Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Race Report: IRONMAN MUSKOKA 70.3

Sheesh! Blog followers are high maintenance. :) People have been writing in to get this thing complete and posted. I've just finally regained enough strength and willpower to write a race report. I didn't want to write it while I was tired as I would cut corners and miss details. I suspect this report will be lengthy as I want something detailed to look back on. It has obviously taken me a couple of days to chip away at it. I broke it up into a few parts for those of you who want to skip sections. I've waited long enough to post it, so I for-go'd editing it for entertainment value. I hope I didnt rant on too long and bore you ;) You can only attach so many photo's so I'll spread them out over the rest of this week's blog posts. Yes, you will have to wait for them :P


The week leading up to the race included alot of sleepless nights. I was really worried that I would have the same problem the night before the race. I was lucky that Friday night I found my sleeping pill: Beer. The pint at the hotel with Brian had really calmed my nerves and I slept like a baby. I repeated the same thing Saturday night and I slept like a baby, up until the moment I sobered up. I woke up and the clock read 3am. Not a problem as I was still tired and went back to sleep. About an hour later I woke up again to look at the clock, and it only said 3:10am. - ok well it felt like an hour which means I was getting quality sleep but this carried on every 10 minutes for 2 hours straight. Regardless, I woke up at 5am and didn't feel overly exhausted. I had already layed everything out the night before and knew exactly what I needed to do in the morning, everything was planned down to the last detail. Or so I thought. As Fran was making my pre-race breakfast she let out a silent "Oh?!" when tending to my Nutella toast. Yes, my pre-race meal consists of Nutella toast, bananna. Sure it's not the healthiest, but this sits well with my stomach and it has worked for every race so far. With the exception of that "Oh" I heard earlier. "It might have chunks" she says. ? Why would the nutella have chunks? I grabbed the jar to find that it was not 'Nutella'. Ok, so Nutella in our household is like the kleenex of the tissue world. It's universally known that if it looks like a cholocatey-ish spread, then we call it Nutella even though it's the no-name stuff which is just fine too. In this case, it wasn't the real nutella or the regular no-name stuff we get. This was something different. Yes, eating something DIFFERENT for breakfast the morning of my first half-iron! How can this be? I planned everything down to the last detail yet this got overlooked. I wasn't upset, I was more scared than anything. Do I eat it? What is going to happen? Now I know that nutella is mainly sugar and I'm fine by that but this different stuff was actually made from real hazlenuts and had chunks of nuts in it. Will my body digest the non-sugary nutty spread? Well I made the executive decision to eat it anyways, the only other option was Lucky Charms cereal and I didn't feel like re-tasting the rainbow if I belch during the swim. Fran knows the dont-eat-something-different rule before a race yet she packed it anyways. It's my fault really, I should have checked. I wasn't upset, I was more scared than anything. Scared that I would cramp or feel sick and risk a DNF. Ultimately I ate it.

