MGCC Member Andrew Imrie places 44th overall at the Ironman World Championships in Kailua-Kona, Hawaiʻi
Total Time - 9:02:56
Overall Placing - 44th
Age Group Placing - 7th
Overall Canadian - 1st
Most athletes strive for a race effort where execution equals or exceeds expectation, and I was lucky enough to have one of those races this past Saturday. My long day started at 3:30AM, up 30 minutes earlier than planned, but was awake and excited so no use trying to force sleep when it’s not there. Ate 1000 calories and headed down to the race start by 5:30AM, did a final check on the bike, took a quiet moment to calm the nerves, and chatted with some friends until the start.
Coming from a competitive swimming background, I’ve never had a problem with triathlon swims – usually a quick 2-3 minute burst opens up clear water and I’m on my way with a small group of other swimmers. Hawaii is unique in that it is a deep-water ocean start, affected by currents, and brings together a much higher quality field than any other triathlon its size in the world. Getting to the front of the swim start line wasn’t too hard, but with three minutes until race time, there were elbows and knees battling underwater and lots of pushing and swearing as people tried to get up front. The cannon fired at 7AM and it was absolute chaos – arms and legs flailing with too many people contained in too little space. After about five minutes I felt the pace was way too high, and had a slight panic attack when I realized I had no choice but to continue at that pace because slowing down would result in getting run over from all directions. After about 15 minutes we had spread out enough that I was no longer claustrophobic, but the contact continued throughout the 3.9K swim. Swim time was 57:23, 106th overall, slightly slower than the plan but was more than happy to have that part of the day over with.
Long course triathlon racing is challenging as a successful performance requires a huge amount of patience over a very long day – it’s important to dose your effort evenly, and discipline is needed to keep that effort in check when people you’re racing take off up the road and you want so badly to go chase the down. The bike course starts with a 15K ride around town that includes a short and steep uphill, a longer climb with a more gradual grade, then a third climb that is the steepest on the course (about 400 meters long). I was getting passed like I was standing still on this section, despite seeing 260 watts and thinking I was working too hard – took a lot of patience to let everyone go up the road and do my own ride. I stayed conservative throughout the first 96K, which ends at the top of the longest climb of the day. At this point my average watts were 211, right at my target of 210, and I was feeling energized, strong, and not at all fatigued. Over the course of the last 84K, I built the effort, having a few 5K intervals where my average power was in the 225-242 watt range which was a bit risky, but a lot of fun passing a bunch of the people who’d flown by earlier in the ride. Bike time was 4:56:43 on average watts of 215, and I’d moved up to 97th overall. Garmin data:
My run plan was to run 7 minute miles for the duration of the run, I’d done this in workouts all season and I knew that was the pace I could hold if I was smart. Seeing the race clock at 5:59.11 leaving transition, I was tempted to push for a 3:00.48 marathon to dip under 9:00 for the day, but stuck to the plan as the probability of blowing up by attempting to run 3 minutes faster than planned was way too high. Similar to the bike start, guys were flying out of transition and I let them go – at 1KM I checked my watch expecting to see 7:15 pace as it felt so easy, instead I was on 6:00 pace and immediately slowed it down a bit more. From then on in it was a really steady run – every mile was right around 7 minutes with the exception of two uphill miles, and mile 5 that included a bio break. A few times I felt rough, and my brain would try to focus on how much farther there was to run, I was able to change the focus back to just completing the current mile. Once the mile was complete, it was time to stock up at the aid station on sponges, water over the head, ice down the race suit, sports drink, coke and salt tabs into the body; then back to focusing on the next mile. I also had my family out cheering on the course, it’s a long day for the spectators as well so wanted to keep on pushing to get them out of the hot sun as early as possible! I ran side by side with another athlete from mile 10 to 24 which made it so much easier, we fed off each other’s pace and were passing runners steadily. I felt so strong with 1 mile to go I was able to drop the pace down to close to a 6 minute mile and closed strongly, in a lot less pain than the race six weeks previously. Run time was 3:03:43, and I finished 44th overall with a final time of 9:02:56. Garmin data:
The race was flawlessly executed by the organizers, it’s arguably the most highly anticipated event in the triathlon industry and is supported appropriately by all the major players. Sharing the course with the professional athletes is a special experience, and having so many talented athletes in one field is a fantastic challenge. Thanks again to the MGCC for pushing my comfort zone on the bike all season long, at the start of the year I’d have been ecstatic with a 5:15 bike split, to come in sub 5 hours was really exciting. See you out on the roads!
