I decided to give one of those meal subscription plans a try as we start off the new year. With the uptick in training time, I find I have less and less time to cook a good healthy meals and frequently fall into the trap of leaning towards convenience and quickness rather than healthiness. I am hoping this will help thwart that. We’ll see.
I selected Hello Fresh since they offer a vegetarian option and had good reviews as well. Stay tuned for subsequent review of the plan in the upcoming months.
If you are interested in trying this out too, here is a $40 off coupon code on your first order.
The alarm on my Garmin buzzed at 4:15am. I popped out of bed after a so-so night of sleep. Probably one of the better nights’ sleep before an Ironman event. I felt pretty rested and amazingly relaxed given I was about to be racing for ~12 hours. Hopefully less though. I was about to embark on my second attempt of my goal of finishing an Ironman in under 12 hours. Since my fastest time so far was 12:37 at Lake Placid in 2013, I had my work cut out for me.
Last year, I had made my first attempt at breaking the 12-hour mark at Ironman Coeur d’Alene in Idaho. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had something else in mind and provided 107 degree(F) temperatures that forced me to bail out with 13 miles left on the run. The dreaded DNF(Did Not Finish). This year, I was more determined to hit the goal I had hoped for last season.
I made and downed my usual morning smoothie along with a couple cups of Kicking Horse 454 Horse Power coffee, packed my special needs bags and headed out to the race venue. Denise drove me the 3 miles down to the swim start area and then I walked around a mile or so to the transition area. I dropped off my bags, loaded my water bottles and Amrita Bars on my bike and walked back to the swim start. I found a nice quiet place under a pine tree to just sit and chill until Denise and her parents came down.
I had turned off my Garmin 920xt watch in order to save the battery bit, but when I turned it on it just sat there with the “Garmin” splash screen. Hmmm…ok this is not good. I started pressing combinations of buttons to try to reset it. Finally one worked. Not really sure which one though. I restarted it and it finally started correctly. Whew! Not having a watch for a 12 hour race would not be good.
It was getting close to race start and I hadn’t seen Denise yet. I started to roam around a bit but still didn’t see her. They started playing the Canadian National Anthem, so I stopped and listened to that. No sooner did the anthem end and this fighter jet came soaring up the lake directly over our heads!! BOOM!!! WOW! It practically brought tears to my eyes! Not sure why that does that?! If that doesn’t fire you up for a race, I don’t know what would. Now I am fired up!
Right after the jet buzzed me, I spotted Denise in her “Kale” T-shirt. She was looking a bit panicked and emotional but was so relieved to find me. We were both amazed at the jet and could not stop talking about it. A few minutes later the jet buzzed by us again and fireworks at the swim start went off. What a start to the day! Next, the canon went off as the pro men started to hit the water.
After the pros started it was a constant stream of age-group wave starts. We headed down to the very crowded beach and spotted my in-laws. We chatted a bit and then I realized I should get going. Good thing because I realized my wave was up next and I had to walk a little distance around to get in the start chute. I had to navigate through about 3-4 waves to get to me wave, which started right after I got there. And away we went…
The swim started pretty comfortably. It was a beach start and I slowly made my way in on the outside edge of the group. I settled into a nice easy stroke. Everything was going great until about halfway out the first 1.2 miles(swim is one, 2.4 mile loop). I took a mouthful of water while taking a breath and started to choke on it. I do this on almost every swim, so I don’t panic about it. I just have to let my throat clear a bit to start swimming again.
The swim was pretty calm until about 2 pylons from the turnaround. The wind was at our backs and it was hitting the water at this point, so it was getting a bit choppy. As we made first turn it got REALLY choppy. I felt like I was in a washing machine! I had to breath to my left only cause I would get clobbered with waves breathing right. I just kept my stroke and pushed on. It felt so clumsy with the waves bouncing me up-and-down. Eventually I reached the second turn bouy and made the final turn back to the swim finish. The waves continued for 4-5 pylons(13 per 1.2 miles). Eventually, things calmed down a bit and the waves flattened out a little bit.
I was feeling pretty confident in my swim since I was passing many different color swim caps from wave groups ahead of me. I also was not seeing many silver caps from my wave so I had hoped I left many of them behind me. The first time I looked at my time was not until after the 2nd turn and it read around 38 minutes. Pretty much on par for my swim. I was hoping for 1:13-1:14-ish.
I thought I was getting really close to the swim finish, but then realized the course turned in to the right a bit. So I had to start heading in and it seemed to add some time until the finish. It got very shallow too and I had to stand up a bit and then was able to swim a little more when it got deeper again. Finally I hit the finish and ran up to the wetsuit strippers. I had trouble finding a stripper that was free so I probably lost some time there. Done…Time: 1:15:50…meh.
I ran through the narrow, carpeted chute heading to T1 scanning all the screaming spectators trying to find my wife. I finally found her on the opposite side and cut across to give her smooch. I am sure I probably cut someone off for that, but it is worth it. 🙂 Transition was busy but I found an empty chair and put on my bike gear. I then headed to the bike racks and grabbed my bike and was off. Time: 7:40
I headed out on the bike course and heard Denise yelling from behind the fence. I gave her a good “parade” wave on my way Montee Ryan. Montee Ryan had a few little climbs but nothing major. We then made a sharp right turn up onto Highway 117 which comprised the next 30 miles. As you entered the highway there was a long moderate climb, but most of the highway was fairly flat cruising road. There was one pretty decent climb on the way back. The good thing was you got to go down it on the way out. I hit over 50 MPH going down it during the first loop, which was before the rain really started. Weee!
Sometime after the big downhill and the turnaround on Hwy 117 the rain started. And it really started dumping too. There was also a pretty stiff headwind once you made the turn on Hwy 117 to head South. The raindrops actually hurt when they hit my arms. They were pounding on my helmet too making a very loud noise, constantly. It was like people were flicking the fingers against your helmet the whole time. The lenses on my glasses were just covered with water drops. Could have used some wipers or Rainx.
The rain continued to pour harder and harder as the bike went on. My Stages Power meter, which I had just replaced with a new rubber gasket, wrapped in plastic and black electrical tape began to fail. This device always fails on me whenever I wash my bike, so I thought that the extra wrapping would get me through a rainy race. Not the case. While it was still sending watts to my Garmin, the wattage numbers were getting lower and lower, which basically made it unusable.
I was now flying by feel. The good thing is that because I monitor my wattage frequently in training, I know what certain wattages feel like in my legs and in relation to my perceived exertion(RPE).
We then made a short loop through the downtown area of St. Jovite before heading back to the turnaround in Mont-Tremblant. My parents had decided at the last minute to come see the race and had found a B&B South of St. Jovite and I knew they would be spectating in the area. I scanned all the people on the street but didn’t see them as I made the turnaround on the main street. Then I heard my Mom yelling from behind me and turned around to see her standing back at the start of the turnaround. I gave her a wave and then got back into cruising mode again.
As we approached the transition area we then headed to the 20km out-and-back section on Chemin Duplessis. The 10k out to the turnaround is the toughest section on the bike I think. It is a bunch of little steep climbs that seem to step-ladder its way to the turnaround. It gains about 550 feet over 6 miles. The good thing is coming back is like a roller-coaster ride. I was not able to take as full advantage as I would have liked to due to the slippery conditions, but I did hit 40 MPH on it.
