Ironman Canada 2009 Race Report

The morning started much like any other race morning.  I managed to get about 6-7 hours of sleep, which was a pretty good amount considering everything.  So when the alarms went off I was pretty much ready to go.  However, earlier that evening (the ‘eve’ of, I guess it would be called), the family and the girl were out decorating the street with chalk markings while I was sleeping away:

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Back to the morning of though… I was happy to find a parking spot within the same city as the race start, so after a short walk I arrived at bag drop and body marking sections.  First you dropped off your run and bike bags (which you would pick-up mid-way through those course sections).

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Then it was off to body marking to get drawn all over:

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After which, I headed into transition with my bike pump, nutrition and what felt like 28 bags of random stuff that somehow needed to be accommodated for on my journey.

First order of business was ensuring the bike was firmly planted in happy-land.  If something goes wrong (like say…a broken stem valve while pumping tires), you want the maximum amount of time possible to fix the bike issues.  So I got my tires all pumped up to 170psi and then topped off my nutrition.

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After which I hooked up my Garmin Edge 705 and made sure it was happily reading all the ANT+ devices connected to it (Heart Rate Strap, Power Meter, Cadence sensor).

Good to go!

Next up was heading off to drop off one of my last transition bags.  I didn’t want to drop it off the day prior as there was too much thinking to do and it was stressing me out trying to ensure everything was accounted for.  On the morning of though it takes only a second to toss it in with it’s friends, so I was quickly good to go on that front as well.

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At which point I looked up and pondered the portapotties line.  Holy crap.

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No really, holy crap.

I’ve never seen a long so line at a race before, I think there was approximately 3.8 portapotties in total for 2,600 athletes.  I immediately decided that if going to the bathroom was going to be on the menu for this morning, I needed to find another place.  So I turned around, headed out of transition and went to the nearby hotel and casino.  After a bit of walking around trying to pretend I belonged there, I found a quiet bathroom.

As the stall doors opened up – none other than Mr. Frank Cokan walks out – the 78 year old 41-time Ironman (also racing this year).  I figured if there was ever a good luck omen, it would be that our asses shared the same porcelain god just seconds apart.

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After that very successful diversion, I headed back over to transition to ditch my dry clothes bag and get ready to rumble.

The Swim:

As you likely know, the Ironman swim start is a mass swim start with 2,600 other people all at the same time.  This means that you get to partake in a giant blender as part of the initial few ‘magical moments’ of the Ironman.  As such, one of the choices you must make is where on the beach you want to be when the horn goes off.  Those folks who are stronger swimmers will start on the front line, those who are less strong may start on the beach and even wait a few minutes for things to settle down.

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Last year, I started on the front line and didn’t have too much of a problem.  This year I was aiming for about an 7-8 minute faster swim, so the front line again seemed like the obvious choice.  Most folks along that line are mentioning what their anticipated swim times are, so you can kinda judge if the spot you’ve chosen is appropriate.  And most folks near me were estimating about a 60-minute swim – on target with my 58m hopes.  So I lined up smack in the middle of the start line, directly under the flags and prepared for the horn.

And at 7:00AM – off we went.

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And at 7:00:02…I got pummeled.

And at 7:00:03…I was still getting pummeled.

And at 7:00:04…I.was.still.getting.pummeled…like a rag doll.

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That pummeling…sorry…That joyous pummeling did not stop for 2-3 minutes.  Now, it wasn’t that these were particularly great swimmers (just like I’m not a particularly great swimmer) that were doing the pummeling of me.  Nope, these were just people who don’t know how to pace….at all.  Because, about 5 minute later – I was easily cooking by people like a carpool in the HOV-lanes.  So…You Mr. and Ms. 3 minute fast swimmer who putters out at the 5 minute marker on a 10-17 hour Ironman – you are a FAILBOAT.  Just sayin’… :)

Anyway…speaking of boats – I rounded the first turn boat (there are only two turn boats, a 1600m stretch, 450m stretch and then 1800m stretch) right on target at just prior to 25 minutes.  And exactly 6 minutes and 55 seconds later, I nailed the second boat – right on target.  Oh – and just so we’re clear – these are actually boats – not buoys.  The buoys are every 100-200m and used for sighting, but the boats are the actual turns.

