Race report: Barrelman 1/2 Ironman 2018

The 2018 edition of the Barrelman 1/2 Ironman was to be the 5th running of this race, and my 5th year participating (last year I did the swim/bike due to a foot injury). Alasdair and I arrived at T1 in Welland at the International Flatwater Centre in time for the 12 PM pre-race briefing, then registered and left our bikes, and headed to Niagara Falls, where we would spend the night.
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With the Canadian falls behind us.
We arranged all our gear, and set our alarms for 5 AM! IMG_7032 We wandered around Niagara Falls a bit, had yummy pizza for dinner, and called it a night! On race morning, we caught the race shuttle bus from Niagara Falls to Welland, leaving our car close to the finish line. We arrived at T1 with lots of time to set our things up and chat with other athletes. 2k Swim Alasdair and I were in the same wave, and while I would have loved to draft off of him the whole way, I knew that I wasn’t fast enough to do so! He started near the front, and me further behind. I didn’t know when I would see him again on the race course. The swim start was quite congested, and not too far into the swim, I was kicked in the face. Thankfully, my goggles stayed on. I let the fast people go by, and then I swam over to the guy wire (that holds the rowing buoys in place), and used that to swim straight. It meant that I didn’t have to look up to sight, at least not until I got closer to the halfway point, when I had to swim off the guy wire to the green turning buoy. By this point, I really had to pee, but instead of doing so in the water, I suffered until the transition zone! (I did pause a few times, but would have had to swim out of the way so as not to have people swim into me. I have not yet mastered the skill of peeing while swimming!) I wasn’t surprised to see 50+ minutes when I stood up at the end of the swim. 100246-eab995-1003913148 At my spot in the transition zone, I packed up my swim stuff, put my cycling things on, slathered more sunscreen all over myself, and took off for the mount line. 90k Bike This year there were changes to the bike course due to road construction. It meant for the addition of a pretty section before we reached Lake Erie. It was in this newer section that I came upon a cyclist down in the middle of the road. Other athletes were helping him, and I confirmed with them that an athlete riding the opposite way was going for help, then continued on my way. During the ride I managed to eat a piece of homemade chocolate chip banana bread and 2 gels (I had to force the second one down), and to drink 1 bottle of gatorade and 2 full bottles of water. Turtle count on Feeder Road this year = only 2! At one point along Feeder Road I was cruising along at 34 km/h, which meant just one thing – I would encounter a headwind when I turned toward the East! At the first bike aid station, I stopped quickly to use the portapotty (“You almost done in there?” a man asked. “I’m peeing as fast as I can!” I replied.) I threw my empty gatorade bottle, grabbed a water bottle, and then tried to grab an Endurance Tap gel from a volunteer but the transfer didn’t work and it fell. Another volunteer ran to try to catch me, but I told him not to worry! At 60k I threw my water bottle and got another one, but forgot to grab another Endurance Tap gel. Around the 75k mark, I started to have stomach issues, but I managed to keep riding without having to drop my speed too much. From just after 75k to the end the course goes along the Niagara River Parkway, making the ride quite scenic!
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What year is this again? I never noticed the old car – clearly I was looking at the water!
Once I reached the transition zone (T2), volunteers told me where to find my bike (though I had looked at the map pre-race and knew where to go). I switched into running gear, slathered more sunscreen on myself, used the portapotty quickly, and headed onto the run course. 21.1k Run Unfortunately my stomach was still bothering me, so I started the run by walking… but it wasn’t too long before I could start running. I carried an Endurance Tap with me, and had it just before the first aid station. It felt like 35C with the humidity, so my run quickly became a run/walk combo. I stopped at every aid station to drink water, get ice, occasionally have F2C (electrolyte drink), and pour water on my head. My legs were fine – it was just so darn hot. I chatted with a couple of other women for a while as we walked and encouraged one another.
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Pouring water on my head while running past Niagara Falls!
I spotted Alasdair, who was having hip issues and had to do a run/walk combo too. On the second loop, there was slightly more cloud cover, which was a huge relief! I had a couple of gels during the run, as well as pretzels at one point (but I needed water to wash them down – my mouth was too dry to chew and swallow them!). Overall the run was quite disappointing, but given the heat and humidity, I was not surprised – I’ve been through this before!
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Running to the finish line (that’s not my sponge, though the colour is quite the match!).
In the end, I crossed the finish line in 7:12:01.1, slower than I would have liked, but that’s how things go! I spotted Alasdair, and shortly afterward headed for the splash pad where I soaked myself – what a great end! Race results
  • 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)
That’s a wrap on the 2018 triathlon season for me! 11 races, 2 podium finishes, and a whole lot of fun! Follow me on Facebook: Kyra on the Go: Adventures of a Paddling Triathlete Follow me on Twitter: @kyraonthego Follow me on Instagram: @kyraonthego

