Well, actually not all that great – I wanted to improve on my time from last year when I did Ironman Coeur d’Alene, but I figured that my chances of doing that were 50-50 at best. On one hand, I felt that I could do a better job of handling my pacing and nutrition this year, but on the other hand I had not been able to train quite as long, hard, and fast this year. Last year I had made some significant changes that helped me recover better and run more – mostly standing in the cold lake after each run; this year I came up with the hip boots that I fill with ice and water after the lake has warmed up, but that wasn’t a significant enough change to offset my assorted injury / aging related declines. Last year my longest training run was 22 miles, vs. 16 this year, and my biggest training week had 21 hours of Swim/Bike/Run vs. 19.5 hours this year. I wanted to do more, but I felt like my body wasn’t recovering well enough to make that a good idea.
Laura, Kelsey, and Tyler were here to watch me, and we stayed in a condo near the run turnaround point in Okanagan Falls. (Kayla stayed home with Moose, as we didn’t get his vet paperwork in time to bring him across the border with us.) I wrote out rough schedule of when I expected to be at various checkpoints so they could show up in time. My schedule went like this:
- Swim start: 7:00
- Finish swim: 8:15 to 8:25
- Bike start 8:25 to 8:35
- Bike through Okanagan Falls, corner of 10th and Main 9:00 to 9:20
- Bike finish 2:40 to 3:30
- Run turnaround in Okanagan Falls 5:10 to 6:15
- Finish race 8:00 to 9:30
I checked in my bike and gear bags on Saturday, then I made a little pile of everything that I thought I wanted to bring or wear the next morning. I went to bed early, and slept very soundly until midnight. After that I was waking up once or more every hour until I finally got up at 4:30. I ate breakfast, filled some bottles with ice and water, did some back exercises, and taped up my toes. I think it is arthritis in the big toe joint that causes the pain and loss of range-of-motion, and taping it up has seemed effective in some of my training runs. The weather forecast was 88 and sunny, so I put on sunscreen and hoped it would soak in and still be protecting me after the swim. Laura drove me in, and dropped me off near transition at about 6:00.
I went to my run bag and stuck in the sun glasses, and headed to my bike. On the way I saw a couple friends and we wished each other good luck. There was a volunteer with a pump helping another racer near me, and then he let me use it to get my tires nice and firm. I had put my water and nutrition on the bike, so I was ready to hit the bathroom, put on my wetsuit, and warm up for the swim. When I first got in the line, the announcer was saying that there was over 30 minutes before the Pro start, so it was a little before 6:15. I had a minor panic when I realized I had forgotten to bring the swim cap, but the guy behind me saved my spot while I went and got a spare. The line took forever – I was still in line when the Pro’s started and had just gotten inside a porta-potty when they announced our start was in 10 minutes. I took care of business, dropped off my dry clothes bag, zipped up my wetsuit, and shuffled out to the swim start. My warm up consisted of submerging and blowing bubbles for a minute, and then we got started!
The water was very nice – about 71, and quite clear. It stays shallow for a long way – I could see the bottom for much of the first leg. It did not seem quite as rough and crowded as CDA last year – I had people’s arms coming down on legs a bit, but I had lots of stretches with little contact. My attitude towards the swim is I’m very confident about finishing, and I want to keep relaxed like it’s a very long drafting drill in swim class. If I managed to go 5 or 10 minutes faster by going all out, it might not help my overall race. I spent most of the first leg drafting off some guy in a Zoot wetsuit with a red timing chip holder. I got forced off him by someone swimming at angle to me, but then I ended up behind him again about 50 yards later.
On the third leg I was swimming very close to the red buoys, and I could read the numbers on them. Between 21 and 22 I caught a glimpse of someone wearing some short “Zoomer” style fins! I was very surprised, so I took a second look and verified that I really saw them. The rest of the swim was not too interesting. Well, I felt the tape coming off my toes, so that plan had not worked. Eventually we got close to the finish and all of the swimmers funneled together – it felt very crowded, like I’d imagine it feels for a fish in the midde of a salmon run. I tried to stand up a little early – it looked shallower, but turned out to be neck deep, so I kept swimming until I was next to people who were wading. I pulled off my goggles and swim cap, and unzipped my wet suit – saw the clock saying 1:17 and change as I entered transition. Time 1:17:20 – very happy with that swim, as I stayed relaxed, felt good, and finished right in the time range I expected!
