Thursday, August 23, 2018

Ironman Mont Tremblant

I'm never doing that again

Perhaps the most popular words spoken after finishing an Ironman. After going to hell and back to finish Ironman Canada last year, I really meant that.

I started doing triathlons because I idolized people who finished Ironmans. Since my first year in the sport as a 17 year old, I looked at course maps of all the North American Ironman races and counted the days until I felt that I was ready to sign up for one. Even when I was racing elite draft-legal, I always felt like I was just building my fitness bank while dreaming of the Kona start line. After years of progressing at the half distance, in 2015 I finally felt ready and set my sights on Ironman Louisville.

I reveled in my first Ironman summer, through every mile and minute I logged, because I was on my journey to becoming an Ironman. I wanted to be one of those superhuman guys that did one - or more - every year, battling though these crazy events and maybe even qualifying for Hawaii. When race day finally came, it started like a dream with a lifetime best swim and bike. Then 10k into the run on a 3:15 marathon pace, everything started to unravel. I started throwing up and everything that I tried to take in came right back up. Not knowing what to do besides "just keep running", I pushed myself to the point of no return. My Ironman journey ended in the back of an ambulance with a couple bags of IV fluid draining into my arm.

The following year I tried to push the feelings of shame and self doubt out of my mind and focused on short course. I set PB's in nearly all distances and disciplines until injuries ended my season and forced me to think hard about my motivation in the sport. I knew that I had to return to Ironman and redeem myself. So I signed up for Ironman Canada, the race I had dreamed about for 10 years. I tweaked my nutrition plan, spent hours reading sports nutrition journals, and trained my ass off.

After once again dedicating a full year of building my life around one day, my race in Whistler proved to be a transformative experience. Another great swim, survived the insanely challenging and beautiful bike course, and at 12k into the run I thought to myself, "I hope my parents have beers on ice, I'm punching a ticket to Kona today!" 10 minutes later, I was doubled over throwing up, again. I learned my lesson from Louisville though and I walked. For nearly five hours.

I went to some very deep and dark places in my mind on the trails of Whistler, but I found a level of strength and perseverance that I didn't know I had. When I finally crossed the finish line I was so physically and emotionally drained I couldn't even lift my arms to celebrate, but it was the biggest athletic - and personal - accomplishment of my life.

Mom was fired up

Two Ironmans, on completely different nutrition plans, both with severe GI issues. I told myself "Never again. I got my finish, but I'm never going through that again."

A few weeks after the race I heard rumor that a ton of our Balance Point Triathlon Club friends were signing up for Ironman Mont Tremblant 2018. The suffering of IMC was still fresh in my mind though and I didn't give it much thought. Until sports nutrition expert Coach Mark from LPC put the bug in my ear: "There are lots of different things we can try with your nutrition!" Insert scratchy chin emoji face.

After some long talks with Coach James about race plans, Mark about the latest sport nutrition research and my sweat sodium testing, and Amanda about our work/life balance, I decided I was ready for another one. I was confident, mentally stronger, and desperate for another chance at the Ironman result I knew I was capable of. I was more motivated than ever to be on the journey again and attempt to solve the puzzle.

IMMT 2018 consumed my summer. I had the strongest and most consistent training block of my life. I did all the little things right. I tracked every damn molecule of my sport nutrition for three months with dozens of spreadsheets to prove it. I was dialed. My last 7.5 hour brick was one of the best workouts of my life, having done most of it at or below a 9:30 IM pace and felt fantastic at the end. I knew unequivocally that I was ready.

Of course I wasn't naive. I hadn't had any significant GI issues in training prior to either Louisville or Canada and I would once again be heading into the unknown when I got past 8 hours into the race. I knew it was a possibility that I'd have stomach problems again, or some other crazy challenge that I hadn't even considered. But I was mentally prepared for anything. My goals for the race were as follows, in this order:

1. Get an epic finishing picture
2. Win the mental battles and conquer the day
3. 9:40

Amanda and I arrived in Mont Tremblant on Thursday night. The next day my parents came along with my amazing aunt and uncle, who drove all the way from Alberta to spectate another one of these crazy things. Friday night we met up with Coach Gabbi and a few of the 16-strong BPT athletes, many of whom were doing their first Ironman. It was already an incredible week and I was ready for the race of my life.


Race morning came at 4:30am after a great sleep. Amanda and I went down to transition and she pumped up some of our BPT friends while I did my final gear check. We walked over to the swim start to the news that we would be delayed due to fog on the lake, though the CF-18s didn't get the memo and torched through the fog at precisely 6:35am.

Photo: Adam Plante

An hour later, the pro men were finally on the start line as the fog cleared off. Then literally the second the cannon fired, another fog bank rolled in and it was the thickest it had been all morning. But I didn't care, I just wanted to get this damn thing started. At 7:45 it was time for the age groupers to start. I lined up in the sub-1:05 corral and with a couple dolphin dives I was within the first 50 athletes in the water.

