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!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Ironman Canada

In some ways the build up to an Ironman and the months or years it takes to prepare for such a crazy event is the real story. Race day is just the "fun" part. When I signed up for the race I wrote down three goals and hung them in my pain cave:

My build for IM Canada went about as well as I could have possibly hoped for. After a string of frustrating injuries in 2016, with a renewed focus on strength, mobility and recovery things finally started falling into place in early spring. As with any Ironman build I had my share of super hero workouts and painful miserable workouts, but I got through them all and if my early season races were any indication things were moving in the right direction.

At times the progression in volume felt a little compressed especially in the 4 weeks after Syracuse 70.3, whether it was the circumstances of coming back from injury or the reality of squeezing training and some prep races in before a mid-summer full. But my body responded well to the volume and I arrived in BC healthy and fit. Goal #1 accomplished.

I had absolutely no outcome goals for the race at all. I had a number of friends ask what my time goal was or if I was gunning for a Kona spot, but I know first hand how unpredictable Ironman racing can be. Putting a time or placing goal on my race would only serve as a negative distraction if things didn't go to plan. I knew that if I got through the race without any major issues I had the fitness to be very competitive - I was fitter and fresher than my 12th place overall in Syracuse. But I can honestly say I didn't care what my time was, I just wanted to accomplish my last two goals...in whatever context race day provided.

Race Week:
I landed in Vancouver on the Wednesday before the race...got hooked up with a sweet free upgrade on my rental car, and rolled up the Sea to Sky Highway in style. I stayed with my cousin in Pemberton for a few days which was an awesome low key place to hang out and recon parts of the bike course away from the hectic race site in Whistler village.

My parents, aunt and uncle drove from Alberta to join in the fun and arrived on Friday and I stayed with them in the village for the rest of the weekend. I was missing my travel partner in crime Amanda, but she was holding down the fort (fur children) back home for the week, and was the best long distance cheerleader EVER!

I checked into the race on Friday afternoon and got most of my gear sorted, then did my final race prep and gear bag check in Saturday morning. One interesting logistical wrinkle with this race is we could not leave any nutrition on our bikes or in gear bags overnight before the race, because of the bears! So I had to make absolute sure I wouldn't forget it on race morning!

Throughout the week we also drove the full bike course which was really valuable. The bike course is extremely challenging, not only with over 8000ft of climbing, but where the climbs are on the course. The final 45km is almost entirely uphill, with nearly 2500ft of climbing in the final 30k. But the entire course was unbelievably scenic and I was nervously excited to take on the challenge.

Race Day started at 4 am with a quick breakfast and coffee before heading down to T2 to put my nutrition in my run gear bag and catch the bus to the swim/T1 which is about 5 km away. I set up my bike nutrition, did a final walk through of transition and had a few moments of reflection watching the sun rise over the mountains before it was time to get my wetsuit on. I was about to take on Ironman Canada, the race I have dreamed about since I got into the sport 10 years ago.

Swim:
As I've mentioned in my previous race reports this year, my primary goal for my swims has been to simply get through them pain free and without wasting too much energy. I only had about 3 months of twice-per-week swim workouts in before this race, but in the final weeks of my build I was surprised with where my fitness was. I was prepared to swim anywhere from 1:00-1:05, the latter being more likely.

With a self-seeded rolling start I was able to line up near the front of the race, unlike in Louisville where I was right near the back of 2500+ athletes starting in single file. At the cannon I was within the first 30 athletes into the water and after a few dolphin dives I quickly settled into my pace. For the opening 800 I simply focused on not getting too excited and staying relaxed, and I found myself drafting at the back of the lead pack. Woohoo, this is easy so far!

Coming around the far end of the first loop I reminded myself that this is an Ironman, and I don't need to push my luck sticking with the pack! I started to get gapped around 1500m in and after 50 hard strokes I decided it wasn't worth the energy to catch back on. I finished the first loop still feeling great and started my second loop with clean water all around me. I was able to bring my focus back to my stroke thinking about efficient rolling and strong core. I was sighting well and felt in control of my effort and stroke.

