// My First IMC: Race Report
Ironman Canada 2012 (August 26) in Penticton, British Columbia, Canada was my first race at this distance. My goal heading into the event was completing in under 11 hours, I finished with time of 10 hours 31 minutes (1:07 skim, 5:21 bike, 3:56 run). The following is a raw recap of the experience leading up to and including my rookie appearance at IMC. There is some reflection of certain choices I’ve made which I hope will help others considering to one day complete an ironman.
Shawn Rempel: Name
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada: Hometown
32: Age on race day
3: Years of Triathlon
3: Half iron distance races completed prior to IMC
2: Half iron distance races completed in 2012
5: Triathlons completed in 2012 (including IMC)
I have never been a elite athlete, nor do I specialize in a specific triathlon discipline or any other sport for that matter. I once read a paragraph from a triathlete which has always stuck with me, paraphrased he said: “I am just an ordinary guy with an ordinary physical disposition, training to accomplish something extraordinary.”
Slightly different from most who register for IMC a year in advance, I qualified placing second place in my age group, to local Okanagan pro Luke Way, at the half iron distance event in Oliver BC the first weekend of June 2012. This left me 2.5 months to get my training milage in for the increased distance.
Furthermore, I was registered for another half iron event at the start of July in Stony Plain, AB and the annual Frank Dunn triathlon in Prince Albert National Park, two weeks prior to IMC, leaving some important training choices to be made.
I met with my coach of the last two seasons, Brad Spokes from Zone Multisport / Physiotherapy in Saskatoon, SK. We formulated a plan where it was agreed that there wouldn’t be time for tapering prior to these other events to maintain a focus on IMC.
Enlisting a coach has been one of the best choices I have made. The commitment to training I found to be as much mentally draining as it is physically, especially when working full-time in an event planning role that requires non-traditional hours of work. Having a coach simply allowed me to focus on the training and made me mentally accountable to someone other than myself.
The training program he developed worked very well. Both the Great White North triathlon and Frank Dunn events yielded great results. The biggest and most astounding results wasn’t completing these events with personal bests, which I did, rather it was finishing these events without any post race soreness. However, I still had a big question mark around what to expect from IMC and how my body would continue to respond to the training.
In late July I was able to specifically prepare for IMC with a week of training in Penticton with Coach Spokes and my dad, Reg, both whom would be competing in the 2012 running of IMC. During this training camp I experienced the majority ride and run courses. This really helped me to mentally prepare and visualize which would be important in the few weeks remaining until race day.
The six days spent in the area in July, plus being in attendance as a spectator for three previous IMC events, helped me to focus on the event when I arrived in Penticton four days prior to the race. I had seen enough of Penticton and the race expo that I could keep my focus on the event / task at hand, preparing to race.
Beginning Friday morning I put my pre-race game plan into effect, keeping things simple with a meal plan that was planned prior to departing Saskatoon and while staying hydrated and maintaining a consistent and sleep schedule with 8-9 hours a night.
Breakfast: toast, granola cereal, juice, fruit
Lunch: soft tacos with chicken and brown rice, green salad
Supper: homemade spinach lasagna with beef, garlic toast
Breakfast: eggs, toast, milk, fruit
Lunch: left over lasagna, green salad
Supper: NY striploin steak, potatoes, green salad, garlic toast
Friday and Saturday were pretty standard days. Race package pick up and an otherwise completely rest and relaxation day on Friday. Saturday started with the usual short bike and run to keep the legs fresh and snappy. This was followed by prepping my bike and transition bags then delivering them to the race area.
