2017 was to be my 4th time participating in the Barrelman half ironman (the only point to point triathlon in Ontario), until a tender foot forced me to switch into the swim/bike at the last minute. Too many fun things going on this fall to injure myself any more!
Alasdair and I went to the Welland International Flatwater Centre for the pre-race briefing, picked up our race kits (quick and efficient process as always), checked our bikes into transition (where they would spend the night under the watchful eyes of the Welland Police), did a short practice swim, and watched one of the event staff (Malcolm) rescue a wayward buoy and bring it to shore. Good thing he used to be a varsity swimmer – Alasdair and I would never have caught it blowing down the recreational waterway!
We had a delicious dinner at Bravo Pizzeria and Grill in Niagara Falls, and went for a short walk to see both the American Falls (left picture) and Canadian Falls (right picture). We prepped and organized our race gear, and hoped for a good night’s sleep!
Not so much.
Our alarm went off at 5:30 AM, and after a quick breakfast (a banana, oatmeal and yogurt for me), we left the hotel and headed for the Upper Rapids parking lot, where we would leave our car for the day. Having done this race before, we parked as close to the race site as possible to avoid a longer walk at the end of a long day, but as far as possible from the shuttle buses we were about to board.
We arrived at the race site in Welland around 7 AM, with plenty of time to set up our stuff in transition before the 9 AM race start. Since this is a point to point race, you have to be careful to leave the right things in the right places. At registration you get different bags to organize your stuff:
- black bag to put your swim stuff in after the swim leg (wetsuit, goggles, swim cap, sunblock, etc.);
- red bag for the things you’ll need for the run (e.g. running shoes, a hat, sunblock, gels, etc.); and
- clear bag for whatever you want access to right after the race (e.g. a change of clothes, sandals);
Since I was doing the swim/bike, I didn’t have to worry about a red bag, but those doing the triathlon or bike/run events gave their red bags to volunteers at T1 (or at the shuttle bus at Upper Rapids), who would drive the bags to T2 and put them at your spot in transition. Just before the race I handed my clear bag to volunteers, who would have it waiting for me after the race was done.
It was really foggy first thing in the morning at the race site, but the sun came up and the fog cleared before the race began.
Just before 9 AM the US and then Canadian national anthems were played, and then the pro wave took off. Alasdair started at 9:06 and me at 9:12.
I decided not to follow the underwater rope (wire?) that is used to keep rowing markers in place, knowing that while it would eliminate the need to sight while swimming, it would be much more congested!
My swim started well, though my left goggle was foggy right from the start. I had no issues all the way to the first turning buoy. I was even swimming pretty straight. I turned, crossed the waterway, and turned again to swim parallel to shore. It was here that I found myself accidentally right on top of the guide wire, so I decided to just go with it and follow it as long as I could. I’m a convert. I loved not having to sight, despite twice having someone try to push me off it. It was definitely more congested, but I’m confident in my (slow) swimming ability and wasn’t too bothered by it (just annoyed). Somewhere along this stretch I noticed my hair in front of my face – somehow it had escaped the swim cap. I made the final turn and headed for shore, hoping to see a sub 50 minute swim. It wasn’t to be, though my swim went really well. As I stood up and felt my head, I realized that the swim cap was barely on my head – the tight goggle strap is all that held it on.
When I reached the transition zone I headed straight for the portapotty nearest my bike (thank you for spreading them around the transition zone this year!). I took my wetsuit off, dashed in quickly, and headed for my bike. I had a very short conversation with a few women around me, one of whom said she never has a problem finding her bike after the swim (because she’s a slow swimmer and everyone else is out on their bikes). I said it was the same for me, and another athlete commented on how we turned a negative into a positive! I slathered sunscreen all over myself, ate a banana, and took off. It was quite a long run to the mount line, since I was way in the back corner of the transition zone.
