Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Lakeside Olympic Triathlon - September 16th, 2012

I am not a good decision maker.

I had completely kissed off on doing anything but volunteering at the Lakeside Olympic. After all, it was only 3 weeks after I broke my wrist, and that's pretty serious...right?

By Friday the 14th, I was feeling a lot better. I had seen improvement in the wrist every day that week, and had a really awesome swim on Thursday evening. I was just aching to get that one last tri in for the season, too, and hated the idea of letting go of the registration fee (I'm part Scottish, and it shows). There were a couple of conditions that had to be met, though:

1) I had to be able to safely ride my tri bike.

2) I needed to find a sleeveless wetsuit that fit for $100 or less.

The former condition is pretty self-explanatory - noone wants a person on course who can't operate the brakes on their bike. The second condition arose from the simple fact that I wouldn't be able to get my full suit's cuffs over the cast, but the conditions at Lakeside (chilly spring-fed lake and cold morning temperatures) mean that wetsuits are often required by Triathlon Ontario officials for all participants. It would really suck to show up all ready to go and be unable to race because I didn't have a suit!

I called every shop I could think of. Noone was renting sleeveless suits. Noone even had any to sell. In a last ditch attempt, I tried Kijiji...and found a fellow in Woodstock, just 30mins from home, who was selling a sleeveless suit for $100. The catch: it was, of course, a men's suit. They're not supposed to work for women, as the armholes are cut differently. I set up an appointment to try the suit on Saturday afternoon, knowing it could make or break my cunning plan.

Saturday morning saw us jetting off the the farmers' market as usual, then jamming home so I could try riding my tri bike around the block a couple of times. Yeah, awesome preparation for a nasty 40km course that punishes you with hills in the last 10 kilometers, particularly on top of the single 30min easy spin I'd done in the prior 3 weeks. It turned out I was in fact capable of riding good old Dolph; I could put weight on the base bar if I sort of balanced it on the cast, and I could use the front brakes without issue. Being in aero was ok, but the jarring of running over frost heaves in the pavement pretty much sucked. It wasn't going to be pretty, but I thought I'd be able to manage.


Off to Woodstock to check out this sleeveless wetsuit, figuring the universe had one last way to foil my attempt at racing. Surprisingly enough, the suit that fit a fellow at least 3" taller and much skinnier than my well-insulated self actually worked quite well on me - guess my ridiculously wide shoulders do have their uses. Back to the house to pack up my gear for the race, some nerves started to set in; I was really going to attempt an olympic distance tri with a broken wrist. It kind of sounded better on paper..

Because I'm an idiot, I decided to go run 8km and do a half-hour swim on Saturday evening. My rationale was that I hadn't tapered anyway, so I might as well continue training for the Vulture Bait 25k trail race in mid-October, and swimming is pretty much never a bad idea. The run went fine, and I actually had the best swim I'd done since breaking myself - almost back to my old splits, and feeling pretty comfortable. Rather surprising, considering I'd been a bit sore since taking my bike out (even that 5mins left me a little tender) and  did something even dumber right before swimming; we'd hit the driving range.

See, here's the deal: we were headed out to Calgary to visit with Tanker's family on Monday, and golf was part of the plan. I had no clue whether or not I'd be able to hit a ball without screaming and crumpling into a heap, so it was best to spend the $8 for a small bucket of balls at the range (which Tanker could finish off if I couldn't manage it) rather than spend $30+ on a round of golf and discover that I couldn't make it out of the first tee box. Believe it or not, after a couple of (uncomfortable) false starts, I actually managed to cobble together a stroke that worked - basically using both hands until just before making contact with the ball, then letting go with the broken arm and swinging through with one hand.

I wasn't going to set any distance or accuracy records, but I could get the ball to fly. Good enough.

Having done just about everything in my power to cripple myself for the race the next morning, I finished off the day by going for a 3k walk, made dinner and actually managed to get to bed in time for a whole extra hour of sleep over my usual pre-race 5hr nap. Gotta give a broken wrist some consideration, right? Especially with no taper or carbo loading, and very little sleep the prior 7 or 8 days..

Up at stupid o'clock (05:00), badly braid hair, suck down meal replacement shake "breakfast", throw on 2-piece race kit (for ease of portajohn stops in the morning) and decide that yeah, I will actually wear my black Compressport calf sleeves. I'll almost assuredly need the compression to keep my calves from locking up on me, since I haven't even run 10k since I broke myself (let alone done so after 40km on the bike). I also needed to exorcise some demons from them - the right one bears some gashes and runs where it got munched by the chainring when I crashed out at Mine Over Matter.

