Monday, May 27, 2013

Woodstock Sprint Tri - May 26th, 2013

Note to self: if you desire race performance, you might actually want to put in some appropriate race preparation.

My entire motivation for doing this race can be summed up as wanting to get a tri in before the Welland Half Iron, and absolutely loving the Woodstock venue. I've raced here 3 out of the 4 years that the race has been in existence, though it has actually been a different distance every time - I did the GT12.9 in 2010 (my one and only age group win!), skipped it in 2011 to train for the Welland Half Iron instead (boo!), then did the 750m-30k-7.5k modified sprint distance in 2012. This was actually my first attempt ever at the standard half-Olympic 750m-20k-5k sprint format.

Of course, since it's not a priority race I decided to train through. This resulted in 10 hours of training from Monday to Saturday, with 3 of those happening the day before the race. With the whole thing only estimated to take about 90mins, I didn't really bother carbo-loading, and I think I actually get less sleep in the week leading up than I usually do. Just to pile a few more odds and ends on the excuse heap, I'd only got about 300m of swimming in my wetsuit since last summer, and the combination of water temperature (16c near the shore) and air temperature (9c at race start) stood a decent chance of inducing my second bout of mid-race hypothermia in the last 2 months. Come to think of it, I think Steaming Nostril was the last race I attempted the day after 3 hours of training, and it ended in a technical DNF. Glad I'm only realizing this now.

As it was, I contemplated just giving up and going back to bed multiple times. By the time I'd finished training on Saturday I was feeling completely shelled, crashing into bed at 11pm and dragging myself from its delicious warmth at quarter past 5. I creaked down the stairs to the kitchen to grab a meal replacement shake and the soreness in my legs from 90mins of hilly, windy cycling the day before made me wonder if I'd end up having to get off and walk on the bike course. The outside temperature was a measly two stinkin' degrees above the freezing mark. Nonetheless, I armed myself with the Braids of Justice, pulled my tri suit halfway on, wrapped myself in merino wool and soldiered out to the car.

Don't we look happy to be here.

Arriving at the race site just before 7am, I actually cranked my seat back a bit and attempted to take a 15min nap - I could barely keep my eyes open, despite the caffeine and sugar surging through me from my greedily gulped Tim Hortons Café Mocha. I was just about to doze off when someone pulled in beside us, parked too close, and unapologetically slammed his mini van's door into our car when getting out. Nice. Now too irked to snooze, I decided I'd better get at it and stepped out into the morning chill.

I managed to grab an end rack position, got my race kit, put some things in order in transition, and didn't even consider bodymarking yet - it was maybe 6c out, and I was in no mood to expose any skin. I found a few friends and chatted a bit, then remembered that last year I'd almost forgotten to get my timing chip because I was too busy yapping with people. Mind somewhat back in the game, I went through the usual portajohn-chamois creme-bodyglide-hydration routine, with Tanker reminding me that maybe I should put my gel flask in my bento box before the race so he wouldn't have to throw it to me like at Lakeside last year (thanks babe!). As the sun warmed the air, I finally got up the courage to strip down to my race suit, get bodymarked, run around a bit and then end up back in a much slower portajohn line. Apparently the caffeine kick start was a little late coming this morning, so it took me until 20mins before the first wave to...errh...get down to race weight.

I had to be quick about packing myself into my wetsuit if I wanted to get a warm up swim in, and I knew I'd need one - every time I've felt like I did the night before on a Saturday and got up to go to the pool on Sunday morning, I'd had a really crappy swim. I needed to get the frigid water on my face and in my suit to acclimatize so it wouldn't shock the breath out of me at the start, and I needed to get my heart rate up and feel my stroke. Fortunately, I think I had the easiest donning ever of my wetsuit (hooray for losing some pudge and having a skilled sherpa to help with zipping!) and only winced and whimpered a bit as I meandered into the chilly lake.

Sausages here! Get your rubbery sausages!

Is it too late to switch to the du? Or just go home?

I gasped as I ducked under the water to let some into the suit, and probably hyperventilated a bit as it trickled in through the neck as I thrashed about in something resembling a freestyle stroke for a few moments before being whacked in the head by a swimmer coming back to shore. This just keeps getting better! I shook it off, swam a bit further out while trying to check my sighting, then realized the guard boat I was sighting on was in motion. I turned around and swam back to shore with the cold water beating on my inner ears, wishing I'd thought to bring some earplugs with me. Ah well, I'd survive...right?

