I can’t wait for you to read my Ironman 70.3 Muskoka race recap, but be forewarned… this is VERY long!
Last fall, I mentioned on a date with hubby that I would really like to try a long course triathlon for my 40th birthday. Some people buy a new car, move or renovate their house when they have their mid-life crisis, but not me – I decided that a 1/2 Ironman would be a good way to soften the pain of hitting middle age. My friend Jason pointed out that there was a 1/2 Ironman the weekend before my birthday in Muskoka… so I went and signed up the night before the first price increase (Ironman events are not cheap!). For my 40th birthday I was going to celebrate by training for and hopefully completing Ironman 70.3 Muskoka!
I began training shortly after registering with a training “plan” that I “created” myself based on what I felt like doing that particular week. Which means that every week I basically ran 4 times a week, then after a few months of that I switched out a run for two spinning classes, then threw in about one swimming session every other week. In other words I worked myself gradually into doing a few two-a-days. This half-a$$ed approach is probably not the best way to train for a 1/2 Ironman. I’d like to say I trained my butt off but in all honesty my butt got bigger during training from being so hungry all.the.time! After a good 6 + months of “training” race week finally arrived!
For some reason I got it stuck in my head that I needed to learn how to change a flat tire 3 days before the race. That then brought on 4 trips to the local bike shop to replace tires and tubes… I apparently suck at fixing a flat. After those four trips and several frantic texts to Emma, I miraculously managed to end up with two pumped up tires that could hold air by the time I had to leave for Muskoka.
DAY BEFORE THE RACE
I picked up the bestest race Sherpa ever, Juliette around 10:30 am the morning of race check-in. The race was a good 2.5+ hour drive away and we had a fun drive up where Juliette very patiently listened to all of my pre-race jitters and fretting. Finally we arrived at the resort (Deerhurst in Huntsville, ON) where the race was being held.
Juliette dropped me and my bike off at the transition area, then went and parked the van while I began the check in process. I was nervous and not really sure where I was supposed to go. All of the fences made it feel like a maze! I eventually found my way into the main building at Deerhurst and found my way to athlete check in. The volunteers at the check in were amazing, patient and thorough! They explained very carefully every step of the check in process to me and every waiver that I had to sign. It honestly felt really scary to sign my life away so many times. Perhaps my hubby was right? Is a 1/2 ironman WAY too dangerous for a mom of 3? I was about to find out.
I was given my race packet consisting of my race bib, and stickers for my bike and helmet along with my bike claim ticket in duplicate – 1 for me and 1 for Juliette to hold onto in case I was somehow physically unable to pick up my bike after the race… Yikes! They then put on my official “Triathlete” wrist band that gave me access to all of the restricted areas. I felt so privileged!
(It took me 2 weeks until I finally took the wrist band off).
After getting my stuff, Juliette and I perused the Ironman Village that consisted of the official Ironman store, several vendors, and Dornellas bike shop. Juliette and I enjoyed walking around and talking to the vendors, and shopping the Ironman store. I bought myself an Ironman license plate holder, a key chain and a headsweats visor:
I only take my visor off for work now 😀
It was then time to officially check my bike in to the rack for my age category.
Then Juliette and I walked down to the Lake to check out the swim exit and run up to the transition area so that I could “visualize” my race:
Afterwards we visited some of Juliette’s friends in Huntsville and Bracebridge, then checked into the “beautiful” Knight’s Inn in Bracebridge (a 30 min drive from the race) which reminded me so much of the motel that the family lives in on Schitts Creek that I wondered if it was actually filmed there. After checking in we then went out for a nice relaxing dinner where we shared Balsamic Feta Bruschetta as a starter, then I had chicken parmesan and pasta for dinner, followed by deep fried cheesecake for dessert (it’s no wonder why I gained weight during this training cycle as I can eat and eat and eat and never feel full!). After dinner we headed back to the hotel. I laid out my outfit to make sure I had everything packed in my transition bag that I would need for the race:
At 9:30 I turned out the lights and went to sleep – surprisingly I slept well and didn’t keep myself up with anxiety!
At 4:45 am our alarm went off to get up for our busy day. We met our friend Jason who was also doing the race in the hotel parking lot so that we could all head to the race together. Our first goal once we started driving was to get some breakfast at Tim Horton’s: two bagels for Jason and donuts for Juliette and I. (I also ate a banana and some Love Grown Oats that I had brought from home). Unfortunately the first Tim Horton’s we stopped at was all out of donuts (weird). We then drove into Huntsville to find another Tim Horton’s. Sadly that one was also almost out of donuts – they didn’t have any Boston Cream donuts left for me so I had to settle with a chocolate dipped instead. Boo.
