Posted by: Tina | August 27, 2010

Kelowna Apple Triathlon – Race Report

Kelowna Apple Triathlon 2010: best race ever.

I may not have a lot of races under my belt to which I can apply this superlative, but the Kelowna Apple (August 22, 2010) was by far my best race yet. It has me hooked on Olympic distance triathlons and I hope a few years from now I won’t still be calling it my best ever because I know now that I plan on becoming faster over the next few years.

The races I participated in this year have become progressively larger and more professionally organized. The Olympic distance had almost 700 athletes registered, three times as many as the number in Penticton. We had to put our bikes into the transition area the day before the race, and spots were pre-assigned instead of the free-for-all of the other triathlons I did this year. And, the day before the race as I headed out for my practice swim, I got in the water just before Simon Whitfield and other elite racers (photo at right)! It was my brush with triathlon royalty. Needless to say, the sheer size of the event had me a trifle intimidated.

Pre-Race Jitters
I am happy to report that I started the day with a decent amount of sleep. I had no problem falling and staying asleep, although I was awake for good by 4:30am. I went over the race in my head for awhile before getting up at 5:30 and getting a full bowl of cereal into my stomach. My husband, daughter, and I were on the road by 5:45, and arrived in Kelowna around 7am.

My wave didn’t start until 9am so I had a lot of time to fill. After setting up in transition, I headed over to get body marked and my timing chip. We sat in a coffee shop for awhile, and I tried to eat as I was already getting hungry. As per usual, my nerves started to flare up and I had trouble getting down even a single bite of a peanut butter and honey sandwich. Instead, I slowly muscled down a banana before heading to the beach.

At the beach, I met up with my coach, Kristina, and we did a barefoot jog down the boardwalk to warm up. Every second that passed we could feel the wind picking up, and I felt chilled just thinking about hitting the road on my bike soaking wet from the swim. Everyone was talking about how cold it was. I couldn’t wait to get started as my nerves always settle once I get into the rhythm of the race.

The Swim
At 8:55am, the men in my age category went and the women started five minutes later. The organizers let us out of the corral down to the water’s edge and before I could even think about what was happening, the horn went and we were off. I moved to the left rear of the crowd so I could stay tight to the buoys (the swim was two counter clockwise loops). I felt strong on the first loop, and it was quite a boost to start passing some of the men. My husband tells me that I was one of the first ten women out of the water on the first loop. However, I could feel myself slowing down on the second loop, especially on the swim out as we were swimming against choppy waters. Every time I turned my head to breathe to the left, I got mouthfuls of water. Thankfully, the second half of the loop was easier as we were swimming in the same direction as the waves.

The swim is definitely one of the areas where I have improved a lot. I realize now how essential it is to practice open water swimming – no matter how fast you are in the pool, you have to develop open water swim skills. Swimming almost entirely in Okanagan Lake for the last two months helped me become good at sighting (looking up every so often to correct direction without breaking swim stroke), and I have a much better feel for how to swim in open water, even when it is choppy. It also built my confidence and eroded some of my fears of scary sea monsters lurking in the deep.

How much have I improved? My swim time was a blisteringly fast (for me) 28:43. The only way to describe how I feel about this is OMG. 2.5 minutes faster than Penticton, and 11 (!!!) minutes faster than my first Olympic distance at the end of June.

As I approached my bike in transition, I was shocked to see Kristina’s bike still there (she was just a few spots from me). I looked back at the swim entrance and saw her come into transition after me. While it gave me a bit of a boost competitively, I also took a confused pause for a precious few seconds. It was just enough time to see Kristina blow by me in transition and disappear into the distance on her bike. Lesson learned – keep going as fast as possible no matter what! My time in transition was 2:14, which I think wasn’t bad considering how long the run in and out of transition was.

The Bike
The bike part of the race was fun, as it usually is. And, for a change, I was fast too. It was a 3-loop relatively flat course. There was one short climb each loop up Knox Mountain, but I like hills and putting lots of effort into them so it went quickly. The wind didn’t make me cold as I had worried, and overall the wind didn’t seem to be as big of a factor as I thought it might be. It was also fun and motivating to go past the transition area so many times and see my daughter and husband there cheering for me.