The fog certainly made for one of the more unique swims I've ever done. It was a bit daunting to jump in the water unable to even see the first buoy, but I stayed relaxed, trusted in my stroke and got on with the task at hand. It may have even been easier to not have to look out across the lake and see just how far we had to go!

cred: unknown, found on Facebook

I took away some hard lessons from my poor swims in my first two races of the year and systematically addressed my weaknesses in the six weeks after Muskoka 70.3. I did most of my swimming in open water working on my drafting skills, sighting and feel for my stroke in my wetsuit. I also worked diligently at finding the efficiency that helped me to a 59 minute swim in Whistler last year off limited swimming. I realized that I've had great swims in my first two Ironmans because I was focused on staying relaxed with a strong core and smooth stroke, and because I WASN'T focused on trying to swim "hard". So I did exactly that and cruised through the water, not allowing the claustrophobic fog affect my mindset. You couldn't see the buoys until you were almost on top of them but I managed to find them every time, which I took as a sign that I was swimming well.

Slowly but surely I could start to make out the shore line through the fog, and finally I could see sand beneath me as the swim exit came in sight. I had no idea what my swim time was and I really didn't care - it was probably the most relaxed swim I've ever done and I felt amazing running through the cheers to T1. Quick but methodical transition and I was out onto the bike course.

Swim time: 1:01. Solid start to the day!

photo: Ken Milner

I took my time settling into the bike, "just like any other training day, except I don't have to stop for bottles this time!" Similar to Muskoka a bunch of riders came blasting past me on the first couple hills but I stuck to my plan knowing its a VERY long day and I'd probably see them all again in a few hours. My average power was around 225W getting on Hwy 117, just a tad high so I eased off a bit even though it felt incredibly easy...for now.

#aeroiseverything

I was in a good rhythm heading out to the first turnaround although the course was insanely crowded. With Louisville being a time trial start and Whistler only having about 1400 athletes, this was by far the most crowded course I had experienced in an IM.

Around 30k a draft pack of 10-15 guys came past me just at the base of a hill and the back of the group sat up as they all bunched together starting the hill. I had to get out of my aerobars to let the goofballs go, but before I could do anything I heard someone yell "Parlez-vous Anglais?!"

I turned to see an official who promptly told me I had received a 5 minute drafting penalty. My heart skipped a beat as I nearly screamed "ARE YOU F***ING KIDDING ME?!" I have never gotten a penalty in my life and I despise drafters. I held my tongue and calmly asked him to explain my infraction, to which he replied that I did not drop back quickly enough.

I knew there was no sense in trying to ask why he chose not to card anyone who was ACTUALLY riding in a draft pack and singled me out, and I certainly didn't want to get DQ'd for arguing with him. So I did the only thing I could - I accepted it, told him that it was not intentional and I would report to the next penalty tent. My next thought was that the 5 minutes better not screw up my overall time too much...but my cooler head prevailed and I told myself, "you knew something weird would go wrong today, this must be it!"

The penalty tent was another 20k away, and between the congestion on the course and my paranoia of getting another penalty, it was very difficult to maintain a rhythm or even hold any speed until I got there. Imagine trying to leave 100 feet of space in Toronto rush hour with nut jobs zooming in there as soon as there's daylight in front of you...that's what it was like trying to keep 12 meters back from everyone. But eventually I got to the tent, relaxed and let it go. There was another rider in there who told me he saw the official give me the penalty and couldn't believe he carded me...which made me feel a bit better! But I calmly let the 5:00 tick down as I got my forced break, then had a clear and positive mindset as I got going again.

Keeping the power in check

I got back into a good rhythm and stuck to my goal wattage of 210-215W for the remainder of the first lap. My nutrition plan was on track so far, although the small bites of solid food that I took in the first 2 hours of the bike were a little harder to get down than in any of my training rides. I listened to my body, eased off the power for a bit and opted for a simpler fuel source for my next nutrition interval.

70k in, back past the village

Starting the second lap I was feeling a bit mentally and physically drained...not bad but a little more than I had experienced in my previous Ironmans at half way. I decided I would stop for my special needs which included a third bottle of my sport drink along with 200mL of coke. On one of my last long rides I was feeling really drained and had half a can of coke at my pit stop, so I went with the same approach. It seemed to bring me back up a bit and I felt reasonably good to the first turnaround on the second lap, around 125k.

On my way back east on 117 I was starting to feel the fatigue again, but it was getting increasingly difficult to get any nutrition down. My stomach just felt off and my sport drink was not sitting well. I decided to toss it and switch to Gatorade - once again, something I had practiced in training in case I missed my special needs or I needed to switch to simple sugar. I learned from Louisville that forcing down my nutrition on the bike was a BAD idea, so I did my best to adapt by backing off the effort even more and skipped one of my gels.

Starting to feel it

By 140k my energy was starting to wane as I continued to take in only as much fuel as my stomach would agree with. I stuck mostly to liquids for the final hour but every time I had a sip of something, half of it would come right back up. I was holding back the frustration that I had never felt this bad on the bike in any of my training rides, but I had my mental strategies in place to stay focused. I struggled up Duplessis, as I knew I would, then relaxed a bit on the way back down to mentally prepare for the run.

