Day 3 – Sunday (race day)
I actually slept better than I usually sleep the night before my races and was feeling pretty good when the 4am alarm sounded. I love sleeping on Aero air beds! (I slept on one for 2 years while living in NYC so my body must have remembered it.) Once I was up and moving, it was a scramble to get showered, eat food, fill water bottles with Perpetuem for the bike, and get out the door. My breakfast was eggs and oatmeal as usual, plus a third of a gallon of water. At 5am sharp we headed out the door and to the race start.
When I arrived at the race start there were thousands of people filing around the race barricades, trying to figure out where to go. After weaving through a few of the barricades myself, I ended up at the Special Needs bag drop, followed by waiting in long lines to get my race number and age written on my skin with a large tip black sharpie. Next up was setting up my water bottle on my bike and topping off the tire pressure. I didn’t bring a tire pump because I was planning on borrowing one from another rider, and sure enough there was a cool guy (with what sounded like an Australian accent) near my bike rack who had no problem with me borrowing his pump. At that point my bike was good to go and all I had left to do was put on my wetsuit and wait for the race start.
I had about a half hour to mill around and make friends as well as look for some water to mix my pre-workout supplement, Jack3d (no longer available), in. As outrageous as it sounds, Ironman didn’t provide water to the athletes pre-race. This seemed pretty crazy to me considering that even the 5k runs I’ve entered have provided water before the race. I was a little frustrated that I wasn’t going to be able to take down my pre-race fuel, but I had bigger things to worry about…like a 2.4 mile swim.
As the race start approached, swimmers walked across the timing pad, down to the lake shore, and into the water.
I decided that it might not be a bad idea to head into the starting area early and filed in with the other racers.
This was an in-water race start, and the starting line was in about 4 feet of water.
When I entered the water we had about 20 minutes before our race started. And the pros started 15 minutes before the age groupers (me), and were getting ready to go.
As I was waiting I learned you can pee in your wetsuit without anyone else knowing as soon as the bottom of your suit touches the water. I can only imagine how much pee must have been in that starting area!
The announcer was booming over the loud speaker letting us know who was going to sing the Canadian national anthem before the start of the pro race, the anthem was sung, the gun sounded, and the pros were off! This meant there was only 15 minutes for our race to start and it seemed to fly by! I spit in my goggles, washed them out in the not so clean water, and suctioned them to my face (the pee in the water must have helped…).
The next thing I remember is the announcer starting the 10-second countdown and thinking, ‘Wow this is really happening!’ For me, more than half of an ultra endurance event is the mental preparation and knowing that whatever happens, this is going to be a full day of activity. Once my mind is cool with that, then everything else is good to go.
The gun sounded, and we were off! 3000+ people scrambling out into chaos…2.4 miles of chaos!
I started off nice and slow because I didn’t want a repeat of the ChelanMan. (Read about Chelanman here.) There were so many people packed into this little area, that as we were swimming, it was almost impossible to not be running into someone at all times. I was constantly getting pushed, grabbed, or swam over and just had to stay relaxed and go with the flow.
The swim course was a 2.4 mile out-and-back at the southern tip of Lake Okanogan.
Finally at about 400 or 500 meters out, I was able to swim without running into someone on every stroke. The field was getting spread out and it was great! I thought that I was going to be in the clear from then on, but I was wrong…
…There were a number of large inflated buoys marking the swim course, and every time I passed one, other racers would seem to appear from nowhere (like they were getting stuck to the buoys, and waiting some someone to grab onto when they swam by). It felt like the race start all over again!
It seemed like everyone was getting spread out, but no matter how spread out, we were all swimming toward the next big red buoy, so we all collided. This happened over and over on the swim out.
When I finally hit the first right hand turn to mark the almost-half-way point, suddenly it was like ten times as many people that came out of nowhere and were trying to get around that buoy! It was insane!
Fortunately my goggles were never knocked off; but my feet and legs were grabbed a number of times. People would tap me a few times, get frustrated, then grab me and push me out of the way (There are no manners at all when swimming! LOL!).
