Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Race - 2009 Duathlon World Championship

The Race
Bib# 570

My Mom and John (step-father) drove me over to the race site, parked in then designated area at the back and then we walked in to the stadium together. I gave my team Canada vest to my Mom, which she wore with pride for the rest of the weekend. They wished me luck and I entered the athlete’s only transition zone to make my final preparations. I had a nice talk with Dominique Martinet who was my competitive inspiration while training for the 2008 Duathlon Canadian National Championships; where I qualified for this event. Dominique was so friendly and excited for me to do well stating that I had a real chance at the top five. I left the transition area, checked my bag and then warmed up first out in the infield and then out on the speedway behind the start line.

The start of the race was very impressive with big groups of athletes going out in waves starting right in the middle of the speedway on the main track. As the starting time neared I found myself inching closer to that starting line. I began thinking about ditching my strategy of going out easy with Dave Frake as I noticed that he was about three rows behind me. As the 3rd wave pulled out in front of us our wave was ushered forwards, I let the 3 rows of people pass me and stood right besides Dave who was as relaxed as ever. Dave told me that he was worried I might go out a little too hard based on where I had been standing. I told Dave that I was going to stick with him for pacing. There a couple of photo’s of Dave and me talking strategy at the start (Thanks John for capturing that).

The horn sounded and off we went. Dave leaned over and told me that we would move up at the 2km mark. I just stuck right in behind Dave and let him lead. During the first km we were boxed in several times but gradually made our way forwards. The pace was relatively easy and I enjoyed passing people on the run for a change. I could not help myself from looking ahead to see how far up the leaders were. I told myself not to worry about the gap and just stick with Dave. At about the 1km mark Dave increased the pace considerably and I followed suit. By the 2km mark just after we had exited the stadium, I started to find his pace uncomfortable. I had to slow down to a speed that I could handle and watched as Dave moved off ahead. It was at about this point that we began catching up to the wave in front of us making it impossible to determine my placement amongst my race category. Our wave contained three age categories and by the time we got out on the bike all of the age categories were intermingled.

The run course was tougher than I had anticipated, with climbs out of the stadium exit and up to the two overpass walkways. Each climb took its toll on me straining my leg muscles and extending my cardiovascular system to its maximum. It is surprising how quickly the race changes from me against the world, to a battle with oneself. At a few points in the race I was able to switch my focusing from the internal; battle to a competitor who was close by, but for the most point my focus was on getting the most I could out of my body. For the final seven km’s of the first run there was almost no change in positioning. I was following an American athlete in the age group below mine as we worked our way through slower competitors from the waves in front of us. With under two km’s to go I started to hear footsteps behind me as a few young rabbits from the wave behind caught and past me at a blistering pace. These younger age group athletes were running at a pace similar to the elites; completing the 10km course in 31 minutes. I completed the run course in 35:48 which was very close to my goal and probably the fastest (given the course) 10km that I have ever run.

My transition to the bike was flawless, which I validated later by reviewing the results; I got through in 33 seconds which the third fastest time of the day. I got a little caught up in the bike mount area, but found my way through without much difficulty. I mounted my bike and got my shoes on before entering the tunnel leading out of the stadium. I realized quickly that the visor attached to my helmet was not going to help me; it fogged up. There was a steady flow of rain from above and road spray from below thanks to all of the riders out on the course. Windshield wipers would have helped, but I settled for using my finger and thumb to wipe the visor clean; this process had to be repeated often as it only provided a very temporary reprieve. I made sure to wipe my visor before heading into the many technical sections of the course.

Once outside of the stadium on a gradual uphill, I was able to catch a couple of the younger guys who had passed me at the end of the run. When the road levelled out I was then passed back by two younger riders. It had been a while since the last time I was passed in the bike portion of a race, but I did not let it bother me as I focused on maximizing my efforts. My legs were under great strain as I heard my thighs screaming at my brain to ease up; I shifted down a gear and kept my cadence high as while giving my thighs a short reprieve. Another rider came up from behind me from the 35-39 age group and entered the first significant turn in an aggressive manor. Unfortunately the rider started the turn on a yellow line which was extra slick; he went down quick, sliding across the road. I had taken a much less aggressive angle as was able to avoid the downed rider to the outside before making the turn and then getting back up to speed quickly on the straighter section.

The rain did not let up. All of my focus was centered on a battle between speed and safety. I started on a long downhill section ending in a right hand turn to a small off ramp. I checked my breaks about half way down and they did not respond well. I applied more pressure to the breaks and began to slow down gradually, however the turn was approaching rapidly. I squeezed my breaks so hard that I thought I would snap the cables and began making some quick calculations about how much slower I needed to be going to navigate the turn without falling. Just at the last possible moment I slowed down enough to attempt the maneuver and made the turn safely. I swore the use more caution the next time around on that section of the two-lap bike course. If I erred during the bike it was on the side of caution as other riders made time on me on corners and down hills. The number of speed changes in the course was much more similar to a criterium than a time trial, and the effort I was expended was adding up.

At the end of the first loop I entered the stadium for a lap around the racetrack. I could feel another rider moving up on me on the corners leading up to the track entrance. I refused to give up my spot knowing that once on the track I would be able to keep away not needing the same amount of caution on the long straight. I also did not want to be in a position to be penalized for drafting. I hammered for that lap digging into my reserves as my competitive spirit was fired up by that rider just behind me. As we exited the stadium and back into a more technical section of the course rider made his way by. In all about a half dozen younger riders passed me on the bike course.

