What a venue! I mean, the picturesque mountain views and the beautiful clear and sunny skies of Calgary is something everyone has to experience. The nights are wonderfully cold and the days can be unimaginably hot. This makes for an interesting race preparation considering I would be freezing in the morning after an ice-cold swim, but dying from the relentless heat of the sun by the run as the temperatures rose into the 30's.
I started my week with lots of course recon and even had the opportunity to speak in a pro-panel at the local bike shop. The race organizers had set-up an "Ask the Pros" seminar that I got to participate in, this time as the "Pro". I was sitting next to some pretty accomplished athletes and when considering the pedigree in the room I questioned why I was even allowed to be a pro. But – despite my naivety as a pro – I think was able to provide some good advice to a lot of the age-grouper questions.
I was also very surprised by some answers from the other pros. Some had great ideas that I had never thought of, and some had rather pessimistic philosophies on training and racing. My favourite bit of advice was from Jordan Rapp who answered one question: "What do you eat race morning?" I listened carefully on this one as well because I had never really tuned in on the perfect solution (still haven't) and wanted to know what one of the best in the business had to say. I still follow Jordan's recommendation today and it has given me the best results in terms of my stomach satisfaction on the run. He said that he "tries to get the most calories in the smallest package possible." This means eating the most calorie dense foods, like peanut butter, chocolate, and gels and avoiding heavy foods like bagels and toast. There is a perfect balance for everyone, but the difficulty is the number of times it takes to get it right. On top of that there are also so many other variables that can contribute to problems eating during ironman racing. But no matter what, I've stuck to the philosophy of most calories in smallest package possible for race morning.
Race day was pretty spectacular, the sun was blazing and the wind was favourable. Oh, it was also 5ºC, or 41ºF. I swear the lake was just as cold. What a great time to try my new sleeveless wetsuit. I shivered at the start line waiting for the cannon to send us off, and the BOOM! I sprinted to the water with the Pro men and dove into the icy water. My face was stinging and my feet were numb but I just swam as hard as I could. But it wasn't hard enough. I quickly lost the pack and was alone in the icy lake, discouraged by how quickly I had lost the group after such a great start in Tremblant. It could have been the cold making me delirious, but I swear I saw one guy pass me swimming back-stroke. With 100m to go I was caught by the lead females. At least now I'd have someone to bike with.
I can't think of a time when I was colder. I couldn't even feel my fingers to put on my shoes while I tried to stay balanced on my bike over the speed bumps (that's something I should practice in training). The pictures don't show it, but I was shivering beyond control for the first 30 kilometres. I was pedalling at my max effort just to try to stay warm. I can at least thank the super-fast ladies I was with for pushing me to work so hard. I also want to thank the photographers for taking such stunning photos on the course, these are the best race photos I have from any race.
By the end of the bike, the wind had picked up and was pushing us back home at crazy speeds. I think the last 45 km only took an hour. T2 was also a surprise, because it was 20 kilometres from T1. The volunteers were excellent in directing me, however, and I found my racking spot easily. It also helps being at the back of the pro pack because there's only one section of racking filled with bikes, and that must be where yours goes too. I through on my shoes and started running.
By this time the mercury must have read almost 30º and was rising. But I felt great and was so relieved to finally be warm. I can handle the heat pretty well and I tend to suffer when it's cold. I was running stride for stride with a fellow Canadian female pro who was an Olympian. It's moments like these that make me love every decision in life that led to this point. I was trying to give her race info on her competitors and when I last saw them. She was so determined and was running so smoothly. I thought if I could just run with her for the first 10k to see how I felt I might have a good chance at getting a best time. At 6k, however, the course throws you a massively steep hill that broke me. I didn't save enough to keep up with her to the top and my pace dropped and she was gone. Oh to be 30 pounds lighter. I kept going to the turn around refocused on my nutrition. I was starting to feel the mistakes I had made on the bike and was lacking calories. I walked the next aid stations to get in as much cola as my stomach would allow. The refreshing fizz added a hop to my step and each time I felt a little better. The hill on the way home was equally terrible, though this time I managed to keep a steady pace. From the top it was all down-hill to the finish. 5k to go, 4k, 3k... Each step was agony and my foot was starting to scream in pain. 2k. This felt like a sprint now and I was gasping in air at max capacity. Final kilometre. The cheering fans make this part way easier and I ran across the line in 4:23. Not what I had hoped for but I was not disappointed with my performance.
I had a few friends from Waterloo racing there with me in the age-group division. I managed to get a picture of Matt Harrop finishing his first ever 70.3. It was once again inspiring to watch him finish and hear about his race experience. It always brings me back to why I started in the first place, and how we're so lucky to be healthy and able to do things like this. Albeit a little crazy to think that this is fun for some people, we love challenging ourselves and the vehicle of triathlon has been one of the most rewarding paths I have taken. Matt has since completed Ironman 70.3 Muskoka several times and Ironman Muskoka (what a champion). He is also racing Ironman Tremblant this August and I will be sure to follow him.