While the main focus of my blog is food, travel and horror movies, I’ve recently decided to blog about my endurance races since I often travel for these adventures! This year I’ve blogged about Why I Run and the Mississauga Marathon. The following is the first post of a five part series: my training and race report from my first triathlon – the REV3 Niagara Falls Barrelman 70.3!
I had been eyeing the REV3 Niagara Falls Barrelman 70.3 race for a few years now. While marathon training I came across the race after signing up for the Multisport Canada newsletter. What I find humorous is that it never occurred to me that there were shorter triathlon options. Nope, I had figured that this was what a triathlon was and it sounded pretty awesome! So I jotted down “do a triathlon” on my list of New Year’s resolutions and kept an eye on the registration deadlines.
Unfortunately I was stuck in a bout of unemployment so I had to hold off on any unnecessary costs.
Months past. The September 17th race day was now four months away.
I completed my 6th marathon at the the Mississauga Marathon in May, and had an interview the next morning. Thankfully, I got the job and would now be biking to work. With the triathlon in mind, I started increasing my bike mileage a little bit each week. I was a leisurely cyclist at best when I lived in the suburbs but after I moved downtown a year ago, I became a much more avid biker.
Now that I was employed, I could also afford to get a pass at the local community pool to brush up on my swimming. Swimming is second nature for me and I feel perfectly at peace in the water. What can I say, I’m a Scorpio – a water baby – at heart! I grew up taking swimming lessons and continued onto the swim team in high school. I had also left behind the pool in my condo when I moved downtown, so I hadn’t swam regularly in the past few years. Despite this, I was able to swim 2km no problem the first time I hit the water.
Summer flew by. The day before the final registration deadline arrived. On this particular day at work, we were told that our project was going on hiatus, for an indefinite length of time. A normal person’s reaction might have been one of panic or anger, but nope, not me. My boss and the CEO of the company looked at me bracing themselves for my reaction, and I merely replied “well I guess I will sign up for that half Ironman”.
Signing up for a half Ironman felt much different than signing up for a marathon. One lingers over that “confirm registration” button just a bit longer fighting off excuses and uncertainties. But then that little voice in your head goes “ah to hell with it” and suddenly you’re signed up for your biggest challenge yet!
Naturally, I panicked.
My biggest concern was the bike. I knew that I could do it, but my current bike was a 7 year old urban hybrid and I didn’t want to stick out like a sore thumb. The weekend after I registered, I biked to 43n kilometres to Oakville, about half the distance of the triathlon. My pace was OK but my legs felt pretty wobbly, and I realized the advantages of lighter, faster road bike. As luck would have it, a few days later I got a flat tire riding back home at night from volleyball practice.
The next day, I was complaining to my boss about my bike, and she told me that her ex-boyfriend had been a serious cyclist and had worked at a cycling store. She had a brand new road bike that she had only ridden a few times before they broke up. She offered to lend it to me and I nearly cried with joy! Suddenly I had been upgraded from a crusty, heavy bike to a beautiful, brand new, light as a feather road bike! I knew nothing about road biking and suddenly I was swimming in questions in regards to clipless pedals, aerobars and cadence.
Below is a photo of the first time I tested out my snazzy new road bike. The bike was borderline too big for me, but I remembered having sizing problems when I bought my urban hybrid. I have short legs and a long torso so I remember having to saw down the saddle pole, so we did the same for this bike. The hoods were incorrectly placed on the stem, and I also ended up swapping out this stem for a slightly smaller one. Once the stem was adjusted and the saddle was shifted all the way forward, the bike felt perfect and was way more comfortable than my old bike, which now felt small and awkward.
With five weeks left I threw myself into training. I became one with my road bike, read up on anything I could get my hands on about triathlons, and watched You Tube videos on tips for swimming and biking. I also read Barrelman race reports from previous years and found videos on You Tube of race day .
The difference between running and triathlons is that running can be a very solo, individual journey. I had always trained on my own and saw my training time as a sort of private ritual. Triathlons felt like more of a community. A fellow triathlete on the Barrelman Facebook group recommended the Women for Tri group and I found the support to be amazing and inspiring. I reached out to friends who biked to go on long rides, and got to know the folk at my local bike shops who helped teach me bike maintenance 101. For my first open water swim in a wetsuit, I signed up with the local triathlon club for a practice swim. When I went to the cottage I asked my friends to canoe beside me so I could practice sighting while swimming across the lake.
