The snipe is a small, two person boat and there’s a healthy racing fleet of them up at Guelph Lake. Jeff’s been teaching Sarah and me how to sail and race the Snipe over the past month or so and Tuesday night we got to make our debut. There was no Jeff. He’s off on his big boat and you can read about his adventures here on his own blog.
How’d we make out?
We didn’t die, capsize, crash into any other boats, or drown.
We (mostly) successfully rigged the boat.
We got the boat into the water, and ourselves into the boat, and vice versa at the end. As with rowing there are times when this feels like the trickiest part of the whole thing.
We made all of the mark roundings.
The winds were tricky. It was great that it was neither dead calm nor blowing all the boats over but the winds were really shifty. Because the weather was unsettled we were happy to see that there were only a dozen or so boats out. Sometimes there can be twice that number and it gets a bit hairy at the start. In the end, it rained but only for about ten minutes. We got damp but not soaking wet.
From my point of view, we safely followed the fleet around the course at a respectful distance. In our last race we nearly came second last but the other boat got by us on the final run up to the finish. It was a confidence building experience. It was fun and we’ll definitely do it again.
Sarah had the much harder job of skippering. I was just crew. But we’re learning to work together, to communicate better, and next time we’re hoping to mess it up with the boats at the back of the pack. It’s good to have something that’s new, with a lot to learn, to distract me from all the things I’m not doing this summer because I can’t.
I ran the Ottawa Race Weekend Scotiabank Half-Marathon last Sunday. And as happens to countless other athletes in the minutes, hours and days following a race, game or competition, I was asked: “How’d it go?”
“How’d it go?” such a simple little question on the surface and, assuming the question is well-intentioned (not always the case, but we’ll leave that for another blog), something asked out of genuine interest in the participant’s assessment of what happened during the event. The answer, however, is tricky because whether you like it or not, you have to reflect on what your performance means to you (in relation to one or more indicators, be it an objective metric like time, score or ranking or a subjective perception, like effort, satisfaction or fun) and then, you have to decide what you are going to say about it to others. Sometimes, these two steps flow smoothly from one to the other – usually when you meet or exceed whatever expectations you had. Other times there is no clear answer because it depends on how you want to characterize what happened. Glass half-empty or glass half-full? This latest half-marathon was just such a situation. Through the prism of three possible answers to the question, here is how I worked through what I thought of my race and what I would say about it.
Answer number 1: “I ran a 1:44.21.” Answering with a race time is a typical, quick response. I thought about just saying this multiple times. Before the race, I had indicated to some of my running friends that I hoped to run a sub-1:45. For anyone who does a sport that is measured against the clock, you know there are thresholds imbued with a certain aura. A sub-1:45 half-marathon is one of them, because it translates into a sub-5:00 min/km pace, a kind of badge of honour among older racers like me (I’m 48) who still remember when they could run really fast without nearly as much effort.
In the world of amateur running, competition is a relative concept. I do not try to compete with elite runners or even category winners. Even in my 45-49 category, the fastest women run times that are beyond my reach. My objectives are calibrated to what I think I can achieve – on a good day, when things go well, taking into account the reality that running is an activity I love but which can command only a limited amount of my time in comparison to that which is taken up by my family, my friends, my colleagues and students, my academic career, my community etc.
Against this backdrop, it would be tempting to say, just be happy you can run, just go out there and have fun, who cares about the time? Well, umm, I do. I have been racing in some form or another my entire life: cross-country, middle distance track, 5 & 10k road races, marathons, triathlons, Masters swim meets and open-water swims. As I have joked to many people over the years: you can take an athlete out of competition, but you cannot take competition out of an athlete. Age, injuries, family and work responsibilities, none of that can ever dim the desire to perform and to achieve goals. Of course, this applies to other areas of life too, but sport remains a particularly fertile ground for setting measurable targets. But a time never tells the whole story and this was especially true for my half-marathon this year.
Answer number 2: “It went really well until about 16k, when I got a massive calf cramp. I kept going but the cramp never went away completely. I finished ok, but not as well as I could have.”
The bane of the older athlete’s existence is the way the body can break down in ways it never has before. Sometimes, we see it coming, sometimes it hits without warning. Going into Sunday’s race, I was worried about lingering issues with my hamstrings, which have become quite vulnerable (running plus a desk job is terrible for hamstrings).
In 2015, my first half-marathon after more than 10 years (and 3 kids) away from road racing, I ran a personal best time of 1:39.53, but I paid for it dearly when in the weeks following the race I started to notice sharp pain in my left hamstring when I ran at faster tempos. I foolishly did not heed these early warning signs and ended up with a hamstring tear (there was never a precise cause identified and it took months to diagnose, but I knew something was not right by the fall of 2015). It took 18 months to recover, during which I could do little running and it nearly drove me crazy! I ran the 2017 half-marathon but I was much more careful and much slower (1:46.32).
In preparing for this year’s race, my left hamstring was fine, but my right hamstring had occasionally bothered me in training. When I woke up on race day, however, I felt great. It was a cool overcast morning and I could sense in my bones that the conditions for racing would be near perfect – the times were going to be fast this year. Nevertheless, I started the race cautiously, watching my pacing, making sure I was not going out too fast. At about 15k, I looked down at my watch: a 4:51 km/min, not lightning speed, but a good solid pace. I said to myself: “No need to push, your first half of the race was strong, all you need to do is stick on this pace and you’re golden.” Hubris, I suppose. 500 m later, my calf seized up in a cramp so intense I had to stop running. More than the pain, I felt the utter shock of surprise: how can this be? I have never had a calf cramp in my life! In an instant, I knew my fast time was history.
But the injury, though significant, was still only part of the story.
Answer number 3: “I had so much fun out there: the atmosphere was amazing. I just love being part of this race!”
If you have ever run in a mass race, you will know that while running in the crowd of runners, you are part of something larger than yourself. Even if people are actually running at variable speeds, you are part of a continuous flow that carries you along, if not physically, at least psychologically. Until you stop.
When I had my calf cramp, I was stopped for all of about 20-30 seconds as I tried to stretch it out. Nevertheless, I watched what seemed like thousands of runners whizz past me. I will admit it was dispiriting. Then I had another surprise. A runner stopped at my side for a few moments. He said: “You ok? Try rolling your foot more to take the pressure off the calf. And here, take this. Good luck!” He handed me a packaged electrolyte “gummy bar” and was gone. I did not have time to note his name or bib number. But I will forever be grateful to him for altering the course of the race for me. Not for the calf muscle – even the gummy bar could not eliminate the pain and awkward gait I would have to manage for the next 5 km – but for the change in attitude his gesture prompted in me.
Though I do a lot of sports, I will always be first and foremost a runner. Running is one of the few spaces in my busy life that remains completely mine and allows me to reconnect with that fleet-footed 10 year-old I once was, who ran out of pure joy without a care in the world. Now, she said to me : “Hey, this cramp may slow you down, but you don’t have to let it ruin your fun.” So I started up again, resolved to enjoy every single minute. I smiled at every funny sign I saw (my favourite: “Enjoy this quiet time away from the kids!”), I clapped in appreciation at the bands playing on the roadside, I high-fived every kid who held out his or her hand, and I blew kisses to the throngs of spectators who lined the final kilometres of the course. Most important, I did not once look at my watch. When I crossed the line at 1:44.50 (gun time, not chip time), I was pleasantly surprised.
Three answers, all factually accurate, all different perspectives on the same race. So what’s the takeaway? Each of them is an important part of why I continue to race.
