Friday, July 11, 2014

Mine Over Matter Full Off-road Triathlon - Saturday, July 5th, 2014

There's nothing like a bit of redemption, even if it comes at a snail's pace.

So I took this thing somewhat seriously. I tapered. I carbo-loaded. I freaked the hell out, my mind running over the multitudinous ways in which I could badly hurt myself once again.

Then I let it all go, and re-prioritized.

Of course, the first one is kind of dependent on the second.

Arriving on site with a distinct nip in the air (after a cinnamon raisin bagel with almond butter & honey, a tiny bowl of crisp rice cereal, and my DIY café mocha), I told myself that all I had to do was get to the run and finish this thing. It would be nice, of course, to believe I'd have a decent race overall, but I wasn't going to take any chances on the bike course - I'd just be a tourist out there, not doing anything that could really be called "racing". If something looked sketchy, I'd walk it. Didn't care if I came in DFL - anything is better than DNF and another trip to the emergency room.

Confidence. Yeah, sure.

I got all of my kit sorted out in transition, knowing that my T1 time at least would be pretty lousy since I'd be stopping to put socks on. I walked the swim entry and gave the uphill, uneven, long grass-covered run-up some side eye. Transition had been moved since the last time I did the race, and apparently the swim was now a single loop. That part I could dig - I just hoped I wouldn't snap an ankle on the way out of the water.

Since I was clearly a little dorky that morning.
Yes, Tanker had to tell me I drew my numbers on backward.

I did, eventually, get them sorted out.

Transition area ready to go, plus Tanker's sherpa backpack.

With 20mins or so before the start, I was suited up and ready to get a swim warm-up in.

Let's do this!

Tanker the Wonder Sherpa got my wetsuit all situated for me, took my watch from me, then watched as I wandered into the water to flail about a bit.

Doo dee doo.

So I swim most of the way out to the far buoy - I figured about 100m out - then turn around and start heading back. Once I get past the last buoy on the way to the swim exit I start sighting a little more often, as people are heading out toward me doing their warm-ups and I don't want any collisions. Stroking away, just about to lift my head to sight, and suddenly..

Face: meet head.
The fellow who swam headlong into my face stopped and asked if I was ok. Tasting blood and wondering if I was going to lose my front teeth, I said I thought I probably was. I also asked if he was ok, since his skull just took a set of pearly whites at speed. He said he was fine, apologised profusely, and we both went on our way.

Wading out, none too happy.
I wandered back on shore to chat with Tank a bit, telling him what had happened, and hoping this wasn't a sign of things to come. He handed me his water bottle so I could have a sip before starting, and I realised this might end up being a long day - my front teeth hurt A LOT, making it really painful to open and close the spout of a bike bottle.


Fearing the worst, I gave Tank a kiss and started meandering over to the actual swim start area, which was about a hundred metres away from the exit.

96 men & 35 women

Someone had a remote-controlled drone that flew over the swim start area taking video.

Some nervous clapping, some smiles, and one young lady asking me "Umm, so it's swim, then bike, then run, right?", and then the horn sounded to unleash soggy hell.


I just walked into the water rather than running, letting some people get out front so I wouldn't get kicked in the face. Once it got to more than knee deep, I did a couple of dolphin dives and then started stroking away. I'd had a decent swim at Welland when I did the relay with Tanker, and had put in some half decent yardage in the pool lately, so I was just trying to focus on keeping my elbows high and not wearing myself out too much.

Different swim course design, but worked just fine.

Unfortunately, there was a lot of traffic. And I mean a LOT. I almost immediately caught up to a 4-wide wall of feet that had apparently gone out a little harder than they could maintain, and had to try to find a way around. My navigation was fine for the whole swim, but I'd only get a minute or two of clear water before running into either another clump of people swimming abreast and blocking me, or someone who would keep turning every time I did to try to get past them. There was a lot of close-quarters swimming happening, and a fair bit of contact, though I did manage not to take another blow to the face. I would, however, like to line up every single person who starts kicking really aggressively when they notice someone on their feet and kick them all in the shins. It's just not nice, people!

I eventually threaded my way through the masses and headed for the dreaded run-up.

No trouble getting the wetsuit unzipped this time - thankful for small miracles!
1,000m swim: 21:08 @ 2:07/100m
2/7 in W35-39

I managed not to trip or twist my ankle on the way to transition, and got my goggles, cap & wetsuit sorted out reasonably before arriving at the rack. I tried to wipe some of the grass of my feet before putting my socks on, but figured they'd probably like everyone to be finished before dark, so gave up and just slammed on some SmartWool before donning my bike shoes. The biggest accomplishment was not falling over in the process. I had decided against wearing gloves on the bike (I usually wear full-finger gloves on technical trails), as I didn't want to try to struggle into them with wet hands. 

