Thursday, September 3, 2009

Ironman Canada

Ironman Canada is a race that I have wanted to do for a long time - it's 4.5 hours away from my house, the altitude and climate are identical to home, and I've been regaled with epic stories of the course and the support that Pentictonites lend to the event. Unfortunately, it's only 6 weeks before Kona and it is therefore a race that I haven't been historically able to justify doing. This year, without the burden of training for Kona on my horizon, it was the perfect opportunity to pack up the Suabaru and head north of the border. My prep going into the race wasn't exactly ideal, as I raced 6 consecutive weekends in the 8 weeks between IM Coeur d'Alene and IM Canada. The racing was fun, but it meant that I wasn't doing the volume that would ordinarily make me feel prepared going into an Ironman. I trusted that I had some residual endurance from my training for Coeur d'Alene, however, and felt confident that I could have a solid race.

The travel and pre-race obligations went well. I drove from Spokane with fellow pro triathletes Katya Meyers and Mark Van Akkeren, and we found a little downstairs apartment in a duplex in Skaha to call home base. My training in the days before the race never felt great, but I'm convinced that's always the case before a big race. The only thing I knew that I could count on for race day was heat - it was predicted to be in the mid-90s and the preceding days were certainly uncomfortably warm. Mark, Katya, and I did our best to avoid the heat and we calmed our nerves with nightly screenings of Da Ali G Show whilst fully decked out in our compression wear (I think I had the edge because mine was Zoot).

I was surprisingly calm on race morning, because I knew that the day would take up to 10 hours and nerves are useless in a day with so many ups and downs that most tribulations can be remedied. It's certainly not like an ITU race when the smallest misstep can take you from 2nd to 20th place. I had a good swim warm up and that's when I became eager to get things going. With 71 pro athletes on the line, the swim start was rough. Nonetheless, I found some great feet to jump onto for 2/3 of the swim. Swim conditions were perfect - wetsuit legal but not too warm, and relatively flat. I PR'ed with a 1:01:12. I had a similar swim in Arizona, but in this race I started the bike leg with women who it usually takes me a while to catch. This suggests to me that I swam relatively better than I did in AZ.

The first 30 miles of the bike to Osooyos were just as fast and windless as everyone promised they would be. I was careful to soft pedal and I actually saw my heart rate dipping into the 130s for sections of the ride. It was a little mentally tough to be so conservative, but I knew that I would need to save my energy for the two mountain passes on the course. I've also come to learn that I really have to dial back my effort on the bike in hot races to ensure that my digestive system can continue to absorb water and calories. Richter Pass was the first sustained climb, and it actually wasn't very hard. I tried not to let it zap too much of my energy though, so I sat up, spun, and kept the effort in check.

Then the badness began. The wind started blowing. Hard. The rollers after Richter were at least a little protected by virtue of it being hilly, but the flat section before Yellow Lake was mind-numbing. The winds were by no means Kona-esque, but they aren't supposed to be and I had assailed with tale after tale of being blown home for the last 20 miles after Yellow Lake. The wind would offer us no such assistence on this day, with one glaring exception -it brought in a thick layer of smoke from wildfires to the north. It was a bit gross thinking of my lungs turning black, but it did screen the sun's direct rays. I suppose I'm lucky that I don't have asthma. The wind continued to blow in our faces for the remainder of the ride and the last 4 mile false flat back into town was downright demoralizing. I certainly didn't have the bike split I expected based on previous years' times, but it doesn't look like anybody did really. I think my split was a 5:22, but I'll have to check.

I always get a little daunted in T2. Marathon time. Just a marathon. After a 112 mile bike ride. That's all. Here we go. Surprisingly, despite the heat, winds, and smoke, I felt really good starting the run. My goal was to start at 7:40 pace and to build from there, but I got caught up in it all.

I feel so good right now . . . I should go with it. . . after all, I have a tail wind . . . and I think I'm going downhill . . .

So I ran a few miles at 7:00/mi pace before settling into a more realistic speed. Around mile 5 I caught Kat just as Janelle caught me. Janelle was hauling and I didn't try to go with her in the hope that she would fade. There are some pretty substantial hills on the course, especially towards the turn-around at Okanagan Falls and, as on the bike, I backed way off of the pace and tried to conserve energy for the final stretch.

I suspected that fellow Zooter Sara Gross might catch me on the run, as I didn't get quite a very comfortable lead on her after the bike, and the girl can run. Just after the turn, she did just that and passed me with assertion. At that point, there was no going with her. It was survival mode all the way back to town and with some steep hills and headwinds, my pace slowed slowed substantially. I was nervous that the group of girls behind me would catch up as I watched my pace get slower and slower, but apparently the carnage back there was even uglier. I also got occasional snippets of information about a few girls ahead who were falling apart, and I chugged my way back into 4th after falling to 6th at one point. Apparently, I had the 3rd fastest female marathon split, which astounds me because I felt like a snail out there. It just goes to show what a hot, windy day with high stakes can do to a high caliber field of competitors. I'll take that as a learning day for Kona (yes, I'm crazy and I'm going).

In the end, it didn't feel like a very fast race, but I had one of my better executed Ironmans in terms of patience and energy conservation. It's frustrating to spend a day going so slowly, but when the last few miles of a marathon feel that bad, it suggests to me that my new laid back approach to the bike and early stages of the run is working. That being said, I have a LOT of work to do fitness-wise before Kona. I suppose I can only accomplish so much in 6 weeks and I am getting married next weekend, which means I won't be 100% dedicated to training until after the friends and family have departed. It's not an ideal build towards a world championships, but once I figure out how to get my bike and me affordably to Kona, I plan to enjoy it thoroughly. This season has been a blast so far, and I don't regret a single day of it.

Of course I have to thank my awesome support network for getting me to and through the race. Special thanks to Zoot and the ULTRA team sponsors: Orbea, GU, Zipp, Suunto, Alcis, and Fuelbelt. Except for the final 9 coke-fueled miles of the marathon, I subsisted entirely on GU20 and the new uncaffeinated pineapple Roctane. Yum yum! I also want to thank Lifesport for providing on-site assistance, and especially to Coach Dan for listening to me prattle on about whether or not to take a Kona slot before it was even an issue. I'm so lucky to have such a fun job!

happy training,
Haley Cooper

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