Juliette dropped Jason and I off at the transition area, then she went to park the van. I was nervous and not thinking straight – should I put my sunscreen on before or after I get bodymarked? How should I lay out my transition area? What nutrition should I put into my bento box? My fuel belt etc… I did manage to eventually get my stuff set up and all of my extra gear place by the fence.
I then went to the bathroom because I had no idea when I would get to go again. After that I managed to find Jason so we could take a pre-race selfie:
Finally (unfortunately?) it was time to head to the swim start. Jason and I wore flip flops over to the swim exit, then took them off there and lined our flip flops along a fence. We then had to walk barefoot to the start which in hindsight would have been better if I had taken a second pair of flip flops with me from transition to leave at the exit, so that I could wear flip flops to the start too. I was nervous, scared and HOT in the wetsuit I borrowed from Emma. We then lined up with our waves on the shore until it was our turns to get into the water. Jason’s swim wave started 10 min before mine so I knew that I would be behind him the whole race.
It was then time to get into the water which where my race started to fall apart.
I’m one of the pink caps.
I panicked the minute the cool lake water filled the wetsuit because as the water filled the suit, it got tight on my chest. I was already nearly hyperventilating with fear, nervousness, anxiety etc. and the tight wetsuit only served to exacberate my fears. I worked to get my breathing under control feeling like the only nervous swimmer in the lake while everyone around me was chatting about their last 1/2 ironman etc.
The horn blew and we were off! Well sort of…. I took about 5 strokes and had to stop swimming because I couldn’t breathe. Every time I put my face in the water I panicked. UGH! I didn’t want to quit 45 seconds into the race and didn’t know what to do so I turned around to look back at the start instead of at the pack pulling away from me. That’s when I saw her – a lone swimmer doing the backstroke… brilliant!! I could swim without putting my face in! I tried a few strokes but every stroke dropped water onto my face which made me freak out. Hmmmmm, what am I going to do?!? Oh I know! Elementary backstroke! (I don’t even think they teach this stroke anymore). So I laid out on my back, zipped up my guts, whipped my arms around and did the whip kick and elementary backstroked it for 1600 meters! Every 5 minutes a new wave of swimmers swam overtop of me but I didn’t care – I was determined to slowly make my way to the swim exit ’cause I knew I could handle the rest of the race. Slow and steady I swam until I had 300 meters to go. I then realised that I was calm enough and could finally swim normally so I did the breast stroke as fas as I could to the swim exit. Doing the breast stroke in a wetsuit is not easy!
Finally I made it through the swim and to the wetsuit strippers… I felt like it was a miracle that I didn’t drown!
Here the wetsuit strippers are telling me to take off my watch so that it doesn’t rip the wetsuit when the strip me.
1…. 2…. 3…. pull!
And away I went!
I quickly found my flip flops and ran up the LONG hill to the transition area. My brain kind of blanked when I got there – where do I put the wetsuit? What do I need for the bike? Without any practice at this distance I wasn’t sure of what I would need from both a nutritional and gear standpoint. I took a moment when I got to my bike to put my watch back on, to congratulate myself for not drowning, and to pep talk and visualize myself through the bike. You can do this Janice!!!
I then put my shoes and helmet on, unracked my bike and took a deep breath – it was time to head out for the bike!
This was the first time I had ever ridden in a race with actual cycling shoes and being clipped in. I only bought cycling shoes about 2 months before the race and had only ridden with them a handful of times. I was nervous that I would make a fool out of myself trying to clip in. Thankfully both shoes clipped in to my pedals easily.
The bike starts off flat, then a bit of a dip downhill before the 16k of rolling hills begins. When I started out quite a few other cyclists were starting too so I wasn’t sure if drafting was going to be an issue. The crowd stayed tight together throughout most of those first 16k. As the faster people pulled ahead, other fast people caught up to me, and I caught up to people slower than me. The hills were KILLER! When folks say Muskoka is hilly and tough they aren’t kidding! To add insult to injury, the bike of IM Muskoka 70.3 is 94k instead of the standard 90k.
