Wednesday, October 15, 2014

2014 Inaugural Barrelman Half Iron Race Report

It's now been over 3 weeks since the running of the Inaugural Niagara Falls Barrelman put on by John Salt and his crew at Multisport Canada.  This race had always been on my race schedule as a wishlist or "C" race.  Given it was 8 weeks post Ironman Lake Placid, I held off on registering until the Wednesday before the race as I wasn't sure I would be up to the challenge of a half iron.  I had ridden a couple times and had been ramping up my running in anticipation for the NYC Marathon.  I hadn't swam since IMLP except for 10 minutes in the Mayfair pool getting a feel for my stroke.  I figured I could go out and give it a go for fun (and because how many times do you get to race and inaugural event?).  Barry decided to join me in the fun and race the Bike/Run event.

This race is a point-to-point race starting in Welland and ending in Niagara Falls.  I knew most of the bike course from racing the Welland Half a couple of times   I also thought I was familiar with the swim but they threw me for a loop by switching directions of the swim.  The last 20k on the bike and the run would be new territory for me.

Given the logistics of the race we were given the option of racking our bikes the night before the race.  Since we were taking the shuttles to T1 race morning, we left Toronto around noon on the Saturday and headed to Welland.  It was quick and easy picking up the race kits and checking in.  We met up with friends, fellow club-mates and the cutest couple in triathlon, Kim and Hector.

This was our introduction to the winds that we were all hoping would settle down over the course of the next 18 hours.  It was so windy I actually saw a bike get blown off the rack in T1.  Luckily someone suggested racking my bike by the bars to make it more steady.  Luckily I have had a lot of practice leaving my bike over night but I'm sure the conditions were troubling others who were first timers.

Thanks to Kim's suggestion we decided to drive the bike course to Niagara Falls where we were staying for the night. It's always nice to get a bit of a feel for the roads.  There were lots of turn on the way to the Niagara Parkway but then we were blessed with smooth roads and awesome views for the last 8 km.  We made it to our little dive motel close to the finish line - the Niagara Parkway with just enough time to check-in and then head over to T2 for the pre-race briefing.

For only $79/night it really wasn't all that bad.  It wasn't quiet that is for sure but it was newly renovated, clean and came with a nice size fridge, microwave, coffee maker and toaster! Plus a bunch of our club-mates and a bunch of other triathletes were staying there so it was like a race motel.  The owners were very sweet and gave me a 5pm check out time for a few bucks extra.

We headed over to T2 in Knightsbridge park to check out the expo and attend the 5pm mandatory race briefing.  We had been warned by the folks who caught the 2pm showing that it was over an hour long!  After meeting up with some fellow Toronto Triathlon Club friends we headed to the pavilion and grabbed a seat.
Jana, Erin, Kim and Nicole

The GoPro Selfie with Hector and Barry

After the pre-race meeting we headed out for a nice pre-race meal at UrbanSpoons top pick for Italian in Niagara Falls.  There was hardly a wait for the table and the 8 of us were seated and fed in quick manner.  Afterwards we went for a bit of walk, hitting up a convenience store to pick up last minute supplies like my most coveted 5 hour energy drink for the morning and then headed back to the cozy motel for the night.

 Being a point-to-point race we were give 3 bags to assists us in transitions.  A black bag for us to have in T1 to place our wetsuit and goggles in, a red bag for our bike-run gear and a clear bag for our dry cloths.  We could leave our red bag either at the shuttle bus in Niagara or at the entrance to T1.  We were promised this bag would make it's way to out numbered bike rack in T2 and they did not disappoint.  The clear bag was left at T1 and transported along with our black bags to the finish line where we could pick them up post race.  The organization of this race was amazing and I didn't hear one complaint about the logistics and the gear transport!

Given the 9am start time we woke at a very reasonable 6am.  Went through our morning routines - coffee, bagel with PB.... and then decided to drive to the shuttle parking lot since it was raining (notice I have not focused on the weather until now?).  The weather forecast for the week leading up to race day was not great.  It was calling for rain, thunder showers and lots of wind,  As we left the motel in the rain I was second guessing my decision to do this race.

On our short drive to the parking lot/shuttle area we passed our dear friends walking in the rain.  We had the seats down in the back so they all just hopped in and we all made it to the shuttles with little worry.
Back of the party bus to the shuttle!
We arrived in Welland with more than enough time.  As we were all setting up in T1, the skys opened up and it began to pour.  I quickly finished up, grabbed my wetsuit and backpack and headed into the Community Center (so nice to have that available to us!).  We had indoor real toilets and a place to hang with out friends!

Around 8:30 we decided to venture out to the swim start and were pleasantly surprised that the rain had gone - since the forecast called for rain and thunder showers all day, I was not convinced it was gone for good.  Little did I know at the time how wrong I was.

It was great to run into so many TTC members as we made our way to the swim.  I think we had 17 members in total at the race that day.  I said my good byes to Barry and got myself into the water to get ready for the day.  And now, the race report begins.

The water was fresh but not too cold - I would say just about perfect for a long wet suit swim.  The clarity of the water was amazing.  Every other time I have swam this course it has been quite murky but on this day you could see everything perfectly.  Instead of swimming to the left and keeping the shore on your left shoulder, we swam in the opposite direction.  While there is a bit of a current in the canal it really isn't noticeable to me so this change of direction really meant nothing.

My wave started at 9:10 and I started at the front of the wave.  It was not a very big wave and I figured why not.  Well remember I haven't swam since IMLP .... the gun went off and off we went.  I settled into a nice stroke and felt pretty good.  However that didn't last long.  I think about 400 meters in my arms were really starting to feel the fatigue.  I didn't think the fatigue would come so soon but I knew that it was not going to be a fast and easy 2k swim.  I relaxed into the stroke and just focused on swimming and trying to draft.

