Archive for September, 2012

Lessons learned – Subaru Banff Sprint Triathlon (2012)

Posted on September 26, 2012. Filed under: Uncategorized |

The weekend of September 7th was pretty much a blur, but I had fun and I learned a lot, like how wetsuits are not all they are cracked up to be – more on that later.  I had signed up for the Subaru Sprint Triathlon in Banff and the time had finally arrived.  I felt ok in the weeks leading up to the event.  I had done the Strathmore Women’s Tri in 2011 and 2012 and after the second one I felt really good.  I knew that it would be a different race, but I never realized how different.

First of all, the design of the race is quite different.  The SWT is a race designed for women seeking entry to the world of multi-sport racing.  The 500m swim is done in a pool (so every 25m you can hold onto the wall if needed), the 20K bike course is an out and back (downhill out and gentle incline coming back), the 5K run is flat, and T1 and T2 are at the same location. With the Banff Tri it was still a 500m swim, but this time in a glacial lake with a wetsuit, the 25K bike course went around Minnewanka loop and into the town of Banff, the 5K run went along the river and up and over bridges, T1 and T2 were in different places (which tacked on a whole other level of organization).  This triathlon is also a qualifier for the Sprint World Championships so the level of competition jumped a few hundred notches.

A couple of weeks prior to this race I tweaked my back – nothing major, but it was definitely talking to me.  I stopped training and just did some walking, hoping that a rest was all I needed to recoup.  I finally broke down and got an appointment with a chiropractor (first time ever) and come to find out, my back is pretty much out of whack.  Ask any of my doctors and they will tell you that I’m special… I don’t present anything close to textbook symptoms and it’s usually surprise that is expressed by the doctor telling me “You do have ____.  I would have never guessed that.”  So with my back, it’s curving in unusual ways and there’s a pesky extra vertebra in there causing all kinds of trouble.  With that in mind, I decided to race anyway.  It’s rather amusing that my chiropractor lumps me in his “more athletic patients” category.  I also learned that one of the US Olympic bobsled athletes also has an extra vertebra and my chiropractor is able to help him, so maybe there’s hope for me yet.

The first task that helped to solidify what was coming was picking up my wetsuit rental the Tuesday before the race.  I’ve never swam in a wetsuit and wasn’t sure what to expect.  In all the advice I received regarding the wetsuit, two were most popular:  1.  Practice getting the wetsuit on and off and 2.  Practice swimming in the suit.  I got the suit home on Tuesday and eagerly tried it on.  My plan was to get it on and then jump in the shower to get all wet before taking it off.  I was going to go the next day (and every day I could) to the YMCA and practice my swimming strokes. Here is where I hit my first snag – I could NOT get the suit on by myself.  My back prevented me from twisting around and pulling the suit up from the back.  Brandon was gone to Vancouver, so I didn’t have any help – looks like there will be no practice in the wetsuit for me.  That’s ok… surely it can’t be that different, right?

I had to be in Banff on Friday afternoon to check my bike in and attend an athlete meeting, so we loaded up everything and took off for the mountains just after noon.  We get to Central Park in Banff so I could register and pick up my race package.  By this time, it was close to 4pm so we checked into the hotel.  I left the boys there and took my bike over to Two Jack Lake.  They had told us that no parking was available at T1 so we should park at Lake Minnewanka and ride over to Two Jack.  I was amazed at the scenery on this short ride.  I’ve been in Calgary for 3 years now and this was the first time I’ve been to this area.  I hit my second snag at T1.  I didn’t have my race package with me and the number that is supposed to be on my bike was back at my hotel.  I took the shuttle back to my truck and headed back to town.  The boys met me outside the hotel with my race package and we all rode out to T1.  Spectators were encouraged to stay in town during the race because there would be so little parking at T1.  This gave them a chance to see where I was going to be swimming and biking.  As we rode around the loop I realized that the bike was going to be brutal and my fear of the bike escalated.  I got the number on my bike and my bike checked in.  We get back to town and find a place to eat a late dinner (9pm).  Back at the hotel I’m getting everything separated (T1 vs. T2) and into my wet and dry bags.  You aren’t allowed to bring any bags to T1 other than the wet and dry bag they provided with your race number on it.  Your dry bag will contain the clothes you wear before the race and anything else you will not be taking on the bike with you (that’s dry).  The wet bag, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, will contain your wetsuit, goggles, swim caps, etc.. that was used during the swim.  These bags are transported back to Central Park where they can be picked up after the race.