With about 800m to go I hitched onto a small pack that came past me as we began working our way through swimmers still on their first lap. I reminded myself to keep a quick turnover and strong catch to stay in the draft and I followed the small group all the way back to the swim exit. Through T1...grab gear bag, jersey/helmet/socks and shoes on, and out onto the bike! I checked my garmin and saw the time was 7:54, meaning that my swim + T1 was just over an hour...AWESOME!! I ended up with a swim time of 59:10...only 20 seconds off my current-aided time from Louisville. Let that be a lesson kids - don't skip your swim drills!

Bike:
It took three or four conscious efforts to bring my power down to my target range of 210-215W (220-230W NP) as we headed through Whistler Village for the first time. I knew my family would be standing on the road about 10k into the bike and I gave them a quick wave on my way by.

The first 20k of the bike is rolling terrain before the 15k climb up Callaghan Valley Road to the 2010 Olympic nordic/ski jump venue. I knew that it would be critical to keep things in check on this climb with a LONG way to go after. I saw a few athletes blow past me in the first couple k's up the climb and thought to myself "see you in a few hours :)". In fact the first 90k of the course was all about conserving energy wherever possible and I stayed on track up the Callaghan then back down over the rolling net-downhill terrain all the way to Pemberton.

Into Pemberton it was like I was racing an Ironman in my home town with my cousin and her friends cheering like crazy before heading out to the section of the course I had been riding most of the week. From 90-140k the course is stunningly beautiful and mostly flat heading through the Pemberton valley. I was still feeling fresh but once again I told myself to keep things in check and hold back from the urge of letting it rip on the fastest section of the course.

At the far turnaround at ~115k I saw that I was in the top 30 ish athletes, but again I told myself not to get too excited. After all I was not at all concerned about my results or placing...I was focused entirely on executing MY race, and so far I had given myself a 10/10 score on execution. At 140k I got back through town and this is what I was holding back for. The final 40k is nearly a constant uphill back to Whistler. I had ridden much of that section and driven it multiple times before the race so I knew this was where the race really began.

Despite that, and sticking to the low end of my power target, I hit my first really rough patch at about 155k. It was a huge mental struggle to watch the time tick by on my Garmin while grinding away in my smallest gear for miles at a time. There were 3 or 4 times I wanted to stop and just take a break for a minute, but I managed to hold it together...barely. I listened to my body and brought my power down to make sure I wasn't digging a hole for the run. After what seemed like an eternity I was finally back in Whistler and got a boost of energy riding through the village to the dismount line. I was happy that I had held it together enough to end up with a 5:30 split on that beast of a course.

Run:
I did a full change in T2 and felt comfortable and refreshed hitting the run course. I knew that I had managed the ups and downs of the bike (both literally and figuratively) well. I saw my support crew again and settled in through the first 5k of challenging trails around Lost Lake. When I went back past transition again I gave my parents a thumbs up as I headed off to the long out-and-back section to finish off the first lap. As I did in Syracuse I decided not to wear a watch for the run so I could tune in to my internal pacing without any distractions. Out to the far turnaround at 13k I was feeling good and my legs were still solid.

At 15k I was feeling a bit low on blood sugar so I backed off the pace a little, then with virtually no warning signs I threw up everything in my stomach. It seemed as though my stomach had not absorbed or emptied anything since the start of the run. My very first thought of course was Louisville where I had the exact same issue and I couldn't believe this was happening again. I had been so meticulous with my nutrition, I knew exactly my carb, fluid and sodium (not to mention protein, fat, fiber, caffeine etc.) intake ranges, spent months testing and dialing in my plan, reading journals on carb uptake and gastric emptying, and never had a single issue in any of my 6+ hour workouts in training.

