Thursday, August 28, 2008

Ryan Murrary's Ironman Canada Race Report

It’s 6 a.m. and the morning after the race. I can’t sleep anymore because the pain in my hips wakes me up when I roll over in bed. The crazy dreams I’m having makes me restless as well, which doesn’t do well for my hips. I figure this would be as good time as any to write my race report. My calves and quads feel like they were used as a punching bag, which leaves me to mostly shuffle myself around the house. Ironman Canada seems like a long time ago and almost like it never happened- except when I move my hips. Have I mentioned how bad my hips hurt?

August 24, 2008
Morning of…

Wake up is at 4 a.m. race day. The breakfast menu calls for six microwaved pancakes, a water bottle of Carbo Load and one banana.

Dad and I drive from the house to the Transition area at 5 a.m. It’s dark with a tiny bit of dark blue peaking up over the East Mountains of the Okanogan Valley. We get into Penticton and Dad drops me off about three blocks from Transition. There are hundreds of people funneling from the side streets to Main Street where we enter the “point of no return” – where athletes leave their loved ones, past the gates and security into the great unknown of Ironman. I show my athlete bracelet and take the plunge. On my way in I drop my bike special needs bag off (I get to pick it up at the 120km mark of the bike course) and then go to get my numbers marked on my body.

Then it’s off to finish setting up my bike. I run into my buddy Kyle Marcotte who is setting up in the pro area- he’s got a chance to challenge for the top spot today- and say hi and wish him luck. I’m happy with where my bike is located. It will be easy to find from the swim with minimal distance from my rack to the bike exit. Transition is still relatively calm so I drop my gear off at my bike and head to the toilet. My piece of advice to anyone who does an Ironman is get there at 5 a.m. just so you miss the line-ups. Once it got closer to 6-6:30, the line up to the bathroom exponentially lengthened and winded all through the transition area. I don’t know how some people got to use the washroom before the race began.

My bike is now set up with two Cliff bars split into eight pieces and duct taped to my bike. Also duct taped to my bike are five gels and a Juicy Fruit gum canister filled with Electrolyte tablets. I managed to find spots for my food that did not interfere with my knees or hands while cycling so it’s all good. I’ve also got three water bottles, each with a mix of Carbo Load and Ultima. We’re good to go. At this point I’m relaxed, excited, not nervous and ready to get the swim underway. I find all triathlon distances long so I’m always just anxious to start swimming and get it started

The day before, I dropped off my bike and run bags in the Transition area so everything is set and in place. I’m off to the beach to don the wet suit and wait patiently for the cannon to go off.

The Ironman start was one of my favourite experiences of the day. It was a huge production. I got in the water up to my waist and made sure I was up against the start rope. As swimming is the most natural of the three disciplines for me, I like to get to the front and hammer it out for the first 2-300m into open water. While I’m waiting for the start, I look around and see thousands of spectators lining the beach behind the fence on Lake Shore Drive. It’s cool to see these people anticipating Ironman Canada, not to mention the 2400-plus athletes getting into the water to the start line.

There are two small planes buzzing the beach and a helicopter flying over head with a TV crew filming the event. There is some great music blaring across the beach. It’s hard not to think you’re part of something really big.

Canada Ironman athlete extraordinaire and three time World Champion, Peter Reid, sets off the start cannon and the journey begins.

The swim was uneventful with it feeling like all my other swims, just longer. My pace was the same as the rest of my Half Ironman races and it was easy to keep for the full 3.8 kms. The buoys were all lined up and visible with two house boats at the far end of the course, and we were never swimming into the sun. Land finally came and I felt relaxed and ready for the bike. My Dad and sister, Catherine-Anne took my friend Trev William’s advice and waded into the water right beside the swim exit chute to watch us come out of the water. It was great to see them up close when I touched bottom.
Swim Time – 55mins 17secs