First, performance metrics, like time, when kept in reasonable bounds, give me something to strive for and provide a focus for training. I may not have had my best time this year, but I was encouraged and pleased with the first 2/3 of the race. At the finish line, my first thought was : I am not done; there is room for improvement yet. I can run faster!
Second, injuries happen, especially as we age. The calf strain was a reminder not to take the body for granted, but I was also heartened by how well my hamstrings have held up. I realized that with proper care and training, it is possible to rebuild and recover.
Finally, attitude is everything. Clearly, finishing the half-marathon with a smile is small potatoes in comparison with other more important matters. But it was a reminder to me of the transformative power of choosing to be positive in the face of adversity.
So how’d it go? “It was fast, it was tough and it was fun! And I can’t wait till next year!”
Bio: An avid runner and swimmer who also enjoys cycling, cross-country skiing, and yoga, Jennifer is a married mother of three and a professor in the Civil Law Section of the Faculty of Law of the University of Ottawa.
(This post is a conversation between Cate and Tracy).
Cate: So we’ve been talking about this story that’s circulating about a town in Texas that’s hosting a 0.5K race, complete with a beer at the start line and donuts halfway through. Now, here’s the thing. This is supposed to be playful — their site presents the “race” this way:
The um, “Run” will start at River Road Park, just across from the Dodging Duck. Conveniently, the Duck has offered all participants a free pint of beer before the start of the race, so get there early. Yay beer!
The um, “Race”, will then head down the River Road Park walkway, underneath the Main Street Bridge where you will finish in a blaze of glory.
We will then head to the Cibolo Creek Brewery to relive the experience, brag to our friends, take selfies to post on social media “I DID IT!!! I’M A FINISHER!! LOOK AT ME!!!” Conveniently, CCB has offered all participants a free pint of beer at the end of the race. Yay beer!
Now, sure this sounds fun and everything, and I get why it sold out. It’s just a fun send up of “real” races But for some reason, hearing a story on CBC about this irritated me. I’ve been thinking about why — and I know this makes me sound totally churlish — and I think it’s because it buys into the trope that everyone “secretly hates” exercise.
One headline about it was “this town is hosting a 0.5k race because running sucks.” I think I’m kind of sensitive about the shade I sometimes get about working out a lot from people who don’t — the implication that I’m some kind of masochist or showing off my virtue or a “fitness-aholic.”
Did it bug you?
Tracy: Yes, it bugged me too! My first encounter with this story was in a link to an article entitled “This town is hosting a 0.5K race for people who hate running,” but when you click through appears to be the same article as the one Cate just linked to (with one with “…because running sucks”). My reaction right away was, “FFS why don’t they just find a different activity?”
I said that before I read the article. A closer read: it’s about fun. It’s for charity. It’ll “afford you the opportunity to experience a winner’s finish without even breaking a sweat.” Because we want that finish line experience even though, according to the article, we all know that “running blows.”
So why did it annoy me? Like Cate, I just don’t buy into that narrative. If you think running blows, then don’t run.
But then what’s wrong with all the other stuff? I often find myself on the wrong side of fun-promotion (I get irritated when people talk about goat yoga, for example). Why begrudge people that “finish line feeling”? And the charity aspect, raising money for Blessings in a Backpack, a charity that feeds children in need on weekends. Or the “VIP” option where you can skip the 0.5K altogether and get an even bigger medal. I have no objection to play, but I think the whole thing pushed my philosophical buttons.
Cate, I want to hear more about your negative reaction. It’s comforting that I’m not alone.
Cate: I think I feel like you do. On one hand, I get that it’s a playful thing, and if they were trying to get attention, it worked — it’s a tiny event in a small town in Texas and they got media coverage in Newsweek, the Washington Post, a national CBC show — and they sold out. So from a marketing point of view — and from a fundraising perspective — it was a huge success. And it’s the inversion of the normal race that got them that attention. And I’m sure it was a fun event — who doesn’t love a good doughnut?
But I agree with you that there’s something at the centre of it that niggles me — something about the notion that you can skip right over the actual experience of training and running to enjoy “being a finisher.”
Partly this bugs me because of the implication that the only enjoyable part of running is crossing the finish line — like it’s all hell but at least you get to brag about it. It’s part of this whole narrative that if physical things are hard, they are inherently miserable. That’s not my experience. I thrive on hard, long, windy bike rides or tough runs, and find something deeply satisfying — and yes, enjoyable — to truly work my body to its fullest. It’s me at my most human, and I’d never want to skip over that.
And when I dig underneath, my reaction is about this bigger notion that life is about collecting experiences and knocking them off the list, not about being truly present in the moment of things. It’s the same reason the concept of bucket lists bothers me. I travel a lot, and I keep a running tally of how many countries have been to, but it’s not about collecting them — it’s about savouring the mystery and the privilege of being able to see such a profoundly amazing and diverse world.
Tracy:There is a thought experiment in philosophy called “The Experience Machine.” It lets you program in any experience and if you’re hooked up to the machine you experience 100% indecipherable from reality. The question is: would you choose to spend the rest of your life hooked up to the machine (you can’t go in and out — one decision, yes or no?)? The “right answer” for most people is “no, I wouldn’t.”
Why not? Because, so the argument goes, we value more than experience. We value actual achievement. It’s not enough to be convinced I won a Pulitzer. The experience only has value if I did earn a Pulitzer. This event purports to “afford you the opportunity to experience a winner’s finish without even breaking a sweat.” I understand that it’s just a small variation on the argument against finishers’ medals (that they’re not really “earned” and medals should be reserved for the top 3). But somehow having the experience of finishing a race without actually finishing takes it one step too far. When I get a finishers medal I am under no illusions: I have not placed 1-3. But I DID finish. And I earned that much, at least. But this… nope. There is no accomplishment.
Now maybe this view just means I’m so steeped in a cultural narrative about merit and desert that I need to take a step back and lighten up. But there is a further thing that I think is potentially lost when we make light of running (or any activity) by offering a no-benefit option. It’s not just about accomplishment. It’s also about making light of the real issue of inactivity and sedentary lifestyles that carry with them actual health consequences.
This race, apparently, even has a smoking zone. And beer. Everything in me just wants to scream “no, no, no, no, no.” I’ll take the Colour Run over this any day (and I’m not keen on the Colour Run either — for myself. Its very existence doesn’t bother me but it’s not my kind of event).
There are lots of other great ways, fun ways, to earn money for charity. Right, Cate? We brainstormed a bunch at the Guelph book launch the other day, remember?
Cate: Yup! Go bowling, have a silent auction, make art, have a disco-themed gala, invite an inspiring speaker, organize a cabaret, have a rock paper scissors contest, a thumb wrestling championship, euchre tournament, three-legged race — the world is stuffed with experiences you can fully inhabit. You don’t have to mock one of the things that’s an actual goal for a lot of people trying to become healthier.
So I’ve been running for about five years now and mostly I’m a run-walk interval type of person. Way back in 2012 I posted about what an amazing feeling it was to run for 20 minutes in a row. I’ve come a long way since then, but haven’t aspired to do continuous running over distances. In fact, I’ve always been in awe of people who can do it.
Not only that, the jury is still out about whether some people actually cover the ground faster with run-walk intervals. The theory: the legs have a short time to recover on the walk break, thereby making it easier to maintain a good pace on the run portion. With the 10-1 run-walk intervals, you obviously spend way more time running than walking.
When I started out on the MEC 10K on Saturday, which is the race I’ve been training for since early September, I thought I would do 10 minute runs with 30 second walk breaks. But I’ve been going out pretty strong lately on my solo easy and tempo runs and haven’t really taken walk breaks. So when I passed over the mat to start the timer on Saturday, I thought, “what the heck? Why not try to go for as long as I can without a walk break?”
