American River 50-mile 2014: a smarter race - It was my 95th ultra since 2006 and 7th consecutive American River, although I had miserable asthma crisis in the first editions which I have been thankful...
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
Almost immediately after crossing the the finish line at Ironman Florida last year, I could hardly wait until my next Ironman. Thanks to a lucky draw in a lottery (over 3000 entries for 200 spots), Ironman Canada 2002 became my next race. As with all races, I set out my goals. First, I wanted to better my 11:26:00 finish time at Ironman Florida. Second, I wanted to try to break 11 hours. I discussed the race with a friend Patrick who had completed the 2001 IM Canada with a time of 10:16:38 - which gave him 4th in his age group and a coveted Kona slot. I pestered him for comments and help and even ended up borrowing his bike case for the trip. Based upon our conversations, I felt that the sub-11 time was a good goal. Then, as my training progressed and I did a few races, I managed to do my first sub-5 hour half Ironman so I added a new goal of trying to get as close to a 10:30:00 as possible. I admitted that this was kind of a dream, but I always like to add a best-case goal also.
With those goals in mind, I arrived in Penticton, Canada three days before the race. We decided to fly into Seattle and pick up a rental car and drive the rest of the way. Although it is still a long drive, I recommend it as it is very beautiful scenery. We traveled through some deep forests and then entered the Canadian mountains alongside fast flowing rivers. Penticton itself is a rather large vacation community lying along side two main lakes: Lake Sasha and the larger Lake Okanagan. The swim start (site of the largest Ironman mass start) is on the shore of Lake Okanagan. We checked into our hotel - the Mediterranian Inn, which is about 1/2 mile from the swim start and lies on teh final out-and-back of the run course. This inn is relatively cheap, clean and convenient - but like all hotels, it is booked nearly a year in advance (again, I had a bit of luck in that I called to check on a room 10 minutes after they received a cancellation).
The next day (Friday) I woke up early and grabbed my wetsuit to try out the lake. I wanted to test my shoulder as my left rotator cuss was pretty sore. Two days earlier I was sitting on my kitchen floor transferring contents from one gym bag to another and as I reached for a pair of socks, I felt a sharp pain in the shoulder. It had been sore ever since. There were already 50 to 100 people swimming and I just jumped in. The water was cool, but not bad and my shoulder, although stiff, didn't hurt too much. It was clear and clean and I had a nice short swim. After that, I went for some breakfast and coffee. Of course, this was at Hog's Breath. Hog's Breath is the mecca for triathletes around Ironman Canada. The line goes out the door, but the food is good and prices aren't bad. As we drank our coffee, I watched the city streets - they were overflowing with zero-body fat bodies and hundreds of thousands of dollars in bike equipment. After breakfast, we strolled over to the athlete expo. Here, there were plenty of vendor tents set up in the local park. We went into the Official Merchandise tent and came across fellow member Sandra Liaw who was also chosen in the IM Canada lottery and was about to tackle her first Ironman. After leaving much of our hard earned American money at the expo, my family and I headed over to the race headquarters (at the local hotel/casino) to check in.
At Florida, I was literally in and out of registration in under 10 minutes. Here, it took about 45 minutes. But eventually, I had my swim cap, timing chip, race numbers, bags, instructions, etc. Afterwards, we went back over to the expo where I received a complimentary ART treatment on my shoulder. I never had ART before, but it really helped. With that, we left the race site and headed back to the hotel. There is a playground right next door to the hotel, so we took Brandon there to play around on the swings and slides. After that, while Brandon was taking a nap, I decided to bike the course a bit. I went out the first 5 miles of the bike and then turned around. Weather was warm - about 90 degrees, and a bit breezy. I was a bit worried about the weather. Hot weather doesn't really affect my rides (in fact I like it a bit warm), but it can really slow down my run times.
The next day, Saturday, I again did a short swim. My shoulder was better, but still a bit stiff. I decided to get one more ART treatment that day. Those volunteers were great. After another breakfast at the Hog's Breath, we went to the mandatory pre-race meeting. This was held in the park. The Man - Dave Scott - gave a short talk and then did a q&a session. After that they showed a video of the race course. By the end, my adrenalin was coursing. In addition, the temperatures seemed ever hotter than the previous day and I was even more worried. I knew that sleep would be difficult that night.
