Adrienne Miller’s Ironman Canada Race Report – 2011
This is a long race report; I’m not good at self editing. If you want the condensed version here it is:
- I trained for Ironman Canada for 8+ months with coach Joby Gutierrez of Team FC & my Ironman Canada partners in crime: Jillian Chaney, Katie McEwen & Laura Booher.
- Thanks to Joby & everyone’s belief in me I AM an Ironman! Finished in 13:13:20.
- Now I don’t know what to do with myself
I started the sport of triathlon in July 2008 looking for something positive to do after my dad passed away as I was sick of just running. I remember sitting at a Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training dinner before the San Diego Rock N’ Roll Marathon where they showed a clip on triathlons & I thought, “maybe I’ll do that”. I knew I could run, could swim but feared the bike- not riding a bike but the whole clipping in & out part. But the weekend after the marathon I was at the bike shop buying an inexpensive road bike (in case I didn’t like the sport) & was signed up for my first sprint tri, LA Tri, for September.
Though I was happy with finishing my first tri I wanted to do better so what did I do after that? Went back to the bike shop & told them I wanted better wheels & better components! 2008 & 2009 were the years of sprints, Olys, a 70.3 relay (with Laura, hmmm), two new (ie: faster) bikes (thanks to Jim Manton!) & in 2009 I was deemed the “bridesmaid but never the bride” because I seemed to train with people (namely Jillian) who were doing half Ironmans but hadn’t done one myself- the idea of swimming 1.2 miles was daunting to me! But, I signed up for New Orleans 70.3 & did the race in April 2010 (doing all breast stroke mind you). At that point I said I would never do a full Ironman but I became a 70.3 addict & ended up doing four that year- & in that time graduated from doing breaststroke to freestyle in a race
But let me back track to February 14, 2010- before I was even a half ironman…several of us were out for “Singles Awareness Day” (even though Jilli wasn’t single- thanks Paul for loaning her to us). We’d had mimosas with brunch & were carrying on at Woody’s- you can see where this is going- when all of a sudden a paper napkin “contract” was placed in front of me:
While my name is #4 on there I can pretty much assure you I was the last one to sign it as #5, Courtney, was the one who came up with the contract. Please also note how it says Ironman FLORIDA 2011 & not Ironman CANADA 2011. The girls were nice enough to choose FL because they knew I wouldn’t want to 1) swim in really cold water, 2) swim in high surf & 3) my mom lives in FL so she could come watch us. All very thoughtful so please tell me why on August 30, 2010 I was obsessively hitting “refresh” on my web browser to sign up for Ironman CANADA?! Last I checked Penticton, BC, Canada was nowhere close to Panama City, FL!
After six months of discussions with the girls, & three half ironmans for me, it sadly became clear that Jilli & I were the only two on the contract who would be able do an Ironman in 2011 (hips surgeries, illnesses, moving & the sheer cost of an Ironman). So Jilli & I went over the options for races & determined that 1) we both hate loops on a course- Jillian more so than me- so Arizona (the most logical choice logistically for two SoCal girls) was out, 2) we wanted it to be an Ironman branded event (we’re snobs, so Vineman full was out), 3) we didn’t want it to be many time zones away, 4) St. George wasn’t even a question (it’s been deemed the hardest IM), 5) we wanted it to start at a reasonable altitude since we live at sea level & 5) Jillian doesn’t like heat. So we chose Canada, & then we roped in Laura Booher- because like Mikey, who will eat anything, from the old school Life Cereal commercials, Laura is game for anything. I’d also spoken to Katie McEwen, who was interested in doing Canada. So there we were: Jillian, Laura, Katie & me sitting at our computers, iPhones, what have you, registering for IM Canada on August 30, 2010 & when we all got in I believe there was a collective, “Oh shit, what did we just do?”
We’d chosen the race but we needed an Ironman coach! I think anyone who does triathlon is Type A & the four of us ladies would hate to disappoint! So we read up on coaches, talked to friends who’d recently done Ironmans, met with coaches, we had spreadsheets & certain criteria (had coached other people training for Ironmans before, was accessible, was fairly local who we could see on occasion & recognized that we all had lives outside of triathlon)- the one coach that kept coming up with glowing remarks was Joby Gutierrez of Team Fitness Coaching (aka Team FC). I think I can speak for all of us & say thank you Joby, thank you for coaching us, for learning each of our little “idiosyncrasies”, we’re thrilled to have you as our coach. A thank you to Bill Davis & Tina Olinger also for making the introduction!
