Race report: Wasaga Beach Olympic triathlon (sea-sick swim, volunteer stints and a trumpet)

Enough with the choppy race swims! Had I known what we would be facing on race morning, the weekend might have looked a little different…

This was to be my 3rd time racing in Wasaga beach – in 2013 I had a great Olympic triathlon, and in 2014 I raced my first ever international Olympic duathlon, when high wind and waves forced a cancellation of the swim (it was a 10k run, 40k bike, 5k run instead). The last few years have brought wild weather and rough conditions for the Wasaga races – John Salt of Multisport Canada Triathlon Series thanked the athletes for sticking with the race!

We decided to bring the kids with us for the first time this triathlon season – as volunteers (we’ve been leaving them home to avoid ridiculously early wake-up times for them – and grumpy travel companions for us). Friday night we stayed with our friends Myra and Doug in Owen Sound, and then Saturday morning we left at 7 AM for the 1 1/2 hour drive to Wasaga Beach. We arrived around 8:30 AM, plenty of time to get ready for the 10:30 AM race start and to get the kids set up for volunteering. The weather forecast was a high of 22 degrees Celsius feeling like 25, possible light showers in the morning, winds of 10 km/h, and partly sunny in the afternoon – it sounded promising. And as we drove through Meaford on our way to Wasaga, the waters of Georgian Bay looked dead calm… could it be?

I put my bike in the transition zone and then went through registration with Ailish, getting my race bib, swim cap, and timing chip, and getting body marked. I took the kids over to the volunteer tent where we grabbed shirts for them, and then we headed to the finish line, where they were to fill water cups and hand them out to athletes who had just finished the race (Ailish had me email the volunteer coordinator a couple of days before the race to say that she “really really really didn’t want to remove stinky timing chips from sweaty ankles” at the finish line!). They were put to work right away, since the try-a-tri was already underway (and they have volunteered before, so they knew what to do!). I left them and went back to set up my stuff in transition. I must say that bringing the kids leaves less room for nerves, since I have to be thinking about them too!

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Obligatory pre-race selfie

I had lots of time to make repeated portapotty visits, check on the kids, chat with Irina from Perpetually Moving Target, and watch an older gentleman from the try-a-tri run the wrong way through the transition zone to start his run, necessitating a climb over the fence (I was worried he was going to fall!).

After the pre-race meeting in the transition zone, Alasdair and I mugged for the race photographers, but I had no idea he was making a face!

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Alasdair being… Alasdair! [Photo by My Sports Shooter]
1500m swim

With a 10:30 AM race start, there was just enough time for the waves on Lake Huron to pick up! I went down to the water before Alasdair, and asked another triathlete to zip my wetsuit up. I went for a short warm-up swim, discovering that the waves were in fact quite big, but maybe not as big as the ones in Goderich two weeks ago… However, given my experience there, I knew I would feel pukey by the end. I zipped up my swim coach Mat’s wetsuit and then found Alasdair. We wished each other good luck, and then lined up for the race, with Alasdair in wave 2 of 4, and me in wave 3.

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I’m in there somewhere, lined up with the rest of the white caps – the waves were much bigger than they appear here! Really! [Photo by My Sports Shooter]
We started in the water, but when the horn sounded, athletes starting running and walking further out, where eventually we would reach deep water. Wasaga Beach has many sandbars, so that even after I started swimming, I looked up and noticed people walking, so I started walking again, and then eventually started swimming for real. The start of the swim was perpendicular to shore and nearly directly into the waves. Swimming toward the 1st turning buoy, it was hard to see and hard to breathe. I felt sea sick before reaching that first turning buoy (and was thinking, “I do this for fun!”). The smell of gasoline from one of the rescue boats didn’t help matters. After a sharp left turn, the waves were coming from the right side, which wasn’t as bad. I did manage to swallow some water and make myself choke, but I recovered and continued on to the 2nd and last turning buoy. By the time I got there, I really was not feeling well. After turning, I was swimming toward shore, with the waves nearly directly behind me. As I swam they lifted me up (like a roller coaster) and I was feeling awful. I started burping, and not too long after the turn I felt my mouth go tingly and I threw up (liquid only) and then had a huge burp. I didn’t know how I was going to get to shore – I felt so awful and thought I might puke more. However, I was not yet at the point of flagging down the lifeguards on paddle boards for help! I stopped frequently to sight and try not to vomit. The distance to shore seemed so far. I was thinking that if ever waves were this big again, I would switch to the duathlon (I later realized that there was no duathlon that day – it was the next day – Sunday). I didn’t know if I would continue the race after the swim or stop and go volunteer with the kids. I decided to start the bike, and if I continued to feel awful I would quit.

