Sunday, September 27, 2015

2015 Niagara Falls Barrelman Swim-Bike Race Report

This time it is over. The triathlon season, that is! Don't get any ideas, the blog and I are not splitting just yet. And to end it on a good note, after all the gloom and doom of the last post, there isn't anything better than a race report that seals another PR. But of course, it was my first ever swim-bike event, so d'uh!

This race wasn't even on my radar this year, being injured and such, but since the season was going pretty well, I decided to give it a try despite not having biked more than 70K this year. A 2km swim, followed by a 90km bike - one way or another I would have finished it (and I wasn't going to tell my physio about it). But life is more exciting when you walk on the edge, and all signs pointed to a pretty good outcome to my IT band and knee woes. I am no expert, but a few months of running and biking without pain is rather encouraging. Hubbs was also signed up, as were a few of our friends and members from our FMCT tri club. I was the only one to do the swim-bike, but I didn't feel much out of place.
For having done Welland Half-Iron triathlon before, I knew most of the bike course and the swim didn't scare me, especially knowing that it was going to be held at the spanking new Flatwater Centre, in the same canal as the Welland swim.

Zin and I took a hotel room in Niagara Falls and left the boys at home because they weren't in the mood to spend yet another weekend spectating and cheering on random strangers. It's better not to argue with teenagers. On Saturday we arrived at the Flatwater Centre shortly after lunch and we picked up our race kits, checked out the place and chatted with friends. Because we were getting hungry, we drove downtown Welland for a bite. The city was deserted and we had a hard time finding a place that was open for lunch. We settled on a restaurant that was serving all day breakfast and I had a club house sandwich with fries and Zin a burger and a salad. It was decent and cheap, and we were happy that they didn't turn us down since they were closing at 2pm. With happy bellehs we returned to Flatwater Centre for the mandatory pre-race briefing, then we dropped our bikes in T1. It was a rainy and very windy day and I was hoping that the next day would have better conditions because I was not in the mood to pick up a fight with Mother Nature.
Pre race selfie with hubbs
This race had separate transitions because the bike was going to take us from Welland to Niagara Falls, where the triathletes were going to start and finish their run along the falls (twice). In the morning, we were supposed to drive to T2, from where a shuttle was going to take us to T1. A bit complicated, because we had several bags to drop off at different locations and that was putting all kinds of stress on my confused brain. Anyway, we got to our room in Niagara Falls under a downpour, but thankfully it was on the main floor and we could park our car just in front of the door. We unpacked all our race crap, then we filled our dry clothes, swim, and run bags with their respective contents . 5pm came quickly and we drove to Clifton Hill to have dinner with some of our friends and their families (including Emma and Kyra) at Rainforest Cafe. I played it safe and had a healthy dinner: salmon with veggies and rice. But since we were also in celebratory spirits, Kyra and her husband Alasdair treated us to a Volcano cake (which we split 5 ways). That thing was huge!! A sweet way to end an awesome evening with great friends. Let's hope that we won't wait until next year's Barrelman to do this again.

After dinner we went back to our hotel where we finished setting up our bags and nutrition. Alas around us, the party was just getting started, so I informed Zin that I was going to sleep with ear plugs and that he better have a good alarm clock so we don't miss the shuttle. I read for a bit, then went to bed - I don't even remember if it was 10pm yet. The alarm went off at 5am and it took us only 45 minutes to shower, get ready for the race,  pack all our belonging and leave. We stopped by the nearby Tim Hortons for breakfast and I had an English muffin with peameal bacon, an orange juice and a raisin bagel on the go. At 6:15am we picked up 2 more friends on Clifton Hill and all together we drove to T2. Parked our cars, Zin dropped his run bag, then the shuttle took us to Welland in about 30 min time. I don't know if we were the first bus to arrive in T1, but John Salt was already there with camera in hand and a welcome for all of us as we stepped off the bus. It put a smile on my face. I love John's passion for his Multisport races and this is what drives me to come back year after year. He makes us feel like family.

I dropped my wetsuit bag in transition, checked that my tires were still inflated and that a raccoon did not eat the gels off my bike. Then I went to get body marked, where I found Nicole, who surprised us all by volunteering at the race. She's always been a joiner, indeed. I love her to bits.
I spent the next hour chit chatting as usual, taking pictures, lining up to go potty, and overall trying to stay relaxed. Not sure how successful I was because my stomach was telling me otherwise. After two bathroom breaks, things started to settle down though. I was finally confident enough that I wasn't going to need another poo break to put on my wetsuit, then ate my banana and headed to the water to warm up. At this point I lost Zin and I had no clue where he was, so I told myself that I'll see him on the bike because he was going to pass me then, if not in the water. I was in the first wave after the pros and I could not wait to get started. You can see me in the picture below just above the word Triathlon, pressing Start on my Garmin watch. I believe Kyra is just a few feet behind me, and I can see Sam and Emma too.
And then we were off! I am most likely towards the top right corner of this pic. My plan was to keep as close as possible to the small red buoys because they were all attached by a rope that you could follow underwater and avoid sighting.
This was by far the swim with the most contact that I've been in. But of course, everyone wanted a piece of the rope. I ended swimming right on top of it for most of the first half of the swim, which made me bump into every single one of the large sighting buoys. It made for some awkward moments and a bit of a stop and go for me, as I was trying to deal with my bewilderment and find a way to go around them. I tried zig zagging the best I could, especially while passing people. It really seemed that were was nowhere to go at times and it got me a little frustrated. After the first turn buoy, things started to calm down for a bit, but then got wild again on the way back, because of the damn rope. The entire swim I was shoulder to shoulder with another woman and it felt like we were swim twinsies. For quite a long time I thought it was Sam since we all had the same swim goggles, but I could not spot the X on her wetsuit as much as I tried. Eventually I made peace with the fact that I was getting frisky with a total stranger.
It is along this stretch that guys from the following waves started passing me. It got physical again, but overall not too violent. It was only at the last sigh buoy before the turn that things got ugly. The girl who was swimming beside me hit me with her elbow on the face and my goggles filled with water instantly. I stopped to put them back on, but I was in a hurry and I didn't do a very good job. I ended the swim with leaky goggles and a lot of water in my eyes, but pretty happy that I was finally done.

