Race report: Gravenhurst sprint and Olympic triathlon double header weekend 2021

If you think starting a triathlon by yelling “Cannonball!!!” and jumping off a boat is a great idea, then the Multisport Canada Gravenhurst race may be the one for you!

Alasdair and I decided to once again do both the sprint and Olympic races, with the sprint on the Saturday and the longer Olympic on the Sunday. We were very lucky to be spending the weekend nearby at our friends’ cottage.

Saturday sprint

Driving to the race site in the pouring rain, I wondered what the weather would have in store for us! However, the rain pretty much stopped as we arrived. Walking our bikes into transition, we passed 2 members of the race crew sweeping water off the road where we would be running our bikes out of and back in to transition.

As part of the Covid-19 protocol, we had to wear masks in the transition zone and at registration, and we had to show that we had done the Covid screening. I set my stuff up in transition and was ready to go (that’s Alasdair racked beside me)…

Using a bag to keep shoes dry.

… or so I thought! Good thing I realized a few minutes later that I hadn’t taken my helmet out of my big triathlon bag!

750m swim

There was one boat that would ferry athletes to the swim start, in 3 separate groups. Alasdair and I were lucky enough to be on the same boat and starting in the same swim wave (i.e. at the same time). I always like to be one of the first to jump off the ship in my wave so I have more time to swim over to the start line and relax for a couple of minutes before the race starts. Before jumping off I heard the announcer say that someone had done a back flip off the boat. I was the 2nd to jump off in our wave, with Alasdair right behind me.

When the horn sounded, I started swimming, but it wasn’t long before I had a mini panic attack, just like in Barrie a few weeks before (prior to this year, it had only happened once – during my first triathlon in 2010)! I did breast stroke, then front crawl with right side only breathing, then got my bilateral breathing back and all was good. The rest of the swim was fine!

I reached the ladders at the dock, looked at my watch and saw 20-something minutes. I climbed the ladder, and started running to transition. I unzipped my wetsuit, removed my arms from the sleeves, and then took off my swim cap and goggles. I crossed the road, and did the long run around and into transition, where I caught up to Alasdair, who was getting ready to ride.

I removed the rest of my wetsuit, put on my helmet, sunglasses, socks, shoes, and race belt, and took off (before Alasdair). “See you when you pass me!” I said.

20k bike

It didn’t take long before Alasdair passed me, after which I was pelted with very hard rain! Thankfully it didn’t last long. At the turnaround point (it was a hilly out and back course) he was less than 3 km ahead of me.

I felt strong on the bike leg and was happy with how it went.

Back in transition I racked my bike, removed my helmet, put on my hat, changed from cycling shoes to running shoes and took off.

5k run

Near the beginning of the run, which starts on a gravel path, someone cheered for me by name but I didn’t see who it was (I found out the next day it was Carley!). For once this run was not hot and humid! Normally the race is in July when it always seems to be uncomfortably hot! Instead the temperature was ideal. At some point before the turnaround, Alasdair and I passed each other. I felt strong during the run, and ran the entire hilly 5k, with the exception of a few steps when I walked while drinking from a cup.

Near the end of the run I spotted Alasdair waiting (and cheering) for me. As I neared the finish line I heard the announcer Steve Fleck say my name and call me the other half of the Paterson duo. I was glad to be done, and wondered how the next day’s race would go!

Unusual race spectator! Apparently its owners were also racing!

After the race we headed to Boston Pizza’s patio for our first meal at a restaurant in more than a year! The last time we ate at a restaurant was when we biked 30k for breakfast on a patio and then biked home.

Race stats:

  • Time: 1:41:29.8
  • Swim: 22:52.5 (3:02/100 m)
  • T1: 1:54
  • Bike: 42:20.1 (28.35 km/h)
  • T2: 1:09
  • Run: 33:15.9 (6:39/km)
  • Women 45-49: 5/6
  • All women: 57/97
  • All athletes: 184/280
Very cool t-shirt design!