Race report: Ironman 70.3 Syracuse 2018

Despite knowing how tough the Ironman 70.3 Syracuse course is, I keep going back for more. I think it’s an addiction. IMG_6259 Friday night after work Alasdair and I drove to Syracuse, and Saturday morning we headed to Jamesville Beach Park to pick up our race kits (race bib, bike and helmet stickers, timing chip, swim cap, t-shirt, small backpack), sign our lives away on 3 waivers, attend a mandatory pre-race briefing, and do a short practice swim (just under 400 m – we were allowed to swim to the second large buoy and back). IMG_6275 We put race stickers on our bikes and then left them in transition. Our next stop was the Half Moon Bakery and Bistro in Jamesville, where we ate a lovely lunch, just like every other year we’ve done this race (see 2015, 2016, and 2017 race reports). The owner Debbe had set aside a cookie for me, knowing that we would be dropping by! We had dinner with Alasdair’s McMaster University classmate Catherine from undergrad years ago (who he hadn’t seen since!), her husband Matt (who would also be racing), and their family. After an early bedtime, we were woken up at 12 AM, clearly an alarm setting mistake! And then Alasdair’s alarm went off at 1:30 AM. We finally got up for good at 3:30 AM. What a night. Breakfast for me was dry oatmeal with yogurt and a banana, so hard to stomach at that time of day. For the first time, we arrived at the race site in daylight, delayed a bit because Alasdair woke up with a wicked headache and tried to sleep again for a few more minutes just before we left. Despite arriving around 5 AM (instead of our usual 4:30 AM), I had lots of time to set up my stuff in transition, use the portapotties many times, put on sunscreen and get wet before the race. Swim (1.2 miles/1.9 km) This year there was a rolling start, with 2 or 3 people setting off every few seconds, and the starting order determined by predicted swim time. I was estimating 50 minutes, so I stood behind the volunteer holding the 46-50 minute sign. Alasdair would be slightly faster than me, but we decided to start together. We were more than a little perplexed by a spectator wearing a giant stuffed camel on her head. After the American national anthem played, the first swimmers started at the sound of a cannon firing. We may have waited 30 minutes for our turn. Theoretically this kind of swim start should result in fewer swimmers overtaking one another, and therefore potentially less contact. I did like this swim start, but I found many parts quite congested. I got whacked in the face a couple of times. My goal was to swim as straight as possible, and fingers crossed – to get through the entire swim without too much shoulder pain. My left shoulder had been bothering me for a couple of weeks before the race. I did have pain, but it was manageable (physio assessment is booked!). The water was super calm, which I loved. I found the “back” section harder than the “out” section – I wasn’t swimming as straight, and the sun was super bright! I ran into some serious congestion in the last 100-200m. When I stopped swimming and stood up, I was pleasantly surprised to see 47+ minutes – likely somewhat to do with my new wetsuit! According to my watch, I swam an extra 100m or so. Screen Shot 2018-06-18 at 8.36.13 PM Time: 47:15 (2:26/100 m) I ran over to the wetsuit strippers, then ran the long way to transition, where I stood in a lineup behind 6 people waiting for one of 5 portapotties! While waiting I spotted Alasdair at his spot, so I knew I wasn’t too far behind him. T2: 8:35 (definitely my longest ever, but the pee break was desperately needed, and sunscreen is a must!) Bike (56.8 miles/91.4 km) I ate a banana, put on my socks, shoes, sunblock, sunglasses, helmet, and ran for the bike exit. The first year I did this race, it was the hilliest bike ride I had ever done. Then the next year they made it harder. Make no mistake about it, this is a very hilly course!IMG_6306 This year I decided to carry 1 recyclable bottle of gatorade, which I would throw away at an aid station, and an empty bottle with gatorate powder, which I would add water to along the course. In the past, I have carried 2 full bottles, which just meant extra weight for no reason. With 3 aid stations on the bike, I ended up bypassing the first aid station, getting water at the 2nd, stopping to add it to my bottle, and chucking the disposable gatorade bottle at the 3rd aid station, where I also grabbed another bottle of water. On the food side, I didn’t do quite as well. I had 1 energy ball, and part of a very messy melted peanut butter chocolate ball. I just didn’t feel like anything, not even a gel. Did I mention that it felt like almost 40C with the humidity?! That might have had something to do with nothing appealing to me. Towards the end of the bike, I was a bit worried about how the run would go given my lack of food intake. Last year, my knees complained for the final 20k of the ride. “No more hills!” they said. This year, I had no issues! I also took a salt pill near the end of the ride, but was afraid to take more given I’d never tried them before. I loved the people playing loud music on their lawns, and the young girl playing trumpet. At one point, on yet another hill, a rider said to me, “We PAID for this!” My favourite parts of the ride are the few amazing downhills – at one point, I reached 63 km/h! I was pretty happy with my 25.1 km/h average given all those hills. Screen Shot 2018-06-18 at 8.37.00 PM Time: 3:38:35 (15.6 miles/hour /25.1 km/h) Back at my spot in transition, I racked my bike, switched my helmet for my hat, put on more sunblock, changed shoes, and took off… for the portapotty, and then the run course! Just before leaving transition I had volunteers slather sunscreen on the one part of my back that I always miss. T2: 7:21 Run (13.1 miles/21.1 km) As I started the run my quads just above the knee were incredibly tight. I wondered how I would possibly run a half marathon. Thankfully, it didn’t take too long for them to loosen up. Running when it feels like 40C is not exactly fun. Add hills and then just imagine how much fun I was having. However, I wasn’t alone, and there were many friendly athletes to commiserate with. IMG_6307 This race course is a 2-loop course, with 7 aid stations on each loop. I took full advantage at every one, drinking gatorade and/or water, eating oranges (the only thing that actually appealed to me!), pouring ice down my top, putting ice in my hat, and a few times, getting ice cold sponges to put on my shoulders. I seemed to be doing fine despite my less than optimal food intake on the bike. Eventually, I ate cookies at an aid station and they hit the spot! I also made use of the aid station portapotties for far too many pee breaks. And for much of the run, I chased and was pursued by my new running buddy Eric from New York City. We chatted a bit and encouraged one another, which passed the time and made the running easier. It’s always so demoralizing getting close to the finish line at the end of loop 1, knowing that you still have a full loop to do, and even worse when spectators yell, “You’re almost there!” They can be forgiven – they are only trying to help. My favourite parts of the run were the spots with water sources on the route – sprinklers, a man who soaks runners with his garden hose every year, and firefighters in their truck sprinkling water on us. At one point on the run, there were 5 people or so sitting in lawn chairs at a turnaround. On my second loop, I said to them, “No offence, but I do not want to see you again!” Unfortunately I lost the mental battle and walked far more than I would have liked to. It was hot, I was tired, and forcing myself to run became harder and harder. Time: 2:57 (13:35/mile / 8:06 min/km) In the end, I crossed the finish line in 7:38:46, about 9 minutes faster than last year. My swim was 6 minutes faster, my bike 15, and my run 11 minutes slower. I was so glad to be done! A dip in the lake was very refreshing.
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Rocking the sponges!
We listened to the awards while we ate our post-race food (pizza, chips, pretzels – there was also salad and sandwiches), caught up with Eric and his friends, and then hit the road for the long drive home.
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With my new running buddy Eric from New York City.
What a race! Race stats:
  • Time: 7:38:46.0
  • Women 40-44: 36/55
  • All women: 205/341
  • All athletes: 808/1282
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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: Ironman 70.3 Syracuse 2017

It’s amazing what a good sleep and a little bit of perspective can do.

Heading into my 3rd Ironman 70.3 Syracuse (see 2015 and 2016 race reports), and 6th half ironman overall, I knew very well what I was getting myself into. I had been obsessively checking the weather forecast (for weeks!), and given the predicted high of 40+ degrees Celsius with the humidity, I tried even harder than usual to hydrate in the days leading up to the race.

Friday

Alasdair and I headed for Syracuse after work on Friday night, and after a quick stop at Salomon Arc’teryx in Niagara to pick up the Speedcross 3 trail running shoes that I won at the Don’t Get Lost Jungle Run the week before, we sailed across the border and were on our way. I think it helped that Alasdair told the border guard that we were heading to Syracuse “for a race” rather than “for 7 hours of pure torture”.

Saturday

On Saturday morning we headed to the race site at Jamesville Beach Park for the mandatory bike check-in and pre-race meeting. I did a 5 minute ride just to make sure my bike was fine, then we registered (signed multiple waivers, got race bib, timing chip, bike and helmet stickers, a t-shirt, “morning clothes bag”, and a small backpack with a few product samples in it). We attended a pre-race briefing, which was both informative and funny. We walked back to the car to get my bike, and checked it into transition, having removed anything from it that could easily be stolen (i.e. pump and bags). We headed for the water, and at 1 PM took advantage of the lifeguard supervised swim organized by the park (rather than by Ironman). We only swam for 5-10 minutes, but it was enough for me to just be comfortable in the water. And to remember the weeds!