I can’t explain how awesome it was to hit the half-way point and start swimming back to the beach. The swim just seemed so long and boring. Right after that enlightened feeling of being half way done with the swim, I heard this crazy loud shrieking noise. Popping my head out of the water, I saw a female swimmer yelling really loud over and over again with each breath. The kayak patrol team was on it, but I felt bad for the other swimmers because the kayakers just blew through them taking out whomever was in their path. The kayakers are lucky they didn’t cause more injuries by running into people!
Once that drama subsided it was a continuous charge down the home stretch. Everything about my body felt great until I encountered the large double-decker spectating boats that lined the swim course. They all had their engines firing, which filled the air with exhaust fumes. They were seriously blowing exhaust fumes into an Ironman race full of thousands of athletes. Because of the exhaust, I started to get a headache, but the swim finish was in sight!
And I could finally see the bottom of the lake. This meant that I was getting close and really rejuvenated my energy! I swam hard, and the bottom got closer and closer! I looked up and saw the beach only a few hundred yards away.
As swimmers left the water, I could hear the announcer screaming out their names and home towns. I reached down to try to touch the sand with every stroke because I knew that as soon as I could touch the bottom, I could stand up and run out of the water.
Finally, after many attempts, I grabbed sand and popped out of the water. I didn’t remember to look at the clock, so I had no idea how long it took me to do the swim, but it felt GREAT to be done with the first part of this long day.
After running over the timing mat, I unzipped my Blue Seventy Reaction wetsuit and was met by a volunteer who told me to raise my arms. He then forcefully pulled my wetsuit down to my ankles, and told me to sit on the ground with my feet in the air. I was confused, but obeyed, and he proceeded to pull the wetsuit the rest of the way off my body. It sounds complicated, but was a very efficient process.
From there I ran with my wetsuit under my arm into the changing tent and was handed my transition bag.
In the changing tent I quickly put on my biking equipment (socks, shoes, huge Garmin watch, race number, helmet, sun glasses), grabbed my peanut butter and honey sandwich, and ran out of the tent. It’s really quite the process, and some people are moving really fast, and others are taking their time.
Upon leaving the transition tent, there’s a sunscreen and Vaseline station where volunteers smear sunscreen all over your exposed parts. You kinda feel like a car going through a car wash.
Next I ran to grab my bike from the rack. I was a little worried to see that I was one of the last bikes in my whole area. I must have just been put in the fast people section, because as I was leaving, I saw a number of other racks that looked untouched.
I crossed the swim to bike timing mat and it was time to ride bikes (for 5+ hours…)!
After crossing the timing mat with my sandwich in hand, I mounted my bike and started cranking!
My number one goal for the bike was to preserve my legs for the run because that was my strongest leg by far. Legs are my strongest legs… get it… Ha! 🙂
The ride started off on a two lane road that ran along Skaha Lake which was beautiful to look at while my legs were warming up, and getting used to spinning rather than kicking. It took quite awhile. My legs felt sluggish and non-responsive for at least the first 20 minutes. Looking back on the race, that was no time at all, and after they started feeling better it was hard to keep myself from attacking the uphills.
In CrossFit training (that I’m accustomed to) you attack everything, so staying conservative felt weird, but I wanted to stick with my game plan.
It was a nice, easy, smooth ride for quite a while… Until, I saw two riders on the side of the road fixing flats, then three more, and then a Sag truck yelling at us to stay in the center of the road. I guess someone had thrown tacks on the right shoulder, and there must have been 20 riders over the next 5 miles with flats from the tacks.
The only thing that I can think is that there were some people in town who didn’t appreciate having their area disrupted by the race. Those people must not have been the people benefiting from the increased sales brought in by the Ironman event. Or at least they didn’t realize it…
After getting past the tack scare it was a smooth and flat ride for quite a while, and my legs were really coming alive. Because of this, I was doing a lot more passing and a lot less getting passed.
This lasted until we hit the first of two mountain passes on the bike course (yes, there were two!). The first climb was a 1300 foot crusher up Richter pass, and it was starting to get hot out on the course!
