Race Recap: 2016 Calgary Half Ironman

This year’s race was vastly different from last year. The biggest difference was that this year I knew what to expect. Or, at least I thought I did. Every time I made an adjustment to my race strategy to overcome a problem, a new challenge would pop up that seemed more difficult than the one I adjusted to overcome. So I got to face a completely new set of obstacles. Between last year and this year I focused on my lack of ability to run, and that took up the bulk of my training

If you want the full experience, go back and read the post about the 2015 Calgary Half Ironman to give you some context for what I’m going to talk about this year.

The Swim: Last year – 47:29, Goal – 47:29

Notice that my goal time was the same as last years time did you? Doesn’t seem like a good goal??? The reason that this is a more than reasonable goal is because all year I didn’t train for the swim. I put my wetsuit on for only ONE swim between last years race and this year. I got to show this lack of training race morning while everyone is putting on their wetsuits. I start by sitting on the ground contorting my body to try to remember how to get this thing on. After taking twice as long as anyone else to get it up to my hips, I stand up, proud that I have got the hardest part done, only to realize that the zipper is in front of me instead of in the back. I put this glorified recycled tire wannabe on backwards. So very quietly and so no one would notice, (except my wife who got a front row seat to this whole show) I sat down peeled it off and started again.

Because of the time I lost practicing how not to dress up for the swim I didn’t get a chance to do any sort of warmup. No loss really, if I didn’t train for the swim, why on earth would I warm up for it. We are asked to the start line and as an improvement from last year I swallowed my pride (which is lacking anyway after squeezing into a less than flattering balloon) and took up a starting place at the back of the pack. As a result, I didn’t have nearly as much contact with the other swimmers and in turn didn’t have a panic attack. However this caused me a couple of brand new problems.

The first problem was that instead of getting passed by other racers and having them tickle my toes and freak me out, I was actually doing some of the toe-tickling passing. Which doesn’t seem at all like a problem except now instead of my feet getting hit it was my hands and about 300 meters into the swim another competitor knocked my $600 Garmin triathlon watch off. It was gone, and so was my ability to gauge my pacing, speed, heart rate, and every other metric that I had trained with to pace myself for the race. The second problem was that I had learned to swim and ‘sight’ (see where you are going without stopping swimming) based upon some literature I had read and I was actually quite good at it. Which also wouldn’t seem like a problem except now I didn’t have to stop during the swim and it seems that turning your head side to side while breathing hard horizontally makes you a little dizzy. A lot dizzy and a little sick. A lot sick. I threw up in my mouth a little. But after a little break to clear that up I felt good again and continued on. With no training, I actually ended up doing the unthinkable and beating my time from last year.

Swim Finish: 37:03 and I beat my time by 10:26! WHO NEEDS TO TRAIN??? Not this guy!

Transition number 1: Last year – 7:46, Goal – Not to fall over

Last year I fell over because of standing up after swimming. This year I wanted to be able to stand up like a big boy. There were two methods I read about to be able to do this, kicking hard before exit and keeping water out of the ears. It appears all my training was reading about swimming and not actually doing it. But it worked! I was still a little dizzy but was able to walk to my bike no problem. Once I had my bike ready, I saw a guy in pain stretching after the swim, and asked if he needed anything. He asked if I would press on his foot to help stretch out his calf so I did. After about 30 seconds he thanked me, I wished him well, and now was coherent enough to be able to run out of transition.

Transition number 1: 3:54! Great transition and good deed of the day completed. Booyah!

Bike: Last year – 2:59:00, Goal – 2:45:00

My plan was to go easy on the bike because I spent all summer training for the run. I did not want to cook my legs cycling and blow up on the run like the year before. Going easy should be just that, easy. It was not. Not when my GPS was now at the bottom of the lake and now all of my training use speed, cadence and heart rate was gone. This means I had no external information to tell me I was going too hard and I had to rely on my own perceived exertion. What you perceive your exertion to be is challenging during a race can cause quite the internal argument between taking it easy and getting passed by other racers. Here’s what the internal struggle sounded like at about the 20km mark.