Below are pics taken by Nicole of me, Emma, Sam and Zin as we were running to transition. Hello there, friend!
By my smile, I was quite content with my swim, despite an average time of 41:27, about 3 minutes slower than Muskoka 70.3.
Moving on! No matter what, this day was going to finish with a PR. Back in T1, I removed my wetsuit and put it in the bag, then put on my bike jersey and my new bike shoes, after a split decision to forego the socks once again. Threw the socks in the bag, then trotted my way out of transition for a beautiful day on the Niagara Peninsula flatland. As you can see, the sun was shining and ... it must have been in my eyes because I didn't see the photographer until it was too late.  I really love this pic though. You can see the swim exit in the background too.
The bike, just as I imagined it, was about to bring a lot of hurt. I am not a fan of flat courses because your legs never get a break, but sure they are satisfying because you get to see big numbers on the Garmin. As soon as we got out of the city I took a look at my speed and it was still going up. I think I was averaging about 34kph by that moment and I was glad that my legs showed up. I ate my first gel after 15 minutes and it gave me an instant side stitch. With the Wasaga race still fresh in my mind, I told myself "NOT AGAIN!!" and hoped that it would go away. I drank some water 10 minutes later and it disappeared as quickly as it came. Phew, back to business.

Zin passed me close to the 30k mark and he made me smile as I could hear him from afar, howling like a wolf at me. It could have only been him, lol. I still had a lot of water in my bottles, so I decided to skip the first bottle exchange. I kept eating gels at 25 minute intervals, then a homemade energy bar at 50km. That's when I started drinking my Endura as well. I remember a LOT of turns on this route. And the chip seal by the stinky canal, twice (when did we turn around??). I kept passing people, but I also got passed by a lot of men. I remember passing at least 3-4 people in the swim bike event. And NO girls passed me at any point in time. Now that was really promising.

After 40km though, the wind started to slow me down. I tried my best to keep my head in the game, but I could see my speed going down... and down... and down... I remembered my speed last year in Welland and my finish time of 2:48 and change. Yes, I was 10 times better trained last year, but I felt that I had no excuses but try to match that result this year. The effort that I was putting on just didn't feel hard enough (see Strava file), but then I still had 30km to go. Hard to know when to sit back and relax and when to push to the max when all you've done this year were "all out" races. So after taking a bit of a break, so to speak, I started fighting for it. I really, really wanted to keep that speed. Since I don't train with power, all I had for metrics were my heart rate and my breathing. I truly went by feel, chasing the panting, hard breathing and burn in the quads. Here are some pretty graphs.

Most of the last 20km were a mental struggle. I knew that I could trash my legs because I didn't have to run afterwards, but I was honestly getting bored and demotivated. The only thing that kept me going hard was that no women had passed me and the dream of ending on a podium was within my reach (or so it seemed). I had never been on a podium in triathlon before, but came very close. Now, with only 50 people in the swim-bike out of which 20 were women, I had a chance. I channeled my best inner champion, reminding myself the Ronda Rousey's words (the book I just read) and how she always attacks a fight like a winner. There may have been a few swear words in there too, but I kept those under my breath. I took a last gel at 80km because I was getting hungry again and pushed on.

After being convinced that the course was going to be long because of the km markers that kept coming later and later after my watch had beeped, it ended being short by 1.1km. I was really enjoying the path along the river when all of a sudden we turned a corner, and there was the dismount line. I felt utterly confused, but also very happy that I was done. I struggled to get off my bike and almost face planted when my leg hit the bottle that I was carrying at the back. The bottle fell, but I kept going because I needed to reach the mat! The volunteer wanted me to take the bottle, but I yelled "I don't care about it!!" and it was so true. At that moment, all that mattered was to reach the finish line.

As soon as I stepped into transition, I felt my legs giving up. I used my bike to hold myself up, then the medical volunteers arrived and I gave them my bike saying that I needed to lie down. I could not see properly anymore and I pretty much collapsed, unable to move. Legs had seized up and were hurting from knee up just like after a marathon. After about 5 minutes of looking at the sky, I was able to sit up and cheer on my friends who just started arriving in transition. After a little while, I returned to pick up my lost bottle, then took my bike to its spot at the other end of the transition. My legs could not bend much at the knees, so it was pretty hilarious to see me walking around I suppose. I knew that I was done, but I still had to go to the finish line to grab my medal, hat and return my chip. I took the (long) walk there, told them that I was done with my race and they gave me my bling. I wasn't going to walk another 100m to get inside the chute for a finish picture that didn't make sense anyway, so the photographer took my pic right there outside the chute. I don't quite like that picture, so I'll share a selfie instead.
I went back to transition and spent 5 more minutes on the ground, then took off my bike shoes and decided to go look for food. I ended at the Recharge with Milk recovery zone, where I slipped into a pair of recovery boots. The guy who set it up asked me how strong I wanted the compression and I said "give me the MAX!!". I must have spent about 20 min there, chatting with Kim and Hector and trying to relax. Since I had not found my dry clothes bag with my phone yet, I asked Kim if she could check the results and tell me how I did. She looked and gave me the news : 1st in my AG, 2nd OA. I could not believe what I was hearing. I was absolutely stoked!! My first ever podium and I finished (almost) on top overall. I jumped out of the boots and my legs were feeling FANTASTIC. Seriously, I was ready to run a marathon!! Quite the difference with 20 minutes prior, so I am convinced that these boots did the trick. (mental note, start saving for a pair NOW).

