Sunday, August 31, 2008

IMC '08 Race Report

Mom, this one's for you.

On March 9th of this year I lost one of my greatest heroes, my Mom, to cancer. She was my inspiration on race day.

If I could erase most of this past year from my memory, I probably would. It was, by far, the most challenging year of my life: 6 weeks of vertigo in Oct and Nov, flying back and forth down to California from Jan to April to see my Mom and help my Dad during her illness and then changing jobs during this whole process. I simply told myself that life is full of challenges. What makes us stronger is our ability to overcome these challenges with dignity. I then end up losing 6 weeks of running due to a severe soleus strain in April-May and finally had to deal with almost zero running between Lake Stevens and IMC due to a dysfunctional right SI joint that was causing some serious pain in my adductors.

I'm not telling you this because I'm interested in seeking pity. You might ask, "So what the hell does this have to do with IMC?" My answer is, “Everything.”

I could have said this is obviously a year where I should drop IM but I wanted to prove to myself that I can overcome any challenge that's thrown my way. You could have put up a fricken' brick wall the size of China in front of me and I was going to find a way over or through it. Period.

IMC ended up being my goal. I wanted to qualify for Kona and take my Dad, who’s 87 years old, with me. Both my Mom and Dad got the chance to see me do my first Kona in ’05 and my Dad was like a kid. After the race he came up to me with this big smile on his face and said, “Can we do this again next year??!!” I just laughed and said, “Well, I’ll see what I can do about that.” As it turned out, I was very fortunate to make it back to Kona but my parents couldn’t attend for various reasons.


I did the typical IM routine in the days prior to the race. Hung out with lots of great friends (Gruver’s, Scott Bonvallet, et al) and got the chance to finally meet some incredibly nice people face to face (eg, Dev Paul).

I have to admit, although I might sound like I came into IMC on a mission, there were days were I thought, “What the hell am I thinking?” Less than 2 weeks prior to the race I couldn’t run one step without experiencing shooting pain down my adductors and this had been going on since mid-July. I had also managed a total of one long run >1.5hrs since IMC last year and that run (2hrs) was done entirely in pain. Normally I would have done at least 8 - 10 long runs of 2hrs in prep for IM. My Sports Med doc (Dr. Ghislaine Robert), my chiro (Dr. Shepard) and my ART therapist (Dr. Chan) did a ton of work on me to get me ready for IMC and I can’t thank them enough. But as much as I kept telling myself I could do it, a dose of reality started to set in too. There was no question in my mind I could run well up to about 20 miles. The question in my mind is what was going to happen once I hit mile 18 or so. I actually spent a ton of time preparing myself mentally for what I knew was probably going to be the most difficult last 6 miles ever.

Race Day

Race morning I got up, showered and made my Carbo Pro fruit smoothie. This was change from past IMs. In my previous 7 IMs I had always had oatmeal with brown sugar and fruit. I made this change because I’ve always had stomach (gas) problems on the run and I believe the oatmeal was contributing to the problem. I then headed on over to get body marked and set up my bike. I was staying at the Slumber Lodge which is right across the street from the swim start so headed back to give my Dad a hug and tell him where and when he can spot me throughout the day. But I warned him that it might be a long day too. It was tough leaving because we both knew what was on our minds at that very moment.


I found my very good friends Tom Gruver, Scott Bonvallet, Tina Hall and Brian Urakawa before the swim and wished them all good luck. This was Tina’s first IM and I know she was nervous. She’s an awesome athlete so I knew she would do well.

I went for a warm-up swim and took my time heading back to the start line. I wanted to find some big fast swimmer that I could get right behind. I saw Joel Glass right about where I wanted to line up. I know Joel’s a fast swimmer so I swam up to him and said, “Hey Joel, when do you expect to come out, 54-55? He responds, “55.” Perfect. I line up right behind Joel.

