Thursday, July 14, 2016

IM Muskoka 70.3 Relay Race Report

A couple of weeks ago, most specifically the day after I completed the epic 107km hilly ride with Sam, a friend from Huntsville contacted me on Facebook and asked if I wanted to participate in the race as part of a relay, since their original cyclist got the shingles (ouch, I hope he's ok). I was flattered and a little apprehensive at first, but after asking if they were competitive and was told that they didn't have any podium plans, I accepted. After all, I had done two hilly rides this year over 90km and a total of 6 rides over 50km. Ha! This was going to be a gongshow. I had never "attacked" a race so undertrained, but I could not resist the calling of "The Beast" and riding the Muskoka rollercoaster roads alongside hubbs, my friends Sam, Emma, Mellen, and a few other friends from out tri club.

On the other hand, I had also promised to volunteer at the finish line, but I was reassured that I'd have enough time to recover and take on my duties for a couple of hours afterwards. After all, our relay swimmer was also the finish line volunteer captain and she understood that I may come with "limitations".
Beat every sunrise
We woke up early on Saturday to drive to Huntsville, with the plan to ride our bikes for 45min and give our legs a spin before the race. I was welcoming the thought since my last ride was with the girls on Canada Day, more than a week before. Alas one hour later, we hit this:

Lovely, just lovely. And so our plans went through the window. We hoped that the rain would stop eventually, but it never did. Since we arrived in town way early to be able to check in, we crashed in a friend's hotel room and watched Le Tour until noon when we went to Deerhurst to pick up our race kits. I met my relay team mates then we all went to Farmer's Daughter for lunch.
The Froome-bullet tearing it down the mountain
Carb loading done right
After lunch we went to the hotel to check in, relaxed for a bit (Zin took a nap), then we went to Walmart to buy large garbage bags and electrical tape. It was clear by then that the bikes were going to spend the night drenched and we wanted to avoid seeing all the greasy parts washed dry. We made it to transition right before it closed and I said goodbye to Trinity after covering her the best I could.
It was still pouring and after a quick stop by Tim Hortons, we went back to the hotel to change into dry clothes, then headed out for dinner at Boston Pizza with our friends Louis and Mellen (who sure knows how to fuel on veggies).
I had some shrimp tacos that didn't impress me much and my only hope was that they would not upset my stomach, Thankfully they were inoffensive. I also stayed away from dessert and booze, which was a first.

Back at the hotel, I organized my transition bag (easy peasy), then watched American Ninja Warrior and took a shower. We turned the lights off around 10:15pm and the next thing I remember is the alarm going off. This was by far, the best sleep I've ever had before a race. I had absolutely no clue that the power went out during the night and that my hubby woke up several times. I don't even think that I moved a limb that night.
We woke up at 5am and 1/2 an hour later we were out the door, meeting with Sam in the lobby. We all went to Tim Hortons for breakfast, where I had a cinnamon raisin bagel and a butter tart that I had bought the day before at Farmer's Daughter. I wasn't that hungry, but a little worried about the lack of protein. Oh well. I was going to eat enough bugs on the bike and I still had a banana and peanut butter for later on.

After making sure that we were caffeinated enough, we drove to the airstrip to park the car, then took the shuttle to transition where we arrived shortly after 6am. I got body marked and headed to the relay racks. Zin came over to inflate my tires, and I could tell that he was already "in the zone". I had to keep the chatting short and sweet because the time was flying by. Kari, our swimmer, was already in transition and thankfully we were a lot more relaxed for being in the last swim wave. We chatted for a bit, took a few pictures and managed to keep the anxiety at bay. See, all smiles!!
When the transition closed at 6:45am, we all went down to the swim start. The lake was calm, beautiful and very inviting. I really wanted to jump in, at least for a few minutes. It'll have to wait for another time...
Serenity now...
The third member of our team, Brent, joined us and we all watched Kari putting her fish skin on. Zin walked by, I gave him a kiss, he gave me his wedding ring in return. I wasn't sure if he just divorced me or wanted me to keep it safe. Hmmm. Pretty much everyone went with option 1.
I also saw Sam and Mellen and snapped another pic to capture their smiles. Gotta catch them all like Pokem..
Ooops, sorry.
Someone got the joke.
Soon enough it was time to part ways and I went down to the beach to watch one or two waves start their day. Look at them go!!