I accepted that I wasn't going to crush the bike today, but I was doing a good job of managing the ride given the circumstances that race day provided. I knew my race was going to be decided on the run and I was still extremely motivated to execute a strong marathon. I cleared my mind getting off the bike, did a quick change and headed out. The thought of starting a marathon on an iffy stomach was pretty daunting but I stayed optimistic. After all, I "only" had to run a 3:30 to break 10 hours. All of my training indicated that I was capable of running 3:15 or better.

My only goal for the first lap of the run was to still be running starting the second lap. I knew that if I could do that, it meant that my stomach wasn't holding me back and I had the fitness to finish strong. I had to back off the pace a couple times in the first few k's as I settled in, but by 5k I already had to take a couple short walk breaks to settle my stomach down and try to get small sips of fluids in. Once again, I learned from my past mistakes and listened to my body. My plan was to run only as fast as my body would allow while still being able to eat and drink small amounts every 10-15 minutes.


As I got deeper into the first lap it was becoming increasingly difficult to stomach anything, and as a result I was taking in very little fluid and less than half of my planned nutrition. I figured that less was better than more to avoid absorption issues, but by 16k I could only handle a few ice cubes at each aid station and I was hitting empty. I was having trouble running in a straight line and I wasn't sweating anymore. I drank a cup of water at the next aid station and immediately had severe stomach cramps. I walked for a minute then got back to a slow jog.

At the next aid station I had some Gatorade, and again had to fight it from coming back up. But I was keeping my head in the game. After all, at 15k in Whistler I had to walk an hour straight while fighting non-stop vomiting, nausea and dehydration. This time I was limiting my walk breaks to a minute or less. I may not have been on my goal marathon pace, but I was still moving a lot better than last time.

I saw Amanda then my family at the end of the first lap and they clearly saw that I wasn't having the day I was hoping for. I hit my special needs that I had packed with the only things that sat well with me in Whistler last year - fig newtons and a banana. It wasn't easy heading back out knowing exactly what I was in for.

As I crested the first hill of lap 2 I threw up everything in my stomach. "Ugh. This again." Once again I hadn't absorbed any fluids since the start of the run. I almost nailed a kid on the sidewalk with my projectile vomit and heard the mother say, "its OK, he'll feel better now!" I thought to myself "I f***in wish you were right!"

I walked it off, cleared my mind and prepared myself mentally for a long second lap. When I saw Amanda she told me to run a minute then walk a minute, so I set an auto-lap on my Garmin. I set it to beep every 500 meters. I told myself that I had to run 500 meters no matter how awful I felt, then walk 500 meters. But I also knew if I did that, I'd be out there for a really long time. So my goal was to run the 500 meters, then in the next 500 I could walk as much as I needed to, but run when I could.

A few minutes later I saw Alex Vanderlinden who was having an equally rough day. We both agreed that we would get through it no matter what and I assured him that as brutal as it was, it would be worth it to make it to the finish. We each had to take walk breaks as needed, but it was reassuring to have an ally out there close by.

I stuck to my run/walk strategy as I ran for 500m, then walk/jogged the next interval on my watch while getting in any fluids my stomach would handle. At the aid stations I grabbed a cup of ice and either water or Gatorade, then poured the fluid into the ice and sipped it on my walk breaks, and sucked on a couple ice cubes while I ran. I was still in agony but I was able to hold the fluids down and the auto-lap strategy helped me mentally to dissect the distance. I made it to the far turnaround and was motivated knowing that I was on my way home.

By 35 or 36k I was starting to sweat again and was able to run 2 beeps (1km) before having to walk a minute for the stomach cramps to subside. Then at 37k I checked my watch and realized that I still had a chance of breaking 11 hours, but I couldn't do any more walking. I stopped taking anything at the aid stations, put my head down and ran through the pain towards the village. I desperately wanted to walk for a minute, at least up the hills, but I didn't let myself. I saw Alex at 40k and gave him some final encouragement, then my LPC camp buddy Mark Cullen shortly after and we shared some more positive words. I dragged my ass over the steepest hill (past my barf) then up the last hill through the pedestrian village. I knew I was going to make it, and damn it I was going to enjoy it this time. I turned down the finishing chute and high-fived every single kid.

What an atmosphere!


Goal #1 - accomplished (and official finishing time 10:53). I may not have broken 10 hours, nailed my nutrition or had the race of my life. But it sure as hell was a day to be proud of. I faced my fears of taking on another Ironman knowing full well what I was in for, I managed the day and finished stronger and faster than last year.


I saw my dad who then brought the rest of my family over to find me. They all gave me hugs, and unlike last year I was able to take it all in. I was deeply grateful for the day and their incredible support. It was a moment that I'll never forget.

One of my unofficial goals for this race was to finish in good enough shape that I would be able to head back out later and cheer everyone into the finish. I was so messed up after Whistler that I just sat in the hotel room and passed out shortly after eating. But this time I debriefed the day with my family, showered, grabbed a beer and headed right back out for some poutine and a few hours of cheering with Amanda. As night time fell we joined Gabbi and the rest of the BPT support crew and got to watch every last one of her athletes cross the finish line. It was an experience that I can't put into words - you just have to go watch an Ironman to understand.