I passed a lot of people on the bike but it was not until the second loop that I passed three guys in my age group including Greg Baxter who fought hard to stay with me, gaining ground on a downhill and turn before losing the position back on the ensuing climb. I also changed positions a few times with an American and a couple of Brazilians. The Brazilians were working too closely with each other for my liking and the younger of the two took great chances on the turns. As I entered the stadium again for my final lap of the racetrack I realized that I did not have much energy left in my legs which were right on the verge of cramping up. The repeated changes in speed and maximum effort had drained me. I made another speedy transition and headed out onto the run course with no real idea of my position in the race.

The run course was much less crowded now which signaled that I had moved up closer to the front of the race. Within 500 meters, I was passed by a Canadian woman, and we exchanged encouragements. It was amazing to watch her tackle the run with such a smooth gate. I later found out that Magaret Ritchie of Edmonton won Gold in the 50-54 age category and finished 4th overall amongst the females, Amazing! As great as it is to cheer for a fellow Canadian, it is still disheartening to watch someone pull away at a speed I would normally be able to match. Not long thereafter I was caught by Greg Baxter of Australia (lives in London) who also offered his encouragement. I looked ahead at him moving away and told myself to just settle into my rhythm and maybe something would happen that would allow me to catch up to him.

As I descended into the tunnel under the grandstand the sound of footsteps behind me echoed ominously off the walls and ceiling. I fought my way up the ramp one painful step at a time and then worked myself back into a broken rhythm as the gradient levelled. An American in my age group strode by me with ease looking incredibly strong. At this point the best I could hope for was third place given that I was just passed by two guys from my category, there were probably several others up ahead I had not been able to catch out on the bike course.

As I headed towards a turn-around on the run, Dave Frake ran by in the other direction; he was having a monster race and was at least two minutes ahead of me. As it turns out Dave ran the 10km in 33:35, then laid down a quicker bike split than me by a few seconds, followed by a 17:19 5km. Dave finished in a phenomenal time of 1:48:45 which would have been good for a bronze in my age group, but landed him in 5th in his group. Dave performance and placement reinforces just how tough the competition is at the World level. Dave will be moving up to my age group next year and I will be cheering for him. Naturally Dave yelled out some encouragements as he passed. I have to say a Thank You to Dave’s family who cheered enthusiastically for me out in the rain.

On the final climb of the day up to the second overpass a Brit ran by me ending any fantasy that I had about ending up on the podium. I wanted so badly to run him down but I could not do it. As I ran down the through the final tunnel back into the stadium I wondered if my tired legs would keep up with the higher speed induced by gravity or would I fall on my face. Heading into the final straight away on pit row I passed an older runner. A picked up my pace for the home strech and acknowledged the cheering supporters. Half-way down a couple of runners began sprinting by me. I reacted with a final gut wrenching effort refusing to give up any more spots; even if these guys were not in my age category. I broke into a full all out sprint and one of the other runners began to fade. I then reached for an extra gear kicking high and hard to fight for that final finish. With great satisfaction I edged out the other guy right at the line.

My mom and John were standing near the finish line soaking wet and full of support. It took me a few minutes before I could speak and then I felt a wave of emotion wash over me knowing that I had fallen short of my goal of finishing in the top three. Dave Frake came over to congratulate me and understood instantly what I was feeling and then offered up some amazing encouragements stating how impressed he was with what I had accomplished this year. Dave went on the say that I probably needed at least a month to fully recover from the half-Ironman efforts from 2-weeks ago; Thanks again Dave and thank you Mom & John.

10km Run: 35:48 3:34 per km
1st Transition: 33 seconds
40km Bike: 56:25 42.5/kph pace
2nd transition: 40 seconds
5km Run: 19:47 3:56 per km
Total Time: 1:53:09

I had been playing down the significance of representing my country in an international event, thinking that Duathlons were fairly obscure. After this experience I feel a great sense of pride in having worn Canadian colours and given all I had in the race. People were cheering for Canada as I ran by the transition areas which made the experience extra special, and I was doing my best to represent. This truly was a World Championship event and athletes who had come from all over the globe reinforced that with their spectacular and inspiring performances. I look forward to representing Canada again next September in the Triathlon World Championships being held in Budapest, Hungary.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Pre Race - 2009 Duathlon World Championship

Pre Race – Friday September 25th

As soon as I arrived at my hotel at noon the day before the race, I started unpacking my bike and putting it together so that I could get out and view the course. As soon as I got out on the road I noted just how humid it was in Concord North Carolina. Keeping hydrated will be a priority.

The course was great; cycling around the track at the LMS (Lowe’s Motor Speedway) was awesome! I loved the banked turns which were 24degrees; I could not resist trying to climb up the banks to see how high I could get. I kept feeling like my wheels were going to slip out from under me, but they didn’t. It took me until the fourth turn to get enough courage to try and climb to the top of the wall. When I returned to the track later in the day to check my bike in, I stopped to snap a few shots of the banked turns to try gain some perspective on just how steep it the turns are as well as the immensity of the stadium. Luckily Greg Baxter from Australia was marvelling at the banked turn as well, so we took turns snapping photos of one another.

Most of the bike course was outside of the LMS on the expansive Raceway grounds. The course was very technical meaning that there were many changes in direction. The course looped twice around the three main stadiums (LMS, Dirt Track, Drag Strip). Most of the roads were closed with cycling traffic in one direction only; if the course stayed dry it looked like it would be a lot of fun. I noticed one field with hundreds of Port-A-Potties lined up and could not help thinking that Mitch Fraser the Subaru Series organizer should take note. I had to stop and take a picture amazed at how prepared the people at LMS are to handle big crowds.

Race Day - Saturday September 26th

I tried to get a much sleep as possible turning off the TV at 11:10pm. I woke up in a sweat, looking over at the clock expecting to see 5:00am; instead it was only 12:30am. I slept in spurts until 9:00am and then went downstairs to partake in the breakfast bar at the Hotel. The breakfast area was filled with excited Athletes chatting amongst themselves grouped in country teams. I spent almost 2 hours talking with my Mom & John and a couple from Connecticut: Dawn & Joseph. Dawn was competing in the 60-64 age group and ended up finishing third. It was great to see her competitive fire burning so brightly at 63.