We have a race, a coach…now what!? I will tell you what NOT to do in the year leading up to an Ironman:
- Don’t get burned out on racing- I over raced in 2010 & was burned out until probably May of 2011. Lesson learned.
- Don’t move houses, granted it was eight houses down the street but it makes it no easier. In fact I think it was harder as my mom & I decided to refinish a bunch of furniture.
- Don’t constantly be sick- maybe the refinishing of furniture had something to do with it?
- Don’t end up in the ER after a half marathon & then have the honor of getting scoped- from both ends- to figure out what is wrong with your GI system (still figuring it out).
- Don’t become an insomniac- not good for recovering from being sick.
- Have your longest continuous run be 13 miles- I did longer runs but they were walk/runs because I was afraid of ending up in the ER again & really 13 miles is the max I like to run.
What to do:
- Listen to your coach.
- Listen to your body.
- Take it all with a grain of salt, you’re not looking to win, just finish!
- Try to have fun with it. You’re going to have good days & bad days; it’s all a part of training.
- Accept the fact that you’ve chosen an expensive hobby!
- Accept the fact you will have no social life during the training & non-triathletes think you’re nuts.
- Remind yourself, & Jillian, that she dragged you into this “shit”- as I told her during the race.
- Really believe it when people say the training is harder than the Ironman itself!
I had three goals when it came to this race: finish, finish without a glowstick & a smile on my face & have as short of recovery as possible! I think I fulfilled all of those (though I’m still in recovery so is one week short?).
The week leading up to the race was probably hysterical to watch- if you weren’t Jillian, Katie, Laura or I. The emails that were flying back & forth showed both humor & a good dose of fear of what we were getting into. For instance we all made sure to get pedicures before the race- like anyone is going to see our toes except for on the swim & as if they’re going to hold up to a marathon?! Well, at least we felt pretty Joby had given us all our race plans & given I’m a numbers person I had poured over previous year results of other people I knew, my age group from last year & of how my season had been going, etc. There were spreadsheets- many of them- & I had three plans aggressive, conservative & realistic which ranged from 12:14:17 to 13:15:01 but deep down I just hoped I finished & not let anyone down!
Laura, Jillian, Paul, Jilli’s mom & I got to our house in Canada on Wednesday night, got situated & went to bed. Oddly I was able to sleep even though five days away I would be doing an Ironman. The girls let me sleep in since they knew I rarely got a good night sleep but when I woke up Thursday morning I was sick! Ears hurt, throat hurt, was coughing & sniffling- just awesome. Laura pointed out this seemed to happen every time I reduced my training before a race….hmmmm. Anywho Thursday was filled with the expo (ummmm, there were a lot of fit people there), registering, getting our bikes, buying way too much Ironman Canada gear, etc. Jilli’s mom made us dinner- which she did every night (score!) – & we were off to bed again with visions of T1 & T2 in our heads. Friday we took a dip in our pool, tried out our bikes, set out all of our gear bags for the race, went to the course talk & met a couple of other Orange County triathletes there. Yen, Yas, Jillian’s dad & Beverly also came in that day too. Saturday we said goodbye to our bikes as we racked them at the race & also dropped off our gear bags- no turning back now! Early dinner & then to bed. Poor Joby & Mia didn’t get in until probably five hours later than they’d planned so we were asleep when they got to the house.
3:41 AM Sunday, up & at’em! Joby was up to see us off- Laura, Jilli & I drove to the race. Aside from Laura’s iPad playing music I think we were all pretty quiet as we realized what we were about to set off to do. Topped off the water bottles on our bikes, stood in lines for port-a-potties, filled the air in our tires, etc. at 6:30 everyone was cleared out of transition & on to the beach. We took our morning bags out to the beach to find Paul, who used his rugby skills to get to the front & grab our bags from us (BTW Paul is the #1 gear bag carrier!). The race announcer says that of the roughly 2900 people starting over 1100 are Ironman virgins. Great, my plan of everyone starting the swim before me as I stood back to wait for the crowd to dissipate were shot.
