That's why, when I was thinking of races to do this summer in preparation for Ironman Arizona, I decided that I should do Barrelman again. So very glad I did!
I admit, my race prep was decidedly lacking going into Barrelman. I had been insane with work in the week leading up to the race, so I really didn't give a whole lot of thought to the event until the day I had to leave. Thankfully I already had a room booked and 2 friends (Hector and Kim) to share it and the drive with - my friend Hector who was doing the Swim - Bike, while Kim was an expert Sherpa.
We got to Welland just in time to register and get to the race briefing - although we didn't have time to rack our bikes...which wasn't actually a bad thing given the weather was looking pretty iffy (we'd driven through some torrential rain on the way and it was incredibly windy still).
We saw tons of TTC friends - and managed to grab a picture with everyone who was at the race briefing.
After a stop for dinner, we headed to the hotel in Niagara Falls and got ou race bags sorted. Since Barrelman is a point-to-point race, you put your morning clothes in a bag which gets delivered to the finish line, pack your wetsuit into a bag in T1 (which also gets delivered to the end), and your T2 stuff in a bag which gets delivered to your bike right in T2. It was an incredibly easy and smooth process...and great practice for IMAZ where there are similar gear bags for each stage of the race, even though the transition area is in the same spot.
I have to love races that start late enough to grab a coffee and a bagel at Tim Hortons! After stopping for coffee, we headed to Welland. Getting out of the car, I realized what a beautiful day it was going to be. After the crazy weather of the day before - I couldn't have been happier.
I got my bike racked in transition and then went to get body marked (and bumped into my friend Nicole who surprised all my friends on Daily Mile by volunteering!). Also saw a few other Daily Milers throughout the day...Emma, Sam, Irina, Zindine....it was a party!
After getting all my stuff sorted, I managed to visit the washroom (a real one inside the Welland International Flatwater Centre) before heading down to the start to get my wetsuit on. Around this time I tried a new Maple Syrup/Ginger Gel from Endurance Tap which was absolutely delicious. That was my big score at the PwC Epic Tour the weekend before where I picked up a 6 pack to try out.
I got in the water with plenty of time to do a good warm-up - which was a nice change from half of the races I've done. I was in the first wave after the pros, so I was able to stake out my spot on the start line pretty easily.
My wave included all the men 35 and under, plus all the women 55 and under - or something close to that. That made for a lot of people. But I'd much rather be on the defence than the offense when it comes to swimming, so I lined up against the rightmost buoy line (it was a clockwise rectangle swim in the canal), right at the front of the wave.
What I didn't know at the time was that I was in the absolute perfect spot to see the guidewires (yes, the rowing centre had guidewires in the water, which meant that I didn't need to look up and sight much at all).
The wave started and it was pretty much a crazy washing machine - my most crazy swim start ever (beating out Barrelman last year). Here's a fantastic view from the race photographer (My Sports Shooter). And this is only 175 people. I kind of wonder what IMAZ would have been like with a 3,000 person mass start like I watched last year. But this year, they've moved to a rolling start...which, while less awesome to "see" will hopefully make for a bit less insanity in the water. You never know though!
For reference, I started far right toward the buoy...no idea which person I an though. I am probably one of the first few people on the farthest side since this was still right at the beginning.
I spent a good 100m in the middle of the race fighting with this girl who kept wanting me to get out of her way (I was swimming right over the guidewires)....but she wasn't quite fast enough to get ahead of me, so she kept trying to hit me instead (intentionally). I got a fist to my lip at one point, and then another one to my head which knocked my goggles off. Thankfully I didn't lose them, but I did have to stop (in the middle of a crowd) to put them back on.
But, as I said - I'd rather be on the defense, so despite being really, really annoyed by this girl's antics, I didn't let the incident bother me. I kept my line around the two far buoys and then got sandwiched again by a couple of guys (not at all intentionally) coming out of the turn to head back. Thankfully, I managed to get myself free and in front of them.
I had clear sailing for much of the race after that - which was nice.
Thinking about the race afterward, I have to say that one thing I was able to do really well during the swim was draft. I had people to swim near pretty for at least 3/4 of the race (oftentimes too near). Of course, I lost some of that time thanks to crazy girl, but it was still a good experience. Overall, I finished the swim a bit slower than last year, but still well within my goal time (between 35-38min). I was happy!
I had a pretty good T1...decided not to take a nap like I did last year (when my transition was 5min long). I still took my time to make sure I was organized, but overall, it was a lot quicker - 2:52.
A photographer actually caught me in T2, much to my surprise.
