My 11th and final triathlon of 2016 was to be the Multisport Canada Skechers Performance Niagara Falls Barrelman (1/2 ironman) presented by Recharge with Milk. It was the 3rd year for this amazing race, which I have participated in each time. It was also the very last triathlon in Ontario for 2016, and the biggest 1/2 ironman in North America this year outside of the “Ironman” brand (over 800 athletes).
On Saturday we drove to the Welland International Flatwater Centre, which was the canoe/kayak venue for the 2015 Pan Am Games. The Barrelman is a point to point race, starting in Welland and ending in Niagara Falls. T1 is at the Flatwater Centre, and T2 at Kingsbridge Park in Niagara Falls.We went through registration, signing a waiver, picking up our race bibs, timing chips, t-shirts, swim caps, product samples, and black “wetsuit” bags, red “run” bags, and clear “after race” bags.
We attended a mandatory pre-race briefing at 2:30 PM, and found our eyes constantly wanting to watch the simultaneous sign language interpretation of the briefing, arranged for one deaf athlete (Multisport Canada takes care of its athletes!). The interpreter’s face was so expressive! Having done the race 2 times before, we actually didn’t learn anything new, but we felt it was important to attend anyway.
We put our bikes at our assigned spots on the rack, and headed to our hotel in Niagara Falls.
We woke up at 5:30 AM, and after eating breakfast (muesli and a banana for me) and packing up, we headed for the Upper Falls parking lot where we would park our car and hop on a school bus for the 25 minute shuttle to T1. At the bus stop there were volunteers taking our red run bags, which contained everything we would need for the run portion of the race – I had shoes, a hat, sunscreen, a banana and a gel in there. You could also leave your “after race” bag but I wasn’t ready to part with mine yet.
Once we arrived at T1, we set up our swim and biking stuff in transition, chatted with other athletes, went to the bathroom a few times, got body marking done, slathered on the sunscreen, got wetsuits on, and once I was done taking pictures, I parted with my “after race” bag. A helpful athlete from Oklahoma asked me if I’d like help putting my sunscreen on, as he watched me struggle to put it on my back – “I’m no Romeo!” he said.
You could also drop your red run bag at T1 for volunteers to transport to T2 ready and waiting for you after the ride. I did a very short warm-up swim, found Alasdair again, listened to our national anthem, and was ready to go!
Alasdair was starting in the 2nd wave after the pros, and me the 3rd, so we wished each other well and he headed for the water.
The swim course is a rectangle, in which you swim nearly 1 km towards a bridge, turn right to cross the canal, turn right again and head back nearly 1 km before the last turn which takes you to shore. It’s pretty hard to go too far off course, given the small width of the canal!
I had a smooth start, and really, a pretty unremarkable swim. I spent a long time sighting off of the orange-sleeved wetsuit of another athlete, which made things even easier. At one point two athletes, one on either side of me, kept swimming into me, sandwiching me in between. I had to stop for a second and swim wide of one of them. Since I’ve been swimming slower this year (not sure why), I expected to see 50+ minutes when I stopped swimming. I got to the swim exit, was extended a helping hand by one of the volunteers, and looked at my watch: 49:XX. A full 4+ minutes slower than last year, but not unexpected. I ran along the paved path of the canal, undoing my wetsuit as I went. By the time I reached the stairs it was at my waist. I got whacked in the face by another athlete’s elbow as we climbed the stairs, but I was fine!
I found my bike (and noticed that only 5 other bikes remained on my rack), ate a banana, took off my wetsuit, put on my socks and shoes, helmet, sunglasses, had a quick pee break and I was off for the bike mount line.
My plan for the bike was to try to beat last year’s speed of 28 km/h. Because I had such a slow swim, and there was only one wave of athletes starting after me, I figured I would pass a lot of people on the bike. And I did.
Some people count the number of cyclists they pass, or the number who pass them. Me? I count turtles. Yup, in the waterway that we rode beside in the first part of the course (the “out”). It passed the time and was much more interesting than staring at pavement. For the record, I counted 20. I found the first 10k of the course fast, and was averaging 30km/h. I felt a headwind at 10-15k, but it was nothing compared to previous Barrelman winds! The next section of the course is the “loop”, which included riding for a while along Lake Erie. Such a beautiful spot on the course! I was feeling good on the bike, and making sure I kept eating my homemade goodies at regular intervals – a peanut butter chocolate ball, a “gonky” ball, and a cricket almond protein bar (as the chocolate peanut butter ball melted, it all kind of mushed into one, which I scooped out with my fingers!). I also drank a full bottle of gatorade and nearly a bottle of water. I was amazed by how many people dropped full bottles of gatorade or water on the course (Alasdair noted the big piles just after the multiple train track crossings!). I also spotted an asthma inhaler and multiple bike gear bags that were lost! With the winds forecasted to be from the south west, we were anticipating about 40k of tailwind in the “back” section – the ride towards Niagara Falls. I was managing to hover around 30km/h and was happy with my ride, despite an annoying clicking that my bike was making. At one point, another athlete said to me, “My bike made that noise! It was the rear bracket!” I have no idea what that means, and I’m not even sure I heard him properly. I thought he might have said that I should kick the rear bracket! In any case, my bike didn’t fall apart so it was all good. Just after the 56k mark, we had to ride through a tunnel. There was a spectator there banging on the metal handrail inside the tunnel (there’s a sidewalk running through the tunnel), and as I got closer he banged harder and more frequently – I appreciated his enthusiasm but it was SO loud when I got close to him! Near the end, as we were riding along the Niagara Parkway (along the river – another beautiful spot on the course), two older men who were not in the race were cycling along. I said to one, “Too bad we have to run 21.1k now!” He laughed and asked if we had swum 5k. I said no, 2k, then a 90k ride – actually, 89k! He laughed again and wished me well. The time between the 85k marker and the dismount line passed quite quickly. I was glad to be done the ride, but had no pain, no tight back or anything to complain about. Except maybe having to run a half marathon.
