2016 Ironman Canada Race Report: Robin Sarner, 10:10, 2nd M50-54, KONA!

800 800 Rich Strauss


Robin Sarner, IM Canada, Whistler, B.C.  7/24/16.
Male 50 yo.   180 lbs.    6 feet 6 inches.    

Swim: 58 minutes.
Bike: 5:29, 243 np, 226 ave power. Ave cadence 70. (yes on purpose), Ave HR 136
Run: 3:33 ave HR 136.    Ave cadence 79
Second place for age group. 47th overall. Top three kona qualified. No roll downs. So, I made the show for the first time !!! 10 hours 10 minutes. 

15th IM start. 14th IM finish. Last year DNF at IM Canada. Dropped out at about mile 38 on the bike due to hypothermia.

Took a few months off after Canada 2015 but still stayed pretty active. Longest break from triathlon training in years. After getting back to regular triathlon training, took at least two months to get over the sensation of severe fatigue. I do not think it was a case of overtraining requiring even more time off. I think the issue was just the body getting reved up again after years of training and months of downtime.       Got medical issues ruled out. Gradually things came around.

This race the general approach was to do MY training and MY race. Have been around long enough to know what works for me.     Resolved to not second guess myself about training and racing approach. Lots of the advice I have gotten works for me. Some of it does not work however. As for us all, we need to individualize what works for ourselves. 

Have always felt that I take longer to recover than many.  Just not possible to log very high weekly training hours and still function at work. So from week 11 out through week 3 out, I resolved to increase the total weekly hours a bit but still keep the hours low enough to survive. It worked out to about 15 hours per week. A bit more of a consistent build this time around. I will try to include my training log spreadsheet. I think these hours are a good bit less than many of our kona qualifiers. Though note that I have been at this for a while so have the base.   First IM was CDA in 2009. Second IM was Canada in 2010. Really started entertaining the possibility of Kona in 2011.

Overall training schedule:
Customized over the years per my work schedule, consultation with our coaches, consultation with teammates, tracking what works, etc.      Generally EN flavor training but shifted around. I like to do the long long bike on Saturday morning early. And the long long run on Sunday (I love running too much to relegate it to the dark of a weekday workday). Longish bike on Tuesday, etc 

Swim training adjustments this training round: almost all training was done on Vasa Ergometter !  Very time efficient. Great way to work the needed muscles without the pool time, was worried that this was a risky training plan. But swam the fastest ever at Canada. So obviously this worked out fine. My sense is that unless your swimming form is fairly good, the pure Vasa Ergometer approach may not be great. Note that one week before the race I had a 2.4 mile swimming race of 61 minutes. One of my best times. Big confidence builder. I usually did one hour Vasa three times a week.  

Bike training this round:
Trained to accomplish a 3 watts/kg during the race. Which is about 245 np. So concentrated on getting the longer rides above this. note I have always bike trained 95%+ indoors. Using the Kickr for a couple years now. I think it gives fairly accurate output but halfway through this round I changed the settings for the Kickr to be controlled by my Quarq. This gave me clear accuracy. No big bike week or big training week this cycle. One biggish bike weekend including a trip to Whistler. Couple other longish outdoor rides. Otherwise cranking it out on the Kickr. Very time efficient. Able to practice nutrition exactly. Last long long bike three weeks out. Have not felt that the big bike volume two weeks out works for me. Purposely dropped my training and racing cadence way down some thoughts out there that this might work for many.  With the low cadence, my heart rates have been lower and I do not think it compromises the run. And it seems easier to generate higher power and speed.  I did have heavy legs the last half of this race marathon, but I am guessing this is mainly due to overdoing the last 20 miles of the bike a bit. My brick runs and long runs have never felt compromised this training round.