I threw on some nice, comfy clothes over the race kit, as there were two things that could still derail my intention to toe the starting line: if either the race director or a Triathlon Ontario official had a problem with me racing with what amounted to a club attached to my arm, I was going to spend the day seriously over-equipped for volunteering. I hoped my hard candy shell wouldn't be viewed as a weapon of mass-start destruction (ok, you can hate me for that one), but I was prepared in case the whole thing was, in the immortal words of Kevin Bloody Wilson, "over before it began".

Arriving at the race site, I set up transition, picked up my race kit (with my first non-pink swim cap of the season; almost reason to race in and of itself), and ended up chatting with race director John Salt. He asked if I'd received his message about doing something to offset me not being able to race, and I said that I hadn't, but had come to race anyway (or at least participate). He looked a little surprised, but said "Ok then!", so one hurdle was cleared!

Hesitant to spend much time in the chilly outside air, Tanker and I ended up going and sitting in the car for a bit before it finally rolled around to 08:15 and I decided it was time to get into my wetsuit. I'd visited the portajohns numerous times, and wanted to make sure I had lots of time to stuff myself into my rubber casing since I only had a hand and a half to work with. It turns out there were a couple of things I should've been doing instead, but I'll get to those later - all I could think of at the time was staying warm!

I wandered over to my rack position and saw someone had tucked my little 3-legged wetsuit-donning stool under the end of the rack, so I pulled it out again and prepared to put on my suit. As I did so, a Triathlon Ontario official known to be a bit of a stickler came and told me (for the third time this year) that I wasn't allowed to keep a stool in transition. I explained that it would be moved as soon as I put on my wetsuit, and was told again that I couldn't keep it in transition. I re-iterated that I was aware of this, and would move it within mere moments. After one last chorus of "you can't leave that stool here", the official finally seemed satisfied that I wasn't going to leave rogue furniture laying about and wandered off. Not a word said about the cast. Looked like this race was going to happen! I BodyGlided the hell out of my neck, got my suit on, moved my stool like a good girl, then headed down to the beach. 
Tanker's camera batteries promptly died, leaving him with nothing but my BlackBerry to shoot photos. In macro mode. WARNING: there will be blurriness.

Let's just say it's because I'm shivering.

With less than 15mins to the start of the first wave, I wandered into the water for a warmup swim...which turned out to be a complete and total misnomer. Being spring-fed, the lake at the resort never seems to get above 17c/63f, and the air temperature couldn't have been over 12c/54f - the sand was insanely cold on the feet, the water was brisk, and apparently having your armpits exposed makes one hell of a big difference in a wetsuit. I splashed my way through about 100m, then retreated to shore to shiver until the start.

Superhero on the outside - quivering mess on the inside.
Photo courtesy of My Sports Shooter.

I was in the third wave, which meant I could probably avoid too much contact with the people in my group if I stayed at the back, but also put me in prime position for someone from the elite wave to swim over me as they lapped me (which they would). I had mentally prepared exit strategies if I needed them - if at any time things got painful, I'd either wander out of the water myself or get help from a kayaker. If anyone said anything about me wussing out, I'd hit them with my cast. The shallowness of the lake and the 2-loop nature of the swim seemed ideal for bailing out if I couldn't hack it, but I will freely admit that I was still pretty nervy as we waited for the gun.

At the starter's signal everyone went rushing into the water ahead of me while I took a leisurely stroll forward until I was in about waist deep, then executed a half-arsed dolphin dive and started swimming. I had to watch my hand entry, since the water itself could bug me if I didn't get the angle right (let alone hitting the kicking foot of someone ahead of me), but I seemed to be gliding along fairly well and felt pretty good. All of a sudden I was surrounded by people, and unsure whether it was me or them that had started out too fast - I kept popping my head up to sight and seeing yellow caps all around me, like orcas swimming in a pod. While this didn't exactly play to my plan of "avoid other swimmers like the plague", it was pretty civilized and I wasn't getting knocked around so I just rolled with it.

To my surprise, I was doing better with swimming straight than I had...well...this year. I'm pretty sure this confirms a suspicion I've had about a weak left pull being the cause of significant navigational grief this season; the cast provided a bit of extra pulling surface (almost acting as a paddle), balancing out my stroke. Something to work on over the winter, but I sure wasn't complaining as I kept seeing the buoys dead ahead every time I'd sight. I rounded the first corner in a knot of bodies, got kicked in the cast once, but didn't actually commence screaming and drowning - it wasn't something I'd sign up for, but it wasn't too painful after all. Spinning that karmic wheel, I'm pretty sure my heel came into contact with someone's face shortly afterward; sorry, random racer!