I finished the first 56 miles in under 3 hours which was a little over 19 MPH average. A little higher than what I was planning, but I knew I would drop a little bit on the 2nd loop. So far still on track. My legs were feeling a little crampy, but not too bad.
I stopped at the Special Needs area and refueled with more Amrita Bars, 2-bottles with Skratch Labs hydration and one small bottle with my special race fuel mix.
My special race fuel is 4 scoops of Hammer Perpetuem Orange, a packet of beet powder(equal to 6 beets) and two dissolved Salt Stick capsules. I had one of these bottles on the first 56 miles, which I tend to occasionally sip between feedings of Amrita Bars. I had done this consistently in training and it worked so well.
I typically pack a peanut butter & jelly sandwich in my special needs bag, but this time I packed a peanut butter sandwich with 2 Maple Honey Stinger waffles instead of bread. Yummy! I chomped this down on the first climb on Highway 117 via the on ramp. A lady rode past me as I was devouring my little sandwich and said “lunch time!” I laughed and continued munching it down. You know it!!
The rain got harder and the other rider seemed to be more spread out on the second 56 mile loop . I just settled into a nice consistent cadence and enjoyed being in my little helmet bubble. The puddles of water seemed to be more plentiful on the second loop too, so I made a little game of trying to avoid them. The time felt like it went so much faster on the second time around. I was surely not looking forward to my second run on Chemin Duplessis though. I know it would hurt.
I took the long, fast downhill cruise on Hwy 177 a little slower the second time around due to the torrential conditions. Still managed to hit about 40 MPH. I was not looking forward to the turnaround since I knew the blustering headwinds were just waiting for me. They didn’t let me down.
I eventually hit the turnaround in St. Jovite. Gave Mom a couple waves and then back to the task at hand. I cruised back into Mont-Tremblant and prepared myself for another bout with the dreaded 10k of Chemin Duplessis.
There were tons of fans lining the road and cheering as you start out on Chemin Duplessis which is a huge help on that first climb. I was surprised to find that my legs actually felt better the second time around than the did on the first. I kept a nice easy spinning gear and made my way up and up and up. A great sigh of relief came as I reached the turnaround and knew it was pretty much all downhill know to the end of the bike leg.
Now I wondered how my legs would be on the run. When I did Syracuse 70.3 earlier in the Summer, I thought my legs were good to go for the run when I came into T2 but I quickly found out that was not the case. It is always a mystery and you don’t know until you get there. For now I could feel the anxiety of it.
I dismounted my bike and headed into T2 at 6:05:38. I averaged ~18.4 MPH over the 112 mile course which included about 5700+ feet of elevation gain. This was mostly right on par with the predicted time that Best Bike Split had calculated. This was somewhat surprising since I really had no power meter numbers to go by since my Stages power meter had failed miserably on me. Again!
I gave my bike to a volunteer and awkardly shuffled my way in my bike shoes to the transition tent. I grabbed my run bag and quickly found an empty seat. I changed into a nice dry pair of running socks…ahhh! And put on my running shoes. It felt SOOO GOOD to have dry socks on my feet! I put on my run hat and run belt and headed for the run. There was no need for sunglasses or sunscreen since it was still raining. Now the moment of truth. Come on legs…don’t fail me know. Time: 4:30
Whenever you start out running after being on a bike for 6 hours, your legs are going to be a little wonky. The first mile of the run also had a nice little hill in it, but I easily cruised up and over it. As the road flattened out a bit I was started to get an idea that had some running legs under me. Nice!
My plan was to take all on course nutrition this race. In my previous Ironman races, I had carried my own bars and a FuelBelt with my own hydration. A bunch of extra weight. This year I decided to lighten my load a bit and just take it from the aid stations. I always carried bars, but ended up not wanting to eat them or having trouble getting them down while running. This year I trained with gels on my runs and it was an easy way to get the calories in that I needed and then wash them down with water. I figured if I ate the solid food, like Amrita Bars, on the bike I would have a good base in my stomach and the sugary gels wouldn’t be so rough on my stomach.
I downed a gel at the first aid station and followed it up with some water. Unfortunately they only had berry flavor and not my favorite Mocha with caffeine. Oh well. It went down fine and I was feeling pretty good.
There was some slight hills in the first couple miles, but my legs managed to feel good despite them. I lowered the pace a little just to keep them happy.
As I approached the crest of the last big hill for a while, I saw my wife and in-laws standing just down the road where the condo we stayed was. I raised my arms high in the air, Rocky-style as I came over the hill to let them know I was feeling good. They got a kick out that. They shouted some words of encouragement as I cruised by and I told them I was feeling awesome!
The next mile or so was mostly downhill through the old village before flattening out onto a recreational bike path for the next several miles. I was really feeling amazing. I felt like I was running on my favorite running path, The Ironton Rail Trail(IRT), on a training run. I was looking down at my Garmin and seeing paces in the 8:20-8:40/mi range. I was in the zone, feeling good with a nice steady cadence. The rain started again and I was loving it! I was thinking if this keeps up I could destroy my goal here.
I heard a voice on my left and it was one of the bikers that lead the pros on the run. I stepped to the right a bit and she was riding along side me for a longer than usual time. She even complimented me on my pace which was pretty cool. Eventually she moved past and Laurel Wassner came up next to me. Usually, the pros just whizz past me as I am slowly trying to maintain some semblance of a running trot. Not today. She actually took a little bit of time to actually get past me. You really get to appreciate the speed of the pros when you are arm-to-arm with them. I gave her some words of encouragement and then she was off down the path.
After the out-and-back on the path we did a shorter out-and-back on a packed sand path before heading back up the hill and through the pedestrian village. This was at around the 10 mile point and when my legs started to feel a little stiff. I am sure the uphill had something to do with it.
The 3 mile stretch from the top of the hill back to the ski village was probably the roughest part of the run for me. Strangely it was mostly downhill though. My stomach was feeling a little queasy, but I knew I needed to keep some gels going in for energy. I think this was more of a mental thing since I knew I was not quite halfway and I needed to do this again. That all changed after I made my way up the steep hill into the upper side of the ski village.
As you come into the side of the ski village, spectators line the narrow chute through the cobbled street cheering like crazy. Little kids hands leaning out from both sides looking for high fives as you wind your way down through the quaint little village. I sure hope they washed those hands after! My mental state was instantly renewed.
I headed back out for the last 13 miles. I fast-walked up the steep little hill by the swim start and then settled into a nice cadence after that. My legs went on auto-pilot from there on out. While despite the stiffness, they just kept running. It almost felt like I couldn’t stop them if I wanted to.
I passed Denise and my in-laws as they were walking in towards the finish line. They shouted some words of encouragement and I yelled back that “I need more rain!” I guess they were confident I was going to finish at that point.
I hadn’t really looked at my overall time on my Garmin since I was just really enjoying the day. I didn’t want to ruin it by seeing that I may not make my goal time and honestly I almost forgot about that. I was REALLY just enjoying being able to swim, bike and run for an entire day!!! And on a cooler, rainy day too! That may sound strange to some, but I LOVE IT!!!
Before I knew it I was heading down the hill through the old village and onto the bike path. I also got that rain that asked for too! Thanks to the Dude upstairs! I settled back into my nice cruise mode cadence on the flat bike path through the woods for the next 5 miles.
