Ironman Canada 4th Place Race Report
This past Sunday marked the 3rd year in a row I’ve ran Ironman Canada, and I didn’t even have it on the schedule until about a month ago, when I didn’t finish Ironman Lake Placid. Once Placid went all to custard, though, I realized I could compete in my favorite long distance triathlon. The decision literally paid off, as I came home in 4th place. It’s my biggest success to date, and to say that it all happened out on the run course would be a disservice to all the people who make a successful Ironman possible. The big moves were made by my coach, Cliff English, who retooled my run from hopeless to 4th best on the day, and Jesse Kropelnicki of QT2 Systems, who provided me with a fueling strategy on what would turn out to be a very hot day of racing. Of course my sponsors were also a huge part of this race, and I’d like to thank all of them, particularly Athletes Lounge and Subaru, who are making this whole trip possible.
The Swim: the swim in Okanagan Lake is about as perfect a swim venue as you could find (OK, Lake Placid is awesome, but two loops in the water is just a bummer): clean water, not too hot, without too much direct sun. I started to the right of the middle of the field and got off the line pretty well, mixing in with a group right away. I saw former champion Jasper Blake (and 7Systems sponsor) moving off the front and I figured he was away, but by the first swim turn (you swim 1600m, turn right, swim 450, turn right, and then swim 1800 or so back to the beach) he was back among our group. It was a sizeable group—around 10-12 athletes, and I just swam at the back of the pack. I could see Jordan Rapp’s light blue cap at the front of the group, and one of my goals was to swim with him, so I just stayed right there. It wasn’t a blazing swim (53:39), but it brought all of us out of the water about 3 minutes behind the front group of Bryan Rhodes, Hiroyuki Nishiuchi, Matthieu O’Halloran, Torsten Abel, and Bert Jammaer.
The Bike: Once on the bike, usually my proverbial bailiwick, I let a lot of guys roll away from me. I rode in a group of seven last year, including Trevor Wurtele, and he came out of the water directly in front of me. He’s been racing incredibly well this year, and I was worried to let him go, but I knew it was going to be a hot day, and both Cliff and Jesse had counseled me to ride low watts on the first half of the bike. The Canada bike course offers a slight downhill with strong tailwinds for the first 65k, and it’s very tempting to ride your best 40k TT in those conditions, but I sat on 260-270 watts and rolled along (at that relatively pedestrian pace, I still went through 40k in 57 minutes, which will give you a sense of the speed). I could see a group of four up the road from me, but not too far. At one point Simon Billeau passed me, and you could tell he wanted to get rid of me, getting out of the saddle and hammering for 20-30 seconds at a time. I just stayed 10m back and rolled along smoothly, trying to even out the power spikes that sunk my LP trip. Eventually he got away from me on a little rise into Osoyoos, but I guessed that I’d see him later that day. Richter pass seemed longer and harder than I remembered, and then it was down into the Similkemeen Valley on the other side, where the headwinds wait for you. There are seven rollers you have to go over, and these seemed more difficult than last year, too (riding in a group is always easier, even if you’re just getting a mental boost). Paul Attard (and Meredith Kessler) weren’t far behind, so I used that as motivation and tried to stay on the gas despite the steady headwind. Ironman Canada diverts you, after about 110k of no backtracking, onto an out-and-back that can be soul-killing, as you head straight downwind towards the special needs bags, knowing you have to ride that whole section into the wind again. It does give you a chance to see where you are, though, and I clocked myself at 12 minutes behind Jordan, 10 behind a chasing group of Rhodes, Jammaer, Zymetsev, and Abel (a fearsome group, if there ever was one—there are 14 IM wins in that group, if I’m counting correctly), and then lower numbers to the rest of the riders, who had all broken up: Marcotte, Billeau, Curry, O’Halloran, Wurtele. Seeing that second group coming apart provided a real help to me, as I knew they had gone after each other and not worked together on a day that neccessitated team work (did I mention it was close to 90 on the bike and over 90 later that day?). Coming out of the out-and-back I caught O’Halloran and rode up to Yellow Lake with him, more or less, me rolling away on the flats and downhills, and he beating me up the climbs. I was getting in around 60 oz of fluid an hour on the hot day, trying to hit Jesse’s goal of peeing at least twice on the bike. I think I ended up going to the bathroom three or four times, but it’s hard to remember. I descended back to town fighting that strong headwind, and came into T2 posting a five-minutes-slower-than-last-year time of 4:52.
