It was out for the whole world to see. I had one goal for Ironman Whistler… WIN. I called my shot.
Training for Ironman is tough. Training to win your age group at an Ironman takes some guts. In the middle of my peak training block I almost quit. I was physically and mentally shattered. I remember driving home from Pinetop after a long training weekend contemplating throwing in the towel. I rented Rocky videos for a pick-me-up. I watched this part in Rocky II over and over:
If Ironman training was easy, everyone would be doing it. I wrote a note next to my bed that read: WIN ELLIE WIN. It helped.
Working a full-time job and training 25+ hour weeks was borderline crazy; waking up at 3 a.m. to train four hours before work was completely absurd; doing several 120+ mile rides in 100 degree heat was silly; and running a 2:56 treadmill marathon with nothing to look at except a wall made me go a little nutty. Yet, I knew very few people in my age group were training harder than me. If someone was going to beat me in Whistler they’d have to outperform me. I knew I could compete with the best and I wanted the win… bad.
I take Ironman racing seriously. As Russell puts it: Separation is in the preparation. I prepare for and visualize every possible scenario in a race. I eat extremely clean, communicate with my coach daily, and do my best to get as much sleep and recovery in as possible. Prior to the race, I looked up every single competitor in my age group and jotted down the key players. I studied every single mile of the course and took notes on where I’d take risks. I also sat down with my uncle to show me exactly where he’d be along the run course to provide me time gaps. I knew this course and my competition inside and out.
My body and mind felt re-energized during my taper. My legs got their pop back. I got real anxious to race. I escaped the hot summer Phoenix heat and enjoyed some nice train-cations in the pines and lava fields the last few weekends before Ironman Whistler.
Giving myself a little Kona inspiration:
I met with coach Nick a week before my race. We didn’t talk much about race times. He made it evident: I was there to win and earn my second consecutive Kona slot. At my last two major races (Boise 70.3 and IM Canada 2013), I was caught late in the run. Besides sharks and bears, getting picked off late in a race is my biggest fear. My entire season revolved around Ironman Whistler. I put a ton of pressure on myself to perform on race day. Though, I was confident, determined, and ready.
Some key discussion points during our meeting:
1. Be confident but remain humble. Respect the course and my competition.
The Whistler course is a monster with 6,400 feet of climbing on the bike and around 1,500 feet on the run. I went into the race with a lot of confidence but knew this course would annihilate me if I didn’t respect it. I needed to race smart.
2. Use matches wisely and play to my strength… the run.
I ran a 2:52 Boston Marathon earlier in the year. I needed to trust my running abilities to hunt down my prey.
3. Get in the heads of my competition. Make it look easy.
Nick taught me Jedi mind games to play on my competitors.
4. When making a pass, make it evident to my competitors that they don’t stand a chance.
Getting caught late in the race wasn’t going to happen in Whistler. Once a pass was made, I was going to make it clear their day was over.
5. It will all come down to who wants it more and who has the most heart.
I have family and friends who believe in me. I knew I’d have tons of people tracking and rooting for me. This would give me heart and courage when the goin’ got tough. Little man with a big heart…
6. Be patient.
Patience is everything in long-distance racing. I constantly reminded myself that Ironman is a long day. Anything could happen.
I flew home Tuesday night. Jenna and I explored downtown Seattle Wednesday. She whined about the cold and rain. I forgave her when she walked around Pikes Place Market in a Hawks shirt. Welcome to the land of the 12s.
Derek, my cousin Clare, Jenna, and I drove up to Whistler Thursday morning. Before getting into town, they dropped me off at Callaghan so I could ride the first major climb of the course. I stopped many times to take pictures of this amazing place.
Friday: I biked from Whistler to Pemberton and back, to tackle the biggest climb of the course. The last 20 miles of the course (nearly 2,300 feet of climbing) was a beast. I plotted out which sections I’d push and which parts I’d take a little easier to save my legs for the marathon.
Saturday: I met up with Colin Cook and John Argue to drop off our bikes and transition bags at Lake Alta.
The rest of the day was spent relaxing, napping, and taking my mind off the race.
JC and I shot some pool and watched Harry Potter Saturday evening.
We took Beast shuttles to Lake Alta. This was already shaping up to be a great day.
Every day I’m Russellin’:
A friendly rivalry has materialized over the past few years between me and Colin. I beat him at IM Arizona and he dominated me in Kona. Ironman Whistler was the rubber match!
