||Ironman Canana... best show on earth!
I’ve never really been the type to write about my experiences but I must make note that this, my 3rd Ironman was the most challenging yet. Getting to here was not easy… ever wanted to do a full ironman but your were 50 pounds too heavy, never had an athletic background, couldn’t even run for more than 20 seconds nor swim longer than 25 yards? Work 12 hour days while raising two boys? Then I’m here to tell you about the ironman mantra…”Anything is possible”. And although this was a most challenging course to date I was able to shave a full hour and 47 minutes off from my first ironman a year ago with an IT Band injury. Yes I’ve figured it out and at the end of this race report I’ll let you know of the secret… it’s dirty, dirty, four letter word. But it’s guaranteed to get you better. Enough about me…
Woke up about 4:45 drank my Ensure, got dressed and got my bike sport drinks ready. I sip on a drink called Spiz till 30 minutes before the race start. I arrived at the race site with my support crew, my two boys and mother. They are the most wonderfully people in the world and have supported me 100% of this journey. (My mother takes my younger son to school on the weekdays so I can workout before work and my older son takes care of him on the weekend mornings so I can work on my Long Distance workouts.) The race site for Ironman triathlons are different from the shorter distance triathlons, your T1& T2 gear and bike are set up the day before. So you pretty much just show up on race day with your wetsuit and a dry-clothes bag ready to go. After getting body marked and pumping air into my tires I hung out in a central area right outside the Swim Start Arch. I was fortunate enough to bump into others in the club by just sporting the colors in the middle of the action. We had a first timer in the group so it was good to just talk and calm each others nerves down. After the pros start then the age groupers are allowed to get into the water. As you enter through the arch you can hear the bag piper playing his melodies… this is when your heart starts pumping.
The swim takes place in Okanagan Lake Beach in Rotary Park. The start is a mass start (all 2,k of the athletes start at the same time) athletes are spread out on the huge beach and its shore. The water temperature was around 66 degrees… it was cold. Not could enough to warrant a second swim cap but cold enough to hurt those exposed areas such as your hands. The race starts 15 minutes after the pros. We were lucky enough to have Peter Reid manning the cannon for the start. I placed my self right smack in the middle of the field towards the front. The cannon went off… and as you can imagine the first 15 minutes were a fight for survival. The swim portion of a triathlon is a full contact sport, particularly in a field this big. Elbows and kicks aside the swim was a smooth one. This was the first time that I could actually see the bottom of a lake. The course is in a triangular shape that returns you back to the same spot you started. As I finished the swim I just couldn’t get my balance. This was kind of concerning because I'm typically one of those that run out of the water but I didn’t want to be one of those that falls either so I took my time out walking. Once I got my bearings I sprinted to the area where they take your wet suit off.
Once you get the wetsuit off you sprint to the T1 bag area where you pick up your cycling gear. You take this bag into the changing tent with you. Since I saw a mass saturation of athletes in the tent I parked my butt on the grass outside the tent and threw on my sox, shoes, helmet and sunglasses. This is very smooth for me since I race in the same gear all day long (the LA TRI Colors; by the way the new Shark collection shorts are awesome). A volunteer helped me with my bag and I was off to my bike via the sunscreen station where they lather you up with sun screen. For a cheep thrill I always go to the station with a gal:)
You grab your bike from the rack and you’re off. As I mounted my bike I was cheered by hundreds on the bike start… I just remember one of the volunteers saying, “Ride it like if you stole it”. I don’t know if this guy ever stole a bike before but born and raised in the hood I knew what this meant. So I rode fast and at a comfortable pace knowing that the course gets tougher in the second half. The course is a one loop that takes you south of the race site. Heads down Ironman Canada has the most beautiful bike course to date. If you like scenery… Lakes, mountains, farms, wineries, small towns and they throw in the clean air for free. And please note that I put them down in a plural form. The only thing missing was an inspiration point like the one at Wildflower but by far this show is one of the best ones to date. Coming close is the Vineman with its own natural scenery. I rode nice and hard through the flatter part of the course. A nice feeling since I was passing many people… they just provably saw lightning bolt:) Then they came… the hills. But to my surprise the three challenging hills are lined up with people cheering you on. The only thing I can compare this to is what I see on the Tour de France. The way they line up on both sides, people just cheering and making as much noise as they can for you. Was the ride painful… hell yea! This was the first time that I didn’t feel the quads hurting (they just when numb)… but the pain was from the bone they sat on. Man… the last hill (yellow lake) was the most painful experience to date. It’s not even that steep its just that’s at mile 98… and at this point everything is hurting (butt, shoulders, legs) I just wanted to start the marathon. So I sucked it up and got off my seat and started cranking… my thought process at this time… the faster I can get through this segment, the quicker I can start running. Luckily everything that goes up must come down. The final decent is right into town... and man… did it feel good I just got into a nice tuck and enjoyed the ride. The ride into town was awesome… again the central part of the town was lined up with people on the side walks.
