Saturday, July 7, 2012

Chinook Olympic distance triathlon, race report

(Note, this race was actually three weeks ago, but I wrote most of the report the week after, so I'm not changing places where it refers to it as a few days ago, etc.)

Saturday, I did my second Olympic distance triathlon, and as I mentioned pre-race day, it was actually my longest race to date, since the bike was 2 km longer then my last one.  Seems likely the swim was also longer, since I always suspected the swim at Banff was short.  So, moving up in the distances.  Now, I only need to double it in a month and a half.  No biggie, right?

Race morning

Race morning went pretty smoothly.  Early wake up, breakfast, drive to the start.  I saw Leana in the parking lot, the first of many familiar faces during the day.  One thing that I really like about triathlon is it really feels like a community.  Before you know it, you start recognizing people at races and everybody is a friend of a friend.

Then it was time to set up transition.  Like most people, I prefer to be near the bike exit, even more so since I switched to speedplay pedals, with their less walkable cleats.  I got pretty close and set up next to somebody that was using a huge beach towel for their transition space.  Their bike was on the other side of the towel though, so I figured I was still good, and had lots of room.

After that point, I still had some time to kill.  I used the washroom, got body marked, talked to people, watched the start of the half iron distance.  Keith was racing in the half and it was good to see him again.  We've been blogging buddies a long time, but only recently met off the web.

Then I watched the half iron racers start off.  Even though I knew quite a few people in the race, it's not like you can actually make them out once the swim begins.  Even so, it is pretty cool to watch.

Time to put my wetsuit on.  I've always done it myself, but I decided to take advantage of the Tri-It people who were there at the race.  With their garden gloves, they were able to get my wetsuit on and adjusted better then I ever have myself.  I don't think my wetsuit fits me as well as it should, but donning it properly certainly makes a difference.  Right after it was all nicely pulled up and adjusted I remembered that I had meant to make another bathroom trip.  No help for it though.  I didn't have to go that badly (yet), so I would either find a time to go during the race, or get through it without.

After that, I found a quiet place to sit down and visualize the race.  First I visualized everything happening perfectly.  Then I visualized all the possible barriers I could face and saw myself getting through them.  A rough swim, surrounded by the mob, getting jostled, hit and my head pushed under the water.  I visualized the ride with my biggest fear, mechanical break down.  I'm not even that worried about a flat, since I know I can change it reasonably quickly, but I'd only got one (very short) test ride in since getting it back from the shop.  I visualized my chain getting stuck and my front derailleur breaking again.  I visualized dealing with it.  Riding the rest of the very hilly ride stuck in the large chain ring.  I visualized myself being wiped on the run and pushing through regardless.  I reaffirmed my goal of not letting the uncontrollable get to me.  If something unexpected happened, there was no point in stewing over it.  I was going to just have to deal.

For the first time in a race, I looked out at the water and the buoys and my thought was: that doesn't seem so far.

After that, I got in the water to warm up.  "Warm up" might be a bit of an exaggeration, since the water was pretty cold.  "Get used to the cold" would be a better way of putting it.  Regardless, I got in, got out, and decided to wear my neoprene cap after all.  After fetching it, I went back in and swam for a bit.  Mostly back and forth, keeping an eye out for other swimmers.

Then it was time to head over to start line.  I was right next to Tara and Lisa, two triathletes I know from the pool.  I briefly considered trying to draft one of them, but they are both enough faster then me that I figured I would quickly lose them and just burn myself out by trying to hang on.  I was determined to hang with the crowd, rather then swimming super wide and solo, but I was just going to go in and see whose feet I could find.

The swim

Prior to this race, I'd done two other races with open water swims.  The first one, I'd panicked in the swim.  The second one, I kept my wits about me, but did so by swimming extremely wide and away from almost everyone.  This time, my strategy was to draft when convenient.  I tried to seed myself reasonably well, and although I got passed, I also did some passing, so I was happy with where I was.

Then it was time to start.  The first people ran and dove in the water. I followed the crowd, and as I approached the water, I ran until I was around knee deep, and then started swimming.

I have to say, open water swim races scare me and take me completely out of my comfort zone.  I'm realizing that I like to be scared and taken out of my comfort zone.

I wouldn't say the swim start was rough, but it wasn't calm either.  I was completely surrounded by other swimmers, but I managed to keep my wits about me.  Initially, I tried to sight a couple of times, and couldn't see anything.  I just followed the bubbles and the crowd for a bit.  I ended up next to and slightly behind somebody and drafted off their hip for a bit, but they suddenly switched to breaststroke, so I was on my own.  I drafted on and off, but didn't stay on the same person consistently.  I need to get faster.  It seems like most of the people around my speed regularly switch to breaststroke or swim really crooked (of course, I could certainly fit into the crooked category...)
Okay, so technically, this is the swim start from the half iron, but I can assure you it looks the same...
There were a couple of times I almost inhaled water or got jostled, and one of the things I'm happiest about is my ability to just keep going.  It didn't phase me, and it certainly didn't throw me into a panic.  After all, sometimes I swallow water at the pool too, so no reason to panic.

