“Fast-paced” paddling? I wish!
The 2015 Pan Am games are long gone, but the new athletic facilities built for TO2015 will benefit Canadians of all fitness levels for years to come! The 2nd annual Barrelman 1/2 ironman -put on by Multisport Canada Triathlon Series – began at the new Welland International Flatwater Centre (built for Pan Am canoe and kayak sprint events) and ended at Kingsbridge Park in Niagara Falls. According to the TO2015 website, the flatwater centre “boasts almost eight kilometres of deep, placid water, making it an ideal spot for hosting fast-paced paddling sports. In fact, the name Welland comes from a Celtic word meaning ‘good river’.” [Italics = my addition.] If only my swimming could be considered “fast-paced”! (I’m getting faster, but I’m not “fast”.)
Alasdair and I spent the week leading up to the race drinking copious amounts of beet juice (I’m still not a fan), and then carb loading and gathering our gear.
We arrived at T1 at the Flatwater Centre late on Saturday morning, going through the registration process to get our swim caps, bike stickers, race belts, t-shirts and timing chips. We racked our bikes, mine about as far from the bike exit as possible (which meant I had to run further in my bike shoes), since that’s where spot #454 was. We covered our bikes with seat covers and garbage bags because rain was forecast for later in the day.
As we were heading to the van to change into swimsuits, I said something to Alasdair about bikes being racked according to bib #, which he hadn’t realized, so he went back into transition to find that he had placed his bike on exactly the right spot of exactly the right rack, exactly where bib #190 was supposed to go! Weird. We swam for about 15 minutes without our wetsuits (it wasn’t too cold), chatted with another athlete (Doug from Ohio) and then drove into Welland to grab lunch at Pita Pit, which we ate back at T1 (sheltered from the pouring rain, thankfully!).
At 2:30 PM we attended the first of 2 mandatory pre-race briefings (you could go at 5 PM instead), which covered everything we needed to know for the swim, bike and run segments of the race (including the fact that normally when you cross the centre line on the bike – or the “invisible” centre line where one isn’t painted on – you are automatically disqualified, but for this race, in 2 places of the ride we were actually to ride on the wrong side of the road to avoid road damage caused by trucks transporting wind turbines!). While it would have been cool to have the pre-race briefing outdoors with athletes sitting in the stands, the rain (or wet seats) forced it inside.
After the briefing we headed to T2 in Niagara Falls to see how the bike racks were set up and to find our spots. We checked into our hotel, and had to leave our car for valet parking since the regular lot was full. We had dinner at the Rainforest Cafe with Irina from Perpetually Moving Target, her husband and others from Fletcher’s Meadow Cross Trainers triathlon club in Brampton, including Emma from Running in Tune, who was doing her first 1/2 ironman!
We walked back to our hotel and got all our race gear ready.
Sunday (Race Day!)
Our alarms were set for 5:01 AM, 5:02 and 5:03 (really!), and by 6 AM we had eaten (oatmeal, yogurt, and a banana for me, pancakes, peanut butter and a banana for Alasdair) and were making our way to the lobby with a myriad of coloured bags with all our race gear and non-race stuff. All athletes were provided with bags since the Barrelman is a point to point race – we don’t return to the starting point when the race ends, but we need our run stuff to be at T2 when we get there on our bikes, and at the end of the race we need our wetsuits, goggles etc. to be waiting for us, as well as anything we were wearing in the morning before the race (e.g. sandals, long sleeved shirt – I wished I had had a winter hat and mittens like some people did!). This race forces you to be organized, or risk not having a critical piece of gear where you need it!
We had called the hotel desk and didn’t have to wait long for our van to be brought to us. Thankfully Alasdair found his timing chip in the van, which beat having to unpack all his bags searching for it (I had put mine – along with my food bracelet – on my sandals the night before so I couldn’t forget to put them on)!
We headed for the Fallsview parking lot, where we would leave our van and board a shuttle bus to the race start (T1) in Welland. We left our “bike to run” gear bags with a volunteer before getting on the bus, waited a few minutes for it to fill up, and once we were on our way, it was about a 25 minute drive, getting us there by 7 AM. I put my food for the bike ride in my bento box, gatorade, water bottles and bike pump back on the bike, and arranged the things I’d need for riding (bike shoes, socks, helmet, sunglasses) and set out the banana I planned to eat in transition.
In between multiple bathroom trips I also covered myself in sunscreen and chatted with other athletes.
Standing in a port-a-potty lineup, another athlete pointed out a sign for canoe polo world championships in 2018, and said “Who knew? I guess they have to create the sport first!”
I went down to the water to check it out – it was beautiful!
Shortly before the 8:59 AM race start, the Mayor of Welland gave a short address.