I went back to the finish line to wait for hubbs and picked up my dry clothes bag on the way. Since I had finished, my vision was blurry and I could barely see around. I was thinking that I may need food, but I didn't want to miss him coming in. He finished about 10 min later, then we waited around for the rest of the troops. I managed to get food eventually, but the blurred vision didn't go away. It stayed with me for about 3h and it was starting to worry me, but I knew that it happened before when I put in a long efforts. I read later on that it's a combination of low blood sugar and low tension, so not to worry. But it's something that I need to ponder on for sure.
The awards ceremony came and to my surprise, I did not get to be on top of the podium. It appears that another lady had finished ahead of me and she was in the 45-49 AG, but since they combine women under 30 and over 40 for the awards, she snatched the 2nd OA and the top spot for women above 40. I was a bit confused as she was not in the results, but apparently she changed at the last minute from the triathlon to the swim bike and Sportstats did not have that update.
See the results, 2 days later and she was still not in the list (she is now).
Anyway, I wasn't bitter because she was 7min faster than me overall and deserved to be ahead of me, but on the moment it got me wondering if she had given up after the bike or really switched to the swim bike since her results were showing in the triathlon section.
She does look like a bad ass triathlete compared to the pink marshmallow in the picture above. But I am still proud. I keep my top AG spot and overall podium. Not sure where all the other people are... I must have been the only one super excited to end up with a second medal!
I am extremely happy with the outcome of this race, as I know that I went there and gave it all. All our friends crossed the finish line, many of them with sweet PRs. I can't wait to go back next year and get a taste of that mist from the Falls on the half marathon as well. ;-)

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Redefining friendship on social media

Today I've unfriended more than 30 people on Facebook. It may have been you, or one of your friends. It is not often that I talk about my "friends" as defined by social media, but given that I've spent every single second of my last run mulling the contents of this blog post, which continued to torture me today, I had to do something about it. This was not an easy decision. As a matter of fact, I've been debating it for over a year, but only recently it started to consume me to the point where it's been affecting my emotional well being. If you've followed me long enough, you should know that I take my mental health pretty seriously. Because if I weren't... I wouldn't be here to talk about it.

The next question is obviously WHY. And the answer is very simple: because being connected to these people HURTS. How?? See, I wear my heart on the sleeve. I am an extrovert, not shy of giving compliments (and they are always genuine) or telling someone that I like them and that I want to be their friend. With some of these people I did just that, months or even years ago. Because I really cared about them. Many of them inspire me on a daily basis and I know that they are GOOD people. But they all have something in common: they don't care about me (or if they do, they never showed it). Some of them may consider me a weirdo, a groupie, a fan, or purely an annoyance to whom they rest connected for reasons that I cannot comprehend. Connecting on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram for the sake of it, because we're teammates, because we share the same hobby, because of curiosity, because it may turn into a business opportunity, or a sale opportunity, because we want to keep tabs on each other, or who knows what other stupid reason devoid of care, compassion or empathy - it's not for me. I am not strong, nor superficial enough for it.

Sometimes I admit, I accept friendship requests too quickly, but I always take the time and try to connect with the person. If they don't reciprocate in any shape or form, if they never answer my questions, comments or concerns, if they never share my enthusiasm, or never Like something that makes me happy, it becomes a relationship that I'm uncomfortable with. I put so much energy into every single one of the connections that I make, that after a while it starts eating me at the core that this person doesn't give a shit. And so I unfriend, to protect myself from these feelings that can become a real burden on my psyche.

Lately there has also been another trend on some of the blogs I read. Their authors feel a sense of pride in making declarations that end up hurting more than they can imagine, such as "I never take selfies", "I don't eat sugar" or "I never weigh myself", or "I never run in skirts". For all of us who do take selfies, obsess with the scale, enjoy a dessert every once in a while, or just find running skirts extremely comfortable - those statements make us feel like shit because they ARE judgmental. The author may not say it out loud, but they must find comfort in knowing that they are better than us, the other 99%. The effort that I need to put in justifying these statements for those who make them it's seriously draining. Maybe they don't mean it, or maybe it's their way of reassuring themselves. Who am I to tell them what to write on their own virtual space anyway? So I rather take a bow and retreat in my own corner of the Internet.

Last but not least, I've unfriended a bunch of triathletes that I've connected with via the groups that I belong to on Facebook. Some of these people are pros, or full time coaches, or people who only share, breathe and live triathlon. These people are obviously too busy to connect with their audience, or choose not to waste their energy on people who are not part of their immediate circle - thus ignoring 90% of their connections (and they do have a shit ton of social media friends, so I can understand the "noise" that must be surrounding them). But while they are inspiring in their dedication to beating PRs, qualifying for Kona, or getting the most defined and toned body, they also could benefit from showing their human side: failures, injuries, stretch marks, DNFs. People who only show the "perfect" side of their lives, only mingle with other pros or "fast" people, or spend half their time plugging their sponsors, make me angry. Anger is something that I've been feeling more and more lately and it doesn't make me a better person. So, I had to unfriend these people as well to shield myself from the shitty feelings that get triggered whenever I open social media and stumble on them.

I have no intention in changing any of these people. They all do what they want with their lives, their friends, their hobbies. And I do the same with mine. We all want the best for ourselves, that's for sure. So anyway, I really do hate these kind of posts and I am still debating whether to publish this, but maybe something good will come out of it, who knows.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

2015 Lakeside Sprint Triathlon Race Report

Here we are, last triathlon of the season. The months flew by and just a few posts ago I was still wallowing in self pity. Things are better now and it's been a while since I felt my knees hurting while running or biking. Am I completely healed? I don't know, and to tell you the truth - I am, and will forever remain cautious, I guess. If I don't do my strength and maintenance workouts, there are consequences for sure. But I digress. I don't know where I was going with this... a sort of conclusion to my season or a preamble to my race? Come'on thoughts, make up your mind!

