What a day! Last year, I fell in love with triathlon through the Kincardine Women’s Triathlon. Even though I reported it as The Tri That Wasn’t — it became a duathlon because of water temperatures — it was so much more fun that I’d imagined it could be.
This year was even better! The weather was, once again, perfect. The water was a chilly but bearable 15 degrees C (about 62 F) — fine with the wetsuit. The buzz in the air was equally energizing. And this time, instead of being my first tri, it was my fourth. I’m familiar with the course, the rules, the transition area. I felt good going into the race.
As I reported last week in my post on resilience, there were some setbacks for me leading up to the event, when everyone I planned to do it with had to withdraw from the race. Kincardine is just over two hours from London, on the shores of Lake Huron, so part of the fun is heading up there with a group of friends. Instead, I drove up alone on Friday afternoon — even Renald had to bail because of work.
By the time I hit the road (after a wonderful afternoon at the Stratford Festival—King Lear with Colm Feore), I felt relaxed. I’d turned my attitude around and was feeling as if the time to chill out alone after the race orientation meeting would help me focus on the event and not have to worry about anyone else.
Also, by the time Friday rolled around I knew there would be at least seven other women from Balance Point Triathlon, the club I’m now training with. I knew several from my swim training through the winter, which is with the same coach. We would be able to find each other because a few people, including me, would be wearing team suits. And Natalie was volunteering in the transition area even though she couldn’t race. See her post, “When You Can’t Race.”
I got to the race site at Station Beach right beside the Kincardine Harbour. I’ve spent a lot of time in that harbour as a sailor, including back in 2001 when we took shelter there, with a dramatic and terrifying entrance, after getting caught in one of the worst storm Lake Huron had seen since the early twentieth century (for those not familiar with the great lakes, their size means that they can get some extremely heavy weather).
I pulled into Station Beach at exactly 7 p.m. when the race orientation was supposed to start. A few people were milling around waiting for the briefing. Natalie and her friend Kristen were already there, welcoming me with big smiles on their faces. There were a few retailers and a bike repair tent set up in a little race expo. All in all, there were less than 100 people there for the orientation, far fewer than the 300 or so who would do the race.
The orientation was mostly about the course and what to expect from it. Since I was familiar with the transition area, the bike course, and the run, I stuck around for the swim overview and then wandered to the expo. I’ve been in the market for a good triathlon bag, a race belt, and some mirrored swim goggles. It’s hard not to browse the bike jerseys, tri suits, and running gear. But in the end I kept it to the three items I needed. I got great pricing on a Zoot bag and race belt, and an excellent pair of goggles by Sable.
I tossed my stuff in the car and went down to the water with Natalie and Kristen to check it out. The currents in Lake Huron and the way the flow into Kincardine mean that the water temperature can be quite changeable. This year alone it has dropped from 20 degrees C down to 5 degrees C over the course of a week. We stepped into the water and it was completely bearable. As long as the wind held calm and the currents didn’t change, things were looking good for the swim.
When I checked into my hotel, it turned out that Natalie and Kristen had the adjacent room. We had a brief snack time and chit chat before I felt as if the day had caught up with me and it was time to turn in.
Race morning I gave myself lots of time to shower and prep my tri-bag and go over my checklist a few times, pack up my stuff so I could check out of my room, eat my cereal (I always travel with my own bowl, spoon, vegan cereal, soy milk, and fruit). I walked into the breakfast room downstairs to make myself a tea and immediately ran into two women from the club. They too were excited, wearing their club gear. We all wished one another luck at the race.
The buzz down at the race site was at a high pitch already by the time I arrived just after 7:30. I rode my bike around the parking lot to make sure everything was in working order, then dropped it off in the transition area and headed over to pick up my race kit, timing chip, and bathing cap, and do the body marking. My bib was number 100 this year (last year it was 200). I’m not superstitious but I felt good about this solid, even number.
Next stop, transition area to set things up. This is for me one of the most important parts of a good race. I like to make sure I have a very clear sense of where my bike is. The racks were well marked, by number. I set my bike right beside the second post in and put my towel down beside it. It looked like this:
If you’ve ever been to a race, you’ll know that the announcers are busy through the morning doing a combination of hyping people up and making sure everyone has the information they need to have a good race. The Ontario Triathlon Association had a representative at the race whose job it was to make sure everyone followed the rules. The rules kick in even before the race. The announcers were reminding us all that anyone who even test rode their bike without a helmet could be disqualified.
