Race report: Rev3 Niagara Falls Barrelman Swim/Bike 2017

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!

Saturday

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.

Sunday

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.

2k Swim

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.

86k Bike

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!

2017-09-17 | 2017 Rev3 Barrelman Triathlon

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.

2017-09-17 | 2017 Rev3 Barrelman Triathlon

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!

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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.

Stats:

  • 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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Race report: Barrelman 1/2 Ironman 2016

My 11th and final triathlon of 2016 was to be the Multisport Canada Skechers Performance Niagara Falls Barrelman (1/2 ironman) presented by Recharge with Milk. It was the 3rd year for this amazing race, which I have participated in each time. It was also the very last triathlon in Ontario for 2016, and the biggest 1/2 ironman in North America this year outside of the “Ironman” brand (over 800 athletes).

On Saturday we drove to the Welland International Flatwater Centre, which was the canoe/kayak venue for the 2015 Pan Am Games. The Barrelman is a point to point race, starting in Welland and ending in Niagara Falls. T1 is at the Flatwater Centre, and T2 at Kingsbridge Park in Niagara Falls.

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With Irina, who calls this a “Kyrasdair sandwich”! [Photo by Zindine]
We went through registration, signing a waiver, picking up our race bibs, timing chips, t-shirts, swim caps, product samples, and black “wetsuit” bags, red “run” bags, and clear “after race” bags.

We attended a mandatory pre-race briefing at 2:30 PM, and found our eyes constantly wanting to watch the simultaneous sign language interpretation of the briefing, arranged for one deaf athlete (Multisport Canada takes care of its athletes!). The interpreter’s face was so expressive! Having done the race 2 times before, we actually didn’t learn anything new, but we felt it was important to attend anyway.

We put our bikes at our assigned spots on the rack, and headed to our hotel in Niagara Falls.

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Bike ready to spend the night under the watchful eye of security personnel. [Photo by Alasdair]
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View from our hotel in Niagara Falls!
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Gear all ready to go.

Race Day!

We woke up at 5:30 AM, and after eating breakfast (muesli and a banana for me) and packing up, we headed for the Upper Falls parking lot where we would park our car and hop on a school bus for the 25 minute shuttle to T1. At the bus stop there were volunteers taking our red run bags, which contained everything we would need for the run portion of the race – I had shoes, a hat, sunscreen, a banana and a gel in there. You could also leave your “after race” bag but I wasn’t ready to part with mine yet.

Once we arrived at T1, we set up our swim and biking stuff in transition, chatted with other athletes, went to the bathroom a few times, got body marking done, slathered on the sunscreen, got wetsuits on, and once I was done taking pictures, I parted with my “after race” bag. A helpful athlete from Oklahoma asked me if I’d like help putting my sunscreen on, as he watched me struggle to put it on my back – “I’m no Romeo!” he said.

2016-09-18 | 2016 MultiSport Niagara Falls Barrelman
With my new friend from Oklahoma – not sure why I’m giving him that look! From the # on his arm, I’ve since learned that his name is John (and, he beat me).

You could also drop your red run bag at T1 for volunteers to transport to T2 ready and waiting for you after the ride. I did a very short warm-up swim, found Alasdair again, listened to our national anthem, and was ready to go!

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Pre-race.
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Struggling to put his wetsuit on.

Alasdair was starting in the 2nd wave after the pros, and me the 3rd, so we wished each other well and he headed for the water.

2k SWIM

The swim course is a rectangle, in which you swim nearly 1 km towards a bridge, turn right to cross the canal, turn right again and head back nearly 1 km before the last turn which takes you to shore. It’s pretty hard to go too far off course, given the small width of the canal!

2016-09-18 | 2016 MultiSport Niagara Falls Barrelman
See the orange arm on the left? I was following that swimmer the entire way. Except when she seemed to be swimming crookedly!

