Happy Monday, friends! I hope you’re all settling back into your routines after the weekend. If you follow me on social media, then you likely saw my race results from Saturday. Spoiler alert: I raced a *huge* PB in the sprint triathlon this weekend, which I’m about to recap in a super long, verbose essay. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
I’m still on cloud nine from the weekend. After my own race, I spent Sunday tracking some club friends and my coach, who were all busy kicking ass at the Ironman 70.3 in Mont Tremblant. Needless to say, I’m feeling pretty darn inspired right now about my long-term goals for triathlon, and can’t wait to see how the rest of the season pans out.
Anyhoo, you may recall that last week, I was kinda, sorta not really feeling the greatest heading into my race. After a good talking to from my friends and coach, I was semi-successful in relieving some of my stress knowing that Saturday would be a ‘test race’ to see what we need to work on in advance of the Toronto Triathlon Festival.
The second I sort of destressed a bit, I got sick. A dull earache that I dismissed on Monday turned into some congestion, fatigue, and by Wednesday, I was laid up on the couch. I was confident that, unless my cold progressed significantly, I would still be okay to race, just maybe not as hard as I would have liked. I went back to work the next day, which probably wasn’t the greatest idea, but by the end of the day Friday, I was getting close to 100% again.
For those who are interested, on Friday night before the race, I ate a baked sweet potato with some chicken, peppers, goat chevre, BBQ sauce, and a few stray tortilla chips just because. Not an ideal pre-race meal, but I’m experimenting and this isn’t my A race, so that’s what I ate. It was tasty, and my iron stomach was happy. I’ll probably continue eating some variation of this before my long workouts and races for the rest of the season.
I spent the rest of the night packing and fussing over my bag and gear. There’s so much more to remember and bring for a triathlon, and I’m still getting used to it. Luckily, there is a handy race day packing list on the inside of my triathlon bag, so I didn’t forget to bring anything. Once I was satisfied that I hadn’t forgotten anything absolutely crucial for the race, I was in bed with the lights out by 10:00 in anticipation of my 4:15 a.m. wake-up call to drive down to Welland.
My race was scheduled to start at 8:30. I wanted to make sure we had plenty of time to pick up our zipcar (across the street), load it up with Waltzing Matilda and my sack of horrors, drive to Welland, set up my transition area, and leave enough time for me to take my first dip in the open water for the season. NB: I do not recommend doing your first open water swim of the season on race morning. Do as I say, not as I do. Or something. In order to make sure all that happened, we had to get up at stupid o’clock. I made breakfast to go and ate in the car (a whole-wheat English muffin with almond butter -> about 2.5 hours before the race, along with a banana -> about 30 minutes before the race). I had a cup of coffee and some water before we hit the road.
The drive down to Welland was fast and there wasn’t much traffic. Getting to the race site at the Welland International Flatwater Centre was easy, and there was a ton of (free) parking. Checking in was a breeze, and I was given a pair of bracelets with a number: one to fasten to my bike, and one for my wrist. They were checked as I left to ensure I was going home with my own bike. Nice touch, I must say.
I assumed we would be racking our bikes by bib number and when I got to my place, I was jazzed to discover that I was directly outside of the swim exit, and equidistant between the bike and run exits. It was probably the best place I could have asked for. I set up my transition area carefully, and headed inside to pick up my bib, which took about two minutes in total.
I used the washroom in the basement of the facility twice before the race. There were no lines and every stall was stocked with toilet paper. It was the best setup, and a nice step up from the usual porta-potties. I put on my wetsuit, ate my pre-race banana, and headed down to the lake for a quick warm-up.
The water temperature was 21 degrees, and it was a dream. Wetsuits were optional, although there was no way I was going without it. I’m not in contention for any podium spots over here, so Winnie and I hopped in the canal with a bunch of others and got to it.
You guys. I felt zero panic from the moment I got in the water, which was unexpected. I found a groove quickly on an out-and-back, floated around for a bit, did a range of strokes to open up my shoulders, chest, and back, and headed back to shore. We listened to a pre-race briefing, I took a gel, and it was time to head down to the canal for my 8:36 start in the third wave. The only other person I knew who was racing the sprint at Welland was Amber. I managed to spot her in the minute or two before our swim wave left. We wished each other good luck, and off we went.
Unlike my first triathlon last summer, when I was scared out of my wits, I seeded myself around other people. I felt confident enough that I didn’t have to start all the way off to the side and in the back. I still let people go ahead of me, but I had a really relaxed start and found a rhythm pretty quickly. I was able to breathe bilaterally almost right away and I wasn’t thrashing my legs and kicking wildly. When I first had to come up for air, I was at around 150m and feeling pretty good. I was still surrounded by people. I did breaststroke for a minute or so, and headed right back to freestyle. I repeated this process for the remainder of the swim, and it served me well. I got smacked in the face about three-quarters of the way through, but I was fine. Another rite of passage under my belt.
