Wednesday, July 13, 2016

IM Muskoka 70.3 race report

Oh boy, where to begin. I say this every time, but this one, this is a really long one.


Without really planning it this way, I ended up on vacation the week before the race. That certainly helped the taper! Perhaps a little too much, as I ended up not doing all the taper workouts I'd planned. But relaxing next to the pool/lake while the kids played was a pretty good way to rest up for the race.

Taper done right
Thursday night I decided to deal with an ongoing issue with my heart rate monitor. It's a basic Garmin chest strap, which I've been using for over a year now, and the readings had gotten wonky in a 'this thing definitely needs a new battery' sort of way. I read up online, and commenced very carefully removing the screws, since I saw several warnings about how easy it is to strip them.

Yeah. First three were fine. Stripped the last one.

So, no heart rate monitor for the race. OK, that's fine, I have a Vivosmart HR that can broadcast my HR over ANT, I just have to remember to turn on broadcast mode before the race. It has a tendency to lose the plot while I'm in the aero bars, but it's better than nothing.

I figured, if that was the worst screw up of the weekend, I'd be in good shape.

On the road to Muskoka
Friday morning we packed up the car and drove to Deerhurst, where we'd somehow managed to snag a room at the last minute (and hopefully some other lucky person got our cancelled room at the Super 8). We checked in (we ended up with a huge corner room in the main building! bonus!) and spent the afternoon playing in the lake and the pools before I checked in to the race and we got some dinner. It was a fantastic, relaxing, wonderful day with the family.

Required photo
So this was crazy fun, but perhaps not the best choice of activity before a race?

Immediately after this was taken I fell off. Head first. Yeah I'm probably lucky I didn't pull a muscle. Worth it to play with the kids, though! We're going to have to go back sometime and do it again.

Saturday, it rained.

And rained.

And then rained some more. Fortunately the kids were happy to play in the indoor pool (and at one point in one of the outdoor pools, the crazies), while I anxiously watched the weather and hoped for a break in the rain so I could take the bike out for a last ride. Unfortunately, that never really happened. So instead of a last Saturday workout, I got another rest day. What can you do!

Have a nice camp out, Bad Wolf.
I dropped the bike off in transition, checked over all my stuff to make sure I hadn't forgotten anything, and then we headed into Hunstville for a pasta dinner at East Side Mario's with my tri club.

So much stuff.
I was restless after we got back to the hotel so wandered around for a bit, took a few things down to the car to make my husband's life easier on Sunday morning, and took some pictures.

Oh sure, now that transition is closed for the night, the sun comes out.

Sleep tight, bikes!
Race day

I was having a surprisingly good night's sleep when the power went out. Which wouldn't have been a big deal, what with being asleep and all, except losing power made all the various electronics we had plugged in go a little nutty. My Garmin 310 and 920 both buzz when disconnected from their chargers, so they were vibrating, and my husband's ipad, which was providing us with white noise, went all BRRRRRRRP and boom, wide awake in the middle of the night.

So it was a bit of a restless sleep after that. No worse than before any other race, though. And soon enough I was out of bed, eating a handful of Mini Wheats, downing a bottle of NUUN (breakfast of champions!), and getting my stuff organized to head down to transition at 6 am.

I set up my transition area, checked over my bike, got my body marking, said hi to Sam who was setting up one rack over, and mostly tried to stop feeling like I was about to throw up. I also hit a snag when I set up my transition area - I couldn't find my Garmin 310, which I use as a bike computer. I went back up to our room to drop my cell phone off with my husband and look for it, since I knew I'd pulled it and the 920 off their chargers at the same time, so it had to be up there somewhere. No luck. I was surprisingly zen about it, though, and in the interests of not stressing myself out with a frantic search, I made the snap decision to go without and hope it'd turn up later. (I later found it in the bottom of my purse??!! I have no idea how it ended up there instead of in the bag of stuff I was taking down to transition).

After one last trip to the bathroom (so worth staying on site just for that), I headed back downstairs and sort of wandered aimlessly around transition until I spotted Fab getting his body marking, and we went down to the swim exit to meet the rest of the team for a quick picture, and then we walked to the swim start.

