Doing an Ironman has always been a goal of mine since I first started doing triathlons in 2009. However, I didn’t think I’d ever have the time or gumption to take one on. Each year, my team (Raise The Bar) seems to have at least a couple dozen people that head to our two local Ironmans in Coeur d’Alene in June and Whistler in July. I’ve always been inspired to hear about everyone’s journeys and hoping one day I could do the same. However, as a skiing family and something that my son enjoys the most, we are up in the mountains every weekend usually January-March. This is just something I could not be selfish about and take away from my son. So my mantra has always been that I could not train for theses races with the groups from my team because we’re skiing.
So this winter, my buddy and teammate Ray and I were talking and he wanted to get stronger and adopt a strength program to help prepare for his second Ironman. I told him, I know my way around the gym a bit and can help you with that. So we started lifting weights 3-4 days/week, swimming, spinning, and running.
Then El Nino came with warm temps and no snow. Skiing was not happening and when it did happen (only 6 times up), it was terrible. So as we progressed through the spring and as Ray’s plan increased, I just went along with it to really just get and stay in shape, and keep pushing him.
Coming into 2015, I had ZERO race plans and thought I’d probably just do the norm and race a few short distance tris and my big race would just be the Chelanman Oly. Ray was persistent and kept encouraging me that I could do something bigger this year. Since I was just following him and his plan, he consistently said, you’re training for an Ironman anyway(and not skiing), you might as well do it!
So I caved in, kind of. I decided I could do another Half Ironman and since I had never done an “Ironman” branded event and we had a big RTB group going to Victoria 70.3 in June, that was going to be my big race then. I wanted to beat my previous time of 5:42 at Victoria and thought I had a shot at breaking 5:30. But a week before the race, I decided to be an idiot and crash on my bike. Bike was okay and I had some good road rash. My arm road rash healed up just enough in time for race day (to be able to ride in aero) and with some extra padding and support, I toed the line. All I wanted was a shot at 5:30 and told myself I wanted to be between 4:50-5:00 at mile 10 of the run and that I could get 3-10 min miles done to get home. I was right on the nose at 5:00, feeling good, and decided to push it to the finish. I finished faster than I thought I could at 5:24, smashing my goal while having an 18 minute PR! So this Ironman training was working after all!
Rewind to the spring…Ray continued his relentless pressure and encouragement along with the rest of my teammates who were signed up for IM Canada and a certain guy who owns a bike shop that I like to spend money at. In the spring, as Ray and I helped coach our son’s baseball team, he and his wife Sarah got my wife’s buy-in to do IM Canada (which didn’t take much). I finally caved in and signed up to race in April!
Holy Crap! What the heck did I commit to now!
So I continued to ride Ray’s coat-tails, pirate his plan, ask him endless questions up until the eve of race day, and enjoyed having a buddy to train with and be pushed by 5-6 days/week. The hours we spent in the gym, in the pool, in the garage spinning, on the road, at the lake, and on the trail were flat out Awesome. The teammates that we were lucky to train with and the constant check-ins from others were invaluable and made this journey all the more worthwhile.
I had not been to Whistler since I was 10 so I really had no idea about the landscape of Whistler or the course, and I didn’t get to go to the team training camp and preview the course before. All I knew was the bike course was tough from Ray. But I got enough intell from him and trusted him that the changes we made in training were going to pay off and had prepared us.
We fretted about the weather for week’s prior. With it being unseasonably hot in June, we were all worried that the lake would be too warm to swim with a wetsuit and be wetsuit illegal. Holy crap, no way I could swim 2.4 miles w/o my wetsuit! Then the Whistler area had forest fires and smoke filled the village and we were worried about the air quality and if they would cancel the race like they did in Tahoe last year- UGH!
After seeing our friends and teammates go through and race IM CDA in the hottest temps ever for a race, we prepared for another hot race and made sure to really dial-in our nutrition and sodium intake plan.
