled, but dry. I was able to get comfortable, get aero and start passing people. I dialed in my 193 watt target and just started blasting away. It was very similar to my training rides on the bike path, but easier. On the path, I always over cooked my effort on purpose. Here, I just set a steady effort and started passing people. I ate, I drink and I was convinced that I was going to finish. I still had on 6 layers, but I knew I was going to ride back to Whistler and gut out some kind of run.
“The Bike Also Rises”
Getting on the climb back to Whisler from Pemberton was great. The day had brightened considerably and the roads were drying out. I also felt at home. I spend a lot of time climbing and it was nice to set a steady effort and start moving up some grades. I realized that like this bike, the day was rising. It got steep in some places and I need to make more power than I wanted, but with a 34/28 gearing combination, I had to just pedal what it required to get up the hill.
Shortly after the climb started, I actually pulled over for 35 seconds and stripped off my windbreaker outer layer. I was warming up with the climbing and it had gotten dry. I unzipped my soft shell to prevent over heating. I felt my core temp coming up, but my feet would just not warm up incased in wet socks and toe covers. I debated taking them off, but was afraid of making matters worse.
I slid into transition #2 feeling ok. Ride time about 6:25, normal power was 189 (3 watts under my original goal) and I posted 6,500 feet of vertical gain. The VI was 1.11. Too high for an Ironman, but based on the road conditions and cold, it was the best I could manage. I am sure others did closer to 1.00
“Oh my, good god! Dry socks!”
I got off my bike and stumbled. I was afraid I was going to fall. My feet were numb. I literally could not feel them. It was a completely bizarre sensation. It was like they had both gone to sleep after being sat on all afternoon. I stumbled a couple more times as I gingerly grabbed my T2 bag and stepped into the tent.
The tent was almost empty as I found a chair and started to shed gear. Off came the soft shell, wind vest and cycling jersey. I put the vest back on as well as left the arm warmers. It was an interesting look, but I reasoned that I would chuck them when I warmed up.
The real treat was taking off my wet shoes and socks. Oh, my good god, what a great feeling. I messaged my feet a little and then slid into the luxury of warm, dry shoes and socks. Race belt went on along with my visor and I was out the door for the run course. T2 was 7:19 and worth every second.
“Way to go David! Looking Good, David!”
My bib number was 411 and the bib was attached to my race belt in the front per the rules. The WTC was also kind enough to print our names. Mine very clearly said “Dino” and they even added the “All World Athlete” logo to mine based on my performance last year.
I suppose it’s nice to have your name on it. Spectators and volunteers at an Ironman are just awesome. They are all super pumped up, most have never done an Ironman and probably never will, but they are happy, and positive and in the moment. They want to cheer for you and no matter how miserable you are, deep down you want to be cheered for even if on the surface want to punch them in their happy face if it will end the suffering.
For some reason, 7 out of 10 people on the course called me David. As in “way to go, David!” or “looking good, David!” What the heck! I generally get a “Go Dy-no”, like the first part of the word “dinosaur”. But where the heck did David come from? It happened all day. I started answering to it. It must a side effect of the Canadian school system.
Anyway, I left T2 feeling better than I thought I would. My legs felt cooked and my feet felt they belonged to an old man I never met, but my stomach felt great. The food I brought on board during the bike combined with just water had me feeling light and ready to go.
The day before the race my goal was to run a sub-4 hour marathon. I knew I could do it when I left for the race, but after the morning in the rain I felt sapped and frankly, I don’t think I cared enough about it anymore. Maybe I let my “training self” down. I spent so much time in the rain feeling miserable, I just didn’t have the desire to feel anymore misery. I had survived throwing in the towel on the bike and once the run started I just wanted to get through it with a minimum of suffering.
With that in mind, I felt like my body was getting a slow start. It took 3 miles for my feet to thaw out and probably 6 miles for my legs to warm up. I spent the early miles dreaming of walking. I was able to stay with the pace plan loosely, but mentally I was tired - just a weird zombie feeling. I kind of zoned out in between walking the aid stations. The first loop of the run just ground by.