Anything's possible.

I was in the third wave, so I had a few minutes to stand and try to coax my bladder into warming up my suit for me. Don't you judge me! There are only two kinds of people in triathlon: those who pee in their wetsuits, and those who lie about it.

Can you feel the warmth?

We clapped for the first two waves as they headed off into battle, then I lined up with my fellow white-capped athletes behind the buoys after getting one last good luck kiss from Tanker at the shore. There didn't seem to be too many in wave 3, so I ended up quite near the front with probably no business at all being there. The plan was just to take it smooth and not burn too much energy on the swim, as I'd need all I could muster in the hills on the bike course...and to try to keep myself warm while I was out there!

Smooth water in Pittock Lake.

As the horn sounded at 09:08 to send us off, I was plunged immediately into a melée of flying arms and legs. I had managed to get myself stuck between two girls who were swimming at approximately the same speed as myself and each other, but I was about a foot and a half back from being level with them. I was locked together with them for the first 25m or so, then found some less populous water so I could breathe properly without being splashed and beaten. As things opened up I heard a loud jingling from my right ear; I was pretty sure I'd lost one of the beads from an earring, meaning it would likely end up at the bottom of the lake. Crap.

I tried to ignore the jangling and just get on with it, telling myself that I always swim well at Woodstock. The buoys actually seemed to be coming up fairly quickly, I was sighting effectively every 6-12 strokes, and my effort level and stroke felt sustainable. I actually started getting into a bit of a rhythm, and forgot a bit about how bloody cold the water was. I came down exactly on top of the first turn buoy, managed not to panic as someone swam overtop of me, and made my turn fairly neatly.

Basic rectangular point-to-point course.

I found some feet for the second leg and just stroked along until the second turn buoy, noticing that I was starting to pass some yellow caps from the wave ahead. There was lots of open water as I rounded the buoy to head for shore, and I was still feeling pretty good. The current carried me a tiny bit off to the left of the swim exit, but not more than a couple of strokes' worth - navigation had actually gone really, really well for me, and I had high hopes of posting a PR time for this swim. I've put in a lot of yardage in the pool this year (over 115k before race day) and seen some really pleasing gains, but open water has so many more uncertainties. I wouldn't know anything about how I did until I saw results, because as usual I had passed off my watch to Tanker before the race. I knew I didn't see many white caps ahead of me in the water, though.

750m swim: 15:15 @ 2:02/100m. 5/14 in W30-34, 01:46 faster than 2012 & 0:01/100m PR.

Get me out of this thing!

I stood up out of the water and managed to coax my semi-numb legs into something approximating a run, but had trouble getting out of my wetsuit - my left hand is still a bit weak from the broken wrist and the chill had robbed my muscles of what strength remains, so in trying to undo the hook-and-loop flap while zipping down I managed to lose my grasp on both the flap and the lanyard. I started trying to get things sorted as soon as I stood up, but as the above photo shows I was still struggling to strip down as I approached the transition area. Fortunately I managed to get a grip on things before I hit the timing mat and had my suit off my arms & down to my waist with goggles and cap off before I reached my bike.

Where is everyone?

The first thing I noticed when I got to the rack is how many bikes were still there. Since we're assigned racks by age group, that meant I'd had a pretty good swim after all! My wetsuit finally decided to cooperate by sliding off beautifully, and all went smoothly as I donned my race number belt, sunglasses, helmet and bike shoes. My only muck-up was flaking on the best way to run with the bike - I generally lead my mtb and CX bikes along by the stem, and tried to do so with Dolph on the way out of T1, managing to pinch my right hand a bit between the cycle computer and aerobar pad. 

Why doesn't this feel right?

I eventually remembered, as I panted and tried to run up the long, grassy hill to the mount line, that it was best to grab it by the nose of the saddle. I shifted my grip, then remembered I should also have the bike on my left as I ran. What a mess!

T1: 1:21. I took less time in T1 with a cast on last September!

At least I had no problems maneuvering the bike through the row of wooden posts along the road to reach the mount line, but upon arrival, I noticed another thing I should have worked out earlier: I'd managed to leave the bike in a nice, low gear, but hadn't set the non-drive pedal at the 10 o'clock position that is ideal for my preferred mount. I had to stop completely, swing my leg over and spin the crank backward, then clip in and ride away. Total n00b business there!