So, Lakeside Sprint Tri. It was also the season ender last year, and since I like competing against myself, going back was a good way of seeing if I've improved in any of the disciplines. The week before the race was a sort of mini taper, but sprinkled with a few quality workouts, such as 6x400s on the track or the Truuli-2 workout on Trainer Road, that I did the day before the race (like you're supposed to, according to the Trainer Road gurus). I was skeptical at first, but as soon as I finished this workout I was so pumped up and ready to go, that I was almost bummed that I'd have to sleep on it instead.

I prepared my tri bag the night before and was pleasantly surprised to discover that the race start was once again pushed to 10am (thank you Multisport!!) and I would not have to wake up at ass-o'clock to make the 2h drive to Lakeside. Sleeping until 6am on race day, what a treat!! I was super tired anyway, and by 10pm I went to bed and fell asleep immediately. The alarm clock rang in the middle of a nightmare that had me following the GPS to Lakeside, but ending in Woodstock instead. The dream was so vivid, that I woke up sweating and on the verge of having a panic attack, but I was instantly relieved to see that I was still in my bed and Mr. Google did not send me to the wrong race site.

I showered, put on my Coeur team kit, then had breakfast: a slice of bread with margarine and a thick slice of ham, 2 boiled eggs, and a Portugese egg tart that I had bought the night before. Nothing new on race day? I love living dangerously, what can I say?
Took my water bottle, my Gu Espresso Gel (for the buzz effect on the bike) and THE banana (my only pre race ritual that I cannot live without), and started driving at 7am sharply. The roads took me through long stretches of farm country and I had to trust my GPS that it would get me to destination on time, despite the road closures that I ran into and put me a little on the edge.
I made it to Lakeside with plenty of time to set up my transition spot leisurely and even chat for a while with my friends Carly, Dana and my old coach Dave.
Yay for a selfie with Carly!
And yay for a selfie with Dana!
I even had a rack with my number (163) on it! Despite the record number of women in my 40-44 AG (31), I found the transition not being as crowded as in previous races, so maybe we were spread out better, who knows. And despite the cold, the sun was poking its rays through the clouds and made the conditions look rather promising. It's always a good feeling once everything is under control and you're only minutes away from another adventure and hopefully, a lot of FUN.
I visited the portapotties for a last time, ate my banana, then put on my wetsuit. It was the best way to stay warm anyway and from what I had heard, the water was much warmer than the air as well - a balmy 22C, about 10C higher. With 15 minutes to spare I went to the lake to do my swim warmup, but it may have been a mistake because it only took me about 5 minutes and then I shivered for another 15 until my wave was sent off. Must have been the cold because I peed no less than 5 times in the water. Everything to keep myself warm!!
The swim was very crowded, and my strategy this time was to concentrate on doing long, powerful, and complete strokes instead of the high cadence motor boat. I also sighted less than usual and kept my head low. All this made the swim less strenuous, in spite the moments when I was literally grunting and swallowing mouthfulls of weedy water. It kept me hydrated though, and that was a plus. I didn't find any feet to follow, but I think I passed quite a few people, especially from the wave before. I finished the swim feeling the most relaxed this year and that's a good sign that whatever I was doing worked to my advantage. It was also the fastest swim this year, on par with the Muskoka 70.3 relay (actually even faster).
Look at all the white caps still swimming behind me, and the blue ones from the wave before. Booyah!
The transition was short and sweet and I hopped on my bike in no time... so fast that my heart was still up in my throat. I also forgot to change sports on my watch and found myself fiddling with it while riding and that seemed as dangerous as driving and texting. I gave up after a wind gust almost pushed me sideways and scared the crap out of me (not literally, jeez). Once more, I found the route extremely crowded and for the first 5km I kept passing people without a chance of moving to the right that much. I was getting really worried that I may get a penalty, but it's not like I had where to go without hitting the brakes or getting myself within someone else's drafting zone. The crowds thinned out by the time I reached the 10km turnaround, and for the rest of the race another girl and I kept passing each other back and forth - but thankfully she was not in my AG (but looked very legit in a Team Canada tri suit). According to Sportstats, I passed 31 people on the bike and 5 of them were in my AG. Not bad me thinks, especially with all the rolling hills and headwind on the longest stretch of the road. I ate my gel about 2/3rd of the way after being slowed down by the headwind. I finished the bike in 39 min and change, 6th in my AG. I had NO idea of my time since my watch was all screwed up, but it felt like a solid bike ride by the amount of effort that I put in.

I had another fast transition, in just under 1 minute. I chose to go sockless again, since it was only a 5km and I had already removed enough skin from my toes to see blisters coming back so soon. I took my Gu Chomps with me, thinking that I may need them (I didn't). I also managed to reset my watch and change it to Run mode (I should learn how to use the Multisport mode next year, d'uh), and the plan was to get to the first kilometer and assess my effort level. Once I got there I hit lap and saw 5:12. Whoa, that was fast and I wasn't feeling bad at all. Can I keep the pace up? A few hills were coming up ahead, but then I could just use the downhills to recover. I finished the next kilometer in 5:08. Even better! Those were definitely my fastest paces this year and I was still feeling like a million bucks. The next 2km were pretty tough because of the hills, but I still managed some decent times (5:20 and 5:40). Last kilometer, I took it home (4:56). I could not wait for the paved section as I knew that I was just around the corner from the finish chute. 3 ladies in my AG passed me on the run, but they were very strong and most likely running under 5 min/km. I knew that I could not keep up with them, but everything can happen, so I never gave up mentally. I had an awesome run, what can I say. I managed my pace really well and in the end it paid off.
I finished with a big smile on my face and... wait for it... a 5 MINUTE PR (for both this race and the sprint distance) and a time of 1:23:49!!!  I was already happy with my 8 seconds PR at Bracebridge, so you can imagine how I felt when I saw the time on the board. But the field was also very strong and despite my best effort to date, I finished 9th/31 in my AG and more than a minute slower than the previous girls.