I downed a few gels along the way and water at pretty much every aid station. Somewhere around halfway through the run, they broke out the soda at the aid stations. Well, typically it is Coke, but for some reason they had Pepsi. Yuk!! I am not a soda person, but there are two times I like to have a Coke: On an airplane and at the end of a race. Don’t ask me on the first one, but the second one provides a good blast of caffeine and sugar into my bloodstream to get me to the finish line. Personally, I think this is the ONLY justifiable reason for having the stuff.
So now I could really use a blast of Coke and my only option is Pepsi. I skipped the first few aid stations that had it, but eventually succumbed to the powerful nectar. And I almost puked immediately! Pepsi is the worst! I eventually got it down and then from there on, I mixed it with water to dilute the nastiness of it. Finally I had some caffeine and sugar coarsing through my veins to get my to the finish in a brisk fashion.
They also brought out the Mocha ClifGels with Caffeine too, which is my favorite. I did most of my run training with this flavor and assumed they would have this on course. Maybe they don’t break out the caffeinated stuff until later? Between this and the Pepsi I was back in action again.
I finally reached the uphill section starting at the old village and knew I was only 3 miles away from finishing. I looked at my Garmin… 11:12:?? Wow…I think I got this?!!! With a renewed enthusiasm I now cruised up the remaining hills knowing that I needed to keep a running pace to keep that goal. It seemed to get easier knowing the finish was in reach and I was going hit under 12 hours.
About 2 miles from the finish, the sky parted and the Sun came out to brighten up the last few miles of the most spectacular day. You could not have scripted this any better.
Next, my Garmin beeped and displayed the message “Battery Low”. A little panic raced across my mind. Please don’t die on me now Garmin! Then I realized that it really didn’t matter at this point, but it would be nice to have the whole race recorded. I guess the failure of my Stages Power Meter kind of invalidated it anyway. Argh!
I grunted out that steep little hill right after the swim start. I remember a little girl cheering me on “Come’on Brian…you got this!”, everyone yells your name since it is clearly displayed on your bib. There is no way I could walk now.
Finally, I reached the final uphill before we turn right into the narrow village street lined with screaming spectators. The reality of reaching my goal time had started to sink in. A ton of different emotions swirled through my head. The past 7 months of training flashed through my mind. The past 8 years of training flashed through my head. From struggling to run a mile and struggling to swim 25 yards to now putting together a solid Ironman in under 12 hours. WTH???!! I really did all that? I thought about all those people that helped me get there and supported me on this amazing journey.
I headed into the cobbled village street past the final aid station. I declined the cups of water and Pepsi this time and instead just thanked the awesome volnuteers, who endured the torrential rains all day. I slapped as many of the little hands from the kids that were sticking out along the way down the narrow-fenced chute of the cobbled street. I then reached the familiar fork in the road. To the right was to start the 2nd loop. To the left was the finish line. I very happily veered to the left and cruised down to the finish line. I heard Mike O’Reilly start to say my name…”Brian…” Silence…Pause….”Schwind!” Then right on to some other guys name. For the 3rd time now, he has still yet to say “You are an Ironman!” after saying my name. WTH Mike??!
I happily crossed the finish line, raised my hat in the air and hit the stop button on my Garmin! 11:46:37!!! YES!!! Well officially it was 11:46:47.
If you look up at the predicted finish time I gave my wife, you will note that it reads 11:46:09. Only 47 seconds off! LOL!
I was quickly grabbed by both arms two really nice ladies. They got me a water, a COKE and a freakin’ HUGE finishers medal that almost pulled me to the ground. They escorted me to a guy that took my chip off my leg and another that gave me a finishers hat and tech t-shirt. They opened my can of Coke up for me too after I struggled with it for about 10 seconds. They asked if I wanted a massage? “A Massage??” I said “Hell Yes!” I was then instantly whisked away, out of the finisher area and up a hill into a round building. There were massage tables lined up everywhere and athletes getting massages. What I picture heaven to like.
The ladies led me over to Karen and said goodbye. I thanked them and then was instructed to lay down. Karen asked me what hurt and told her “quads and calves!”. She then worked her magic. I was so relaxed but was a bit worried because I never got to see Denise and my family at the finish. I had looked around, but never saw them. I was hoping they were not worried.
After my awesome massage I went down to the athlete dining area and headed towards an area where spectators where standing. Denise and her parents were there and she loooked very relieved to see me. We chatted a bit and then I headed back to the feeding area to get some post-race Poutine!! Yum!
Denise and I then took the pedestrian lift up to the top of the village and headed to La Grille for my post-Ironman tradition of a Pizza and Beer. Another Ironman finish was officially complete. This one was even a little bit sweeter than the others.
Ironman 70.3 Syracuse was my “B” race for the year. This season has started off quite well for me so far, and I was looking forward to keeping that momentum going with a good performance here. I knew the course would be challenging, but I was hoping to get something around 5:30-6 hours.
Heading into the weekend the weather was looking pretty good. Sunny, mid-80’s and minimal winds. Mid-80’s is a little high for me but hopefully, I would be finishing by the time it got that high. My plan was to have a good swim, take it easy on the bike(~0.75-0.78 intensity factor), and then finish with a solid run in the 1:50-2 hour range.
Travel & Lodging
We headed up on Friday and spent the day in Skaneatles, NY. We were hoping to get out on the lake for some SUP time, but the wind was a little too brisk. I didn’t want to be out there paddling my ass off two days before my race. So we walked around town and did some window-shopping instead.
We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in Dewitt for the weekend. It was fairly nice hotel. It had been there for some time but was clean and well kept. The location was good for the race and was also easy drive to locations downtown
for dinner. It also close to the Erie Canalway path which is great for a short bike ride or run.
The Hotel also had a pretty good looking breakfast, but we opted for something a little better at the Rise n’ Shine Diner in North Syracuse. Really good breakfast! For a healthy lunch I would also recommend the Core Life Eatery in North Syracuse too. We have one of these opening near us and I am so stoked. I will be hitting that on a regular basis for lunch!
For a really good dinner, head downtown to the Armory Square area to the Aster Pantry & Parlor. Really good food, amazing service and cool atmosphere. So good we ate dinner here twice.
On Saturday, we headed over to the race venue to check-in and drop off my bike in transition. Temps were already heading past the forecasted temps I had seen earlier in the week, so I was already starting to suspect this was not going to be an easy race.
Water temps were in the low 70’s according to the guy doing the Athlete Briefing meeting, which I overheard as I checked in. Pretty sure it would a wetsuit swim, but I was going to switch to my “john” wetsuit instead of full-sleeve. With the heat I generate, staying cool is priority one for me.
I suspected a long line of traffic getting into the parking field at Jamesville Beach on race morning since it is only one road that all funnels into one entrance to a big field. We left the hotel at 5am for the 15-20 minute drive to the race, and it turned out to be not that bad. We only got backed up about 1/10th of a mile out from the entrance. The worst part was the traffic directors randomly decided to send us to the farthest point away from the race venue after parking everyone in front of us to the closest point.
I made my way over to transition to set up my small plot of real estate. I bumped into Megan, who had also did Ironman Coeur d’Alene last year and we both share the same coach. I was situated pretty close to the bike out, so it was pretty easy location to spot. Just to be sure, I hung my lucky Notre Dame golf towel next to my bike on the rack.
