Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Ironman Canada 2011 Race Report

On Sunday August 28, 2011, I completed my first Ironman race - Ironman Canada in Penticton, British Columbia, Canada.  My family was there to watch me race, along with our friends Michelle, Steve, and their 3 little girls.  Our friends Paul and Miranda also raced, which was awesome (as well as spending time with their families).  Overall, I had an amazing experience.   My goal was to complete an Ironman and have a fun time doing it.   I really enjoyed the entire day and felt great during almost the entire race.   My dad would have been proud!

Some stats:
Training:  I trained for 30 weeks, averaging between 13-17 hours per week of exercise.  On average, I would workout 6 days per week, with 2 workouts (usually one in the morning and one a night) 3 days per week.  I often worked out 7 days per week, adding in an extra swim (which is so easy on my body that I really don't consider it a tough workout).  I loosely followed the intermediate level training program in Don Fink's book "Be Iron Fit".  I did not hire a coach or join a training team.  Most of my training was done alone (I listened to a lot of audio books and music).  My friend Jarrod (also an Ironman) came with me on some of my long rides close to my race, which was very helpful. 

Race Weight: 201 (I started the season at 197 in February and peaked at 204 during the year).  I was easily eating 3,50-5,000 calories a day during the heaviest part of my training, when I was exercising 15-17 hours per week.

Longest workouts during training: 
  • Swim:  The longest swim I did was a 2.4 mile open water swim (race), which took me 1 hour and 45 minutes.  I swam 2 miles in a pool at least 10 different times during the last few months of training (this would take me anywhere from 70-80 minutes).
  • Bike:  102 miles, 5 hours and 57 minutes (17 loops of Central Park), followed by 4 other rides (all on 9W in New Jersey) of 86-95 miles, all taking 5-5.5 hours.  I only rode outside (my long ride) once a week during training.  The other 2 bike rides per week I did on my bike trainer in my apartment.
  • Run:  17.5 miles.  The New York summer was brutally hot and humid, so when my training schedule called for a 3 hour run, the most I could do was 17.5 miles, and that was tough.  I figured that since running is my best event, I could get by with less training.  I knew that I would be walking some of the marathon, so no need to run much more.  I ran 3 days a week during training.
  • Only 1 Brick:  I only did 1 brick (bike ride immediately followed by a run) during my training (the week before the race).  I usually feel good off the bike, so I didn't feel like I needed to do any bricks.  Frankly, I wanted to stay healthy and I figured that I could only hurt myself by running more than needed.
Weather on race day:  It was super hot (90-95 degrees all day, and closer to 95 degrees during the marathon) and windy!  When I signed up for this race, I assumed that since the race was in Canada that it would be cool.

Summary Race Comments:

I had a great swim, far exceeding my expectations, and I really enjoyed the bike and run.  My approach was to enjoy the day and have fun, which I did thoroughly.   As this was my first Ironman race, I wanted to make sure that I never got too tired or worn down (i.e., I didn’t want to bonk, as triathletes say).  Coming into the race, I really had no time expectations, but based on my training times, my 3 previous marathon times, the hot weather, and the difficulty of the course, I figured that I would come in around 14 hours.  In the end, my final time was 13 hours and 15 minutes, far exceeding my expectations.  I finished in 1,399th place, finishing slightly better than the middle of the pack, which is a huge accomplishment for me given that I just started doing triathlons last summer and couldn't even swim 8 lengths in the pool a year ago (despite being in marathon shape).  I crossed the finish line with a ton of energy left and had a huge smile on my face.  As I crossed the finish line, I let out a couple of huge “whooooooo” screams, pumped that I had accomplished my goal (and frankly, at that point, was more pumped that I was done running). See the videos below of me finishing the race and finishing the swim.  If you listen closely, you'll hear me in both videos let out some loud "whoooos", and, and if you listen very closely, 12 seconds into the video the announcer says "James Balcom from New York, a first time Ironman finisher".  That was pretty cool.

