Muskoka 70.3 Race Report
Well, I’ve had a couple days to process everything so I think it is time to talk about the race.
Let me start by saying that I have never put this level of time, training or commitment into any singular event so it ended up being one of the most rewarding racing experiences of my life. The journey began on a long bike ride with my friend Todd. Genuine Health generously made it possible for me to race and the Performance Project provided coaching which took away any remaining excuse I had not to try, Mark and Clare joined the crew and suddenly it was all systems go.
They say the hardest part of an ironman event is the training and I wholeheartedly agree. I buried myself into the most volume intensive training weeks I have ever experienced with 5 am mornings at the track, 4 hour long rides on weekends and spending the Sunday evening of every week budgeting the time for the coming week to ensure I could fit in my sometimes double-day workouts.
This past weekend, the whole team found ourselves in Muskoka, arriving to our room only to find out that the power was out. There were a few misadventures but we woke early on Saturday morning to fit in our open water swim to practice sighting and test out the water temperature for the next day.
From there, we went to pick up our race kits and get our bikes racked for the next day. I loved this format because it minimised race day stress knowing that many of the logistics had already been sorted.
Guys – I was a total wreck. I was pretty confident going into the race but I was forgetting EVERYTHING. I left my wallet, which I needed to check my bike, in the car. When I went to get the wallet, I picked up Mark’s bike pump to ensure our tires were primed for the race and I forgot it in a port-a-potty. FINALLY, we headed back to our hotel room and I was in a contained space where I could stop losing things and we started laying out things for the next day.
After we had sorted out all of our gear, we headed for dinner with my parents who had come to Muskoka to cheer us on!
We headed back to our home base and spent some time at the water, winding down for our 4 am wake up.
The race morning went smoothly. I basically jumped out of bed with excitement and went through my morning race routine. We drove to the race parking lot, took the shuttle to the start and set up our transition area.
At 6:45, we headed down to the water. Todd and Clare were in the first wave and Mark and I began together in the 7:15 wave. It was really cool to be able to start the race at the same time because of the countless hours of training we have put in together to get us to this point. Suddenly, we were cued that our wave was to begin the swim and we were off!
This was a disaster for me. I have practised in open water but I do not have the race experience with dozens of swimmers clambering around me and as a result, I had a full on panic attack. I could not catch my breath to do bilateral breathing and began clawing at the back of my wet suit to rip it off as it felt unlawfully tight. Thankfully I pulled myself together and swam a bit off course to lose the swimmers around me and I was able to calm down and settle into a rhythm. I truly believed my race was a dud at this point and I checked out of race mentality and settled into merely enjoying the experience. Once I calmed down, it really was an enjoyable swim and I exited the water in 38:19 which truly isn’t awful considering I spent the first quarter of the swim doing a back stroke to calm down. Strava file here.
I don’t want to steal, so if you want to see swim race photos, click here. I look unreasonably happy coming out of the water because I was just so THRILLED to be done. The transition involved a run up a hill on rough ground in bare feet. Luckily, I have built some disgusting callouses on my feet so it wasn’t an issue and running hills is my jam, so I had a transition of 4:21 including the run, throwing on my bike shoes, taking down a Hammer gel and heading to the bike mount area.
I felt amazing once I was on the bike. The weakest discipline for me was behind me and now I was flying up and down the hills of Muskoka, just soaking in the experience. Every time I passed an ironman sign, I started laughing like a fool. I was doing my first half ironman ever! When I spoke with Dave, my coach, before the race, he advised me to take the bike as easy as I dared. He said that you need to view your legs like a book of matches – you only have so many to burn so chose when you burn them wisely. I took an easier gear on the bike where ever I could and stayed in zone 3 the entire way. I saw some pretty intense crashes on the bike so I just acted like I was on a training ride and kept telling myself that I wasn’t racing, I was on a 94 KM bike ride to the start of my half marathon race. It was awesome to see some friends out supporting during the cycle including Ed and Art.