Once you get to the finish you leave your bike with a volunteer and head over to your run gear bag. Same process as before, you pick up your bag and head over to the changing tent. Again very smooth kept on the same gear for the exception of a visor and running shoes. The volunteers again assist you changing and take your bag once you’re done. I skipped the sunscreen station since it was getting cloudy (rain cloudy).
The Run (to hell and back)
After being on your bike for 112 miles anything else feels better… like running a marathon. I started strong in my usual 8 minute mile pace but then after the 3 mile mark… remember that IT Band issue I have… bam! It started hurting. For those not familiar with IT Band it’s a pain on the side of your knee. The pain feels as if someone is driving a chisel on the outer side of your knee with a mallet, every time you bend it. And as you continue the pain gets into the front portion of your knee as if an ice pick is being driven from the side of the knee into the front. It’s a plain and simple overuse injury. This slowed me down to a 10 minute pace then to something like a 12 minute mile. This was mentally frustrating. So remember all those people I passed on the bike like a lighting bolt… well they all took a really good look as they passed me. Strangely enough there were parts of the run that the knee did not bother me on, so I took advantage of these areas. I finally figured out that I could relive some of the pain if I bent my foot outward as I struck the floor. Don’t ask me why I guess it relived some of the pressure on the band. The run course is a simple out and back which I liked very much. You got to see the pros coming in which was a real treat for me and to top it off the course runs along side a beautiful lake and a residential neighborhood. You would be surprise how much the locals welcome the athletes. The residents sit out in front of their houses and cheer you on as you pass. Some of these locals even make a day out of it and have barbeques… and man did it smell good. So my knee is hurting and I’m at least enjoying the scenery so what can go wrong…it started raining. And let me tell you the weather here is so unpredictable. Luckily it didn’t get too chilly it actually felt really good. Into mile 20 it started getting really tough. I was in pain somewhat depleted. Luckily enough there was a girl that as she passed me told me, “Come on now you have to keep on moving come on now”, her name was Susan and I ran along side her for a couple of miles. My pain went away and as we got closer to the hills I needed to leave her behind (hills are my specialty). About 4 miles from the finish a man from the crowed yelled, “come on Ralph, make the club proud” for some reason this triggered something inside me and a just sprinted the last few miles to the finish chute. For some reason I always get very emotional on site of the finish chute… provably because I remember those days that when something like this was only a dream. The last mile is lined up with hundreds of people cheering and once you reach the finish chute people cheer for you as if you just hit the wining grand slam in the bottom of the ninth inning for the home team. I sprinted with my youngest boy to the finish line. The feeling I get from running down the finish chute in an Ironman is something that I cannot describe to you in words. Have you ever felt as if you can reach out and touch the clouds, something like that.
The Finish Line
At the finish line you are greeted and escorted by what they call the catchers. These folks are responsible to make sure you get your medal, finisher’s shirt and hat, get your picture taken and get medical attention if needed. The finish is just like a gigantic party you would be amazed at the number of people at the finish line and chute till midnight…. And it was raining! I don’t know who was more tired my kids and mother or me. Since I finished early enough and it was raining we set off to the hotel for dinner and caught the rest of the finishers on TV.
I didn’t mention much on nutrition because I’m one of those guys that just eats and drinks about everything they have on the race course… no special need bags either. If I feel a need a power bar I get one or a banana, etc. I think I figured Iron-distance triathlons… they’re much like baseball. 80% physical and 120% mental. All I can say that it was a beautiful day to be an ironman… hills, wind, rain, wonderful volunteers and my supporters… what more can you ask for. This particular event had more Volunteers than athletes. And did I also mention that we had the first heart transplant recipient (Dwight Kroening) to complete an ironman triathlon… Amazing! And the Iron Nun (Sister Modonna Buder) was also here. It was truly and amazing race.
Now for the secret… how I cut some time off my results… the secret is a dirty four letter word. Nope it was not because I started shaving my legs nor because of the organic wheat grass… It’s called WORK. Work on the HILLS. On the weekends you’ll catch me cycling up to Mt Baldy and Running in the LA Crest or Westridge. After two of our guest speakers Mecca and Landis mentioned it and Mark Lytle raves about it… I decided to join them. Its work that has taking me from zero to 3 half ironmans, 3 Olympic distance, 1 sprint and 1 full ironman for 2008 with one more ironman to go in November. I stopped training in flat surfaces and just train on hills now.
I encourage all of you to reach out for your passions, desires or simply do more of what you enjoy. What ever that might be: going back to school, learning a new hobby, loosing weight, spending more time with your family, or training for a race. Don’t wait until it’s too late, don’t get caught up the everyday hustle which most of the time leads to no where. Have a plan and aspire to it.
I would also like to congratulate Melissa (just first name but you know who you are) for coming in at 12 hours on her first full Ironman finish in Canada… way to go girl you rocked! I hope you guys enjoyed reading this good luck and train safely.
Honoring the greatness in all of you… Ralph Zavala.