Afterwards, we headed back to the hotel room where I filled my transition bags and did a final check on my bike. My swim-to-bike bag had the following: helmet, gloves, arm warmers in case it was cold after the swim; shoes and socks (I dusted the inside of the socks with baby powder to ease entry with wet feet); glasses; and my race number on a race belt. In my bike-to-run bag I had the following: 2 small Gu packages; a doo-rag; my shoes and a second pair of socks in case my other ones were wet from the ride. On my bike I had a Gu flask filled with Gu, a small bottle with salt tablets, two Power Bars cut up and lined up on the top bar, one water bottle filled with water and one bottle filled with Gu2O (I had experimented on training rides with this and really liked it); and two spare sew-ups and Co2 cartridges. Also, I had photocopied the topographical map of the bike course and reduced it to about the size of a credit card. I taped this to the top of my aerobars so I could always know what would be coming up. I then went down to the bike check-in, got the Ironman bike check sticker on my bike, and racked my bike. I placed my transition bags on their appropriate hooks on the racks and tried to memorize their locations. I even did a few practice jogs from the water to my bike bag and from my bike to my run bag.
That evening I went out to a place called Villa Rosa for dinner. They had an all-you-can eat diner for CAD$21 (about $14 US). It was very good and I ate a lot of pasta (they had about 8 different types). That night I did a final check on my special needs bags. Their contents were as follows: Bike - 1 flask-sized Gu packet; 1 extra CO2 canister taped to an extra Power Bar; and a huge glob of Goober & Grape peanut butter and jelly in two baggies (I use this in training rides as my fun fuel source). In the run bag: 1 flask-sized Gu packet and a old t-shirt in case things weren't going well and sunset was approaching/passed at the half-marathon point.
That was it. I played with Brandon a bit and finally settled down for sleep. In my head, I thought about a message of support that I received from fellow member Steve. He told me that half the battle was all in my mind - and to try to enjoy the energy. The battle in my head was going something like this: Weak Part of my Mind: "Have I trained enough? Can I handle the heat? Are the hills as tough as I hear? etc." The Stronger Part of my Mind: "Good questions. Let's forget about this thing and grab a brew." Weak Part: "OK". With that, both parts of my mind slipped out for a cold one and I fell asleep.
When the alarm went off the next morning, I jumped out of bed and started the coffee maker. I always have a pre-race cup of coffee. By this time, both parts of my mind had returned and, still a bit giddy from their night on the town, they watched with amusement as I started to get ready for the race. This included a hot shower, final shave of the legs and scalp and application of the SF Tri Club tattoos and some red Timex Ironman "M-dot" tattoos. I slipped into my SF Tri Club tri-suit, grabbed my swim gear and headed out the door. I walked outside to the parking lot. I noticed another triathlete staring up at the sky. I looked up and noticed that the early morning sky was filled with dark rain clouds. The other triathlete commented that it had rained during the night and I noticed that the ground was wet. Well this eased my concerns regarding the heat a bit - but I wasn't looking forward to 112 cold, wet and windy miles of cycling or 26.2 miles of cold and wet running. With those thoughts, both parts of my mind made a quick exit back to a warm bed to leave me to do my second Ironman mindlessly.
Final preparation went fairly quick. I made a last minute check on my bike, inflated the tires a bit more, and chatted with some other triathletes. Then, with about 30 minutes to start, I decided to slip into my wetsuit. After using generous amounts of Bodyglide and Pam, I got into my wetsuit and pulled on my swim caps. I decided that I didn't need the cold water cap, but used two latex ones. I had my old IM Florida cap on first, then my goggles and then the IM Canada cap on top. I always like to have a cap on last in case my goggles get hit or kicked as this tends to keep them on my head.
Like a lemming, I began to follow the crowd to water's edge. There I donned my goggles and started a practice swim. I stopped when they started broadcasting Canada's national anthem "O Canada" - sung by a former Miss Penticton. Then we began to lineup. I noticed that a lot of people lined up towards the left of the buoy line. I decided to try a direct path and lined up a bit more to the right. I positioned myself in the upper 25%. I would normally place myself a bit more towards mid-pack, but a lot of people seemed to be hanging out on shore. We waited - a quick prayer - a canyon "BOOM" and Ironman Canada 2003 officially started.