However, somewhere in that last 1800m back to shore I managed to loose a few minutes.  I don’t know where they went exactly.  Perhaps they sunk, like rollover minutes that don’t float or something.  I’m not really sure.

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Either way, I came out of the water at 62:58– a 4-ish minute improvement over last year, so all in all not too bad.  And even better was that the Girl was standing there in the water lining the swim exit chute – complete with her cheering shirt on.

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T1:

I had a pretty damn fast transition time last year (for both T1 and T2), which was among the fastest ones all day – so I knew beating those would be tough this year.

First up was the wetsuit strippers.  As usual, I picked the biggest and burliest guys I could find, pointed at them and then ran up to them to get my wetsuit stripped off in about 1 second.  After which, I headed over to the tents.  Along the way I assumed that one of the volunteers would hand me my swim to bike bag – but…that didn’t happen.  So I went off hunting for it in the crowd of 2,600 bags.  Not a huge deal, as it only cost me a few seconds – but it did throw me for a second.  Once I had my bag I went into the tents and put on my helmet, cycling shoes (non-pro’s had to put on shoes in tent) and then my race belt.  A volunteer at that point took my bag and I was good to go.  I briefly looked around for the sunscreen peeps, but I couldn’t find them…so I gave up, grabbed my bike…and headed on out.

Total T1: 3:08

The Bike:

The bike course is a single huge-ass-loop that starts in downtown Penticton, goes south into the vineyards and orchards before abruptly turning a few hundred yards before the US Border.  At which point it climbs up into the mountainous desert territory for about 60 miles before you descent back into Penticton.

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With T1 out of the way I got onto my bike and started cooking.  A few seconds into the ride I heard my Dad shouting and looked over to see both him and my brother.

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And then I settled into things and started to chalk up the miles.  The first ‘climb’ (it’s really not a climb per se as more of a moderate hill) is about 10 miles in.  Up into that point you’re just cruising along the lake flats on the run course.  I hit the hill and easily spun up it without any effort expended.  I was really focused on keeping it in zone – I still had a long day of me.

It was about the point that I crested the hill that I noticed my Garmin 705 had shut itself off.  Hmm…that’s odd I thought.  I know I charged the battery fully last night.  So, I turned it on…and it turned itself back off again.  Cute (there may or may not have been other four letters words…).  I then noticed there was a fair bit of sports drink gel all over it from some initial pot-holes.

Oh, that reminds me…at mile 6 I lost one of my bottles of nutrition when my entire back rear cage snapped off after hitting a hole.  Yes, the WHOLE CAGE: Bottle, screws, cage…GONZO!  Luckily I had planned for the worst and included an extra bottle up-course a bit as part of my bike special needs bag.  You can see the missing cage in this post-race photo (taken from above):

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So back to Mr. Garmin 705…it wasn’t working.  After noticing the gel I went about cleaning him up a bit with some water, hoping that would make him happy.

It didn’t.

At this point I was cruising along some farmland flats oddly with virtually nobody around me, so I was able to spend some time poking at it.  Given how I was only 10 miles a 5+ hour ride, I pretty badly needed it to work so I could focus on a consistent effort.

I noticed that the little bottom slot where the MicroSD card goes was bubbling Infinit gel…less than ideal I suppose.  So I gave it CPR.  I put it to my lips and gave it a few good blows.  And presto – it turned on again!  Woohoo!