T1: 01:50  


I ran across the mount line and got on my bike, clipping in fairly easily (though of course looking like I'd never seen a pedal before, as always). So far, so good! Off to test my fitness on the big stinkin' hill climb that would lead me up to the mountain bike trails.

Off to a decent start.

I made it through the sketchy gravel, up the hill and hit the trails. Things start off relatively innocently with some flattish single track through open, sunny fields of tall grass, but then rapidly turn into the woods where obstacles lay in wait to ambush the unsuspecting.

I wasn't falling for these trails' tricks, though. I kept my head up, and listened for riders coming up behind. I'd ride up on the grass on the side of the narrow dirt path to let people by in the field sections, and dismount as soon as I came to an obstacle that I wasn't 100% sure I could ride, letting those behind me pass before walking my bike over or through whatever it was that had me freaked out. I came to the first rock garden that I'd fallen over on in 2012 and almost didn't recognize it - it was much smaller than I remember. I still dismounted and walked it, because it still had this weird gap in the middle that's pretty much the exact same diameter as my tires; I'd got my front tire jammed in it last time and had tipped over while trying to figure out what was going on. Much better just to hike it, though I almost fell on my head a couple of times while walking the damn bike! I saw a lot of other people either crashing or walking, too, so it's not like I was the only one who was either being cautious or learning the price of insufficient caution.

I found the rock garden that broke me right around where I expected it, and was kind of happy I'd decided against bringing the camera. It really is embarrassingly small, though others I talked to after the race were equally daunted by its pallet-topped ferocity. Maybe someday I'll actually ride over it, but today would not be that day. I also deigned to avoid the larger structures in the bike park area, choosing to keep my tires planted on the dirt rather than climbing swoopy wooden ramps and bridges through the air. There were also some really steep downhills with super-tight turns that I simply looked at and said "NOPE". I had my work cut out for me just walking the bike down them, and in some places had to walk through some stuff that I could have ridden if not for either a) not being able to do so while in the act of trying to get clipped in or b) only having about 25m of rideable trail in between two un-rideable bits. 

Rolling along some more, I did actually ride over some of the obstacles. There were heaps of rooty and stony places, including one huge rocky descent with a big CAUTION sign at the top that was filled with little drops and more chain slap than I've ever experienced in my life. I actually rode down the whole thing, fearing for my life but also giggling like a 5 year old. I rode over the little boardwalk and subsequent rock garden rather than riding around. I saw big tree limbs and small logpiles on the trail ahead of me, said to myself "I got this", and rocked right on over them. I made some climbs that I wasn't sure I'd be able to manage (though I did have to do the walk of shame up the top half of the switchbacks to get back on top of the ski hill), and had a lot of fun while challenging both my fitness and my (lack of) skills.

This happened. Really. I didn't walk the whole thing!

After being lapped by pretty much the entire field, I made it to the gel drop zone just before loop 2 and ate the packet of Vanilla Bean Gu that I'd electrical taped to my top tube. Washing it down with a few gulps of water, I realized I'd taken almost 44mins to get through the 1st lap. I really hoped Tanker wouldn't get too worried, since it seemed like I'd be on the bike course for quite awhile yet. I wasn't even really pushing in the less technical sections - just riding along at an easy pace to make sure that I didn't build too much fatigue and start making bad decisions. While I'd decided against bringing the camera with me, I was still firmly entrenched in my "just a tourist" attitude toward the trails, though it was very kind of all the people passing me to check & make sure I was ok. I also got some real Vanderkitten love from one girl on course who would start yelling encouragement whenever she saw me - thanks, anonymous racer! It was also pretty sweet when one of the very quick guys came past me, thanked me for letting him through, then yelled "I like your blog!" as he sped away. Thanks, fast dude!

I had tried really hard to stay out of the way so as not to screw up anyone else's ride, though I'm sure I messed up a couple of people (sorry, folks). Now, I hoped to get through the second lap a bit quicker than the first, since the people who lapped me wouldn't be coming through again and I wouldn't have to stand still to wait for them. However, I ran into 3 issues:

1) I had a really painful blister on the inside of my right heel. I managed to determine it was caused by a combination of too much walking and some grass stuck inside my sock, but far too late.

