Posted by: bradhammond | June 9, 2018

Oliver Half Iron and Aquabike

I haven’t been able to run this year due to arthritis, but I still wanted to race.  I searched for aquabike races to do, and I didn’t find any in Washington state, but I found there were a couple in Canada.  Oliver is a small town in the Okanagan valley in British Columbia.  It is south of Penticton (former site of Ironman Canada races) and about a 5 and a half hour drive from where I live in Bellevue, Washington.  It was described as a fast course, and fairly flat, which really appealed to me.  From past races, I know that compared to other riders who are at about the same overall level as me, my strength is going faster on the flats and that I do worse on the hard climbs.


I wanted to have at least 8 weeks of riding 10 or more hours per week, and I managed to do that.  I was curious whether I could handle significantly more than that – when I was training for Ironman’s, I could just barely manage peak weeks of 10 hours riding, 7 hours running, and 3 of swimming.  Biking is a lot easier than running, so I figured I could do more than 10 hours, but at 62 I don’t have as much energy as I did 6 or more years ago.  As it worked out, my longest training week was about 14 hours of biking and 2 hours of swimming.  I was not super ambitious in my swimming, but I swam in the pool several days per week, and did a little open water swimming in Lake Sammamish.


In some ways I’m a very smart person, but sometimes I do things that make me feel like a total idiot.  During the week before the race I got an email about the race with a subject line saying something about “Athlete Guide and Course Update”.  I didn’t get around to opening it until Friday morning shortly before I drove up.  I had already printed a copy of the bike map, and used the back of my printout to jot down the times for packet pick-up, bike check-in, athlete meeting, etc.  I noticed that it said they wouldn’t have printed maps of the bike course there, so athletes should print and bring their own copies.  Somehow I totally missed reading the part where they had changed the bike course!

Saturday morning I did a short bike ride to make sure that everything was working right on my bike, and a bit later I drove the bike course that I had a map for.  There was one fairly significant climb on the two-loop course, and otherwise it was pretty flat.  I noticed one little street downtown that was all torn up, but it was only about a quarter mile of the course and I figured they’d have a small detour around that.  I picked up my packet, and checked in my bike, and worried a bit about the fact that I couldn’t even see the lake from the transition area.  The swim area is actually 700 meters away from transition, which meant I’d have to run almost half a mile on bare feet.

Saturday night I went to the athlete meeting, and the race director was talking about the new bike course.  As soon as he put up a slide with the new map, I thought “Oh my, this is really different!”. It was now an out and back course, heading down the east side of the river, coming back up the west side, and then climbing up the mountains to the west until a turn-around point.  Actually there were some rolling hills between climbs, but it was a much tougher course than I had planned on.

Race Morning

Transition opened at 5:30, so I had set an alarm for 5:00.  I kept waking up all night, so finally at 4:45 I just got up and got ready to go. I had a small breakfast and took some caffeine.  I didn’t want to be stuck in line for a port-a-potty, so I tried to get everything out of my system before I left the motel.  I got to the race start a little after 5:30, and went to put stuff on my bike.  When I went to fill up my water bottle, I felt a little spasm in my lower back, which got me feeling very nervous, but I guess it was a false alarm.  After my transition area was set up, I put on my neoprene swim pants and walked over to the swim area.  I spent a lot of time lying down and trying to stretch out my back a little, and finally did a short warm-up swim.  The water was warm enough, but I did get a bit chilly waiting around.


The swim was 1.2 miles on a two-loop triangular course.  At the athletes meeting I heard something about 400 people racing, and there were 2 waves, but I’m not sure how many people were in wave 1 with me.  In my only triathlon last year I was a bit disappointed in my swim split – I think I got significantly off course because I had trouble seeing.  (My goggle strap smapped pre-race and I borrowed goggles that leaked a bit.)  I was up near the front when we started, and the first 100 yards or so was very crowded.  It thinned out a bit, and then at our first turn we all funneled together and it was very crowded for a bit more. I kept to a consistent rhythm of breathing every 3rd stroke.  After I breathed on my left side, I would briefly pop my eyes up during the next stroke to see if I was on course.  I guess I did an okay job of staying on course.  I finished the swim in 40:38 – quite a bit slower than I used to go in races, but about a minute faster than I do it in the pool during training.


After the swim I pulled off my goggles and swim cap, and let one of the wet-suit strippers pull the swim pants off me. The swim pants are new for me this year – I was tired of getting my neck chafed and bloodied from the neck of my wetsuit, so I bought the pants only version. No chafing!  Then I ran back to the transition area – my longest run all year.  One man passed me on the run, and I passed two people, so I felt like I was doing all right.  My time for running 700  meters and doing my transition stuff was 4:11.  My feet and calves were sore for a few days, but I am quite happy with my performance in this part of the race.


