Friday, September 30, 2016

Drowning Our Sorrow

I had mentioned last week that I had a good excuse for not posting the Ontario Women's Tri race report until a full 13 days after the event. Well, here it is:

The day after the event was spent packing and worrying. Packing for a trip, and worrying about one of our little fuzzmonsters. At just over 14 years old, one of our two cats - a silly, fluffy little thing named Tough - had gone into a sharp decline since Friday. While she seemed to rally a bit on Sunday evening, it was really just a momentary blip. The poor little girl was hurting, and so we took her for her last ride on Monday morning.

Too tiny a kitty to bear so heavy a burden.
We'll always love you, Snert.

With deep sorrow and more than a few tears, we loaded the last of our gear and then set off east for Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park to immerse ourselves in wilderness - it truly is the best cure for a broken heart. Never having been to this particular park before, we looked forward to discovering what it had to offer by paddling the Serpentine Lake loop from the Anstruther Lake access.

Which only served to whet our appetite.

With 9 backcountry access points in wide-spread locations, there is no way to set up a park gate or office - you have to print your backcountry camping permits online before you leave, which I'd dutifully done, as well as procuring maps. The only thing I wasn't sure about was the way from Anderson Lake down to Copper Lake, where it appeared marshy on the map.

We planned to do the outer loop.

Having called the Bancroft District Office on the way to the park, we discovered that the Anderson route was, in fact, impassable - something I'd feared would be the case, given the horrible drought Ontario has experienced this summer. Fortunately, though, there were no other causes for concern - this also substituted a 200m portage for a 440m one, which is never a bad thing.

We loaded our boat and set off up Anstruther Lake, portaging onto Rathbun Lake to spend our first night at site #202. The beauty of the park was breathtaking, and the loonsong that surrounded us that evening was balm to our damaged souls.

Sunset and solitude

The simplicity of our lives for the next few days was just what we needed: make food, pack up camp, paddle, portage, set up camp, make food, make fire, sleep and repeat. There was mist on the water almost every morning, and a fat, bright moon above almost every night. We had clouds and a bit of rain the second night, but the sun would re-emerge to give us bluebird skies for paddling every day.

Morning mist

Shelter, food and fire

Blue skies and green marsh grasses

Tanker paddling with a load of firewood

Serenity on Serpentine Lake

Waxing moon reflected on the water

We spent 4 full nights without ever seeing a light other than our own fire and the occasional passing aircraft. We saw a coyote, had a moose nearly wander into our campsite, watched a young raccoon try to splash and wallow its way through a bit of marsh, had the plastic toggle stolen from our tent bag by an over-enthusiastic chipmunk attempting to store acorns for the winter, and watched the occasional beaver swim past our campsites.

Beaver ripples in the water

We ate lunch below this waterfall, on one of our last portages

Our longest portage - 1,415m or about 0.88mi

A fire and our beloved canoe on a chilly morning on Copper Lake

Blue hour stillness and silence

Tanker successfully tried portaging the canoe for the first time, and even caught a few fish along the way (though he released them all). The frogs were totally in charge of the park, though - you couldn't go anywhere without encountering them. We greatly enjoyed our visit to their home, though - the Serpentine loop made for a wonderfully relaxing trip, with short days of paddling and portages that were well-marked and easily navigable even by clumsy old me with both our food barrel on my back and our canoe on my head.

Golden hour froggy

Canoehead Tanker!

His first Ontario catch!

I can't think of a better way to spend the typical Monday to Friday workweek.

Happy to share this beauty with my best friend.

After 5 days of sun, wind and water, we emerged from Kawartha Highlands with lighter spirits and a burning desire to explore more of the routes through the park. For now, though, it was time to indulge in some of the creature comforts we'd left behind while we moved our whole lives from place to place in a 16 foot boat, and to check out another new-to-us park: Silent Lake. We drove the 25mins up Hwy 28 to its gates, checked in, and were immediately welcomed by one of its residents.

O hai

Having watched the forecast carefully in the weeks and days leading up to our visit, we were prepared for a deluge of rain on Saturday. We set up our camp with that in mind, pitching two tarps to keep a dry living area that would keep things from being miserable in camp.

We even had room under the near side to relax in our big, comfy camp chairs.

With everything all snugged down, we did a quick hike on the Lakeside Trail from the canoe launch to the scenic lookout over Silent Lake itself and caught the sun's dying rays before it sank below the treeline on the opposite side.