John, Colin, and me:
The swim was a deep water, mass start, two rectangular loop course in Alta Lake… very straightforward with sighting buoys everywhere. Water temperature was in the high 60s. Colin and I lined up in the front, along the buoy line. I knew our swimming abilities were nearly identical as we both exited the water at the same time in Kona.
The gun went off and I swam to the first buoy as hard possible to get away from the washing machine and try to find a pack. I swam with a group for most of the swim and clocked the first loop in 29 flat. The second loop thinned out quite a bit as I was constantly chasing feet to draft. Compared to Kona, contact during this entire swim was minimal and I exited the water almost exactly the same time as last year. 1:02:29. I was content with this time as it didn’t put me too far back in my age group.
Swim time: 1:02:29, 10th AG, 133 OA
IM Canada 2013: 1:02:38, 10th AG, 180th OA
I sprinted out of the water, ran past the wetsuit strippers, grabbed my bike bag and ran into the changing tent. I pre-stuffed all my nutrition in my bike jersey. I put on my shoes and jersey as fast as possible. Sprinting toward Hawk, I saw Colin’s bike already out of transition. Being Ironman All-World Gold athletes, Colin and I were racked right next to each other!
T1: 2:19 (3:26 in 2013)
The bike course was the same exact route as last year. It contained 6,400 feet of total climbing. The first 14 miles were fast, steep descents with some small rollers. Then, you hit the first major climb… a 7-mile, 1,200 foot ascent to the top of Callaghan, the Nordic venue for the 2010 Olympic games. After a fast descent down Callaghan, we rode back into Whistler (more rollers) and headed down to Pemberton. The Whistler to Pemberton descent was fast – about 2,300 feet of descending. In Pemberton, we were taken on a completely flat out-and-back section of farm road for approximately 34 miles. Then, the big climb back into Whistler (2,300 feet ascent)… where dreams can easily be destroyed.
A mile into the bike, I was shocked when John Argue came flying past me. He had the swim of his life going an hour flat! Wow, Colin and John are both killing it! I didn’t let it get to my head. I let John go and strictly followed my game plan. It was way too early in the race to burn any matches. John was riding much harder than me and I needed to stick to my power numbers. Patience young Jedi, I told myself.
I immediately began my nutrition plan on the bike: one gel every half hour, one honey stinger waffle every hour, and a caffeinated salt tab every 15 minutes. I drank water whenever I felt thirsty.
Approaching Callaghan, the field seemed much more thinned out this year. The entire front of the race seemed sparse and spread out. I discarded one of my water bottles at the base to make myself lighter. I climbed Callaghan at the top of my prescribed IM power zone, trying my best to keep my cadence high. Spinning is winning.
Boquet, a guy in my age group who I researched before the race, passed me on Callaghan. He was moving. Though, I knew I could run him down. I didn’t even attempt to hang with him. Descending Callaghan was fun. I spun out in my 53/11 and sat on my top tube as I bombed down the hill. I hit 50 mph a few times.
Riding back to Whistler re-energized me as I saw my parents and massive crowds along the road. I felt their enthusiasm. I felt great.
Riding past Green Lake:
Heading to Pemberton, I was still riding mostly alone, with small groups here and there. I had no clue where I was in the race.
I train strictly off of power and use heart rate as a secondary measure. Suddenly, the numbers and cadence went blank on my Garmin! Crap!!! I panicked and tried spinning my cranks backwards (resets the power meter). Nothing. I tried resetting my Garmin, lightly kicking my crank, and checking the magnet. Still no reading. I felt like I was riding blind.
My power meter was dead and there was nothing I could do about it. Deal with it, my bike is working fine, I told myself. I relied on heart rate for the last 60 miles of the ride. I’ve trained enough with heart rate that I can almost predict my power output based on my beats-per-minute. I closely monitored my BPM as I kept it within three beats at the top of my aerobic zone. By this point of the race, I was all alone. I stared at my Garmin and played the “Bryan Dunn heart rate game,” keeping my BPM on a horizontal line, as steady as possible. It helped pass time on this boring, flat, 34-mile stretch in Pemberton.
I passed my teammate, John Argue, at mile 70. He looked spent.