Sunday

On race day our alarm went off at 3:30 AM. Surprisingly, I slept well the night before and after a quick breakfast of oats, yogurt and a banana, we were on our way to the race. We arrived at around 4:30 AM, with about 25 cars or so there before us. We were there so early that transition opened just as we reached it.

I quickly set up my stuff, setting out my bike shoes, socks, sunglasses, helmet, race bib, running shoes, hat, gel, sunblock and a banana. I added my bike pump and bags back to my bike, putting a peanut butter chocolate ball, energy square and a few gels into my crossbar bag, and a bottle of gatorade and another of water in the cages. In between multiple bathroom breaks, I borrowed another athlete’s bike pump to inflate my tires, slathered myself with sunscreen, and counted racks so I could find my spot easily. I grabbed my wetsuit, swim cap, and goggles, and headed with Alasdair to the waterfront. He would be swimming only, given that his thumb wasn’t ready for a return to triathlon just yet – in particular, the hilly bike!

I checked my “morning clothes bag” into the bag check, and was ready to go!

This year, I decided to get wet pre-race but not to swim, since the previous 2 years I felt dizzy after the warm-up in the tiny rectangular area. I was standing in the water for the singing of the American National Anthem.

I lined up with the other athletes in the 6th swim wave, women 40-44 and 55+, chatted with Alasdair a little longer, and then edged closer and closer to the big inflatable arch and the start of the race.

2k Swim

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The cannon malfunctioned for the first wave, but worked for the second. I think it was just a horn after that. Soon enough, we were knee deep in water waiting for the horn to sound. My wave was the first wave of women. Music was playing as we waited, and one woman was dancing up a storm! And just like that, the race was on! I started my watch, and dove in. There was quite a lot of congestion at the start, and it took a while for me to get space and find a rhythm. I seemed to be swimming fairly straight. I was a little surprised by the waves pushing me from behind, and once I made the right-hand turn at the red buoy, I did not like them hitting me from the side! They made it harder to breathe. Turning at the next red buoy and heading back just meant that the waves were almost hitting us head on! Not only was breathing harder, but sighting too! Given that I’ve been swimming slower this year, I expected to see at least 50 minutes when I reached the shore. I was right. I walked a bit and then ran to the wetsuit strippers, who expertly peeled that thing off me once I had it around my waist and was sitting down. I ran into transition, made a quick portapotty stop, and was on my way to my bike. I put on my helmet, sunglasses, shoes, socks, sunblock, ate a banana, and off I went (T1 = 7:08). My transition was slow, but I took my time putting on sunblock.

  • 2k swim: 53:18 (2:45/100m)
  • Women 40-44: 66/90
  • All women: 303/437
  • All athletes: 1057/1476

90k Bike

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In case you had any doubt, this bike course is incredibly hilly. The first hill is an 11% grade, and shortly after that, the route climbs for 6 miles (9.6 km). It’s ridiculous, really! I forced myself to eat regularly, but my chocolate peanut butter “ball” was liquidy, and I pretty much squished it into my mouth. I also forced down a homemade energy square that was so dry I had to wash it down with water. I enjoyed my gatorade, and planned to discard the bottle at the first of three bike aid stations and pick up a water bottle. Riding along the endless rolling hills, I began to wonder why I ever signed up for this race. I convinced myself that not a single part of the race was fun, except for the very few huge downhill sections on the bike. And that I would never do this race again. That I would be Alasdair’s #1 fan next year, and cheer from the sidelines! Why was I torturing myself like this? I commiserated with other athletes at times as I passed them or they passed me. At one point, a pick-up truck passed me and startled me as he screamed at me, “Get off the F-ing road!” Was he ever angry!

The ride is actually quite scenic – how could it not be as we had to climb to the top of endless hills? At least we were rewarded with some pretty views. And whitecaps on Deruyter Reservoir – oh, the wind! Just in case hills weren’t challenging enough on their own. I have to say that there were quite a few very enthusiastic spectators along the bike course who were very encouraging. I felt at times like I couldn’t possibly ride any slower up hills without tipping over. When I reached the first aid station I wasn’t done my gatorade, so I tossed the bottle at the second aid station, and grabbed a water bottle from a volunteer. It was ice cold and so refreshing! Later I tried a new gel, “espresso”, but it was so awful I only had the first mouthful. After that I had a sickly sweet strawberry gel and that was it.

In the last third of the ride my knees started to complain. Enough hills, they said. I came to a complete stop at the third aid station, as I wanted to transfer water from the disposable bottle from the second stop to my own water bottle and make room for an orange gatorade. I absolutely hate orange flavoured anything (unless it’s an orange, or orange juice!) so I wasn’t sure I would be able to force it down – hence the need to make sure I still had water!

In the last 15 km, my stomach started to complain – it was stitches rather than digestive issues. I did force down a bit of the gatorade, but not too much (see the awful stuff in the picture below!). The last few km’s of the bike seemed to last forever. Finally, I reached the dismount line and was so relieved!

Version 2
Coming in from the bike course.

Back at my spot in transition, I racked my bike, took off my helmet and shoes, put on my running shoes and more sunblock, stopped for a pee break, and headed out (T2 = 6:22).

  • 90k bike: 3:53:50 (22.99 km/h)
  • Women 40-44: 55/90
  • All women: 244/437
  • All athletes: 937/1476

21.1k Run

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Unfortunately, I still had stomach issues so I wasn’t able to run. It was so disheartening to start out walking, and to hear finishers being announced as they passed me running the other way. I walked the majority of the first mile, and then my stomach was fine and I could run. I had decided that if I couldn’t run soon, I would quit. There was no way I was going to walk 21.1 km!

This year, the run course was changed to remove 300 feet of elevation gain. Make no mistake – it’s still a hilly course.

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Do I look exhausted, or what?

Once I started running, I tried to run all of the flats and downhills, and walk the hills when need be. I took full advantage of every single aid station, 7 on each of the 2 loops! It felt like 41 degrees Celsius with the humidity! I poured ice in my shirt and under my hat, drank water and/or gatorade, poured water on my head, took water soaked sponges and ate orange slices. I also ran through sprinklers on the course! At times I chatted with some of the other runners. And the volunteers (on every part of the swim, bike and run) were amazing! So enthusiastic, encouraging, positive! I loved it when spectators or volunteers called me by name. Or lied to me and told me that I looked strong! (Some volunteers were out there all day Saturday and Sunday, including my friend Christina. She even wrote my name in chalk on the run route! THANK YOU Christina!)

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Finishing loop #1.

Running that first loop I didn’t know how I would possibly run it a second time. But on the second lap, I ended up running beside another athlete for a while, and we eventually started to chat. It helped to pass the time and I’m sure that I ran more than I would have had I been on my own. Thank you Eric from Florida (now Connecticut!).

In the last couple of km’s my calf muscles started to tighten up. If I had had to run much longer they would have given me trouble, I think.

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Running with Eric.

As we made the final turn into the park, I commented on the speed of another runner – he said it only happened on the downhills. And then he said that his kid should be waiting around the corner with a beer for him. When we reached the corner and the beer was nowhere to be seen, he said, “My kid is so grounded!”