As soon as I finished, I got my Ironman Canada finishing medal (frankly, a very small medal -the race director actually sent out an email apologizing for the small medal, saying that it wasn't what they ordered.....I wish he would have said "we are going to make things right and send all finishers the medal that we intended to give you"). Also got a shirt and hat, took a few pictures (see below), and was greeted by my family and friends, who all enthusiastically congratulated me.   They asked me "how do you feel?".  My answer, without pause, was one word........ "PROUD!"  I had a slice of pizza and a Pepsi after the race, and a few hours later a Big Mac, fries and vanilla shake (my friend Paul wanted it and of course I was in!)
During the race, I saw my family at about the halfway point of the bike on the Richter Pass hill, at the beginning of the run, 1 mile from the finish line, and at the finish line (videos of each of these instances can be seen below).  Each time I saw my family, I stopped to give everybody a kiss, which was awesome.  My kids made me some signs (pictures below) that they showed me on Richter Pass.  They also shook their cowbells each time they saw me.  At the end of the night, at 11:45 P.M. (I finished at 8:15 P.M.) my friend Paul and I went to the finish line to cheer on the final finishers (the course closes at midnight, or 17 hours after the race starts).  The energy at midnight was unbelievable and it was really cool to cheer on the final finishers.
Swim (2.4 miles) – 1 hour 33 minutes (my goal was sub 2 hours and my stretch goal was sub 1:40, so by all accounts I had a great swim).  2,400th place out of 2,832 finishers.  384th out of 419 people in my age division (40-44).  I beat 432 people!!!  A huge accomplishment for me.  I enjoyed seeing a lot of unclaimed transition bags as I made my way toward my bike, something I'm not accustomed to seeing.  For my other triathlons (I only did 5 prior to this race), I was often nearly the last swimmer to finish (usually I would beat a few people and in the 2.4 mile open water swim race I did I came in dead last).  My pace per 100 meters was 2:28 (that's 2 minutes and 28 seconds).  During my training, the best I ever did for a 2 mile swim (in the pool without having to sight) was 2:11 per 100 meters, but most of my swims near the race were coming in at 2:18 per 100 meters.  Swimming a 2:28 per 100 was MUCH faster than I expected.  Before the race, Paul's coach told him to "think of the swim as active meditation".  When I heard this, I thought it was a brilliant statement.  During training, I noticed that my fastest swim times in the pool occurred when I slowed down my stroke (although I find it strange that I go faster by going easier....swimming is truly about technique!). So, during the swim, I thought about the comment Paul's coach made and I strongly believe that I had a great swim because I was very relaxed the entire time.  I enjoyed drafting off people and feel confident that I can get that swim time down even more in the future!

Coming out of the swim, pumped up about my swim time (much faster than I thought I would be) - there was a clock that showed 1:33 as I came out of the water.  That's 1 hour and 33 minutes of swimming!

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I'm definitely one of the people still walking out in the water.  I was taking it all in and was one of the last people to start swimming!  2.4 miles is a long way!

Coming out of the swim, that dude dusted me!!!

Here is a video of me coming out of the swim.  You'll hear me yelling
whoo!!!, excited about my swim split.

Here is a video that somebody shot of the swim. He took this video from far away. If you have time, it is well worth watching. It is amazing how nearly 3,000 athletes are all swimming together at the same time. This video also makes one appreciate how far a 2.4 mile swim really is.

Transition 1 (T1) – 12 minutes, 46 seconds – 2,755th place out of 2,832 finishers (i.e., I only was faster than 77 people in T1).  I took my time to change into my bike clothes, put sunscreen on, and used the bathroom before starting my bike ride (I asked a volunteer to hold my bike while I went, as I decided at the very last moment to go).  I wanted to make sure that I didn’t forget anything, which I didn’t.  Of the 77 number of people that had slower transitions time than I did, only 11 people finished ahead of me in the overall race. 

Bike (112 miles) – 6 hours 44 minutes (my goal was sub 7 hours and my stretch goal was 6:40, which I missed by 4 minutes).  1,748th place out of 2,832 finishers, 328 out of 419 in my age group.  Average heart rate 139.  I was surprised that I finished below the middle here.  I definitely have work to do on the bike during the off season!  Average pace was 16.6 miles per hour and my average heart rate was 139.  I was ready for the hills, which are plentiful and tough, as well as the heat (in the 90s), but I wasn’t ready for the wind, which, at times, was so strong that I had to pedal hard going down huge hills, still not reaching even 15 miles per hour at times.  Jordan Rapp, the winner of the race, said in his speech at the finisher's dinner the night after the race, said something like "I have ridden the bike course more times than I can count and it was never tougher than today (due to the wind)". 

