“Let the waters of Georgian Bay be calm.” In the months, days and weeks leading up to the Bruce Peninsula Multisport Race, my longest solo race to date, this was my biggest hope for race morning. I knew that if I could get through the 16k kayak, I should be able to complete the rest of the race (a 32k mountain bike ride, 8k trail run, 24k mountain bike ride, and then 16k trail run) within the 12 hour time limit. It wouldn’t be easy, but I thought it was doable (after doing some math with the time cut-offs), even though this would be my first time racing the long course (I did the short course in 2017 and 2018 in a team of 2 females). I might be chasing the time cut-offs, but I was hopeful that I could do it. This was my main goal for the day – finish within the 12 hour time limit.
The 2018 edition of the long course race saw many kayaks flipping in choppy waters. And while I did get kayak training in before the race, none of it involved big waves. Given that I used to whitewater kayak, big waves shouldn’t really scare me, but I wasn’t quite sure how well I’d do climbing back into a kayak in the middle of Georgian Bay!
Friday night race check-in and gear drop
On the Friday night, I went through the check-in process at the Wiarton arena, picking up my race kit in the process (which included a race buff, a pair of compression socks, and race stickers to put on various stuff). I verified with volunteers that I had the mandatory gear, left my bike to be loaded onto a truck, and left the kayak I would be using (which belonged to the friend of a friend) and most paddling gear to be transported to the race start.
Saturday – race day!
My race day 4 AM alarm was a rude awakening after a very short sleep in my tent. Loud non-racing neighbours at the Bluewater Park Campground in Wiarton (where the race would end) kept me awake, despite me wearing earplugs. Lesson learned. My 5 minute walk to the arena and busses didn’t make up for my lack of sleep!
Just before 5 AM – and before the sun was up – I boarded a school bus with my kayak paddle and lots of other racers!
Once at the race site, I was relieved to see that the water didn’t look too bad at all! No whitecaps! I was feeling better about the paddle segment already.
I found a bush to pee in, and then got in a lineup for the sole portapotty when I learned there was one (it was still dark when we arrived and I didn’t see it). I was in the line when race organizers told us to start unloading the kayaks from the trailers. I didn’t leave the line! Later I found my kayak at the water’s edge, got everything organized, put my PFD on, and then listened to the pre-race briefing. We were told – in no uncertain terms – that we could face bears, snakes, and steep cliffs during the race, and that no one was making us do the race! We could skip the paddle and hop on our bikes when the first racers started biking. We could quit the race at any time.
When it was time to get into the kayaks, racer #41 helped me by holding the kayak while I got in, and then pushing me out into deeper water. Thank you again!
I chatted with other racers while we waited for the race to start. Somehow I ended up waiting near the front of all the racers, which wasn’t where I wanted to be! I knew I wouldn’t be one of the faster paddlers. Thankfully, I managed to drop back a bit before the race began.
On the count of “3, 2, 1, risk!” (no kidding), the race began, and I managed to avoid the bumper boats going on around me. Apparently one boat did flip, but I didn’t know that until I saw a picture after the race.
The kayak leg started with a 3k paddle to a volunteer standing on a dock where we had to call out our bib #. Next we paddled another 5k to the turnaround point.
At times on the 1st half of the paddle I had trouble keeping the boat straight, having to continually paddle only on one side. When I made the turn at the half-way point (after around 1 hour 2 minutes), I thought, “Wow! It’s easier going this way.” But it didn’t take long to realize I was wrong. While the kayak tracked better on the way back, I was actually paddling into the wind. I was tiring and my butt fell asleep, so the 2nd half of the paddle was actually harder! I was also so thirsty, but didn’t want to stop paddling to take a sip from my water bottle. I did drink eventually. At times there were pretty big waves coming from multiple directions at once. I tried to straighten my legs and shift around, but nothing could fix my numb butt!
There were 10 or so kayaks behind me, including at least one tandem. I paddled back to the volunteer on the dock, and then with 3k to go, I headed for the take-out. This part seemed to take forever. I was so ready to be done the paddle. By this time, I also really had to pee!
After a total of around 2 hours and 25 minutes, I was done the paddle. The awesome volunteers held the boat while I got out, then took it away, making sure I had whatever I needed from it (I had to grab my mandatory gear, which included my first aid kit).
In transition I used the portapotty, ate, put my bike shoes and helmet on, put my paddling gear in “Bag A” (which would be transported to the finish line), grabbed food from Bag A and put it in my bike frame bag, and set out for my first ride of the day!
32k mountain bike leg
The bike started out okay, on a country road. But before long, we turned into a trail. From there the ride was a mix of road (paved and gravel) and trail, with the most technical riding I’ve ever done. There were rocks, roots, logs, mud, steep hills, and combinations of these things all at once. Not too far into the ride I realized I was carrying too much water in my camelbak (too heavy!), so I stopped and dumped some out. Much better. For most of this leg, I felt like I was riding alone. At times I could see someone ahead of me or behind me, which was reassuring when I wasn’t sure I was going the right way and I spotted another racer ahead (or someone followed me).
