Subaru Vancouver Half-Ironman: Always Wear Socks / by Jonas Caruana

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 Very important piece of race kit: the trucker hat!

Very important piece of race kit: the trucker hat!

The Subaru Vancouver Triathlon was my first big “A” race of the year. I’d trained for the better part of five months with this race in mind, logging about 160 hours of swimming, biking and running; training over about 20 weeks. That time also included a series of prep races, including my very first triathlon (see Shawnigan Lake Olympic post).

So it was funny when the half-Iron weekend rolled around and all things considered, I felt pretty calm about it and mostly, excited. I mean, compared to the Olympic, I only had to swim an extra 500m (we've previously established this is not yet a strong suit) and in return, I got to ride my bike more than twice as far (I love the bike!); and same for the run. I was basically thinking that I had more than double the time to make up for slowness in the water – and I was stoked about it.

We're going to break this recap down simply into wins and misses. Here goes!

Wins:

The day: just look at it!

In terms of conditions? Can't ask for much better than this!

The swim: I didn’t want to tap out once. This is progress when compared to my experience in the water at Shawnigan. I didn’t feel stressed or panicked. I just got in the water and got ‘er done. I even enjoyed it. It was not fast: 43mins-ish. I swam breaststroke for more than 90% of it. But I felt good coming out of the water, running across the beach toward transition whilst stripping down my wetsuit and thinking about the game plan for the bike. All the right thoughts were flowing!

The transitions: I freakin’ nailed those transitions! At Shawnigan, T1 took me 5:03 and T2 took 2:20. Experienced triathletes look at that and say “those are whole minutes of free time for the taking. Take them!". So I bought some triathlon cycling shoes, learned the flying mount and dismount, and got everything else together so the amount of time I needed to be in transition was minimized. Result? T1 time down from 5:03 to 2:01, and T2 time down from 2:20 to 1:08. So pumped!

The bike: I rode a controlled effort on the bike with the plan of feeling fresh for the run so I could clock negative-splits through the half-marathon. Plan executed. This took discipline, because I love to open it up on the bike.

What a backdrop to race against!

Overall execution of race strategy: finished the swim feeling good, controlled the bike and set up perfectly for the run: felt fresh, fuelled and ready to fly.

Misses:

The swim: still the biggest area for improvement. My strongest swimming peer came out of the water in 25 mins! (Me: over 43 mins!) Now, he used to be a ranked, competitive college athlete. My goal is to get a 1.9k swim time under the 30 mark.

Nutrition on the bike: the exact same nutrition I had used on the bike in training on the actual race course, didn’t work exactly as planned. Race conditions are a different game: your body is in a heightened state of stress and that translated to me dry heaving on lap 1 when I tried to eat the first energy bar. At this point in the race you really want to start getting calories in the tank. But I took a break from trying to eat, let the stomach settle down and switched to liquid calories which worked well. Got the solids down later, but also subbed out an energy bar for a bottle of the on-course Gatorade and – having done the mental math to ensure I’d get in enough calories – was good for the rest of the day. This actually turned into a big win because it represented being able to successfully switch up strategies on the fly and keep going strong.

Salt on the run: I cramped the last 3k. Not badly, but if you have to slow down because the cramp is that strong, that’s not good. It was a stinking hot day, and the heat radiated down from above and up off the bright, white, crushed sandy beach path. I underestimated just how much salt I’d lose. Needed more.

SOCKS: nope, didn’t wear socks on the run. FAIL! Funny this, because it was actually a choice (I didn’t forget). I was so committed to dropping my T2 time that I decided I didn’t have time for socks. Epic. Mistake. Hot day, wet shoes, swollen feet, sand in the shoes, and no socks had me feelin’ that blister feeling at kilometre 4. The remaining kilometres were excruciating! This is evidenced by the following race photos. First two photos: Jonas heading out onto the run course. Light, bright and feelin’ mighty. Later on... Jonas on the second half of the run. Every foot placement was just… pain. I ran across the finish line, and went straight to the med-tent to get wrapped up. And my good friend Audra piggy-backed me outta there.

The run: with my feet in bad shape, I couldn’t amp up the pace to run negative splits as I’d planned. A 1:39:15 ain’t bad, but it could have been a lot better as otherwise, my body felt great and ready to turn it up.

Results:

  • Swim (1.9km): 43:17
  • T1: 2:01
  • Bike (90km): 2:38:34
  • T2: 1:08
  • Run (20km): 1:39:15
  • Total: 5:04:15

If I were to adjust for the shorter run and add 1.1km at average race pace (4:57/km), I'd get a run time of 1:44:27 and a total race time of 5:09:12. That's useful for future comparisons.

Overall, it was a solid second triathlon, a great first half-Ironman, and a total win from a goal-setting standpoint. My goal was to come in somewhere between five and five and a half hours and stopping the clock at 5:04:15 was a rockin’ time, even more so knowing that with some strategic tweaks (i.e. wearing socks) and skill acquisition (swimming), times in the mid- 4 hour range start to become possible. That’s exciting!

Thank-yous and shout-outs:

Extra special thank-yous go out to friends and loved ones who dragged their butts out of bed to come and cheer me on, early on a Sunday:

  • Syd: my #1 fan who came back from LA just for race weekend!
  • Training buddies Juliet & Greg: to Juliet who stuck around to cheer me on after having finished her race, and to Greg for yelling extra loud! I kicked a little extra every time I saw your yelling faces!
  • Tim Schokking: seeing you up at the main intersection of the bike leg was something I looked forward to each out-and-back. You da bomb!
  • ‘Bomber’ Kevin, Paul Cross and the VEC crew: thanks for welcoming me into the club tent even though I wasn’t yet a member (stoked to be rolling with you now!)
  • All the friends who couldn’t be physically present but who sent messages of support and encouragement
  • The lulu crew: the loudest, brightest, funnest looking group of cheerers ever. Special shoutout to Chrissy Abram who made it out, crotches and swollen knee be damned!
  • Audra for piggy backing me back to the car after having my blisters patched up in the medical tent. You’re the best! IOU: 1x piggy back wherever and whenever you need.
  • Michelle Armstrong: such a pleasant surprise to see you on what became a pretty quiet part of the bike course!
  • Shout-out to all the folks from lululemon (past and present) who also competed: Juliet Korver, Colin Knudsen, Jon Carkner, Scott Van Doormaal, Laurel Richardson, Jen Cerullo, Felix del Toro, Delaney Schweitzer, Deanne Schweitzer, Eric Peterson, Cindy Bokitch. It was rad seeing you out on the course!

Lastly, thanks to Ed, Nick and the team at Mighty Riders for being so rad and helping me get my bike position nailed and bike setup just right. You guys are my secret weapon!