Sunday, July 30, 2017

Ironman Canada - Race report

"Swim 2.4 miles! Bike 112 miles! Run 26.2 miles! Brag for the rest of your life." - John Collins

I earned my bragging rights on July 30, 2017 :-).

How it all started

After finishing my first two Half Ironman distance races last year, Coach Rajeev Char planted the seed in our heads (me and Shashi) to do a full distance this year. We were both a bit skeptical but decided to do if Rajeev signed up with us :). After discussing a couple of possibilities, we all signed up for a hilly course of Ironman Canada on Oct 14, 2016 along with Stanley Ho (aka Stan the Man). In addition, we signed up for Napa Marathon (Mar 2017) and Auburn Half Triathlon (May 2017) as milestone races for the full distance. Rajeev Shankar (ex-Asha athlete) also had signed up for the race, so we were five of us now!


Rajeev, Shashi and I started training a bit as early as November to build a good running base and do the Napa Marathon in March. I struggled with ITB pain that came with longer miles and started going to SMI for massages with Greg. It took good 2-3 months for that pain to go away! The training picked up full throttle in Feb/Mar. 

I chose not to run the Napa Marathon since my running mileage wasn't up to the mark (due to recent illnesses). Successfully finished the "World's Toughest Half" at Auburn Triathlon and now the focus was all set on the Ironman race! I was pretty happy with how the training went overall.


  1. Make it to the race without an injury.
  2. Finish the race.
  3. Finish the race strong!

Pre-race days

Fast forward and now after months and months of relentless (and good!) training, we were already in July and tapering! The taper went well and the body was feeling relaxed with the urge to do long distances.

We arrived in Whistler four days before the race in July 27. Did the athlete check-in and picked up our bikes. 

In the evening we went for a drive to see some of the hills on the bike course. Initially when descending, we freaked out since the hills looked nasty, though coming back up we felt a lot better when we were also monitoring the grades. All's well!

We all went for short bike ride, run and a swim to get a feel of the course (especially the bike course) and the Alta Lake for the swim. The views and landscapes were spectacular and added to the excitement!

Green Lake next to Hwy 99
Alta Lake - Swim course location

Just chilled for the rest couple of days and finally met Neha with the other Team Asha friends (Mittal, Prakash, Raghu, Ravali, Shrushti) who flew to Calgary and then did a short road trip from to Whistler to come cheer us on the race day.
The athletes
The Team Asha cheerleaders
Surprisingly I was not as nervous as I thought. I was really excited to get started with the race, so I will put the feeling mix to be 80% excitement, 20% nervousness.

The Race Day

Had a decent ~4 hour sleep the night before and got up at 3:30 for my race day breakfast:
1 oz Almonds, 0.75 oz Raisins, 1 Bagel with Cream Cheese and half a bottle of EFS sports drink. Had my motion soon after and I was all set ;)

We went to the T1 area to put gels etc in our bikes, fill in air in the tires and then get ready for the swim warmup and race start. Clearly I was a fair bit nervous: Ran between the bike and the changing tent numerous times to either fill up water (water got empty near the bike tech tent) or put gels or put Advil etc etc. Finally half put on the wetsuit and packed everything into the morning clothes bag .. well I just ripped it apart and there was staring at all my stuff barely contained in it. I went up to the drop-off area and they taped it up well. As soon as I dropped it, and just 5 mins away from the warm-up end, I realized that my glasses, slippers and bottle are still with me. I kinda freaked out and right then I saw Shashi and dumped the stuff in his bag. 

Quickly I had my E-gel and a salt tablet, went to the water, splashed around for 2 mins and out. Few mins away from the start now! We lined up around the end of the 70-80 min swim wave (self seeded start).

Perfect weather conditions for the race day: 60s weather in the morning and 70s in the afternoon with cloudy sky to start with! Couldn't have asked for a better weather!

Eagerly waiting for the race start

Swim (1:20:36)

Started off with the swim towards the inside-most side of the herd.  The course was well marked with clearly visible buoys that were apart by 100m or so, making it really easy to swim in a straight line. I swam well and followed buoy after buoy.

At the end of first loop, I looked at my watch and time was ~37 mins, approx. 2-3 mins faster than I imagined. So I made sure I slowed down in the second loop but found a swimmer whom I could draft for a while and worked out perfectly. I was swimming with ease and still ended up finishing my swim in 1:20!


