Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Banff Triathlon race report

The Banff Olympic length triathlon was my "A" race for 2011.  In other words, it was the main race I was training for.  In some ways, it was a risky race to choose as my "A" race.  In 2010, the inaugural year of this triathlon, the weather was brutal, and made for a really tough day, with frigid water, and cold air temperatures. 

I became an obsessive weather checker in the weeks leading up to the race.  This year, there wasn't rain in the week leading up to it and the temperatures were moderate or warm.  In the pre-race meeting, it was announced that the water was "about 14c-15c (57f-59f)" and that wetsuits were required.  I don't know if they didn't have a true, definite reading or if they just didn't want to give it.  Having said that, while this sounds cold, there was relief from everyone.  The fear was that the water temperature would dip below 12 again and they would have to shorten or cancel the swim (last year it was cut in half).  The weather forecast for the day was a high of 25c (77f).  With my heat starting at 10:34, that meant that it would be getting into comfortable temperatures by the time I got on the bike.


Race morning started later then most race mornings with my alarm going off at 5:45am.  I reached out to turn it off and apologized to my husband for accidentally setting my alarm for the weekend when we didn't have to get up.  Haha, I guess it's a sign that I was sleeping deeply and getting quality rest for the day.

I got up, and double checked everything.  Before long, I was on the road to Banff, with my different transition bags and a coffee.

When I got there, I went into T2 to drop off my run gear and headed over to the bus to take me to T1 and the lake.  They discouraged spectators from heading to the swim/bike course since there was no parking by the lake and they wanted to minimize traffic.  A lot of people went up there anyways, but it wasn't practical for my husband to get the kids up there.  Watching races can be hard on them, and we decided it would just be better if they planned to get there for the run portion.  Hence, I'm afraid there's no pictures of the swim or bike.

Once I was up there, I headed to my bike and put my nutrition on it and set up my spot.  (You weren't allowed to leave food on the bike overnight, because of bears in the area.)  For this race, our transition spots were assigned and I lost the transition spot lottery in both of them.  My spots were closest to the swim and run exits, rather then the bike exit.  This meant that I had to go all the way through transition in my bike shoes, which isn't ideal.  Having said that, in the grand scheme of things, not such a big deal.

At the transition rack, the big talk was whether to wear a jacket on the bike or not.  I figured it wasn't necessary.  I was already standing around in my tri top and bottom, and was comfortable.  It was still going to be at least an hour before starting the bike, so I figured by then I could be comfortable even while wet.

Once setting up, I got my wetsuit on up to my waist and headed down to the lake to watch the swim starts for the sprint and super-sprint races.

As I looked out to the buoys, they seemed pretty far out there, but this is where some experience definitely helps.  I thought back to my last open water swim race, and the times I swam with my Uncle and his canoe (thank you Wes!).  I actually have a bit of a concept now of swim distance outside of a pool now, and the distance seemed manageable.  I just had to take it one stroke at a time.

About 5 minutes before the Olympic start, I got into the water and did a quick warm up.  The water might be warm compared to last year, but it was still bloody cold.  I didn't want to spend too much time in it before the race, but I wanted to get the initial shock over with.

By the time the women's Olympic was getting started, I felt ready.  I was comfortable in the water, and it wasn't even as cold as I had expected.

This isn't from race day, but is a picture of the lake the race happened in.

The Swim - 1500 metres

My main goal for the swim was to stay calm.  After freaking out in my first open water swim triathlon, I knew the key for me this time was to stay out of the pack.  There is a speed advantage to staying with the pack and drafting (which is perfectly legal in the swim), but I have years to learn the techniques.  This race was about conquering the distance, not doing it at certain speed.

So, with that in mind, I started off wide.  Probably much wider then I needed to, but I figured if I still swam a mostly straight line to the first buoy, it wouldn't add too much distance.  When the whistle went off, I got in and started swimming right away.  I didn't have to fight for space at all.  I just had to swim.

I got into a rhythm almost right away.  Breathing every three strokes, sighting every nine.  And, *ahem* regularly swimming crooked and pulling to the left, going even wider.  I corrected it when I sighted, but I just don't seem to be good at swimming straight when there's no lines on the bottom to follow.  

Regardless, I stayed in my own space and just focused on the moment.  Sure, the first buoy started really far away, but that wasn't my goal at the moment.  My goal was just the stroke I was on and the next one that was coming.  I am really pleased with how I handled the swim.  I didn't let the thoughts of the distance overwhelm me.  I didn't freak out.  I held on to the knowledge that a 1500 metre swim is well within my abilities.  I stayed in the moment and did it.

