And here's what you've all been waiting for! Michelle's last guest blog was enormously popular, and I'm expecting lots from this one too. Take it away Michelle!
Keith has been a run buddy for a few years now and more recently a swim buddy planting thoughts of triathlon in my head. I’m grateful for Keith’s patience and encouragement as I evolve from hot tub soaker to front crawl swimmer.
This was a three-day gig!
I got off work early to attend a team briefing session which ended up being cancelled via Twitter/Facebook. I had found the information online to be conflicting and had my doubts anyway. Keith picked me up after work and we drove to the Grey Eagle Resort for the solo athlete briefing, to pick up our packages, hand in our signed waivers, pay our $20 ATA insurance fee, and check out the Ironman gear for sale at the expo. The volunteers were lovely and helpful. We reviewed how to bag our gear in the appropriately colour coded bags. Next we viewed the course maps and asked some questions. The printed swim course map at the briefing differed from the map online but we thought we understood the route.
Keith got the Delft blue swim cap with our team number on it and I was banded like a chicken with a little red plastic hospital band used for claiming my bike after the race.
We all piled into the crowded briefing room for the athlete briefing. There were lots of questions, many of which were covered in the information online but since there was some inconsistency in the information, I was grateful for another opportunity to clarify the directions. The best part was learning I could keep my iPhone with me so Keith and my family could track me as long as I didn’t use it for music, or as a phone or camera.
One last gear check against my OCD lists on Saturday morning, then we dropped off my bike at Auburn Bay and ogled the pro bikes. We noticed ribbons and flowers on the metal fence surrounding the community in memory of Caleb, a boy who drowned the day before.
SUNDAY - Race morning
I was up at 4:30 a.m. Keith picked me up at 5:10 and and finished eating my breakfast in the car. At body marking, our team numbers and age were written on our arms and legs with a felt pen and we wore blue bands in memory of Caleb. We headed over to the bike racks to fill my bento box with food, put water bottles and bike computer on my bike, and drop off my bike shoes and helmet. Next we ran into Leana and checked out her gorgeous bike setup, chatting briefly. Keith pulled on his wetsuit and headed down for a warmup swim. I chatted with Saskia about pre-race jitters in the porta lineup.
I remember quaking in my boots at my first few races but I was surprisingly not nervous this morning. I was just grateful to be there, excited because this was another first for me, happy to be part of a team and looking forward to the events unfolding as they may. I had told Keith the day before that it would be all good, no matter what. I knew we would both do our best. We were prepared, trained, organized, focussed and there is no point in worrying about things out of our control. Anything can happen on race day. Accepting this helps calm my nerves. Butterflies in your stomach are just your body’s way of anticipating that you are about to do something awesome!
Three was a minute of silence followed by the release of 100 blue balloons for Caleb, then I found Keith. Good thing he is tall and has that distinctive moustache.
Keith launched into the water with the teams at 6:49 a.m. just after the pros. I stayed just long enough to see the first age groupers head off. The swim story belongs to Keith. (Here, if you missed it.)
Back at the bike racks in T1, I pulled off my running shoes to get my bike shoes and helmet on and wait for Keith. I did NOT want to be lollygagging. Keith is a good, strong swimmer and has been working scientifically with the precision of an engineer on his speed and technique all winter. The pool clock is a borg-like extension of him and he is as regular as the tick tock of a clock. He knew he could do this swim in 35-40 minutes for sure.
Another relay team swimmer recognized me from Twitter and told me the course was long. She said Keith was a faster swimmer than her so he must have been directed on a longer route as had happened to many other swimmers. Just then, around the corner he came! He got a big relieved hug. Keith presented me his ankle and I ripped the velcro chip strap off, stuck it on my leg, un-racked my bike, dinged my little bell and was off running alongside my bike through the bike racks in T2, across the grass to the mount line in the intersection.
I was off on the bike with the sun low in the horizon, feeling strong. Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw my parents but wasn’t expecting them. Later I learned they had actually been there and I was so disappointed to have not waved. They got the gist of the event from the part they saw and watched my progress using the Find My Friends app on our iPhones, texting and calling me later.
Quite a few people (men and women) complimented my jersey. (Teehee! It’s a Primal Wear jersey from Value Village). I climbed a few hills standing up and a few gals complimented me on my climbing skills. It’s always nicer to be complimented on what you can do rather than how you look. My taper had been good and my stored up energy came in handy. The best compliment came later on the run.