I find that in the first 5 to 10 minutes of a swim, my breathing is a bit rushed and it takes a while for me to fall into a relaxed breathing pattern. For what ever reason, I never had any breathing problems during this swim. From the initial stroke to the very end, my breathing remained relaxed and steady. This also allowed me to concentrate on technique. I mentally forced myself to extend my arm strokes, rotate my body, maintain head position, etc. (Thanks Cristin!) All the while I made sure that my finger tips were within an inch of someone's toes. The swim is 2.4 miles and I drafted people for at least 2.35 miles.
The swim route is a long triangle. as we swam along I noticed two things. First my position seemed about perfect - I was following right along the buoy line, but was never really crowded. Second, there was minimal kicks or hits. Actually, for such a large swim start (2040 swimmers) I was surprised with the low amount of body contact. However, as we began to approach the first turn (a house boat) I began to notice that the body contact was increasing a bit. Then, all the sudden, I caught a foot across my left eye - it felt like Bruce Lee was swimming in front of me. It stunned me for a second and I expected the goggle to come off or at least fill with water. But the goggle was actually kicked into my face more, so very little water entered and I kept swimming. About 2 minutes later, BAM! - Bruce Lee returned for a second kick....same eye! Wow, I know its inadvertent, but this was getting annoying. Luckily, once we made the first turn, the field spread out a bit more and I avoided the kicks.
The next triangle "side" went fairly quick and before I knew it, we were turning back towards shore. I was feeling really comfortable and thought maybe I should try to pick up the pace a bit. I tried to pass some people while maintaining good form. After a while, I could see the lights of the start area. As we approached shore, I was thinking that I had a slow swim. I was never out of breath and never felt like I was really pushing it that hard. In Florida I did a 1:13 and some change and actually predicted that I'd be a bit slower here ..maybe a 1:15. (I had worked on my technique more, but I had put in less miles in the water and thought the lack of salt water bouyancy would hurt my time). I felt the sand and stood up and glanced at my watch - 1:07:30! WOW!!!! What a way to start an Ironman - I already had nearly an 8 minute cushion!
I exited the water and crossed the timing chip pad (official time was 1:07:57). I had my wetsuit unzipped and pulled down to may waist by the time I reached the "strippers". I fell on my butt and they grabbed the suit and pulled it off of my legs. I grabbed it and headed for my swim bag. (Here - I want to mention just how fast and easy it is to get out of the new QR Superfull. If you are looking for a high quality race wetsuit, I recommend this one.
I knew exactly where it was thanks to my practice runs and headed straight down the aisle...and ran past my bag. I looked around and said "S$%*!" Then I saw it and grabbed it. I jogged over to a planter near the changing tent. I pulled out my shoes and socks and slipped into these. I pulled on my gloves and snapped on my race belt. Slipped on my sun glasses and snapped my helmet. I stashed my wetsuit into my bag and tossed it in a pile and headed over to the bikes. I was really happy at my bike racking position. I exited the gate from the swim into the bike area and my bike was dead center in front of me at the end so it was easy to find - no other bikes on one side so plenty of room to get to the bike. I pulled the bike out of the rack and jumped on...and then jumped off, remembering that we had to push our bikes out of the rack area until after crossing the timing pad. T1 - 3:55.
I ran with my bike and crossed the pad. Then I again got on my bike and started pedaling. My legs felt good and I was soon pushing a nice 22-23mph down main street. We followed the bike route lined with screaming spectators. Penticton is awesome...almost every citizen comes out to cheer on the athletes. After a few miles, we were out of the town area and passing along the shore of Sasha Lake. It was cool, but not too cold. Every now and then I felt some cross wind gusts against my wheels, but not too bad. About 10 miles into the ride, we hit the first "climb". It was McClaren Hill which was short, but woke up the thighs. After cresting this hill, it was some rolling terrain and then some nice downhills that let me break the 40mph mark. The bikes were pretty thick, but I was passing people here and there. I had really concentrated on my bike training and felt that it was paying off.