Normally I swim right into the shore as much as possible, but this time, as soon as I could touch the ground I stood up. I commiserated with the athletes around me about the terrible swim, and started taking my wetsuit off while continuing to walk to shore (it is shallow quite a ways out). It felt so good to be done that swim!

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Never been happier to be standing on 2 feet! [Photo by My Sports Shooter]
I took the rest of my wetsuit off, and left it with my goggles and swim cap in the transition zone. I grabbed my helmet, sunglasses, socks and shoes, grabbed my bike and headed out for the bike course.

Swim stats*:

Note: I have found that Sportstats.ca gives wonky placements. When I look at the actual times of the swimmers in my age group, I see that I beat 5 women, and this is what Sportstats says (I was 11/16), but my bike and run placements are wrong. So the placements you see here are the result of me going through each athlete in the list and seeing how many I actually beat on each segment. Hence no “overall” stats per race segment – I’m not combing through 275 athletes! Surely the computer should be able to do this accurately for them?!

Time: 40:39.9 (2:42/100m)

Run up time (from water to transition zone): 0:37

Women 40-44 placing: 11/16

Gender placing: 77/105

T1: 1:48

40k bike

I felt pukey at the start of the bike, but thankfully the feeling went away fairly quickly! I forced myself to drink gatorade and to have a chocolate peanut butter ball, even though I didn’t feel like eating and all I could think about eating after that swim was something in the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, toast)! Sadly, I hadn’t brought any of that stuff with me!

Less than 5k in, a squirrel ran onto the road in front of me, stopped, pondered life, and had me thinking, “I puked on the swim, and now I’m going to crash because of a squirrel!” Thankfully it made the right decision and ran off the road before I hit it or had to take evasive action (Alasdair later told me that he growls at them to make them clear the road – I will have to try that next time.).

Also near the beginning of the bike course, a police office made me laugh when he said, “Almost done!”

This bike course is mostly flat, with only 2 small hills. There were lots of cottagers/ residents out on the roads near the water cheering for us. I was passed by a few people at the start just after the mount line, but then I wasn’t passed by anyone else the entire race except for 2 guys at around 20k – this shows how terrible my swim was! I passed quite a few cyclists, including going up those 2 hills. I averaged around 30 km/h for the first 25 km, but when I hit the 25 km marker, turned the corner, and hit the headwind, my speed slowed! This ride was different in that I essentially biked it “alone”. No leapfrogging with other athletes. We were relatively far apart, and only as I caught and passed the other athletes did I have company on the ride! The police officers directing traffic were great – one woman in particular warned us of a tight corner.

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Nearly done the bike [Photo by My Sports Shooter]
Bike stats:

Time: 1:22:30.6 (29.09 km/h)

Women 40-44 placing: 7/16

Gender placing: 44/105 (I’m pretty proud of this stat!)

T2: 2:01 (includes pee break)

10k run

My legs felt great at the start of the run. I saw the kids as I ran past the finish line to start the run, yelled “Ailish!” but unfortunately she didn’t hear me (it was loud with music, cheering etc.). She later told me that she wanted to see me to know that I was okay.