I’ve been pushing myself a bit harder in training lately, running up hills that I used to walk up, doing short pick-ups with the promise of a short walk or slow jog immediately after, that sort of thing.
The event couldn’t have taken place in more familiar territory. I have walked and run the path from Gibbons Park into Springbank and back more times than I can count. And could the weather possibly have been better on Saturday? The answer is no. It was a little cool to start with but I made the right call choosing a light tank and shorts. I kept it simple with sunglasses, no ballcap (which I’ve noticed I’ve been removing a lot lately), no water of my own (I’m learning to trust the water stations in an event), and my Fall running playlist (you can find it on Spotify if you want to follow–bear in mind that it works for me and there is no “theory” behind its construction other than that right now I like those songs in that order when I’m running). I had my Garmin on my belt instead of my wrist so that I wouldn’t check it; the plan was to go by feel. I just wanted the data after, not a gauge during. On my wrist I wore my Timex Ironman watch in “chrono” mode so I’d know how long I’d been out. But even that I consulted only rarely (and forgot to start it until 1 km into it anyway).
I felt super relaxed and ready to enjoy my run, challenge myself a bit, and see how my training with Linda might cash out into something I could feel good about. I didn’t have any big aspirations for a personal best, which would have meant coming in under 1:06 (I never claimed to be speedy!). And it’s because I wasn’t going for a time that I felt good about challenging myself in this other way.
As one kilometre rolled into the next, I was feeling pretty fresh. I had the race broken down into three parts: go out easy for the first 3K, go steady the next 3-4K, and then pick it up the last 3K. I mostly stuck with that strategy. I took a tiny bit of water at the 5K turnaround and the 7.5K water station. I had just one Clif Shot Block at around 4K. I am terrible at incorporating nutrition properly and also didn’t really know when and it’s hard to chew when you’re running (and I didn’t want to stop running).
I kept things moving along with a few different mantras: “fast feet” is always a good one. Also “touch, lift, touch, lift, touch, lift” is my favourite because it reminds me that all I need to do with my feet is touch and lift and touch and lift again. There is something comforting about its simplicity. I did the Linda thing and fixed my efforts on reaching the next sign, the next bench, the next whatever to keep me mentally focused instead of all over the place.
Before I knew it I had just 2K to go and I was remembering Linda telling me that there is no reason to finish a race with anything left in the tank. I mean, you’re done, right? So push a little why don’t you? I agree with this in theory but I was afraid to go really hard too soon and fizzle early, so I saved the final big push for the last kilometre. At that point, I really threw myself into it and felt incredibly awesome because I realized that no matter what I was about to finish 10K without a walk break. Not even on a hill! My last segment was at a 6:30 pace, which for me is good. I had a few moments of faster than that (even under 6:00). I was breathing hard across the finishing mat, but that’s as it should be.
I haven’t done an event alone in awhile but I didn’t feel lonely at the finish line. I milled around a bit, even met a fan of the blog and another woman (who took the picture of me in this post) who is going to blog for us about winter camping in December (hi Wendy!). I soaked in the great weather and the buzz of the finishing area, enjoyed the bananas and the bagels, and reveled in my new accomplishment.
Okay, so at 1:06:32 I didn’t beat my best 10K time. But I felt so good that I’m convinced I can get that 10K under 1:05 in fairly short order. It just means pushing a bit harder and sticking to the continuous running.
I like learning something about myself as I go. What I learned over the last little while, culminating in Saturday’s continuous 10K, is that my body doesn’t need the walk breaks. It’s my mind that tries to tell me I need them.
What’s your take on continuous versus run-walk intervals?
So, it’s the last day of my vacation; I’m on my way back to Newfoundland after an awesome 9 days of coming home to Nova Scotia. In the last couple of years, I’ve been coming home in May and September, to the Bluenose and Maritime Race Weekends. Training consistently has been a real challenge the past couple of years (I’ve mostly been a weekend warrior), but by signing up for races, it at least keeps me in the headspace of aspiring to be an athlete again.
This year I did the 5k on Friday night, and the 10k Saturday morning, for a ‘Tartan Twosome’ Awesomely, so did my niece, Christina, who lives in Dartmouth, who is one of the best ambassadors for running I know. She gave me a drive for both races, and we arrived in plenty of time to enjoy the great vibe together at the race site beforehand. Lots of east coast music, pirates, and even highland dancers. As usual, though, when I was getting dressed for the first race, I was wishing I ‘looked’ and felt more like a runner — that I was leaner, my form would be better, that I would be faster, etc.
Then (also as usual) I got to the race, and was super-impressed with everyone else who was there, all rightly being hugely proud of themselves, and enjoying their accomplishment of being there and participating! Immediately, I was brought back to my happy place, and reminded of the reason I continue to run and sign up for races in which I know I have no chance of being competitive: I think everybody else is awesome for their efforts, so how come I don’t think the same about me? I’m a better person for however much running I fit into my life, regardless of whether I turn into the “lean, mean running machine” I dream of being someday. Success before I even started the race! Yay!
The 5k went way better than expected, especially considering I had been battling sinusitis and laryngitis since that Wednesday. The race is an out-and-back that ends on a downhill and comes back in through the Fisherman’s Cove village of shops on the water. The crowds of people cheering everybody on was amazing, as was the live entertainment along the way. Musicians were playing traditional music and cheering on participants, too. The 10k the next day was pretty rough, with more hills and heat, but, also with the help of the crowds and musicians, I finished, and even managed not to beat myself up about having to walk 2 or 3 times. Instead, I’m using it as huge motivation to recommit to running, and see how much I can improve between now and next year! Can’t wait!
But perhaps the best part of both days was reconnecting with friends and family with whom I’ve lost touch over the years. Like Linda, who put the idea in my head when we met in 1999 that I could and should do a marathon with her, and continued to support me through training, even after she had to stop her own because of an injury. She did whatever runs she could with me, checked in with me about training, and had me stay overnight at her place before the Valley Harvest marathon, so that she and her husband could get up ridiculously early and drive me to the marathon from their place in Sackville. Afterwards, they brought me back to theirs, to put me in the jacuzzi with a cold beer in hand. There she was, crossing the Sunset 5k finish line, looking exactly the way I remembered her from nearly two decades ago — amazingly strong and super-fit, and at 60-something!
And Meghan, a friend from school who I hadn’t seen in years, but have gotten huge inspiration and encouragement from through Facebook, following her journey to being the best person she can be by focussing on her fitness, while also being wife, mother to two children, and working full-time.
And I’ve reconnected with my sister, who’s been living away for years now; my sister-in-law, who lives in Nova Scotia, but you know.. life; and Christina; we’ve all committed to doing a Tartan Twosome next year, and supporting each other in our training efforts as we go. And so begins another year of training, and seeing how close I can get to my goals. One thing is for sure though… there’s no shortage of amazing inspiration and role models to be found!
Angie White is a former academic with a PhD in philosophy from Western University. She is from Nova Scotia, and is now enjoying being back on the east coast, living in St. John’s, Newfoundland with her husband and puppy.
Now things are really getting under way. Rachel’s been sharing the following pitch on Facebook and Instagram and I thought I’d share it here too.
Good luck Rachel! We’re cheering for you.
Hi there! I’m Rachel. I race bikes. This year, I co-founded a team, Foxy Moxy Racing, with the vision of promoting radically inclusive sport for trans and gender non-conforming people (gnc). That means showing people that trans/gnc people exist, and helping build a community for current and potential trans/gnc athletes. Sport is a human right. That’s in the Olympic Charter as the very first of the Principles of Olympism. But trans and gender non-conforming people have struggled to find a home in sport. I want to change that.