The Run: coming off the bike I’d wager that you never really know what you’re gonna get. I took it easy in transition, grabbed my stuff, and headed out onto the streets of Penticton, with the announcer letting me know that Jordan was about 20 minutes gone. I knew from the beginning that only disaster was going to derail Jordan’s return to the top step of Canada’s podium, so I just focused on keeping my turnover high. I went through the first mile feeling pretty good, in 6:40. It was hot, and I’d made a similar mistake two years ago of going out too hard, but I knew I’d need a great run to move up very far, and I wasn’t going to make any money where I started the run, in 11th. I could see Kyle Marcotte not far up the road, and I could also tell I was coming back to him. I didn’t try to make up the distance too quickly and instead tried to get down my Clif Bloks and water. My prescribed menu for the race was two packages of Clif Bloks, three PowerGels with caffeine, and three salt pellets; water and sports drink at every aid station. I caught Marcotte and Scott Curry at mile five or so and tried to go past them with alacrity. It worked, because they both said “nice run.” It hurt a bit, and I spent the next mile trying to recover. Now I was in 9th place, and I knew that the next person I caught would be giving up money to me. I caught Simon Billeau at eight miles (which felt pretty good), and then Bryan Rhodes around the eleven mile mark. Both Rhodes and Billeau looked to have been sunk by the heat. Heather Wurtele was out on the course, biking around, and we exchanged a hello as I went past. I told her to go tell Trevor to slow down, since I couldn’t even see him on the road. She laughed and went to warn him that I was running well. I managed to catch him a little after the turnaround (where I was starting to struggle). At that point I realized I’d taken over fifth place. Jasper Black, however, was only three minutes behind me at the turnaround, and he’s made a living of chasing guys down late in the race, so when I saw Zymetzev walking in front of me, I rejoiced a bit. You don’t ever want to hedge your bets while racing, but I knew at that point, barring disaster, I would come in 4th or 5th (if Jasper caught me). The way back to town gets hard, as you’re running slightly uphill and into a hot wind. My stomach started to go, and I treated each aid station as my own buffet, taking two cups each of water, sports drink, and ice every mile. I knew that if I could get to mile 24 without Jasper catching me, I could probably make it home alone, as the last two miles are downhill, or along a one-kilometer out-and-back lined with screaming fans. I saw fiancee extraordinaire Amy around 24.5 miles, and I think she was surprised; she actually called out “I was about to go and get a milkshake!” Trying to clear the path for me, she called out, a few seconds later “Runner back,” but I thought she meant Jasper was right there, meaning he’d closed me down. You can’t look over your shoulder at that point, so I just ran as hard as I could. I got to the turnaround, hit the lap button on my watch and…nothing. Blake was still 2:40 back! I’d stayed ahead of him and claimed 4th place, my best finish at a big race, anywhere.
Finish video and awards banquet pictures to come. Thank you everybody for all your support.
Maupin Time Trial Festival
The Maupin Time Trial festival poses unfamiliar challenges to triathletes and cyclists alike. Triathletes find solace in the familiar equipment (disc wheels, aero bars, time trial bikes) but have trouble adjusting to racing several times over a few days. Cyclists, accustomed to racing again and again in a short time, would appear to have a physiological and psychological edge, but most cyclists avoid their TT bikes, afraid to be called a triathlete by their friends. Toss in the fact that the Maupin festival’s three stages feature over 6000 feet of climbing and you’ve got a Franken-event that favors absolutely no one.
Fellow Athletes Lounge Pro Team member Damian Hill and I signed up for Maupin to get a big dose of late early-season bike preparation. The weekend would give us almost 90 miles on our TT bikes and give us a chance to sort out equipment. I was rolling ace with three wheelsets in the car, all courtesy of Rolf Prima. The problem, however, was that I’d contracted a case of the flats. Over the weekend I re-glued three tubular tires, which made me wonder if someone were scattering tacks in the greater Maupin business district. In any case, I managed to get home in all three stages, although I lost out on GC to Damian by almost two minutes. Here’s how it went down…
Day One, Stage One; 42k on a flat tire, with the wrong wheels, in a huge cross-wind.
