Race report: Subaru Bruce Peninsula Multisport Race (paddle/bike/run)

It was this past winter at a snowshoe orienteering race that I first heard about the Subaru Bruce Peninsula Multisport Race. It sounded really fun – and more importantly, doable – even for a non-mountain biker like me. My friend Rebecca was interested too, so we signed up as a female team of two canoeists (team DEFINE “LOST”). The race was to take place in and around Wiarton, Ontario, where we would paddle 4k in Georgian Bay, mountain bike 16k and trail run 6k, all the while staying within 10m of one another. It would be our first time racing in a canoe (or any boat, for that matter), but the 7th year for this race, put on by the Peninsula Adventure Sports Association. This year, it was sold out for the first time. In addition to the paddle/bike/run course that we did (the “Suntrail” or short course), there were many other options, from a paddle/bike/paddle to run/bike/run, to the Buff long course race,  which in 2016 involved a 16k kayak/32k bike/16k run/30k bike/6k run.

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Friday (Race Kit Pick-Up)

Because Rebecca and I did not own mountain bikes, we arranged through the race to rent bikes from Jolleys Alternative Wheels in Owen Sound. The very cheap rental fee actually allowed us to use the bikes for the week leading up to the race as well. We weren’t in the area so we couldn’t take advantage of this offer, but the day before the race we stopped into Jolleys to see if we could get our bikes. We wanted to check out the shifting mechanisms and ride them briefly if possible before race day! They had already been loaded onto a truck to be brought to the race site, so we just left them (even though we could have taken them), but did buy spare tubes and cartridges in case of flats. We were warned that the course was quite rocky in places and that flats were not uncommon. We also noticed that our bikes didn’t have cages on them to put drinks, but the Jolleys guy offered to add them for us!

At the Wiarton arena we signed waivers and picked up our race kits, which included lots of numbered stickers to identify our gear, and a very cool looking head buff for each of us.

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We got our rental bikes, adjusted the seat heights, and tried them out for a spin up the street. We put stickers on them, I added a bottle of gatorade to mine, then we gave them to volunteers, who loaded them onto trucks for delivery to the bike start. Since the canoe segment takes you away from the start/finish line, and you mountain bike a loop after you paddle, we had to leave all of our bike gear (helmet, shoes, any food or drinks we wanted) and run gear (shoes, hats, food) with the volunteers in a bag, because it too would be transported to the bike start/finish. The run would be a point to point, from the end of the bike to Bluewater Park in Wiarton where the race began.

We had been pretty confused – even after reading the race website – as to where we would paddle, where the transition zones were etc., but we eventually figured it out.

Later we labelled the rest of our gear, including my Swift Keewaydin 17 foot canoe, 2 whitewater kayak paddles (we were told these would be faster than canoe paddles), spare canoe paddle, bailer, throw rope, PFDs and knee pads. The paddling stuff we would bring to the race start on race morning. We also planned to wear Camelbaks for easy water access. I tucked my spare tube and CO2 canister in it.

Saturday (Race Day!)

We arrived at Bluewater Park long before the 9:30 AM pre-race briefing, and brought the canoe and all our paddling gear to the little beach. I wondered how we would all start at the same time, given there were more boats than could fit on the shore at a time, but of course we wouldn’t be starting on shore and jumping into boats! Imagine the chaos that would ensue (and stressed people falling into the water).

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Rebecca and I pre-race, with my canoe in the background.

We chatted with other athletes, including one woman named Becky who introduced herself as a reader of my blog (thanks again for saying hi!). I also found my friend Lisa, who I met while orienteering last fall. She would be participating in the kayak/paddle/run event, also on a rented mountain bike.

We talked to a spectator from the area who watches every year, and who had binoculars that Rebecca borrowed to scope out the paddle course!

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Rebecca scoping out the course.

At the pre-race briefing, the risk of injury, snake bites, bear attacks, and DEATH was repeated multiple times. Someone asked if it was too late to get their money back! Actually, the entire briefing was pretty funny. It was explained to us that the kayak men would go first, then 5 minutes later the kayak women, then 5 minutes later all tandem boats (canoe or kayak). We were also told to get to shore if we saw lightning or heard thunder while paddling.

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Lisa and I pre-race.

The 4k Paddle

I gave Lisa a gentle push to get her into the water, and then Rebecca and I got into the canoe. I was wearing my sandals so that I could get wet feet. Rebecca was wearing her running shoes so we attempted to keep her feet dry.

A horn sounded and the race began! We watched the men leave from the pier, heading to an orange buoy by the marina, then turning and heading north, “within swimming distance of shore”. We lost sight of them but they then headed straight across the water toward a grassy farmer’s field. We didn’t know exactly what the take-out spot would look like.

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Waiting for the horn to sound. [Photo by Tammy Cruickshank]

Just after the 2 minute warning for our race, a canoe to the left of us tipped over and the occupants fell out! A rescue boat was called, but our race began. I’m not sure if they raced or not.

Rebecca was in the bow and me in the stern. The horn sounded and off we went, Rebecca using my whitewater paddle, and me using Kev’s!

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And we’re off! [Photo by Tammy Cruickshank]

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Heading for the marina. [Photo by Tammy Cruickshank]

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Heading for a small orange buoy. [Photo by Tammy Cruickshank]

Having never raced a canoe before, I wasn’t sure quite what to expect. We practised once canoeing with kayak paddles, but not paddling quickly! In any case, it went well. The boats spread out after a short time, with just a little bit of congestion at the first (and only) turning point at the orange buoy. We both kept sliding off our seats while kneeling, having to adjust quickly to not lose too much power. I switched it up a bit and paddled while sitting, but went back to my knees for additional power. Sometimes I whacked the gunnel with my paddle. When Rebecca’s watch beeped that we’d reached the 1k mark, we were almost 15 minutes in. I wasn’t sure I could keep that pace up for another 45 minutes! We caught up to a few kayaks, and were only passed by one canoe once the main straightaway paddle was underway. I couldn’t imagine paddling 16k like the long course racers did earlier that morning!! At some point, it started to rain, but it didn’t last long. I was doubting Rebecca’s watch, because it seemed we had paddled more than 2k, but it hadn’t beeped again.

