Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Real Deal Showdown: Barrelman Half Iron Race Report

When Ming approached me about this in August, I didn't have a September half marathon on my radar but, I had been ramping up my mileage to get ready for perhaps a fall half marathon, IF my knees behaved themselves (ideally Niagara in October).  And, things were looking pretty good, until I went and over did it at the gym in early September.   Which pretty much did me in.  I questioned my sanity in deciding to do this event.  I didn't want to let my team down by running "a slow for me" half.  I didn't run at all in the week leading up to the race in the hopes that my knees would actually behave and NOT hurt.  I also went for a massage a week before the race and asked David to do some deep tissue work, which he promptly told me was probably not a good idea since I was racing in a week (thanks D!).  Instead he just worked out the kinks and flushed out my legs which seemed to help a fair bit.   Still, I went into this race feeling incredibly ill prepared.  I knew it wasn't going to be pretty.  It was going to hurt and I was wondering how long I'd last before the inevitable implosion happened.  But before I get into the gory details of my leg of the race, let me fill you in on the race itself.

Barrelman is a point to point race, which is unusual for a triathlon.   Because it's a point to point race, that means there are TWO transition areas.  One for the swim to bike and then another for the bike to run.  T1 was in Welland as the swim took place in the Welland Canal.  T2 was in Niagara Falls as the bike course went from Welland to Niagara and the run went through the town of Niagara Falls and right by the Falls themselves.  Twice in fact.  Multisport Canada offered plenty of shuttle services for folks from Niagara to Welland.  They were encouraging people to park in Niagara Falls and take the shuttle in to Welland, which, if you were racing it on your own, made the most sense.  Racing it as a relay required a fair bit of logistics, especially given that none of us picked up our kits or attended the pre-race briefing the day before.  So we ALL had to meet in Welland.  The swimmer and cyclist had to be there anyway but I could have just driven straight to Niagara Falls.  If you're the runner, it makes for a very long day.  BUT, it was either take the time out of your Saturday afternoon and do the drive twice OR get up early on the Sunday and do the drive once.  I opted to get up early on the Sunday.  I also brought our swimmer, Colin Campbell, with me.  We flew out to Welland in the pouring rain.   We got our kits and then went on a coffee run while waiting for our cyclist to arrive.  After several texts, we eventually found each other as well as the other Real Deal Team.  We hung out in the door of the arena and listened to the pre-race briefing because it was still pouring rain.  And really really windy.  The rain was supposed to stop and the forecast said it was going to be cloudy for the remainder of the day.  I was totally ok with that, especially since it was windy and muggy out.   Sunshine would have made things much more difficult.  And I don't say that often!

I went down to the water with Leanna and Colin.  Leanna was ready to go so she got in and did her warm up.  I zipped Colin up and off he went to do a warm up.  They were in the first wave behind the pros, which was really nice.  Normally relays are in the last wave!  My plan was to stick around for the swim and cheer folks on.  Colin and Leanna had to do a ride after so they were planning on riding to Niagara Falls to meet up with the rest of us at the finish line.  I watched the pros go, then Colin & Leanna were off.  Ming had figured that Leanna would have a 2 minute lead on Colin in the swim so I wasn't surprised to see her come out of the water first.  She was right behind Lionel Sanders!  I checked my watch and waited.  And waited some more.  30 minutes and no Colin.  32 minutes and no Colin.  Then all of a sudden I see this flash of white, yellow and blue and I see it's Colin tearing his way through the crowd with NO WETSUIT.  WTH?  I followed him back into T1 where the rest of the crew was hanging out.  Mike had gotten on the bike already and Larbi had just left transition.  Real Deal Two had a 5 minute lead.  Colin had a panic attack in the swim because his wetsuit was too tight and couldn't calm himself down so he ended up pulling his wetsuit off during the swim and tossed into one of the boats!  And he still managed to swim 33 minutes.  Crazy.