We drove to the airstrip where you had to park your car. It was very dark. We go on the big yellow school bus to take us to Deerhurst resort via back-roads that were not closed due to the race. It was very dark and I could feel my nerves getting the best of me. I was staring at an M-Dot emblem on the back of the guys jacket in front of me and in the dark I think I started to tear up. This was it. This was the day. This was a big deal to me. I'm so lucky to have my wife there with me holding my hand as it helped calm me. I've only ever been this anxious on my wedding day. I was lucky to get to share both these events with the greatest woman evar!
Off the bus we were separated. Athletes go down into transition while friends and family split off to watch from a distance. I went and found my bike in the sea of carbon fibre and aero bars. Mine was easy to find, as it was arguably the oldest peice of steel there. I setup my transition, it went smooth as everything was laid out in my bag which made unpacking it easy. I made a last minute decision to wear a cycling jesery over my tri-suit to take advantage of the pockets to carry my tools and nutrition in. Fran pinned the spare race bib to the back of the jersey as my race belt would probably get covered up by the jersey, I didn't want to risk a penalty. Once setup was complete, I had just over an hour to kill before the race started. I went for a 10 minute jog in my 4 layers of jackets to warm up. Did I mention it was maybe 10 celsius outside?! Wit the jackets on, I immediately started sweating profusely and could feel that I was no longer sleepy. I even stopped yawning. I ran into Brian and Rodney and we pretty much waited until the last minute to get our wetsuits on and down to the water which was a good 300m down a steep hill. I decided to take my keen sandals and leave them at the swim exit so I wouldn't hurt my feet running up the hill to transition. The starting area on the beach was packed. We had to pick our way through all the spectators just so we could get to the small hidden beach. Once on the beach, I was blown away by the number of participants. I've never seen this many triathletes at the start of a race. This is nothing like the tiny local sprint races, look at all these people! I quickly jumped into the water and swam a lousy 50 meter warm up. I was really hoping for a lot more warmup, A LOT more, but we waited too late to get here so my short run will have to suffice. It was just barely enough time to squeeze out the customary pre-race wetsuit pee. There is no shame in peeing in your setsuit at seven in the morning when you're in the water and it dipped down to 4 celsius overnight. What a great feeling, right up to the point when you realized the other 1000 people standing in the water on the really shallow beach has just got finished doing the same thing. Now put your head under the water and wet that hair before putting the swim cap and goggles on. Keep your mouth closed though, that's probably not water you're swallowing. Just push those thoughts to the back of your mind.
They organized us in waves and I stood among the yellow caps on the beach. They were originally yellow, they were not stained by the aforemention water quality. Even in waves the number of people I was starting with was huge. We were shoulder to shoulder on this little starting area. The national anthem came on and my anxiety shot back up. I was at borderline panic mode, to the point where all bodily functions ceased. Repeatedly. At least it kept my toes warm. That has never happened to me before but no matter how much I concentrated or how hard I tried it just kept flowing. I was that nervous. Consider this when buying a used wetsuit!
After that anthem was over, it couldn't have been more perfect. The exact song that I planned on replaying over and over in my head had come over the loudspeakers. It figures I can't remember the name of it now, but regardless the exact song got me through some awesome mountain bike races in the past so this helped calmed me down as did looking over and seeing my familly on the sidelines just being there to cheer me on.


