Disclaimer: There are not a ton of photos in here. The reason being photographs would not due the majesty of Banff justice. Too much to capture in one snapshot. You just have to see it for yourself.
When planning my summer races earlier in the year, it looked as though I would only get 2 triathlons in for my debut season. The Squamish Triathlon was a little last minute, but I knew I wanted to get one more. There were 2 options, the Stanley Park Triathlon or the Subaru Banff Triathlon. For some reason, the Stanley Park race does not appeal to me. I run and ride Stanley Park all the time, not to mention I live 5 minutes away. Banff was always a place I wanted to visit, so the choice was easy.
I drove out to Banff on Thursday. The drive was very nice until I got past Kamloops, then the drive was spectacular! Amazing mountains, none of which looked like the one next to it. They all appeared to have formed differently, some by glaciers, some by upheavals, some just over time, I would love to sit with a geologist and go through them all one by one and know. OK, nerd out session over, on to the sports.
I got into Banff Thursday evening and, after checking into my hotel, met up with a friend and her mother. I picked this particular hotel due to its proximity to the finish line. It was right across the street.
My friend was a bit apprehensive about doing the race. Although she did great at the Squamish Triathlon, she had not trained for this one. She had switched to the Super Sprint distance (which is 1/4 the distance I was dong) and I had no doubt she would do fine.
After dinner, I went back to the hotel and got some sleep. The next morning I woke up and cleaned my bike. It was still pretty dirty from The Ride to Conquer Cancer. I then ventured out to grab some lunch. I ate at a tiny sandwich shop on the corner and listened as 3 men at the table behind me talke about the race. They were mainly concerned with the swim. From previous years I had learned that the swim was cold, so cold in fact, that in the past they had shortened it for safety reasons. I was a little concerned, but not much. A month ago I was swimming in Lake Superior sans wetsuit and was fine. And a week after that, during my Seahiker Open Water course, the water in English Bay was pretty frigid.
After lunch, I met up with Brooke and her mom again at package pick up. I stopped by the Lifesport tent and we spoke with the local coach. He was telling us that gloves and booties were allowed for this swim and he recommended getting some. Brooke had bought some already and showed me the tent where they were sold. I asked the man working the tent if he expected to sell out. The expo had only been open for 45 minutes and he had already sold half of what he brought. I decided to buy a pair of gloves and booties. I figured it would be better to get them now than go to the lake that afternoon, realize I needed them, and come back only to find he was sold out. This proved a wise decision.
We then loaded my bike onto Brooke's truck and headed to bike drop off. After some navigation issues we found our way to the drop off. I still hold to my story that I was pretending to be unsure of the location of bike drop off so we could scout the bike course. After we racked our bikes, we went down to the lake for a swim. It was gorgeous.
While getting our wetsuits on, a gentleman was just getting out of the water. I asked hm how it was, he shook his head and said, "It's COLD!" He saw our gloves and booties and asked where we got them. We told him he should hurray as they may be sold out soon. After a few pictures (and one of me trying to be excited about what was next), we got in the water.
It..... was..... COLD. It was the coldest water I have ever been in. The wetsuit and booties kept me warm, but the gloves did absolutely nothing, Once I felt I was as used to the water as I was gong to get, I tried to start swimming. The cold water on my face was unbearable. It hurt. I could only get a few meters in before it got too painful.
How could something so beautiful be so painful and deadly? I later compared the lake to a dangerous animal that uses its beauty as a warning to others.
I am beautiful and I will hurt you.
As I exited the lake, I kept telling myself that tomorrow would be better. Race day adrenaline would kick in and I would be fine. After an amazing dinner with Brooke and her mom, it was time to prep my remaining gear, then get some sleep.
The next morning I woke up, showered, got dressed, loaded the car (I was driving back later that day and would miss checkout), grabbed my gear bags, and headed out the door.
My spot at T2 was in the first row, very easy to find, but just in case, I used my bright pink Malibu Marathon towel to catch my eye. I laid out my run bottles, visor, bib belt, and shoes. I made one final walk through of the entry, my spot, and exit before heading to the bus and T1.