Bike rig:
Running my older Cannondale Slice franken rig. Seatpost/seat interface changed by Ruckus composites (impossible to adjust seat angle with the factory post). Sram etap. Back to longer cranks (177.5 mm. prefer 180 mm but this longest with Quarq. I have 180 mm Stages though).  Got rid of latex tubes – ran the light butyl Specialized tubes I filled with sealant – don’t like the stress of pumping on race morning and stressing about snapping off the valve. Crank Brothers Egg Beater pedals. Light Northwave mountain bike shoes (yes I raced in mountain bike shoes). I like the versatility of being able to run around in the bike shoes and being able to run into the woods if needed. Added plastic collars (sold as add on) to the pedals for a really tight shoe to pedal interface. As good power transfer as my Speedplay Light Action. I carry more tools and parts than many – do not understand why folks are willing to end their race day by not carrying basic stuff that weights a few ounces – wippermann chain links, tool with chain tool and tire levers integrated, manual pump in addition to the co2 and nozzle, extra bolts, derailleur hanger, etc. Added bottle holder behind the seat with the aero shaped soft bag integrated. Nice to have two empty bottle cages to at least hold things temporarily before dumping drink into the between the forearms container or dumping water over the body. Bento type bags to hold all the solid nutrition needed.

Bike fit:
Finally got it dialed in. Last couple years was having problems with high heart rate and neck pain. I put my elbow pads up a bit and widened my elbow pads a bit. (relaxed the fit) Hands up higher.  Seem to be in a magic sweet spot now. 

Run training this round
Did about my same thing. Trying to push the pace on the long runs. Purposely kept the mileage low because it beats me up.   Couple 40 mile weeks. Maybe more run mileage and “run hardening” would have helped my race run issues (heavy legs last half of the marathon),  but I don’t think so. My fastest run, 3:25 at texas two years ago, was done on even lower mileage, I think. I think the success this race was mainly due to the bike, and I think beating my legs up with more running would have compromised the bike training. I also rely on years of a running base. Had one half marathon race just before this build that was good to jump start the speed. Last long long run four weeks out. Think it takes me that long to get the fresh legs needed.

Purposefully took the time to do what needed to be done. For T1 this involved putting on warm layers. Was 50s starting out and I am a cold wimp. Was not going to risk GI compromise because my body was fighting the cold. Got rid of the layers at 38 miles into the bike but thankful I dressed well for the first part.

No big change here. I have been training the body to handle all types of solids of different brands. I think the variety during race day really helps the body absorb things. I nailed my nutrition. On the bike: about 48 oz per hour of the Gatorade. Back to using the between the forearms refillable bottle with straw. I think this is crucial to folks drinking high volumes. Started out with Endurance on my bike and switched to the regular Gatorade from on the course. Unfortunately in Hawaii I have to go back to the Endurance formula. Bleck. And 100 calories every half hour on the bike of solids: bars, gels, blocks. Rice crispy treats (used bike special needs first time ever). About 500 cal/hour. My best previous races have been where I am peeing at least every half hour on the bike. Did that this Canada.  

On the run, Gatorade every mile. 100 cal gels or blocks every three miles with some water. And coke starting at 16 miles.   

Racing kit:
new Kiwami aero top.   Loved not having the shoulder sunburn after the race.  

No big problems in the weeks leading up to the race.  Good luck regarding injury and illness. Drive up to Whistler on Wednesday. Stayed at Crystal Lodge. Stayed there last year. Nice place and convenient. Mellow check in and brief workouts. Nice meeting with most of our crew.  Doug S. Mike W. Brian V. Honorable teammate Paul Hough racing on another continent. Seeing the guys on the course, especially during the run, was a big boost.

The Race:
Slept fair the night before. But generally was more relaxed than typical. Part of the work for this race involved changing my attitude and approach.  Tried to relax, work on the process at hand, enjoy the moments a bit more, and tried not to worry about whatever outcome. Hard to do but I think I was somewhat successful. The whole day was just a more mellow experience, at least before that 16 mile run point. I had practiced a simplified breakfast:   four Ensures, a banana, coffee, some juice.    