At one point, I noticed that the quick release on my rear tire was loose, so I tightened it. Later, on the last, steepest descent, which I was walking my bike down, I heard a noise, and noticed that my rear wheel wasn’t turning. I lifted the back of my bike up, and the wheel fell off!! Thankfully, it happened while I was walking my bike. I tried to get the wheel back into place but wasn’t having any luck. Thankfully, another racer appeared at the top of the hill, and very graciously stopped to help me (THANK YOU AGAIN!!!). Two others stopped and helped too, racer #57 and someone I knew, Anne. I was very lucky to have help.
After we all started moving again, the other woman (not Anne) said that she didn’t think we would meet the cut-off to be able to do the first run segment. I was surprised, because it felt like I had been doing really well. But the technical nature of the ride meant that it had taken me a while to do it – around 2 hours and 25 minutes!
I reached the transition area before the cut-off, but one of the race organizers told me that to maximize my chance of completing the entire course, he recommended that I shorten the first run from 8k to 4k (or to whatever I wanted). He said that the time cut-offs get more and more aggressive as the race goes on. I understood that the second ride was more technical, so I decided that it would be better to put any extra time I had into the ride rather than into an 8k run.
Before setting out on the run, I ate food from my Bag B, drank gatorade set up at a little table, and topped up the water bottle on my bike (which I added a Nuun tablet to).
4k trail run
So I set out to run 2k in and 2k out. It was on the Bruce Trail, which had ups and downs and twists and turns. I walked the steepest hills, and arrived back at the transition area well before the cut-off for the next mountain bike leg (the run took me around 46 minutes). I packed by Bag B into a van, so that it would be waiting for me at the next transition area.
24k mountain bike leg
I was a little concerned about this second bike leg, given that it was supposedly going to be even more technical! However, it didn’t turn out like that at all. Plus, I rode more aggressively and got off my bike less. I’m still not experienced (or confident!) enough on my mountain bike to know what it can handle, and what I can handle! But I tried to stay clipped in as much as I possibly could. On one of the trail sections that had lots of small rocks that I had to manoeuvre around, I made a tight turn and to my horror spotted a garter snake right in my path. Unfortunately, I rode right over it. “Oh, buddy!” I said. I hope he survived, but I couldn’t turn back to look or I’d crash my bike!
Somewhere near the end I was sure I had gone the wrong way. I hadn’t seen race markers for a while (the course was very well marked), though I didn’t want to turn around because I would have to go back up a steep hill… I wanted to be sure I was off course. Then I spotted 2 volunteers and was so relieved!! I have to say that the race volunteers, from those at race registration to those on the course were amazing!! Thank you everyone!!
In this bike leg, I passed 2 dogs off leash – thankfully they left me alone, but one racer wasn’t so lucky. I heard at the next transition that one of the dogs had bitten his tire! Once again, I arrived with lots of time to spare before the cut-off. I had some more food, applied more sunscreen, and set out for the finish line! This bike leg took me around 1 hour 50 minutes.
16k trail run leg
I was not familiar with the first 9k of this run segment, but had run the final 7k twice before as part of the short course race. I asked one of the organizers at the transition area what to expect, and he gave me a run-down. It turns out the 16k was a mix of Bruce Trail and side trail, road, farmer’s field, and circular stairs. Much of it runs along the edge of the escarpment overlooking Georgian Bay. There was a net downhill, but lots of little ups and downs. It was also in the last few km’s along the Bruce Trail that I encountered the most non-racers I saw all day.
My 16k “run” was a run/walk mix.
Unfortunately, for the last 30 minutes or more of the run, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had to pee, despite stopping to pee several times! It was rather annoying.
It turns out my fastest km on this run segment was the last (it was on a paved road and then a path past my tent in Bluewater Park). My legs felt good – my cardio was the limiting factor. This run leg took me nearly 2 1/2 hours.
After 10 hours 20 minutes and 43.3 seconds, I crossed the finish line!
I was relieved to be done, and so happy with how my race went. I didn’t care that I ran 4k less than I was supposed to, and that officially I would be disqualified from the race. I felt that I had made the right decision in the moment, to shorten the run to make sure I wasn’t stopped later in the course and not permitted to continue. Maybe if I had run the 8k I would have made the cut-offs, but who knows?
It was a tough race, but I’ll be back. I’m looking forward to completing the full course.
After a veggie burger and chocolate milk, I watched the rest of the awards (they had started before I finished the race), and then headed over to the arena to get my gear, which had been transported from various points on the race course. I had initially planned to camp again that night, but given my horrible sleep pre-race, I decided to drive home where I knew I would be undisturbed.
Thank you Peninsula Adventure Sports Association for an awesome race!!
The winner finished in 6 hours and 32 minutes. The winning female finished in 8 hours and 5 minutes. Only 5 of 11 women finished the full course. See below for more stats!
- # racers who started the race: 67
- # racers who finished the race: 54
- # racers who were disqualified (including me): 11
- # racers who did not finish: 2
- # women who started the race: 11
- # women who finished the race: 5
- # women who were disqualified (including me): 6
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