On the bus ride to T1 and the start, everyone was talking about the swim. Those who had done tris before were encouraging those who were about to take the plunge into their first.
Race is owned by Ironman, not an Ironman distance
We arrived at T1 and I made my way to my bike. The 2 spots next to my bike were no shows, so I had plenty of room to setup my bike gear. I chatted with the guy next to me while prepping my water bottles and gear. After I was all set up, a friend of the guy next to me informed us that his tires lost 10 psi over night. My tires felt fine, but I did not want to chance it. Good thing I did. It turns out they were indeed low.
Once back at my spot, I re-setup all of my gear. Before heading over to where Brooke's bike was, I saw a man wearing a New England Patriots hoodie. I could not resist. I walked up to him and said, "Hey man, you may want to check your tires." He gave me a puzzled look so I pointed at his shirt and laughed. I apologized and told him that as a Colts fan, I had to make the joke.
While waiting for Brooke to arrive, I was able to watch the sunrise over the mountain behind the lake.
The scene was set for a great swim.
Brooke arrived soon after and we chatted about our goals and strategies for the race. As we were talking, a group of young ladies began to ask us questions. They informed us that this was their first tri. I gave them some pointers, timing chip under wetsuit, bike in an easy gear, helmet on first, but most importantly, relax and have fun.
After dropping off our gear bags we started heading down the hill to the lake to get some warm ups in. But just before we left the transition area, we heard the announcement that would result in cheers: The standard distance swim was cut in half. ITU rules regulate that, for safety reasons, if the water is below 14 degrees (C), then the swim must be shortened. So instead of 1500 meters in 12 degree water, those of us doing the standard distance only had 750 meters.
At the bottom of the hill, I put 2 hand warmers in my gloves. They helped heat up my hands quite a bit, until I put then in the water. Then they did nothing. I threw them away.
After a short dip in the icy water, I watched the super sprint distance wave starts. Just before Brooke's wave start, I reminded her to roll. The girl next to her (one of the girls I was giving advice to earlier) looked at Brooke wide eyed. "Is that advice?" Brooke laughed and explained that she participates in honor of her uncle, Allen Glenn "Buddy" Morton, who passed away of ALS. The 'log roll' at the finish line was started by Jon Blais in 2005 when he stated he would finish an Ironman even if he had to be rolled across the finish line. Many athletes show their support for the fight against ALS by continuing the tradition of the "Blazeman-Roll" across the finish-line.
Now it was my turn. After a few more minutes of being in the water and trying to warm up, it was now the men's standard wave start. In previous races I've had issues with minor panic attacks at the beginning of the swim. This race, I opted for my Lavaman strategy, start in the back.
The horn sounded and we were underway. I waited for the pack to be a bit ahead of me then I started in. It was cold. Before I knew it, I was with the pack. As soon as I realized I was starting out too fast, my heart rate began to rise. I slowed down immediately and concentrated on easy breathing. I was able to keep my heart rate under control, but the cold water was killing me. Several times throughout the swim, I opted for breast stroke. This helped me control my breathing (hindered by the water temp) and kept my face out of the water for longer periods of time. I noticed others were also taking this approach.
Halfway between the start and the first turn buoy, I heard the horn signalling the women's standard start. I set a new goal, don't let anyone in that wave pass you, or at least as few as possible.
As I rounded the first turn buoy, I was feeling much warmer. Despite having to switch between freestyle and breast stroke more than I would have liked, I was getting into a pretty good groove.
The lake was gorgeous. Not sure if I mentioned this yet or not, but it was. If there were not hundreds of swimmers in the water churning up silt, the water would have been crystal clear. At times, when I looked down, I could see the bottom.
I rounded the second turn buoy and sighted to get my line to the exit. I did not need to sight very much on this swim. There was no current or chop.