We were pretty well spread out by the time I started my bike ride.  A couple of miles in, we did the hill that was the biggest climb on the original course.  Someone passed me as we reached the top and said something like “That’s one down!”  I felt pretty good. The next big climb was probably 15 miles or more away, so I was willing to push my pace pretty hard for a while.  My strategy was to try and save some energy for the hill climbs, and not really worry about catching and passing people until after I had gotten past the turn-around point and had a better idea of how much I had left to do.  Eventually we went over a bridge and came back up the west side of the river.  It was a very busy road, and I didn’t do much passing.  We left the busy road and started climbing.  It was pretty hard, but I got to pass some of the people who are faster swimmers and slower at biking than me.

There were 3 aid stations with water and refreshments.  Actually the first and third were sort of the same aid station, they just moved stuff across the street, so I guessed that maybe that was about 1/2 way to the turn-around.  We had finished a big climb, and the aid station was on a flat stretch.  I slowed down just a little bit so that I could take some water.  We had some nice rolling hills, but eventually we were into switchbacks and another tough climb.  I wondered how much further I would get before seeing the race leaders coming back.  I was on a slight downhill when the race leader came past – looked like he was going significantly faster uphill!  He had a big lead – probably a couple of minutes at that point.  In all, about 15 riders came past before I got to the second aid station. After that it was not long until the turn-around point, and a lot of long downhill sections.

About the only times I got passed on the second half of the course was when I was on a descent and I decided to brake some, and a few of the riders with higher risk tolerance would go flying by.  I’m willing to go really fast downhill when it is straight, and I can see that I don’t have to turn at all for a while, but coming down the switchback sections is totally different.  I have seen enough accidents on televised races like the Olympics and Tour de France that I don’t want to overestimate my bike handling skills.  There were 4 riders who passed me on the last descent before aid station 3, but I re-passed one while he was getting water, and made up most of the gap on 2 others.

We recrossed the river in a slightly different place for traffic control reasons, and there was one last hard climb on the east side of the river.  It was not terribly long, but very steep.  I passed several people on that climb, but one of them passed me back right at the top.  I was standing up in my granny gear, and pushing really hard when it made a cracking sound and seemed to skip for a second. My bike was okay, and I spent the rest of the race trying to catch that guy, but I couldn’t get him.  My final bike split was 2:59:09, so I averaged a few ticks less that 19mph.  Considering the course, I was content with that time.  I finished 17th out of 50 in the aquabike, and was 3rd in my age group.

Post Race

For Aquabike competitors the clock stopped when you walked your bike into the transition area, but the actual finish area was back at the park where we did the swim.  I walked back there, and they had me walk across the run finish line to give back the timing chip and get my finisher medal.  Eventually there were a few people in the beer garden, so I went in to get a beer.  I was talking to the nice lady who was pouring beer, and she offered to top up my beer in a few minutes as the top few inches were mostly foam, as they had just tapped the keg.  By the time I was ready for that, there were a few people getting lunch on the other side of the fence – I asked if you had to finish the beer in there, and she suggested that I leave it on her pouring table and go get my food and bring it in.  I went ahead and did that, and when I got back I had my hands fairly full, so she said “Where would you like to sit?  I’ll carry your beer and plate over for you!”  I said that I didn’t actually know anyone else here, but I was going to ask those people if I could join them, indicating a man in a Team Canada tri-suit and a woman who I remember passing on the bike course.  She walked over with my food and beer, and said “Do you mind if my son joins you?”  I had a nice lunch with them and we watched people finish the triathlon for a while.

Looking Forward

There is one more aquabike race in Canada that I am considering doing this year – it is also half-iron distance, and is in Chilliwack  (slightly shorter drive, I think) in September.  I haven’t registered yet – I was waiting to see how this race went.  There are many parts of the training that I like – when the weather cooperates, a 3 or 4 hour bike ride is fun and gives me a feeling of accomplishment.  I’m sure that without a race to train for I would be too lazy to get into really good shape.  I was impressed by the number of aquabike racers.  The mens and womens winners were both in their 30’s, so it’s not just old injured people in it.  That hurts my chances of winning, but it improves my chances of finding races to do – I’m fine with it!




  1. That’s a LOT of bike riding! I”m impressed you can do all this! good job!

  2. Sounds like a good race!
    Chilliwack is about 30 minutes on the highway from the Lynden border crossing, so your total drive should be about 2 1/2 hours to that one!

  3. Impressive, congratulations on a strong race and a riveting write-up….nice sense of adventure on the bike rides: different course than expected (reminds me of when Paul and I got lost in Gorham in a open cross country race), using caution on downhills, I appreciate difficulty sleeping before a big day….hopefully two nights before was sound.

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