3 Ironmans, 2 finishes, each one a little better but the same GI problems every time. Once again, the first words out of my mouth were "Never. Again."

Do I really mean that? It's impossible to say. I honestly don't know if I could put myself through that again; to have one race completely consume my life for a year, then go through agony to finish hours behind what my training and 70.3 results would suggest I'm capable of. But Ironman still holds a special place for me. That sub-10 has eluded me once again, and that's a big goal left unchecked. But - at least for now - I've made my peace with it.

Maybe, if I have some eureka moment and find a completely new approach to training or nutrition, I'll try my luck again. Or maybe I'll help Amanda get through one some day. But I'm also alright with leaving it here, accepting that my limitations at the Ironman distance are completely out of my control, and focus on other goals moving forward. I guess only time will tell.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Ironman 70.3 Muskoka

It seems as though I've managed to once again resurrect this blog after many months of neglect. I really appreciated all the positive comments from my Welland Long Course race report, so for those who still enjoy the art of the written race report in the age of vlogs and Instagram stories, I'll keep doing my thing. Maybe eventually I'll invest in a half decent camera and some editing software to get in the 21st century, but for now I still want to share my experience at Muskoka 70.3. So thanks for the read and I hope you enjoy!

I had been anxiously awaiting Muskoka for a number of reasons...

1... It would serve as my primary tune-up and test for Tremblant in six weeks
2(a)... Amanda's dad Kevin was doing his first 70.3!
2(b)... My Hurdle Project bro Jack Laundry's dad Brian was also racing
2(c)... When Kevin and Brian get together, its guaranteed to be entertaining
3... I had fond memories from the old course in 2013 where I qualified for 70.3 Worlds
4... Coach James has been beating the crap out of me. Doing a race would mean getting out of a weekend of hard training :)

To be completely honest, after one of my best races ever in Welland I was initially a bit worried about Muskoka, wondering if I could meet or exceed that performance just two weeks later (with some BIG training miles sandwiched in between). But similar to Welland I changed my focus to my process goal, which for Muskoka was quite simple: execute a good Ironman prep and go even deeper than I did in Welland. Oh, and set a new 70.3 run PB.

Amanda, my mom, the dogs and I all piled in the car and made our way up to the Switzer cottage in Bala on Thursday night for a fun and relaxing couple days to kick off the weekend. I was laser focused on my goals but was equally excited for Kevin to take on his first half and I enjoyed the opportunity to share some of my long course experience with him before going to battle together on Sunday. Race morning came at 4:10AM and Kevin, Brian and I made the drive to Huntsville with our loyal band of supporters following a few hours later.

Swim:

Unlike virtually every 70.3s that I've ever done, I wasn't in the last wave this time! In fact I was in the first wave so I was looking forward to having a little more space out there than I've gotten used to. For comparison, when I did Muncie 70.3 in 2015 I estimated that I made over 2000 passes on the 2-loop bike course (passing some people twice) as I started in the last wave and was within the first 50 across the line.

In the short turnaround after Welland I worked diligently on my open water skills and increasing my turnover so I was interested to see if there would be any progression. I started fairly aggressively to get on some fast feet through the first 400, but in frustratingly similar fashion to Welland I found myself in no man's land for most of the swim, struggling to relax and settle into an efficient stroke. And while it's always a treat to swim in the fresh waters of Muskoka, the race crew definitely borrowed the Ontario "magic thermometer" to get a wetsuit-legal temperature reading.

I got out of the water 8th in my age group in a time of 30:50, not my best swim but far from my worst.  I spent a little more energy than I needed to in the water but I didn't let it affect my mindset and looked forward to getting to work on the bike.


Bike:

After a relatively quick transition I was sixth onto the bike and took the first few k's to settle into my target power range of ~245W (250-255W NP). No hero rides today, the bike was all about pacing and nutritional execution, testing my Ironman gear and position...and enjoying the scenic ride!

A bit more aggressive than my old IM bike position, but I'm more comfortable than I've ever been in aero and felt great through the whole 90k

The first 10-15k is the most challenging section of the course and a few riders went flying past me on the climbs, but I forced myself to stick to my guns and not get too excited. By the time I got to Baysville at 23k I had caught up to a group of four riders who had gone past me earlier, then promptly dropped them on the first climb out of town. Then it was a long and lonely slog down Hwy 117 to the turnaround.


Around 30k I could see a group of three riders up the road, which I later found out included 1st and 2nd place in my age group. I could see that I was making up time on them but I just focused on sticking to my target power and not doing anything stupid trying to bridge up. I passed one more rider right at the 45k turnaround then saw absolutely nobody ahead or behind me for the second half of the ride (aside from everyone on their way out to the turnaround). But I do all my 6+ hour long rides solo so I didn't have much trouble staying focused on the task at hand, enjoying the rolling roads through cottage country as the perfect Tremblant simulation. I ended up just a few watts shy of my best 70.3 power output with a 2:25 split (37.1km/h) but I executed well and couldn't wait to throw down on the run course.