Transition is really different at these big races! They have a bunch of volunteers that help people take off their wetsuits, tents to change clothes in, volunteers that tell you which way to go, etc. I pulled the wetsuit down to my waist and ran to a couple of wetsuit strippers who weren’t busy. I lay on my back and tried to cooperate while a stripper pulled it off my legs, then I was off to find my “Swim to Bike” bag. I was already wearing the shorts I was going to ride in, so I didn’t bother with the changing tent. I pulled out my bike stuff, crammed in my wetsuit, goggles, swim cap and handed the bag to a volunteer. I ran over to the porta-potties behind the changing tent and peed for a good minute and half – I didn’t think I’d had that much to drink! I turned on my Garmin so that I could watch my heart rate during the run and bike, and put on my shirt, shoes, and helmet. I found my way to my bike and followed the other racers out to the bike course. I saw a clock saying 1:37 and change as I was leaving – I knew I hadn’t spent 20 minutes in transition, so I assumed it was showing the time for the Pro race, and had spent about 5 minutes. Time: 5:23, a little quicker than I expected.
I trotted across the “Mount” line, hit the start button on my watch, got on my bike and headed out. The first couple miles down Main Street were very crowded – tons of spectators, and lots of bikes. After about five minutes I looked at my watch to check my heart rate, and discovered that my wrist unit was not picking up the HR monitor signal. This was pretty annoying! I had tested it earlier in the morning while waiting in line, and it had worked then, so I had turned it off to save the battery. I started drinking and taking in calories very early in the ride – my stomach felt fine, and I wanted to have a steady flow of fluids and calories so that I wouldn’t bonk or get dehydrated. Some time after the 10 mile mark we started the first small climb (McClean Creek Road). I spotted James T. who I sort of know from Ontri.com, and I said hi as I passed him going up the hill. He passed me back on the descent, as I was being a bit cautious on the downhills. I finished the food I was chewing and took a sip of water as we came down into Okanagan Falls so that I could yell hi to Kelsey and Tyler. I went through at 9:05, which was right when I had predicted, and Kelsey and Tyler saw me looking around, but they were in the second row and I missed seeing them.
The first 40 miles of the bike ride seemed very easy. I have no HR data to prove I was taking it easy, but it took only 1:57, which is about 20.5 mph, and I was feeling very relaxed and not pushing hard at all. After that we started climbing up Richter Pass, which is about 6 miles of riding uphill. I knew that it would drop my average speed by quite a bit, but I stuck to my plan of taking easy on the climbs, especially the earlier ones. I had been very comfortable to that point, but my head got rather hot during the long climb. My aero helmet doesn’t give my head any airflow, so I was sweating a bit. I had brought a couple handkerchiefs in my bike shirt pockets so that I could wipe sweat away from my forehead and eye area – I had ridden the course a month before during a training camp, and had wished I could wipe away the sweat / sunblock mixture that kept stinging my eyes. This time I was better prepared and able to keep my eyes clear and comfortable the whole time. Also, since the aero helmet covers my ears, it is usually quieter, but occasionally pebbles or flying bugs would bounce off the helmet and it would sound really loud inside the helmet.
I was descending from Richter Pass when James passed me again – not sure how or when I had gotten in front of him again – and then he squeezed his brakes as a coyote ran across the road in front of us. I did a lot of coasting on the downhills, riding in a non-aero position so that I’d get more cooling breeze and keep my speed at a level where I felt almost safe. I did my fastest riding as I was approaching the bottom of each hill, so that I could have lots of momentum heading into the next climb. It was fun and I was making pretty good time – I think I went through the halfway point somewhere near 3:10. A bit later there were two guys riding side-by-side and chatting about 20 yards in front of me – a course marshall on a motor cycle slowed down beside them and said something, and they split up right away. I soon passed the one who had dropped back, but the other guy steadily pulled away.