The weather was going to be a big factor as there was a constant light rain falling with no signs of letting up. The roads were wet with no chance of drying. Extreme caution will be required on the many turns out on the bike course. The upside of the wet weather was that the temperature has dropped to about 22celcius which would make the run much less painful; or so I hoped.

As sat in my hotel waiting for my start time the elite men’s race was about to begin over at the LMS. I fought off the impulse to go and watch them race and tried to mentally prepare for the race. I had seen a lot of people heading over to LMS after breakfast with pumps, packs and water bottles in hand. Although it would be exciting to watch the race and cheer for fellow Canadian Mathew Pieterson, I decided to spend the extra two hours away from the venue focusing on my upcoming race. I was exited for Matthew, thinking that this event may be a coming out party for him. He is relatively unknown and extremely talented I was hoping for a great result from him. Matthew needs to get into the pool and start swimming so that he can do more great things for the sport in Canada; which is what I told him after the race. Despite running a sub 31 minute 10km Matthew finished well down in the standings demonstrating just how tough the competition was.

Sitting in my room, I kept thinking about the 1st 10km run as I went over my race strategy. The start was on the main speedway with a left turns off the track after 150meters. My instincts were telling me to get near the front and make the turn clear of any congestion. I decided to fight my instincts and trust in my intellect; starting out easier and then gradually moving up. Going out hard at the start of the race will only serve to expend too much energy too early, just to be in a position that I would not be able to maintain. I may get a bogged down at the start, but if I had the fitness I would be able to work myself into striking distance for the bike start. I developed this strategy over the past few years watching the races play out as the person in the lead after 1km is rarely the person crossing the finish line first.

To reinforce my strategy I planned on finding David Frake at the start line and lining up right next to him. Dave has excellent starts he remains relaxed as he systematically works his way up to the lead of the race avoiding any unnecessary energy expenditure that can occur with sprint starts. Two months ago at the Duathlon Provincial Championships, Dave was almost two minutes faster than me during the 1st run. I have been researching Dave’s times in subsequent races and have been impressed with his improvements. I hoped that the running work I had done during the last two months would be enough to keep me close.

My goal was to run a 35minute 10km. I have never run that fast before but I have taken some steps towards achieving that goal. I ran 35:40 in the sporting life 10km back in April; my finish time benefited from a mostly downhill course. I ran a 17:15 5km in the 1st leg of the Cobourg race 6 weeks ago. I also ran a 25minute 7.5km in Orillia 5 weeks ago. The race in Cobourg gives me the most confidence as I did not feel that I was going all out nor did I feel that I had exhausted my reserves. I was prepared for the run, although my hip felt a little strained as a result of the half Ironman 2-weeks back in Muskoka.

I had not spent that much time thinking about the second run portion as typically not much change occurs during this final leg of the race. My plan for the second run was to make the transition back to running just I as have practiced so many times. If everything works out as planned I may have the lead by this point and will need to hold off any attackers. I will run hard but save some gas for the final 500 meters where I will give it all I have. If I am in pursuit at this point I may need to dig very deep and see if I have enough will to spur myself to new heights. As I am a stronger cyclist than runner I have not much experience running down my competition.

I want to take a moment to thank all of my family and friends who have been pulling for me over the past two years leading up to this race. I received over 20 emails wishing me luck and telling me to kick ass in the race today. Thank you all very much.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Race Report: Muskoka 70.3 – Sept 13th, 2009

2km Swim, 94km Bike, 21.1km run.
1335 Participants
Weather Conditions: Perfect; some cloud cover and a high of 24c, no wind

What an Event!

Now I know why people are so hooked on the Ironman series. The energy and excitement surrounding the event is fuelled by the stars that attend and dominate the events. People flock to the events because they are extremely challenging and rare. An Ironman event is to a triathlete what a formidable mountain is to a climber, with Kona (Hawaii IronmanWorld Championships) being the Mt. Everest and Clearwater 70.3 (Half Iron World Championship’s) being K2. The only way to win a golden ticket to participate in one of the two World Championship events is to earn a spot at an Ironman race series event. At the Muskpoka 70.3 event this weekend, there were 50 Clearwater spots to be distributed amongst 1335 participants. In 2009, there were only 3 Ironman events (Penticton, Calgary and Muskoka) in Canada. Up until 2 years ago there was only the Penticton Ironman event. Where there is demand, supply is sure to follow; Muskoka 70.3 started in 2008 and Calgary 70.3 started in 2009. With the sudden increase in supply you might think that demand might level off, but there has been no sign of it. The Pentincton race had 2602 finishers in 2009 up from 2211 last year. The Muskoka 70.3 event had 1335 participants up from 1299 in 2008, Calgary 70.3 had 1088 participants.
I heard about Muskoka event last fall and was told that the event would sell out quickly, which helped add to my desire to sign-up. It seems that people are so in love with the idea of the Ironman event that 20% will pay the entry fee and then not show up for the event; numbers from Janet Fraser which were consistent for 2008 & 2009. An Ironman event costs almost 3 times more than the average local Triathlon, yet people still prefer the Ironman events. The event buzz had me purchasing my spot for $215US on Nov 26th ten months ahead of time; even though I could barely swim at that time and had never competed in a Triathlon.

Here is the Ironman formula for success as I see it:
Traithlon Stars + Desirable Location + Superior Event Organization + Potential to Win a Golden Ticket + (Demand > Supply) = A Great Event; good weather helps too.