The cannon went off and I headed out right behind Joel. He lost me pretty quick but that wasn’t important. I just needed someone to open a little gap in front of me. I had little bit of contact in the first 500 yards or so but found clean water pretty quick. I decided I was going to ride just inside the buoy line and look for some nice drafts. If it got too rough then I would just look for clean water to the right. To my surprise, not a single person was swimming inside the buoy line so I ended up actually swimming right along the buoy line. I grabbed some real nice drafts and was amazed at how few swimmers were around me heading out to the first boat. As I looked up to spot I could see a gap starting to form a bit and as I made the last turn back to shore, the strangest thing I have ever encountered in the IM swim occurred. I was alone with one other person to my left. There were no swimmers next to me (except this one guy) and the next group of swimmers I could see were about 100 yards in front. I don’t look back when I swim so I had no idea who or how many were right behind me but I was alone. I had absolutely no draft. I eventually dropped the guy to my left and ended up swimming for at least another 20 minutes alone. Finally a chick catches me and I draft off her for another few minutes until I start to see a few other people catching up right when we started to hit the shore. Everyone was getting up and trying to run because it gets shallow so early but then they would dive back into the water. I already knew that you have to either swim dragging your knuckles on the sand or dolphin’ it until you get about 10 feet to the shore. I did the former.

Time – 1:01:05


Transition was fine (2:55). Beginning of the bike was uneventful but it was clear we were going to have a slight headwind out to Osoyoos (which is a first). I just told myself to take it easy. My goal is to definitely build into this ride. I was shooting to be more conservative going out to Osoyoos than last year and target power less than 190w and not one watt higher. Dev Paul caught me at the top of Osoyoos and asked how I was doing. Brian Urakawa caught me shortly after Okanagan Falls. We ended up passing each other or riding about 30secs apart for the remainder of the ride. Dev was also right there until the latter part of the out-and-back when his tire started a slow leak.

On the way out to Osoyoos all 3 of us were riding within sight of each other in a perfect rhythm when all of sudden we were swallowed by at least 75 bikes. I’m not exaggerating. It was the craziest thing I had ever seen in an IM. When the first set of bikes passed me a marshal came by about 10secs later. I threw up my arms and pointed at them. She nodded her head and sped up. I’m waiting for her to pull a card and all she does is yell at them. And get this… they yell back. This goes on for another 30secs or so and then the marshal takes off. No penalty. What a joke…

At first I just didn’t know how to handle the situation. I’ve been swallowed by this huge pack and I’m caught in the mix. I was visibly frustrated and doing my best to maneuver. My first inclination is to get in front of them which was a very stupid move. As soon as I got in front of them I was clearly unwilling to maintain 220+w in order to drop them so they just swallowed me up again. I yelled at a couple of them and some guy responded, “What do you do? Just go with it.” At one point I even heard some guy say, “Let’s get that pace line going again!!” I even saw one local Seattle guy who clearly had no problem hanging with this pack. Unfortunately he ended up very high in the overall rankings too. The best decision was to just let these guys get ahead of me so eventually I did just that. I'm not sure but is this called "drafting"?? ;-)

A slight headwind out to Osoyoos means great conditions on the back side of the course. The rollers were fast but not quite as fast as they were in ’05. According to my PT data, I was about 1min slower through the rollers this year vs ’05 but about 5min faster than last year (all on very similar power). After the rollers I really started flying and I was passing people like they were standing still. Here were my splits:

FIRST BIKE SEGMENT 42.5 mi. (2:06:20) 20.18 mph

FINAL BIKE SEGMENT 69.5 mi. (3:12:01) 21.72 mph

Even though the back side was relatively fast this year, I had definitely picked it up as compared to others. After riding with one guy (Hamilton) off and on for what seemed like the last 40 or so miles, he passed me shortly after we climbed that hill on the out and back and said, “You are so damned disciplined in the hills.” Now that’s a compliment I love hearing. Shortly after Robbie Ventura (recognize that name?), who rode 4:51, came flying by us like we were standing still.