Due to the increased heat I started taking two water bottles at every aid station. One bottle went in my arrow bar water bottle, and the other went over my head to cool me off. Luckily there was beautiful the scenery to distract me was while climbing the pass. The scenery overlooked amazing lakes and orchards. And I found myself forgetting that I was supposed to be suffering through an Ironman, and was smiling while riding up the steep incline.
All along the bike course there were people cheering with signs and noise makers. It was awesome!
The cheering got very intense as I made my way to the top of Richter pass, and it really helped me crank out the last few hundred feet.
After hitting the peak there was a short flat area followed by an intense downhill! I started by tucking into my arrow bars, but because of the high speeds and cars rushing by I opted to move my hands back to the outer bars for more stability. The speed was fast, but it felt good and I pedaled hard in order to pass other riders. For some reason my legs don’t burn at all when I’m spinning hard downhill. I think I get so excited by the speed that I don’t notice the burn.
After Richter pass there was a series of rollers that just kept coming and going for miles.
When I hit mile 60 I almost yelled out, “This is my furthest bike ride ever!” but decide against it. When you do CrossFit Endurance training you don’t ever train for long distances.
For some reason, I didn’t check to see what mile the special needs bags were on and just assumed they would be at the half way point. This was a little miscalculation on my part because the special needs bags and my almond butter and honey sandwich were waiting closer to mile 80 than mile 60 where I was expecting them. It turned out to not be a big deal, but it would have been nice to know when I was rationing my nutrition.
After hearing from one of the other riders that we weren’t going to be seeing our special needs bags for a while, I decided to have a Honey Stinger. Waiting for the right time to rip it off of my frame as I was flying down a medium grade hill and cranking hard into a head wind, the wind hit my duct-taped goodies. They partially ripped off to one side of my frame, and my leg came spinning around and ripped them the rest of the way off the frame. I attempted to reach down and catch them, but quickly realized that might cause a crash, so I let them fall to the ground as I rode away. This really sucked. Luckily I did have extra nutrition in my bike bag if needed, and I was sipping on a Gel flask that I kept in the back pocket of my jersey.
For my next race I will definitely bring two Gel flasks for my jersey pocket. Those things were awesome!
It was about this time that my butt started to get sore, my neck started to ache, and it kept feeling hotter and hotter!
In order to get to the special needs bags I had to follow an out and back road which allowed me to see how many other riders were kicking my butt. This was good and bad. Good that it gave me a reason to push harder, and bad that I felt a bit demoralized because there were so many people kicking my butt.
As you roll into the aid station one of the volunteers yells out your number to another volunteer who grabs your special needs bag. This was a great system that kept wait times way down.
I actually stopped my bike to grab my sandwich and get a few more gels, while other riders grabbed their bags on the go and shuffled through their goods while riding. Craziness!
With food in hand, I started the “back” portion of the out and back. Riding back made me feel pretty good because I was now the one passing the large number of riders who were behind me! So many feelings ;-).
At the next aid station a few miles down the road I stopped to apply another coat of sunscreen, put some topical pain reliever on my neck (my neck was yelling at me), and grab some oranges. For some reason I get an intense craving for oranges beginning about the half way point during my ultra endurance races.
Shockingly, this aid station that I stopped at was completely out of water! Which was the second time during this event that I couldn’t believe that I paid $600 and they had no water (and, as it turns out, not the last).
I understand that this can happen, but I just don’t expect it to EVER happen during an Ironman event! I mean, we need water, bad!
This lack of water situation actually happened two more times during the ride! The last time was at the top of the second mountain pass (Yellow Pond).
At first I hardly even noticed that they didn’t have water because the streets were lined with hundreds of fans. It looked and felt just like I was riding in the Tour de France.
With the sun beating down, and being well into this Ironman race, I really needed the temperature regulation that drinking cold water and dumping it over my head provided, and I actually considered hopping off my bike and jumping in a pond that I rode past, but decided against it.
