Photo: Zoom Photo
Hi, friends! If you keep up with me on the socials, you probably saw that I made it through my first Olympic triathlon on August 26. I’m super happy to have made it through in one piece. Truthfully, I had a much harder time than I thought I would, so buckle up while I share my tale. 🙂
We drove to Wasaga Beach after Ryan finished work on Friday evening. I’m so glad I took Friday off work to get everything sorted out because I actually spent the whole day packing and fussing with my bike.
Ryan and Heather were both racing the Sprint at 8:30, so they were up a little earlier than me to get ready. I had a pretty decent night of sleep before the race. When I woke up, I felt rested. Not too nervous, which was surprising to me. I got dressed, drank some water and ate a bagel with jam, hopped on my bike, and rode the 1.5km down to the race site. I got there at around 8:00, so I had enough time to see Heather and Ryan off to the start as I dropped my bike off in transition.
I had given myself lots of time, so as soon as the Sprint swimmers went off, I walked over to pick up my kit. As with all of the Multisport Canada events I’ve participated in this year, everything was a well-oiled machine. I had my kit picked up, body marked, and chip on in under 5 minutes.
I went back down near the water and hung out with Mark as we watched the swimmers come in. Once Heather and Ryan had both gone out on the bike course, I returned to transition and slowly started to set up my area.
There were so many people at the race that I knew. The race was also hosting the Club Championships, so everyone and their dog was there. I mean this literally, as Guinness came along for the ride. In addition to cheering and taking some really awesome photos of us on Saturday, Mark kindly brought Guinness around with him all day. I think they both had a good time. 😉
As I set up my transition, I noticed that I had left my pre-swim gel back at the cottage. Well, shit. I scurried over to the area where the vendors were set up. I normally train and race with Gu. My options there were either e-Load or Endurance Tap. I took my chances on the latter and finished setting up my transition area.
Rather than hang out in transition any longer, I went back to the swim finish and started the process of putting on my wetsuit. I took the Endurance Tap and chatted with some friends from the Toronto Triathlon Club. Many of the sprint racers were finishing by then, so there was no shortage of people around and I got a ton of encouragement before the start of my race.
I was in the last swim wave, which also meant that I would likely be last out of the water. I made peace with that and got in to warm up and see the other swimmers off. Then, it was 10:39, and it was time to go!
*All times and stats from my Garmin.*
I started the swim feeling okay, to be honest. In the beginning, I was breathing every other stroke, sighting every few breaths, and waiting to settle in. Sadly, that time never came. After a few hundred metres, many of the swimmers were already ahead of me and my body seemed to be rebelling.
Thankfully, my mind did not rebel.
I was mixing up breaststroke and breathing every other stroke by 400m, and I knew it would be a battle to the finish. I sang to myself, I counted strokes, I tried every breathing technique I knew, and nothing worked. A lifeguard stayed with me the entire time, and I was eternally grateful that she stayed. Although I never had to hold onto her board, she encouraged me the entire time. Like my very first sprint triathlon last summer, I’m not sure I would have finished the swim without the help of an amazing volunteer.
Photo: Mark Gardner
Maintaining a positive state of mind was crucial to getting through the swim. At that point, my mental game was still strong enough to give myself a motivating talking-to. Every time I thought about quitting, I followed it with, “Not today. Not today.” I was not thinking about the rest of the race ahead at all. Just the swim. One discipline at a time.
Indeed, I was the last swimmer out of the water. My head was just reeling (not physically; I was not disoriented or dizzy at all), and I’m honestly not sure what my thoughts were at that point.
While I was fortunate to not have had anything cramp up, I was coughing A LOT during the swim. So much that my throat had become raw and in T1 I coughed up some red stuff, likely due to inflammation.
All things considered, this could have been much worse than it was. I swam 99m extra over 1500m, which is an improvement on my sprint efforts this summer, so I know my sighting has improved at least somewhat. Race day was my longest open water swim to date, and by quite a bit (about 550m).