I took in some inspiration and energy from these brave athletes and headed back to T1 for another potty break. Kari said that she was hoping to finish the swim in about 35 minutes and that's when I started to freak out. Brent was planning to run in less than 1:45 and... and... I was nowhere near this kind of times. At the very best I was hoping for a 3h35-3:45 time, but I had already forgotten than my best time in Muskoka was a 3h41, 3 years ago, when I was training seriously and was 15 pounds lighter. Ignorance is bliss they say. But at no time I felt pressured to perform better, so I figured that doing my very best that day was probably going to be good enough. Hey Brent, let's take a pic while I am still smiling.
Kari finished her swim just as she predicted in 35 minutes and now it was my turn to meet my promise. Pressure's on!! I trotted my bike out of transition and started powering on. Did I mention that for the first time ever I was also riding with a power meter? I swore not to check it during the ride though because I was sure that it was going to make me depressed. I had no clue what all the numbers meant anyway since I had not done an FTP test with it yet. It was all about the data porn (and a reference for the future). As a matter of fact, I decided not to check any numbers because they really didn't mean anything given my lack of fitness. The only thing that mattered in my mind was to make it in 3h45.

I rode this course about 5 times in total and while it got better at some point in the past, I knew that I was going to be in for a world of hurt. I tried to stay positive and did not care about all the people who were passing me up on the hills. You gotta work hard to push 148lb up, but at least I knew that I had an advantage going down. Wheeeeee! Watch me zooming by. It's all about gravity, and the junk in the trunk, folks! And maybe a bit of race wheels. The first water station took me by surprise. It really didn't seem that far, but I believe that's where I saw Sue Sitki the photographer and she took the picture below.
I don't think I have seen so many lost bottles, entire hydration systems, bottle holders and even cadence sensors in the middle of the road. It was quite disheartening and I kept wondering how these people were going to manage the course with less nutrition than what they had planned for.

The first challenge that I was apprehending was Dwight Beach Rd, which I missed riding back in May. However, once I made the turn, I didn't find it that bad at all. No gravel, but a few bumps and cracks, just like I remembered them from 2013. I stayed on the left, passed a lot of people who were descending way more carefully than me and enjoyed the scenery. That is a pretty stretch after all, if you can ignore the incline and how hard you are panting (and swearing) at times.

Once I reached the highway I started taking in some calories and playing leapfrog with a few people. Some of them didn't seem to have gotten the memo that it was a non drafting race and were blatantly playing the wheel sucking game. Thankfully not with me because I would have told them to bugger off. And speaking of following too closely, I almost got in an accident when a guy hit my back wheel and made me scream in terror. The guy then manages to pass me and says "sorry, I was looking at my bike". I was pretty furious, but told him politely to look at the road instead. This was probably the closest I got to hitting the ground in a race.

Aside from my heart rate going through the roof during this incident, this part of the course was rather uneventful. I descended as fast as I could, trying to use the momentum to get me over the hills. Repeat ad nauseatum. Reached Dorset and said no to the water and Gatorade, again. For nutrition I had with me a Picky Bar, 2 Fruit3 bars and 2 Gu gels, as well as 2 bottles of Scratch and 1 bottle of water. I was nowhere near to needing a drink, but I made a mental note to drink more. At that point I had only eaten a Fruit bar and 1/2 of my Picky Bar, 1/2 of my water and 1/4 of my Scratch mix.

The second challenge of this route for me was the hill out of Dorset, just before the highway 117. There were lots of people cheering at the top of the hill and I jokingly asked for another gear or two as I had run out of cogs. Alas nobody had a spare to get me out of my misery. I was riding a 28 cog in the back, but I wish I had a 32. What doesn't kill me makes me stronger... oh, shut up. It was super hard and I was already having thoughts of giving up. I was looking forward to the halfway mark, then the turn on Brunel, then the one on South Portage and then the one on North Portage, and finally the one on Deerhurst Rd. Somebody get me a teleporter if cogs is too much to ask for!!

Anyway... keep riding on. And just like that, the hunger stroke. By the time I got to Baysville I had eaten every solid food I had and finished my water bottle. Not much progress on the Scratch, but I was feeling a little gassy and didn't feel like drinking electrolytes. At this point, after 60km I still had not peed. I was wondering if I was drinking enough, once again. So at the aid station there I grabbed a bottle of Gatorade and 2 Clif bars. The right hip/IT band/knee/adductor went on vacation and said to my left side "sorry mate, you're on your own - good luck!". I replied with a few expletives and told them that there was going to be no negotiation. We still had 34km ahead and not the easiest either.