On Bike Cargo for Race Day:
1: tire tube
1: Co2 Cartridge
1: tire lever set
8: Roctane gels (first one consumed at 10mins of bike, then one each 45 minutes following)
18: salt tabs, 6 in dispenser, 12 in pill bottle in jersey pocket
1: bottle of water (in dual chamber aero bottle) – to be refilled at aid stations
2: bottles of Powerbar Perform (one in aero bottle, one in disposable bottle) – to be refilled at aid stations
2: water bottle frames (one vacant at start of race)
12: antacid tabs in old pill bottle, stored in jersey pocket
2: Lara bars (coconut cream) in jersey pocket
REFLECTION: Did I really need to prepare to this extent? I believe that with the amount of time I put into training over the summer and the sacrifices that were made, I owed it to both myself and my training to do what I could to make this the most enjoyable race possible.
Race day, the alarm goes at 4:30am. No matter how much I prepare to be ready for race day, I just haven’t found a way to be ready for an alarm at 4:30am. Needless to say it was a pleasant morning as most summer mornings are in Penticton, at least as far as I could tell without the sun yet showing its presence. Once I finished having breakfast and getting my warmup gear on, I headed out the door with my iphone and headphones for a little “wake up, warm up, pump up”. Then met up back at the hotel with my team of sherpas to walk our way to the race start.
A big shout out to our sherpa team of Andrea & Cam (my sister and her bf), Marianne (mom), Jo (my gf). Not only are they important on race day with their Team Rempel/Saskatchewan t-shirts and posters, but all season long putting up with our extensive training!
REFLECTION: The walk to the starting area was one of my favourite parts of the day, the energy in the air is evident. Knowing that I did the work I needed to be there that day was a great feeling of confidence and accomplishment no matter how the day went.
After a quick check over of my gear in the transition area and a pressure check on my bike tires I suited up with my dad and we made our way to the water shortly before 7am. The pros had already departed at 6:45 and I couldn’t help but wonder what time they were up in the morning?
After O’Canada and some messages I really didn’t pay attention to the horn sounded and we were off. I started about 8 feet back of the start line and 15 feet to the right of the buoy line. I didn’t pre-determine a swim start location and elected to just go with it.
In all of my races this season I seemed to be stuck in the middle of a war zone and I quickly discovered this day was only going to be worse.
500 meters into the swim I simply accepted the fact that there wasn’t going to be any reprieve from the onslaught of fists, elbows and heels pelting my body and that I would have to continue to dodge the occasional person swimming perpendicular to my line.
Again, starting the race with confidence in my (swim) training helped me manage my emotions in the water. I stayed calm and continued to swim what I felt ended up being a good line for the majority of the race despite having a few moments of thinking, “is it me that is swimming out to sea?”
Through the turns on the swim it was a jungle, but nothing unexpected, except for the volume of people breast stroking which is always tough to pass.
On the way back to shore, part of the swim I literally touched my elbow on 90% of the buoys. Despite not feeling taxed, I wasn’t able to get past the massive waves of people to better my swim time.
Having learned from talking with my dad and his two previous experiences at IMC, the rocks at the end of the swim course aren’t fun to walk on and should be swam over despite popular belief. Sure enough, roughly 50 meters from the shore the water gets shallow and rocky, and most people start walking, but I kept swimming, despite my fingers touching the rocks on the bottom and sure enough, the water got deeper and the swim continued almost to the shore line.
REFLECTION: Based on the relatively minimal amount of perceived exertion I put into the swim, I question whether all of the swim training was necessary. But looking at it from another angle, I was able to get a decent swim time with minimal exertion because of my swim training.
Thanks to my noon hour PAC swimming crew including Eugene, another IMC 2012 competitor.
The volunteers in transition were great even though my wetsuit peelers were a bit passive. In the future, I would look for the biggest most aggressive looking beasts. As for corralling my T1 bag, I still don’t know the best process to get it, I shouted my number as did other volunteers as I headed for my bag. Someone did end up handing it to me as I was 2 steps away from it.
Once in the tent, I headed for the far end as there was a much better volunteer to athlete ratio. The volunteer I had was a great help handing me articles as I spouted off what I wanted next from my bag. He assured me my wetsuit and other swim articles would be handled by him and could be picked up post race, and they were.