Looking back on Louisville my only regret was not walking sooner in hopes of salvaging a finish...instead I tried to soldier on running and ended up in the back of an ambulance. There was absolutely no way I was going to have the same result. My only option was to walk, and walk, and walk some more. I tried anything at the aid stations but nothing was staying down. So I kept walking. The best I can describe it is trying to run a marathon hung over out of your mind.

I finished the first loop of the run having walked for nearly an hour. I started thinking about how long it would take to walk a marathon (I figured about 7 hours) and I knew I needed to keep some fluid or carbs down or I wouldn't make it through the rest of the course. I saw my family and told them what was going on, and kept on walking.

I got my special needs bag, tried some pretzels and had another epic barf on someone's front lawn. I wasn't sweating anymore and was in pretty rough shape physically and mentally. But I thought of Amanda glued to the live tracking at home, my family standing outside all day supporting me, and all my friends in the sport who have inspired me over the years. I hit the aid station around 23k and tried everything...redbull, orange slices, ice etc. I managed to hold it down for a few minutes and I started to change my mindset, took in the scenery, and told myself "it's like I'm taking my dogs for the world's longest walk!"

I saw my parents again at 25k and of course they saw I was still walking. I told them to go hang out at the hotel cuz I was gonna be a while! I took some ice at the next aid station and was starting to sweat again, and I started to get a sense of urgency to my steps. I still couldn't fathom the thought of walking for 3 more hours, but somewhere deep down inside I had the burning feeling that I had to finish this damn thing. It may not have been the Ironman I was hoping for but it had become the essence of what Ironman is all about...doing whatever it takes to get to that f@cking finish line.

Around 28k I tried jogging 20 steps...and I didn't barf! How about 50 steps...oops almost barfed. Ok 30 seconds jog, 1 minute walk. At first it was more about just trying to get to the aid station faster than actually trying to run. But I got to the next aid station, tried a couple things, walked for a minute to make sure it would stay down then jogged again. I got to 30k and pushed my luck with what I could stomach and threw up again. I walked some more, then got back to 1 minute jog, 1 minute walk.

I got to the timing point at the far turnaround and had a small moment of pride thinking of Amanda seeing my splits, knowing that she'd realize I'm starting to jog a little again. For the first time in about 3 hours I started to believe I could finish. I started jogging 2-3 minutes then power walking for a minute. I was able to stomach half a banana and felt a boost of energy so I kept pushing on. I still felt like absolute shit but I was making progress.

I continued my strategy of running whenever I could, then walking the aid stations and for about 100 meters past to make sure whatever I took stayed down. At 36k I finally allowed myself to start thinking about how amazing it would feel to finish and that drove me forward. As I got back into the village I told myself "I don't care if I barf or pass out...I am running this in!" With 400 meters to go I almost did barf and pass out simultaneously, but I made it to the finish chute and took it all in. I couldn't believe that I made it. I finished.

I got my medal and finisher's shirt and hobbled over to the closest patch of grass and immediately lied down. Some random super nice Hispanic lady gave me an orange and a blanket and told me how proud she was of me - I wasn't sure if I was hallucinating the whole thing until my family found me and asked who gave me the orange. After 4 hours of begging for the pain to be over I was finally finished...and I still felt just as terrible for the next 3 hours!

After finishing I didn't have a single thought of frustration or disappointment over my final time. In a funny way having things go so far off the rails and being out there for so long gave me the most fulfilling Ironman experience I could have asked for. As cliche as it is, I learned a lot about myself over those final 28 k's.

I've had so many messages of support and congrats over the past few days I don't know if I've even gotten through them all. So all I can say if you've read this or followed along on race day at all is a huge THANK YOU. I was thinking about all the Ironman war stories I've heard over the years from my friends and teammates, and having so many people following along virtually helped immensely in getting me to the finish.