I went to change into dry clothes because my tri suit was still damp, then took a few bites of banana, oranges and pretzels and went back to transition to pack my stuff. I was on a schedule to leave as soon as possible because I wanted to get to hospital in time to visit my friend Carol before going to pick up my son from his Bronze Medallion class, so I didn't stay for the awards or draw prizes. Dana later told me via Twitter that my name was called for the second best prize, but I'll take karma and a PR over a prize any day. It was a day that kept on wining though!

And if you want more proof that this day could not have been better, here's what welcomed us later when we pulled into our driveway.
In the end, this triathlon season, just like this double rainbow, was pretty spectacular. I didn't do an Ironman, not even a half - but I don't feel less of an athlete because of it. I had a lot of fun, I remained healthy, I even got a shiny new PR - and I didn't kill my legs in the process. I gained a lot more insight into racing short distance and I can definitely see myself continuing on this path in my old age. And maybe, just maybe I'll also make it on the podium then. 

For now, I have one more Multisport event on my calendar: The Barrelman 1/2 distance swim/bike. My longest ride this year was about 70km, so that's going to be interesting. Let's hope that I didn't jinx myself with all the tiger blood and winning above. Between us, I am more looking forward to another weekend away than the race itself, haha. Niagara Falls for the win, yeah! #eyeroll #sarcasm ... I am so blasé!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Cheering and volunteering at the inaugural 2015 Ironman Muskoka

If you read my Wasaga Beach Olympic Tri race report, you know in what shape I left for Huntsville. In two words: not pretty. Tired, stinky, hungry, thirsty, and eager to take a shower and relax a little. The drive to Muskoka was quiet and introspective and I reached the destination shortly before 5pm, just as the skies opened up and cleared the muggy air. I joined my friend Wendy at the Super 8 Hotel in Huntsville where we shared a room for the weekend. She was going to race in the Ironman, along with 12 other of my friends and members of the FMCT club, and I was going to be her sherpa and volunteer at the event.

After I settled into our room and took a well needed shower, Wendy and I went to Boston Pizza for dinner and indulged in a healthy meal (salmon, steamed vegetables), and finished with a not so healthy chocolate explosion cake that we shared. Given that I had skipped lunch, I didn't even flinch. Down in ma' belly, decadent calories! We called it a night pretty early afterwards, as the alarm clock was set for 4am.

I slept pretty well myself - but of course, I was completely exhausted and I had no race anxiety to keep me up all night. When the alarm clock went off, I was almost anticipating it. I had no issues waking up and I was ready to go go go, and so excited to see my friends taking on The Beast.

I ate a peanut butter and jelly bagel, while Wendy ate her honey nut cheerios, then we were on our way. I wasn't very hungry, but I made sure to take a lot of snacks with me to have enough to eat until midnight. On site, I waited for Wendy to get her bike ready, then we went inside for a potty break and that's when I noticed that she didn't have her chip on her ankle. I rang the panic bell and together we started running around, asking the volunteers where the Sportstats tent was. To our surprise, there was no Sportstats tent near transition, but I knew from Ironman Mt. Tremblant that they should have chips at the swim start. However, we could not afford to waste too much time going back and forth from the beach to transition with just under 30 minutes to start. After asking half a dozen people, eventually we found a volunteer captain who had the idea of calling Nick Stoehr, the race director (or maybe it was Rich Trenholm), and he confirmed that they had spare timing chips at the swim start. Phew! All we had to do was to run there and hope for the best.

We said our goodbyes on the parking lot near the beach, I took Wendy's flip flops, then I joined the spectators' side with the plan of going as close as possible to the mass of athletes and check on Wendy to make sure that she found a chip. There were lots of athletes and finding friends in the sea of green and pink caps wasn't easy. I managed to see Amanda (from our club) and Kim (from Two Years to Kona), but the music was loud and all my screaming didn't help. I was desperately trying to find my bestie Carol, but to no avail. Big sad face, as I had promised her that I'd give her a big hug before the start.
While I was looking for both of them, Wendy found herself a chip. You can see her picking it up at 20:30 in the live stream video from the swim start (Won with One red top).
I didn't know this until later when I finally saw her walking towards the start. As for Carol, I missed her when she walked just in front of me. But she was in the middle of a group of very tall guys, so I'm not surprised. There she is at the bottom of the screen beside the guy with TEAM on his wetsuit, and I am against the railing near the speaker with my Ironman backpack (30:05).
I saw Wendy just a minute later and I was super stoked to see that the chip situation was under control. You can see me again with my hands in the air calling her at 30:54 (I had no idea that I was on camera). After all athletes entered the water I was somewhat relieved and went to ask whether Wendy's chip remained the same and if I could track her online. I was reassured that her chip has been paired with her bib and that after the swim it will appear in the results. Okay then, that sounded rather promising. And on that note, I walked over to the swim finish.
It was a cool and overcast morning and the temperatures were forecasted in the mid 20s C. Just perfect for racing! I thought about the IMMT athletes and how much they suffered in the heat and told myself that people at IM Muskoka were much luckier, especially while dealing with this grueling course. The flatter part of the race though, the swim in Peninsula Lake, was looking like it was going to be fast. The water was like glass and not even The Beast, that was hiding at the swim exit was going to disturb it. (Who put that thing there?? So fitting.)
Just as I thought, the first athletes started coming out the water around the 54min mark. I saw many of the people I knew finishing the swim and I was so happy to finally see Carol, that I started screaming like an idiot. I ran up after her to give her a hug, which I managed to do just before she hopped on her bike. Then I came back to wait for Wendy and once she came out of the water, I followed her back up. Who said spectating wasn't a sport? It wasn't even 9am and I was spent. She went in transition to her bike, but not before having a swarm of volunteers coming to cover her in sunscreen. I found the scene absolutely hilarious and I could not resist but taking a snapshot.
The Sunscreen team in action
I chose to stay around Deerhurst for the remainder of the day. I waited until everyone else I knew got on the bike, then I went to check out the Ironman store. So much M-Dot swag, my eyes started to bleed. I did buy my husband an IM Muskoka 70.3 backpack because I lost his string bag from a few years ago when we did our first 70.3 there, then I went to sit down and rest for a bit before deciding what to do with my free time. While I was hooked to a plug, charging my phone, I chatted with Paolina Allan from Ignition Fitness about Kim and her spectacular swim, then Paul from my tri club joined me after arriving at the resort for his bike handler volunteer job.
Look who I found in transition! The fantastic Captain Tracy.
Paul and I went to look for the volunteers' tent and we were lucky to find breakfast being served. I had a muffin and a juice, then went back to transition to find the bike handler team captain. It took me about 30 seconds to decide to take on a second volunteer shift that day. I had done bike handling at IMMT and this team looked like they could use some help. We spent the next 1.5h talking about catching bikes, running with bikes, putting bikes on the rack, what to ask the athletes, what to do with the numbers on the rack, with the bike computers, their nutrition, their shoes, where to line up to hand over the bikes, which side athletes were dismounting most on, etc. I quickly realized that this team had very different instructions/opinions than the team at IMMT, so it took me a moment to re-adjust my thinking. It's hard not to judge, knowing that this was a first Ironman for this team, while IMMT had it going on for a few years and it was a well oiled machine. But I gave up on my (strong) opinions and let the captain run the show as he thought was best. Sometimes you just have to trust the people and the process, even if they are different. And guess what? It all worked out very well in the end. Given that this race had 1200 less athletes than IMMT, the stream of bikes was spaced enough that we weren't rushed and we didn't even have to use the spare rack.
Paul showing everyone how it's done
I spent most of the day running with the bikes, leaving the catching to the most eager folks in the team. In the end, while it was a hard job because I had to walk/run a lot, it was also a lot of fun. It allowed me to see all my friends coming in with their bikes, and give them hugs, encouragements, high fives, or just play the paparazzi by taking photos and videos for their friends and family.