At 10:30pm I turned off the light and tried to go to sleep.  Zachary was sleeping next to me and I tried to focus on his soft breathing to calm me down and help me drift off.  No such luck.  I dozed off and on throughout the night, but I never really slept.  My mind wouldn’t turn off.  Unlike the night before the Strathmore tri, there was no excitement – just nervousness and fear.  I was scared of the swim – glacial lake, mass start, wetsuit worries – and the brutality of the bike course.  My bike training has been on stationary bikes, and you just don’t get the same experience as riding outdoors.  I’m still not comfortable being clipped into my pedals so rather than riding enough to get comfortable, I avoided it.  Around 3:30am my nerves were in high gear.  I felt like I was going to jump out of my skin and actually thought about trying to vomit to see if it would make me feel better.  I decided against that and just laid there while the clock marked the passing hours.

At 6am I finally got up and tried to get the wetsuit on by myself.  I fought with the suit for 30 minutes.  I was tired from the struggle, sweating profusely, and had killer blisters on the tips of my fingers.  Finally I gave up, sat down and cried.  I wanted to just go back to Calgary and forget this race.  My fear had escalated to heights I didn’t think possible.  I got Brandon up at 7 and he helped me get the suit on.  I didn’t know if there would be anyone to help me with it at T1.  I just hoped I didn’t have to go to the bathroom before the race!

I got down to T2 where I was to drop off my running gear and it dawned on me that I was the ONLY one in a wetsuit.  I caught more than my fair share of wondering looks from other athletes.  The shuttle came to pick us up and I quickly found a seat.  This is where I met Jenn.  She sat next to me and had done the super sprint race last year.  She asked me if this was my first tri and without any hesitation, I said yes.  I don’t know why I said that… maybe because if felt like my first.  I did explain to her that the wasn’t really my first tri, but I couldn’t get over how scared I was of this race.  I asked her so many questions about the swim and wetsuit.  Evidently everyone helps everyone with their suits so now I know I don’t have to squeeze into it three hours in advance.  We got out to T1 and I set up my transition.  Jenn introduced me to Val – who actually lives a couple of miles from me.  Volunteers keep saying to get the dry bags on the truck so I quickly threw what I wasn’t going to swim in or carry with me on the bike into the bag and took it to the truck.  It wasn’t until about 300 bags were on top of mine that I realized my sunglasses were accidentally thrown in the bag.  The weather was phenomenal and the sun was bright – I think I’m going to have to do a lot of squinting on the bike and run *sigh*.  I made my way down to the lake to find my new friends and to stick my toes in the frigid water.  It was definitely the coldest water I’ve ever been in.  I got my caps and goggles on and waited for the start.

Seems like I heard “You will panic because of the cold water.  Just keep calm, keep breathing, keep moving and you will be fine” from everyone.  I tried to prepare myself for the glacial water.  My thoughts turned to times I went swimming with my daddy in Barton Springs down in Austin.  That was some cold water and the best way we found to get in was just to jump.  For comparison purposes, Barton Springs is around 22C (71F) and Two Jack Lake was sitting at 15C (59F).  The athletes waded into the water to wait the start.  I splashed water on my face over and over again to try to acclimate.  The horn blew and we were off.  At least most of us were off.  I waited a couple of seconds to let the mass hysteria get ahead of me so I didn’t get kicked in the head.  I eased into the water and started moving.  I kept thinking that the “panic” was going to set in and just keep calm and breathe.  It was so cold!  I didn’t get that panic sensation so I started swimming.  I quickly realized that the wetsuit wasn’t allowing me the front crawl motion.  So that stroke was out.  Wetsuits work to keep your legs up in the water which almost forces your face in the water.  This would be great if I have used the front crawl.  I ended up doing the entire 500m with the most inefficient stroke known to man.  I had to force my legs down so I could keep my head up and was at a 45 degree angle.  I did a bicycle kick with my legs and used breast stroke arms.  My back and neck were quick to protest this position and as I moved through the water, the protests only increased.  I tried to stay calm.  The only panic I felt was because the wetsuit made me feel like I was being choked – I’ve never liked high collars.  I continually pulled at the neck of the suit to relieve the choking sensation and of course cold water rushed down the front.  I kept going but it was a slow process.  I never had to hold onto a kayak or a buoy so that was good.  I crawled out of the water thinking “That’s it – I’m done.  I don’t want to go on. I just want the dang suit off of me!”