I haven't given much thought to what's next for me. At this point all I know is I'm ready for some much needed R&R and enjoy a little more free time again. I would like to try to figure out the cause of my consistent GI issues in long course...I thought I had done everything in my power to prevent it from happening again. But to be honest I don't know if I will ever want to try my luck at another one of these. It's time to get my life back after dedicating so much time and energy to finally finding the Ironman finish line.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Ironman 70.3 Syracuse - 12th OA (5th AG)

Holy crap that was hard!

Syracuse 70.3 officially takes top spot for hardest course I have ever done, and also one of my favourite 70.3's to date. In my prep for Whistler I wanted to find a 70.3 that would allow me to test out my gear and nutrition strategy on a similarly challenging course profile. Turns out I also managed to simulate Ironman suffering about as accurately as possible without actually doing an Ironman...so all in all it was mission accomplished!

I went down to Syracuse on Friday night with my parents to stay with our long time family friends who live about 20 minutes from the race site, and I was immediately kicking myself for not doing this race before. It's a beautiful area and with it only being about 4.5 hours away it's also one of the closest Ironman 70.3 events to home. Being able to stay with friends so close by made it that much more enjoyable.

I got my race prep done early on Saturday and got a feel for the terrain in the area. If the hills weren't enough the forecast also called for 104F humidity and 25mph winds on race day. I knew that I was in for some serious suffering, but that was kind of the whole point!

Possibly even more important to me than my performance or result was that it was going to be the first real test of my new IM nutrition strategy that includes a lot more sodium and tweaking my carb intake both on the bike and run. In a few of my recent long course races I have run into stomach issues that I had never experienced in training, so it has been difficult to replicate or predict. I figured "sh*t hitting the fan" conditions in a 70.3 would be a pretty good simulation for Ironman :)

Now for the race itself...

Swim:
Similar to Milton a couple weeks ago, my primary goal for the swim was just to get through it alive and without any shoulder pain getting onto the bike. After a quick warm-up and some of LPC Coach Alex's dynamic stretching and core activation exercises it was my turn to get rolling in wave 10.

I managed to find clean water fairly quickly...that is until we hit all the previous waves of swimmers. But that's par for the course in any Ironman event so I just did my best to get through the traffic without wasting too much energy or demolishing anybody.

About 4-500m in I noticed some pretty significant chop that was in our favour for the time being. You know when you see the waves rolling past you while you're swimming with them, it's gonna suck going the other way! I quickly realized this would mean a long and difficult 900m back to shore so I backed off the pace a bit to anticipate a negative split in effort on the way back. I already had the feeling that this race was going to be ridiculously hard in every way possible.

Sure enough as I made the turn the wind made for a challenging swim coming back. It was tough to sight and not get pushed off course but I was able to stay relaxed and focused on a good turnover and staying high in the water. I kept reminding myself of my mindset for the day: the process and execution is more important than times or results. When I got out of the water I didn't see anyone else from my wave around and not many bikes were gone on my rack, so I knew that regardless of the times I managed to swim reasonably well. I took some extra time to throw on my Castelli jersey that I'll be using for Whistler to give it a test.

Accurate depiction of the scenic venue...terrible depiction of the tough conditions 

Bike:
I knew that this was going to be a challenging bike course, that's why I chose this race. But man, it's a friggin challenging bike course!

There wasn't much time to settle in and find my legs before the first climb...which was 9 miles long. The first 40k of the course was almost entirely uphill and into that stiff headwind that was whipping up the lake earlier. My power numbers were on the low end but I knew this was the perfect simulation for Whistler so I focused on climbing efficiently and executing my nutrition strategy.

I can assure you that's a grimace and/or tears, not a smile

After what seemed like an eternity of riding uphill into the wind I laughed when I saw that I had averaged under 30km/h at ~240W through the first hour on the bike. After a few brief moments of feeling good from 30-45k I was starting to feel like I was 150k into an Ironman, not 50k through a half. My legs were empty, my butt was sore, it was already stupidly hot and I was getting frustrated seeing the low power numbers I was putting out. Let me tell you, this was a beast of a course to not be feeling strong or fresh for. And 90k of 30+km/h wind and 3500ft of climbing is a long time to question your life decisions when you still have a half marathon to run after.

