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Race report: Musselman Aquabike

GENEVA -- After I came out of Saturday's pre-race meeting my mother asked me a question.

"You're not doing a half Ironman tomorrow are you?"

Trademark infringement aside, I told her I was doing what's called the '"Aquabike" where I will do the same swim and bike course just not the run.

"But you're not doing a half Ironman, right?"

Yes, at times the sport can get confusing. In fact, after the race, there were a few other Aquabikers in my transition area and we chatted and congratulated each other.

"Did you find that when you tell people what you're doing they say, 'What?'," one woman asked.

Indeed. But we discovered that we both were using the event for the same reason -- as training for a September half Ironman.

And while there is work to do in the next two months, I'm in a better position than I thought.

My first worry: The swim.

In sprint and intermediate distance races there are no cutoff times but in half Iron and Iron distance races you have a certain amount of time to finish each leg of the triathlon. I noticed that most half Iron (70.3) distance races tend to have the swim cutoff time calculated from the time of the last wave start. In other words, if you're in the first or second group of people to start the swim you get extra time to finish. Not exactly fair but better than a mass start.

The cutoff for Muskoka is an hour and 10 minutes after the final wave goes off. So my goal was to swim the 1.2 miles in under an hour.

I was in the third swim wave, which began at 7:08. The cutoff for Musselman was 8:40. That offered me relief from the start. I knew I could make the cutoff.

That doesn't mean there weren't nerves bouncing around before the start. Chatting with some of the other women in my wave came the discovery that no matter how good a swimmer you are, or how good a triathlete you are, there are nerves before the start. If not, we decided, then something's a bit off. 

Another women commented on the big orange buoys which mark the swim course and how the mere sight of them raises her heart rate.

"I came here to watch my boyfriend do the mini-Mussel yesterday," she said. "I wasn't even racing and I saw the buoys and my heart rate jumped. If you had big orange buoys at an amusement park you could pick out all the triathletes -- they're the ones who would have a look of terror on their face."

Humor. It's the best way to start a race. I'm convinced.

We waded in a few feet of water and when the horn went off others took off swimming. I was one of the ones who walked a bit. It helped keep me calm. Then, deep breath, put my head down and .... just ... start ... swimming.

On the move between the first and second buoy I spotted a kayak coming over to me. I stopped.

"You need to go that way," she said.

I had been drifting to my left and apparently sighting the wrong buoy. But I wasn't that far off course. And, frankly, that made me laugh a bit, too. Head back down. Keep swimming.

At the second buoy the course turned to the left to cross the lake and head over the channel that would take us through to the boat launch and the end of the swim course. At this buoy I noticed a lot of people with their heads up. I then saw people waving their arms and yelling "help" trying to get the attention of a canoe or jet ski. A woman was floating on her back and others were helping her stay up. She was in trouble.

I stopped for a moment to lend my voice to the "help" chorus. A kayak started paddling over to offer assistance and I continued swimming.

The lake had a steady stream of rolling current. Not quite waves but not flat either. I played with the current and the waves. I counted to five and would look up to sight. Sometimes I varied my count -- three, nine, 10. Other times I found myself singing the Our Lady Peace tune "All You Did Was Save My Life." It wasn't apropos of anything but it was good tune. And frankly, it's still stuck in my head.

A few times I got clobbered by swimmers in other waves. I just kept going. Only once did I really need to stop, when some guy came up behind me and used both his hands to push my feet down. Um, what the heck was that?

For for the first time on the swim I experienced anger.

But at this point, I was on the final 750 meters -- the same part of the course I swam the day before.

I knew I was going to do it. And I still saw enough people in the water to know I was in no danger of missing the cutoff.

I kicked up my swim in the final 100 meters, climbed out of the boat launch and looked at my watch: 56 minutes.


On to the bike where I could basically do whatever I wanted. With no run afterward, there was nothing I needed to conserve. This was completely a workout and practice.

I mounted the bike and took a gel on the way out of the park, washing it down with some water. Unfortunately I forgot to rest my bike computer, so my average speed and total miles were useless numbers to me. The course had markings every 10 miles and aid stations also about every 10 miles. I paced myself off that.

The first hour and 10 minutes were solid as I cranked through the first 20 miles. I ate an entire Clif Bar, drank some of my sports drink and some of my water. But later in the ride I started to get a stitch on my right side and while I wasn't in gastrointestinal distress I had a bit of an uncomfortable feeling in my belly. My initial thought is that I ate too much too soon.

At Mile 30 I practiced a water exchange, tossing away my water-only bottle and grabbing a sports bottle of water from the aid station workers. (Note: There are time penalties and disqualifications in triathlon, one of them for littering, however you are allowed to toss items at an aid station where the volunteers will clean up.)

Shortly after that was the "big descent" which was discussed in the pre-race meeting. Take it a bit slow because at the bottom of the hill is a sharp right hand turn. Over shoot it and you literally will end up in the lake.

My friend and fellow Buffalo Triathlon Club member Nick (who took second in his age group at the mini-mussel race) was volunteering at this corner. With flair he used the flag to turn riders to the right and offered encouragement as I flew by.

I was feeling good.

Then. Well, that next 10 miles seemed to take forever. There was one "climb" during this section, made difficult because the incline, which was short and tad steep, came off a turn. I went into granny gear and got up to the top. But then, the wind started to kick up and for the next eight miles it felt like a constant head wind. And while I'm not sure of the elevation profile at this part of the course, it felt like there may have been a few false flats. Nothing that's difficult, mind you. False flats mess with your head more than anything else because you wonder why you aren't going faster.

Then again, it could have been the wind.

I chatted with a woman, also from Buffalo, during this portion and asked her if it felt like it got windier or if I was just hallucinating.

No, she and the gentleman who just passed her discussed the same topic.

And back in transition with my new Aquabike friends also came confirmation that the wind picked up. "I thought either it was getting windy or I was bonking," one woman said. At least it wasn't just me.

When I hit Mile 40 I wanted to really crank the bike and see what I could do the final 16 miles. Ah, but there was a two or three mile stretch that went through a stretch of path that was paved but terribly uneven, bumpy and filled with potholes. I thought that hurt worse than any burn I feel on a climb. There was little chance to pick up speed in this section because of the road condition. But it had to end eventually.

And when it did, the hammer went down.

A really good ride for me would have meant finishing the 56 miles in three hours. That goal was gone. My next goal was 3:15, then anything under 3:30.

My final time: 3:19.24 for an average of 16.9 miles per hour.

Honestly, I was a bit disappointed in my bike time but after letting it digest a bit, I feel better about it. The conditions were windy and everyone was a tad slower on the bike than they otherwise would have been. Also, I did race the day before. And gave a pretty solid performance at that. Losing a bit of speed on the bike at the end of that weekend is not that big a surprise. Or anything to worry about.

Afterward at the post-race meal for athletes and volunteers, they were serving ice cream cones.

Chocolate-chocolate chip for me, please.

Sunday was National Ice Dream Day after all. And after nearly 77 miles of racing, a treat never tasted so good.

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