2) I was only about a kilometer or so into the 2nd loop when my saddle clamp worked itself a bit loose. I found out about this when I rolled over something bumpy while seated, and the nose of my saddle suddenly popped up a good three inches. Arven was getting a little over-friendly! So, when I stopped to walk next, I used my hand to try to pound the nose back down again. Of course, the next time I made hard contact with the saddle, up the nose came again. I went through this about 3 times - if it had happened a 4th I'd have finally got out my tool and fixed it, but I managed to get it to stay in a not-optimal-but-not-too-shabby position.

3) Hydration and nutrition. There were very few places where I could safely take a drink, and when my front bottle of plain water was done, even fewer spots where I could access my small rear bottle with a scoop of eLoad. So, to keep myself from dehydration or bonking, I'd pause after every section I walked to take a couple of big gulps of my sport drink. I was pretty sure it would pay off on the run, though it turned out later I'd only managed to throw down about half of the bottle.

Not pictured: marginally controlled terror.

Speaking of running, that wasn't really happening with the bike anymore, either. The combination of the blister and fatigue meant when I wasn't rolling I was strolling, and on my second trip up the ski hill I swear I saw a spider climbing the damn thing faster than I was.

I thought I actually managed to pass a couple of people toward the end, but it turns out they were just some folks out for a ride on the trails and not racers - I ought to have known when a gentleman near the end of the 2nd loop in a race radio and Trail Ambassador jersey asked to confirm my race number that I was probably the last one out there. Nonetheless, after a seeming eternity, I finally hit the trail exit and rocked my way around the quarry to the big, paved descent toward transition. I had a long scratch down my right leg, a scrape on the inside of my left knee, the blister on my foot, a couple of extra blisters on the outsides of my palms (maybe I should have gone for gloves), and my teeth still hurt, but I was otherwise unscathed!


17.72km bike: 1:41:29 @ 10.5kph
7/7 in W35-39. DFL overall by more than 7mins.

You can sort of see the popped up saddle nose here.

Into T2, I figured it was time to lay the smack down - since people who bike as slow as I do would probably run even slower than me, I could probably make up a little bit of ground. I was a bit miffed to discover the lady next to me had racked her bike in my spot (at the end, leaving me no room), forcing me to waste time trying to move her bike so I could rack mine. Oh well. Helmet off, trail shoes on, and off I go as I pop my hat on...then almost turn back to ditch my sunglasses, but figure screw it - GOTTA GO!

Apparently sashaying toward my rack spot.

T2: 01:24

Trying to get up to speed.

Off I went to climb ANOTHER STINKIN' HILL to get to more trails, though this time I felt pretty confident I could stay the right way up. The issue now was that I'd been out farting around on my bike for so long it had warmed up significantly, and the stiff wind was doing somewhere between "not enough" and "not a damn thing" to help with that. Fortunately the stupid blister on my heel shut its whiny little mouth and let me get on with things.

I did manage to pass a couple of people on the way up the hill (one of whom must have been a duathlete or relay runner), so I did get a bit of a lift out of that. I grabbed a cup of water from the aid station just before the turn into the woods, sipping a bit and dumping the rest down my chest and back for some cooling. Onto the trails, I saw a fellow in red a hundred metres or so in front of me, but seriously doubted my ability to catch him - the death whistle had begun before I even got to the base of the enormous climb, and I was having real trouble trying to get my breathing under control. The same thing happened in 2011, and I puffed and blew my way through the entire run.

Still don't deal well with heat.

I was starting to make up ground on the fellow in red, then actually passed him after he took a tumble on a rooty downhill - I asked if he was ok, and he said that he was fine apart from a skinned knee. He passed me back as we ran along and chatted a bit, but a couple of minutes later I got ahead of him again and this time it stuck. The run course seemed to have changed a bit since 2011, when I remember being able to run all of it - there was one really sharp uphill that was reminiscent of Horror Hill, only with even more roots to catch a foot. I think I was probably faster walking up that one than trying to run it, and I could give my calves a bit of a stretch. There was a subsequent downhill that looked like something even mountain goats should only try while roped together, so I walked that one as well - no point in making it through the bike unhurt only to crack my skull open on the run course.

Spotting Tank and flashing the ill advised racing gang sign

I got a cup of Infinit from the second aid station, trying to keep on top of the hydration and get a couple of calories into me. I'd left my watch with Tanker, but between a 20-ish minute swim and seeing 1:41:xx on my cycle computer (which says that bike course was actually 18.22km), I knew I'd had a maximum of 200cal during the first 2 hours of the race and was now into the third. I had another gel packet in my pocket, but didn't think I'd be able to get enough water into me without actually stopping at an aid station to stave of GI distress. Since my gut was feeling just spanky, I hoped to keep it that way! I popped my sunglasses up on top of my hat to get them out of my way - I didn't need them in the shade of the trees, and they seemed to be trapping heat against my face. That was the last thing I needed!