This was also the first event where I felt like I was racing. There were a lot of people on the course, although I didn’t always know which lap they were on, due to the different wave starts. Still, it got my adrenaline up to come around the curve to the Knox Mountain climb and see people spread all over the road, labouring uphill. I basically climbed as hard as I could every time I hit the hill and passed as many athletes as possible. For the rest of the course, I made it a game to pass people, whether or not they were in my age category. I think overall the feeling of competition made me faster. For the first time this season, I was ranked higher in my age category for the bike alone than where I eventually placed for the race overall. My time was 1:15:47.

The transition from bike to run is usually pretty straightforward, except that I stupidly unclipped my helmet before I racked my bike. A triathlon official stopped me because this broke the rules. She made me unrack my bike, clip my helmet, then re-rack my bike, and then unclip my helmet again. This ate up several seconds. Then it was just shoes on, eat a Guu, pace watch on, and out the gate. I was through transition in 2:06. Looking at the rankings though, I understand now why transition is so important – I was 10th in my age category going in to transition, but 12th going out.

The Run
I have two very different perceptions of the run: how it felt while I was doing it and how I feel after finishing it. One of my primary goals was to break 50 minutes on the run, so the run was important to me, especially after my dismal run in Penticton. I pushed myself, and it was hard. It was during this run that I could understand better the importance of the mental element of sport. My body kept slowing me down from pace, and I had to keep telling myself to pick it back up (thank goodness for my pace watch!). There was a point in the second loop where I was thinking about how not fun it was and asked myself why was I doing something so totally unenjoyable. On my last pace run the week before the race, my coach had me think of the words I would focus on when I needed a boost of energy. I chose to repeat the phrase, “This is it. This is it.” These words were to remind me that I had been training all season for this, my final event of the season, and that I could hold on for long enough to finish as strong as I had trained to.

Although every kilometre felt long, I was really counting down from the 7km mark. It helped that my husband and daughter were there cheering me on and madly ringing a cattle bell. I even passed three women in my age category, although one of them passed me in the final metres before the finish, so she finished one second ahead of me (lesson learned – if you pass someone, don’t let her pass you). I crossed the finish line running as fast as I could. I looked down at my watch a few hundred metres out and realized that I was doing 4:00/km! Kristina was at the finish waiting for me, but my heart was pumping so hard that I had to walk around in circles for a few minutes before I was capable of talking. I remembered then to stop the stopwatch, and was shocked to see a time of just over 49 minutes, and this was some moments after crossing the finish line.

My official run time was 47:58, ahead of my goal and the fastest I have ever run 10 km. Going back to the second perception of the run – how I feel after finishing it – I was giddy, excited, and inordinately proud of myself for achieving my goal, and not giving in and slowing down when my body wanted me to. Although the run was the hardest and least fun part of the race, it was the most rewarding because running is not something I usually expect myself to be good at. Turns out with the right training, I am a good runner. On race day, it was my fastest event, and I was seventh in my age category.

Race Aftermath
When the official times came up on the web at the end of the day, I was shocked at my split times, and my final time of 2:36:46. I was 10/41 in my age category! I would have been ninth except for that pesky woman who passed me at the last minute and beat me by one second (I reiterate – lesson learned!). My times have improved remarkably since my first Olympic distance race two months ago.

I am very excited that I met all my goals: I got my personal best of the season, broke 50 minutes on the run, and had fun (except on the run, but I have good feelings about it for other reasons). This race, especially the run, showed me that I have made a mental transition from just participating in sport for fitness and fun. While I still want to be fit and have fun, I am also excited to be setting and achieving challenging goals. There was a time when I was afraid to set myself challenging goals.

This race also gave me my first taste of the reality that I could be competitive in my age group. The last few weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about what my goals are going to be for next year. My performance at the Kelowna Apple made me realize that I want to stick with this distance and be more competitive in it. Next year, I’m not going to let someone pass me at the last second.

[Photos at Flickr]


  1. Wow, congrats on a great race Tina! Loved reading this.

  2. Thanks, Colene. Glad you enjoyed it!

  3. […] it. I feel like saying it was spectacular, but I know that in addition to the very good times (e.g. Kelowna Apple awesomeness in August), there were a few not-so-great moments when the existential question of “Why the hell am I doing […]

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