For most of us just keeping up a steady exercise regime is difficult to manage in our normally busy days. Graeme Carlson, owner and full-time pharmacist at Pharmasave, managed to transform his life over the last 18 months to become a training machine designed with one goal in mind – the Subaru Ironman Canada in Penticton on Aug. 29. His goal: to finish the Ironman in 12 hours and 30 minutes. And no folks, they can’t take a break!
“It’s very rewarding knowing that few people take on something like that and finish it. I was 12 minutes longer than what I hoped for, but I’m really very okay with that! I was right where I was hoping to be,” said Carlson. “The time went by quite quickly and the next thing you know I was at the finish line – it just flew by! That was the fastest 12 hours I can ever remember.”
Although the Ironman goal was a pinnacle in Carlson’s athletic history, when he started cycling five years ago at 47-years-of-age he had no idea where it would take him. From weekly cycling as part of the Grand Forks Cycling Club, he challenged himself to try sprint, Olympic and half-ironman distance triathlons. His very first short race was in 2005 and has progressed from there. Carlson found himself inspired to become fit, and personally challenged to see if he could actually do it.
“I had a running background from when I was young. I started cycling with the cycling club, and I was not a swimmer up until I started training for the first race back in ’05. I couldn’t swim a length of the pool,” said Carlson.
“One of the most difficult things was that I still have to work, to run the business, and I still have to do everything else at home. It’s a compromise of what we can do and we were giving up a lot as well, Laura (Graeme’s wife and business partner) included. She gave up a lot to allow me to do this. In the last six months our whole lifestyle was focused around my training.”
Although he said he never envisioned the decision to actually tackle the Ironman itself, his wife Laura laughed at his humble comments. Right from his first competition, Laura knew he was going to be a regular triathlete.
“He did his first half-iron in Oliver four years ago and he finished it. It was a really hot day and it was a brutal day on everybody who did the half-iron. They even announced it that it was so hot. It was the first weekend in June and it was 40 degrees out,” Laura explained. “So I’m driving home for him from Oliver because he’s so tired, and he says to me ‘Well, I’ve done that. I don’t think I could do that again.’ And then he says to me, ‘I can’t imagine anyone doing a full ironman and spending 12 plus hours on the road.’ I said, ‘OK honey.’ Two weeks later he says to me, ‘I think I can improve my time on the half-iron!’ Just two weeks!”
Initially other local athletes felt they would try for the Ironman in 2010 and work together on the goal. While the others had to drop out for different reasons, Carlson stayed on track with his training that consumed between 17 - 19 hours a week over six days with one day off. It ranged from two hours to up to four hours in any day.
“Although the distances double from the half-ironman to the full-ironman, your training goes up about four times because it’s just that much more intensity, that much more time out there that the training is so many more hours!” said Carlson.
Carlson was pleased with his finish time of 12:42:39 that placed him 123 out of 288 in his division – men age 50 – 54. But while he wasn’t far off his goal, there were times in his adventure that he didn’t think he would even cross the finish line.
“Having never done it before, I didn’t really know what to expect. The swim was fine. I got out on the bike and started towards Osoyoos, the pace was quick but it felt comfortable. Until Keremeos. It turned out that just as I got there the wind was straight into our face and then we got the rain. I felt just miserable. I said to myself, okay the race is over. Not that I wasn’t going to finish, I was going to persevere. But up until that point it was all about pacing myself. But at this point I said; forget that, out the window. But that was for about half an hour or so. I was able, mentally, to get over that part of the race,” Carlson detailed. But the mental anguish was not over, as he found out.
“Then we headed off on the run. When I got to the turn around and I was a little slower than I wanted but it wasn’t bad. Heading back home – 20 kilometers – there was a long steady hill. That’s when it really started taking its toll. With about 10 kilometres left I checked my watch and realized I wasn’t going to make my target time. There was about five kilometers which is about a half an hour that I felt really bad. It was a little uphill, my head was down, my shoulders were down, I just didn’t feel very good. When I got to about five kilometers, on Main Street in Penticton and you start seeing the crowds. The horns are going, people are shouting, bells are clanging and you just kind of get this adrenalin rush. I just turned it around and fly in. That 10 km. that was the worst. It wasn’t so much the conditions, mentally I was just done.”
His recovery time will take over a couple of weeks which, he said, is typical.
“I was walking around the next day. No sharp pains, no injuries, just this heavy fatigue. I tried to ride last night (about four days later) I didn’t realize how tired I was. My legs were just as heavy as can be, almost the way they were on the day of the race. It’s going to take a week or two,” Carlson said.
Carlson placed 1351 out of the 2,780 athletes who started in the waters of Okanagan Lake with a 3.8 kilometre swim, followed by a scenic 180 kilometre bike ride and a 42.2 kilometre run (marathon length) finishing on Lakeshore Drive in downtown Penticton.
Hints for other budding triathletes? “The race itself is what you’re working towards race day, but it not just about race day. It’s all the preparation and the focus and the training. Sometimes it’s difficult to get out and do the training but you know you have to. Once you’re out there its thoroughly enjoyable, and along the way seeing improvements in your abilities from week to week, month to month. Race day is just the culmination of everything you’ve done, but race day is not the be all and end all. The training is as enjoyable as the day.”
Next? Well Carlson is planning his races for next year but he’s going to take it a bit easier – only four half-iron or Olympic length races. But you can be sure he’ll try the Ironman again – maybe not for a few years but he’ll be back.
“I will do another one again, at some point, I know that.”