Since Alasdair did not bike or run, he was able to take lots of pictures of me on the run course. I had my own superfan!

Slightly sunburnt and a whole lot exhausted, I reached the finish line and was so glad to be done! I received my race medal and finisher’s hat, and went to find Alasdair.

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Done!

We grabbed some post-race food (pizza, salad, banana, water), then found some shade to eat. And then I spotted John Kelly, winner of this year’s Barkley Marathons (and the only finisher)! If you haven’t heard of the race, check it out. It is crazy. We enjoyed chatting with John for a while, and he was nice enough to allow me to get a picture with him!

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John Kelly (winner of the 2017 Barkley Marathons) and I. He also won his age group (despite a wind-fuelled bike crash) and was 5th overall at this year’s Ironman 70.3 Syracuse.

  • 21.1k run: 2:46:29 (7:53 min/km)
  • Women 40-44: 55/90
  • All women: 254/437
  • All athletes: 899/1476

In speaking with other athletes after the race, the consensus seemed to be the following: swim = choppy, bike = windy, run = hot! One guy said he had done this race 6 times and this year was the hardest. Looking at my overall race stats (see below), I’m pretty shocked with how well I did! Clearly I wasn’t the only one having a rough day! It turns out my swim and bike were slower this year (by 8 and 13 minutes respectively), but my run was faster by 3 minutes. I’ll take it.

Overall Race Stats:

  • Time: 7:47:07
  • Women 40-44: 55/90
  • All women: 254/437
  • All athletes: 899/1476

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Posing by my name.

So, 2 days post race, would I do it again? Of course I would.

Follow me on Facebook: Kyra on the Go: Adventures of a Paddling Triathlete

Follow me on Twitter: @kyrapaterson

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]
 

Race report: Ironman 70.3 Syracuse 2016

After last year’s Ironman 70.3 Syracuse race was cut short due to a thunderstorm, I definitely wanted another opportunity to take on this challenging course.  And this year, the already hilly bike route was made even tougher. So, Alasdair and I headed to Syracuse on Friday afternoon to race in the USA for the second time. We were greeted by resident bullfrogs when we arrived at our hotel in East Syracuse.

SATURDAY

In the morning we headed to the race site at Jamesville Beach Park, New York State, a beautiful venue for a race. The Hamlet of Jamesville rolled out the welcome mat!

On Saturday morning we went to the race site, where we did a short ride on the beginning part of the bike course, attended a mandatory pre-race briefing, registered and picked up our race kits (t-shirt, race bib, timing chip, swim cap, bike and helmet stickers and matching wrist band, and product samples), checked our bikes into transition (I removed my pump and bags), did a short (weedy) swim, and found my friend Christina, who was volunteering all day Saturday and Sunday. I was relieved to discover that I didn’t feel any pain just below my ribs on the right side of my chest while swimming or biking, a random pre-race pain that started on Thursday afternoon.

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Alasdair gets an explanation of how this year’s bike course differs from last year’s.

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My friend Christina, race volunteer extraordinaire!

We left the race site, ate lunch at the Half Moon Cafe nearby, shopped for a few things that someone (who shall remain unnamed) forgot, had dinner at the Olive Garden, organized all our race stuff, set our alarms for 3:30 AM, and went to bed!

SUNDAY – RACE DAY

I slept pretty well, but 3:30 AM came too soon. It’s pretty strange eating breakfast so early, but I forced down a banana and some muesli with yogurt. I took one last look at the day’s weather forecast, which I had been watching obsessively for days, and saw that there wouldn’t be much wind, but the afternoon temperature would approach 35 degrees Celsius. We drove the 10-15 minutes to the race site (loved being so close!) and arrived there under a nearly full moon at 4:30 AM, with about 50 cars there already. It was really nice to have my friend Christina do my body marking! Next I found my bike in transition, made sure I knew exactly how to find it after the swim and bike, and set everything up (including putting my bike pump and 2 bags back on it, as well as my food for the ride). I checked my tires, and was pretty much ready to go!

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My set-up was used by a race official as an example of how things should be done. I did move my helmet and sunglasses to the ground though, as I found them there at one point before the race began!

I had trouble finding Alasdair – it seems that when I was in transition, he was in a bathroom lineup, and when I was in the lineup, he must have been in transition!

At one point, I spotted an athlete in a portapotty lineup wearing a pink and purple tri suit with the name Grace on his thigh. I looked at him and realized he must be the man whose 7 year old daughter, Grace, was killed in the Sandy Hook shooting on December 14, 2012 in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. I didn’t remember his name at the time, and didn’t approach him (and now wish I had), but I had watched an inspirational clip about him after the 2013 Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. His name is Chris Mcdonnell and he is incredibly inspirational. Get out your kleenex before you watch this 6 minute video.

When I found Alasdair just before he was going to put his wetsuit on (mine was already half way on), I stayed with him until he headed for the race start, so we could wish each other good luck! He was to start just after 7, and me at 7:56. I got to watch him struggle with his wetsuit, which somehow seemed to have melted and stuck to itself. He used water and carefully peeled the legs apart – success! He was not relishing the thought of swimming without the wetsuit, though the water temperature was around 68 degrees F.

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Here at 6:51 AM I was still wearing 2 long sleeved tops…

After leaving him I headed for one last pee stop, and was in the longest bathroom lineup I have ever been in. I heard one athlete tell another, who had never done a half ironman before, that he should go easy for the first 12 miles on the bike, and that after that it was easy. I said to him, “You do realize they changed the bike course this year??” His look of shock and horror was priceless. The American national anthem was sung while I was standing in the lineup, but we couldn’t actually hear it (we did hear the cheers at the end). We heard the loud bang signalling the start of the first swim wave!

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I was in the lineup on the right.

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One last pre-race photo. Ignore the growth coming from the top of my head.

I gave my “morning clothes bag” to a race volunteer at the baggage check, where later on I could pick up the things I’d like to have immediately after the race – this is key for faster people, who aren’t allowed into transition until the last athlete is out on the run course. It’s never been an issue for me.

SWIM (1.9 km or 1.2 miles)

I found Christina, who was waiting at the swim exit with the other “wetsuit peelers”, and asked her to zip my wetsuit up. We talked briefly, said goodbye and I walked over to the beach to do a short warm up swim. That’s when I heard the announcer say “2-3 minutes and the swim warm-up area is closing!” So I quickly went into the water (the Jamesville Reservoir) and did a tiny loop around the public swimming area (not the race swim course), stood up, and just like last year, was very very dizzy. Apparently swimming in a tight rectangle is not for me. I gave myself time and eventually the feeling was gone. I talked to a few athletes while waiting for the volunteer with the “women 40-44” sign to appear. And just like that, we were standing in the water waiting for the horn to sound! With a 15 second countdown, a woman beside me yelled, “7 hours until beer!”