I drove up to Deerhurst resort with Paul Bregin riding shotgun on Saturday Sept 12th to register for the race and rack our bikes, which needed to be done the day before the race by 5pm. One thing that I learned about Paul during our trip is there may not be a more dedicated student of Triathlon in the world. After an incident free 2.5hour drive from Toronto, we arrived at the resort at 4pm an hour before registration closure. I drove past the ‘No Parking That Means You!’ signs and down to the transition area to drop off our bicycles. The event staff allowed us to pull into the drop off area for 15 minutes, however, it was pretty clear that we were just about the last competitors to register and there was little need to enforce the time limit given that no more vehicles were pulling in. We placed our bikes on the temporary racks and headed into the registration area inside the resort’s indoor tennis courts. Paul and both eneded up dissatisfied with our competitors wrist bands which could not be adjusted once attached; I felt that, mine was too loose and Paul was worried that his was too tight. The wrist band identified us as athletes allowing us access to the transition area, and could not be removed until the event ended the following day. We could have gotten new wrist bands but elected instead to stick with what we had on. Looser was the better option as I quickly stopped noticing the band whereas Paul needed to take his off later that night and loosen it using electric tape to reattach.

Feeling relaxed but hungry we drove through Hunstville looking for some place to eat. We ended up at the Family Restaurent and Pizza in a strip mall near the center of town. The town was full of Triathletes and the local businesses were very welcoming. I had booked my room two-weeks prior to the event; as a result the closest that I could get to the resort was the Sleep Inn Hotel in Bracebridge which was a 30 minute drive south. After dinner feeling relaxed and full we decided to drive along a portion of the bike route on our way to the hotel. The bike route was extremely scenic with the biggest portion circling around the Lake of Bays. Surprisingly we had a bit of trouble finding the hotel as the directions that I printed off were for an incorrect address that I had entered into the “To” location. We stopped in the center of town and called the hotel for directions; we were told to take a left at the KFC. There is no way in the world to miss a KFC spinning bucket of chicken landmark, but somehow we managed to do just that and it wasn’t even dark outside yet. Making a second call to the nice lady at the front desk, we were provided with a fresh set of directions, this time from the North side of town. I made a u-turn and headed back south. We were both dumbfounded at the sight of the KFC bucket wondering how we could have missed it. I guess we must have been a little tired at this point. We checked in, made some race preparations, scheduled a wake-up call, watched the end of the Blue Jays game and turned in by 10pm.

I was awake when the phone rang at 5:30am. Paul and got ready and were loaded back into the car by 6:10am. I drove back to the KFC intersection and took a left heading north thinking I was headings towards Hunstville. I expected to see a sign at the nearest intersection indicating a road West that would join up with highway 11; the main route North. It was still dark out and overcast and the road that we were on twisted and turned but continued North with no indication of a connection to Hwy #11. Without a map in hand I decided to call back to the front desk at the Hotel for the reassurance that the road we were on a road that would eventually connect to Huntsville. Unfortunately the 2 people working that morning had no idea of what road I was on or where I was headed. Bracebridge is not that big of a town and anyone working at the Hotel must live in the area, furthermore there is no real public transport in Bracebridge so I think that it safe to assume that you would have to have a drivers license and access to a vehicle in order to get to work or at least ride in a car. It is amazing to think that you wouldn’t know the name of the road just ten minutes outside of town.

Blood pressure rising as I thanked them for their help and cursed myself for not having prepared a better map, I continued driving north. Every 100 meters that I passed felt like 10 kilometres as I continued to drive up an unknown road that may or may not lead us to our destination. I then looked to my Blackberry for salvation and connected to Google Maps and followed the download link for the GPS application. I entered our destination and directions appeared; the whole process seemed to take an eternity but probably only took a few minutes. With a sense of satisfaction I handed the Blackberry to Paul so that he could read out the directions as I drove; he quickly noted that the Huntsville town that we were headed towards was 1500 miles away in the mid west. In disbelief I snatched the Blackberry and then proceeded to try and change the destination information. The next few minutes were excruciating as we tried unsuccessfully to use the GPS application and then locate ourselves on a bigger but miniature sized map of the area.

A gas station appeared up ahead on the left and I pulled into the lot. The store was closed and no one was in. It was now 6:48am and we were now literally at a crossroads as the Gas station was located at the intersection of the North-South road we were on and a road heading west. Should we keep following the road to nowhere, or should we turn back south and find the connection to Hwy 11 back in Bracebridge; we sure as hell were not going to make it to the race parked at an empty gas station. A truck travelling up the West road towards us neared the intersection. I shifted into drive and drove towards the vehicle flashing my high beams to try and get the driver’s attention. The truck turned never stopped and I could hardly blame thoem, the headed south towards Bracebridge. I followed deciding that it was better to opt for the sure thing even if it made us late rather than gambling on the road north and maybe missing the start race altogether. Back in Bracebridge we found the connection to Highway 11, it was that cursed KFC again; we were supposed to have gone South at the bucket instead of North.

The rest of the drive passed by quickly without incident and we arrived at the designed parking area at the air strip near 7:30. I dropped Paul off at the queue for the shuttle busses, which would take us down to the race site. I then drove down to the end of the strip to the first available spot and parked. There were so many cars lined up on either side of the runway that it took me quite a while at a brisk walking pace to get back to the bus stop. I passed many people on my way who seemed to be in less of a hurry than me and carrying much less gear. There was a long line of people waiting and a bus was just pulling out. Paul was nowhere in sight as he had clearly boarded an earlier shuttle. One of the volunteers directing traffic asked me if I was an athlete based on the bicycle pump in my hand, and then instructed me to go to the front of the line. I felt a little sheepish about cutting in front of the queue, but made my way without making eye contact with anyone. Then something amazing happened that seemed almost dream like, the bus that was pulling away stopped and two people got out. The people then called out to me to get on the bus. Without hesitation I jogged up, thanked then and boarded the shuttle. I wish that life was just like that; people willing to give up there seat and wait for the next bus just to help out someone else who was clearly in need. I am at a loss for words…Thank you. The kindness that I felt at the air strip was everywhere surrounding the event.

