Saturday, September 14, 2013

2013 Ironman Muskoka 70.3 Race Report

Our A race, our first 70.3 distance and first big endurance test, the one that could have had us in tears, but instead it brought us only smiles: Ironman Musoka 70.3. If you doubt it, there is enough photographic evidence in this post. We had the best day ever and we could not have asked for more perfect racing conditions. For the short version, see below. Otherwise, get ready for another (very) detailed race report, because that's how I like them.

The plan was to leave for Muskoka early on Saturday morning, go to Deerhurst Resort to register and pick up our race kit, wander through the expo for a bit, have lunch in Huntsville, go back to Deerhurst to leave the bike in transition and attend the athletes meeting, then back to Huntsville for dinner. And with a few little detours, that's exactly what we did. The drive to Huntsville was uneventful despite the pouring rain, and 2.5h later we hit our destination. We had to park our car outside the resort on an airfield about 2.5km away and take the shuttle bus back and forth. No biggie, the shuttles were running all day long and we never had to wait more than 5 minutes for them.
Everyone takes this picture, but this one is mine
My second ever school bus ride. Much better than the first one... a tale for another day.
I'd never seen one of these signs before
The registration went smoothly, it was easy like 1-2-3, just follow the signs. Got the swim cap, wristband, chip and goodies bag, then we went to the race expo where we goofed around trying on a few things, eventually buying the necessary attire to successfully establish our street cred.
We're blue, da ba dee da ba di... (cookie points for those old enough to recognize the song).
If you did, congrats, you're over 14, you can continue reading. 
We met our friend Carol at the expo and the three of us went in town for lunch. We made two stops, one in a small restaurant where I had a scrumptious spanakopita with greek salad, then two doors down in a bakery where we "sampled" a few desserts. Maple syrup pecan tart - to die for!! I only had a half, but I should have bought a dozen. No picture alas, but I hope you can smell the hot fresh pastry and the spinach in the one below.
Culinary break over. Back to triathlon.

At this point, the weather was still a bit gloomy, with a little drizzle to keep us fresh like vegetables in a supermarket. After returning to Deerhurst, we left our bikes in transition, then we attended both the athletes and pro panel meetings where I scored a huge Merrell transition bag prize filled with goodies (tshirts, socks, sunglasses, towel, wetsuit mesh bag, pens, coffee mug, shaker and a gift certificate for a pair of shoes). WIN!! They just picked one number out of all registered athletes and it was mine. Un-freaking-believable!! I never won anything like it in my entire life, so that was a huge surprise.

After the meetings ended, we went on a little walk around the resort as we wanted to look at the swim start and exit. We discovered that a 400m (1/4 of a mile) hill was waiting for us to run on up after the swim. I wondered whether I should leave some shoes there, but I had no other pair than my bike and running shoes, so I quickly abandoned the idea. Barefoot running was going to be. HTFU.
You run all this...
And this (and some more)!
After you exit here. Watch your step!
At the swim start beach, some dudes were in the lake for a last dip. I asked them how the water was and they said COLD. Oh well. I've done Lake Ontario before, this was just a puddle compared to it. How worse could it be?
Triathletes on the beach
And enough Muskoka chairs to watch them swim
I took a few minutes to enjoy the scenery, then walked back to transition for a last check on my bike. Air, lube, bags on saddle and handlebars, bento box removed, check! Neo was racked beside an younger cousin, a Cervelo P4 with Zipp wheels. The contrast was rather striking.
Neo must be the hippie grandpa in this Cervelo family
Neo's yellow spokes are funkier than your Zipps
I was just a few places away from Carol and her bike. I dig her bike's red tires (and her Conan tshirt).
Hey girl! Doing a triathlon today?
Zin's bike was in a very different area of the transition, so we had to go opposite ways, so to speak. He came back a bit later with his pump and lube and gave Neo a last pep talk. I bet it went something like this: "If you don't take care of Riri tomorrow, I'm going to pull out all your funky yellow spokes one by one and poke your slim aero engineered ass with them". Yeah, he must have.

All done at Deerhurst, we headed to Huntsville again, this time to check in to our hotel and go look for a proper place to carb load. We spotted a little restaurant with a sign outside that said Pasta - Pizza - Gelato. Exactly what we needed, so without thinking twice, we asked for three seats and noticed that we fit right in. Everyone around had a triathlete wristband, was eating shitloads of carbs and drinking water. Yep, welcome to the club.
YUM. That is all.
Looks good? It tasted even better. I had a pizza with speck (smoked prosciutto) and arugula, while Zin settled on a pizza with red peppers, artichokes, black olives and whatever else made it a "Primavera". I managed to eat almost all of it, leaving only one slice and enough space to fit a two scoop gelato (mint and chocolate) to end the feast. 
We then went to the hotel where we prepared our transition bags, bottles and everything else needed for the race the next day. Like good triathletes, we switched off the lights at 9:30pm. I managed to get a pretty decent sleep until 3am when my brain decided that it had enough rest and started listening to every sound in our surroundings. Not sure how enlightened it got in this exercise, but it let me fall asleep eventually, only to get awaken by the alarm clock an hour later.