I pulled myself out of the swim in 39:42, 14/32 in my age group - a very dismal swim indeed!  But again, what should I expect with little no training?

It's a bit of a run up to T1 and I thought I made quick time getting my wetsuit off and into the bag, shoes on, helmet on and then running to the exit.  My bike was about as far away from the bike out as possible and running in bike shoes on wet pavement is not fun.  My T1 time was 3:29.  Now it was time for some fun ....


The start of the bike was different from the past Welland halfs I've done because the city stated road work the week before and the only way to safely get us out on the course was to take us around the other way which would add and additional 2k (really 3) onto the bike.

I never thought I would have another race that I could compare to the fear I had during the first hour at IMLP.  But Barrelman definitely gave me a run for the money.  The first 25k was torture.  I felt like I was riding in a hurricane. The head winds were brutal but the cross winds were down right dangerous.  My bike was being blown across the road.  I was hanging on to the bike so tightly that my arms and shoulders were cramping.  But when I would convince myself to relax another cross wind would hit and I would tense up again.  The only think that got me through this first 25km was knowing once I made the turn, the headwinds would become tailwinds and we would have a fast race after that.

I was so happy to get to Lowbanks and make the turn onto Lakeshore Road.  The lake was beautiful and the tail wind was amazing.  I took advantage of it and flew along the waterfront and settled down and started to enjoy the ride.  We had to turn back into the headwinds a bit before we rejoined Feeder Road and headed back to the North West, through Welland and on to Niagara Falls.  Generally we had a great tail wind and the cross winds had settled down a bit.  The only photographer on the bike was right after the 60km aid station - notice the banana in my hand... it was sticking out of my mouth when I saw him!
TERRIBLE race photo
There were lots of little turns along that last 30 km stretch to Niagara Falls and the road quality was not the best.  Then you hit the Niagara Parkway - and the the pavement was nice a smooth - sadly we had a bit of a head wind through that spot which slowed it down a bit.

I pulled in T2, 92.74 km in 2:52:11.  Not the bike I know I can do on that course but a decent bike given the conditions and my lack of training.  Overall average according to Garmin was 32.2 kph. Not bad considering I averaged 27.5 kph over the first 25 kilometres.  I liked the ride and hope the next time it won't be so windy!


I came into T2 just ahead of my friend Kim but she made it out onto the run before I did.  I had to catch my bearings and get my socks on which I struggled with a bit.  I saw Kim making her way out of T2 and I got myself together thinking maybe we would run together a bit.  It was a pretty dismal T2 time of 2:49.


I knew I was in a pretty decent position in my age group coming off the bike and I was hopeful I would have my running legs with me on this day.  I came out of T2 and caught up to Kim.  We saw Hector coming in from his first loop looking strong and fast - He was definitely having a great day (he finished first in his age group, 6th overall).  Kim and I shared a few words and then I went on trying to find my turn-over and get my speed up.

Now just a few comments about this run course.  It is very beautiful but it is not flat!  In fact, there is one very steep climb (and given it's a two loop course you run it twice) but it is a very short climb that is really just the beginning to a longer, gentler climb that goes on for about 2 1/2 kilometers taking you to the top of the hill at the Fallsview Casino.  Then you have a pretty steep decent that takes you down to the Falls.  You run along the river back to Knightsbridge Park and do it all over again.

Now at this point in the day, the sun was high in the sky and there was no cloud cover (thanks meteorologist for your oh so accurate weather forecast).  It was pretty hot for a run but that didn't bother me.  In fact, nothing was really bothering me but as I had found with all my running since IMLP, I just couldn't get my legs to turn over and thus I just couldn't get to the speed I wanted.  I got passed by 3 woman in my age group so I knew that a top 3 finish was out of the picture.  I didn't give up and slow down, but I did make sure to slow down and check in with my friends and club mates on the course.

According to sportstats my pace wasn't too miserable - averaging 5:29/km finishing the run in 1:55:58.  However my Garmin is a different story - measuring the course short at 20.45 km with the dismal pace of 5:39.

So at the end of the day, with a total time of 5:33:34, I finished 6th out of 32 in my age group, 27th out of 188 woman and 107th overall (out of 488 I think).

John Salt and his crew at Multisport Canada put on a great race!  It was well organized from the beginning to the end.  I was disappointed there wasn't pizza at the finish - I do appreciated the attempt to provide a healthier alternative to post-race food - but seriously, I was thinking about pizza the entire run and then to be handed a dry ham sandwich was a bit disappointing.  Besides the post race food I have nothing to complain about.  My wetsuit bag and dry cloths bag were easily retrieved at T2 and there was a beer garden (beer is always good after a race)!

As always a HUGE thank you to all the volunteers who make these races happen.  Also a big shout out to the Toronto Triathlon Club - there were 17 of us racing plus 2 officiating for Triathlon Ontario!  So awesome to see everyone out on the course!  And a thanks to Eric D'Arcy who popped up on the run course at the right time to give me a little motivation!

Finally, will I race this race again - most definitely!  Sadly it will be 3 weeks post Ironman Muskoka next year so I can't commit for 2015 but if I've got anything left in me post Muskoka I will be there!

Next up to wrap up the 2014 season is the NYC Marathon.  It's been 4 years in the making but both Barry and I are registered, flights and hotel booked.  Now if only our bodies hold out so we can run it together in less than 3 weeks!