A blurry shot of Leanna coming out of the swim.
 So Real Deal One was down by 5 minutes.  Ming figured Larbi could easily make that up on the bike.  It was SUPER windy out there so both Mike & Larbi were going to have their work cut out for them.  We left T1 and made our way back to our cars.  Leanna & Colin got ready for their ride and Ming and I got ready to head out.  Ming was going to take Larbi's car to Niagara.  I had the GPS so he was going to follow me.  We crawled out of the parking lot and waited for an opportunity to get out on to the road.  We had parked to the left of T1 and that happened to be right along the bike route.  D'uh.   We made it out and wound our way through country side roads until we saw signs of civilization.   I saw a long row of orange pylons creating a path and figured that was part of the run course so we were probably pretty close to T2.  Sure enough a few minutes later we found it. The parking lot was MASSIVE.  I wasn't sure where the best place to park was because I wasn't actually sure where transition was.  I drove into one of the middle lots and figured that was good.  Ming and I got ourselves sorted and started walking.  He checked his phone and pointed the way.  We started walking through the lot and came out to a main road that was also lined with pylons.  At that point we knew we were on the race course.  There was a woman with a cute little dog who was also trying to find transition so she followed us.  We yammered away about our summer, Ming's dissertation and his potential job out in Victoria with the Canadian Sport Institute.   We had been walking for quite some time when we realized that we still hadn't come across transition.  We turned to each other and said WTF?  I checked my phone and realized it was 11 am and that we had been walking for almost half an hour.  Oh crap.  We looked at the map again and realized that transition was actually the other way.  OMG.  Our cyclists were due back in between 11:30-11:45 so we figured we better book it.  We started running back in the direction we came from.  Of course that was UP hill.  The sun also started to poke it's head out from behind the clouds which jacked up the temperature a good 10 - 15 degrees.  By the time we got to the top of the hill, I was sweating buckets.  Needless to say I didn't need to do a warm up any more!  We crossed a road and could make out the shapes of big orange tents so we figured we were heading in the right direction.  We made it into T2 by 11:20, which gave us a bit of time to get ourselves ready to go.  Ming and I chatted with a few other relay folks as we patiently awaited the arrival of our cyclists.

We watched the pros come in - Lionel Sanders had a commanding lead.  He was followed by Nigel Gray.  It was then that I realized that I was going to be out on the course pretty much all by myself, unless Ming and I left at the same time.  I also realized that I was going to be the first woman out on the course.  Unless one of the pro women came in before my cyclist did but I didn't think that was going to happen.  Normally in a triathlon I have people to follow so I don't really have to think too much about where I'm going.  I still make sure I look at a map of the course just to be sure. But sometimes the race stupids get the better of you (like they did at Toronto Island).

Ming and I spotted the black and white skin suit of a Real Deal athlete whizzing along the road but we couldn't figure out if it was Mike or Larbi.  A couple of minutes later, we were both shocked to see Mike come into T2.  Crap.  Seconds later, Ming was off on the run.  Mike was completely spent.  He couldn't even formulate a full sentence.  He left it all on the course.  I watched another pro come in.  I was starting to worry that something happened to Larbi.   A couple of minutes later I spotted a black and white clad figure flying along the road.   I readied myself to grab the timing chip.  Larbi rolled into T2, racked his bike and handed me the chip.  I slapped it around my ankle and took off.  My hamstrings were tight and my legs did not feel great.  On the positive side, my knee didn't hurt!

I ran out of T2 and into the blazing hot sun.  Yes, those clouds had been blown away by the wind that was still blowing pretty hard.  I ran out of the park and onto the main road and was cheered on by the few spectators that were starting to make their way into the park.  People got really excited when they saw me as they thought I was the lead female.  I kept saying, nope, RELAY!  but that didn't seem to matter.   The stretch of road leading out of the park was like a wind tunnel.  I was literally getting blown around through there.  I can't remember the last time I raced in wind like that.  I don't think I have, actually.  It was BRUTAL.  Add some heat and humidity to the mix and things were going to get ugly.  These are some of the thoughts that went through my head over the next 21.1km.