Worth hiking in flip flops.

Such a pretty lake.

We each had a shower to get rid of the funk of days of sweaty paddling and portaging, then lit the fire and cooked dinner and breakfast the next morning on it.

I love my cast iron Dutch oven.

We'd just finished cooking our morning meal when the rain started, around 10am. After doing the dishes and cleaning up our campsite, we donned our rain jackets and went out to explore the Lakehead Loop Trail and Bonnie's Pond Trail.

Who lets rain get in the way of a nice hike?
Silent Creek on the Lakehead Loop

A stream crossing on Bonnie's Pond Trail

Mist in the trees at one end of Bonnie's Pond

By the time we returned, the rain had picked up a fair bit, coming down in a torrent as the sun began to fall from the sky. We hung out at the picnic table under one of our tarps, occasionally trotting out to throw more wood on the fire - we kept it burning from Friday evening right through Sunday morning!

The corners of the tarps were running like faucets

You've just got to keep your sense of humour!

Finally, after 12 hours and around 40mm / 1.5" of rain, the torrent abated around 10pm and we were able to sit by our fire and make s'mores. Our siliconized nylon tarp and tent fly had wet through a bit, permitting some drips here and there, but we were snug and safe in our tent all night. The sun even came out the next morning to help dry things out, catching the smoke from everyone's campfires drifting through the woods.

Surreal morning view.
We departed Silent Lake around 2pm Sunday afternoon with designs to come back - there's a fun-looking mountain bike trail, and some of the hiking trails are designated for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in winter that we'd love to experience. For a small park, this is one that is jam-packed with interesting features, as well as being one of the best maintained parks we've ever visited.

I won't lie - it was hard coming home without our little Tough kitten to greet us, but at least we carried the memories of a wonderful week of exploration and the beauty of the Kawartha Lakes region to ease our pain.

We'll be back - you can count on it.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Ontario Women's Triathlon - Saturday, September 10th, 2016

Yes, it's been almost two weeks since the race. You're getting a report anyway. I promise I had a good reason for not writing it last week, but that's a story for another day.

Maybe it's something about the venue, or that particular weekend. I can only be certain of one thing: it has pissed rain 100% of the times I have tried to race at Georgina out of De La Salle Park. At least this year it was much warmer - 19c/66f instead of 10c/50f.

I was up absurdly early despite the very reasonable race start time of 10am, because I had to get my breakfast (rice porridge with almond butter and honey) ready and then drive an hour and forty-five minutes through the rain to get up to Jackson's Point. Ok, well Tanker the Wonder Sherpa actually drove - I merely kept pointing out how ridiculous it was to drive three and a half hours round-trip for a race I expected to complete in under 80mins.

My other skills include taking terrible photos from a moving car.

I'd taken my time trial bike out for a single ride in 2016, the Thursday before the race - less than 5km of spinning up and down through both rings and all cogs around my neighborhood, just to confirm that everything was good to go after it sat in my livingroom untouched for almost an entire year. My trusty steed performed flawlessly despite being completely neglected since racing at Georgina last September.

Seen here just after bike check in, being led by an overladen idiot.

We arrived at the race site after a Tim Hortons stop and sucking back my well-it's-better-than-nothing coffee in plenty of time for me to pick up my kit and get my transition area set up. After a lovely chat with honorary Race Director Paolina Allen (an awesome lady and thoroughly badass athlete), I meandered to my designated rack with little hope of getting a good spot, but lucked out when the person who'd racked at the end closest to the swim in/run out decided to move their stuff. Score!

Noone is amused by my dorky antics.
I don't blame them.

Bike racked. Shoes and hat laid out. Sport drink poured into nerdy aero bike bottle. Spermy helmet arranged with straps out on aerobars, with sunglasses (bows already open) inside, and race number attached to belt laid on top with clip undone. I even clicked my rear derailleur up to a slightly bigger cog and spun the pedals so the left-hand one was at around the 10 o'clock position, for that extra little edge when mounting. With less than 450km of total cycling in for the year I needed every bit of free speed I could get - I still had no idea why I'd actually bothered tapering for this race, except that it was my only multisport event of 2016 and I don't have anything else on the calendar until the end of October.


Nonetheless, it all just felt so dorky. I missed the simplicity of just throwing on a pair of shoes and having done with it. Gawd, I even needed Tanker the Wonder Sherpa to zip up the back of my spandex onesie (because let's face it: that's what a tri suit really is) after one last stop at the portajohns to lube up all sorts of unmentionable bits of me and try to get the last of the horror out of me.