Before I knew it, I had finished the first lap and was onto my second.  For this race, you have to get out of the water, run a short bit and jump back in.  After doing that, I found myself slightly winded, but got back into my rhythm really quickly.

I definitely still need to work on my ability to swim straight, as well as my sighting technique.  I wore my garmin 910xt for this race.  I don't necessarily believe it's completely accurate, but at the same time, it showed me going pretty wide on the first lap, and crooked on the inside on the second lap.  Straighter lines would be good.  It also indicated that I swam 1800 metres, rather then the 1500 I should have.  It could be the garmin was a bit off.  It could be that the course was a bit long.  It could be that my sighting really was that bad and I swam that crooked.  Likely it's a combination of the three.

You can see the route my garmin recorded here.  I think the zigzag ish lines are probably  fairly accurate, since I know I swam crooked.  However, I passed almost right by the buoys both times, so it's not 100%, given the corners seem to be in different places.
The second lap was similar to the first, although with less drafting.  I was swimming around other people most of the time, but I found the people I was swimming around unpredictable and not always safe to draft.

Then I was just about to the shore.  I swam until my hands hit the bottom, and then I took a couple more strokes.  Then, I was up and out of the water.

Swim time: 43:09 - I wasn't thrilled with my time, but I was happy with how the swim went.  I didn't shy away from the crowd, nor did I panic.  Having said that, reflecting on it, I think I could have pushed myself harder on the swim.  I believe I'm getting a handle on dealing with it mentally, so it's time to push it physically a little more.


Out of the water, and I headed straight for the wetsuit strippers.  It's rare for an Oly distance race to have strippers, but since there was a half iron race at the same time, us Oly triathletes get the benefit from them as well.  They got my wetsuit off way faster then I would, I took it and headed for my spot.

Let the records show that I am a big wimp with sissy delicate feet.  When we headed out to the pavement, I found it really hard to run in my bare feet.  There might not have been any gravel, but the asphalt hurt my feet.  I ended up walking most of the way to my transition spot.

Once there, I tossed my cap and goggles down, socks and shoes on.  I remembered the gloves this time, although they aren't that easy to pull on wet hands.  They do make enough of a comfort difference for me that I will definitely wear them for my half ironman.  Sunglasses, helmet, bike, and go!

Unofficial T1 time: 4:17 (my garmin timed swim was a bit longer then on my chip, so the unofficial numbers won't add up completely.)


The bike starts off with a short ride through the community and then you're on to the highway.  They had the intersections really well controlled.

Now, as I mentioned earlier this week, I've had some mechanical difficulties with my bike.   I was going into this ride only having ridden my bike for about 20 minutes since getting it back from the bike shop.  I was paranoid every time I shifted.

As it turned out, my bike operated perfectly.  The shifting was perfect and crisp.  Huge relief, although I stayed careful the entire ride.

This course is described as hilly, and it is, but I wouldn't call anything a killer hill.  It's more rolling.  It's the kind of riding I'm used to and enjoy.  It might not lead to as good a time as a flatter route, but way more interesting.  The great part about it is the amazing view you get of the rocky mountains on the way out, made better by the fact that it comes in and out of view, so it's like a reward for when you crest a hill.

I am of the opinion that I don't usually push as hard on the bike as I could.  This race, I did a pretty good job of changing that.  On the way out, I passed more then I got passed, but on the way back, there were some of the half iron people coming back, so there was more passing by them.

There was one woman that was going around the same pace as me, so we leap frogged repeatedly through the bike.  I noticed she was pretty blatantly drafting whenever she was in front of me and there was somebody in front of her, so whenever I passed her, I put enough effort in to make it a fast pass, and held on to open up a space between us.

I had to pee during the bike, but I also knew I needed to hydrate.  It's hard to make yourself drink when you need to pee, and I was only partly successful, taking in about 3/4 of a bottle of sports drink.  I also took in less fuel then I planned, having only one stroop waffle during the bike.  Part of my problem was that I don't really like taking my hands off the handlebars to get my water bottles.  I'm much better at it then I was a year ago, but I'm going to have to improve it a lot more.  The low fueling didn't hurt me too much during this race, but the half iron distance is going to be less forgiving.

When we were getting close to the finish line, drafty girl passed me again, going faster, and I let her go.  She had a "T" on her calf, which meant she was part of a relay team.  Much easier to go into the bike finish blazing if you don't have a run after.