I focused on taking a drink every 10 minutes, alternating between water and Hammer perpetuem. I reached my goal of consuming three bottles of water on the bike and took a half a clif bar at 45 minutes, the other half at 1:30 and a Hammer gel with caffeine at 85 KM to propel me to the run.
With 1 KM to go, I saw Todd cycling and screamed out to him. We had a quick conversation that we would start the run together and would meet at the transition to the run and whoever was there first would wait. I completed the cycle in 3:07:35 which held to my 30/km pace goal. Strava file here.
I quickly racked my bike, threw on my New Balance Vazees and hat and headed to the transition area in 1:28 with Todd arriving at the same time to roll out.
The first 7 KM were one of the most special race experiences I have ever had. Todd and I were running together and having the time of our lives. We ran a bit of a spicy first KM of 4:00/km according to my watch, but we were so pumped up to finally be on OUR discipline and were shrieking at each other about how the first part of our races had gone, when we had seen the others, etc.
It was awesome to see Peter, my sister Jolene and my parents at this point. It was amazing to have them there to cheer us on and we all felt so special that they gave up their weekends to support us.
I struggled to settle into the first couple km as I often do off the bike and I was afraid I was going to lose it on the run as I was breathing quite heavily. Dave, my coach, had instructed me to do a tempo run to the half way point where I could then assess energy levels to see if I could pick up the pace, so Todd generously stayed with me at a 4:30/km pace. He is a speedier runner than I am but he was going to see how he felt halfway and reassess pace as well. At around 3 KM, I had shaken out the cycle from my legs and my breathing stabilised, allowing me to maintain my pace and feel much more comfortable. Todd and I separated at about 7 KM.
One thing I have going for me in summer run courses is that heat does not seem to affect me too much. The run got quite steamy but I had paced myself really well on the bike and my legs felt good. I kept on focusing on form, having no concept or even care of my place at this point. Most of the age numbers had washed off my competitors so I had no idea how I was doing and this served me well. I just relaxed and enjoyed the run. I saw Mark rolling by at around 11 KM and I was about 2 KM behind. I hit the turn around point feeling strong and headed back on the hills, assessing if I should push the pace or not. I also took a gel at this point and was taking water at every aid station.
I decided to stay with the conservative choice and settled on leaving the push at 16 KM with 5 KM left to go if I felt good. Well, I am glad I decided to do that because I started to fatigue at the 16 KM mark. (I am wondering if this is psychological). I repeated the mantra Quiet Confidence and just focused on my form, looking at my watch only at KM markings. With my focus on the mantra, I found that I consistently held my pace at the same pace I began with which was what my body was comfortable with that day. I decided to just leave it as is, enjoy the run and not kill myself.
I did drop about 20 s/km off my run in the last KM as I knew I was getting close. I had just powered up the last huge climb when I heard a spectator say to the woman in front of me: “You are either in third or fourth…I don’t know!”
I had no idea if she was in my age group or not but I was not going to chance it. I kicked into my highest gear and sprinted to the finish line.
I crossed in 5:27:43 and saw Mark waiting for me as he had finished a few minutes earlier. My run was 1:36:00 and the strava file is here. We headed down to the water to recover and then met the others to celebrate. It was when we met with everyone that I was informed that I had indeed placed third in my AG which meant I needed to attend the awards ceremony. We headed in for food in the hall where awards were given out and we refuelled with a delicious post run buffet.
I bumped into Kristen Marchant who gave me some amazing swim tips for my next ironman experience. This girl is a force to be reckoned with in the triathlon world so it was awesome to learn from her.
It was a neat experience to be involved in the awards ceremony and certainly an honour to do so on my first ironman experience. I owe even being at the race at all to Genuine Health.
Let’s be very clear on something. I executed this race but I give the credit to my unexpected success to two gentlemen in particular.
Dave Galloway brought me on as an athlete two years ago where I was a fairly average runner with double stress fractures. I was injury prone and self destructive in that I would race everything with no thought of consequences. He has coached me to the point where I have shaved huge time off all distances and have been injury-free since I began with him. I am proof that he is the sort of magician can take an athlete that has no swim background, limited bike experience and never raced a triathlon and achieve a podium spot on the first go. It is a pleasure to be able to work with someone I trust entirely because I literally just execute on the formulas he lays out and I am successful. If you are an athlete who is looking to shake off injuries and reach your goals, he is your man.
