What’s the old adage? When life deals you lemons, make lemonade and drink it. I mean, drink VODKA. More on that fun later. This is my Ironman Whistler race report (some people are still calling it “Ironman Canada”, but I refer to the race as “Ironman Whistler”).
I arrived in Whistler knowing that I was not going to be able to run even a mile on the course. Super Coach Kurt Perham said “no”. The doc said “no way” and my intellect hovered just above my ego and instructed me to shut it down. For those who know me, you know that I’ve been battling Achilles problems for the entire season. Yes, I have problems with both of them. I think that I’m turning the corner on the path to recovery, but without any real running miles in the bank, I hesitated to try and muscle my way through a run. My friend Kat had advised me not to “seek short term glory over long term goals” and she was right. Which is unfortunate since the run course is extremely beautiful and the run is always my strongest event in Ironman racing. I was still in denial about running during the days leading up to the race and I actually strung up my running shoes with speed laces and stuck them in my T2 bag.
For starters, Whistler is BY FAR the best race venue at which I’ve ever raced. I’ve raced Lake Placid seven times, and have always regarded it as my favorite Ironman on earth. So for me to write the next sentence is somewhat surprising. I’ll tell you what I told a friend this morning via Facebook: Whistler makes Lake Placid look like a ghetto. That’s harsh, I know. Maybe not a ghetto but Whistler blows Lake Placid out of the water.
Here is what Whistler has going for it:
- The hotels and condos don’t jack up the room rates nor require a 5 or 6 night minimum. Accommodations are plentiful and diverse. We stayed at the Four Seasons and paid 30% less per night than the cockroach-infested Econolodge charges in Lake Placid during Ironman week. I did not hear of anyone being quoted $400 a night for a room anywhere in Whistler.
- There is an intricate trail system that people use to get around Whistler and Blackcomb. It is amazing.
- There is no cheesy pre-race dinner featuring bottom-of-the-barrel quality of food that racers usually won’t eat anyway. Instead, each racer gets a $25 coupon good at about two dozen restaurants on Friday night. Italian, Sushi, etc. That is such a better arraignment than a welcome banquet with crappy food that no one really attends. Also, coupons for spas, zip-lining, gondola rides, etc. were included in our race pack.
- The level of service is INCREDIBLE. There is a “gold standard” service culture in Whistler. We found out that it is because any business that is a member of Whistler’s Chamber of Commerce (which seems to include “ALL” businesses) is subjected to secret shopper visits. The results are then published in the paper (so generating a poor one doesn’t bode well for an employee) and the employees who contribute to a stellar report receive some sort of monetary reward. Therefore, all employees are extremely engaging, work with a sense of urgency, are knowledgeable about Whistler and are very pleasant.
- It is beautiful. So beautiful. Even if you don’t race Ironman races, I would suggest that you put Whistler on your bucket list of places to visit. Did I mention that it is beautiful?
- There is more going on than just Ironman. As a result, it is easy to move around the town, distance yourself from Iron-geekdom and/or check out another sport (we went zip-lining on friday and NO, zip-lining will not have any negative effect on your Ironman race). Geoff said that getting around as a spectator on the day of the event was a cinch. Let’s just say that Whistler does events on a large scale WELL.
Pre Race: Up at 3:15 a.m. The hotel sent up a baked potato and 2 Gluten Free English muffins and a pot o’ Joe with almond milk. Go simple carbs. Go simple carbs, rah rah RAH! Yummy…..but I was super full after my feed. As per norm for fresh water swims, I took a hot bath and shaved my legs.
The Swim: The two-loop swim takes place at Alta Lake-about 2.5 mile ride from T2. The logistics are easy. Note: Bring a headlamp and be prepared for the ground to be damp and cold. I would suggest keeping some sort of waterproof foot covering on until you are allowed in the water. Wear tinted goggles as the sun comes up over the mountain at about 7:15 a.m. (although next year it will rise earlier as the race will be in July) and is quite bright. If you are planning on doing this race and don’t do so now, plan on learning how to bilateral breathe as you will need to do so.