The weather was great, with a forecasted high of 19 degrees Celsius, 10 km/h winds, and no rain! Compared to last year, with thunderstorms forecasted (but not realized) and wind gusts up to 56 km/h, this was an amazing forecast!
I was hoping to be able to finish the race in less than 6 hours and 30 minutes, besting last year’s time of 6:47:11 (my first 1/2 ironman).
After a very short warm-up swim, I attempted to get out of the water to the side of the spot where fresh gravel had been dumped to make it easier for athletes (I tried to avoid the congestion at this spot) and struggled with balance, but had a very helpful athlete extend his hand to me to pull me out! I went to find Alasdair, and sat with him on the dock for a short time before deciding to get back into the 21 degree Celsius water, because now that I was wet, I was getting cold! We said our goodbyes and wished each other well. I was to start in wave #2 at 9 AM, and Alasdair in wave #4 at 9:10 AM.
With less than 10 minutes to go, I decided to swim over to the start line – I didn’t want to go too early and have to tread water for a long time before the race began. I elected to start on the far side of the white “pipes”, which were running along (not across) the canal. We were to swim in a clockwise rectangle, keeping the buoys to our right. I spotted a drone just past the starting line.
I had been told that there were yellow ropes under the water running the entire length of the swim, to which small sighting buoys were attached (for canoe/kayak distance measurement purposes). If you followed the rope, there was no need to lift your head up out of the water to sight (well, except to make sure you turned when you needed to!).
I found Irina at the start line and told her that she was going to pull me for the entire swim. We listened to a recording of O Canada (I don’t remember ever treading water for our national anthem before!) and then the horn sounded and the pros were off! The race announcer encouraged us to high five the person next to us, to which I added, “or pee on them!” And before we knew it, there were just 10 seconds to race time… the horn sounded, a whole bunch of people started their watches, and we were off!
So much for drafting off of Irina – she lost me fairly quickly. I’ll assume it wasn’t her who pushed off my head (!?) and then hit my hip. I did try to swim along the yellow rope, and had the joy of smacking a few of the small orange sighting buoys when I swam too close. At one point, I bounced one off my head and then kicked it with my foot! I did lose the rope for much of the course, and had to sight more frequently, but it was so easy – a narrow waterway, no huge waves, and a rectangular course.
My swim felt good. I was anticipating a time of about 45 minutes, but wasn’t really sure as I swam along what pace I was swimming at. At one point I thought I saw the green turn buoy, but it was actually just the green swim cap of an athlete in the wave behind me who had passed me. Nevertheless, I spotted the green turning buoy sooner than I expected (always a good feeling!), and turned to swim across the waterway. I turned again and headed back toward the Flatwater Centre. Half way through the swim and I already felt the need to pee!! For as much of the swim as I could, I tried to draft off the swimmers who passed me (however, since they were swimming quite a bit faster than me, this didn’t last long). I had a very relaxed swim, and loved the venue! I really didn’t notice a current, if there was one. One last turn, and I headed straight back to the shore and the Recharge with Milk brown arch. I swam as close to shore as I could, and as I was taking my last stroke, someone shoved me to the side (impatient much?! or maybe they lost their footing?).
I stepped out of the water, ran along a paved path and stripped my wetsuit down to my waist as I ran, then headed up about 20 stairs to transition, where I had my 1st pee break of the race (for anyone counting).
I pulled my wetsuit off, remembered my banana, couldn’t find my banana, thought “Did someone really steal my banana?”, looked inside my “wetsuit bag” (where I would put everything I used to swim before I headed out on the bike) and found it! Yay, my banana! I ate it as I put on my socks, shoes, helmet and sunglasses. I was already wearing my race belt, having put it on under my wetsuit.
Time: 45:37.4 (2:16/100m)
Women aged 40-44: 21/34
All women: 101/163 (*Take the “All women” and “All athletes” stats with a grain of salt for this race – I didn’t double check the stats provided by Sportstats. I only verified women in my age group.)
All athletes: 353/497
I grabbed my bike and ran to the bike exit, past the mount line, and got on my bike. It was slightly cool to start the ride but I warmed up quickly. The route starts along a recreational pathway but quickly meets the road.
The first 30k felt great – I was averaging over 30 km/h. I saw turtles sunning themselves (some with their necks stretched way up) in the water in the small waterway we rode next to (I counted 15-20) plus a cool little bird also in the water on a log. I had been playing leapfrog with an athlete named Pamela, and when I pointed the turtles out to her, she said, “See, that’s when I wish I had my camera with me… I’d ask you to stop and take my picture!”
