Posted by: Karen | August 25, 2009

Alberta Challenge Triathlon (Olympic Distance)

*WARNING* Epic 1st races warrant epic-sized race reports *WARNING*
I have included several links to Flickr photos, in case you’re interested.


Late Friday morning, Dawn, Little Runner and I headed out for my mom and step-dad’s place near Camrose, Alberta. On the way there we talked through our plans for the weekend. There were a couple of local people we wanted to hug. We had to pick up my race package. Dawn had brought materials to make cheering signs.

We talked about Dawn tweeting out status updates on my phone during my race, and I stored a few “pre-tweets” for her in the text message drafts folder. We got to our destination in time to pick (and eat) some berries before dinner, yum.

After dinner we made signs. There were:

  • That’s my girl! (Mom)
  • Go Mommy Go! (Little Runner)
  • Go Jump in the Lake (me)
  • Go Precious Go (Mom) (inside joke)
  • Pedal Strong (Dawn)
  • Keep On Running (Dawn)
  • Go Go Go Go (Little Runner)
  • Go Karen (Dawn)
  • Wheeeeeee! (Mom) (for a good downhill)
  • Suck it up, Buttercup! (Dawn) (my fave)

Saturday we headed into Edmonton to pick up my race package at the Tech Shop downtown. My package included a snazzy cloth tote bag, a tech t-shirt, Sharkies and a green swim cap. I picked up a few Gu’s for the race and Dawn bought me a new race belt.

Mark the Blogfather met us at the store and took us on a whirlwind tour of the river valley. We got to see some of his favourite running routes and parks, and enjoyed a great visit. Thanks Mark! After that we visited with some family on the way home.

Saturday evening I practiced my race transitions out on the front lawn. I wanted to make sure I had everything packed up just the way I wanted for race morning. After a couple of run-throughs, I was confident I had everything I needed, packed up in the right order. I loaded it all into the car as the sun set, so there would be no worries in the morning.

I set two alarms, one on the clock radio and one on my race watch. I slept fairly well considering the excitement and arose with no problem at 4:45 a.m. I munched on a peanut butter bagel and berries while Dawn got her gear ready, and we left in the dark shortly after 5:30.

It’s a good thing we were so eager to arrive early, because when we went to unload Dawn’s car at the race site at 6:30 a.m. we discovered that I’d left my front wheel on the lawn back at the house! I was too shocked to curse. I remembered the t-shirt I was wearing (Keep Calm and Carry On), and called Mom. She was planning on joining us with Little Runner and my step-dad later, but they hurried up their departure and brought the wheel to me in time for check-in. Whew!

In the meantime I suffered through jokes from other racers about my intimidation tactics. I was pretty tough, to show up with only one wheel. Had I trained for that? I felt much better when I had secured the wheel in place.

In the meantime I’d checked in, got my body marked, and picked up my chip. The timing guys were late, and all heats ended up with nearly a half hour start delay. The half ironman racers were to start first, then the sprinters, then my olympic distance group, then the duathletes. We all milled around in transition and on the beach, chatting excitedly with each other.

My step-dad had his camera along and enjoyed having so many great subjects to photograph. My mom held the Go Jump in the Lake sign and it was a big hit.


The Alberta Challenge Triathlon this year had a fairly small field in terms of competitors. 22 people raced the half iron distance, 79 started the sprint, 15 did the du, and 88 began the olympic race.

The air was a little chilly with a breeze, at about 13*C/55*F, but nearly everyone had wetsuits, and most of the racers took time to go for a little dip in the lake before their races started. I discovered after my dip that I still had 20 minutes to go before my race start, so I stole Dawn’s pink blanket and kept warm. Yeah, I can look tough with one wheel at set-up, but it was really hard to look intimidating in a pink blanket.

At one point Mom, Little Runner and Dawn all huddled around me in a huge, warm group hug. Gotta love the support.

Finally, our wave got to go. When the gun went off we all ran out into the water and started swimming. I had the hardest time catching my breath. I couldn’t slow my breathing long enough to breathe bilaterally, so just breathed to one side. I couldn’t swim in a straight line. It felt like the buoy wasn’t getting any closer at all. Having to sight while swimming sucks. I had tried to practice this in the pool, but obviously I need more open water practice.

The pack left a few of us struggling in their wake. One man behind me sat on a surf board for a minute to catch his breath, and then eventually went on ahead of me. Spotters stood on boards and maneuvered with paddles. They were very encouraging, and I had one all to myself in the second loop. As I finished the first  loop I tried to touch bottom too soon and got a calf cramp. Ow. Swim it out, ow ow.

I really did not want to go back in after the first loop, but I had not conquered the first one just to quit now. I entered the water the second time saying to myself “I can do this as long as it takes.” I breathed and sighted and stretched out more mild calf cramps. As I swam in from the last buoy, I saw only a few people on shore; my friend and family. Oh well, it’s not like I’ve never come in last before.

My legs felt really wobbly as I finally reached the shore and walked out. As soon as I hit the beach I started trotting towards transition. It was so good to be done the swim!


Transition went pretty much as planned. I had learned from reading Nancy’s race reports to have a water bottle handy to squirt sand off my toes. The wet suit came off as expected and my singlet gave me a little difficulty.