The school bus was full. The driver told me that the open spot was at the back. I decided to sit on the front stairs instead trying to make my way down the miniature isle with all my gear. Sitting down I shut my eyes and transcended into race mode.

Off the bus and into transition, it was 7:39 and I had all of 6 minutes to get organized and out of transition which closed at 7:45. Pump up the tires, strip down to my race gear, take the pump attachment for disc wheels out of the pump and tape it to the spare, then tape the spare under the seat. Clip my bike shoes into the pedals. Set my running shoes up beside the bike with my socks, hat and a Power Bar. Tape a couple of Energy Gels to the frame then put my helmet across the handle bars. Get all my odds and end into my gear bag and then move the bag and pump over to the side fence; time check 7:48 and those Port-a-Potties are screaming my name. I start to worry about be disqualified even before the race starts but risk it for a quick pit stop. Amazingly I am not the last person out of transition. I stop on my way out to make a visual impression in my brain of how to find my bike when I return to transition after the swim, then head down the hill towards the lake.

With wet suit in hand, I made my way down to the water. The horn sounded marking the start of the first wave (the pros) which meant that it was now 8:00am. I felt calm and focused knowing that all the preparations have been made and I had 21 minutes until my wave started at 8:21.

What an awesome scene down by the lake. I walked passed the swim exit which was located on a temporary green or tee area of the golf course. There were artificial-turf sections laid out where volunteers were gathered in groups of two, to will help the athletes remove wetsuits; these people are known as strippers. On the perimeter leading up to the swim start, athletes were grouped together in their triathlon clubs taking pre race photos; there were smiles all around. A little closer to the water I spotted a series of signs like the ones preceding a nation in the opening ceremony for the Olympics, indicating a wave number and associated cap colour. I moved forward in search of the Green caps of Wave #4, who were located on the hill heading down to the water. There were a series of stages sectioned off by ropes that the sign bearers led their waves through on route to the starting line. After the second wave started, we moved into the next section which was the beach. Most people took the opportunity to get in for a quick swim warm-up, including myself. I noticed that there were lots of reads in the water and that visibility was poor; I am thankful for the zero visibility in Lake Ontario over the past week that has helped prepare me to be at peace with the situation.

I am already vying for an inside position and set myself up to be able to claim one as soon as our wave moves into the start area. The third wave takes off and we moved from the on deck position into the water. I headed directly for the inside buoy and then even a little further to the right as close to the starting line as I could get. The water near the front on the inside is almost neck deep, but luckily I found a rock to stand on that keeps me waist high in the water, which was an excellent vantage point to check out the competition from. A lot of people from Wave #4 are further back on shore. I saw Darren Walton in the center of the start line looking focused; given his results from last year’s race he is the man to beat today. The officials were being strict making sure that no one got a head start. I heard the countdown and then the horn and off we went. I began my pattern of exhaling stoke-stroke-stroke breath, exhaling stroke-stroke-stroke breath. I repeated the process over and over trying not to get too caught up in the start mayhem. I was able to keep my cool even when bumping into other swimmers; I just figured that I would focus on my swimming and eventually I would have my own space. I was even able to control my racing heart rate after the initial adrenalin rush of the swim start.

I was able to see that a group of green caps getting away from me but was glad to note that the group was fairly small. By the third buoy I started catching up to yellow caps from the wave before; from this point onwards the water in front of me is congested with swimmers from the 2 prior waves. Even though I was doing my best to chart a course through the stragglers from the earlier stages, I still managed to thump two swimmers in the head with a lumbering right cross. Imagine the feeling of struggling to swim feeling exhausted and then having someone bonk you in the head. There is no way of telling who has hit you and no way to retaliate, all you can do is keep swimming. My apologies to the two red caps that I hit; if I were a better swimmer my arms would not extend so far out to the sides before entering the water and I may have been able to avoid the bonk.

Down the swim homestretch the course neared a shallow section to the left before entering the final bay. I noticed that several exhausted swimmers seized the opportunity and walk for a bit in the shallower water; I swam by on the right side. Everyone in the water had to converge on the staircase at the exit; needless to say it was a bit of a jam. The stairs were wide enough to accommodate two stumbling swimmers. Volunteers were positioned to yank athletes out of the water and help us to navigate the stairs; they did their job with great enthusiasm. After climbing the stairs and crossing the timing matt, I turned to look for a free spot to remove my wetsuit. I saw a swimmer leave and grabbed the open spot. There were 2 volunteer strippers right there ready to help me. I wasn’t exactly sure how they could help me get out of my suit faster than I could do so alone. I freed my arms and then pushed my suit down my legs. One of the strippers directed me to get on my back so that they could rip the suit off my legs. I resisted the assistance and tried to complete the task by myself just as I had every prior time that I had taken off my wetsuit. I of course got stuck, then continued to struggle before finally succumbing and rolling onto my back. The strippers were amazing, each grabbing a leg then yanking with great force and just like that I was free. I let them know how much I appreciated their help to which the women replied “It’s what we do!” I could not help but smiling as I headed up the hill to transition.

