Ironman Canada 2022 – I Won’t Back Down

Success doesn’t mean to win everything, but to make the best out of every situation.

– Daniela Ryf

2022 has been quite the rollercoaster. 2021 World Champs in May, racing every single weekend in August, and competing in several 70.3 deferrals from COVID times are making this season extra demanding, exciting, and humbling.

2021 World Championship in St. George – I entered this race with less than ideal fitness. Although I knew I had the capability of completing the distance, it did not feel good mentally to just go through the motions at such a high-stake, competitive race. I spent much of the winter ski patrolling at our local ski resort. While it was a great cross-training activity working up at the mountain every other weekend, it definitely hindered some of my long training days needed to perform to my top abilities at an Ironman. I did, however, thoroughly enjoy the time up at the mountain, met many great people, and finally made a few friends here. Something about escaping the highly regimented swim, bike, run training and enjoying some shred time in fresh pow just soothed my soul.

At times, it was a daunting task preparing for this race in the rainy, cold, dark Pacific Northwest early and spring months. My swim and run training went well, but motivation to get in the long indoor trainer rides was lacking. I averaged only 3-4 hours of ride time a week leading into the race, which simply was not enough. I managed one outdoor ride on the one miraculous weekend day it didn’t rain, prior to the race. I will probably never do an early season race of this magnitude again for this reason.

Overall, St. George was a fun experience with not a lot of racing pressure. My parents, Uncle Derek, and good friends all shared an AirBNB and it was great trip to kick off the season.

Victoria 70.3, Coeur d’Alene 70.3, Boulder 70.3

Immediately after St. George were three big 70.3 races. Since I only had a few weeks in between St. George and Victoria, I didn’t necessarily go into this race with a ton of confidence. I feel like I needed a quality, several week long training block to work on weaknesses (mostly my bike). Since I’m a cheap-ass and don’t like bailing on commitments, I opted to continue on and race. I’ve never attempted to race myself into shape in a season, but I was truly testing this philosophy this year.

Victoria 70.3 – I suffered a bike mishap in the middle of the bike leg where my aerobars completely fell off. I had to hold onto my bars for several miles, while tucking as low as I could to maintain a good position. I ended finished 7th in my age group, 33rd overall in a time of 4:36:12. Not my best performance even considering the bike mechanical and just felt a bit “off” throughout the day. It was a fun trip and most importantly, Becca broke the tape and was the first overall amateur female!

Coeur d’Alene 70.3 – Four weeks later, another big 70.3. This was probably the most humbling race experience I’ve had to date. Leading into the race, I felt like I made good improvements in the little training time I had between races. However, I just felt completely flat race day. I cannot describe it, other than I felt like I was stuck in one gear (albeit slow), had no push in me, and just did the best I could with the little energy I had. The entire field seemed to passed me on the bike, including Becca on one of the final ascents. She asked if I was okay, and I replied, “YEP!” I watched her ride away from me as my dreams of never being chicked by my wife was drifting away from me in front of my eyes! Becca won her second straight 70.3 and it was her best race to-date. It was also the first time she’s beaten me outright in a race and I’m so proud of her. Becca works her ass off, races with heart, and beat me fair and square on this day. I finished 6th in my age group, 44th overall, in 4:36:43. I had very mixed emotions after this event.

Hiring a Coach – Something just wasn’t clicking and knew a change was needed. I hired Jarrod Shoemaker, 2008 Olympian and an overall awesome guy, to help me out. My good friend, Colin Cook, and I had an engaging podcast episode with Jarrod and I immediately reached out to him afterward. My fitness, form, motivation, and confidence seemed to make the turn in a positive direction from here.

Boulder 70.3 – I was more nervous than usual for this race. It’s hard to completely erase bad memories of recent races and did not want a repeat performance of CDA 70.3. I raced Boulder with a chip on my shoulder, knowing I needed to prove to myself the old man still got it. It was a very hot day and at elevation, which made the conditions even more brutal. I felt much more competitive and “in the race” on the bike and missed the age group win by under one minute! I raced with guts and it was the first time I ended up in medical after a 70.3. Wheelchairs are usually saved for me at Ironman events, but it was immediately brought over to me as I slumped over in a volunteers arms upon finishing. I finished 4th in my age group, 27th overall amateur, in 4:27:58.