From the peak of Yellow Pond Pass, it was mostly downhill back to the town of Penticton, and I was ready to be done with the bike ride. This was mostly because I didn’t know how much more abuse my butt and neck could take. Six hours of riding a bike with your back in a hunched over position, and your neck holding up your head, and helmet that isn’t comfortable (not to mention this ride was 54 miles longer than my previous longest bike ride) creates a painful body.
Interestingly enough my legs were still feeling good and I was getting excited to start the run.
After being in the mountains for so long it was refreshing to drop back into the city and have cheering fans lining the streets all the way into the transition area.
I rode until one of the volunteers yelled at me, “Get off your bike!” and then ran my bike over the timing mat. From there another volunteer grabbed my bike and I ran into the transition tent where my bag was waiting with a personal assistant who dumped the contents on the grass in front of me. He then proceeded to ask me what I needed and helped me get my gear ready for the run.
The volunteer helping me out kept saying, “Go out slow. You have plenty of time.” I looked at him and said, “Are you kidding? I’ve been waiting for the run all day!” …and I had. The run is my thing, and I was happy to finally be in my comfort zone!
After changing my shoes and taking off my biking gloves, I grabbed an almond butter and honey sandwich and hit the road.
My legs felt wobbly, but really much better than I expected them to feel.
I attempted to choke down my sandwich, but it wasn’t happening. My mouth wasn’t producing enough saliva for me to swallow. Maybe because I needed more water during the bike… So, I tossed the sandwich.
As I ran down the street there were hundreds of cheering fans that really energized my efforts, and I passed my personal cheering section when I came to my first turn.
My family and friends were positioned at the corner of the short out-and-back that was at the start of the run. This little out-and-back was about 2 miles and brought me right back by my cheering section again before I headed out on the LONG 24 mile out and back that made up the majority of the race. #gametime
As I was completing the first few miles, my legs felt kinda tired but really not too bad. I felt like my POSE running training was really kicking into gear. I was just falling forward and picking up my feet.
When I looked down at my Garmin watch (these days I use a Garmin f?nix 5 Plus) , I was averaging just a little over 7 minute miles for the first 3 miles. This was cool, but I knew that I should slow it down a bit to make sure that I didn’t knock myself out of the race.
It was a hot day on the course! Fortunately, there were aid stations at every mile where they handed out ice and cold sponges to cool you down.
My aid station routine became: grab a cup of ice, dump it down the back of my jersey; put two wet sponges in the front of my jersey. Then when I got close to the next aid station I would ring the sponges over my head and repeat the cycle.
For my nutrition I was drinking one to two cups of water at each aid station, and taking a gel at every other aid station.
As I ran out of town into the suburbs, fans still lined the streets in small cheering sections. About three or four times people said to me, “You look way too fresh,” and I felt fresh! It was an awesome feeling! I was passing other runners left and right. I had made it to the run, and I was rocking it!
After running through the suburbs, the road met up with the lake and there were fewer fans cheering, but the lake was beautiful! There was one point at about mile 7 where a wakeboard boat with an awesome speaker system had posted up about 30 yards from the shore and was blasting hip/hop dance songs. There were about eight to ten people on the boat having a dance party cheering on the racers. I thought about diving into the water and joining them on the boat, but decided to continue suffering :-).
My run continued to go great and I was passing large groups of people until the tragedy struck…
At around mile ten or eleven my body stopped liking the gels, and I started taking only half a gel at a time because my stomach was turning if I tried to eat any more. At about that same time, my arms started to get cold with goosebumps. It was a really weird feeling because my core was warm, and I continued to use the ice and sponges, but my arms wouldn’t warm up.
By mile 13 (the run turn around point) I was having to slow down because my stomach was very unhappy and even water wasn’t going down.
The next few miles became a run, walk sequence–Run until I thought I was going to puke, and then walk until I thought I could run again.
I was sooooooo pissed because up until this point my whole plan was working, and I was set to get what I thought was a great finishing time.