MGCC Member Andrew Imrie Tackles the Ironman World Championships in Kailua-Kona, Hawaiʻi - Race Day: Sat, Oct 8th
This is a three part series written by Andrew:
Part 1: Written Sept 25th
Ironman Louisville - qualifying race for the Ironman World Championships
Aloha! As a kid I saw this clip of Julie Moss crawling her way to the finish line in the 1982 Hawaii Ironman on ABC's 'Wide World of Sports' and decided that it looked just crazy enough that I wanted to give the race a go: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VbWsQMabczM
Today the Hawaii Ironman is the 'Ironman World Championship'. Professional athletes qualify through a points system based on performances on the Ironman circuit, and age group athletes qualify with a top placing in their age group at any of the 26 Ironman races in the series. I'd made two prior attempts at qualifying for Hawaii, at Ironman Canada in 2008 and 2009. In 2008 I had a decent result but was nowhere near qualifying; in 2009 I ended up dropping out with 7 kilometres to go in the run after completely depleting my body (and 7K is way too far to crawl...Julie Moss was yards from finishing when she started crawling, not outside the city limits!). My weakness in both those races was a deficiency of both cycling speed and endurance, so I committed to not attempt another Ironman until I'd turned those weaknesses into strengths. In the spring of 2010, I started riding with the MGCC, and getting repeatedly put in the hurt locker on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings transformed my cycling fitness from being unable to hang with the group on a full Bagel ride in May of 2010, to being able to take some pulls off the front in the fall of that year. I carried that fitness into 2011 after a solid winter of indoor riding, and was very happy with my race results in 2011 leading up to Ironman Louisville.
The race in Louisville played out almost exactly as I wanted it to - easy on the swim (which kept my heart rate and overall energy expenditure lower than in my previous Ironman swims) and was on the bike early without many other riders around. I had planned to ride really easy (below my target power numbers) until I was caught by some stronger riders, then use those riders to pace with for the remainder of the ride (drafting is not allowed in Ironman racing, but even at a legal distance of 7 metres behind the rider in front of you, there is an aerodynamic benefit as well as a psychological benefit of having somebody else to 'chase' up the road). Cycling strategy in long-distance triathlon is almost the polar opposite of road racing in cycling - both Derrek and Shannon posted about their experiences at the road race nationals, where each time the riders approached the hills, people attacked and power numbers went through the roof. In an Ironman, because you need to run a marathon after the cycling leg, you want to minimize power spikes, so I climbed most hills with only a marginal increase in the power I was pushing on the flats. This reduces the overall physiological 'cost' of the ride, and increases your chances of having a strong run.
Here is my data file for the cycling portion of the race: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/110727612
The run started well, I felt strong for 10 miles, a bit rough for 3 miles, strong again until the start of mile 19 and then things started to fall apart. Your brain is constantly trying to convince you to give up during an Ironman, and when I hit the 30K mark of the run I think subconsiously I knew that was the longest I'd run in training and that made me focus on the pain in my quads more than I should have. By that point I was in the lead for my age group, with the second place racer almost ten minutes down, so I walked each aid station from mile 19 to the finish.
Here is the run course data: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/112244756
Overall I was happy with the result, finishing 8th overall and 1st in my age group. The top six in my age group qualified for Hawaii, so I gladly accepted the spot I was offered. Because Hawaii is six weeks after Louisville, a quick recovery was important to be able to get back to training as soon as possible. Right after the race, I received two litres of IV fluids while drinking an Infinit recovery shake, 500ml of chocolate milk and 500ml of orange juice to get some carbs and protein into my system to start the muscle rebuilding process. Post-IV, I had two light flushing massages in the medical centre before being released to gorge on copious amounts of Kentucky BBQ. A nine-hour day puts a lot of stress on the body, so the two weeks post-race involved only some light cycling - no swimming to allow a rib injury to fully heal, and no running as the weight-bearing nature of the exercise is too traumatic for depleted muscles. I'm spending the final four weeks before the race on the Big Island of Hawaii, doing an intensive three-week training camp followed by a week-long taper (which is light on training and heavy on sight-seeing!).