You guessed it, I did not shower (what a waste of water, the lake was gonna do just fine), but I put on my tri suit, two sweaters, capris and warm socks, then hauled back to the car the too many bags and boxes that we had brought with us. Outside it was so COLD!! Raynaud's kicked in for good measure and I had a little moment of panic. Am I going to be able to shift gears later on, or my fingers are going to freeze in place? The idea of a warm tea made its way into my head and lit up a bulb hotter than the Sun: Tim Hortons!! I'm coming for you!

So we went to meet Carol at Timmies and have breakfast there, which technically was something new for me (on race day! oh noes...) Anyway, I eat their food often enough to know what to expect. I had an egg whites and ham breakfast sandwich on a biscuit and half a bagel with peanut butter and an orange juice. No coffee for me. I knew that was not a good idea since I was trying to minimize the bathroom breaks, but I was hoping that the adrenaline would give me the perfect kick start instead. And what about the tea, you say? I totally forgot about it by then. Pea brain.

With a full belleh, we drove to the airfield again (I did #2 in the portapotty there), then took the bus to Deerhurst.
Back in transition, I prepared my little slice of real estate and then started a mental ping-pong about what to wear on the bike. To wear a jersey and bike shorts or not? Mirinda Carfrae's words at the pro panel came back to me, she said she was going to wear one. Ok, trust the pros, they know what they're talking about.
Bare necessities
When I was done, it looked just like this. Am I not a neat freak? Notice the homemade energy bar and puffer inside my bike shoes - the two most important items to take on the bike. As for the banana, I was planning to eat it just before the swim.

I took a last bathroom break inside the resort since there was no lineup there and walked by Carol who was waiting for her turn to the portapotty.
Hey, girl, is that Kermit the frog? ;-)
Look at her, such a smart cookie for wearing socks. The long walk to the swim start was seriously preoccupying my mind as I remembered the huge blisters I got once for walking barefoot on the hot ashphalt. I could imagine getting those again before even starting the run. Yikes!

Anyway, soon enough I made peace with the idea that "it is what it is" and stopped worrying about random bullshit. Put on my wetsuit, grabbed my goggles, swim cap and banana and went to look for hubbs so we can walk together the long walk. I stayed away from pavement as much as possible, walking on the wet and cold grass (that was actually nice) and eventually we made it to a parking lot where all swim waves were waiting to get access to the beach. Gave my hubbs a kiss and asked him kindly not to die that day. Then I had my banana and put my watch inside my swim cap and goggles on top.

Our wave (W35-39) was the fifth after the pros, at 8:30am. We had about 12 min to warm up in the water, and that was plenty of time in my opinion. We were told that the water was 65 degrees F, but had a nice surprise when we got in (what do I know about Farenheit anyway?). Pretty warm for a chilly day! This was going to be an "in water" start, so we kind of lined up across half of the lake and waited for the gun (horn?) to go off. And just like that, our half Ironman journey started.

There was not much contact in the first half of the swim, aside from a few gals who were zig-zagging and bumped into me, accidentally? I tried to stay with the pack and not sight too much, I couldn't see the buoys anyway since I was swimming into the sun. I took the first turn like a boss, then tried to keep as close to the buoys as possible not to get lost. Turned again, and found myself staying on another woman's feet for a while, that is until I got too close and got a kick in my right goggle. Ouch, that hurt. It was about the same time that a few human torpedoes from the following wave passed me and man, these people were fast! I was glad that people remained civil and nobody got aggressive without reason, so I could stay focused pretty much the entire time, repeating the mantra in my head "perfect stroke, turn the hips, split vision, complete the pull, palm facing back, not down". Oh, and don't drown.
Nice sighting job there!
The last third of the swim felt the longest. For the life of me, I could not see the exit, and there were people everywhere I looked. I tried staying close to the buoys again, the water was getting more and more murky, and the blue caps behind us were now joining in the fun. My personal space started to feel cramped. Eventually I saw the steps and started kicking to keep the people behind me from grabbing my feet. 
Hello Mr. Photographer, sorry that I'm having a bad hair day.
Before I knew it, I was done and volunteers were helping me out of the water. I saw a photographer as I was crossing the mat - wait, can I take my goggles off first? - nope. Keep going, dummy. For most of the run up the hill I was fiddling with my watch, so I don't remember much. Maybe a few people cheering, but no feet issues or anything else that marked my fuzzy memory negatively.
One thing I do remember though is that I chose to keep my wetsuit on and remove it by myself in transition. I wanted to stay warm for as long as possible. I had no issues taking it off, for once I wasn't dizzy. I put on my bike jersey and shorts, but skipped the arm warmers. I also put on a warm pair of Merrell socks that I had won the day before, again remembering what the pros were saying about booties and whatnot to keep your toes happy. I didn't have booties, but the socks were just perfect. I also put on biking gloves, another first in a triathlon, but knowing how technical the course was, I thought it'd make sense to save my hands if I were to hit the pavement.
The fun is just starting!
One of the many aero dudes and I. You can pass me now.
As soon as I got on the bike, people started passing me - all those men in their 50s and 60s were sure faster than me and many of them had fancy bikes with race wheels and interesting clicking sounds. As a matter of fact, for almost as long as this ride was, people still managed to pass me. I did my own share of passing as well, but all these compact cranks were sure catching up with me on the uphills, while I was zooming past them in the downhills for a sweet, sweet revenge (albeit temporary).

