Trying to put a bad performance in Welland behind me, I anxiously looked forward to my next race in Muskoka. The Long Course in Huntsville was the site of two great duathlons for me and I was hoping to bring some of those positive experiences into my race on the triathlon side.
When I arrived at the event, a few hours before the start, it was nice and cool with only a small hint of wind. These were ideal weather conditions for our sport so I was excited to be able to race without having the elements affect the outcome.
After registration I grabbed my bike and headed over to the mechanic to make sure the gears were shifting smoothly after a wheel change I had to make recently. He quickly adjusted the rear derailleur and I felt much better about the sound coming out off the back end so I headed over to rack my ride.
As time ticked closer to the first wave send off, Mark Keating (another former duathlete making a go of it in the tri world) and I made the long walk down to the swim start and jumped into our wetsuits. We were both in the second wave so we headed out together to meet the other baby blue swim caps waiting for horn to commence our 2k journey in the water.
The large starting area thinned out the group of athletes as we waited but once the horn blasted, I seemed to get caught up in many crowded spots. The water was pretty murky and I was having issues seeing around me so I just put my head down and battled through, trying to find some open water. This didn’t take all that long and I soon had some space to myself where I could stretch out my stroke. I really wanted to go under my Welland swim time for this distance and started out more aggressive but still under control.
Once again, the layout of the course seemed so long when you see it on the open water. Even though my perceived effort was much greater than my last race, I was not getting too tired so I continued to work away hoping that I would be able to maintain the pace for the entire swim. As I progressed, I only took quick peeks at the large buoys in the water to keep me on track. I could not see anyone around me at this time so I assumed I was hanging in with the back of my wave and happy the wave behind had not swallowed me up yet.
Being in the open water without distance markers and the ability to see your watch (without stopping) I was going totally on feel. Making my way around the first few turns, I thought I had picked decent lines and don’t think I was off course too much, even though the lack of others around me created some worry now and then.
By the time the course funneled into the river portion, I figured I had to be on track to at least match Welland’s swim time. I now began to see some familiar caps from my wave (with even a few yellow caps from wave 1) and was making my way past several of these swimmers. In this area, you could tell the current was slowing things down but it didn’t feel like a massive struggle. When I finally hit the exit, I got my feet planted and checked out my time. Damn, 42:01 for 2k. This was over 5 minutes slower than Welland even though I had put in a much more confident effort in the water.
As I headed over to transition, I regained my focus. I knew this swim was not going to get me too far up the results page so I did not rush the bike pick up and calmly made my way out to the mount line. There were no issues getting on so I spun my way up the first slope to the main road and smoothly got into my cycling shoes before leaving town. My game plan on the bike was to keep my heart rate in check and to stay consistent with the effort throughout the ride.
It was not long, though, before I received my first challenge of the ride. The night before the race, I adjusted my seat angle down a tiny bit and thought I had everything tightened properly. After hitting the first bumped on the road, the seat pointed down on a 45 degree angle and created a slide for my rear end. I reached down and pulled the nose back up in an attempt to find the balancing point but I could not keep it from dropping every few seconds on the bumpy course. I would have to make the best of the situation as I was not going to end my race early today.
Before long, I got rolling and was making up a lot of spots, although, my speed was not where it was in the past on this course. It may have had a bit to do with the seat but in reality I was lacking my “hammer it out” drive that got me through so many duathlons. Also, I did not attack the hills in my usual way as I thought it would be better to hold some energy for the end of the ride.
Looking back, I am disappointed not to beat my previous times on this bike course. I did manage to keep my heart rate under control for the entire ride but may have been holding back too much as I entered transition feeling more fresh than the previous two years. I was hoping this would pay off on the run and was really looking forward to moving up through the field with a solid run off the bike. Everything seemed to be set up for this so it was time to make hay on the new 13k run course.
Coming out on the run, the course took us up a tiny hill that was not too tough but my back did not seem to like it too much. I started to feel the pain stretch across my lower back and I was not able to get up to speed. As the course flattened out near the first turn around, I tried to run through it but was losing time. After a few more twists and uphill sections (to make things worse), I rounded the second switch back near the 2k marker around 28 seconds over my goal time but was hoping the downhill portion ahead would bring my breathing down enough to rest the pain in my back.
Unfortunately, the pounding on my heels made things even worse and by the time I reached the bottom I was in walk mode. This was tough and I felt like quitting but I promised myself I would finish no matter what. The minutes ticked by as I tried to get back into a jog but it wasn’t happening. Thankfully, Stuart (a friend from my blog) went by and yelled some words of encouragement that got me rolling again.
As I slowly made my way around this incredibly hilly new run course, with a mix of walking and jogging, I finally found a respectable pace coming down a slope towards the start of the second loop. It was here I told myself to finish the last loop in style so I got back up to speed for a good 3k and was feeling much better about my finish. As I came back around towards the arena the pains came back and I watched all the folks I had just passed go by me once again.
Luckily, the triathlon community is so incredibly supportive. These athletes could see that I was not having a great day but so many of them offered up motivation and supplies (gels, salt, etc.) as they made their way around the course. It lifted my spirits again and I blocked out the negative issues and got back into the game. The final 3k was tough with a major climb involved but I dug deep and finished this sucker off for my longest triathlon ever.
After the race, I had the chance to hear so many amazing stories from the day. The people I have met in this sport keep me coming back as I would have moved on to another, easier pastime by now if I did not have the support of these great friends. Congrats to Glenn, Mark, Jackie, Adam, Luke, Speedy, Darcy, Peter, Dianne & Boleslaw (FMCT) on your great performances!