- Time: 7:12:01.1
- Placing women 40-44: 28/34
- Placing all women: 136/271
- Placing all athletes: 425/685
- Swim: 50:52.2 (2:32/100m)
- T1: 4:20
- Bike: 3:13:26.6 (27.9km/h)
- T2: 6:40
- Run: 2:56:44.3 (8:24 min/km)
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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“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!!
Beet juice? Really? Five days before my very first 1/2 ironman, I got an email from my swim coach Mat telling me that I should be drinking 250 – 500 ml of beet juice in the days leading up to the race. Sure, no problem, I like beets! And then I tried the juice…
… but let me back up a bit! Near the end of the 2013 triathlon season, we heard that Multisport Canada Triathlon Series would be putting on a brand new 1/2 ironman distance triathlon (2 km swim, 90 km bike, 21.1 km run) on September 21, 2014, a point to point race starting in Welland, Ontario and ending in Niagara Falls. I had never done a 1/2 ironman before, but I figured that a year was enough to get ready, so I registered! A contest was held to name the race, and in the end the winning name was the Barrelman (“ironman” and “half ironman” are trademarked words, so this new race couldn’t use them in its name). The Barrelman was to be my 8th and final triathlon of 2014 (3 sprints, 2 Olympics, a long-course, and a sprint relay preceded it).
… Back to the beet juice. It was awful, but I forced it down, because it’s supposed to reduce the oxygen cost of exercise and increase high-intensity exercise tolerance. In any case, I figured it couldn’t hurt.
The weekend before the race, I gathered all my stuff:
The day before the race, Alasdair (also racing) and I dropped the kids at Grandma and Grandpa’s and headed to Welland, where we picked up our race kits and then did a very short “test out the bike” ride – shorter than the 5k we planned because of the crazy wind and busy roads. It was long enough to get an idea of what race day winds might be like… after a quick “test the legs” run, we set up our bikes in the transition zone (T1), partially covered them with garbage bags, and left them there for the night (security would be watching over them).
We headed to Niagara Falls, just 20 minutes away. We figured we’d check into our hotel, park the van there, and walk to T2, where we were supposed to be attending a mandatory 2:30 PM pre-race briefing. Well, did we ever mess that one up! First of all, we couldn’t find a quick route down to the Niagara Parkway – it looked like we’d have to walk a long way to find a road down. So, we paid $2.50 each and rode the inclined railway down (thankfully, trips left every 5 minutes and the ride was only 1 minute long), figuring that was our only option to get there in time.
So we got to the Niagara Parkway, and not knowing which way to go to get to Kingsbridge Park (T2), we asked someone at the Niagara Parks booth – she told us it was a 1 hour walk to the park! She suggested that we take a bus, but it was about 2:27 PM at that point, and apparently the bus wouldn’t even go all the way. Instead, we gave up and decided to go to the 5 PM briefing instead (thankfully there was a 2nd one!). We had a look at the falls and headed back to our hotel instead!
So we drove to the 5 PM briefing and made it there in plenty of time! With the weather forecast looking rather worrisome for race day, John Salt (Race Director) went through all the possible scenarios for weather-related delays and options to make sure we all got a race (from simply delaying the race start because of lightning, to turning the race into a bike/run). Check out those winds!
As “affiliated” Koalas, our swim coach Mat (Fighting Koalas Triathlon Team) invited us to join the other Koalas for dinner at East Side Marios in Niagara Falls. We enjoyed a good dinner and lots of laughs! Then it was time to do our final race preparations. With the swim in Welland, and the bike going from Welland to Niagara Falls, we had to separate our gear into colour coded gear bags so that everything was where it was needed for the race, and it all ended up at T2 after the race.
On race morning, our alarm went off at 5 AM, with the prospect of an adventurous day ahead of us.
After eating breakfast (oatmeal, banana, raspberries for me), putting race number decals on ourselves (our bib numbers and our ages), and making many trips to the bathroom, we headed to T2 where we would park our van and take an athlete shuttle bus to T1 and the race start. It started to rain when we got out of the van, and then it started to pour. We dropped our “run gear red bags” with volunteers at the buses, hopped on the bus, and waited just a few minutes before we were on our way to Welland. Unfortunately, the guy in the seat ahead of me had the window open, so I wore my rain coat on the bus and was getting water splattered in my face (much nicer than what splashed me during the bike ride…). I could have asked him to shut the window but didn’t feel like it.
After setting up the stuff I’d need for my bike ride (left in a plastic bag so my socks and shoes didn’t get soaked!), eating a couple of bites of chocolate chip banana bread and making lots of trips to the bathroom, it was finally time to get dressed for the swim. I put my “clear dry clothes bag” (which I’d accidentally mixed up colour wise with the “wetsuit bag”, and ended up switching with the black bag) in a bin, and took one last pre-race photo.
I headed down to the water and did a quick “make sure I remember how to swim warm-up”, and since my husband abandoned me while I was swimming (disappeared in a flash somehow), another athlete gave me his hand and pulled me out of the water because the footing was rough and rocky where I was warming up. I did manage to find Alasdair before the race, so we were able to wish each other good luck! By the time the race started, the rain had ended. I hadn’t put sunblock on, because as far as I knew, the forecast was still calling for rain with a risk of thunderstorms… that was a mistake!