I then decided to walk all the way back to the car and drop my transition bag off at the car. I don’t know why I did this. It is a pretty long walk and I probably would have been better off just relaxing.
My wife and I made our way to the swim start and I got into the water to do a little swim warm-up. Little is not an understatement here. They had the swim warm-up contained within the tiny, roped-off beach section of water. It was packed with a bunch of wetsuit-clad triathletes trying to swim circles in this ridiculously small area. It was almost comical.
My wave was one of the last waves to start, so I had plenty of time to stand around waiting. Eventually, the yellow caps started congregating and I moved into the mix as they slowly made their way to the swim start arch.
I positioned on the far outter right-side of the group to give myself some clear water to swim. Or so I thought. I immediately became draped in seaweed. I felt like the creature from the black lagoon! I started trying to make my way back into the pack to my right, but the seaweed continued. Eventually, it did get better and the pack started to space out a bit. I kept sighting the pylons but they seemed like they were moving away from me.
I settled into a nice stroke rhythm and before i knew I was making the first right turn. As I made my way back I was right on the inside track going right next to the pylons. I felt like I was cruising now and even passing a bunch of people. Some from my wave and some from earlier waves too. I had a feeling it was going to be a decent swim, but I didn’t dare take the few extra seconds to look at my watch.
Eventually, I was nearing the shoreline as started to see the sand on the bottom. I swam past a few guys who stood up early. I always make sure I don’t stand up until my hand touches bottom. And then touchdown! I got up pulled my goggles onto my forehead and looked at my watch…34:5?? something….Sweet! By the time I hit the timing mat and pushed my lap button it was around 36 minutes and some change. Pretty happy about that.
The race had wetsuit strippers and I was debating whether to use them or not. I decided at the last minute to use them which, unbeknownst to me, threw off my wife from videotaping me. She was apparently standing near the first couple strippers, and I hit the last ones due to my indecisiveness. They struggled a bit getting my wetsuit over my feet, so I had to pull my legs towards me to help them.
I then made a steady jog through the long aisle to my bike, spotting my old lucky Notre Dame(Go Irish!) towel. Shoes, socks, helmet, sunglasses and unrack bike. I was off…
The bike exit was all grass for about 10-20 yards and what seemed like a long little uphill jog until you reach the pavement where the mounting area was. I mounted my bike and headed out onto the road. I quickly came up to my on the side of the road wife taking pictures with her iPhone and gave her a wave as I cruised past.
The first 12 miles of the course is, well, uphill. There is short steep downhill at around 4.25 miles, which is followed by a sharp 90-degree right turn and then right back to climbing again. My plan was to put it in an easy gear and spin easy for the first 12 miles. I felt I did that pretty well too. There were guys flying past me, out of the saddle, and I just laughed to myself how that was going to hurt later. I checked my Garmin after the hills subsided a bit and I was at around 0.82-0.85 Intensity Factor(IF). My goal for the bike was to be in the 0.75-0.79 range, but the hill climbing would surely skew that higher.
The course then turned to long sweeping downhills and flatter sections. I switched into a bigger gear and settled into a nice cruising cadence. Speeds then ranged from 18-22+ MPH for the next 30 miles. There was an occasional hill here and there, but nothing like in the first 12 miles. There was one steep downhill where I reach over 48 MPH which was scary fast. The excitement was quickly squelched when the uphill that followed was just as steep.
Around mile 45 we hit some more longer, less steep climbs before the final steep descent into the transition. I really felt good heading into T2 and I felt like I succeeded in my plan to take it easier than usual on the bike. Looking at my IF on my Garmin showed around 0.75, which is right at the lower end of my plan.
The one factor I did not take into consideration at the end of the bike was that the temperature was starting to hit the high-80’s. It is not always very obvious when you have a 20 MPH wind in your face.
I cruised into T2, dismounted and headed to my transition spot. I was feeling really good and remember thinking to myself how I thought I was ready for a good run. I put my running shoes, hat, sunglasses and bib on. Sprayed my shoulders with some sunscreen and headed out on the run.
The first quarter mile or so was paved, a little uphill and headed past the finish line area. We then passed through a treeline and out into the large field were the car park area was. We ran around the perimeter downhill and then it made two rights up a rather steep hill until we got to the road. This is where things started to take a turn for the worst for me. The heat eliminating from this field felt like it stole my oxygen or maybe just my “mojo.”(Not too groovy, Baby!)
The uphill part of the field, right before you got on the road, really sucked too. My legs started to feel like they were going to cramp which sent a wave of panic through my head. I decided to walk up the hill.
I eventually reached the road which was fairly downhill for a stretch. There was no shade though and the heat was baking the asphalt. I told myself to just keep a steady pace until my legs came around. I settled back into an 8:30-9:00min/mi pace. Not really were I wanted to be for a half-ironman, but looking at it retrospect I would have done well if I could have maintained that.
I hit the second aid station and loaded up with some water and ice. Things were starting to feel a little better now. Until…
Mile 2.5…My run took a turn for the worst. It was almost a mile of steep uphill. Not fun. Lots of walking. Just the view of this steep hill that doesn’t seem to end really played with my head.
Part way up the hill I heard a female voice from behind me say “I love Amrita Bars!” It kind of startled me at first and took me off-guard. She then said that she had 3 of them on the bike too. I was in such a world of hurt at this point I could barely get the words “Cool!” out of my mouth.
Once I reached the turnaround at the top of the hill I got back into a jog again downhill. I then decided to walk the aid stations in order to get liquids in. I also started drinking Coke. I usually save this for the end, so this was not good. But it did help.
My mind was dreading the thought of having to do this all over again. The temperature was getting hotter too. Probably reaching around 90 by now.
I came back into the turnaround, which the make you run right past the finish line. Thanks Mr. Race Director! I came upon my wife standing in one of the few shady spots near the finish line. I had my head down and told her I was not doing good. I was also about 20 minutes past the time I told her I would be back. She told me to “breathe” as I headed past her on my way for another 6 and whatever miles.
I continued to walk the hills and aid stations. It was mostly damage control at this point. I remember somewhere feeling a bit dizzy from the heat. I was on my threshold of heat tolerance, but managed to push through it. I was dumping ice everywhere in my race kit and hat. Chugging coke along the way. I could not get enough liquids.
I started to get into a slow but steady shuffle for the last couple miles. I think the magnetic force of the finish line was pulling me to it.
I finally reached the finish line, relieved, and gave a half-assed arm wave as I made my way through the archway. A bit disappointed, but happy to be done.
I found my wife and met her at the fence while I collected myself a bit.
This race felt like a smaller version of last years’ Ironman Coeur d’Alene, except I actually finished this one. I executed my swim and bike exactly according to plan. Unfortunately, the heat had gotten the best of me again on the run. I just don’t do well in the heat, no two ways about it. I also wasn’t really acclimatized to it yet since this was an early race.
One other thing I realized after was that I don’t feed well on the run. I always bring my beloved Amrita Bars, but I just have no desire to eat them or anything solid for that matter while I run. This happened during my half-marathon earlier this year too. I have always been anti-gel, but I think I may need to consider this for the run. I need something that is a quick shot of energy that will go down easier. Especially when it is hot.