I had prepared myself for the nasty grind up the entrance road of Pittock Conservation Area and was pleased to discover that it wasn't quite as steep as I remembered. Not that I was happily spinning away down in aero or anything - I remained sitting up, but didn't have to use the two or three biggest cogs in the rear to get myself up to reasonably level ground. Of course, this now left me climbing directly into the cold North wind with legs that had more than enough of climbing into that same wind the day before. My feet responded by freezing - the only reason I could tell they were still there is that the pedals kept on turning. At least I finally managed to get the non-ventilated insoles into my tri shoes for a chilly race...not that it seemed to make a lick of difference.

Course elevation profile to the 10k turn-around point.

I ground away as best I could, feeling ok on the bike in general for it being my 3rd real ride on my tri bike since last September, but without the ability to generate much power. I ended up in the biggest cog I had embarrassingly quickly, managed to pass maybe 4 or 5 people, but got passed by at least two dozen riders. I tried to modulate my effort between the point of having nothing left for the run and actually being able to look at my bike split later without cringing, but it was pretty ugly. At least I managed to hit the big ring before the 5k point, but I confirmed my suspicion from the swim by pulling a bead-less captive bead ring out of my right ear as I rolled along. I tucked it into the rear pocket of my suit; just another blameless victim of this carnival of idiocy.

I also made a rather stupid mistake in not taking a look at the bike course - I had just assumed it was a shortened version of the 30k course, which would cut out the big hill at the turn-around. Imagine my surprise when I was directed to turn right on 15th Line when I was expecting to turn left further down the road! This also meant that I wouldn't have a tailwind for the whole second half, as I'd heading North again from the turn-around. Bugger! It's the athlete's responsibility to know the course, and I'd blown it.

Not the same.

I managed to make it though the turn-around without crashing (small victories, people), remembered I'd stuck my gel flask with an ounce of watered-down EFS Liquid Shot in my bento box, and slurped it up as I climbed back into the wind toward Oxford Road 33. Watching my splits at the first two 5k markers it was going to be a crapshoot to see whether I'd manage to come in under 45mins, but there wasn't much I could do except keep pushing. The initial climbs had taken their toll, and my legs were in survival mode as I made the turn West. Passing the 15k mark and rolling up the last grade of any significance, I tried to comfort myself with the fact is was now both downhill and downwind to the finish. There were still people coming the other way until the final couple of kilometers, so at least I knew I wasn't last!

Because of the initial climbing, I feel that Woodstock is a course that benefits from a longer bike - it gives you more time to settle in and takes the sting out of both the slow first section and that enormous distance between the mount/dismount line and the transition area, both of which contribute to an artificially low pace. Case in point: I had a faster average speed (27.0kph) at Guelph Lake II 2009 for the 30km bike leg in my first year of racing than I did for the 10k bike leg at the 2010 Woodstock GT12.9 (26.8kph) despite being a stronger cyclist. Compare that to a 28.7kph average for the 30k course at Woodstock last year, and it becomes pretty clear that short course will hurt your speed at this venue. Yeah, more excuses. 

30km bike: 44:26 @ 27.0kph. 6/14 in W30-34

Made it back eventually.

I hit the dismount line just as two other athletes who were clearly pretty shaky stopped dead in front of me, forcing me to slow to a crawl in order to hop off and start running. At least it was downhill to the transition area this time, I had figured out how to run with the bike, and I remembered not only where my transition spot was but also the most direct route to it through the racks. Slightly less n00b.

Tossing the bike onto the rack while trying not to run over my goggles, I actually had a flawless T2. Helmet off, shoes slipped on nicely (the openings having been coated with BodyGlide before the race - smart punk!), and pop the hat on as I run out.

T2: 0:53. A 10sec PR!

Well, I say run. I managed to force my legs into something like a trot, stumbling out of transition just as the first duathlon finishers were coming in to the line. Nothing like knowing just how slow you really are! It only got worse as I immediately started to death whistle and watched people I'd been ahead of on the bike start whipping past me like I was standing still. My feet had yet to defrost from the bike, and it felt like I had stones in my shoes directly under the balls of my feet, plus an extra one at the outside of my left foot, just behind the baby toe. I knew from racing Lakeside the last two years that the lumps under the balls of my feet were simply due to the cold (the sensation goes away once I warm up), but I genuinely thought I'd ended up with a rock in my left shoe. Nothing I could do about it but try to keep running.