By about 8:30 I put on my wetsuit and went for a practice swim to warm up. The water felt warmer than the reported 15 degrees C. The wetsuit helps a lot (I can’t imagine what the swim was like for those who didn’t use one) of course, but I have found in the past that my hands and feet and face can get really cold when the water is cold. That didn’t happen this time, so I felt encouraged before the swim even started.
I am highly aware right now that I’m rambling — if you’ve read this far thank you for bearing with me! So let’s get to the race!
A nice touch at Kincardine is that the swimmers are taken down to the beach from the transition area by a bagpiper. For the KWT, they have a woman in full Scottish garb doing the pipes, and it’s beautiful and moving. We followed her to the beach — soft white sand and clear, blue water. I like being able to see the bottom, and Lake Huron is famous for that.
The Swim: 400 metres
The three waves started 3 minutes apart and I was in the last wave. I don’t know if it’s because I warmed up, or I now know what to expect, or it was just a good day, but I felt totally relaxed before the start. When it was my waves turn, I positioned myself right up at the front. I had noticed in previous waves that the swimmers at the back had to run further into the water before they could start swimming because of the people in front of them. I wanted to start swimming as soon as possible.
We counted down 5-4-3-2-1 and off we ran, into the water. As soon as I was thigh deep I started to swim. Jostling for a position at the beginning is always a challenge. I swam into a few people at the beginning, getting a leg in the face here and an elbow there, but I soon settled into my pace. As in the Cambridge race, I soon began to pass people and that built my confidence. My form got away from me a bit and then I remembered how coach Gabbi always encourages us to focus on one thing. I chose focusing on the way my hand entered the water and pulled (as if going over the cliff–hard to explain here but effective), and my stroke improved right away.
400 metres is short. Before I knew it I’d rounded the second corner and could see the inflated blue pillars of the swim finish. I kept up my stroke and when I got to knee deep water I jumped up and ran to the transition area.
Time: 8:58 (35th place out of 162)
Last year when I ran into T1, almost all the bikes were gone already. This year, not so! Progress! I found my bike and pulled off the wetsuit. I brushed off as much sand as I could from my feet, wiped them with a towel, donned my helmet and sunglasses, threw on socks and shoes, grabbed the bike, and ran out of transition.
The Bike: 12 kim
12 km isn’t a long way, so I thought I should be able to push myself. It’s a pleasant route with only one technical part — a downhill into a turn near the beginning. I got hung up there behind someone who pulled hard on her brakes and crept down that part. It seemed dangerous to try to pass her even though I knew I could get down there a lot faster. But whatever. I pedaled hard out of that part and settled into the bike ride. This is by far the part of my race that needs the most work. I enjoyed it but more people passed me than I passed. The hill that just about killed me last year was no problem this year. The woman right in front of me at the dismount line fell to the side of her unclipped foot, which slowed me down as a wave of empathy swept over me.
Time for T1+bike+T2: 33.38 (112th out of 162)
The Run 3 km
I dumped my helmet and bike shoes, had a quick drink, slipped on my running shoes and ran out of the transition area. When I was on the beach waiting for the swim, I was chatting with a woman who was telling me that her last race was satisfying because she fulfilled her goal of not stopping. I decided to go into the run with that goal in mind — over 3 km, I thought to myself, I can surely keep going without having to take a walk break. This was the best decision of the race.
At the beginning of the run my legs felt heavy. I was dying for a drink and the only water station was set up at the turnaround point (1.5 km). I played tag team with a woman who took quite a few walk breaks and then would sprint ahead. She was carrying her own water bottle, which I wanted to snatch out of her hand each time she passed me or I passed her! After the turnaround, my legs started to feel lighter. I fell into pace beside a young woman. We began to chat a bit but then I realized that if I’m chatting, I’m not at race pace! We were coming into the home stretch and I said to her, “let’s pick up our pace as we head to the finish line.” And so we did.
Run time: 19:38 (105th out of 162)
Total: 1:02:12 (92nd out of 162)
I’m happy with my result. I wanted to make it out of the bottom third, and I’m close now to making it out of the bottom half overall. Might not seem like a big aspiration, but I’ll be thrilled to creep out of the bottom half!
Also, though last year was a duathlon, I shaved close to 20 minutes off of my time from last year, including over 5 minutes off the bike, and improved my run pace by more than 1 minute per km. I came in 173/199 last year. This year: 92/162. Last year I marvelled at the women who completed in an hour. This year, I was just 2 minutes and 12 seconds short of that.
It was also great to run as part of a team. At the finish line, I gathered with all the other women from Balance Point Triathlon for team pictures and chatter about the race. I didn’t mind that my one-man cheering squad couldn’t be there. The camaraderie of all the other women made for an amazing race day.
Kincardine Women’s Triathlon, I’ll see you next year!