(Going along at the perceived pace that I should be going)
“A lot of people are passing me maybe I’m going too easy…”
“Those guys are better than you and they are on expensive bikes… you’re not THAT good”

(Get passed by a guy on a cheaper bike, not looking as fit, in my age group)
“You can’t let him pass you, quit being a baby and go a little faster..”
“My plan was to take it easy…”
“But a little faster wouldn’t hurt you…”
(Pass the guy that just passed me)
“There ya go, good job Clarke, that wasn’t so bad now was it”
“It’s still ok, but I need to eat something now and I’m going to fast to eat and ride”
“If you eat I will have to slow down and that guy will pass you”
“But I need to eat”
“But then you have to slow down, and that not happening…”
(A few minutes go by at that pace then I get passed by a younger lady looking extremely fit)
“Awe hell no, you ain’t going to let that happen”
“But I need to slow down and eat, not speed up to catch someone”
“Fine fatty, I guess food is more important than racing isn’t it?”
“No, but…”
“Get your butt in gear and catch up!”

That’s how the entire bike went. I was constantly fighting with myself and I am really good at it. I had to deal with my brain instead of a computer telling about my own body. Dealing with me was harder than pushing down on the pedal. I sincerely apologize to all of you that ever have to deal with me. It sucks.

Bike: 2:43:12, still beat my goal!

Transition number 2. Last year – 3:17, This year 2:22. Nailed every part of this. But it is really about getting off a bike, taking a helmet off, putting shoes on, and you’re done.

The Run… dunt dunt daaaaaaaa!!!! Last year – 2:43:44, Goal 2 hours even.

I had spent the entire year working to improve my running ability. This was my focus, and this is the part of the race I had been training for. I begin to run out of transition and I feel like a million dollars. I know the race has gone well so far, I feel good and I trained for this part of the race. This feeling of euphoria quickly ended 100 meters into the run when, BANG! Both my quads are hit with cramps. Then it hit me, I just trained by running and more running. I completely did not train for running after getting off the bike. A serious oversight which I learned that day is much like learning to expertly take off fly a plane without learning to land one. Amusingly, the results end up being pretty much the same. This race wasn’t about being able to do the cardio, it became about getting through the pain. I was able to ‘muscle’ (hahaha) through it and the cramps left after about a kilometer. This cycle repeated again around the 5 and 10 and 15 kilometer marks. I was lucky that at around the 1k mark, a fellow racer named Brian and I started to run together.

Brian was about 50 feet ahead of me though transition and I slowly caught up to him. I noticed three things: He looks like a triathlete, He’s 35, (age is written on the back of your leg) and he has THE triathlon watch just like the one set at the bottom of the lake for safekeeping. As I caught up to him, we began to chat I learned three more things: He has done many triathlons, he flew here from Los Angeles, and running is his best event. I was clearly out of my league as it become clear that he was much better triathlete than I.

I wondered now how fast together he and I were running as again I was unable to use my watch for pacing and heart rate. He did ask if I wanted to know the pace and I declined because I was doing what I thought to be fantastic. It felt good and it felt easy. When I got the cramps at 5 and 10k his pace and ability as a conversationalist is what kept me running at a good speed. Unfortunately, even he couldn’t get me through the cramps at 15. My calf started to seize, and the lack of eating food on the bike had accumulated to my need to walk. It wasn’t the fight with my cardiovascular system that I had prepared for, but instead, one with my muscles. Brian clearly could keep going and I told him he should continue on. He told me, “We ran this far together, why would I leave now?” and we ran (mostly walked) to keep me going until the finish line.

Run: 2:24:03 Still 20 minutes better than the previous year.

I beat last year by 54 minutes and finished the race in 5:50:25. I’m going to train to do it again even better next year. To overcome the challenges that I faced this year and try to prepare for the new ones that will inevitably arise. Why am I going to do this again? Where else could you, in just under 6 hours, lose $600, get sick and threw up in your mouth, have a schizophrenic episode with yourself, seize every muscle in your lower body, and make a friend? Sign me up for one of those.

2 thoughts on “Race Recap: 2016 Calgary Half Ironman

  1. Justin Smith says:

    Once again a great story and another reason why you are an inspiration!!! Great job Clarke and maybe one day many years from now I could join you at the starting gate of one of these!!

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