Yellow Lake was crazy as usual with spectators (love that climb!!) and the descent back into town was uneventful as I headed into transition in good shape.

For nutrition on the bike I did 2 x 28oz bottles with 4 scoops of Carbo Pro and Crystal Light for flavoring. I picked up another 28oz bottle and a Red Bull at Special Needs. I also took a banana slice about every other aid station. I had a small bottle of water with me and picked up water along the way when I needed it. Each bottle of Carbo Pro had 2 Salt Stick caps in them. This was definitely the most calories I had ever taken on the IM bike.

Power broken down by major segments:

From start of bike to bottom of Richter (~42 miles): AP = 181w; NP = 187w

From bottom of Richter to start of YL descent (~55 miles): AP = 190w; NP = 199w

From start of YL descent to finish (~15 miles): AP = 147w; NP = 174w

Entire workout (182 watts):

Duration: 5:17:11

Work: 3465 kJ

TSS: 268.4 (intensity factor 0.713)

Norm Power: 192

VI: 1.06

Pw:HR: 4.52%

Pa:HR: -7.48%

Distance: 111.751 mi

Min Max Avg

Power: 0 405 182 watts

Heart Rate: 135 164 155 bpm

Cadence: 33 141 92 rpm

Speed: 0 46.2 21.1 mph

Power was ~7w lower than last year but 1min faster. I just felt that riding any harder was going to jeopardize a run that was going to need every possible spare resource I had.

Time – 5:18:21


Now came the interesting part… Transition was smooth (2:24). My legs didn’t feel that great coming out of T2 but that wouldn’t be the first time so I wasn’t too concerned. I always need a mile or two to settle in. As I turned the corner on Lakeshore I heard my Dad yell about 10 yards behind me. I stopped, ran back, gave him a hug and said, “This one’s for Mom.” I took off and as I looked back I could see that he got a bit emotional.

Somewhere between mile 1 and 2 it hit me. I managed to lose all of my electrolytes and Aleve (probably in T2). I was bummed but I just told myself that I’m going to have to deal without it. I know that Keish Doi and Fred Haubensak carry Advil with them so I was just hoping I could bum some off of them when I saw them before the turn-around.

Pacing was perfect and my stomach was rock solid for the first time ever. I hit mile 1 in 8:03 and mile 2 in 16:10. I think I caught Brian Urakawa somewhere between mile 2 and 3 and we ran together for a little bit. I also ran with this guy named Luke Astell for a while – nice guy from Leavenworth, WA. I bummed some electrolytes off of him. I ended up running with a woman pro from about mile 4 to at least mile 6 before I dropped her. On the way out at every aid station I’d take water, cola and then I’d take a banana slice about every 3rd or 4th aid station.

I have to admit, the wind was pretty brutal and found myself pretty lonely out on the run course once I hit the flats on Skaha. Oh, except for my friend here:

This dude ran right behind me for what seemed about 4 miles until I finally dropped him somewhere in the hills. All along I just kept telling myself to play it very conservative and just get myself through the hills in good shape. Once I hit mile ~15 then I’d reassess my situation. When I hit mile 11 I started looking for Keish and Fred. My hip was starting to hurt and tighten up a bit so I was getting a bit nervous. I finally see Keish not too far from the turn-around so I was really encouraged because last year I saw him at least a mile farther down the road. I yelled at Keish to see if he had any Advil and he immediately pulled out a little baggy with 8 tablets, handed it to me and took off. I thanked him immensely!! I waited until special needs then I grabbed my can of Red Bull and took 4 Advil.

Somewhere around mile 12/14 there was a group of people with one guy sitting in a beach chair. When they saw me on the way out they cheered and I had a big smile on my face and gave them the thumbs up. I don’t know why but they pysched me up so on the way back I was ready for them and the guy in the beach chair responded with, “Dude, you are by far our favorite athlete today!!” Of course, they probably said that to everyone.