Despite what was explained on Saturday during the bike drop off, the path from the tent to my bike was altered on Sunday adding an extra 20m around the back side of a building. None the less, I found my bike and was off to the races, or so I thought.
As I went under the bike archway, but before the bike mount line I lost control of my bike and it went for a ghost ride. Visions of Simon Whitfield’s bike flying through the air in the 2012 London Olympics went through my mind while shouts from the onlooking Schroeder family went through my ears.
As my bike lay twisted on the ground it looked like a car accident with my aero bottle being the radiator and the leaking water and Powerbar Perform being the antifreeze. I picked it up, straightened and was again ready to go, until I heard more people yelling at me to take may fallen garmin GPS. Thanks to all those fans in transition.
My drive out of downtown was a bit slower than I wanted as I assessed the bike damage. Right break lever was rattling, left lever was fine. Right tip shifter was pretty scuffed up but not broken, left shifter was calibrated by the crash to an undesirable position making shifting into the big ring very difficult for the entire day. My water had been completely drained, but still had half of a bottle of sport drink which would last me until the first aid station.
Once my assessment was done and I was able to focus on riding again, I still couldn’t seem to get any momentum. Through the downtown area, away from the masses of people and getting close to turning off of main street, I start to hear a rubbing sound, I glance down to see my front break was rubbing on my rim. At this moment visions of a pro cycling team car came into my head with the mechanic hanging out the back window to fix me up. But since that wasn’t going to happen, I got to work on my own and fixed the situation.
REFLECTION: I like to believe that prepared racers are best suited to deal with adversity. At no point during my T1 mishap did I feel like I panicked. My situation was reported on the the local AM radio frequency indicating “racer #434 had a bike accident”, this did leave my team of sherpa’s with a few question marks as they were listening in as they drove to Osoyoos to watch on Richter Pass.
The ride from Penticton to Osoyoos was very pleasant. There was a slight tailwind and I was able to get into a nice rhythm with a steady zone 2/3 heart rate.
Climbing the 11km to the top of Richter Pass was exactly what I thought it would be, tough, it’s not suppose to be easy especially for those that get to train in the prairie wind. It great to see spectacular views of the Okanagan valley and the people out cheering at this area, including the Team Rempel supporters, dressed in green.
Approximately 9km into the climbing, my stomach started to disagree with my decision to exercise all day. Needless to say, my pace slowed as I approached the crest of the pass and entered into the seven rolling hills. On my way up the second roller I threw up over the edge of my bike, but I was sure to shoulder check before doing so, ensuring I didn’t catch anyone with my spray. This happened a couple more times on my way up the third roller.
REFLECTION: I had been battling a stomach ulcer for the previous few weeks and knew I would have to walk a fine line with my nutrition plan, not putting to much in but not letting the tank get too low. Despite regular consumption of food and drink for the first 70km, I believe my plan started to collapse on the hill, and when I tried to catch up I ate and drank to much to fast. I’ve learned the sensation to vomit is a common effect of a peptic ulcer, but is most often avoidable. However, with the intense workout, I wasn’t able to settle my stomach resulting in the vomiting.
As I continued through the remaining rollers, and the flat section before the out and back turnoff, I refused to stop riding, but had to slow my pace tremendously. Knowing I can ride so much harder, but simply couldn’t, combined with numerous racers passing me, especially ones I had already passed awhile back, created more anxiety and anguish on my stomach.
Just before making the turn to the out and back an ambulance went storming past. As I heard it approaching, I had a moment of “do I look that bad that the aid station called me an ambulance”? Of course that wasn’t the case, and I am sure I wasn’t the only person with that same thought.
Through the out and back section around 120km, I was forced by my stomach to spend a lot of time riding upright and out of the aero position. To keep the vomiting sensation at bay I was riding with a heart rate under 110bpm, and the cyclist continued to pass me by. Although it was nice to see Brad, Shayne and dad on the out portion while I was on the back section, I could see they were all within 2km of me.