Kilometers 1-5

My hamstrings hurt.  Geez it's hot.  Where did this damn sun come from?  Nothing like running at noon after standing around for 5 hours.  OMG, that wind.  I'm dying.  I hope it's not like this through the entire course.  At least this should be at my back on the way back in.   Wow, I really am all alone.  There's NOBODY in front of me.  I wonder when I'll get caught?  Oh yay, a downhill!  And no wind!  Oh look it's Lionel Sanders.  Geez he's moving SO. FREAKING.  FAST.  "Go Lionel!"  More downhill.  I hear footsteps.  Coming fast.  And there goes Kristen Marchant.  God she's quick.  And she's so little.  Why are all the fast women so little?  Maybe I can keep her in my sights so I don't get lost.  Yeah, who am I kidding, that's not going to happen.  Running back up this hill is going to suck.  I think the little out and back is coming up.  Oh yes, here we go.  PEOPLE!  Hiiiii!  Smile and wave to the photographer.  "You're the only person that smiled at me!"  "We'll see if I'm still smiling on the second loop, ha ha".   Around the pylon.   Still not sure where I'm going and I've already lost Kristen.  Great.  Volunteer points me up a hill.  I have to run up this?  Awesome.  Power up the hill PK.  You're doing great.  Aid station - YES!  Water & Heed please.    Holy crap it's hot.  More damn wind.  Honestly?!?!? Oh there's Kristen up ahead.  Keep her in your sights, PK.  Another turn.  What the hell?  A bit of off road?  Ok then!  Another aid station...water please.  OMG, uphill again.  Say thanks to the kind officers that are cheering you on and don't think about the fact that you're going to have to do this all over again.

Kilometers 6-10

And a turn.  WHOA, now THAT'S a downhill.  Don't go too hard.  Turn here?  Oh no, that's a parking garage.  That wouldn't be good.  Keep going.   Thanks for coming out folks!  You guys are awesome!  It's really freaking hot.  I'm going to die on this next loop.  Onto the grass again.  Another aid station.  Two waters.  One for my head.  Oh that feels SO GOOD.  Oh look, the Falls!  I can feel the mist!  So cool!  And the climbing begins.  How did it get so damn hot all of a sudden?!?  I'm going to spontaneously combust.  I hope they have sponges at the next aid station.  I think that's 7km - the sign has blown over.  Only 14 km left.  Ugh.  I think it's almost time for a gel.  There should be an aid station soon.  God the pavement is radiating heat.  I thought it was supposed to be cloudy today??  Keep your shoulders back, you're slouching.  Here comes the aid station.  Water!  Heed!  No sponges??  WTH???  FAIL.  More water dumped on my head.  This is one long effing hill.  I hate hills. Oh look PEOPLE!!!!  Look for relay bibs.  None yet.  Almost at the top of this damn hill.  Back into the wind tunnel.   It's at my back.  Sort of.  Still better than the way out.  Should be coming up to the 10km mark soon.  I spy Ming - GO MING!  Marshall points the way in.  I'm tired.  Shoot me now, somebody!!  I don't know if I can do another loop.  People are coming at me.  Hmmm...this doesn't seem right.  Someone is yelling -Go onto the path!  What?  I'm confused.  What path?  I hear Steve Fleck say I'm supposed to be by the water.  What?  Ok, then.  Get onto the grass and get over.  This doesn't seem right.  I don't see anyone.  Or any pylons.  I'm tired.  Run back over.   Ok now what?  Where do I go?  Run back over again.  I feel like a squirrel dodging traffic.  Zigging and zagging all over the grass.  I'm still confused.  I run back and ask a volunteer where I'm supposed to go.  She stares at me blankly.  I see my friends cheering and ask them.  They yell go around Go around what?  Then I see some pylons nearby so I go around those and start running back out for my second loop. 

Kilometers 10-15

My foot hurts.  I hope it isn't as windy this time.  Where's the 10km marker?  It must have blown over.  I wonder why there's no timing mat for the halfway poi..... oh SHIT.  Now I see where I was supposed to run.   How did I miss that????  IDIOT.  Idiot, idiot, idiot.  Why isn't there a marshal there too?   Uuughhhh.  It's even windier now.  There goes my pacing.  I can't push through this.  I have to survive the next 10km.  Do what you can.  Down the hill, make up some time.  Into the out and back.  Smile at the photographer again, even though you want to die.  Shuffle around the pylon.  There's a blister on my foot, I can feel it.  Why does this always happen when I race?  I don't understand.  Please don't pop.  Please don't pop.  OMG this hill is so much harder the second time around.  Don't walk until you get to the aid station at the top.  I hate this, I hate this, I hate this.  Water!  Heed!  Water!  I'm just going to stand here for a second.  More water dumped on my head.  Finally.  People around me.  How is it windy through here now?  WTF.  Onto grass again.  Oh god that hurts my foot.  That blister must be HUGE.  I'm stopping at this aid station because my legs hate me right now.  Water.  Heed.  Another Roctane.  Let me catch my breath.  Only 6km to go.  Half an hour max, maybe more if I blow up.  I don't want to think about that right now.  Just keep moving and tell your legs to shut up.