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Keaghan and Ailish at the finish line filling water cups

I dealt with a minor cramp near the beginning but managed to control it with breathing – it went away, and I had no more cramps during the run. I was averaging around 5:45-5:50 min/km, which is faster than I have been running in races lately, so I was pretty happy about that!

I didn’t see Alasdair during the race until the run, when I was at around the 1k mark, and he was at the 4k mark. I saw him again 2 more times, because we ran a 5k loop 2 times. As I ran along, another athlete asked me if I had heard a woman yelling “Run Forest!” (I hadn’t.)

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Heading out on my 2nd 5k loop [Photo by My Sports Shooter]
I was able to hold my pace for the entire 10k run, not even slowing down to take any water or Heed at the aid stations. It wasn’t hot out, and I wasn’t feeling thirsty (normally I would have had something to drink). I also didn’t want to slow down and not be able to regain the pace I had been holding.

Just before the finish, while I was running along the beach, I spotted Alasdair, and heard him yell, “That’s my wife!”

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Done! [Photo by My Sports Shooter]
Run stats:

Time: 57:30.4 (5:45 min/km)

Women 40-44 placing: 7/16

Gender placing: 61/105

Despite the crappy swim, I’m happy with my bike ride (though I know I could have gone faster) and even happier with my run. A tough day, but I’m glad I didn’t give up.

Overall stats:

Time: 3:05:05.8

Women 40-44 placing: 10/16

Gender placing: 60/105

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[Photo by Ailish]
After the awards were given out, I won a hat when my name was the first one called for draw prizes! I left shortly afterward to go check on the kids at the finish line, and ended up helping them prep those stinky sweaty timing chips for Sunday’s races – undoing them, doing them back up nicely, and attaching them to the boards. I had fun (despite the smell)!

The kids got the same lunch as the athletes did (pizza, fruit, pretzels), and then we played at the beach for a while before heading back to Owen Sound.

For comparison, 2013 stats:

Time: 2:58:20.9

Swim: 38:41 (2:34 min/100m)

Bike: 1:18:02 (30.76 km/h)

Run: 56:56 (5:41 min/km)

Sunday Sprint Triathlon and Duathlon Volunteer Stint

Alasdair, Keaghan, Ailish and I all signed up to volunteer for the sprint triathlon and duathlon, so we drove the 1 1/2 hours back to Wasaga Beach to work the 1k/4k aid station with another family. While we filled cups of water and Heed and handed them out to athletes, Alasdair played his trumpet, taking requests from some of them.

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Alasdair warms up

Some he could play, and some songs he had never heard of! We had made a sign and put it just before the aid station so people could think of songs they wanted to hear.

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One older gentleman asked for a song from the 1940s, which he hummed for Alasdair, but that didn’t help!

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Alasdair plays for the athletes

Two women requested Eye of the Tiger both times they passed him, and two men who weren’t even in the race offered him $15 if he’d go up the road to their friend’s house and play Reveille to wake him up!

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Keaghan hands my swim coach Mat some water

We had fun volunteering, as we always do. Athletes are so grateful for a tiny cup of water or an encouraging word! Speaking from experience I can say that someone cheering for me when I’m thinking I’ll never finish means more than they will ever know. I’d recommend that all athletes find a race to volunteer at – these races wouldn’t be possible without all the volunteers, and volunteering is such a rewarding experience!

Race report: Gravenhurst Olympic triathlon (jump off a steamship and swim to the start line!)

Ever wonder what it’s like to jump off a steamship? If you’re looking for a unique triathlon experience, look no further! The Gravenhurst triathlon put on by the Multisport Canada Triathlon Series includes a steamship ride to the swim start line on Lake Muskoka, and then a swim back to shore (sprint and Olympic distance races only – the try a tri starts from shore). The inspiration for this race was the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon.

