Race day started out very early as I headed out from my brother-in-laws place in Bracebridge. Steve lives only 20 minutes from the race so it made sense to save some dough and accept the kind invitation. I jumped in the car at 5:15am and drove to Deerhurst to pick up Bruce Bird (ex-duathlete, now making a name for himself in the tri!). We got to the event site before 6:15am and began to set up. There is always a lot of buzz around this race (especially the tri) so people were already filling the racks two hours before the start. At this time, all three duathlon racks had the first bikes on them so I picked the closest rack to the run course (right beside the gate) and had the second spot on that pole. It was now time to set up.
After getting everything in place, it was time for a warm up on the bike. I went out about three kilometres but when I turned back, I noticed my front tire was a lot softer than moments earlier in transition. I had pulled off the valve, by accident, when pumping up the tire during set up, although, I thought it was screwed in tight enough. Apparently it was not. I raced back to the race venue and took my bike over to D’Ornella’s tent in the expo area and we tried to pump it up. Nothing was happening and it was 40 minutes to race time. To put a new tubular on would take some time and a good chunk of money. I did not have either so thankfully the tech support from D’Ornella’s tried a solid twist on the stem with a wrench and we pumped up the tire again. It seemed to be holding.
Back in transition, Mark Keating (an always helpful friend I have met through this great sport), saw me scrambling and offered up an extra valve stem and some other suggestions. I felt the tire again and there was still lots of air holding so I did not want to risk changing anything so we left it as is. At this point, I remembered that I had packed my spare wheel so, in case something happened during the next half an hour (time between then and when I should be back in from the first run), I ran back to the car and grabbed it and set it beside my bike. At this time, the OAT officials were now kicking everyone out of the bike zone as the first wave of triathletes were now off and swimming.
I had 20 minutes to finish my warm up so I walked up with Mark to the duathlon start and put in some running and stretching. On the line, Brian Hastings and Bill Vieira from my training club (FMCT Falcons) joined me as the race director counted down the final 20 seconds. The first run is only 3k but has some moderate hills to make it interesting. I went out to the lead at a controlled pace and ran solo right up to the turn around. As I turned at the marker, another runner that I had not seen before on the series jumped into the lead and started to stretch the gap. Slightly after hitting 2k his pace came down a little so I had some time to pull tighter and sit comfortably in second place about 5 seconds behind. I reached the staging area still sitting in second and dropped the HR a little for a few seconds to allow for a relaxed transition.
This seemed to work nicely and I quickly put on my helmet and ran my bike out to the far end of the fenced in transition zone for the bike mount. I had been frustrated many times during the past four or five races with poor transitions (mainly getting my feet into the shoes already clipped to the pedals) so I finally forced myself to practice a few hours at home during the last week. This paid off in a big way as I jumped on and found the tops of the shoes right away. I was off and making my way up the ramp entrance to the main road. Once on a flatter area on the main street, I set up for my shoe entry and got my feet into the cleats just like I had visualized it. What a great feeling to start the bike portion as smoothly as I had planned.
On the road, I was out with most of the top pro triathletes and made my way past some of the female leaders before finding a lot of open road. I was cycling well, for my abilities, but it was a little lonely out there and I seemed to miss the little packs I am used to as they seem to motivate and drive you faster. It was like this all the way across the hilly, out and back course until the turn back. At this point, I could see Tyler Lord, a pro triathlete from Milton, coming up from behind with a few other triathletes. I knew Tyler’s bike (the distinctive pink Guru) and abilities (I am a fan of his blog as he updates often and shares his training stats) so I knew it would only be a matter of seconds before he made his way by me. This actually helped to get me going faster. I now made it my mission to have a negative split on the bike.
I pedaled with a lot more confidence as I continued to lead the duathlon and was sticking pretty close to top age group triathletes. I tried to keep Tyler in the rearview for a little longer but he eventually caught me as we turned up Brunel Road with about 15k to go. It did not take long for him to speed up and I decided to drop off the pace a touch so I did not burn myself out for the run. I looked back now and there was nobody in sight, again. I started to count down the kilometres and knew much of the climbing was done and the rest of the ride was mainly downhill. I figured I would be able to put on a full km/h on my overall average speed since the halfway point. Nearing the transition, I tried to stretch my legs and slowed up a bit to catch my breath and release my feet from my cycling shoes. Coming into the final run in around the ninth spot (triathletes and duathletes together) was pretty neat as the crowds really poured on the applause as they probably figured I was one of the triathletes.
With my bike now on the rack, I started out on the final 15k run hoping to look strong and better my time from last year. My first obstacle to overcome was cramping in my lower back. It was on both sides and slowing me down in a big way. I could not stop as I was not sure how far behind my next competitor was so I shuffled on. My Garmin 405 was showing that I was holding a decent pace but I wanted to go faster. As the back pain eased I tried to stay with some of the other runners in the tri race but it wasn’t happening and I was now fearful that my lead was going to slip away. I was hoping my three days of taper would produce a solid run?
With a few more triathletes blowing past me it was now gut check time. I was exhausted and had several negative thoughts swirling around in my head. Thankfully, I snapped out of that mood and started to think about winning. I did not want to crawl in as a winner. I had to reach deep and find some energy to finish up strong.
I finally reached the turnaround marker and could see some of my chasers. I did know if the leader of our run was in the mix but did see Brian coming down the other lane about half a kilometre back. With his running legs I began to really worry. That was very motivating and, from that point on, I did not have anyone pass me.
Getting back to Huntsville in the lead was a great feeling. I knew my current gap over the next runner with 2km to go would hold up to most charges and I could now start to finally get excited about winning a race. With so many fans out on the route to cheer us on, it was a thrill to race down the final hill to the finish line knowing I had accomplished the very goal I had set out to reach this season.
Many thanks to all the people that allowed an old, out of shape, beer drinking, chicken wing addict to reach the top of the podium. That includes family and friends (I do not want to leave anyone out so I will not name names) who were there to lend support right from my painful first 3.8k run 4 years and 50 pounds ago.
It also includes coach, Syd Trefiak, for putting the plan in place (now in its third year), Bruce Bird (for the inspiration and tips), Team Running Free (for all the great support even in my alumni years), Tommy B (my Meadowvale training partner), Mark Keaton (my “onsite bike advisor”) and my amazing new teammates at Fletchers Meadow CT.
Thank you all!