2017 Ironman Canada Race Report
KC Kent is a triathlete from Golden, Colorado. She is originally an Alaskan native and recent graduate from the Colorado School of Mines. She recently competed at Ironman Canada 2017. In her first 140.6 she executed a near perfect race putting her 2nd in Age Group one position off of a Kona Qualifier. You can follow KC on Instagram: @alaskankc
I don’t think a single person from my childhood would have ever said “that girl is going to do an Ironman someday.” In fact, they might have said the exact opposite. My parents like to remind people that I wouldn’t do anything that caused me to sweat growing up. I remember breaking down into tears at age 10 when we had to run 3 miles for ski training. It was the worst. At 14, I gave up 5 miles into a bike ride and asked my friend if we could call our parents to come get us. I thought I had bonked and that was going to be the end of me. I was so unenthused about athletics that I remember my first bead of sweat at age 16. However, despite my slow introduction to sweating, on July 30th, I finished my first Ironman, which coincidently, included a lot of sweating.
I don’t think race day is the hardest part of becoming an Ironman. Actually I know it’s not. Getting my sore ass out of bed before classes to workout was the hardest part. Wait, it may not even be that, probably getting into the Mines pool during my lunch hour when it was snowing outside and the pool was icy cold. Or maybe when I constantly turned down my friends invitations to go out, attend events, or travel. Regardless, I found the everyday motivation to keep pushing was infinitely harder than keeping my mind focused for 12.5 hours.
I procrastinated on packing for my trip because I couldn’t believe that I was out of time to train for the race. I had only spent 9 months attempting to get my body ready and I was both convinced I needed more training, but also exhausted and felt prepared enough that I would at least finish the dang thing. So when race morning rolled around and the coffee pot woke me up at 3:30am, I didn’t feel nervous. Just confident that I knew what I was doing, I knew what I was getting myself into, and I knew that it would be a long day before I would get to climb back into bed. Or as it later turned out, heave myself over the side of the bed like a beached whale because my legs no longer worked.
A close friend who had done an Ironman before told me that he cried first on the bus ride to the start. Another told me he cried in the swim chute before the start. Meanwhile, I had walked through transition 3 times, quadruple checked my bike and was sitting around wasting time lake side waiting for the butterflies to come, and honestly, they never did. It just wasn’t an emotional moment for me. As far as my nerves went, this race was something that I already knew how to do, I just needed to do it. I listened to the Canadian anthem while I peed in my still dry wetsuit, and jostled people to get to the back of the 60-80 minute swim grouping for the rolling start. My apologies to Canada for yet again peeing while we honored their great land.
The swim time started 5 feet before your toes even got wet, and then everyone was walking in the water. I figured I should walk too because why hurry if you’re going to spend potentially 17 hours doing something? Probably for the best because I ended up swimming into the perfect spot behind a glorious pair of feet. Somewhere out there, there is a man that I can identify solely based on the bottom of his feet. He swam straight (ish – straighter than me), at a clip slightly challenging, and when he would slow down, I would just tap his feet and he’d panic and speed back up again. I followed this dude for the majority of the swim, which included elbowing a couple others who tried to take my draft space. Straight Nemo seagull style “Mine. Mine. Mine.”
There is photo evidence I smiled getting out of the water. Apparently, it wasn’t so bad and I knew when I looked at my watch and it said 1:09 that I had done well. I ignored the wetsuit peelers and took my suit off speedy quick on my own, went to the change tent to put on a helmet and shammy cream, peed in the outhouse, then took off on my bike. I freakin love riding my bike. I was grinning a good portion of it, and that’s good because right off the bat there was an 8 mile hill climb. The top of the hill climb had the olympic ski jump park which blew my mind, and again, I have photo evidence of me gawking at the ski jumps, head turned sideways, mouth gaping. Very aero. Even more photogenic…
At the bottom of the hill I got off my bike and peed. I wasnt in a rush, at this point I figured it was better to hydrate and urinate then hold it and save a minute. The bike dropped down into another valley eventually. I got my special needs bag at mile 58 which contained a PB&J. Best, worst tasting sandwich I have ever had. Nom’d hard on that and patted myself on the back for eating all the food in my bento box and needing to replace it with my special needs bag. This meant I was taking in enough calories to survive the run.