I’ve chosen to race this year as an openly trans woman, at some of the highest levels of women’s cycling in the US and Canada. I’m hoping you can help, though: racing bikes across the country (and across the continent) is really expensive. So I’m reaching out for help funding my summer of racing for trans and gender non-conforming inclusive sport.
I have a full race calendar planned. It started with the Pro/1/2 stage race, the Tour of the Southern Highlands. I was thrilled to win the Stage 2 circuit race. Here’s where I’ll be:
March: Sunshine Grand Prix (FL)
April: USA Crits Speed Week (SC, NC, GA)
May: Winston-Salem Classic (NC)
June: North Star Grand Prix stage race (MN)
June: Canadian Elite Road Nationals (ON, Canada)
July: Intelligentsia Cup (IL)
August: Crossroads Classic (NC)
September: Gateway Cup (MO)
I’m seeking funding to help with travel and race fees. This schedule will cost over $1500 in race fees alone. I live in Charleston, SC, and I drive everywhere to keep costs down. Every little bit you can contribute helps! Thank you!! #thefutureisfoxy
As Kincardine approaches, a couple of my friends who are doing a multi-sport event for the first time have asked me about the transitions. People spend a lot of time talking about multi-sport training, but I remember like it was yesterday when, two years ago in the lead up to my first triathlon (also the Kincardine Women’s Triathlon) it dawned on me that I needed to “set up” my transition area and I had no clue what that meant.
Enter a whole new thing to worry about. So, in the hopes of fending off worries for some of the newbies out there, today’s post is about setting up the transition area and about managing the transitions as swiftly as possible (in relative terms — there will be nothing here about a running bike start in bare feet with the shoes already clipped into the pedals).
But before you get to the transition, it’s a good idea to have a checklist of what you need to pack. This one is liberally borrowed and adapted from a checklist that a friend of mine who joined a triathlon training group at our local Y gave me. I’ve added some of my own notes in square brackets and though I do not know who the author(s) of this document were, I am grateful to them for providing some guidance and for much of the content that follows (yes, I’m an academic).
For the swim: wetsuit [if you’re wearing one], goggles, swimsuit or triathlon suit, swim cap or race cap (in your race kit–you’ll only need both if the water is chilly), 2 towels (a set-up towel and a drying towel–[I have found that a small towel is good for drying]). [Note: I also need very good ear plugs because excruciating ear aches took me out of swimming for a number of years until I discovered ear plugs for swimming.]
For the bike: bike [with adequately inflated tires], helmet, socks [if wearing], bike shoes [if clipless pedals, otherwise running shoes], sunglasses, shirt if you’re riding in a swimsuit, with race # pinned to the front [I recommend a race belt because ideally your number will be in the back for the bike, the front for the run], a pump, portable flat kit on the bike [assuming you know how to change a tire, of course, since it won’t do you a whole lot of good if you don’t know how to use it], full water bottle on the bike in your water bottle holder.
For the run: running shoes, hat
Also recommended: sunscreen (sport style), water, energy drink, banana and whatever other race nutrition you like to have on hand for pre- and post-race, as well as during, duffle bag or triathlon bag for carrying everything, jacket if it’s cold, body glide (for helping with the wetsuit and also for bike shorts chamois or other sensitive areas where you might get chafing)
Optional: race belt (attach number), quick-tie shoelaces, GPS watch, garbage bags in case of rain or wet ground [I also pack a shoe horn and it saves me time because I can pre-tie my running shoe laces]
Okay, so that’s what you need to bring. I have an excellent Zoot triathlon backpack style tri-bag for toting everything. It’s got multiple compartments including a special spot for the bike helmet and another for the wetsuit.
Now it’s when I saw that list that I started to panic. But maybe you’re one of those more reasonable people who can keep in mind that knowledge is power, and knowing what to pack puts you in a better position to handle race day well.
So, as promised, here are the goods on transitions, based on my limited experience over the past couple of years.
1. When you get to the race, the first thing you will do is rack your bike. The racks are usually grouped by event (triathlon/duathlon) and by either bib number or age group/gender. Find your rack and pick a spot. Hook your bike on the cross bar by the seat, and if there is a bike beside, hook yours in so it’s facing the opposite way (so you’re alternating sides of the rack and aren’t on top of each other during transitions).
Get a visual bearing on your location — both the location of the rack (e.g. fifth rack on the right as you come into the transition from the swim, lines up with the trash can over there) and the location of your bike within the rack (e.g. the first bike after the third post). Some people put something neon or otherwise distinctive on or near their bike so they can see it when they come in.
You also want to be clear before the race start exactly where you come in from the swim, where the bike exit is, and where the run exit is.
2. Fold your ground towel in half and lay it on the ground right beside your bike. Space is limited and you are expected not to take up a lot of space. If you look at the picture at the top of the post, that’s about all the space I had.
3. Place bike helmet, straps open and hollow side up, either on your handlebars or on the towel beside your bike, and put the sunglasses in the helmet with their arms open, ready to put on.
4. Water bottle on bike, full.
5. Shoes and socks on towel, laces undone and ready to put on (or, if you’re like me, laces done just how you want them, plus a shoe horn).
6. Shirt on towel with bib pinned to front OR if you’re wearing a suit have race belt ready with the bib number attached and the belt open, placed on your helmet or shoes.
7. Put your drying towel on the set-up so that it’s easy to grab when you get back from your swim.
8. Put your running cap or visor with your running shoes.
9. Race nutrition if needed should also be on the towel or already on your bike, ready to go. Sometimes I put an extra water bottle on the towel to grab a quick drink before heading out but I’m not sure that’s recommended since it takes up valuable transition time.
T1: Swim to Bike
1. As you’re coming out of the water, start running towards the transition. Put your goggles on your head (leave goggles and swimcap on so you have two free hands). Peel your wetsuit down to your waist. Finish taking it off when you get to your set-up. Leave it, cap and goggles on the ground beside your bike (not on the rack — that’s not allowed).
2. Step on towel to dry feet as quickly as possible (they don’t need to be perfect!) and then pull on your socks.
3. Put on your bike shoes (or running shoes)
4. Put on your t-shirt or, if wearing a tri suit, your race belt with number to the back.
5. Put on your sunglasses.
6. Don the helmet and do up the strap — you must not touch your bike until the strap is done up (doing so is grounds for disqualification).
7. Run with your bike to the “Bike Out” and when you get to the “mount/dismount line” (and not before!), cross the line, get on your bike, and ride as if someone is chasing you and you don’t want to get caught.
T2: Bike to run
1. Dismount at the dismount line (do not cross the line on your bike or you may be disqualified) and run with your bike back to your transition spot.
2. Re-rack the bike.
3. Remove your helmet (make sure you do this in the right order: re-rack the bike first, remove the helmet second)
4. Change your shoes if you’re wearing bike shoes
5. Switch your number to the front if you’re wearing a race belt
6. Grab your hat
6. Run out the “Run Out” chute. I find this is a good time to bring in positive self-talk, smile at people, and remind myself of my awesomeness for being out there and doing this!
The Y-group’s checklist and transition guidelines sheet says this about the finish line:
Big smile for camera and FANS You made it!! Enjoy the moment; congratulate yourself and your fellow competitors. You are now a Triathlete!
The finish line is for hugging friends and loved ones and fellow competitors, for photo-ops, for re-hydrating, and for finding some post-race food. At Kincardine, they always serve sausages, which, as a vegan, I don’t eat. But there is also a little snack hut on the beach and they make awesome fries. So that is my post-rate “nutrition” after Kincardine.