We bypassed the people who were organizing the swim waves and snuck on to the beach to get into the water. Totally recommend this, by the way. I was able to get my wetsuit and goggles on properly, and then spent about 15 minutes chatting with a random guy about the race as we watched the first three waves head out. It was pretty cool to see, although I could tell the first part of the swim was going to be heading straight into the rising sun and I had no idea how the hell I was going to see the marker buoys. I also spotted Zin heading in with his wave and grabbed a quick hug and good luck wishes ("when it starts to hurt, go harder" was his final advice. Thanks coach!).

As the fourth wave lined up, it was time for me to get into the water and get ready. The five minutes between waves passed unbelievably fast, and suddenly the horn was sounding and we were off!

The swim

Time: 39:01
Pace: 2:03/100m
Overall: 581/1128
Gender: 165/357
Age group: 43/72

Since my wave was all female, I had this bizarre idea that we'd be more polite to one another.

HA! Nope. I was glad I had the Welland experience to draw on. That shit was full contact craziness for the first few hundred meters. Fun stuff. I couldn't see the buoys but pretty much just followed the crowd, because what the hell else was I going to do? I hadn't counted how many there were before the turn, so I was just hoping the people at the front wouldn't swim off into the middle of the lake and lead us all off course.

We made the turn, and started passing people from the previous wave. Oh, I hope they all made it - I saw at least one person treading water. But no time to have sympathy! I've got buoys to sight and HEY DON'T KICK ME IN THE FACE. Ugh. OK, readjust goggles, get on with this thing. Around the next corner into a good rhythm. Count the strokes, check your sighting every ten. Right on target. Weird, how am I swimming so straight? Oh fast feet coming by, see if you can draft even for a few seconds. nice. Another turn, heading towards the finish. I don't see it. Just keep swimming, just keep swimming. Ack, breaststroker. Go around, no need to get kicked in the face again. Count the strokes, sight, there's the finish! Yes! Ewww it's getting shallow. I don't like seeing the bottom it looks gross. Almost there. Get on the right side of the volunteer and YEAH!


Really, the swim went great. I wish I knew what I did to swim so straight, because I was bang on target every time I checked my position. Even the track from my watch looks like a perfect map of the swim course.

Yay! I survived!

I used the wetsuit strippers (fun!) and then started the long run (hahahaha I walked the hill part) up to transition. Seriously, that is a shitty, shitty run.

Photo via a friend of an Iron Canuck. Thanks stranger!
Got through transition and it was out onto the bike. Time to have some fun!

T1 (includes a 400m or so run to the transition zone) - 5:11

The bike

Time: 3:03:55
Pace: 30.67 km/hr
Overall: 344/1128
Gender: 57/357
Age group: 15/72

The start of this bike was very different than most races I've done. Since most of the 'fast' waves of athletes were ahead of mine, I was riding with a very different group than usual. Everyone was being super tentative and it was a little frustrating, until we made the first turn and I was able to get some clear space to start hammering.

I have no idea where the photographers were on course, so here's a random bike picture.
I rode this essentially blind to my performance. I had completely forgotten to turn on the heartrate broadcast mode of my Vivosmart, and Garmin in their infinite wisdom puts that mode behind a complex series of menu screens and button presses - not something I'm capable of doing while riding. Seriously, it takes a minimum of eleven button presses/taps/swipes with the thing to get into that mode, which is just dumb. So I had no heart rate feedback. And with no 310 on my bars, I had no easy way to see my speed, either. I don't usually look at my 920 while I'm riding because I have to turn my wrist to see it and that tends to make me drift to the right. I didn't even have the screen set up to show much useful information, since I didn't want to mess around with it before the race and risk screwing something up. So I had time of day, current speed, distance, and cadence. I knew what time I'd left transition and was able to make some occasional calculations on the fly based on that and the distance, but mostly I rode this by feel.

Which kind of worked.

Kind of REALLY worked.

This was seriously one of my most favourite rides ever. Once I started to catch up to some of the other faster riders, it got really, really fun. Lots of back and forth with the same people. A woman in my age group that I played cat and mouse with for probably 40k before I finally managed to drop her for good. A hilarious guy with a 61 on his calf who would yell things at me about 'young legs' when I would pass him on the uphills, and then he'd laugh as he passed me back on the downhills. The guy who would say 'oh it's P2 lady' every time I saw him. I was strong and happy and I could tell every time I glanced at my watch and ran the numbers that I was right on target. The hills were as much fun as I expected/remembered from the training ride, and I only had to briefly redline on a couple of the steeper ones (in retrospect, swapping my cassette for a more climbing friendly one would have been a good idea - but I don't regret the choice not to spend that money. I never ran out of gears, and the steep hills were all pretty short so the gearing wasn't an issue).