The nice part about being last out of the swim is that almost all the other bikes were gone and I had plenty of elbow room. Plus I didn’t have to fret about trying to stay ahead of anyone. Soon I was off and running with my two wheel bike towards the mount/dismount line. At the last minute I remembered my bike gloves and stopped to put them on.

The cycling itself was a dream compared to the swim. It was nice to be able to BREATHE. I worked through my bike gears, trying to keep my pace somewhere near or over 22-25 km/hr (13-15 mph). The course was fairly straight and rolling, but there were no monster hills and only a few turns on the two out and back legs that made up 40km.

There was a racer being treated by the ambulance close to the start of the highway portion just outside the park. I don’t know what happened, but his bike and very snazzy aero helmet were in the ditch when I left and still there when I returned. I went past a few racers with bike breakdowns, and was grateful that my bike, “Stretch” held up well. I was not alone on the road, as there were still half i.m. racers and duathletes out there with me.

I felt like I did really well on the bike, spinning fairly consistently, except for one stop to add Nuun to my water bottle in the first quarter. I was coordinated enough to eat gels and drink while in motion, but didn’t want to chance a wipe-out while getting the bottle open.


After the bike the second transition was easy and quick. Some of my competitors had already finished, and one asked me how my race went. I told him I’d let him know when I’d finished!

This is the part of the race when the cheering signs came in really handy. I just wanted to walk, but started trotting again when I saw the “Suck it up Buttercup” sign. The run course was gorgeous. As a trail runner who finds pavement very tedious, I loved this course. It took me much longer than a paved, flat course would have, but the hard-packed dirt, rolling hills, twists and turns, roots and rocks kept my attention. Now and then I ran past beaver ponds and marshes with lots of bulrushes.

The course reminded me a lot of the Weaselhead rabbit trail south of the Glenmore reservoir in Calgary, only a little gentler. I’ve run many more difficult courses in the Calgary Roadrunners XC series.

Olympic competitors got to do the 5k loop twice, half i.m. racers got to do it 4 times. I was lapped at least twice by some of the half i.m.’ers. Nearly everyone had “rainbow butt”, as their spandex had lake salt that dried in lines radiating from their inseams.

I realized when I still hadn’t finished the first loop in 40 minutes that the run was going to take a lot longer than I had planned. I made sure I hydrated with both Ultima and water at both water stations per loop, and settled into my usual cross country pattern. Walk up. Gentle jog on the flats. Grab the gravity on the descents. Enjoy the day!

My family met me in between run loops. Little Runner ran with me for a ways. Then I got a hug and a high five and was on my way again.

Towards the end, everything ached. My right upper arm had chafed on my singlet. I was thirsty. I made myself run the last flat corner around the group camping area and then dug down for a strong finish by the lake. I mustered a raunchy loud YEEEHA! as I hit the finish chute and flew over the mats. Finishing is always a blast!


Click these links to see Overall results for the Olympic distance and age group breakdowns.

I was decidedly “Lastest” no matter how one looks at it. Yet, I was in the Top 100 overall and Top 10 in my Age group. I held my placing very consistently throughout the race, and didn’t worry about being passed by anyone in my category! 9 years of experience in the back of the pack at our cross-country races helped keep me going when I knew I was the only olympic racer still out there.

It took me WAY longer than I thought it would. I gave it more than I thought I had. There was never any doubt that I would keep on going. There were fun moments, in between a lot of gritty self-prodding. It felt very. very. good to finish.

This was not a medal-for-everybody race, but I have a nice t-shirt, a very cool cloth tote bag, and I’m feeling more like a triathlete all the time.


  1. Congratulations, Karen it is something I could never do and I admire you for your courage and spunk. Say hi to your mom for me.

  2. I’m so impressed (with your race and your report). Well done.

  3. Congratulations Karen! Excellent report. And you’ve earned the right to a long report!

    I can understand leaving your front wheel behind. I’ve learned how to quick release my front tire when I’ve had to transport it in my car.

    I’ll be doing my first sprint tri this Sunday (Aug 30). Your report inspires me!

  4. I am so impressed with you Karen! You are so inspiring. I can’t see myself doing a Tri or even a Bi any time soon; it’s the swimming that puts me off.

    Very good work. I really enjoyed reading your race report.

  5. Congratulations Karen, you ARE a triathlete! Welcome to the family! I have yet to try an Olympic distance tri, due to my dismal swimming abilities so my hat is off to you – very well done!!! Loved the report, it is very similar to my experience and it takes alot of courage to keep on going when you know you are all alone out there. You did great and I am very proud of you – Penguin Jo in To

  6. Well done daughter!

  7. […] More photos from the event available over at my Flickr site and you can read about the event on Karen’s Blog or […]

  8. Congratulations on your race Karen! I`m so proud of you – your first Olympic tri!!!!

  9. great race report, karen! congratulations on completing your first oly! and it’s always awesome to have friends and family there to support you at these sorts of races. yay for dawn, little runner and mom!

    and your intimidation techniques? yeah, love ’em! ANYONE can race a tri with TWO tires. you’ve gotta be hard core to race with just one!


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