It Doesn’t Have to Make Sense: Subaru Vancouver Half Ironman Race Report

Everyone makes decisions in life. Everything from where they want to live and what career they want to work, down to what they want for breakfast and which underwear will feel best with their favourite trousers. Last tuesday, only 9 days removed from Challenge Atlantic City (a full Iron distance event: 3.8km (2.4mile) swim, 180km (112mile) bike, and a full 42.2km (26.2mile) marathon,) and only 5 days out from the Subaru Vancouver Half Ironman Triathlon, my coach and I made the mutual decision that I was so well recovered from the Atlantic City experience that I should race the Subaru Vancouver Half Ironman Triathlon.

It seemed like a great idea at the time. Seriously, what could go wrong?

Since I thought I’d need a cohort in this endeavour, I gently persuaded (okay, coerced is more like it,) my super-amazingly-supportive-awesome girlfriend Jenn (<<important to note, as she apparently DOES read this blog,) to race in the sprint distance, her first on two years. With some short high intensity work leading in the race, I felt really really good, but had no idea what to expect. Racing only two weeks after raging total warfare on my body for 226 kilometres was completely uncharted waters for me.

Now I know how Christopher Columbus felt.

Kids race start position
Starting the kids race the day before the big race. Little kids run WAY faster than you’d expect!

Similar to the night before Atlantic City, I slept barely a wink. Jenn will confirm this story, as she awoke in the middle of the night to find me doing restorative yoga on our outdoor deck. I’m not sure why, but it seemed like a good idea after laying in bed staring at the inside of my eyelids for the better part of 5 hours, with only 2.5 to go before wake-up. During the night, I pretty much ran out of things to think about, so started planning my meals for the next week. I made it to dinner on tuesday before I got bored and started questioning why cyclists seem like they’re always competing to see who can wear the longest socks while racing.

I still don’t have an answer.

Racing morning came and down to the race site we went. One of the main reasons I love this race so much, is it is literally in my backyard. I ride the course to some degree every single time I ride, since it essentially is the beginning of all my riding routes. It took us all of 7 minutes to get to transition from our front door. How’s that for close. All set-up, warmed-up, and fuelled-up, I stood on the beach, ready to race. Super-coach Björn was there, muttering about “please don’t die today” or something, I’m not completely sure as I was really  focused and I believe it was half in German.

Anticipating the starting Gun. Photo Credit Björn Ossenbrink.
The gun goes and we’re off! Photo Credit Björn Ossenbrink.

The gun went off, and the rush down to the water began. I knew Andrew Russell would be in the front out of the water, so I started fairly close to him. As we sprinted towards the first buoy, I noticed him off the my right, and closed the gap to sit on his feet. I couldn’t help notice that he put out a stellar draft, and I was a happy camper riding the wake. Off to my left, I noticed Josh Seifarth (Jesus I hope I spelled that right) closing in on Andrew and I, so being all about ‘Racing Smarter Not Harder,’ I decided to back off and get him between Andrew and I, as Andrew + Josh = a WAY better draft than just an Andrew. What I didn’t account for was Josh deciding the green buoy about 15m off-course to our yellow buoy heading REALLY needed to get swum around (which it didn’t,) thus creating a gap between Andrew and I, minus a Josh.

Shit.

Just after the start, jockeying for position. Photo Credit Björn Ossenbrink.

I figured Josh would come back around from the green buoy and I’d carry right back on his draft. He had different plans in mind, going much faster than anticipated, and I pretty much completely missed that train, sighting and watching them slowly get further and further away. The rest of the swim I felt great, but swimming alone along with cross-currents, I was losing time every stroke. Coming out of the water a couple minutes down, I had no idea what my legs would do on the bike.

the turnaround buoy, out on to lap 2 of the swim. Photo Credit Björn Ossenbrink.

Immediately, the legs didn’t feel right. They seemed to have decided that the 180km pace was good enough today, and it took about 20 minutes before I could convince them that we needed a few extra watts on top of that effort. I rode the middle two laps fairly strong (albeit completely devoid of my normal ½ iron race wattage,) consistently cutting into Josh’s lead on me, yet losing time to Andrew. Right near the end of the third loop, things started to get gnarly.