After completing two laps, it was time to head for the swim exit.  When I sighted I could see people standing up at the shore and moving very slowly to get out of the water.  There are a lot of rocks along the shore line, and from swimming out there the previous weekend, I knew the footing was quite difficult.  I swam until my fingers touched the bottom, and then I swam a bit more, bending my arms more then usual underwater.  I actually passed somebody trying to walk at this point.  Then I stood up, and got my usual post swim dizziness.  The guy helping people out of the water warned me that it was rocky and slippery.  I actually got back down and pulled myself forward with my arms as long as I could.  Then I got up, picked my way gingerly over the rocks and got out of the water.

Swim done!

1500 metre swim: 37:42  - I kind of suspect the swim course was short.  That's about the time I'd expect to do it in if I swam a straight 1500 metres.  With how much time I added on swimming wide and sighting poorly, I'm sure I swam a lot more then 1500 metres.


Once I got out of the water and crossed the timing mat, I then had to head up the hill to T1.  I passed a couple people going up the hill because they were walking and I jogged up it while getting my wetsuit down to my waist.  I felt great and given I'd be running 10km later on, I figured a short uphill run wouldn't hurt me.

Then I headed to my spot.  I'd worn booties for the swim (I didn't really need them for warmth, but wore them because of the rocks, since they were legal).  I knew from trying the previous weekend that it was really hard to pull the wetsuit off over them, so I sat down and got the booties off, then I stood up and got my wetsuit off.

I got my socks, bike shoes and helmet on.  Then I took the time to take a gel and a swig of water.  I've gotten better at fueling on the bike, but I tend to slow down a lot to do it, so I figured taking a few extra seconds in transition were worth it.

Then I headed down the row.  I couldn't really run, partly because I was wearing my bike shoes, but mostly because I had to dodge people all the way down the row and got stuck behind somebody that was walking (fairly slowly).  Could have gotten stressed about it, or could just accept it and carry on.  I chose the latter.

I got to the bike exit, passed the dismount line and moved a bit to the side.  I'm not always fast getting on my bike, so I didn't want to block the way.  Unfortunately, a couple other people crossed right behind me but went in front of me to get on their bikes and took even longer to get in their pedals.  Again, out of my control.  I waited for them to get out of the way and then took off.

T1 time: 6:51 - not the fastest, but that is including the run up the hill.

The Bike - 38 km

I have to say, this course was a phenomenal course to race on, and the bike was no exception.  The scenery was amazing and the bike course was fun and challenging.  Having said that, this wasn't a bike course that caters to my strength.  This was a course with very few flats, a few gradual ups and downs and lots of true hills, up and down, with lots of curves.  I've got pretty good stamina on the bike.  I do well on flats and gradual inclines/declines.  I even do reasonably well climbing hills.  I'm not great on the downhills though.  I don't have enough confidence in my bike handling abilities and I get scared of the speed and have a hard time staying off the brakes.  So, I give up completely free speed on some downhills. 

My main goal for the bike was actually to try to stay off the brakes going downhills.  I'd say I partially achieved this one.  I did stay off them more then when I rode the course the previous weekend.  Having said that, my maximum speed was only 49.2 kph (30.6 mph).  That wasn't because of lack of effort, but rather lack of bravery.

Regardless, I LOVED the bike course.  It was 2.5 laps of the Minnewanka loop and then a ride into the town of Banff.  One lane was closed to traffic, so there was lots of room for the cyclists.  I tended to pass people on the uphills and get passed on the downhills.  There was one woman with whom I played cat and mouse the whole bike.  I think we passed each other about 10 times each.  It was all in good spirit though.  The final time I passed her, I told her she could smoke me on the run.  She laughed and said, "not likely!"

When finishing up the first lap, I started getting passed by the fast men.  They started a few minutes before the women, and let's face it, some of them would go on to finish over an hour faster then me, so it was no surprise they were lapping me on the bike course.  Wow!  Some of them were seriously fast!  One of them passed me going up a hill (probably faster then I go on flats).  He tried to encourage me by telling me that it was the last hill and it was downhill from there.  I laughed and told him that I still had another lap.  I don't know how he thought I could have been in front of him, but I didn't mind.  I still had fun with it.

I had a great time with the bike.  There was a lot of camaraderie with the lady who I played cat and mouse with.  The volunteers were all great.  I think I was smiling the whole ride.  When going downhills, I would talk to myself: "no brakes, stay off the brakes, relax, don't touch those brakes..."  I kept my cadence nice and high.  I felt great!