I left T1 riding along the recreational canal (you can just see the Welland International Flatwater Centre in the background) to the street. I might not be fast, but I looked it in my new Rudy Project helmet!
Out on the bike course, I realized that my technology jinx struck again because my watch wouldn't come out of swim mode, no matter how many times I pressed the mode and lap buttons. The thing was frozen...which meant all it would give me was total time. Seriously...I swear Garmin hates me. This is the second Barrelman in a row where I had watch-fail.
But, thanks to last year, I did have a backup plan. There were mile markers every 5k...and I knew 2min per km was 30km/h. So I was able to approximate my time at each of the mile markers to see if I was on track.
Opposite to last year, I got a light tailwind the first half of the course, which meant I averaged around 30km/h for the first hour or so. The second half of the course I got more of a headwind, but nothing like the craziness of last year. It's funny....afterwards I heard people complaining about the wind. Personally, it didn't bother me in the slightest. I just kept thinking how much nicer it was than last year!
I was able to eat and drink very well on the bike...even if my nose would run disgustingly every time I drank from my camelbak. Thank goodness for bike gloves - and finally being able to take my hands off my handlebars so I could wipe my nose without any problems. But still: yuck!
Got to the mid-way mark and saw a photographer.
Kilometres 65-80 were the worst for me - not because I was feeling bad, but because the roads seemed to be a lot crappier than they were last year. I know I slowed down in that section, but I did my best. Thankfully the last 10km or so was back along the Niagara Parkway, leading into Niagara Falls....perfect way to end a bike ride, since I got up my speed again.
Was very surprised to see my friend (and Limitless Coaching Coach) Eric D'Arcy with about 8km left to go. Eric had a bunch of his athletes racing so came out to spectate. I admit, seeing him gave me an added burst of energy!
I wasn't really sure what my bike time was when I pulled into transition, but I knew it was decently under my goal time of 3:15-3:18. Although the course was 3km shorter this year, so I wasn't sure how that would factor in. Turns out I was just a touch faster than my top end goal speed (28-28.5km/h) for the bike - with an average of 28.73 km/h. I was thrilled! That's almost 2.25km/h faster than I did last year!
Also - it makes me think that maybe, just maybe I'll be able to break 3 hours one of these days (or years) for a half ironman bike. What a crazy thought!
Bike time: 3:05:52 (10/21 AG - top half! Woohooo!)
T2 was set up very similarly to last year, with a ton of volunteers making it easy to find my bike. One fabulous woman chatted with me as I was switching into my run gear - and offered to pack up all my bike stuff in the bag for me. Thanks awesome volunteer! :)
All this meant I had a decent T2 - again, taking a couple of minutes off compared to last year (2:53).
The run is by far the best part of Barrelman. It's also why one of these years I want to do the Niagara Falls International Marathon or Half Marathon (not sure what the race distance is). It's just such a gorgeous city.
Just out of T2, I saw my friend Kim (saw a ton of people I knew over the course of the day - it was fantastic!). I managed to smile, although I was in the process of trying to beat my watch into submission with the hope I could get it to work for the run. Miraculously I did!
The route for the run was changed a bit this year...which seemed to both add more hills (which it didn't - but the course certainly felt hillier than last year)...and some stairs (a few going up and then an entire flight going down) which we had to do on both laps. I walked down the stairs both times because I have a propensity for tripping down stairs and didn't want to do that in a race.
Just like last year, I loved, loved, loved running by the falls. I was even very lucky that no cars were going by when I was running by the photographer - since he captured an incredible picture!
I actually felt pretty good on the run - better than last year - but I was actually a tad slower much to my surprise. Still had good pacing though. I was about 2min slower on the second lap, but that's mostly because I was a bit slower on the hills and the stairs I think - and I stopped a bit more at aid stations and made sure to test some coke (since I wanted to see how my stomach would react if I drank it at IMAZ).
Overall, this run was fantastic - and the aid station folks all the way along were amazing!
Run time: 1:58:44 (8/21 AG)
When I turned into the finisher's chute, I could see the clock and it read 5:47:xx - I was absolutely over the moon. Running toward the finish, I was practically flying I felt so good. All I had been hoping for was to break 6 hours, but I broke it by a ton. Even the 3km shorter bike course didn't account for all 26min I shaved off my time from last year.
Really big thanks to Multisport Canada for putting on such a fabulous race - and to the absolutely amazing crew of volunteers. You guys all went above and beyond my expectations. Thanks for a great day!
Also, as always, a big shout out to my Coach Mark Linseman. He's patience personified when it comes to my biking efforts - but it's thanks to him I'm getting better and better every single day when it comes to triathlon. You're awesome Coach!
Next stop? Ironman Arizona.