Full Ironman Louisville race report is posted on my blog:
Part 2: Written Oct 5th
Ironman Hawaiii Preview The training is done and dusted and the final race of the season is here on Saturday. After taking two weeks to let my body recover after Ironman Louisville, I hit the training hard once I arrived in Hawaii four weeks before the race.
Training totals for those weeks:
Four weeks out: 18K swimming, 635K cycling, 72K running
Three weeks out: 19K swimming, 597K cycling, 100K running
Two weeks out: 21K swimming, 557K cycling, 75K running
Race week: 5K swimming, 100K cycling, 20K running
No long taper for this race as coming off a three-week taper in August for Louisville and then two weeks of recovery following the race meant building fitness was more important than doing a long rest off of low volume. Being in Hawaii and away from the office made it manageable to handle much higher volume than I put in during the year, especially on the bike. During this past taper week, I've had some family here visiting, we've seen an erupting volcano, hiked through rainforests, body surfed some mean Pacific waves, explored the stunningly beautiful Waipio valley, and relaxed on both white and black sand beaches. I'm feeling strong, healthy and well-supported heading into the weekend!
The atmosphere in Kailua-Kona is fantastic - the sleepy village has been transformed in the last week, with all the major companies in the industry sending their A-teams to be present at the World Championships. Specialized flew in their triathlon athletes from Olympic distance, XTERRA (off-road triathlon) and Ironman to launch the 2012 triathlon-specific Specialized Shiv which was unveiled on Monday, including Canadian triathlon stars Simon Whitfiled and Paula Findlay who were showing off their own custom Shivs. We'll hopefully see these new rides in Gears soon!
My hopes for the race:
Swim: The surf has kicked up in a huge way in the last couple of days, so it could be a rough swim. The unpredictability of the ocean currents make it tough to predict a time, but there's a much higher percentage of fast swimmers here than at other Ironmans, so I'm hoping to find some fast feet to follow around the course. Goal time is 55-58 minutes depending on ocean conditions.
Bike: I've cycled the full course five times and know it well. It's a rolling course with total vertical of 1200 metres over the 180KM ride, I'm hoping to average 210 watts for the ride, which depending on the wind conditions on the day should hopefully be a ride between 5 hours to 5 hours 15.
Run: After mentally falling apart a bit during the 19th mile in Louisville, I'm planning on pushing through that 'dark place' in this race and running the full marathon, hopefully putting in a faster time than Louisville on a tougher, potentially hotter course. Regardless of how the run ends up, I'll finish with a smile on my face and enjoy sharing the road with some of the best endurance athletes in the world.
The race begins at 6:30AM for the professional athletes and 7:00AM for the rest of us (12:30PM Eastern time for the pros and 1:00PM Eastern time for the amateur race).
Results will be streamed live at www.ironmanlive.com, including video of the professional race.
Part 3 of Andrew's Blog will be a post race summary - stay tuned.
Start # Finishing Time Finishing Rank
1 3 mins 32 secs 5
2 3 mins 10 secs 1
3 3 mins 27 secs 4
4 4 mins 6 secs 17
5 3 mins 40 secs 8
6 4 mins 10 secs 18
7 4 mins 46 secs 26
8 4 mins 27 secs 22
9 4 mins 29 secs 24
10 3 mins 43 secs 9
11 4 mins 27 secs 22
12 3 mins 56 secs 14
13 3 mins 38 secs 7
14 4 mins 40 secs 25
15 4 mins 57 secs 28
16 5 mins 5 secs 29
17 4 mins 2 secs 16
18 3 mins 26 secs 3
19 4 mins 53 secs 27
20 3 mins 57 secs 15
21 3 mins 49 secs 11
22 4 mins 24 secs 21
23 3 mins 33 secs 6
24 3 mins 45 secs 10
25 4 mins 17 secs 20
26 4 mins 14 secs 19
27 3 mins 55 secs 12
28 3 mins 24 secs 2
29 3 mins 55 secs 13
As I sit reflecting on the past week, my memories of visiting an amazing corner of the world, meeting new people and enjoying great Spanish food and wine are the ones that are the strongest. Racing at the international level is an eye-opening, powerful and often humbling experience, yet somehow it’s always the events of the week leading up to the race that I cherish the most.