Before making the turn onto highway 3A to head up the Yellow Lakes climb, I knew I would have to re-establish some type of a nutrition plan if I had any chance of completing IMC. So I slowly tried to get some more food into me even if it meant continuing to ride slow.
The Yellow Lakes climb at approximately 150km into the bike is a tough climb, but I don’t believe as tough as Richter. Furthermore, I am much more familiar with this climb having watched numerous previous races from this vantage point. But on this day, it was the most challenging climb of my life. Never, has my easiest gear felt so difficult. Again, without the fans cheering from the road side, I likely would have stopped. But their shouting and words of inspiration got me to the top.
Now at the top, and just a short 25km downhill into town, I was mentally in a better place. Downhill being my favourite part but also a part where I can usually gain some ground on most others, I was ready to go, or was I? As I began to pedal, my aching stomach simply wouldn’t let me work. Two large packs passed me by as I spent time soft pedalling and coasting.
Making the turn onto highway 97 for the final stretch back into town, there was no one left around me and it stayed that way all the way into town. I once heard someone say don’t be fooled when you get into town, it is still 10km to transition from the airport turnoff. This could never be more true when you are struggling. I really wanted to finish the bike strong but instead I spent my energy debating whether I could turn this day around.
Once in transition, someone grabbed my bike from me, which was great to avoid another ghost ride and I made my way to my transition 2 bag. Again, I am not sure what the best process for getting your bag is as I basically grabbed mine on my own and made my way to the change tent. Here I spent what seemed like an eternity for a simple shoe change, debating whether to continue or pack it in for the day. I cannot pinpoint what made my decision, but I am guessing it was the thought that even if I walk this marathon and it takes me eight hours, I should still be able to make the midnight cut off.
The volunteer with me in the tent grabbed my bike gear as I shed it and prepared for the run. Due to the length of this race, I knew my garmin 405 didn’t have the battery power to last all day. So I borrowed a garmin 410 from one of my office training partners Jason Weber to use on the run. The unit operates the same and paired easily with my heart rate monitor.
Now I usually have a red bull at the start of the run, but also choose to pass on this based on my stomach status. I gathered myself and started out on the run by walking through the transition area, not how I had visualized my race.
Once onto the streets the crowds of fans were again very inspiring with their encouraging words urging you to get running. I slowly tried to get my feet back underneath me and get my stomach in check. As much as it didn’t feel like the running I had done during my training, I must have been executing some type of a running motion because I knew when I had to slow down to a walk.
REFLECTION: The saddest moment of the entire race for me occurred just a few hundred meters into the race when you turn left off of main street onto westminster ave to head for a short out and back before coming back and exiting town. I simply couldn’t get the legs to move and had a sudden feeling of being ashamed. The fans stopped cheering as fellow runners passed me by as I walked. This was a very dark moment as it felt as if I was letting them down. This dark moment spurred a flurry of visions in my mind of all of the training I had endured both the good and the bad days, the memories of training partners that were there with me on these days, and all of the people that supported me along the way. Now, this is where you’d expect to here the big heroic “Rocky Balboa” type of rise to greatness, it’s not. But these thoughts were enough to motivate me to at a minimum keep the legs moving.
As I walked through an aid station no more than 2km into the run I was passed by my coach. As painful as it was for me to continuously get passed, there was a sense of happiness seeing a friend moving well.
I continued to walk through most aid stations including a near full feeding break before exiting Penticton for OK Falls. I tried to eat a cookie some watermelon and pretzels. I was able to consume a bite of the cookie, one pretzel and the majority of the watermelon. Again, my stomach quickly told me something here isn’t right. As such, I went back to my original plan of cola and water at each aid station.
At approximately 8km it was nice to see the familiar faces of my sherpa team in green. Here I ditched the remaining items I now knew I wasn’t going to consume on the run, a couple of energy gels and my half eaten Lara bar. With respect to the rules of triathlon, I don’t believe it is considered littering if you first confirm someone is picking up the discarded items.