Eventually I came to the “out and back” section of the bike course. This is where I started feeling a blister on the bottom of my foot. During the training camp I got blisters on the bike ride and started feeling them in the same section. I had worn socks that day, and it was very hot, so I decided that I had a better chance of not blistering by going sockless. I do lots of training rides that way, and my feet were very comfortable for over 60 miles, but by mile 75 or so I could feel the blisters starting. Over the rest of my ride I worried a bit about how much the blisters would affect my running. Soon after the out and back section comes the climb up to Yellow Lake. There were quite a few spectators cheering us on, and a bit of breeze in my face, so in spite of being a bit tired I was more comfortable than going up Richter Pass. From Yellow Lake to the finish is less than 20 miles, and it was almost all downhill. I had to use my brakes in a few spots, and was still going quite fast. When we hit highway 97 there were miles of cars backed up, as the cops were stopping traffic whenever bikes were coming through. Another rider passed me and said something about how pissed off the cars must be. Little did I know that my family was stuck in line for 40 minutes trying to get to the Start/Finish area.
They actually beat me to bike finish by a few minutes, but I didn’t see them. Kelsey saw me finish the bike ride, but Laura and Tyler missed it. I dismounted and handed off my bike to a volunteer after I crossed the timing mats. Time 6:27:33 – this was closer to the slow end of my expectations for the bike ride, but I had stuck to my plan of riding slower to see if it would help me in the run.
The blisters made it very painful to walk around in the transition area. I took off the bike shoes before going to the changing tent, but even barefoot was uncomfortable. I got my bag and went into the changing tent – a volunteer accompanied me to a chair and emptied my bag while I took off my helmet and bike shirt. He loaded my helmet, shoes, and bike shirt into the bag while I put on my socks, running shoes, clean shirt and number belt. I left the tent, found an empty porta-potty and peed for a couple minutes. I hadn’t peed since T1 and I can’t remember how many drink bottles I went through – but it was a lot. Finally I was ready to leave and start the run. Time: 6:51, right in line with expectations.
I restarted my watch as I started the run, and after about a half mile my feet stopped bothering me. My family was watching me start the run, but I didn’t know where they were standing and didn’t see them. After about a mile I did a U-turn over a timing mat and came to the first water stop / aid station. I had a quick drink and dumped some ice into my T-shirt. The number belt around the outside keeps the ice in place, and having ice cubes against my chest and under each arm helps me stay cool enough. Just after that I heard someone at the side of the road yelling for me, and I recognized Micheal Covey, my swim coach. I said hi, and high fived him as I ran past.
The next aid station was at about 2.5 miles, and I couldn’t believe it, but I felt like peeing again already, so I stopped there for a minute. At about 3.5 there was another aid station, and I got more ice and more to drink. By that time I had figured out that I hadn’t actually reset my watch between the run and bike, just stopped and restarted it. I decided to reset it and start it again when I reached the 4 mile mark so that I could keep track of my pace and be in sync with the mile marks. I think I was only walking at aid stations at that point, and I kept snacking on the food I’d brought and taking the occasional salt tablet. At about 5 miles I saw Colleen and Bryan who organized the training camp I had done, and they cheered me on. I also went past a TN Multisports tent, and someone there recognized and cheered for me – I think it might have been Bridget.
At about mile 6 I wanted to pee again, but the porta-potties on my side of the road were both in use. The aid station for the opposite direction was much less busy and only about 25 yards further, so I crossed the street and used a porta-potty for the less busy direction. As I was coming out, I heard someone say “Brad Hammond!” and I saw Rusty Pruden on a bike, watching the race. I don’t know how many athletes he was coaching for this race, but I saw a woman named Jenn zoom past in an RPE kit as I approached the Yellow Lake climb. Aynway, that helped me get back into running mode a bit – I was walking through aid stations and up hills, but you don’t want to walk if someone is watching. Soon after that I got passed by Paul Linnerud, who I know from swim classes at the Pro Club. He did Ironman St. George, which has a super tough course, and I think he’s a better runner than me, so I didn’t expect to be catching up to him later.
