It’s Monday morning and this post has been written, which means I survived Challenge Penticton and am alive to tell the tale! Grab yourself a delicious beverage and curl up in a comfy chair because it’s story time.
To prevent this post from turning into a thousand-page novel, I’ll start with Saturday morning, the day before the race. I was up dark and early at 4am, in the car and on my way to Penticton by shortly after 5. Why so early you ask? I needed to be at the race site to check in between 9am and noon, and having never driven to the Okanagan before, I figured the more time I could give myself, the better.
Some very loud music was needed in the car for a while as I gradually started to perk up, but once it became light outside and I had some food in me, the 4 hour drive seemed to fly by. Although rainy and smoky in patches, the scenery on the way to Penticton was gorgeous. In case you haven’t heard, there have been some crazy forest fires here in BC this summer and a lot of parts of the Okanagan smell like campfire. So while it was a bit hazy, there was plenty to look at.
I arrived in Penticton just before 10am, and I’m not sure how I managed to get so lucky, but the hotel room I was due to check into at 3pm actually happened to be ready. After unloading my car, I drove over to the race site to check in, pick up my race package, tattoos, swag bag, and sign a waiver. #safetyfirst.
Upon returning to my hotel, I had a task to do that required a lot more brain power than I anticipated: Packing race gear into 3 gear bags – one for street clothes (green), one for the swim/bike transition (red), and the third for the bike/run transition (blue).
The red and blue bags needed to be checked in on Saturday afternoon with my bike, so I spent a solid hour packing, thinking, checking the weather forecast, unpacking, re-packing….. it went on and on, and included several texts to two of my friends also competing to make sure I was doing it right. In my last triathlon we had access to all of our items right next to our spots on the bike racks during both transitions, but because of the scale of Challenge Penticton, obviously it would be chaos if the same were true.
My friend Mike and I headed over to bike and gear check in the afternoon, where we found out that if we needed to, we could access any of the three bags at any time while in transition, which was awesome. What was even more awesome is that the volunteers would:
- Help athletes get wetsuits off after the swim
- Grab our transition bags from the rows of bags laid out on the grass when we arrived for them
- Help us get into our gear in the change tents, re-pack our gear bags and look after getting them placed right near our bikes to be collected once we finished
- Take our bikes as soon as we crossed the dismount line in T2 and rack them, which meant we could get straight to the change tents
- And of course, among many other things, cheer us on!
We attended the mandatory athlete meeting at 2:30 that afternoon, then headed out to drive the bike course so that there would be no surprises on Sunday. With the exception of two significant climbs and a few rather crappy road surfaces, it didn’t seem too daunting.
That night I showered, ate dinner, and was fast asleep by 8pm.
My alarm went off at 4am yesterday and I woke up thinking “Oh noooooooooo. It’s HERE.” First on the agenda (although not appealing in the slightest ) was breakfast. I had my go-to triathlon breakfast, which is Love Grown Foods Power O’s (original) mixed with Love Grown Foods Mighty Flakes (cranberry almond) and topped with a sliced banana. I wasn’t hungry at all, but it was still delicious. I got dressed, checked to make sure everything I might need was in my green gear bag and put coconut oil on every body part that might chafe (especially under my heart rate monitor and behind my neck. This decision was absolute GOLD and also costs a lot less than Body Glide.)
Down at the race site, I parked and eventually met up with some of my triathlon buddies. I took a gel (coach’s orders) with some Vega pre-workout energizer, then sausaged myself into my wetsuit.
The Swim: 1.9km/1.18miles
Mike and I headed down to the beach and into the water to join a bunch of other athletes for a warm-up, something I’m SO glad we did because it really helped me to feel comfortable in the water when the gun went off. The full distance race went off first, followed about 15 minutes later by the pro athletes doing the half distance, then all the age groupers. I’d never done a mass start before (which means all participants, male and female, all age categories start at the same time) so it was super congested, but not as bad as I’d imagined.
Just as my coach suggested, I kept my kick pretty easy in the water until the last 200m, where it got more aggressive in order to stimulate blood flow to my legs in preparation for the bike. I came out of the water in just under 34 minutes, ran up onto the beach, through to the transition area, and straight over to one of the wetsuit strippers who helped me peel my wetsuit off.
The Bike: 90km/56 miles
It was really cloudy and spitting rain a little bit as I went through T1, so I decided to grab the rain jacket I’d packed in my bike gear bag to put on over my tri kit. For the most part, this was a good decision because not only did it rain a few times on the bike course, but it was super windy along the water. It kept me warm but didn’t cause me to overheat when the sun poked out from behind the clouds, so I’m glad I had it with me.
