Thursday, 29 August 2013

Ironman Canada 2013

Located in Whistler, British Columbia. A new race venue after the Challenge Family took over Penticton, which is the previous Ironman Canada venue for the last 30 years. With Ironman Mont Tremblant also located in Canada and Whistler is no longer the original Ironman Canada venue, I find it more appropriate to be called Ironman Whistler instead of THE Ironman Canada. Anyway, that's a discussion for forums like Slowtwitch, not my blog.

I signed up soon after I got the news that we would be moving to Canada for these 2 years. Whistler was the host of 2010 Winter Olympics, a ski resort town which boasts spectacular mountain views overlooking its majestic lakes. It's undulating course on both the bike and run suits a small guy like me. With 100 Kona slots on offer - double the number at most races, I'd thought I'll give it a crack. Little did I know that the field was super competitive and it served as a reality check that I still have lots of work to do if I even want to be close to contention.

Host of the 2010 Winter Olympics 
Pre race

Although located in Canada, it's quite a bit of a journey from us. In fact, it's easier to get to central USA! We took two flights to arrive in Vancouver via Calgary - 4 hours and 1.5 hours respectively. Then a 3.5 hour bus ride to Whistler. We reached our accommodation, Cascade Lodge just 30 minutes before race packet pick-up closed! So I rushed to the athlete centre in Whistler Olympic park. The volunteers teased me of my tardiness but they were all very helpful. Instead of a welcome dinner, the organizers gave us $25 voucher to be used at the local restaurants. I like this idea actually. We dined at Caramba Restaurant, it was packed but we didn't wait too long for our food to arrive and it was high quality as well. We attended the welcome ceremony, the entertainment was a bit weak in my opinion. Secretly I was hoping there would be a performance by Avril Lavigne - yes, I did type that out loud! But the race briefing was quite informative and the course directors for each leg have their own sick sense of humour. Something about welcome to Whistler, where you should take caution of wild life e.g. bears and avoid littering on the course as this attracts them. I later found out they weren't kidding. The run course is mainly trail too, so athletes anticipating to run in the dark were advised to be prepared with their own torchlights - scary!

$25 voucher to be used at local restaurants
I assembled my bike that night so that I can get an early start the next morning. Little did I know because of the time difference (British Columbia was 3 hours behind), I was up before 5am and just waited a couple of hours for the sun to come up so that I can do a practice ride and swim. The swim start is at Alta Lake, about 3kms from where all the accommodations are. It was raining as I rode there and there weren't many people. Swam for about 15 minutes and rode back. Had lunch at El Furniture Warehouse (where everything on the menu is C$4.95!) and took it easy for the rest of the day. After setting up my bike and gear bags, we took the shuttle bus down to T1 to drop them off. Volunteers were very helpful and there were so many of them. I was given a good run down of the transition area. I slept well that night, no insomnia issues, must be tired from the travelling the day before.

Burger and chips at El Furniture Warehouse - everything on the menu is C$4.95!
Bike and gear bags all ready for check-in

The calm before the storm - the swim start the day before the race
Race morning

Woke up at 4.30am, had my toast for breakfast. Received the sweetest short video from my family back home in Malaysia wishing me good luck, really touched my heart! Made my way to the shuttle bus to T1, while Li-Ann walked as the buses were for athletes only. It turned out because of the queue and the longer bus route, Li-Ann reached first! It rained again the night before so I had to wipe my bike down. After a 2nd toilet visit, it was about 10 minutes to start. I kissed Li-Ann farewell and made my way to the deepwater start. The start line was about 100m from the beach, so it was a nice warm up.

Swim 3.8km

It was a two loop swim course. After swimming in the choppy ocean in Australia for many years, the calm lake waters were much welcomed. The course were well marked every 100m. And with 2500 over participants in the water, it may be mayhem at first, but at least it keeps you on course without swimming astray too much. I thought this would finally be my chance to break under 1 hour for the swim. I was on track until I came to the 3.8km mark and we still had to swim back to shore, about 200m away. Anyway no matter. I came out of the water in 1:02:54.

Transition 1

My wetsuit got caught on my left ankle where my timing band was located. Even with the volunteer's help, it took me a while to get the wetsuit off. The change tent was pretty crowded and it took me a while to get my way out. Due to the bike course design, I took the time to slip in some Clif Bars into my back pockets because we can only access special needs once. Also, with pretty chilly morning, I used Li-Ann's old stockings as arm warmers, to be discarded when the weather warms up. T1 time was 4:10

Bike 180km

The one lap course starts with a 20km flat-ish ride from Whistler to the Calaghan Valley turn off. From there we climb up Calaghan Valley for about 15km. The climbs here are pretty steep and I found myself overtaking quite a few people. Once we turned around, it was the opposite - I'm not very confident at the descends, plus my light weight, so many passed me. I was glad I took the arm warmers as it was chilly coming down the slopes. But the weather was perfect, sunny skies with not much wind. So unlike the past two days. I discarded the arm warmers after about 60km as it got warmer. The views were simply stunning. I was glad I was still able to appreciate it despite the suffering!