One of the coolest things about Ironman Canada is the transition set-up. As soon as I got out of the water and approached the rows of bags the volunteers began yelling my number out. My bike bag, which contained my helmet, shoes, socks and sunglasses, was given to me before I had a chance to look for it. It was seamless. I heard this loud, yelling, “go Ryan, go Ryan!!!”- It was my friend Jennifer Walker who was volunteering and helping with the bags. It was a nice surprise to see a familiar face so early in the race. With a smooth transition, I was feeling relaxed and ready for the bike.
Swim to Bike Transition Time – 2mins 11secs

The bike, as with the run, was a mental and emotional rollercoaster. I headed south out of town feeling really good and my legs were ready for the ride. MacLean Creek hill was smooth and felt good. A bunch of cyclists caught up to me, and we played cat and mouse for the next 20 kms. I was trying hard not to draft as we were pretty close and tried to stay outside the line of bikes. The race official was watching us closely at this point. I could see the official shaking her finger at a couple of the cyclists but no busts.

The ride grew harder as the head wind picked up heading to Osoyoos. My legs hadn’t cycled at this effort in a couple of weeks so my hamstrings were tight and burning. I was looking forward to Richter’s Pass just so I could re-adjust my seating and get out of my aero bars. As I was cycling, I heard this cow bell clanging coming up from behind me. It was my cheering squad heading out to their first spectator post on Richter’s Pass. At this point, I was holding between 36-40km/hr from Penticton to Osoyoos. Once on Richter’s Pass I felt much better. I do well with hills and can hold a good, consistent cadence. It didn’t take long to get to the top.

I approached the top of the Pass I saw my family and friends. My parents flew out from Nova Scotia, my sister came, my wife Kyla and her parents came out and our friends Mark, Michelle and Rob joined us too. Mom pulled a Tour de France move and started running beside me while I was riding up past them. Local triathlon announcer legend, Steven King, was there at the top of Richter’s to greet me with news I was within the top ten age groupers so I was feeling good about myself at that point. Which leads me to say, it was the last time I felt good until the bottom of the Yellow Lake climb, 60kms later.

However, as I was descending The Pass it was great to hear that cow bell coming up behind me again as my family and friends headed back to Penticton. You can never have too much cow bell.

The back rollers on Highway 3 were relentless and I lost a lot of speed. I was passed by a handful of cyclists during this section and then even more cyclists during the 20km Out and Back section around Keromeos. I was also having trouble digesting my food and had a lot of indigestion so it was hard to eat and drink regularly. At the special needs bag pick up I just grabbed the water bottle with the energy drink in it and left behind the tire tube, second water bottle and beef jerky. Beaver Buzz never tasted so good and it was still a bit slushy.

Continuing on, the steady false flat from Keromeos felt relentless and more people passed me. It was disheartening and frustrating. I thought there was no way I was going to get my 5hr20min bike split. My legs were killing me. My sciatic nerve was burning and hadn’t settled down during the entire bike leg.

The Yellow Lake climb finally came and there was my crew waiting for me. I was surprised because I thought my family and friends jetted straight back to Penticton to watch me come in off the bike. So they were there with the cow bell, cheering and hanging out with everyone else at Yellow Lake. It was a super cool scene with people dressed up in costumes, DJ’s playing tunes and rows of people lining up both sides of the bike lane. I remember seeing a guy in a superman suit holding a sign saying “Superman Salutes You.”

I’m now at the top of Yellow Lake, my legs feel refreshed and I’m thinking I’ve got 30mins to make up 20-25kms. I’m also thinking, not a chance. With the help of a tail wind and a descent pretty much right to transition I made it. As I cycled into town and Transition at the end of Main Street I heard that cow bell again. My crew made it back to Penticton, via Green Mountain Road, quick enough to set up on Main Street near the Starbucks and watch me come in off the bike.
Bike Time – 5 hrs 17mins

The bike-to-run transition was again flawless and the volunteers were fantastic. It was a great set-up.
Bike-to-Run Transition Time – 2mins 35secs

I was surprised I didn’t have to run 3 kms before I got my running legs like in my other triathlons. As soon as I got off my bike, I could run and it felt great. I got to see my family and friends a couple more times before I made my way down Main Street (which required a pee break at the porta pottie- the one and only time I had to go during the race if anyone is wondering). I ran the first 5km in 22mins and the first 10kms was just under 45mins. And then at 15kms the effort I put into the bike caught up to me and my legs started to lose it. I was getting light headed and not feeling so hot.