Thanks Cam for the one and only picture I have from this trip!

Tunnel Marathon to BQ – Two weeks prior to Canada I ran a marathon to qualify for Boston. I needed a sub three finish time so I ran just hard enough to ensure my spot for the 2023 race. Being only 14 days out from my “A” race, I didn’t take any risks and comfortably finished in a time of 2:55.

IM Canada Penticton – Return of a Legend

Boulder and the marathon showed signs that I was making improvements in the little time I had to prepare between races. The historic Ironman Penticton course returned this year from a decade hiatus. I was so pumped to race it. This course really suited my strengths and I treated this race as one of the focal points of my season. I had the goal of being on the podium and snatching a 2023 qualifying slot to Hawaii.

Becca and I were in awe of the beauty of Penticton and the surrounding areas. Every local we met was incredibly friendly and welcoming. Our AirBNB was perfect and our host, Shannon, was one of the nicest people I’ll ever meet; we stayed on a 12-acre ranch with a separate guest house. Our host invited us to one of her professional dog training sessions, showed us her chicken coup, let us use her hot tub, and brought us eggs for breakfast. We had no cell service so it felt like we had escaped human civilization. We were about 30 minutes away from downtown Penticton and the property was extremely peaceful, secluded, and quiet. The stars even came out at night!

Becca and I did a lot of exploring before the race.

Race Day:

I was up at 3:50 AM, ate a quick breakfast, and was out the door at 4:30AM. Becca was my sherpa for this entire trip; we find it much more manageable and A LOT less stressful when only one of us races. She cooked every meal for me, picked up all my messes, gave me a massage each day, and basically was my slave for five days. I could not have done this without her and I felt extremely relaxed and confident leading up to the race.

The swim was a one loop course with water temps in the low 70s (wetsuit legal). I started in one of the first row of athletes in the sub 60 minute group around 6:35 AM. I took the first 200 yards out pretty aggressively and almost immediately found a good group to swim with. I stayed on the same feet for 2.4 miles. With the swim course only being one loop, it was a very laid back, relaxed swim leg. Usually, the courses are multiple loops and I will typically and inevitably run into congestion on subsequent loops.

I exited the water in 57:47, 5th in my age group, and 31st overall… a good start to the day!

Cycling has been my biggest problem area this season. Other than Boulder, I was simply not competitive on the bike legs. In my training block leading up to Canada, cycling was at the focal point with quite a bit of threshold work. Although these sessions were not pleasant by any means, it definitely gave me the fitness boost needed to still be in the mix off the bike.

The Penticton course was one-loop and contained about 7,000 feet of vertical gain. While there were some bigger climbs there were also lots of fast, flatter sections. The course really suited riders with good handling, climbing, and descending skills.

Early on, a few very strong riders passed me. After around 40k I held my ground and was mostly alone the rest of the way, picking off riders here and there. I love the one-loop courses for this reason. It still felt like a race, but without all the congestion. It allowed me to pace exactly the way I wanted to and I stuck to my race strategy very closely. I rode strong but made sure to limit the amount of surging, especially on the climbs. In general, I felt relatively comfortable throughout the entire bike maintaining a good aero position on the flats/descents, and generating decent power on the climbs.

Unfortunately, around mile 70 I rode over a large pothole on one of the descents. It came up so fast and didn’t see it until it was too late. Moments later I could feel my rear wheel go flat. I calmly got off my bike, removed my aero bottle (so I wouldn’t lose all my fluids), quickly got out my flat kit, and fixed it. Looking back at my Garmin data, this cost me six minutes (which is a relatively fast flat repair for me). I never lost my composure and got back to it.

After mile 100, it was mostly downhill back into town. I used this time to pee, stretch out, eat, and prepare myself for the run. I was still in good spirits, feeling good, and confident about the upcoming marathon.

I finished the bike leg with an official time of 5:26:36 (5:20:41 per my Garmin, which excludes the stoppage time from the flat tire).

The first section of the run was a doozy immediately reaching grades of 6-8%. I used a fast cadence to crest this initial hill as I still felt fresh early on in the marathon. From there, it flattened out a bit on the KVR, a packed-dirt trail. I was clocking around 6:40-6:55 miles in this segment and feeling very good. I monitored my heart rate as well, making sure I wasn’t overexerting early on.