Kilometers 16-20

Oh god, this is hard.  I want to sit down.  This course is HARD.   My legs hurt.  What the hell is that bus doing?  REALLY buddy?  Did you not see that runner there???  Some people are jerks.  Poor cop.  He needs an extra set of hands with him.   Where did that wind come from?  Seriously this is the windiest day ever.   Only 5km left.  Here comes the downhill.   Oh.  Ouch.  My quads.  Ouch, my foot.  Oh man, this hurts.  I thought downhill was supposed to be easy.  Why does my entire body hurt?  Relax your shoulders.  Stop holding your damn breath.   I need water.   The mist from the falls feels AWESOME.  What a great idea to run by here.  4km left.  20 minutes maybe?   I'm D-Y-I-N-G.  The wheels have fallen off the wagon.  I'm going to walk at the next aid station, I don't care about my time, I just want to be done.  This is my implosion, happening right now.  18km sign blown over due to wind.  I hate the wind.  Get it together and get up the damn hill PK.  You have 3 stinking km's left.  So. much. pain.  I am not going to want to take my shoes off.   I'm so going to hurt tomorrow.   Ahhhh, the wind is at my back!  Yes!  You're almost done.  Less than 2km left.  Ohh watch the rocks.  Tripping hazard and they hurt my feet.  So many spectators now.  Thank the volunteers.  Finally someone directing people down the path!  And an arrow sign.  That wasn't there before!  Down the path I go.  I see the 10km sign on it's side.  Damn wind.

The last 1.1km 

Almost there, almost there, almost there.  My feet.  My legs.  Oh my GOD.  I hurt.  You'll be able to sit down soon.  I can hear Steve Fleck.  There's my team!  Pick it up!

Done!  1:35:30.  

And just like that, my 2014 season is over. 

John Salt put together a fabulous race.  The Niagara region is a great place for a triathlon and a point to point race was really the only way to do it as swimming in the Niagara river probably isn't the best idea.  A September triathlon in Ontario is always a bit risky temperature wise but Niagara generally gets some warmer temps this time of year and race day was no exception.  The Welland Canal is a great place to swim and the Welland to Niagara bike course is quite flat.  Which for some makes for an easier ride.  There had to be some challenging element to the race and John nailed it with that run.  It was hilly.  A lot hillier than I expected Niagara to be.  If you pushed outside your limits even a bit on the bike, that run would make you pay.

And the results of the Real Deal Showdown?  Real Deal Two beat Real Deal One by almost 7 minutes (4:24:57 vs 4:31:46) which is not bad considering the issues we had (Colin shedding his wetsuit mid-swim, Larbi getting a flat at 70km on the bike and me messing up the run).  Here's hoping we can rally the troops again next year and add another team.  The hurt becomes a distant memory, much like the massive blister on my foot, and we can't wait to do it all over again.  If the Real Deal crew wanted to do it again next year, I'd be in again for sure.

A huge thanks to my Real Deal Teammates & Coaches as well as all of our sponsors:  Gears, WASPcam, Fieldgate Homes, Iler Silva Law Offices, Toronto Sport and Social Club, Morning Glory Cycling Club, Champion System , Powerbar, Balance Physiotherapy, RMP Total Fitness, Spin Kicks, Kenzington Burger Bar and Barnstormer Brewing


Kristen said...

You are racing machine, woman! I've actually done the run leg of a triathlon a couple of times and really enjoyed it. There is something that pushes you a little extra when others are relying on you. Strong finish and time for your team. Sounds like it was a good way to end the season and I am happy to hear that your knee pain wasn't bad. Congrats!!

Sam said...

I'm sorry to laugh, but that whole bit at the start of the second loop is comical in your head. Way to push through. That was a shit day weather wise! I'm also curious to know just how big that blister turned out to be?! Congrats!!

Courtney@The TriGirl Chronicles said...

Tough races make us stronger! I've done a Ragnar style relay before, but never been part of a tri team relay. It's on my radar since my dad and husband expressed interest. You are seriously a machine though! I can only hope to run a 1:35 half marathon someday!

macnic said...

I can't believe that horrible, wheels falling off race was a sub 1:36. You're amazing. Really. Great end to your season. Congrats.

Wendy at Taking the Long Way Home said...

Boy for such a tough half, you really killed it! Great work. And now time to recover...

~Wendy at Taking the Long Way Home

Robin said...

Congrats, super impressive.