Riding with the wind. When I'm sad, she comes to me.
With the thousand smiles, she gives to me...

Fly on my little wing.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Ironman Muskoka

Pre Race:

It will never forget how demanding and awful Ironman Muskoka was. That being said I would totally do this race again. When it was announced WTC would be holding a full in Muskoka, my triathlon partner in crime Dave Smith and I were ready to sign up. The course was closer to home, hilly, slim chance of being scorching hot, as well as a Kona qualifier for the following year. This time around we were also adding a third person to the mix, my college cross country buddy, Erik “Da Bear Wrestler” Johnson, who would be doing his first Ironman.

Training leading up to this one was a bit more complicated and shall we say “fast tracked.” Anyone that trains for an Ironman has to juggle and prioritize the challenges of work, life, training, etc. As usual I had a few too many irons in the fire between house remodeling in the winter, operating both Hill Valley Farm and B-Nuts Trail Mix in the spring and summer, in addition to the fact that we will be hosting our wedding reception at my house in mid September. Despite the fact I’ve displayed the full gamut of my moodiness and slightly eccentric nature Ms. Brittany says she’s still a go. I like her a lot.

With all of those things happening, in addition to the extra limited budget factor, I did very little racing this summer. Dave and I did the Bayshore Marathon this spring (a PR of 2:52) the 4th of July 10K (another PR of 35:18) and we raced in the local Mark Mellon Tri (2nd to Dave). This left me hungry to race Muskoka. The main goal was to qualify for Kona. Secondarily I was hoping to be in the running for the overall podium spots, with tentative goal splits of sub 60, 5:15 and 3:05.

We arrived in Huntsville, ON for your typical pre-race duties. After scoping out the course, the hilly nature was confirmed, which reinforced sticking to the pacing plan on race day. Between the three racers and their families we managed to squeeze 14 adults and five children under five into a condo that “sleeps 8-10.” We prize thriftiness more than comfort. 


I awoke from my sleeping pad in the basement at 4:30AM and began my usual pre race routine. Dave’s dad drove us to transition and we got ourselves ready to rock, before retreating from the hoards to the unoccupied downstairs locker room. Come to think of it I never had to enter a porta pottie the whole time I was in Muskoka. Score.

The water was calm and cool for the warm up swim as all three of us wished each other luck and self seeded in the “under 1 hr” front corral. General hype up ensued from the announcer and soon we were entering the water. The plan was to find a good draft and stay relaxed. I managed to identify Dave in the light scrum and tagged his feet for a while, before identifying a much larger guy with a better draft. Despite the frustrating fact he couldn’t swim very straight I just tagged him and felt pretty relaxed. After the turn I switched to another guy that could actually swim straight and followed him all the way to the swim finish. I was enticed by the services of the wetsuit strippers and began the run up to T1. I hit the split on my watch and noticed it was mid 56 and was absolutely shocked at a five minute PR. The swim must have been short. I had been swimming with a bit more frequency, but not putting what I would call a lot of time in. I guess the effect of a good draft as well as my new 2XU Vortex suit played into it more than I was expecting.

My transition was methodical and as I exited my dad yelled that he thought I was 2nd in my AG. On the bike I focused on keeping the ego in check and riding conservatively for the first lap. The goal was 210w average for the first lap and trying to keep it no higher than 230 on climbs if I could help it. I was holding to my plan and then got caught by a group of three riders around 50km. They were not riding a very even pace which was very annoying so I decided to let them go as I took some time to relieve myself on a downhill stretch. One guy in my AG passed me and I let him go.

My 90km split was 2:35 on 212w and I was feeling solid. The second lap a breeze picked up, the sun came out and I faded a bit.  The final 20km is pretty hilly and I could feel the fatigue in my legs. In particular my hip adductors and calves cramped a bit going up the second to last hill. Not a good sign. I felt I was pretty on top of my nutrition, having consumed approximately 1900 calories between my maltodextrin/cherry concentrate mix, two Roctane gels and one bottle of Gatorade. I hoped it would work itself out once I got running. 


I dismounted at T2, having split a 2:16 on 208w avg and headed inside to gear up for the run. Given the twinge in my calves I decided it safer to put on my calf sleeves. I also had previously chosen to go with my trainers rather than my racing flats for shoes. I exited past the crowds, and focused on running controlled and relaxed for the beginning of the out and back, two loop course. I saw my Dad and he said I was in 2nd in my AG and 5min down to the leader. I curse America for having their unique measurement system. I had previously done the km:mile pace conversions, but higher level thinking is hard when racing and I couldn’t remember the equivalent paces. Effort wise I felt really good as my km splits were clicking around 4:15 (ambitious 3:00 marathon pace), the cramps in my quads had dissipated and I felt tired, but solid.

The course follows some steeper rolling hills, and then heads out onto the highway where there are some 2-3% grade longer rollers. I passed several runners and eventually found myself in no man’s land; unable to see anyone ahead of me but determined to track them down. There is a short out and back around 8km, when I got my first split to the leaders and there were five or six guys all within a few minutes and I estimated I was still 5min back to the front guy. That’s a fair amount of time to make up, but I was determined to risk it. I got to see the guys chasing me and was looking for Dave. I finally saw him and he said he got a flat, which really sucked. I made it back through town and onto the highway holding steady. Then the wheels began to fall off.

