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August 26, 2012 - Coach Troy's Ironman Canada Race Report
 

Race Splits

Swim: 1:10:55 (1:37/100 meter pace for 2.4 miles)
T1: 3:34
Bike: 5:45:13 (19.47 mph for 112 miles)
T2: 3:32
Run: 3:40:17 (8:24 per mile for 26.2 miles)
OVERALL Finish Time: 10:34:31

Pre-Race


I was recently asked if these Ironman triathlons get easier or more routine after doing a few. While I think some of the things we tend to get nervous about aren't present after the first Ironman you complete, it is about as far from routine or easier you can get. Ironman Canada was my 4th full Ironman on August 26, 2012 in Penticton, Canada (BC) and it was probably one of the more challenging of the 4 (not the most challenging, but definitely high on the list). I will try not to bore you with too many details! The bike and run course were definitely more challenging than all but one other Ironman.

I was fortunate enough to travel with 12 other people and rent a house on a vineyard (not including the other 5-10 other people we knew racing there as well). It was like transplanting half of Austin to Canada for the week, which was just awesome! After two flights to get into Spokane, we had the long drive up to Penticton, not to mention a 75 minute delay at the border...was it my terrorist type face that put us in the background check room? The best part of the trip was pulling into Penticton, Canada and seeing a DOUBLE RAINBOW! This had to be a sign of magical things to come I kept telling myself! We arrived late Tuesday after a long day of travel and were quite happy to get settled into the house. Wednesday to Saturday was sort of a blur of relaxing times at the house, some short workouts spotted throughout the week, some great cooking at the vineyard, and I couldn't forget the best restaurant in town - The Bear's Den. We ate there every day except Saturday and Sunday between Wed-Mon and they have the best breakfast around. Between the pancakes, waffles (covered in the freshest fruit in the region), eggs, hash browns, and hot chocolate, it was heavenly for sure! There was a lot of buzz during the week about WTC (company that owns Ironman branded races) losing this race to Challenge (another company that puts on Iron distance triathlons around the world). This became quite evident that this would not only be the 30th anniversary of Ironman Canada, but it will be the FINAL "Ironman" Canada. It is officially Challenge Penticton moving forward and while I think that is actually a good thing to have someone put WTC in their place, it made me very sad to know that there will be people that never get to experience such an amazing race. The course is very old school since everything is a one loop course, the race director that was running it has been there for decades, and the town has been behind this race for so long. I'm not sure what will happen moving forward to the course, the town, the race design, but I feel very fortunate to have experienced a race that has a ton of history with people that made it feel like home.

The rest of the week leading up to the race was really relaxing and uneventful, which for an Ironman race week is a welcomed situation. I really had no expectations and especially not any HIGH expectations for this race. We had been training in Texas on hills after hills after hills in the heat after extreme heat after extreme humidity and it was finally time to put it all to the test. Summer in Texas as you all know is a bit of a suffer fest for many. Personally, I enjoy the heat much more than the extreme cold weather, but those days where you get off the bike in 100+ degree heat with 80% humidity, that run brick workout is just not going to happen outside (at least if I wanted to live). Thankfully I have the best drink formula in the world to get me through all my tough training conditions in Texas! Thanks Infinit Nutrition!  I finally gave into the fact that I could hit the treadmill after my long bikes or just go start my recovery with a large glass of chocolate milk. With all that to deal with, it really left me with zero expectations for this race and I was really okay with that. None of my swim, bike or run numbers were on par with setting this course on fire with some amazing performance. I sort of knew in the back of my mind what I'd like to do, but I knew in my heart what was actually feasible. This is one of our pre-race swims on the course.

RACE DAY!

Race day arrived after we did all our gear check-in the day before and everyone seemed ready to get this day started. For the first time in an Ironman (or any event to be honest), it was very surreal to me that morning. For the first time ever, I wasn't really nervous as I walked through, pumped up tires, checked and fixed all my special needs bags and T1/T2 transition bags. I had to make sure my Infinit Nutrition was on the bike and ready to go! I found myself in an extremely odd calm place mentally and emotionally. I had never experienced this before so I just tried to roll with the situation and see where it led me. After getting all that taken care of, I was able to find Tonya, Kevin, and Alex (my wife and friends, and the best IronSherpas in the world!!!!) and we chatted a bit getting ready for the race to start. As I watched all the athletes around me (1000 of them first timers, something like 20-30 professionals, and roughly 2600 to actually start the race), I just had this overwhelming calmness come over me. A few of my best IronPals found us at the start area (Denise, Laurie, Tony and a few others) and came to hang out while we donned the wetsuits.

A few photo ops later, and we were nearing start time.