I took my first gel, like I did in my training rides on this course, as soon as I arrived on Hwy 35. I had no water with me, but I had plenty of Endura, so I was wondering how my stomach was going to handle all these carbs during the race. Just before Dorset (km 35) I ate one of my energy bars as well, even though I wasn't feeling very hungry. I did my first ever bottle exchange without incident and chose the PowerBar Perform over the water. First mistake of the day, but not catastrophic. I also stopped to pour it inside my aero bottle. No way I was going to do this while riding, I still need to visit the circus to learn this skill. I remembered last year that I drank a bottle of this stuff and it wasn't bad, but this time, it tasted what I imagined salty piss would. 2-3 km later, I started burping and that wasn't a good sign.
All teeth!!
I tried drinking again after 10km and the burping was still there. That's when I decided to stop the Perform and go back to the Endura which I had in my bottle on the seat post. Not sure you see where this is going... but at km 50, I finally managed to pee and then of course, about 10 minutes later I thought it'd be a good idea to rehydrate and did so successfully for most of the time I was on Hwy 117. I drank out of my bottle maybe 2-3 times, then it occurred to me that I had peed on this bottle. Ooops. Mmmkay.... I guess I'm gonna stop now and get rid of it at the next bottle exchange, even if it was a nice insulated bottle that I liked dearly. In Baysville I scored a goal with a perfect throw in the net, then grabbed a water bottle which I had to put in the same cage because my aero bottle still had the yucky Perform in it, d'uh. Talk about first world problems.

Back to biking now. The course was as beautiful as I could remember it, despite its challenging and relentless hills. I tried taking in the beauty of the surroundings as much as I could, even though some pain in my back was creeping in. My goal was to keep a steady pace and the rpms above 90 whenever possible. Change gears, stay aero, breathe, enjoy the day, save the legs for the last 10k and for the run, of course. After we turned on South Portage road, I noticed that the road was recently paved, but it was not as smooth as it looked. There were bottles, cages and CO2 cartridges everywhere, which kept the ride interesting as we had to pay attention and avoid them.

Speaking of the road conditions, at km 75 just as I had finished tackling a steep hill, I saw the guy in front of me falling and I had to put on my emergency braking reflexes and veer around him. I almost ended in the ditch and, sorry Mr. Official, but I crossed the median lane as a fallen athlete was lying in pain right on top of it. I put my bike down and went to see how badly he was injured. I told people that a cyclist was down and that they needed to pay attention. I took the bike from under him and put it beside mine... Two other folks stopped as well and they gave me water to pour on his wounds. He had a very bruised and sore shoulder and bleeding elbow and knee, but thankfully nothing was broken or dislocated. After a few minutes I helped him get up and asked if he was ok to continue biking... but I was really nervous for him, this was not going to be a leisurely ride as we were back on the very technical hills. Someone went ahead and said they would call race support for him. He nodded that he was going to be ok, then I went on... Shortly after I saw the support vans driving by, so I was relieved that someone was going to look after his injuries. 

It was the first time ever that I saw someone wiping out in slo-mo just in front of me and that must have given me another adrenaline push because after this stop, my legs got a new wind, and I was feeling stronger than ever. I started passing people again, this time on the uphills where some of them even chose to walk their bikes. I knew every single one of the hills remaining and I was counting them down. In the last 5k a girl passed me and she said "Oh wow!! A Cervelo One!!" I asked her how she knew about it and she replied that her first tri bike was one just like mine and that there aren't many left out there. It put a huge smile on my face and I passed her back, never to see her again. She should have kept the old Cervelo instead of going with her new Specialized ;-)

Never a dull moment on this ride!
A few minutes later I was rolling my bike back into transition and I could not be happier. I was alive! I did not lose my chain once! I did not crash, puke or pass out! I was upright and running and nothing was hurting, this day was too good to be true!

