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.

1 comment:

  1. great race, bruce. well done. best of luck at the worlds this saturday. bring canada home a medal!