Around 5pm I asked to be excused since I was getting tired and I really wanted a little break before starting the next shift. I went inside Deerhurst and noticed that they had dinner food for the athletes and volunteers, but I didn't have a wristband that would give me access to it. Since I joined the bike handlers team impromptu, I was only given a tshirt, but no wristband - so I went over to the finish line where I checked in with Kari and got my wristband. Now I was legit and I could eat. Not even 5 minutes later the same wristband was being cut and I could put some food into my plate. I took a sub, pasta salad, an apple and another banana. I ate the pasta and the fruits and decided to keep the sub for later. I charged my phone again for a bit and spent about 30 minutes catching up on social media, lounging on one of the fancy chairs inside the building.

However the clock was ticking and I was missing all the action at the finish line. I put my backpack away, I said Hi to all my volunteer friends and joined in the fun. It took me a few minutes to understand how this finish line was working and oops, I must have jumped the line before the other volunteers a few times until Dorothy kindly reminded me that I should line up like everybody else. I looked around me and that's when I realized how many of us were there. Whoa, quite the blue and red army!
I was quickly made aware of the rest of the rules (no swearing! - cameras were on us), the Tough Toonie bibs and medal, and the chip strap that people could keep if they wanted to. The rest was just about the same as I knew it. Catch people, make sure they don't collapse, and if they do, use the wheelchair and call a medic. Offer as much support as needed, be it physical or emotional. Don't shy away from sweaty hugs and people crying in your arms. After all, I had done that just the day before and it wasn't even an Ironman. Slaying The Beast must have been a huge challenge and it's totally understandable that the relief of crossing the finish line makes all the bottled emotions spill over.
Personally I had promised a few friends to catch them and/or give them their medals. The first one to cross the finish line was Kim who is on her journey to qualify for Kona. She had a tough run, but she persevered and finished 3rd in her AG (read her blog report here). I could not have been more proud to catch her. I gave her the medal too, then together we took the slow walk towards the massage tent where she had her legs looked after. I don't know who took the picture above, but it's special to me and I know that I'll cherish that moment forever. I am happy to have it immortalized.

As the night fell on Deerhurst, the athletes kept coming in, tired but elated, finishing a journey that may have started months or years before. I was absolutely astounded to see so many first time Ironman finishers that came in under 12h. My mind could not comprehend how come so many of them liked the course. Out of all North American races, Muskoka is in the top 5 for toughness. Yet, people must be gluttons for punishment. Or they trained for it really well, or they were so freaking high on endorphins that they had no clue what they were talking about. Most likely a mix of all.
Our volunteers team kept everyone entertained and welcomed every finisher with a high five and a few words of congratulations. Those two above were a hoot, dancing and singing and pumping up the audience. Even the photographer played along. Nice photobomb, lol! Some friends finished the race before the night fell, others came in after dark. Carol started her run without her chip, so it was hard to track her, but eventually she made it and I felt so relieved (what's it with my friends and their timing chip)!! I gave her a long, teary hug. She is one of the crazies who chose Muskoka as their first Ironman and because of health issues I was nervous that something may have gone wrong. But she is also one of the strongest people that I know and I had no doubts that she'll want to finish no matter what. I was assisting another athlete when she crossed the line because without a chip they could not announce her arrival in advance, but I found her right after she got her medal and the moment we had at the finish line won't be going away from my memory any time soon.
Wendy came in about 1h later. Another fighter who battled injuries and a hectic training schedule the entire season. Wendy and I have known each other for a couple of years now and Ironman is what brought us together. We became training buddies and friends when we realized that we were neighbours, and I could not fathom not being there for her, just like she was for me last year at IMMT. Muskoka was her third Ironman and because of circumstances, her goal was to finish. There she is, looking awesome as usual, a big smile on her face, despite running on huge blood blisters. After giving her too a very sweaty and squeeshy hug, she left to get some food and I continued my shift. There were still 40 min left and about 50 more athletes on the course. Last athlete finished with about 3 minutes to spare and it was rather anticlimactic, since we were told that there were two more to follow, but actually none were left (because of some error).
And just like that, it was over. We watched the fireworks, said our goodbyes, Kari, Dorothy - the most amazing finish line team captains. Got a hug from Rich Thenholm, doc extraordinaire and the life of this event. I'll most likely be back next year, as both athlete (IM Muskoka 70.3 "Redemption") and IM volunteer and I know that no matter what, this place will remain a special one. One day, I may choose to measure myself against The Beast as well, but I am in no hurry - this body of mine is still on the mend.