My coach Sandra and training partner Shari met me on the run on their bikes to cheer me on. It was exactly what I needed. After a while I figured out what I needed at each aid station, which was everything. But it was the cola, watermelon and ice cold sponges that saved me each time. They gave me just enough energy to make it to the next aid station for another helping of aid station buffet.

On the way out on the run there was a vicious head wind. And the hills going into and out of Okanogan Falls did not help either. On the way back I had the tail wind, but by that time I was just focusing on my cadence and moving forward. It was hurting pretty bad. With 10kms to go I tried to pick it up and maintain a higher cadence. Running down Main Street back to Lake Shore Drive, my hips felt busted up and I was fighting my hamstrings and calves from cramping up.

Rounding the corner at Starbucks was awesome as the spectators got thicker and then I saw my support crew spread out on Lake Shore drive cheering me on. By that time I was feeling no pain and let the adrenaline carry me to the finish line.
Run Time: 3hrs 31mins

I ran across the finish line in 9hours 48mins. I was exhausted. I didn’t achieve my goal time of 9hrs and 40mins and I’m not even a little disappointed. There was no way I was finishing that race faster than what I put in. I left everything on the course and I was completely satisfied.

There were no tears, no overwhelming wave of emotion or crawling on the pavement to cross the finish line. I finished and I hurt. The first thought to myself as I stood there was, “Huh. So this is what it feels like to do an Ironman. I certainly don’t feel like the people look like on the video clips and TV shows when they show them finishing. I don’t feel enlightened, joyful, or overwhelmed with uncontrollable emotion.” Was I under whelmed? Maybe. Did Ironman live up to its hype? Kind of. Maybe I didn’t know what to expect or maybe I bought into NBC’s dramatic, over-the-top Hawaii Ironman production they show on TV too much.

All I know is, I couldn’t walk right. My hips felt smashed and I just wanted something to eat. I got my finisher goodie bag, my race splits and B-lined it to the pizza and massage tent. I didn’t even care to grab the digital photo they took of me crossing the finish line. The pizza was bad, the massage was worse and I was freezing. I was in the car with my parents heading back to our place with my gear and within an hour of me crossing the finish line.

I currently have no desire to do another Ironman…or triathlon for that matter. I barely want to run another 10km. Maybe I’ll take a chapter out of my friend Carson’s book and compete in sport for fun and not to achieve personal goals, etc… Maybe I should pick a past time that I’m horrible at and just love participating in it..

After, after…
Now that I’ve settled down and had time to reflect, I do want to do another Ironman. Going to the banquet the next evening and seeing all my friends who competed with me was great and put it back into perspective why I enjoy doing this kind of thing. This next year looks to be a maintenance year with our little Murray coming pretty quick. I’ll keep tabs on things and see if Ironman 2010 looks as attractive a year from now before my family and I make the commitment.

1 comment:

Joni said...


I LOVED reading your description of the Ironman. I just this week started training for my first triathlon EVER. your writing is engaging and highly descriptive. Thank you for putting this together.

I too loved Man's Search for Meaning but I wouldn't say it is my Favorite book because it is hard to implement some of the lessons in there for us. You should try to read Heidegger "being and time" - or a scholarly explanation of his work (b/c otherwise you'll need a dictionary for every other word). he actually deals with some of the stuff that Frankl describes as existential neuroses.

where do you train? I want to do a half-ironman or olympic length triathlon this year. I dont want to punish my body too much - at least - i dont feel a need to right now.

Thank you

Jonathan Polak (yes some polish in me)