With that crisis averted I got back to the business of watching draft packs go by me. As the race officials have pointed out, it’s completely understanding for unintentional/accidental drafting to occur in the first 10 miles, due to the slim width of the road and high number of cyclists coming out of the water at the same time.  But…after that point, there’s no reason to not thin out.  A bunch of substantial packs formed (20+ people), but I found it was much smarter to simply sit 100-200m back from then – and also much more legal (drafting gets you a penalty in an Ironman event if les sthan 7 meters).  Further, it provides ENDLESS entertainment when the race officials come up along side the packs and start picking off people like an anteater picking off ants.  I just sat back and watched like a TV show.

Anyway, I got to the base of Richter pass in very solid time – about 1hr45 minutes for the first 40 mile stretch to where I turned up the hill (different from the official splits online), so I averaged almost 23 MPH, which I was happy with.  I then flew up the 7 mile climb of Richter pass, easily passing just about everyone in sight – and all within zone.  At the top, I found the girl and family hanging out cheering:

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From there I descended back down into the valleys and the seven ‘friends’ (technically called the Seven B!tche$), a series of seven rollers that are all about 2-3 minutes of climbing each (plus descents and flats in between), but spaced just enough to dork up any rhythm – so you never quite settle into a good even feeling.

After that it was time for the out and back – a stretch that meanders out onto a farm road for a while, before turning back to catch up with the main road again, basically designed to add miles.  This is the area were last year I got stung by a bee.  I had pretty much forgotten about that incident, until about 1 mile into this section yet another bee-like-creature bee-lined it straight to my fingers in a head-on collision.

And stung me.

Really?  In the same spot as last year?  I don’t know what they’re feeding those bees out there, but I do NOT appreciate getting stung.  It hurt quite a bit for about 1-2 miles and then the swelling subsided some.  I still actually have the mark from it though, a few days later.

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(You didn’t seriously think I wasn’t going to include some MSPaint Skillz in here somewhere, did you?)

On the turnaround for the out and back I picked up my bike special needs bag – which was perfectly timed to replace my now basically gone nutrition supply.  I wasn’t planning on needing this bag, but I had put in an extra nutrition bottle, and two extra CO2 cartridges…just in case.  And with the ejected bottle cage, I was happy that I had put the extra stuff in there.

Following the out and back, it was time to make the slow false-flat ascent up to Yellow Lake.  This 10-15 mile section can be a grind, but I found it much easier than last year, which was good.  The final steep climb into Yellow Lake is pretty much the pinnacle of the bike course.  It’s filled with spectators lining the climb – like Tour de France style.  My family and the Girl were waiting there for me, along with a cast of other characters – including Superman.

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It was just after cresting Yellow Lake though that I felt pretty drained.  I very clearly remember having painful thoughts of “Why am I doing this?  This is really no fun.”  And the worst part was at this point I was basically just descending back down a few thousand feet into Penticton – with essentially the bike over.  But for whatever reason, I felt shot.  I had taken in basically all my nutrition, was well watered as well, and was nearly perfectly in zone along the way.  I have no idea why I felt as shot as I did.

Soon though I’d be back in town and cruising down the main street towards transition.  This year though – unlike last year – no 6 year old kids on bikes crashed into me…although that would have at least got me out of having to do the run…

Bike Split: 5:27:34 (20.5 MPH)

Side note: In case you’re wondering why I don’t have any interesting data from my bike, such as splits, paces, power, HR, etc…it’s because my Garmin 705 corrupted my entire IMC ride file. :(  Gone…everything.  You have no idea how disappointed I am at that.   To lose everything sucks…a lot.

T2:

Again, last year’s T2 was blistering fast – so beating it would be tough.  I added one additional task this year – which was changing out of my tri-top and into a running singlet.  I find the tri-top often constricting in longer events compared to a running singlet.  Luckily, yanking off one and tossing on the other takes all of 5-7 seconds – hardly notable in a 10-hour event.

Anyway, I came into T2 and left my cycling shoes attached to the bike, just as I would in a shorter triathlon.  From there a volunteer grabbed my bike and put it away while I ran towards the tents.  Along the way another volunteer grabbed my Bike-to-Run bag and helped me into the tents.  He quickly dumped out everything in it and got me all set to go:  Camelbak, Garmin 310XT, Hat, singlet…done.