I got to mile 13 and was surprised to see I had done it in 2 hours by leap frogging from aid station to aid station. I was also starting to wake up. I took an inventory and didn’t think I could negative split the back half of the marathon. I started walking some of the little kickers behind Lost Lake before I realized I could run this thing in.
My knees hurt, my back hurt and major muscles and joints were sore. Hours spent shivering on the bike, I supposed. In the past I had a good luck taking two Advil at this point. I gave that a try. In my race belt was a small baggie that had two Advil and 3 280mg Salt Caps. I decided to take all five. I had never taken salt before, but I had also never raced on water alone. As a precaution, I rationalized taking the salt. I also needed the toilet and spent 5 minutes in the porto-potty basically hiding. That was time well spent.
This lull is really similar to what happened to me at Chattanooga. I spent 13 miles in misery before I warmed up and turned it on. At mile 18 that is exactly what happened, I was feeling better, Advil had kicked in, salt had not negatively impacted my stomach and I was feeling good. I started passing folks.
At mile 20-ish I was at the far end of the course on Green Lake and felt really good. My spirits lifted and I was I actually thrilled. The last 10k for me have always been the best part for me. As the miles click down, I start feeling better. The course runs right next to highway 99 coming back from Pemberton. I looked at the road and I saw three big trucks with Ironman Logos PACKED with TT bikes sporting race numbers. These are the bikes of the DNFs coming back to reunite with their owners who came back earlier in cars. It’s a jarring image and I am really sad for those who could not get to the run.
I did some math and realized I was not going to go sub-4 hours on the run. That was obvious. I spent too much time in the doldrums, but I was within striking distance of my marathon PR and spitting distance of a 12-hour finish on a super tough day if I hustled.
With that in mind I started skipping aid stations and hustling past people on my way home. I was actually sort of stoked! The run back was very straightforward. I had already covered those miles on the first lap and knew the terrain. I came up Blackcomb way, downhill from the finish and made the turn onto Lorimer. At the point where you almost reach the Four Seasons Hotel there is a volunteer pointing people left for “lap 2 “ and right for “Finish”. I banged a right and the spectators cheered! One guy even yelled “go David!”. Perfect.
The path to the finish was new ground, but I had walked it without knowing it was the course a couple days prior. It’s through the woods and parallels Blackcomb Way. It’s slightly uphill but I was hitting it fairly hard trying to grab a few last minute passes. The trail then banks right and flattens for 50 meters as it connects with Blackcomb Way and the finishers chute on bottom of Blackcomb. I turn on to Blackcomb and I am ELATED! I can see the finish, I can hear the music and it’s all down hill. It’s a long downhill and reminded me Coeur d’Alene. I start hammering downhill and 100 meters later I see a left turn arrow! WTF! The course adds 400 meters by having you run left, loop through the village and then come back to Blackcomb to go left and finish. Soooooo cruel. It also starts to rain again. Perfect.
“I love you Daddy”
I get back to Blackcomb, I kick for the line, and I am home! BOOM! Done! I finished. I hit the line with a time of 4:14:09 – a three minute Marathon PR!
Before I can take 4 steps over the finish line, my wife, daughter (7yrs) and son (4 rs) emerge out of the crowd and my daughter reaches up to put my medal on me! I bend down and she says “I love you daddy” in my ear as she puts the medal over my head. From there, a volunteer ‘catcher’ leads us through the finish for my shirt, hat and pics. It was pretty awesome.
We had access to the VIP tent at the finish and ducked in there to hide from the rain. Just as we got inside it started really coming down. Luckily there was FOOD! My daughter played server as I ate while we waited for the rain to die to make the trek to get bags, bike and walk to room.
The afternoon was great, but the race was really colored by the misery of the morning. It cost the entire field tremendously. There were 216 DNF’s on or after the bike. The pro field was also slowed way down. The male winner was about 30 minutes slower this year versus the year prior. I also read the post race interviews and all the top pro finishers described the race as their toughest ever due to rain and cold. Lol. After Tahoe and now Whistler, I am starting to think racing winter Olympic venues may be a huge mistake. Too bad, I am already signed up for Ironman Lake Placid next year.