My swim started pretty well, without the crazy congestion I sometimes encounter. It wasn’t as weedy as I anticipated either. After a couple hundred metres I stopped very briefly to adjust my right goggle lens, but it was smooth sailing after that. I was swimming straight, and trying very hard to finish strong with each stroke (my biggest weakness). I also tried to draft as much as possible, and was more successful on the back half of the course. We swam in an upside down U shape, and crossing the U was interesting with the very bright sun ahead of us. I found it pretty bright swimming the back half as well. I mentally prepared myself to see 50+ minutes when I stood up out of the water, given the 2 slow swims I had in races earlier this month. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see 45 something! Still not as fast as last year, but better than expected.

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Done the swim!

I started my run towards transition, heard “Kyra!” and ran right to Christina and another woman who were working together to peel wetsuits off athletes. By this point I had my wetsuit to my waist, they told me to lay down and point my toes, and then proceeded to pull it off me, which is faster than me trying to struggle out of it myself!! I then ran the very long way to the transition zone! I stopped to pee at the portapotty just inside the transition zone, ran to my bike, and ate a banana while I put on sunscreen, my sunglasses, bike shoes, and my helmet, and was off.

Swim: 45:41 (2:21 min/100m) – 62/78 women aged 40-44; 311/401 women; 1125/1699 all athletes

BIKE (90 km or 56.1 miles)

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Last year, this was the hardest race I had ever done. You can imagine how thrilled I was to hear that the bike course had been made hillier due – at least in part – to the poor condition of some roads from last year’s course.  However, I did hill training on the bike, and I was ready!

I ran with my bike up the first hill to the mount line, then got on and started pedalling. I noticed almost immediately that a race official must have put a “plug” in the end of my left handlebar, because I definitely didn’t. I noticed at home that the plug was gone, so I taped up the end like a race official did to my bike at last year’s race (I had no idea that you couldn’t race otherwise). Not sure why they didn’t like my tape job, or why they didn’t slice the tape and put the plug in – instead, it was just partway in. In any case, I wasn’t prevented from racing and the plug stayed in, so it was all good!

Just a short distance into the bike course there is a railroad crossing (the track was covered by a mat by the race organizers), and then the hills begin. It felt to me like it was hills, hills and more hills – like we were always climbing, with just a couple of really nice, long downhill sections (my favourite part of the course!). And in several cases, downhills were followed immediately by sharp turns, so you couldn’t take advantage of the free speed. For a while I was playing leapfrog with another woman, bib #1650, who at first thanked me for saying “on your left” when I passed her, then proceeded to do the same for me. At one point she said, “See you on the next downhill!” (because I would pass her there) and I replied, “That’s the easy part!” Apparently she gets “freaked out” by the big downhills.

I knew that I should be eating on the bike, but really didn’t feel like it. I did force down (bit by bit) a peanut butter banana chocolate bar that I made, and a bit of a chocolate peanut butter ball, but found the tastes too similar and not what I felt like eating! I did make myself have a gel too, because I didn’t want to suffer on the run due to lack of nutrition on the bike. On the other hand, I had no trouble staying hydrated. I’d finished my gatorade bottle by the half way mark, and started onto my water bottle. At the next aid station, I did a water bottle exchange for the very first time. Approaching the aid station there was a big wooden board with a target painted on it, which I threw my water bottle at (and hit!). I was congratulated by volunteers! Then as I slowed and coasted through the aid station, I yelled “water!” and a nice volunteer handed me a bottle of ice cold water! Success!

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The bike course was quite scenic. I did enjoy the views as I suffered up the hills. Here I am biking around the Deruyter Reservoir.

The police officers did a great job at intersections, controlling traffic and giving riders the right of way. I love the NY State black police hats!

At one point in the race I saw a man tip over on his bike – he had been going too slowly up a hill. Someone reached him before me and he was okay by the time I got there, standing up and checking out his bike. There were some great cheering fans at different points along the bike route. I loved the boys (maybe 12 years old?) who were playing guitar and drums, and the church choir facing the road and singing and waving for us!

At the 49 mile mark, I reached the Sky High hill, which was nasty so late in the race! It was steep, and sadly, that nice bottle of ice cold water? I was half way through it and I dropped it on the uphill. I decided not to stop because I might not get going again! Unfortunately, that meant I had no water for the last 10k of the bike. I was looking forward to getting off my bike, but not at all looking forward to running a half marathon in the heat!

And then, I was back at the dismount line and getting off my bike.

Bike: 3:40:34 (24.4 km/h) – 51/78 women aged 40-44; 234/401 women; 1014/1699 all athletes

RUN (21.1 km or 13.1 miles)Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 10.04.06 PM

If you love hills, then this is the run course for you! After changing into my running shoes, replacing my helmet with my hat, drinking several mouthfuls of water, tucking a gel into my tri top and putting on more sunscreen, I took off for the paved path, then grass that would lead up the first steep hill out of the park and up to the road. I had already decided that I would walk up the steep hills, but run the flats and downhills. It was a 2 loop course, so we got to do all the hills twice – yay!

It was very hot, but with 3 aid stations on the course, it meant that we passed by one 12 times, and each time, I poured water on my head, put ice in my tri top, drank water and gatorade, ate orange slices, and sometimes got a wet sponge. I never felt too hot, but I looked forward to walking through the aid stations and cooling off. The volunteers there were amazing. I also made use of the portapotties 2 times (but never on the bike course – amazing for me!).

I spotted Alasdair coming towards me when I was about 1 km or so into the run. He was finishing his first loop. I knew that I would see him one more time.

When I walked, I tried to walk quickly, while also eating the ice out of my tri top at the same time! There were a few sprinklers and hoses on the course as well, which were my favourite part of the run! I did a 360 at one hose and got a nice soaking from a volunteer. I mentioned to another athlete the “cruel and unusual punishment” of the hills.

There were lots of people walking, and I heard one man who was worried that he wouldn’t make the run cut-off (you had to have started your 2nd loop by a certain time). There were cut-offs for the swim and bike as well.

Finishing the first loop is rather evil, as you run so close to the finish line but have to run past and do a loop back, then run that whole hilly route again. I found out after the race that Christina had written Alasdair P and Kyra P on the pavement near the turnaround (along with other names), but sadly neither of us noticed them. Alasdair said that he “would have had to have been capable of reading at that time”! Ha!

There were lots of people near the turnaround/finish line cheering, and some along the run course where there were houses. I got a high five from one little guy.

I passed Alasdair again as he headed into the park and toward the finish line. He said he was worried I was going to beat him (remember, he started 40 minutes ahead of me, so we weren’t exactly sure how we were doing relative to one another). I was doubtful, but didn’t know that he was walking mostly of the run course because of knee pain.

In the last 3k, I got bad side stitches and couldn’t get rid of them. This meant that I had to walk some of the flats and downhills, and run for just a short stretch at a time. It was frustrating, but I had long ago given up on any time goals. All I wanted to do was finish the race.