Questioning life decisions

I had to catch myself a few times when the negative thoughts started flowing as I watched the miles tick by impossibly slowly and my power dropping. But I was able to stay focused enough not to get down on myself or pack it in mentally. I told myself that worst case, this would be a great IM simulation day even if I shuffle through the run. Best case, I know I'm still fairly fast and efficient on the bike at my IM power output, and my legs might come around for the run to still finish well.

I decided that I was going to ditch my Garmin at T2 and just run by feel. I wasn't sure how things were going to go but I wanted to give myself the opportunity to reset and just let things happen rather than tie myself to a goal time or pace. This turned out to be the best decision of my day.

Run:
I settled into what seemed like a reasonable pace through the first 5k of the run, but having never done a 70.3 run without a Garmin I wasn't totally sure how I was running. It was already total carnage on the run course with the heat and hills, and looked far more like an Ironman run course with a large percentage of athletes from the earlier waves walking.

I was feeling decent and I knew that as long as I kept moving forward I would pass a lot of athletes. My two goals for the run became: 1. Don't barf, and 2. Just. Keep. Running. My stomach was still a bit testy through the first lap of the run as I made sure I got enough carbs and fluids in to be in good shape for lap 2. I backed off the pace a couple times to let my stomach settle down, but was able to bring it back up shortly after each time. Despite what seemed like a slow pace I was passing literally hundreds of athletes from the waves ahead and there were very few on the run course who seemed to be moving as well as I was.

Where's the next aid station, I need my watery flat ice-coke

Heading back out for lap 2 was a bit of a mental struggle but I got myself fired up knowing that this is where I would make or break my race. I had my aid station menu dialed in as I grabbed one cup of ice to throw down my suit, then poured a cup of coke into another cup of ice and sipped on the delicious watery flat ice-coke until I finished it. As I got deeper into lap 2 I was motivated that I still wasn't slowing down as the run course continued to claim casualties around me. I still had no idea what pace I was running or what my placing was but simply based on how many people were walking and/or barfing I knew that I was moving up.

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When I got near the finish my support crew was yelling at me that if I kept pushing I could break 5 hours, to which I thought "Are you f***ing kidding me?!" I had thought that 4:30 would be a strong but realistic goal on the challenging course. But it turned out that only 14 people broke 5 hours on the day, and my 4:57 put me 12th overall and 5th in a clearly competitive age group. To put it in perspective that's about 40 MINUTES off my PB when I finished in a nearly identical position (11th and 4th AG) on a similarly hot day in Muncie a couple years ago.

I have to say that despite being dealt incredibly tough conditions on an already difficult course, this was one of my favourite races I've ever done. It was an epic course and very well-run event, and I'm already looking forward to coming back sometime to really target it for another crack. Despite having a sub-par bike I felt like I executed to the best of my abilities on the day, and ultimately it served it's purpose as the perfect tune-up for Whistler.

Thanks again to everyone for the words of encouragement and support, my parents for coming along on the road trip, Dave and Linnea for the great company and accommodations, and of course Amanda for holding down the fort with two occasionally pain-in-the-ass fur children for the weekend :)

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Milton Race Report

For the first time since my very first triathlon in 2007 (!!) I returned to Milton to get my tri season underway. It was also my first race in nearly a full year after missing most of last season with injuries.

With Ironman Canada now less than eight weeks out it's safe to say that I'm in the heart of my build. Part of me was hesitant to interrupt the regular training routine to throw in a race, but on the flip side Ironman training is so consuming that I wanted to take full advantage of the rare opportunity to mix things up and throw down a hard effort at a local race.

I had two primary goals for Milton:

1. Get a perfect tune-up in my legs for Syracuse 70.3 on a similarly challenging course
2. Practice the mindset that I will bring to both Syracuse and Whistler this year - to ignore any external distractions and be completely tuned into my own effort and executing my best race, regardless of the outcome.

