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!

Follow me on Facebook: Kyra on the Go: Adventures of a Paddling Triathlete

Follow me on Twitter: @kyrapaterson

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