Halfway between the second turn and the exit, I was passed by someone wearing a green cap. It was the lead female. Ok, one passed me. Not bad. 3 quarters of the way between the second turn and the exit, another green cap passed me. Ok 2 is not bad.
When exiting the water, I stood too soon. I knew I should have swam in a bit shallower for a cleaner exit, but I just wanted out of the water. It was starting to get cold again. As I exited, I was passed by 2 more green caps. At this point the swim was done and I didn't care. I did look back to see how many bright pink caps there were. I did not want to be the last guy out of the water. I wasn't.
Despite the breaks where I swam breast stroke and my start in the back, I still made very good time. I lapped my watch as I crossed the timing mat, switching it to time transition 1.
Once out of the water, there was a 150 meter uphill to T1. I was not about to run up this hill. I took my time and walked up the hill, making sure to keep right for those passing me. Once at the, while running along the fence to the entrance of T1, I began to strip off the top half of my wetsuit. My bike was in the first row, and I was sure to call out to the other athletes to let them know I was behind them. I did not want to get ran into by an athlete and their bike as they raced to the mount line. I was so concerned about this, that I passed my bike completely. I turned and ran back. Luckily I had not gone far.
While stripping off the rest of my swim gear, I listened to everyone either complaining about the water or being happy about being out of it. The relay teams were joking with each other about a bet 2 of the teams had made. They had bet a rounds of drinks on who would finish first. I joking told them that I saw someone from their team trip a member of the other. They all laughed and one guy pointed at his teammate and exclaimed, "It was probably her!"
After putting on my helmet, I toweled off my feet before putting my socks and cycle shoes on. I opted to forgo the arm warmers as the sun was out and it was nice and warm. I put my cycle vest on and mounted my watch to my bike. I was using a new quick release system for my watch and it worked like a charm.
I ran out of T1 to the mount line and the bike leg was underway.
The start of the bike leg was mainly downhill. After getting off to a good start, I made sure to get a drink to recover from the swim.
When I get tired in the swim or run, usually start counting to take my mind off the fatigue. On the swim, it's a 1-2 count on the strokes and a 1-2-3-4 count on the run. On the bike however, it's a bit more difficult to count, so I get a song stuck in my head and sing that to myself over and over again.
This bike leg is brought to by Footsteps by Pop Evil.
The best part of the course was the big sweeping downhills (which I got to do 3 times, reaching 68kph the third time down, new record). There was a slight uphill as I came to the first turn. During this uphill, I felt a bit light headed. I realized it was the elevation and was sure to drink plenty of water/electrolytes.
As I reached the part of the course where the real uphills started, I noticed that my vest was almost fully unzipped. I attempted to zip it up while on the move, but that resulted in it becoming unzipped completely. Not wanting to deal with my vest flapping behind me the whole ride, I stopped and zipped it up.
The hills were not big hills, but rather short rolling ones. Although there was one in particular that was very steep. While in my easiest gear, I pushed up this hill reminding myself, "It could be worse. It could be Belmont."
On the next hill a rider complemented my on my tattoo. Those who frequent mu blog know what came next.
At the top of the last hill in the series, there was a group of spectators cheering us on. Their cheers got me over the hill and down a beautiful straight away next to Lake Minnewanka (the glacier lake that fed the lake we swam in, Two Jack Lake).
After this scenic stretch, was another uphill that lead to a great view of Two Jack Lake.
Then, it was a nice downhill past T1. As we road through the no passing section, I was sure to thank all the volunteers working there.
Then it was back down hill, up a small hill, then back to the fun sweeping down hills. Having done the big downhill once before already, I felt more comfortable going a bit faster the second time around. The only problem was, there was a rider who was not going quite as fast, and his lines around the curves were off. I did not want to chance bombing down the hill on his left, only to have him sweep out and hit me. So I slowed.
As I took my second lap up the hills, the rider from the down hill passed me. He complimented me on my bike and we chatted for a bit. We talked about the swim, other races I'd done, and the amazing views. This was his first tri and he was doing it as a relay team.