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Jumping off the steamship (the “Segwun”) 1 or 2 athletes at a time! [Photo by My Sports Shooter]
This was to be my 3rd Gravenhurst triathlon, having done the sprint in 2011 and the Olympic in 2013 in a time of 3:11:22. Before this year’s race, I said to friends that a finish of less than 3 hours would be an amazing race for me.

On race morning we woke up in a Gravenhurst hotel at 5:30 AM, and were at the race site just after 6:30 AM. We racked our bikes, picked up our race bibs, t-shirts, and timing chips, got body marked (bib number on both arms for me – not sure why the right – and age on left calf), and set up our stuff in the transition zone.

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One last picture before putting our wetsuits on.

After multiple bathroom trips it was time for the 7:45 AM pre-race briefing, during which we got details on who would be boarding which steamship at 8 AM for the 8:30 AM race start (the Segwun and the larger Wenonah II).

1500m SWIM

After the pre-racing briefing, everyone headed to the boats, where we boarded in reverse order to our swim waves (first in last out). According to the Town of Gravenhurst website, the Segwun was built in 1887 and is North America’s oldest operating coal-fired steamship. The Wenonah II is a larger replica and was launched in 2002: “Combining all the style and grace of 1907 vessels and the modern conveniences such as air-conditioning and an elevator, Wenonah II truly offers a luxurious setting.”

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See if you can spot Alasdair and I just prior to boarding the boats. [Photo by My Sports Shooter]
Just before we boarded, my eyelids started burning – I hadn’t put my goggles on yet, and hadn’t used new sunscreen, so I wasn’t sure what was going on! My wave (“white caps”) was called and Alasdair and I said our goodbyes. I boarded the Wenonah II and took a seat where there was fresh air (starting the race with motion sickness would have sucked!). Athletes could sit or stand on any level and get cups of water from the bar. Thankfully, it was overcast and not too hot (all zipped up in our neoprene wetsuits!).  The day’s weather was to be 30 degrees Celsius and humid, but we weren’t there yet.

As our boat approached the start line, everyone seemed to shift to one side of the boat to get a look at the athletes on the other boat jumping off – someone commented that the boat seemed to tilt slightly with the shift in weight!

I wanted to be one of the first in my wave to jump off the boat, because the first year I did it, I was one of the last, and hardly had enough time to swim to the start line before the race started!

Only when they called the “blue caps” (Alasdair’s wave – the 2nd wave) to jump off the ship and I headed for the exit to line up immediately behind them did I see him and realize that we were in fact on the same boat (somehow I thought he was on the other boat)! In any case, we got to kiss goodbye and say good luck again! Had I known we were on the same ship I would have had someone to sit and chat with!

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Alasdair swimming to the start line after having jumped off the steamship! [Photo by My Sports Shooter]
I was the 3rd white cap to jump off the steamship and I headed for the start line immediately. I had lots of time to get there (it was about 25m away), and even ended up treading water for 6+ minutes, the time between Alasdair’s wave starting and mine.

There were some funny people at the start line (which was between 2 green buoys). “Stop TOUCHING me!” one athlete said, as dozens of people were treading water in close proximity to one another. Laughter ensued. “Okay people, last chance to pee!” More laughter.

Blasts of the steamship whistle sent us off. I had another great start, having lined up further forward than where I used to start. I was swum over not too long into the race but I just continued on. I had trouble sighting the first and only green turning buoy at the 400m mark, at which point we would make a 90 degree turn to the left and swim toward shore. I could see the orange sighting buoys though, and just aimed in their general direction.

I felt like I was swimming well and fairly straight, with only minor adjustments needed to my course. There was very little congestion, though I did get smacked a few times on the feet and legs. I was aiming for the brown arch on the dock 1 km or so away, but it was pretty hard to pick out. As I got closer, it was actually easier to see the multicoloured clothing of the spectators on the dock and head for them! I was thinking that either I was swimming fast and leaving everyone in my wake (unlikely) or slowly and everyone was gone, since I felt like a good chunk of the swim I was alone.