The beach was on an angle. To sight down the buoy line in a straight line you had to go out to deeper water way out to the right. Strange as everybody hugged the beach to the far left. I got myself lined up perfectly with the buoys and at the front of the line. I didn't plan on this but everyone was busy hugging shore so I figure by the time the pack converges into me, I should be ahead of most of them. The announcer shouts 30 seconds, and repeat it by shouting it out loud which gets me focused on the task at hand. The announcer then asks people to move back a bit as some of us were edging slightly past the invisible start line in the deep water. I'm not moving. Nobody moved. The only direction I go from this point onward is forward. There is no turning back now, not ever.
The horn rips through the crisp cold morning air and there is a clear moment of silence when everything pauses. The rest of the world disappears. Its just me, on a beach, looking forward. I see only 70.3 Miles between me and the finish line. I see a small distance in comparison to the 5000 Kilometers and 400 Hours of training it took to get here. Fast forward to this moment, my minds eye see's my family behind me. They've been there all along, not just today on the beach. I crack a small grin and dive kick off into the water. It's on.
Immediately I start rubing bodies. I only breath to the left which is in the direction of the entire pack. Somehow we avoid tangling arms as I try to time my stroke with the guy to my left. We are literally squishing our torso's together yet finding just enough room for our arms to squeeze a stroke through between us. Now that last sentence didn't sound too good, but I can assure you he was fit and I could see abs through the wetsuit so I didn't mind some rubbing. Plus it was cold. I started to bank right and gave the pack some room. The buoy was so far away, it still looked like I was in a perfectly straight line down the most direct route. This inside track turned out to be perfect. Approaching each turn I was taking chances though. As everyone converged onto my line I was swimming up against people's lower torso I could see kneecaps in my face and I was preparing myself for a good boot to the head, all it took was a single whip kick and I'd be sucking big toe. Luckily these people were able to hold their front crawl and avoid breaststroke into the turn. I'm thankful for this. About halfway through I started passing red caps, from the wave in front us. I took the 2nd to last corner too wide and ended up not taking such a direct route. This may or may not have been helpful as I didn't have to pick my way through the much slower red caps. 2/3 of the way through the swim I felt great, just as fresh as when I started but then I twitched. My left calve was about to cramp and seize on me. I flexed it with all my might without missing a stroke with my arms. I tried kicking from the hip and the calve was right on edge. It didn't take long for the other one to start to cramp too. I didn't understand as my nutrition was just fine and I'm in a perfectly comfortable heartrate zone but I'm cramping. The cold. Cold is what you get when it was single digit celsius over night and you're swimming in a big lake in the Canadian north. I didn't even notice that I earlier lost the feeling in my feet. I managed to stay calm and drag my legs behind me with just my arms and twisting my torso. I was still passing people even with no legs. Upon reaching the stairs out of the water I was grateful for the volunteer that helps you get vertical. I had no blood in my legs and they were frozen. The guy practically picked me up and stood me on my feet and I mustered just enough control of my leg muscles to propel me up the steps. As I slipped my sandals on there were spectators standing over top all the shoes. I told them "I couldn't feel my calves" and some guy asks me how the water was. "I CAN'T FEEL MY CALVES!" I replied to the guy wearing a toasty winter jacket under an umbrella. What more do you need to know, how do you think the water is? I began the 300m steep uphill to the transition area. I originally planned to walk this, however I began to run and it felt so good to force blood down to my lower parts. I ran the entire length of the uphill and by the time I got to the top I had all feeling in my legs back. I took my time in transition though, I wanted to make sure I got all my gloves on, and socks and didn't forget anything. Both calves repeatedly twitched as I tried to get socks on. At this point I was getting worried. To cramp this early in such a long race is likely a really bad sign. I decided to pop an electrolyte pill and wash it down with water. It's too early for this, there is no way I'm dehydrated. Unless of course the 10+ pee breaks I took on the beach drained me dry. Regardless, salt pill and some not-so-gentle massage was my hopeful quick-fix.