The wind was around 10 km/h, coming from the north east, so when we hit Lake Erie and turned left, we hit a headwind. We had that headwind for the majority of the ride, I think. Along Lake Erie is one of the most scenic stretches of the bike course. I enjoyed sipping my gatorade during the ride, and eating a soon-to-melt-so-you-better-eat-it-now chocolate peanut butter ball. Some athletes who passed me cheered for me by name (since I was wearing my bib on my back).
Of the people I passed on the bike, I only noticed one woman in my age group. I was passed by more people than I passed, since I started in the 2nd wave, meaning there were lots of people starting after me!
I got a side stitch around 55k (I never get them on the bike!), and despite trying to alter my breathing, I couldn’t shake it. It forced me to slow a bit, and made it hard for me to force myself to eat some of my homemade granola bar – I really didn’t feel like eating anything.
I stopped at the 60k aid station/bottle exchange for my 2nd pee break (thankfully, no lineup!). I forced down a gel at 70k. One athlete passed me on the bike and said, “Is it just me, or have we been fighting the wind the entire time?!” I had another gel at 85k, but in reaching for the gel, my right hamstring cramped up, I thought, “Oh no!” and had to stand up and let it relax! It was really beautiful riding along the Niagara River.
I fully expected Alasdair to pass me at the end of the bike, since I was slowing down, but he didn’t. The bike course was very well marked, with police at intersections where riders needed to have the right of way.
Coming into T2 with the side stitch, I was wondering how the run would go… I racked my bike, took off my helmet, took my bike shoes off, put my running shoes on, tucked a gel into my shirt, forgot my hat, and took off! I stopped for pee #3 on my way out of transition. Unfortunately, there was a line-up, so I had to wait close to a minute.
Time: 3:10:02.2 (28.1 km/h)
Women aged 40-44: 17/34
All women: 89/163
All athletes: 362/497
At the very start of the run my stomach was super unhappy, but I can’t even explain what was wrong with it… in addition, I still had the side stitch! I wondered how I would be able to run 1 km, let alone 21.1! The run course is a 2-loop course, which has athletes running through downtown Niagara Falls and past the American and Canadian falls twice (the spray from the falls was great!). Between 2 and 3k my cramps worsened, forcing me to stop and walk, then run again. Alasdair reached me at about 3k, at which point I told him about my stomach issues. At 5k I stopped at an aid station for pee break #4 (!), had a drink of heed, a cup of water, and a few grapes.
When I started running again, I felt great! My stomach was fine. Suddenly running 21.1km seemed much more doable.
I stopped at almost every aid station to drink water and/or heed, and later in the race to eat more grapes (I really didn’t feel like gels, even though I had the one in my shirt and they were offering them at the aid stations). I have to say that the aid station volunteers were fantastic! They did a great job calling out whatever it was they were holding (so you knew who to go to for what)! Thank you volunteers!!!
Somewhere along the run I started feeling chafing on my arm from my tri top, but it wasn’t bad!
On the second loop, I was catching Alasdair (but didn’t know it), and at the point I spotted him running toward me (an out and back) we were not much more than 1 or 2 km apart – it was then he told me that he was having knee and calf issues.
The run course was slightly different this year. At one point, we had to run up a few stairs and then down 3 sets of 9 stairs (I held the hand rail as I ran down, knowing that my legs were tired and not wanting to fall). They weren’t a problem at all.
The run course was well marked and the spectators in Niagara Falls were very enthusiastic. There were a few good signs along the route: “This seemed like a good idea 6 months ago.” and “Smile if you peed in your wetsuit.”
The hardest part of the run (other than the first miserable 5k) was from 18-20k, which is a steady climb – not steep, but continuous. I was looking at my watch frequently, knowing that it was becoming more and more unlikely I was going to finish sub 6 hours 30 minutes. I pushed as hard as I could, and I skipped the last aid station.
I crossed the finish line in 6:30:31.3, or 17 minutes faster than last year (the ride last year was 3k longer, but I still would have beaten my time)!
After a few minutes of wandering around a bit, I was ready for chocolate milk, pizza, fruit and a cookie.
1st 10.5k: 1:13:53 (7:02 min/km)
2nd 10.5k: 1:14:07 (7:03 min/km)
Women aged 40-44: 24/34
All women: 98/163
All athletes: 374/497
Alasdair ended up finishing in 6:11, a few minutes faster than last year.
The Barrelman is a phenomenally well organized race! It’s a must do!
Women aged 40-44: 20/34
All women: 98/163
All athletes: 374/497
What a season 2015 was! 9 triathlons, including 2 sprints, 3 Olympics, 1 long course, 2 half ironmans, 1 sprint relay, our first race in the USA and new tri friends!! Can’t wait to see what 2016 brings!
Thank you John Salt and Multisport Canada Triathlon Series for a fantastic season! See you next year!!