We knew to head for a white building, but didn’t know exactly where we were going. We just followed the boats in front of us, and eventually saw people on shore. Thankfully, the watch was wrong and we had gone further than it thought! As we got close, we saw that all we had to do was jump out of the boat, and volunteers would carry it away with all our gear in it! One of the volunteers was happy to be lifting a light canoe! We followed the boat and threw our PFDs into it, then put our race bibs and Camelbaks on and started the 300m run (uphill!) to the bike start. The paddle took us 39 minutes.

The 16k Mountain Bike Ride

As inexperienced mountain bikers, we weren’t quite sure what we were getting into on the bike course, but the people who originally told us about this race said that anyone could do it. Before we reached our bikes, I made a pitstop at a portapotty. Throughout the race volunteers recorded our times as we reached certain points. I was wearing a timing chip (for our team) but we didn’t cross any timing mats until the finish line. We were relieved to find our bikes and our gear bags waiting for us. I put on knee length socks (recommended by the race organizers), trail running shoes, and my helmet, and we headed out. I forgot to eat the blueberry banana bread I had in my gear bag!

The course started out in a grassy field, but quickly became rocky – very rocky! So rocky that you couldn’t avoid the rocks, though we tried our best. The path was wide enough to allow for passing of slower riders, but we had to be careful in the first section because the lead cyclists could be coming the other way (we never saw any). Over the course of the ride we also rode through farmer’s fields, along a gravel road (when I took the opportunity to have a really yummy salted caramel gel), over grass and dirt, and through a very neat section of single track small rolling hills (1 to 2 feet drops), which also curved tightly around trees and rocks. This was my favourite bit of the whole race. So fun, but we had to be careful not to hit rocks or trees with our pedals. A few times over the ride we had to get off our bikes and walk them, the first time when we encountered a log across the path (others could have jumped it, but I wasn’t willing to try it). I managed to drink most of my gatorade during the ride, but had to carefully time my drinking, so as not to crash while taking a hand off the handlebars!! The bike took us about an hour.

The 6k Trail Run

We racked our bikes, removed our helmets, put on hats, and took off. The run would take us partly on the Bruce Trail, and back to the finish line. Some of the trail was quite rocky, so we walked a few times. We also stepped carefully over the many gaps in between rocks (mini chasms), which could have been deadly if not seen! It was near the beginning of the run that I saw lightning in the distance and heard thunder (turns out the people doing the short course paddle/bike/paddle had to run back instead of do a 2nd paddle). The run was also quite muddy in places, but very peaceful. We didn’t see any other runners until the last couple of kilometres when we caught a few. At two different spots we had to climb up and over stiles between fields. And at one point, we had to descend a long, narrow, tight, circular steel staircase descending the Niagara Escarpment. This was followed immediately by a rocky/wet descent in which you had to hold a wet, steel railing and try not to fall! At this point we thought we had about 2k to go, but volunteers said we had 3k to go. We passed a few runners in the last couple of kilometres, and while Rebecca tried to get me to run faster, I wasn’t quite able to pick up the pace. The run took us 46 minutes. We crossed the finish line in 2:42:04.5.

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At the finish line! [Photo by Tammy Cruickshank]

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Rebecca, Lisa and I post-race.

After a quick dip in Georgian Bay to feel refreshed, we enjoyed a lamb burger and then a free massage! We headed to Tim’s for a drink, and then went to the arena to see if our stuff was back yet. It wasn’t, so we walked back to the finish area and watched as other athletes finished. Rebecca checked the results page and discovered that we had finished 2nd out of 8 teams of female canoeists! We had already planned to stay for the awards, but as Rebecca said, we really had to stay now! We also wanted to stay for the draw for the 2 mountain bikes – one for a male participant, and one for a female.

Race stats:

  • Total time: 2:42:04.5 (2nd/8)
  • 4k paddle: 39:27.2 (2nd/8)
  • Run to transition (including removing Camelbak, race bib, lifejacket, putting race bib and Camelbak back on): 5:00.2 (4th/8)
  • T1 (including pee break): 2:33.4 (4th)
  • 16k bike: 1:07:08.7 (3rd/8)
  • T2 (including pee break): 1:18.1 (1st/8)
  • 6k (closer to 7k) run: 46:36.6 (3rd/8)

Eventually all our stuff was back at the arena, so we loaded it into and onto our vehicle. I have to say that while we had a little trouble finding the information we needed on the website, the race was superbly well organized and the volunteers were fantastic!!

Finally the awards began. We were called up and stood on the tree stump podiums for a picture. In addition, we each received a prize from the prize table. I chose a $20 gift certificate for Suntrail Source for Adventure in Hepworth, an outdoors store that I’m looking forward to visiting soon!

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After the short course awards, it was time for the long course awards. We stayed, because in order to win the bike, you had to be there if your name was drawn. The first name was drawn, and the man said something along the lines of “I wonder how many Lauras are in the crowd.” He read the last name and no one claimed the bike. He drew another name and said, “Kyra. Is there a Kyra in the crowd?” I put my hand up. I was pretty sure I’d be the only one! He read my last name, and I headed up to claim my prize! Woohoo!! I was the proud new owner of a DeVinci Jack S WF mountain bike, donated by Bikeface Cycling in Owen Sound. What’s weird is that I really felt that I was going to win it!

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Rebecca and I had a blast doing this race! I will definitely be back!! Thank you Peninsula Adventure Sports Association for such a fun day!

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Posted in adventure racing, mountain biking, Paddling, Trail running | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A first timer’s experience participating in the Canadian Orienteering Championships!

Ten months ago I attended my very first navigation clinic. This past weekend, I participated in the Canadian Orienteering Championships! Little secret here – you don’t need to qualify to participate! Regardless, I’ve gone from learning the absolute basics to competing in an event with doping control in a very short period of time!