How long does it take you to mount your bike? For the guy in front of me, apparently a good 10 years. I was running up to the mount line from 100ft back and he was still trying to get onto his bike by the time I arrived. I ran passed him and cut him off a bit as I jumped on my bike. Instead of launching my leg over the saddle and racing off, I made sure I securely clipped my left foot in first. That's when I realized the other guy probably has numb legs like me and he wanted to be careful. There was a big crowd around and I didn't want to risk a silly fall. I immediately felt good on the bike. Heart rate was way low, probably due to hypothermia, but I was passing people like crazy. Alot of the other athletes were chugging along at snail pace for the first couple kilometers. I pretty much outclimbed everyone around for the repeated steep hills in the first 15 kilometers. Then the long drawn out hills arrived. Over the horizon it looked like rain. Dark clouds everywhere. We were basically playing leap frog among the same group of people for the next 15kms. I traded places with this same guy about 5 times and every time he was passing he would look over at me with this dorky grin and shook his head. After the 5th time I figured out what he was trying to say. I was close to a wheel in front of me and he was shaking his head and looking at me as if he was disgusted by my alleged drafting. I immediately shouted out to him "I love to draft... it's so much easier" in a somewhat sarcastic voice. He finally said something, "Well that's obvious, sheesh", again shaking is head in disdain. I made a point to pass the guy in front of me and suck on the whiner's wheel a bit. I'll gladly pay a few minute penalty to tease the crybaby. I mean seriously, at our level does it really matter what the other guy is doing? We're hardly contenders for the crown, so chill. He kept looking back and I could tell he was getting annoyed with me drafting him. He slowed right down to force my pass, and I obliged by blowing past him. He tried to suck on my wheel but I outclimbed him and left him waaay behind. A small bit of competitive fun to drown out the impending pain. At the first bottle swap, my first high-speed swap ever, I tossed my real gatorade bottle to find out that they were NOT handing out water bottles. We were clearly told we were getting water bottles, but instead they gave us the lousy plastic bottles with a nozzle on top that you would buy at the mini-mart. Not cool, I just tossed a pricey bottle in turn for garbage. Expect the unexpected, I thought this as I reached out to try and grab the plastic bottle from the volunteer - with one hand on the handlebar and the other reaching I found the unexpected alright. Someone dropped a full water bottle, probably a missed grab, and it was laying in the middle of the road. I hit it head on and nearly crashed as it slid out from under my wheel! I attribute my bike handling skills as a mountain biker, coupled with just pure dumb luck that my tires hooked up on the wet road, to my surviving the unexpected. That was close. I did manage to get a replacement bottle from the last volunteer in the feed zone. The next 30 kilometers were lonely. Very few people around and a brisk chilly wind coupled with misty rain eating at my legs. My stomach was in pain. I didn't eat or drink anything as I'm pretty sure the 'Nutella' was blocking everything from digesting. Serves me right for eating it. I settled into my planned slightly slower pace to conserve energy for the attack on the final third of the course where my strong climbing will shine. The 60km mark had the second feed zone. I kept an eye open for loose bottles. I thought this was a lousy spot for a bottle exchange, I was screaming along at 37km/h and the volunteers were not moving. I crashed my hand into the first bottle at break-arm speed and the bottle launched through the air into the crowd. Gees those bottles sure fly, I hope I didn't kill anyone. I tried again and I missed. Lucky the guy at the end of the line put a slight run in and I successfully got my bottle. That is something I hadn't practiced. You don't get that speed in a mountain bike race feed zone, but then again it's rather dumb to have a feed area in a speed zone.
Just after the 60km mark the big hills gave me a taste of just how bad things were. My legs were frozen. No cramping, they can't crap when they are solid bricks of ice. I felt my legs with my hand and they were rock solid frozen muscles. I could barely get them to twitch. On the hills it took all the power I could muster to turn the pedals. The cold creeped in without me noticing, I was upset that I let it get this bad although I didn't know what I could have done about it even if I seen it happening. I just got weaker and slower with each climb, and there as no shortage of climbs. I was hoping I would begin to warm up being out of the wind and hidden in the valley of climbs but it wasn't meant to be, my heartrate just wouldn't increase to force things to thaw. My legs got more red and more purple. I never thought I would ever hear myself say it, especially while riding a bike, but I was actually looking forward to the run. I was begging to run. I wanted to slip on my nice dry warm padded running socks and have my cushioned shoes hug my feet and bring life back to the pale stilts attached to my lower body. I got some distraction from the cold as an official on a motorcycle went to tag the guy in front of me for drafting. A big muscular asian guy was yelling and arguing with the official all while cruising along at 35km/h. He wouldn't pull over to get his bib marked, he just argued while riding. He started swurving to the left left as he yelled at the official and rode with just one hand as he was more or less flipping the official off. He swurved into a woman rider, likely a leader for her age group, as she came screaming up beside all of us to make the pass on the left. The guy nearly killed us all as he had blatant disregard for everyone around him. It was a close call and she practically had to clip the motorcycle to get by. The motorcycle drove off after this, I suspect they decided to disqualify him as he was arguing and endangering others. They never did get him to pull over. I didn't see anyone in my age group for the past 50km. It wasn't until the final few hills that some passed me. I had nothing left in my legs, I just did what I could to get to my dry shoes. I had to use the bike to hold me up as I made my way from the dismount line to the rack. I couldn't control the muscles in my legs, they were sexy, permanently flexed ice sculptures frozen in time. This didn't look good for my run. My bike split was 'ok' at best, I am only slightly disappointed that it wasn't stronger.


