IMC Whistler - the Swim

Jason and I were up in Whistler for a weekend holiday, and of course to watch the inaugural Ironman Canada in Whistler.  It was sad to see it move from Penticton after such a rich history there, but man did Whistler ever pull out all the stops and put on a world-class event!  I have never seen as many spectators at an IM outside of Kona, and let's face it - Whistler is one of the nicest spots in the entire world, so what a fab location for an Ironman.  It felt like the Olympics there all over again.

We wanted to be part of it, so signed up to volunteer.  We were part of the water safety team at the swim start, and spent the morning on SUPs on a flat calm and surprising warm Alta Lake.  I was a bit skeptical at first when I heard the swim would take place from Rainbow Park, and was absolutely floored with how clean the swim start was.  I couldn't picture how they could do a start line that wouldn't be incredibly crowded, but they obviously have a super-pro swim director.  The start line was the widest of any IM (apparently), and that was clear when all the athletes were lined up - they were only about 3-5 swimmers deep all along the start line.

Paddling to the start, loaded up with safety gear.
(shout-out to Beaver Boards who loaned us SUPs
for the weekend so we didn't have to bring ours)
Right from when the cannon went off, there was lots of room for the athletes.  Normally mass-start Ironmans see a lot of contact (see my IMAZ report from last year...), and while I'm sure there was a bit here, it was amazing how clean it was and how much room there was for the swimmers.  By three-quarters of the way through, swimmers were in almost a straight line in a big loop around the course - so different from the chaos of many IM swims.

Norm in his full-on cx super fan style.
Locals out spectating at the start.

A few swimmers needed a bit of encouragement not long after the start, mainly from going out to quickly and needing to catch their breath for a bit.  But mostly, we spent the morning paddling around making sure to help spot any emergencies or help any swimmers out.  I spent the last half of the swim tailing one of the last swimmers and encouraging her... she and another guy ended up missing the swim cutoff by four minutes.  Heartbreaking for them, and everyone on the beach and in the water trying to cheer them along.  But then Subaru (the race sponsor) announced they would cover their race entries if they wanted to try again next year - how's that for a super-keen sponsor!

Swimmers on the start line.

Second loop.
Volunteering is such a great way to be a part of an event when you're not racing, and of course gives you a different perspective as well.  I think it's important to get involved at lots of different levels, as it definitely enriches your overall multisport experience.  So I encourage all to spend a day volunteering at a local (or far away) event!

Some highlights from my impression of the Whistler IMC event:

  • amazing spectator support
  • lots to do in Whistler for anyone coming with you who is not racing
  • a tough but fair course
  • incredible scenery
  • run course on path/trail
  • lots of chances to see wildlife - there was even a bear that ran across the run course during the race
  • finish chute through the village stroll
  • lots of accommodation options - condos, hotels, houses, etc - and so many options so no price gouging
  • city that knows how to put on world-class event, and the locals want the race there.

I think IMC Whistler will become one of those destination events that everyone wants to do.  I imagine Jason will be signing up for a future date soon enough, and I may not be far behind.

Chariot Fire

Jason and I headed down to the San Diego area at the beginning of July for a bit of a holiday and training vacation.  We needed to get lots of miles on the bike in, as we were facing the Seattle to Portland shortly after.  I had planned a bunch of rides to do, one of them being the Sunrise Loop - I knew he'd love the climb, and I really loved the fun descent off the back side.

As the start of that ride is about an hour's drive from where we were staying in Carlsbad, we woke up early and headed southeast.  Here's the ride we planned to do:
Doesn't that descent look super fun!?
We started along just fine, and split up when we started the official climb on the Sunrise highway up Mt. Laguna.  About halfway up, near the mountain bike staging area, I could see a thin whiff of smoke coming from the other side of the mountain.  Jason tagged the summit then came back to find me, confirming there was a lot of activity at the fire station in the town.  

Jason self-portrait climbing up.

He always tags the summit then comes back for me.

When we got to the summit together, we stopped at the fire station to ask about the status of the fire.  They said they thought the road down the other side may be closed, and to check at the store as they'd know for sure.  Weird that the fire station is telling us to check at the store about a fire?! The store thought that was funny as well.  

We headed off down the other side, figuring we'd see how far we could make it.  We stopped at the scenic viewpoint which overlooks Anza-Borrego State Park, and there was a lot of smoke in the air.  We ran into a roadblock, turning us back around because of the fire.  A bit of a bummer as it turned our loop into an out-and-back, but also that meant we'd miss the fun, twisty descent from Cuyamaca State Park.  Next time I guess.

