My season is over and done with! Every time I come to the end of a season, I’m both relieved and sad about it all at the same time. This year is no different. I’m feeling a little bit antsy and a lot of relief about being able to take a little bit of time off (though not as much as I normally get – Greece training starts very soon).
Thank you to Roslynn for talking me into Barrelman as my half this year! I had read a ton of race recaps and reviews before signing up for it and even more after the fact. I’ve done plenty of local races before, but I felt a little spoiled by Ironman. I know lots of people have issues with an enormous company dominating the triathlon market, but I always feel cared for and safe in their hands. Some people seem to be irritated by the fact that Ironman is in the business of making money and suggest that they do it at the expense of the athletes or their safety, but I have not felt this way. I had heard a lot about Barrelman’s race director John Salt, and he – and the race – did not disappoint.
I’ve been training all summer with Roslynn and Blair for this race, and it was pretty upsetting for all of us when Roslynn had an unfortunate incident on a chair (the chair won) and broke the top of her foot a week and a half before the race. I’m a fairly codependent racer and I like racing with my “people” – especially when those people have spent the past 9 months slogging it out in endless laps at the pool, many hundreds of miles on the roads, and a couple thousand miles on the bike.
For example. October 2018 through Barrelman, I:
Swam 194,931.38 meters or 121 miles;
Biked 2,110.47 miles;
and ran 457.72 miles.
This is why you get close to the people you train with. You either end up loving each other or wanting to throttle them. I’ve been lucky that I primarily end up loving everyone.
So sadly, we all headed up to the Niagara are, knowing that Roslynn was going to be channeling her inner Sherpa and missing the race that she’s been longing to do for a few years now. I can’t state enough the amount of “bummer” this was.
On a happy note, it was Blair’s first half, so now her mom was going to get to see her do ALL the things, complete with camera in hand.
We got to Welland and our AirBnB on Friday after heading halfway Thursday afternoon and evening. We decided to stay in Welland versus Niagara because the race is a point-to-point race, and the start is in Welland at the International Flatwater Centre.
As soon as I could swing it, I was out of the house and on to the Flatwater Centre. As I have written about repeatedly, I’ve been struggling with open water race anxiety. I’m fine in open water at all other times, but I have panicked at the last two races I’ve done, and it was so intense that I was wondering if I even wanted to do tris anymore. It just didn’t seem worth it. putting myself through something that made me literally feel like I was going to die. I knew that I’d want to swim at the Centre as much as possible before Sunday because familiar water is comforting water, and this was a very different swim than any I’d done before.
I suited up in my long sleeved wetsuit and hit the water. It was cold, but shockingly clear. Unfortunately for me, swimming in Virginia has made me comfortable with not being able to see anything in the water. The rivers and lakes I swim in regularly are murky brown, silty. and pretty gross. But you grow to love what’s familiar, or something like that. Just a week before we left, I swam upstream from Watkins Landing in the James and the water got a lot clearer the farther up I swam. It was so clear that I actually could see the bottom of the riverbed along with a fish, and I spent the entire swim freaking out about what was IN THE WATER WITH ME. I could see just about everything in the canal, but all that I could see was some time of water greenery. For lack of a better word, it looks like tall sea grass. Some of it was so tall it would touch my feet or hands, so I spent the first 20 minutes in the water forcing myself to open my eyes and not panic whenever something touched me. The canal has guy-wires so that buoys can be placed for rowers to use, but it works great for an open water swim too. I got to the side of one of them and realized how awesome it was that i wouldn’t have to sight off any buoys unless I couldn’t see the wire. It was very clear under the water.
Blair showed up a bit later and I got back in with her and paddled around some more. I was starting to get excited about the swim instead of dreading it, so I chalked that up as a win and went back to the house for some dinner.
The entire family came with me, and Edwin did a first class job of dealing with all the other stuff not related to racing (and there was a lot of that.) He had cooked a big delicious dinner by the time we got home, and we hung out on the big deck the house had and hit the hot tub for some relaxation time.
Saturday, my family split up from me and headed to Niagara Falls. The day before a race always sucks for anyone not racing so I was both relieved and happy that the kids would have a good day and that I could buckle down and focus on what needed to be done. Blair, Roslynn, Bill and I headed to the Flatwater Centre for packet pick up, bike check in and mandatory pre-race briefings. We shopping a little bit at the tiny expo and met the race director and his staff. I realized the vibe of the race was totally different than anything else I’d done. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming, There was very little about this race that felt uptight or elite or exclusive. There were plenty of very talented athletes, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes the Ironman aura can be very intimidating and overwhelming and for once it was nice to be more relaxed about everything. The RD talked about the fact that yes, we have cut offs, but they are human and he listens so they can be somewhat fluid about them if he felt he could assure athlete safety etc. It was extremely refreshing after Ironman’s hard line on time cut offs. He also made a HUGE deal about asking cyclists to announce “on your left” when passing, which I really appreciated it. I think it made a difference, as I had more people announcing during this race than I’ve ever seen. Especially after Nationals, when maybe 4 people out of 50 passing me on the bike said anything at all.