Looking at the splits afterwards it was a bit painful to see that I reduced the gap to the leaders in my age group from over 2:00 at 24k to just 55 seconds at the turnaround, but then it blew out to 4+ minutes by T2. Interestingly though I held almost perfect pacing from start to finish with only a 2 watt difference in my average power between the first and second half of my ride. So either the leaders were sandbagging from 20-45k, or they dropped the Hammer of Thor on me after the turnaround.

Run:

I was very confident in my running after Welland...maybe a little too confident. So when I dropped my bike off in T2 I also left behind my sensible pacing strategy. I saw Amanda and my whole cheering section starting run down the main drag in Huntsville and casually rolled through the first 2k around 3:39/km. I holstered my sh*t a little after that but still went through 5k under 19 minutes.

Image result for bad choice gif

All of a sudden at 7-8k it was no longer an option to just ease off a bit and settle back into my actual goal pace of 4:00-4:03/km. I was in a world of hurt. Legs were tying up, stomach was testy (ugh!), I barely made it over a couple small hills...and I wasn't even half way through yet. I thought I'd be reduced to walking at any minute but as I finished lap 1 I took in as much energy as I possibly could from Amanda, James and the moms all cheering. I got a bit of fueling in, ran under the misting station that I skipped on lap 1 (to keep my feet dry) and tried to clear my mind starting lap 2.


I was digging really deep already but managed to get things back under control a bit from 12-15k. I hit 15k in 1:01 and realized that despite how terrible I felt I was still moving pretty well. More importantly I still had a good shot at taking down my four year-old 70.3 run PB of 1:28:39. I did my best to keep my turnover as high as possible and knew that the pain would be worth it for a new PB!

Out to the far turnaround I focused everything I had on trying not to slow down too much and I stayed on track for a 1:26:XX through each k marker all the way to the final turnaround at 18.5k. From there it got really ugly but I wasn't going to let that damn PB slip at that point.

I mean REALLY ugly - but isn't Amanda the best cheerleader ever?!

I hauled myself over the line for a 1:26:26 run and 4:26 overall time, which was good enough for 3rd in my age group and 18th overall. I was really proud of myself that I fought so hard for that run time when I could have easily slipped into damage control mode, but I stayed focused and knocked a solid 2 minutes off my PB. Looking at the results there were some smoking fast times for an age-group only event, but I was stoked with a sub 4:30 on a challenging course.

Even more impressive, Kevin smashed his first half finishing 4th in his age group in 5:17. Kevin is a legend of the 60-64 category in short course and I've been hinting to him for a couple years now that he should give long course a go. So I was pretty fired up to see him slug it out on a tough and hot course and finish strong. Not to mention Brian also nailed down a solid PB and the 20-strong contingent of LPCers took the Division V Club crown! All in all, a pretty awesome day.

Muskoka turned out to be everything I could have asked for six weeks out from Tremblant. I learned some valuable lessons after taking a few more risks than I typically would in a half. I am also confident now that I can run even faster since that run was FAR from perfect, so I'll look forward to having another crack at that next season. So overall a few things to iron out over the next couple weeks but it looks like everything is on track for an epic day on August 19th.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

MSC Welland LC: 2:52:16, 2nd OA (1st AG)

Holy crap, that was awesome!

Before I get into the specifics of my kickoff to the 2018 tri season I want to share my pre-race mindset and goals for Welland as I feel that they were critical for setting me up for a great result.

I was confident in my training leading into this race after a strong winter on the trainer and some well executed IM simulations already in my legs this year. I've felt good on the bike all year but in recent weeks my running has really started to come around after some forced time off in March-April. I guess a side benefit of Ironman training is the 2k-56k-15k "long course" distance really felt more like a short course race for me, so I decided that I was going to race aggressively and with confidence...or at least optimism, that my body would respond well to the first race of the season.

There was a pretty darn impressive field assembled for the start of the Multisport Canada Series - and Provincial Long Course Championships - but I was firmly focused on my process goals for the race, which where:

1. Race with a clear mind, completely tuned into my own effort
2. Run harder than I ever have in a mid/long distance race

With that in mind, I made the annual road trip to Welland to signify the official start of summer in Ontario! This time though, with some recent life changes Amanda stayed home with the doggos while I went up solo and crashed at her little apartment in Brantford that she is renting while working out of town during the week.

Amanda has been working through a frustrating string of injuries that started when she was hit by a car on her bike a number of years ago. It's been a tough go for her the last couple seasons with more than her fair share of setbacks. But she is making progress this year and her dedication is a huge source of inspiration for me. She will be on a start line soon and I can't wait to see her out there smiling again. I'm hoping really soon because these race weekend road trips are a lot more fun with her!

Swim: 31:46
As is typical for me, I didn't really have any specific time goals in mind for the swim. My goal is always to focus on form and efficiency in the open water as I sometimes struggle to find my feel for the water in a wetsuit, especially in my first couple races.