The T2 exit will just have to wait. I just covered my frozen apendiges with dry socks and I immediately felt things starting to thaw out. Queue the sudden urge to pee. In their wisdom they placed the porta-potties at the complete opposite end of the transition zone exit. This bought my legs just enough time to regain some muscle control and I was able to muster up some decent running form. Right off the bat I was running fast. I had no intention on slowing down though as I could feel blood flowing through my legs and it felt sooo good. My whole body was blissfully defrosting and it was by far one of the greatest feelings ever. My hate for running was benched on the sidelines as for today I loved running. I ran with a smile. I ran the entire exit and down the road out of Deerhurst, not because there were spectators cheering us on, but because I felt like I was an actual runner. No sign of BRICK legs whatsoever. I was already at the 2km mark where the first aid station was. I didn't want to walk yet but I knew that would be short sighted as my plan was to walk each aid station that was placed about every 2 kilometers. I made a point to start running again by the time I reached the last table and/or volunteer. The walks would only be about 100ft long. Once out on Hwy 60 it was a very long straight run down a busy highway. The sounds were drowned out by the cars and trucks speeding by. I focused on technique and still wore the smile that I found way back at T2 exit. Around the 6km mark I was settling in well with a group of people that were roughly doing my speed. I picked a guy that was going slightly quicker than me and I decided that he would be my bus. My bus will pace me and force me to restart the run at every feed zone when he ran by me. I ran step by step with him for the next 4km. This was David Moss from Whitby. I told him to just ignore me as I'm going to try to shadow him for as long as I can and that I appreciate his understanding. I stared at the back of David's shoes, I didn't look down the long roads which scare me. The distance is just so far, I didn't want to know what it looked like. As we exited Hwy60 it was all uphill from here. The first couple big climbs were tough, but I managed to hang on to the bus. We approached the biggest hill of them all and it was huge. It went on forever. I warned the bus driver that I have a weak run and I don't know what to expect from my body so don't fret if I get dropped. To my amazement we were passing boatloads of people. Everyone broke at the hill yet we just ran up it. The hill was a good kilometer long and our pace was the quickest around. Near the top I could hear the bus give out a slight moan. This reassured me that I'm doing 'ok' as my heartrate and breathing were perfect and I was feeling good. That was until we got to the top. The feedzone at the top was 9km in and I missed an important step in my nutrition. At the end of the feedzone I tried to take an exaggerated step by lifting my knee high and loosening things up. Instead my hamstring immediately cramped and I just about keeled over and fell while holding the back of my leg. Immediately I looked up at the people running by me, I had fright in my eyes and I could tell they seen me cringe and grab my leg. Both runners told me to go back 25ft to the feed station and get a salt pill. I didn't anticipate or suspect cramping until the top of the hill when I lifted my leg too high. I decided that I will not go backwards on the course. I will push forward, that was my mission. I concentrated on form and for the next kilometer I did not feel any cramping unless I tried to lengthen my stride or do something 'out of the ordinary'.
Just passed the halfway mark I raised my hands over my head as if I was running down victory lane. This is it. I shouted a woohoo out loud and had a mini-celebration in my own little world as everyone looked at me like I was some kind of freak. I let bus driver in on my celebration - this is the furthest I have ever run in my entire life. No really, I've only ever run 11km once before this. We're just over the halfway mark and I am sailing into the unknown. I have run non-stop so far. With every step I was increasing my all time record-distance and I was determined to not stop my run until I was at my absolute limit. So many people were walking at this point. Around the 14km mark I started to feel my limits. The toughest part of the run was the walk through the feed stations. It was getting increasingly harder to get re-started before the end of the feed zone. Everyone around was walking and I felt like joining them, it was so tough to get going again. My legs were now burning and the pain in my hip and ankle was noticable. David the bus driver was beginning to show signs of cracking. At the end of the feedzone my bus had still not arrived. I had to look back and shout 'where is my bus?' as I coerced David into a run and he passed me. This forced me to hitch back onto the bus and off we ran. It sure was tough getting going again. We took turns cracking the whip on each other at the feed stations. I think he was pushing his limits. It was mutual. It seemed he didn't want to let me down, and we both kept each other honest by only doing the short walks in the feed zones and forcing a restart. The very last feedzone was just before the steepest hill of them all. At the end of the zone I was hoping we would just walk up the hill. I hoped the bus would just walk too, we're only 2km from the finish and this hill is crazy steep enough to justify a walk. Not even a couple of steps passed the feed zone and David said let us just run up and see how far we can get up it. I didn't want him to leave me behind so I obliged. About halfway up I was still feeling good, but my run had slowed down to not much faster than the pace of the people walking. We throttled back and speed walked up the hill. It seemed faster than trying to actually run. We justified this short 50ft speed-walk by us wanting to not burn out so close to the finish. We wanted to run the final bit through the spectators without collapsing. It was close. 500m from the finish is the final hill David dubbed 'heartbreak hill'. I don't know if that was the actual name of it or what, but even the spectator knew what he as talking about. I ran up that hill with a huge smile on my face. I could feel every muscle in my leg burning and cramping and we were so close to the finish, it felt great! David slowed to a walk just before the very top and I screamed at him. I gave him the ole' 'suck it up, this is the final hill, go go go!'. He immediately got back into a run and we ran down the chute together. I let him go first over the line as it was the least I could do. Unfortunately a couple runners came up behind us on the finishing line to try to sprint past us. What idiots, I hope it didn't screw up the photos. Over the line I gave a big cheer and the andrenaline kicked in. I did it.