I am going to revisit this aspect of my run nutrition for the next couple months before Ironman Mont-Tremblant. I need to get more energy during the run and this is critical when I have to do a full marathon. Stay tuned on that.
This race has was a bit of a blow to my confidence. But, I need to leverage this setback to help push me harder for my A race. I have to acclimate better to the heat and improve my nutrition on the run. I think the swim and bike improvements are also a good step in the right direction.
The French Creek Triathlon was my first triathlon event of the year. I didn’t know a whole lot about the race, but the timing of it fit well into my schedule. After checking out the race course and past results on their website, I knew I was up for a challenging event. Most of the prior years’ Olympic distance finish times in my age group were hovering around the 3-hour mark. A bit long for typical Olympic distance events. Usually, I am around the 2:30 time frame for Olympic distance tris. Having mountain biked at French Creek in the past, I knew it was hilly and the bike and run course solidified this.
I drove an hour up to French Creek State Park on Saturday, via the beautiful back roads of the Oley Valley, to pick up my race packet and do a little bike/run brick workout to preview the course a bit. The bike route was definitely hilly and most of the roads were in nice shape except for a partial stretch of Rt 345 that is in dire need of repaving.
I had to delay my course recon ride a bit while the French Creek”Tough Kids” triathlon was finishing up. It was pretty cool seeing all these little kids out there giving it their all. While I was waiting a minivan pulled up and the guy driving rolled the window down and introduced himself. It was Todd Hydock, another Amrita Ambassador that lives in the Philadelphia area. I had known of Todd but had never met him in person. We chatted for a while until the kids race had finished. Todd was doing the sprint race on Sunday, so we would talk more on Sunday.
Race swag was pretty nice for a small event. They had a nice white race tech shirt and a Clean Bottle water bottle. I had always wanted to get a Clean Bottle but never got around to getting one. There was also a reusable cloth tote bag and some other items from Brandywine Valley tourism too.
It was pretty dark for the ride up and it was just barely cracking light when I arrived at the race venue. It had rained heavily overnight and was still overcast which kept things dark until I got to transition.
I found an empty space on the rack right at the swim-in/run-out end of transition. Everyone else seemed to be congregating towards the other end. I preferred having space. It was still quite damp out, so I was happy to suit up early with my wetsuit.
I gingerly made my down to the swim start in bare feet to get in a little warm-up swim before the race. I was the first one in the water. Water wasn’t too bad. A little cool but perfect for a wetsuit swim. The water was a light, muddy color but not so dark you couldn’t see at all.
I had a lot of time before my wave start since it was the 2nd to last wave. My toes were pretty much numb by the time the race started. I really need to remember to bring some old flips or socks or something. I chatted a bit with a lady named, Jennifer from NJ, who was also outfitted in full Amrita Kit. She was not an Ambassador but knew Arshad and was a loyal Amrita customer.
I also ran into Amy & Bill Kline who are good friends with my old tri-blogger-buddy Shanna. I have run into them a lot over the last couple years and they are really nice to talk too. I didn’t know it after the race, but it was their 17th wedding anniversary that day. Pretty cool to be doing a triathlon for your anniversary!
Finally, my wave was up. I sauntered into the water and was trying to stay back a little and to the left. The problem was everyone was staying back from the starting line. I was not about to stay back that far, so I ended up moving past everyone to the start line which was about waist deep. Not exactly where I like to be, but if they are going to lag back I might as well take the head start.
The first 200 yards kind of sucked like it usually does. It is just full of anxiety and nervous energy that it makes it hard to breathe. There was a little bit of bumping since some of the faster guys were going past or over me. Eventually, things settled out and got into my pace.
I had mostly clear water from there on out. Although I could have used some drafting help, not having to deal with others is nice too. I maintained a pretty steady swim and held steady for the rest of the two loop course. I never looked at my Garmin until I actually got out of the water.
I never looked at my Garmin until I actually got out of the water. It ready somewhere around 27 minutes, which is ok for me. I was hoping for faster but whatever. The worst thing is that the timing mats are the entrance/exit to transition, not at the swim exit. And it was at least tenth of a mile run to transition over little rocks. So my swim time ended up being around 28 minutes. I hate that!
The 1st transition went rather smoothly. Ditched the wetsuit and popped on my bike shoes, helmet and off I went. Ba-da-bing…ba-da-boom!
There were practically no flat sections on this entire bike course! You are either going up or going down. Nothing in between.
The road conditions are mostly good, except for one smaller section on Rt 345 that is in SEVERE need of paving. It also would appear to be a well-shaded course, but hard to tell when it was so overcast. The road was also pretty wet
from the rain the night before.
My goal on this leg was to not overcook my legs on the hills and save something for the run. I would also try to bomb the downhills as much as possible and use “gravity” to my advantage.
I feel I executed that plan fairly well. It was surely not the fastest of rides, but my legs were still pretty fresh at the end. I ate one and a half Amrita Bars and 2 bottles of Skratch Labs during the ride. It is pretty easy to eat when you are climbing hills all morning.
T2 was a bit of a blunder. I left my running shoes tied in a double know…duh!! So I was there fumbling around with that for far too long. It was such a rookie mistake. I also put socks on, which cost me some more time. Despite that, I still got out in 2 minutes and looking at the results probably would not have made much difference in the end anyway.
The run started out flat for about a 1/4 mile and then it was up…and up…and up…for the first 4 miles. As soon as my legs were getting accustomed to running, the hills started. There was one section along a small lake that flattened out for a little bit, but then it was up again. The Olympic course also took a left, when the Sprint athletes went right back to the finish, to enjoy another larger hill climb. By the time I reached the top my legs were screaming. I even walked about 10 yards or so just to get my HR down a little bit.
After the 2nd turnaround at the top of the last hill, it was all downhill for 2 miles to the finish. Ihave to say that last two miles were actually pretty fun. You knew you could just coast it in at that point. I felt bad for all the other athletes who were coming up those hills and was trying to give them some encouragement as I cruised past them.
I crossed the finish line feeling pretty good. The last 2 miles actually refreshed me a bit. Finish time was 3:01 and a few seconds. Not the best time for a Olympic distance event, but this was not your ordinary Olympic distance race.
After the race, I met up Amy & Bill, My Amrita-buddy Todd, and also Terry & Sean Fenoff who I had met at my a strength training workshop that my strength coach had a couple years ago.
I stopped by the timing booth and looked at the posted race results. I saw that I came in 4th in my age group, which left me a little disappointed that I missed the podium by one place! Ugh…so close!
I decided that it wasn’t worth sticking around at that point and started packing up my bike and things in transition. I was also texting my wife telling her I got 4th in AG. While I was doing that Bill had stopped by and congratulated me on getting 3rd Place in my AG???!!! What??!! He informed me that the 1st place guy in my age group won the overall 1st place for the race, so that got me into 3rd! SWEET!!
I immediately text my wife back and said “scratch that…I actually got 3rd!” She was a little bummed that she wasn’t there now. So back I went and hung out for the post-race awards. It was pretty cool since Bill & Amy both won their Age Groups and they announced that it was their 17th wedding anniversary too! Also, Terry, Sean and Todd all podiumed too. So it was pretty cool to see everyone up there.