As we approached an aid station at around mile 15 a cyclist in front of me to the right took a water bottle and shot right in towards my front wheel. I shouted and veered left, just avoiding her. This caused me to cross the yellow line for a second before I could swerve back over - I looked around hoping that no official saw this..or if they did that they saw the reason why I crossed over. Anyway, I wasn't penalized and I kept on going. I had just started drinking and took my first bit of Gu and a PowerBar wedge. Pretty soon, the roads changed from rolling and curves to some flat straight sections. I was in my drops and pushing a nice 22 mph pace. All the sudden I heard a "Bang" behind me. Luckily it wasn't a flat. One of CO2 cartridges had worked its way loose and dropped off of my X-Lab seat rack and fell right onto my rear tire where it bounced right back up and smacked the X-Lab before bouncing off to the side of the road.
The ride continued along the way for awhile. At around 30 miles, I had finished my first water bottle and tossed it at an aid station. I grabbed a replacement. The water bottles weren't true bike water bottles, but spring water in plastic bottles with sports caps. They worked fine and fit pretty well (a little loose) in the racks. After about 40 or so miles, we turned right and started up a grade. I knew that this was the infamous Richter Pass. This is the pass that makes IM Canada famous. I have heard horror stories about it and had done a lot of hill work in training to prepare for it. Fellow PEP Willy Nevin and I had put in a lot of miles in the Peninsula doing King's Mtn; Old La Honda, Alpine, etc. Plus we did the 5 passes of the Death Ride, so I figured that I had a pretty good hill base. The map showed Richter to about 7 miles long with an elevation gain of about 1500 feet. This was similar to King's Mtn down south, so I figured that it would be a workout, but do-able. Let me tell anyone who is considering doing IM Canada - do King's Mtn a few times and Richter will seem like a incline up a driveway. I could not believe how overrated this climb turned out to be. It is not even a straight climb. Its a series of small climbs, broken up with flats and even a downhill. We crested Richter before I realized that we had finished it.
However, something interesting did happen going up Richter. the week before I left for Canada, I was on a training ride and noticed a clicking sound. I had heard it before and knew that it was my chain. I had looked over my chain, but never noticed anything. Well, after my last training ride, I finally turned my bike over and examined the chain link by link and finally discovered that one plate on one link was peeling away from the pin. I could just imagine going up Richter and having the chain pop at that part. I would crash down, probably falling over and have to wait for a support van. Needless to say, I got this repaired right away. Now, fast forward back to the second Richter climb. Two people in front of me a guy all the sudden jerked to a stop and just barely maintained his bike. He stepped off and I saw his face fall into complete disappointment as he lifted one end of his broken chain. But for the grace of God....
On the back side of Richter, I was able to crack the 50 mph mark going down the hill. Winds were out and occasionally the clouds would open up and douse some heavy rain. This made some the curves on the descents a bit tricky (especially if the wind was gusting at the same time). But overall, the weather was fine. After Richter we continued out along the country roads. People were even out here cheering us on. The road was between these beautiful mountain peaks, The scenery was awesome. One thing that wasn't great was that the roads weren't closed to traffic - so fast trucks and cars would pass within inches of the riders.
As we continued, I hit the first hill of a series of 7 that lie between the 50 and 65 mile mark. I had read that these are lovingly referred to as "The Seven Bitc%^&". But, again, they were not bad at all. Next, I came to the out and back section which takes riders to their special needs bags. I had heard that this section can way on riders' minds as they keep seeing riders coming back but never seem to get to the turnaround. I prepared myself for this and started cranking. It was here that the men leaders started coming back. Boy they looked fast. I picked up the pace a bit and made another turn which brought us to the Special Needs bags. I shouted my number and was handed my bag (the volunteers are AWESOME!). I grabbed my bag and road about 20 feet before stopping. I pulled out my Gu packet, my peanut butter and my Powerbar and stashed these in my rear pocket. I tossed the bag back to a volunteer and headed off again.
The road did continue for awhile before reaching the turn around. Once I finally hit this, I told myself "Just hammer a bit until Yellow Lake". Yellow Lake was the next climb and I figured that if I could maintain fast pace, I would push the climb. After that, there was a lot of downhill to help me back to town. I couldn't believe my time. I knew that based upon the last few years I was right smack in Kona qualifying range. "Just don't blow it Alan. Keep focused." I told myself out loud. I started to take the road back out towards Yellow Lake.
