Just back from his epic triathlon adventures in Hawaii, Stefan now has some spare time for writing race reports, rather than training his face-off. The following is a recount of his racing adventure from the Ironman Canada race in Penticton this past summer.
Sanja, Josh and I arrived in Penticton on Thursday afternoon after a 12-hour drive. This year the weather wasn’t as hot as last year. In fact it was cloudy and moderately warm. Heavy wind gusts, however, resulted in a closed race registration at Okanagan Park and we went without our race packages straight to our motel in Okanagan Falls (Holiday Park Resort) about 20km south of Penticton. I really like this place since it is quiet and ideal for pre race workouts and mental preparation.
On Friday we worked out a bit and drove to Penticton to pick up our race packages. Saturday was pretty mellow and then the big day finally was there. The entire weekend I was pumped to race even though I was a little bit worried about my heel, which started to bother me two weeks before the race and never really went away. So I just hoped for the best and tried to not let it occupy my mind too much.
On Sunday morning we left OK Falls at about 5 and by 6:30 Josh and I were body marked and started to pull our wetsuits on. We walked towards the beach, wished each other a good race, and disappeared in the crowd of yellow and red-capped athletes in black wetsuits. I made my way to the far left as I hoped it would be less crowded compared to last year when I started in the middle. On the shore I saw Sanja and we waved to each other; she was probably more nervous than I was :). I did a 10 min warm-up and the lake didn’t really feel as cold as I thought. I went back to the shore and then saw Holger right next to me. We had a quick chat and a few minutes later the race was on.
Within the first 100 metres I realised that starting on the far left was great! It was the total opposite compared to last year. I was almost swimming the entire time by myself and it couldn’t have been better. The turns at the two houseboats were a bit busy but nothing crazy. On the final kilometre I started to fade and my arms got heavy which was not surprising given the fact that my longest swim was only 3km. After exiting the water I was looking for the race clock but couldn’t see it. “What was my time”, I wondered; it didn’t feel fast and I estimated a similar time as last year. I grabbed my T1 bag, ran into the changing tent and dumped the bike gear on the ground. I quickly realised that this wasn’t my bag so I stuffed it all back, ran back placed it carefully where I took it from and grabbed the bag with the sticker 298. “This is my bag, this must be the right one”, I thought and dumped again the bike gear on the ground. This time it looked familiar and I put my helmet on, glasses on, bike shoes on, race number on, glasses off since they fogged up, ran to the bike, glasses back on, dismounted the bike from the rack, ran it to the mount line, hopped on and was happy to have to worst part done. Somewhere in the crowd I could hear Sanja yelling my name but I couldn’t see her unfortunately. However, it still felt good to know she was there.
I rode pretty quickly out of town and basically all the way up to the bottom of Richter pass. I wanted to pass as many people as possible in order to avoid getting caught in draft trains and risk a time penalty. It worked out very well and soon I was almost entirely on my own. My strategy was to go hard on the flats, take it easy up the hills and recover on the descents. And that’s what I did. On my way up Richter I geared down in my easiest gear and started to eat and drink. I ate my first Clif bar and made sure that I would ingest enough water. I never touched Gatorade but developed a taste for bananas, which was the only thing I took from the aid stations besides water. The spectators along the course were amazing. They were cheering and cow-belling and were lifting us up the ascents. Once I reached the top I switched back in the big ring and was flying down the hill. The next couple kilometres were rolling hills into a headwind and this out and back section in Keremos, which isn’t the nicest part of the race. Here I also saw Josh again, focused as usual, and being in aero position rock-solid. I started to feel my legs and decided to slow down a little bit. “The least thing I could use now are cramps”, I thought. I made my way to the bottom of the second climb up to Yellow Lake when it started to rain. This climb felt a little harder than Richter, but probably just because I was already cycling for over 4 hours and wanted the bike leg to be finished. The wind picked up again and more rain. Finally, I made it up to Yellow Lake, but unfortunately it started to storm and rain even more. The descent was really scary and COOOOLD. I kept on thinking that I didn’t put any warm cloth in my transition bag and was hoping it wouldn’t be as cold down there as it was right now. And then I was there: T2! Yes I did it and yes I knew that now the hard part would begin.
I started to run and it felt great. I saw Sanja and gave her high-five. Again, it felt really good to see her and it definitely gave me some mental strength back. I started running way too fast for the first couple miles and sure enough my quads warned me to slow down or they would blow my race. I agreed and did what they said. My first impression was, wow I am actually almost alone on the course. It was a strange but cool feeling. I really had a good run all the way to the turn-around point and then I started to feel my calves; and running up the hill after the turn didn’t help either. Now, the survival mode kicked in: Keep on moving even though you have to walk, but always keep on moving. I started to walk the next aid stations and slowed down significantly for the rest of the run. Again, I saw Josh. He yelled something towards me but I wasn’t able to yell back a complete sentence. I was just yelling pieces of words. I thought, “Man, you are not able to speak clearly anymore; you better get home soon.” Then, on top of all that I also got a cramp in my hamstrings and had to stop. That was the worst time for me during the race: Not 10km away from this damn finish line, I had to stop and stretch out this cramp. I got passed by a couple people and was hoping I could start running again. After about 2 minutes of intensive stretching I was able to run again, passing the people who passed me on the final mile. I crossed the finish line and was super happy that the race was over. Sanja saw me and jumped over the fence into the athlete’s area and no one said anything 🙂 Her support was really amazing!!