If you haven’t read Part 1 of my Barrelman Weekend Recap, you can find it here.
So there I was, floating in a sea of red swim caps. Though I had picked the less crowded side of the overall swim lane, I noticed it had filled in with new bodies behind me. I guessed I’d have to justify my confidence in my swim pace. Toot went the horn, and the swim began.
As I mentioned last post, the Welland International Flatwater Centre is used for various boat races, and you couldn’t find a better venue for an open water swim. For starters, the word ‘flatwater’ is right there in the title; it’s not a large lake with waves (nor any boat traffic - but more on this in a bit). Some swimmers claimed there was a current, but I couldn’t detect any. We swam more or less one kilometre to the other end, and there were even signs on the shore every 250m or so which not only helped you keep track of your progress it was great for motivation - you didn’t need to be at 750m (for example) but merely knowing you were coming up on your next milestone was a great mental boost.
Traffic collisions were a factor, including one punch in the face I took in the first 100m. I wasn’t expecting it to be that bad, but maybe I’ve been spoiled by the Bracebridge Triathlon this year, or maybe lane isn’t wide enough for that many swimmers to spread out without some bump and grind.
At one end of the course there were lime green buoys which you kept on your right, cornered to cross to the other side, then straight back to the starting end of the course; navigation could not be simpler - everything is straight lines and 90 degree turns. On the way back, the distance signs seemed less visible, maybe they were obscured by bushes, so I didn’t rely on them as much. There were some small white (and orange) buoys that must serve some purpose for the boat races which had the potential for collisions, but I mostly swam right past them without incident (I think I hit one head on, and it cost me all of a second or two to get dislodged). Somewhere in the last 400m or so, I found myself boxed in by other swimmers on all sides. To whoever’s legs I swam over, I apologize, but ultimately I think I saved us all a few bumps by getting to the outside and passing that way.
I did most of the swim on auto-pilot without really giving much thought to my pace, and I think that worked out in my favour. I neither overdid it nor slacked off too much, based on my time. I had hoped to complete in 38 minutes, but it was 40. On the other hand, my Garmin shows I kept an average pace of 1:54/100m for over 2100m. I was initially expecting the official 1900m, but the race day literature mentioned a 2km swim (and 89km bike ride instead of 90). The Garmin map shows I did do some zig-zagging, but nothing to be ashamed of.
Swim Stats: 2112m in 0:40:00.
After the swim exit you ran past the grandstand to hear people on the bleachers cheering you on (thanks guys!) and up some stairs into the transition zone. Bike racks were organized by bib number, and each number had a designated spot that we all had identified the day before. I took my time in this transition, and once my wet-suit was off, I made a bathroom break - I was going to make the next 90 (or 89) kilometers as comfortable as possible. My biggest struggle in T1 is managing my Garmin while taking off the wet-suit. I don’t trust the sleeve to be able to go over the Garmin on my wrist, so I take the Garmin off, and juggle it while I’m stripping. The upshot was that I left the wrist band behind while mounting the Garmin onto the bike mount. I stuffed everything in the black bag that would be transported to the finish area, and walked my bike out of transition (helmet on, of course).
T1 Stats: 0:05:40.6
Once I mounted, the first few hundred meters were a little bumpy; my hydration bottle kept spraying droplets onto me and my bike, but most importantly my phone. I had promised to text my wife at the end of each leg, and I hadn’t punched in “Swim Done” while in transistion. I stopped just before a bridge where the road part of the course started to open up and struggled with reading the screen in the intense sunlight, with the stains not making it any easier (I keep my phone in a Lifeproof Case, if you’re wondering how I’m able to risk taking it along in all these extreme circumstances - here is an affiliate link for some of their products). Once I had sent that first text, I got down to business.
The course had been described as having segments “The Out”, “The Loop”, “The Back” and “The Ride to Niagara Falls”. “The Out” was the first 20km and very straight along a road called Feeder. It was easy going, and I was averaging over 30 km/h while feeling like I was just on an easy spin. In hindsight, I think I had a tailwind.
“The Loop” took us down to the shore of Lake Erie. I tried to take photos of several things while riding, but as I mentioned, the glare made it difficult to see what I was doing, especially while riding. It probably wasn’t worth the risk, and the camera didn’t take pictures when I thought it did. Once I hit the shore of Lake Erie, the view was so beautiful, I had to actually stop and pull over to capture this shot.