Training was coming along well and every day, my confidence grew. Swim, bike, run, swim, bike, run. Because of my condensed training schedule, my only “rest” days were Wednesdays when I played volleyball. Swim, bike, run. Swim, bike, run. Each week I increased my distance and twice a week I would do a full brick training trio so I could run through my transitions.
My plan for fuel was an extension of my marathon nutritional routine. I decided to stick with gels for the runs and chews for the bike. I tried gels while biking and the goo went everywhere and I ended up with very sticky stems! The road bike came with a small bento box which fit a gummy pack and a broken up Cliff Bar. I planned to tape two gummy packs to my bike frame for easy assess. Before the run I planned to drink some coconut water and have a Honey Stinger Waffle for a motivating treat. I trained with water and coconut water since the race was not going to have Gatorade like all the other races I had run. I would later learn that coconut water is evil, as you will read about later.
As luck would have it, I met a girl who had done a few Ironmans and was looking to start coaching newbie triathletes. She helped me shop for a trisuit, gave me race day tips, and not only gave me bike tips regarding clipless pedals and my cadence but also lent me her set of aerobars! Some of the more important tips she gave me were to use salt tabs to help with hydration and as a break from all the sugary gels and drinks. She also went through the steps I would go through at the start of race day. I learned to set up my transition area and to carve out my own space by laying out an old towel on the ground to place all my bike gear on.
Here I am trying on my first trisuit. Before signing up I fully thought that on race day you changed right out in the open between sports, haha! I went with a Sugoi sleeveless trisuit which was super comfy and in my price range. The polka dots were a fun bonus! I’m wearing a Moving Comfort adjustable bra underneat, one of the best sports bras I’ve ever owned!
Now that I had my trisuit, I focused on the bike. I went to Mountain Equipment Co-Op and bought the Garmin cadence meter, spd bike shoes and clipless pedals.
I was cramming a lot in a short amount of time, but I loved every minute. Looking back I think the training kept me sane after the disappointment of going on unemployment again.
Two weeks before race day, I was at the cottage with some friends and was greatly enjoying the change of scenery. Swimming in the open lake water was a welcome change of pace from the chlorine dosed waters of the community pool. I was also trying out my aerobars for the first time and the quiet, winding country roads were an ideal place to test them out. On the second day at the cottage, I received some unfortunate news.
My Mom’s mental health had been declining for some time and my dad called to say that she had had a mental break. She had started to physically abuse him and today he had called the police and she was taken away. I had never heard my dad sound so shaken and to be far away from him during his time of need was hard to deal with. Needless to say, I appreciated the time alone on my long bike rides and runs.
As soon as I could, I hopped on a plane to Ottawa. My mom was in a mental health hospital now and seemed to be doing better. I continued to train in Ottawa, finding a bike rental place nearby and thankfully there was even a YMCA with a clean, brightly lit pool across the street from my parent’s house. I went for some beautiful long bike rides and runs along the canal and traveled out to some beaches and parks that I had never been to before.
Every day I would train and then we would visit my mom, and this became the new norm. I’m amazed how, with the exception of two marathons, disaster always seems to strike right before a race. Almost like a final test before the big day. But what doesn’t break you makes you stronger, and once again I was thankful to have my training as an outlet for the emotions I was feeling.
One evening while at the hospital I found out that I would definitely not be returning back to the project that was still on hiatus. I was really sad because I loved the company and had barely begun the project. However, I could not afford to turn down any job offers at this point and that evening I accepted a job at the same company I had been at a year ago. I was happy to be back among friends and on a solid project.
My first day back at work was the day after the triathlon.
With my mom in stable condition and less than a week before race day, I returned to Toronto, picked up all my stuff from my former job, picked up my wetsuit and packed for Niagara Falls. The day before departure, I went to the park and practiced some yoga. I wanted some time by myself to stretch out my muscles and calm my mind.
The past 6 weeks had been a whirlwind of events and physically and mentally I was wired. I felt sad that my parents would not be able to see me race, and I felt anxious about the race and the new job that I would start the following day. As the sun set over the park and the city lights flickered on, I felt proud of all I had accomplished over the past 6 weeks. I felt ready. Focused. Hungry. I was going to kill this.