In my mind, the damage that an iron distance race does to your body goes right to your core. My reasoning is that your body doesn’t heal from the inside out, it heals from the outside in; the first thing to feel recovered are your muscles, and the last thing to fully heal is that deep-set fatigue and decimation you served up to your system. Two weeks probably isn’t enough time to recover right completely down to your core, so I knew that eventually the damage I was inflicting would make it down to that unrecovered point, and it was about the fourth lap that I re-opened those wounds. My power plummeted, and it was all I could do to maintain my full iron wattage. My main goal for the whole bike was to ride  strong (whatever that may be,) and focus on imitating my Challenge Penticton fuelling strategy, along with testing my kit and bike setup (I used my new Champion System Apex Triathlon Speed Suit for the first time, which is tested as much more aerodynamic than a normal race suit on the bike.) Mission accomplished for the most part, but coming into T2 with my tail between my legs, I knew I would have to go gang-busters on the run to stay alive out there.

Heading out on the run course from T2. Photo Credit Björn Ossenbrink.

Into the run I was about 5 minutes down on 1st, and a minute (ish) down on 2nd. I just started running, and although I was already tight as hell, I managed to get a good pace going. I managed to pull into 2nd at about the 6km mark, and just started running for survival. By the 7km mark I was in a world of hurt, and by the 13km mark I was hurting worse than I could’ve conceived. Not only was I physically tormenting my body, but mentally I was in agony. My pace started to slow drastically by this point, and all those negative thoughts you imagine might show up at this point started parading through my mind.

Coming through to start run loop 2. Photo Credit Björn Ossenbrink.

But, somehow, I persisted. There was a lot of “SHUT UP AND F#<&ING RUN” going on in my head, regardless of the pain I was feeling. This was the point when I really had to break it down. Like, REALLY break it down. When reality starts to set in, and you’re knocked off that cloud of feeling awesome, you need a solid game-plan to deal with the distance. So I did what I always do: little bites.

“Make it to that next cone.”

“Make it to the next bathroom,” (along Jericho Beach there are bathrooms every 1.5km or so.)

“Make it to the next aid station.”

I keep mental cues going that not only help distract me from the hurting, but also helps keep my form in check:

“Little steps, quick steps, light-on-your-feet, light-on-your-feet.”

I count. I count my steps. I count my breaths. I count for the sake of drowning out the screaming in my head with numbers. These are my mental tactics that help me break any long run or ride down into smaller, more manageable chunks. I implore you to try it, it works magic.

Post-race interview with Jordan Back, mostly happy to be alive still. Photo Credit Troy Hutchinson.

One thing I practiced during this race was proper cooling; my Champion System Speed Suit combined with water on my head at every aid station made for a relief from the increasingly hot day (much cooler than Atlantic City, but coming off the bike it was about 25-26C.) I managed to keep myself in check long enough to pull off 2nd place, absolutely surprising myself (and I think my coach,) that I was able to perform only 2 weeks after a full iron distance race. Ecstatic to be done, I finished the rest of the day eating and relaxing with my family and Jenn, who scored second place in her age group, and perhaps had the triathlon bug bite her once again!

Jenn flying the Speed Theory flag on the sprint run course! Photo Credit Björn Ossenbrink.

Thanks so much to all my family, friends, and sponsors who helped me piece this race together. My parents were absolutely top-notch, out there all day on course taking photos (which will be coming soon,) and cheering like crazy, along with a continent of my friends and supporters that made me proud to be out there every step of the way. Thanks to Speed Theory for getting me some last minute gear (and outfitting Jenn in the bike shop colours.) Thank you massively to my nutrition and gear sponsors, everything performed beautifully and allowed me to race as fast as my stored potential energy would permit.

Thumbs up for dad, excited to be standing upright!

My favourite part of the race was seeing so many friends out racing and enjoying their day, something that I only get at the local races. Everyone made the experience the tops, and I hope everyone had the best race experience they could get.

It’s 110% focus towards Challenge Penticton now, and I’ll be ready to shake things up once again at the full distance. Happy training and racing everyone, be safe and enjoy the sun!

Nathan

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