Making the second turn, I headed back toward the shore to complete the first loop and took personal stock. I was fatiguing a bit (unsurprisingly, since I hadn't done more than a 200m set since I broke myself), but still swimming fairly comfortably. I'd proven I could ride someone's hip or feet without hurting myself if the opportunity presented itself. Hitting the turn-around point, I stood up and did my best impression of someone with nothing but time on their hands wandering around at the beach, just strolling through the water around the turn buoy and back out toward the second loop.

"Who, me? Racing? Nah, I'm just out for a walk in my wetsuit.."

Diving back in once the water got too deep to walk, I was once again shocked by just how cold the water felt on my arms, but started pulling away toward the turn buoy anyway. I was almost halfway there by the time the first of the elites lapped me, but they were kind enough to give me some space. Making the first turn, I started to mentally walk through the rest of the race: exit swim, change to bike, take a swig of EFS Liquid Shot gel at the 5k mark...from the flask that's still in my transition bag...sitting on the beach..

Feck! I knew I forgot something.

I spent the rest of the swim examining my options. I knew the run up to transition was extremely short, so I might not have time to yell at Tanker to grab the flask, and I might be disqualified if he handed it to me anyway (outside assistance). I could probably dodge off-course and grab it myself, but I'm not sure if I'd be DQ'd for leaving the run-up, and I had a feeling my awesome navigation was going to result in one of my faster swims so I didn't want to spoil it. I decided to see what looked like the best option when I got on shore, and just focused on getting through the swim. I even ended up passing some people, possibly fueled by anger over having been such a dumbass.

What an idiot looks like running out of the water.

1,500m swim: 31:49 @ 2:07/100m
Olympic distance swim PR by 00:38

Because of the extensive shallows leading up to the beach, I decided to holler at Tanker to grab my gel flask out of my bag and see if he could just toss it to me. I focused on getting the wetsuit off, which proved tougher than I could have anticipated: somehow the legs vacuum sealed themselves onto my feet - something that I've never had happen before - and I couldn't just stomp on the suit to get it off. I had to lean down and stick my thumb into the bottom of the leg to release the suction, then lever it off my heel...for both feet! By the time I'd finally released myself from my neoprene prison, Tanker had got my flask for me, and even managed to distract the Triathlon Ontario official that had warned me ad infinitum about by stool while he threw to me. Of course I flubbed the catch, but I grabbed it off the ground and stuffed it into my DarkSpeedWorks bento box and then set about getting my cycling kit on.

Donning cycling shoes while slightly crosseyed from a swim is not easy. Doing this with a broken wrist is at least doubly difficult. When you forget to put BodyGlide around the opening of the shoes to help your feet slide in, you're just adding insult to injury. I somehow managed to crank my feet into them, slammed the straps home, grabbed my bike and managed something approximating a run to the mount line.

Chaos, panic, disorder and fuzziness.

T1: 02:17. 

I was in no shape to try anything slick at the mount line, especially since I couldn't even run with the bike's saddle in my preferred hand. I had to get on from the "wrong" side, then ended up spinning the left pedal up because I didn't trust myself to clip my right foot in first (my left foot has a history of stupidity almost as long and storied as the rest of me). Crashing within 5 feet of mounting wasn't part of the plan, so instead I rather convincingly played the part of someone seeing a bicycle for the first time.

"So what do the sticky-outy things do?"

Since I couldn't use the front derailleur, I was riding the whole course in the small ring - not too shabby an idea if I was going to have any legs left for the hills at the end. I couldn't even properly ride in aero; the roads had enough seams and frost heaves that I was hurting pretty badly after the first couple of hundred metres, which I'm totally using as my excuse for forgetting to turn on my cycle computer for a few minutes off the hop. I managed to work out that shifting my left arm forward so the point of my elbow was on the aerobar pad (taking the pressure off the radius & ulna by transferring it to the humerus, and also preventing the pad from levering on the end of the cast) and hooking my baby finger lightly under the bar-end shifter, I could actually ride in aero comfortably. Well, I say comfortably - my lats were wondering what the hell hit them after the swim, and I'd only done that one little zip 'round the block on my tri bike since Gravenhurst in mid-July so I knew staying in aero for 90mins wasn't going to be fun.

