Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Rose City (Welland) Half Race Report

...Better late than never, right?

As part of my Ironman training, I asked coach to let me race a 70.3 distance (among other fun things like a du, a sprint and an olympic), but only until after the Woodstock Du I got the permission to actually "go for it". I shared my thoughts about finding new inspiration in my top 5 placement at that race and how I was hungry for more of that kind of hurt. Last year when I raced Muskoka 70.3, my main goal was to make it across the finish line with a smile. But for my second attempt at this distance, I wanted to know how far I could push the envelope before I start cursing myself, while keeping in mind that this wasn't my A race. It's always about finding new limits, the mantra of my middle life crisis, I guess.

Hubbs and I decided to make it a mini family vacation and in competitive fashion, Zin signed up for the sprint race the day before. We got us packed for the weekend and on Friday night the 4 of us headed to Welland, where we took residence in a modest hotel about 10 minutes from the race site. A few other members from the FMCT tri club were also racing the same day, so it was a great opportunity to cheer everyone on and snap as many pictures as I could before I emptied my iPhone's battery. I will spare you all the pics that I took because the race photographers did a much better job than me, but I will share the one photo that I'm going to turn into wallpaper for my bedroom, thanks to Bob Hatcher. Hot damn! Aren't we good looking?
This stud took 4th place in his AG and had the second fastest bike split and 9th overall. He may just break the sound barrier next!

We spent the rest of the day in Niagara Falls, waiting for our kids get tired of having fun. Highlight of the afternoon was a little stroll through the park, relaxing on the grass (I wanted really badly to take a nap), and being our usual goofy selves.
We ended at Kelsey's for dinner where I had the exact same salad as the night before the Woodstock Du, but it was nowhere near as good as the first time. You'd think they follow the recipe to a T, but not really. Anyway, I had enough junk throughout the day, so it was time to eat my greens and shut up.

Back at the hotel, I made all the last minute race preparations, including taping 3 gels on my bike tube like the pros. That was really a great idea, thanks hubbs! I wonder why I didn't think of it before. Then I took my nerves to bed and switched off for the night.

I don't remember what time I woke up, but it was early. D'uh! Got into my Coeur kit and made sure that I had my spanking new helmet and sunglasses from Rudy Project and my transition bag ready to go, then headed downstairs for breakfast. I had 2 slices of bread with butter and honey and an orange, and something else that I cannot remember. 
We left for the race shortly afterwards since Zin was going to volunteer and had been assigned to body marking first. I didn't complain as having extra time to set up, socialize and take endless bathroom breaks was going to help bring the stress way down.

Found myself a spot in transition just beside my friend Carol (I'm such a stalker!) and quickly took possession of a slice of pavement where I laid out my paraphernalia.
I could not wait to get started. Went to pick up my bib and chip and had my calf and arm sharpied on by hubbs - how romantic! No, he did not draw hearts on, jeez. I went back to transition where I got into a funk about not having a banana to eat before my race. But just as I was starting to fall into an abyssal panic, a girl who racked her bike beside me read my mind and took out a bunch of bananas from her bag and offered one to me. She has no idea that she saved my day, so THANK YOU lovely stranger. I hope karma gave you the best race ever.

Ok, so I put on my wetsuit, listened to the race meeting and made my way to the canal where I got in the water to warm up for the swim. This was going to be an in-water wave start and I was in the second wave. I managed to get about 5-10 minutes of swimming pre-start, but after the first wave left, it seemed that I had barely 2 minutes to get positioned and then it was go time. I didn't have much time to think about what was about to happen, so I put my head down and got to work. My strategy, just like the race folks suggested, was to swim as close to the shore going out, then as close to the buoys coming back, thus taking advantage of the current, if there was going to be one.