Sticking my tongue out to get more aero. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
I fueled this ride with Scratch + NUUN in my between the arms bottle and frame bottle, and topped off with some plain water from my behind the seat bottle. That let me bypass the aid stations. I also took a gel about halfway through. Overall I fueled it nicely, although I think I prefer to have something solid and salty during the first hour on the bike.

Yay bikes! How is it that the number on my arm always gets rubbed off instantly by the wetsuit, while the age written on my calf might as well be permanently tattooed there? Makes for some interesting conversations with strangers for the week after a race...
Coming back into transition I was pretty pumped. I could see on my watch I'd been over 30 km/hr average speed for the bike. 94k with 1000+ metres of elevation change and I averaged over 30??!! I still have to pinch myself to believe that really happened. Thank you Trainerroad. All those hours paid off.

Coming back into transition (pic via a friend of Coach Nancy - this is why you wear the team uniform! You get loads of pictures from people you don't even know!)
Of course, I still had to run...

T2 - 3:15

Racked the bike (lots of empty spaces on the rack, that's always good), ditched the helmet, changed my shoes, grabbed my visor..and bathroom break. No, peeing on the bike did not happen. To be honest I never feel like I have to go until I get off the bike, so porta potty it was. Good because it meant I was hydrated, I suppose. I came out of the porta potty ready to run...and realized I had no idea where the run out was.

ROOKIE MOVE. I cannot even believe I did that. I had to ask someone. And the funniest part is I'd seen it about 20 times while walking around transition the day before and morning of, and somehow my brain just didn't absorb the location.

So, hey, off to a great start there.

The run

Time: 2:10:42
Pace: 6:11/km
Overall: 436/1128
Gender: 89/357
Age group: 22/72

Oh this run. Still processing this run in my head at this point. I look at the time and I kind of can't believe it, because it felt a lot worse than a 2:10 half marathon.  With all the walking I ended up doing I feel like someone made a timing mistake somewhere or something!

To back up a bit, my run training since Around the Bay really wasn't what I wanted. First recovering from that race, then the issues with sciatica, and I lost several weeks of training time. Then it got hot and I was doing all my runs in the heat and just couldn't do the longer runs I really should have. And I could feel, off and on, that hamstring/sciatic issue lurking and I didn't want to injure myself. So I ran, and I trained, but it wasn't with the intensity or distance I had originally planned.

And. I underestimated the hills on this run course. I'm not a great hill runner at the best of times (on group runs with the girls, I almost always fall behind on the uphills because I have to slow down a lot to keep from going totally anaerobic). Hills on the bike = yay. Hills on the run, hell no.

That all added up to a less than stellar run performance. I ran the downhills and felt pretty comfortable. I ran the gradual uphills by telling myself I had to run to the next aid station before I could walk. I walked the steep ones. There were no flats, because Muskoka is a bitch like that.

Heading out on the run, feeling happy. HA. Sucker.
As I headed out onto the run course, I saw a couple of my Iron Canucks teammates (first Norbert, a few minutes later Laurence) heading into transition on their bikes and we yelled encouragement at each other. I knew they were both stronger runners, so I wondered when they'd catch up to me.

OK Muskoka hills. Let's do this thing.
About 2k into the run the race leader passed me heading back towards the finish. So hey, there was one of my goals - be out on the run before the race leader finished! Because the run course is an out and back, I knew that would mean I'd get to see lots of people I knew heading the other direction. That's a big bonus for me in a half triathlon - I love seeing my friends and teammates. As a steady stream of athletes heading towards the finish started appearing, I was keeping an eye out for Zindine since I figured he'd be the first person who I knew that I would see.

Coming into town, though, I crossed paths with our club race captain Kris. Soooooo jealous of him heading to the finish. I didn't know it but Zin had had a flat on the bike, and that slowed him enough that a) I had a better bike time HAHAHA SORRY but I have to take that victory even if it is on a mechanical and b) we missed each other in town because I was in the first out and back when he headed back towards Deerhurst. D'oh. I had held things together pretty well on the run until this point, but at around 7k the hills in town showed up and were steeper and much more annoying and mentally, I was Done with running and triathlons and mostly just wanting a nice cold drink and somewhere to put my feet up.