I made it up the hill, got my bike gear on, and threw my wet stuff into the wet bag that would be taken back to town.  I mounted my bike (past the mount line) and took off.  The first portion of the course was downhill – like a fairly steep downhill grade.  I actually got a little nervous when the downhill slope combined with a curve and thought I might end up going off the road so I slowed down.  The other competitors zoomed by me and several times I thought we would crash.  I kept as far right as I could and the other bikers didn’t move over as far as I thought they would to pass.  There were even instances when we would bunch up in a pack.  Here we are flying down the hill, four wide, three deep, and I feel like I’m in the Tour de France.  My only thought is “Please nobody wreck.  Please!  My feet are attached to my bike and if I go down, I’m in trouble.”  At the T intersection the course splits – to the left the fairly flat road to town, to the right – Minnewanka Loop and it’s terrifying hills.  I wanted to turn to the left and just go back to town.  I wanted it to be over.  My back was hollering and I was tired.  So I did the only thing I could… I turned right.  I hit the hills and just pedaled.  I’m still getting passed like crazy and as the athletes speed by I find myself drooling over their bikes.  I studied the feet of the people that passed me and realized that my feet were going around at the exact same speed, but I wasn’t going anywhere!  I guess I really need to get on my bike more…  I kept thinking about how I was going to be last and that was ok.  But deep in my heart I knew I wouldn’t be last (but if I was, it was ok).  A similarity between this race and Strathmore Women’s Triathlon is the encouragement you give and receive:  “You’re doing great!”  “Keep spinning!” “Almost to the top!”  “One more hill to go!”  I will admit that the big brutal hill conquered me.  I had to get off my bike and walk.  It was either that or just fall over because I wasn’t going anywhere!  I used the time to eat and get some water.  Thankfully there was a lull at this moment and only one person saw me walking.  I mounted my bike at the top of the hill and carried on.  I rode past Lake Minnewanka and headed back to Two Jack Lake.  It’s all downhill now – except for one medium sized hill – and I’m once again where the course splits.  I have never been so happy to turn left!  I’m loving the flat ride back into town.  There were several instances on the bike course I lost my breath.  Not because I was huffing and puffing (which I was) but because I took a moment and looked around.  It was the beauty of my surroundings – mountains, lakes, and trees – that took my breath away.  When I turned my attention back to the road in front of me, I was almost off the course and into the trees.  There were a couple of “Sheep on road” signs, but they had already scampered away by the time I got there.  I notice more and more spectators as I get closer to town – cheers, cowbells, signs – all help get me to T2.  The boost that all that support provides will never cease to amaze me.

They were actually able to close off two blocks of Banff Avenue – which is a pretty big deal!  Spectators were everywhere hollering and clapping as I arrived at T2 (finally) and got my bike racked and my runners on.  Some of the closer spectators could probably hear me cursing yet again about the fact that I put my sunglasses in my dry bag.  I quickly fell into my comfortable 20:40 ratio.  My legs were actually able to recover during the run.  As I moved along the 5K course, many of the other athletes gave me a pat on the back, a smile, and some encouraging words.  The run was along the river and the scenery was amazing.  I reached the turn around and was headed back to the finish line.  I felt better – my back was still bothering me, but my run was going smoothly.  I saw some very creative signs along my journey: “Worst Parade Ever!”  and “WTF?? Where’s The Finish??”.  They helped put a smile on my tired face and I was able to pick up the pace a little bit.  I’m still thinking about coming in last, but those thoughts are overshadowed by the thought of my finisher’s medal.  I just kept thinking about how proud I was going to be of that medal!  I worked so hard for it!!  I rounded the last corner and headed to the finisher’s chute.  I hear the loudspeaker voice announce my arrival “And here comes our last sprint runner!  Number 61…”  I didn’t hear the rest.  It finally sunk in that I was in fact last in my race.  I almost stopped.  I couldn’t believe it.  I really was last and it’s not ok.  The cheer from the crowd increased as I came down the chute and crossed the finish line.  Later Brandon told me that I received the loudest cheers from the spectators.  Someone took off my timing chip and someone else handed me some water.  I saw Val and Jenn and went to say Hi.  Brandon and the boys found me and gave me a hug.  That’s when I realized that I didn’t get a medal.  I turned around to go get mine and Jenn told me that they didn’t have finisher medals.  Talk about a let down…

Afterward I went to the park to pick up my wet and dry bags and grab a burger.  I gave my gear to my husband and then went to T2 to grab my bike.  One of the athletes that spoke to me during the run saw me and asked me how did I do.  I laughed and told him I came in last.  His comment was that it was still an accomplishment just to finish regardless of when you cross the finish line.  He’s right.  I did something I never would have dreamed of 2 years ago – or even a year ago…  I raced alongside olympic athletes on one of the most scenic routes in the world in a triathlon that is a qualifier for the World Championships.  That’s insane!