Immediately after placing a medal on your head, you walk over to get your post-race photo. I shook hands with David and he got his photo with what looked like was his daughters. I struck a pose and hoped I didn't blink. I didn't have the energy to suck in my gut, so I'm still waiting to see the photo lol. Just stopping for that moment was enough for me. Everything started seizing up. My Legs wouldn't bend anymore. I grabbed my finishers T-Shirt, which I was going to get a large incase I grew into it but considering I'll be doing Ironman Lake Placid, the medium should do just fine for least a little while longer. Surprisingly we got a hat as well. All I could think about was finding the Mrs. and giving her a great big hug. I seen Rodney first who was already showered and fed. All that training appears to have paid off for him, that guy is a machine. I'll catch him at Lake Placid though ;). Right after I figure out how to walk again, ow my legs. I seen Fran and fell into her arms. I've only been gone for a little over 6 hours but it felt like a lifetime. I may have cracked a tear or two. We snapped a few photo's and Rodney was generous by letting me use the shower in his hotel room. I desperately needed a massage, my muscles were permantently flexed and I couldn't get my legs to bend. When I tried to bend my legs manually with my arms, it felt like my quad muscles were ripping apart, like the sound you get when you rip linen in half. I decided not to push it. We went straight to the massage tables, what a joke. They were only there until 5pm and there was a waiting list 10 hours long. People were still coming over the line up until 4:45pm, this was hugely disappointing to alot of competitors. They simply did not provide adequate massage support. I've seen way better at 24hr mountain bike races. Sad. Instead I grabbed a post-race meal and we watched the awards banquet. The lousy part of the whole event was post-race. The transition area closed at 5pm and the final bus to the airstrip stopped at 6pm. There was no time to sit around and hang with friends and family. The plans to meetup with Brian and Rodney fell through later that evening. I jumped in the pool and left my cell phone in the room so I missed the calls to meet in town. The pool felt great, it allowed me to work my range of motion without straining the muscles. It will be several days before I will be able to walk properly again. Ow. We tried to get out and meet the guys for beers but they had already left. That's ok as I was fading fast and we grabbed a Mr. Sub with extra bacon as it was the only place still open in Huntsville. Admittedly the Post-Race celebration was utter fail but I got to spend it with family and I managed to get to bed at a decent time. I have no doubt there will be plenty of opportunity to pat ourselves on the back next time we come up with excuses to get together and drink beer.

Found a video with Brian in it at 1:40


  1. You are so amazing.. I knew you would push to the very end. Congratulations Sweetie!

    Oh, and for the record, not anywhere on the jar did it say 'chunky nutella'. ;)

    Mrs. Lord of the Chainrings

  2. Congratulations on finishing strong! Now that you've done one of the toughest courses in shit weather everything else will be downhill!
    p.s. - I think you missed the part of the post race where Mrs.LordoftheChainrings peels off your yellow sock - blech!

  3. Wife - Don't muck with mah f00d!

    Jenn - Have you people no shame? I can't believe she shared that with you. K, I'll post my side of the story tomorrow. :)

  4. Love the blog John, though a little scared now of the longer distances. Congrats on an amazing accomplishment and setting the next goal. You rock dude! rb

  5. Really enjoyed the race report. It looks like you had a decent race and avoided any major set backs. Albeit, it sounds like the leg cramping/coldness came close.

    Can hardly wait to see how you do next year and I'm jealous of your climbing ability.

    Nice job. You are a HALF IRONMAN!!!!


  6. B- Thanks for the kind words! I can't wait until next year, Lake Placid is going to be epic!
    Tons of room for improvement between now and then, I am excited!



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