I would have been happy to see 35 min on my watch when I reached the dock, but when I reached the ladder (there were 3 to choose from to climb out), I saw 33 something! I climbed the ladder and started peeling my wetsuit off almost immediately (according to the pictures, most people hadn’t started removing theirs at the point I had mine nearly to my waist).

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Heading for the transition zone! [Photo by My Sports Shooter]
I ran carefully along the wet dock (they had warned us that after the first few swimmers, it would be wet and slippery), across the road, and avoided colliding with cyclists who were leaving the transition zone and crossing our path (in every other race I have done there is no criss crossing of routes, but it’s just the way the swim and bike work in this race venue). I was surprised to see Alasdair heading out with his bike! This meant that either: 1) I had a fantastic swim (and made up some of the 6 minute head start he had on me) and/or 2) he had a slow swim, and/or 3) he took a nap in transition! I continued running along the grass, around the transition zone, and in. I had no trouble finding my bike, and noticed that there were 4 left around me (I wasn’t the last swimmer!).

I decided to save time by peeing in my wetsuit before I took it off while I put my helmet and sunglasses on (yes, I rinse it out when I get home!). I struggled less to get my wetsuit off this time but sat down for part of it. I put my socks and shoes on and took off (my race belt with my bib number had already been on under my wetsuit).

Swim stats:

Swim time: 34:54.1 (includes run to transition zone) (2:19/100m)

Age group placing (women 40-44): 14/29

Gender placing: 64/136

Overall placing: 179/327

T1: 1:59

40k BIKE

Heading out of transition with my bike, I waited for a couple of seconds as 2 swimmers crossed my path.  I passed the mount line and struggled to clip my left pedal in – it took 4 tries! And then I was off, heading along Highway 169 on a different bike course than the usual one due to construction. Apparently, it was to be a less hilly ride. I found the route to be a bit dangerous at times, with riders on both sides of the busy Highway 169, and 2 cars going opposite directions in between.

I pushed hard on the bike, and played leapfrog with a rider named André, who at one point while passing me said with a big grin on his face, “Guess WHAT?!….. On your left!” only to be passed by me a short time later. It added some fun to the ride and helped to pass the time! Later I played leapfrog with a rider name Paul, who I would pass on the downhills and get passed by on the uphills. He said at one point, “It’s a shame we can’t pool our strengths!” At another point of the ride, a man and woman were out for a Saturday cycle but caught up in the race (looking like any other athlete, but without body marking/race bibs) and the man said to me when he passed me, “You’ve got GREAT cadence!”

I knew that I was at most 2 min behind Alasdair at the start of the bike, and didn’t think I would catch him, but didn’t want him to get too much further ahead! I figured I would see him close to the turnaround, and I did. He was less than 500m past the turnaround when we passed one another, but he didn’t see me (he was passing someone at the time and probably saying “On your left!”) I likely beat him on the first 20k of the bike to catch him so close to the turnaround.  I had about half a bottle of gatorade and my awesome chocolate peanut butter ball on the bike. Can’t believe I didn’t try them out sooner! At every 5k marker I saw that it had taken me less than 10 min since the last marker, so I knew I was riding 30+ km/h! It was a fast course, with no big hills, just rollers. I think the first half was a net elevation gain.

Along the bike route, I noticed several wire cages in the gravel on the side of the road, which I realized were there to protect turtle eggs before they could hatch. I noticed one Ontario Association of Triathletes official on a motorcycle give a penalty to a rider in front of me for drafting.

At one point, the rider just in front of me accidentally rode off the road and onto the gravel shoulder (sound familiar anyone?!). I was anticipating a crash, stopped pedalling, and would have jumped off my bike to help, but he somehow managed to get back onto the road safely! I asked him if he was okay (likely just shaken!) but I should have instead said, “Nice recovery!”

The return half of the bike route should have been slightly downhill, and I think it was…but I also think Alasdair’s pace picked up on the return leg more than mine did, because in the end he beat me on the bike by about 3 minutes. I was really happy with my 1:17 min 40k ride, over 30 km/h! (Turns out it was my fastest triathlon bike leg yet, for any distance.)