Mark Cullen is the one who goes through the training cycles with me. He is a ridiculously strong athlete and if I want to train with him, I need to keep up. I have spent almost every weekend this summer chasing him on the bike or the run which has made me so much stronger than I would have been if I were to do the training solo. It’s hard not to be successful when you have someone like him in your corner.
I have a lot more to say, but I don’t want to steal the thunder from the team who will be sharing their race reports later this month.
Thank you for following me on this journey. You guys are so supportive and I have a number of things in the works so this is only the beginning!
Congrats on an awesome race! I was the person in transition who said hi before the race. So have you caught the triathlon bug?? The swim will get easier I promise!
Rachel! So awesome to talk to you. Since you are a swimmer, I will totally take your word for it. 😛 And yes, I am absolutely going to do another one. How did your race go?
That is great to hear! My race went alright actually! I’m coming off an injury that had me sidelined for a while so I was pretty pumped about actually getting to the finish line 😉
Random question though…I think I might buy a mountain bike this weekend. Do you have any recommendations on places in the area to ride that aren’t too technical? Everyone tells me the best place to ride is the hydro cut but I’ve only ever really ridden road bikes so I have an immense fear of crashing into a tree…
Glad to hear the race went well!
Congrats on buying a mountain bike! You will love it! For learning to mountain bike, my preferred place is Wildwood in Stratford. I love the hydrocut but in my opinion, it is not a great place to learn. Feel free to connect with me and I will invite you on our next group ride in Wildwood. The guys I ride with are super helpful with tips and it is a fantastic place to learn quickly.
I’ll have to check it out! And thanks for the invite! I’m pretty pumped to get into something new and mountain biking looks pretty awesome 🙂
I am SO PROUD of you!! Gosh , I was getting all emotional reading this, haha. Well done my dear, what an AWESOME day!!! I want to hear more, phone date soon!!
GO JESS GO! 🙂
Absolutely. I have a long drive Friday night and have time to chat. Are you free?
Yup, I will be around! Give me a shout anytime Friday evening. Talk to you then!
Paul Mora (@rungeek) says
Great race report, and congrats on the finish!
Steve Shikaze says
Well done! I can totally relate to the panic attack in the water. I’ve never done a triathlon myself, but I’ve done the swim leg in tri relays twice. Not having open water experience, I had panic attacks when I got surrounded by thrashing arms and legs in the first 5 minutes or so. I considered quitting both times, but the fact that it was a relay, I didn’t want to let my teammates (2 brothers of mine) down. Eventually, people spread out and I was able to find some rhythm. Thanks for sharing!
Steve- that is EXACTLY what happened to me. I am glad I am not the only one. 🙂
Angela @ Eat Spin Run Repeat says
Ahhhh JESS I’ve been waiting all day to get home and read this, and I’ve got chills down my spine with excitement and pride for you!! It’s actually rather hilarious, because on Sunday I was hiking with my friend Danielle, and I mentioned that as we spoke you were mid race. She asked how I thought you’d do and what your time would be, and I said something along the lines of “She’s obviously going to totally kill it and dominate. If anything were to go wrong it might be on the swim, but if that happens, she’ll make it up and then some on the bike and run. I’m going to estimate 5:30.” I didn’t mean to jinx the swim – I swear (and by that point you would have already been out of the water!) and just as I expected, you were a beast on the bike and run!! Seriously lady, I’m so proud of you. I can’t wait to chat more about this when I see you next month. Oh, and can we talk about those race photos?! There’s not a bad one in the bunch!
HAHHA – I appreciate your confidence. I am starting to get so so so excited for Seawheeze and seeing YOUUU!
All I can say is WOW! I would have panicked and then some with that swim, so way to come around on top!! You killed this, and have inspired me!! Way to go, you have amazing dedication my friend.
Thanks Britt! 🙂