Race Report: 2016 Ironman Canada

It’s been 5 days since I crossed the finish line of my second Ironman at Ironman Canada in Whistler, British Columbia. It always takes time to process my thoughts after a race, especially a big, ‘A’ race like Ironman. I came into this race with bigger goals than my first Ironman last year, but I also laid out a much different training schedule this year compared to last year. With that said, in these few days that I’ve had to think about the result, what I could have done differently in my preparation, and how I performed compared to what I think I was capable of – I have been nothing but overjoyed and excited. 

April and I packed up our trusty Subaru and hit the road at a good time Thursday morning, 4 days before the race. Google Maps, Waze, and the iPhone map all made us feel like it was going to be between 9-10 hours of driving, so we knew it would be a full day. We made pretty good time getting through Portland, and I can’t say enough good things about our meal at Burgerville – the fries and milkshake really hit the spot! Once we neared Seattle, traffic set in and our pace and time really slowed which ultimately set the tone for the final 6 or so hours of our day. We ultimately made it to Whistler by 9:30pm which was later than we thought, but if there is one thing we’ve learned, it’s always worth a long day of travel to wake up in your destination the following morning! 

 Enjoying the sites in Whistler. This is at the Olympic Plaza in Whistler where the 2010 Winter Olympics award ceremony was held.
Enjoying the sites in Whistler. This is at the Olympic Plaza in Whistler where the 2010 Winter Olympics award ceremony was held.

The next couple of days were awesome. Whistler is really beautiful and we had a great time exploring the village, relaxing in our incredible lodge we rented and eating some of the awesome local cuisine. I knocked out my final pre race workouts including a swim in Alta Lake, and a few short runs and rides (you can check all of my workouts out on Strava). One of my favorite parts of the days before the race is getting checked into the race and spending some time at the official Ironman village. There is something so electric about being around all of the athletes and support crews, surrounded by incredible brands that support the race, and of course stocking up on new race day swag and other products. (pro tip: time flies at these events and remember that in the days leading up to your A-race you need to be off your feet, so enjoy the atmosphere, but don’t spend all day doing that or you’ll accrue an unnecessary amount of fatigue!)

 Attending the athlete meeting at the Ironman Village.
Attending the athlete meeting at the Ironman Village.

Ok, I’m getting close to the race. The night before the race was very laid back, just how I like it. April asked me “what is your perfect meal today?” and we ended up making homemade chipotle style bowls. I went light on the seasoning and no corn/beans but besides that had an awesome rice bowl with chicken and veggies, tortilla chips, and an amazing homemade mango salsa. Dinner was down by 6pm and after prepping my nutrition and gear bags, we were in bed by 10. 

Race Morning

Race morning was awesome. I woke up at 4:00am, jumped out of bed, and quietly sneaked out of the bedroom in the kitchen. I’ve got quite the routine when it comes to breakfast, and I ate the same thing I do everyday: greek yogurt, fresh fruit, granola, and a big cup of black coffee. April was up by 4:30 and we headed to the Whistler Village at 5:15, right on schedule. 

We parked the car, kissed, and said our good-byes. Transition 1 takes place at Alta Lake which is about 1.5 miles from the Village. Athletes are taken in shuttles and spectators have to either walk or ride their bikes. Logistically, it’s a very smooth day, especially since bikes had to be dropped off the day before. I can’t say enough positive things about how smooth the morning went! I hopped on my shuttle by 5:30 and was at the lake by 5:45. Dropped off my nutrition, special needs bags, and double checked my T-1 bag (even though I had triple checked it the day before!!!) and ended up finding April and her parents (my in-laws are amazing and made the trip up to Whistler to support) about 20 minutes before the race. I quickly got my wetsuit on, got one more kiss, and headed to the very front of the rolling swim start – it was almost GO TIME.

 Quick pre race picture before heading to the swim start!
Quick pre race picture before heading to the swim start!

