Michael and I arrived in the beautiful Muskoka region of Northern Ontario after eleven hours of fairly uneventful travel.  We love going to new races, and we jumped at the chance to check this event off the to-do list, where it has been for several years.  Although it’s only in its fourth year as a 70.3 event, Muskoka has been on the trio scene since the early nineties, and was once the venue where Legends Michellie Jones and Simon Lessing took their first World Titles.

Race morning started for Team Lovato at 5:30AM for Michael and 6:00AM for me. Side note: Since being in Canada and not having computers or cell phones, I have been extremely relaxed, more so than at most other races. In fact, one of the perks that go with racing in Canada or any other foreign country is that I do not have constant access to internet. This becomes a forced (and necessary) detox form the web. For some reason when I detox from the web, I sleep better than I normally do. My mind is at ease and my body is at rest.  Saturday night was no exception. I had a solid 10 hours of sleep and could have slept even more! Side note: it is extremely rare for ML to be up before me, and for him to be the one dragging my butt from the sheets.

Michael and I did our normal pre-race routine. We racked our bikes outside the Deerhurst Resort, which also entailed strapping on our First Endurance nutrition and placing helmet and shoes so that everything is ready for action. We did our pre-race jog and talked about our race plans. I love this time together as it is the “calm before the storm”. As we talked about our races, Michael gave me some things to think about during the race. He has been with me, training and encouraging me for about 90% of my sessions for the past 5 weeks. I knew that I was fitter and faster than I was when I raced Boulder 70.3. I never thought that  him helping advise me and giving me feedback would go as well as it has, but the reality is that there is no one that I trust as much as Michael. My training and preparation were very good. I had a nice training block with solid workouts that gave me a lot of confidence. There were no holes in the training and I never got sick…Yes! Today was the day to see what I had gotten out of all of that hard work!

The race for the pro men (and 18-24 year old men) started at 8:00AM. 30 seconds before the horn blew, I yelled “GO MICHAEL!!!” I wanted him to take that last sound of my voice with him during the race! Whenever we compete in the same races, our thoughts are on each other most of the time. Because of this fact, we usually do not race the same races. It becomes difficult to focus on the task at hand when we constantly think of one another’s well being.  Yes, we are hokey like that.

Six minutes later the pro women started, also with the 18-24 year-olds. I liked the fact that we started a full six minutes behind the pro men. In previous races, I have caught some of the slower swimming men who later had the audacity to fight me for position and/ or feet. Then, once on the bike, they end up meddling in the pro women’s race.  We had none of that in Muskoka!  I did, however, end up catching some of the 18-24 year old boys, but none of them interfered with my swim or my bike ride. Thank you.

The start was one of the less intense swims that I have encountered. And once the dust settled, I realized I was in no man’s land. I felt ok with this as my swimming has been pretty good this year. In fact, my swimming is better than it has ever been! I swam alone, pushing myself, trying to stay motivated and focused. The swim was gorgeous, but it felt long and hard. I came out in 3rd position, three minutes behind race leader, Missy Kuck and ninety seconds behind Suzanne Zelazo. I felt good about this and was ready to get my tiny 650c Kestrel 4000 going. These hills had me very fired up to get busy with my 58 chainring (BIG MEAT)!

One of my main goals was to stay in control during the first 5 miles of the bike (stick portion of the lollipop course). In previous races, I have gone crazy on my initial assault of the bike, in an effort to make up precious time. Sometimes this technique works for me, however, the final 15 miles doesn’t always feel too good.  Since this race had an extra 4k added, and since the bike course was extremely difficult, I knew that I had to listen to my inner Michael, so I stuck with my race plan. Once on the lollipop part, I wanted start assassinating the hills and going nuts on my speed demon of a bike. Soon thereafter, I lost my pesky sponge to the bottom of my TorHans aero bottle, which resulted in EFS pouring all over me and my rig.  Once I finally retrieved it, I had lost most of the EFS, and I had become quite sticky (but sweet).  I was then able to start pushing it!