Once I was in town, I went past tonnes of cars.  Man, was traffic ever backed up!  I suspect the tourists weren't loving the fact that the triathlon was going on at this point...

As I approached the end of the bike, I heard Garry (Jen's Mountain Man) yelling encouragement.  (He was working the run route turn around, which I was going by.  Thanks for the lift Garry!

As I came towards the transition, I saw what looked like timing mats.  I thought maybe I had missed the dismount sign, and I slowed way down.  A volunteer told me to stay on my bike.  Not yet!  In hindsight, I think it was just mats of some kind to cover up extension cords that crossed over or something.  (I passed the finishing line at this point.)

Then, I turned a corner, and I could see the dismount line clearly.  I was already going really slow, so I headed towards it.  There were volunteers almost frantically telling me to dismount before the line!  I knew very well where the line was, and I was already going slow.  I wasn't going to get off earlier then I had to!

I reached the line, came to a stop just before it, and got off my bike.  Into transition!

Bike time: 1:24:22


You can just see me heading into transition with my bike.  I'm right next to the arch, on the left hand side.
 I headed into transition and went all the way to the far end since I lost the transition spot lottery.  I tried to run, and did for about half the distance, but I really don't run well in bike shoes.  Heck, my feet don't like me when I run barefoot or in sandals, and bike shoes are much harder to run in.

At this point, my family was there, but I completely missed them, and didn't hear my husband calling my name.  I was trying to have a quick transition.  Helmet off, hat on, change my shoes.  Grab my fuel belt (it was hot, so I decided to run with my own water and gatorade), my garmin off the bike and the wrist strap for my garmin. I was trying to be quick and planned to put my fuel belt and garmin on while I was moving.  Perhaps I should have practiced that...

Coming out of transition, fumbling with my fuel belt and ignoring my family
 T2 time: 1:23 - not bad, considering I had to run through transition in my cleats.

The Run - 10 km

I then started out on the run, and this is where I realized that if I'm going to grab a bunch of things with the intention of putting them on while running, I ought to practice that.  I was holding my garmin, the wrist strap for my garmin, and my fuel belt.  I tried to put on my fuel belt first, but didn't manage to get it secured and almost dropped it.  Then, I decided to get my garmin onto the wrist strap and on my wrist.  I managed, but was pretty fumbly, given I was still holding my fuel belt.  Then I went to put my fuel belt on again, and the detachable pocket came off.  Oops!  Run back a few seconds to grab it again.  I would have saved time by doing it while standing still in transition...

The view along the run path.  Not too shabby!
Then, it was on to the 10 km run.  This is the part I was still a little concerned about.  I can run 10 km, no problem.  My last long run before taper was 18 km, and I handled that with ease.  However, 10 km after the swim and bike?  If I was going to crash due to bad pacing, it would be on the run...

I didn't need to worry.  Were my legs kind of tired and heavy feeling on the run?  Yeah.  They were.  Yet, I felt strong and capable throughout.

My garmin went kind of wacky on me during the run.  I have it set to autolap every kilometer.  It was autolapping and giving me times of about 4:30 per lap.  I knew very well I wasn't going 4:30/km, and the distance wasn't matching up with the kilometer markers anyways.  Maybe the mountains messed with the satellite signals?  I don't really know.

I didn't know how fast I was going, so I just tried to maintain a steady pace and go.  I didn't have a strong goal in mind; I did hope I could run it at least at my usual long run pace of 7:00/km.  Mainly though, I just wanted to run the whole thing.

The route was two loops with a lot of out and backs.  It was great to see the other athletes along the path.  I tend to be chatty during races and offered encouragement a lot along the way.  Early on, it felt like something was poking me in the bottom of the foot.  I ran for a bit, but it didn't stop bothering me.  I considered pushing through it, but figured that 10 km was a long time to run on something that could cause a problem.  I stopped at a bench, took my shoe off (yay for yankz!) and checked.  It was just my sock.  It kind of gets thicker through the arch and that spot was bugging me.  Weird.  I've run in these socks a lot and never had a problem.  In fact, they were my favourite tri socks until this race!

Shoe back on, and back on the trail.  I saw my family this time!  My kids were there at a bench cheering me on, along with my husband.  Yay for the boost!

The run course was almost entirely flat.  The only place where there was a bit of a hill was coming on and off of a bridge that we took across the river.  There were some false flats, but I'm so used to a hillier terrain for my runs, that it didn't even phase me.