I had not visited T2 since last year, but had studied the map and knew where to find the spot to leave my bike, the spot where my red run bag would be waiting for me. I changed my shoes, removed my helmet, put on my hat, slathered sunscreen again on my shoulders, arms, face and back of my neck, made a quick stop in a portapotty, and headed out for the run. As I started running I heard Steve Fleck announcing that Irina was finishing her race (the swim bike) and he also wished her a happy birthday! I heard that the #1 and #2 males had already finished, and #3 was on his way in. I just had a half marathon to go. Sigh!
I felt good starting the run, and planned to try to run the entire thing at a pace that I could hold throughout, while still allowing myself to walk through the aid stations. In previous years I ended up walking due to cramps and didn’t want that to happen again. Between 2 and 3k, I spotted Alasdair for the first time during the race. Due to the nature of the bike course, we didn’t see each other on the out and back section, because we were both in the “loop” section at the same time (I would have had to be WAY behind him to meet him in the out and back part). He was not too far ahead of me. His plan was to go a little easier on the bike, and hope to be able – for once – to not have knee/IT band issues and be able to run the entire time (minus the steepest hills and aid stations).I also caught up to Kim (on her 2nd loop, my 1st), which only happened because she was having some significant stomach issues. At first I drank Heed and water at the aid stations, but as time went on I ate pretzels (by accident – well, I asked for them when I meant to say grapes!) and later grapes, and started pouring water on my head as well. It wasn’t that hot out – and there was cloud cover for a lot of the run – but it felt really refreshing to do so. I saw Alasdair again as he was starting his 2nd loop of 10.5k and I was ending my first. I got cheers from my swim coach Mat, and from Dany (who won the men 25-29 age group by nearly 7 minutes!) and Kathleen (who Alasdair runs with – they too are Fighting Koalas). For the first time in 3 years I ran up the steepest hill on the run route (yay me!), and in fact, stuck to my plan until 12k. Then, I got a side stitch. Despite changing my breathing, elevating my arms, and just plain wishing it would go away, it stayed. And then, for an added bonus, my right knee started bugging me (I never have knee issues!). I had to walk a bit. For essentially the remainder of the race, I did a run/walk combination, running when I could, and walking when the side stitch or knee hurt too much (my knee actually only bothered me a few times). It was quite disappointing, because it had been going so well! After the swim/bike, I was on track for a PB if I could just run the whole time! That PB slowly slipped away… and then I started wondering how many minutes slower than last year I was going to be. I talked to a few people during the run who were having similar disappointing run/walk experiences, including Sam, who caught up to me and asked me if I was Irina and Emma‘s friend. It was in this last stretch that I got a high five from a young girl, and cheers from spectators and athletes who had already finished. With about 1k to go, I said to one woman, “Tell me I can do this!” and she said “You got this!” (or something like that).
My side stitch was quite bad in the last little bit, so I’m pretty sure I was grimacing something fierce in the last few hundred metres! I saw and heard Alasdair cheer for me just before the finish. I crossed the line, received a handshake from one of the Multisport Canada crew, and had Nicole put my medal over my head. I was so glad to be done! In the end my time was 6:41:27.8, or just under 11 minutes slower than last year.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the amazing volunteers at the race, from registration to the helpers pulling athletes out of the water, to those at the aid stations, intersections, finish line, food tent and everywhere in between! I could not finish this race without you! Thank you for spending 1 hour or all day volunteering your precious time! (If you’ve never volunteered at a race, consider doing it – it’s a hugely rewarding experience!)
Thank you to John Salt and his fantastic team, who once again put on a terrific race. This race is John’s baby, and he’d like to see it grow – from 800 athletes this year to 1,000 next year. Sign up, bring your friends, and see you at the start line!
Time: 6:41:27.8 (24/35 women 40-44, 140/200 women, 426/554 athletes)
2k Swim: 50:07.8 (2:30/100m) (27/35 women 40-44, 166/200 women, 464/554 athletes)
T1: 2:39 (includes pee break)
89k Bike: 3:00:47.6 (29.54 km/h) (22/35 women 40-44, 112/200 women, 394/554 athletes)
T2: 4:36 (includes pee break + sunscreen re-application)
1st 10.5k Run: 1:15:02 (7:08 min/km)(23/35 women 40-44, 127/200 women, 404/554 athletes)
2nd 10.5k Run: 1:28:17 (8:24 min/km) (24/35 women 40-44, 140/200 women, 426/554 athletes)
Total 21k Run: 2:43:18.7 (7:46 min/km) (24/35 women 40-44, 140/200 women, 426/554 athletes)