Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Team "Beets and Pickles" IM Muskoka 70.3 Race Report

Last year when I signed up for IM Muskoka 70.3 I was CRAVING another endurance event. I was in the middle of my depression flareup and I needed a goal. Something to get me going, to make me feel that I can. Despite the fact that my body could not, but I didn't know that. A month after I signed up, I attempted to run again, and that was a beautiful disaster. Since then I've had many highs and lows, but after starting working with a physiotherapist to address the weaknesses in my body, I had to abandon the idea of putting any mileage on my legs that would create additional damage. This was the hardest decision of all and it required very painful mental workouts to LET GO.

IM Muskoka 70.3 was the one race that I was hanging on, despite knowing that I would have killed my legs if I chose to race it unprepared. But once May came and went, I had to make the decision to either ask for a partial refund or change it to a relay. At just one week from the deadline, I asked my friends on Facebook if someone was open to be in a relay with me, and to my surprise, Ken and Robin jumped in right away. None of them had an experience with the half Ironman distance, but I knew without doubt that they could do it, and do it brilliantly. And so Team "Beets and Pickle(s)" was born.
The excitement grew as the weeks went on, but for once my race anxiety remained low. A 2km swim? Bring it on! I started swimming in open water more regularly and noticed my times improve significantly. I was secretly hoping that I maybe, just maybe, I would be able to PR this leg. Either way, it was going to be fun because I love, love, love open water swims. Insert all exclamation marks here.

We went to Muskoka on Friday because Zin and I chose to make it a mini vacation. We also needed some time away to relax before the race and thankfully, Canada Day cooperated with our plans and gave us the opportunity of taking 2 vacation days to make it a 5 days break. Hello Muskoka!!
On Saturday we met with Phaedra, her husband, her friends Heather and Dave, and Louis from our FMCT club to go on a short bike ride. I ended riding 1.5h on the Muskoka hills, pretty much at race pace. At first, out of necessity because all these folks were a lot faster than me, then solo because I could not keep up with them and they turned around earlier anyway. I was the only one not racing, so it made sense that I pushed a few extra mile(s).
I found them again at the end of my ride, as they were watching the parade in downtown Huntsville.
For lunch we met with Robin and unfortunately had one of the most disappointing restaurant experiences ever. The food was mediocre, it took forever to get served and it was definitely not appropriate for our appetites. But we had front seats to the city's celebrations, so that explained the inflated prices.
Around 1:30pm we went to Deerhurst to meet with Ken and check our team in for the race. The registration process was rather painless, as this event is a very well oiled machine after a few years in the running. We were in and out in a jiffy. We discussed the time to meet the next morning, paid a visit to Ken's bike in transition, then waited for the athletes' meeting. After saying our goodbyes, I decided to go on a run, since that was in the plan and I had 30 min to spare. Alas I didn't think of taking water with me, and by the first 1/2 km, I was already thirsty as hell. The temperature was at its peak and I was overheating big time. I ran 4km before calling it quits. Knee was a little upset after the morning ride and I ended walking the last km back. It was a perfect reminder that I had made the right decision to leave the bike and run to stronger and better trained people.

I joined the athletes meeting where I finally understood how the relay business was going to work. One thing for sure, it was going to be a long day. What to do, what to do?? I walked over to the volunteers' booth and asked if they needed people still. I was told that places to volunteer on site were limited, but that I could call the transition captain in the morning and check if she needed someone. I took a volunteer t-shirt and hoped for the best.

We went for dinner to Boston Pizza, where the boys carb loaded in style with pizzas bigger than their faces. I chose to eat a salad and dry ribs, but skipped the booze and the dessert (who am I??).  Then we went to bed early and woke up even earlier, so we could check out and make sure that we didn't forget anything. We drove to Tim Hortons for breakfast, but we had to wait a few minutes for it to open. Now that was a first. Then we made our way to the airstrip where we left the car, followed by a ride in the shuttle to Deerhurst.
We were right on time, it was 6am I believe. I went over to Ken's bike and it's like every guy I knew in the race was within a 20 sq feet radius. Of course, I noticed Virgil right away and I went over to say Hi. Photo op!! (and good luck!)
Shortly thereafter, we learned that relays had a special rack in a completely different location in transition. Okay then... let's move our stuff. The relay logistics were clear as mud after all. At the new location I started wrestling with my wetsuit, which is always a painful experience since I put on 10lb and all of a sudden it became two sizes too small. Eventually I managed to squeeze my butt in, took my swim cap and goggles and began the walk towards the swim start. Zin had already left transition since his start was 25 min before mine. I was hoping to get there just in time to see him start and I did just as the gun went off. (I bet he doesn't know this).

The water was warm and it took me by surprise. The lake was quiet and the conditions were just perfect for a swim PR. If only I was not going to fall apart by rushing too much. Not sure if it helped or not, but being in the last wave put my mind even more at ease that no other wave was going to swim over us. After a short warm up, I lined up with everyone else and I just treaded water for a little while...Then the gun went off and I settled into the groove that I'd been practicing for a few weeks already. Fast turnover, complete strokes, thumbs brushing by my hips. It was rather uneventful until the first turn buoy where I ran into a lot of people breast stroking. The next 200m were spent mostly navigating between people, then once I turned another buoy, I found a pair of matching feet and I started following them. The effort seemed adequate, but I could only hope he was going fast enough. Of course I had no idea, it's not like I was going to check my Garmin mid stroke (it was under my cap anyway, so tough luck with it).

