The Sylvan Lake 1/2 Iron did not turn out exactly as I had planned. For some reason I had it engrained in my mind that I was going to have the perfect race and my performance was going to be nothing short of amazing. I learned several things after the gruelling event: No matter how great shape I am in and how amazing I feel leading up to the race, I can still have an 'off' day and not perform to the best of my capabilities. Second, I can still pull off a decent swim after doing absolutely no open water swim training this year (aside from the Vancouver World's race - which is not really open water swim training). Living where we do, there is just really no open water readily available in this area to train in. Lastly, you can't really switch gears from an Olympic distance focus for the whole year to a Half Iron focus in the past 5 weeks and expect to pull off a fantastic result.
I felt like the lead up to this race was perfect and I was feeling very confident going in, based on how my training had gone and how I was feeling during my week taper. Geoff and I drove up Friday around 3:30pm (I worked the morning until noon) and attended the pre-race dinner and meeting at around 6pm. We relaxed in the hotel in Red Deer for the rest of the evening, and went to bed around 10:30ish. I had a decent sleep, only waking up several times. I felt calm and excited to race in the morning, not really too nervous at all.
The weather turned out to be fantastic and I couldn't have been happier about it. The forecasted high was 26C, and it was blue sky and sunny when we stepped outside of our hotel. Once at the race venue, I set up my transition and did all the usual preparation type stuff - body marking, get timing chip, run warm-up, porta potty, put on the wetsuit.
The water was a good temperature, not too chilly and not too warm either. I got off to a good start, with the exception of some tool swimming into my left side for about 10 seconds, until I gave him a good shove and luckily never saw him again. The rest of the swim was spent swimming side by side by some guy in a sleeveless wetsuit (no idea who), and pulling 2 others behind us for the duration of the 2km. I could have tucked in just behind the sleeveless guy but I prefer to swim my own swim race and set the pace on my own. Unfortunately I never really felt too great during the swim. My stroke felt choppy and my turnover too fast and my hip flexors became very tight and fatigued in the water for some reason. Nearing the swim exit, it was me, the sleeveless guy, and the 2 others just behind, and I ended up standing on some algae-covered rocks to the right of the exit, and promptly slipping and landing right on my left shin on these rocks. I scrambled up as fast as I can, realizing there was another female behind me and thinking to myself 'I am not going to lose the swim prime because I fell!'
I regained my composure and ran up into transition, picking up the $100 prime and a time of 27 something. My transition was fast and smooth, at least until I was running my bike out of the transition area. I lost my grip on my bike on the gravel and it went crashing down. Half of my aero sip drink (filled with Carbo pro) spilled out and onto the ground. I picked it up quickly and hopped on my bike, realizing shortly after that my left brake hood and lever were completely bent in toward my aero bars. Turns out it was okay and didn't affect the shifting! But now I am going to have to take it in to be fixed before riding it again.
The bike was super-tough. I couldn't push as hard as I had wanted to, and for some reason I had problems with both hips for most of the ride. They were really tight and sore, and threatened to cramp up on me at various points. The course was quite hilly, but the worst hills were contained in the last 25 kms, which turned out to be into a headwind. My 90km split was 2:39, but the ride continued on for 3 more kms until it was completed. Inaccurately advertised courses are frustrating to me, especially when it could have been completely exactly 90km (due to an out and back section). Oh well. Off the bike in 2:45, and 7th place. Not what I had planned, as I had a goal of a top 5 placing, and now my 2 best events were completed.
My second transition was quick and easy, too, and off I went. I felt not too bad, and tried to remain smooth and controlled. The run terrain is very varied, and after a few kms you have to run through a forest with roots sticking up everywhere. I was okay until about 8km then it seemed to fall apart. After about 6-7km, the route emerges onto a small highway, and it was all up and down on this stretch. My stomach began cramping very painfully after about 8km, and my pace slowed. At the 11km mark aid station, I began walking. On the return trip home, I walked up a lot of the hills and struggled along. This was one of my most painful runs ever, and it was definitely the hardest run course I have done (right up there with Invermere anyway). The stomach cramps continued until the end. I am not really sure why I felt so terrible and what exactly went wrong, as I was in great shape and thought I had a good taper. It was tough mentally for me as I had been convinced that I would run myself a PB for the half marathon.
Finally I crossed the finish line and was never so happy to be done a race, and for the first time ever, my legs were instantaneously sore. My run turned out to be 1:59, which was not so bad for how much walking I did during the second half. Overall time was 5:13, about 13 minutes shy of my goal of breaking 5 hours, and a best time by 13 minutes. I was passed by 3 women on the run, ending with 10th place female overall. If I had raced to my capabilities and done what I thought I could do (low 4:50's), I would have placed 5th or 6th. The womens field was very competitive and based on how terrible I felt and the fact I had an off day and how hard the course was, I am satisfied with that. I know I should not complain as this is a PB, but I did have very high expectations of myself for this race and wanted to break my PB by a lot more.
I plan to focus more on half ironman now and I am now determined to do well at this distance. It was nice to take a break from the long course for 2 years as it gave me a renewed passion for it. Next up is Lake Chapparall Olympic tri on Aug. 17, then possibly St. Albert sprint on Sept. 1, then who knows after that? Stay tuned...