First year of the rolling start. I prefer to be racing people, not the clock, but…started about 3 minutes after the gun I think. No traffic problems the whole race.  I don’t think anyone passed me. Was worried that I was not exerting myself enough but after the first lap a quick watch check showed a good time. No big muscle fatigue the second lap.  (a new sensation.  Vasa Ergometer !)    Tried to keep up my cadence (which is slower than most).      Concentrate on using the lats.    Power all the way back to hip with a bit of a hand push there.   Was actually relaxed and having fun the last stretch of the last lap.     Stood up at the shore and looked at my watch.   58 minutes !!!  what !     pulled that out of my ass.      Fastest swim ever.  Had no idea that I would be going so fast with such apparent low energy output.    Moments like these probably helped a lot to buoy me through the day. 

Wetsuit strippers were a bit challenged. Maybe not used to removing wetsuit from yards of legs. Again, took the time to put on layers – aero bike jersey over race top, vest, gloves. Shoes on and BOAed. Running without problems in my mountain bike shoes.  

Started right into hydration and nutrition.   Was a bit worried for the first 20 miles, and occasionally at other points during the first half of the bike, about heart rates higher than training.       But my perceived exertion did not feel equal to the higher heart rates.      So I made the decision to just keep cranking the goal watts.    Without the goal watts I wasn’t going to accomplish what I needed to so I went with how I was feeling versus objective data.      My average heart is fine so things settled out fine.    I assume the typical race excitement, and settling from the swim, were the main heart rate factors.       No mechanical problems during the bike.    cruised the fast downhills pretty relaxed.    Stopped at 38 miles to hand wife my warm gear.   (I think a couple 15-30 second stands during the bike helps a lot).    Down to the Pemberton flats.    This flat section is mile 60 to mile 90.    Part of my race plan was to stick in the aerobars and crank this section.   Which is what I did.   Following wind on the second half of this portion and was really moving.      Note that at all other races I typically had a pretty dark moment in the later half of the bike.    just did not have this this race..     felt strong and pretty good the whole day.     Bit of a headache and back ache in the middle.  Tylenol helped.      Just mild typical discomfort.     Had a lot of energy for the 20 mile climb back to Whistler.    Note my goal watts was 245.    My second gear for uphills was 10% above that at 270.   Just simplified things to these two gears.  And the idea that my sitting up climbing potential is better than my aero potential.     I will try to attach the WKO file that shows me overcooking the last 20 miles.   But I felt good and I knew what I had to do time-wise on the bike.    Just felt like I had to go for it.      Sailed the last flatish 6 miles.      Happy to see T2 after not getting to see it last year.     Note that most of last half of the bike was fairly alone or passing folks. 

Slowish.   But one of the things was using actual shoes laces this race.   Some tilting gravel trails so wanted my shoes to be tight. 

Started off fine. Tried to rein in my heartrate the first three miles per my bike average heart rate. Nutrition seemed to be going in ok. Started feeling my typical pretty good between miles 3 and 6. Saw my wife first time around 7 miles. She seemed to think that I was in second or third place. This was a welcome surprise and boost. I had never been anywhere near this position in any other race. Out to the turn around on Green Lake. Back to the start of the second loop. I think this was when wife was able to say pretty firmly I was second. My legs started to feel heavier than normal at about the halfway point. Generally felt ok otherwise just heavy legs. I don’t remember experiencing this before. Out to start the Greek Lake out and back for the second time.   Wife able to say the first place guy was about 10 minutes ahead of me.    

The last eight miles there was a guy staying right behind me. I assumed it was the third place guy. I just tried to do my thing and not let him take energy from me. With about 2-3 miles to go he passed me.  However his calf said 49. So I just let him go and did my thing.  Turns out this guy was in my age group and ended up being the third place guy by about 20 seconds. He got to the finish line first but because of our different start times I still beat him. I talked to him briefly after the finish and was miffed to hear that he was racing at 50 yo this year. In talking to my wife I gave him the benefit of the doubt because he could have told the body markers his true current age without thinking about his actual racing age. My wife though thinks he was out to deceive folks (and this is saying something for someone of her sweat nature).      Even if he got third, it would not have mattered. There were three kona slots. But I guess karma did get him a bit with my being second over his third.         

Finished close to the first place amateur female. Had always thought I needed to be near the first ladies to kq. Missed Mike Reilly at the finish but the Canada announcer guy is pretty cool. Hung on my catcher for a couple minutes. Then met the wife. Then went and laid down on the Olympic green lawn.