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I started in the second wave, 1 minute behind the pro/elite age group wave. I started comfortably and managed to find the tail end of a decent sized lead group. I stuck with them for about the first 800 meters, then as we ran into swimmers from the elite wave I lost touch with the group a bit. I was still feeling good though and caught new LPCer/camper/super strong long course athlete Sean Henderson, who had started in the elite wave, at the far end of the course. I managed to find another good set of feet to follow for about the next 400m, but once again lost touch after a brief lapse in focus and ended up swimming the final 400 on my own.

The lead group from my wave came in around 30:30, and there's really no reason that I shouldn't have been in there comfortably. I don't mean that in a negative way...I just know what I have to work on to swim to my potential in open water. It seems that every year I have a couple average swims to start the season but over the summer I find my feel for the open water and manage to put together good swims for my big races later in the year. So now it's back to the pool (and lake) to work on keeping a high turnover and strong catch - both of which I seem to lose in a wetsuit - so I can stay on feet better and not lose touch. And I also need to work on my focus and awareness in the second half of longer swims to continue holding the paces I am capable of.


Bike: 1:22:54
Nerd stats:
If you can't see the tiny writing: 40.7 km/h - 265W AP (3.73W/kg), 270W NP, VI 1.02

As mentioned earlier, my only concrete goal for this race was a strong run, so I started the ride wanting to focus on efficiency and feeling really good getting off the bike. Well that changed quickly.

After taking the first few k's to settle in (and get my power meter re-paired with my computer) I had a couple athletes ahead that I focused on catching. Around 10k I caught my LPC teammate Lee Rantala...to be honest I was surprised that I caught him as he is a beast on the bike. But that gave me a boost in confidence that I was moving well. I tried to roll past him but he didn't let me get away so we started working together...or maybe just taking turns beating up on each other...and my average speed crept up close to 41 km/h.

Side note: Prior to the start they announced that the draft zone for this race would be 10 meters (Tri Ontario's rule is generally 5 meters for AGers). But on a flat course with little wind I found that not only is there still an advantage sitting 10-12 meters back, but it was also very difficult to open up a gap on similar-strength athletes. I can see why the pro's do it...and why the best riders prefer 20 meters. I was also happy that an official came past on a motorbike when I was behind Lee and I confirmed with him that I was legal at what I thought was a safe distance. I certainly had no intention of trying to push the boundaries.

Around 30k I looked back to see an orange helmet in the distance behind us, and I immediately knew it was Sean coming back to us. As I mentioned, he's a strong IM guy and was definitely on my list of "guys who will probably kick my ass in this race." At 40k Sean along with another top AG athlete Luke Ehgoetz caught Lee and I, but I quickly responded to the increase in pace. Luke was riding really well and from that point on it was a full on pro-style pain train as the four of us took turns trying to push the pace and/or break things up. It was really fun and a bit tactical - something pretty uncommon in age group racing, but on a completely flat course with guys of similar ability, not terribly surprising.

At 45k I gave it one more try to get away heading into T2 but we just couldn't shake each other. Luke came back past me just after 50k with Sean close behind him, but we managed to put some time into Lee who was also a big threat on the run. At that point I stopped playing tactics, I was a little worried that I pushed the bike a fair bit harder than I had initially intended so I got some final nutrition in and hoped that I still had something left for the run.

I didn't actually look at my power output during the ride, in part because I sometimes find staring at numbers to be a negative distraction, and partly because I wasn't holding anything back anyway. But I was really happy with my numbers afterwards - my goal over the same distance in Kingston later this summer was to push the bike and get through the run on trashed legs...and I exceeded that power target. I believe it was also my fastest average speed (on a legit course) in a triathlon ever, regardless of distance.

Run: 55:16 (~14.5k, 3:49/km on my Garmin)

Coming out of T2 I was shoulder to shoulder with Sean and one other athlete, with Luke a few seconds back and Lee not far behind him. I was confident in my running and extremely motivated to see what I was capable of, so I decided to open up a gap quickly and then settle into my pace.

Round 3...FIGHT!

The two-loop course had two out-and-backs each, so there were plenty of opportunities to see who was around. At the first turnaround I was in 6th with 4 athletes fairly close together (all of whom had started a minute ahead of me), and a bunch of fast dudes still close behind. I could feel the hard ride in my legs and was fighting a bit of cramping in the first few k's, but I let my internal pacing guide me and went through 5k averaging 3:40/km while my legs loosened up. My optimistic goal for this race was to even split 19:00 5k's so it was a little rich, but I knew the pain would come!

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Somewhere between "optimistic" and "suicide pace" (photo cred: Maddy McMillan)

I passed three athletes in quick succession at the second turn-around leaving just two guys ahead of me...my LPC Hurdle Project bro David Hopton - who was crushing his first long course race! - and Nigel Gray, whose old man strength (and race resume) is the stuff of legend.

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Just another LPC domination day (Maddy McMillan)

I passed Dave at the end of the first lap to move into second and Coach James gave me some false hope that I was putting time into Nigel. But he was still well up the road and the pain was starting to set in. So I shut my mind off, kept my focus on a quick turnover and hit 10k still under 3:45/km average pace.