When I re-entered the park and started heading down the steep hill, I spotted a runner laying on the ground, with 2 people by her side (one a volunteer with a walkie talkie, the other a spectator, I think). I grabbed the last of the ice in my tri top and put it on the back of her neck, asking the spectator to hold it there. I hadn’t been gone long when help (and lots of it) arrived. Hopefully she was okay – likely suffering heat exhaustion.

I tried to muster up a strong run finish but my side stitches were really painful. I figured I’d be grimacing in my race photos (and in some of them, I was)! Just before the last turn I was passed by a woman in my age group , but I had nothing left to chase her down.

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Looking over my shoulder as I approached the finish line to see if anyone else was going to pass me.

I heard Alasdair cheer for me just before the finish, and heard the announcer say “KIRA”as I got close. I was so glad to be done!

Run: 2:49:14 (8:02 min/km) – 54/78 women aged 40-44; 264/401 women; 1047/1699 all athletes

In the end, I finished in 7:26:51. Christina gave me my medal at the finish (so nice to get it from someone I knew!), and someone also gave me a hat while another person removed my timing chip. We were funnelled through to the post-race food, with a quick stop for an official race photo on the way. Alasdair (who beat my time by 5 minutes) found me and we went into the food tent for pizza, salad (with ham and salami on it – a bit weird), pretzels, oranges, and water. We managed to find seats on picnic tables – in the shade – under a tent where the awards would be given out. After eating I went to get my morning clothes bag, and decided to ask another athlete down by the water to take my picture, because I wanted a post-race shot before I went into the lake to cool off, and Alasdair was still back at the tent eating. So a nice French Canadian man agreed to take a few pictures, and when I asked him to make me look strong and fast, he told me to jump. I told him my legs might break but he insisted it hadn’t happened to him yet. So I jumped, and I’m so glad I did!

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I did it!

Alasdair and I got our stuff from the transition zone, went to say goodbye to Christina, and then headed home! She mentioned that with the harder bike course this year, apparently Ironman 70.3 Syracuse is the hardest half ironman in North America! I don’t doubt it.

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Hugging this pile of ice felt so good!

I was happy with my swim, and considering the difficulty of the bike course, I was satisfied with it as well. I’d like to be faster next year – last year, I rode the bike course in 3:18, a full 20 minutes faster. That goes to show how much more challenging this route is. And on the run, of course I’d liked to have been able to run more of it. With less heat, more hill training, and no side stitches, I’ll be able to do it! I’m looking forward to next year’s race already.

Stats

Swim: 45:41 (2:21 min/100m) – 62/78 women aged 40-44; 311/401 women; 1125/1699 all athletes

T1: 5:23

Bike: 3:40:34 (24.4 km/h) – 51/78 women aged 40-44; 234/401 women; 1014/1699 all athletes

T2: 5:59

Run: 2:49:14 (8:02 min/km) – 54/78 women aged 40-44; 264/401 women; 1047/1699 all athletes

Total time: 7:26:51

Women 40-44: 54/78

All women: 264/401

All athletes: 1049/1699

Once again, we were impressed with the phenomenal organization of this race. The 850 volunteers were amazing. We will be back!

Race report: Barrelman 1/2 ironman 2015

“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.

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Bike racked by the handlebars because it’s more stable that way (but for the race, I racked it by the seat).

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!).

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Short swim done.

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.

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Everything ready to go!

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.

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Everything ready

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!

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The calm before the storm.

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The fog added a bit of magic to the water.

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).

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One last picture!

2k Swim

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).

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Great cheers from the crowd along this stretch!

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.

Swim Stats

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

89k Bike

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.

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Apparently I was admiring the view! You can see the Flatwater Centre just to the right of me.

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.

Bike Stats

Time: 3:10:02.2 (28.1 km/h)

Women aged 40-44: 17/34

All women: 89/163

All athletes: 362/497

21.1k Run

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.

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Running past the American falls

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)!

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Exhausted.

After a few minutes of wandering around a bit, I was ready for chocolate milk, pizza, fruit and a cookie.

Run Stats

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!

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You can’t see it in this picture, but my face, neck and arms were covered in crusted salt!

Overall Stats

Time: 6:30:31.3

Women aged 40-44: 20/34

All women: 98/163

All athletes: 374/497

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Picture by Irina

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!!

Race report: Ironman Syracuse 70.3 2015 (in which dizziness, hills and weather played a factor!)

Earlier this year when Alasdair and I registered for our 2015 triathlons, the Ironman Syracuse 70.3 was not on our list (a 70.3 race is also known as a “1/2 ironman” and is named for the total length of the race: 1.2 mile swim + 56 mile bike + 13.1 mile run)! We had to withdraw from the June 14 Welland 1/2 because of a conflict with cadets, but still wanted an early season half (because we like to torture ourselves). We decided that a 3 1/2 hour drive to Syracuse wasn’t too bad. It was to be our first time racing in the USA! (Heck, I hadn’t been to the USA in nearly 19 years until earlier this month when I went to Buffalo for a basketball tournament.) Big thanks to Chris for taking K and A for the weekend!!!

In the days leading up to the race, I got all my gear organized.

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Ever the optimist, I packed sunblock despite the weather forecast.

We headed out Friday at around 4 PM, and arrived at our hotel in Brewerton, New York around 8 PM (hotel recommended by a local friend who was also doing the race).

SATURDAY

I had been obsessively checking the weather for Syracuse all week, but by Saturday morning, the forecast was still for rain with a risk of thunderstorms. However, Saturday’s weather was perfect! We drove 25 minutes or so south to the race site at Jamesville Beach Park in the little town of Jamesville, a great race venue.

We were impressed right away by the volunteers in the parking lot and at registration – there were lots of them, they were efficient, and very helpful! All told there were 1,500 amazing volunteers for this race! Thank you volunteers!!

We were given a “morning clothes bag” and a small black backpack, as well as our race bib, stickers for our bikes and helmets, a wrist band identifying us as athletes and as the owners of our bikes, race t-shirts and some sample products. We signed our lives away on 3 separate waivers, and then picked up our timing chips (verifying that our names appeared on the computer screen).

Next we headed for the 10 AM mandatory pre-race briefing (one of several that athletes could choose from), where they covered the details of the course, rules, and how things on race day would run.

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This tiny car was carrying 7 bikes! Maybe not so good for the car…

We did a 10 min bike ride, checked our bikes into transition (each athlete had a specific spot to rack his or her bike – marked on the racks by bib number), removed everything that someone could steal (pump, under seat bag for tools and tubes, cross bar bag for food), did a 5 min run, and then did a practice swim when lifeguards opened part of the course at 1 PM (we had thought that we would have to swim in a little roped off public beach area). When the lifeguards told people that they could swim past buoy #1, turn at 2, swim across to 7, and head for 8 (the course is an upside down U), a few asked, “Do we have to?” Alasdair and I swam without our wetsuits and it was fine at 68 degrees Fahrenheit (though cold first getting in!), but we would be wearing them on race day!