I tried to push myself to run more, but my body said NO. It felt like I had a rubber band around the top of my stomach. I tried drinking flat Coke, chicken soup (which helped for 2 miles), and eating oranges, but nothing seemed to work.
I even spent about 10 minutes in the port-o-potty trying empty my bowels, but nothing would give. I then remembered that I hadn’t consumed as much caffeine as usual, which does tend to move things along, and thought maybe that was the issue…
For the next four or five miles, I walked; most of the time my chin was on my chest because I thought I’d puke if I lifted my head. At that point I knew that I was going to finish, but I was just so pissed that my stomach wasn’t allowing me to do what my body was capable of. I mean, my legs actually felt great, and I would have had no problem continuing to run at eight minute miles (or faster) if my stomach was cooperating.
As I walked back into the suburbs a number of fans said things like, “Keep up the great work,” and, “You’re going to make it.” I know that they all meant well, but it just made me more pissed. I tried to run a few more times, but I could only last a few hundred yards before my stomach would remind me that it was in charge.
After walking (and attempting to run) for a few miles, I finally reached downtown Penticton again just as it was getting dark. Miraculously my stomach started feeling a little better, and it was just about that time that one of my friends came running up and asked me what was going on. I explained my situation and he ran back to tell the rest of my family and friends.
At that point I decided to try running one last time. Who cares if I puke all over myself, right?! I picked up the pace and focused on my breathing to get my stomach to calm down. It kinda worked for a while, and I was able to maintain a slow run as I passed my family and friends and made the turn toward that last two mile out-and-back to the finish line.
It was fully dark at that point, and I was so close to finishing my first Ironman. At that point I’m not sure if the adrenaline kicked in and settled my stomach or what, but I started feeling pretty good again.
I put my falling forward back to work and picked up the speed. The Ironman Canada course really tricks you as you start that last two mile out-and-back. You run right by the finish line and hear all the cheering, and then you run beyond it for another mile before you actually start running back toward the finish.
Now that I was feeling good, I had fans saying, “You look way too fresh to be at the end of an Ironman” and I now that my stomach had backed off, I really did feel good!
I reached the final mile point and was running toward the lights of the finish line. I could feel the energy building up inside me, and I really picked up the pace and started a slow sprint toward the cheering finish line crowd. The lights got closer and closer, and I could hear the announcer yelling out people’s names. I charged toward the finish line and I heard the announcer say, “MICHAEL BAUER, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN,” as I broke the tape of the finish line at 13 hours and 44 minutes.
At the finish I was met by my good friend, Meg, who was my personal catcher. She was expecting me to finish much earlier and was asking what happened. I explained the situation and told her that I really wasn’t doing too bad, with the exception of my stomach still feeling raw.
From there I met up with my family and friends for a quick photo before Meg and I walked into the finishers’ area. We talked and I recharged my batteries for a few minutes before parting ways. It was an amazing feeling to be done with that race, and now I knew what it felt like.
Surprisingly, the pain of doing a 50 mile trail marathon is much worse. There really wasn’t any part of my body that felt too bad after the Ironman. I attribute a lot of that to the CrossFit training that I do on a regular basis.
At that point I was ready to head back to the hotel to get some rest! I met up with my parents and they helped me get my bike and transition bags. We carried all of my stuff to the car and drove back to the hotel. Once we arrived I was stoked to see that my friends had ordered pizza. My stomach was finally ready to consume it! I munched down about 5 pieces, showered, and hit the sack!
I was very excited to have completed my first Ironman, but as you can imagine, I wish that I could have had a stronger race. I definitely learned a lot about myself and encourage anyone to take the challenge and push yourself beyond what you think is personally possible for you! Never stop pushing!
I’m excited to be doing Ironman Cozumel at the end of November, and to continue to push my limits at the Ironman distance! I also heard of an event called an Ultraman which is a double Ironman. Maybe something for the future…
Even though I did this, but don’t recommend it. I ended up taking a full week off a few weeks later because my body wasn’t feeling fully recovered.
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Thanks for reading!!!
Now get outside and have fun by working hard! 🙂