SWIM


I made my way down to the beach and started to actually start figuring out where I was going to line up. This is a one loop, in water start swim with a rope across the corner of the lake as the starting line. I had two options of line up positions and chose just right of the center. You could line up wherever you wanted, but the left side seemed a tad closer to the first swim buoy. This was probably why about 75% of the athletes lined up over there and why I chose to line up a little closer to the right side. My theory was to try and line up with less chaos around me and swim as fast and hard as I could to get out into open water and out of the mass chaos. For those of you that don't know about Ironman, the swim is one entire mass start. Put 2600 athletes in the water, raise the rope, fire the gun, and try not to get trampled, pummeled, abused, kicked, or drowned. I lined up on the front and was thinking I could probably swim somewhere between 55-58 minutes on a good day. The gun was fired and by the second buoy, I had found semi-open water without really any issues. You hit the first turn at roughly 1600 meters, swim across another 450, and then all the way back in to the finish at 1800+ meters. I was in a good pack and probably drafted at least 75% of the time. Everything was really going well, got to see some cool scuba divers on the turns that were making sure everyone was safe from underneath, and then it hit me. Not someone's hand or leg, the mental battle of...okay this swim seems really long today. I started sighting to check for finish line and it was nowhere in sight. I stopped drafting feeling like I was on slower feet and could be going faster. Finally I see the exit area and I see some people swimming and others trying to run through the water. Folks, this water is SUPER clear. It is also very deceiving b/c you can see the bottom and think it isn't that deep. I continued to swim as long as possible, even dragging my hands and fingers on the lake bottom and pulling myself along. This proved to be a good choice since I would see people stand up, try to run, and then get back in and start swimming again. I probably passed 30 people in the last 100 yards by still swimming when they tried to run. Out of the water and hit a great two person team of wetsuit strippers. This was not the swim time I had hoped for and quite honestly it felt pretty long to me. Turns out, my Garmin told me it was a bit long at 2.58 miles. I swam what seemed like a really straight line 99% of the time, so I have to assume it was either a long course or I should have chosen to line up to the left instead of the right/center. Oh well, lessons learned, race is barely started...get moving!

T1

Nothing much here out of the ordinary. I dumped my bag and had some 10-12 year old boy help me. I put on the arm warmers while he stuff my pockets with the nutrition I had added into the bag. I chose not to run through the entire transition in bike shoes, but instead carried them to the bike and then put them on. This proved to be a wise decision since they wouldn't let us put them on our bikes. Out of T1 without any real issues.

BIKE

This course is definitely challenging, but it is also one of the most fun rides I have ever been on. The first 40 miles are very fast and flat with one small climb mixed in for grins. Did I mention...VERY FAST! Man it was fun! Then you hit the first climb called Richter pass. This is about a 7 mile climb that is definitely worthy of being called something much worse than Richter! The bad part about this climb for me personally was my rear flat tire right in the middle of the climb. I had decided to carry a can of pitstop (i.e. fix a flat) just in case of a small puncture. This proved to be a good decision and worked really well. It got me back on the road much faster than ripping off a glued tubular tire and putting on a new one.

The funniest thing at this time of the day was some guy riding by me with some sort of radio or iPod speakers in his jersey pocket. Since they banned earphones of any kind, I guess this idiot decided he could figure out another method. Turns out that same idiot crashed pretty badly on his bike later. I have no words for idiots like this.

After the flat was fixed and I continued to climb to the top of Richter pass, I finally was able to crest and get my legs warmed up again. After Richter pass was a SUPER FUN descent followed by the 7 *itches. These 7 rolling hills were nicknamed and were compared verbally to me as Highway 360 type rollers. I was pleasantly surprised at these and didn't think too much of them like others had told me. The rest was sort of a blur, some flat fast sections, a few rollers here and there, a dumb out and back section for special needs, and then I see the sign for the "Clifton Ranch"...well I guess I am home then right? This was actually the start of the next 11 miles of climbing around Yellow Lake. The climbs weren't that bad, lots of stair steppers along a lake that did actually look yellow, but it started to hit a headwind which made it a little more difficult. I'm still not exactly sure where that climb ended, but finally I started more descending and it was a ton of fun. The descending on this bike course is a "drop in your aerobars, crank your hardest gear, and basically spin out as you fly down between 35-50 mph on straight and some sweeping turns"...oh...and don't think of touching that break.

One guy was a little intimidated I guess coming down Richter and his entire bike was wobbling uncontrollably. He started to veer to the other side of the road trying to control it but I just pushed past him as fast as possible trying to secure safety around him.