Then we got the 10-day forecast and started seeing the potential for rain and temperatures dropping- are you kidding me. As we got closer to race day it was apparent that it was going to rain and be cold- great, ugh!
I think I brought just about every piece of RTB and cycling/running gear I have. Good thing because I needed just about everything!
Race Day Morning
3:30am wake-up to eat and last check to make sure I had everything for the morning. It wasn’t raining yet which was nice and the rain jacket I had bought worked, wear it and it won’t rain right?
I’m always worried that I’ll have a flat tire in the morning or something happened to my bike overnight, but we were all good and there was no need to pump up my tires and wait in the long line- yeah! So I had more time to kill in transition prior to the race start. That was nice because I got to be calm, chat with my teammates, and find a spot in the changing tent to sit with Ray and the “older” fast guys (Brad W, John B, Mike R) and hear some last minute encouragement. Then it was getting closer to 7am and time to get the wetsuit on- almost go time!
I’m always a bit nervous and anxious and I thought I would be more on this morning but I really wasn’t. I wasn’t worried about the mass swim start and knew I could get ahead of most of the folks at the start and wouldn’t have to battle too much, although I’ve learned and am always ready and willing to give out Beast Mode stiff arms. It was cold and I decided to warm up a bit and get in the water ahead of most folks. We had our wetsuits on which was good for me because I’m so much of a better swimmer with it. As Linda McCandless says, it’s kinda like a binky! Speaking of her, I found her warming up and decided to hang with her on one of the start buoys treading water. I admire her immensely and she flat our kicks my butt every time and is so nice about it too- haha! We weren’t talking much but just sitting there bobbing with a friend and teammate was nice and calming. Plus I saw she was cold and her teeth were chattering too- so it wasn’t just me. I sized up my plan and was going to make a bee line for the 2nd or 3rd 100 meter buoy and then fall in line and swim as straight as I possibly could.
Boom…7am the gun goes off and here we go. Plenty of jostling but I was able to settle in, get to the buoy line and find some clean water in front of me. As I made the first lap turn my calves got tight and then started cramping- crap! I actually had to stop, put up my hand, and doggie paddle over to a kayak to rest for a bit and massage my calves. I thought my day was going to be shot. I’ve never cramped in an open water swim and the last time my calves did this in the pool, then wouldn’t release for a long time. As I rubbed them, they released and I let go of the kayak and said the heck with kicking. I was able to get back to a flutter kick and I was hoping they wouldn’t cramp again. But, as I made the turn on the backstretch of the second lap, they got tight again, double crap. I paused again, shook them out and said the heck with it, if they cramp then I’ll just pull myself to shore the rest of the way. I knew my swim time was going to be slower and that Ray might beat me out of the water. Plus during the swim and jostling, my Garmin got paused twice so I really had no idea of my swim time- ugh!!!
As I made the final turn to shore, I noticed it was raining pretty good now too- great. So I sized up my game plan for what to put on in transition and then before I knew it I was onshore getting my wetsuit stripped off.
My swim time ended up being 1:06 and I thought I would be 1:05-1:10 so I must have swam either really well and efficient pre and post cramps or really pissed off post cramps.
Transition 1- Swim to Bike
The changing tent was a cluster and there wasn’t a chair so I plopped on the grass and started putting everything on. I don’t like being cold so I put a lot of layers on and it took forever, almost 12 minutes forever. But it would come in well on the bike as my core stayed warm and I was never really that cold.
It was Awesome coming out of T1 and hearing the RTB fans cheering us on! It was pouring and I knew we had a long ride ahead of us. I look up and there is Linda ahead of me shuffling her bike to the mount area. Dang she is fast and I knew my cramps cost me. After we mounted I caught up to her for a bit heading out of the lake and she said just “Ride your Ride” and Enjoy It! Thanks Linda, those words were in my head all day on the bike and really helped me! Then she blew by me heading to the village- see ya Linda!