The next 26 or so kilometres were simply very uncomfortable. I walked through 80% of the aid stations taking water, pepsi, ice and sponges. The ice went down the back of my jersey, while I used the sponges on my neck, chest and head. I also consumed salt tabs and antacid pills occasionally. I ran through every fan operated sprinkler system possible, I thank each of them and gave the best smile I could.
I caught up to Brad which concerned me because he was looking strong when he passed by earlier on. As disheartening as this was, it was nice to run and mutter non-sense to someone as we inadvertently played a game of cat and mouse.
Again, passing on my Red Bull from the run special needs, it was nice to see the Schroeder family at the turnaround aid station, they are a very encouraging group, although I probably don’t want to see the photos taken at that stage of the event.
While in OK Falls, a nice gentleman indicated I had exactly 2hrs to get back to stay under 10 hours and 30 minutes. As much as I didn’t want to hear anything of this nature, I believe my objectively thinking, math driven brain enjoyed thinking about something other than my legs for awhile as it was busy calculating miles to Kilometre and pace conversions.
Near the 36 km mark, I went to grab my antacid pill bottle from my jersey pocket and the bottle with my salt tabs fell to the ground. I overheard some passing spectators on bicycles comment, “oh we should help him grab that”. Before I could reply they were gone. I attempted to bend over and pick them up, but quickly realized it simply wasn’t going to happen, all I could do was kick them into the ditch and keep going. Sorry Penticton, I tried to clean up my litter, I just couldn’t or I may still be there. I will make it up to you next time I visit.
Once back into downtown Penticton, the finish line is still a long way away, but it is nice to see some more people and feel the excitement once again. But this time the excitement is that of being done.
Near the Earls restaurant, my innate Spidy-like coupon senses went off and overheard a Dairy Queen employee handing out DQ coupons. I thought about stopping and asking for one, but one look at the mountain like structure I would have had to climb , also known as the curb, quickly deterred my coupon retrieval efforts.
At the 3km remaining aid station I walked for what I determined would be the last time. Although it would be a small victory to run these last three km, it would be a mental victory and the longest continuous stretch for the entire race. I knew it wasn’t going to be pretty as I was full into a bit of a peg legged style of leg swinging run, I was going to keep going.
REFLECTION: I remember looking down at my Garmin during the final 3km to see my pace was 6:42 min/km and thinking, can this even be considered running? I think I am walking, I contemplated, but it feels like I am running, not fast running, but its as fast as I can go.
The memory of the last few corners and the final stretch is a bit of a blur only really remembered by the photos I have seen. But the feeling of being done was tremendous, only to be rivalled by the feeling of the inter-venous I received for the couple of hours following my race finish.
Overall Ironman Canada was a fulfilling experience. Completing the race itself will always be viewed as a great achievement, however, as my mom says “it is about the journey”and it truly is the journey that I will cherish most. Everything from sticking with a training plan, fulfilling my goals, believing in myself and seeing the extraordinary things an ordinary human body can achieve is truly amazing.
I have been asked many times if I would do it again? Or, if I have signed up for next year?
I will never say never, but a repeat showing at any ironman isn’t in the cards for me in the near future. As much as I enjoyed the entire process, the time commitment of an ironman is incredible. I have the utmost respect for any ironman, but especially those with a family and young children. Furthermore, as much of a toll as it takes on anyone training, it requires the support of those around you. Without my support team of co-workers, training partners, family, friends and girlfriend, this simply would not be possible.
So what’s next?
For the next two years I have elected to place my efforts into a masters degree. I plan to take the discipline I have learned from training and put it into my studies.
In closing, I hope you have been able to take something away from my experiences which will help you achieve your goals of not necessarily an Ironman, but a triathlon of any distance or even if it is just to get active, stay fit while chasing your goals.
If you have any questions or comments from my experiences, feel free to send me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org