The Advil actually took the edge off and I was feeling reasonably well. I had no problem in the hills. I took them nice and easy and I was really starting to pass people (not that there was a whole lot of people to pass). Once I hit the flats again I had a real nice rhythm and was moving pretty fast. Overall I was pretty excited about things so far but then I could also feel that the lack of running was starting to hit me. It was probably around mile 16 or 17 when my quads started to really hurt and that was the point where I started to get a little more aggressive at the aid stations. Somewhere around this time Cherri Gruver came up to me on the bike and asked how I was doing. I started to tell her that I was hurting but then I thought, no, just lie and tell her you’re doing fine. I knew Tom (her husband) was hurting pretty bad behind me so I told her that Tom probably needs her and she should go find him. I definitely could have used the moral support though. Shortly after a guy rode by me on the bike and said, “Nice pace. You keep that up and you’ll be sub-10.” I knew I was moving well but the problem was that I still had a long way to run and I was feeling like I should feel at mile 24.

When I hit mile 18 the mental game had started. Everything below my waist was hurting so bad my hip was a non-issue. If my hip hurt, it didn’t hurt worse than anything else. I did a quick time check and had enough wits about me to figure out that I was on a ~3:32 marathon pace. I just told myself to focus on getting to mile 20. That was my goal: Mile 20. I hit mile 20 and figured it was only 6 miles of suffering – I could do that. My goal now was mile 22. At mile 21 I remember doing another time check (2:53). I couldn’t figure out what pace that was but I knew I was slowing a bit. I hit mile 22 and this is where things started to get real dicey. My quads and hamstrings were borderline cramping and I started getting dizzy as I climbed up that grade toward Main St. There wasn’t a single person in sight so I was running alone. The crowd could clearly see I was struggling and they tried to throw me some encouraging words. On the way out I would acknowledge every compliment with a “Thank you!!” but at this point the crowd was just a blur. The aid stations now became a scene of desperation. As fast as I could, I’d down water, cola (sometimes 2 cups of colas), chicken soup and 2 banana slices (one in my mouth and one in my rear pocket). I can’t even remember the last time somebody had passed me on the run. It was miles and miles ago but that was about to come to an end. All of sudden I heard the crowd cheering behind me. I looked back and thought I saw Christine Fletcher (totally hot!!), who I had passed a few miles back, coming up behind me. I was wrong. It was a woman AGer. I was in awe as she smoothly passed me. I wanted to throw her some encouraging words but I just didn’t have the energy to say anything at all.

Thanks to the extra fluid and calories I was no longer dizzy as I crested the hill and made the corner to turn down Main St. As soon as I made the turn the crowd grew in size and started to make some noise. I got excited and tried to pick up the pace. Immediately my right hamstring went into a full cramp and I yelled out in pain. I eased up and kept running. I just told myself that the cramping wasn’t happening. Just ignore the pain. The crowd was sympathetic and really tried to encourage me. As I ran down Main St I got passed by someone in my AG. Not too much later Matt Perkins, also in my AG, passed me and I responded with, “Nice job, you got me.” I couldn’t believe that 2 of the 3 people who passed me were in my AG. I was really getting nervous but my quads and hamstrings were quivering (something I’ve never experienced before). I felt like they were going to go into a full cramp at any moment. Here I am crying like a wussy:

I still had this feeling like I might not even make it. I turn the corner for Lakeshore and all of sudden it hit me… I’m going to finish. I came up on a guy in my AG who looked really ragged but I couldn’t tell if he was just starting the run or finishing. I pass him. I’m running as fast as I possibly can. I have this feeling like I’m being pursued. I turn the final corner and see my Ben Bigglestone shortly after the turn. He pats me on the back and tells me I’m close to breaking 10hrs. I say something stupid like, “But I’m hurtin’ real bad…” I keep looking over my shoulder but the next guy is not going to catch me. I don’t know, normally I could give a shit who’s behind me at this point but I just felt like I needed to get across the finish line quickly. I looked for my Dad but faces were just a blur.