It was undulating getting back to Whistler and mostly downhill from Whistler to Pemberton. At Pemberton was where I accessed my special needs bag. There were arranged according to numbers and I just missed mine, so I had to back track. As this would be the only time stopping here, I was stuffing my peanut butter sandwiches down my backpockets. The volunteer must have been quite amused. Only lost a minute or so in total here. At Pemberton it was out and back for 60km, mostly flat. Here is where I stayed low on my aerobars in time trial mode. It was disappointing though to see quite a few draft packs with 15-20 people in each. You would think that starting with some hills would break this up, but unfortunately I think it made it worse as it kept people together.

At the end of this flat section, we had another 30km back to Whistler but uphill this time! I thought if I would be able to finish this remaining section in an hour to give me a 5:30 bike split, but boy was I wrong! Even though I paced myself conservatively, I didn't have much left in my legs to ride those hills strongly. My left calf was twitching and a cramp was imminent, so I switched to the lightest gear and spun my way back. I was no longer overtaking people. We got back to Whistler Village but there were a few turns here and there for at least 3-4km or so before we reached the finish. It was a bit under distance at 177km. My bike split was 5:42:39.

Transition 2 

Not much drama here. I proud myself in having speedy T2 times simply because I already have my socks on. Out in 1:46

Run 42.2km

A 2 lap course Mostly dirt road trail and shaded, which kept us cool. A few twists and turns with some undulating hills but nothing too steep or too long. Throughout the run course, the crowd support was simply amazing! The next few sentences probably divulge too much information, so if you are squirmish, just skip a few lines! I didn't get to pee much on the bike as it didn't feel comfortable. But I was feeling a full load when I started the run and it was affecting my stride. I didn't want to waste time getting into portaloos and I found that each time I drink something at the aid stations, it makes me want to pee minutes later. So I learnt how to pee while running - mid stride and all, no stopping! And it wasn't trickling pee, but a full blown relieve-myself-water-gushing pee! You bet that our hotel room stank of my race gear that night and the morning after.

There was a brief section where we came out of the trail and ran along the bike course which overlooked Green Lake. Again, gorgeous view. We did a turnaround here and back to Whistler Village where we start the 2nd lap. I was happily clocking sub 5 minute km pace (or 8 minute miles. Yes, markers were in miles! C'mon we're in Canada!) but could feel fatigue starting to set in. Li-Ann greeted me at the end of the 1st lap, that gave me a short boost. But as I started my 2nd lap, I could feel myself getting more tired. I was getting hungry too and I normally have watermelon in addition to my usual coke but there weren't any. I didn't want to peel the bananas, so I took some cookies instead. I tried to keep my pace under 6 minute kms, or 9 minute miles. After I did the second turnaround at Green Lake, it was the home stretch and suddenly I found my legs again. I even did not stop to walk the last couple of aid stations. Just dunked coke into my mouth and splashed water at myself to keep me cool whilst keeping the pace.


Just like the bike, we took some twists and turns in Whistler Village before finally reaching the finish line. But you could here the voice of the announcer and the cheer from the crowd. Li-Ann was there to greet me just before I reach the finishing arch. I gave her a kiss and grabbed the Malaysian flag and ran through the arch with my arms holding the flag up high. 3:35:08 I did the run and finished with an overall time of 10:26:37. My 7th Ironman finish, not my fastest but could say, one of my proudest. I can't recall how many times I wanted to give up climbing back from Pemberton to Whistler. I was 191st overall and 36th in my age group. Yup, tough field definitely! The 100 Kona slots must have drawn quite a bit of a crowd.

Post race

There was no post race dinner. But the recovery area was quite open and I was able to share my food with Li-Ann. The next day, breakfast was served while the roll down and awards were given out. I didn't see much of it as I was busy shopping for bargain deals - scored a C$50 Castelli bib short (and I was good, that was the only thing I bought)! We had lunch at El Furniture Warehouse again and ordered the same stuff again! Soon, it was time for our long journey back to London, Ontario.