As I worked my monster-sized chainring across the course, I became increasingly pleased with how I was riding. Side note: despite my oversized big ring, I still averaged 88RPMs for the whole ride. I felt the results of the last 5 weeks of solid training, and, best of all, I felt the rest that I had given myself leading into this race. The uphills felt easy. The downhills were fast. The flats were steady. I love the feedback that my Powertap gives me. Sometimes my legs lie to me and tell me how great they feel, but my Powertap never lies.  And today it as giving me great feedback: my legs felt good!

On the Bike at Muskoka

At about an hour twenty into my ride, Jennifer Tetrick passed me. After dropping back 10 meters, the pace seemed too easy, so I passed her back, after which she responded by immediately passing me back. Fun. I soon realized that I would burn my legs out if I kept playing this game, so I sat 10 meters back until about 10k to go. Nature called, and I had to sit up, relax, and let loose the juice. I didn’t see Jennifer again until we were on the run.

I came into transition to a roar of applause! The volunteers and crowds that came out to cheer were amazing! As I racked my bike, Jennifer’s bike fell to the ground. As I picked her bike up, my bike smashed to the ground. Fun. Shoes and helmets were flying. Lucky for me, a kind volunteer came over to help me with this fiasco and  told me that she would take care of this and to go. I hesitated for a moment and continued to try to help, but she gently nudged me to keep racing. I thought to myself that she was probably right, and that I need to get out of there!  Shortly after that, I heard a split from a volunteer that I was 2:30 down, then I heard 3 minutes down. I thought, well, which is it, darn it?

As I started the run, I remembered some of the workouts that I had conquered physically and mentally a few weeks prior. I knew what I needed to do in order to make up that 2.5-3 minute deficit. Lucky for me, my legs felt ready to cooperate. Running felt effortless. I saw Michael at 5k into my race. He shouted some encouraging words, which helped. About a kilometer later, I caught Jennifer. Even with the lead, I continued to race, looking for new goals along the way to stay focused and motivated. The K’s seemed to fly by, and I have since come to love kilometer markers vs. mile markers.  I did have a low patch between 18k and 19k. On that particularly steep and twisty section, I felt some serious suffer-o-rama. I slowed quite a bit during that part and somehow, I managed to pull myself together. As soon as I crested that 19k point, I felt good again.

During the final section of the course, I was stoked to see my University of Tennessee college friend, Nancy Gribben (GO VOLS!).  At the 20k mark, I stopped to give her a huge hug since it had been five years since I last saw her.  It was so worth it: her good energy put some extra springs in my step and helped me finish strong!  Immediately after crossing the finish line, I found Michael waiting for me. The announcers made quite a big deal about the husband and wife team taking first place, and I must admit, this was a pretty special bonus for me.  A few minutes later, Jennifer Tetrick crossed the line. I was pleased to see that her strong efforts on the bike paid dividends and she snagged second place.  Next to cross the line was the early race leader, Missy Kuck, who rounded out the women’s podium in third.

muskoka Run

As Michael had already partaken of the men’s champagne celebration – with fellow podium finishers, Sean Betchel (2nd) and Justin Park (3rd) – he took the time to show us ladies how to uncork our bottles.  We later doused one another, and as many specters as we could, with some tasty bubbly.  Side note: I did, in fact, enjoy a few hits on the bottle.

The last 70.3 win that I had was in Pucon, Chile last year. There were quite a few similarities that I think contributed to #winning each race. Some of those similarities include being in a foreign country where ML and I chose to disconnect from the internet and cell phones, thus enabling us to rest a lot more.  #Winning!  Also, on both occasions, we stayed in gorgeous hotels with transition right out our doorstep. #Winning! We bellied up to the buffet table every morning before race day (and most nights). #Winning! Both races were characterized by crystal clear lake swims, as well as hilly and challenging run courses.  #Winning! Both communities absolutely embraced and loved these events. The locals made each and every athlete feel like they were #winning!

The 2011 Subaru Ironman 70.3 Muskoka  was a wonderful experience, from getting to visit a new part of the world, to sharing a victory with my husband (who I met at triathlon age group worlds September 11th back in 1999) , to continuing the upward trend of a successful season! I would encourage anyone looking for a challenging fall event to consider adding this race to their calendar.