The Pemberton flats, as they’re known, is a 50km out and back stretch which included a tailwind and ever so slight uphill on the way out, and an aggressive headwind and non-noticeable downhill on the way back. That was probably the hardest part of the bike for me. I started to mentally crack due to excruciating nerve pinching in my shoulders from aero position but I couldn’t sit up because I was on a flat fighting a headwind. It really hurt and if there was any point in the day where I thought “this is stupid,” that was it. Unfortunately, I think I need to divorce Heidi (my bike). We’ve seen multiple fit specialists together and we can’t seem to make it work which is a bummer because she is a really fast frame, especially with her new race wheels. But if I ever want to do another Ironman, especially one that is flatter than IM Canada (oh wait, ALL of them are flatter), then I’m going to need a different set up.
After the flats, with 25 miles to go, you realize you have to climb out of the valley the flats are in. Like a 4-5 mph due to a headwind up a 13% grade type of climb. Like a, maybe if I got off my bike and walked it would be faster, sort of climb. And actually I saw a couple people doing just that, but I knew if I got off my bike, the probability of me getting started again was low, but then again, maybe it would feel good…
Halfway up the hill by a railroad track that crossed the road, there was a man standing with a wheel in hand asking people for something. Since I was doing a whopping 6 mph I asked what he needed. He said a threaded CO2 cartridge, which I had. I said sure, but only if he could get that red water bottle on the other side of the road, pointing to the other side of the tracks. It had bounced out of my rear bottle cage on the way down. So ultimately I did end up stopping up the hill, but it gave me time to stretch my legs, get my water bottle back, and some good race karma, which I had a feeling I was going to need on the run because the lack of a climbing gear was starting to take a toll on my legs with the constant grind.
Half a mile from the finish of the bike, they sent us under the main highway, but to get on the road we had to drop off a sidewalk curb. Somehow, after surviving 111.5 miles, my seat decided to move so it was sticking upwards and I couldn’t really sit on it when I dropped the curb. Odd, given that I had tightened the bolts before the race but I basically cruised into transition standing up because I couldn’t sit down. Also, try running a transition after biking 112 miles in your bike shoes. Basically you can’t, so I took those off and waddled to the change tent.
Best life decision that day: putting on running shorts. The volunteer told me she hadn’t seen many people change which I thought was strange because the only thing I could think about was taking off my cycling shorts. The aid tent was like a mini-spa with people to wait on you. They asked if I needed water, or vaseline, or help putting things on, all with an encouraging smile on their faces. I am constantly blown away by how amazing race volunteers are and I hope that I am able to give more of my time back to races so I can be someone who makes a racers day. The woman helping me in the change tent was wonderful, and she will forever be anonymous to me, but thank you to her and all the other great volunteers out there that day! .
My heart rate monitor decided that race day was not the day it was going to work. I’m not sure if it got water in it during the swim or what, but I had zero heart rate data and zero power data on the bike. I was going to take it off before the run but I forgot until I had started out on the run. I sorta knew my pace and heart rate from training runs leading up to the race but I opted for the huck and pray route on the marathon. I started out slow and steady and even jogged through the first aid station. That was also the last aid station I jogged through.
Someone called out to me as I started the run that I was sitting in second place, which I sorta knew having previously stalked the other girls in my age group but the one thing I asked my family not to do is tell me what place I was in. It was my first race and while I really wanted to win, I had also never done anything like this before and I just wanted to finish, first and foremost. I tried to ignore this fact the woman had told me but it definitely got to my head and I started looking at the ages marked competitor’s legs to see if the people passing me were in my age group.
There’s not much to say about the run other than the first 13 miles were ok, 4 pee stops, some food, some views, a high five from mom, dad, and brother as they finished their race. Just as my friend had predicted, when I reached mile 14 and sat down to pee and realized I might not ever get up again, the fact that I had 12 miles yet to go started to sink in. I grabbed my special needs bag at mile 15 which included a Snickers, something I was positive I would want at mile 15. Instead, at mile 16, still clutching my Snickers, I saw my parents and started to cry. Partially because my legs weren’t doing what I was asking them to do, partially because I had to pee and I was afraid that if I sat down again, I would never get up, partially because I desperately wanted to want that Snickers but the idea of it disgusted me, but mostly because fear that I wouldn’t finish had started to creep into the back of my mind. My mom looked at me, saw that I was losing it, and told me to stay strong, it was a mental game and I could do it. If my parents hadn’t been there when I hit the wall, I don’t know if I would have gotten over it.
At mile 18 my buddy Travis started talking to me. More like at me. I told him he could because it was a good distraction and it was making the miles fly by. Travis basically told me his life story, how he wants to go to med school, his gap year plans, and how he normally “just runs marathons.” Ironman is sometimes branded as a personal journey, but I want to emphasis the comradery that takes place during triathlons, especially grueling ones such as Ironman distance races. Sure there’s the occasional drafter or guy who forgot he’s having fun, but there are also thousands of “good job! Keep it up’s” from other competitors. Travis, if you’re reading this, you were the best friend anyone could have asked for from mile 18-24, and I’m sorry that I told you to run away when I finally couldn’t listen to you any more and figured I’d make the rest of the way on my own. Thank you for running with me, you helped me more than you can imagine!