Clearly happy the swim is over. Photo: Mark Gardner
Once I had gotten out of the water and ran up to T1, I had sort of given up. Heather and Ryan were on the side of the fence by transition, checking in and encouraging me to keep going. Volunteers surrounded me in transition to make sure I was okay. That’s one benefit of being last out of the water, I suppose. 😉
The coughing continued in transition and that’s when I saw that I was coughing up red. I peeled my wetsuit off slowly and chewed away on a Clif bar while volunteers asked me question after question. Are you dizzy? No. Are you having trouble breathing? No. Are you too hot or too cold? No. Do you want to continue? Yes, although I didn’t know if I could. So much has been riding on this race and I’m afraid I won’t finish.
At that point, I put my arms across the racks in transition, and let myself cry a little bit.
Do you think it’s safe for you to continue? There are volunteers and support vehicles on course if at any time you think you can’t finish. Boom. Just what I needed – a ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ card. For about the millionth time that day, I talked myself into continuing. Even if it was just for a little bit. As defeated as I felt, there was still a lot of fight left in me.
Putting on my helmet and shoes, I took my time and tried not to overthink things. Don’t think, just go.
Ah, the bike. It kinda broke me as a human there for a while, to be honest. Although I was able to clip into my bike much faster than last time, I started the bike in a mental state of uncertainty, leaning towards failure. Just past the mount line, the bike course took a turn up onto a bridge, and Mark was waiting there to cheer me on. I remember the feeling of riding past him, and having a pit in my stomach, almost sure I wouldn’t finish the bike course.
Oh, well, I thought. Here goes nothing.
BYEEEEEEEEE! Photo: Zoom Photo
And it really did feel like nothing. My legs were not turning over, and my energy levels felt like they were at rock bottom. I tried to focus on anything other than how crappy I was feeling. On the other side of the road, athletes were heading back towards T2. This wore me down a little bit at a time. Almost every athlete offered a friendly nod, or yelled out words of support.
As the kilometres slowly ticked by, I kept my eyes peeled for a volunteer or a race support vehicle. After 5-10km, I decided that I had had enough, and it was time to pack it in. Seeing no opportunity to call it a day other than actually getting off and walking my bike, I kept riding. At least that would get me to my DNF faster. My very first DNF. I rode, and I rode some more. I got to a hill that slowed me down to just under 10km/h. On the flat portions of the course, I could barely sustain 20km/h. My body was depleted, and I was beyond done.
Between the coughing that persisted in the first part of my bike ride and a few tears, I prepared myself for failure. I thought about what I would tell my coach. I thought about what I would tell Ryan and my friends who had come to watch me race. I thought about what I would share on social media. I started to mentally write this blog post. I’m glad this post looks much different than that initial brainstorming session. It was probably the darkest place I had ever been in during a race, though.
As always, my brain jumped about 20 steps ahead of where it actually needed to be. My logic shifted from that moment in an Olympic distance to the longer distances that I so badly want to take on someday. If I couldn’t finish a 40km ride, how would I do 90km? More importantly, how could I run 21km after riding 90km? I recognize that no good ever comes from that mindset, and I’m working really hard to change it.
By this time, I had passed the halfway point. As much as I had been mentally steeling myself to fail, I somehow managed to go through the motions of fueling. I had been drinking as scheduled, and I had even been taking my gels, so that’s something.
I felt angry and bitter. I was disappointed in myself. Even if I attempted the Olympic distance again on another day, I had spoiled this day. This would always be the memory of my first Olympic triathlon because you only get one first time.
You only get one first time.
I repeated that phrase over and over in my head, and something clicked. It’s true that I would only get one first time. I would make it count. It would be slow and painful, for sure. I would finish, though. Just like I finished my first sprint triathlon.
Having passed the halfway point already and heading back towards transition, I started to devise a strategy for the run. I struggle with running off the bike, and I am particularly prone to struggling while racing the 10km distance. If I started the run knowing that I would have to take some walk breaks and take it a bit at a time, I would get it done.