I stayed on this guy's feet until the last 100m, where I passed him. I was feeling really bad for touching his feet over and over again, but it's not like I could put on the brakes every time he slowed down. I took a good look at him when I passed him, hoping I could find who he is so I can say thanks. To the gentleman in a ROKA Maverick Pro with colorful goggles, thank you!! Perfect sighting too! (Update: I found him thanks to the race photos and thanked him via Facebook. Such a gentleman, it was a pleasure to exchange a few words with him).

I came out of the water with a 3 minute PR and I was ecstatic!! My fastest time in Muskoka was over 41 minutes and I was only hoping for a 40-something. When I saw 38 and change my eyes popped out of my head. How is this possible?? Apparently like this:
You can tell by the race photos, I could not be happier. Last time I felt like this was when I finished the IM swim in Mt. Tremblant.
Robin saw me right away and she ran up with me towards transition. Since it was a 400m uphill, it was not difficult to follow me. My heart was beating out of my chest, but my mission was complete. I did my best and made my team mates proud. Back in transition, I put the chip on Ken's ankle and off he went!! It felt weird to not have to remove the wetsuit and to stay behind, but now a different kind of mission was starting: Keep calm and cheer on.
I stayed with Robin for another hour and we watched the first pro men coming into T2 and going on their run. For some reason, Ken's splits were not showing in the tracker, when everyone else had no issues with theirs. Of course, we were freaking out big time. Robin went to ask the Sportstats people if they knew of any riders DNFing, and she was reassured that everyone was still in the race. With a bit of relief and a lot of hope that he was going to make it through, I went to the finish line where I joined my catchers family. Earlier in the day I had ran into Kari and Dorothy, the volunteer captains at the finish line and asked them if I could join them like I did in the years prior. They welcomed me with open arms and unknowingly, they made my day.

And while I was unboxing medals and arranging them on the rack, Ken was kicking butt on the hills and was looking sharp doing it!
I kept messaging back and forth with Robin, both of us waiting with baited breath for Ken to finish his ride. Eventually I heard the announcer say his name and I jumped up and down with immense joy. Only one leg remaining. Go Robin, go!!!

Meanwhile, my shift started to get interesting. We saw Lionel Sanders coming through the finish line then getting bored waiting for his competition to show up.  I had the honor of giving him his medal. With a 15 min lead, he completely killed the field. The girls came in much later as well, so the first hour of pros finishing was rather anti climactic. Are they here yet, was the question that we kept asking ourselves. Jeez, what takes them so long? Haha. Well, the heat and the hills are a match made in Hell, so .. respect. At least none of them collapsed like some did in the past.

But the day was only getting worse for those still out there. Temperatures were raising fast and I was wondering how Robin was coping with the heat and the lack of shade on the course. Soon enough, athletes started pouring through the finish line and I was getting sweatier and stinkier by the minute. Being a catcher will do that to you, but I don't mind it at all; helping these athletes find their legs again after leaving it all on the course is a wonderful feeling. I spent my time at the finish line switching between giving out medals, catching people, welcoming all my friends with whatever voice I had left, holding the banner and eventually, handing out finisher t-shirts and caps. I was at the banner post when Robin crossed the finish line and I remember yelling something silly like "Here comes my medal!!".  I was so proud of my team mates and the fact that together we came in under 6h (5h56 more precisely), for a 28th/73 place in relays.
At the end of the day, it was a tough race, especially for Ken and Robin, but they pushed themselves hard and gave it all. I am super happy that both of them had the opportunity to race in an Ironman event and for Robin, to participate in a triathlon (just like her daughter, who loves them). I could not have asked for better team mates. Many thanks to both of them!! You can read Robin's race report here.
My hubby finished the race with a huge PR, and an outstanding time of 5:21, despite a flat. All our racers from the FMCT club made it as well, and for some it was their first ever triathlon. I am so proud!!
Spending the day racing, cheering, volunteering is the best experience one can ask for. I can't wait to go back on August 30 at the full IM Muskoka for a bigger and louder finish line. I love my catcher friends and it's such a treat to spend a few hours with them. They are the most positive, enthusiastic and fun team, you better believe it. Thank you Kari and Dorothy!!

And that's a wrap folks!! Thank you for reading and cheering along. Sometimes, things turn out for the better, despite the obstacles in the way. Now more than ever, it's best to seize the day!


  1. Great race recap Irina. Love those pics of you coming out of the swim, you were glowing. I was so excited for you! Ken was awesome on the bike and was so glad it was just a chip glitch out there. Thanks again for allowing me to participate, what a great team we made! Lots of fun and a great experience. Congrats on the swim PR and hopefully gave you some well deserved confidence going forward.

  2. I love this recap!! What an amazing way to experience the race - you got to participate and see the top finishers! Very cool.

  3. Good for you to make a positive experience out of the situation! And even better to PR. Well done.