Click HERE for my Garmin bike file

Nutrition on the bike - I consumed approximately 2,500 calories on the bike (8 gels, 2 bottles containing EFS and Carbopro (each bottle approximately 460 calories, picked up the second bottle at special needs), and about 5 bottles of Powerbar Ironman Perform drink (like Gatorade). 
Overall, I thought the race was extremely well run (2,832 athletes (finishers) and over 4,000 volunteers), but 4 of the approximately 10-12 water stations did not have water when I arrived (even the first water station).  That made things a little more challenging for me on a very hot day.  Also, I didn’t get any flat tires, but a ton of people did.  At about the 10 mile point of the bike, some race officials were yelling to us “ride in the middle of the road, there are tacks on the right side”.  “Tacks??”, I said.  Huh?  There were a ton of flats at this point.  Apparently, somebody put tacks down on the road.  Not cool.  I rode an aluminum Cannonondale Caad 9 5 bike without aerobars, a $1,200 bike.  Most of the people doing the race had $5,000-$10,000 bikes.   The last 3 miles or so of the course were tough – flat and very windy in Penticton, I had a tough time getting over 15 miles an hour and my heart rate was in upper 140s (high for me).  The bike ride is extremely hilly and extremely scenic.  The views are amazing and the crowd support, particularly on the hills, was great (my favorite was at the top of the Richter pass hill, where there was a DJ, large speakers, and pumping music playing, with a bunch of people with signs saying "you've made it to the top of the hill").  Richter is about a 7 mile climb, so finishing that hill is a good feeling.  Overall, I felt great during the ride - my bottom (or "bum" as Canadians say") was fine, I was able to stand up to stretch and didn't feel numb there during or after the race.  I didn't stand up to climb at all during the bike ride, which explains why my heart rate never went above 164. 

My family met me on Richter pass, and here is a video of me stopping to greet my family and friends and to check out the signs that they made me:

The only problem I had during the ride was that my feet, for the last 10 miles or so, were extremely sore.  At some points during the last 10 miles, I wondered if I would be able to run at all after the bike.  But somehow, with a few miles to go, the pain in my feet went away and I didn't think about it the rest of the race.

Transition 2 (T2) – 11 minutes, 42 seconds, 2,487th place out of 2,832 (I was faster than 345 people).  Once again, I took my time to change into my running shorts, new socks, reapply suntan lotion, and I used the bathroom again (no line).  As I was leaving transition, I heard them announce my name “James Balcom from New York” and within seconds I spotted my wife and family.  I ran around a corner and greeted my family, which was awesome.  Here's a video of me coming out of transition to greet my family:

Run (26.2 miles, a marathon)4 hours, 32 minutes, 729th place out of 2,832 finishers (top 25%), 136 out of 419 in my age group (32%), (my goal was sub 5 hours and my stretch goal was 4:30).  Average heart rate 156.  My run started off by greeting my family, which was awesome.  I didn’t feel particularly tired at this point, but I also didn’t feel my typical “pep” that I usually feel when running.  A few days before, Paul and I rode the run course and to my surprise, it was very hilly, with some very big hills.  As I greeted my family, I said to my wife “I think the marathon will take me 4 hours 30 minutes to 4 hours 45 minutes.”  At that point, I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to run a 4 hour marathon with those hills and 90+ degree temperatures (I later heard that the temp on the run may have been as high as 96 degrees).  I wore a visor for my run, which I had never done before.  It helped keep the extremely hot (and dry) sun off my face.   After spending about 1 minute with my family, I was off on my run.  I felt pretty good during mile 1, clocking an 8:54 mile (meaning that I actually ran a 7:54 first mile).  However, during mile 2, I bonked.  The run course in the first miles is uphill, and that, coupled with the heat crushed me.  My goal coming into the race was to run as much of the first 13.1 miles as possible, so I just kept on pushing.  My splits were 9:10, 9:31, 9:38, 9:34 for miles 2-5.  This usually included slowing down to a near walk for 10-20 seconds at each aid station (every mile).  At mile 6, it started to get harder, and I was working to run a pace of 10:00 – 10:30 per mile.  There were a few big hills that I walked, but for the most part, I accomplished my goal of running to the half marathon point.  Each aid station had freezing cold sponges, so I took 3 of those at each station, soaking one over my head and putting the other 2 in my jersey, one on each shoulder blade.  Then, about halfway into each mile I would squeeze the sponges and get soaked.  I also ran through a bunch of sprinklers and hoses whenever I could, anything to keep cool.  The run course is scenic, as it runs along a lake with houses along it.  Nearly all the residents are out watching the race and many have their hoses ready to spray.  That was very helpful.   For miles 7-13, I kept saying to myself, “only x miles to go to the halfway point, then you can treat yourself to some walking”.  So, once I passed the half marathon point (2 hours 13 minutes), I walked a little bit, up a couple of big hills.  When I started walking, my heart rate dropped down into the 120s-low 130s, so I got energy back each time, so then I started to run.  A lot of the course was downhill at this point, so I ran all the downhills, walked a few uphills, but generally walked the water stations and then ran to the next water station.  I kept telling myself at this point “you can walk an entire mile NEXT mile”, but I never did.  My legs started getting sore (my quads and my left shin) around mile 17.  I never hit a wall because I walked a lot, so I just kept pushing.  Mile 21 or 22 back into Penticton is a long, gradual climb and I ran the whole thing.  That hurt a little.  Once in Penticton, I knew I was almost there and I kept pushing (my pace for the last 8 miles or so when I ran was in the 9:20s-9:30s).  I drank Pepsi at most of the aid stations throughout the race, sometimes Powerbar sport drink, and once in a while ice water.  Sometimes I took ice and I actually drank a little very hot chicken soup twice, which may have helped.  I only ate 3 gels on the course, I was sick of them after 8 gels on the bike.  When I got onto main street, it is downhill, which is awesome!  I kept pushing, ran into my family with 1 mile to go, which was awesome and gave me a boost.  My splits near the end were as follows:  mile 23 (9:56), mile 24 (10:34), mile 25 (9:29), mile 26 (9:24), last .2 (8:27).  At this point, it was still light out and most of the people around me were pushing to try and finish before nightfall (mainly to avoid having to put on the reflector gear).  I felt very strong and ran the last mile a little harder (around 8:00 pace).  In advance of the race, my friends told me to slow down and space myself for an individual picture, so I was trying to do that, but there were a lot of people around and I did the best I could to do so (although I felt pressure from the guy behind me, who crossed with his daughter, which isn’t allowed).  I let out a very loud “whooooo” scream as I crossed and it was over just like that.  I got my medal, finisher t shirt, and hat, had a few pictures taken, and went right to my family.