For those that aren't aware, ironman triathlon is NON-drafting, meaning you have to keep 4 bike lengths between you and the bike in front of you. There are penalties when you don't abide by the rules (time penalties). With 3k athletes, you are going to see drafting, some are going to get caught and some aren't. I train non-drafting and prefer to race "clean"; when it comes to these rules. There are many others that choose otherwise. The worst case I have ever seen was the Ironman World Championship 70.3 when I did it a few years back and I had packs of 30-50 cyclists in a true peloton blaze past me about 35 mph. It is very frustrating when they don't get caught. Today was no different and while I didn't see any pelotons of cyclists, as we climbed yellow lake I saw a whole new level of cheating. I am cruising up yellow lake and this guy comes up beside me, and within 3 inches of his rear tire was a female. He turns around and says "hey baby, you still there, you good, stay with me." Okay, that was a bit extreme level of cheating in that he was basically pulling her through the bike course. It has been claimed to save you up to 35-40% of your energy by cutting through the wind and drafting like that. I was absolutely amazed that they were so blatant about it. What made it even worse was an official came riding up next to them 2 minutes later and instead of giving them a penalty, she gave them a warning. What gives? So I continued to ride "clean"; and legal, but man it is frustration.

The bike came to an end right at 112 miles and I was pretty happy to get off the bike by this point. My legs had started to show signs of riding so many hills and dealing with the heat in Texas this summer, so getting off 2 wheels was a really, really GREAT feeling!

T2

I love entering T2 in an Ironman, leaving your shoes clipped in the bike and just handing it to one of the long line of volunteers that take your bike and re-rack it for you. Off to grab my T2 bag and into the tent. I had decided in the last few days to do the marathon in my speed work shoes that I loved! I have never done a run longer than 14 miles in these shoes, never done a marathon in anything other than my trusty Asics Kayano shoes, but I was interested to test out my theory with these speed work lighter weight shoes on a marathon. Coming after 112 mile bike would absolutely put that theory to the test. I grabbed my gear, put on the shoes, put on the cowboy hat, hit the port-o-john, and came out shootin'! (so to speak) It didn't take more than 5 steps out the tent for volunteers to start hollering at the cowboy hat wearing athlete!

RUN

After getting punished on the bike and seeing a handful of people pass me in the first 40 miles flying by, countless people passing me during my bike flat, I was ready to return the favor and start counting heads as I passed runners. It's always good to get on your two feet after the swim and bike b/c then it really is just you and nature. Swimming can get dangerous as I have heard of 2 friends in the last 2 ironmans that never made it to T1 due to be knocked out or something else pulling them out. The bike has its obvious issues that are mostly out of your control. There is always a chance of a mechanical issue that is not repairable and you are left on the side of the road crying b/c your day just ended. I have crashed in a half ironman once b/c of some other idiot, so you never know what is going to happen on the bike. Once you get to the run, it's like a sigh of relief that now it is just you, the fans, the pavement, and your mental capacity. Running is just a natural part of life that we have all done as kids and I just chose to take it to another level when I entered adulthood. So for me, the beginning of the run was all about smiles, waves, and time to enjoy this wonderful town in Canada.

The run has some false flats from 2-10 and 16-24. Miles 10-16ish is where the real meat of the course is and proved to be quite challenging. The hills were pretty relentless, but more about that in a minute. My goal early on was to count each person I passed not only for encouragement, but to help with the "mental" game that was going on upstairs right now. It's so very easy to get a mental block when you are racing between 8-17 hours and you have to find your method to get through it. I figured if I counted people I passed, it would be a huge boost and completely take my mind off the temporary pain. Miles 1-10 were pretty good and I felt okay. I had hoped to negative split the course, but that was yet to be determined. My legs felt okay, but didn't have the pep I had hoped for that day. I started a regular 3 aid station nutrition cycle that got me to the end without issues. The key is to stay on top of the nutrition, the calories, the hydration, etc.  I couldn't have gotten this far without Infinit Nutrition!

The fans were spectacular! I would have had free entry to this race if I had a $1 for every person that commented on my cowboy hat! Fans, other athletes, people on bikes, aid station volunteers, etc...you name it, they were yelling it! "Hey love the hat, love the cowboy hat, go cowboy, that hat rocks, nice hat, etc." with the occasional "hey nice pace...oh and nice hat!" I also got a nice compliment on the run when I passed some guy around mile 8. "Hey cowboy, nice pace, I hope you get a really good time and place in today's race b/c you were doing everything in your power to ride clean and not draft like everyone else out there. That integrity is rare and I hope you do well." That gave me a boost for sure!