Volunteers were on hand at the end of the swim to help scoop you out of the water. I did what I read in my former swim coach’s recent blog post about transitions: out of the water, googles up, unzip and peel wetsuit while running, goggles and cap off. I noticed that no one around me was running out of the swim area. I kept on motoring along the side of the canal and passed a couple of people, booking it (safely) up the stairs, where Ryan was cheering me on in the stands.
My sighting needs *a lot* of work. According to my watch, I swam an extra 131m, which could take a few extra minutes off my swim next time and, in theory, get me below 20 minutes. I’ll be working on swimming in straight lines and sighting effectively over the next few weeks, fo’ sho’.
I know I will have the endurance to swim the full 750m without stopping once I get in some practice in the open water. The swim course was a perfect rectangle. Lest you think I am embellishing about my lack of sighting skills:
Swim time: 750m//21:39 (2:53/100m) [Watch says: 881m//21:28 (2:26/100m)]
Remember that sweet spot I snagged in transition because I showed up early? Yeah, that was great. I crossed the swim mat and was literally in front of my spot. I grabbed my helmet and clipped it on. Sunglasses on. Wetsuit all the way off. Dab feet on towel. Socks on. Sneakers on (nope, still not clipped in! Baby steps, friends.). Bib on. Drink of water. Tuck a gel in my back pocket. Take bike off rack. Jog out to bike mount line, and GO!
NB: I am aware of how ridiculous I probably looked in transition with my helmet on and my wetsuit, but I was nervous that I would forget myself and touch my bike before my helmet was completely done up, so I put it on right away. #noragrets. No DQs over here. No, sir. I did, however, forget to put on my biking gloves. I ended up being fine without them, but I’ll be sure to remember them next time, and maybe stick them in my helmet.
T1 time: 2:35 [Watch says: 2:57]
The bike course was boasted as being fast and flat, and it delivered. I had also been warned that it can be windy. It also delivered some wind. Okay, a lot. Or more than I’m used to riding in. Part of the bike course was open to traffic, which caused a mild internal tantrum, but I decided that if everyone else could do it, then so could I. The fact that this logic even occurred to me is a testament to how far I’ve come in a year.
Despite being a nervous cyclist, I was looking forward to seeing how much my cycling had improved. I noticed a real difference in feel between my indoor trainer rides and the outdoor ride on race day. Duh, Courtney. Hear me out. When I ride inside on the trainer, I am clipped into my pedals. I’m not used to clipping in outside, so I rode on Saturday with my sneakers on flat pedals. I was engaging different muscles, and could probably gain some speed and efficiency once I learn to clip in.
The bike course itself, aside from being fast and flat, was pretty uneventful. There were plenty of volunteers and police officers giving directions, and I never felt unsafe on the road. On the parts of the course where we shared the road with vehicular traffic, all vehicles I encountered gave me plenty of space. Whenever other athletes passed me, everyone was courteous and encouraging, so I tried to give out the same good karma.
Every time I passed someone else, I made sure to call out with plenty of time, give lots of space, and offer an encouraging word. I actually had to ask my coach about this in a previous phone call. “What do I do? I don’t even know how to pass people in a race.” The last time I did a triathlon, I was so slow out of the water that almost everyone was finishing up the bike course by the time I started to ride. I was pretty much all alone for my ride last year, and I never had to worry about passing anyone else, or getting passed. My coach assured me that it wouldn’t be the case this year, and she was right. I was a lot more comfortable passing people and getting passed than I thought I would be.
My watch beeped every 5km, and I was maintaining a steady pace of 26-ish km/h. This is fast for me. The terrain and elevation were in my favour, but once I settled in after the first few kilometres, it was a sustainable speed.
Another first this weekend: I was able to grab my water bottle to drink during my ride. I slowed a bit, grabbed the bottle long enough to get a quick sip, and returned it. I was so very nervous doing this, but like most things, I know that practice will make it easier. I still didn’t drink as much as I probably should have (about half a bottle during my ride), but I’ll add that to my list of things to work on. I was definitely not comfortable enough to take the gel I brought with me while riding, which may have led to low energy on the run. However, I heard a tip that I should tape the top of the gel to my bike’s crossbar, and just rip it off whenever I’m ready to fuel. I can’t wait to try it, and see if it improves my energy levels on the last part of the race.
Anyway, before I knew it, the ride was over, and I was wobbling into T2 with my shaky legs.