After the initial 10K, the run course consisted of two out-and-backs on the roads of downtown Penticton, along Main Street and a road along Lake Okanagan. I found the Main Street out-and-back especially tough. The field was very thinned out and it was hard to tell exactly what position I was in, with competitors starting the swim at different times. It was also getting really warm and the course provided very little shade. Becca gave me an update and I was sitting in 3rd in my age group; just by counting the people on the out-and-backs I knew was in the top 20 overall.

Fatigue really set in around mile 11, much earlier than I typically experience in an IM marathon. I knew this moment would inevitably occur, but the last 15 miles were a pure grind. I felt like I had a piano strapped to my back. I did my best to maintain sub 7:30 minute miles for as long as possible, but there were some dark times where I shuffled at eight minute pace. Despite not feeling my best, I made sure to stay on top of nutrition, dumped ice and cold water over me at every aid station, and drank Coke to keep the energy levels as high as possible. I also collected six Maurten gels as souvenirs for future training/racing, a $30 freebie!

Becca gave me another update around mile 18 saying the 4th and 5th place guys were running faster than me and I needed to step it up to hold them off. I grit my teeth and tried giving everything I could to up the pace. I was smiling, thanking volunteers, and giving high fives early in the run, but the final 10k I was stoned face, in deep agony, and just trying to hold on. I closed my eyes quite a bit trying to mentally focus and get every last bit of energy out of my body. Everything was aching.

I did hold off the two fast runners across the finish line, but due to the staggered swim start times, they ended up “overtaking” me by 1:40 and 1:33. I have no regrets though, I gave it my best effort as I dug deep for a very long period of time. My final run time was 3:13:09, the 13th best marathon time of the day.

ELLIOT KAWAKOA, FROM AUBURN, WASHINGTON, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!

My finish time was 9:42:06, good enough for 5th in my age group and 14th overall. It was also announced that I was the 3rd American across the line.

Looking back and talking to Jarrod afterward, we believe the marathon two weeks prior sapped my legs more than I thought. Going into an Ironman, freshness is vital. It was my decision to do that marathon, so it was an important lesson learned for me. Overall, I’m very pleased with my result and feel like I still have plenty of room for improvement. My drive, focus, and motivation came back at the right time of the season.

I finished at 4:12 PM and a special concert was being held at our AirBNB at 5! I really needed medical but I opted out of the wheelchair to make it to the event. I hobbled to the car, holding on to Becca, periodically dry-heaving, in pain and misery. We made it back to the ranch just in time.

Our host was shocked to see us back, as she witnessed me puking in her driveway (sorry Shannon!). She got me a blanket and a pillow as I laid down in front of the stage. The sun was beginning to set behind the mountains and the music started. People were enjoying some beverages, laughing, dancing, and were incredibly welcoming. The tunes were so soothing and I started feeling a lot better. It was a perfect ending to a grueling day.

I love triathlon for the simple fact that it’s a hard sport, truly tests my character, and it makes me feel alive. Triathlon can be a rollercoaster ride and “there ain’t no easy way out”. Just like in life, I always stand my ground during times of race adversity … and I won’t back down.

I got to stand on the podium for the first time in my age group. I unfortunately missed Hawaii 2023 by one slot, but that’s the allure of racing in Kona for me. It’s not supposed to be easy to get there and I hope it remains that way.

We’ll be back Penticton! Thanks for the read… Hawaii in 6 weeks!

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Categories: Race Report, Races

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2 Comments on “Ironman Canada 2022 – I Won’t Back Down”

  1. September 1, 2022 at 9:49 am #

    Such an awesome report Elliot! Love your drive and determination and hearing about the good and the bad and the lessons learned. You and Becca are so inspiring! As I train for my final full Ironman this was so great to read. Thank you for sharing and congratulations on a great season so far, Kona is next up -I know you will have a great race!

  2. Eric Durban
    September 1, 2022 at 10:25 am #

    Great read! Congratulations to you and Becca for all your events this summer! I’ve done one marathon run in my life (when I was 25) and did it in 3:21. So you doing a 3:13 AFTER a 2.4 Mile swim and 112 mile bike is just amazing to me.
    See you in the pool sometime soon.

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