On Sunday July 7, 2019 I “finished” by first crack at the half-ironman distance in Muskoka, but there’s a DNF twist based on a technicality. I’ll get to that by the end of this report. Not to be concerned, this isn’t a sulking review. I’m in good spirits, I indeed receive my Finishers Medal, t-shirt, and cap within the total time limit. And most importantly, look forward to the process of improving myself!
It was the first time in a triathlon where the idea of quitting did not cross my mind even for a split second.
I registered for this race almost a year ago. And my triathlon history is super short having only done 2 sprint distance events before. Needless, to say I was cool and calm up until the day before. I was absolutely terrified in the 24-hours just before the big day.
I arrived in Huntsville Saturday morning and stayed at the Tulip Inn, which is close to the start/finish line at the Canada Summit Centre. My pre-race carb-loading involved a delicious veggie primavera pizza from That Little Place by the Lights in downtown Huntsville, and then a veggie fettuccine bowl from East Side Marios. I did this race and the lead up to it on a whole food plant based lifestyle.
- Don’t quit
- Don’t drown on the swim
- Don’t crash on the bike
- Don’t have a mechanical bike issue
- Don’t faint on the run
- Have fun
This swim in Fairy Lake was gorgeous. I took a good 30 mins to put on and pull up my ROKA wetsuit. By putting this much attention into this, I had no chest or shoulder restrictions. The water was wonderful and warm with nice sandy bottom.
It was my best Open Water Swim (OWS) to date. No panic attack. No loss of breath. Kept calm whenever I got crawled over or kicked in the face. Continuous swim with no stopping. No reverting to backstroke. And completed under the 1 hour cap. Additionally, the volunteer wetsuit strippers yanking them off our bodies was a unique yet time efficient experience.
Now that I know I can be completely comfortable in OWS, I need to work on building and bringing in more power and speed to my stroke.
They call IM70.3 Muskoka the “Beauty and the Beast” for a good reason. It’s an insanely challenging course. With big climbs, and steep descents. Yet, it was such an enjoyable ride at the same time. 90K is my longest outdoor ride to date, with the previous being 50KM at the Tour de Gueph. I was honestly was surprised that I did not crash or fall over once and not one drop of blood was shed. My mounting and dismounting is improving too.
Based on my history ex. Milton, I was certain that there was a 90% chance I’d end up in a bloody mess at some point and pull out. Shockingly and fortunately, that did not happen.
I noticed that after around 25KM, my hands and arms got numb, and had to take breaks to feel the sensation again. So this needs to be figured out ASAP. I feasted on all of my Lara bars, cliF bars, gummy bears, did not like the waffle stingers though.
Just like the previous 2 Sprint Distance triathlons I’ve done, all I keep telling myself is to “just get to the run”. And that was no difference in Muskoka. I’ve been been so happy to see a “Bike Off” aka dismount sign before. my plan was to stay at a consistent power the entire-time. The run is when I passed a boat load of people. It was a particularly hilly course, no surprise, but I actually don’t mind running up hills since my Spartan races. I loved the finish chute with the finisher banner to hold over my head at the end.
THE TWIST “DNF”
This acronym stands for “Did Not Finish”. To me, it’s a rather vague term especially in the sport of triathlon, because it is used as a status on a handful of outcomes. It can occur if someone quits mid-race on their own terms ex. fatigue, a race-ending injury, an unfixable mechanical issue, not making the final cut-off time, or intermediate cut-off times.
I’m coming into the world of triathlon from running. And I’m used to events such as a marathon having a singular cut-off time of 8 hours for example.
In the standard 70.3 or Half-Triathlon distance, the final cut-off time is 8hours and 30 mins. With a swim of 1:10, Bike 5:30, and Run until the total time. However, it’s still not that simple. at Muskoka 70.3 there is also “intermediate Time of Day cut-offs” on the bike ex. 9:55AM at 23KM, 11AM at 45km, 12:06pm at 67KM, and 1:15pm at 90KM.