I hope this annotated overview helps to alleviate some stress for anyone who is doing a triathlon for the first time, including my newbie friends who are joining me at my favourite event of the season, The Kincardine Women’s Triathlon, Saturday, July 11th, 2015.
Other tips and suggestions are more than welcome! Please comment with them if you have experience to share!
[warning: this race report is interminably long–my apologies. TI]
Why do people run marathons? This thought flashed through my mind somewhere between 30 and 32K on Sunday, as I ran the Mississauga Marathon, my first full distance marathon ever. And quite possibly my last. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: it’s one thing to be fast and cover these distances quickly, quite another to be slow and plod along for almost six hours. That takes its own special kind of underrated endurance.
I got to Mississauga the day before the event. The minute I got up to my hotel room I heard a baby crying in the adjacent room and another child who sounded like perhaps a toddler vying for parental attention. It took me about 30 seconds to assess the situation and call down to the front desk for another room. They obliged. Whew!
I had dinner plans with my friend, Vicki, and she got there just the second I got the new room. We did a quick shopping trip to the fancy Square One Mall, and then headed out in search of pasta. Alioli exceeded my expectations for what kind of Italian food I might find in a mall neighborhood of a Toronto suburb. You can feed me crusty white bread and Alioli’s jumbo ravioli stuffed with mushrooms and smothered in their marinara sauce every day.
After dinner we went for a walk because not only did we have a bit of time, but the weather was perfect as perfect can be on the weekend. We have suffered through the relentless winter and then soldiered further through what’s been a disappointing and unreliable spring. And this weekend the weather gods delivered on Environment Canada’s promise of “the nicest weekend so far.”
Catching up with Vicki and wandering around on a warm evening in late spring kept my mind off of the reason I was there: to run 42.2 km in the morning. As soon as we said good-night I fired up my laptop to check on some race details, like the exact location of the starting line, the frequency of water stations, and (though meaningless to me because I don’t know Mississauga at all), the route. The route looked unforgivingly long.
I made a decision about shoes, clothes, accessories and laid everything out on the other bed so I wouldn’t have any decisions in the morning. I wrote myself the following note: 6 a.m. eat breakfast, 6:15 shower, 6:45 make way to starting line for the 7:30 start.
Lights out. Unsettled night of sleep but no screaming children.
Rise and shine. I woke up feeling rested enough and pretty excited. Put my cereal together (something with Chia seeds and dried fruit and soy milk that works well for me as a pre-race meal and is easy to pack for travel). Ate. Showered. Dressed. The temperature was still on the cool side, around 11 degrees C, but warm enough that I didn’t need a throwaway sweater. I could leave in my running tank and shorts, not a problem.
When I got down to the lobby a few people were headed out to the starting line. This is the first time I’ve been to a race out of town where I knew no one. Gabbi, my triathlon coach, and Miriam and Mary, both from the club, were all in town but I didn’t have a plan to meet up with them and the starting line is kind of chaotic anyway. Not knowing anyone can be both lonely and liberating. I experienced both as I walked to the starting area and waited for the race to begin.
I had one main plan: to cross the finish line. My longest run ever before Sunday was 30K, so it’s not as if I fully trained for the marathon. That kind of concerned me, but I knew that even if I had to slow down considerably, I would be able to get to the end.
My other bits of strategy included turning off the pace and distance fields from my Garmin so it would only show me how long I’d been out there. This was so I could do it more intuitively. I knew there wasn’t a whole lot I could do about pace. I knew that at a certain point it would be enough just to keep moving forward. I thought that being hyper aware of my pace might feel demoralzing. Gabbi agreed and suggested that the only reason even to use the Garmin at all on race day was to have a data record to analyze later.
I set the Garmin to 10-1 intervals and committed to sticking to them. Gabbi had suggested doing water station intervals instead, that is, run between the aid stations and then walk through them. But with the stations being 4km apart and my pace being in the 7-7:30 km range, I thought that would deviate too far from how I’d been training. That might be something for another day.
I felt like a pack mule trying to fit all of my nutrition into my fuel belt and another little pocket thing I had. I stuffed one package of shot bloks, some coconut covered dates, and a cliff bar in the pocket thing, 2 vega gels in my fuel belt zipper pocket, and slid another package of shot blocks into this elastic loop on the outside of the fuel belt. Between the fuelt belt and my phone belt and my bib belt I had more going on around my waist and hips that is probably recommended. But I don’t know how people organize themselves. I also had one small bottle of water that fit into my fuel belt so I could take sips on walk breaks when I wasn’t at water station and refill as needed.
Two further decisions: (1) no music and (2) practice some chi running focuses, specifically the column posture, peeling my feet of the ground, the midfoot strike, and the lean.
I divided the race into 4 parts: 0-12K, 12-22K, 22-32K, 32-42.2K.
The Mississauga Marathon is that great kind of race where they put your name on your bib. As I was waiting to cross the street I saw a woman whose name was also Tracy. We high-fived, with “Tracys unite!” She was with a friend who was wearing a pink wig and had a dog. This will become relevant later.
I love the buzz of excitement at the starting area of a race, and this one was no different. A band was playing and people were milling about. I’d made enough trips to the loo before I left the comfort of my hotel room that I spared myself the line-up at the port-o-pottie. I’ve done enough races now that it’s the line-ups, not the port-o-potties themselves, that I want to avoid.
As I walked through the starting area I got a bit choked up. I get emotional like that sometimes. I think the enormity of what I was about to do hit me. I wanted to be near the back of the pack because I knew I was going to be in the slower group. What I hadn’t prepared myself for was that the slower group sort of gravitates towards the half marathon. Very few people near the back had the blue and red bibs that indicated the full. That kind of worried me. I was in for a lonely race.
Hazel McCallion, who was mayor of Mississauga for 36 years (until she retired last year at age 93), said a few word of welcome. Then we sang the national anthem. And then it was 30 seconds to the start, then we all did a 10-second countdown and I almost cried again. And we were off.
I thought I would finish in 5:00 to 5:30. They say to take your half marathon time, double it and add 20 minutes. My half last October was just under 2:30, so that seemed like a reasonable estimate. My biggest worry was that I would go out too fast. So I hung back and paced myself easy, at what felt like around 7:20 or so, for the first few kilometers.
I took my walk breaks as scheduled even though I didn’t feel as if I needed them yet. I took in the cool air and the excitement and energy of the others around me. At about 4 km I saw a woman with pink hair and a dog at the side. She hollered out, “Tracy!” And I couldn’t remember where I’d met her — I looked perplexed. She then shouted, “The other Tracy’s friend! You got this!”
And at that point, with almost one tenth of the race behind me, I felt like yes, I got this!
I plodded along at a slightly faster pace once I got a bit warmed up. At one point I sort of tripped over something that felt like a plastic candy bar wrapper or something. I didn’t bother to look down even though I wondered how it was that I could have tripped over something that I hadn’t seen, since I was alert and aware and had a clear view of the road.
At 6K when I reached down to grab my first shot block from the package in that elastic loop, it became clear to me why I hadn’t seen the thing I tripped over. Okay. Half of my primary nutrition strategy was lying on Burnhamthorpe Road, unopened. I can’t eat a whole lot of different things and shot blocks go down easier than gels do (for me–I know others are different). So: damn, that sucked. It also meant more Gatorade than I would usually take, but thank goodness they had Gatorade instead of Hammer Heed, because Heed doesn’t agree with me.
By then the mall-suburbs had given way to a scenic, forested area of Mississauga, and soon we entered the picturesque campus of University of Toronto, Mississauga. Maybe it’s because I’m an academic, or maybe it’s because I have two degrees from U of T, but I felt strangely comforted by those surroundings even though I have never set foot on that particular campus of U of T before.