Somewhere on Brunel at the top of a hill I saw a photographer. Despite feeling slow as a slug, seeing him there gave me reassurance that it was not too late for him to pack his camera and go home. I gave him a pair of horns and smiled. He said "I got this!" and my next wish became to make it back in one piece to see the photo (I am buying these).
By then I was in survival mode. It was quite hard to push with the right side of my body MIA and I was scared of injuring myself again. But if there is something that I've learned over the past few years is that what I am dealing with is not really an injury, but tightness due to my hips not working properly, from a mechanical standpoint. This requires daily maintenance which I don't do, hence powering through imbalances, depending on which hip decides to take a day off. So anyway, back to my pity party on two wheels.

Back in May when I rode this course, you may remember that I (also) missed the turn on South Portage and continued on Brunel until I reached Huntsville. I rode that day in 3h53, but I was not "racing". About halfway I was still on time to make it back to Deerhurst in 3h45, if I were to maintain a 25kph average that is. Well, once I made the turn on South Portage and I got a painful reminder that a LOT more hills were going to slow me down, my time goal went out the window. I was now hoping to make back it in less than 4h, with a stretch goal of less than 3h53. I hate to think this way, but if it had not been for my relay team, I may have abandoned. I kept telling myself that I could not let them down. They offered me this opportunity, the least I could do was to finish the ride so that Brent can run and we can all get a shiny medal.

It was hard, a lot harder than I thought. But of course, it's been 3 years since I rode the full course! Senility must have kicked in because I could not remember this kind of pain. Nope, I am not going to read that race report again, for sure it will bring me down. So young, so fit, so light!! Aaaargh. Just keep riding, just keep riding... And do NOT, don't you DARE, walk up those hills. Nope, not doing that. Between us, I was also scared to fall off my bike in the process, so it was better to avoid it altogether. As a matter of fact, I saw two guys falling just in front of me while trying to get back on their bikes, on one of the last hills of North Portage. I really hope their day got better afterwards.

With a bit of delay, I made it back to T2. I ended riding the course in 3h50, thus meeting my stretch goal of beating my training time, on a harder course. All this without a mechanical, falling off, passing out from dehydration or worse, dying. You may think that I am over dramatic, but it's always a possibility when you go as fast as you can down the hills and you could hit a bump, a deer or a squirrel that's going to make you fly off your bike head down into the pavement. Every time I say goodbye to Zin before a race I ask him not to die. I am glad that none of us did, even though he had a mechanical (again!) and ended with his worst personal time on this course.

So anyway, back in transition Brent took the chip off my ankle and he started the run. I pretty much collapsed under a tree and stared at the sky for about 15 minutes. I was feeling extremely hot and thirsty and made it a personal mission to find some ice cream. I went inside the Deerhurst building to the gift shop and found a fudgesicle. I could have eaten 5, but I decided to buy one and really savour it. I changed into my capris and flip flops, took off my bike jersey and walked over to the finish line, in a sports bra. At that point I could care less, I knew that I'd get a volunteer tshirt and although I was feeling a bit self-conscious, being among sweaty and tired triathletes walking around like zombies removed the inhibition.

For the next couple of hours I worked mostly under a tent opening water bottles and giving those to finishers. I cannot thank Kari enough for assigning me to this job. Even though I got blisters from opening hundreds of bottles, having my hands in cold water and doing a minimum amount of walking was just perfect after the effort put on the bike.
80yr young and going to the 70.3 Worlds Championships
Tracy receiving her medal and a heartfelt hug from her proud dad
The finish line waiting for the last athlete
My own finish!
I stayed until all finishers crossed the line, with an official time or not. Everyone got a medal. All my friends got a squeeshy hug. I poured water on Emma's back while holding her, I cried with Sam, I lifted Mellen up, wondering how many pounds she lost while putting on a killer effort (8th out of 81 in her age group!), I gave Zin another kiss (that was salty!). I melted when I saw Tracy's dad putting the medal around her neck. I watched in awe the 80yr old finisher sprinting down the chute. Made sure that all my friends finished and were well taken care of. James, Narinder from the FMCT club, Steve and Tammy from our open water swims (Tammy won her age group!). All the Iron Canucks that I knew. Virgil the goofball. Brent, our speedy runner who finished in 1h43, putting us in the 22nd place out of 50 teams with a total time of 6h14. Saw them all crossing the line and once again reinforced my belief that the finish line is the best place to be.
Last bike standing
Many thanks to Kari and Dorothy for being the most awesome team captains and for their warm, non judgmental welcome into the relay team "Help Wanted". I sure had a lot of fun despite pushing through the pain and I hope that I can continue to attend this event year after year for as long as it will bring athletes to the beautiful and challenging Muskoka. Can't wait to see what the rest of the season and next year will bring as we train for Ironman Mt Tremblant 70.3. Yup, I signed up and I will cross the finish line either on two feet, two hands or all fours.


  1. You will never really quit this sport because - you love racing!