As I got to the dismount line, I easily got off my bike.  I no longer come in paranoid I'm going to tip over on my bike.  Of course, that kind of overconfidence means I'm probably due for a clipless pedal fall-over, but no point being waiting for it.

Bike time (including both transitions): 1:30:17
Unofficial bike only time: 1:24:45


When I got to my transition spot, I noticed that beach towel transition person had parked their bike on the other side of their beach towel, leaving no room for my bike.  It probably took me a good thirty seconds just to get my bike into the spot, since I was trying to do it without touching either of the bikes next to me, and also being nice to my bike.  I wasn't going to jam in in there.  Saving time in transition isn't worth damaging my bike.  In retrospect, I should have just slid beach towel person's bike over a few inches.  I know you're not supposed to touch other people's bikes, but you're also not supposed to use three spots worth in transition.

Even though I'm bitching about it now, during the race, I remained calm while trying to make space for my bike.  I didn't even have to remind myself not to let it get to me, which is a good development.  I'm finally learning to just take things as they come and let the uncontrollable factors go.

As I was putting my bike in, I got to see Grant Burwash, the winner of the half iron race come in.  He was blazing fast, even after a long race.  Totally worth the few seconds I took to watch him finish.

Helmet off, hat on.  Gloves off.  Totally worth the extra 30 seconds I spent on the gloves between the two transitions.  Change shoes.  Actually had my yankz on them this time around, so no wasting time tying them.  Run out of transition while turning my number belt around.

Unofficial T2 time: 1:45


Going into the run, I was feeling a bit low.  I knew I was probably a dehydrated as well as a bit low on fuel.  Having said that, I figured I had enough left in the tank, given that I only had 10 km left to run.  It's amazing how your perception changes as you continue to train and hit new milestones.  A couple years ago, I never thought I could use "10 km run" and "only" in the same sentence.

I figured I'd give it a bit of time before taking a gel, since I wanted to make sure my stomach was happy.

The run started off on pathways and past kids soccer games.  Then it went down into fish creek park.  It was a pretty steep downhill, and I found it a bit jarring.  I need to work a bit more on leg turnover when it comes to downhills.

I had to pee!  I had considered it in transition, but at the time it didn't seem so bad.  I hadn't been able to do it in my wetsuit or on the bike, so there was no way I'd be able to do it while running.  Luck was with me, because as we reached a fork in the path, I saw a guy in front of me go into a building rather then following the route.  Washrooms!

I was quick.  It probably cost me about 30 seconds, but not having to hold my bladder for the rest of the run would easily save 30 seconds.  Lesson learned: go before donning wetsuit!

Once I was back on the pathway, I was feeling better.  I decided to take a gel before the next aid station, where I could wash it down with water.  I reached into the back pocket of my tri top to get it, and it wasn't there!  I was quite sure I had put it there in the morning, so it must have fallen out at some point when I took something in or out of that pocket.

Alright, I only had 35ish minutes left to run, and that close to the end of the race, wanting the gel was more mental then physical.  There hadn't been any gels at the first aid station, and that was also the next one (the paths ran parallel to each other with the aid station in between).  So, no gel.  I'd just drink heed, rather then water and I'd be fine.

Somewhere in there, I did something that I've never intentionally done during a race.  I changed my garmin to a screen that showed my heart rate, but not my pace.  I was having trouble maintaining a consistent pace, and decided that I needed to focus more on maintaining a consistent effort.  While in fish creek, there were no hills, but it was a lot of gradual slopes up and down, so a consistent pace wasn't very realistic.  For the most part, I kept my heart rate between 155 and 160, on the high side for me, but an effort I was confident I could maintain for the rest of the run.

No hills, did I say?  Only while in fish creek.  After the last aid station, there was a big hill to get out of fish creek.  I'd been considering how to approach the hill since I ran past it, going the other way, a couple kilometers ago.

It was similar in length and steepness to a hill I often deal with in training.  I could run it like I would in training, but I wouldn't actually be able to run it much faster then I could walk it, and I would pay for it afterwards.  Or, I could walk it.  I don't like to walk during races, but I don't beat myself up about it anymore either.  Mentally, I deal with it best if I make the choice to walk rather then feeling like I need to.

So, I walked up the hill.  I took it at a good pace (for a walk), and even walking, my heart rate spiked up.  Having said that, when I finished the hill, I was able to resume running.  There was only about 1.5 km left, so it was time to bring it home.

My legs were tired.  It wasn't just exhaustion, but my legs actually felt heavy, like my muscles had shriveled up or something. (I realize that's not actually possible, but I can't figure out how else to describe it.)

This is where the head comes in.