As we headed to Callahan I was staying within my power output game plan and noticed I was really making up ground on people on the descents and could really haul- hmmm.
Then Jenn Edwards passed me like I was standing still- dang she is soooo fast! Then I was able to catch her climbing up Callahan for a brief moment, then she got me again. I noticed she was really dialed into her power and was really taking it easy climbing and then hauling on the flatter stretches- hmmm, I need to keep doing that too, don’t go over your FTP Ryan. I’d catch her a couple more times heading back to Whistler on a few hills, but then she was gonzo!
Since I had not rode or driven the course, it was like a surprise all day. Which might have helped a bit because I wasn’t fretting about a certain stretch or spot on the course.
As we started climbing up Callahan, I noticed a lot of people were not dressed right and really had only singlets on, no jackets, gloves, etc. I kept saying to myself, what a bunch of idiots, didn’t you look at the forecast! In fact, one pro coming down was literally shaking violently on his bike from being cold and there were plenty of people stopped throughout the course all morning that were hypothermic. I had one guy pass me climbing and said I had a very good clothing option and wished he had done the same. When we go to the top of Callahan and turned to descend I noticed a lot of people on their brakes and probably wanting to go slower to get less wind and cold. Since I was fine, I decided to just hammer it and haul butt downhill. I made up a ton of ground and passed a lot of people and that was the most fun I had all day. I had no idea how fast I was going and didn’t even want to spare a second to look, but it was at least 40+ mph!
I continued my fast descents as we headed for Pemberton. I was preparing for and waiting to come to what Ray said was the flattest road ever for 30-ish miles that you need to stay in aero for and that would be a grind. And finally there it was and indeed it was grind to stay aero and just keep my pace. Then we made the turn –around, we got hit with a stiff headwind. That just added to the grind and my speed and power decreased but I was able to grind it out and finally get to the end of the Pemberton flats. My legs were already tired by that time and I knew we had to climb back to Whistler. Ray had told me from the training camp ride that miles 90-105 were just death and that we would climb about 1800 feet just to get back, so I prepared myself for that and reinforced my power output game plan. At least by this time, the rain had stopped and there seemed to be a bit of clearing in the sky.
So we climbed and climbed and climbed (Ray was right, it was death) and I just kept telling myself to get to 105 miles, stay under my power number, and we’d be good. It took forever and by the time we were headed back to Whistler, the sun had come out- yes! It was Awesome again coming back into town and seeing everyone out cheering and the RTB crew of supporters. I couldn’t wait to see my wife and son on the run course!
Bike time ended at 6:32 and was 32 minutes off my goal but with the weather and the climbing- I’ll take it!
This took a little longer too but I was fine with it because I got a chair this time. With the sun out I adjusted my game plan and went with my race top instead of a shirt/jacket but was glad I had options. Fresh, dry socks were fantastic! I looked up and across the way in the tent and there was Ray- sweet! I yelled Ray-Ray but he didn’t hear me and was focused on changing so I should be too. I thought for sure he would have passed me on the bike as he is much better cyclist than me so I was glad I was able to hold him off and stay in front a bit.
I’ve almost got my butt ready to go and I see Ray exit the tent- dang it! I get my race bib attached and off I go on the run out. I pass the port-o-potties (PoPs) and just want to see if I can get Ray but I don’t see him as I’m leaving and running out, maybe he ducked into the PoPs. As I turn out of the parking lot I see my wife and family along with Ray’s and am so happy! I give my wife and son kisses and high-fives and get going with a little boost of energy! As I head out on the run, I thought dang it, I should have went to the PoPs at transition. Luckily though, the run course went on a trail through the woods first and nobody was around so after mile 2, I ducked into the woods to tinkle. When I came out, there was Ray coming along about 50 yards away so I waited for him. We complained about how we felt, the bike course, and decided let’s just run this together like we have been doing all along in training.