I was pretty happy to finally get a podium finish in triathlon. I have been doing this for over 8 years and have yet to get a podium in a triathlon. I got one for running races and duathlons, but never a triathlon. I think the build up of experience over the years with good coaches and my focus on strength training this year is making a difference.
Last season I had to bail out on the St. Luke’s Half Marathon on the morning of due to a nasty stomach bug. I was looking forward to putting that behind me and getting another result here under my belt.
To make things a little more interesting, I also challenged a friend from work, who we’ll call “Stéphane” to protect his anonymity, to this race. Stéphane is a much younger, lighter and naturally faster runner than I am, but I hoped that the longer distance may help level the playing field a bit. Also, the added competition may help motivate me to a new personal best time.
This race had given me my current standing half marathon PR back in 2010 with a time of 1:46:47 at a 8:06min/mi pace. I was also about 20 lbs lighter(165lbs) and 6 years younger(41) back then. Could I really beat this 6-year-old PR carrying another 20lbs and being over a half a decade older? I felt like I could, but who knows.
The weather turned out to be perfect running weather. Sunny, clear and in the mid-50’s. I made it to the starting line without issue and with plenty of time. Stéphane and I chatted a bit as the 5k-ers took off. We were lined up pretty close to the front, so not to get caught up in the herd. I had got caught up in this the first time I did this race and suffered 2 of my slowest miles until I got past this group.
The gun went off and we were on our way. Stéphane was off and quickly out of site into the leading pack. I stayed back and tried to settle into a somewhat comfortable pace without getting caught up in the start of the race over-eagerness. I looked down at my Garmin and saw my pace was in the low 7 min/mi. Whoa…nelly!
My first mile was a 7:15 which is more like my 5k pace. I toned it down a bit and settled into around 7:30min/mi pace. While this seemed a bit fast for me, it was feeling right. I pretty much maintained this pace for the first half of the race, which runs along Martin Luther King Blvd and is mostly flat.
As I approached the first turnaround near South 4th St., I saw my coach, Todd Wiley, flying by very close to the leaders of the race. He would end up finishing 6th overall!
I soon saw Stéphane, heading back as I went by the Parkettes Gymnastics gym. He was about a quarter mile ahead of me, but still not out of reach if he had issues later on. But could I keep up this pace and catch him.
I hit the 10k split timer just past the 15th street bridge which read 46:57! This would be a 10k PR time for me??? WTH?!
I made the left turn over the steep little bridge into the Lehigh Parkway. As I hit the gravel path things started to slow down a bit. Was the loose gravel stealing my energy or was it the steep incline of the bridge and the little hill that followed taking the wind out of my sails? My legs were starting to rebel a bit.
As I reached the next two steep hills before the red covered bridge turnaround my pace was slowing to a 8:30 min/mi pace. I could feel the fatigue really starting to hurt now. I was starting to question whether I could sustain the personal best time I had started with.
I tried to hit most every water stop and get at least a mouthful of water in at each without stopping. I know that I don’t need much hydration a race of this duration. Getting a swig every 15 mins or so is good for me. I stuffed down an Amrita Bar right before the start and had another one broken up into pieces in my Spibelt if I needed more. The problem is getting the bar out of the Spibelt seemed like it would take more time to get out than it would be worth, so I pressed on.
After a couple slower miles in the parkway, I was able to pick things up a little during the 11th mile. Miles 12 and 13 were a little slow again as my legs were really hurting. I knew there was no catching up with Stéphane unless he was having a really bad day. The thought that that may be a possibility kept me pushing on.
I finally made the last turn down along Cedar Beach and up into J. Birney Crum Stadium. I was so glad to be almost done. My Garmin was reading 1:44 and some change so I was pretty sure I had a new PR, but not sure where my speed co-worker was.
As I crossed the line, I grabbed my medal and saw Stéphane standing there already finished. Ahhh! I got so caught up in trying to catch him that my PR seemed to be of no significance to me. I was also a bit disappointed that I slowed as the race went on. A sign that I probably went out too fast.
Ok, I just PR’d my Half-Marathon time by over 2 freakin’ minutes??!!! What the hell is wrong with me? It wasn’t until a little later when I met up with my coach who asked how I did. My initial reaction was that of disappointment but then followed up with I PR’d by over two minutes. He was like what? He was then like “that’s awesome!” I thought huh, yeah what am I disappointed about? I guess sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees.
Last week I was talking about it with my strength coach, Fernando, and explaining how I was able to PR that race being 6 years older and 20 lbs heavier. Fernando said you are “older and faster” and I added “and fatter too”. Hence the title Older, Fatter, and Faster! Pretty funny.
I have actually dropped about 15 lbs so far since the beginning of this season and am on track to lose at least another 15 by Ironman Mont-Tremblant in August. Getting down another 15 lbs will only serve to make me that much faster. I have PR’d both races I have done this season, so I am off to a good start and the sky is the limit here.
Next up is the French Creek Olympic Distance Triathlon in late May. This will be a good indicator of where my triathlon fitness lies by putting together all the disciplines. I am anticipating some improvement in the swim with some of the changes in technique I have made that have improved my times in the pool. Running off the bike will be interesting to see if I can sustain my improved pace with some bike legs. 2016 is proving to be off to a good start to a hopeful season.
Training has been moving along pretty quickly this season. Hard to believe I have already completed 10 weeks of solid training in prepping for Ironman Mont-Tremblant in August. I have been slacking a bit on the blogging front and it has been around 6 weeks since my last training update post. I have been really busy at work as well as training. It is a constant cycle of Sleep, eat, train, work, train, eat, and sleep.
Overall training has been consistently progressing in an upwards fashion. Fatigue has been following along slightly above my CTL(Chronic Training Load) with no major spikes. My Friday recovery days have helped keep fatigue levels in check and my longer rides and runs on the weekend haven’t been more than 3 and 1:45 hours, respectively.
Looking at HRV(Heart Rate Variability) in the chart below, you can see that things have been progressing in an upward direction since the end of February. I have had a few sporadic low readings , but nothing compared to February. Despite the couple low data points, most readings have been in the 80’s with an occasional 90+ reading . HRV-wise, things are on the up-and-up.
My coach had recommended doing a 5k sometime in March and the St. Pat’s West End 5k in Allentown came up on March 20th. The course was also pretty flat, so it made for a good place to test my current run fitness. It was a pretty cool morning which was a little rough on my lungs that day. There was also a fair amount of people I knew in the race which would help fuel the competitive juices a bit too.
I started off a bit faster than I probably should of with ~6:48/mi pace. Although the first 1/4 mile was downhill. I was basically holding on for the next two miles, despite my lungs screaming for mercy. When I crossed the finish line my Garmin said 22:24, but the official race time stated 22:45. I was a little disappointed with the race time difference and I was not sure how they got such a different time than I did. There were some discrepancies on the course and they were scurrying at the last minute to fix things. Regardless, the slower time was still a PR for me by 1 second off my previous 5k PR back in 2013 and I finished 6th in my age group. So I can’t complain too much. And, of course, I now had a good test to setup my heart race and pace zones for my upcoming training.