At aid station #1 they had a bottle exchange, but I stuck to my aero bottle in my handlebars. I figured I still had plenty of drink in there, and only grabbed a gel for later. I had been eating GoMacro bars until that point. Somewhere near the halfway mark I switched to a Clif Bar. I began to notice the wind. It always felt like a headwind, no matter what, but I think for the most part, it came at a kind of diagonal. I saw the impressive wind turbines which had been mentioned in the pre-race briefing, and I figured (according to the laws of thermodynamics) they must be slowing the wind down at least a little. Thanks wind turbines!
It was turning into a bit of a slog for the way back from “The Loop”. My neck and shoulders were beginning to hurt in aero position. Reaching the second aid station at 57km was quite a relief, and I opted to make it a bit of an extended break.
After taking that video, I rode about another 2 km. I was heading down a nice downhill stretch toward one of the more interesting features of the bike course - a tunnel under the Welland canal - when I felt my rear wheel go directly over a rock. That's not good, I thought. I rode through the tunnel, and started climbing up the hill on the other side when I felt a familiar rhythm under my saddle - whump, whump, whump. I stopped and felt my rear tire - it was a little soft and getting softer. A flat. On the biggest race of my life (so far).
Having had an ambivalent attitude toward motivation the whole race helped me not panic and freak out. Obviously I wasn't going to set any impressive time now, I just needed to focus on getting the tire fixed. I had wisely opted to take along my repair pouch rather than extra bottles behind my seat. I actually saw another rider a mere 200m up the road from me that had the same problem. I walked my bike up to where he was (with a runner who seemed to be helping out) under the guise of "misery loves company" but the truth was that I wanted guidance on fixing the problem. I'd practised switching out a tube enough times at home, but I felt a little less comfortable using a pressurized CO2 cartridge. They're expensive, so I didn't like the idea of using one when I didn't have to. The other guy was having no luck with his CO2 cartridge, and blamed the valve he was using, so I offered him mine. Once I had my new inner tube installed on the wheel, I waited for him to give me my valve back. It hadn't worked for him, and sure enough, it didn't work for me and my lone cartridge either. Luckily, the runner volunteered to run back to the aid station, where a repair van from VeloFix. We waited for a bit, and sure enough the van pulled up, and was able to inflate my tire with the all the effort of pulling the trigger of a motorized pump. I was off, and though I hadn't watched the clock at the time (in the interest of staying calm), I had blown over 30 minutes on the entire misadventure. There would be just over 30 km left to ride, and those clicks became more and more painful. Maintaining aero position was doing a number on my neck, and I was compensating by having my head tilted more forward, which reduced my field of vision to only a few meters in front of me - not good, not safe. I started to come up on my brake hoods, and abandoned aero position altogether. No body position was helping my neck at all - I wished I could have rode "no hands" and sat upright. Somehow I finished the ride, but the last 10 km were at a very low speed; it's a shame I was in such a bad state, because that seemed to be very pretty countryside. I pulled into the T2 transition area, wondering if I should bother trying to finish at all.
Bike Stats : 88.99km in 3:52:40 Transition 2: I got off the bike and went through the motions of going out for the run. That became the strategy: simply try to put my legs on auto-pilot and see what happened. If my neck pain didn't decrease in the first two kilometres, I think I would have packed it in. Shoes were on, and out the run exit I went. T2 Stats - 0:5:45.7
The good news was that my neck stopped hurting pretty fast as soon as I was upright. For the bad news, I need to know if you've heard of an entity known as the Blerch, as featured on Matthew Inman's webcomic, the Oatmeal. If not, head over there and come back. Now I remembered the Blerch as a demon of general self-doubt more than one of sloth and laziness, and to me, that was what he represented. I generally try to keep the language on this blog pretty clean, but right here, I'm going to pull out some much saltier stuff, so if that offends you, you can skip the next paragraph. For all 21 km, the Blerch and I had a knock-down, drag-em-out street fight; I'm talking about head-butts, knee-cap kicks, elbow strikes, groin shots, kidney punches, rabbit punches, biting, scratching, fish-hooking, you name it, for every inch of that course, that motherfucker and I went at it. "What are you even doing?" ... "A real man would be at that hospital with his family!" "What do you think you're going to prove? Are you supposed to be some kind of hero? Big deal, like a million people have already done this distance, and most on harder courses, in less time." In short, I felt like I didn't have the right to be there, 6 months of training or not, but my legs kept moving. The only way to take the fight back to my own Blerch, was to try to finish, and do it with a smile on my face. That meant trying to enjoy the weather, the locale and the environment in general.
This put a smile on my face within the first kilometre... it was almost exactly what I was thinking at the time.