I may have neglected to mention that I felt like absolute garbage. It had started Friday night and continued all the way up to Georgina that morning - I don't know if I angried up one of my stupid food allergies, if I'd ended up with food poisoning, or if I was just lucky enough to come down with a stomach bug, but I was having horrible cramping and some other really unpleasant effects. I really hoped this wouldn't be a repeat of my awful experience at Muskoka Long Course back in 2010, because I don't think I'm capable of coming up with that many euphemisms for "trying not to crap myself" again. I mourn the loss of that race report, but never, EVER want to repeat its overarching theme.

Think happy thoughts.

After my usual run warmup, I whipped out my stool to stuff myself into my rubbery sausage casing (seriously, the dorkiness just never ends) while the pre-race announcements went on, and then wandered down to the beach to get the suit (also untouched since September of last year) wet and take a few strokes.

Error: enthusiasm not found.

I swam out to the orange buoy you can see on the left, discovered I could just barely reach the bottom there on tiptoe and keep my face above water as I re-adjusted my wetsuit, then swam back with just a couple of minutes before the first wave started at 10am. Three minutes later, the horn sounded and everyone around me started madly dashing into the knee-deep water while I moseyed in like I had nowhere in particular to be.

These ladies are so excitable..

I dolphin dived a lot - 4 or 5 times - then swam for about 20 metres or less. Reaching the sandbar, my hands were touching bottom even with high elbows, so I stood up and started dolphin diving again. I passed quite a few people this way, then dove in again between two pairs of feet and started working my way to the first turn buoy. Fortunately my stomach seemed to have settled down a bit, so I could actually focus on my terrible swimming.

One of these things is not like the others.

Surprisingly enough, I actually had one of the best swims I've pulled off in the last couple of years. My sighting - despite wearing smoked, metallized goggles in the dreary half light - went perfectly, and for once I actually swam in a straight bloody line. There was a bit of crowding up to the first turn buoy, but no real contact, and I found some clear water as I made my turn. I even had some decent endurance, swimming a consistent freestyle throughout despite not having swum a straight 500m that I can recall in the entirety of 2016. I passed people as they started to lose steam ahead of me, and my Garmin says I completed the 500m course in 9:50, so under 2mins per 100m. That qualifies as pretty good for me.

500m swim: 11:22 @ 2:16/100m (includes long run-up to T1)
11/30 in W35-39 - 40/184 O/A

A good swim, but I still didn't enjoy it. One of the things I realised all the way back in April is that I don't particularly like triathlon swims. There's only been one in my entire 8 seasons as a multisport athlete that I actually found pleasant, and that was at least 5 years ago. They're generally just something to get through, and this was no exception - a stark contrast to the opening miles of a trail race or ultra, which are generally an energetic and deliriously happy exploration of some beautiful bit of trail.

Does this look like someone happy with their choices in life?

In any case, it was over and now it was time to tackle the absurdly long run up to transition. It was kind of neat because we went through a pedestrian tunnel under the road, but kind of sucked because there was a lot of gravel under my bare feet, a hill to climb on the other side of the tunnel, and then we had to run right around the whole damn transition area to the corner diametrically opposite our approach in order to come in through the run out arch.

Plenty of time to pull off my goggles, cap and suit once I got to the other side.

Discarding all of my swim paraphernalia, donning my race number belt, sunglasses (just as the rain got harder), cycling shoes, and dorky helmet, I grabbed my bike and started heading for the mount line. I even managed to push the button on my Garmin to tell it I was heading out on the bike now (it was the first time I'd ever used multisport mode), and start my cycle computer. Jeez, it's like I finally figured all this crap out just in time for possibly my last tri ever!

T1: 01:27

I had no problems clipping in my left foot after swinging my leg over the bike, but as I stepped on the pedal to get going (and said "excuse me, sir" to a fellow who walked across the course directly in front of me as I did so), something went crunch. I struggled to get moving and to clip in my right foot, standing on the pedals for leverage. What the hell?

Waving to Tanker and Paolina, who were sweetly cheering for me as I set off!