Went by reasonably fast. Got the bag, sat down in the changing tent and had half a bottle of EFS (~90 cals). Came out and started walking to the bike before I realized that I had to give the bag to someone. Turned back and asked an athlete who pointed me to the area right outside the tent that I missed. Handed over the bag and got to my bike. Couple of bikes were entangled, so got rid of them and removed my bike. Saw our cheerleaders right there :)

Bike (7:09:28)

I broke down the bike course in these various stages and had ran it through my head before the race. The harder sections were #2 and then #5 onwards.
  1. Descent to Callaghan: First ~13.5 miles were mostly nice low grade descent. Didn't have to fire up the legs at all and still cruised at pretty good speed. Reached the start of the first climb up Callaghan in 45 minutes. There was some headwind going down, so aero and hood positions helped quite a bit.
  2. Out and back on Callaghan: Next up was the 8 mile climb with 1300-1400 feet of elevation gain, which was one of the three long climbs in the entire course and the hardest one in terms of elevation gain with few short 10%+ grade climbs. I took the climb easy and went to easy gears wherever there were steep descents and mostly remained on the smaller chain ring in the front. Took around 41 minutes to climb and 21 minutes to descend it. Amazing snow capped mountain views on the way back :)
  3. Climb back to Whistler: Now back to climbing the descent in #1 above. Climbed ~9.5 miles  and 600 feet in another 35 minutes including a pee break. A little tail wind on the way back was helpful.
  4. Descent to Pemberton: This was a long and pretty 19 mile descent (with few rollers) to the Pemberton town. Covered this entire patch in just 55 minutes! Often went upto 30+ mph topping off to around 41mph! It was scary to descend in aerobars and I had to go down on the drops and table top back position. Interesting with that position and just cruising, I overtook a few folks pedaling while on aero or hoods position :P. Total time: 3:17 for 57 miles. 
  5. Flat out and back in Pemberton: This was the 16+16 miles out and back flat section of the race (i.e. miles 57-90). After hearing a lot of people earlier who had done the race, there was a common theme in their advice: DO NOT burn yourself out in the flat section since the long 20 mile climb to the finish starts right after this. From the beginning, I kept telling myself, that the race starts at mile 90.
    BUT, there was a slight problem already: When I got to the special needs bag at mile 57, I got down the bike when I didn't really have to. I did that to give myself a small break because my legs were feeling a 'bit' weak. I was surprised since I did not had to push until this stage and I had never felt this in the training rides even when I pushed hard. I decided to take the flat section cautiously and made sure my HR never increased 150 and remained in Z1. I finished the flat section of 32 miles in 1:56. Coming back was a bit harder due to more head winds. Total time: 5:13 for 90 miles.
    I decided to take a pee break right before getting back on Hwy 99 and climbing back 20 miles to the finish. I stopped for another couple of minutes and realized that my legs were indeed feeling weaker. I did not want to change anything with my nutrition. Did take it an extra salt tablet. This reminded me of first couple of hours in the Auburn Half Ride. I got a bit concerned but decided to carry on and take it really easy on the climb up next.
  6. 10 mile climb: Mile 90-100 was a bit steeper overall compared to the remaining miles with totl elevation gain of ~1400 feet. My legs continually felt weak/numb as I was climbing extremely easy and had to stop once or twice even on low grades.  After crossing 100, I had to take a 2-3 min break at an aid station where Stan caught up with me (apparently he was consistently 4-5 mins behind me the entire time). I told me how I felt and he offered his electrolyte drink, but again I was already taking my stream of calories so that wouldn't have helped. I concluded that I had entered the calorie deficit some time back and am bonking. There was no muscle fatigue and HR was well in 150s even in the climbs, but the legs refused to work. Negative thoughts started colluding my mind and thats when I recalled  (Don't Stop, Don't Quit, Don't Give up). I walked for a few seconds before getting back on the bike. I tried to stand up quite a bit to make sure blood flow is good in legs; it was just marginally better.  Took 1:07 for these 10 miles.
  7. Last 10 miles: In theory much easier that the previous 10 miles and gained only 500-600 feet in total with low grades. However, with my weak legs, they felt long. I was just counting a km at a time making sure I reach T2. This is the part that we all biked couple of days ago when we arrived at Whistler. I knew these are fairly easy rollers so just have to spin through them patiently. Managed to reach T2. Took 49 mins for these 10 miles.


Gave the bike to the bike handler and got my bag and just sat on the chair in the tent. As soon as I sat down to wear my shoes, I got some cramps on both sides of upper inner thighs that almost spasmed. Massaged a bit and thought that this would be a Vineman repeat where I had to crawl for 13.1, but this time the distance was double of that. Somehow, I pushed my feet in the shoes without bending down.

Took a deep breath and tried to strategize on the next steps. I remembered that after sufficient rest, the cramps will go away and legs might feel better. I thought that I have 8 hrs to do the marathon, so even if I had to stop for an hour, I can recover. After 3-4 mins of massaging, cramps kinda went away and I decided to just start walking: Again .

Run (4:45:53)

I started walking and partly ran a few yards on and off. I could feel slight onset of cramps in my calves and legs still feeling weak a little. My goal was to keep my HR in Z1 (below 150) at all times. Before the race, the plan was to keep it in Z1 until 13, then early Z2 until 20, and then early Z3 if I could pick up the pace. That plan was out of the window.