After that I ran out the other end of the tent and past the sunscreen peeps who lathered sunscreen all over me.  And then…it was time to run.

Total T2: 2:48

The Run:

Well, actually, it was time to walk.  The plan called for a 30 second walk to get the HR under control – and then start into a nice casual 26.2 mile Z2 run.  Much better than having to walk for two minutes last year.  With my walk out of the way, I got down to the business of running.

And for the first 4ish mile, things went fairly well.  I was on a run 2 miles, walk 30 seconds plan.  And I was easily cruising along mid-Z2 at a 7:00/mile pace.  Pretty darn quick actually.  But, shortly after the 4-mile 30 second break, I started getting really hot.  And to compound things, my CamelBak wasn’t putting out water – something was kinked or broke inside.  No worries though, plenty of water on the course.  I left my CamelBak at the 6 mile marker with the aid station, where my Mom would later go and grab it.

CamelBak aside, things started to unroll and a lot of walking ensued.  How much walking?  Well, see below – each time the blue spike goes up…that’s walking:

imageI was actually staying in constant contact with the same general group of runners.  I was running at a much faster pace than virtually everyone around me, and I was walking at a 12:00/mile pace – so when you average it all out, I was making so-so time.  But that certainly wasn’t going to keep me on pace for a 3:30 – or even a 3:20 marathon.  Despite the fact that both times are easily in my running portfolio. And that sucked.  Mentally it sucked more than anything else.  And I think it just sorta unraveled, I had gotten off the bike slower than I wanted (by about 20+ minutes), and then when I added on a slowly falling apart run – my motivation just disintegrated.  I knew that for a Kona slot I would have needed a 9:40ish time, and with the bike being slow – I was already at a deficit for anything other than a 3:15 run – which would have been painfully tough.

To be fair, for walking as much as I did, the overall pace wasn’t horrendous (it could have been).  In case your wondering exactly how much walking I did, this little chart makes it much more clear:

image Yes folks…I managed to actually walk 7 miles…damn.  I’m not sure whether to be impressed with how much walking I did and still post a 4-hr marathon time, or embarrassed by how much walking I did considering what I’m capable of.  Either way, it didn’t help my Ironman time…which is all that matters.

On the bright side – my nutrition was pretty good.  I took in virtually all my calories, and my hydration was up.  And, I was smartly using ice and wet sponges in my hat to keep me cool.  You can actually see it in my hat in the below photo:

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So, after a lot of walking and a fair bit of running, I finally found myself back in town and within range of the girl and my brother, with my parents at the finish line just down the street.

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And soon, I was once again passing the peach and on the way to the finish for a 4:02 Marathon (and technically a negative split by 3 minutes).

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Total time: 10:38:39
AG: 19th/107
Overall: 203/2595

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After the above scene, the awesome Penticton volunteers kept me company to make sure I wasn’t going to collapse on them, and then when I said I was fine they let me wander on out….with cookies.

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From there, I hung out for a little bit:

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Before eventually going into the lake with the Girl to ‘ice’ the legs in the cold water.

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Interestingly, you can see the smoky background from the nearby forest fires.  Also of note, those same fires kept the usual helicopter at the mass swim start from participating, as it was needed by the fire crews.

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So with that…my second Ironman is in the books.  I’ve got a few more items to wrap up on the Ironman Canada plight, but I’ll save those for a different (much shorter), post.  Thanks for reading, and thanks for all the e-mails, text messages, phone calls, carrier pigeon messages and everything else everyone sent to me over the past week – I appreciate it!

And lastly, thanks to my parents, brother and the Girl for coming up, supporting me – and taking a gazillion pictures along the way (virtually all of the ones above are theirs).  Thanks!

40 Comments

  1. RWJ

    First! Great race, great race report, great everything. Congratulations on the PR and for keeping up the good work.