Every 20 min I took in 1/3 of my gatorade bottle. My plan was to drink a bottle every hour because I had no idea how else to manage my nutritional needs for such a long race. My biggest goal for the bike was to finish it so that I could get out and do the run – my strongest part of the race. My average pace during training was 24k/h but I was hoping to average better than that despite the fact that this distance was MUCH further than my longest training ride (60k). I did well for the first three hours, but after that EVERYTHING was sore. My hips, my back, my shoulders and oh man MY NECK! I was not used to being on a bike for that long. Towards the end I had to get off of my bike and walk up the last two big uphills because if I tried to keep pedalling my calves were going to cramp. I just wanted to get to the run!
That all said, the scenery of Muskoka is absolutely breathtaking. The views of the lakes, the rocks and the trees were STUNNING!
Eventually I made it through the bike and it was time to transition to the run!
When I got into transition I walked slowly to rack my bike. At this point I knew I could finish the race – I’ve run on heavy tired legs LOTS of times. I sat on the ground and stretched out everything, changed my shoes, inhaled one of my Honey Stinger wafers and had a big chug of water to rinse out all of the Gatorade (I drank four bottles on the bike). I then picked up my phone and sent a text to Juliette and to hubby at home to let them know I had finished the bike. At this point I couldn’t wait to see Juliette somewhere out on the run course – she is SO ENTHUSIASTIC and the best cheerleader ever. I knew that seeing her would help me finish.
The run started off very slowly. My legs felt like bricks and I couldn’t tell how fast I was going, nor did I have any idea on how I should be pacing myself to last through the hilliest half marathon of my life, done after the longest swim and ride of my life. My brain wasn’t into running and I had hard time mentally running for any length of time so I bargained with myself: If you run half a kilometer you can walk for a minute. Everyone else in the race seemed to be having the same bargain going on as there was lots of walking with sporadic running mixed in. I had my fuel belt with me with two small water flasks and a few packs of honey stinger chews. In hindsight I didn’t need the fuel belt at all because there were more than enough water stations, and the belt just added extra weight that I didn’t need to be carrying. About a mile into the run there was a porta-potty, so I made a quick pee stop. After the stop I felt much better and carried along with my walk/run combo.
Run, bargain, walk. Run, bargain, walk. At 6k Jason passed by me on his way back in from this out and back course. He made some comment about the run being tougher than it looks, and we wished each other luck. There was a fire truck spraying water to cool of the runners because not only was this HILLY it was also HOT. that said, I was surprised that I had already covered 6k. Time and distance was actually going by quite fast, not like the Scotiabank Marathon I ran last year where the last half felt like an eternity.
I eventually made it to the half way faster than I had expected. The crowds through downtown Muskoka were really supportive – they cheered on everyone and called out every runners name which was very nice and very welcome. At the halfway I began to feel some nausea. I mentioned that to another runner and they suggested I drink some coke and to try and belch out the gas. So I burped through the next few kilometers. Surprisingly this trick worked. For awhile my watch displayed a low memory message while at the same time the kilometer markers were missing, so I had no idea how far I had gone or how far I had left. About 3 kilometers later I figured out that I just needed to push a button on my watch to make the display change. Ooops!
Around 15k my “wheels” fell off. This is also where the run was along hwy 60 with very little crowd support. There was no shade and you could feel the heat radiating off of the pavement. Everyone was walking. I found a nice athlete to talk too. His story was similar to mine. It was his first half-ironman, he lived near me. he had a family that wasn’t at the race, and he had to hurry home so that the wife wouldn’t be too mad. I tried to encourage him to run all of the downhills so we could finish sooner. After a few kilokmeters I had to leave him and just do my own race. I hope he finished!
Finally I we turned onto Canal Road – the final stretch of the race! There was just 2 kilometers to go! Unfortunately these last two kilometers also had some good uphills that I just didn’t have the strength to run up. I walked up the hills and ran down the hills. I then saw Juliette and Jason as I was just about to enter the finishing shoot.
I picked up the pace and RAN in as hard as I could… I was DONE!
I was ecstatic and LOVED “breaking” the tape!
Afterwards Juliette and Jason met me at the end so we posed for a pic:
WE DID IT!!!
I don’t know if I’ll ever do another one again – the training was exhausting and the race was very challenging, but the other part of my brain says I need to train harder and race better some day….
Either way, I owe a big hug thank you to so many people who helped me along the way: Hubby for putting up with my training (and fatigue), Juliette and Becky for training with me, Jason for encouraging me to try this distance, Emma for lending me her wetsuit and answering my 1600 bike questions, you guys for encouraging me through all of my training, and to everyone else who had to deal with an over-tired, cranky Janice.