I had printed out & laminated photos of my parents that I could carry with me for each of the portions of the race. I had a photo of my dad in my pocket for the swim, knowing my mom doesn’t really like to swim I figured he was the better of the two to take with me! Jilli, Laura & I started to the left of the buoys probably 15-20 feet behind the flags (Katie was right up front somewhere). I personally couldn’t have asked for better water conditions- calm water, 71 degrees & so clear you could see the bottom of the lake almost the whole time. Jilli got right in the mix with everyone, during training we always liked swimming next to each other, it’s calming for me, but I knew I needed to do my own race & for me in the swim that just meant get through it & get to my bike. The first 500m, I had to talk myself off of a ledge, I don’t mind swimming the distance I just don’t like all of the people around me. The swim was actually decent, I found the women swam straighter than the men & the men had no qualms about pushing you to the side, swimming over you or, GASP, break your nail! So, I pushed back, grabbed feet, etc but there were a couple of times that I popped up & said out loud “Really”? I looked for Ogopogo (the Canadian version of the Lochness Monster) but never saw him. Learned after the race there were four scuba divers at the bottom of the lake watching the racers, I wasn’t prepared to see them so if I had I’m pretty sure I would have screamed. At one point during the swim I realized my sinuses were all cleared up & I could breathe, sweet! Once I was swimming into people’s rear ends I knew it was time to stand up & walk out of the water. This was so different than other races I’d done, I felt like everyone was sauntering where I’m used to people running out of the water! I’ve always said the swim is a means to my bike so when I get out of the water I want to get to my bike as fast as possible- apparently others didn’t feel that way!
Unremarkable, the wetsuit strippers were awesome but I was a little perturbed that other racers’ bags were being handed to them while I had to go locate mine on my own, oh well, it is what it is- I wasn’t out to win!
YAY! I’m finally on my bike! Dad went for a ride through the Okanagan Valley too taped to my handlebars & my water bottle, I hope he enjoyed it! Saw Paul, Yen & Yas. Figured Katie was way out in front of me, had no idea where Jillian was on the course or Laura & no one was telling me but then I didn’t ask either. It’s all about racing your own race but as anyone who knows Jillian & I we’ve always been healthy motivation for each other, thank goodness we’re not in the same age group anymore. In the two races we did together this year we were about a minute or less apart on the swim & then we’d see each other in transition or within the first couple of miles on the bike. When it comes to the bike & run I would say my strength between the two is the bike & I would say Jillian’s is running (though she’s getting really fast on her bike too!). So, there I was embarking on my 112 mile ride wondering, “Where is Jillian?”- I’m not going to lie! The first forty miles of the course are flat/slight downhill, saw Joby out there running, kept myself at a high cadence & just enjoyed myself. I knew I could get through 112 miles, the question was would I be able to run twenty-six miles after that. I needed to make sure I stayed hydrated, sometimes I forget, but I grabbed water at ever aid station & poured it on myself to stay cool & also refilled my bottles, took my Endurolytes & Anti-Fatigue Caps from Hammer Nutrition. At about 11:30 I thought “I’m hungry” so I had one half of a peanut butter & honey Uncrustable (think a sandwich with the crusts cut off) & saved the rest for later when I was going down Richter Pass. The scenery was gorgeous but it didn’t distract me from the fact it was getting HOT out (remember we chose Canada because we didn’t think it would be hot- WRONG!). I played leapfrog out there with some of the other participants- they’d go flying past me on the downhills or flats & I’d catch up to them on the uphills- all while staying in my prescribed heart rate zones. It was hard not to pick up the pace but this was about getting through the whole day, enjoyably, not having my fastest bike split. In fact one of my friends the day before the race said he wanted to see 20mph, I told him no it would be somewhere between 17 & 17.5 mph because I had to attempt a marathon afterwards. Somewhere before mile fifty-six I ate the rest of my sandwich because I knew I had another waiting for me in my special needs bag, which I thought I would see at the half way point. Turns out I wouldn’t be getting it until about mile seventy-five! FINALLY around mile sixty-five I saw Jillian. When I got up to her I said, “You must have had one hell of a swim!” No time to dilly dally, had a race plan to carry out! As we were riding to the turnaround by our special needs bags one volunteer would yell out your race number so another could h& you your bag. They handed me mine, I grabbed my second Uncrustable (hey, I’d tried to figure out how to put a hamburger in there!) & was off. My stomach was bothering me some, even before the Uncrustables, but I decided I wasn’t going to get off of my bike until it was really affecting me or until I was in transition. Some more rollers, more water stations, the climb up to Yellow Lake was awesome- it was like being on Universal Sports on cable- all of the spectators were lining the course & closing in, yelling for you, as you climbed up the hill- AWESOME! I did notice that many of the water stations were right as you were climbing uphill, which made it awkward, so much so that at one point as I was grabbing a water I lost the steering on my bike & almost took out a volunteer (I was going slow enough they could jump out of the way) & did a little off roading on my tri bike, whoops! Got to the top of Yellow Lake & then I was home free, mostly downhill back to transition.
