The triathlon training blog of Phil Barnes

Niagara Falls Barrelman Race Report (Swim-Bike)

The Niagara Falls Barrelman was first run in 2014. This would be the 3rd annual, presumably, all the kinks have been ironed out. It's a late season half-ironman event. Guylaine was Jonesing for a fall half to better her early season effort at St. Andrews, and this one fit the bill. All told, there were around 800 participants at this event, apparently the largest non-m-dot half-ironman currently in North America. I, having that weird foot injury, was still able to participate in the Swim-Bike version (aka Aqua Bike). I was actually looking forward to this; going Full-Gas on the bike without regard for saving energy for the run.

This is my favourite spot to view Niagara Falls. It's scary how close you can actually get to the edge of the water.
Every time I stand here, I have a weird urge to climb over the fence and jump in.

We stayed over in Niagara Falls and of course had a heart shaped hot tub in our room. I think our bikes got into some mischief though.

Is this how baby bikes are made?
We had a family vacation in Niagara Falls about 5 years ago, and we were surprised then at how revitalized it was (since our last visit circa 1995, when it felt like a worn-out ghost town). Even now in mid-September, the place was hustling and bustling - it's a big party-town.

Failed selfie in front of the night-lit falls.

Caught in the act at the Hershey factory store.

Party, party, party. Clifton Hill and Victoria Avenue were all alight.
I digress --- on to the race...

The race is a point-to-point. The Swim and Bike start are in Welland. The swim in a Rowing Canal. This would be a very easy to navigate straight swim. The bike went south-east of Welland, did a loop, and then back to Welland (~56K mark), and then heads north-east to Niagara Falls.
Bike Start is the green box in the middle of the map.

For some reason, I didn't set time-goals for this race. I had looked at past results of the Swim-Bike, and thought that if I had a good day, there was a chance I could do well in the overall standings. The thing I was afraid of was either being too conservative on the bike, and finishing with energy to spare - and conversely - being too aggressive on the bike, and not having enough energy to finish.

The Swim (2000 meters) - Usually it's 1.9K, but perhaps since the bike is only 89K they lengthen the swim? 100m of swimming ~ 1 minute 40 seconds  and  1 km of biking ~ 1:40 @ 36kph - so time-wise it's a wash. Anyhow. The swim was wave-starts, approximately 150 people per wave, I was wave 3. I did plan not to go too hard - here's the thing, for me to swim 1 minute faster I would need to use up a massive amount of energy that would definitely sap me of more than 1 minute's effort on the bike. This race for me was all about the bike. So I slotted in on the swim, and swam comfortably (but still with purpose). I hit the shore at 33:29 (1:40 pace); official swim split includes a short run and some stairs up to transition (33:55). [some side notes: 1) bathing cap started to come loose at 1200m, and it popped off at 1750m - fortunately, I had put my goggles underneath. 2) from about 500m on we were swimming through the wave in front of us, which I thought would be a disaster, but was actually kind of fun - and strangely orderly in a non-contact way.]



Transition - Racks were pre-assigned by bib number, which I like, but I didn't have a particularly advantageous location. The wetsuit came off easily. I threw the Cliff bar I had left open in my helmet in my mouth, put on the helmet, and off I went. Shoes were already on the bike, and I opted not for socks. Official split = 1:28.

The Bike a.k.a Show Time - I had no idea how fast I would go. The wind looked "net" favourable - the bike has enough twists and turns that you experience a full sweep of Yaw several times over the route. My hatched plan leaving transition was to keep it "conservative" for the first section - the out, the loop and the back (the first 56k); conservative meaning regular half-ironman effort. And that is how that section went. I was passed a lot over the first 5K, I passed a few people, but generally settled in with a group for the first section. Yes, yes, yes, all drafting rules enforced - only a 5 meter draft zone, but I was dutiful to pass whenever I would breach it despite having to put in some very large surges (that didn't worry me too much as I was aqua-biking), and I did sit up and fall back whenever passed.

The first section went well. I was surprised to see average speed hovering around 35 km/hr, and pleasantly surprised to experience prolonged stretches of 40+.

Returning to Townline Tunnel Road for the trip to Niagara Falls. I threw down the mental gauntlet to myself -- "Buddy, this is Aqua Bike - let's go!" I flipped my computer from [Current Speed/Average Speed] over to [Power]. "I don't want to see anything under 200 Watts" (not a scientifically arrived number, since I still haven't fully read and understand the power meter book, but I knew I could average 200 Watts over 40km, ala Cornwall Triathlon).