I’d settled into a little group of people who were sort of catching up, passing, catching up, passing, based on different walk-run interval schedules. There was one woman in particular who was power walking the whole thing at an amazing walk-pace. I passed her whenever I was running, but not by much because she caught up with me on my one-minute walks.
We were a couple of kilometres winding through the campus and then we ended up in a stately and elegant residential area on the tree-lined Mississauga Rd. Some of the locals were out cheering us on, and the race had amazing support from volunteers and from the police, who had a major presence at all intersections. The perfect weekend weather also brought out the cyclists, who were for the most part fine but got annoying later on when I hit the loneliest stretches of the marathon towards the end. But we’re not there yet.
Just before 12K I started looking at people’s bibs and that’s when I realized that almost everyone in my little group was doing the half, not the full. Finally I caught up to an older man who was doing the full, and felt immediately relieved. He asked me what I was aiming for timewise. “Between 5:00 and 5:30. You?” I said. He was aiming for six hours.
Six hours! I somehow had never even had in my head the idea that it could take six hours. Good Lord. But at that point 5:30 still seemed achievable. He talked about the “double your half and add twenty minutes” formula and I found that reassuring.
By the end of 12K I was feeling light and happy. We’d been in shade most of the time and it was still early in the day anyway. I had no injuries or even niggling physical symptoms of any kind. And I was still apace with the amazing power walker, which I found both comforting and worrying (because she was walking, but don’t underestimate what some people can do pacewise when they’re walking).
I was over the loss of the shot blocks by now and had opened the other package, eating one every time I hit a walk break at first, and then I rationed by switching to my dates, of which I had five to spread out over the race.
We were all clipping along nicely on more of the tree-lined shady residential streets of Mississauga, not yet down to the lake but it didn’t matter. The shade kept it cool enough and in any case we were only expecting a high of 24C, which is so bearable compared to what it’s like in mid-summer when it’s much hotter than that and humid.
The moment of truth came between 14K and 15K, when the half marathon route veered off from the full:
When I did the Scotiabank Half last October, the part where they marathoners had to go a different route really demoralized me because I felt as if there was no way I could do what they had to do. I had to mentally prepare myself for that this time, and also because almost everyone went straight when I had to turn.
I soon caught up to a woman who was walking and listening to music. I asked her how she was doing. She took one of her earbuds out and said,”This is the loneliest marathon ever.” Her last one had been at Disney, and there is nothing lonely about that one. People everyone. Musicians along the side, all sorts of spectators. Not like that in Mississauga. And we weren’t even halfway home.
Never having done a marathon before, I hadn’t really thought about it until she said it. But when I looked around I could see she was right. There were huge gaps between the runners. Then my walk-break was over and off I went.
At my next walk-break I caught up to another woman who was taking a break. By now all of our emotional defenses were down. By the time the one minute we were walking together was over I knew that she had suddenly and out of the blue got her period one kilometre into the race. She had to stop at a convenience store to buy some supplies. She had cramps. And she had had her last period only two weeks prior. “Maybe it’s peri-menopause?” I suggested. I was just launching into my story of menopause when the walk-break ended and I started to run.
I made a commitment to stick to the walk-breaks as they came along but not to extend them. I knew that once I started to mess around with the intervals, it would become all-too-easy to add a minute here and two minutes there. The woman with her period and I played catch-up and pass for at least 15K, right up until I hit the wall at 30K.
At 22K the course went into a quasi out-and-back portion. There were lots of runners coming towards me who were then turning right (my left, their right). But I still had to get to where they were all coming from, which involved a 4K stretch through a hot, treeless industrial area, then looping back with a short stretch along the water. This part of the route was, for me, one of the more soulless expanses and it just seemed to go on and on and on. Where in the heck is the turnaround? If I’d studied the map more carefully I’d have known. But I hadn’t, so I didn’t. That whole bit challenged me for almost 7K. The path along the lake felt quiet and idyllic, to be sure. But by then, because of the out and back, I could see clearly that there weren’t a lot of people behind me. Just a handful, nothing like the apparent hoards that were streaming towards me when I first began the “out” part of the out and back.
At the water station at the turn I took Gatorade and water. I dumped the water in my hat and drank the Gatorade. There was a band of drummer on the corner, about 6-8 older men in uniforms of some kind all playing different types of drums. The beat boosted my spirits for a few moments, much-needed after the ordeal I’d just completed over the past 7K. It seemed like a good time to use the bathroom, what with no line-up and the band of drummers.
I went into the port-o-pottie, probably more for the rest than anything else, and it turned out that I really didn’t need to go. 45 seconds wasted, but it was nice to be off my feet for a bit.
When I got out into the sunlight again, my friend with her period was just passing me. Then there was a hill. And as I approached the 30K marker, I looked at my Garmin and saw I’d been out there for close to 4 hours already. I did a quick mental calculation and it became clear to me that there was no way I was going to make 5 hours, and I would be pressing my luck even to make 5:30.
That’s when I got a serious case of the “fuck-its.” 30-32K were the lowpoint of the event for me. I gave myself a break and take an extended walk-interval and tried to get a more positive attitude. An older man running in sandals passed me as we entered another residential area that would eventually take us down towards the lake. We greeted each other and as he passed me he said something about having long come to accept the fact that he’s slow.
At 32K I was about 4:30 into it and I had no idea how I would squeeze out another 10K but I kind of knew I was going to, one way or the other. By now, the woman with her period was out of reach. There was no way I would catch her again. The guy in sandals was still in sight.
Somewhere in this stretch the pylon truck started coming along to collect the pylons. I have to say, if a race has a stated limit and that limit isn’t past yet, and if you are within the pace that they said is required, then I just don’t think they should be collected the flipping pylons ahead of you. It’s demoralizing and it also makes it difficult to know if you’re going the right way.
From 32 to 38K, the route took us down into the park along the lake twice. By now, because remember it was the first beautiful weekend of the season, people were out in droves. Not spectators, just people enjoying their Sunday in the park — kids on scooters and skateboards, guys kicking around a soccer ball, families barbequing and picnicking, women and men out for their long Sunday run (not in the event!), couples strolling, people walking their dogs — you get the picture.
Although a few people encouraged me as I slowly passed them — they said stuff like “good job” and “way to go” — at this point I was having struggling with “when is this going to be over” and wasn’t in much of a mind to be able to interact all that much. I smiled and said thanks when I could, but in the end, I just wanted it to be over.
The 39K sign was the last one I saw. I was desperate to know how close I was to the end and people kept saying, “you’re almost there,” but either they removed the rest of the markers (bad form) or they never had them there in the first place (worse form).
The final 2K took me past the Port Credit marina, where I had fond memories of spending some time on a friend’s boat with Renald one year, along a pretty boardwalk and then into another lakeside park. This time, tons of people with race bibs and medals, adults and kids both, were streaming towards me leaving the finishing area. I guess they had a kids’ event at some point before the marathon was over, so it was just packed.
These people especially were telling me I was “almost there.” But I honestly had no idea at that point what that meant. One kid, who had to be under 10 and I have no idea what kind of coaching he is used to but it must be fierce, hollered at me as I approached him, shouting “let’s go!” as if he was a drill sergeant and I was in boot camp.
Finally a guy said, “less than 500m” and then another guy said, “less than 400m.” Somewhere over that home stretch I passed the man running in sandals, both of us as if in slow motion. I could see the finishing chute and I actually managed to pick up my pace a bit for a little burst at the end because I just wanted it to be over as fast as possible. As I entered the finishing chute and ran towards the arch to cross over the timing mats, I started to sob a bit.