This year’s Canadian Orienteering Championships were held in the Perth, Ontario area, and were hosted by Orienteering Ottawa. In fact, there were orienteering events from July 29 to August 7, from Montreal to Ottawa to Perth, as part of O-Fest 150. I was only able to participate in the middle and long distance races, held on Saturday August 5th and Sunday August 6th respectively. There was also a sprint distance race, a relay, a night race, and more!

The night before the middle distance race, I stayed with friends in the Ottawa area, and with all of them racing as well, we studied maps and map symbols, and I felt a little like I was cramming for an exam! How many more squiggly lines can I memorize and then recall under pressure while lost in the woods the next day?

For each race that I would be doing, I had to decide which course I would run when I registered a couple of months ago. Being relatively new to orienteering, I had no idea what “level” I was at, or which course I should choose. Each course had different controls printed on the same map, varying in difficulty. Did I want to race in my age category for awards, or in an open class where I could pick the level of difficulty likely better suited to my abilities? I consulted with a friend and with Meaghan from Don’t Get Lost, who also happens to have taught me most of my orienteering skills. They both suggested open 3, which was described as “intermediate difficulty and longer distance”. Compare this to open 1, which is entirely on trails (no off-trail bushwhacking/searching required).

The Canadian Orienteering Championships would also be my first time with a non-mass start (i.e. in this case, 3 athletes would start at a time, but they might all be running different courses, so you couldn’t just follow the person in front of you), and my first time using control descriptions in symbol format (I’m used to text descriptions like “re-entrant” or “valley”), and not little pictures (such as dots, triangles, and parallel lines). It would also be my first experience getting the map at the start line, with no ability to study it or plan a route beforehand.

Race Report: Middle Distance Race

We arrived at the Foley Mountain Conservation Area with plenty of time to park, catch a school bus to the “arena” (essentially “race central” – it was outdoors), get ourselves organized, chat with others (including other Don’t Get Lost athletes), and wait for our turn to start. I also had to sign a waiver and pick up my race packet and t-shirt. Everything was very well organized. I can only imagine the planning (and manpower!) required by Orienteering Canada and Orienteering Ottawa to host an event like this! My start times were listed on my race packet envelope, but also helpfully printed on my race bib. It was neat to be able to look at bibs and see which orienteering clubs people belonged to. There were competitors from across Canada, the US, England, Australia, Hungry, Hong Kong, Germany, France, Ukraine and more!

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My friend Kristi was starting 12 minutes before me, and since she has competed in these events before, she taught me the ropes! I had read tips for first timers at the Canadian Orienteering Championships, but never did wrap my head around the clock running 3 minutes ahead until Kristi explained it and I saw it for myself!

The middle distance race (open 3 class) would be 2.4 km if you were to run as the crow flies from the start to the first control, then second, etc. until you reached the finish line. The controls had to be found in order. But I rarely run directly from point A to point B, so the distance I covered would be longer – the more lost I got, the more distance I would cover!

Not only were there athletes of varying skill levels, but also of varying ages! There were age categories from 10 to 85+! In fact I sat on the bus with a man name Alex who has been orienteering for 42 years!

We headed to the start line very early, so that I could see how everything worked. While standing watching the action, a woman said to me, “I love your blog!” She was new to orienteering and had just discovered it a couple of weeks ago. That was neat!

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My friend Kristi and I at the start line.

Essentially, the race start goes like this:

  • 3 people have the same start time listed on their race bib. You may be running a different course than the athletes starting with you.
  • You should arrive at least 10 minutes before your start time, to make sure you are not late! We had to walk 500m to the start.
  • When you reach the small gathering of people near the start, “clear” and “check” your SportIdent card (SI card). The SI card is the electronic device you wear on your finger and place in each control as you find it so that the computer at the control registers you were there. Clearing and checking your SI card is to ensure all previous data is deleted (when the machine beeps, you know it worked). You can rent or buy SI cards.
  • When the clock matches the time on your race bib (for me, 12:48), present yourself to the race volunteers. They will confirm your name and the number on your SI card. They might also confirm that you have a whistle. They won’t ask if you have a compass, but if you don’t, you’re in trouble! Wait where you are. NOTE: When the clock says 12:48, it’s actually running 3 minutes early, because it takes 3 minutes for you to pass through the steps to get to the actual start line and the beginning of your race. So if I looked at my watch, it would have said 12:45.
  • One minute later – there is a 5 second beeping countdown, then a long beep on every minute (12:49 on the clock for me), move to the next “corral”, where you pick up the control descriptions for the course you are running. You need to know which course you are running. So for me, I took a little piece of paper from the “open 3” bag. At this point, you can look at it. Wait where you are.
  • One minute later (12:50 on the clock for me), move to the next corral, where you pick up your race map. There will be bins on the ground, possibly odd numbered courses on the left, even on the right like this weekend. Maps are face down in the bins, so you can’t see them. You have to write your name on the back of your map (making sure you grab the map from the right bin). Then you show the map to a volunteer and say, “Map 3?” and the volunteer  says, “Yes, map 3”. Wait where you are.
  • Finally, one minute later (12:51 on the clock for me), your race begins. You are able to turn the map over and look at it for the first time.

The volunteers told us that the start flag (marked by a triangle on the map) was 25m up the trail. You couldn’t see it from the start line. I had been warned to start slowly, to walk, to make sure I knew where I was on the map, and to begin cautiously so as not to get lost (and flustered!) right off the bat. My goal was to find all the controls within the allotted time (2 hours), and to hopefully not finish last!