200 Watts was harder to average than expected, the wind seemed to be a little less in my favour through this section. But I had a target and I was spinning along as hard as possible to hit it, and I broke away from one group and started to mix in with a new group with a few Team Canada ITU kits (yes, yes, yes, all 5 meter draft zones respected). The neat part about this section is we pass through a long tunnel, with a downhill gradient - this was fun - except the enthusiastic spectator standing near the end banging on a steel panel that scared the crap out of me at first, and was 200 decibels I could have done without.

Shortly after the tunnel, there's a section of left-right-left-right-left-right-left-right turns which took us on some crumbling roads, and then finally, Marshall Road. This signaled 9K to go and the point where all bets were off.

I had to do some mind-over-matter talking and convinced myself to hammer as hard as I could as fatigue had been creeping in. "This is a 9K TT. The pain will be over with in 15 minutes.... you can do this". Again, another surge, and a renewed effort to not drop below 200 Watts. And again, I broke away from the group around me, and was totally solo for the ride home. I was breathing like a race-horse, and whimpering like a baby. I hoped no one would pass me 'cause they'd feel obligated to tell me to keep it in check - no way would anyone ride this hard expecting to run 21k afterwards. With 2K to go, the edge fell off, I was really struggling - and despite being uncomfortable - I was somewhat relieved. I knew I had gone as hard as I could have, and not left anything on the table. "2K - we got this. come on. 3 minutes max". "1K, you're almost done, don't give up...what's that expression... pain is temporary, Sportstats is forever..." 200 meters, and I can see the end. I had planned to bike as hard as possible to the end, so I left my feet strapped into the shoes, and braked right at the dismount line. I unclipped in a hurry, stepped over the mat, and knew it was done.
Grunting to the bitter end. 50 meters from the finish.

Now here is where AquaBike gets funny...

I love transitions in triathlons. I love the frenzy, the speed, the panic, the franticness. As soon as I stepped over the mat - the volunteers (having no way of knowing I was in the AquaBike), are all shouting out "What's your number??" (The T2 Racks are all pre-assigned, and the volunteers are all helping people get to their rack, and help them with their equipment). I knew exactly where to go, because I had reviewed the provided T2 map/layout and knew were my spot would be. So I'm just trotting in all casual, meanwhile other racers are flying through (rightfully, trying to save as much time as possible); and I'm just clip-clopping along at a snails pace with a goofy grin.  I approach my rack (one other bike on it), and the volunteer is like "Here, here, here, I'll help, I'll help,  I'll be your designated helper."  And I'm like, "It's okay, I'm done, I'm just an Aquabiker". Which was funny, because she was disappointed she didn't get to help me. So finally, I rack my bike, and take off my shoes, and I'm casually wiping all the grime off my face, and I start walking bare-footed to the "Run-Out" arch. A volunteer told me to go up the road, and down the chute to the finish for my medal and hat. So I'm just casually trotting up the road, and I can see the photographer getting his camera ready for the day (the expected first place triathlete is still 40 minutes away from finishing), I round the fence and start jogging down the chute - and it was all kind of weird to be trotting down a finish chute without any urgency - in a way it was a little anti-climactic, but I had sort of expected it to be.



Well, I cross the line, making a goofy pose and the cameraman and I share a laugh. The girls give me my medal and let me chose a hat (Red, Blue or Green) - I took Red. And then they say, "You can put your chip in the bucket." And I do, and I notice that there are 3 other chips in the bucket - so I say, "Does this mean I came in 4th??" and they're [insert emoji for 'shoulder shrug/dunno'].  So I convince myself that I came in 4th, and I know there was a female aquabiker ahead of me, and I'm kind of cloud 9 thinking I'm 3rd overall male, and on the podium. Only to find out (hours later when looking at the final results) that in fact I was 9th overall, 8th male, and 5th 40+ ... aka ... no podium for me.

HOWEVER, I was still really satisfied with my race. And being able to hold 36 kph (albeit wind assisted) over 89K is a pretty good achievement; and after analysing the power, I'm happy to see that my max 20 minute power averaged 197 W from 73km to 85.3km.


Final Stats

Final time was 3:03:30.3 - notice all the 3's. My race number was 333. Freaky.

Nutrition Report
Breakfast - large bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios, 2 hotel room coffees.
Pre-swim - 100 cal Cliff Bar sample (T-minus 45 minutes); 1 Gel (T-minus 15 minutes).
T1 - 100 cal Cliff Bar sample
Bike - 4 Gels; 1 each at 0:30, 1:00, 1:30, 2:00; 3 bottles of water.

Now, enough about me...

Guylaine, simply rocked the whole course. Crushing the bike at 2:51:06 (@ 32.2kph); and holding a consistent run of 1:58:40 (@ 5:39/km) with virtually even splits despite torridly hot and humid conditions. Setting a half-ironman PB by over 12 minutes with a 5:39:38.... and just missing a podium spot, finishing 4th out of 30 in her category, and 46/200 women overall.