My legs might not have had that much in them, but my head had plenty.  Ultimately, it is the head that makes the decision, and the decision I made with my head was to keep moving my legs.  I reminded myself that if I gave up at that point, it would hurt a lot more later then the temporary hurt I was experiencing at that moment.

And with that, I finished off the race with a strong run into the finish line.

This is a picture Leana's husband got of me.  I don't know if it was leaving transition or going in to the finish line.

Run time: 1:02:03

Total time: 3:15:28


One of the few complaints I have at the finish line of races is that they always want to collect your chip or timing strip right away.  Now, I get that they can't let you walk away, but I find it really hard to be expected to stand completely still within seconds of finishing the race.  I paced a little circle in the small finishing area, and then I gave up my chip.

Then it was time to collect my finisher's shirt and cowboy hat, which they were doing instead of medals this year.  I thought it was a neat idea, and given the collection of medals I have already, it's nice to have something different, although the hat wasn't really for me.  It was quickly claimed by Spud and Sweetpea when I got home.

I was wiped after the race, and hungry.  My fueling was low during the race.  I figure I took in, at most, 200 calories of sports drink and 150 calories of food (one stroop waffle).  So, 350 calories over three hours of racing.  In this race, the only place I might have paid for the low fueling was towards the end of the run.  However, it's something I need to get a handle on, and quick, because the half ironman distance is going to be a lot less forgiving if I only take in 100 calories per hour.

After getting some food, I went to collect my bike and gear from transition to take it back to my car.  I had planned to go back, but once I was at my car, I just didn't have it in me.  I headed home, grabbing some more food on the way.


  1. Yay, the race report! One of the important reasons to get into the cold water for a warm up swim is to get your face into the cold water so you are less likely to be panic breathing when you start the swim. The other important reason is to get some warm (almost) water into your suit. There's a reason triathletes look a little abstract as they mill around in the shallow water.

    I think a big part of the OWS thing is actually a wetsuit thing. Then again, I can't see to the other end of a 50 m pool without my glasses anyways, so in that respect there is no difference for me. Plus the colder water. Plus all your buddies swimming around you and not respecting your space. Plus not having a pool edge to push off of regularly. Plus murky water that might have giant squid, sharks, jellyfish or who knows what else in it.

    The pavement in transition is really rough. I'd like to wear something on my feet, but trying to organize that is much more trouble than it's worth. I try to think of it as a goody grippy non slippery surface.

    The Oly bike course hills are the long and gradual sort. They get bigger and steeper as you go further west. I still think they should run the bike course down Road to Nepal as an out and back.

    There is definitely a knack to peeing during the bike ride. I have heard there is controversy about if it's harder for men or women. I always plan to get into the washrooms in T2. That makes the run that much easier for me.

    Beach Towel person was being a pig about space. Have no compunction about shoving a bike over a few inches to make some space. Especially if there isn't another bike on the other side.

    Gloves are worth it. One trick is to take them off and stuff them into your bento box as you come into T2.

    Walking up that hill is a smart move. Finishing with tired heavy legs means you executed perfectly!
    You will have to work on nutrition for the half. Think of your bike as a rolling buffet table. Looking forward to seeing you at 70.3!

  2. Great race report! Love reading about the progress you notice you are making. And that picture of you - so fit! So strong!!

  3. This is just what I needed to read going into my race tomorrow. I love your visualization of just dealing with whatever comes. Thanks! Great race report. Very proud of you on your long race!!

  4. Funny you should post today...I was just about to come looking for you... :)

    Congrats on a great race! You are doing fantastic! You do need to practice doing things while on the bike. Drink, eat...try taking your gloves off as Keith suggested. It won't be long before you are more comfortable...but drinking and eating is so very important as you know.

    I love that you say only 10k...I still don't say/think that!

  5. Great report!! You put together a fabulous consistent effort - congratulations!!!

    Definitely more calories during the race in the future, it will help you a lot! :)

  6. Great race and race report Deb! The OWS scares me too. It's awesome you were calm and thought the buoys didn't look that far away.

    You do need to work on taking in a lot more nutrition for your 70.3. Try experimenting on every ride, even if you don't need nutrition. For my 70.3, I plan on taking in 250-300 calories of liquid nutrition in on the bike per hour. I took in a third of that on my first HIM and felt horrible on the run and afterward.

  7. Great job on your race!!! I measured the half iron distance swim long too - about 2600 m. At GWN I measured it bang on at 2000 m so I'm sure that the course was long.

    I struggle with grabbing bottles and drinking on the bike too. Getting a profile bottle on my aerobars has helped a ton because that way my drink is right in front of me.

    Also, learning to pee in your wetsuit is a good thing to master! I typically have to go 3-4 times on the swim!