I had been watching the calves of riders as I passed them or as I was passed. I was looking for any number in the 35-39 range as these were my competitors for the Kona slots. Throughout the ride, I was surprised as I keep seeing very few in my range. Now, at about mile 80 I saw a "P" on a calf. Wow! A female pro rider - I never race with the pro's and here I was passing one. 5 miles later - another "P"! Two pro's - wow!. I continued on towards Yellow Lake. The climb started and I began spinning. Once again, the climb was a lot easier than I expected. I did find this harder than Richter - but I attribute that the the 90 miles behind me. Anyway - Yellow Lake climb is awesome because it is packed with spectators. They are on both sides of the road and thick. Almost everyone is ringing cowbells and clapping and shouting and are within 12 inches of the riders. It has got to be the most Tour de France-like experience ever.
I pushed the climb a bit and managed to pass quite a few riders going up. I crested the hill and expected to be able to coast downhill to rest a bit...but it was flat section for quite awhile. Now I was getting a bit tired. At around mile 100 I was really hoping for a downhill. My pace had fallen off to where I was having trouble maintaining a 15mph pace on the flats. At mile 105 I grabbed a banana from a volunteer. Within a minute or two, I felt better and picked back up. I tried to maintain a 20 mph pace. Before the race, David Aleya promised me dinner if I broke a 5:30 on the bike - and I wanted that dinner. So I pushed more. Finally downhill! I cranked it down hill and the next thing I knew I saw a large sign welcoming people to Penticton. I knew that I still had about 10 miles to the finish line. It would be close, but I thought that the bad moments between miles 100 and 105 cost me my dinner. We entered the town and started the final ride on main street. I could see the expo park ahead when my timer crossed over the 5:30 mark. Oh well. I kept pushing it and people were yelling all along the route. I entered the transition area. Total bike time was 5:33:41 with a bike average of slightly over 20 mph.
We were allowed to ride the bikes all the way through the transition area, so I rode straight back. I jumped off my bike and two people grabbed it immediately. I ran to my run bag and found it immediately. I had my helmet, shoes and gloves off by the time I opened the bag. I emptied my tri-seat back pocket into the bag. I grabbed my running shoes and slipped them on. I decided to leave my glasses with the bike gear. I stashed my doo-rag in my bike pocket. I slipped my race number around so the number was facing forward and started running. As I passed the transition tent I felt my first urge to pee since exiting the water. So I took a quick run into the tent where they had a long trough set up for the men. Then I ran back out and crossed the timing chip. T2: 3:00.
I started to run and was a bit disheartened at how heavy my legs felt and I had 26 miles in front of me before I could see them again.
I had a goal of going between 3:30 and 3:45 on the run and knew that this would probably require me doing the full marathon without stopping. But my legs didn't feel like that would be possible. So I made myself a deal. "Just make it to the 10 mile mark before walking." So I kept running. I was shocked to see my second mile split to be just under 14 minutes. I had this stupid habit of going out too fast in runs, but my legs felt so heavy I had no idea I was running sub-7:00's - I would have guessed a pace closer to 9 minute miles. This actually made me feel a bit better. I could slow down to an 8:00 to 9:00 minute mile pace and still make my goal.
The course started flat, but soon we were on rolling hills. One thing about the run course - it may have some nice scenery, but it is not the fastest course. Pretty soon we came to McClaren Hill (the first climb of the bike). Thankfully we passed it, but ended up going up another climb. I just kept running. Soon the road leveled off and we were running along the shore of Sasha Lake. he weather had actually grown a bit warm and I figured that it was now over 80 degrees. I was at about the 5 mile point when the first leaders came running back. The leader had a huge lead on everyone else - probably at least a minute. Soon 4, then 5 runners, then the first woman. I didn't know who it was - but I was shocked to see that it wasn't Lori Bowden. I later discovered that it was Lisa Bentley. About two minutes later Lori Bowden came running up - she looked smooth and relaxed. Both women were in the top 15 or so overall.