Swim – 3800 meters (2.4 miles), 1:00:27 (1:33/100m, 1:25/100y)

I love the rolling starts that Ironman has introduced, and the start of this race felt very similar to last years Ironman start at Coeur d’Alene. I started in the <60 minutes group and was in the water within about 15 seconds of the gun going off. Right away I settled into my stroke and effort and found a rhythm. I did a good job of staying within my means and swimming easy. Can’t forget that it’s not a swim race, it’s a 10+ hour long training day, so you always have to manage your effort. I swam through the first loop in 29 minutes with a strong group and was feeling very controlled.

 A great picture that my wife captured of the line of athletes before entering the swim. The line got much longer, with all 1,500 athletes rolling into the water over a 10 minute period.
A great picture that my wife captured of the line of athletes before entering the swim. The line got much longer, with all 1,500 athletes rolling into the water over a 10 minute period.

As the second loop began, it wasn’t long before I started passing people who were still on their first laps. One lesson that I learned last year, is that if you want a good swim time you need to swim aggressively when passing. Rather than swimming around people I chose to swim through them this year, without clobbering them, I did a good job of swimming a straight line and not losing as much time. I made it through the second lap feeling very controlled and knew I would be close to breaking 1 hour. I ended up swimming about 15 seconds faster than last year, so it was a small PR, but an incredible start to the day.

Bike – 112 miles, 5:45:25 (19.45mph)

I took my time in Transition 1 to make sure that I had what I needed before the bike start. I put on my short sleeve aero cycling jersey, stashed my pockets with nutrition, and threw on my brand new Rudy Project Wing57 (LOVE!) and was through transition in a little under 5 minutes. After waving to April and the family, it was time to ride.

The bike started with a rolling climb out to the Olympic Park, then athletes enjoyed a technical descent back through Whistler before a long ride out past Pemberton before climbing, seemingly forever back to Whistler Village. I had a plan based on training that was based on power and my FTP of 285. I’ve learned to love the bike, and really wanted to set myself up to have a great run, so I gave myself power target and limits to ensure that I rode within my means.

I made it through the first series of climbs feeling great and very in control. I first saw April and the family at mile 38 when we rolled through Whistler, and although I was flying, I made sure to let them know I was loving it and feeling great. That is when the bike felt like it really started.

After a series of technical descents, athletes embark on a 30 mile flat out and back section. This was time to focus on power, cadence, nutrition, all of the little things to set myself up for a strong climb back up to Whistler. I rode this well, stayed aero and in position, and was back through Pemberton quickly. As mile 90 got closer and closer, I knew that the looming 2,000+ foot climb was waiting for me, but I was prepared and knew that I had plenty left in my legs. 

I can’t say that I enjoyed the climb, because I was mentally tired at this point. But, my body held it together and I was able to stay within my power while still feeling strong and as the climb progressed I felt like I really had a chance at nailing my A-goal of riding a 5:45. I passed quite a few athletes during the climb, and made the most of each aid station to refuel and graciously thank the volunteers. As I got closer to the village, I knew I was going to hit my goal time. Even more exciting, was how ‘together’ I was feeling, and I was excited to get on the run and rock the marathon.

A quick side-note on the bike: my normalized power was 206 watts, which was 5 under my goal power. I do feel like I left a few minutes out on the course, but considering the time, I’m very happy with the effort. The clarity and excitement that I had coming into Transition 2 is hard to explain, but I knew that I had the X-factor that I was missing last year (due to crazy heat and conditions) at CDA and that I’d be running the entire marathon on this day.

The Run – 26.2 miles, 3:41:31 (8:27/mile)

I flew through Transition 2, mostly because all I did was change my socks, put on my shoes, and grabbed everything else to put on while I was running. Once my Zoot cooling sleeves, race belt, and visor were on, it was time to do my thing. My goal for the entire run was to jog, and to jog within my means. Ironman is a long training day, and ultimately the goal is to get as fast as possible, so your ‘easy’ can be faster than others. My A-goal for the marathon was a 3:30 marathon which would average 8:00/miles. For me, that is a very easy run on a training day and it felt very within reason.