Shuffling along the narrow path with wetsuit in hand I was part of a procession of slow moving Triathletes. My heart raced as I tried to keep my cool while moving as fast as I could. People in front of me slowed to a walking pace and my will broke. Like a sheep I followed the pattern and broke stride / shuffle, thankful for a chance to catch my breath instead of fighting my way through the blockers in front of me. This break cost me a little over a minute to all of the race leaders who moved from the water to the bike in 2:30 to 3:00 whereas I took 4 minutes. Thankfully the transition is a relatively easy area to improve in with a bit more focus and resolve, not to mention if I had started in the 1st wave, the path will be much clearer.

On the bike course gained strength and confidence as I passed hundreds of people in the 1st 30 kilometres. The hills were not as tough as they appeared in the car the day before, although there were many of them they were not that steep or long. Working my way around the course I looked carefully at each person that I passed to determine if they were in my age group. At the 30km mark I spotted Darren Walton up ahead and yelled out “That’s who I’m looking for” as I closed in, however, my words were most likely lost to the wind. I nodded to Darren on my way by in a signal of respect and kept on going. I passed 2 other cyclists in my age group a short distance up the road from Darren.

The distance in between riders was becoming greater as I got closer to the front of the race. A female competitor slowed as she pulled over then yelled something out. I squeezed my breaks to see what was the matter but as I looked back I spotted one of the guys in my age group who I had recently passed closing in on me. Realizing that the woman was not in danger, I sped back up and continued on my way. It was a perfect day, the road was in great condition and the scenery was beautiful. I came up on Paul Bregin at the 60km mark and yelled out for him to sit down to conserve energy instead of coming out of the saddle on the moderate hill.

By the 70km marker I was all by myself with no other rider in sight. I decided to force myself to eat the PowerBar that I had with me in hopes that it may help me out later on the run; which I think it did. After fumbling with the wrapper for a while trying to maintain my speed I bit into the bar….Ouch! A pain shot through my jaw and down my neck from my right lower wisdom tooth. Yes I know it is a rare thing for a 40 year old to still have his wisdom teeth, and my dentist has been warning me that I should get them pulled before they start causing me too many problems. As it turns out I cracked the tooth on that bite. I continued to chew my way through the bar but only on the left side of my mouth. It took me about 5 km’s to work my way through that bar.

In the final 8km I caught and passed a couple of female pros who seemed so tiny and powerful as I rode by. Larry Bradley was out on the course cheering me on near the 90km mark; it was great to have the support. As I headed down the final 1km into transition hundreds of cheering spectators lined both sides of the course. There must have been less than 40 people out on the course in front of me and big gaps in between the lead 15 and the rest of us; as a result the people were charged full of energy and it felt fantastic. Kevin Mackinnon spotted me entering transition called out my name noting that I was in 1st place for my age group; I couldn’t help myself from pulling out an Arsenio arm pump. Through transition without incident I emerged onto the run course and all pain and strain disappeared thanks to the fans who charged me full will, I felt as if I were floating out onto the course. Unfortunately by the 1km there were no more spectators on the side of the course and the reality of the 20km’s left out in front of me brought me right pack down to earth.

The volunteers at the drink stations were fabulous and super excited often displayed disappointment when I took my drink from the person beside them. The out and back course was mostly uphill on the out portion. On a few of the steeper climbs I felt as though I was barely moving taking tiny steps to distribute the effort of hauling my tired bones up hills. I passed a couple more female pros on the run feeling like a giant beside them, amazed in a way that I was passing anyone.

I do not like looking behind me in a race and rarely do so as I want to always focus on what is in front of me. I was glad to finally reach the turn-around section at about 10.2km so that I could see how much of a lead I had on Darren and the other two guys in my age group. With each step I took away from the mid point I gained more confidence and it was not until near the 11km marker that I saw my main competition heading towards me; signifying about a 1.5km lead. With a sense of relief I concentrated on the road ahead glad for each kilometre marker that I passed. I saw Paul Bregin limping up the hill with a sprained ankle, sorry about your luck and speedy recovery to you.

My body had finally had enough around the 15km marker on the run, which coincided with being passed by two runners Migali Tissere a female pro whom I had passed at the 4km mark and Dana Riederer a 27 year old age-grouper. I hated the sound of their footsteps closing in on me. I was not worried about losing an overall position to Migali as I had started the race 21 minutes behind her. I had only started 6 minutes behind Dana and feared that I would loose all of the in the final 6 km’s given the difference in our pace. When someone is moving past you at a decent clip it can be demoralizing especially near the end of a race.

My shoes were full of the water that I had been splashing on my head at each aid station; I could hear the sloshing with each step. I felt like drilling a hole in my shoe to let the water out knowing that it would make me lighter, but just kept running. I have another set of shoes with designed drainage holes but elected for this set because of the extra cushioning that I felt I would need given the pounding I would absorb going down all of the hills; I was glad for my shoe choice up to this point in the race.

I looked forward to the final run up to the finish and was extremely appreciative of the reception that I received by all of the cheering spectators. I crossed the line and was pleasantly surprised by the banner I was able to raise over my head that I thought was reserved only for the race winners. I later realized that everyone gets a banner. I was thrilled to finish and happy with my performance. As I waited in the finish area for a kind volunteer to wrap up the banner and hand it to me I noticed another man standing to my right after a bit of an uncomfortable silence he said the he was just waiting to see if I would collapse, and here I was thinking that I had made a new friend. I did not collapse and spotted a true friend Larry Bradley at the far end of the finish area. Larry was so excited for me and full of great things to say, Thanks Larry.

It only took a few minutes of standing around to realize that I had pain from my hips to my knees and that my tooth was killing. I asked Larry to punch me in the face to help change the focus of the pain and I think I was more than half serious. There was no punch but I did make my way to the massage area to get my legs worked on and thank goodness I did because I am sure that the message shortened my healing time.

