Iron Dad – The Race

Iron Dad – The Race

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Iron Dad Post 10 – The Race

Edward: 5 months (almost)
IM Muskoka: 5 days ago


I slept!

I never sleep well the night before a race. Even so-called C races will often keep me awake: race strategy, transition procedure, and guessing at the competition all competing for space in my overtired brain. Not on Saturday night: in bed on time and as good a snooze as any.

I had been telling everyone expressing the slightest bit of interest that this race was not a race. I said the words, thought them, repeated them. This programming seemed to work. I short-circuited the competitive drive of my personality and turned what are typically messy and anxiety-laden pre-race hours into ones of useful sleep and reasonable calm. I did tell Kirsten that I was feeling anxious on our way from their condo to transition, but in retrospect that feeling was mild compared to my typical race morning state.

Even when the start cannon fired and the blast echoed from the far shore of Peninsula Lake, I felt calm: mildly excited to start this purportedly epic ‘long training day’, but mostly calm.


I was a fan of the rolling swim start. I am not shy about contact in open water. Receiving the occasional kick to the bean or being swum over does not fill me with anxiety. Still, if I can avoid it – especially if I’m not too hung up on drafting – I will. Given too that my entire strategy for the swim was to remain comfortable and relaxed, I was more than happy to skip the proverbial washing machine action of a mass start.

Many of the athletes starting with me ran into the water at their first opportunity. I watched David take off and dive in. I walked. There would be plenty of swimming to come.

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All of you reading this that have swam open water know well that sensation when the water first fills your wetsuit, and you feel the initial shock of the cold on the small of your back. Peninsula Lake was a relatively balmy 20.5C. Relative to my overwarm, wetsuit-insulated skin it was still enough to halt my breathing for the first few strokes.

‘Relax! This is normal. Should’ve done a warmup. Breathe.’

The sky was overcast, which made sighting easy and keeping a clean line was only a matter of regular checks. I did try drafting, but either my compatriots were unwilling to let me slack or my own pacing was squirrely, so the best I could do was maybe two minutes on any one set of feet. I did not chase those who passed me for the brief draft that that would afford, choosing instead to stick to the plan: steady and relaxed.

Yellow buoy,
Yellow buoy,
Yellow buoy.
I quickly lost count. Not that it would have helped as I had not the slightest idea of how many of the floating tetrahedrons I’d need to swim past before the first turn. I remember thinking that swimming for this duration is just boring. Trying to focus on the technique helped break up the monotony. I found myself practicing sexy shoulders and fingertip drag drills. Fun right?

At the second big red turn buoy the yellow floaters were replaced with orange ones and – more importantly – the realization that every stroke was bringing me closer to the swim exit arch. I enjoyed the passage of the orange ones more than the seemingly endless procession of the yellows.

I remember feeling quite pleased with myself at the swim exit. A quick glance at the Garmin showed a swim time of 1:18: right on target! Better still, I felt fresh. There was none of the shoulder pain I had experienced on some of my previous four – yes four –swims in 2015. A comfortable, hair above a 2:00/100 pace was all I could ask for given my lack of swim training.


Wetsuit strippers are good people!
‘Arms out to the side’
‘Lay down and lift your bum’

T1 involved a complete wardrobe change. I donned the super comfy Castelli Free Aero bibs and the snug Castelli T1 aero jersey that was generously lent to me by the MEC cycling department. I sort of wish I had the wetsuit folk in transition with me as pulling on a skin tight, semi-long sleeved aero top over wet skin is less than speedy.

The total time I spent in T1 on Sunday of 9:19 was about as long as the combined transition times of three or four typical short course races.

‘This is not a race!’


‘Umm…why am I not seeing power?’

I calibrated my Stages in transition before the swim – everything was normal. As I started the bike leg however, the Garmin and the Stages refused to play nice. Pawing through the menus as I passed people, I attempted to re-pair the devices: no dice. I hit the LAP key a few times, getting out of Triathlon Mode with more than a little regret and rebooted the Garmin: nothing. I pulled over on the side of a hill, watching rider after rider pass me while spinning my cranks and resetting the Garmin once more in a final bid to get power readings: wah wah!