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Despite starting cautiously, I had trouble finding control 1, and wondered what I was in for! Things got better, but it was harder than I anticipated. There were hardly any trails to use to navigate, and the running was very difficult on the super rocky ground!! I was bushwhacking through poison ivy, raspberry bushes, big logs, little twigs, and all kinds of trees. I got a soaker crossing a creek, and gave up even attempting to keep my feet dry. It was the first time that I was using an arm band to hold control descriptions, and I was forgetting to look at my arm. Instead, I was unfolding my map to see where the next control was (e.g. on top of a hill, or in a depression, beside a cliff, etc.). Thankfully, I remembered to look at the number on each control as I found it, to make sure it was the one I was looking for! For example, control 1 for me was actually marked 123, which my list of control descriptions told me. If you punch the wrong control by accident, or miss one, you get a “mis-punch” and don’t get an official finish. It was when I started looking for control 5 that I got completely turned around – and then, I was stung on my neck at my hairline by a yellow jacket or something equally painful. I tried swatting it away with my map but it was too late! I asked another athlete generally where we were, and got myself back on track. At some point, I caught up to Kristi and we worked together for a little bit. I crossed the finish line 1:40:56 after starting the race, having found all 11 controls. There were just 8 people in the open 3 class, and only 3 of us finished. I ended up with the shortest time, so I was in first place (and Kristi third). It’s a non-competitive class though, so no medals for us! It was fun, but challenging!

After crossing the finish line (and punching the control), you have to put your SI card into another reader to download your results. Then you get a paper printout showing the controls you found, the length of time it took to find each one, and the time elapsed since your race began. After the race, athletes compare maps, printouts, and stories!

Just past the finish line there was water, iced tea, bananas and oranges for athletes, and other food for purchase (BBQ and baked goods). We stayed for the awards, and then headed out. It was after my shower that I discovered I had made a friend – my first ever tick friend, attached to my ankle. It was tiny. Kristi got rid of it with her tick remover. I vowed to wear longer socks the next day (there had been a gap between my pants and socks).

Race Report: Long Distance Race

The next morning we returned for the long distance race. I knew I was in for a longer race, but wasn’t sure what the terrain would be like. I was hoping for more runnable terrain, no yellow jackets, and no ticks!

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At the start, ready to go.

This time I would start before Kristi. In fact, my group of 3 was a Don’t Get Lost group, with the other 2 athletes (Starr and Christian – remember my Christian Pole Dancing?) also from Don’t Get Lost.

When it was time for me to turn over my map, I found the start triangle and started walking.

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It took me longer to find the first control, but overall, I did better on the navigation in this race compared to the middle distance race. However, one control took me 26 minutes to find! I could not for the life of me match what I was seeing to the map I was holding! I backtracked and eventually it all made sense. On another control, I set my compass to south instead of north, and headed 5 minutes in the wrong direction! Thankfully I realized my error and went back to the last control, starting over to find the next one! At one point (going to control 8), I crossed a very swampy marsh, which soaked my feet and was challenging to cross! The plants were super tall, and I didn’t have much of a path to follow – there was a bit of one, but then it disappeared. That was slow going! I came upon a boy at one point who asked me where we were. He told me that he was “scared to death”. We spent a few minutes running together and ended up at a road that we weren’t expecting – and didn’t want. Not all the trails were on the map, so this confused us! We studied our maps and figured out where we were, backtracked, followed the map features, and eventually knew where we were when he found the control he was looking for. Later, I helped a woman by showing her where I thought I was. Unsurprisingly (given the terrain), I rolled my ankle at some point, but it was fine and I plodded on!

This time, it was Kristi who caught up to me – at control 10. Number 9 is the one I spent 26 minutes finding, so it’s no surprise she gained those 6 minutes back (she started 6 minutes behind me). From that point on the controls were pretty easy to find. I crossed the finish in 2:03:56, and knew that Kristi was right behind me. Turns out she beat me by 37 seconds!

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The long distance race was definitely more runnable, and I was able to use trails quite a few times to find controls. I didn’t anger any yellow jackets, and didn’t make any tick friends! I enjoyed the race!

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Nice technical race shirt!

Overall Thoughts

  • The orienteering community is super welcoming. It was great to hear the different languages and accents of participants, and to talk to people from other countries who came here to compete.
  • You don’t have to be an orienteering superstar to participate in – and enjoy – the Canadian Orienteering Championships. Case in point – me.
  • If you’re super competitive, orienteering is a terrific sport to test both your mental and physical toughness.
  • If you love to learn, you’ll enjoy orienteering. I continue to learn something new each time I race. I noticed this weekend that I was not holding my compass straight (it was level, just not straight), so that the direction of travel arrow was pointing slightly to the right. This meant that I would not end up where I intended to! The more distance I covered between controls, the further I would potentially be from my planned destination! Next time I’ll be paying close attention, until I am consistently holding it properly.
  • You’re never too old to orienteer!

Orienteering Canada and Orienteering Ottawa, thanks for a great first experience at the Canadian Orienteering Championships. I’ll be back!!

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Race report: Niagara sprint triathlon

It may have been a triathlon, but this one started with a pre-race in-water dance – well, at least for 2 people!

It had been 5 years since Alasdair and I raced the Niagara sprint triathlon in Grimsby, but we were looking forward to trying out the course again. We arrived at the race site with plenty of time to get our race kits (swim cap, t-shirt, product samples), pick up our timing chips, and go through body marking.

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Ready to go!

We got set up in transition, and in between visits to the portapotties, we went down to the water to check out the swim exit. Because of the record high water level in Lake Ontario this summer, the beach at Nelles Beach Park was gone! We would have to walk 600m north-west to a new starting spot to start the swim. The swim exit had the potential to be injury inducing if you didn’t exit at the right spot, where you could stand up on the tiny bit of sand that appeared as the water receded.

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The swim exit! We were getting wet as the waves crashed against the big boulders.

 

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At the race exit.

Ready to race, we headed to the start and struggled into our wetsuits. We were both starting in the third wave. I did a quick warm up swim, and waited with Alasdair in the water. Pre-race music was playing, and when “Sweet Caroline” came on, Alasdair started to sing along. Next thing I noticed, a woman grabs Alasdair’s hands and the two are dancing in the water!! The dance done, we cheered for racers who started in the waves before us. And then the horn sounded for us and the race began!