Driving the bike course the day before was 100% worthwhile because it helped me to plan out my nutrition protocol. Ideally, it’s best to take in fuel when the gut is under the least stress – as in, not in the middle of or just before a huge climb, but on a longer flat stretch or slight downhill. The heat wasn’t an issue at all so I don’t think I lost nearly as much fluid through sweat as I have done in training. Still though, I kept on the Vega gels and fluids regularly because I knew that my ability to have a good run would depend on it.
The hardest part was, as expected, the steep climb around 40km. There were about 2200ft of climbing to be done on this bike course, and according to my Polar V800, the steepest part gained 155ft over 0.8 miles. That might not seem that hard compared to some of the other Ironman/Challenge courses out there, but it was tough enough for me! I put my bike into the easiest gear possible, sat back in the saddle and kept my focus just a couple of feet ahead of my front wheel until I got to the top.
Of course, what goes up must also come down, and my favourite part of the whole bike segment was the descent into Okanagan Falls. I hadn’t really noticed it when we did our drive-through on Saturday, but cruising down the winding road and looking over the valley was absolutely stunning. I wish I could have taken photos of it for you to see but there were many miles between me and my phone that still needed to be covered!
Coming into T2, I was feeling really good. The last stretch of the bike course was fairly flat, perfect for getting a few more calories in. I finished the 90K in 3:48:57 and moved into the transition area while a volunteer racked my bike.
The Run: 21.1km/13.1 miles
Here’s where things got a little bit tough. In the change tent, another volunteer was helping me get ready for the run. I was putting on my shoes while she strapped my bib number and race belt around my waist, and shoved my gels into the back pockets of my top. In the bag with my gels were some Tums, which I’d packed just in case my gut started having issues. Although minor, I could definitely feel enough of an ache in my stomach for it to slow me down. It wasn’t until after I’d left transition that I realized I hadn’t asked the volunteer to pass me a couple of Tums, so I had to go on without them. No big deal though.
I took the first couple of miles fairly easy in order to try to get my heart rate under control. The run course was an out and back in two different directions, so we got to see lots of athletes on the run course a few times as we progressed along. Eventually by mile 5, my stomach pains were gone (thanks to lots of focus on breathing deeply and counting my strides – it’s boring, but a good distractor.)
My coach and I planned for my first 10 miles to be kept conservative, starting my heart rate in high zone 2 and progressing to zone 3, then hammering to the finish in the last 3.1 miles. The zone 2 part didn’t really happen (oops), but I stayed steady in Z3 with splits ranging between 8:00-8:30/mile until mile 10. I kept a gel in my hand for almost the entire run, taking little squirts of it along with water as I ran through the aid stations. By mile 10 I could really feel my quads getting sore, but I knew it was time to empty the tank so I gradually picked up speed.
Just as my coach planned, I negative-split the run, finishing in 1:48. (On a side note, if a 1:48 can be pulled off after having swam 1.9km and cycled 90k, I can’t help but wonder if I can crack my previous half marathon PR of 1:28 from last year!)
Crossing the finish line was an amazing experience. There were spectators everywhere, the energy was fantastic, and the volunteers treated everyone like pros. My final time was 6:10:52, putting me 7th out of 16 in my age category and 214/434 athletes overall.
Post-race, I grabbed my gear bag and headed over to wait in line for a massage. The staff in the massage tent were wonderful and pulled out blankets (not the foil kind – real ones!!) for athletes to cover up in while we waited. I sat there for about 15 minutes drinking Vega Recovery Accelerator and eating a chocolate mint protein bar, which tasted like an absolute dream.
It still hasn’t quite sunk in that my first half Ironman, the thing I’ve been training for over the past 8 months is done. Surprisingly, I feel really good muscles-wise, and the only thing that hurts is my quads. Today I’ll be driving home (but not before hitting up at least a few of the fruit stands on the way – the peaches are literally the size of my face!) and I can’t help but feel a huge sense of gratitude. I’m overwhelmed by the amount of support I’ve received from my friends, training buddies, family, my coach, co-workers, and from all of YOU!
Triathlon training and racing can be very much about the times, the splits, the stats, and the heart rate figure glaring back on the watch. But when I think back on the last 8 months, it’s not the long training sessions that stick out in my mind, or all the numbers I recorded every day in Training Peaks. It’s the encouragement and reassurance from people in my life that kept me going, and that’s exactly what was running through my mind as I chugged through the 70.3 miles yesterday. So thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!
Lastly, I’ve been asked by a couple of people what’s next on the list as far as triathlon goes. I’ll be taking a break from training for a little while, but after the amazing experience of Challenge Penticton, it’s very safe to say that I’m definitely not finished. Watch this space! ?