Ironman Canada (Whistler) 70.3 Race Report
Course: The race is in Whistler, British Columbia, Canada, home of the 2010 Winter Olympics. Starting elevation is 2150ft. It’s a split-transition, with T1 being at Rainbow Park at Alta Lake, about 2 mi from T2, which is in Whistler Village
Accomodations: Whistler is AWESOME. You can easily stay in the village and not need a car (shuttle from Vancouver Airport to Whistler Village). Excellent bike paths, tons of rentals (check AirBnB/VRBO).
Bike transportation: TriBikeTransfer. I dropped off my fully assembled bike plus a gear bag (containing helmet, bike gear) in Sunnyvale a week before the race, picked it up in the Whistler Ironman Village. Post-race we checked the bike out of T2 and literally rolled it and my gear bag back to the TriBikeTransfer tent. Keep an eye out on their Facebook page for discounts (especially at the end of the year)
Facebook: Pretty solid non-official Facebook page for this race. Lots of useful information from the race director, past-participants and locals. Obsessive daily updates on water temp as race day closes in.
I rode my bike from the Ironman Village to T1 as we needed to check it in the day before the race.
Mistake #1: I decided to walk the 3 miles from T1 back to our condo (buses are delayed as there were bears crossing the road (!!!)). 90degF heat, I didn’t pack enough water. Thankfully, three angelic children selling lemonade on the path corrected my misdeed. I got back to the condo dehydrated and tired from the heat, scarfed some leftover food and pass out for an hour. Don’t do what I did.
Met up with friends who had come up from Seattle to spectate, and then tried to go to bed while it was still fully daylight.
Nice and easy 5:00am 10min walk from our condo to the bus pickup at T2 in the Village. Note that it was already warm before sunrise. 70.3 race start was later (7:20am) to accommodate the full distance racers’ earlier start.
The swim in Alta Lake: there is not much to say except that it is perfect if you prefer a lovely, meditative swim as opposed to the typical triathlon washing machine (which I do). A well-staggered rolling start meant I was swimming largely on my own despite staying close to buoys and passing folks as I had seeded myself in a slower group because the corral was a bit narrow. Amazing views of forest and mountains everywhere you looked. Calm, warm but wetsuit legal (~70degF) water. I could imagine if you were more on the competitive/draft side, you’d really need to seed yourself well, otherwise you’d be stuck like me on a leisurely swim.
Got onto my bike and waved to my cheer squad who amazingly got up at a crazy hour and walked the bike path to cheer me on my way out. Not much to say but a lot of rollers, a whole lot of beautiful views, and great road surface as you cruise on the Sea-To-Sky Hwy. The road surface is so good in fact that I hit over 40mph on one segment, and didn’t realize how fast I was going until I tried to tap the brakes and heard a new unnerving sound that made me decide it was better to coast through it. They also close off an entire lane of the highway for racers, which was phenomenal.
The course turns off onto Callaghan Valley Rd, and as we started the climb on Callaghan Valley Rd., there was a man with a boom box playing Salt-N-Peppa's "Push it". Turns out, he played that same song for a full 5 hours. This man deserves a full paragraph devoted to his awesomeness.
At some point along Callaghan, the full distance course turns around and the 70.3 continues. I’m sure there are logistical reasons for why the full isn’t simply two laps of the 70.3, but I have to say that the climb to the top of Callaghan was my favorite part of the race. On paper, it looks a beast, but with some rollers, terrific road quality, closed road, a well-located aid station, and the coolest views of the Whistler Olympic Park, that part of the ride flew by.
I had pre-planned to make a full luxurious stop at the aid station at mile 35, to get off my bike, stretch, and evaluate life. I found everything to be holding up, but with the heat (and mild elevation?) I was going through my water at a faster rate than expected and was feeling super thirsty (bad sign).