I didn’t have the heart to look at my results for the longest time.  I knew I came in last so who cared, right?  I cared.  The timing was broken down into swim, T1, bike, T2, and run.  I wasn’t last in any one thing… just when you added up my times I came out last.  There were several people who DNF’d and one person was DQ’d so even my last place finish trumped that.  My run was actually  four seconds faster than the 5K I did at the 2012 Strathmore Triathlon so I was extremely happy with that.

Time                                                                              Rank

Total time – 2:41:25                                                         303/303

500m Swim – 19:58                                                          302

T1 – 12:00 (I walked up the hill to T1)                                  299

Bike – 1:22:39                                                                 302

T2 – 2:55                                                                        284

5K Run – 43:55                                                                301

I learned a lot this race about do’s and don’ts for race day (esp when the race is an open water swim with different locations for T1 and T2).  I also learned more about me as a person and an athlete (did I just call myself that?).  I learned which areas are my biggest weaknesses and which are my not so big weaknesses – I’m not quite ready to call them my “strengths” yet.  I’ll admit I was pretty discouraged about the last place finish, but rather than stay in that mindset and just quit, I decided to embrace my race for what it was and learn where to go from here.  Did I want to give up during the race?  Yep – I even wanted to give up before the race when I was sitting in the bathroom stressing about the wetsuit.  Am I glad I sucked it up and did the Subaru Banff Sprint Triathlon?  You betcha – even if they didn’t pass out finisher medals.  Will I do the race again?  Definitely… after I get some practice in a wetsuit and can actually ride up hills on the bike.

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Strathmore Women’s Triathlon – 2nd go round

Posted on September 11, 2012. Filed under: Uncategorized |

On August 19, 2012 I participated in my second Strathmore Women’s Triathlon.  Now ask me how many triathlons I’ve done…  You guessed it – Two.  I noticed things were different this go round.  But the differences I saw all boiled down to I’m a different person now.  After the race was over and we got back to the house, I read my recap of last year’s race.  It’s amazing to see how far I’ve come in a year.

I go and pick up my race package and already I’m seeing a change.  I confidently walk into the Tri store and over to the table where Deanne (race director) had set up.  Rather than feeling like I didn’t belong in the multisport world and shyly asking for my race package, I visited with Deanne and showed my Alberta Triathlon Association card.  Last year I did not get the membership and just paid for a day pass.  Who would have ever thought that I would need a membership in a triathlon association?

I got the race package home and was just as excited as last year to go through it.  Seeing my personalized race bib once again made my heart flutter, but this year there was not any panic.  Thoughts of “Oh my God, what have I’ve gotten myself into?” didn’t even enter my mind.  As race day grew closer, I did have a few butterflies in my tummy, but 98.372% of my emotion was pure excitement.

August 19th was going to be hot (by Canadian standards) and our day started early.  We were up and out of the house by 6am.  By the time we arrived in Strathmore, transition was opened and I was able to set up my bike and run gear.  I went to get body marked while Brandon and the boys went for breakfast.  The atmosphere was different this year.  While I’m no seasoned pro by any stretch of the imagination, I felt more at home than I did last year.  I wondered around waiting for my swim heat to start and actually had newbies come up to me and ask questions.  I smiled as I watched some fret over how they laid out their transition, how well they would swim, or if they were going to be able to finish at all.  It took me back to a year ago when I had the same thoughts myself.

My swim heat was called and I was on the pool deck ready to go.  There were two heats for a predicted swim time of 14-16 minutes and I was in the first one.  My swim time was going to be close to 15 minutes.  As I stood on the deck, my nerves started to increase, but only a little.  I was very happy to see that I was going to be in an outside lane – much easier to swim in.  As I eased into the pool, the feeling that I was home came over me and my nerves quickly dissipated.  I kicked off and found my rhythm.  The swim is a continuous feed with four swimmers in a lane.  I think I was on the faster end of the group I was swimming with.  I kept getting caught in mini traffic jams where I had to slow down.  The swim seemed to take longer than last year, but as I exited the lane, I felt alive.  I felt so alive that I was able to run to my bike after I left the pool building.