I decided to walk a bit more and run slight downhills/flats to see how am I feeling. I took salt and gels and increased the frequency of both (took at 45 mins instead of waiting for an hour). I could see the different within minutes of taking a gel: legs felt slightly better but kept getting worse until I took another. It confirmed my suspicion of calorie deficit and keeping HR low was working since I was able to sustain the pace without getting worse. I met Neha around mile 3 and asked her to get me some salt tabs when she meets me after the first loop is done. I figured, that I could be on the run course forever and may need more salt even before getting to the special needs. 

Apart from the weak legs, I was literally waiting for the unwanted cramps until mile 13 around the turnaround time. On the way I met everyone and was so relieved to see Shashi on the run since he was cutting close to the bike cutoff. I met Neha (who handed me the salt) and other folks near the turnaround and by that time, exhaustion was setting in and I did not know what I was feeling :-/. I could feel more fatigue but felt that cramps situation has gotten better. and HR was fine too. I was not very positive at that time. Took around ~2:25 for the half. 
Struggling a bit
For the next few miles, I found a girl running the exact same pace right in front of me, so I just kept walking uphills and ran at my easy pace keeping up with her. After the half. I started having Pepsi at every aid station and could feel a noticeable improvement in my energy levels. My situation seemed to get better but legs and feet were tired which is expected at this point in the race, I thought :)

I just kept going mechanically and kept comparing the remaining distance with the routes I used to do during the training. Every mile/km sure felt longer and bottom of the feet were getting really tired. When I reached the 32k mark, I just pumped myself up saying that this distance I should be able to do no matter what state I am in. I finally decided to stop worrying about cramps and just concentrate on making progress. Ran more and walked less (also felt easier on the feet). Every time I walked at the aid station for a Pepsi, getting back to the run was harder. But, I knew I got this. I checked the time in my watch and was surprised to see that I have 1.5 hrs to make it under 14! Thats the first time in the race I targeted a time, though it was an easy target then.

With ~5k remaining,  I could hear the finish line  and those magical words "You are an Ironman" with those dramatic pauses. Couldn't wait to finish! Met Neha et al. ~2k away from the finish line and high-fived them and just started running with that added adrenaline rush. 
With some smiles :)
The biggest disappointment was when the run course was facing the finish line and as I went a bit towards it, the course turned away 90 degrees to take us through a windy loop in the village. Though it was just another few hundreds of meters, it was annoying as hell. I just ran and ran at a decent pace and prepped my bib and fuel belt for the finish line photos B-)

Finally the finish line was right in front and I could see that awesome crowd and told myself: I am finishing an Ironman "strong" and just zoomed in high-fiving our cheerleaders continuing over the finish line and getting that finishers medal! 

Had to tell myself repeatedly that I just finished an "Ironman" :D. Was so hard to sink that feeling in. The bike course definitely felt very hard especially the last 20 miles and those were the first words out of my mouth when I didn't know I was being recorded and telecasted live :( .. all my energy and adrenaline was spent in sprinting the last 50m so much so that I could not emote for a while. Slowly the smiles came in :) I am glad I was able to finish the race really strong. My second half marathon was faster than my first by 5 minutes!

All five of us finished and that made the deal even sweeter :)

Our awesome cheerleaders... still smiling after a loooong day!
The long and amazing journey to my first Ironman, that started almost 8 months ago, comes to a happy end. The training phase was so challenging, hence so much fun!

The completion of such a race makes me feel so accomplished, its just hard to put into words. The disciplined and successful training makes up at least 90% of this awesome finish!


What worked

  1. Attempt at drafting in the second loop. Definitely could see a time improvement without more effort.
  2. Using the butt cream. No chafing at all.
  3. Trisuit: helped with no-chafing around the nipples area.
  4. Nutrition: No stomach upset with gels + water and 30 min gel schedule. 
  5. Peed 3 times during the bike and 2 times on the run.
  6. Aero torpedo bottle: Super stuff! Did not have to stop at all during the race for water refilling. 
  7. Aerobars + forward seatpost gave a good aero position.
  8. HR based pacing on the run.
  9. Coke during the run.

What DID NOT work

  1. Swim to bike nutrition: Bonked on the bike. Sort of happened in the Auburn Tri as well. Though, never had a problem during the training. My guess is that too much calorie deficit after the swim. TODO: Figure out nutrition strategy for swim-to-bike portion especially when swim gets longer.


Rajeev Char said...

Super stuff! Great report! Congrats Ironman!

Deepa J said...

Congrats again Sumit ! So, what's next ?

Sumit Jain said...

Thank you boss :)

Sumit Jain said...

Vacation ;) Maybe a half next year.

raghu said...

Congratulations Sumit!! Have you done a marathon yet? :-)

Sumit Jain said...

I did Chicago last year. Did a PR in this race :P