All went pretty well for the first 5km - I didn't even crash doing the tight turn-around during the small out-and-back section - and then I tried taking a shot of gel. It was pretty uncomfortable to pull the zipper open on my bento box, tough to juggle the flask (which I couldn't get to my face while in aero, so I had to sit up), even tougher to get it open, and impossible to squeeze it. I had to sort of slurp the gel out, and then found that it was too painful for me to close the flask fully again; I just couldn't manage that final click. Deciding that stickiness is better than pain, I dropped the flask in still half-open and left the zipper open, hoping that neither the container nor its contents would eject themselves. There was still some left when I took another slurp at the 15k mark, so that was all right then.

While the issues with the gel flask would have been bad enough, they were nothing whatsoever compared to the gong show that ensued when I drank the last of the water in my aerobottle and had to try to refill from the bottle on my seattube (the only location with brazes on my P1). I had to sit up, of course, then wince as my Specialized Rib Cage did what it does best - prevented the bottle from coming out of the cage easily. Having managed to free it, I was able to bite the valve open and even managed to get it upside-down in the split cap of the aerobottle, but I couldn't for the life of me squeeze it. I watched as the water drained from one bottle to another at a speed that is usually associated with continental drift - if I were to keep riding for the next 4 hours or so, I might finally get all of it. This was going to require some ingenuity and a bit of luck..

I could put some weight on the base bar with my left hand, but not enough to confidently steer the bike. I moved forward, resting my chin on top of the upturned frame bottle, and settled my left arm into its comfortable aero position, then quickly grabbed the bottle with my right hand and gave a few mighty squeezes. Back to the chin for a moment as I latched onto the base bar with my right hand, then pull the frame bottle with my left hand and return it to its cage. I think I managed to average about 14kph for the minute or two it took to pull off this bit of buffoonery, but at least I'd have water for the final third of the course. I could definitely feel some protest from my neck and shoulders by this point, so the long break from aero wasn't such a bad thing.

I managed the climb and then descent into Harrington, but the hill back out of town put a bit of a hurt on my severely undertrained legs. Knowing it was only going to get worse, I enjoyed the downhill as we headed South, then gritted my teeth as we turned back into the wind and attacked the rollers on Rd.92 leading to the rather ironically named (from my perspective, anyway) Happy Hills Resort. I'd been racing - or at least moving - for about 90mins by this point; none of my workouts since breaking my wrist had even reached an hour, and 90mins was about the most I'd done in a day. I was in the toughest part of the course, and had more or less reached the end of my fitness; I'm not 100% sure how I managed to grind my way back to the resort, but I'm sure it was at least 75% sheer stubbornness. Pretty sure the last of the EFS Liquid Shot, sucked down at the 35k mark, accounted for most of the other 25%.

Finally the lake on my left and then the dismount line hove into view, and I had to figure out how I'd get off the bike without wrecking myself or anyone else. My legs were pure jello, so my usual "walking on air" dismount wasn't happening. I clipped out my both feet, then just came to an unglamorous full stop before the line and stepped off. Not pretty, but since I almost fell over anyway, probably the safest option.

Noone would mistake me for a pro on this day.
40km bike: 1:30:56 @ 26.4kph
Surprisingly, there were actually people slower than me.

Back into transition wondering if I was even going to be able to run the whole 10k, I struggled with footwear changes again since I hadn't remembered to BodyGlide the openings of my tri loafers, either. Pulling on laceless footwear is another one of those things that is hindered by jello legs and a race-softened brain, made even more difficult by a broken wrist, and ends up damn near impossible when the shoes stick to your feet. I got them on well enough and staggered out of T2 like a drunken baby giraffe.

Racing sounded better on paper.
T2: 01:38

This was probably the most hurting I'd ever been transitioning from bike to run. My last Wednesday night brick session (a staple of my normal training week) had been almost a month prior, and it probably looked like I'd never run a step in my life. I made it up onto the road, hoping that at some point my legs would start to cooperate, but also knowing I was well past the point where any training I'd done lately would help. Hell, I hadn't even run 10k since I broke myself! I was trying to keep my pace as easy as possible, but I was beyond being able to run anything like "easy". I decided that the goal was just not to walk, and stumbled onward.

Before the first kilometer mark, a fellow named Joel came up along side me and struck up a conversation. I'd passed him in the last couple of kilometers of the cycle leg, riding along on his mountain bike and singing, and tossing both his feet up in the air on one of the downhills - I smiled to see his enthusiasm then, and was happy to have someone to chat with to take my mind off how much my legs really, really wanted me to stop running. He actually hung with me for pretty much the whole run course, stopping to drink at aid stations but easily catching me up again. I bypassed the first aid station, grabbed some HEED at the second (around 2.5k), and trotted along as best I could. 