The finish line was such a beautiful sight. I couldn’t believe I made it. I was so so happy. I cross the line in disbelief and like a light switch my legs decide they’re done. I start to tumble and the catchers get me before I hit the ground. They make an immediate decision to take me to the med tent so two guys scramble and carry me off. I don’t really remember much at this point other than them asking lots of questions. I remember I could now feel my hip. It was definitely in pain. They stuck an IV in me and I told them I need ice for my hip. Things settled down and I just laid there for a while. I think it was only about 1hr later and I started to perk up. I had some chicken soup and the lights started to come back on. The doc said that much of my color had come back and thought I was doing really well. I told them I wanted to go find my Dad because I was worried about him. They said ok and let me go.

That’s it. This one was just brutally hard. I lost a fair amount of time over those last 4 miles but I dug to depths I possibly never thought I could go. I’m not sure I ever want to dig that deep again but the end result was worth it. It’s 6 days later and my adductors/hip flexors still hurt so Kona will be interesting. Man, I’d love to see my time if I had a healthy hip and had just a reasonable amount of run volume under my belt. My run split was only 6min slower than last year's PR run. I consumed way more calories on this run than any previous IM. I had no stomach issues at all in this race and I think that made a huge difference.

Run Time – 3:39:42

Overall Time – 10:04:27

My AG was crazy around 10hrs. Check this out:

80 10:01:34 STEINER, DAVID 7/291 M40-44
81     10:02:22 BROCKS, STEFFEN        8/291 M40-44   
82     10:02:51 PERKINS, MATTHEW       9/291 M40-44   
83     10:04:16 SMITH, DAN             2/246 M45-49  
84     10:04:27 WHYTE, CHRIS           10/291 M40-44  
85     10:04:41 MIYATA, KAZUAKI        11/291 M40-44  
86     10:04:47 KIERS, RACHEL          8/20  WPRO     
87     10:04:49 WORK, WILLIAM          12/291 M40-44  
88     10:05:12 HIKOI, HIROTAKA        13/291 M40-44  

Less than 4 minutes separated 7 guys between 7th and 13th place. We had 8 slots for Kona. Keish already qualified at IMCDA and everyone else took their slots (which almost never happens at IMC). Fortunately we got one more slot from the 75 – 79 AG so it rolled to 10th place which was me. This was the first year where I had to wait for a roll-down slot so it was really exciting. I have now qualified 4 years in a row and I’m going for 5 next year!! Note that Kazuaki was only 14secs behind me and he ran a 3:14 marathon so he was catching my ass. William was the guy who I passed going down Lakeshore. I was amazingly fortunate and my family was very excited. The weather has been so bad in Seattle this year that when I got home my wife came up to me and said, “You know, I told you before the race that I could care less if you qualify or not but I have to be honest. I would have KICKED YOUR ASS if you didn’t qualify!!!” I think it’s safe to say that my wife, her Dad and my Dad are all happier about going to Kona than I am.

When we arrived home from Penticton my Dad came up to me and said, “You really do have some incredible friends.” I responded with a big smile on my face, “I know, I’m very lucky.”

Thanks to all of my family, my super great friends and my sponsor (Oomph!) for your support and believing in me. It means the world to me.

Mom would have been proud…


Ben Bigglestone said...

Awesome Chris. You are an example to us all and the one reason I am getting myself a powertap. I have no time to waste with training nowadays so need to get smart.

I measure success in LC racing by execution, the outcome is a result of that. You are a master of execution and the outcomes speak for themselves.

Truly amazing especially considering the challenges you have faced this year.

Kevin said...


Way to go. Great story of overcoming obstacles.
Your mom must be very proud.

The group in your AG finishing so close together adds more drama to the happy ending (for you).

Well done!