Yup, this happened. Last weekend I raced my first IronMan 70.3, the Muskoka Half. I quietly began my training back in June, wasn’t totally convinced I could do it, definitely wasn’t sure I wanted to do it, but after my July and August became unexpectedly open, I knew with the motivation and support of my all star training team, this was the time. So after a few days of reflection, here it is, my Muskoka Half IronMan Race Recap!
Friday – 2 days before the race
Nancy and I arrived to Deer Hurst early in the afternoon. The bike transition area was already set up and a giant “Welcome Triathletes” sign greeted us at the main entrance to the hotel. After learning that we couldn’t check in until later that afternoon we decided to visit some of our favourite rolling hills on a short 30 minute bike ride.
This race would actually be the third time we’ve sweat on this course as twice this summer we came to Muskoka and trained the route. This I believe is a must because nothing anyone tells you will prepare you physically and mentally for the 94km bike loop. Knowing these hills in and out was what gave me piece of mind and helped me stay upright, unlike the many cyclists who I passed who couldn’t change gear fast enough, or didn’t have the legs to get them to the top of this “naturally challenging” course.
My legs were heavy. My hamstrings were twingey. My body was questioning why I was back here. I set my goal – to finish.
We checked in and grabbed our race kits, this was a very simple process, and we hit up the expo (I bought a water bottle, finisher shirt, and cycling jersey) just as the rain began to fall and a killer storm rolled in. Dinner time. We were thankful to be off the roads and eventually team “Rumblestino” was all present and we began chatting race excitement, nervousness, and strategy. The hard work (training) was done, this was the celebration.
Saturday – 1 day before the race
The next morning was relaxed as we headed out for our final shake out, a 20 minute run. Another trip to the expo, into town for lunch, and lounging around the hotel before a 5pm pasta dinner, early night of stretching, final clothing decisions, and for me, a great nights sleep. I was calm, relaxed, and ready for what race day would bring.
Sunday – Race Day
Sunday morning wasn’t a particularly early start as our swim wave didn’t go until 8:30am and we had until 8 to set up in the transition zone. We prepared our places, pumped our tires, were graffiti marked with our ages, and in our wetsuits headed to the start. After a few words from Coach Kim, we were walking down to the beach, this was it. I had my first moment a panic and tears filled my eyes, the thoughts of am I ready? Will I make it? Can I do this? What did I get myself into? All flashed across my mind and took my breath away, this was happening.
Nanc and I entered the swim ready in our matching pink swim caps. We were there with about 80 other women, 40+ of them in our age category. The water was surprisingly warm and following Nancy’s lead we took off using our 6 minutes to get in a few strokes, review the course, and talk about how sunny it was with another first timer. We found our place at the start line. I was surprised (and thankful) by how much room we had as we treaded water waiting for the gun – it shot – we were off. Following Nancy and Coach Kim’s advice I started my swim with 20 pulls head up, a great strategy to calm down, and find your groove. I continued to have plenty of room, so the head was in and the fun began. After not to long the typical triathlon swim scenario began where people bump and push and grab. This was all from one gal, who had PLENTY of room on her other side, but insisted on swimming right on top of me. So after a few seconds of this I stopped. Let her pass then moved to her left side, and enjoyed 39 minutes of uninterrupted space. Pretty much the entire swim I was alone. I had lost Nanc when this gal began knock ing me under, but our plan had been to meet in transition, so I wasn’t worried. I begin passing many pink caps, and then started passing some white, I was now swimming with the heat before mine and was excited to be doing so well. I routinely asked myself “Can you hold this pace for another 15 minutes?” A question I learned from my Runway run coach Darren Weldrick. My answer was yes, but I continued to focus on calm and controlled breathing. This was going to be a long day. Before I knew it the swim course was done. I approached the stairs and a gentleman grabbed my arm and pulled me out. As soon as he let go, I pulled my wet suit half off and lied on the ground for the “strippers” to help with the rest. I held on to my shorts and begged the gals helping “please don’t pull my shorts off, I have this fear of being naked here” – that was it – my only fear for this whole race was that when taking my wet suit off my cycling shorts would come of too. They didn’t. The ladies laughed. Up I was and on my way. I ran to the transition which was 800m away and of course up a hill. As I ran I began thinking of what was happening next, I looked up the hill I was to run carrying my wet suit, and racing in front of me – Nanc! I called her name, she turned around and paused for me to catch up, and I knew from that moment – I got this!