For the major part, the swim was uneventful. Almost no contact, like I was swimming by myself the whole time - but of course, everyone else was ahead of me! But even when the following wave caught up with me, people were so civil, that I didn't even notice it. I just saw a few guys passing me, but that's it. There was quite a chop coming back and I remember drinking a lot of water, but not enough to slow me down. Or at least I don't think so. My final time was exactly the same as last year at Muskoka 70.3, but my GPS said that I swam 200m more? I really didn't think that I went off course, so my swim speed will remain a mystery. I don't think that I've gotten faster in open water based on the swims I did this year, so I'll leave it at that. Moving on...
As usual I got all confused with my swim cap and goggles in one hand, Garmin watch in the other (it was under my swim cap) and trying to take off my wetsuit while I was running towards transition. I gave up half way and took it off once I could drop everything on my mat. No biggie, I am quite happy with my transition time and for once I wasn't dizzy and I could remove my wetsuit in a jiffy.

Put on my helmet (not backwards!), sunglasses, a pair of socks and my cycling shoes and trotted my way out onto the bike course. Guess who I ran into again? Hubbs! He was doing the course marshaling around the first corner and I yelled at him "41 minutes" (my swim time, because that's exactly what he predicted). It was also the first time that I was riding in a race with road cycling shoes. Can you believe it? But you should, because just a few weeks ago I graduated from MTB shoes to these after using them on the trainer over the winter. Anyway, point is that I didn't fall over when I mounted my bike and I could clip in successfully within the first 50m.

And then I rode. And I rode hard! Something happened to my Garmin that it paused by itself and didn't start again, so I don't have a trace of the first 5k, but eventually it started showing a pace that my brain couldn't really process, and I took it as a baseline to try and stay on it the best I could. It definitely felt challenging and I knew that I would have to maintain it for the entire length of the bike leg since the course was pancake flat. No rest. No coasting. Nada. I didn't know what racing on flats meant, I have none of those around me in Caledon. 
The legs kept turning, I kept pushing the pace, feeling great. I passed a lot of people, I got passed a lot too. I was told that we were going to have a headwind on the way out and a tailwind on the way back. But for as long as I can remember, there was wind on my face and it never felt easier so to speak. Maybe it was just the feeling of going fast, to which I am not accustomed enough.

Given how the 5k markers were passing by fast, I started eating at 15km and decided to take in food every 15km and a sip of water every 5km. I had a Clif bar first, then used the bottle exchange at 30km and picked up a water bottle, which took me forever to pour inside my aero bottle because the spout would not stay open. That's it, this definitely got me decided to change my hydration setup. I need one of those bottle holders between my aero bars. Enough with the Aerodrink. It's not even sitting straight and it drives my OCD crazy (see the picture above, aaaargh).

Soon enough I hit and halfway point and that's when I started getting some pain inside my left leg/hip/adductor area. It felt like a cramp and it made me think that I should have started drinking electrolytes earlier. At this point I had not yet touched my bottle of Endura, but my stubborn brain took another 15km before it actually sent the signal to my hand to pick up the bottle and bring it to my mouth. By that time the pain was a lot more intense and my speed was going down because I needed to spin more often in order to keep the grinding to a minimum. Around 70km the cramp finally went away (elecrolytes and magnesium, magic!) and I could pick up the pace again.

I think we got about 10k of tail wind while riding along some body of water, and that was it. Then we hit the last stretch back into town and in a blink I was done! I had no idea what my time was given that my watch had been paused for quite a while, but I was happy to be back! Here is me again clickety clack-ing my way into transition. Damn, that Coeur kit looks rad!
After another quick transition I was happy to finally start the run, but I also knew that I was going to suffer. The initial plan was to stay on a 5:30min/km pace and hopefully come in under 2h, but it quickly went out of the window because of the heat and the tired legs. By the time I reached the 4th kilometer and started running on the pretty trail, I wanted to be done. My Garmin also gave me a headache by showing 800m extra distance and I thought that it got a sunstroke before me, therefore I chose to ignore it from that moment on.