But I kept moving, and, as I toiled my way through the out and back ups and downs in town, pretty much hating running, I did see first Norbert and then Laurence coming up behind me. Yay! I got a bit of a boost of energy from that. And going through downtown was nice - so much enthusiasm from the spectators, it was awesome. And then I spotted Phaedra manning an aid station and I told her 'this is so hard' and she was like 'duh'. Heh. Props to the aid station volunteers, you guys rule.

Finally, just as Laurence caught up to me, we hit the 'halfway' timing mat (it was really at 11k, so more than halfway, thank god) and it was time to turn around and head back towards Deerhurst. There's something about a turnaround that always helps, mentally, and I 'ran' a few strong km chasing Laur as he pulled away (stopping to walk the aid stations). And I started to see more of my teammates - every few minutes I was exchanging high fives and smiles and encouragement* with people. Awesome.

*I may have yelled a lot about it sucking. I'm kind of a Debbie Downer late in races...

Ugh I'm so tired...
...photographer!! Smile! Look like you are enjoying yourself!

Finally, finished with the town portion and back out to the highway.

God the highway sucks.

Long rollers and boring and so far in between aid stations and wow did I really hate that highway.

There was a lot of walking.

A lot of bargaining with myself to start running again.

The 6 hour overall finish time goal was slipping away, but if I could just keep running, at least most of the time, I could still beat my worst ever half marathon time. That was, seriously, my main goal for the run at that point - just be faster than that awful women's half marathon I ran back when I first started running. Faster than 2:15*. Get the legs moving. Down this steep hill. OK when we get to the last steep uphill you can walk. Ahhhhhhhh. Walk walk walk walk OMG there's Sam! Oh no why is she so far back?! Oh she had a bad bike ride. I wish I could do or say something to help. She's telling me to run and I'm all lol nope but she looks good! Of course she's heading downhill. Easier to look good heading down. Fingers crossed for her her run goes well.

*as it turns out, I misremembered the time on that half. It was really 2:12:52. I should probably check these things before I turn them into goals. But hey, still beat it!

Up the long hill to Deerhurst. And then the sweet, sweet run around transition and down to the finish. People lined up cheering! My wonderful husband and kids yelling for me. Love them to pieces. Big high five from Natalie (just like at Barrelman!!).

You gotta grab the high five
Under the big blue finish arch.

Oh wait that's not the finish. Shit. That's farther up! Damn it! Keep going!

Pure joy.

Total time: 6:02:04
Overall: 438/1128
Gender: 90/357
Age group: 22/72

I got my medal from a really friendly volunteer who escorted me over to another volunteer to get a bottle of water. And that was Irina!!! I gave her the biggest hug, completely ignoring how bad I'm sure I smelled. She knows what's up, though, she's been on both sides. A sweaty hug isn't the worst thing I'm sure.

And so there it is. Done. Hard to believe. I'm tired and happy and sore and I want to do it again and I never want to do it again. There's a lot of feels around this one.

Post race thoughts, what comes next, coming up in a few days.


  1. Irina mentioned when I crossed the finish line that you were faster than me on the bike and that made me happy because I knew then you had met the goal we both had in mind. I saw you finish and you looked very good. Good luck with the next adventure!

  2. What?! There's options for more gears?! I was praying for more gears out there. I'm so proud of you Emma! You trained so hard and deserved such a great race. You are a beast on that bike!! Xo

  3. Congrats Emma! Nice work conquering this brutal course. I also had one my best rides here in 2014 when my power meter died early in the race. Sometimes racing by feel can be awesome!

    "I want to do it again and I never want to do it again." Absolutely relatable!

  4. Super incredible, almost got that sub 6 hour!! Well done, it was fun tracking you along the way. What great photos you got out there as well. Congrats to you!!

  5. What an excellent report! Great pix! And a really good result. Congratulations!

  6. You were incredible out there. I did not see you once on the course and that was a good thing, it means that you were killing it ahead of everyone else. I was not wrong and I could not be more proud of your achievements. Next year is going to be epic! ;-) I hope you continue having fun, this is what the sport is all about when we pay instead of getting paid for it.

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