The bike course is the most challenging part of this race. Even if you are the worst swimmer out there, the swim is still easy compared to the bike. The bike course is 4km longer then the typical half IronMan course and has an elevation gain of 2,660 ft. From riding the full course twice during the summer I knew what I was in for, so bunkered down and got to work. I gave lots of attention to remaining relaxed, especially through my shoulders and left hand – I’m still wearing my brace from a fractured wrist this winter. I focused on my quad burn and tried at all cost to work my gears and avoid that training zone. I fuelled according to plan, finishing a bottle of sport drink by every 30km, gelling every 45 minutes and snacking on sport berries and pretzels in between. Nanc rode ahead of me and we pushed through until 60km. We hit the 60km mark and I started to get massive cramps through my side and stomach. I knew right away it was low sodium and began drinking my sport drink and eating more fuel at an even faster rate. The pain became so painful that I knew I couldn’t ride much longer. If I had to climb, I would fall. I could barely sit up straight, so remained in aero out of necessity. Nanc was about 3 riders ahead of me. I called out to her – nothing, again – nothing, I considered asking the cyclists who were now passing me to get her attention. If I stopped she would continue to ride and I would be alone. I gave one more call, she heard, turned, and we stopped. Nanc gave me one of her salt pills, I almost instantly felt a relief and we continued on. As we rode towards the 85km mark I continued to feel ill. Slowly those massive cramps came back and I began to question whether I would finish. I was thankful to have my sister there, but really thought is this it? Is this my race story? We got to the top of a short but very steep hill (two men ahead of us fell over) we rode to the top and Nanc stopped waiting and prompted me to continue on. I couldn’t. I stopped and fueled (my butt was very thankful for the break from my seat too). We had 15km left. The pain was back and I begin licking the salt off of all the pretzels I brought. Sucking them and spitting the pretzel part away. Nanc was direct “we’re got 15km left, you can do this, and I need to go to the washroom real bad – let’s go!” and we did. We racked out bikes and I took one more salt pill before we headed out into the run. Instantly I felt better; we headed out into the run.
Feeling almost instantly better we headed out for the final leg of our race. The afternoon heat and some rollers during this half marathon would add a challenge but I knew we had this. The run was hot, and 12km of it was on exposed highway. A frequent saying of ours became “spray me with your hose” or “Let’s see if you can hit us with the water” there were many cute kiddies supporting who were more than happy to splash us. We knew the course turn around point was in downtown Huntsville, what we didn’t realize was that it twisted and turned and eventually we would turn around. This was slightly irritating as it was hot, we were tired, and we just wanted to be heading back. Our race plan of 20:1s (run 20 minutes, walk 1 minute) turned to 18:3s, then “let’s walk up this hill”, “let’s run to that sign”, it wasn’t pretty but together we got it done. We did end up walking the final hill of the race heading back to Deerhurst, we were beyond tired, and so we decided to save some energy for the big finish looping through the crowds around the hotel parking lot and down the finisher chute. And there, after 7 hours and 20 minutes, together holding hands, my sister and I finished the race.
This race was hard and together we rocked it. I surpassed every time goal I had on course, but most importantly I had fun and we had fun.
- There is no way I could’ve done this race alone. This wacky idea was my sisters, and while I was unsure for the first 1.5 months of training, I would not have wanted to train and race alongside anyone else. I am thankful to have had her on course to calm my nerves and get me through the ride, and I was excited when she shared that I had helped her get to an IronMan best for her run time. To know that I gave her motivation after the strength she gave me on the ride is just the best.
- Big thanks to Kim and Ang for their coaching and friendship. My wild “gym mom” Kim is an amazing role model for active living at any age. She was the person who first got me into marathon training almost 8 years ago and her wild ideas continue to face me with fitness challenges I didn’t think were possible and she helps me surpass every one of them. Paris Marathon here we come!
- Thank you to Tribe, who in pursuit of their own run and multi sport goals inspire me to be a better athlete and a better coach.
- Thank you to Dr. Romana and the team at The Health Loft. This training puts a lot of strain on your body. I entered training with an injured hamstring, fractured wrist, and chronic hip pain. Through the three months, lots of other fun ouchies appeared. Her body work got me stretched out and race ready and then massaged out afterwards.
- Thank you to my darling husband who is patient and supportive with my wild fitness goals. He was understanding when I had 8 hour workouts (including one on his birthday), was tolerant when our eating became extra clean at the end (and pizza night was put on hold), and was encouraging when I was tired, it was late, and didn’t want to train – he reminded me why I did.
The most popular question asked post race was “Will I do another one?” The answer, YES! I loved training, I loved racing, and I can’t wait to do it again. Maybe at a flatter and shorter course, but definitely!