Chasing my own tail.

I continued to wind my way through the woods, eventually merging back onto the trail where I had entered. The death whistle was still in full effect, causing a young man in a race radio and Trail Ambassador jersey to ask if I was ok, and if my chest was feeling tight. I told him I was fine - I always sound like this. He looked a little flabbergasted, but off I ran anyway. Coming back out onto the open trail, I asked the the aid station volunteer for one cup each of Infinit and water. Whether she didn't understand or didn't have any Infinit is anyone's guess, because I was handed 2 cups of water. I nearly drowned trying to drink the first, but made sure I got some into me before dumping the other over my head, chest and back. This time (unlike 2011) I knew I had the whole run around the lake to do before reaching the finish, and it seemed to have got even hotter!

I made the little climbs to the giant downhill, and tried to pick up as much free speed as I could. I hadn't seen anyone ahead of me for some time, so for all I knew it was just me and the couple of people I'd passed out on course. I came hurtling down the decline to the quarry floor, then popped my sunglasses back on as the blowtorch sun tried to sear my eyeballs out of my head. Hard right turn as directed by some wonderfully encouraging volunteers, and I was into the final stretch!

Getting it done.

Close as I was to the finish, there was still work to do. I spotted a couple of people up ahead of me, one of whom was a lady alternating between walk and run. I figured I could try to pull her in, though I was still death whistling away like some sort of possessed steam engine. My legs were starting to get tired, and really I was just ready to be done with this whole business. I managed to get past the woman ahead of me and grabbed one last cup of water at the 7k aid station, just using it to wet my mouth and for some additional cooling. I also reeled in an awesome gent in the 65-69 age group whom I'd met out on the bike course (yeah, he passed me), leaving me with no-one left to chase.

I passed the 8km marker and made the final curve (with a slight uphill - gah!) to head for the chute, thinking that all in all I'd actually had a pretty good race. Sure, I still have super weak mountain biking skills, and I had to walk a total of maybe 100m on the run. Nonetheless, I'd had fun with it and really felt a sense of accomplishment - I'm glad I didn't let a stupid broken wrist keep me from coming back to face the challenge of off-road racing, despite it becoming the Canadian Cross Tri Championships and having a super stacked field of really fast people that would emphasize just how slow I was by comparison.

Coming in to the finish.

As I approached the chute, I could see the time clock displaying 2:59:30 as Tanker hollered and rang his cowbell for all he was worth. I kicked as hard as I could to cross the line before it hit the 3-hour mark, and gave a little leap for joy as I passed through the arch.

8.64km run: 53:58 @ 6:15/km
4/7 in W35-39

This is the closest thing I have to a finish photo so far.
Also explains why this wasn't published until Friday when I wrote it on Monday.

Done and dusted!

Official time: 2:59:46
7/7 in W35-39 - 33/34 Women (35 started) - 121/125 finishers (131 started)
(Official results here)

Happy even if I am slow as hell!

I don't even care that I had the slowest bike split overall. I don't care that I was solidly in last place up until passing the 4 people I did on the run course. I went back and conquered a challenge that had bested me in the past (despite a nasty smack in the face before the race even began), and nothing tastes as sweet as redemption. There were actually even more DNFs this year than previous years - 1 woman & 5 men - and Tanker said he saw a fair bit of blood and carnage hitting the medical tent. I was very happy not to need their services this year - we actually drove by the hospital that treated my broken wrist on our way home, giving them a friendly wave and passing right on by. A friend also put things into a perspective I hadn't really thought of when I gave a short summary of how the race went: I did start the race hurt from the bash in the face, then had to deal with a bit of a mechanical on the bike, but still hung in and kept on smiling.

The remains of my reminder to have fun out there.

I don't think this race has seen the last of me, either. While I may do the full again as a stand-alone at some point in the future, Tanker has decided that he's up for the challenge of the bike course so it looks like the Ill Advised Racing relay team may be tearing up Kelso Quarry in 2015!

No matter what happens in the future, though, I'll always have that one time my super sexy carbon hardtail and I went out and owned that course together.

Even if he did get a little fresh with me.

Yeah, that's right - even getting your ass completely handed to you can be fun!

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