This was the first time I've worn my fuel belt for a race.  I'm not sure I would do it for an Oly distance every time, but it was really hot, and I was glad to have it for a few reasons.  Despite the numerous water stations, I suck at drinking out of those little cups.  I always have to either stop and walk to drink, or I spill most of it on myself and don't get any real water.  Yeah, I know, you're supposed to pinch one end and make it funnel-like.  Still not good at it.  I guess I'll have to practice that.

With the fuel belt, I drank when I felt like it.  At most of the water stations, I took a cup and poured it on myself.  That technique kept me mostly comfortable temperature-wise through the run.

Just before the turn around point, I ran past Jen (volunteering on the run route) and got another little boost.  Does anyone else pick up the speed for a minute when someone is cheering for you?  Then I had to run past the finish line to the turn around.  At this point, either headed for the finish line or do another lap.  Since I wasn't doing the sprint distance, I had to do another lap.

This was where Garry was volunteering and he told me he had to send me back.  I tried a little bit of negotiation with him to see if I could go to the finish instead, but he wasn't having it.  Truthfully I did a little self assessment while running past the finish and considered how it would feel to finish at that point.  I had to admit to myself that if I were finishing then, I would feel like I still had a lot in me.

Back to the route.  Some races, it's boring to do the same route twice, but this one was great.  It really is a spectacular course.  I passed my family again and got the boost, did a turn around and saw them again.  Sweetpea was pumping her arms above her head yelling "go Mommy go!  go Mommy go!"  As I approached, Spud asked loudly "you getting tired Mommy?"  I told him that I wasn't tired yet, and I kept going.

Back over the bridge, down the nice little path.  Grabbed more water and dumped it on myself.  This was the final out and back and I saw cat and mouse lady coming back.  We high fived each other as we passed and I said "told you you'd smoke me on the run!"  She laughed and we both ran on. 

I passed a volunteer and told her that if I was doing the sprint distance, I'd have my burger by now.  (This race, you got a great burger after finishing.)  She told me I was almost there and I was still smiling so I was fine.  I was still smiling.  And I was fine.  In fact, I felt great.  I was running strong, and I just kept going.  

Up the "hill" to the bridge and across the bridge.  There was Jen again.  She yelled encouragement.  I had to pass the finish line again, but this time I could head right back to it.  Beejay called from the other side of the street.  This time I saw him and the kids.  I got to the turn around and informed Garry that this time I was heading for the finish. 
In the home stretch
Turned around, and I did head for the finish.  I was already running strong, but I picked it up another notch. I passed Beejay and the kids.  I was almost there.  I almost started to cry, but I was sprinting and I knew it would be hard to cry and breath.  I crossed the finish line.  I had done it!

Run time: 1:01:05
I actually finished in 3:11:21, but the Men's Oly race started 4 minutes before the women, so the clock time reflects their start time.
I did this race with a main goal of finishing, rather then setting a time goal.  Let's be honest though, we all have an idea of the time we *should* be able to finish in.  When I had estimated and added up my times, I'd figured I could probably break 3:30.  I blew that estimate out of the water by almost 20 minutes!  My finishing time was 3:11:21.

I LOVED this race.  Both the course and the experience itself.  I would absolutely do it again.  However, I don't think I would make it my "A" race again.  I hit the weather jackpot, but the weather is just too unpredictable in the mountains at this time of year.  (If you want proof of that, read Jen's report from last year.)  Having said that, I don't expect that an Olympic distance will be my "A" race next year...  Maybe I'll do it just for fun.  :)


  1. Great job. Simply brilliant. Be proud!

    What's next?

  2. WOOT WOOT!!!!! Congrats on a really great race!!! The pics are beautiful and you kicked a$$ on that run girl! So very happy for you! You done good! :)

  3. Fantastic, so fantastic! And...I am so very, very jealous of the scenery where you live!!!

  4. Great race report Deb! Congratulations again on your awesome finish! :)

  5. Congrats Deb!! Amazing job! That's an AWESOME time! What a beautiful race. I still can't even imagine the water that cold. We have a tri in my area in May and alot of times the water is around 55-60 degrees and I just absolutely won't sign up for it. It's just way too cold! You are a trooper!

  6. That sounds like a fantastic race! I'm literally happy dancing for you.

    and I love that you'd do it again for fun. LOL.

  7. GREAT job!!!

    I just did my first Olympic yesterday and loved it!

  8. Congratulations Deb!! What a great race you had! You definitely lucked out with great weather, but it's all the hard training you put in that gave you those results.