Last weekend I had the pleasure of spending a lovely girls weekend in the Muskokas before we all embarked on the adventure that was the Muskoka Short Course Triathlon. It was a great way to get a feel for the bike and run course for my next race in a less stressful setting, though they were only a fraction of the distance I will be racing next weekend at the 70.3 Ironman. This is how the experience went.
The day before:
We went for a leisurely swim near my friend’s cottage at the brink of dawn. Ok, it wasn’t that early, but in the chill air, it sure felt like it. I was also the only one that insisted on wearing a wetsuit; I’m still clinging on to my safety nets okay, nose plug included. While I squirmed my way into the water as my feet plopped through mushy bottom and plants brushed up against me, eww, totally gross, I had a flashback of last year at this time. Last time, when everyone else swam off into what seemed like an impossible distance away, my alternative plan was to swim to the next dock and back (maybe 25 meters away) and I struggled the entire way against the mild current. Fast forward to this chilly morning, I figured I could make it to some rocks in the distance, and I would be happy and content with that. Along the way, I took time to just enjoy being in the water and even take in what I could see at the bottom while Sarah (yup, you know it, tri related adventures don’t often happen without Sarah) tried to convince us to do backflips. That was a big NOPE for me, as I reminded her that last year at this time I was still struggling to even put my head in the water. She did though, somehow trick us into swimming around the little Island that we were adamant was too far and most definitely were not going to swim around. We were wrong, another win for Sarah, and we had no regrets!
What did I gain from this experience? Well, I gained some confidence in my swimming abilities, but most importantly, I learned to put aside my goals and fears and just enjoy swimming and exploring in the water. I wasn’t focussed on pushing myself or trying to get out as soon as possible. I was just taking my time while developing an appreciation for the water and enjoying the opportunity to be literally submerged in nature.
The Morning of:
We leave almost on time, nothing to worry about though. Then, we realize we do not have enough gas to make the 45-minute drive to the race location. Anxiety starts rising all around, because how many gas stations are open at 6 am? Well, long story short, we eventually got gas, we made it, albeit a tad bit later than we planned.
My wetsuit went on beautifully. I finally figured out my secret from last year and why it was so much easier to put on. Nope, I did not gain weight this year making the suit tighter, but rather, I bothered to put sunblock on before getting in the water (because that makes sense right? Not really, but I don’t have much time afterwards) and it turns out it works kind of like body glide I would assume, since I have never actually tried it.
Now, for the important part. The actual swim. In Muskoka, it is a water start, so everyone is already in the water before the horn blows. I have now concluded that this method is preferable over running in like a stampeding herd of Jumanji creatures, which is way more stressful, for obvious reasons. The horn blew, and I just chilled for a few seconds as everyone else started off, then, I took in a deep breath, dunked my head into the water and started swimming. As Geordie would say, “find your zen” and I did.
I just did my thing, slow and steady, all the way. I always made sure I could see swimmers to my left or right. I figured I must be going the right way unless we were all going the wrong way, and in that case, we have a whole other onslaught of problems. I just kept thinking to myself, just breath, keep stroking, and is that the finish up there? No? Oh, ok, keep going. Slow and steady. Were there people who started in later waves swimming past me? There sure were, but I was fine with that because, hey, look at me, I’m just swimming. Not panicking. Not counting clouds. Not hyperventilating while using the breast-stroke to move forward in vain. I even tried to see the bottom, which I couldn’t, but I was calm enough to contemplate exploring. Eventually, when the water exit was within view, I noticed that one of the swimmers to my right was none other than Sarah herself. A boost of confidence and excitement surges through me, did I just catch up to Sarah? Me? So I proceeded to give it whatever I had left and swum to the swim exit, achieving my spontaneous mini goal of beating Sarah out of the water.
Let’s just say, this has been the most successful open water swim experience I have ever had to date. I’m hoping I can carry this new sense of enjoyment of the water and my calm to the 1.9km swim I must conquer next weekend because although this swim was a pleasant experience, it was only 750m.
In preparation for this part of the race, I purchased a small fuel bag to attach to my bike. I put into it one GU energy gel, one package of energy gummies, and a nut & seed bar. I don’t usually consume a whole lot of food while riding, but I figured I could space these out over the course of the ride, only 30km, and likely not even need it all. I figured, maybe one GU to make sure I was ready for the run after. NOPE! I devoured everything in the first 5km in which I thought I was not going to make it. I was sincerely concerned that my legs were most definitely out of commission after the last hill. I was also really concerned that I had already packed the fuel bag to its max capacity…how am I ever going to survive 90km next time? Well, I’m still working on that issue, but back to the Short Course Race. Somehow, and I guess this is what Coach Adrian from the Iron North Triathlon club meant about how our legs get warmed up and settle in at some point. It took me just over 5km to get past that hump, and just settle into a rhythm where it was tough, but I felt confident I could just keep peddling.
The best part of the ride is when I got to go down “the hill” which was the death of me on the way up. I am almost a certain that this must also be “the hill” one of the organizers informed us we could potentially hit 70km an hour going down. Yes, you read that correctly. 70km an hour! They also warned us that we should make sure we “want” to go 70km an hour. All I can say is, I have no idea how fast I was going, but these were my thoughts.
Oh, I think I’m on a hill, I should put this nutbar away and focus on what I’m doing. Hmm, I’m going pretty fast, should I pedal hard and go even faster? Hmm. Maybe not, this is already pretty fast. Uhhh. Maybe I should ride the breaks a bit. Or…actually. This is a lot of fun. Ok, but also dangerous. Focus. But also, this is amazing. “WOOOHOOOOOOOO!!! “ as I shout out going down the hill. Oh, hey, that’s Sarah making her way up the hill of death. “HEEEEY SARAAAAH!!” In hopes, she will see how much fun it is to go down and inspire her to keep climbing. I have no idea if it worked, but maybe I gave her something else to think about for a few seconds that wasn’t the pain of that hill.
The run was not too bad. I trotted at a nice and easy pace, had another GU for some energy and convinced myself I would not walk up the forested hill of doom. Except, that hill just keeps going, and winding, and getting steeper. I definitely walked it. I told myself I would be stronger and make it all the way up during the second loop. I got a tiny bit further, and I still walked it. My second mini-victory of the day will have to wait until another time.
To finish the race, I sprinted the last 100m because I felt I could and I wanted to pass some people that had passed me shortly before. Not sure why I felt compelled to do so, but I still had some run left in me so I just went for it, and it felt great!
Moral of this experience? Just have fun. Find little moments to enjoy, be a little silly, remember that this was a choice and you had the privilege to make it. You don’t have to. You get to. So, take pleasure in the moments you can. Embrace the struggles, because that is when you get stronger. Most importantly, remember that it is ok to fail. It is good to fail. You will learn more from failing than you will from succeeding. I’m sure I read or heard that somewhere, but I believe it.
This was the calm, now into the storm I go. 70.3 Ironman Muskoka here I come.