Click HERE for my Garmin Marathon file

Overall - 13 hours 15 minutes, 1399th place out of 2,832 finishers (slightly better than the middle), 268th out of 419 in my age group.   As soon as I finished, my family and friends asked "how do you feel?" and I had one word.  "PROUD!".  Here is a videos of me right after the race (meant to be a picture):
And here's a video taken of me right before I finish. You can see I look around for my family, but unfortunately I didn't spot them: And here's a video of me 1 mile from the finish (definitely one of my favorite videos!). Note how light it is here, versus when I finished....

Coming out of the swim, pumped up about my time (much faster than I thought I would be)

 If you look closely at this picture, my eyes are shut.  This picture was taken in mile 2 and I remember hitting the wall at this point thinking "how am I going to run 25 more miles?!"  At least I had some ice in my hand to help cool me off (although it felt like it weighed 100 pounds)!

What's next
It's taken me a few months to write this post. I've really enjoyed my post Ironman training. I've still been exercising a lot, but the "two a days" are few and far between. I've been running a lot (5-7 days per week), doing some swimming, and leg strength workouts 2-3 days a week. I've only ridden my bike once since IMC. Running is the easiest thing to do and I love it. No prepping my bike, no going to the pool - just laying my clothes out the night before! I guess I'm officially in the triathlon off season! When I finished IMC, I told myself that I would run the NYC Marathon this year if I was healthy and felt good. A few months later, I feel great, so I'll be running the NYC Marathon on Sunday 11/6 (my bib number is 10372, I'm in wave 1 (starts at 9:40am Eastern), and I'm in the Blue Wave (corrral #10). I don't have a time goal for the race, I'm in it to enjoy the experience. Since IMC, I've been on a 100% plant diet (vegan) and as of last week I'd lost 22 pounds (from 201 to 179) since IMC. I definitely feel leaner and notice that my "easy" runs have been much faster than earlier this year (my long runs have been in the 8:15-8:25 per mile zip code vs 8:45-9:00 and my shorter (6-7 mile) runs have been in the 7:46-8:15 zip code vs. 8:30-8:45). My heart rate for the paces I'm running today are at the same level as my heart rate was earlier this year (e.g., my average heart rate for a 6 mile loop at 7:46 pace will be in the 150s whereas my average heart rate earlier this year at 201 pounds was in the 150s for a pace around 8:15 per mile).  Later, in August 2012, I'll be competing in my second Ironman race, Ironman New York (the first Ironman race to be held in New York City).

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