I also tried to perform an FTP test on the trainer later that week, which was probably not the brightest idea. It was a total pain-fest since my legs were still sore from the 5k earlier that week, but I managed to squeak out a 1 watt improvement over my last FTP test. LOL! I really think I would have destroyed my previous FTP if I had fresher legs, but I was shocked I even improved 1 watt given the state of fatigue I was in. As you can see below, I just kind of lost it at about 15 minutes into the test
I really think I would have destroyed my previous FTP if I had fresher legs, but I was shocked I even improved 1 watt given the state of fatigue I was in. As you can see below, I just kind of lost it at about 15 minutes into the 20-minute test period but managed to recover and finish out the test without incurring a loss. Oh well, next time!
Swimming is such an interesting beast. It was always the weakest leg for me since I only learned to swim (well properly with my head under water) back in 2008. I always seem to hover around 2:00/100m while swimming in the pool, but when I open water swim I am usually around 1:50/100m. I figured this was mostly due to my wetsuit and not having to make turns since I still can’t do a flip turn.
My coach, Todd Wiley, mentioned about taking some Go-Pro video of myself swimming in the pool and he would take a look at my form. I think it was a pretty easy assessment for him since he quickly got back to me indicating that I was pushing my arm towards the bottom of the pool on my catch instead of back(See image below) and my legs were too low. He sent me a couple articles and videos demonstrating what I should be doing and I eagerly watched them.
I started focusing entirely on my catch and making sure I was pushing back instead of down. This included keeping my elbow high and using my forearm and my hand to push the water back. It was almost and immediate improvement! Now my lap times in the pool are now consistently around my open water pace times. This has been a huge improvement and I am now thinking that another IM Swim PR time could be realized this season. I am eager to get out in some open water and see how this translates with a wetsuit and not having to make turns every 25m.
I also think, but not totally sure, that my legs are higher now since I am going faster with the proper catch position. I will have take some more video to get a before-and-after comparison.
Amrita Ambassador 2016
I will be serving as an Amrita Ambassador again for 2016. As you may know, Amrita bars are my go-to nutrition in races, training, and pretty much every day. They are full of powerful nutrients that keep me energized without polluting my body without a bunch of toxic chemicals. They are plant-based, gluten-free, allergy-free, soy-free, dairy-free and they are REALLY good too!
If you would like to try them or order some, please go to Amrita Health Foods and enter the coupon code “britri16” at checkout to get 15% off.
What’s Coming Up?
Now that we are moving into race season, I have a few things coming soon. At the end of April will be the St. Luke’s Half Marathon which is always a fun local event. Although not real fun when you get a stomach bug the morning of the race like I did last year. I am hoping to get a PR time there since I challenged one of my co-workers to get some competition going.
In May, I will be racing in the French Creek Olympic Triathlon for the first time. Another local event which will be my first triathlon tune-up event. Knowing the French Creek area, it should be a rather hilly event for sure.
In June, I’ll be racing at Ironman 70.3 Syracuse also for the first time. That should be a good indicator of my fitness prior to Ironman Mont-Tremblant in August. I am expecting similar terrain so it should be a good test. Should be a fun season!
We originally had made plans to go to Lake Placid in mid-December for a little Winter ski vacation. We had plans later in the Winter to head to Arizona for a week, so we needed to get a little Winter-fix before going to some warmer climate. Planning a ski vacation to the Adirondacks in December can be a little questionable as to whether they have snow or not. Last year they had a lot of snow then, this year practically none.
So, with only a few weeks to go, we decided to change things up. Denise checked around with her friends living out West and there was not much snow to be had there either. She then came across Banff & Lake Louise in Western Alberta, Canada. They had a good November snowfall and conditions were perfect for some early season skiing. We had always wanted to go there too, so no time like the present. We quickly changed our plans and locked in our flights to Calgary.
Our departure out of Newark was an early one. We were up at 3:30 AM and on our way to
the airport. We dropped the car off at the usual parking place, ABC Airport Parking, who quickly whisked us away to the terminal. The airport check-in and security checks went pretty smoothly and we were on our flight just in time to see the sunrise before take-off.
Houston…We Have A Problem…
Our flight to Calgary went fairly well until we tried to land in Calgary. There was a low-lying, dense fog that we had to go through to land. We could not see anything as we entered into it at the very last part of our landing. All of a sudden the runway appeared out of nowhere within feet of touching down. Before the wheels were about to touch the pilot “hit the gas” and we were ascending at a steep and fast pace. Denise and I looked at each other saying WTH??!
Before long the pilot got on and said that the visibility was too low to land and they were going to give it another try. I believe we were possibly too far down the runway when we were about to touch-down. We then made a long sweeping turn and got back in line to land again. Fortunately, the 2nd time was much more successful. I usually don’t have an issue with flying, but I was a little uneasy after that episode.
We picked up our bags and rental car and made our way to West from Calgary to Banff. Calgary had a fresh inch or two of snow on the ground, which was a welcome sight after the warm start to Winter we had back home. The outskirts of Calgary are filled with these large walled communities of very tightly clustered housing. It seemed a bit strange to me. After flanking the city we started heading West over large open plains with the Candian Rocky Mountains looming in the distance.
We reached the town of Canmore after about an hour and turned in to get some lunch at CrazyWeed restaurant. Denise had found this place as being one of the best ones in Canmore. She did not let us down with her research either. We had a nice lunch there and then drive through the downtown area and up to the Nordic Center to check that out. It is a pretty lively little place with lots of shops and restaurants. I think it is a more reasonable option as compared to Banff which gets a little more upper-class folks and everything is a bit more pricey.
I pre-booked the first few nights of the trip at the Juniper Hotel in Banff, which is located across Highway 1(Trans-Canada Highway) from Banff. It sits up and above the highway and overlooks the town with a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains. Our room had a big window that allowed you to take it all in from your bed. The rates here were quite reasonable too. They have a nice restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We wish we would have dined there more cause food was really good! They also have a hot tub which was not far from our room.
We also dined at the Banff Brewpub(twice) and the Bison Restaurant. I really like the brewpub since they had a wide selection of food and the beers were really good. The Bison was a bit more upscale, but I didn’t find the food all that great relative to the price. There wasn’t much choice for vegan/vegetarian, so maybe carnivores would have a better luck here. Melissa’s was our go-to place for breakfast.
Skiing at Lake Louise
On Sunday, we headed about 40 minutes up Highway 1 to Lake Louise to ski. We didn’t have high expectations for the mountain, so we were pleasantly surprised by the terrain. The snow conditions were also very good for early in the season. We headed over to the Larch area in the morning which seemed to have the best conditions according to some people we talked to. There were some gnarly areas, but we found a few good runs there. After lunch, we made our way to the back bowls which contained a good amount of fluffy snow. Although with overcast sky it was impossible to see anything. It was like white-out conditions. At times I had no idea what the pitch was or if it was bumped up or not. I just pointed my skis down and hoped for the best.
All-in-all it was a good ski day. The temps were around 25F which was perfect. We had lunch at the sushi restaurant in the lodge which was quite good. We sat next to a couple of guys who pretty much ran the mountain so they gave us the scoop on the hill. We rented equipment at Wilson Sports just down the road in the Village of Lake Louise. Equipment was nice, but our skis were wider and more powder skis, so they weren’t the best match for conditions.