I was not happy. I cursed the folks in Boulder Colorado for making a product that let me down in just the wrong moment. This had never happened before.

‘What now? Go by feel? By heart rate?’

Flipping through the Garmin menus once again, I swapped my LAP NP data field for HR and plowed along. I haven’t trained by HR for years so my 150bpm ceiling was a guess. Still, it was better than having nothing.

With a total vertical gain of over 2500m, the two-laps around Lake of Bays is not an easy bike course. Having ridden it before, I knew what I was in for. The lessons from my (link) rough experience in late July served me well. My nutrition was dialed and my effort steady. As challenging as it is, I truly love that course. I’d take the hills in Muskoka over the flats of a race like Florida any day. Pretty scenery and demanding climbs kept it interesting. I was never bored and my spirits were high.

The majority of the ride was uneventful. The bottle exchanges worked very well and were easy to execute, and the newly resurfaced South Portage out of Baysville was a pleasure to ride too.

I did have a close call on Seabreeze when an oncoming rider bungled the bottle exchange, firing the bottle and somehow himself too into our lane. Both I and an older rider on a P5 narrowly avoided him and his beverage. The fellow on a P5 made a derogatory remark about the offending athlete’s lack of bike handling skills mere seconds before himself crashing at the tight turnaround. He wasn’t hurt, so I didn’t feel too bad about appreciating the irony of the situation. Karma!

So everything was tickety-boo until about the 4-hour mark, half way down the 117 on my second loop, when my DI2 battery began to die.

Shimano claims an average battery life of 1500km. I had logged around 700 to date. I also checked the battery status before leaving home, and it showed green. According to Shimano, the indicator will be green provided that there is at least 50% of life remaining. Half of 1500 is certainly more than enough to do an IM bike – right? Nope.

The front derailleur of the DI2 system is far more power hungry than the rear, so it stops working first. When this happens, the system switches to the little ring – since being stuck in the big ring is potentially more problematic.

‘Okay okay. I can ride in the little ring – a 34-tooth compact – since I can use my whole rear cassette. Sure my bike sounds like it has never had a tune up and my little-little cross-chaining is likely costing me a handful of watts, but I can still make it!’

A 34-11 gear combination is the same as 50-16, which is serviceable given my low average power for everything but downhills. Not the end of the world.

Shimano states that the front derailleur stops working with about 25% of battery charge remaining. Again I do my mental math and decide that I ought to have enough juice to still shift the rear till the end of the race. I try to avoid unnecessary shifting, which in Muskoka is a no easy feat.

Half way up South Portage, at approximately the 160k mark, my read derailleur stops responding.

Much cursing ensues as I’m now stuck in 34-23 (the battery died when I was climbing one of South Portage’s many hills). 34-23 is fine for going up steep grades, but it’s entirely useless for anything less demanding.

So there was another decision to make: limp – very literally – for the next 20km at an absurdly slow pace and lose maybe 30 – 45 minutes or MacGyver.

Option B!

I hopped off yet again and started fiddling. I could manually push the read derailleur over all the way to the 11T cog, giving me my old 34-11 combo. There was a little voice in the back of my head worrying about the damage I was doing to this absurdly expensive piece of electromechanical equipment, but it was drowned out by the voice doing the math for the alternative: 20k at 15kph = 1:20 till the finish. Not acceptable!

34-11 worked for flats (not many on South Portage) and gentle uphills. The steep climbs were brutal. Out of the saddle and at no more than 30rpm.

‘How do you think your legs will feel on the run course after all this?’ asked the prudent voice on one particularly nasty climb.

So I dismounted and pushed the derailleur back to 23T. There was a little over 10k left to go, and I knew full well about the hills on North Portage – the infamous stick of the lollipop.

I was passed on this stretch of the bike course by more riders than at any other time.

‘My DI2 battery died’ I bemoaned to a passing M54.
‘You poor bastard! At least you’re almost home’
The bit of sympathy helped.

As I crested that final big climb, I dismounted for the last time and rejigged the drivetrain for 34-11.

I was happy to be finishing the bike. Once the DI2 quit, I really stopped enjoying the experience. That was a bit of a shame since prior to that point, the bike had gone exceedingly well.