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8.5-ish K in (Maddy McMillan)

At the third turnaround I realized my hopes of catching Nigel were pretty slim as he was about 4 minutes up and I was only gaining by a matter of seconds. My slightly front-loaded pacing strategy was starting to hit me and by 11-12k I was in a total body world of pain, but part of my goal for this race was to see how deep I could go. I pushed it right to the line and was really fired up knowing that I gave it absolutely everything and came away with one of my best executed races ever.

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As a rough goal, going sub-3 hours at this unique middle-distance is a pretty solid time, and often good enough for a top age group finish. So I was pretty stoked when I saw my final time of 2:52 and change, even after considering the slightly short run course I was really happy with my pace and overall time. It was also good enough for 2nd overall in a solid field and I won my age group by 13 minutes.

It sounds ironic, but its a great feeling when you can really push yourself to the limit, successfully avoiding the variables like mechanicals, stomach issues (!!) and all the other million things that can go wrong in long course. When you push past what you thought you were capable of and realize those limits are only in your mind, well that makes for a pretty memorable race.

After working harder than ever over the winter months and suffering through some big workouts the last few weeks, it felt great to express that in my first race of the 2018 season. There's also no question that I'm benefiting from a new level of mental resilience and self-belief that I forged in Whistler last year. But there are definitely some things I can and will improve upon. I'm extremely motivated to continue the forward progress and hit Muskoka 70.3 in a couple weeks, then a final tune-up at K-Town before my big race of the year, Ironman Mont Tremblant.

As always thanks for the read and your support!

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Paris to Ancaster 2018

Like a bad superhero movie that just keeps making more sequels...

I told myself I wasn't going to do this again. But once again its the first week of May and I'm still picking dirt out of my eyes from the weekend, having suffered through yet another round of Paris to Ancaster.


Last year I felt I had made my peace with P2A. Over the years I've learned this race the hard way, qualified for the elite wave and survived some of the toughest conditions in the history of the event. It's not that I didn't enjoy the race or the challenge, it just really wasn't on my radar this year. Most of my race goals this year are focused on my running so I planned a few spring run races for some early season benchmarks.

I was rounding into some good form when this happened a couple weeks before training camp...

Broken? Or bitten by a zombie?

Sadly I don't even have a cool story about it, I just jammed my foot and broke my toe. Fortunately after a few days it didn't cause too much discomfort on the bike, so while my running was limited at camp I put in over 30 hours of riding including 180k on the infamous Sugarloaf ride. While I was disappointed that I wouldn't be healthy in time to run Around the Bay 30k, I started thinking about what else I could do to kick off my race season.

photo: Maddy McMillan

I also jumped on the Zwift bandwagon over the winter and was instantly hooked. No, its not some magical world that instantly makes you a better cyclist (unless you are faking your numbers, as many people do). But I became moderately obsessed with the virtual races and did about a dozen from Christmas to mid-April and was hitting some of my best ever power numbers.

Knowing that I was on some decent early season form, and in need of a kick in the ass to stay motivated post-camp, I impulsively decided to register for P2A just before the deadline to get back in the elite wave.

I seem to say this every year that I do this race, but man, our spring weather SUCKED! Historically sucky in fact; last I checked we were on pace for the coldest April on record. Honestly if I didn't have this race looming over me I likely would still be glued to the trainer in the basement. Given that we still had snow on the ground within a week of the race I figured it would be a pretty soggy race course this year, and it certainly was.

At least the weather on race day was much more favorable than last year...a bit chilly but sunny and primarily a cross/tail wind.


For the tech geeks out there my gear setup was the following:
  • Giant TCX SLR02 - aluminum frame, hydraulic disc brakes, F+R thru axles
  • Shimano 105 drivetrain with 46/36 x 11-32 gearing
  • DT Swiss wheels with 140mm Ultegra rotors
  • Specialized Trigger 700x38 tubeless tires with 34/36PSI
This is primarily worth noting because I felt that I nailed my gear choice. It was my first time running tubeless tires for cross and first time using file treads...actually my first ever ride on those wheels and tires...but it was hands-down the best setup I've had for this race. And my weekend warrior alloy bike and 105 drivetrain was flawless through some pretty gnarly mud this year.

OK enough with the preamble, onto the race itself...


Start is at 50 seconds

My goal this year was to beat my personal best placing of 71st in 2016, but knowing how close I was last year to getting in the group that finished 30-50th I was willing to take a risk to try to get in that group off the start. I was 5-6 rows back in the start corral and knew that I would have to take it out VERY hard to try to get in the top 30-ish before the rail trail where it becomes very difficult to change position.

Fail

I had scoped out my lines before the start and went far-right to try to get on the inside for the first two corners. Despite an all-out sprint up the right shoulder I was no better than 50-60th place before the bottleneck of the rail trail. I didn't have my power meter on my bike for this race, but for reference my sprint is 1420-1460W and I likely wasn't far off that right from the gun.