I had a smooth start, and really, a pretty unremarkable swim. I spent a long time sighting off of the orange-sleeved wetsuit of another athlete, which made things even easier. At one point two athletes, one on either side of me, kept swimming into me, sandwiching me in between. I had to stop for a second and swim wide of one of them. Since I’ve been swimming slower this year (not sure why), I expected to see 50+ minutes when I stopped swimming. I got to the swim exit, was extended a helping hand by one of the volunteers, and looked at my watch: 49:XX. A full 4+ minutes slower than last year, but not unexpected. I ran along the paved path of the canal, undoing my wetsuit as I went. By the time I reached the stairs it was at my waist. I got whacked in the face by another athlete’s elbow as we climbed the stairs, but I was fine!

I found my bike (and noticed that only 5 other bikes remained on my rack), ate a banana, took off my wetsuit, put on my socks and shoes, helmet, sunglasses, had a quick pee break and I was off for the bike mount line.

89k Bike

My plan for the bike was to try to beat last year’s speed of 28 km/h. Because I had such a slow swim, and there was only one wave of athletes starting after me, I figured I would pass a lot of people on the bike. And I did.

2016-09-18 | 2016 MultiSport Niagara Falls Barrelman
Starting the bike.

Some people count the number of cyclists they pass, or the number who pass them. Me? I count turtles. Yup, in the waterway that we rode beside in the first part of the course (the “out”). It passed the time and was much more interesting than staring at pavement. For the record, I counted 20. I found the first 10k of the course fast, and was averaging 30km/h. I felt a headwind at 10-15k, but it was nothing compared to previous Barrelman winds! The next section of the course is the “loop”, which included riding for a while along Lake Erie. Such a beautiful spot on the course! I was feeling good on the bike, and making sure I kept eating my homemade goodies at regular intervals – a peanut butter chocolate ball, a “gonky” ball, and a cricket almond protein bar (as the chocolate peanut butter ball melted, it all kind of mushed into one, which I scooped out with my fingers!). I also drank a full bottle of gatorade and nearly a bottle of water. I was amazed by how many people dropped full bottles of gatorade or water on the course (Alasdair noted the big piles just after the multiple train track crossings!). I also spotted an asthma inhaler and multiple bike gear bags that were lost! With the winds forecasted to be from the south west, we were anticipating about 40k of tailwind in the “back” section – the ride towards Niagara Falls. I was managing to hover around 30km/h and was happy with my ride, despite an annoying clicking that my bike was making. At one point, another athlete said to me, “My bike made that noise! It was the rear bracket!” I have no idea what that means, and I’m not even sure I heard him properly. I thought he might have said that I should kick the rear bracket! In any case, my bike didn’t fall apart so it was all good. Just after the 56k mark, we had to ride through a tunnel. There was a spectator there banging on the metal handrail inside the tunnel (there’s a sidewalk running through the tunnel), and as I got closer he banged harder and more frequently – I appreciated his enthusiasm but it was SO loud when I got close to him! Near the end, as we were riding along the Niagara Parkway (along the river – another beautiful spot on the course), two older men who were not in the race were cycling along. I said to one, “Too bad we have to run 21.1k now!” He laughed and asked if we had swum 5k. I said no, 2k, then a 90k ride – actually, 89k! He laughed again and wished me well. The time between the 85k marker and the dismount line passed quite quickly. I was glad to be done the ride, but had no pain, no tight back or anything to complain about. Except maybe having to run a half marathon.

I had not visited T2 since last year, but had studied the map and knew where to find the spot to leave my bike, the spot where my red run bag would be waiting for me. I changed my shoes, removed my helmet, put on my hat, slathered sunscreen again on my shoulders, arms, face and back of my neck, made a quick stop in a portapotty, and headed out for the run. As I started running I heard Steve Fleck announcing that Irina was finishing her race (the swim bike) and he also wished her a happy birthday! I heard that the #1 and #2 males had already finished, and #3 was on his way in. I just had a half marathon to go. Sigh!