Then I noticed that there were race photographers all trying to capture my big moment. When I got married I sobbed all the way down the aisle and I have to say, the photos from that “special moment” aren’t pretty. I remembered that. So I pulled myself together. It’ll be something between a smile and a grimace I’m sure.
I had enough energy to throw my arms up, victory style, as I crossed the line. I got my medal and then I put the wrong foot up on the step for the timing chip guy to remove my chip. He’d clearly removed enough chips that day and was probably annoyed at the late finishers, so that didn’t amuse him quite the way it amused me. I don’t think either that he realized how hard it was to get my foot up there in the first place. Anyway, I got the other foot up and he snipped the cable tie and took the chip.
As I made my way along, I was surprised that Gabbi, Mary, and Miriam had all waited around for over three hours after the half for me to get to the finish line. They all came up and congratulated me and hugged me and said how awesome I was.
The kids had eaten all the bananas (who needs a banana after a 2K fun run?) — I think the race organizers should do better to make sure that those of us who limp across the finish line after hours and hours and hours and hours and hours get a banana. Anyway, I got a bagel and a box of cereal and Mary gave me half of her banana. And I had a Clif bar in my pouch.
Gabbi offered to drive me back to my hotel. Her car was about 2K from the finish line and they kept reassuring me that it was a good thing to keep moving my legs after such a long run. I knew that but still. Longest 2K of my life, from the finish area to Gabbi’s car. Grateful nonetheless.
Would I do it again: too soon to say for sure, but I’m leaning towards a “no.” Still, here I am the next day, with my race t-shirt and my medal, feeling pretty pleased to have completed an epic run, still smiling.
On Sunday morning I ventured out with two other women, Anita, whom I’m training for a half marathon with, and Julie, whom I know from my 10K training group last winter and who is now in Anita’s half marathon group at the Running Room.
The run was an LSD–short for “long, slow distance”–20K at a leisurely pace with 10-1 run-walk intervals. We committed to a pace that was supremely conversational.
That meant 2.5 hours of chat. Within the first breezy, chilly 5K of the morning, Julie told us about a friend who completed an Ironman this summer. So impressive! Hardly imaginable. “But she always knocks herself down by saying she finished near to last,” Julie said.
You know how sometimes you hear a thing and it makes something in your head go “click”? I heard myself in Julie’s friend. Not the Ironman part. The part about knocking myself down.
I ran a 10K race! But I could have done it faster.
I did an Olympic distance triathlon! But I almost came in last.
Even though I tried to be positive whenever I blogged about my races over the past little while, and I always ended on an upnote about how “at least” I did it, I’ve never truly allowed myself to soak in the magnitude of my physical accomplishments over the past little while.
The closest I got was my birthday post, where I talked about how far I’ve come since we started the blog. But I don’t think even there that I fully appreciated what the two Olympic distance triathlons actually mean for me.
It’s not about where I placed. It’s about finishing what I started.
Here’s some perspective: Sam re-posted my first 5K race report from two years ago (October 2013). The day I did that 5K, 5K was the longest I’d ever done! I felt nervous as hell–and the race didn’t even have timing chips! I’d been running less than a year and the very thought of ever doing triathlon was about as remote the possibility that I may one day climb Everest (ZERO–no desire and I don’t understand why people do that).
When I dipped my toe into triathlon with my first Kincardine Women’s Triathlon in the summer of 2013, it lit a fire in me, but Olympic distance? Impossible.
But that impossible goal supplanted my pre-triathlon fittest by 50 goal of running a half marathon. I re-jigged my training, started swimming with a coach, and even joined a triathlon club.
Before the snow from our polar vortex winter of 2014 melted, the impossible began to come into view. I told my coach that was the distance I wanted to train for. I made public declarations about my intention.
When I was at my computer, instead of working, or even procrastinating from work on Facebook, I read and re-read websites detailing the summer events within driving distance of London.
By the time the first flowers of spring were in bloom, I’d committed to Bracebridge in August and Lakeside in September. For me, paying the money meant no turning back.
I trained. And trained. And trained. I hauled myself out of bed for 6 a.m. swims in Sharon’s Creek. I forced myself to ride the road bike (here is where I would normally add in some kind of complaint about how much I detested it and how little progress I made, but I refuse to go there today). I ran as early as possible to avoid the heat of the day. Once, I came home from work at noon and did a brick workout to test my capacity to run in the noon heat just in case I ever happened to be doing that on race day (and I did, in Bracebridge).
So that’s triathlon. And I’m feeling awesome that I did it.
About running. Back in the spring when I did the 10K in the Forest City Road Race, I watched the half marathoners with awe. It seemed unfathomable to me that anyone would be able to complete 21K.
Then, after a little coaxing from my friend, Anita, the goal just didn’t seem all that out of reach. She wanted someone to run the Toronto Waterfront Half with her on October 19th. I checked my calendar. Available. I signed up (remember: once I pay, I’m there!).
With just over a month between the Lakeside Olympic distance and the Toronto half, I had a month to shift my attention to running. I love the long chatty runs. But a couple of weekends in a row I had to do long ones — 18K — by myself. And I did.
Which brings me to last Sunday, on our leisurely 20K, chatting and watching our pace and logging the distance one step at a time. What once seemed impossible had the character of an unhurried coffee date with friends. Yes. 20K. Like going for coffee.
I’m really liking this thing–this thing of doing the impossible.
What have you done that once seemed impossible? I’d love to hear about it! If you can’t think of something, how about making a decision to work towards a new, seemingly impossible goal?
I did my first triathlon of the season on Sunday in Cambridge, Ontario. It was technically a sprint, but it was a longer sprint than many — 750 metre in the open water followed by 30 kilometres on the bike and a 6 kilometre trail run through the woods. It was more than double the distance of the longest triathlon I’ve done so far. I trained super well for the swim, reasonably well for the run, and pretty much not at all for the bike. And it all showed. Here’s my race report.
Shade Mills Conservation Area is in Cambridge, about an hour and 20 minutes from London, Ontario. Check-in began at 7:30 and I like to be early, so Renald and I left London at 6 a.m. on a perfectly clear, sunny morning. Not hot or humid. Just right. I got all organized the night before, with my bag neatly packed for each leg of the race. The pre-race report said the water was 67 degrees F, and I was excited to check out my new wetsuit for real.
I had two bikes in the car — mine and our friend and colleague, Chris’s. She was doing the duathlon (run-bike-run) and wanted to make space in her car for her cheering squad — partner, Emma, who has blogged here about her treadmill desk, and their kids Finn and Una.
The days leading up to the event I felt tired. If I wasn’t already officially menopausal, I would have sworn I had PMS. From the 400 times or so I’ve had it over the course of my life, I know the PMS symptoms well: tired, legs that feel as if someone filled them with lead, emotional, and a particular sort of lower back pain that I only ever got right before my period. But I am menopausal, right? Haven’t menstruated since January 2012, right?
Well wrong. It felt like PMS because, surprise! It was! Perfect timing that the crimson tide should make a guest appearance just in time for my first triathlon of the season. I’d also been nursing a sore throat for a few days, gargling with warm salt water whenever the chance arose.
This is all by way of saying that physically, I was not at my strongest on Sunday. And still, I felt excited and even kind of relaxed when we arrived at the site.
Earlier in the week I had met with Gabbi, the coach from Balance Point Triathlon, who I’ve been swim training with since September. She had urged me to arrive early, give my bike a quick ride to make sure it was all in working order after being transported, get all set up, familiarize myself with the location of my stuff in the transition area, the various entry and exit points, and to get down to the water in time to do a warm-up swim in my wetsuit, and get a visual, from the water, of what the swim finish looked like.