750m swim

In short, my swim sucked. Swimming away from shore toward the first buoy was extremely congested and we were swimming into the waves. Turning at the buoy, there were so many people that I couldn’t actually swim – I did the doggy paddle! Alasdair apparently had a conversation with someone there. The traffic jam continued, and as I headed parallel to shore, not only was it hard to see the buoys because of the waves (if you looked up while in a trough, you couldn’t find your way for love nor money!) but I took an uppercut to the jaw, and later a smack on the back of my head! Turning to shore, the waves pushed us in, but my stomach didn’t exactly like the waves! I had no trouble getting out of the water, but there were people giving a hand to those who needed it. As I approached my bike in transition, I saw Alasdair heading out with his bike.

25k bike

I had very little memory of the bike course, other than the massive climb up the Niagara Escarpment. When I hit the hill, which is just a few kilometres into the race, I was slightly surprised by how steep it was! I didn’t remember having to stand up for it before. I passed people on the hill (not that I went quickly!), including probably 10 walking it. One guy nearly crashed but caught himself! After the hill, the course is relatively flat. I had quite an unremarkable bike, other than becoming discouraged early on, thinking my ride was going to be slow after that crazy climb! I spotted a rider ahead of me drafting the woman in front of him – when she passed someone, he went with her. He was riding very close to her, so eventually (after he had been doing this for a few kilometres) I caught him and told him he couldn’t do that – he was drafting. He said, “I know!” and took off! My favourite part of the whole race was the ride down the escarpment. I did brake, but enjoyed the speed!!

7k run

I remembered this run as being fairly flat, and I was right. It’s an out and back, so I figured I’d see Alasdair at some point on his way back. There’s one spot where the runners are on either side of a park, so it was entirely possible we would pass each other there and not be able to say hi! As it was, I reached Alasdair when I was about 1 km from the turnaround. The temperature on the run was way more manageable than I was expecting it to be. I was prepared for hot and humid! I did get water and gatorade a couple of times but I wasn’t desperate. I heard Alasdair cheer for me about 100m from the finish, and while I knew I had already missed my sub 2 hour race goal, I intended to finish under 2:02 if at all possible! In the end, I crossed the line in 2:01:53.

I grabbed a cup of alcohol free Erdinger beer, found Alasdair, chatted with other athletes, packed up my stuff in transition, grabbed food, and sat down to watch the awards. We chatted briefly with the race winner, Jessey the Elf, who also happens to be one of the lifeguards who keep me safe at the Flamborough YMCA, and a member of the Waterdown Fighting Koalas. He’s a “Vegan Canadian Professional Triathlete determined to make the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.” Go Jessey!!

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With Jessey the Elf, overall race winner.

We called it a day, and headed home. Grimsby, we’ll be back!

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Race Stats

Time: 2:01:53.3

Swim: 21:48.3 (2:54 min/100m)

Bike: 54:47.7 (27.37 km/h)

Run: 41:27 (5:55 min/km)

Women 40-44: 8/16

Women: 49/94

All athletes: 230/335

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Menu for fall 6-day hike of the entire Coastal Trail at Lake Superior Provincial Park

Variety is the spice of life, right? When I’m camping in the backcountry, I don’t want to eat the same food every day, and I most definitely don’t want to eat bar after bar after bar! I want food that is (mostly) healthy, homemade, delicious, nutritious, filling, and different, while being as lightweight as possible!

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Eating some delicious soup with tree bark, since someone forgot to pack spoons!

This fall, I will be hiking the full length of the Coastal Trail at Lake Superior Provincial Park. My friend Cheryl and I are planning to cover the 65+ km in 6 days, but will carry food for a 7th day if need be. The trail goes through the forest, across sandy beaches, rocky beaches, small boulders, big boulders, has endless ups and downs, and boasts some incredible scenery along the shore of Lake Superior. I have hiked parts of it, but never the full thing.

Our plan is to hike from north to south, starting at the Gargantua Harbour access point, hiking the northern end of the trail (to Devil’s Chair and Chalfant Cove), and then hiking south toward the Visitor Centre.

We have planned out our menu based on past trips, knowing how much food it takes to keep us energized and raring to go, and keeping in mind our food preferences! We like to use lots of fruit and vegetables, but have some treats too. It took some experimentation but after many backpacking trips, including an 8-day hike of the entire La Cloche Silhouette Trail at Killarney Provincial Park (trip report, menu, and menu review available at this link), we’ve figured out what works for us.

Some of my favourite books for backcountry meal prep are:

  • A Fork in the Trail by Laurie Ann March (F)
  • LipSmackin’ Backpackin’ by Christine and Tim Conners (L)
  • The Trailside Cookbook by Don and Pam Philpott (T)

Where we’re planning to use a recipe, you’ll see a (F), (L) or (T) after the recipe name (and the corresponding page number).

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Some meals are tried and true recipes, while others are new things we’re trying for the first time (such as “Thanksgiving on the Trail”). You might have noticed that we’re not really “cooking” very much. For the majority of our meals we’ll be boiling water to add to things (such as oatmeal) or to rehydrate things (such as chili). We will be baking cornbread and bannock, as well as eggs and bacon. Designing our menu as we have means faster meal prep, and less fuel required.

Between now and our trip departure, we’ll be slicing, chopping, cooking, baking and dehydrating our meals! Cheryl and I have split the food up so that we each prepare approximately half. We’ll keep everything in the freezer until departure day, when we drive more than 850 km north! The first night we’ll car camp at Agawa Bay, and then start our big hike the next morning after a shuttle to our starting point.

You can bet I’ll be blogging about our trip, including a full trip report, menu review, and packing list. Stay tuned!

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Channelling my inner artist at Lake Superior Provincial Park

If only I could put down on paper the images I have in my mind! I recently spent a week camping at Lake Superior Provincial Park, and the scenery did not disappoint!

My daughter and I signed up for a 3-hour art class at the Visitor Centre, and while she decided to paint the small black bear that we spotted just south of the park along Highway 17, I chose to paint a coastal scene.

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The class was open to all ages (8 and under must have a parent with them), and was instructed by a local artist named Heather Sinnott. There were a total of 10 students in the class, including just 2 kids. Before the class began, a woman asked me, “Do you blog?” She had found my post called “My 10 favourite things to do while camping at Lake Superior Provincial Park” in researching the park, and recognized me! Very neat.