White Knuckles on the Icefields Parkway
On Monday, we decided to take a break from skiing and take a drive up the Icefields Parkway towards Jasper, Alberta. The parkway starts at Lake Louise and heads Northwest through the heart of the most beautiful sections of the Canadian Rockies. It is supposed to be one of the most scenic drives in the world and takes about 3 hours to get Jasper in good weather. The only problem is that it was now the middle of the Winter and they don’t maintain the road very well during that time. Another factor was that my wife decided she wanted to drive that day. Since I can be a little bit of a control freak where driving is concerned it left me a little grumpy for the start. When we hit the start of the Parkway there was a flashing sign indicating that the roads not in great shape and to proceed at your own risk. The start of the road was covered in very bumpy ice which appeared to be several inches thick. I was not having a warm-and-fuzzy feeling for this 3 hour+ drive. My grumpiness ended rather quickly though once we got into the mountains. It was amazing! The mountain scenery with all the snow was one of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen.
The road eventually mellowed out but was still covered with snow most of the way. Locals flew passed us in large 4-wheel drive trucks like we were standing still. We ended up stopping pretty often so I could take pictures, so the trip took even longer than expected. We knew we would not get to Jasper in time to come back again before night, so we ended up turning around just past halfway where Route 11 intersects. We stopped at Peyto Lake and did a little hike through woods to a lookout overlooking the lake.
When we reached Lake Louise we decided to continue our scenic journey and head down the Bow Valley Parkway instead of taking the highway back to Banff. We were rewarded with more magnificent views and even had an Elk sighting along the way.
Skiing at Sunshine Village
On Tuesday, we headed over to Sunshine Village after a nice breakfast at the Juniper Hotels’ restaurant. Sunshine Village is only about 6 miles up Highway 1 from Banff. It is actually behind Banff, nestled in a narrow valley between the mountains that open up to a wide bowl at the top. A 20-minute gondola ride takes you from the parking area just to the base of the mountain. You can stop off part of the way up to hit the Goat’s Eye section.
When we arrived at the base we were greeted by a very friendly staff “greeter” that gave us the whole low-down on the mountain. It was a beautiful morning with the sun shining away before the snow clouds filled in later in the morning. We played around in the Wawa Bowl and Birdcage area for a bit in the morning and then eventually wound around to the Mount Standish area.
We had lunch at the Chimney Corner restaurant in the lodge, which ended up being a rather unpleasant experience. Our wait for our food took an exceptionally long time and when it finally did arrive the waitress indicated that my wife’s meal was accidentally served to another table. When my wife’s meal finally arrived, it was overdone and she asked to send it back. She also asked to get something else instead, like poutine, that would be quicker since she was hungry and we had wasted enough time in the place. When we got the bill, we noticed they had obviously comp’d us for my wife’s burger which she didn’t eat, but they still charged us for the Poutine. Given the poor experience, we were kind of surprised they didn’t just comp her meal all together as most places would typically do. We said something to our waitress who said she would talk to her manager.
Not soon after we were greeted by a slightly nervous looking younger guy who said he was the manager. We explained the situation to him and he then proceeded to tell us that we were basically wrong about our observation of how my wife’s burger was done. Really? Growing up in the restaurant business, I can tell that you that the customer is never wrong and that if they are not satisfied with their dining experience, you do whatever it takes to make it a good one. This kid was obviously a little puppet for someone else and was just following orders, but I was amazed at this. Especially in a country where everyone was so nice, this really stood out. And really, comp-ing a $10 entree to “make things right” would be no skin off their back. We are obviously not going there again, not that would have anyway. We were planning to hit one of the other bars there for Apres ski that day, but decided to bag it because I didn’t want to be paying them any more money.
Skiing at Sunshine Village pretty nice. We found a good bump run with a little tree section leading up to it. We spent most of the afternoon on that before making our way down the Gondola back to the parking lot. We headed back into town to return our ski rentals and then grabbed another dinner at the Banff Brewpub before heading to our next destination.
Baker Creek Mountain Resort
We drove back up Highway 1 towards Lake Louise again and then about 10 minutes back down the Bow Valley Parkway to our accommodations for the next couple nights at Baker Creek Mountain Resort. Baker Creek is a somewhat remote little outpost consisting of really nice little log cabins and deluxe rooms. We got there late and they left a note on the office door indicating which room we were in. The room had a little kitchen, a gas fireplace, and big hot tub. The perfect little retreat for a couple days of rest and relaxation. The temperature was also dropping to below zero(C and F) for the next couple days, so skiing was out of the question anyway.
We were a little disappointed to find out that the restaurant at Baker Creek was closed for everything but dinner, so we would have to drive up to Lake Louise Village next day for breakfast and get groceries for any meals we wanted to eat there. I was kind of looking forward to just hanging out there, but was not meant to be. They had also just sold the place to new owners, who had taken over only a few days before, so they were in a bit of a transition period. Despite that, the place was very nice and we had a very relaxing time there.
On our jaunt up to the Lake Louise Village, we enjoyed a great breakfast at The Post Hotel and then equally good lunch at the Fairmont Chateau at Lake Louise. I also got out on the lake for some photography, but it was so cold there I could not stay out there for very long.
We also managed to get out for a little snowshoeing around Baker Creek and I was able to get a few images along the river at sunset.
For the last couple nights we headed back to Canmore, Alberta to stay at the Falcon Crest Lodge. The room at Falcon Crest was more like an apartment than a room. It was very spacious, clean and new. The only bad thing was we had no view of the mountains from our room. Instead, we looked out on a walking path and another building which looked similar to it. It did have an underground parking lot which was kind of nice.
On our fist full day in Canmore, I was able to get out to the Nordic Center for some skate-skiing. Their nordic center is pretty elaborate and I was looking forward to checking it out. The only bad thing was there was a bunch of signs warning of bears still on the prowl and mountain lions which are always around. I was a little uneasy at first, but there were enough other skiers out that it didn’t appear to be an issue. I ended up getting about 10 miles in which was sufficient.
Dining out in Canmore was not a problem. We headed back to Crazyweed again which was very good, but there wine prices were outrageous. We also tried Rocky Mountain Flatbread Pizza Co. which was also very good. Our Favorite though was CommuniTea Cafe which we ended up eating at 3 times in 2 days! They had really healthy food and it was much needed at the end of a vacation where we were eating a lot of less healthy stuff.
After dinner at the Pizza place, we headed over to the Canmore Curling Club to check that out. The bartender there was really nice and sat down and explained it all to us. Super-nice guy! There was recreational leagues going on and it was pretty funny to watch them. Looks like a very fun social thing.
On our last, full day of the trip we did a little hike up to Grassi Lakes. It was a pretty well-established trail, but it was a constant ascent on a snow covered path which made it a little tricky. I only brought one pair of YakTrax, so we had to share them by each putting one on one foot. We were quickly rewarded at the top with some beautiful little crystal-clear lakes and cascading brooks linking them together. The walk back seemed to be a little more tricky with the traction since gravity was coming into play.
We then talk a more leisurely walk along the footpath that runs along both sides of the Bow River in Canmore. Still snow-covered, but a nice little path to view the river and surrounding mountains.
This trip ended up being one of my favorites. It is surprising such a last-minute decision. We didn’t have a bad meal the whole time other than the Chimney Corner at Sunshine Village. The exchange was also a nice surprise after getting my credit card bill when I got home. I would definitely like to head back here again in the warmer months. I know it will probably be much more crowded, but if we spend more time in the backcountry we may be able to escape some of that.