    Reply
  2. That's a super effort. Those mishaps are annoying, but always happen in an IM. Nice job dealing with them.

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  3. So even after a killer bee attack and an uprising from the evil-sentient-garmin, you managed to PR. Result! Nice one Ray!

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  4. Woot! Looks awesome. How in the hell you walked 7 miles and still finished a 4-hour marathon blows my mind. If you figure that one out, let me know, ok?

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  5. Great job Ray! I have read more reports of people's garmin's crapping out on them. Those things are so finicky. Smart you to have a backup nutrition plan. And smart you to have such a great support team! That is some fast walking, dude. And so weird about the bee...he must have been hanging around all year, waiting for your return.

    You still make the whole thing sound waay too easy!

    Reply
  6. Awesome report!!! You finished strong and had quite the adventure between the Garmin and bee! I got stung in the calf during my MTB race this weekend and it has started the process of healing which is making it itch like crazy!!!

    Nice job again!!!

    Reply
  7. Dang! I need coaching on how to walk 7 miles of a marathon and still finish under 4 hours. My best effort has been walk 2.5 miles out of the 26.2 and finish at 4:30 and change.

    Fantastic effort and good on ya for pushing through the mental diaharria after the Garmin Fail, bottle cage fail, bee fail, Camelbak fail, and the heat.

    You are still faster than I could ever, EVER hope to be and to me that is AMAZING.

    Congratulations Ray!!!

    Reply
  8. Kim

    holy hell, your Garmin broke down, your cage fell off, and you were stung by a bee?! YIKES! regardless, you overcame these things and still raced amazingly. how really does one walk 7 miles and still run a 4 hour marathon? only in my dreams speedracer! CONGRATULATIONS!!!

    Reply
  9. Glad to know Garmins work much like old Nintendo cartridges when they don't work. Just give them a little blow from the side and all is better. Despite major advances, technology never changes...

    Congrats again on a great race!

    Reply
  10. Oh, I am so glad you got my carrier pigeon message. Flappers (the pigeon's name) is not back yet and I'm wondering if maybe he liked the west coast so much he decided to stay...Hmmm?

    Well done on another IM. Each race gives so many teaching lessons, so take what it gives you and use it to your advantage on the next one...which you know there is an Iron Distance triathlon in Wilmington NC 11/07/09 that is not sold out yet.

    I'm glad you made it!

    Reply
  11. don

    Great race Ray. It was also very nice to meet you in person just before the swim at IMC. Thanks also for posting that photo of the gang on the climb up to Yellow Lake which features my whole family. Woot!

    Reply
  12. Congratulations. In my opinion a mentally tough race is in many respects a more valuable learning experience than one that goes magically smoothly - you will be able to draw on the memory of this one next time you are feeling awful in a race & think that it is not so bad!

    Reply
  13. Garmin probs, bee sting, 7 miles of walking and still you managed to PR -- FANTASTIC!!!

    Some great lessons learned for me too: pack extra nutrition in bike spec needs and double check Camelbak functionality (if I bring it which I'm leaning towards doing).

    Reply
  14. Congratulations on your race. Sorry it wasn't everything you wanted it to be...but a 4 hour marathon with 7 miles of walking? That's impressive! The smoke was just brutal that day and I know it affected a lot of my friends out there.

    You handled the setbacks well (like losing a bottle and the bee sting) and still posted a super impressive time. Nicely done.

    Reply
  15. Bob

    Awesome race...you should be proud! It was a blast living vicariously through you.

    Reply
  16. Awesome! I had a bee incident in my last half (just a few inches from the bits, in fact), so I feel your pain. Way to muschle through the day! You've got me all psyched for Wisconsin now!

    Reply
  17. Amazing race report - a pleasure to read. Funny bee picture :) I'm sorry about all the mishaps along the way and not making some of your goals but I hope you realize all the inspiration you provided with what you DID accomplish!