I did get nice boosts from seeing teammates out there during the run. And getting nice words from them. Doug the Doughboy S. Mike W.     Brian V.

I guess my only potential disappointment about the race day is not going faster on the run. I think I had the fastest run in my age group. And the day was warmish (maybe maximum middle 80s). But I was hoping for maybe better than the previous best of 3:25. I don’t have a great answer for why I didn’t push my heart rate up to 10-15 beats above my bike average for miles 3 to 13. From miles 13 and on, I was thinking that I should be a bit conservative, because of the heavy legs. Was worried about the possibility of impending cramps and not being physically able to keep running. I felt like I slowed a lot in the last third but not as bad as I thought. Only one mile at slower than 9 min/mile pace. So maybe my slower bike cadence affected my run but I don’t think so (I have been doing this for months with no apparent problems and great bike gains). I do think my strong bike affected my run, especially the last bike 20 miles. But overall, I think the complete race worked out the best it could.    

My sense is that coming in with a 5:35 bike would not have given me 10 minutes on the run. Still some work to do to get the best run out of me. I think I need to run fast, with the heart rate governor, miles 3-13 or maybe miles 3-16, and hang on from there.  Trusting my run strength and getting a good run pace average from the fast miles in the middle. Not worrying about pushing miles 3-16, assuming I have done the training. I have said these things before but need to keep working on the mental thing to get me there.

The day after had nice award ceremony. First podium. Little German guy on my left (first place). Little Danish guy on my right. Kinda bummed that the nice announcer Canada figurehead guy was missing on Monday.  And the slot allocation and roll-down was the most anti-climactic one I have been to. I was the only one that I noticed teared up or emoted much. Standing in the line to pay for Kona I did get a nice calmly buzzed sensation.

For the first few days after the race was kind of at a loss of how to feel. Rechecking reality to make sure. The KQ thing had really been a big desire for years. Being able to achieve this involved backing off the goal, relaxing, and enjoying the process and this last race.  Any other sports achievement in life, even finishing Kona itself, will only be icing on the big cake I have already eaten. I am pretty sated for the moment. Will see what drive develops in the future. Will see what other physical challenges I might want to pursue. Whatever. It doesn’t really matter.   I am here and now.

And by the by. As many of you know, this is literally going home for me. I consider myself originally from Hawaii. I moved to the state at two years old and the family moved away from Maui at thirteen years old. Have been back to the state fairly often since. My dad moved from Maui just a few years ago. He passed this last December at age 77 of colon cancer. I talked to him during this ironman run. I have raced the Honu 70.3 on the Big Island. I have trained many days up and down the ironman bike course. Biking out towards Hawi on race day we will see Haleakala on Maui. I lived about 2000 feet up it on the other side. This kamaaina ( boy of the land/earth) is coming home.   

Many thanks to all of you. You have been a big part of this process. Coaches. Teammates. Whatever the size of your contribution to my development, it has all been greatly valued. I would not have completed this journey without the Endurance Nation Ohana.


  • Race selection over the years: have done all types of races with varying bike courses. For a while I concentrated on the big man with big absolute watts thing on a flat course.  Al T. had said I would be most successful on the most challenging courses.  So this year I settled on CDA, Idaho and Canada.  Which also are my local races. CDA was attractive after they added more slots to 65 (versus Canada at 40). The august CDA heat would not be good. Maybe some folks would switch to CDA due to the slots. Blah.   Blah. So in retrospect my decision to concentrate on Canada obviously worked out.
  • Short term plan: I am signed up for CDA and Arizona this year. I may do something at CDA, but I doubt it. Maybe Aquabike.  MAYBE if I get inspired try a no-pressure race to test myself, bringing forward my Canada fitness. If I had the time and money, I might want to do Arizona bringing forward the Kona fitness. Trying for the Kona thing again with low pressure seeing what I could do on a flat course.  If I do CDA or Arizona will take a couple days off work and travel lightly.  Will see how I feel closer to these.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.