I racked my bike, took my helmet off, changed my shoes, and headed for the portapotty for a quick pee (I knew I couldn’t run 10k comfortably without making the pitstop). I headed out of transition and onto the hilly run course.

Bike stats:

Bike time: 1:17:33.2 (30.95 km/h) (fastest ever race bike pace)

Age group placing (women 40-44): 11/29

Gender placing: 39/136

Overall placing: 164/327

T2: 2:02 (including pee break)

10k RUN

The run course is an out and back along a hilly country road. There is very little traffic, and even a bit of shade. Starting out I knew that I had more than 60 minutes to run the 10k if I wanted to finish in less than 3 hours, so it was doable. My legs felt tired at the start, but I forgot about them after a short time.

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On the home stretch! [Photo by My Sports Shooter]
It was still overcast until I was at the half way point, when it suddenly got a lot hotter! I took a cup of water (or more) at every aid station, sipping a tiny bit and pouring the rest on my head or shoulders.

I ran for a while with Paul, the man I had played leapfrog with on the bike. He said, “This is different – you’re passing me on the uphills!” I told him that my husband was up ahead but that I likely wouldn’t see him until after the 3km marker, and maybe closer to 4.  And sure enough, right before the 4k marker I said, “There he is!” We high fived and he said “I love you!” as he went by. “Awwww!” said Paul. I replied, “I love you!” Running with Paul helped to pass the time and forced me to forget about the constant hills, if only for a short time.

A little later, when I was past the half way point and heading back, I spotted André running toward me – we met in the middle of the road and he high fived me!

I had no side stitches on this run, so I ran at a pace around 6 km/h, I think. My pace started to slow in the last few kms, and I started to doubt my sub 3 hour finish. I started thinking “forget the time goals, I just want to finish”. But, with 3 km left, it was still mathematically possible if I didn’t slow down any more. With 1 km to go, time was getting tight and I was slowing, but I decided to push and go for it. I reached the park with less than 2 minutes to go, and wasn’t sure how far I had to run in the park to reach the finish line. I hadn’t noticed where it was before the race and couldn’t remember from 2 years ago. Thankfully, I spotted it, glanced at my watch, and knew it was possible. I finished, looked at my watch, and saw that I had finished with 42 seconds to spare. I later realized that I had actually finished in 2:59:42.6 and had less than 18 seconds to spare, but I had done it! Must be the beet juice!

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Done! [Photo by My Sports Shooter]
After grabbing a cup of water, getting sprayed by a kid with a hose, finding Alasdair (who finished in 2:47:15.5), and getting some chocolate milk and a Recharge with Milk towel, I went back to the kid with the hose and had him soak my towel, which I put over my shoulders. I returned to him a couple more times to soak me again – I told him I was just going to hang out with him (because by that point, it was pretty hot out)!

Run stats:

Run time: 1:03:14.5 (6:19 min/km)

Age group placing (women 40-44): 13/29

Gender placing: 53/136

Overall placing: 179/327

I would have liked a faster run, but I’m still thrilled with my race!

Overall stats:

Final time: 2:59:42.6

Age group placing (women 40-44): 13/29

Gender placing: 53/136

Overall placing: 179/327

For comparison – 2013 stats:

Final time: 3:11:21.8

Age group placing (women 40-44): 12/19

Gender placing: 58/100

Overall placing: 209/278

Swim: 41:56 (2:47/100m) – 18/19 women 40-44, 88/100 women, 258/278 overall

Bike: 1:23:25 (28.77 km/h) – 58/100 women, 216/278 overall

Run: 1:02:06 (6:12 min/km) – 12/19 women 40-44, 65/100 women, overall 221/278

Gravenhurst, we’ll see you again!

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Down on the dock after the race. [Photo by a random triathlete!]