This was the first year for the Cambridge event, so it was a nice manageable size, with only 219 participants (159 men, 60 women, and only 6 women in my age-group category of 50-54). The transition area was mercifully small, and my rack was especially roomy, which is not always the case. I racked my bike and had plenty of space to lay down my towel and arrange my stuff all out for smooth transitions. I mentally reviewed how each transition would go.
Renald was waiting for me down at the beach. I applied body glide to my arms and legs (I should have put some around the bottom of my neck at the back too, which is where the wetsuit rubbed the worst). I pulled the suit on, grabbed my bathing caps (double layer for warmth), and made my way down to the water for my warm-up swim. The water felt just fine. The wetsuit kept my body toasty warm, and unlike the frigid dip in Lake Erie that I had the weekend before, my hands and face and feet could handle it without any trouble. As you can see from the top photo, I felt pretty good after the warm-up, ready for the starting horn for my wave (wave 4).
The Swim (750m)
I had a bit of a rough start, struggling to find a position where I could swim comfortably, stay on course, and strike a good rhythm. It took me the first third or so of the swim to do that. In the pool when I’m training I have no difficulty breathing every third stroke. But at the beginning of the race, I lost my breath and had to breath every two strokes for quite awhile. I’m good at sighting, which is a necessary skill for open water swimming when you can’t follow the blue line on the bottom of the pool. But instead of rolling into my breathing after a sighting the orange markers (which we were to keep on our left), my stroke and rhythm got all messed up.
But as we rounded the first corner to the far side of the island that we were swimming around, I started to relax into the swim. My breathing got more steady and I felt strong and confident. By that time, I’d started passing people from the previous wave, recognizable to me from their blue caps. This bolstered my confidence even more and made it possible for me to stay calm even though there were lots of weeds that were getting all caught on my face and in my hands–that would normally prompt minor hysterics because sea life in general, be it weeds or fish, throws me into a panic.
But I kept my focus and made it out of the water in 17:48. Not the fastest but also by no means the slowest time. I was definitely in the top third of swim times. Yay for that! It shows me that my training has paid off big time.
I bolted out of the water and ran across the grass (quite a distance) to the transition area. I peeled off the wetsuit the way Gabbi had told me to do–down to the waist on the way to the transition area, then to the knees, then step on one side while I pulled the foot out of the other and vice versa. It was a bit chilly, which I hadn’t prepped for, so I pulled my new race t-shirt on over my wet clothing. I put on the helmet and clipped the chin strap, put the sunglasses on, then shoes and socks. Unracked the bike and ran out the other side of the transition to the mount line. Samantha and Jeff had arrived by then and were cheering me on at the sidelines as I hopped on the bike, clipped in, and rode off.
The Bike Leg (30K)
Here’s what went well on the bike leg. I wasn’t nervous because I had done it a couple of weeks before with Sam and Chris. I had a good supply of Clif Block Shots in a little pouch that I attached to my handlebars, as well as my water bottle which I am now able to drink from without stopping. So I was able to keep myself nourished and hydrated. It was also perfect riding weather — clear and dry, not hot but not cold either — and the course was well-marked and well-monitored, with OPP (Ontario Provincial Police) at major intersections so we could ride through safely. They also had clear markers at 5K intervals.
But I lost a ton of time on the bike. It started with a climb that didn’t bother me at all on our test run, but left me completely winded and gasping this time around. The descent that immediately followed kind of scared me, and I felt myself reaching for the brakes a couple of times instead of just letting fly. I did pass a few people at the beginning. But for the most part people blasted past me. Psychologically, I admit that this kind of demoralized me when it happened. It’s not just that I got passed. It’s that people were maintaining speeds that I can only dream about at this point. So the negative tape in my head started to play about how slow I am, and then I just stopped really pushing myself. I kicked into gear on hills, telling myself that they were meditations. That got me to the top of the only really challenging climb of the course back.
I had estimated I could do it in about an hour 20 minutes. I came close, at 1:23:58, one of the slowest bike times of the race.
When I came back in Sam, Jeff, and Renald were all at the bike dismount, yelling “Go, Tracy!” I unclipped and dismounted without incident. Grabbed the bike and ran to the transition area.
Someone had racked her bike where mine was supposed to go and that threw me for a brief few seconds. I racked my bike over a bit, removed my helmet and my extra shirt, kicked off the bike shoes, donned the hat, grabbed the shoe horn to slip on my running shoes (I had the laces set exactly where I like them already), grabbed my fuel belt (I hate being reliant on the water stations) and ran to the transition exit. On the way out, as I tried to turn my race bib number to the front, I ripped one of the holes and it was hanging askew. I tried tucking it in without much luck as I ran to the run course.
I ran without any gadgets at all — no Garmin, no watch, no music. This meant that I had no idea what kind of time I was making, but I knew it was slow. I had to lose 30 seconds to re-pin my number to the belt (a makeshift belt — I want a real one). By now the sun had risen quite a bit in the sky. Thankfully, the run wound through a beautiful, cool wooded trail. I saw a few people at the beginning of the run, but other than a couple of women whom I passed (and who were younger than me by 20 and 30 years!), I ran alone. It was so shady in the woods that I had to take off my sunglasses. The marker for the first kilometre came up quickly. That felt like a good sign but my energy started to wane.
I felt like I was shuffling along by now, hardly picking up my feet. I did a mix of running and walking. By now, I knew there was no question of not finishing. In fact, that hadn’t entered my mind at any point. One of the women I passed earlier passed me on one of my walk breaks as we approached the 5K marker. I wanted to run the last kilometre. I probably could have but my mind kept telling me to walk. Anyway, my run pace was dreadful — at 7:56 per kilometer it was well over a minute slower than the pace that I train at! Run time: 47:36When I got the finish chute and approached the finish line, Renald, Sam, Jeff, Chris, Emma, Finn, and Una were all at the side cheering me on! I felt like I had nothing much left but I think most of that was in my mind. I kind of breezed to the finish line. Smiling. All in all, it was a fun race.
The race felt long. And for me, it was–the longest I’ve done so far. Just a little bit shorter than the Olympic Distance coming up in August.
Renald commented that most of the athletes, by the look on their faces, didn’t look like they were enjoying themselves. For me, there is no point if it’s not fun. I have to confess, though, to feeling somewhat disappointed with my result. It’s not that I feel 2:34 is a terrible time. I was actually pleased enough with that. It’s that in comparative terms, it feels kind of shitty to be 6/6 in my age group and almost last in the race (yes, only 5 people came in after me and 2 more didn’t finish at all).
Sam made me feel better in a couple of ways. She suggested that this year I complete, next year I compete. She’s also quite sure I can improve my bike speed with some effort. I can tell you this: I will not be taking another full winter off of cycling. I’m getting a trainer and I also plan to do spin classes.
And finally, I need to work on my running stamina. The walk breaks are fine, but I want to run faster when I’m running. And if I’m going to take walk breaks, I want them to be at regular intervals, not just when I feel like it. Why? Because the more tired I get, the more I feel like it. And much of that is just in my head. A few times during the run I just took stock of what was going on with me. The answer that came back was revealing — there was really no good reason for me to slow down to a walk. That kept me going through the last K.
Next up is the Kincardine Women’s Triathlon on July 13. I’m now signed up to train with the Balance Point Triathlon Club for the rest of the season, and will continue with them through the winter. My summer is a bit broken up with travel, and I’m not sure how much regular training I’m going to get in between now and the week before Kincardine. But as Sam said, this summer I’m completing, next year I’m competing.
And I am enjoying myself quite a bit. Here’s the picture to prove it:
Next time I’d just like to cross the finish line before all the food is gone.