Leaving Pemberton, I was thankful to get out of aero position, stretch out my back, and start climbing. I left Pemberton with one bottle of water. Halfway up the ascent to Whistler, I ran out of water. I caught the 5th place women pro and another age grouper. They were low on fluids as well. I got really thirsty as I began praying to see an aid station at the crest of each hill. It seemed like an eternity until we got to the next aid station. I soaked myself with water to cool down and grabbed a bottle of water and Perform to put on my bike.
Riding the Pemberton to Whistler climb two days prior to the race really helped. I knew exactly when the climb would end. It also allowed me to calculate which climbs I could push a little harder, and which sections to save my legs for the run.
I unzipped my jersey during the last part of the climb to stay cool. The headwind Whistler is notoriously known for while climbing from Pemberton was nonexistent. I rode into Whistler to see my time 12 minutes slower than last year. It is what it is, I told myself. I didn’t kill myself on the bike. I rode to the best of my abilities, while still leaving plenty left in the tank for the marathon. I rode on top of my shoes, hit the dismount line, and ran toward my run bag. Getcha popcorn ready Whistler…
Bike time: 5:28:58, 5th AG (+4 spots), 48th OA (+85 spots)
IM Canada 2013: 5:16:41, 6th AG, 72nd OA
Following the same strategy as last year, I put on my shoes and socks, and did the rest on the fly. Every second counts, even in Ironman. I wasn’t going to let bad transition times derail my day.
T2: 1:44 (2:14 in 2013)
The run course was altered from 2013. It was still two loops with rollers throughout the entire course. A few steeper sections were also added. It contained about 1,500 feet of total climbing, 200 feet more than the 2013 course. This has to be one of the most scenic run courses on the Ironman circuit. We ran along two lakes, through the woods on packed gravel trails, and across bridges and rivers. The crowd support on the run was amazing. There were hardly any stretches where spectators weren’t cheering for you. We ran past vacation condos where huge groups of people were supporting the racers. I fed off their energy.
I was eager to hunt down my prey. I felt good… real good. My coach warned me not to go out too hard. I couldn’t help myself. I went for it.
Ellie was putting on a show. Even this bear came out to watch:
I got the first time gaps from Derek around mile one. I was 18:30 down on Boquet, currently in 5th place… lots of work to do, but I had tons of confidence in my run and my legs felt amazing.
Doing my homework before the race I wrote down the strengths and weaknesses of the top players in my age group.
1. Boquet – He can bike, but struggles on the run (two 4-hour IM runs)
2. McMillan – Average swimmer and cyclist, but can run (2:38 open marathon, 1:17 70.3 run)
3. Gronsund – Nearly identical splits as my IM Canada ’13 race at IM Sweden
4. Ampleman – Short course guy, good swimmer, no Ironmans
I told Derek to watch out for McMillan the night before the race. It looked like he was the only guy capable of outrunning me.
Running a 6:35 min/mile pace for the first four miles I passed two guys in my age group. I flew by them like they were standing still.
At each aid station, I drank a cup of water and dumped ice and water over my head. I also sucked on ice cubes to keep cool. The afternoon temperature in Whistler was in the low 80s. I consumed a Power Gel every 25 minutes.
I saw my uncle again around mile eight and he said I was now in 2nd place, six minutes behind Boquet. I smiled. I was picking people off left and right.
McMillan was only four minutes back, so I knew this race wasn’t over. I saw Boquet at the out-and-back section along Green Lake around mile nine. I used one of Nick’s mind tricks that we discussed during our meeting. I waved to him and smiled as we passed by. I looked at my watch to judge the time gap. When I hit the turnaround I was roughly four minutes behind. I got this.
It didn’t take long to catch Boquet. I saw the name on his shorts as I quietly snuck up behind him like a ninja. Nick told me to make passes with authority. I quieted my breathing and surged by leaving him no doubt that I was the better runner. I was now leading the M25-29 age group.
A quick wave to my mom cheering me on:
In first place at mile 12, I saw Derek again and I had already put four minutes on Boquet. My chaser, McMillan, was still four minutes back. I was holding on to seven minute miles. I knew this race was far from over.
At mile 15 I hit a bad rough patch. I felt dizzy and out of energy. I needed calories. I began drinking coke and Perform at each aid station. I continued moving forward as I struggled through this low point. I had no room to take any walk breaks. My left quad started seizing up. I told my legs to shut up. I wasn’t letting McMillan catch me.
I ran scared.
Mile 16, I saw Derek again and he said it was a two-man race… everyone else in my age group were fading. He told me that McMillan was running nearly identical splits as me. The gap was still around four minutes.