The class began with a slideshow of pictures that Heather had taken in and around Lake Superior Provincial Park, as well as of her artwork.

We were given small pieces of paper, pencils and pencil crayons and told to sketch out whatever it was we wanted to paint. There were all kinds of pictures to look at in case we couldn’t decide what we wanted to draw, or in case we just needed a bit more inspiration. We could also try to paint a photo we had taken ourselves.

When most people were done their sketches, Heather gave us a little lesson on the colour wheel (she had a turtle colour wheel) and how to mix colours. We would be given only the primary colours (red, yellow, blue), white, and 2 others if we wanted them (a violet and a turquoise).

The next step was to sketch our scene onto canvas. I changed my drawing slightly, but just the proportion of beach to water to sky.

Then it was time to play with the paint!

I had fun mixing colours, but some colours were hard to create! I’m not sure when I last painted, let alone mixed colours. And then I ran into the problem of running out of the perfect colour and having to attempt to make more!

Ailish kept asking me what time it was, because she felt that she was going to run out of time.

I wasn’t sure whether to paint the background or foreground first, and decided to tackle the island first, then the trees. But I later realized that I should have done the background, because trying to fill in the white area around the trees was really hard without messing up my tree branches. I had to touch the trees up later, but I think it would have been easier to do the trees last.

As we got closer to the 3 hour mark, Ailish asked Heather for help. She suggested ways to make the painting go faster.

I wasn’t happy with the colour of my sand, but didn’t have time to start over mixing a sand colour. And my pretty purple flowers on the beach dried very dark, and aren’t really distinguishable from the sand and rocks. I asked Heather how to make my water look more water-like, so she suggested waves, and showed me how to do them. Then I added white caps.

When we were done, everyone else was pretty much gone, except for a woman from Québec City. Heather took Ailish and I outside onto the back deck of the Visitor Centre for the “Trucker’s Test”. She leaned our pictures against a railing, and we stepped back – way back – as if our pictures were billboards. From that vantage point, we could see what jumped out of the painting, and what didn’t. Heather pointed out that all my colours were dark, and that in future I could work on using darker colours and lighter colours. She added some lighter colour to my trees, and to the island and rocks. It really helped. Ailish’s tree behind the bear got a little bit of a touch-up too.

Ailish and I really enjoyed the painting class. I’m happy with my painting, but it’s far from what I was actually going for. Lots of room for improvement! I like Ailish’s painting better, and she prefers mine. That’s probably normal.

I highly recommend art programs at Ontario Parks! I did a fun one last summer at Grundy Lake too. Many parks have “Friends of” organizations, non-profits which organize different events for the parks. Take a look at the other programs organized by the Friends of Lake Superior.

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Biking at Algonquin Park: mountain, fat, and tandem (or, that time I became a movie star)

Ever star in a photo or video shoot? I hadn’t, until recently at Algonquin Provincial Park during a weekend of biking adventures.

Given that I will be participating in a canoe/mountain biking/trail running race on the Bruce Peninsula later this summer with my friend Rebecca, I figured that we should practice actually doing these activities together! Algonquin Outfitters graciously offered to let us borrow 2 mountain bikes for the weekend in exchange for a blog post on their website about my biking experience, and a photo shoot so that they could update their website content. A few days before our trip, we found out that in fact we could try any of their bikes, simply exchanging one kind for another over the weekend.

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Ready to hit the trails!

So Friday night we stopped at the Lake of Two Rivers Algonquin Outfitters store where we borrowed two Specialized mountain bikes. Because the Minnesing Mountain Biking Trail along Highway 60 was closed due to flooding, we had to drive 1 1/4 hours to the south end of the park, where we could try out the Byers Lake Mountain Bike Trail. We stopped quickly at the Pog Lake campground to register for our campsite, and then headed for the trail. When we got there, we were quickly discovered by the resident mosquitoes!! Bug spray and riding quickly were pretty effective, but if you’ve mountain biked before, you’ll know that you don’t always go quickly!! We got stuck in mud puddles at times that reduced our speed to zero and increased our bug swatting immensely! The trail wasn’t super well marked, so we weren’t totally sure that we were on it the whole time (there were lots of trail junctions), but we had fun and rode for just under an hour.

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At the end of the Byers Lake Mountain Bike Trail, on an old logging road.

On Saturday morning we met Randy from Algonquin Outfitters at the Lake of Two Rivers store for the photo shoot, which was actually a photo and video shoot. We spent a couple of hours pretending to go through the process of getting out of our vehicle, looking at the bikes, getting help from the bike rental shop, getting explanations of the various bike components, getting a helmet, and finally trying out the bikes. Chris the photographer/videographer had us reshoot some scenes multiple times because of the lighting, where we stood (or didn’t), what we did (or didn’t), etc. We had fun but we felt funny at times doing it over and over. After clear instructions from Chris to ignore stuff around us, we did just that and did not glance over when a vehicle honked its horn long and hard multiple times. It turns out we missed 2 moose crossing just in front of the store!! Randy asked us if we’d be willing to ride the trail-a-bike, which essentially is an adult bike with part of a kid’s bike trailing behind. I rode in the front, and Rebecca on the little kid’s seat! It was so hard to go straight, because our balance was way off – the back seat isn’t designed for an adult!! We were laughing though, and after 3 attempts we managed to smile and wave without falling off or crashing.

After the photo/video shoot was done at the bike shop, we exchanged our mountain bikes for fat bikes and hit the Old Railway Bike Trail. We met Randy and Chris at the old Mew Lake airfield for a few more shots.

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Map of the Old Railway Bike Trail.

The trail is pretty much flat, with just a slight uphill grade one way and a slight downhill grade the other! You can ride it on almost any bike (other than a road bike with a skinny tire – it wouldn’t be so fun on the loose gravel). We even saw a kid with training wheels on his bike. The trail is 16 km long, and quite scenic in places.