We left the race site, drove the first 12 miles (19k) of the bike course to the highest point we would reach, headed back to Jamesville for a delicious lunch at a little place called Half Moon Bakery and Bistro, went back to the hotel, organized our stuff for the morning, then had dinner with my local friend Christina and her husband. It was off to bed early with plans for a ridiculous race day wake up time!

SUNDAY (RACE DAY)

Sunday morning our alarm sounded at 3:30 AM, our earliest race day start yet! It was very strange to eat my oatmeal, yogurt and banana so early! We left the hotel just after 4 AM and were at the race site before 4:45 AM (it was still dark out)! I have never arrived so early for a race, but with a 7 AM race start and only one way into the park, we didn’t want to get stuck in traffic trying to get into the race site. It worked out perfectly – we encountered no traffic, and were one of the first 25 or so vehicles to arrive! We walked toward the transition zone with one very excited man from the Manhattan area, who told us to have fun, smile, thank a volunteer… “the best 7 hours of your life!”

We went through body marking before arriving at the transition zone, getting our bib number on both arms and age on our left legs. I put my pump and bags (including food) back on my bike, added my gatorade and water bottles, had a volunteer tell me to reverse my bike (odd bibs faced their bikes one way, and even the other – who knew?!) and set up my spot below my handlebars (they were very particular about athletes not taking up too much space), wrapping everything in a garbage bag so it wouldn’t be drenched before the race even began! And then the rain started! I went back to the van to take my big triathlon bag (thanks Dervish – it’s awesome!) and grab my phone to take a few pictures.

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Trying to stay somewhat dry.

When I got back from the van it was pouring rain, so Alasdair and I went to hang out under a picnic shelter. I started getting cold, and when the rain let up a bit, I decided that I would put my wetsuit on, even though I wasn’t starting my race until 8:04 (I figured it would warm me up!). So we went back to transition to grab our wetsuits, goggles and swim caps, made final portajohn stops (somehow I find that word odd), and got ourselves into our wetsuits! If you’ve ever seen an athlete struggle to put a dry wetsuit on a dry body, now imagine what it’s like putting a wet wetsuit on a wet body! One athlete put her feet in plastic bags and then pulled the wetsuit on, and seemed to have an easier time of it. Someone suggested she should charge $10/athlete for use of the bag. Another athlete wondered where she could get a marker to write her name in her wetsuit – I suggested body marking, where 20 or so people were standing there with sharpies! “I’m surrounded by geniuses!” another athlete said.

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One last picture before I put my phone into my “morning bag” with other things I might want right after the race. We resemble drenched rats.

1.2 mile (1.9 km) SWIM

With more than 2,000 athletes in the race, we would be sent off in waves, Alasdair in wave 4, and me in wave 17 with all women 40-44 – the final wave (and according to the race announcer, “the best looking wave!”)! Just before the 7 AM race start, we all paused for the singing of the American national anthem on the beach. Very soon after that, a gun went off and the first wave was swimming! By this time, the rain had stopped. After Alasdair started (an air horn replaced the gun after the first couple of starts, which is good because it was very loud), I went to use the bathroom one more time, and then headed for the water to do a short warm-up swim (in the small roped off area). I started to doubt my decision not to put sunblock on, with sunny skies and visions of sunburn in my head! I swam a U shape, no more than 75m, stood up, and felt incredibly dizzy. I stumbled, thought I might pass out, and wondered what the heck was going on. I slowly – wobbling – made my way out of the water, tried to clear water from my ears in case that was the problem, and hoped that I would be fine in 25 minutes or so when my race was to start. My stomach felt pukey and I was worried that I wouldn’t even get to race. I decided if I was okay at the swim start, I would attempt to swim, and if I had to stop, I would.

Syracuse Swim course

I lined up with the rest of my group near a volunteer holding a big sign with our wave and age listed on it (this race was superbly well organized). A power boat brought a swimmer from the wave before us back to shore, and everyone cheered for him. Eventually, we were in the water, and then the horn sounded! I remembered to start my watch, began swimming, and felt FINE! The swim start was a little congested even though there were only 91 swimmers starting – I had women close by on either side of me, making it hard to get away, but eventually things spread out. There were yellow buoys (“booeez” in the USA!) numbered 1-8 on the way out which we kept to our right. At the red buoy, we turned right and headed across the upside down U shape. The turn wasn’t congested, and neither was the next turn to head back toward shore. Heading back, we kept the orange numbered buoys (1 to 8) on our right. It didn’t feel like I was swimming fast, but I knew I was swimming pretty straight – no going off course for me! I concentrated on finishing my stroke, as instructed by my swim coach Mat. I thought I might see 0:47 when I finished swimming, but as I was running to transition, I looked at my watch and was pleasantly surprised to see 43 something!

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I pulled my wetsuit down to my waist as I made the long run toward transition, stopping at the wetsuit strippers for an experience unlike any other! I said to the volunteer, “What do I do?” (though I had watched a video to know what to expect) and she said “Get your wetsuit below your waist. Sit down.” I did, leaned back, and she pulled the wetsuit off my legs! Much faster than me struggling through it. It looks like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6CsX0ls1eaQ.

Swim stats:

Time: 42:57 (2:13/100m)

Women 40-44 placing: 46/91

Gender placing: 294/591

Overall placing: 1,143/2,076

I quickly stopped for a pee break at a portajohn inside the transition zone, then ran to my spot to get my bike stuff on (helmet, race bib, socks, shoes, sunglasses) and ate a banana while doing so. T1 lasted 5:29. There was an uphill run out of transition to the mount line, and then the fun began!

90k BIKE

The first 19km of the bike course has an 1,100 feet (335m) elevation gain, with the 1st real hill an 11% grade! In general, the entire course was a very hilly ride, not just the beginning. Up one very long hilly road (where you would go up, plateau, go up more), a rider behind me said “KIRA, you’re setting the pace!” There were a few great downhills, but they always seemed to end with uphills! At one point I could hear sirens, then was passed by a first responder in a pickup truck. The athlete needing help was an awful sight, face completely bloody. He was standing though, so hopefully he only had superficial wounds.

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Pure torture!

I didn’t feel like I was going fast, and decided to only look at my watch at the half way point. I thought it might be too depressing otherwise! I forced myself to eat some of my homemade granola bar, but for some inexplicable reason I actually felt like it had too much chocolate!? I knew I had to eat during the ride, so I had little bits of food over the course of the 90k (more granola bar, a delicious peanut butter chocolate ball that I will bring more of next time, and dates and chocolate chips).  I drank a full bottle of gatorade, and almost a full bottle of water. I didn’t touch the gels I had packed “just in case”. There were aid stations on the bike too, but I didn’t take any of the food or liquids they were offering (1. I’d most likely have to stop, and 2. I had what I needed).

Some spots on the course had super enthusiastic spectators cheering for the athletes, in particular on the long climbs! Little towns had people on their lawns or driveways. One little girl (8 or 10?) was playing a trombone for us! Two women elsewhere had a boom box playing.