After the race given my finishing position I decided to stick around for the award ceremony so that I could register for the 70.3 world championships in Florida on Nov 14th. There was a long period of time between my finishing and the awards ceremony which seemed to drag on and on. During the delay I ate everything that I could get my hands on and drank what seemed like gallons of liquids. I spent a bit of time watching people finish up there race, by now most of the spectators had dispersed. It made me all the more appreciative of the support that I had received when I ran out onto the run course and the back up to the finish line.

The awards finally began at 4:39pm in the ballroom of the resort which was full of tired Triathletes. You could not help but being moved by the reception that World Champion Craig Alexander received when he came up to the podium to accept his award; a standing ovation, which was no small feat given the soreness all of us felt especially after having been in the seated position for so long with sore muscles. Craig Alexander is great champion, humble and ideal spokesmen for the sport; any sponsor would be fortunate to have him represent their products. I also want to give a shout out to Kevin Mackinnon who was announcing for what seemed like 12 hours straight and somehow succeeded in making everyone feel special. Mitch and Janet Fraser also deserve some recognition for organizing a 1st class event, one that I will be using as my measuring stick for all future events. I have said it throughout this posting that the volunteers and spectators made this a special day.

I ended up finishing up in 4:31:58 good for 16th place overall and 1st in my age group. I also had the honour of being the fastest amateur in the race. I am pleased about all aspects of the race and everything that happened after 7:30am. All of the run training that I did in the past 6 weeks preparing for the race made a marked difference over my results from the Peterborough ½ Ironman race; I knocked almost 4 minutes off of my run time. I still think that I can improve in all disciplines of a Triathlon and am looking forward to the challenge.

Next up Duathlon World Championship’s Set 26th where I hope to podium (top three) in my age group, then the 70.3 World Championships in Clearwater on Nov 14th where I hope to make the top ten in my age group.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Riding with Thor Hushovd

I received an email from Radek at Wheels of Bloor telling me to call him. In the ensuing conversation Radek told me to be at the shop for noon the following day for a 1hr ride with Thor Hushovd. I moved around my work schedule a little bit so that I could take part in this unique experience. Thor races with the Cervelo Test team. Cervelo is a cycling company which is based out of Toronto. Wheels of Bloor is the best bike shop that I have ever been to and they certainly have a lot of Cervelo product. This special visit for Thor to the bike shop is no doubt related to the relationship between the bike shop and Cervelo.

I had never taken part in a ‘ride with a cycling hero’ before and was eager for the opportunity. Thor was amazingly inspirational in this year’s Tour de France, capturing the Green Jersey as the top Sprinter despite losing most of the key sprints to the young phenom Mark Cavendish. In stage 17 ‘Le Grand-Bornand’, Hushovd made an increadible individual effort keeping away from the peleton to capture key points mid way through the race that would ultimately secure his Green Jersey victory. I am sure the Thor would have preferred to win all of the final sprints, but he adapted his strategy and prevailed which ranks highly in my books. Thor who is known as ‘God of Thunder’ in cycling circles for his awesome power is a relatively large cyclist at 6’0” and 178lbs.

I put on my team kit and rode over to the shop. From a few blocks away I could already see that a crown of cyclist outside of the shop. I pulled up and leaned my bike against a wall then walked over to speak with my brined Ian. I was told that Thor had just arrived. Thor was standing in front of the shop in his Cervelo Test team white outfit posing for photos with fans; yes I took my turn as well but the photo didn’t turn out. I photographer was snapping shots of Thor and the shop, Radek & others. I was then told the join in a photo of Thor with the Wheels of Bloor team. I felt special to be part of the picture like I was part of the team. Thor was good natured and smiled for all photos never indicating any lack of patience.

After a little bit of standing around we headed of to High Park for a ride. I joined the front of the pack as we circled the 2km loop many times. A van rode ahead of us with the rear hatch open so the photographer could snap some more photos as we rode. I could not help but notice that as Thor’s pedaled there were muscled defined in his legs that I had never seen on anyone else, and I wondered how many hours he must ride per week. I also noted that Thor got out of the saddle quite a bit to stretch, which is something I should probably do more of. As we rode the team assembled for another photo which turned out well. Radek who is a fast sprinter then challenged Thor to a little friendly sprint as the rest of us followed. The ride came to a stop at the park restaurant where most people filed in for a drink. I skipped the restaurant due to time constraints and headed back to work glad for having taken part in the team function.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Getting Ready for Muskoka 70.3

Getting Ready for Muskoka 70.3

I am in my final stages of getting ready for the Muskoka 70.3 Half Ironman event on Sept 13th. Reading that first sentence back it sounds like I have been following some Master Plan leading up to the event, but I can assure you that I have not. Today I swam about 2km in rough conditions in Lake Ontario. It was a beautiful day but the wind was causing some white caps. There were several Kit Boarders out enjoying the conditions. By late afternoon the wind had kicked up so much that there was a haze of sand in the air being swept up off the beach and blowing inlands. When I went for a swim earlier in the day the conditions were not quite so severe, but it was still a bit of an adventure bobbing up in down in the swells.

I have been feeling more relaxed than ever before in the water thanks to my break through last week with regards to breathing steadily instead of in a gasping pattern. I was not bothered by the waves, the swell or the lack of visibility; I was unable to see my extended hand in the water. I spent most of my effort concentrating on making my new breathing pattern an established habit. I am excited to see how the breathing adjustment will help me on race day.

I mentioned that I swam 2km, however that is just a guess. There were no markers in the water to indicate what distance I had covered; I am merely making a best guess based on how long I was in the water for. Maybe with the new Garmin water friendly GPS watch I could solve the mystery. Unfortunately I just purchased the Garmin 405 less than a year ago, which cannot be used in the water. I would be nice if Garmin would allow me to trade in my 405 on newer water proof GPS training watch. Garmin appears to be following the model established by companies like Pentium and Apple, where they create demand by outdating there own technology. Garmin could build a lot of loyalty by establishing a trade up program.

