Race Report: 2014 Challenge Penticton – Alex Hutko

This was my first ironman. Here’s the condensed race report for triathlon’s 5 disciplines: Swim, bike, run, nutrition, recovery.


Swim- My wetsuit never feels right and always constricts lifting my arms so I take off and put back on the upper part twice. Still sucks. Oh well, I’ll manage. The pros go off first and as I’m standing in the water at the start, I revel in my own urine. I knew that peeing now was good since it’s always requires a bit of a lower body paralyzation while the upper body keeps stroking when in the open water. As usual I’m taking the scenic route zig-zagging all over the place for the first mile going out. Then we turn and head north. There’s a camera man at the turn buoy so of course my instinct makes me stop, grab the camera, point it at me and pose. The camera man was delighted since it was likely something different. My competitors, not so much. On the 1.2 mile stretch back, I fell into a smurf-like trance. I was just merrily skipping among the giant mushrooms singing tra-la-la-la-laaa. It was so much fun and I didn’t want it to end. This wasn’t a race, this was a pre-party. I get out and see 1:38:20 on the clock. My expected time of 1:20 had gone straight out the window. Ah well. In T1 we were all lamenting our poor performance until someone pointed out we should take 15 minutes off that time since the clock starts for the pros. As urban poet laureate Ice Cube penned – today was a good day.


Bike- We start out up main street and the run course is parallel to us on the left. There’s traffic in front of me, but none of us are racing really since we know it’s 6-7 hours and the one mantra all of us age groupers have in our heads is “go SLOW for the first part of the bike”. Still on Main St. about a mile from T1, the road goes from four to two lanes, because Canadians love pedestrians and give them big fat sidewalks, and the conned bike lane narrows to about to about 4 feet and zig zags left just before a curb. A curb that I saw a second too late and proved my super-power of being able to go over any object without consequences that I’ve held since I was two is sadly no more. My bike decides to stay at the curb and my body decides to continue going forward before landing, then decides to take a few more tumbles just for shits n’ giggles. The worst part was hearing the tire deflating and taking my dreams with it. “Oops. Yes, I’m OK thanks. Be careful here.” I see that my handlebars point right and my wheel points left. And it can’t complete a full rotation. Are you serious?! Jesus F*****g Christ. It’s over now? A year of training! Carrying my bike on my shoulder and walking against the flow of bikers I proceed to throw my best tantrum since I was 3 for a full two pouty minutes. Then I start thinking, well, since I won’t be exhausted, what can Alli and I go do now? Parasail behind a boat? Skydiving? Hiking? I start telling the sympathetic fans in bars and along the street that at least I’m the first to finish. I start to think that at least I can now go run the marathon and I’ll be on fresh legs and have a great time, probably sub-4 hours. Then a race official tells me if I can’t bike I need to tell the officials at T1 to withdraw me. Shit. I can’t even run?! Inside T1 there are two guys dressed like skateboarders and not in volunteer shirts. They’re the first ones I approach.   “Are you bike guys?” Yup. They check it out and ask what happened. I’m still convinced I’m hosed when he pulls out his multi-tool and the other guy announces he’ll ride back to get me a new wheel. “I can still ride?!” “Maybe”. I walk around transition and go to change into my good highly visible compression socks since a volunteer assured me it wouldn’t rain today. This takes me over the timing cable twice; likely the reason the official results have me as the #1 swimmer. Bike fixed, the crowd that saw me walk back is now cheering my return to racing, and all in all I lose about an hour. Actually this was great. I could see by the number of transition bags left, I was now 4th to last to leave, my bike and race time was shot, so I could take it super easy on the bike and kill it on the marathon. Passing the oldest female racers and heaviest athletes was fun. Not in a competitive way, but in a cooperative way. Passing at a blistering 5 mph uphill allows for quite extended conversations. New mantra: keep. heart. rate. low. Below 120, specifically. I was determined not to get sick and blow up on my run as I had on every single long training ride. Fear is a good motivator and I was a good first timer and stuck with my plan and was happy. Then I saw the sheets of rain about to cross my path. Despite the puddles in my shoes for the next two hours, the thunderstorm cooled me down and allowed me to go faster at a constant heart rate. The roads were mostly smooth and the scenery was gorgeous: mountains, lakes, wineries. 6 hours in and I realize my time is shit though I’ve only been passed by one skinny 80 lb woman in her 50s. The bar is very low. Expected time was 7-8 hours, I had 2 more to go, bad math had me worried I’m miss the required check point times, and my ass was feeling strange new sensations and pains that it had never experienced before. But not in a good way. At this point it was quite apparent to me that all the crossfit and interval training I was encouraged to do by my triathlete-crossfit coach-chiropractor was akin to giving a man a lifetime supply of canned goods on a desert island without a can opener. But at least I looked good. Miraculously though, the drink mix I carried in ziploc bags, Skratch-basically simple sugars+salt, worked GI wonders along with bananas. Didn’t touch all the gooey crap I brought and practiced with in training. 7:51, this was my first 4+hr ride without GI distress. Huge success!