Because of the two loops that we had to do on that trail I got to see everyone else about 3-4 times. That was interesting and a bit depressing too, especially when the pro gals passed me to start their second loop as I was starting my first, then other people left the trail towards the finish and I still had to put in 10km. I ate my Clif blocks like a champ, took in water at each station, either for my head, back or stomach. We even got sponges! Those were awesome. I stuck one inside my top at the base of my neck and let it drip on my back... So good. I also came across ice which I put inside my bra. Happy boobies, wheeee!! About half way I got some stomach pain. It was uncomfortable and it felt like gas buildup. I remembered what my hubby said about drinking coke during the Muskoka race. I first tried some HEED, but that made it worse.

You have to know that I gave up drinking pop about 5 years ago and never had Coke or a similar drink since. I was apprehensive to say the least. But I decided to try it anyway and see what happens. It tasted awfully, it was super hot and flat, of course, and to be honest, the taste was very different than what I could remember. Maybe because I wasn't drinking regular Coke back then, but the diet kind? Anyway, not even a km later: FAAAARRRRTTTT. Longest ever (sorry TMI). But it gave me instant relief. Another magic drink!!

A few kms later I took another sip of coke, passed more gas and I was finally pain free. But oh so tired! I had made pace with coming in over 2h, thanks to the reminder that this wasn't my A race. I truly did my best out there. Everyone was having a hard time. This race was definitely not a piece of cake, despite its pancake qualities. 

Eventually It was my turn to leave the trail and start the countdown. I was thankful for a straight line to the mat, but then... wait... why is there a mat 800m ahead of the finish line? Little did I know that was the actual finish because the course markings were actually screwed up and someone had added 800m to the course, hence the Garmin hiccup. I wish I knew, because I gave it all and in regular Irina fashion, sprinted in the last 500m because finish line pictures are so much better when you fly over the mat!
Yeah, right. I tried flapping my arms, but nothing happened. I got the picture above for proof though (glad that I shaved my armpits the night before). And DONE!! 5h42 and a full hour PR!!
Sure you cannot compare the hilly Muskoka 70.3 race with this one, especially with the 4km extra on the bike there, but a PR is a PR, and it's all mine!

I rested for a few minutes on a chair at the finish line, then went to grab some food. There was pizza but it tasted awful, so I threw it in the garbage. I scarfed down a few handfuls of pretzels then went to try yet another magic drink, Chocolate Milk. I wanted to get some swag from them because they have cool stuff, so I even posed with the STRONG(ER) sign. I certainly thought that to be very fitting for the day I had. It skyrocketed my confidence ahead of the Ironman and I could not be happier.
I came in 8th in my AG (out of 16) and that was good enough. I knew the field was going to be packed with much stronger athletes, so I didn't give myself unrealistic expectations. I went in this race for a test of my endurance and I delivered on that. 
I was also glad that I survived the day, despite all the "new things on race day" that I did not shy away from: helmet, sunglasses, heed and coke! It was the banana that made it all right, I tell ya!

And that's all folks. It took me 2 weeks to write this race report. I feel exhausted!!


  1. I was waiting for this one! I don't read them all, but lookey here I am actually on a computer reading so I can actually leave a comment! (why won't it work on my darn phone, grrr!)

    Anyway, I am so happy for you and how well this race went. I can still feel the thrill and the joy of your day - you can't top that feeling. You crushed it out there and looked good doing it, too!

  2. Congrats, lady! Sounds like an awesome race. And I gotta keep that coke thing in mind!

  3. Was looking forward to reading this one as well, and it didn't disappoint. You did fantastic. It was fun to track you and see how well you did. Nice work out are awesome (coke is a staple at the ultramarathon aid stations too....magic)

  4. Woo hoo, you are so incredible! Great race and great report. You inspire me with every workout, you really do.

  5. You crushed this, Irina!! Fantastic job. Can't wait to see how well you do at Mont Tremblant!

  6. So, so, so amazing! Congrats on an amazing race! Strong indeed!

  7. Thank you so much for your comments, girls!!