All in all a good bike ride, everyone was super supportive, I feel I kept well hydrated & fueled thanks to the E-Fuel, Gu Chomps & two Uncrustables & I came in under my “Realistic” estimate & at this point in the race was actually 4 minutes faster than my cumulative estimated time I’d sent out to everyone.
Oh yay, a volunteer takes my bike from me- I asked them if they’d wash it too, no dice Grabbed my run gear, entered the changing tent & there was nakedness everywhere- oh my eyes! It seems Team FC are the only ones who don’t do a full change of clothes in transition- I even saw women changing sports bras, who knew! A very nice volunteer laid out my gear for me while I changed socks (ok I changed something) as they were wet from pouring water on myself during the ride, ran out to the port-a-pottie, ran to another volunteer who slathered me with suntan lotion & I was off! Just 26.2 more miles until I could call myself an Ironman.
I’m not joking when I say 26.2 miles is 13.1 more miles than I like to run. I knew this run could be a crapshoot- both figuratively & literally- given my distaste for the distance & my previous GI issues (sorry if that’s too much information). So I went into it with the best attitude I could, until I saw Joby & told him it was the worst part of the race! Photos of mom & dad came on the run with me; I figured it was going to take both of them to get me through a marathon! There’s an out & back part on the run in the first couple of miles. It’s very humbling, & awesome, to be going out on the out run when the first male finisher was finishing the race- I know all of those people weren’t yelling for me, but for him, but it got me going! Essentially the men’s winner won in the time it took me to do the swim & bike, crazy! Saw Jillian on the out & back & knew it wouldn’t be long until I would be watching her rear end run by & off into the distance. I tried to stick to the plan that Joby gave me, I was actually going faster than I was supposed to so I slowed it down as I realized I had a long way to go. Hit a port-a-pottie around mile 3, modified the plan he gave me, it was hot so I walked through the aid stations, pouring water on my head, ice down my top (a benefit of a sports bra!) & taking in fluids. All of the locals were out in lawn chairs, some drinking a beer, some smoking a cigarette (WTH?! Can’t you see I’m attempting to run here?) but all cheering us on as if you’re in first place. Around mile five Jillian came up on me (no surprise there but I’d predicted before the race that it would be around mile 9 so good for her!) & I asked how she was doing. She said not well, that she was fading but I know she’s strong & I think back to her first half ironman where she told me she thought her run pace was so slow she didn’t think she deserved to walk- I had a feeling this would come into play here too. So we ran together, she would run through the aid stations while I would walk through them grabbing stuff until the last drop spot & I would start running again. I caught up to her & we did this for a couple of miles. I told her I was going to run with her, she told me no, I was looking good, she didn’t want to hold me back- which is when I told her she dragged me into this shit, I wasn’t going to leave her, we could cross the line together. But she insisted I go ahead- knowing she has some mad desire to see what it’s like to get in a fight with someone I decided that was not the time & I didn’t want to be her opponent! So I returned to my readjusted running plan: run the flats & downhills & walk the aid stations & uphills. I would do a periodic check to see where Jilli was, not because I wanted to see if she was closing the gap but because I figured if we weren’t far apart why not run in misery together!