The last quarter mile of the run I thought the gal who was behind me, catching up, was in my age group, so I gave everything I had left to get to that finish chute. I wanted to walk the finish chute and enjoy it, but I was too scared that I would lose because I decided to walk instead of run. Turns out the girl behind me wasn’t in my age group after all, so instead of high fives, I have these glorious pictures of me sort of scooting down the chute with the world’s ugliest cry face going on because I had found my second and third wind that I didn’t know existed and I was going to finish an Ironman.
Which I did, a couple seconds later. Then I stopped, and that’s when my legs locked up. I don’t know if I didn’t get enough salt because I was drinking so much water (pee count: 9 porta-potty stops. Cries for help to get off the pot: 1. Wetting of pants, triathlete style: 0 and proud!), but when my parents tried to get me to walk towards home, I got stuck. I had to be wheel chaired to the med tent to entertain the physiotherapists standing around because the vast majority of people in the med tent were in a poorly hydrated, under fed, passing out status conditions. I was fully with it, just couldn’t move my legs.
People say crossing an Ironman finish line and hearing your name followed by “You. Are. An. Ironman.” is a life changing moment. I’m not convinced. I don’t feel like I did something impossible because I’m extremely lucky to have my health and tools to train for such a thing. The moment that was more life changing was when I registered and started the journey towards the finish line. The commitment to an Ironman athlete lifestyle is life changing. I lost a lot of weight while training, I changed my sleeping and eating habits, I got the best grades of my life in school. It was lots of little moments that may have accumulated at the finish line, but I do not feel like the race was a life changing experience, rather getting to the race was.
If I were to pick one moment that stands out in my mind from the entire experience, it would be my mother telling me that I can do it, to stay mentally strong and that she would see me at the finish line. Seeing my family race with me on the 70.3 course is the best feeling in the entire world because that’s how they support me, by being triathletes too and always believing in me. I have a feeling that even when I wanted to quit on my 3 mile run as a kid, my mom believed that I would make it. I know my dad laughs when my friends retell the story of me trying to quit on a short bike ride but that he still believed and knew I would get through it. I think Ironman is about so much more than yourself, it’s about finding out who will be there for you when you need them the most, who will put up with your training schedule, who will support you to that finish line, and while I did this race for me, I also did it for all the people in my life who never gave up on me and who never stopped believing I was capable getting through it and not quitting. So thank you mom and dad, Keito for race crewing, Nick for being a training buddy, Dan for being a bike mechanic, Katie for coaching, Carson for coming along, and the numerous friends who helped me on my journey, I couldn’t have and wouldn’t have done it without you!
Finally, because this is a race report, I want to reflect on the 4 goals I had for myself. Successful athletes create a plan with achievable goals, reach goals, and super reach goals. They revisit these goals and make sure they are meeting expectations. I had many goals along the way, such as get good grades and graduate, but those were achieved with small steps, smaller goals, which is how I broke down my 4 goals for Ironman Canada.
The first was to finish. This was my, if I stick with the training, I will accomplish this goal, goal. One I knew I could check off at the end of the day.
A slightly harder goal, was to fail at a couple workouts and tell myself that it was OK. I hit every major workout asked of me but life hit me pretty hard a few weeks out from my race and sometimes you just can’t make a workout happen, and training for this Ironman let me know that failure sometimes is an option, it’s a growing experience, and it most definitely is not the end of the world as I sometimes convince myself it is.
l I am really proud of because it was a reach goal, a goal that was within reach but I would have to suffer long and hard to get it and that goal was to run the entire marathon minus the aid stations, and by golly I did it! My run time of 4:50 is not something I’m embarrassed about! I would be stoked with that marathon time if I had run it alone, much less in an Ironman. And that included 6 pee stops; someone needs to teach me to pee while I run… probably could have shaved 10 minutes.
My final goal was out of my control, I really wanted to qualify for the Kona Ironman World Championships, but I had no idea who was going to come to the race, and half the pro’s are in the next age group up so they must come from somewhere! That being said, my overall time of 12:29.29 put me in second place for my age group and is a respectable time given it was my first Ironman and an extremely challenging course. I’m proud of what I did and I’m excited to see what more I can do! But first, it’s time to take some time off and play!