Bike time: 20km//45:58 (26.1 km/h) [Watch says: 19.49km//45:25 (25.8 km/h)]
From the moment I hopped off my bike at the dismount line, my legs felt like jelly. It was a familiar feeling, thanks to all the brick workouts I did before the race. Shut up, legs. I quickly returned my bike to the rack, took off my helmet, grabbed a drink to wash down a gel, and adjusted my bib. Ryan was still hanging out in the swim exit area watching, so I was able to see him as I was getting ready to head out on the run. It was just the boost I needed, even though I was feeling pretty good. By this time, it was getting warm, and I anticipated some slight discomfort on the run.
Off I went.
T2 time: 1:51 [Watch says: 1:46]
The run course for the sprint was a double out-and-back. While I normally enjoy an out-and-back run course because of the people-watching and its powers for distraction when needed, the thought of battling through it twice was a lot for me. BUT, I was hopeful that I wouldn’t suffer too much and tried to tell myself that it was 5km and before I would really feel any pain, it would be over.
For the first few minutes of the run, I felt like I was crawling. I refused to look at my watch at all during the first kilometre because I didn’t want it to dictate how things would go mentally. I couldn’t resist a peek as I passed the 1km marker and felt my watch beep. 5:28. Alright, you. Slow your mother-effin’ roll. My breathing quickly became laboured, I started to hunch over, and I lost steam quickly. My second kilometre was 5:44, which is probably closer to where I should have started the run. Somewhere on that first out-and-back, Amber was making her way back, and we yelled out to each other. Besides that, I tried to focus on breathing consistently and getting this thing done.
It was around the 2km mark when I noticed that my average heart rate was 175. I know I can expect a high heart rate while racing, but I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to keep it up. I switched the screen to see my current heart rate. No zone – 204. Hmmm…So, I walked for a minute or so until it came down to the low 160s. Then I picked it up to run again. I had to do that 3 times in total to keep my heart rate manageable, but I wonder how much of it was mental versus physical. At another race, I’d like to try covering my watch for the run just to see what would happen.
Ryan was waiting near the finish, so I saw him as I taking the turn to head out for the second out-and-back. When I came back and was going for the finish, Amber was with him, and they both cheered me in. I had plenty of gas left to sprint to the finish, so I think I let my mind take over and I probably could have gone a touch harder in the run.
Run Time: 5km//28:32 (5:42/km) [Watch says: 4.8km//28:56 (5:59/km)]
Overall time: 1:40:36 [Watch says: 1:40:21]
I have gone on about how the Toronto Triathlon Festival will be my true A race for the season, and how I want that one to be my benchmark, but it’s hard to ignore the improvements from last year’s triathlon to this weekend. Most noteworthy is taking my swim from a panicked 35:51 down to a calm 21:39 (with room for improvement, no doubt, but still…). Overall, I raced a 41:26 PB on Saturday!
I definitely got what I wanted from the race, and that was to see what needs adjusting before TTF.
Things to work on:
- More open water swimming, with particular focus on sighting
- Practice fueling on the bike while riding
- Try to clip in on the bike
- Pace myself on the run, and maybe cover my watch
The race itself was great. It was easy to get to, parking was plentiful, transition setup and bib pickup were snappy, the bathroom situation was downright luxurious for a race, the swim was perfect, and the organizers really know how to put off an excellent event. The volunteers were top notch, and this race is clearly a well-oiled machine. All the race photos will be free once they have been uploaded, which I love. I’m sure there will be a few gems in there, so I’ll be sure to share them when they become available. This race will be on my calendar next year, for sure.
Post-race food was pizza and fruit, but the star of the show were the pretzel sticks. I probably could have just eaten a plate of pretzel sticks. Ha. I also grabbed a sample of the F2C 3:1 recovery drink in vanilla. It was super sweet, and I loved it! I might have to invest in some to help after my longer workouts this summer.
Would I recommend this race to a friend, or a new triathlete? Absolutely. Everyone was welcoming, encouraging, and the event itself was a really positive experience. I loved the vibe at this race, and am looking forward to the rest of the Multisport Canada events that I’m signed up for this summer.
As always, I can’t say thank you enough to both Ryan and my coach. They’re the first ones to give me a good kick in the ass when needed, and it’s really made all the difference. There have definitely been days over the last seven months when I questioned my ability to do another triathlon, but they, along with my awesome friends and family, never let me quit. Ryan gives up so much of his time driving me around to races and cheering for me, and it means the world having him there, no matter what the outcome is. I’m feeling so grateful for my amazing support network, and eager to see what the rest of the summer brings!
Thanks for reading this tome, y’all, and for encouraging me along the way. It truly means so much. Have a great week!
Anybody else race this weekend? Where? How did it go?