After bidding our bikes farewell, we headed into Niagara where I met up with my family. They had enjoyed the day looking at the falls and playing every weird game and riding every ride they could get their hands on. We went back to Welland soon after to eat dinner and rest up for race day.
This race started on the late side, so we didn’t have to get up until 6 am. I didn’t sleep all night anyway, so it didn’t really matter to me. I wasn’t thrilled about my 8:50 am wave start – all I do is sit around dreading the race until it start, at which point I start to love it. I like to just get on with it. Additionally the Canadians were starting to freak out about the temps – at the time, the high Sunday was supposed to be 81. Although I wanted temps in the low 70s, I had been training in an inferno all summer so 81 was no big deal. The humidity was way down, too.
Until I woke up Sunday to grab something off the clothing line, and realized it was humid as hell as it had lightly rained Saturday night 🙂
Blair’s wave went off about 20 minutes before mine. We got in the water after setting up in transition as soon as we reasonably could. This race couldn’t have been set up any better swim-wise for me. Endless warm up time was allowed, and the swim start was in the water. This enabled me to float and paddle and swim and blow bubbles for as long as I wanted before my wave actually left. I probably spent a total of 30 minutes in the water before my wave went off. I watched Blair go and she seemed happy and solid in the water – a good sign since both of us had been struggling with some OWS stuff for much of the summer. I floated on my back for a moment before the gun went off and channeled gratitude and joy and all the things I’d talked to Will Turner about. Then I mentally said “hey” to Derek and asked him to keep an eye on me and yell at me when I felt like giving up, and I was off.
This was my most favorite swim of any race I’ve done. Because I’d gotten all my panicked nerves out before I started swimming,, I hit my rhythm within the first 100 meters. There was plenty of space to spread out. I started far left of the bouys and as the crowd thinned out, I moved toward the guy-wire and found a swimming partner going my same speed. I got on her feet and drafted for much of the rest of the swim portion, or swam next to her when it got crowded and we made our own holes to get through. I don’t know who she was, but it was fun swimming next to her and I felt some weird level of comfort having someone doing the same thing as me. I took a lot of time to remind myself how great swimming was, how clear the water was, how good it tasted, how lucky I was to be out here, and how grateful I was to finally start a race without a full blown panic attack. I was giddy swimming. When we headed back on the back leg of the rectangular course, I stopped holding back and got into the faster swim pace I’ve been working on all summer. I track my swim times during a triathlon without the transitions because I want to know my actual pace, and I’m glad I did. My goal was to keep under 2:00/100m. My first 500 was 1:54, second was 1:49, third was 2:00 (this was the back end where we had two turns to navigate, so a lot of congestion and slowing down), fourth and fifth were in the 1:50s. Average pace: 1:54/100. This was a huge PR for me in a swim unassisted by currents. I am over the moon about this.
T1 was quite a ways from the swim exit, so I took a moment to get my heart rate under control and didn’t go crazy on the way to my bike. I toweled off as best I could, got my bike gear on, remembered to start my bike computer (because I can’t convert km to miles in my head so the bike computer was going to be my guide), and headed out on the course. I got to see Edwin as I approached the mount line, and was cheered on by a couple dressed as bacon. Unfortunately they weren’t handing out any bacon, but I appreciated the thought. T1 took 4:18.
This bike course did not disappoint. Thankfully someone had told me that the first 1/3 would be a headwind, and the last 2/3 would be either no wind or a tailwind. This was good to know because I had a very hard time keeping my speed up above 16 mph. The headwind was at times so strong that i had to come up out of aero to keep my bike from blowing all over the road. About 10 miles in, my speed had dropped to 13 mph. I tried to stay positive and looked forward to when the wind would be my friend. It didn’t become my friend until around mile 20+. Because the course is pancake flat, you get no break for your legs – they spin and burn the entire 56 miles. I was regretting the flat course for a while, but then the wind got behind me and I was suddenly holding 21 mph without much effort. I breathed a sigh of relief that I’d be able to sail in on this thing and meet my bike goals, which was to be around 3 hours on the bike or average close to 18 mph.
Unfortunately, I was so paranoid about hydration and the heat that I pushed too much through me. By mile 30 I had to pee so badly I made the executive decision to stop at a portapotty and go. I knew it meant my average speed would be affected, but the thought of another 26 miles feeling like I did wasn’t something I was willing to suffer. After that, i was much happier again and remembered Cyndi telling me to go harder on the bike than I thought I could. I did. I put the hammer down for the next 20 miles and made up some time. I was in a great mood the entire ride, chatting with my road mates and enjoying the beautiful views of the lake, the river, and farmlands. It was so beautiful out there!
Just when I thought I had the bike course mailed in, the wind picked up on the parkway 6 miles from T2. The wind was brutal. I felt like someone was hitting me in the face or blowing me side to side, depending on the moment. My legs were trashed from the prior 20 miles of hard pushing and I had my first “I HATE THIS SHIT” moment of the day. I watched the miles tick by agonizingly slowly as I got through the last little bit and then into T2.
