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Race Report Ironman Canada: A great first experience
Short version: The race formerly known as Ironman Canada, now Challenge Penticton, is a fantastic experience. Challenging but do-able course, beautiful area, lots of support. A great choice for first-timers.
Long version: All the details, written with my fellow first-time Iron-People preparing for IM Tahoe and other races firmly in mind!
After 10 years of triathlon I finally decided to step up to the Ironman distance. For years I’d heard what a great race Ironman Canada in Penticton is. After a bike crash ended my training for Ironman Austria in 2011, when IMC ’12 opened up in August 2011 I decided I had to give it a try. I’m glad I did. It was a well-run race on a beautiful course, in one of Canada’s true vacation spots. I’d definitely do it again, even if it’s “Challenge Penticton” run by Roth instead of Ironman Canada.
The training - overview: If you train in the hills around Silicon Valley and the Peninsula, you will be well-prepared for the IMC bike course elevation gain (about 4K). Add to your race calendar Wildflower 70.3, Vineman 70.3, and Vineman Full Aqua-Bike , and you are in good shape for the hills – and potential heat – of IMC. I also recommend the Splash and Dash Series of 1- and 2-mile open water swims for more good practice. (I had never swum two miles in open water before last summer.)
A note on my fitness level going into the Ironman base-building phase (February – April): I had been off the bike for the previous 9 months. But I had been strength training, swimming and running for the last five months, including a 50K trail run in December, 2011. So while I had to build bike fitness from virtually zero, my overall cardio and strength were good. Ideally, Iron-Newbies should start their IM base training with a strong foundation in at least one of the disciplines. You’ll feel more confident, and you can focus your training where it’s needed the most. Of course you don’t have to run an ultra but being able to do a long taxing workout in one of the three sports without drama is a nice way to start base building. Having strong running fitness meant I could allocate my precious training hours where needed the most, the swim and the bike. Since I had gotten within six weeks of my IM race in 2011, I had a good feel for what was to come. I knew that over the next seven months I’d want to do at least two 2.4 mile swims, five or six 80 to 100 milers, and build up to a three hour run. These goals, plus some weekends blocked for non-training commitments, dictated my schedule. (See my list of key workouts at the end.)
I was fortunate my work schedule allowed me to do strength/flexibility/core work twice a week at Integrate Fitness, Oct. ’11 – May ‘12. I strongly believe this training enabled me to ramp up to 13-15 hours per week without injury. I also had a great bike fit from HyperCat in March, but needed a fine-tune in the weeks leading up to the race, which was excellently done by Garrett Akahoshi at Peak Physical Therapy in Cupertino.
IMC logistics: Despite lots of good advice from experienced IMC racers, I was still unsure about where to stay around Penticton. I was resigned to one of the low-end motels outside of town (all that was left) when a room opened up at the God’s Mountain B&B, an amazing little inn 5 miles outside of Penticton, facing Lake Skaha and right on the bike/run course. While this location was not as convenient as being right in town, it was great to have a peaceful, relaxing setting that my husband could enjoy as a true vacation. Pat went for some nice hikes just outside the front door. There was also a vintner’s dinner the first night we arrived on the property with excellent food from a local caterer. This was a great way to kick off the weekend and another touch that made it as much a vacation as a race. Wherever you stay, I *highly* recommend finding a place where you can cook your own dinner the night before the race. You’ll want to eat early, eat exactly what you want, and not hassle with crowds. All the other guests at God’s Mountain were also there for IMC and we all had plenty of room to cook our own food and enjoy a spot on the patio. I used Tri-Bike Transport and their service was flawless. We saved money on airfare by flying to Spokane and then driving ~4ish hours to Penticton. It was a scenic, easy drive with the notable sight of the Grand Coulee Dam. If you are not going to fly directly to Penticton or Kelowna, Spokane is a shorter drive than either Vancouver or Seattle. Make sure you have a “Sherpa” with you because there is a lot to keep track of and you will be prone to phases of distraction, emotion, confusion, etc. in those final days/hours. Thank goodness I had Pat to steer me through Safeway in Penticton, who knows what I would have bought if left to my own devices.
Pre-race nutrition: Two scrambled eggs, one banana, one granola bar, lots of water, and a gel right before the swim.
Swim: I deliberately chose to start at the far left side, to avoid the swim start “washing machine.” I had peace of mind, but it cost me – probably about five minutes extra, due to swimming “wide” covering extra distance and losing a lot of draft. One of the most beautiful clean clear lakes I’ve had the pleasure of swimming in. My advice to newbies who are not strong swimmers: Be deliberate about where you position yourself for the swim, and set your expectations accordingly. Time: 1:29. Post swim: one gel, water. Transition: about 10 minutes. I just couldn’t bring myself to rush 90 minutes into a very long day. More important to think through exactly what I wanted to have with me, in the bento or in my pockets. Bike: the first 40 miles are the best bike race course I’ve seen. Great scenery and a gentle downhill. First climb, Richter Pass, no big deal. Hardest part of the course: the series of rollers around miles 55 to 65. They just felt endless and much harder than the rollers I practiced on around here (Uvas Road, Skyline). My major rookie mistake happened on the bike course. Somehow I got distracted by the fact that the special needs stop is NOT half way but around mile 70. I forgot to keep drinking and by mile 80 was a little out of it. As in, somehow I did not notice I was climbing Yellow Lake? Strange, but true. In any case the last six to eight miles is a joyous descent back into town. Scenic, beautiful and support all along the way. Nutrition: only drank water; many electrolyte tablets; several shots; almonds, and a clif bar. Time: 6:45.