I removed my bike jersey and shorts and took another leap of faith by keeping the same socks on. Put on my cap, shoes and bib on, Clif blocks in my pockets and off I went. I could hear people being announced as finishers, but it did not bring me down, I really was looking forward to this run. So many people cheering around, I was feeling like a winner already.
Damn I am making this SOAS kit look good!
The hills showed up right off the bat, but overall the first 10k had more downhills than uphills, as you can see on the elevation map. I saw Zin at km 5 and he looked stronger than ever. We gave each other a high five and I went back to my happy la-la land. My "dream" pace was 5:45min/km, which I could maintain all the way to the turn around. I ate 4 Clif blocks at km 4, then 4 others at km 10. I was pouring water on me at each water station and drinking at every other one. As usual, my side stitch showed after 4km, but I chose to ignore it and it went away on its own.

I had this little voice inside my brain that was telling me that I shall not walk this half marathon. Silly, I know, but why walk if I wasn't hurting? I pushed on. At km 12 I saw Carol and asked her how she was doing. She looked strong, but she told me 2 words : GI issues. I knew exactly what she meant, so I hoped she'd find a way to get over them soon. I was thankful that nothing was bothering me, other than the sight of yet another hill. So the second half was slower than the first and my pace went down every time I had to go up. However my next goal pace was 6min/km, but I was more interested in keeping my smile and enjoying the day. This was going to be a PR anyway. I had given up looking at my watch a while ago since the pace was changing all the time and I didn't have auto lap on.
By the time I hit km 20, everything was still A-Ok!
Boy, I'm happy as a cucumber!
Shortly after this, I was on the last stretch before the finish line. The crowds were getting louder and I could barely contain my smile. I gave a few high fives and a few low fives to the tiny ones, then entered the corridor around the transition and eventually heard my name being announced. As I was getting closer to the lady ahead of me I backed up a little to let her savour her finish and give the photographer a chance to refocus. ;-)
Look at me, I'm a STAR! And I didn't even rehearse before.
I didn't need a catcher to hold me after the finish, but the guy who accompanied me to the next volunteer to have my chip removed recognized me when I told him that I knew him from last year when we volunteered together in the same spot, and he asked me which side of the race I liked better. Hard question, but so far, nothing can replace the rush you get when you cross that finish line. The beautiful, colourful medal around my neck and the feeling of accomplishment were second to none.
Best looking medal ever!!
Best feeling ever!!
Hubbs also had a blast and worked hard not to get chicked. He should have had no worries, he's so much stronger than me and truly amazing for competing in such a hard race barely a year after losing 100lb and getting in the best shape of his life. His second triathlon ever, and he beat my time by one hour, with a sub 3h bike split and a great run and swim. Here are his best moments of the day:
No tri bike or race wheels. It's all in the willpower and the legs.
Zin's signature hands. It must be the sign for "badass".
Pro finish!
There you have it. The end of this adventure. The beginning of a new one. The full Ironman better be hurting more, because I'm having too much fun! I remember Chrissie Wellington's words written on my tshirt "You can do it!". Not only I know that I can now, but I'm also staying true to her second autograph: "All smiles!".
Zin is not impressed. This race did not hurt enough. I think it's hilarious.
We trained for a year for this race and for me, it was the first stepping stone in conquering the full Ironman, hopefully next August in Mt. Tremblant. If you've known me for a while, you probably are wondering why I haven't done a full Ironman already because I am NOT a patient person. I fell in love with this sport in 2011, after reading Matt Long's book The Long Run and seeing Chrissie Wellington taking the win in Kona with wounds on her legs as big as my face. At the time it seemed like the perfect challenge for a mid-life crisis. And I believe it still is, but as I have been fast approaching the 40's, I had to learn to be patient, to train and race smart, to teach my body to become an efficient fat burning machine instead of big ball of fire (and raging hormones). So, even though I allow myself to take some risks with my racing season (see my upcoming marathon in November - say what? coach does not approve), the last 2 years have all been about building endurance and making sure that I finish this race with a smile on my face.

I could not have gotten here without coach David Jenkin and my biggest supporter, my hubbs Zin, who had to endure all my mood swings and pushed me to get out of the house even when I wanted to curl in a ball and cry (I was most likely hungry). Also my partner in crime, Carol, who should know how much I owe her for being my inspiration to get off the couch 4 years ago. Last but not least, my friends and training buddies from the FMCT tri club, with whom I shared so many great memories this year, you all made this season the best ever!


  1. AMAZING, AMAZING, AMAZING!!! You almost make me want to do it! Congrats to both your you! You looked awesome out there! Big smiles are perfect! See you in a few weeks!

  2. Augh, you keep making me want to do a triathlon! Great race report, way to go!

  3. Thank you, girls. Can't wait to do it again!