After a full day to replay this race over a few times in my head, I still cannot decide if I am satisfied with the total experience or a little disappointed with the way I planned my aggressive attack on this course.
I arrived very prepared on this race morning as I had really thought most of my pre-race routine out and executed a lot of the little details the night before. My equipment was packed, nutritional products collected and my bike set up for a quick park and rack upon entry to the Binbrook Conservation Area. This quiet park south west of Hamilton was another perfect spot for multisport with ample parking and amenities to serve the growing number of participants on the HSBC Triathlon Series.
Once past the gatehouse at the entrance to the conservation area I had a short drive to the grassy parking lot and picked out a spot very close to the transition area. I gathered up all my gear, unloaded my bike and made my way over to the athletes staging where I easily found a position on the overflow rack that was actually more assessable to the exits than the age group spot that had already filled up. This may have helped on my best transition times to date in any duathlon!
After setting up my spot, I wandered over to pick up my race kit (I was even pre-registered for another time saver!). I then had a cheerful group of volunteers apply my body markings and also set me up with my timing chip. Having all this completed with so much extra time before the event I even was able to take the bike out for a test run to adjust a few things and hopefully improve my aero during competition. I rode for a few minutes out on the driveway to work out my legs then took my ride back to the t-zone before easing into a relaxing jog, building up to a few sprint burst before making my way to the starting line two minutes before the official gun.
As the Duathlon was first to go we had a nice crowd to cheer us off and with the final count down to “ONE” we were off and running. I jetted out very quickly and got to the head of the pack, jumping on the heels of the tour guide on his mountain bike. From the transition zone we headed down the short grass towards the lake and followed the pathway through the fields along the shoreline. This path took us to a trail cut through a young forested area that snaked through the park just off the lake and brought us back to another grassy path leading to the lake’s dam.
I was surprised to remain out in front at this point and figured I might as well add to the lead I was feeling strong and knew some of the better cyclists would reel me in once they got to their specialty. The bike guide pulled me down the edge of a gravel road that crested the dam to the east of the lake. It was only a 200 metre run along this section before the first Duathlon turn point (triathlon turn around was further down the dam) as I made the turn 100 metres in the lead. With the help of my tour guide, I was now heading back through the pack of runners to retrace my opening steps. I kept the pace up but now started to feel a little lost without the aid of KM markers as I really could not tell what that pace was. It is tough enough to gauge pace on flat asphalt but on trails that twist, dip and raise it is even tougher.
A little more than seven minutes into the race I passed back along the beach near the start/finish line and continued out to the west end of the park, a little concerned that I was pushing too hard. I really didn’t know what to expect next in regards to terrain so I stayed on the bikers tail as he lead me into another bush trail that curved its way through the conservation area. This was another loop with a small hill that was just large enough to test the knees. ! When I got to the top of the loop I had opened up an even larger lead and was determined to finish the 4.5km trail run with under 4 min/km splits.
Once again, the loop led me back through the field of runners. It was a great feeling to hear their words of praise as they motivated me to push on even quicker towards our bikes. I took a look back and the closet runner was 30 seconds behind my pace as I made my way up the gentle hill on the edge of the lake and into to T1.
I kept my running pace right through the transition to my ride and quickly slipped on my cleats, helmet and exited out the back door to the mount zone. I was the first athlete on the road (tri or du) and the Police escort was there waiting for me at the gatehouse of the park. This was a first time experience for me and I was pretty excited to be out in the lead, although, I knew it was not going to last very long.
After a kilometre on the road I looked down and realized I wasn’t getting up to my normal speed. Was it the quick run on the bumpy terrain or the Saturday training session that was finally catching up with my legs? Whatever it was I tried to power through and kept pushing on the pedals. Around 3k out from the park the inevitable pass occurred as two riders in tight formation and relaxed aero position pushed out to the left and made their move, pulling away to take their turn with the Police bike.
I continued to spin along the relatively flat course afraid that my legs would burn out in a lower gear but I just couldn’t create any speed and the winds hitting me from all sides were not helping out the cause. With every turn along the route I thought this is going to be the stretch I catch one gust that would give my legs the boost they needed to rest up for the final run but it was not to be as they always seemed to hit from another front angle. I just buried my head, trying to stay with each rider that passed but they eventually would get away from my pursuit.
As I looped back along the return side of the road, I counted down the clicks to transition making sure I kept my position respectable. I realized most of the athletes passing by were from the triathlon so I knew I was still in decent shape in the overall scheme of things.
I finally hit the park driveway disappointed in my cycling effort and wanted to get back out on the trail to hunt down my competition. A quick dismount from the bike led to another speedy transition and I was back on the run course, mixed in with the triathletes this time round. I got into a shuffle that seemed to quicken the further along I got out from home base. I was slowly making my way through the other runners (all from the tri) and reached the turn around on the dam again.
As the Triathlon participants were running a longer finishing route they continued past the turn point so I knew I had only three people in front and nobody behind at this time. The gentleman in position three was roughly 400 metres in front of me and runner five, at that time, was 500 metres back of me.
As the heat of the day was starting to make its presence felt, I elected not to push things and decided to stick to my current pace mentally accepting a fourth place finish. This was one of the first times I have made this decision but my body was telling me this was the correct choice.
I kept on shuffling through the same course as we started on, 4.5k of grass paths, gravel trail and asphalt driveway. Winding out to the west loop I noticed I was holding pace with the other runners and could feel the end of the run getting thankfully closer. I took one last look in the rearview and there was still a nice gap so I ran solo for the last 1.5k for the first time in any race. Nobody to catch, nobody to push, no need to kick. I made my way up to the finish corral and the announcer had the play by play to confirm my fourth place finish (2nd in AG) as the fans brought me to the line.
My first experience on the HSBC circuit was now in the books but with mixed emotions. Did I let one get away or should I take it for what it was, a positive training race along the way to bigger goal?
The Multisport Canada - HSBC Triathlon Series crew prepared a very professional event and seemed very organized and accommodating. They had plenty of people on duty and made it very easy for athletes to get information and direction. The run course was visibly marked and easy to follow, especially with the biker guide leading me through the first time! The bike course was well controlled in respects to traffic and flow thanks to many Police officers on the course and on the corners. The post-race food was decent and enough to satisfy my hunger and thirst after a challenging day on the course. The awards presentation went quickly and wrapped up in time to get back to Toronto to enjoy the afternoon at home. One item on my wish list would be more km markers along both run and bike routes to help with pacing.
In summary, the beautiful weather, friendly athletes (a large contingent of Running Free athletes) and relaxing setting made for a great Sunday morning. I was very pleased with the event Multisport Canada produced and hope to get out on this series a few more times this season!