Sunday Olympic

1500m swim

Once again, Alasdair and I were in the same swim wave, but this time, I was 1st to jump off. Then it was Alasdair. As he resurfaced, he said, “I lost my goggles! I forgot they were on my head!” He had forgotten to put them on his eyes before he jumped. Thankfully, there was a lifeguard right there on a floaty thing, and she ducked under the water and came up with them as they were on their way to the bottom of Lake Muskoka! “I love you!” Alasdair said. Crisis averted.

The race started and I felt that my breathing was good and I’d be fine this time – but then, sure enough, another mini panic attack! I completely lost my breathing rhythm. This time I did breast stroke longer, then did front crawl with right side only breathing for probably 100m. I figured I would calm down and start front crawl again. And it worked. I decided then that if it happened again, I would immediately switch to just breathing on the right.

Because I did the breaststroke for so long, and because there weren’t many swimmers in each wave, it wasn’t long before everyone was long gone and I felt completely on my own. By this time my breathing was fine, but I couldn’t see a soul, not even a lifeguard. “Am I alone out here?” I thought. “Are the lifeguards with the pack of swimmers ahead?” It was a slightly disconcerting feeling. I focussed on swimming in the right direction, because I didn’t want to end up in the wrong bay like I did once before!

Sometime after the 1000m mark (my watch beeps every 500m on the swim), I saw another swimmer!! I immediately thought that they had passed me, but then realized that was impossible – we were the last wave to jump off the ship, and the next wave had to be picked up at the dock and brought out to the start, meaning a 40 min gap between waves. I wasn’t that slow! I soon figured out that the silver swim cap meant the person actually started ahead of me, so I had caught someone. However, I knew I was swimming slowly when I got close to a lifeguard towards the end of the swim and she cheered for me, telling me that I was doing awesome and I was almost there! I told her I was having trouble seeing (my goggles kept fogging up). By the time I got to transition, Alasdair was long gone.

40k bike

Not only did the Olympic race double the length of the ride, but it also very likely doubled the number of hills! My legs were definitely more tired than for the sprint race, so I was biking more slowly.

10k run

However, my legs felt better than expected when I started the run. Once again, the extra distance on the run added a lot more hills! But like the day before, I ran the entire course except 2 times when I stopped to drink from a cup at an aid station. I find that if I give myself permission to walk, it’s the beginning of the end and I start walking more and more! At around the 3 1/2 k mark I spotted Alasdair running towards me. At the run turnaround one of the race crew, who clearly had seen me racing the day before, said “Two times?? Two times??” I was thankful to finally reach the last 1k of the run course, which meant the uphill sections were all done! Once again, Alasdair was waiting near the end of the run, ready to cheer me on. I was glad to be done! Overall, my pace was slightly slower than the day before, totally reasonable given that I didn’t start with fresh legs!

Race stats:

  • Time: 3:29:26.6
  • Swim: 45:24 (3:01 min/100m)
  • T1: 2:20
  • Bike: 1:30:39.2 (26.47 km/h)
  • T2: 2:00
  • Run: 1:09:05 (6:54 min/km)
  • Women 45-49: 5/6
  • All women: 51/62
  • All athletes: 220/269
Love the little person jumping off the boat!

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

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

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

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

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One last picture before putting our wetsuits on.

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

1500m SWIM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Swim stats:

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

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

Gender placing: 64/136

Overall placing: 179/327

T1: 1:59

40k BIKE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bike stats:

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

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

Gender placing: 39/136

Overall placing: 164/327

T2: 2:02 (including pee break)

10k RUN

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

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

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

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

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

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

Run stats:

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

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

Gender placing: 53/136

Overall placing: 179/327

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

Overall stats:

Final time: 2:59:42.6

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

Gender placing: 53/136

Overall placing: 179/327

For comparison – 2013 stats:

Final time: 3:11:21.8

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

Gender placing: 58/100

Overall placing: 209/278

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

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

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

Gravenhurst, we’ll see you again!

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