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. ;-)


  1. Awesome race report, and awesome PR and second place, congrats! Great way to end the season.


  2. Fantastic job out there! I'm super happy that I got to be a tiny part of the day! What a fab way to end the season!

  3. What a spectacular way to finish off your season! Congrats again on a great day.

  4. Look at you nabbing some bling! Congrats on a well fought race. I'll have to look in to recovery boots though. I always hear about them, but have never tried them.

  5. What an amazing day! Congrats again, Irina, on a spectacular way to end the season!

  6. Awesome job!! I've still never even gotten an AG award :( One day! Congrats on the bling and sorry you were robbed!!