The first few miles of the run flew by, and I did a great job of slowing down the effort because everything about me wanted to fly with all of the excitement. There is just something so exhilarating about coming off of the bike without any mechanical or nutritional issues and being ABLE to run a marathon! 

The first turn around was at mile 8, and at this point I was averaging 7:55/mile and feeling in control. From the beginning I was walking through aid stations for about 10-15 seconds just to get down water and to grab calories before taking off for 1.5 miles until the next aid station. It’s a sound strategy and one that I’ll definitely stick with.

I saw April and her parents right before the 13.1 mile marker (half way) and was feeling great. I stopped really quick to give her a sweaty kiss, but more importantly to let her know that I was feeling good and that the day was going really well. I also knew that my race was about to start, because at this point I had close to 9 hours of racing in my legs. I made it through the half exactly at 1:45 so I was right on pace.

 Closing in on the half way point on the run and seeing my wife, April for the first time!
Closing in on the half way point on the run and seeing my wife, April for the first time!

The next 12 miles honestly flew by. I slowed down a bit, averaging closer to an 8:40 mile for this section of the run, but I enjoyed it. I continually combatted any self doubt or negative inner voice with the reminder that I love this sport, and that I do truly believe that it’s a gift to be able to do it. I started drinking Pepsi along with water during this portion of the race, and the flat soda sat really well in my stomach giving me a great pick-me-up with the combination of sugar and caffeine.

As I got closer to the village, I knew that there weren’t many athletes running around me that were finishing their second lap. I was excited to know that I was one of the few athletes that was close to finishing their day. I made a series of turns while taking the most exciting turn which said “finish line, this way” and knew I was on the home stretch. At this point, I simply soaked it in.

I enjoyed the run through the village and made sure to thank spectators and wave to people who were waving at me, it was such an electric last mile of the race. I did have one athlete who was about 200 meters behind me, and as we made the final turn towards the finish, I decided to push it. I pushed the pace enough to get some room, and once I hit the red carpet it was nothing but fist pumps and smiles – I was an Ironman for the 2nd time, crossing the finish line in 10:33:45!

Post race thoughts and takeaways

I’m completely satisfied and quite frankly, overwhelmed with a sense of accomplishment after this race. I knew that I didn’t have my best day last year at Coeur d’Alene and really wanted to have a day this year that I could be even more proud of. I learned a lot last year: the importance of salt and electrolytes, tweaks I knew to make in my bike training, and newfound confidence in my ability to swim fast. The feeling of accomplishment comes from the fact that I used what I learned, applied it, and had a great race. Finishing in the top 5% of the race at 74th overall and 13th in an incredibly competitive and impressive age group, M25-29.

I learned more this year, once again, and am excited to apply it towards my training going forward. I’ve made some big improvements on the bike, and am confident that the bike will continue to grow as a strength so that I can be at the top of my division in Ironman races. I know it takes time, and I’m excited to put in the work.

Most importantly, to April, thank you. Chasing my dreams means that I’m away a lot, and you have been incredibly understanding, encouraging, supportive, and energetic. You supported me 100% of the way through this race and were also a huge encourager for me on the days where I was lacking in motivation, and you helped me to stay on course. This is a WE accomplishment, and if I hadn’t had that guy 200 meters behind me at the finish, I would have stopped to tell you that. I just couldn’t let myself get passed in front of my wife 🙂 

Thanks for reading, everyone, and happy racing!


One thought on “Race Report: 2016 Ironman Canada

  1. Michael-
    Very proud of you. I just found your synopsis of Ironman Canada by surfing the web. Low and behold…I see my sons rundown of his second Ironman!Well written and I am honored to be called your Dad. Nice work my boy!


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