When I finished the entire course, I actually made overall cut-off time in 8hr 16mins. I did the swim in 58mins, bike is 4:49, and run in 2:15. And I also made all of the intermediate bike cut-offs.
A few hours later, when I checked SportStats, I was initially shocked and saddened to see “DNF” even though I made all those times.
Why? It’s because I didn’t realize that there is actually another cut-off. I failed to understand that the combined swim and bike must be completed “5 hours and 30 minutes after the final wave start.” I thought that this meant the bike alone had to be within this, but they actually mean BOTH the swim and the bike need to be completed in this time. My time for both the swim and bike was 5:55. This one aspect led to my DNF on Sportstats.
So call it as you wish. I may have not officially finished according to that bike/swim technicality, but I did absolutely indeed complete a Half-Ironman distance race within the total time. I bared as much pain and hills as all the other finishers that day.
Since I know that the bike and especially climbing such a hilly course like Muskoka is my weakest ability, I should not have used the restroom at the 3 aid stations. My initial thought was that I was going to cruise through the run and thus I needed to get comfy and use the sorta-potties before so I could run continuous without stopping. Once at the run, then that combined swim/bike cut-off would have been over. However, now knowing about this, I should have not stopped at all on the bike to hit that 5:30 time, then I would have had the entire rest of the run to use it.
Many will say that I took on way too much for a beginner triathlete too soon at this course difficulty. That’s probably true. I’ve only done TTF Sprint 2018 and Milton Sprint 2019. In hindsight I should have done at least one Olympics distance race before a Half.
I absolutely know my bike needs a lot more work and practice. I did this entire 70.3 on non-aero road bike, without clip-in shoes/pedals, with very little hill training. So, all of these will be addressed soon.
- Learn to use clip-in pedals
- Get a true bike fitting with Saddle pressure mapping
- Invest in an actual Triathlon bike
- I need a real triathlon watch
- More outdoor riding to get bike-handling skills
- Learn to take hands of bars and eat/drink while riding
- More Open Water Swimming and add speed
- Get stroke analysis and improvement
- Get triathlon coach
- Do more brick runs
At the end of the day, I had an absolutely amazing experience at Ironman 70.3 Muskoka. The town of Huntsville, ON is gorgeous, and the athletes could not have asked for better weather conditions. As someone who has never been physically active for the first 29 years of my life and being overweight at 185lbs down to 140lbs via nutrition, to learning how to run 2 years ago, and then picking up cycling and swimming just a year ago, to completing an Ironman 70.3 on the challenging course at Muskoka, I am pretty darn proud of that.
As you can imagine, I was initially filled with mixed emotions. I’m not mad or frustrated with anyone. I have accepted and embraced the result for what it is. For all the possible DNF outcome scenarios I mentioned above, mine was in a weird situation.
On one hand, it’s Ironman’s race, and it’s their rules, I misinterpreted it, that’s my bad. But on the other hand, I did not quit, I did not get pulled, I did not have a mechanical issue, and I actually finished the entire Muskoka 70.3 course within each activities times, and the total cut-off time. I completed the same course as the first place finisher. And I received my Finisher Medal at the end. I gained a whole world of experience, met inspiring athletes, day a beautiful day, and grow so much from this race.
It’s also fitting that Stranger Things season 3 was just released on Netflix. Perfect timing for post-race recovery binging. A line that hit the spot from the last episode was from Hopper “Make mistakes, learn from ’em. When life hurts you, because it will, remember the hurt. The hurt is good. It means you’re out of that cave.” Much like when I attempted my first marathon, I hit the wall hard and finished in 5:17. But on my second go, I hit my sub-4 hour goal in 3:55. I will to do the same with triathlon.
Thank you to all the super awesome volunteers, athletes, spectators, race organizers, and the town of Huntsville and Muskoka for welcoming us into your home. I look forward to racing in Muskoka in the future!
I’ll definitely continue participating in triathlons, do more 70.3s (probably look for flatter courses), and maybe, just maybe attempt the full Ironman distance one day.
Until then, the journey continues.