Along the way, many people passed me but that was OK. Everyone was courteous calling out “on the left” when they were passing me so I could move a bit to the right to let them safely pass. Only once did a guy pass and immediately cut in front of me so I had to brake. Drafting wasn’t an issue in the race although I’m happy we practiced it in training so I knew what it was. It’s when you ride in line behind another rider… um what do you call it? “breaking wind for you?” Ha! That doesn’t sound right. Anyway, when you ride in the slipstream of another rider it takes less effort for you to pedal. You get good at watching for small cues of where the rider in front of you is going to steer.
In the race, you can’t draft. To ensure this, racers must leave 5 bike lengths between bikes. If someone passes you, you have to slow down to create that gap or risk getting a 5 minute penalty if an official sees you. A couple of times I saw an official with a camera making a gap sign to someone drafting behind me, warning them to pass quickly or back off. I only passed a couple of people going up the hills and and ended up coasting past a guy on the big downhill, where I learned my top speed was 75 km/hr. (I remember how scared and thrilled I was the first time I hit 60 km/hr. I’d like to hit 80 km/hr some day to keep up with Keith.)
The bike route was familiar up to Bragg Creek as I had ridden that route with Keith before. I knew the ups and downs as we had ridden it a few times and it was like he was right there with me. After Bragg Creek, it was all new to me on the bike although Keith and I had driven it before the race. I wouldn’t feel safe riding there normally because of high volumes of traffic and narrow shoulders on the road. I was sure glad for the police, RCMP, and marshals in the intersections. There weren’t as many hills to climb so the second half of the race was faster - a negative split. I finished 20 minutes faster than I anticipated.
My strategy was to eat before I was hungry, working my way from solids to gels at 30K & 60K. In the first 20K I wanted to be strong and not burn out from the adrenaline rush, using my granny gear on the hills and plodding along constantly. For the 20-50K range, I wanted to keep a constant cadence and continuous effort shifting gears often to accomplish this. In the 50-90K range I wanted to pedal hard and never waste a good downhill. In the last 10K I wanted to GIVE ‘ER and spin up to a higher cadence / lower gear in the last 200m. I accomplished these goals (mostly).
I stayed well hydrated with my Gatorade Ultima electrolyte mix. I started with solid nutrition but quickly my usual gluten-free bars became too heavy at race pace so I switched to sesame snaps, then Honey Stinger chews. I took a gel at 30K and 60K without stopping at all on the 90 km bike course. (For Amy: No pyro. ;)
At T2, I dismounted my bike as directed before the stop line and ran alongside it into the bike cage in T2, where I racked it, removed my helmet, bike gloves and bike shoes. Next I pulled on my running shoes and grabbed my empty water bottle to fill at the water stations. Keith was there taking pics!
I started running (hobbling really) on legs that felt like rubber for the first kilometre. The first two port-o-lets were occupied but I found a thirsty grove of spruce trees. By 5K my legs had recovered enough that I didn’t feel like I was doing the chicken dance anymore. A nice guy from Saskatchewan ran with me for a bit chatting. It turns out my SIL’s mom was his school teacher in Fort Qu’Appelle.
Out to the canoe club and back, then down the Weaselhead hill we ran. I walked up the big hill, grabbed a Gu, then ran toward Glenmore Landing where some friends from the Running Room were cheering on a friend. I high-fived them then saw hubby who got a great big hug for coming out. What a nice surprise! Just before the turnaround I saw Sue and Kev cheering. Sue issued the nicest compliment I heard all day. She said I looked EFFING AMAZING! Somehow her Scottish accent made the actual expletitive cuss word sound even more amazing and credible than usual. :) Maybe it was just to get my rear in gear. Then I saw Ron, then Leana, and Saskia.
I found my running cruise control pace by then, ran back down the Weaselhead hill, walking back up again, where there was a huge crowd cheering at the top. I high-fived Keith again and headed to the canoe club and back. There were some fantastic motivational signs, especially the one with the rainbow unicorn on it. I wish I remember what it said.
The support for this race was phenomenal. There were lots of spectators all along the bike course and vehicles driving by with cowbells jangling! I have never seen such well-stocked water stations with eager volunteers reaching out identifying the beverage as water, Gatorade or Coke. It was so easy. I just kept filling my water bottle so I could sip at my own pace along the way. I don’t trust those sponges but there was lots of cold water to dump on my head to keep cool.
My plan was to seek shade, dump water on my head and tuck sponges or ice in my clothes to keep cool. I wanted to try to keep my cadence up and constant while running by effort and monitoring my breathing. Music was not allowed. I wanted to give it everything I had in the last 3K. I actually found my cadence and pace drop significantly in the second half of the run but I still gave it all I had in the last 3K. The crowd support really helped.