I was a bit worried as I started to sponge my head and by mile 4 my shoes sounded like a sponge and were soaking wet. I realized if I continued this, my feet would be a solid blister by 26.2 miles. I had wished I put a pair of dry socks in special needs just in case of this situation. Oh well, stopped the sponges and was sort of drying a bit by mile 13.1. All these people that passed me are now being checked off one by one as I count quietly in my head, 50, 51, 52... I got through the hills to the turnaround at mile 13.1 and grabbed my next gel flask. The turnaround was nothing short of brutal. Straight. Up. Hill. I think we climbed pretty much from 13.1-16ish miles. A few runners claimed they could walk up faster than they could run, so I put their theory to the test. I had my trusty Garmin and walked for 100 yards or so and monitored my pace. Then I started "running" (I use that term loosely when I am talking about these hills) and just as I suspected, they were dead wrong! I was still running twice as fast as I could walk it. I had passed 93 runners by the half way mark and continued to check them off through the hills. By mile 17 I was expecting to get some hill relief but to my surprise it was pretty much a false flat all the way to mile 24. No relief and likely no negative split today. I either missed the aid station or there wasn't one at the turn around point, so miles 12-14 were EXTREMELY fuzzy and I was feeling VERY weak. That's when I kicked in the new nutrition plan (mile 14 aid station) that involved some coke (yes I don't drink caffeine, coke products, coffee, or anything like that) mixed with the rest of my nutritional strategy. It definitely worked and I was still picking off a few runners here and there. One guy and I pretty much ran together the final 8 miles doing a little leap frog. Back into town where all the spectators are chilling was a big uplift! By this time I had seen almost every single person from our crew with two of our crew in front of me and the others I saw on my way back into town. I finally dropped my running partner about mile 25 when I saw Tonya, Kevin, and Alex and had a little pick-me-up attitude! The finish is brutal only b/c they bring you into town and about 50 yards from the finish line, they make you turn left instead of right (which would be the finish line). You run another mile or so down the street and then turn around and come back right in front of where you just were. Ok, that's just mean! I saw Tonya WAY up there near the finish, flashing my guns up, showing some cowboy Texan pride, and for once in about 10+ hours showing some positive speed gains (they were minimal though I promise). I tried all day to pick up my run pace, but my legs just weren't going to have any of it.

It is amazing how you feel like you are on clouds those last 300 yards of the finishers chute. It truly is an amazing feeling. The crowd was so loud, I vaguely heard "Troy Clifton in the cowboy hat from Round Rock, Texas, You are an IRONMAN!"; It was a surreal moment and all I wanted to do was sit down...and drink a beer! I had two volunteers "catch me"; at the finish line (husband and wife "team") and they were the best volunteers I have ever seen. Long story short, they took me straight to massage, grabbed all my finishers gear, got me a massage table/therapist, some food, some drink, and were just amazing! After a brief massage, some food, and chatting it up with a few of our crew that had just finished as well, it was time to hit the shower so we could come back and cheer on the rest of the Austin Texas crew. We pulled in our very last finisher from Austin somewhere around 16:55-58 (11:55-58 PM and you have until midnight to finish) and we were all very tired and ready to call it a day. Oh...and on the shoe decision...best decision EVER! First marathon I have ever run without a SINGLE blister anywhere on my feet. Oh yeah, it's game on going forward! I love Asics! Regarding the headcount of runners I passed in the marathon, I had counted 93 at the turn around and then things got a little fuzzy, but I believe it was somewhere in the ballpark of 125. Not bad for a day at work as an Ironman age grouper!

THE FINISH

This was my fourth Ironman to finish (Coeur d'Alene, St. George, Austria, and now Canada) and I am just beside myself with the amazing spectators, athletes, courses, volunteers, and most of all, my wife. The level of support you get from family and friends is truly an amazing feeling. Tonya was there as the best IronSherpa and wife anyone could ask for and I'm not sure I could do these without her. This was not the most spectator friendly Ironman course, but I saw her in the morning, several times on the run, and at the finish line. I love my wife and I love her for giving me these opportunities. Thank you to my IronPals that have taken me to a new level of appreciate for friendship. You guys are the best!

We have had the unfortunate experience of watching several families either close to us or friends of good friends go through unimaginable circumstances since the beginning of May. For those that know me well, you know that family is my number one priority and extremely important to me. For those families that have gone through horrific circumstances the past 4ish months, I believe that is why this day kept me so calm and seemed almost "out of body" experience. I have been sort of in a funk the past 4 months that is 100% attributed to me wanting to savor every second with my family b/c you never know when it will change. I believe my calmness and surreal experience during Ironman Canada can be partially contributed to the fact that I wasn't really there mentally all day. I was constantly thinking about my family and the time it took away from our time while I was training those long rides on the weekends and how I really missed my boys back home. It's a hard pill to swallow, but I have to get through this mental battle to continue to move forward while still keeping my priorities in check. Family is Number 1 and that's just how it is for me. I may be an Ironman, but it is only b/c I haves the best IronFamily of anyone on the earth! Until next time, savor those moments, enjoy those families, and SBR HARD!

~Coach Troy

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