Daily team rides formed the start of every day after a 6:30am breakfast at the team hotel. Our rides would take us from our oceanside home base up narrow, winding country roads into the foothills of the Pyrenees, offering us spectacular views of the Bay of Biscay below. Our group would usually fracture into 3 smaller packs of riders with a sweep riding off the back to make sure no one was left behind. After 2 hours or so we’d fly back down to our hotel through a fast, twisty descent of about 5km on the same route as the race course each time trying to descend with less hesitation, less braking, staying aero as long and as tightly as humanly possible. Occasionally, as speeds approached 90k/h, a twinge of anxiety, fear of losing that last sliver of control necessary to keep me rubber-side down would sneak into my consciousness….aghhhhh, overbraking, oversteering, valuable seconds lost….back to the top I go and try again. By race day I’d found the perfect lines to carve my way down with barely a touch of the brakes. The full road closure would virtually guarantee a perfect descent with both sides of the road to work with.
The morning routine would finish with a run alongside the city’s canal through the tree-lined streets of Gijon, usually no more than 50 minutes, just enough to shake out tightened climbing legs after riding.
Afternoons were spent on the beach, surfing, shopping or grabbing a bite and a glass of Rioja in the old city then maybe a siesta, after all, “when in Rome”! As the team physiotherapist, when not training, my days were often spent treating national team athletes as well.
Accreditation, body marking, bike check, check-in, etc. all took place 24-48 hrs prior to the race. Our first glimpse of the transition was at bike check on Saturday night. All bikes are required racked and ready to go the night before.
I got up at 6am race day to get some breakfast and make sure I had everything I needed to take from the hotel to transition. My race start was 10:08 with the transition close being 9:45. I was scheduled to do a French CBC interview at 8:45 at the race start so left by 7:45.
After a quick warm-up I was relaxed and ready to go. 10:08 came fast as did the first km with a group of 15 guys coming through in a stupid-fast 3:00 flat. I stuck to my plan and stayed back, mid pack doing 3:15s. By 6k, the lead group had shrunk to four guys; two Brits, a Mexican and the eventual winner from Spain. At this point I was 5th with an American who had been sitting on me from the start. At the start line he introduced himself as Dave and remarked that I was “the guy to beat” so I wasn’t surprised to have him breathing down my back the whole way. By 8k there was only the Spaniard, out in front by about 45s. I was comfortably in 2nd with three guys sitting on my ass not making a move. At this point in the race I was very happy. I never race with a watch or computer so didn’t know exactly what my splits were but I knew I was less than a minute off the lead. My plan was to stay within 1.5 minutes so I figured I was sitting pretty. I sat back and coasted easily into transition within a minute of the lead feeling like everything was going according to plan. I later found out I was nearly a minute slower than I had hoped at 33:45 instead of 32:45.
“Just get me on bike, just get me on my bike…” I was so psyched to get out there on a course that suited me perfectly. As soon as I did I started mashing the pedals, passing athletes from other waves like they were standing still, was feeling awesome. The 3km long climb at 8-9% was nothing, exactly as I anticipated. An average gear ratio of 53-18 was easily enough, making me happy about my decision to go with an 11-23 cassette. Wind conditions were negligeable at 5km/h making the rear disk choice a good one as well. My only difficulties on the bike course were the riders who had decided to ride left instead of right (mostly Brits, South Africans and Spaniards) and some congestion on my second descent causing me to take an inside line through the final corner. These are things that everyone had to deal with so no unfair advantage, just a pain in the ass.
I began to stress a little when I realized by 35k that I had still not passed the leader. Finally, at about 38k, I caught him. I had ridden a solid race and put over a minute on him on the bike but even so, this still only put me about 15s in the lead going into the final leg, the 5k run. Last year I had nearly 30s and last year’s 2nd place was not as strong a runner as Fernando Dominguez, Spain’s National Duathlon champion. Oh crap. This wasn’t going to be easy. Sure enough he clipped me at about 2k. I tried to reel him in but I didn’t have it, not on this day.
So in the end, I had a silver medal, a bittersweet achievement after winning gold last year but I had experienced a new culture, a week of meeting new friends and reconnecting with old ones from all over the world. I earned my silver fair and square. If I had learned anything from the race it was that relying on your singular strengths may work sometimes but won’t ever guarantee a victory. I can only hope that I have gained the knowledge in this race to make me smarter, wiser for my next athletic challenge, whatever that may be….