Run- After a languid T2 punctuated by a 5 min nap on the ground with my legs up on a chair, I’m off. Alli joins me for the first out and back mile or so. Heart rate spikes to 140+ and I’m shuffling at a pace of 13-15 min/mile. Sure signs of dehydration, blowing up and impending super-shitty run. Just like all my big training days. Lots of bad math runs through my over-educated and under-performing mind. I think I’m in danger of not finishing before the midnight cutoff. Shit. First aid station, some teenagers are insisting I drink Heed, a fancy expensive maltodextrin based drink I’d been training and gotten GI shut down with. Every time. I take a banana since that had propelled me on the bike. It was green and tasted like chalk. I just go for the flat pepsi and almost slap yet another teen volunteer trying to hand me Heed. Alex was not a happy camper and His Holiness the Dalai Lama would have surely wagged his finger at me. Fast forward an hour and my aid station routine of 2 waters poured over the head and back, two sips of pepsi, one big bite of watermelon and a final water dousing followed by a 1 minute walk has me feeling great. At 10km things turn around and I can actually run. 9:30 pace at 120 bpm, just like in training and no stomach distress! Still, since this was my first ever marathon, I slow down convinced the end is nigh. At 8 miles I realize this will be the easiest 18 mile run ever and I was going to finish! Very happy Alex. Then it was the easiest 20km ever. I stick to my aid station routine with OCD fervor and throw in a 30 sec walk in between them. It was quickly apparent my sub 4 hour ‘goal’ was as absurd as a Lil’ Wayne love ballad, so now it’s on to a sub 5 hour goal. I try to push faster to an 8 minute pace @130 bpm (a la training), but for some odd reason, my legs tell me to go fuck myself. Assholes. OK fine, 9:30 pace it is. The average pace on my GPS keeps falling a bit and I see I’m running negative splits. Good. Final 10k and I feel euphoric and need to come in under an hour in order to finish sub 5 hours. It’s go time. I pass droves of walkathoners and didn’t get passed once on my run. Not unexpected since my triathlon MO is get passed by half the field on the bike, then pass them on the run and finish in about the same spot as I was after the swim. It’s been dark for a while now. Alli joins me with 3 miles left. And starts talking. My labored breathing and the constant warnings before the race that I will not be my typical sunshine self on the run or afterwards told her I wouldn’t be talking back. She continues to talk and starts singing Drunk In Love which was playing at the finish line earlier. She keeps promising me the crest of the hill in front of us is the last uphill. For about three different hills. No worries since she had water and I cooled myself down. I was convinced dousing myself kept my temperature low and stomach digesting. Finish line in the distance, I go for it. All of an 8:30 pace and Alli is still right there with me. We pass two people finishing with their families. On to the red carpet finish stretch and Alli lets me have my glory moment for myself, though she later realized she could have joined me. I’m sprinting, they call out the name of the guy I’m passing, the cheers and cow bells bring me in. 4:53. It’s over. Crap, that was really fun, I wish it went on for a bit longer. That was so much fun. And most importantly, I’m giving myself the best dressed award as I received many compliments on my very protective hat throughout the day.



Recovery- By far the most memorable and fun part of the triathlon was at the finish, but not in the traditional ‘OMG it’s over, I’m an ironman, suck it Trebek!’ sense. After crossing I got my very own escort volunteer named Brandon who took me by the arm and led me around keeping me walking and getting water. I assured him his efforts were unnecessary and I was fine. I spot the massage tent and make a bee line for it instructing Alli to go fetch and make recovery drink #1 which I had set up before the race and left in transition. As I was getting my massage, which was just a very nice volunteer rubbing my back and legs, it started. Cold. I’m cold. Oh, cool, I’m shivering now. Uh oh, going blank. “Here drink this”. Recovery drink being sipped. I had 99 problems and my stomach was definitely starting to be one. The success I had all day nutritionally was going to come crashing down in a colorful cascading waterfall. Probably all over myself considering my inability to even roll over or sit up on my own. I was so helpless that the guy on the table next to me was looking at me and his eyes asked “is he gonna be all right”? Two blankets on and nurse Ratched astutely pointed out that we should get my wet shirt off and change into a dry one. Good call. We then hobble over to the food area with the grace of a toddler with a bucket on his head and feet trapped in men’s horse riding boots. Alli sits me down, but I’m having none of it. I spin around like a dog before planting my butt on the ground. She’s confused and I finally understand why dogs do it. It just didn’t feel right those first two rotations. I try to put my feet on the table, but that requires effort and instead Alli positions a chair and helps out, i.e. does it all for me, then goes and fetches food. Nothing on this planet has ever tasted as good as that hot plain boring chicken broth. Fast forward past watching paramedics tend to a woman breaking down even worse than me, taking a photo with Sister Madonna- the 86 year old IronNun, and lots of Quasimodo shuffling to and from the car we get back to the hotel. The hot tub, the sole reason I got that $200+ hotel room, was of course closed for the night. No worries though because my nurse drew my heavenly warm epsom salt bath, prepared recovery drink #2, readied the ice packs and served them along with complimentary pretzel bagels with nutella and peanut butter… all without complaints. Someone should call the canonization hotline at the Vatican. It was all downhill from there. Aside from being too amped up to sleep and not being able to lift my feet to walk for the next 3 days. Weightlessness in water has been my friend.


During my two week taper, my falling resting heart rate and increased energy and enthusiasm told me I had been perpetually exhausted in my training. Overtraining is a typical ironman rookie mistake. A forced two weeks of rest has me now thinking (with no clear conclusion) how I want to train for next season. Focus on shorter distances, which I’m really good at and will allow me to continue crossfit, focus on running and get some more podium time, or return and try to do better by not being a dolt and paying more attention to recovery? Stay tuned….