After leaving the finish line I managed to find Wendy who was chatting with friends made on the course. I checked her bike out, then I left her with her belongings to wait for me to come back with the car from the air strip parking lot. It took me a little while to find the shuttle bus (it has been changing locations every year) and I almost got in a panic, thinking that I may have missed the last one. Thankfully I saw a bus silhouette in the distance and I ran to it just before it closed its doors. Fifteen minutes later I was back with the car and to the hotel shortly thereafter where I collapsed in my bed, happy to be able to rest and appreciate everything that happened.

I will leave you with 2 videos from the event, so you can appreciate as well the way this day unfolded for athletes, volunteers and everyone else who came to witness history being made, right here in Muskoka.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

2015 Wasaga Beach Olympic Triathlon Race Report

Last week was absolutely insane. I was busy every single day from the moment I woke up until late at night, mostly because I procrastinated with a few things that I had planned, which ended bringing me a great deal of anxiety and didn't leave me any time for rest. As a result, I only managed to fit in a bike and a run workout before the longest race of the year to date, the Wasaga Beach Olympic Triathlon. The plan was to go to Wasaga to race on Saturday, then from there, drive straight to Huntsville to meet my friend Wendy and volunteer the following day at Ironman Muskoka.

I was happy to hear that the race had a late start, which meant that I could sleep in. We still had 1.5h drive ahead of us, but at least I didn't have to get up at the crack of dawn. Waking up at 7am on a race day sure felt wonderful. I prepared my bags the night before since I needed to pack for a few days worth. I had everything ready by 10pm, then I went to bed.
A reluctant thumb up. Let's do this, yay?
It all feels like such a blur, I don't even remember what I had for breakfast. So I'll skip that part. I just know that by 8am on the dot, hubby and I were leaving our driveway each in our own car, direction Wasaga Beach. I was nervous as hell, not knowing if my legs were going to hold for 10km on the run without pain, since my longest run this year was 8km (once). The drive was very scenic, straight north on Airport Rd and all its roller-coaster hills. It was a nice way to start the morning instead of battling the crowds up the dreadful Hwy 400. Shortly before 9:30am we were pulling into one of the many parking lots along the Lake Huron waterfront.

I started taking my paraphernalia out of the car when all of a sudden I notice that I don't have my helmet. FML. But of course, I didn't even think about going in the garage after it. Damn, damn damn. What do I do?? Thankfully Zin had his spare one in his car and after a quick check that it fit (sorta, but please don't tell the officials mmmkay?), I decided to race with it. YOLO! Moving on...

I picked up my race kit, chip, got body marked, then wheeled my bike into transition where I set up my little slice of real estate in the middle of a rack because all the premium spots were already taken, haha.
It was early enough and nerves were slowly dissipating, so I walked around transition for a bit and chatted with Kyra and her husband Alasdair, then took some pictures with them and hubbs.
Awwww. Aren't we cute.
Love Alasdair's kit - I recognize him everywhere we go!
The Ladies in Pink
Took a last portaloo break, chatted a bit more, and finally put on my wetsuit and walked to the beach for a warm up swim. I looked at the water and wondered what Steve Fleck meant by "flat swim". I mean, seriously, dude... This was no flat swim. Or maybe it was getting choppier by the minute. Fact is, I tried taking a few dolphin dives and felt like jumping into a wall of water every single time. Okay then... this was going to be interesting. The previous three years the swim was cancelled at this race, so I considered myself lucky that I was going to do a triathlon that day. I remember a few rough swims at Professor's Lake, and of course, last year's IMMT swim that was the worst in all the years they had the race there. But this... this was something else. I wasn't sure how I was going to swim out against the waves, and even less, make it out and back unscathed. But I reminded myself how much I love open water swimming and started laughing at the situation and joking with the other athletes. I could actually see myself running to the first buoy instead of swimming and for some reason I thought it was hilarious. This swim was going to bring all kinds of challenges for sure.

I was in the third wave and soon enough the gun went off and I jumped in with both feet so to speak. I tried kicking for a bit, but fighting with the waves was tiring enough. Being mentally prepared for a personal worst, I shut the legs off and concentrated on my stroke, or whatever was left of it. I noticed that half of the time I was either trying to stay horizontal and not over rotate, or look for a buoy. Since buoys were hard to sight, I settled on the boats instead.There was a lot of boat movement around though and people everywhere. I think they were trying to keep everyone on course, but I bet it wasn't easy. The waves were pretty insane. I was constantly going up and down and I was expecting to get sea sick at any moment. To reach the first turn buoy felt as long as an Ironman swim, and that wasn't even half of it. My husband said it well, it was just like a washing machine and I felt like covering more vertical space than distance.

Eventually I reached the second turn buoy and started moving towards the beach. At this point, I could not see a thing, and especially not the exit arch. I decided to follow a gentleman and put my faith in his sighting skills. Everything was blending on the shore and all buildings looked the same to me. In hindsight, I should have settled on a better landmark than the arch before I started the swim. Oh well, lesson learned. I finally made it to water shallow enough that my hands were touching bottom. I stood up and walked the rest. I don't know why I was looking so cheerful in the photos, but I guess I was happy to be done. It must have been before I looked at my watch. 38 minutes, yikes!! Definitely my worst swim time evah.
I had an uneventful transition and hopped on my bike, eager to get going. About 2/3 of bikes were already gone, and I was wondering how far ahead they were. I could not have been the only one to have a crappy swim, right? (insert some pretty mean wishful thinking there).

