Race Report: Because Doing the Olympic Distance Once before I Turn 50 Just Wasn’t Good Enough!

Starting the 10K run after the swim and bike on Sunday.
Starting the 10K run after the swim and bike on Sunday. Photo credit: Sam.

Last Sunday at Lakeside I did it again. Right up to the day before it was one of those “if I hadn’t signed up I wouldn’t be doing this” kind of things. But I did sign up and I said I would do and Lakeside is where my club trains.

And now I have one more Olympic distance triathlon to my name: 1.5 km swim, 40 km bike ride, and 10 km run. Bam!

You may recall (or not, but I do!) that I struggled through the Bracebridge course after the swim–a hilly bike ride and a hot run. But I finished and that felt good.

Lakeside is flatter and the weather was cooler. The organizers changed the start time to an hour later because of the temperatures. And they waited until about thirty minutes before the race to announce that it wasn’t going to be wetsuit mandatory (but they strongly recommended everyone wear a wetsuit). My coach brought me some arm warmers so I wouldn’t get cold on the bike ride. So yeah.

A couple of days before the race I told Sam I was dreading it. She said, “it’s flatter and cooler–you’ll do better!”

I can honestly report that I did do better. Kind of. I improved my time in all three things. I shaved just over 2 minutes off of the 1.5 km swim. I managed to finish the bike 6 minutes faster. And I cut my run time by 2 and half minutes. T1 was ridiculously long as I struggled to pull the arm warmers over wet skin and took some extra time to towel off so I wouldn’t be cold. 4 minutes and 50 seconds for T1 (as compared to 3:23 in Bracebridge).

It was all enough to get me to the finish line third last of those who finished (there were also three DNFs and I wasn’t among them!).

I’m going to do something a bit more random than a detailed race report, because, let’s face it, a race report from the person who finished third last just isn’t all that exciting. So here are some reflections:

1. I was so thankful that my friend and colleague, Chris, was racing with me that day.  We travelled together and gave each other pep talks. Sunday was Chris’ actual birthday (52 and she totally rocks!), so the mood was kind of celebratory.

2. Thankful too that I joined Balance Point Triathlon Club this summer and decided to race on our home course. We train there and it makes a difference to be in a familiar place. I was totally relaxed even though I experienced some resistance about wanting to do the race. Being a member of the club meant that I knew lots of people who were there. Club members who weren’t racing had volunteered to help out, so I encountered encouraging words from people I train with all along the course.  And of course, Gabbi the coach reminded me that I could do it, and brought those cool arm warmers that made a huge difference on the bike ride.

3. The Swim. I can’t say enough about how much I am enjoying swimming. Whereas last year when I did the Give-It-A-Tri at Lakeside I had something like a panic attack at the beginning of the swim that made me totally short of breath, gasping for the entire time, this year I felt relaxed and I fell into a nice rhythm almost immediately.  Training with a coach has helped me develop techniques to go into various swim “gears.” These have a lot to do with different breathing patterns.

My favourite race day breathing pattern is to breath two in a row on one side, then on the third stroke, then two in row to that side, then on the third stroke again. I don’t know what it’s called but I like it a lot. When I really want to kick into high gear I breath every two strokes. Training in the open water through the summer has also improved my sighting on the swim. Not having the blue line on the bottom of the pool makes it really easy to go off course.  Learning to sight without breaking speed and rhythm have really improved my swim times.

4. The Bike. Still not loving this part of the race, and of course it’s the longest bit of the course. Though I sometimes see 40 km an hour on my bike computer, I’m usually somewhere between 20-30, and in the end my average speed on the bike for this race came out at 21.8 km/hour. It’s clear to me that the bike is my nemesis. I pass no one on the bike and pretty much everyone in the race, even those well behind me after the swim, blast past me. It’s demoralizing to see zero improvement and I get that I am starting to sound like a whiny child whenever I talk about the bike. Sam has been encouraging me to ride with a women’s intermediate group on Thursday evenings through the fall, but their pace is usually about 28 km/hour. Though the coach says they will slow down if a slower rider joins them, there is no way I’m going to be the one to slow a group down by that much.

Anyway, on race day, I hauled on those arm warmers and jumped on the bike. Knowing that I wouldn’t be making any big progress on the bike that day, I used it to practice different techniques, play with the gears, work on my confidence on hills, and even commune with the natural world (it’s a nice rural course and by mid-morning, the weather was kind of pleasant).

I probably need to learn to suffer more on the bike.

5. It was great when I got back from the bike because Sam and Kim and our friend David were all there at the dismount line, along with Chris’ kids and her partner, Emma, cheering me on. That bolstered me a bit for the run, though truth be told the idea of running 10K after that bike ride seemed incredible to me.

6. The run. Well, as incredible as it seemed, I did it. By the time the run started the weather was actually perfect running weather. Not too hot, but not cold at all. I took the arm warmers off shortly into the run. The course at Lakeside is two 5K loops.  I suffered serious quad cramps over the first 2 km.  At the first water station, one of the speedsters I train with encouraged me to “push through the pain.”

When I finished the first 5K loop, there was a guy there directing people to the finish line.  I said, “Not me, I have another loop to do.”  He said, “Really?” He seriously looked flabbergasted. By this time the people in the next race (a Give-It-a-Tri that started three hours later) had already begun the run.  The last 5K was a psychological battle, not to finish — I knew I would finish — but to keep running. By this time, I just wanted it to be over. My quads cramped up again at about 6K, and I felt like I was hitting a wall. I tried some Heed at the water stations and sucked down a gel, but I was well and truly out of steam.

I got to the finish line and choked back some sobs as I approached. When I crossed, I saw no one I knew and that felt kind of good, actually, because I had nothing left for anyone. Sam et al. had long since gotten back on their bikes for the long ride home.  Chris was still there with the family and I caught up with them a bit later.

I found the food tent and filled a plate with banana pieces and pretzels and then sat myself down at a picnic table.

7.  I don’t know when it happened. I think it was some time during the last leg of the run.  People were encouraging me by name — this is why I love the fact that they have first names in HUGE letters on our race bibs — and I was chugging along.  And I had a surge of pride and satisfaction in what I was accomplishing.  If I look back at two years ago when Sam and I started our fittest by 50 challenge, I never for a minute would have thought I could complete an Olympic distance triathlon (or even a sprint distance, really) before my 50th birthday!  And here I was, doing it, just 10 days before the big day. Look at me!

Time: 3:44.28.5

Next up:  Toronto half marathon with my friend Anita on Sunday, October 19th.

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