A few minutes after I took each turn, a police car would pass me. It was clear that I was the final cyclist on the course and the course marshals were packing up as I passed each checkpoint. Regular glances over my shoulder confirmed that a police car and event support vehicle were escorting me back to transition. While it’s difficult to deny how disheartening that felt, I was completely locked into my goal of getting this done that I tried to look at it as me having my own little entourage. 🙂
Photo: Mark Gardner
When I rode back into transition, I was in considerably better spirits than when I left. My cough had all but cleared, and it was time to get down to business.
40km//1:47:18 (22.4 km/h/avg.)
I rolled into T2 and quickly took off onto the run course. As I was running down the chute to start the run, Heather was there and yelled at me that another runner was just 7 minutes ahead of me. It was clear that she was giving me something to focus on for the run. If I could stay focused on catching at least one runner and closing the gap, it would give the run more meaning.
In the first few hundred metres, I saw Ryan and he started to run beside me. I think he was relieved to see me motivated and in such good spirits, as it was certainly not how I started the bike. I explained my strategy to him, that I was planning to walk whenever I felt like I absolutely needed to, and that I was determined to finish this thing. Ryan let me go ahead, and told me he would be waiting near the 5km turnaround.
The run course was two loops of 5km, so I broke it down mentally into quarters. A few minutes walking, a few minutes running. Little bit at a time. Eat the elephant, one bite at a time.
Locked in. Photo: Heather Gardner
I hit each of the aid stations. I poured a cup of water over my head, and drank a cup of electrolyte. Although it wasn’t particularly hot outside, it helped to keep me cool. I saw Ryan and Heather at the turnaround point. At this point, I saw the runner Heather had said was close to me. She was still a bit ahead of me. Catching her would take some focus and it wouldn’t happen instantly. By 6-7km, I had caught up to her, and noticed that she was in my age group. We exchanged a few pleasantries, and I wished her well on the rest of her race. Although I was feeling the need to walk, I decided to create some distance between us.
Sure enough, I was able to stay ahead of her. As I came into the last aid station, Ryan was waiting with the volunteers and came to run me into the finish. It was so special to share that with him. I talk a lot about how much he sacrifices for my racing, and it’s only fitting that he ran with me to the finish of my last race of the season. He hung back a couple hundred metres from the finish line to make sure I had my moment.
Photo: Zoom Photo
I was never so relieved to be finished a race in my life. I had to think hard to remember a time when I had fought so hard simply to finish.
Photo: Heather Gardner
I’m so proud of how I was able to dig myself out of such a difficult place to finish the race. It’s motivating to have a finishing time to work towards beating next year. As usual, all of the doubts about my ability and desire to stick with triathlon that I experienced during the race have subsided and I’m already looking ahead to next year.
4:03:29 (12/13 AG; 84/104 Gender; 271/322 Overall)
Sweet, sweet victory. Photo: Heather Gardner
To say I’m ecstatic to have finished would be accurate. While I had lofty goals of finishing faster than I did, I’m glad I adjusted my expectations and ultimately had a great race. As with all of my races this year, I learned a ton. I also learned a lot about myself during this race. I’m tougher than I’ve been giving myself credit for. My mental training has been progressing nicely. Being patient with mental training and not expecting immediate perfection has allowed me to soak up the full benefits of my training.
With the exception of the run leg of the Barrelman relay in less than two weeks, that’s all I’ve got on tap for this season. A couple of weeks before Wasaga, my coach emailed me to ask if I’d given any thought to what I might want to my goals to be for next season. I threw out some super scary (for me) ideas that we’ll work through in the coming weeks to determine what’s best for me next season.
I’ve been enjoying some semi-structured training with lots of downtime. I am looking forward to easing back into a more targeted program, whatever that will look like. My goals for the off-season are to stay as consistent with my training as possible and to build some serious strength.
I’ll write a lot more about next season’s goals and races once we’ve fully established what it will look like. 🙂
So, that brings my triathlon season mostly to a close. I’ve got a lot of thoughts on my season as a whole that I will share later, once I’ve had some time to reflect a bit more. I’m sure whatever triathlon goals I set for next season will bring some clarity to the work I’ve put in this season.
Big love and thanks to my supportive friends and family, my coach, and Ryan for putting up with my occasional nonsense, and encouraging me to keep at it. The best is yet to come! xo