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.

1 comment:

  1. bruce,

    an incredible race report. i felt like i was right there with you for your entire race. i was so excited for all of you guys competing down there and have been looking forward to hearing some of the stories from race day from an athlete's perspective. i had imagined that this was going to be a fairly flat course but it turns out that wasn't the case at all.

    you ran a such a strong race, bruce, and it sounds like you came home with a pretty amazing experience. i was blown away by the strength of the field and the overall times, and you really held your own out there. that must have been pretty awesome to have come down that final chute with everyone cheering for you because you were wearing the canadian colours.

    well done. something to truly be proud of.