I lined up to the left of the buoys. The gun went off and I swam straight, then cut to the right to round the turn buoy. Aside from the usual swim glitches (some athletes cutting the buoys AND major congestion and feeling like part of a pack of slippery eels at the turn buoys), there were no real problems outside of the fact that I’ve been favoring Core 40 classes over swimming and my time reflected it. 1:04:xx and 5th in AG.
T1: Uneventful except that I made the rookie mistake of not visually marking my bike from the changing tent before the race and sort of forgot where it was. So I did a little “Tour de Bike Rack” and finally found my bike. At this race, you will be grabbing your own bike as opposed to a volunteer handing it to you. It’s a short transition out of water. After the mount line, you have to ride uphill. Make sure that your bike is in a low gear. A few spectators who were watching the race at the top of the mount hill said that lots of people fell over.
The Bike: Have to start this with THANK YOU ANNA GERBER! I felt really strong and I was (mostly) confident on the downhills. There is over 6000 feet of climbing and some nice descents. Think of the course like this: Up and Down; Up and Down; Down; Flat; Flat; Up, Up, Up, Up, Up and Down. Pemberton Meadows is flat. The rest is either Up or Down. Note: There is about 6k total of chewed up roads in Pemberton Meadows of which you should be aware. This is the type of course where you can’t FAKE your training. You need to be technically sound and be able to climb. So thank you Anna for all of the in-person bike coaching you’ve given me this spring and summer. The course is beautiful. Glacier-fed green lakes, spectacular mountains and a ton of spectators and dogs. Tons of dogs. I swear that next year I’m going to bring dog biscuits on the bike and treat all of the dogs as I go by (I might need an extra Bento box). They really made my day. I got off my bike once to loosen my helmet (and to pee while doing so). I also sat up a little too much on the flats as the pads on my aerobars are super cheap and slippery (Hey Felt bikes, why do you make such a nice carbon bike with such chinzy pads?). Note to self: Change Those Babies Out. The 11-28 cassette was definitely the way to go. I rode steady but I was not gassed any more at the end of the bike than I have ever been in any other Ironman. And get this: I had the third fastest bike split in my AG (only 1:30 back from the first place girl!). WTF? I am usually about top 15-20 on the bike in the AG. I was so excited! Expected crotch-chafing aside, I felt G-R-E-A-T. Nutrition-wise, I used dates for the first time racing. I had 10 dates (620 calories), 1 bottle of Infinit (260 calories) ½ Bonk Breaker bar (130 calories), some amount of race provided electrolyte drink and a Vega gel (80 calories). About 1200 calories (which might be a little light). Bike time 5:42:xx, 3rd in AG.
T2 Coming back into Whistler, I decided to go through the motions of T2 so that I could get a time (hello, ego….). I flew into transition, changed my shoes, threw on my race number, crossed timing mat and ran out of the transition area and stopped. Three of us were with in seconds of leaving transition. The other two eventually placed one-two in the age group. 1:52xx and 2nd fastest of the day.
I stopped, borrowed a phone and called Geoff. We met up and went over to a great Aussie pie shop where I wolfed down a plate of vegan mashed potatoes and gravy and a flaky (read: tons of butter in the dough) spinach pie roll. We then headed out to the course and watched the leaders finish. It was a blast cheering for everyone. My friend John Potter was 7th in his AG and locked down a spot to Kona.
We finally picked up my gear, headed back to the room and I sat in the bathtub (the Four Seasons has the BEST bathtubs—not too big, not too small, very deep and tremendous water pressure. We decided to head over to the Bearfoot Bistro where we hung out with John, Roch and some new friends from Arizona. We enjoyed some food and drink and then we went into the icy vodka lounge and tasted 4 vodkas in a 40 degrees below zero ice room with all sorts of vodka sitting in the ice walls. The nifty parka was included.
I’m happy with the race even though I only did the “Aqua Bike”. I always meet the nicest people racing Ironman. So happy to have connected with Mona Patel, Mike Breyer and Bob Flanigan. Also, Elliot (KQ), Jenna and Judy from Phoenix. Whistler was great and I’m already signed up for next year.
And there was a bear on the run course. Go figure.