As I reached the top of the last hill in the series, the cheer squad had moved on. I rode through the straightaway and up the hill. As I was going up the last hill before passing T1 again, the gentleman from the hill passed me again.
"I may keep passing you on the uphills, but you have me beat on those downhills!"
We laughed and I told him that if I was doing the relay, my uphills would be much faster. I still had a 10k run to do. I told the rider about the comparison between triathlons and a box of matches. You only have so many matches. You do not want to burn all your matches on the swim or bike and not have any left for the run. My 'slower' uphill climbs, were just me saving my matches.
On the downhill past T1 for the last time, I happened to look up just in time to see a large black line with a white dot in the middle soar overhead. It floated so smoothly though the air and was so large, it took me a minute to realize what it was. The biggest bald eagle I have ever scene had just flown over my head.
As I approached the turn, I went left towards town. My 2 laps were done.
There is an abundance of wildlife in Banff, and in order to keep them off the roadways, there are fences along the roadways (with overpasses specifically for wildlife). On this particular stretch of road, there were 2 Texas gates in lieu of fences. Texas gates are essentially just a series of bars. If a hooved animal tries to walk across it, it will slip through.
Although as a child, I had ridden over plenty of Texas gates, I never had on a road bike. Luckily, the course directors had put boards over them. As I crossed them, I could not help but give a loud "Yee-Haw!!"
As the course approached downtown, we rode next to traffic. Several of the cars were going about the same speed as us and were cheering us on. I rounded the block and was at the dismount line. The line was further away from T2 than I expected, but it was very clearly marked.
As I dismounted, I saw that I had to run along a fence to get to the entrance of T2. A spectator informed me that I had lost a water bottle. I told him it happens all the time and that they are not that expensive.
I ran into T2, on what felt like tap shoes, found my spot, and racked my bike. After taking off my helmet, while changing my shoes, I heard someone shout me name. I looked up to see Brooke's mom snapping a picture and waving. I shouted back, "That's my name!" Just as I was reaching down to pull on my other shoe, I heard Brooke yell my name. Again I answered back, "That's my name!"
I threw on my race belt and visor and out of T2 I ran.
At the start of the run I could already tell that I was going to go slower than usual. I did not know it at the time, but the altitude played a large part in my run performance. I told myself that as long as I was moving forward and walking only when I had to, then I was fine.
The route started out running through a neighborhood then to a path along the river. Just before the road turned to path, there was a group of extremely encouraging volunteers. High fives and compliments were a plenty and it brought a smile to everyone's face.
The course turned right and I stopped under a bridge to stretch my calves, something I usually have to do in every race towards the beginning. When I was done and on my way again, I saw 2 men walking. I gave them some words on encouragement and was on my way.
There were benches all along the path as it followed the river. Many locals were having their lunches on those benches and I decided to have some fun with them. When I passed a bench where someone was eating, I toyed with them saying things like. "Oh that is just not fair!" "That smells delicious!" "You guys are killing me with those sandwiches!" It brought laughter and helped raise my spirits and pace.
At the end of the path was an aid station and the turn around. The course followed the river back to the bridge where I stretched my calves, only this time it rounded up onto the bridge. The view from the bridge way spectacular. Blue-green river below, mountains in front, behind, to the left, and to the right. Spectators on the bridge clapped and cheered us on. I had some fun with them as well saying, "Man, what a horrible place to race. I was hoping for some scenery. This is boring." Again, laughter and raised spirits/pace.
Across the bridge the course followed the river on the opposite side down a bike path. The path was shaded by tall pine trees. Since the course was a double lap race with 2 out-and-backs, I began to see several familiar face. We continues to exchange encouragement as we double backed on each other.
At the turn around on this side of the river was a very enthusiastic volunteer. He clapped and high fived everyone who passed. He would be important on lap number 2.
The course took us over a different bridge as we made our way back to the residential part of the course. We passed the same group of volunteers who continued to be just as supportive. As I ran through the residential area a woman in her front lawn shouted, "You're almost there!" I wanted to shout back "No I'm not!!" But she had no idea we had to do 2 laps.