I finished within the timeframe I anticipated. Keith met me incoming to the finish line and we ran across it together while Amy called us in. (Keep reading to see photo.) She sounded so excited for us. I’m sure I was grinning and I think I did a jump across the line through the banner while holding Keith’s hand up high in team celebration. I can’t wait to see THAT finisher’s photo. (Keep reading.) Jenn was there too and hugged us and snapped some photos. She trained so hard but sadly broke her shoulder before the race so I brought her along like a little birdie on my shoulder during my bike ride. (Photo courtesy of Jenn.)
There was just enough time for a quick hello with Amy as she was busy at work…
We sat with Jenn, Gord, Ron etc, and I devoured many (most?) of Linda’s legendary gluten-free chocolate chip cookies that Keith willingly supplied to me at a constant rate. We stayed afterward for all the awards and the bike giveaway from the photo contest we entered. Apparently you didn’t have to be present to win the bike. (photo courtesy of Jenn.)
A fantastic way to wrap up the day and properly celebrate, hubby and I enjoyed some fine hospitality and Keith’s legendary BBQ of rack of lamb encrusted with Herbes de Provence, Linda’s homemade guacamole with my little contribution (signature piece utilizing my only culinary skills “mise en place”) garden salad. All of this was followed by fresh raspberries with cardamom raspberry ice cream and Linda’s gluten-free date squares, then tea in the garden lodge. Then the 4:30 a.m. wakeup caught up with us and it was time to call it a night.
So, here’s what I wore to the post-race celebration BBQ. Over the top? Every Michelle should have a shirt and belt buckle with her initial on it, don’t you think?
What an amazing day. I am so happy and grateful to have been able to do this and cognizant that it would not have been possible without Keith rocking the swim for our team. This event and the days and weeks leading up to it were much more fun as a team.
Keith, thanks for the gift of your time and for being a such a great team partner leading up to and on race day!
A year ago, I didn’t know if the bike, swim or run was first in a triathlon, didn’t know the terms T1, T2, or which was further: an Oly, sprint, standard or half. I couldn’t swim. A year later, I can actually say I LIKE swimming (although I have a LONG way to go to improve my technique, speed and endurance). I’m hooked now and am already looking forward to taking more swim lessons this fall and winter and am contemplating a solo Olympic tri next summer.
And really, this finisher photo says it all!
Just for fun… here’s a timeline for you.
ONE YEAR FROM ZERO TO TRI
July 12 - Bought a chlorine resistant swimsuit & goggles. Went to a pool, got in, looked around, felt intimidated, got out right away, ran to the hot tub. #fail.
July 27 - Volunteered to hold the banner for finishers at the finish line of IMYYC 70.3. Met fun people. Saw very fit and regular Joe male and female athletes. #Ironstruck.
Aug 8 - Bought a road bike (second hand). Love her.
August 15 - Swam my first swim with Keith. Shy, embarrassed but determined to learn to swim
Aug 17 - My friend Deb asked me to bike and run for her while she swam so my first team relay was the Strathmore Women’s Triathlon. Keith cheered us on!
Sept 3 - Bought bike shoes (Kijiji) & clip-in pedals
Sept 20 - Rode MEC Fall Century Ride 100K
October 14 - Took my first adult learn to swim lesson at a city pool
Nov 23 - Bought a bike trainer to keep riding in the winter (Amazon)
Nov 30 - registered for IMYYC 70.3 relay with Keith
Jan 12 - Tried on a friend’s wetsuit (too short)
Jan 14 - Jumped in the Polar dip - Jump in an icy lake
Feb 1 - Took a bike maintenance course at MEC
Feb 21 - Bought new swimsuits
Mar 5 - Bought tri shorts
Mar 12 - Last swim lesson at a city pool (5 months)
Mar 15 - Completed my first indoor triathlon (10 mile super sprint at Talisman Center)
Mar 17 - Started alternating commuting to work on my bike and running home
Apr 19 - Rode to Canmore with Saskia & Keith
May 23 - Rode MEC Spring Century Ride 100K
May 31 - Ran Calgary Half marathon
June 4 - Got my first professional bike fit
June 11 - Hubby gave me a bike maintenance book
June 14 - Ran and Biked Footstock Duathlon
July 2 - Rode 90K in 3:44, top speed 70 km/hr
July 8 - Rented a wetsuit for a week
July 9 - Swam my first open water swim in Lake Boavista
July 10 - Swam another Open water swim in a wetsuit in Quarry Lake, followed by a bike ride to Lake Minnewanka and a run in Canmore with Keith & Antje
July 26 - Team relay IMYYC 70.3 with Keith
July 27 - Planning swim lessons and next triathlon