21.1k Run

I felt good starting the run, and planned to try to run the entire thing at a pace that I could hold throughout, while still allowing myself to walk through the aid stations. In previous years I ended up walking due to cramps and didn’t want that to happen again. Between 2 and 3k, I spotted Alasdair for the first time during the race. Due to the nature of the bike course, we didn’t see each other on the out and back section, because we were both in the “loop” section at the same time (I would have had to be WAY behind him to meet him in the out and back part). He was not too far ahead of me. His plan was to go a little easier on the bike, and hope to be able – for once – to not have knee/IT band issues and be able to run the entire time (minus the steepest hills and aid stations).I also caught up to Kim (on her 2nd loop, my 1st), which only happened because she was having some significant stomach issues. At first I drank Heed and water at the aid stations, but as time went on I ate pretzels (by accident – well, I asked for them when I meant to say grapes!) and later grapes, and started pouring water on my head as well. It wasn’t that hot out – and there was cloud cover for a lot of the run – but it felt really refreshing to do so. I saw Alasdair again as he was starting his 2nd loop of 10.5k and I was ending my first. I got cheers from my swim coach Mat, and from Dany (who won the men 25-29 age group by nearly 7 minutes!) and Kathleen (who Alasdair runs with – they too are Fighting Koalas). For the first time in 3 years I ran up the steepest hill on the run route (yay me!), and in fact, stuck to my plan until 12k. Then, I got a side stitch. Despite changing my breathing, elevating my arms, and just plain wishing it would go away, it stayed. And then, for an added bonus, my right knee started bugging me (I never have knee issues!). I had to walk a bit. For essentially the remainder of the race, I did a run/walk combination, running when I could, and walking when the side stitch or knee hurt too much (my knee actually only bothered me a few times). It was quite disappointing, because it had been going so well! After the swim/bike, I was on track for a PB if I could just run the whole time! That PB slowly slipped away… and then I started wondering how many minutes slower than last year I was going to be. I talked to a few people during the run who were having similar disappointing run/walk experiences, including Sam, who caught up to me and asked me if I was Irina and Emma‘s friend. It was in this last stretch that I got a high five from a young girl, and cheers from spectators and athletes who had already finished. With about 1k to go, I said to one woman, “Tell me I can do this!” and she said “You got this!” (or something like that).

2016-09-18 | 2016 MultiSport Niagara Falls Barrelman
On the home stretch.

My side stitch was quite bad in the last little bit, so I’m pretty sure I was grimacing something fierce in the last few hundred metres! I saw and heard Alasdair cheer for me just before the finish. I crossed the line, received a handshake from one of the Multisport Canada crew, and had Nicole put my medal over my head. I was so glad to be done! In the end my time was 6:41:27.8, or just under 11 minutes slower than last year.

2016-09-18 | 2016 MultiSport Niagara Falls Barrelman
Done! (And with hand on side stitch.)

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the amazing volunteers at the race, from registration to the helpers pulling athletes out of the water, to those at the aid stations, intersections, finish line, food tent and everywhere in between! I could not finish this race without you! Thank you for spending 1 hour or all day volunteering your precious time! (If you’ve never volunteered at a race, consider doing it – it’s a hugely rewarding experience!)

Thank you to John Salt and his fantastic team, who once again put on a terrific race. This race is John’s baby, and he’d like to see it grow – from 800 athletes this year to 1,000 next year. Sign up, bring your friends, and see you at the start line!

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Post-race with Irina (who won the Martin’s Apple Chips prize pack) and Emma (who won the Computrainer!). I was hoping for the 1/2 day training with Cody Beals! [Photo by Zindine]
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On the podium one way or another! [Photo by Kathleen]

Race stats:

Time: 6:41:27.8 (24/35 women 40-44, 140/200 women, 426/554 athletes)

2k Swim: 50:07.8 (2:30/100m) (27/35 women 40-44, 166/200 women, 464/554 athletes)

T1: 2:39 (includes pee break)

89k Bike: 3:00:47.6 (29.54 km/h) (22/35 women 40-44, 112/200 women, 394/554 athletes)

T2: 4:36 (includes pee break + sunscreen re-application)

1st 10.5k Run: 1:15:02 (7:08 min/km)(23/35 women 40-44, 127/200 women, 404/554 athletes)

2nd 10.5k Run: 1:28:17 (8:24 min/km) (24/35 women 40-44, 140/200 women, 426/554 athletes)

Total 21k Run: 2:43:18.7 (7:46 min/km) (24/35 women 40-44, 140/200 women, 426/554 athletes)

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About to dig into a very rich chocolate cupcake to celebrate Irina’s birthday. [Photo by Alasdair]