It turned out that Joel was friends with Race Director John Salt's son, and he was doing his first tri ever - he had borrowed a wetsuit, used the only bike he had, and was just discovering the wonders of aid stations on the run. He seemed pretty happy to chat at my slow pace, asking me about my race experiences and listening to some details about the run course; he hadn't realized it was 2 loops, and didn't know about the nasty hill up to the outer turn-around point. Another 3-sip cup of HEED at around 4km, just to keep my mouth wet and try to replace training with calories, and I tell Joel that at least we only have to run that awful hill once more.

Joel and I approaching the turn-around at the 5k mark.

The day had started chilly, but had warmed up significantly and the sun beating down on us certainly didn't help my pace. By just past the halfway turn-around I'd finally managed to settle into a stride - even Joel remarked that he thought we were running a bit faster than we had at the start, though that might be deceptive. By this time I was starting to break things down: "6km means we're 3/5 of the way done". I miss getting a cup of HEED at the 6k aid station because there wasn't one ready, and if I stop, I'm not starting to run again. I get one at the 7.5k aid station on the big stinkin' hill, death whistling as I make my way up and around the pylon. Joel tells me he doesn't think he wants to run any faster. I tell him I don't particularly want to be running at all at this point.

At the 8k mark, I let Joel in on my secret strategy to finish tough races - when you get into the final couple of kilometers, you just keep telling yourself "hey, any arsehole can run 2 klicks, right?". I think he got a smile out of that as we made the turn back onto Sunova to head back to the resort for the last time. I started counting down the hills, though really they're just mild rises - we were right into a headwind now, and I was hoping that any moment the dirt and gravel would give way to the final few hundred metres of pavement. My calves were barely being held in check from seizing up by my Compressport calf sleeves, and I just couldn't seem to get enough air.


I told Joel, who was clearly in much better shape than I was at this point, that he should use whatever kick he had and leave me in his dust when we got to the chute. I wanted him to have a nice clean finish pic from his first race, and knew I wouldn't have any kick at all. He grabbed one last cup of HEED near the 9k mark (I did give him the protip that it wouldn't really help him in the race, but he said he just thought it was tasty), gulped it down, then said he was going for it and took off almost as soon as we reached the pavement. I kept trucking along, knowing the end was near (both of the race and my ability to run), finally making the blissful turn onto the grassy slope down to the finish line. I didn't even look at the clock - after killing it was enough that I'd made it through at all.

Everyone knows flames make anything go faster.
Photo courtesy of My Sports Shooter.
10km run: 1:00:11 @ 6:01/km.

Oddly enough, I'd actually pulled off a 00:40 faster run than in my first Olympic distance tri at Wasaga Beach in 2010, and was even 00:05 faster overall than that race. I was 11:01 slower than I'd been at Lakeside the year before, but that was easily accounted for by lack of training in the few weeks prior, including 10 days after the broken wrist when I was incapable of doing anything but walking (first due to pain, then due to not having a waterproof cast). I had my best Olympic distance swim split ever, and the simple fact remained that I had managed to pull off racing for 3 hours 3 weeks to the day after snapping the head off my radius!

As a friend says: "If you're gonna be dumb, you've gotta be tough"
Final time: 3:06:49. 11/18 in W30-34, 54/82 women, 199/249 O/A.

While I wouldn't really recommend anyone else try this, it was something I simply had to do. If I just let it pass me by I'd always have wondered if I could have made it through, and regrets really suck. When I explained it that way to Tanker, he instantly changed from firmly opposed to the whole idea to completely supportive.  I sure do love that guy! He even took care of packing up and loading my whole transition area into the car for me, just so I could stay in line for my free Hero burger after the race. I gotta tell you - it tasted pretty sweet. Victory over adversity really is the best sauce!

Even sweeter is the awesome pic that the race photographer sent me afterward for "the gutsiest performance on three limbs":

Photo courtesy of My Sports Shooter.

The next day, we packed up our gear and headed out to Calgary for a visit with Tanker's family...but that's a story for another day.


  1. Nicely done! You are one tough athlete, that is for sure. Hope the wrist is feeling much better these days.

    1. Thanks Larry! Hope the neck & back issues heal up quick for you - I totally sympathize with being off the bike at the moment, and it sucks because it's just about the best time of year for it! Keeping my fingers crossed you'll be able to get some riding in before the gorgeous fall colours disappear for another year.


Go on, have at me!