At around 6 am, I ran my bike through its standard pre-race check. I slipped a cassette onto the disc wheel and tightened it down, only to see the lock-ring pop free each time I got it snug. Couple that SNAFU with the newly glued tire from the night before (flat number one of the weekend—incurred somewhere in the car along the way), and I wondered if the disc was the best choice for the day. I went with my TdF58s, even though Damian was rolling a disc rear and ZIpp 404 front. Once we climbed out of the valley I missed a disc, since the wind was howling and I could have used a disc’s sail effect. After the long chase along the flats, the course changed to rollers where a disc would have, once again, saved me a lot of time. A flat in the last mile (here’s where tubulars do rule) cost me a few more seconds, but I was able to get to the line without parking the bike on the tarmac. Damian had taken about 90 seconds of me. I chalk about 45 seconds of that up to the difference in equipment. After soaking our legs in the Deschutes for ten minutes, I went back to our cottage to sort out my wheels.
Day One, Stage Two: 13k up a hill…with a disc wheel!
I figured out that the only problem was my lockring, so once I changed that out I had my disc wheel up and spinning. Why I decided to use it for the hill climb I’ll never know; stage racers will admit to a certain amount of stupidity that sets in once you start doing multiple hard efforts in less than 24 hours. Damian was riding stronger than I and caught me about five kilometers into the stage. I managed to limit my losses over the next eight kilometers and gave up another 39 seconds to him. It would take a gigantic effort to bring him back on the final stage on Sunday.
Day Two, Stage Three: 75k up Bakeoven Road and back
Stage three saw me pulling out all the road cycling/aerodynamic stops in an effort to catch Damian. I sat in second place, 2:20 down on GC. Winning would take a huge effort, but I’m a long course triathlete while he prefers the short course stuff, so I thought the advantage had swung back to me. Stage three is all uphill on the way out, and mostly downhill on the way back (there are some hidden uphills on the way back, I discovered). The wind was at my left shoulder the whole time, so we couldn’t look forward to any solace from that quarter. I was rolling my disc rear and TdF85 front, so I finally had Damian outgunned on equipment. The low spoke count worked in my favor, too, with the wild crosswind. I pulled out my old road racing skinsuit, too, and shoe covers. My road cycling background had equipped me with a bunch of old tricks I hoped to put into play.
Damian started five minutes behind me, and I figured he’d have the advantage on me on the way up . Into the wind, on the way down, I guessed the advantage would tilt back to me. Stage three is a brute of stage, punishing riders with a steep first three miles from which you never truly recover. At the 24 mile turnaround, Damian had put about 36 seconds into me. I plunged downhill, knowing that my deeper front wheel would steadily gain seconds on Damian the faster I went.
About three miles from the finish the road tilts precipitously downhill, and I tucked to gain as many seconds as I could. My newly overhauled bike, however, had been hiding a secret during the first two stages: a loose headset. As my bike wobbled like a loose skateboard, I thought about that old David Millar quote about crashing in a bike race: “Next time you’re on the highway in your car, strip down to your underwear and jump out the door.” I’ve gone down a few times in bike races and, although I didn’t relish the possibility, I was more bummed out that I might not be finishing the race and finally beating Damian. I backed off the aerobars and tried to scrub some speed with the rear brake. Spooked, I picked my way down the final few turns and crossed the line. Now I just had to wait. Five minutes and one second would have to pass for me to win the stage—winning the race was probably out of reach at this point.
Standing at a finish line watching seconds tick off the clock is probably the hardest thing about time trialing. Ask Greg Lemond. Ask Laurent Fignon. There’s nothing to do but stand about and pretend you’re not totally worried, staring at the clock and willing its seconds to pass more quickly. I could see, up above, riders plunging down the final descent. One of them, wearing a white helmet, was tearing down the grade at a suicidal pace. Only Damian would be descending with that alacrity. As he came into view around the last few curves, the seconds ticked towards five minutes.
He came across the line five minutes and nine seconds after me. I’d put a total of nine seconds into him over 75 kilometers. He was more fit than I, but my gear proved the better that day, led by the front edge of my TdF 85s. Thanks, Rolf P!