Onto the rail trail I spent the next 5-6k just trying to recover from that effort as things settled down a bit. With the elite group so tightly bunched there is virtually no room to move up - it would take an extended sprint through the grass up the outside, which frankly isn't worth the effort or risk. So I sat in and prepared for another big effort up Sharp's Lane, which is about a 2.5-3 minute stair-step gravel climb up to the first road section.

I'm back there somewhere! (Canadian Cyclist)

I hit the turn well and got about half way up the loose gravel before getting stuck behind a few riders unclipping, so I unclipped and ran hard up to where I could start pedaling again. I tried to hang onto a few riders that I recognized who finished in the top 40 last year but as we got up towards the road I simply couldn't hold on and catch the group, and off they went. I hit my max heart rate for the whole race at this point, and actually the third highest I have ever recorded on the bike (behind two 20 minute time trials). But it still wasn't enough to get in the group.

So I was once again in an all too familiar spot of P2A...20 minutes into the race, just missed the train and dangerously close to being completely blown up already. But I knew there was still a long way to go to get back into a rhythm and start bringing people back. There was a small group hanging onto my wheel and I got a few riders organized to work together on the first long gravel road section.

I led the way through the first off-road section which includes a jump over a ditch then some muddy singletrack. It was awesome to have daylight ahead of me and dismount at 30km/h, hop the ditch and hit the trail at full speed as this is typically a brutal bottleneck getting stuck behind cyclists who don't know how to run :)

When we hit the orchard farm I first noticed that my tire choice and pressure were good as I effortlessly gapped my whole group on the loose gravel corners and was starting to make up ground on the big group ahead. I did my best to rail the corners and as I was exiting the orchard farm I had gotten painfully close to bridging the gap, probably within 5 seconds. But as I got back onto the road I just couldn't get there on my own so I eased back into a tempo effort and let the group behind catch up to me again, which was now down to only 4-5 riders. I knew I wanted some company for the long gravel stretch heading north into the wind.

Once again on the next farm laneway I gapped my group on the first corner. I wasn't trying to intentionally lose any good allies just yet, but I also wasn't going to wait for anyone who couldn't hold my wheel. I had dropped my group but was losing time to the group ahead, so I had to just settle into my own tempo for a while. I put my head down and rode completely solo for about the next 10k.

P2A, solo TT style.  tire pressure on point!

From a placing standpoint I wasn't sure if it was a good or bad thing that I was on my own for so long. Actually I've never been on my own like that in my previous 3 years of this race...usually I'm driving a 20+ person pack. But it was really nice to get into my own rhythm and hit the trail sections at full speed rather than the constant bottlenecks and spikes when riding in a group. It was probably the most fun I've had in four years of this race feeling like I was on my own against the clock on this epic course.

Finally around 40k in I managed to catch a group of 3 riders who seemed to be working pretty well together. I thought I might blow by them and keep rolling solo but it seemed that having me join them motivated the group to pick up the pace. So we started working well together rolling through some individual riders including one that latched on and worked really hard with us. 45-60k was pretty windy with a new section of the course that went over the 403 then back under, and as we got back on the Hamilton-Brantford rail trail around 60k I was starting to feel the fatigue build. I had to skip a few pulls to make sure I wasn't completely trashed for the final climbs (as I was last year), but still pulled my weight the best I could.

Once we were off the rail trail our group split up as we navigated the tough gravel climbs and mud chutes. I certainly appreciated having the slightly wider gearing and hydraulic brakes compared to my old cross bike and got through both mud chutes cleanly (figuratively speaking, definitely not literally).

I caught one more rider with about a mile left, and just before the start of the final climb to the finish I almost got taken out by a bunch of kids crossing the trail. But fortunately I managed not to run anyone over and gritted my teeth to fight up the hill.

Hoping my bike computer is telling me it's over soon
(Photography by Chyla)

Ultimately I finished 73rd overall in a time of 2:27 - the course was about 5k longer than my best time here (2:13 in 2016) and almost 10k longer than last year when I rode 2:26. Definitely a better ride and faster day than last year as I just about equalled my best ever placing, but I still fell slightly short of my race goal. Once again it was painful, it was muddy, it was tons of fun, but mostly painful.

I am realizing that as my training becomes more and more focused on Ironman and 70.3 riding I sometimes struggle with the high end "pop" that I had when I raced short course and road races. I thought I would be able to get into that main group up the first climb but frankly I just didn't have the fitness for a 500 watt 2-3 minute effort, shortly after a full on sprint at the start. I could tell that my overall fitness is good as I was able to recover and find a good rhythm to roll through a big chunk of the race on my own. I think I'm just starting to become more of a diesel engine time trial guy than a snappy sprinter. I guess that's a good thing given what I'm actually focusing on :)

So let's be real. No matter what I say its virtually inevitable that I'll be back on the start line again next year. I am still very determined to finish higher in this race as I know I have a top-50 in me, maybe a top 30. But depending on how it fits in the grand scheme of my year I will either have to adjust my race schedule, or my spring training, if I want to better my result at this race. But for this year it once again has served as a super fun and hard first hit out of the season. It's gotten me through winter and spring weather in good form and I can't wait to tackle plenty more big goals in 2018!