Due to some freshly begun road work just before race day, the bike course had to be rerouted, resulting in an 86k route instead of the planned 89. It didn’t bother me. I was going to get a PB at this race no matter what!
We were warned at the pre-race briefing that some of the road sections were rough, but that the pavement would be spray painted to flag the worst of the hazards, like potholes and freshly cut out sections of pavement.
My ride started out great, with me averaging 30 km/h for the first 30 km or so. I was pleased! Since I wouldn’t be running afterwards, I knew that I wouldn’t need to take advantage of the bottle exchange, since drinking 1 bottle of gatorade and 1 of water would be enough for me. I also carried more food than I needed, but did end up having 4 small homemade chocolate coconut balls, and 1 Endurance Tap maple syrup energy gel from the 2nd bike aid station (I grabbed it as I rode through) – wow was that ever delicious!
I’m always surprised by the super speedy guys who zoom past me on the bike course – and not early on. I noticed a couple of guys in the 40-44 age group this time, who started 6 minutes ahead of me. Did they really swim that much slower than me? Did they get a flat and have to fix it? I’ll never know!
My favourite part of the bike course (other than the last 100 metres!) is the part along Feeder Road where I get to count turtles. This year, I counted 22 painted turtles, 1 duck, 1 cormorant and 1 heron. It helps to pass the time!
I also like the section along Lake Erie, and noted this year there weren’t any white caps as I rode by!
At some point I passed a woman who yelled to me that it was her that told me during the Wasaga Beach Olympic triathlon that she had read my blog, and that I had exchanged something with her husband. I was confused, and replied, “I exchanged what with your husband?” She yelled, “Yeah!” It was after the race that I ran into her again – Kim! – and found out that her husband Dan and I had put medals around each other’s necks at Wasaga. Mystery solved.
Later, I experienced another racing first – I rode past 12 or 13 riders on horses walking down the road. Several of the riders cheered for us as we rode by.
The remainder of the ride was pretty unremarkable, except that I started to have pain in my wrists (I’ve been doing physio for sore wrists/forearms) and had to give them a rest – more and more frequently as the race progressed. I was disappointed, because as I rested them (I don’t have aero bars), I had to slow down.
I was relieved to finally arrive on the Niagara Parkway (another scenic part of the ride), knowing that I was nearing the end of the bike course.
As I approached the dismount line, I was not for a second feeling like going for a 21.1k run! I was no longer disappointed that I was “only” doing the swim/bike. I ran to my spot in transition, even though my race ended when I crossed the mat into transition. I racked my bike, took my helmet, shoes and socks off, hit the portapotty, then walked a big loop around to the finishing chute, where I ran (slowly) to the finish line.
I happened to run in just after the 4th male finisher, who was breaking the tape for his age group. John Salt (race director) shook my hand, and I received a finisher’s hat and medal from volunteers. As usual, the volunteers at this race were stellar!
Alasdair and all the other runners had to contend with running in very hot/humid weather, while I sat in the shade near the finish line. I also stood for a while at the bike dismount line to cheer in the last few cyclists, including one who got a flat and bent rim at 68k and proceeded to run/walk the rest of the bike course – in his bare feet! There was also Joe, who “got lost twice!”, and earlier on, Jeff, who was pulling his father in a bike trailer (and also pulled him on the swim in an inflatable boat). Very inspiring athletes all around!
Once again, John Salt and his team did a fantastic job organizing and executing this race. I’ll be back.
- 2k Swim: 51:13.2 (2:33 min/100 metres) (27/33 women 40+, 35/43 women, 56/78 athletes)
- 1st 54 km of the 86k ride: 1:48:19 (29.91 km/h)
- Next 32 km of the 86k ride: 1:10:01 (27.43 km/h)
- 90k Bike: 2:58:19.3 (28.94 km/h) (19/33 women 40+, 26/43 women, 45/78 athletes)
- Time: 3:55:22.6 (19/33 women 40+, 26/43 women, 45/78 athletes)
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