I kept running and actually begain to feel a bit better. I was able to pick up the pace a little more and was running between 7:45 and 7:50 miles. Soon we were heading down to the special needs bags. I shouted my number. I grabbed my flask-sized Gu bag and tossed the rest back. About 30 seconds later we came to the turn around. I was feeling pretty good at this point and once I made the turn around, I realized why. As I turned around the cone, a strong headwind greeted me. I didn't realize it, but I had the help of a nice tailwind those first 13 miles. Oh well. My 1/2 marathon time was a 1:35:29. Wow! If I could do that again, I would just break 10 hours! I couldn't believe it - that was beyond my wildest dreams. Then another gust of the headwind woke me up. "Don't give up now. Just go. You are in Kona range - don't f#$&ing let up." I was almost yelling at myself.
I kept running. But heading back, the wind and the previous miles were slowing me down. I had yet to walk a step, but my legs were tired. "Just make it to mile 16" I said. Once there, I said "Mile 18". I continued this way. I came up on another calf with a "P" on it. This was about the third or fourth, but the first male pro. I continued to run, but could tell that I was not going to get anywhere close to the sub-10 barrier. Oh well, if I could just continue I definitely had my sub-10:30:00 goal and anything better was that much closer to Kona.
Once I passed the mile 21 mark, I just knew that I could finish without stopping. My legs hurt like hell and I was tired, but I calculated just under a 10:20:00 finish time. I recalled that in 2002 that would have been good enough for the last spot in my age bracket. WOW! I picked up the pace a bit and tried to push it harder. Pretty soon I was back on Main Street. Ironman Canada has a bit of cruelty - mile 25 is right around the finish line. That means you literally pass the finish line on a short out and back before coming back to actually cross the line.
I kept running and managed to pass about 5 more people heading out. Then we made the turn around and it was a straight path to the finish line. I could hear the announcer and catch a time and/or name. I clearly heard when local pro Michelle Deasy finished. I heard her time and I couldn't believe it - I was going to break a 10:18:00. This was so much faster than I had ever hoped. I looked ahead and saw a "38" on a calf. I picked up the pace and passed him. Then it was onto the blue carpet. I heard my name and started pumping my fist in the air. I threw my arms up as I crossed the tape. Final marathon time: 3:27:58 (7:57 pace).
Ironman Canada 2003: 10:16:30
As I stopped running, I put my hands on my knees. I was just trying to breath. Someone asked me if I could walk. I couldn't answer as I was trying to catch my breath. Next thing I knew, my butt was in a wheel chair. It was almost amusing, but I didn't complain. I didn't feel like walking anyway - two volunteers draped a finisher's medal over my neck and handed me my t-shirt and hat. Then the volunteers wheeled me about 20 feet away where I told the volunteers that I thought I could walk. They helped me out of the chair and I made a bee-line towards the massage tent. After a nice massage I went out looking for some early results posted. I held my breath as I read the first 100 names and divisions. Damn! The last time posted for my age was a 10:05:30 and he was 24th (there were 13 slots in my division)! Well, there went any chance of a Kona slot. I never really had anything but a dream of qualifying. But after doing 141 miles thinking that I was in the running, it was a bit disappointing to learn that I wasn't even close to a roll down slot. I collected my stuff and went to watch other triathletes cross the finish line.
The next day, the last Kona slot in my age went to the 23rd place person with a time of 10:05. Nine people and a bit more than 10 minutes between me and Kona. Not only did I miss my 5:30 meal from David - there was no Kona in my future - that really sucked. But in hindsight - who cares. I did a p.r. by more than an hour and ten minutes. I passed all my goals. Now, I can hardly wait for my next Ironman. There is a chance that I will be doing Ironman Malaysia in February 2003. I am definitely doing Ironman USA at Lake Placid in July 2003. This course is supposed to be a bit harder than IM Canada, but now my goals? Sub-10 hours and Kona...but, as with any Ironman, I will be happy with the Finisher's t-shirt and medal and anything better than 16:59:59.
One final note - if you read way back up at my first paragraph - you will see that I discussed Ironman Canada with my friend Patrick who did it is 2002. The similarities between our times is amazing: (Patrick / Me): Swim: 1:07:56 / 1:07:57 Bike: 5:33:09 / 5:33:41 Run: 3:29:33 / 3:27:57 Overall: 10:16:35 / 10:16:30.