RaceCenter Columnist Chris Bagg Nabs 4th Place at Ironman Canada – Shares Race Report

by Chris Bagg

This past Sunday marked the 3rd year in a row I’ve competed at Ironman Canada, and I didn’t even have it on the schedule until about a month ago, when I didn’t finish Ironman Lake Placid. Once Placid went all to custard, though, I realized I could compete in my favorite long distance triathlon. The decision literally paid off, as I came home in 4th place. It’s my biggest success to date, and to say that it all happened out on the run course would be a disservice to all the people who make a successful Ironman possible. The big moves were made by my coach, Cliff English, who retooled my run from hopeless to 4th best on the day, and Jesse Kropelnicki of QT2 Systems, who provided me with a fueling strategy on what would turn out to be a very hot day of racing. Of course my sponsors were also a huge part of this race, and I’d like to thank all of them, particularly Athletes Lounge and Subaru, who are making this whole trip possible.

Exiting the cool waters of Lake Okanagan. Photo: Rick Jones

The Swim: the swim in Okanagan Lake is about as perfect a swim venue as you could find (OK, Lake Placid is awesome, but two loops in the water is just a bummer): clean water, not too hot, without too much direct sun. I started to the right of the middle of the field and got off the line pretty well, mixing in with a group right away. I saw former champion Jasper Blake (and 7Systems sponsor) moving off the front and I figured he was away, but by the first swim turn (you swim 1600m, turn right, swim 450, turn right, and then swim 1800 or so back to the beach) he was back among our group. It was a sizeable group—around 10-12 athletes, and I just swam at the back of the pack. I could see Jordan Rapp’s light blue cap at the front of the group, and one of my goals was to swim with him, so I just stayed right there. It wasn’t a blazing swim (53:39), but it brought all of us out of the water about 3 minutes behind the front group of Bryan Rhodes, Hiroyuki Nishiuchi, Matthieu O’Halloran, Torsten Abel, and Bert Jammaer

The 112-mile bike leg climbs up two mountain passes before returning to Penticton. Photo: Rick Jones

The Bike: Once on the bike, usually my proverbial bailiwick, I let a lot of guys roll away from me. I rode in a group of seven last year, including Trevor Wurtele, and he came out of the water directly in front of me. He’s been racing incredibly well this year, and I was worried to let him go, but I knew it was going to be a hot day, and both Cliff and Jesse had counseled me to ride low watts on the first half of the bike. The Canada bike course offers a slight downhill with strong tailwinds for the first 65k, and it’s very tempting to ride your best 40k TT in those conditions, but I sat on 260-270 watts and rolled along (at that relatively pedestrian pace, I still went through 40k in 57 minutes, which will give you a sense of the speed). I could see a group of four up the road from me, but not too far. At one point Simon Billeau passed me, and you could tell he wanted to get rid of me, getting out of the saddle and hammering for 20-30 seconds at a time. I just stayed 10m back and rolled along smoothly, trying to even out the power spikes that sunk my LP trip. Eventually he got away from me on a little rise into Osoyoos, but I guessed that I’d see him later that day. Richter pass seemed longer and harder than I remembered, and then it was down into the Similkemeen Valley on the other side, where the headwinds wait for you. There are seven rollers you have to go over, and these seemed more difficult than last year, too (riding in a group is always easier, even if you’re just getting a mental boost). Paul Attard (and Meredith Kessler) weren’t far behind, so I used that as motivation and tried to stay on the gas despite the steady headwind. Ironman Canada diverts you, after about 110k of no backtracking, onto an out-and-back that can be soul-killing, as you head straight downwind towards the special needs bags, knowing you have to ride that whole section into the wind again. It does give you a chance to see where you are, though, and I clocked myself at 12 minutes behind Jordan, 10 behind a chasing group of Rhodes, Jammaer, Zymetsev, and Abel (a fearsome group, if there ever was one—there are 14 IM wins in that group, if I’m counting correctly), and then lower numbers to the rest of the riders, who had all broken up: Marcotte, Billeau, Curry, O’Halloran, Wurtele. Seeing that second group coming apart provided a real help to me, as I knew they had gone after each other and not worked together on a day that neccessitated team work (did I mention it was close to 90 on the bike and over 90 later that day?). Coming out of the out-and-back I caught O’Halloran and rode up to Yellow Lake with him, more or less, me rolling away on the flats and downhills, and he beating me up the climbs. I was getting in around 60 oz of fluid an hour on the hot day, trying to hit Jesse’s goal of peeing at least twice on the bike. I think I ended up going to the bathroom three or four times, but it’s hard to remember. I descended back to town fighting that strong headwind, and came into T2 posting a five-minutes-slower-than-last-year time of 4:52.

The out-and-back run course travels south out of Penticton along the shores of Skaha Lake before returning to the finish. Photo: Rick Jones

The Run: coming off the bike I’d wager that you never really know what you’re gonna get. I took it easy in transition, grabbed my stuff, and headed out onto the streets of Penticton, with the announcer letting me know that Jordan was about 20 minutes gone. I knew from the beginning that only disaster was going to derail Jordan’s return to the top step of Canada’s podium, so I just focused on keeping my turnover high. I went through the first mile feeling pretty good, in 6:40. It was hot, and I’d made a similar mistake two years ago of going out too hard, but I knew I’d need a great run to move up very far, and I wasn’t going to make any money where I started the run, in 11th. I could see Kyle Marcotte not far up the road, and I could also tell I was coming back to him. I didn’t try to make up the distance too quickly and instead tried to get down my Clif Bloks and water. My prescribed menu for the race was two packages of Clif Bloks, three PowerGels with caffeine, and three salt pellets; water and sports drink at every aid station. I caught Marcotte and Scott Curry at mile five or so and tried to go past them with alacrity. It worked, because they both said “nice run.” It hurt a bit, and I spent the next mile trying to recover. Now I was in 9th place, and I knew that the next person I caught would be giving up money to me. I caught Simon Billeau at eight miles (which felt pretty good), and then Bryan Rhodes around the eleven mile mark. Both Rhodes and Billeau looked to have been sunk by the heat. Heather Wurtele was out on the course, biking around, and we exchanged a hello as I went past. I told her to go tell Trevor to slow down, since I couldn’t even see him on the road. She laughed and went to warn him that I was running well. I managed to catch him a little after the turnaround (where I was starting to struggle). At that point I realized I’d taken over fifth place. Jasper Black, however, was only three minutes behind me at the turnaround, and he’s made a living of chasing guys down late in the race, so when I saw Zymetzev walking in front of me, I rejoiced a bit. You don’t ever want to hedge your bets while racing, but I knew at that point, barring disaster, I would come in 4th or 5th (if Jasper caught me). The way back to town gets hard, as you’re running slightly uphill and into a hot wind. My stomach started to go, and I treated each aid station as my own buffet, taking two cups each of water, sports drink, and ice every mile. I knew that if I could get to mile 24 without Jasper catching me, I could probably make it home alone, as the last two miles are downhill, or along a one-kilometer out-and-back lined with screaming fans. I saw fiancee extraordinaire Amy around 24.5 miles, and I think she was surprised; she actually called out “I was about to go and get a milkshake!” Trying to clear the path for me, she called out, a few seconds later “Runner back,” but I thought she meant Jasper was right there, meaning he’d closed me down. You can’t look over your shoulder at that point, so I just ran as hard as I could. I got to the turnaround, hit the lap button on my watch and…nothing. Blake was still 2:40 back! I’d stayed ahead of him and claimed 4th place, my best finish at a big race, anywhere.

Thank you everybody for all your support.

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