I took a quick look around for my cheer squad, but they were nowhere to be found – guess they were still at the playground.  I throw on my jersey, helmet, and shoes.  The strap on my shoe comes off and I had to fiddle with it to get it back on.  I grab some Honey Stingers and put on my race belt.  My belt won’t buckle.  I realize that one of the buckles had come off.  I don’t even spend time to think, I just tie the belt in a knot around my waist, grab my bike and go.

Once again the bike course is amazing.  I’m so thankful for the man that hand sweeps all 20K of it.  The course is an out-and-back route that is a gentle downward slope going out.  I feel like I’m flying as I’m making my way down the road.  I pass several people and play leapfrog with one chic.  Coming back, as you can imagine, is NOT a gentle downward slope.  If you ask Deanne, she’ll say it’s a “gentle incline”, but there really isn’t much gentle about it.  I did not have to go through all the gears like I did last year, which was good.  I also didn’t have the series of sentences rolling through my mind on a continuous loop:  “Don’t stop pedaling – if you do, you’ll fall over.” “Don’t stop – if you do, you’ll never get started again on this hill.” “Don’t get off the bike – if you do, you’ll never get back on.” “You. Got. This.”  When I reached the “big” hill (not really that big in the grand scheme of things, but it seemed like Everest to me) I had to tell myself to keep pedaling, but all in all, it was a good ride.  It still amazed me how supportive everyone is.  The athletes, volunteers, and even people driving down the road yell encouragement to you.  I remember how big of a boost it can be so I hollered to everyone I saw.  I still felt good when I pulled up to the dismount line and was able to quickly rack my bike and get into my run gear.  I even managed to run out of transition – which did not happen a year ago.

Last year the run portion was pretty miserable.  It was crazy hot and about a kilometer in my “second knees” cramped up on me.  This year it was hot, but I wasn’t dying.  I stuck to my 20:40 ratio and was able to finish strong.  The “second knee” on my right leg started to protest around kilometer four, but not too loudly.  Some people were kind enough to water the sidewalk and we were able to run through a couple of sprinklers as we approached the turn around.  One neighbor brought out cold-water sponges for us to use.  These people were a Godsend.  The feel of the cold water gave my energy a good boost.  I mentioned that I ran with a 20:40 ratio and to keep track of that I have a Gymboss.  I was rather surprised how many women responded to it.  I got several “Gymboss!” with high fives as we passed each other.   I make the last turn in the course and enter the homestretch.  About 50m out I see Brandon and Zachary cheering me on.  Zachary comes to run with me.  Last year he was behind me and I slowed down a little and kept looking back to make sure he was still coming.  This year he sprinted ahead of me and I had to step it up to keep up with him.  There was a finish banner that was held for everyone to cross.  Zachary got to go through it and you would have thought he won the whole race – in his mind he did.  I stopped and got my medal from one lady while someone else was taking the timing chip off.  Zachary was very excited when he saw my medal.  Last year he was excited and kept saying “You won, Mommy!”  This year…  he was just as excited and wanted to know where HIS medal was.  He did win after all.

As I made my way to the food table, I saw Jackson.  He came up and gave me a hug and said “Good job, Mom!”  I was so glad my boys were there to watch their mom do something like this.  While waiting for the banquet to start, Zachary got on his bike.  “I’m ready to go on the bike course that Mommy did!”  I guess it didn’t register with him that he had already “won” the race.  Once the results were posted, I made my way through the crowd to check out my times.  I thought I might have beat my time, but I wasn’t sure.  Just because I felt better throughout the race doesn’t mean I went faster.

Swim: 500m – 14:39 (Imagine how much faster I could have been without the traffic jams)

Bike: 20km – 1:05:48 (this included T1 and T2)

Run: 5km – 43:59 (I should have pushed a little harder here)

Total: 2:04:24.9

Last year times:

Swim: 500m – 14:53

Bike: 20km – 1:08:09

Run: 5km – 44:54

Total: 2:07:55.5

This year the race wasn’t as emotional as last year’s – there was never any “pool water” in my eyes – but that’s not to say it didn’t mean as much.  I beat last year’s time by 3.5 minutes, which is amazing.  But even more amazing was how I felt throughout the entire race and afterwards.  I wasn’t dying or so sore that I could barely move… I felt great.  Anytime that I can do something like this amazes me.  I’ve never been athletic nor have I really had the desire to be.  However, the tri bug has bitten me.  In fact I have one on September 8th, my first open water swim in the cold Canadian waters of Banff National Park.  This will add a wetsuit and a whole other level of hilarity and accomplishment to my life.

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