It was a two-loop course, and it was later in the day, and I probably looked like I might be fast enough to be on my second loop, but it was a little demotivating having spectators tell me I was "almost done" with less than a quarter of the running mileage under my belt. The aid stations were nice and frequent, just about every kilometre I think (my memory has gotten fuzzy as it's taken a long time for me to get this post written). I turned down Coke at my first opportunity, but it wasn't a mistake I was going to repeat, and I think I had it every chance I got after that. Coke's gotten some bad press lately, but caffeine and sugar felt pretty good to me at that stage; it didn't even matter when it started to get luke-warm and flat.
The run course took us through some lovely parks in the area.
There was plenty of variety on the run course. Shady parks were one of my favourites, but there was a climb that got you to a decent vantage over the falls, then you wound through a pedestrian pathway and stairs in the "downtown" of Niagara Falls, then around to main strip where you could keep the Falls on your left while being gawked at by tourists. The mists cooling you off was an added bonus. I was closing in on 9-10 km when I remembered there was a cut-off time for completing the first loop... but I didn't know what time that was. John Salt, the race director, had mentioned that exceptions could be made if they felt your first loop time wasn't representative of your potential finish time. I got panicky, because I doubted that would be the case. I kept asking volunteers if they knew the first loop cut-off time, and they didn't. The Blerch had me in a choke-hold - I reckoned if I didn't make the cut-off, I wouldn't argue the point and fight for my finish. A volunteer told me the overall cut-off time was 5:00PM, so it turned out I was fine, but running alongside so many others who were finishing only to make a turn and head out for another loop was disheartening.
A hawk, watching the procession. Apparently I have time to bird-watch while tri-ing
While the fatigue was certainly there, my spirits lifted with the idea that I could (and probably would) get the job done and finish that race. More coke, more bananas, more water, more smiles and jokes with the volunteers. I tried to find things that would amuse me.
NO STOPPING: Traffic instruction or Mantra? You don't have to decide.
The course went by Marineland... I wished a dolphin would splash me to cool me off
The kilometres kept ticking off, and soon the end was in sight. Without having to chase a time goal, I wanted to cross the finish line in style. Some click their heels, but that is NOT my style. I wanted to try a cartwheel, but I didn't think my body was up for it, so I opted for what I thought was the Ickey Shuffle (named after Bengals Fullback Elbert "Ickey" Woods), but I must have mis-remembered it, and mixed it up with some of Cuba Gooding Jr.'s steps from Jerry Maguire. Behold, the Iron Rogue Shuffle.
Run Stats : 20.13 km in 2:27:03 I got my medal. I got my free hat. I found a shady place to lie down. I called my wife, and simply said "It's done." I was emotional, but not entirely happy. The entire race I had been questioning this whole multi-sport, outdoor, active adventure lifestyle we pursue as a family. All the kinds of things you've read about in my posts (unless this is your first time visiting - in which case, stick around and see what we've gotten up to). I'd given up a chance to be with my wife and child during a hospital visit (they were discharged shortly before the swim began). During the six months prior to the race, several times I'd been gone for hours off on a run or a bike ride. When things didn't go my way in regards to my training, I was probably a miserable dick (sorry again about the language) to be around. I craved "normal", and promised everyone more time, and more of me for the next year at least. Living the adventure has had costs, and I wasn't sure of the rewards anymore.
It's been weeks since I finished, and I've tried to fill in the time I used to spend training with "normal" people activities. The kinds of errands that seemed to get put off - a couple of have been completed, but many seem to rely on others, or bureaucracy so they're incomplete, and the time I spent on them feels wasted. I guess that's what I love about endurance sport - I put my own time in, and my effort dictates my results. A half-hour spent running equals a half-hour spent running. One thing that has filled in the void left by a half-iron training plan is work. It's a big reason why this post hasn't been published before now; and while I'm not lazy and I'm willing to put in an honest day's work, my father told me that no-one ever lies on their death bed wishing they spent more time at the office. Lastly, just 20 minutes before I started writing this paragraph, my wife told me about how well he does somersaults in his Acro Dance class, or more to the point, how much some of the other kids struggled with them. I don't know all the science, but even if they hadn't had formal instruction in gymnastics and other activities, we let our kids "off the leash" enough (especially in the outdoors) that they're able to make the neural connections to integrate various body movements and have body awareness enough to learn complex movements in a hurry. So maybe we won't give up our active family (multi-sport) lifestyle just yet. After all, what else am I going to write about?