I couldn’t think of a better way to get through the run than with him. We altered our game plan and pushed each other to stay on pace. We both were experiencing some gut issues and made sure to start eating at every aid station and get as much water as possible along with our trusty drink nutrition we had with us.
We were tired and sore and hurting a bit but we were holding a good pace and keeping each other going. We started seeing all those fast RTB’ers out in front of us coming back from their first loops and it was awesome again seeing them, high five’n, encouraging, and getting the encouragement from the RTB support crews and families. Steve, Julie, Jenn, Kari, Linda, and Heather you are blazing fast runners and it was inspiring seeing you grind it out, and being fast! As we continued we started game planning our pace and if we could stick to it, then we could maybe catch Brad, so he became our rabbit.
We just kept knocking off miles together and it started to become comical and cool when the supporters would start saying hey it’s Ray & Ryan, teammates getting it done, good teamwork, it’s you guys again, and whose going to win between you two!
We caught John B who had a terrific bike and had passed me just before getting back to Whistler. John was super pumped and encouraging as we ran with him for a bit. He sounded like Ric Flair and it gave me a boost as well- thanks for the energy John!
We finally saw Brad and he was doing good. I have so much admiration and appreciation for him and he was really a catalyst for so many of us racing on this day (Jedi mind tricks?). It’s so cool to know that one of the patriarchs of RTB is in his late 50s can flat out kick ass and take names. You won’t find a faster swimmer than him (9th out of the water overall) and he’s a monster on the bike too. But even more so, he is one of the nicest people around who is so generous and encouraging and has helped so many of us on the team navigate through our races and all the needs we have for our gear just to get to race!
As we got deep into the marathon, we knew we had under 13 hours in the bag and that we would also beat our buddies time from CDA last year so we could give him crap about it too- thanks for the motivation Justin!
Then it started to rain again but we only had 6 miles to go. I wanted to finish before dark as my main goal and we were doing that. On the way back in, I said to Ray that he could finish before me if he wanted and I wanted him to do so because he was the one who has guided me through this journey. Or, we could just finish this thing together and would be fitting and an honor to do so with him. He said yeah, let’s finish this thing together, that will be awesome!
It was so great seeing and encouraging the other RTB’ers on the course that were behind us and knowing that if they kept going, all of them were going to make it home and in before midnight.
As we ran back to the village and the finish all I could think was holy crap, we did it and how awesome it was. As we turned into the finishing chute, there was nobody in front of us and nobody behind us. As I started to take off, Ray said slow down and enjoy it! We saw our families and were able to stop for a quick picture, high fives, and then make our way to the finish
I couldn’t have been happier to finish with the exact same time as my buddy and share that finish with him!
12:44:24…I AM AN IRONMAN!!!
Words can’t express how much thanks and appreciation I have to those that have helped, supported, pushed, encouraged, and motivated me through this journey!
My wife has been nothing short of amazing! I couldn’t have done this without her unwavering support, encouragement, and love. She is the one who had to put up with all my complaining on how tired I was all the time, my aches and pains, and never questioned how much stuff I was buying for this thing all the time!
Thank you to Sarah Brenkus for taking care of the kids A LOT so Ray and I could get this training done and being able to get it in so it didn’t impact family time too much!!!
RTB Teammates and Coaches- Thanks for consistently motivating, pushing, and encouraging me! Thanks for the numerous training ride support, advice, insight, and things to make me better. We truly have an AWESOME team and everyone is amazing! Thank you for ALL of the RTB supporters cheering us on race day! It kept us going and was great to know we had that support out there!
Northwest Tri & Bike- Thanks for always taking care of my bike and your guidance for everything needed for this journey! A HUGE THANK YOU to Brad, Gary, Julie, Ian, Andrew, Benny, and Heather!
Thanks to everyone for reading my novel of an Ironman race report too!
Best Wishes- Ryan