This past weekend I participated in my third provincial duathlon championship. The 2009 edition took place on July 18th in the very scenic Gravenhurst, Ontario. For the second year in a row the HSBC Triathlon Series picked up the event and threw another challenging course at us duathletes. The international distance consisted of a 10k run over rolling, twisting roads just outside the town’s limits. Next was a 40k bike ride to the other end of town that included many turns and smaller than expected hill action. The final 5k run covered half of the original run we travelled to start the race which was mainly up one steady climb, down the other side to a flat stretch where we turned back to climb and then race down to the finishing section.
Being the Ontario championship, a very respectable field assembled for the race and marked the first time since Victoria’s that many of the top duathletes would be in the same race. This was expected so I knew I would have to really be on to be able to keep up with the elites and top age groupers.
Out of the gate Kevin Smith took the lead on the 10k portion of the race. Kevin has represented Canada as a pro for several years and is a very solid runner. Most of the other duathletes recognize this and we all let him go as trying to stay on his heels would surely lead to a blow up early in the event. I settled into a very nice pace and let a few others surge past as I knew would they had to offer and did not want to get off my game plan. During this feeling out part of the run I was kept company from another blogger who shares my passion for the sport, Tommy Ferris. We have been following each other’s progress this year and match up pretty close when you look at our stats.
We hung together for a large majority of the opening stage as we cruised along the cottage road trying to stay in reach of the leaders making sure to save something for the rest of the duathlon. Shortly after the turn, halfway through the run, we heard the footsteps of Bruce Bird as he found his stride. I figured he would not want to be too far off the chasers in order to make his move on the bike where is dominates. Bruce used the downhill grade of the last half and made it back to transition in 5th overall, 20 seconds ahead of me. Tommy put in a little surge as well to get to his bike 5 seconds before me, although I used a quicker transition to even our time as we mounted our bikes out on the main road.
Once on our bikes, I could feel the run had tired my legs and Tommy quickly put some distance in between us as we negotiated some of the turns through the town streets. We eventually made our way out to a branch of the route that was almost too weather beaten to ride. I had to take my chances and stay close. This aggressive riding cost me my straw and splash guard from my Gatorade bottle and would make my decision to use this aero bottle a bad one.
I usually have a bottle under my seat in a cage but wanted to see if the other setup would grab a faster time. Without the straw I had nothing to drink from and had to rely on gels for the rest of the 40k on the bike. Oh well, others have gone without so I would not let it mess me up now.
For the next few kilometers, Tommy and I fought back and forth for what was now 4th spot as we had made our way past a couple of the faster runners. The only people ahead of us now were Bruce Bird (elite), Kevin Smith (elite) and David Frake (my age group). These guys are all great duathletes and would be very tough to catch. If I wanted any chance of being in the top 5 of the age groupers I would have to lay some tracks down now to make sure I was not caught by too many of the runners once we finished the ride.
Thinking the second half of the ride was going to be a lot harder (as per the announcer before the race telling us to save some energy for the climb into town); I started to turn on the jets a little more. I had soon put a small amount of space on Mr. Ferris and was hoping to get rolling even more. To my surprise another Duathlete made a move past the two of us (the HSBC series has a different colour of numbers bibs for the tri’s and du’s, which is awesome!) and at this point I could only read “David” from his name below his number.
He had made very good time to get past us but once he got a little bit in front of me I started to work even harder. I stayed pretty close to him for much of the ride back but lost him on a set of rollers about 10k from the end of the bike ride. I actually ended up going through the intersection at one point not knowing if we had to turn or not. It was not very well marked and I had to stop dead to look down the road to see which way the other athletes had gone. Thankfully, I picked the right way. Daniel Cain was not as fortunate and ended up putting on an extra 5k to his race (something I found out after the race when talking to him to see how his day went).
To be honest, I don’t think this cost me anything in the end, maybe 5 to 10 seconds. Once I was back on track, I headed for the last turn around on the course where I could see that I was too far back but either was Tommy. I might have had only a minute on him at this point so I could not let up as we made our way through the multiple turns marking the path back to transition.
After a very smooth dismount, I got the bike onto the rack and slipped on my shoes and had to grab a quick swig of Gatorade from the bottle I kept beside my shoes. At this point I heard the announcer remark that David Field had just left ahead of me. This was the athlete that had past me on the bike and I now knew exactly who he was. I have never been this close to him in a race so I assumed catching him was a long shot.
Actually knowing this may have been a bad thing. Mentally, I conceived that spot because of his name. If I didn’t know the name I “may” have dug deeper as I am usually more confident in my final run. It is hard to tell for sure as I seemed to be struggling anyway. I think my choice of training this season was the major factor. I told Syd at the start of the year that I would be focusing on sprints and kept the workouts a little shorter. I did add a second workout to most days so I train hard but I think, for this distance and above, I need to put in longer sessions to keep the edge over a two hour period. This is my mistake and I cannot regret my decision to place my family time ahead of my training time. I have many years left of racing and as the kids get older, I am sure I will have plenty of time to improve.
Anyway, back to the race. I continued to follow David Field along the run course by about 200 metres or so. When we hit the turn I then saw Tommy moving very smoothly up the other side. Yikes, he was cooking. I tried to find a way to move faster but I just didn’t have the legs. I made my way back up the hill and started to descend back towards the staging area. This downhill was helping to get me there but I was not alone and my lead was shrinking. The last 500 metres of the run was flat but forced us to turn down a side street and then through some gravel trails into the back of the park to the finish line. As I went to turn on the side street, with Tommy about 5 metres behind me, the police officer did not stop the car coming through and I had to break stride to avoid the front of the car. Tommy also had to make the wide turn as we made our way through the confused traffic not knowing how to handle all the runners on the road.
It was along this last portion of asphalt that Tommy motored past me. He looked way to fresh to catch and my legs were absolutely finished. I wanted to hold that spot so badly but his heart was so much larger than mine on this day. I hoped to keep him closer to make it a sprint at the end but he opened up too much of a gap in mere seconds. I finally saw the finishing corral and the clock was only at 2:02 and change. My previous best at this distance was still in reach. Even that could not motivate a final sprint across the grassy mounds.
The good notes, I finished 6th overall at the provincial championships, 2 spots better than last year. It was good enough for 4th place among Age Group Duathletes and 2nd in my age group. My time of 2:03:27 is 29 seconds better than my previous best for the international distance (posted at Guelph Lakes 1 a month ago). The opening 10k was on a challenging course that I was just hoping to break 40 minutes on (after my survey of the terrain the night before) and I ran 37:31. My bike time was also respectable and the 4th best in the race behind Bruce, David Frake and David Field.
On the down side, my final run was way off and hard to explain. Most of the 5k times were bad so breaking 20 minutes was tough for most but I still expect it any time I suit up. I obviously don’t like to give up spots in a race but I have to tip my cap to Tommy for putting in a fantastic final run. He really deserved it and I know, from his blog, that he has worked very hard to make huge improvements over the last year. I also had some doubts during a few parts of the race and my mental game was a little weaker than usual.
In the end, I had a very good race and am very proud of the path I have taken to reach this level. There are a lot of positives to take from this experience and still much room to improve. I have yet to beat any of the guys that finished ahead of me but have reduced some of the gaps between us. The race was great but the highlight of the event was getting to know more of the people that love this sport. It is refreshing to finally get to know the other racers and find out they all seem to share the passion.
A special thank you must go out to Mark Botelho who allowed me to proudly race in the FMCT Falcons colours. I hope they got some great photos of me racing in it as I was very happy to represent our club for the first time in a race. Richard Westwood also offered up his jersey so he should get a round of applause as well!