Alasdair started in the 2nd wave after the pros, and me in the 3rd. I had a fairly uneventful swim, but I did get whacked pretty hard in the head by someone’s elbow as they swam by. I followed Mat’s advice and tried really hard to tuck in behind other swimmers and draft off them. I managed to do it twice for a while, but eventually lost their feet (once because the person started swimming too wide). The swim seemed very far, though I’d done 2k in a race this summer in Kingston. I repeated “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming…” in my head as I swam. I did not like swimming under the bridge – it was dark and kind of claustrophobic, but when I did it the 2nd time (it was a counter-clockwise rectangular swim) it wasn’t as bad! Just before I reached the shore a hand grabbed my arm and helped me up out of the water. I checked my watch and saw 44:47 – not as good as my 42 minute Kingston swim, but I was okay with. I was a bit lightheaded so I walked the first few steps up the hill, then started running to the transition zone (about 300m). By the time I got there I had my wetsuit down to my waist and my goggles and swim cap off. Before taking my wetsuit off I wanted to pee in it (yes, really), so I put my bike helmet on, sunglasses, and started eating a banana. Then I took my wetsuit off (and struggled with the legs!), and continued to eat my banana while I stuffed my goggles, wetsuit, and pre-race water bottle into my “wetsuit bag” to be sure it all made it to T2. I sat down to put my socks and shoes on, and then I headed out of T1 with my bike.
I wasn’t quite sure how to pace myself for this ride, knowing that it was 92k of mostly flat roads, but knowing that I still had to run a half marathon after it! I decided that with the ridiculously crazy headwind we started with, I wouldn’t push too hard, but would try to take advantage of the wind as much as I could – based on the wind direction, it looked like we’d have a pretty good tailwind (gusts up to 50+ km/h) for about 2/3 of the ride. This ride was definitely the windiest conditions I have ever ridden in. At times I felt like I was barely moving. At other times I was being blown sideways. I had visions of ending up in a little waterway we rode parallel to – survive the 2k swim and drown on the bike (would another athlete stop to help? how would I unclip under water? how long before someone pulled me out?!)! Two guys were driving me and another woman nuts by illegally drafting off of one another (tucking in right behind each other to cut the wind) and off of us! One of them was spotted by a race official on a motorcycle and received a 5 minute penalty (should have been disqualified in my opinion). It’s dangerous without wild wind, but with it, it was even worse! Even the eventual race winner (Lionel Sanders) was nearly blown off the road twice. It was kind of nuts! It wasn’t long after starting the ride that the sun came out in full force!! I emptied my gatorade bottle and half of a water bottle while riding, but ate less than I expected to – I just didn’t feel like eating, but did force down 2 chocolate coconut balls and half an energy bar because I knew the run wouldn’t go well if I didn’t. When we hit Lake Erie and turned away from the wind, it felt awesome (and the view was fantastic – waves crashing into shore)! Unfortunately it wasn’t a pure tailwind for the rest of the race. We also had to deal with crosswinds! Riding under the Welland canal was pretty cool. With less than 10k to go, I was just about to say “On your left!” and pass a woman when I got a face full of water – her spit!! She quickly apologized and said that she hadn’t seen me… but she hadn’t even looked! By the time I was nearing T2, I was more than ready to be done biking! The ride along the Niagara Parkway (along the Niagara River) was very scenic. Those first few steps I took after getting off my bike felt very odd. I entered the transition zone, put my bike down on the ground, and made a quick portapotty visit. As I grabbed my bike a volunteer asked me what bib number I was, and then showed me where to find my bike (the racks were supposed to be set up identically to those in T1, but they weren’t – thankfully the volunteers were great). I racked my bike, took off my helmet and biking shoes, grabbed my running shoes and hat from my “red run gear bag” which was sitting at #285, and off I went.
I was surprised at how good my legs felt! I hit about 2k when I felt a side stitch. Unfortunately, I suffered on and off throughout the rest of the run. At times I had to stop to walk, but wasn’t able to get rid of the pain. The course was very scenic – we ran past the falls twice! We even got sprayed by the mist! I really didn’t feel like eating any gels, or anything really, but did drink heed at most of the aid stations and poured water over my head (it was full on sun, hot, and windy in places!). I ate a few grapes from some of the aid stations too, and said to one volunteer, “Warm grapes never tasted so good!” I had a few pretzels at one point as well (but had to wash them down with water). At 9k I ducked into a portapotty, and heard someone cheer for my friend Rebecca while I was in there. She had lapped me and was on her way to a 2nd place finish among women 35-39 (and a spot at Worlds in 2015 in Sweden)!! I hit about 9 1/2 k when I encountered Alasdair coming the other way, so I knew he was about 3k ahead of me. It was a 2 loop course. The run was less hilly than I expected, and would have been much more doable without cramps! At around 14k I ducked into a bathroom building along the route for a quick stop! I ran for a while with a few different people, which helped to pass the time. At one point I said to a guy from the Buffalo Triathlon Club, “This is hard, isn’t it?!” At times it felt like I would never finish the run, but eventually, I did – 6 hours 47 minutes and 10 seconds after my race began! And a little bit sunburnt (oh my!).
- Swim: 44:58 (2:15 min/100m)
- T1: 4:22
- Bike: 3:17:18 (28 km/h)
- T2: 3:57
- Run: 2:35:39 (7:26 min/km)
- Total time: 6:47:10
- Age group placing (women 40-44): 19/32
- Gender placing (all women): 120/188 (top 2/3rd!)
- Overall placing: 336/445
This race was 4 years in the making and it showed. It was extremely well thought out and organized, and superbly run – I highly recommend it! I’m pretty happy with my first half ironman experience. It could have gone better, but it could also have gone much much worse!! I look forward to doing this race again next year!