 

We decided to head West for Cache Lake, and stopped at the very end of the trail at a little bridge over a pretty creek for a snack. I had never been on a fat bike before, and thought it would be heavy and unwieldy. It wasn’t at all like that – it was light and maneouvreable. I loved it. While riding, we saw a painted turtle and tons of dragonflies. By the time we returned to the Lake of Two Rivers store, we had pedalled about 15 km. We had a delicious ice cream cone before trading our fat bikes in for a tandem bike.

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Yummy salted caramel.

The Algonquin Outfitters employee gave us some tips on riding the tandem before we tried it in the parking lot. We were pretty wobbly at first! Rebecca started in the front and me in the rear. There is a tandem bike challenge: ride all the way to Rock Lake and back (approximately 25k) and get 15% off the rental fee. We wondered if we could make it that far.

 

The hardest part was starting, and then slowing down or stopping – we took turns at the front, and had to remember to tell our passenger that we were going to slow down, because the pedals and chain are such that you pedal in sync! If one stops pedalling, the other has to as well. And when you decide to coast or brake, you need to tell your partner to stop pedalling. It didn’t take too long for us to get the hang of it. We actually rode through the Rock Lake campground all the way to the trailhead for the Booth’s Rock trail! By the time we returned to the Lake of Two Rivers store, we were pros!! The tandem was super fun!

You can also rent kids’ bikes, “cruisers” (you sit more upright, kind of old fashioned style, with more padded seats), and bikes for people with accessibility issues.

I can’t wait to go back to Algonquin this winter to try fat biking again!! While fat bikes were originally designed for winter riding, they are great for trails, mud, loose gravel etc.

I’m also looking forward to checking out Algonquin Outfitter’s new pictures and video! In particular the trail-a-bike bit…

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More photos, and eventually the videos, here.

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Race report: Ironman 70.3 Syracuse 2017

It’s amazing what a good sleep and a little bit of perspective can do.

Heading into my 3rd Ironman 70.3 Syracuse (see 2015 and 2016 race reports), and 6th half ironman overall, I knew very well what I was getting myself into. I had been obsessively checking the weather forecast (for weeks!), and given the predicted high of 40+ degrees Celsius with the humidity, I tried even harder than usual to hydrate in the days leading up to the race.

Friday

Alasdair and I headed for Syracuse after work on Friday night, and after a quick stop at Salomon Arc’teryx in Niagara to pick up the Speedcross 3 trail running shoes that I won at the Don’t Get Lost Jungle Run the week before, we sailed across the border and were on our way. I think it helped that Alasdair told the border guard that we were heading to Syracuse “for a race” rather than “for 7 hours of pure torture”.

Saturday

On Saturday morning we headed to the race site at Jamesville Beach Park for the mandatory bike check-in and pre-race meeting. I did a 5 minute ride just to make sure my bike was fine, then we registered (signed multiple waivers, got race bib, timing chip, bike and helmet stickers, a t-shirt, “morning clothes bag”, and a small backpack with a few product samples in it). We attended a pre-race briefing, which was both informative and funny. We walked back to the car to get my bike, and checked it into transition, having removed anything from it that could easily be stolen (i.e. pump and bags). We headed for the water, and at 1 PM took advantage of the lifeguard supervised swim organized by the park (rather than by Ironman). We only swam for 5-10 minutes, but it was enough for me to just be comfortable in the water. And to remember the weeds!

Sunday

On race day our alarm went off at 3:30 AM. Surprisingly, I slept well the night before and after a quick breakfast of oats, yogurt and a banana, we were on our way to the race. We arrived at around 4:30 AM, with about 25 cars or so there before us. We were there so early that transition opened just as we reached it.

I quickly set up my stuff, setting out my bike shoes, socks, sunglasses, helmet, race bib, running shoes, hat, gel, sunblock and a banana. I added my bike pump and bags back to my bike, putting a peanut butter chocolate ball, energy square and a few gels into my crossbar bag, and a bottle of gatorade and another of water in the cages. In between multiple bathroom breaks, I borrowed another athlete’s bike pump to inflate my tires, slathered myself with sunscreen, and counted racks so I could find my spot easily. I grabbed my wetsuit, swim cap, and goggles, and headed with Alasdair to the waterfront. He would be swimming only, given that his thumb wasn’t ready for a return to triathlon just yet – in particular, the hilly bike!

I checked my “morning clothes bag” into the bag check, and was ready to go!

This year, I decided to get wet pre-race but not to swim, since the previous 2 years I felt dizzy after the warm-up in the tiny rectangular area. I was standing in the water for the singing of the American National Anthem.

I lined up with the other athletes in the 6th swim wave, women 40-44 and 55+, chatted with Alasdair a little longer, and then edged closer and closer to the big inflatable arch and the start of the race.

2k Swim

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The cannon malfunctioned for the first wave, but worked for the second. I think it was just a horn after that. Soon enough, we were knee deep in water waiting for the horn to sound. My wave was the first wave of women. Music was playing as we waited, and one woman was dancing up a storm! And just like that, the race was on! I started my watch, and dove in. There was quite a lot of congestion at the start, and it took a while for me to get space and find a rhythm. I seemed to be swimming fairly straight. I was a little surprised by the waves pushing me from behind, and once I made the right-hand turn at the red buoy, I did not like them hitting me from the side! They made it harder to breathe. Turning at the next red buoy and heading back just meant that the waves were almost hitting us head on! Not only was breathing harder, but sighting too! Given that I’ve been swimming slower this year, I expected to see at least 50 minutes when I reached the shore. I was right. I walked a bit and then ran to the wetsuit strippers, who expertly peeled that thing off me once I had it around my waist and was sitting down. I ran into transition, made a quick portapotty stop, and was on my way to my bike. I put on my helmet, sunglasses, shoes, socks, sunblock, ate a banana, and off I went (T1 = 7:08). My transition was slow, but I took my time putting on sunblock.