The legs weren't feeling that great, and about 5km in, a stitch decided to settle into the right side of my stomach, just below the ribs. Great. I wasn't sure where it was coming from - this was a first. I held off drinking and eating until about 30min in, but then I got thirsty. I had a bottle of Endura with me and 2 gels. I started drinking the Endura, but with difficulty because the damn stitch was rather stubborn. Although the course was relatively flat with a few short climbs, I didn't feel like pushing too big of a gear. I kept passing people, at least that was entertaining. Played leap frog with a guy for a while, then I told him "break's over, let's get to work", but he didn't follow. I felt very lonely on this ride, mostly because for the first time this year it was not an out and back and I realized that I was not going to see my hubby before the run.

All this time the stomach kept hurting and I didn't know what to do. I wanted to pee, but I could not concentrate enough to pee on the bike, and I was not going to stop for it without an urge big enough. With 15km to spare, I turned onto another road and then BAM, headwind. I saw lots of people slowing down, but I had just eaten my gel and I was feeling stronger than when I started. When I think about it, I wasn't doing any better, it was just a matter of perspective. You learn about it in physics class, I suppose. As a matter of fact, I was still feeling like shit and I could not wait to be done. Again. Another picture of me smiling as I was finishing the second leg of this race.
It looks like I was having fun, but not really. And that helmet? LOL!

Another quick transition and then the run... the stomach was hurting so much, I didn't even bother taking my Clif Blocks with me. By that time I was in survival mode. One step in front of the other... and one more hour of pain. I figured that it must be gas pain from swallowing too much air during the swim, but I admit to have been spoiled in 6 years of running and only once I had to deal with it, during Welland Half last year. But that race had cola and cola makes all gas come out eventually. This race only had water and Heed (yuck) and I was feeling defeated already.

I tried treating it like a stitch and breathe out while striking the ground with the foot on the opposite side... or was it the same side? For the life of me, I could not remember, so I tried both, to no avail. There was this guy on the bike cheering us on, and he made me smile. I love it when people call out my name and say encouraging things. Too bad it didn't make the pain go away. As I was approaching the end of the first loop, I wanted to be done, to drop out of the race right there. But I saw my old coach and he encouraged me and I didn't want to disappoint him. I ran by him and said, "I'm feeling like hell", then went on to the second loop.

The legs were not hurting - so I didn't have a good enough reason to stop. I marched on. I saw Kyra not far behind and I was thinking that she was going to catch up with me in no time. When I reached the split on the road and took a right turn into a side street, I hit pit bottom. I walked for a minute or two, pressing into my stomach, angry at my body for giving me grief (and not moving the gas fast enough). I started having a panic attack and over ventilating, which of course was not helping. At that point I was seriously thinking about knocking on doors and begging for Coke. I managed to pull myself together just before I turned left towards the main road. I saw the guy on the bike again and I told him that thanks to him I was moving again. He said "I have the easy job!" and he made me smile once more. At this point I think I had about 2km left and I told myself: "15 minutes left, max! You can run for 15 minutes. It's almost over". About 200m before the last water station I pass a lady in my age group who was walking. Then she starts running again and passes me back. I wasn't going to run after her for sure. I said "good job", but inside my head I was saying "knock yourself out, you've got nothing to fear - I am dying here". To my surprise, I passed another lady in my age group who stopped for a drink at the last water station. Then 100m later, I saw the first lady walking again and I passed her too.

I had 1km left and I was running strong again. I had made the decision that none of them were going to pass me again. It was stupid and foolish, but it worked.
I reached the chute and just seconds from the finish line, Paul, a friend from the FMCT snapped this picture of me. I don't think I looked back once in the last km, but I was sprinting like a mad woman, and I remember feeling that I was going pass out from lack of oxygen, pain or whatever else was going on with my body. I had never pushed like that in a race, so this was all unknown territory.

I crossed the finish line and I remember John Salt shaking my hand. I wonder if he thought that I was going to puke right there, it would not have been a first. I've seen other finishers leaving it all on the course, but I don't know how many had shitty races because of freaking gas pain. The next two pictures are the worst I've seen myself crossing a finish line. Yes, you can laugh, I totally look like a zombie. Is there a casting call near by?
I took a few more steps and drank a cup or two of water, then started sobbing. I had never felt so overwhelmed in my life. It's like my body could not decide whether to collapse or not. It's hard to explain. Kyra crossed the finish line about a minute later and said "it looks like you need a hug". Indeed, it was all that I needed. And I cried like a baby in her arms (thank you so much!). Legs were shaking and I was feeling lightheaded, so I went to sit down on the beach, looking incredulous at my stomach that had the shape of a balloon. And I had yet to pee as well. As for my legs? ALL GOOD. What about that, eh. I finished in 3:04, not my best time, and not my worst. I got 7th in my AG and remember the 2 ladies that I passed? They finished 15 and 20 seconds after me. Now that was satisfying!

Not sure how long I sat there, but the awards ceremony was going to start and I still wanted my cola. I wasn't hungry, but mind was still in problem solving mode. Remember that scene in Alien, or Prometheus? I wanted that Gas Baby out!! Right away!! I drank a Pepsi, but it had all its bubbles. Didn't help. I ate a few tiny slices of orange and a two-bite banana, then chatted for a while with friends. I waited for the draw to be finished, just in case I won something, then went to transition to pack my stuff. Exchanged more hugs, said goodbye to everyone I knew, gave a kiss to hubbs, then I left for Huntsville, glad to be resting my limbs and hopeful that soon enough I was going to be able to eat something more substantial.

For the rest of the weekend, you'll have to wait for the next blog post. I'm too tired to edit this one and I want to press Publish. YOLO again!