Ironman Canada 2018
Within about two weeks of the race it was clear that Ironman Canada 2018 was not going to be easy - even by Ironman standards. The weather was forecasted for clear skies with highs in the mid 90's. That along with the more than 8,000ft of climbing on the bike course would make for a very challenging day.
My wife and I drove up to Whistler on Friday morning. I got checked in for the race and wandered around the expo for a few minutes, but we soon got hot and left to check into the hotel. We had a pasta dinner and a leisurely evening around the pool.
The main goals for saturday were to get the bike dropped off at Rainbow park and to get a small workout in. I drove to the Valley Trail and rode my bike to Rainbow Park, dropped the bike off, and ran back to the car. I was back at the hotel within an hour. The rest of the day was relaxing (as it should be), plus it was simply too hot to be outside. My parents arrived later in the afternoon and we went to dinner at The Keg. I made some last minute preparations for the big day and then it was early to bed.
Pro Tip: When it comes to dropping your bike off on Saturday, don't take the shuttles to Rainbow Park. Parking for the shuttles is tricky to find and the whole process takes a long time (in 2014 when my dad and I did this race my mom and wife ended up having to circle the parking lots for 2 hours while my dad and I went through the whole shuttle process). Instead, ride your bike to Rainbow Park, you can even get as close as 2 miles away via the Valley Trail (search Google Maps for the Catholic Church of Whistler - there's a trailhead right near there). Once the bike is dropped off, simply run back to where you rode from. This way saves a bunch of time and you get your pre-race workout in at the same time.
I woke up at 3:30am and had my traditional oatmeal breakfast. I made my way to the shuttle loading area, dropping off my run gear bag along the way. It reached Rainbow Park at around 4:15am, which would give me plenty of time to take care of some pre-race things. I had to get my tubes inflated, so I went over to the bike tech support station and had them inflate my tubes. Unfortunately, almost immediately after they were inflated, the rear tube blew. I got back in line for the tech guys to replace the tube, which fortunately didn't take too long. I got my bike back to the rack and was able to fit in a short swim warm-up.
The swim for Canada is a rolling start, which I prefer. The pros took off at 6:00am and the age groupers entering the water about 10 minutes later. I got right into a rhythm almost as soon as I started swimming. The water was warm, so no cold water shock to overcome here. About halfway through I realized that I may have pulled my wetsuit up a little too high on my legs and the suit was causing some...uh...discomfort in the groin area. There was nothing I could do about it, so I just kept swimming, anxiously awaiting T1 where I could take the wetsuit off. I felt like I was was swimming very well and that this would be my best Ironman swim performance yet, but I found out later on that I swam a 1:32.... 6 minutes slower than my PR. In fact this turned out to be my slowest swim to date. Disappointing. I'll just have to keep working on that.
The bike starts out with some short rolling hills heading north of Rainbow Park. Before long you reach the Sea-to-Sky highway. The first part of the highway is great, relatively flat and lots of spectators. From there you lose a considerable amount of elevation on some bigger rollers before heading up Callaghan Valley for a short distance to the turnaround (the 70.3 athletes go all the way to the top of this road, the 140.6 athletes only go maybe 1/5th of the way to the top). Then go back the way you came and a little ways past Rainbow Park to the second turnaround. Do this 3 times and then you can head into downtown Whistler to T2.
Due to the very hot weather (mid-90s) my main goal for the bike was to keep up on my nutrition plan. I always grabbed at least one water bottle at each aid station. In general I kept sweating, so I knew I was staying hydrated for the most part. I did not go as fast as I had anticipated on the bike, but I chose to hold back more than normal due to the heat. In addition to the big hills, the entire course is a series of rollers, some very short, yet very steep ones along the road by Rainbow Park. It is difficult to pace yourself because you are either putting out big watts on the hills or coasting. There are no flat sections. The flattest part of the course is the section of the Sea-to-Sky highway that goes past Whistler Village. I would say that this is a course where triathlon bikes have a diminished advantage over road bikes due to the fact that there are relatively few places where you can stay aero for a decent amount of time. Besides the hills, having to go back and forth between the two turnaround points three times becomes very taxing - mentally and physically.
I made a quick transition and started on the final leg of the day. I've done this course before and thoroughly enjoy it. It provides plenty of shade with some great views and a good variation in scenery and terrain. The first part of the run along Lost Lake provided a nice break from the heat and helped me get cooled and rehydrated, which was important, cause it was now the hottest part of the day. I managed to run almost all of the first half, but all of the climbing on the bike was beginning to take its toll. My legs became more and more fatigued the farther I went. Just a little after the halfway point I started taking more walking breaks. I ended up walking quite a few sections of the second half of the run course. I finished just after the 13 hour mark, making this my slowest Ironman, but I'd say given the conditions, I can live with that.
Happy to be done
My wife and parents helped me get back to the hotel, I laid in bed for a little while, threw up, had a shower, and then my wife and I ate pizza and watched a movie until we got tired (which wasn't long!) before going to bed. The next morning I got up and ate more pizza, then we went downtown for donuts, then wandered around the village for a while before hitting up Cow's Ice Cream. After that we got in the car and headed home.
Overall I enjoyed this race. The bike course is very challenging, probably one of the most challenging Ironman bike courses in the world. Despite that, I would recommend this race, and would do this one again. If you want to be challenged beyond what a typical Ironman would offer, and are okay with not getting a PR, IM Canada is a great option. And besides the race itself, Whistler is a fantastic venue. It has tons of extra activities to round out that race-cation for the family.