I caught up with the 2 walking men I had seen under the bridge. I stopped for a bit of a walk and spoke with them. They were each on the larger side but in great spirits. This was their first tri, but according to them, it was "just the sprint" distance. I told them to never put the word "just" in front of any distance. We all start somewhere, we are all on different journeys, and we are all at different points in those journeys. They thanked me for my words and said they feel bad that I still had another lap to go. I laughed, told them to enjoy the rest of their day and ran on,
The turn around point was near the finish and I could the uproar as people crossed. I would be there soon, but for now, 5 more kilometers. As I began my second lap, I used the same line I used at the Vancouver Triathlon, "That was so much fun, I think I'll do it again!"
I passed the same encouraging volunteers, made the same jokes to the new set of people eating their lunches on the benches, encouraged the same familiar faces I saw on the first lap, made the same, lame joke about the view on the bridge, and made my way to the bike path through the trees.
At the aid station just off the first bridge, I refilled my run bottle. A volunteer asked me what I put in there, I told her half water, half Gatorade. Her response was, "Oh I thought maybe Vodka." I replied, "No that is for the finish line." Laughter ensued and spirits/pace was raised yet again.
I looked at my watch and saw I was not going to make the same time I had in previous races. But the pace I was on was not a bad pace. As I entered the shade of the pine trees, a woman on a mountain bike was shouting encouragement to us all, calling each by our race numbers.
As I approached the turn around loop, I took a short walk break. The volunteer there (who I said would be important here), Told me to keep it up. I told him I needed a break. He looked at me, looked down the course, then back at me and said, "Will you at least run the turn around loop? For me? Do it for me!" I smiled and told him I'd do it for him.
As I exited the turn around loop I shouted to the volunteer, "For you!" He laughed and said, "Will you run all the way to the finish. for me? You promise?" The finish was only a kilometer away. I promised and was on my way. I kept that promise.
As I ran through the residential area, I knew it was only a few blocks and a left turn before the finish line. A man was struggling in front of me and suddenly, 2 other men jumped out from behind a tree shouting and running! They were his friends, waiting there to help get him across the finish line. This kind of friendship and support is one of the many reasons I love this sport.
I made it to the finish and crossed with a smile on my face.
I looked at my watch, but paid no attention to the time. After exchanging my timing chip for my medal, I grabbed some water. Then, my chest began to hurt. It was as if someone had grabbed it and starting squeezing. Relax, it was not a heart attack. It was my lungs. The altitude had taken its tole and I didn't realize it until the end. I found a shady spot and laid down until I could catch my breathe.
Once I was good, I began to walk around to stretch my legs. I walked over and thanked the man who sold me the swim gloves and booties. Turns out he did in fact sell out. On the walk back to my bike, the familiar faces of the athletes who exchanged encouragement with me, thanked and congratulated me.
I got my bike, thanked the volunteers, and headed back to the hotel. I changed, loaded up the car, then met up with Brooke and her mom for lunch. Brooke and I were both wearing our finishers shirts and the server was very impressed. She told us that she would never be able to do anything like that. We tried to explain to her that with dedication and work, anyone could do it. She did not seem convinced.
Before starting out on my scenic drive back to Vancouver, I got a text from my coach. "Nice work Joe! Solid all-around performance. You were 24 our of 40 in your category." That was almost half. Not too shabby!
I close out my debut triathlon season with this race, and what a season it has been! Thanks for taking the time to read this entry. The fall and winter will bring a more run focused training schedule, so be on the look out for race updates from the Vancouver Rock & Roll 10K, Disney's Avengers 10K and Half Marathon, the Steveston Ice-Breaker 8k, and the New Orleans Rock & Roll Half Marathon.
Once again I am fundraising for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society through Team in Training, If you would like to make a donation, please feel free to do so here: tinyurl.com/Run-N-awlins
And once again, here is what got me started.