    Reply
  18. Congrats on a great race! Thanks for documenting your exploits for us mere mortals.

    Reply
  19. Congrats! Great Race Report!

    Reply
  20. Favorite parts:

    *good ass/porcelain karma
    *performing CPR on a Garmin
    *killer bee rendition
    *sunscreen latherers (Really? They have those?)

    And the fact that you rocked a PR on a tough, hot day. Nice going, dude. I think you've got that Kona slot in you still; just keep plugging away at it.

    P.S. what was the last AG time that qualified this year?

    Reply
  21. just the image of you cpr'ing the garmin had me laughing till the cows came home..(which i guess you are lucky you didn't run into like the 08 kid..or the second bee attack)

    great report as always....

    Reply
  22. Wow, terrific race and terrific report. Top 10% finish, that ain't hay. Sounds like things were just...off though, so that makes the result even better. What a pesky bee, and I tell you you gotta watch those Garmins, they're not benevolent forces, they're sorta like HAL in 2001.

    Reply
  23. Great trip report, great pictures, thanks for sharing the experience! Congrats on reironing!

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  24. That picture of you and TheGirl in the water is about the sweetest thing I've ever seen.

    *sigh*

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  25. Congrats on a PR.. a great race... and that finisher medal rocks! Kona is so in your future :)

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  26. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  27. Congrats on the finish and PR and thanks for sharing this exciting adventure. You are an inspiration!

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  28. Dan

    This comment has been removed by the author.

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  29. congrats; you're amazing, as per usual. and, i like the new header.

    Reply
  30. Congratulations on gutting through a tough race for a pr. You, as always are very, very impressive.

    Congratulations also on a terrific race report that sets the standards for the rest of us.

    I can imagine the frustration from the loss of power data on your bike. You are my favorite tri data geek and I can empathize with those issues.

    P.S. The picture of you and the girl heading towards a post race dip is a classic.

    Reply
  31. Congrats big man! WELL DONE!

    Reply
  32. Congrats on a great race. And thanks for the fantastic write up.

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  33. Congrats on your PR and sticking it out!

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  34. Hi Dan!

    Great to connect with you pre-race - thanks for all the comments, and congrats on the race!

    Here's some answers to your questions:

    1) Tires: I use Continental Competition Tublar:
    link to westernbikeworks.com
    The trick includes both finding a pump that goes up to 170psi, but also finding a pump that fits in the very slim slot on the HED wheels as well.

    2) Funny about the timing chip. I actually prefer the zip-tie - only cause I know it isn't going to go anywhere. I have an non-rational fear of the velcro bands getting pulled off somewhere (perhaps cause I've seen it happen).

    3) No post-race massage. Instead I did cold water in the lake, that helped quite a bit. I wasn't too bad actually leg-wise and they felt fine pretty quick (probably an indication I wasn't pushing hard enougH).

    Thanks again for the comments, and good luck out there!

    Reply
  35. Hi, just came across your blog. Fantastic effort - what an inspiration. Love your website!!

    Tim from Oz

    Reply
  36. Congrats Ray!
    Great race report. Reading it was a lot of fun...
    I finished in 10:35 with a faster run. It was my first time in Canada and a wonderful event, I will never forget!
    CU in Kona (hopefully) one day!

    Reply
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  38. hey rainmaker...as with last year, i'm reading and re-reading your IMC posts....a couple of great races, after DNFing after the bike last year (i did the NYC Marathon in Nov so it was the longest bike-run transition in history)..hopefully this will be the year/...

    Reply
  39. I googled "ironman Canada race report" and stumbled upon this gem-- doing my first full at IMC this year and your report gave painted a great picture of the course and what to expect. Also, I got stung by a bee at Wildflower this year so can totally relate :)

    Thanks for sharing, I'm driving back from Oregon to SF after a 70.3 and read it out loud in the car to a friend also doing IMC this year and we loved it

    Reply
  40. Inspiring and well detailed (as always). I enjoyed the reading...

    Reply

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