As always, it is a bit surreal that the past 5 months or so lead up to this event has come and gone. I personally, deem my race as a succesful one and I'd like to make a few acknowledgements to those who contributed to the success. Coach Sheri Fraser, is a tough lady but with a golden heart. She poured her heart and soul into each of her athletes and sincerely looks to improve us. My regular ride buddies from Team Sheri and London Triathlon Club - Greg, Clare, Peter and Matt, as well as those who do the Splash N Dash events. Training for an Ironman is never easy, but it is certainly more fun training with you guys. Coach Bill Scanlan and Team BYL for building the foundation to make me the athlete I am today. I could now have come this far without you guys.

Mum, dad, Karen and Keith back home. They have always been supportive of my Ironman obsession and still be so encouraging and excited for me even at Ironman no. 7. I was most touched by the video they sent me on race morning. Love you all! Friends, family, blog readers and everyone who wished me well and good luck through social media, I've tried to sell myself a bit more in regards to my participation for this event. I'm glad you don't find that annoying but been supporting throughout.

Last and of course, not least - my wonderful wife, Li-Ann. She hardly complains when I'm out for my long training sessions only to return home in a tired state and just wanting to rest. As we now share the car, she had to adjust her work schedule as well, just so I can get a workout before and after work. After each session, I don't have to worry about nutrition as all that is well prepared while I take my shower. Darling, the unwaning moral support you give me for each of my Ironman campaign cannot be repaid and I truly appreciate it. Love you very much, muaks!

With my biggest fan
So I foolishly signed up for Muskoka 70.3 next weekend, seemed like a good idea at that time. Hopefully I can recover quickly and give it a decent effort. As for what's next for the year 2014? I haven't quite committed to anything yet. But you would know for sure once I do!

Monday, 19 August 2013

Feeling oh so fresh!

My bike setup for the race. The Dark Knight is ready to be a climbing machine on race day!
The taper week has been great. It started with a 3km swim set on Monday morning. Felt kinda weird with 1km less than my usual set, but it was most welcomed and I got to work 15 minutes earlier than usual. Tuesday afternoon I ran for 75 minutes, with some fast/easy intervals. I was feeling really good and was able to average 4:27 per km upon finish. It has been a while since I held a sub 4:30 average for my long runs.

On Wednesday morning, we moved offices to Victoria Hospital, about another 6kms away from where we used to work. It's a good thing that this move happened at the tail-end of my training. Means I didn't have to adjust too much. In the afternoon, it was Splash N Dash at Lake Whittaker. It was the final one for the season. The turnout was pretty low. Greg and Clare were at Mont Tremblant for their big race on Sunday. I was pleased to come out of the water with a girl who normally swims much faster than I do. I passed her when we started the run and maintained a steady pace without going out too hard. Just over 47 minutes I did, only 30 seconds slower than the PB last week, very pleased with that!

Thursday I did a 2 hour bike ride going through Prospect Hill road and onto Evelyn Drive. Had more stops than my usual route and it was pretty windy on the way back. Managed to clock 64km. Friday morning, I was meant to have a full day of rest but I was scheduled in for a VO2 max test for a PhD student at Western. I've done a few of these tests before, all gave different results. But I know I roughly stand in the 60+ mark. Anyway, this particular test used the face mask which was much more comfortable than the ones I used before, where my nose were clipped together and I had to bite onto the mouth piece and with joining tubes at the sides.

After a brief 5 minute warm up, my blood pressure was taken and it was time for the test. The speed on the treadmill was in mph, something I'm unfamiliar with. We started at about 5mph and 1.5% incline, I got up to 9mph and thereafter the inclines were added 1% every 2 mins or so. I stopped at 4.5% incline after running for about 12 minutes or so in total. My VO2 max reading was at 67, which is in the ball park of where I expected it to be. There's always a feeling that I could have done better, but I thought since it was my off day and I have an Ironman to do in about a week's time, I didn't want to kill myself. Don't get me wrong, I did give it a pretty hard effort.

The weekend came and the load was significantly less compared to the previous weeks. On Saturday, I rode for 3 hours and did an hour brick run after. I did a full dress rehearsal with my trisuit, race wheels and aero helmet. I felt good in the run and was surprised to clock 13km. Sunday I had another 75 minute run. I tried to replicate the same pace I did on Tuesday but I guess having ran the day before made it a bit more difficult. Still, I came very close at 4:28 per km average. In the afternoon, I went to the pool and did 2 x 2000m - one set swim, one set with pull buoy. Surprisingly I felt quite fresh and was able to clock some decent times - just over 33 minutes for the swim and just under 35 minutes for the pull buoy.