Run: After a 15 minute transition (still not feeling the need to rush!) I headed off on the run. Muscular strength felt fine, but didn’t realize I was dehydrated and it hit me around mile 4. Slowed from a 9 minute pace, to 10 minute pace, to “I’ll just walk the aid stations,” to much profanity under my breath and random intervals of running and walking. Run time: 6 hours. Total time: 14:52. I would not call the run course hard. If you do a few of your long runs out to Alma Bridge Road by the Lexington Reservoir, and you do a few workouts on very hot days, you should be good to go. Just be sure to HYDRATE properly along the way. As you likely know – once you notice, it’s too late!
A post-race post-script: Very gratified to realize I was more than strong enough to do the race. Once I rehydrated, I was excited to capitalize on this extreme level of fitness and within a couple of weeks started a focused marathon training program for CIM in December. Had a great race, PR’d, and felt that I had “avenged” my six hour IM marathon. The point being, you might be whacked after your first IM. But you also might be the fittest ever and ready to tackle another challenge before settling into off-season.
February – April: Base Building
- Built up cycling fitness with goal of strong Wildflower 70.3 bike, slowly but deliberately, with awesome spin classes with Gina Kehr and also Al at IPF plus a weekend ride.
- Twice-weekly strength/core training also at Integrate Fitness.
- Let swimming and running lapse a little as I built strength and focused on cycling.
May – July: Build (generally, three weeks ramp, one week step back)
- Worked around a vacation early June (no cycling but swam and ran) - Learned yes, you can take a vacation. leave your bike at home, and not crater your training! (and spouse is happy)
- Peaked for two key races: Vineman 70.3 and Vineman Full Aqua Bike. Both great practice for racing in the heat.
- Hundred mile Bike Rides (elevation gain):
o Strawberry Fields (8K)
o Pescadero (9K)
o Hwy 9/Skyline/San Gregorio/Tunitas Creek (7k)
o Full Vineman AB (3K)
o Plus, one 80x8 workout (80 miles ride, 8 mile run brick)
o Probably one more local 80-miler I can’t recall
Other key training experiences:
o 60 mile ride on the hottest day of the year (100 degrees – didn’t know it at the time!), followed by 2 mile swim/6 mile splash n dash the next day. Terrible performance but great experience, in retrospect, more instructive for IMC than I realized. Have never been as cramped as I was on that ride. Could not sit down last 5 miles, had to stand and pedal or I would have locked up! Some may remember me laying in the back of my car afterwards for about 30 minutes...
o 18 mile run two weeks out
o Full VM AB a great first opportunity to experience a full 112 ride, race-style (ie no breaks) and experiment with nutrition and the mile 56 special needs bag. Key discovery: small purple potatoes boiled with lots of salt taste really great midway through a race!
Other nutrition notes:
- Realized that on long rides my body wanted water, not sports drink, so I had to get all my calories from gels and other foods. Gave up all use of electrolyte drinks and Perpetuem on the bike and run. My teeth thanked me.
- I ate and drank normally all through training including wine with dinner and desserts. Lots of desserts. One of the benefits of those super-long workout days!
- Kept a cooler in the car with milk for post-workout rehydration and protein. Add a tiny bit of almond extract for flavor without sugar.
- I experimented with a lot of different types of nutrition but couldn’t beat the convenience of gels and Chomps/ShotBlox even when my teeth hated the idea of more sugar.
- Realized at Wildflower Training Weekend how much my body liked lots of calories (~600) including protein before a long workout or race. For me, scrambled eggs were a miracle food!
Long overdue but I want to say how grateful I am to all the people and businesses who made my training fun and helped me have a great race. In no particular order:
1. Gebhard E. at Veloro Cycles. Where I bought my Cervelo RS last January. Great bike shop and he puts a lot of effort into fitting customers into just the right frame.
2. Gina Kehr’s spin class last winter. Thoughtfully constructed, super-challenging workouts.
3. Slough’s Bike Shop, San Jose. George and Ben are amazing. Expert repair and great service.
4. Peak Physical Therapy – Mountain View. Lori Wong (Occupational Therapy/Hand Specialist) gave me a “training plan” that returned strength to my right hand, so I could cycle again. Rich Lee (owner/PT) helped me strengthen tiny little muscles I didn’t even know I had ‘till they stopped working!
5. Peak Physical Therapy – Cupertino. Garrett Akahoshi, owner/PT, triathlete and bike-fitter extraordinaire.
6. Phil Casanta, HyperCat racing out of Ventura, CA: great bike fitter and good IMC training tips to boot.
7. Al Painter at Integrate Performance Fitness and all the folks who made the morning strength sessions fun. Excellent conditioning.
8. Cindy Hernandez - Amazingly skillful deep tissue massage and Reiki.
9. Sports Basement – thank goodness for their great prices on nutrition. You can’t believe how much you go through over a six month period! Probably spent about $600, mostly on food!
10. Special shout-outs to everyone I rode with on those crazy long ride days, especially George Burne, Warren Mine, Cindy Jahans, Jim Atherton, Alan Menezes, and Tom Davis. And to Caryn Tyler for lots of bike technique and training tips.
11. Carin LeVine for introducing me to the miracle food scrambled eggs before a long training day.
12. Erica Baylor, Tammy Cracknell, Norm Norris, Debbie Phillips, Melissa Capetti, Alan Menezes, and anyone else who’s done IMC over the years, for the race-specific advice!
13. And most of all, Pat, my amazing husband, for taking care of all the things I neglected while training and making sure the dogs didn’t starve.