This is the moment in the race that truly defined how bad I wanted this win. I was hurting, deep inside the pain cave. My mind began to play tricks on me. I wanted to slow down. This is the point in the race where Ironman is no longer fun. I got mad, shut off my mind, and gave it everything I possibly had. I wanted to prove to myself that I had enough heart and courage to hold this guy off. I saw Ben Bigglestone, my uncle’s triathlon coach, along the course as he yelled at me to hold pace.
At mile 20, Derek relayed to my cousin, Clare, my time gap. It was 3:30. I lost only 30 seconds in four miles. C’mon Elliot, only 10k left! I got a second wind as I saw my parents and Jenna’s family cheering me on. The happiness I displayed on the first lap was an entirely different story this time around. I was stone face. No expression. Beast mode.
The last several miles were a bit of a blur. I closed my eyes and tried my best to hold a good pace and cadence. I did everything in my mind to take me to my happy place. I visualized crossing the line a champion. I thought about how proud my mom, dad, family, and friends would be. Nick told me before the race: It will all come down to who wants it more. Second place wasn’t good enough for me. I knew I had the Kona slot wrapped up, but being a champion would be a huge breakthrough in my triathlon career.
I saw Derek one last time around mile 24.5 and I had a 2:30 lead on McMillan. I told him I was cramping bad. I yelled at myself to toughen up. At this race, I was fully aware of the “to the finish” turnoff (at Boise, I missed it!). I got a new wave of energy as I made the turn. My look of pain quickly turned into a huge smile as I got a little teary-eyed. I dreamed of this moment. I’m really going to do this! I began giving fist pumps as I ran past all the cheering spectators.
As I approached the finishing stretch, I gave one peek around my shoulder and knew I had the victory wrapped up. I high-fived as many spectators as possible. I’ve never been happier.
The 2014 Ironman Whistler M25-29 champ!
Run time: 3:08:29, 1st AG (+4 spots), 18th OA (+30 spots)
IM Canada 2013: 3:18:03, 3rd AG, 37th OA
Finish: 9:43:59, 10th OA amateur, M25-29 Age Group Champion
I ended up 2:00 ahead of Mike McMillan. Huge props to Mike for making me work hard the entire day. I talked to him on Monday and he said he ran a 2:38 open marathon. I knew that guy was legit.
Now, to those football fans out there, I was not Kaepernicking at the finish line. And Grandma, I was not smelling my armpits! I was kissing my Durapulse tattoos on my biceps to show my appreciation for what Nick Goodman has done for me. He’s developed me from the average Joe triathlete into an elite age group champion. He is, by far, the best coach in the valley. Thank you coach Nick.
At awards, gold medal Olympian and triathlete Simon Whitfield handed me an Ironman Canada jacket. He told me he saw me finish and I looked solid out there… must have been my double gun display that impressed him.
M25-29 podium (top five):
My parents got into Whistler late Saturday night coming straight from their vacation in Hawaii to watch me race. They continually show up to my big events and they will always be my #1 supporters. Love ya Mom and Dad!
Thanks to Uncle Derek and Clare for being the best sherpas in the world. They are pros at this stuff! Also, thanks for all the cheers back at home. I checked my Facebook and phone after the race and it was blowing up! Reading all your messages made me smile.
Big shout out to the Farguson family for always supporting me in my crazy endeavors. Whether racing with me, training, cheering, making me cookies, or treating me to countless LGO dinners, thanks for being so great to me.
Congratulations to my Durapulse teammates who conquered a tough Ironman… John, Jenna, and Stacey – you guys are all BAMF. Also, congrats to Colin Cook for keeping me in my place. He beat me and finished 14th overall!
Lastly thanks to my sponsors for your continued support: ONE Multisport, Destination Kona, Endurance Rehab, Foosia, Power in Motion Crossfit, and Complete Skincare and Body Restoration.
I’m going back to Kona on October 11th. This isn’t a sightseeing, I’m just happy to get back to the big dance kind of thing for me. This time, I mean business.
One thing I’ve learned throughout this journey: there are no shortcuts, no secret formulas on becoming an age group Ironman champion. I trained my ass off for this race and sacrificed so much time away from family and friends. I reminded myself of my goal on a daily basis. I hated every minute of training. But like Ali, I told myself: suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion. I will cherish this victory forever.