Bike split: 3:07:47, average 17.6 mph. Definitely my best bike split – Raleigh was 10 minutes slower! Even with my bathroom break, I was pleased with my results.
My bike was at the far end of T2 so it took me forever to drag my burned out legs to the end of the racks, find my stuff, and get it together. I took extra time to make sure I’d slathered my feet with blister guard after Chattanooga’s nightmare and I used a liberal amount of Skin Slather for my usual chafed areas. I changed my shirt, put on my visor and made another visit to the portajohn. T2 time was 6:47.
I realized as I sat in a pool of my own sweat and felt the salt that had dried on my face that the weather forecasters had gotten things wrong. 81 degrees my ass. Looking back at my stats, weather temps on the bike course had reached 88. When I started out on the run, on a flat stretch of road paralleling the river but with no shade in sight, it felt just like I was back at West Creek in July. Instead of making me feel right at home, I felt irritated. I didn’t come to Canada to race in heat and humidity . . . but instead of letting myself get all twisted up about it, I pushed it aside and checked in with my body. My Achilles felt fine, my hamstring was tight, my hip was on fire. Okay then. I decided to divide the run up into four pieces, a 5k at a time. My original run plan, before the Achilles issue, had been to run the entire 13.1 miles, only stopping briefly at the aid stations which were around 1-2 miles apart. In my long training runs, I had been able to run solidly for up to 2:40 minutes so I figured with race day nerves and crowd support, I’d be able to do that again. However, after talking to Dr. Hopp about my run strategy, she made a point of saying that I shouldn’t be trying to PR this race. She recommended I try interval running and to really listen to my body. She knows what I have on tap for next year and neither of us wants me to blow up with some major injury on a race that yes, is important, but the stuff that is personally very important to me is happening in 2020. The reality is, I’m not a professional and I don’t make a living doing this, so there is no risk worth taking that’s going to end my amateur dabblings in triathlon.
The first 5k was pretty brutal. Did I mention it was hot as hell out? It was. My legs were screaming. I was pushing as reasonably as I could, but was managing only high 11s, 12s and a 13 minutes mile the first 3.1. There is a turn onto a road called Burning Springs, but everyone calls it Burning Quads. It was there that I took my first walk break and decided I could not run straight anymore, so intervals it was. I tried a 3 min run, :30 second walk. but it wasn’t enough, so I switched to 4/1. I made it through the first 10k this way. Around mile 7, my hamstring was so tight it felt like it was going to snap in half, and my Achilles had started the familiar throbbing ache. I decided to dial it back a bit and began to run to specific landmarks – like that tourist up ahead with the weird hat, the steps at the casino, no stopping until the mist from the falls stops, etc etc. Seeing Roslynn at the start of the second loop made me want to quit big time. I was tired, hot, and over it, but it was hard to be in a bad mood on that run course. It was GORGEOUS. Beautiful blowing trees, a stiff wind that sometimes helped and sometimes hurt, great volunteers and traffic control, tourists in droves by the falls, two long stretches that paralleled the falls, and a nice, green lush park toward the end of the loop. I left on loop 2 and decided to just focus on what was around me and to run when I could eek out a run, and speed walk when I had to do that. There would be no leisurely strolling on this race dammit!
I was fortunate enough to meet someone named Scott around mile 8.5. He had tears in both calf muscles but decided to race anyway. He was primarily walking by that point. He was uber-Canadian and I loved talking to him. There were a lot of “eh’s?” scattered into the conversation. He played hockey, worked for a vegan protein company but loved meat, and said the F word a lot. It was his first half so we exchanged horror stories and motivational stories and it made the rest of the “run” go by a lot faster. At the 20k mark, we decided to run it in, which coincided with seeing Edwin who confirmed we were almost done. I let him run ahead of me when we saw the finish chute, and then it was over! Run time was 3:02:59. Total race time: 7:03:52! Maybe next year I’ll break 7 hours 🙂
I had heard something from Roslynn at the 11k mark that Blair had wiped out on her bike, but she thought it was in transition, so I figured it was just a slow tip over kind of thing. When I crossed the line and saw Blair there, I realized right away it was much more major than that. Her leg on the front was completely road rashed, her back thigh was cut open, and her arm and hand were rashed as well. Turns out she took a corner and hit a gravel patch and went down hard and fast. Being the tough as nails, never quit kind of person she is, she decided to not wait on an ambulance to check her out, got back on her bike and finished the race, running another 13.1 miles with her arm killing her. She is truly my hero and I am so proud of her! All of that and she still met her race goals!
My family all came together at the finish line and it was so great to see them. It was the first time in a long time I’ve had all 5 of them together at a finish line, and it made my day a whole lot better. We were supposed to go back to Welland, shower, and have a celebratory dinner, but by the time we did get back, Blair’s arm was really hurting. They decided to head back across the border so she could get to an ER and have some x-rays taken to insure nothing was fractured. Thankfully nothing was, but it robbed us of some well-earned celebrations, and I am looking forward to making up for that very soon.
So that’s it for race season 2019!