At this point I was also wondering, “Where is Katie?” thinking since it’s an out & back run course I would see her somewhere as she was heading back to the finish. I saw her around mile 10 or 11 & she said her Achilles was bothering her & she was walking. She had found a walking companion & they looked like they were making the best of their situations so I kept going. Hit the turnaround, & another port-a-pottie. Made a few friends along the way, Sheldon & I did a run/walk for the last eight miles together. We’d chat while we were walking but when we were running we were focused & also admiring the beautiful run course along the lake! Then it hit me, I’m actually enjoying myself &, I think I’m really going to be an Ironman! We continued to do our run/walk, Sheldon would run off to the side & say hi to people he knew but I just kept going knowing he would catch up & I was on a mission not to get a glowstick! With about 1.5 miles left I saw Joby & Paul, handed Joby my Power Range fuel belt (didn’t want it in the finish photos), I think I smiled, at least I felt like I was smiling & started to run what Sheldon referred to as “The Green Mile”- the out & back where I’d seen the male finisher five hours before when he was finishing- but now it was my turn! I saw Jillian when she had a little over a mile to go, we high fived then I made sure my jersey was pulled down, hair was as decent as it could look, considering, & a big grin on my face to prepare for the finish line. I saw there was a group who would be crossing the finish with me so I “ran” as best as I could ahead of them to get a finish photo by myself & then I head the words “Adrienne Miller from Newport Beach, California”. WAIT, WHAT? Where’s my “Adrienne Miller you ARE an Ironman”?! Apparently they do it differently in Canada but who cares because I know what I accomplished! My volunteer “handler” Jenny was awesome, she hugged me (all sweaty & smelly as I probably was) when she found out it was my first Ironman, she got my finisher hat & shirt, made sure I was ok & then showed me where I could stand to watch Jilli cross. Jilli crossed, with a smile & a lengthy hold of the Ironman Canada banner , & I think she put it best- granted we’re fairly Midwestern, unemotional & all of that, but she couldn’t have done it without me & I know without a doubt I couldn’t have done it without her. Though I like to tease her that she dragged me into this, I’m genuinely happy that she did & thank her for it.
We got her all situated with her gear, got our photos taken, got massages (ahhhh), caught up with our ginormous cheering section & we were heading out to cheer Katie in when there she was, she was finished! I’m sorry we missed her finish!! We caught up with her & everyone else & then we all got situated to welcome in Laura. Jilli & I went to the finish line, & we were watching for her like two anxious teenage girls straining their necks to see Justin Beiber! We saw Laura & she was looking good! She crossed with a smile on her face as well. We were all Ironmen!
To celebrate our achievements we went wine tasting & ate to our hearts’ content (excellent recovery!). It still hasn’t really sunk in what I accomplished; it’s all kind of surreal. I wasn’t sore, didn’t have blisters & felt (aside from the cold that won’t leave me alone) great! In fact the week post race where Joby had us take it easy was hard for me- I was itching to get out & ride my bike, especially it being a beautiful long weekend where everyone else was out riding. But, what was the #1 thing I said to do earlier in preparation for an Ironman? LISTEN TO YOUR COACH. So I did & slept a lot (finally!)
THANK YOU isn’t enough to everyone who supported us through all of this. When I first started this sport I was told “It takes a village to raise a triathlete” & this is true! I couldn’t have gone through this journey without my mom, Joby, Mia, the rest of Team FC, the IM Canada ladies, the rest of my triathlon family & non-triathlete friends. Joby & Mia- thank you for coming up, for only 32 hours (!), & taking the time from your family to be there for us- it really meant a lot. My IM Canada ladies- I know I can count on you for anything (& have!)- we will forever be bonded by this! Thank you to Paul & to Scott for loaning me their significant others for almost a year, I think I’ve seen Jillian & Laura more than they have, & a huge shout out to Paul for being our Sherpa at many a race over the years- he has perfected it! Yen & Yas, thank you for taking time out of your own busy schedules to come up to the race, being our Sherpa’s, the cow bell-ing, the yelling, the posters, you name it! Thank you to Kirsten Rakow- who hung out with my kitties & let me eat her dinners now & again because I just didn’t have it in me to cook, didn’t have food in my house or she knew I was destined for another bowl of cereal for dinner.
My #1 fan & support crew Jeff Strong- I couldn’t have done it without him, he cleaned the house (even the windows!) every weekend I was gone, even when having his own things to take care of, taking care of the kitties, grocery shopping, laundry & dealing with my craziness. He also had the patience to help/watch me figure out how to put tires on my 404 wheels- it’s not easy (the tires or dealing with me)! Thank you for believing in me when I didn’t!
I was almost spot on in my race estimates (except the run) & I’m truly thrilled with the outcome! Out of 167 participants in my age group I finished 73, out of 869 women I finished 325 & out of the 2832 participants that started on race day I finished 1376. Total time 13:13:20, no blisters, no sickness & one finisher’s medal heavier- I’d say that’s pretty good for a day’s work I’ve come a long way since my first triathlon in 2008. I know my mom is proud & I think my dad would be too.
I can honestly say this- I will NOT do an ultra Ironman but now what?!
The IM Canada Ladies pre-race at the expo: Jillian, Laura, Katie & I. Ladies- we ARE Ironmen!