Mark Hopkins on the bike at Ironman Canada in Whistler 2019

Ironman Canada Race Report #2

One-day last summer, while enjoying the porch sun with beer, Colette signed me up for Ironman Whistler…the FULL 140.6 miles!!!!

The decision to tackle a full distance race came after a 6-year progressive build in volume from Sprints to Standard/ Olympic/ Xterra and now 2 years of half-iron distance races. Doubling my longest race distance/ duration was a concern and the vertical gain in Whistler was terrifying. I am often reminded that at 6’3” 250 lbs, I am not a typical triathlete.

Sean Astin (actor from Goonies, Rudy and Lord of the Rings) was featured on the Kona recap a few years ago. I recall thinking “ If a Hobbit can do it….”

140.6 training volume was a challenge. I have two active pre-teen children, a spouse (also training for 70.3 races) and busy work schedule. To make it all fit, I re-arranged life. This meant getting up earlier, joining masters swimming and getting comfortable with riding indoors on the trainer (I had resisted such monotony thus far).  These changes made for long days and tag-team parenting with dates reserved for common trainer workouts and post-run coffee.  While training, I sought hills on the bike and run and generally ignored speed in favor of heart-rate and power. Goal was to steadily increase time and training volume.  The HPR-B78 Whistler Camp was a good chance to test out the new bike course, with the run and swim essentially the same as the 70.3 from 2017.  The camp showed me that pacing and fueling were likely to be a greater challenge than those experienced in 70.3 events. Overall training went well and I remained healthy and uninjured throughout. Entering taper, I was confident about the swim and bike, with uncertainty being the method I would complete my first marathon. (previous longest run 31k)

Pre-race Goal 1:20swim, 6:30 bike and 6:00 run/ shuffle. ~14 hrs (~Double Half-Iron + 1hr)

Race Day.

Up at 4, breakfast and coffee. Drop of nutrition in T2 and walk to Rainbow Park T1. It was a beautiful mountain morning with mist on the lake at sunrise.  I elected to forgo the warm-up entirely to smile at the Ironman spectacle, kiss Colette and wish her good luck on her race (70.3).

Swim 3.8k

I have a history of panic attacks on swim starts and typically try to stay wide (but may have taken this to extreme) but the absence of panic was welcome. Temperature was good ~20 degrees and the water was calm. Garmin recorded 4300+ meters and clocked a time of 1:15, (official race time 1:13:20) which is by far the best swim I have posted in a race.

Bike 180k

I chose to full change in transition to bike gear, I received terrible sunscreen application by a well-intended volunteer and soaked up cheering support from Teammates awaiting the 70.3 race start. Across the Whistler “flats”, past Creekside and down to Callaghan felt good to stretch out the legs.  I really like the sound of race wheels under load, so I had to keep telling myself “take 10% off, it’s a long day”. First lap up Callaghan there was a pleasant surprise… intermittent shade.  I was pleased with general pace and what I though was well managed effort. The descent of Callaghan and down to Daisy Lake plays to my strengths and with the intel I gained from Whistler Camp recon I was able maximize speed and avoid some hard bumps on and off bridges. The climb back to Whistler is long and hot.  On the second lap the grind had begun to set in, some hip-flexor and hamstring tightness appeared, and the temperature was rising steadily and my dislike for the taste of base hydro became more and more apparent. Bike ended 6:12:47 after it started. (nutrition- 6 bottles of hydro- yuck, 3 picky bars,3 block sleeves 6 gels and one full base-salt container) 

Marathon 42.2k

Full change transition (applied my own sunscreen this time). I had hoped to run the first loop and interval the balance, but the hills and enthusiasm had taken a toll.  I “ran” a third of the first 21k (with special emphasis on the run past the team cheer station and my coach). Nutritionally, I continued with another container of salt, aid-station coke, gels, bananas, water and uugh base hydro. Roving cramps eventually made running impractical for longer than a couple of minutes. Jay Krieger (mobile cheer station) and I had a good chat while making continuous forward motion near the end of lap 1 and around Lost Lake. Run lap 2 served to further increase in my dislike for base hydro while wishing I’d put new socks in my special needs bag as blisters were now very notable on both feet. To keep my mind off the blisters, I thanked each volunteer station, fist-bumped anyone willing, high-fived everyone else and tried to offer encouragement (by name) to each racer I met.  Ending lap 2 and entering the finishing stretch was as special. I high-five’d Colette, my kids, Lanny and Suzanne, before channeling my inner Ric Flair (TV wrestler from the 80s /90s) for a “WOOOO!!” at the finish.  Time 14:02:47.

It was time to sit down and take off my shoes. I was wrapped in foil and squished by Colette for warmth (the picture is hilarious). Then ate some terrible event pizza and enjoyed a cold beer.

Post-Race Thoughts

  • I am far from ideal triathlete in size and build.
  •  I am un-injured, and fitter/healthier than I have been in my adult life.
  • I wanted to race an Ironman since ~1985
  • I needed a push… ”Thanks Colette” 
  • I am an IRONMAN.

Thanks to Human Powered Racing, Coach Mike Neill, Teammates (past and present) on course and home on the tracker, the community of multi-sport endurance and my immediate and extended family. I look forward to cheering for all yawl at a race soon. 

Mark Hopkins coming across the finish line at Ironman Canada in Whistler