At one point, I nearly crashed into the guy in front of me when he wobbled, swerved and cut me off. I hit my brakes hard, yelled “GEEZ!” and somehow ended up not falling off my bike! He ended up in the oncoming traffic lane (thankfully there were no cars). Crazy!

Later a woman that I passed read my bib on my back and said, “Go KEEERA!”

The skies looked ominous in the distance, but I didn’t see any lightning or hear any thunder, and it didn’t rain!

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The last 10 miles (16k) was mostly downhill, but some athletes were acting crazy and were riding across both lanes of traffic (thankfully no oncoming cars), but I couldn’t pass them. It was very annoying to have to brake on the downhills at this point. I yelled “On your left!” to try to get them to move but no go. It was dangerous.

Near the very end of the bike course there was a no passing zone as we were riding just to the left of runners who were on the right hand side of the road. We were being led by a motorcycle so we couldn’t go very fast. The riders in front of me slowed down on the last big uphill, I did the same, and then the woman behind me nearly ran me over! She may have touched my wheel, and then apologized. At least we didn’t crash!

I figured I would probably end the bike 4 hours 30 min or so into the race, but was shocked and happy to end it at 4:07!!

Bike stats:

Time: 3:18:48 (27.04 km/h)

1st 25 miles took 1:34:01 (25.26 km/h) and remaining 31 miles took 1:43:47 (28.67 km/h)

Women 40-44 placing: 45/91

Gender placing: 233/591

Overall placing: 1,143/2,076

I racked my bike, took off my helmet and bike shoes, put on my running shoes and hat, forgot to grab gels, and took off. T2 was 3:57.

13.1 mile (21.1k) RUN

Remember the forecast for rain and thunderstorms? Well with no rain on the ride, I decided to stop on my way out of transition to get sprayed with sunscreen by a volunteer. She warned me that it might sting, and boy was she ever right!

Syracuse Run profile

My legs felt okay at the start, but it was hot out! I stopped at the first portajohn on the run, not yet out of the park. I ran the first hill out of the park, but then walked the big ones after that. It was an out and back course that we ran 2 times. I knew I’d see Alasdair eventually! At 2.5 miles my left quad right by my knee started to scream, tighten and clench, and I thought I might have to quit the race – I stopped to stretch it and had another runner ask if I was okay, “Do you need any nutrition?” I told him that it was just tight and I thought I would be okay. I kept going and it got better, thankfully! The aid stations each had gatorade, water, soaking wet sponges, energy gels, bananas, oranges, pretzels, and flat pop. Over the course of the run I ate orange slices and pretzels (washing the pretzels down with water they were so hard to swallow!). I walked through all of the aid stations, drank gatorate or water, and poured water on my shoulders, head and back! I took a soaked sponge and stuck it under my shirt strap. I got ice from a volunteer and put it down the front of my top, but later, I ate it! I got more at other aid stations from little kiddie pools that were filled with ice and jugs of water.

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I saw Alasdair just after I reached the turnaround. I was dealing with side stitches and a stomach that felt too full of liquid! Eventually I got back to the park near the finish line where we turned to do a 2nd loop. I couldn’t believe I had to do all those hills again! I stopped to pee on my way out but couldn’t manage to go. The rain had returned and it felt quite nice – it was cooling! I heard thunder but it didn’t sound too close.

As I turned a corner, ran down a hill and reached an aid station, runners coming toward us said that we had to turn around, that they had lifted up the timing mat (at the turnaround) and the race organizers thought a thunderstorm was coming so we couldn’t continue. It was very disappointing but I wasn’t upset that I didn’t have to run those hills again! I figured then that I was about 1 mile from the turnaround (1.6km). I turned back with everyone else and ran/walked almost all of the way with my new friend Franklin from the Bronx, whose first language was not English. We had a few communication challenges but I enjoyed our conversation and it helped to pass the time. I likely ran more than I would have on my own but he was having muscle cramps so we took walking breaks. I had gotten a second wind I think, knowing that those big hills weren’t coming! The thunder was getting louder as we entered the park. He told me “You can run ahead!” since by then he was having knee issues. I said, “It was nice to meet you!” and he said, “Me too!” I ran to the finish, by which time the rain was just pelting down! I received my medal and finisher’s hat, and saw my finish time on my watch of 6 hours 32 minutes and change (knowing that I was approximately 3.2 km short on the run). I was so glad to be done!

Because athletes wear timing chips and cross timing mats at various points in the race, the race organizers are able to determine the last timing mat you crossed. Therefore they knew that I didn’t finish the full run.

Run stats:

Official stats on ironman.com give me a time of 0 for the run, but the following splits:

first 3.3 miles or 5.28 km – 40:09

next 3.2 miles or 5.12 km – 40:02

This was a slow running pace for me, but given all that had come before these hills on the run, I wasn’t that surprised.

Final Time:

Since I didn’t officially finish the race (my first DNF or “did not finish”!), I didn’t get a finishing time, but ironman.com gives me a predicted finishing time of 6:51:33, which is based on my run time being consistent over the remainder of the course. I think it’s probably a pretty good estimate!

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I am thrilled with how my swim and bike went. I know I have room for improvement in all 3 events, but I probably have the most to gain on the run! (It turns out I beat Alasdair on the swim for the very first time – by less than a minute – but he beat me on the bike by about 5.)

After the race, I found Alasdair, we picked up our “morning clothes” bags that we had checked, and then waited outside the transition zone with lots of other athletes until there was a “window” in the storm and we could get our stuff out. We grabbed food for athletes on our way to the van. It turns out the thunderstorm was very short lived, but unlike some athletes who apparently argued with the officials when the decision was made to end the run, I am grateful for race organizers who take safety seriously – I want to return home to my kids!

Syracuse, we’ll be back!

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Race report: the Niagara Falls Barrelman (1/2 ironman) 2014

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 Preparation

The weekend before the race, I gathered all my stuff:

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Food, clothing, and gear assembled!

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).

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Still fairly empty T1.

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.

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View from the inclined railway!

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Inside the rail car.

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!

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American falls on the left, Canadian falls to the right of the Maid of the Mist boat.

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Alasdair contemplating the next day’s swim.

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At the brink of the falls.

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“Rules are for wimps!” he said.

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!

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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.

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Left to right: clothes I would wear, swim bag, dry clothes bag for after the race + bike stuff, run gear bag

On race morning, our alarm went off at 5 AM, with the prospect of an adventurous day ahead of us.

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We figured we’d save time by wearing our helmets in addition to our swim gear.

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.

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Water puddles!

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A glimmer of blue sky! I took this shot in case that’s all the blue we saw all day.

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.

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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!

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2 km swim was a counter clockwise rectangle.

The Swim

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.

The Bike

Niagara bike course
92k bike course (2 more than the usual 90 because of construction).

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.

The Run

Niagara run course
Very scenic run!

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!).

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We did it!

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So happy to be done!

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Barrelman finisher medal

Race Statistics

  • 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!