The view from the overlook, with smoke creeping around.

The fire service vehicles blocking the road.

You think?

We rode back up to the summit, and as an indication of how quickly the fire was moving: as we rode they started evacuating the campgrounds around us.  We bombed down the highway we rode up earlier that morning, and by the time we got the the bottom there was a State Trooper blocking access up.  Good thing we'd started early or we wouldn't have gotten much of a ride in at all!

The ride we actually got to do.

Back at the car, looking over to the smoke.

Later that evening we looked up the details on the fire.  The Chariot Fire started small, just southeast of Julian the day before.  Because of the dry, hot conditions it spread really quickly, and by the next day it had traveled up Mt. Laguna and burned over 4,700 acres.  It burned right over the places we had stopped, and even destroyed a historic lodge at one of the campgrounds we saw being evacuated.  A few days later, Jason and I were riding around the Ramona/Santa Ysabel area and could still see smoke from the still-burning fire, and were continually passed by firefighter vehicles and helicopters working the fire.

Last week, our friends Heidi & Matt went to ride the Sunrise Loop, and sent some pictures of what it looks like today:

Overlook we'd stopped at.

Next to the road.

Crazy that we were right there in the middle of it all...  Adventure is never far away!

Trans Rockies TR3 Report

You know how sometimes you sign up for something thinking, yeah, this will be hard... and then it turns out to be waaaayyyy harder than you even thought?  Yep, that was Trans Rockies for me.  Fitness-wise it was ok, but technical skills-wise I wasn't even close.  Nevertheless, it turned out to be a pretty fun three days of riding and suffering.  Interesting that I can use "fun" and "suffering" in the same sentence, isn't it?

Day One

Start line of day one, and elevation profile.
A gorgeous day dawned, pretty hot out but for whatever reason I just haven't been noticing the heat this year when I've raced.  The six of us lined up on the start line, all excited for the beginning of our journey.  There were 300 people in the race all together, and the first two days started and finished right downtown Fernie.  The siren went off and we rolled out of town, onto a gravel road and then soon enough onto the first singletrack climb of the day.  The trail was appropriately named "Hyperventilation"... as it twisted it's tight, switchbacky way up the side of a mountain.  Kris and Bob were way ahead of us, Catherine was struggling with some shifting issues and waved me off to go on my own, and Jeff and Sue were soldiering on behind.

Nice thing about climbing is there's always
time to grab the camera and take pictures of the view.
Once at the top, it was a loose, sketchy descent and then some super-flowy technical stuff that reminded me of home.  Lots of roots, logs, bridges, and really fun riding.  Unfortunately though, we had to go up Hyperventilation again for the final climb of the day, and then another steep and sketchy trail to the final summit for day one.  I teamed up with Sabrina from Victoria and two other guys, and we pushed a lot of the last climb.  The final descent was really fun, twisting back down the mountain, through meadows and over streams.  I crashed near the bottom on the loose part, setting the stage for what would become a daily occurrence.  

Once back to town I met up with our group again, and unfortunately three of the six of us didn't finish the day.  Catherine's shifting caused her to throw in the towel partway up the last climb, and Sue and Jeff turned back to town somewhere before that.  But we were still all excited for the next two days to come!

Day Two
Start line of day two (Bob missing from picture)
and elevation profile.
I was looking forward to the second day as all the climbing was at the "beginning".  Five of us lined up on the start (Sue decided to just do a fun ride with Michelle instead of racing), and again Kris and Bob were way ahead pretty quickly.  The climb was 20 km on a logging road, 7 km of doubletrack, then 3 km of singletrack.  Catherine and I rode together for a while then she pulled away.  Jeff got to the top of the logging road, decided that was enough and turned around and rode back to town.  I spun up the road, then teamed up with a woman from Vancouver and we worked the fun doubletrack section together.  But rookie mistake on my part... I was having so much fun chatting and enjoying the ride that I turned my brain off, and didn't eat or drink at all after the first checkpoint.  By the time I hit the singletrack near the summit, I was bonking big time.

I tried to eat but knew I was way behind on my calorie intake.  I hit the rockface section that apparently only three guys in the whole race could ride, and pitifully pushed my bike over it.  There was a volunteer at the top warning riders about the descent... which seems kind of ominous in hindsight.  At the time I barely registered what he was saying, but as soon as I saw the rider in front of me drop in, then garage sale right away and release a mushroom cloud of dust, I knew things were going to get interesting.  