Later in the day I completed a run speed workout on my trainer. All of my run training is done on a trainer as it doesn’t end up hurting my right ankle. This strategy enables me to train more frequently. The incline on my treadmill is always set at 1; the only change I make is to the speed and duration of my workouts. Today I ran 7 x 1km with a 60 second break in betweens reps. The 60 second break sometimes extends a bit as it takes a bit of time to slow down and then speed up again. I never stop my treadmill suddenly from a high speed; instead I allow just hold down the arrow on the speed button and let the machine take the designed time to slow down. My treadmill is 10 years old; I have replaced the particle based running board that it came with after I cracked it. The new running board is made up of tw0 poplar plywood ½ inch sheets glued together for extra strength. The next part to go will probably be the conveyer as it has been losing grip and gets pretty slick when wet.

My pace for the first 6 x 1km runs was 3:33/km or 10.5 miles per hour (as listed on my treadmill). I had only planned to complete 6 reps because last week I was 200 meters shy of doing so. I felt good enough to add an extra km at a reduced pace of 3:39km or 10.2 mph.

I find the 1st km of the speed workout to be the most difficult. During the 1st km I have to work hard to suppress the sudden realization that today is probably not the best day for a run speed workout. Once I get past the 1st km, the next few don’t hurt quite so bad and then the final few start hurting more and more. I found this workout on www.timetorun.com as part of a series of workouts designed to get you in shape to reach a new goal for a 10km distance. I decided to stick with this workout because I think that it has been instrumental in helping me be more competitive. My goal this year is to get down to a 35min 10km, in order to do so I am supposed to be able to completed 6x1km in 3:15-3:20. I am still a ways off from that but making progress none the less.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Breathing vs. Gasping

I have been swimming for almost a year now. I have worked with numerous coaches listening intently to what they have all been telling me and then trying my best to apply the learning’s in the water. I have progressed from barely being able to complete 100meters without a break to swimming a 1min 40-45 seconds per 100meters during races. I had numerous panic attacks during swim training (race simulation) and also during the swim for my first 3 triathlons. After a lot of time in the water I have overcome my fears and no longer worry about escalating into a panic state during a swim. I am happy with my progression but not yet satisfied. My goal is to come out of the water in a position to challenge for the lead on the bike; to do this I must 1st get my times down to 1:30 / 100m and then start working towards 1:20 / 100m.

One thing that I can’t help noticing is the startling differences between good swimmers and the rest of us. In the Muskoka Long Course Triathlon this year (2009), the top swimmer swam 28% faster than the 50th place swimmer, whereas the top runner was 19% faster and the top cyclist was just 12% faster than 50th place. Good swimmers seem to move through the water effortlessly and are able to swim for much longer periods of time. Good swimmers seem to finish sets in a composed manner, well within themselves and ready for the next drill. I on the other hand finish sets gasping for air not really knowing how much I have left in the tank for the next drill. I feel like I am putting everything that I have into each drill in order to show improvements, but improvements don’t come as often or as quickly as I want them to. Good swimmers make it all look so easy.

Last weekend after the Cobourg race, Richard Pady suggested that I check out Mr. Smooth; a simulation of the freestyle stroke in its simplest from at swimsmooth.com. I committed the smooth part to memory by repeating it many times over in my head, it is almost impossible for me to remember details like a website right after a race. Later, I checked out the site and was impressed with the application that allows you to view Mr. Smooth’s perfect freestyle stroke form a variety of angles. I watched the application intently and then decide to check out the training videos. I read the criteria for each category of swimmer noting that advanced swimmers average less than 1:30/100meters; I then queued up the intermediate video presentation. I also listened to the advanced presentation just to see what I could learn from it. I then decided to check out the beginner video as well which was geared to swimmers just starting out.

The first point that Adam Young (one of the creators of Mr Smooth) made was about breathing; stating that by far Mr Smooth’s best attribute was his breathing technique. Young went on to explain how important is was to start breathing out as soon as your head is submerged in water and to continue breathing out until it was time to take a breath. He discussed problems that could occur related to holding your breath; tension, Closter phobia, increased drag. I have suffered from all of these symptoms mentioned and wondered if I was holding my breath. To drive his point home Young suggested that the viewer try holding your breath while cycling or running and then breathing quickly in a gasp so as to better understand the impact we are causing ourselves in the water.

I headed down to Lake Ontario for a swim. When I first started my swim I made a point of not changing anything, but paying close attention to what I was doing. Without a doubt I was holding my breath and then breathing out hard right before each breath in. I focused on changing my breathing pattern to a constant exhale, this took a lot of concentration as I have become used to the gasping pattern. By the time I finished my swim about 45 minutes later, I was nowhere near as tired as I normally would be. Somehow along the path of learning I missed this key component to effective swimming. I am sure that my coaches must have mentioned this to me; however I have always been so focused on breathing in that I never stopped to notice what I was doing with the air. I knew that I had to get it all out before I raised my moth out of the water for a breath but never took it to the next level where I breathed out in a steady flow. It must be difficult for a coach to spot this flaw as it is happening under the water.

I went out for a swim again the next day and could really feel the difference in the reduction in tension. With less body tension and a more even level of air in my lungs I hope to improve my streamline position which has been chronically poor with legs dragging. I also tried holding my breath during a run workout similar to what I had done while swimming. It only took 1 time of holding my breath to realize the extra level of strain I was putting on myself. I can’t believe that I have been doing this to myself for an entire year, or maybe it took me a year to understand; either way I am done holding my breath. I am excited to find out in the next race (Muskoka 70.3) how my breathing change will impact not only my swim time but the energy level I have left to complete the bike and run.