There were no aid stations for a good 3-4km on the highway section. The sun had come out and a day of hills was taking its toll. After 17km (10.5 miles) I dropped to 4:40-4:50/km pace (7:40 miles) and knew I was going to be in really bad shape. I popped a few caffeine pills and tried to grab as many calories as I could at each aid station. I didn’t have any other options. I had no idea how I was going to run another 14 miles. Part of Ironman racing is managing the constant ups and downs and I was desperately trying to find the reset button.  

I had stashed a Red Bull in my special needs bag and fast walked as I chugged the entire thing. Hoping the sugar and caffeine would offer some assistance as I just tried to keep running at a decent pace. At 23km my hamstrings and calves seized and I had to “old man hobble” down a section of hill. I pleaded with my legs to work and they managed to get moving again.

At this point running down anyone ahead of me was a fleeting thought. I tried to find reassurance that if I was blowing up, someone else was blowing up. Someone with less experience was going to call it quits. At the same time I feared someone behind me that paced a bit better was going to go by me at any moment. Eleven miles to go and I felt like I was barely moving.

As I approached town I focused on making it to each Aid Station of Hope to cool myself and guzzle any of their calorie laden options. I was counting on massive doses of caffeine and sugar to save me from my worst death march to date. It was then that the mental battle, smoldering for some time, finally erupted in full force.

I was (expletives) done with this. I convinced myself that I was going to pull the plug. This was too hard. I’d blown up worse than ever before. Every shady tree looked like a good spot to lie down under. I was trying to hold it together but to be completely honest I would about cry one minute, then curse at myself the next. I had my plan figured out. I was going to run until I saw my family downtown, then pull off to the side and tell Brittany I love her very much but I can’t do it this time. Then at least they would all know what happened to me rather than me lying down under a tree on the side of the course.

But then I thought about the fact I’ve never DNF’d a race. I would regret it for ever. It would be the one race that I’d wish I could go back and change. Then I realized, no one had caught me yet. I was giving up loads of time and was still 2nd in my AG. Maybe if I could just keep moving I could manage to pull this out. Maybe somehow, even when I inevitably got passed by the guy hunting me down, I would still make it to the finish line in 3rd. Maybe all those guys behind me had blown up. Maybe there’s still a shot. The two sides went back and forth…

I entered downtown, the streets lined with rambunctious spectators. I saw my family, fought off negative thoughts and pressed on. Cramps seized my legs and again I pleaded with them to restart. I stopped at an aid station and chugged another entire can of Redbull. I popped another caffeine pill and a GU. I was still moving. 10km to go. I’ve done that lots of times. But this will be the worst 10km ever. Now heading back through town for the final return leg, I was down double digits to Team Negative. My dad said something to me and I just said “I can’t do this. I can’t do it.” Of course my family encouraged me, but I was in complete doubt. Dad said I had a three minute split to play with. I already felt like I was losing three minutes every mile.

I stopped looking at my watch. I would love to experience the opposite side as an aid station worker as these sugar thirsty zombies grasp at them as they stagger by. As if each cup they offer holds a small elixir and if the zombies could just get enough of them they would transform back into normal humans. 8km to go. 5 miles. College Cross Country. Piece of cake. Really terrible cake.

As I neared the turn onto highway 60 my legs were cramping again. I was instinctively swearing at myself to just man up, like that angry and abusive football coach. One lady that passed me must have thought I was crazy. A few guys caught me and I looked at each calf expecting to see a 25-29 mark. But to my relief none did.  

Back out on the aid stationless highway I was still on the loosing end of the mental battle. At any second I thought guys in my age group would come flying past. Just keep moving. 5km to go. Remember when I ran a 5km PR a few weeks ago? Time to be a man! 4km. 3km. I am going to get passed any time. This is the last steep hill as my hamstrings seize up and I have to walk. I feel so close as I keep chugging up the hill. 2km to go. That’s basically like running a 1500m in college. No problem. I glance over my shoulder, fearing someone is there. I see no one coming. More cursing and primal grunts up the last hill. I am going to make it. I can’t believe I pushed through that train wreck.
The Speed Stache returned for Muskoka. 

Of all the races I have completed this is the most elation I have felt. Maybe it is because of how far beyond empty I was forced to go. Maybe it is also because I’m getting married in less than three weeks and that’s a lot of emotions to cram into a short period of time. I embraced Brittany and earned enough PDA points to last several years. I crossed the line in 9:38, 2nd in my age group and once again getting the opportunity to shell out way to much money to go to Kona. Hard drugs are a hard habit to break.

Post Race:

Dave finished 9th in his AG in 10:07. The last Kona slot in 30-34 went to a guy that went 9:30 and 5th OA. Talk about some pretty stiff competition in my AG next year. Erik completed his first Ironman and crossed the line in 13:15. I want to give a big thanks to these guys for the encouragement and support for this go round. Dave especially challenges and pushes me me bring my A game on race day.

I obviously need to thank my family for enduring another Ironman adventure. Mom, Pop, Reebnut, Weez, Brittany and Jason I don’t know how I’d manage without you all. I obviously can’t take care of myself after a race, let alone before! Thanks to the staff at Groom Lake training center for the wonderful facilities as well as the hook up with the new wetsuit. Everyone else that checks in on me or follows on race day I really appreciate it. Thank you.

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