At this point I was averaging between 14 and 15 minutes per mile, or just a little over 15 if I stopped to pee. I wasn’t really thrilled about running at that pace, and there seemed like an endless stream of people passing me – some going just slightly faster, and some going a lot faster, but I felt like trying to run faster would lead to me keeling over with cramps and walking it in really slowly. Eventually I hit some little hills beside the lake. I had lots of company walking up them, and I always ran down, even though it made my feet and ankles hurt. With my watch problems, I knew how long I had been running since mile 4, but I didn’t know the time of day or my total time since race started very accurately. I started recognizing some of the other people who walked for parts and were averaging about my pace – I would keep trying to catch up and pass them. A little before the turnaround I saw Laura, Kelsey, and Tyler and I yelled hi. I stopped to pee, and went past them again on my way back. I asked Laura what time it was, and she said 6:02, so I told her I’d probably seem them again at about 9.
Once I made it past the turnaround, I pretty much knew that I would finish. I probably walked a little longer than I had to sometimes, but I managed to stick pretty close to 15 minute miles. I became pretty sensitive to where the aid stations were – when they went from about .2 miles after the mile mark to .4 after the mile mark I had some anxious moments as I thought “Where is it? It should be here!” Maybe the terrain and occasional lack of shoulder space is why the distance varies a bit. I really wished I had brought my small water bottle with me – I wanted to take sips more often than once a mile, so I was probably gulping down a bit more than I needed once I got to each aid station.
Somewhere around mile 19 or 20 I caught up to Paul Linnerud, who was walking at that point, I talked with him a few seconds, then went back to running as we reached the crest of the hill. I don’t think either one of us was having exactly the race we’d wished for at that point, but if trying to beat him could motivate me to walk a bit less, then I figured I might as well give it a try. It was also about this point that I got passed by a 62 year old woman. She was in great shape, but not really going much faster than me, just walking a bit less. I managed to catch up to her when she was walking away from an aid station, and we took turns passing each other the rest of the way. Usually she went just a little faster between aid stations, and I was a little quicker going through the station. There were between 2 and 3 miles left when I saw a clock on a building that said 8:40 – my brain was tired, but I quickly realized that finishing at 9 (14 hours) was not going to happen for me. I got past the 25 mile mark, and passed very close to the finish line - Laura, Kelsey, and Tyler were waiting across the street from the big peach, and they cheered for me as I went off on the out-and-back section on Lakeshore Drive. It was about 8:59, and I could hear the announcer counting down the final minute for people who were trying to break 14 hours. I still had almost a mile to go, and I didn’t want to walk any of it. I saw Micheal Covey again, and then Celia Bostick who I know from swim class. Then after the turn around I saw Kim and Rusty. At this point I got passed by a woman who had done the same training camp as me – I wanted to keep up with her, I couldn’t manage that pace. I managed to stay couple steps ahead of the 62 year old woman - she won her age group – and the announcer said our names and congratulated her on her podium finish. I would have felt weird about going into some crazy sprint to come from behind and beat her to the line, but as I was leading for a couple of miles I felt just fine with keeping up the pace to stay ahead of her. I hope I didn’t mess up her finish line photo. Time: 6:18:23
My total time was 14:15:30. I’ve now done three races at this distance, and run slower each time and finished slower each time. Oh well, some people slow down as they age, and I seem to be one of them. I had hoped that slowing down on the bike would allow me to go faster on the run, but it didn’t seem to work. While not that excited with the result, I am satisfied with the effort, both in training and on race day. I don’t have any definite plans as far as racing this distance again – maybe I won’t and maybe I will, but probably not next year. I certainly plan to race again at shorter distances, and I expect to put lots of time and effort into training. but the Ironman distance is not my best distance and really cuts down my chances to race at other distances where I can do better.