It also served as my first real test for my swim fitness and my shoulder coming off a rotator cuff tear. I spent most of my winter going to the pool twice a week for a 30 minute drill swim, and although at times it felt like a hopeless pursuit to maintain the possibility of being able to swim this year, Coach James reassured me that there was still time to get fit and all the core-focused drills would help me when I could actually swim freestyle again.

After months of frustration I got a different approach to my rehab from the one and only Joe Putos - the founder of the K-Town Tri, as well as a very experienced physiotherapist. In a crazy coincidence I have shared a lab with him at Western for the last year, and I guess eventually he got tired of me complaining about my shoulder and offered to treat me. With Joe's help things finally started to turn around in April and I was swimming pain-free for the first time in over six months.

I had only gotten 4-5 weeks of twice per week masters swims in before Milton and each one has been an absolute sufferfest, but I've surprised myself with how things have been coming back. I had absolutely no expectations for the swim in Milton but with Syracuse coming up in two weeks I had to at least make sure that I could get through a 750m swim without drowning shoulder pain.

After a nice drive down with Amanda's dad Kevin (aka legend of the 60-64 category) and a cold and rainy warmup with some of my Hurdle Project bros, we got things underway.

I lined up near the far end of the swim start since I didn't want to go too crazy at the start...basically I just wanted to swim a solid tempo and feel in control of my stroke throughout. At the gun I found Andrew Taylor's feet (who I had an epic battle with at the Mississauga 10k last year, and is also a very strong swimmer), and after quickly settling into a good pace I found myself in a large pack at the first turn.

All those hours of head-lead roll paid off as I had it drilled into my brain to keep my core on and stay efficient as I hung onto the group. It was probably the first time I've found myself in a decent sized group and take advantage of a good draft - I have often struggled in the past to draft efficiently with more of a pool swimmer's stroke. Based on my time gap to some of the strong elite swimmers I likely had one of my best swims in recent years. Mission accomplished!

(photo cred. James Loaring) thanks for the wheels Kevin!

Getting onto the bike with a pack of mostly juniors made for an interesting first 5k of the bike. I quickly rode through half a dozen athletes with a few trying to hang onto my wheel, then at the start of the Sixth Line climb they all went hammering past me as I held a steady output. But by the top of the climb I had re-passed the group and settled into a solid effort.

After that the bike was pretty uneventful as I went by a couple more guys and was passed by one strong rider. I was a little more cautious than usual on the corners and the descent down Sixth Line with some much bigger races coming up, but fortunately it wasn't too sketchy as the rain eased off just before the start of the race. I was feeling a little sluggish at times but I ended up riding fairly well finishing off at 280W NP.

The run course was one of the most challenging short course runs I have done and also one of my favourites. Having done a lot of my hard runs on the hills and trails around Western's campus I was right in my element with the hills and mud :) I focused on keeping a fast turnover on the rolling terrain and with three turn-arounds on the course I was motivated to try to bring time back on the athletes ahead.

Between 4-5k I could tell that I was inching closer to one athlete up ahead but I was running out of real estate to catch him. So I knew that I could either cruise in and maintain my place, or give it everything and see how close I could get. Ultimately I came up just short but I was able to finish very satisfied with my effort and with one of my best runs ever, averaging 3:32/km over the challenging course. But not before my Hurdle Project pals captured this epic pain face.

A post shared by Ryan Power (@ryan.power.5) on
(vid cred. Bryan Cole)

I ended up in 7th, 1st AG and the 3rd best run split. I knew that my training has been going well the last couple months but it was a pleasant surprise to have good legs for a sprint race to kick off the season. I exceeded all of my goals for the race and I am really looking forward to Syracuse for a much bigger battle on one of the hardest 70.3 courses on the circuit. Thanks for the read and stay tuned for more updates!