It's a good feeling to know that I'm tapering well - I'm feeling fresh enough to nail these sessions without going out too hard. The sessions next week aren't really training sessions in my view, more like warm up exercises for the big race. I've sent my bike for a tune-up, booked in a massage appointment coming Wednesday and Li-Ann comes back later today. So everything is all set. We fly out to Vancouver on Friday morning.

My next post shall be the race report, hopefully it'll be good one!

Monday, 12 August 2013

The home stretch

My lunch post the 2 hour run today, at Harvey's. Had a coupon for buy one free get one free burger! 
Well not quite. But I've done all the big workouts and the taper officially starts tomorrow... with a 3km swim set in the morning. I'm glad I got through the big weeks in one piece. My right foot was a bit of a worry for the past two weeks but the swelling is almost gone and I can run normally now. There is still some very slight tenderness when I apply pressure but it is definitely on the road to recovery and should be in top shape when race day comes.

I scored a PB at the weekly Splash N Dash (1.6k swim 5.2k run) on Wednesday. Timed at 46:34, slicing off 2.5 minutes from the first one I did. My swim time was just over 24 minutes - it's been a while since I've clocked a 1:30 per 100m average! On the run, I chased those in front of me until I've overtaken them and cruised the remainder just to be cautious with my foot, so I felt really happy that I was still able to get a PB. Coach Sheri said I still need to work on my technique and biomechanics for both the swim and run. Yes, she's one tough lady but that's how I improve.

With my usual Ironman training buddies going into taper already for Ironman Mont Temblant, which is a week earlier than my race, I only had Pete (who just finished Steelhead 70.3 a week ago) for company for Saturday's ride. I rode out to his place which took an hour and we did 2+ hours to Fingal and back, before I rode back home. Had a decent ride but the headwinds were pretty strong, hence my average was just under 30kph for the 120km. Did an hour of brick run after, my stride wasn't as smooth as I liked but still did a good pace at 4:40 per km average.

Sunday's long run was only 2 hours (I had 3 hours the past two weeks). It's amazing what a difference it makes, both mentally and physically, to one hour less to do. I started my run at about 9am, as I was watching the live scores for our Malaysian badminton hero, Dato' Lee Chong Wei playing against China's Lin Dan in the World Championships final. Unfortunately Dato' Lee was forced to retire in the deciding set and Lin Dan claimed his 5th title. Still, Chong Wei deserved a pat on the back and it must have been heart wrenching to lose the final that way.

Anyway, back to my run, the weather stayed cool despite my late start and there was a period of overcast in the final 30 minutes or so. I did 3 laps of the 8+km loop around my neighbourhood and managed to clock 25.4km with an average of 4:43 per km, much faster than the last two weeks. Had lunch at Harvey's and then did an easy swim after to recover from the run. Did 2 sets of 2km - one swim, one pull buoy. I was burping root beer and hot pepper throughout!

Li-Ann comes back this weekend. I'm missing her dearly. Even though quite often, we're engrossed in our own worlds at home, I do enjoy her presence and just physically being with her. It's nice to return home after a tough workout and have her fuss all over me, have my food ready and giving me massages to loosen up the knots in my leg muscles before I sleep.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Steady now...

Today is the Civic Day public holiday. I just finished a 4 hour ride, covering the outward and return journey to Lakeside and two loops of Lakeside. Over the weekend - on Saturday, we had what Coach Sheri calls the megaday. Drove to her parents' place in Grimsby, rode some hills in the Niagara area. I was the only one with 5.5 hours in the program but I had good company for the first 4.5 hours. Managed to cover just under 140kms, which is pretty good considering we did some pretty decent climbs with 10-15% slopes.

On Sunday, I did my final 3 hour run. I was a bit wary as the last time I did this, the top of my right foot flared up and as a precautionary measure I did not run the whole week after. Managed to cover 36.6km at a decent steady pace. My foot didn't swell up as badly as the last time. I've been icing it a few times daily, followed by a couple of minutes under hot water. It is making good recovery, thankfully. As I'm now less than 3 weeks away from Ironman Whistler, my priority is to get to the start line fit and healthy.

Li-Ann is away for a two week conference in Kingston, about 4 hours drive away. I dropped her off the train station yesterday. Being the wonderful wife she is, she cooked up big portions of ham and pork, which are now being stored in the fridge. All I have to do is cook up some rice and warm the meat up in the microwave. So my nutritional needs are well taken care of for the next two weeks.

This week's training program is marginally less at 17.5 hours. The following week is significantly less as it is officially the taper. Athlete's guide is up on the Ironman Whistler website. So is the bib list. I'm number 1227, somewhat similar to my Musselman number 1722, few weeks ago. Here are some short clips on the course I'll be racing. I'm getting excited!