Official race photo of a couple racers on the rock face.
Online trail descriptions for the Porky Blue descent include words like "loose", "pretty steep", "real speed", "sharp switchbacks", "pretty sketchy"... and even if I wasn't bonking I was in way too deep on this trail.  I walked most of the 5km descent, and when I was riding, I was seriously freaked right out by how steep and loose it was.  And of course, the trail cut into the side of the mountain, which meant one side dropped off... a fact that caused me to crash into a tree at one point to avoid going over the edge.  It took me forever to get down that 5 km, and it was pretty tough to take calories in during that time even though I was already in super-deficit.  I was ecstatic to hit the second checkpoint, despite it being right after this incredibly steep & loose section that medical volunteers were stationed at the bottom of, and told me only four guys rode it (and only one of them cleaned it).  I pretty much wanted to throw in the towel at that point, but had a 10km ride back to town either way, so there was really no point.

The last 10 km that day was on the Coal Discovery Trail, that normally I would have enjoyed as it was rooty, flowy singletrack along a river, pretty similar to west coast riding.  But I was still not recovered from my lack of calories, so every pedal stroke was a struggle.  Sabrina (my riding partner from the day before) caught up to me and shouted for me to stay on her wheel, but passed me pretty quickly.  Finally I was back to town and crossing the finish line.  Tears at the finish are always a sign of a tough day.  Catherine basically led me to the pub where our group was, and huge props to Rick (a friend of Sue & Bob's from Calgary) for buying me a couple of cokes and fries.  That got my recovery for the next day started.

Day Three
Start line of day three, and elevation profile.
Kind of fuzzy picture, but totally worth it for the
"Crazy Larry" photobomb!

The third day's weather was a total departure from the hot & dry previous days.  It was raining lightly (with bouts of heavy rain) and cool.  Fine with me!  I was in the mood to have fun and make up for the sufferfest of yesterday.  The five of us lined up on the start line (spoiler alert - everyone finished day three, hooray!) - this time the start & finish were at the ski hill south of town.  The start time ended up being delayed by about ten minutes as there was a bull moose hanging around on the route, so the organizers decided to change the first few trails they were sending us down. 

The field starting the first climb.
Yet again, Kris and Bob were off ahead of us, and Catherine and I started the climb together.  Almost at the top of the first climb, a volunteer stopped us as a cow moose and her calf were hanging out on the trail.  We had to wait for over ten minutes the moose to finally move off our trail, and this allowed Jeff to catch back up.  So we headed off again together, and then a traffic jam on the first technical singletrack separated us all.
The calf moose looking for her mom, who was right in front
of Catherine and I.  We definitely didn't want to get inbetween
them, so gave them their space and waiting until they moved along.
I had decided to end TR3 on a high note and not ride myself into the ground on the final stage, so rode with a friendly guy from Seattle named Dan for the day.  He and I were pretty evenly matched, except I was better on the singletrack.  We had fun trading stories, and of course I enjoyed every time he mentioned what a good technical rider I was (oh, if he only knew the truth!) and thanked me for waiting and the end of each piece of singletrack.  We had some fun rooty trails, creek crossings, and steep short climbs through the first two-thirds of the day.

Cold feet but cleaned some of the mud off my tires!

Into the alpine and still going up...
After the second checkpoint, the route went straight up into the alpine.  It was a total grind of a climb, but was kind of fun.  Dan and I kept chatting and laughing, and it was a long, steep climb but overall I think the third day was the easiest of them all.  The final descent brought back memories of the previous day, however, as it was a black diamond downhill trail called Rumpelstumpskin with big drops, steep, tight corners, and high bridges and ramps.  We couldn't ride most of it (but check out all the youtube videos of the downhillers absolutely tearing it up), and of course I crashed again, making it a perfect record of one crash per day.  

It was a blast to get to the finish line of the final day!  Stage racing is really fun, but I admit I'm not the best mountain biker.  Perhaps I should spend more time on my mountain bike on technical downhills... or not!  I'd love to do more stage racing - honestly it's not as tiring as I thought it would be.  But that may be because the final day wasn't as hard as the first two, I'm not sure.  

Now I have a bit of time to heal from my crashes, and then ramp it up again for my final race of the season - the Leadman 125 in Bend, OR in September.  Back onto the TT bike!

Some TR3 souvenirs.