5:46 on that course with no power and partially on a single speed. I’ll take it.


Another full wardrobe change: thanks for the club singlet Barry! Nothing else to report.


‘That run course is no fun’ X3 athlete Nir Meltzer tells me in the lobby of the resort after we had both showered and were feeling a little more human. Nir is a 3:07 open marathoner, so when he gripes about a run course, it’s not for lack of talent or training.

I happen to agree with Nir.

The plan was to run a steady 5:30-5:45 for the first 21k and then try to gut out a negative split on the back half. As my mind started to tire however, I could not keep my pace that low. My average pace for the first half was 5:24. Too fast.

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When the sun was out, the perceived temps jumped and my heart rate did likewise. When a cloud was kind enough to conceal the sun, I felt pretty good. The hills were challenging, but I still had enough in the legs to run them all – albeit slowly. I also started to pass a lot of walking athletes, which is always a mental boost!

I knew too that Diana and Edward were waiting for me in Huntsville along with Trevor who drove up after racing Wasaga that same morning.

‘I’m doing this! I will be IronDad!’ Kiss the baby. Keep running.

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The long slog back on the 60 was where I first started to really suffer. That’s the flattest stretch of road on the Muskoka run course, but with the sun out, the tarmac did a solid job in radiating its toasty heat. By the time I started climbing the big wall 2k out of Deerhurst on that first lap, I knew that I could not keep the pace going. My quads were starting to call it quits, the memory of grinding up South Portage in a heavy gear still fresh in the muscular minds. I walked the second part of the hill.

The 21k turnaround was not as painful as I had imagined. I watched a speedy athlete ahead of me take the left into the finishing chute as I had to stick to the right for the second loop. He had earned it though, and my tab was not yet paid.

Walking each aid station and each significant hill became the norm. My quads began to hurt so much – remember that what goes up must come down, and running downhill is rough on the eccentrically contracting quads – that I began to look forward to the hills. A hill meant that I could stop running and walk. I liked that.

I had never before experienced that feeling. It was pure physical pain that was preventing me from running. It wasn’t fatigue, or dehydration, or overheating at this point – it was pain. I tolerated it as long as I could, and then I couldn’t.

That second loop was a bit of a blur.

I remember Barry riding next time for long stretches at a time and essentially talking me through it. His voice was the necessary motivation to keep moving that my own tired brain lacked. His voice cut through the now-constant pain signal. I just listened and did my best to comply.

‘Barry. I want to stop running now.’
‘I know, but you’re doing well. Shannon is just up ahead. Keep going.’
‘Okay Barry.’

Thank you man.

Everyone was hurting. By the time I was on my second lap, I saw far more walkers than runners. The adage that misery loves company is true. At least I didn’t suck. A lot of people were having a tough go.

With maybe 10k left in the run I caught up to a woman who had been running / walking at roughly my pace for the last 5k.

‘I’m going to run with you,’ quick look at her bib ‘Shelley. I hope you don’t mind.’

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We struck together to the end, agreeing which hills we’d try to run and which we would walk. Many more of the latter. When we hit that nasty wall 2k out, we decided to go. It hurt, but we were close.

The magnitude of the relief I felt on cresting that hill is difficult to capture in words. Kirsten and John who had camped there for the past several hours cheered and clapped. I was almost there.

I’m sad to say that I don’t really remember the finishing chute. This was to have been the crowning highlight of my race, but I have no memory of it save forcing my arms in the air. I don’t remember hearing the words that I paid so much – in terms of time and pain – to hear. But I assume someone heard them, so they were said.

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It was over.

3:56 for the run.
11:14 overall time.

11:15 was my best case scenario guess. Pretty spot on, I’d say.

Heading into the race I had stated two goals:
1. To keep it fun
2. Not to walk the run
The first was a modest success. I did love the swim and the bike until my DI2 fully quit. Even the first loop of the run was fine. That second lap was pretty terrible, but I guess that’s how it’s supposed to feel.
Not walking the run was a fail. In retrospect, it was not a realistic goal. I simply didn’t have the run fitness – especially on hills – to pull this one off.
But, I did beat my best case scenario time, and that has to count for something.
I have more things to say, but this post is long enough.

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I am IronDad!!

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