Within moments it became clear that my rear derailleur was in trouble, and the shifter wouldn't stay in place - the moment I released it, it would drop into the smallest (most difficult) cog. Erhm, ok - I had something similar happen in the first few minutes at Lakeside a couple of years ago, but it resolved itself. I dropped into the small chainring up front and did some experimenting with the rear bar end shifter, but it obstinately refused to stay in place unless I held it.

So, I rode in the sub-optimal combination of small chainring and smallest cog for most of the way along Lake Drive, passing a heap of people as I went - to their credit, though, I was on my awesome aerodynamic time trial bike with aerohelmet and all, and passing lots of hybrid and mountain bikes. I had to give my undertrained legs a break a few times when the mostly-flat course rose slightly and definitely had a few pucker moments as the rear wheel would bounce around a bit on the very wet road after I hit a bump, but I managed to stay down in aero and keep cranking away at a respectable pace. A few ladies did pass me (most of whom did not bother to give any indication they intended to do so, which was worrisome as I was dodging slick manhole covers and potholes), but they mostly looked like pretty serious athletes. I was just happy to be rolling along fairly smoothly with my lack of training and cantankerous rear derailleur, sipping sport drink from my aerobottle - the only nutrition or hydration I'd take in through this short course race.

Don't mind me - just passing through.

The turn onto Metro Road to head back toward the race site around 8km in brought smoother pavement, but also a false-flat uphill into the wind (which was thankfully much lighter than last year). I spent a lot of time holding my shifter up in an easier cog, but when I'd hit a bump I'd have no idea what gear I'd be in when I landed. My shoulders and upper arms whined about being in aero for only the second time in the last 12 months, and my legs whinged about their lack of cycling fitness. The weather continued to cry for me, but I managed to arrive back at the dismount upright and with enough panache to do my old moving dismount.

Swing the leg over and try not to fall on your face.

15km bike: 31:36 @ 28.48kph
8/30 in W35-39 - 39/184 O/A

Of course, my bike almost immediately tried to fall over as I began to run, but I just barely managed to save it from going down and taking me with it. Off to transition again, while yelling to Tanker that my rear derailleur was distinctly uncooperative throughout my ride.


I did, however, remember to take my helmet off as I passed through transition, so all was not completely lost. I was also pretty stoked to see there was only one other bike at my rack when I arrived - it seems I'd put in a decent showing after all! A quick shoe change, ditch the sunglasses, get moving while I throw my hat on my head, and out the arch to finish this thing off with the one part for which I should be reasonably qualified.

T2: 01:05

Of course, run fitness in a triathlon is partly an effect of bike fitness, which I was sorely lacking. I started to death whistle almost immediately in the soggy air, and never really stopped. I kept pushing, though, and passed quite a few more people along the way. The rain picked up again as I ran the very mild uphill to the turn-around, and I had to keep fussing with my race number belt as I trotted along - it seems at some point in the last year the elastic had begun to lose its snappiness, so it sagged quite alarmingly with all the bouncing of my stride.

Even my fat butt wasn't quite enough to keep it up!

Nevertheless, I managed to surprise myself by running faster than I have in at least two years - just a few seconds slower than my stand-alone 5k PR pace, despite tired legs from the bike and overall lack of multisport fitness. I had expected to chug along like the diesel I am after all the long, slow ultra racing I'd done this year, but in far less time than I had anticipated I was making the turn off of scenic Lake Drive into the chute to the finish!

Gotta get the ill advised racing gang sign in there, of course.

4km run: 21:08 @ 5:17/km
7/30 in W35-39 - 30/184 O/A

I got my greatly unexpected finisher's medal (not accustomed to those in multisport events this short!) from Paolina, and reflected that the whole thing had actually been a fairly fun time after all. Ooh, and my belly behaved itself, too!


Official time: 1:06:37
7/30 in W35-39 - 30/184 O/A

(Garmin data here)

While I did enjoy the race overall, and had more fun than expected doing my first women-only event, I do believe this might be the end of multisport racing for me. I have some serious goals for 2017 that are all in the ultrarunning realm, which may preclude any involvement in tri next year. It has nothing to do with the Ontario Women's Triathlon, which is a truly excellent race experience - Paolina Allen and MultiSport Canada put on a very high quality event that is accessible and welcoming to the newcomer while still holding the allure of a flat, fast course for more experienced athletes to go chasing PRs. The bike routing along Lake Drive gives beautiful views of Lake Simcoe - better scenery than the average tri, but still just not quite as alluring to me as a wandering singletrack trail through a forest..

Anyone want to buy a used wetsuit?