Mistake #2: I grabbed a bottle of Gatorade for my downtube cage. When confronted with trying to stuff a too-tall fresh water bottle in my seattube cage, my overheated brain went into melt-down, and I couldn’t solve this highly complex problem (non-fried brain solution: pour the fresh water bottle into my empty water bottle). So I left with only one bottle for the remaining 20 miles, and the Canadian thermostat cranked to ‘high’ (96degF).
The road back to Alta Lake was the true beast. Tons of small, super steep climbs meant I passed by a lot of people walking their bikes up the hills. I certainly don't blame the folks doing the full distance, as they were completing that loop three times.
I ran out of water at about mile 45. Started getting dizzy, choked down some gummies hoping that they would get me through it and had some residual moisture. Made it to the aid station at mile 50 and celebrated with a bottle of water.
We dropped our bikes off at T2. The benefit of the combined full/70.3 race is that you get many of the full perks not normally at a 70.3, such as bike catchers. Handed off my bike, got fully slathered up with sunscreen by fabulous volunteers, and off on the run.
The run out to Lost Lake was dreamy. A shaded, dirt trail amongst the trees with plenty of views and people walking their cute dogs. My heart rate was already off the charts with the heat, so I slowed down as much as I could. I ran by my cheer squad a few miles in and got a much-needed boost of joy and energy that carried me on the rest of my run, and headed out to Green Lake.
Woof. The run out to Green Lake was brutal. That part of the trail is fairly scenic with nice seaplanes on the lake, but it’s largely exposed to the elements. The race organizers did a fantastic job with excellently spaced and frequent aid stations about every mile, fully stocked with ice and Pepsi.
Mistake #3: I heard a guy coming up behind me running in soaked shoes that squished with every step. I thought to myself, "You idiot. Did you jump in the creek? How did you get your feet so wet?" A few miles later, some kids asked if I want to get dunked by a bucket of water they have gathered from a nearby glacial creek. I said yes, and now I am the idiot with water-logged feet and forming blisters.
Mistake #4: I lost my salt somewhere in the second half of the run. I tried to eat a pretzel, as that seemed to have salt on it. I say I “tried” to eat the pretzel, as in, I took a bite, had no moisture in my mouth, tried to spit it out but had no spit, almost choked and vomited. Thank goodness again for run course cola.
I was mentally pretty with it until about mile 10 in the race. I don’t really remember those last 3.1 miles, but my Garmin says that they happened. The race finished with a nice wind through the Whistler Village. A bit of a fakeout as you run by the finishline then do an extra quarter mile before they hand you your medal. They gave fries at the finisher food, but a dog tried to eat my food so I can’t comment on the quality.
Overall rating: fantastic venue (especially if you have people that you are dragging along with you on this madness). Most beautiful course I have been on. Great swim. Challenging bike. Run is beautiful but largely unprotected from the elements. Some of the best race organization I have seen (race director, volunteers, aid stations, etc).
Some personal background:
I started training for this race in January 2018. I had several 70.3s and and a full Ironman under my belt, I had taken the past few months off of regular training, so I was chomping at the bit to do reasonably well at a race as opposed to just trying to finish it. Of course, within a few weeks, I got an MRI that showed a host of shoulder issues.
My coach Jen Vroomen very patiently and expertly helped me figure out a game plan to get me to the starting line, with a race that I could be proud of (I am). Physical therapists Kate Sheehan and Ashley Antaya at Precision Physical Therapy taught me how to use my shoulder and build it up. Dr. Warren Scott helped me swim correctly without pain, and rebuild my swim stroke in the 3 months before the race. Coach Dave Liotta and Jordan Stanway helped with my bike fit and designed a bike ‘prosthetic’ so I could ride without pain. My SCTA teammates provided endless laughs and support. My Whistler Cheer Squad (Jordan, Anna, Jenny, Kenny, and River) buoyed my energy and brought a smile to my face. My amazing fiancé Jordan was my rock throughout everything.