The first section of the run course, as seen in the photo below, is some gravelly double-track that makes my tri loafers a somewhat dubious choice - they offer next to no cushioning or protection, but damn, aren't they fast to get on? Did I mention my 0:53 T2 time? FIFTYTHREESECONDS! I was trying to run a bit cautiously to avoid the bigger stones, but ended up stepping on a few anyway. At least now that I was working at holy-crap-I'm-gonna-blow-up intensity I wasn't chilly anymore! The air was still only about 14c, but the bright sunshine made it feel dramatically warmer...which of course is just what my chubby arse didn't need on the run.

I'm smiling because it's almost over.
I made the turn onto the paved surface of the dam with the freshening wind at my back, knowing I'd have to fight it on the return trip. Bugger. It was officially time to throw any or all expectations out the window and just try to survive long enough to finish without walking. Coming off the dam, there's a sharp little downhill onto a groomed rail trail-like section along the river, then another short but nasty climb up to the road section to the turn-around. I had bypassed the first aid station at the entrance to the dam and now passed the second where the trail meets the road, heading up the mild rise to the turn-around point on the road. I got a high five from a friend volunteering at the turn-around, then headed back into the wind to finish this gong show off. At least my feet had defrosted!

Those squiggly bits suck.

I did grab a cup of sport drink from the aid station at the road/trail intersection on the way back, with a downhill on which to sip it, but it was mixed so weak that it might as well have just been water. I was hoping for a bit of a boost for the finish (research has shown even swishing a carbohydrate solution in the mouth and then spitting it out can increase performance), but I'd settle for a little less dry mouth. Back along the river, then baby steps up the climb to the dam and into the full-blown, I-wonder-if-I-have-exercise-induced-asthma death whistle as I fought the headwind. It's kind of scary to hear your throat screeching with every breath and be completely unable to do a damn thing about it, but whatever self pity I might have felt was quickly quashed by seeing a lady running the other way with a prosthetic leg. I may be slow, chubby and wheezy, but I don't face any real challenges.

Back onto the stony doubletrack, I was a little dismayed to see a couple of pickup trucks coming straight at me - what the hell? Fortunately, they stayed out of the way of the racers...just. I was throwing everything I had left into the last 500 metres and was making enough noise to terrify any wildlife in a 2 mile radius, but the legs just weren't there. Too much training, not enough rest - I simply didn't have a racing gear left in me. I watched as a girl with 31 written on her calf pulled past me in the last hundred metres before the turn to the chute and was powerless to follow; I'd have been some kind of torqued if that pass had knocked me out of a podium spot, but was pretty sure I had nothing to worry about in that respect.

I spotted Tanker just before the turn to the finish, flashed him a smile as he snapped the photo above, then hooked right onto the blissful downhill to the line. I'd hoped I could manage a sub-90 minute time, but the clock by the arch showed I'd missed that by about a minute. I pushed right through the mats, got my handshake from John Salt, then went in search of water and a bite to eat - my stomach had actually started to growl!

5k run: 29:13 @ 5:51/km. 9/14 in W30-34. Sad.

Floating on air.

It turns out it's a good thing I never let off whatever gas I had at the line, despite the disappointment at not breaking 90mins. The girl you see just a step or two behind me is in my age group, and had been gaining fast! She's a good 50 feet back in the photo that Tanker took less than 30 seconds earlier; her 26min 5k sure blew the pants off what I was able to manage on the day, and I only beat her by 0.7 of a second.

Total time: 1:31:05.8 - 5/14 in W30-34, 41/94 Women, 187/295 O/A.
(Click here for results)

Given the lack of rest coming into this race, I'm satisfied with the result. I am actually particularly pleased with the swim, not only as a PR but as my first real open water swim for the year - I feel like the work I've done in the pool over the winter is bearing fruit, and hope I can swim with similar ease of effort and navigation at Welland next month. I know I have to do a great deal of work on the bike before then to prepare myself for 3+ hours in the saddle and the need for a decent run afterward, but I'm getting it done as best I can and can comfort myself with the knowledge that both the bike and run courses at Welland are virtually flat!

When all is said and done, I love to race, and I'm happier putting in a somewhat sub-par performance at one of my favourite venues than staying home instead...even if it did take the promise of a Hero burger at the end to get me in the water for the start!


  1. Only 2 places off the podium. I'm sure had the stars been aligned, you'd be sporting some hardware. Great RR. Keep up the crazy training.


    1. Thanks for your kind words, John - ironically enough, I actually came in 5th in my AG last year as well. Always a bridesmaid!

      Thanks for reading!


Go on, have at me!