  • 2k swim: 53:18 (2:45/100m)
  • Women 40-44: 66/90
  • All women: 303/437
  • All athletes: 1057/1476

90k Bike

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In case you had any doubt, this bike course is incredibly hilly. The first hill is an 11% grade, and shortly after that, the route climbs for 6 miles (9.6 km). It’s ridiculous, really! I forced myself to eat regularly, but my chocolate peanut butter “ball” was liquidy, and I pretty much squished it into my mouth. I also forced down a homemade energy square that was so dry I had to wash it down with water. I enjoyed my gatorade, and planned to discard the bottle at the first of three bike aid stations and pick up a water bottle. Riding along the endless rolling hills, I began to wonder why I ever signed up for this race. I convinced myself that not a single part of the race was fun, except for the very few huge downhill sections on the bike. And that I would never do this race again. That I would be Alasdair’s #1 fan next year, and cheer from the sidelines! Why was I torturing myself like this? I commiserated with other athletes at times as I passed them or they passed me. At one point, a pick-up truck passed me and startled me as he screamed at me, “Get off the F-ing road!” Was he ever angry!

The ride is actually quite scenic – how could it not be as we had to climb to the top of endless hills? At least we were rewarded with some pretty views. And whitecaps on Deruyter Reservoir – oh, the wind! Just in case hills weren’t challenging enough on their own. I have to say that there were quite a few very enthusiastic spectators along the bike course who were very encouraging. I felt at times like I couldn’t possibly ride any slower up hills without tipping over. When I reached the first aid station I wasn’t done my gatorade, so I tossed the bottle at the second aid station, and grabbed a water bottle from a volunteer. It was ice cold and so refreshing! Later I tried a new gel, “espresso”, but it was so awful I only had the first mouthful. After that I had a sickly sweet strawberry gel and that was it.

In the last third of the ride my knees started to complain. Enough hills, they said. I came to a complete stop at the third aid station, as I wanted to transfer water from the disposable bottle from the second stop to my own water bottle and make room for an orange gatorade. I absolutely hate orange flavoured anything (unless it’s an orange, or orange juice!) so I wasn’t sure I would be able to force it down – hence the need to make sure I still had water!

In the last 15 km, my stomach started to complain – it was stitches rather than digestive issues. I did force down a bit of the gatorade, but not too much (see the awful stuff in the picture below!). The last few km’s of the bike seemed to last forever. Finally, I reached the dismount line and was so relieved!

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Coming in from the bike course.

Back at my spot in transition, I racked my bike, took off my helmet and shoes, put on my running shoes and more sunblock, stopped for a pee break, and headed out (T2 = 6:22).

  • 90k bike: 3:53:50 (22.99 km/h)
  • Women 40-44: 55/90
  • All women: 244/437
  • All athletes: 937/1476

21.1k Run

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Unfortunately, I still had stomach issues so I wasn’t able to run. It was so disheartening to start out walking, and to hear finishers being announced as they passed me running the other way. I walked the majority of the first mile, and then my stomach was fine and I could run. I had decided that if I couldn’t run soon, I would quit. There was no way I was going to walk 21.1 km!

This year, the run course was changed to remove 300 feet of elevation gain. Make no mistake – it’s still a hilly course.

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Do I look exhausted, or what?

Once I started running, I tried to run all of the flats and downhills, and walk the hills when need be. I took full advantage of every single aid station, 7 on each of the 2 loops! It felt like 41 degrees Celsius with the humidity! I poured ice in my shirt and under my hat, drank water and/or gatorade, poured water on my head, took water soaked sponges and ate orange slices. I also ran through sprinklers on the course! At times I chatted with some of the other runners. And the volunteers (on every part of the swim, bike and run) were amazing! So enthusiastic, encouraging, positive! I loved it when spectators or volunteers called me by name. Or lied to me and told me that I looked strong! (Some volunteers were out there all day Saturday and Sunday, including my friend Christina. She even wrote my name in chalk on the run route! THANK YOU Christina!)

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Finishing loop #1.

Running that first loop I didn’t know how I would possibly run it a second time. But on the second lap, I ended up running beside another athlete for a while, and we eventually started to chat. It helped to pass the time and I’m sure that I ran more than I would have had I been on my own. Thank you Eric from Florida (now Connecticut!).

In the last couple of km’s my calf muscles started to tighten up. If I had had to run much longer they would have given me trouble, I think.

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Running with Eric.

As we made the final turn into the park, I commented on the speed of another runner – he said it only happened on the downhills. And then he said that his kid should be waiting around the corner with a beer for him. When we reached the corner and the beer was nowhere to be seen, he said, “My kid is so grounded!”

Since Alasdair did not bike or run, he was able to take lots of pictures of me on the run course. I had my own superfan!

Slightly sunburnt and a whole lot exhausted, I reached the finish line and was so glad to be done! I received my race medal and finisher’s hat, and went to find Alasdair.

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Done!

We grabbed some post-race food (pizza, salad, banana, water), then found some shade to eat. And then I spotted John Kelly, winner of this year’s Barkley Marathons (and the only finisher)! If you haven’t heard of the race, check it out. It is crazy. We enjoyed chatting with John for a while, and he was nice enough to allow me to get a picture with him!

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John Kelly (winner of the 2017 Barkley Marathons) and I. He also won his age group (despite a wind-fuelled bike crash) and was 5th overall at this year’s Ironman 70.3 Syracuse.

  • 21.1k run: 2:46:29 (7:53 min/km)
  • Women 40-44: 55/90
  • All women: 254/437
  • All athletes: 899/1476

In speaking with other athletes after the race, the consensus seemed to be the following: swim = choppy, bike = windy, run = hot! One guy said he had done this race 6 times and this year was the hardest. Looking at my overall race stats (see below), I’m pretty shocked with how well I did! Clearly I wasn’t the only one having a rough day! It turns out my swim and bike were slower this year (by 8 and 13 minutes respectively), but my run was faster by 3 minutes. I’ll take it.

Overall Race Stats:

  • Time: 7:47:07
  • Women 40-44: 55/90
  • All women: 254/437
  • All athletes: 899/1476
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Posing by my name.

So, 2 days post race, would I do it again? Of course I would.

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