Onalaska HIM AquaBike 09/10/2017 - Race Report by iTRI365 Athlete, Norma Hallmark

" have eyed this race in the past as a possibility, but usually wound up doing Rose City Tri. I was already signed up for RCT when Jenny Brown asked if I wanted to do Onalaska, as her dad won a silent auction for some entries. She was doing the AquaBike so I agreed to do it. After Hurricane Harvey hit, I had some reservations about it, but I wasn’t willing to blow it off after Jenny asked me. She, her friend Bethany, and I traveled down to Onalaska after some really interesting mishaps that happened to both Bethany and Jenny, but that’s not my story to tell…although Bethany had a ruptured tendon in her ankle and was wearing a boot. Okay then! But what do you expect from someone who is 22 and an athlete?


We get to packet pickup around 5. Bethany is not in the system, but there was no hassle and they get her setup. We drop off our bikes at transition, look at the lake but don’t hang around long because the love bugs are out in full force (I had forgotten how bad they were in the Houston and surrounding areas), drive to the hotel, go eat some food at Joe’s Italian Grill (yummy food!) then head back to the hotel.

I woke up shortly before the alarm went off at 4:45 am. I am dressed when it goes off and the other two get up. After getting ready, we drive to the assigned parking area and catch the shuttle to the race site. It is very cool out especially when we arrive at the lake. Transition doesn’t take very long to set up so we decide to have a quick warmup swim. The water is a little cool but I knew it would be perfect once the actual swim started. However, getting out of the water with the wind blowing made for a shiverfest. Announcements about the course were being made and we look out at the buoys, and we are kind of startled at how far away the yellow buoys are. We all said it was further than half a mile. I even said something to Tina, the race director, and she claimed that it had been measured out and they were accurate. Men and relay started at 7:00 and all other categories started at 7:05. We get in the water, horn blows, there is a little jostling but everyone seemed to find their place fairly quickly. The water is great…until we get out of the cove. We are all swimming. There were not enough orange buoys, but I stay on top of the sighting. It starts getting a little choppy but nothing bad, however, the yellow buoys don’t seem to be getting any closer. I keep swimming. I keep looking for the yellow buoys. I can see them but they are still very far away. I look at my watch. I’m already past 1200 yards. I keep swimming. I get in among people heading back. One woman said something to me but it was mumbled and I didn’t catch what she said and she just said, “never mind” so I started to go back to swimming when another woman said, “we are being told to turn around because the yellow buoys have drifted off.” Okay, that’s why they were never getting closer. So I turn around and start heading back. Oh my goodness. I am so glad I have endurance and I don’t panic. The waves on the way back were atrocious. This is the first time I have swallowed so much lake water to the point of coughing. Sighting was a big problem because as soon as you tried to sight all you saw were waves. Looking at my swim map, I actually managed to swim in a fairly straight line forward and back. I don’t know how. I tried to sight on people, boats, and the buoys when I could spot them. To say this was a challenging swim is an understatement. Under the waves was calm, but coming up for air was a fight. I had to use breaststroke for some of my swim just to recover from taking in water. Once reentering the cove everything smoothed out with about 400 yards to swim to reach the finish. I had extra mileage on my swim, but oddly enough, I actually liked it because even though I am a slow swimmer, I could do it, waves and all.

Transition was slow, because after all that and coming through grass that stuck to your feet, I had to get in some nutrition, rid my feet of the grass before putting on socks and shoes and just get oriented.

I get out of transition and onto the bike. Now they say never do anything new on race day. Well, I had something new that I hadn’t tried out. Short cranks. I had dropped off my bike on Tuesday with full expectation of getting my bike back well before the weekend. I had a spin set on Friday so I would then be able to get a feel for them. I call the bike shop on Friday and am told that it would be ready by closing on Friday. I’m a bit perplexed since it’s been there since Tuesday, but okay. I’ll get my spin set in. I drive to the bike shop. It’s on a rack being worked on. They are trying to find adapters without a lot of luck. There is no sense getting upset over something you can’t control. So I offer to come back in the morning since we aren’t leaving until Saturday afternoon. So I’ve got something new on my bike that I haven’t tested out plus my seat has been lowered…hopefully in the same spot it was before.

I start out just fine. Cruising along but I can tell that I am using my quads more (or so it seems), but I am also getting this pinching sensation in my crotch. Great…something is different with my saddle. I tell myself to just suck it up because there’s nothing I can do about it. About 20 miles in, the pinching eases or maybe I’m numb because this course is so challenging. The long slow ascents are painful. Some steep hills, fun downhills but they don’t last long. I start talking to myself in my head, reminding myself that I don’t have to run afterward (YAY!!!!), that Bethany is biking with a ruptured tendon in her ankle (although it is good rehab for it), that I can do this even though I am not liking the course. I reach the turnaround where a car just barely stopped while I was going around. There was a couple of guys that were suppose to be “flaggers” but they needed a flag. Oh no…the love bugs are heavy and are hitting me everywhere. I reach the 30 mile mark and go into a subdivision…just as challenging. Get to that turnaround and actually stop for a cup of water and finish my hydration bottle, realizing that that is the only bottle I have taken in. My other bottle is still full. I switch my bottles in their cages and continue. I think since I took in the lake water it was hard for me to drink. The love bugs are full force. Constantly being hit by them. I was very fortunate that I didn’t eat any. Then cresting a hill, I half drop my chain going from small ring to big ring. It only takes me a minute to get it back on and continue. However, around mile 50, going from small to big again, my chain drops, but this time it gets wedged behind the small ring and next to the frame. I am trying to get it unstuck when a guy biker who had been behind me the whole way stops to help me. I am so thankful, but we are unable to get it to move. I’m thinking, “great…6 miles left to go and I’m going to be a DNF.” Then a female biker stops to help and we manage to get it loose and I get it back on the ring. What an ordeal and I am just so grateful that they stopped to help. Ugh, love bugs are everywhere! We all get on our bikes. My fingers are covered in grease and I’m getting inundated with love bugs but I tell myself just 6 more miles. I am now afraid to shift between the small and big rings so I leave it in the big ring knowing I’m just going to have to do some mashing to get up the remaining hills, reminding myself that I don’t have to run. The wind going across the bridge is brutal. I feel like I’m pedaling in mud. The cars whiz past me and I feel like I’m going to get sucked over into their lane. I hit 56 miles but there is still more to go…an extra mile and a half. I make it to transition knowing that this is the end of my race and I am so happy. My calves are actually sore…how did that happen? Jenny and Bethany are waiting for me. Jenny says, “If we could do this, we can do NOLA.” I think I agree. I get my medal. There are Subway sandwiches, chips, and a cookie for us to grab on the way out to catch the shuttle back to our cars. Bethany returns to Tyler with me as Jenny is going to visit her brother. An uneventful trip back. Now I must take a shower."

Norma Hallmark
iTRI365 Athlete since 2015