Last weekend I decided to race the Mine Over Matter off-road tri in Milton, which happened to be named the first ever Canadian National Championships for the discipline. I had been planning it as part of my race schedule all year as a bit if a mid-season mental break from the grind after spending so much time on the roads for Mont Tremblant. So the timing worked well, not to mention I don’t have a rear wheel for my tri bike anyway!
So I spent the two weeks after Tremblant hitting the trails trying to prep for a completely different style of racing. Training went fairly well given that it was still a bit of a recovery period, and I tried to soak in as much technical practice and leg strength as possible in less than 10 days of prep. I even went to preview the Milton course a week early with fellow London athletes Alex Vanderlinden and his coach Cliff Warden-Rogers. It was invaluable to see the trail and find our lines, and good practice to ride with some guys that know how to thrown around a mountain bike.
My swim got off to a bit of a rough start as I tried to mix in with the 6-7 pro men there and promptly got one side of my goggles knocked off and swallowed some water. Guess I was due for it as I’ve had very clean starts so far this year. Despite only racing two weeks ago I felt sluggish and struggled to focus. But I got my goggles fixed then I relaxed on some feet for the first 500m before finding my stroke and picking off swimmers through the last 500. Not my best swim but no need to stress!
(photo courtesy of Alex & Ben Vanderlinden)
I had mentally prepared myself for the inevitable power spikes and red lining similar to a draft-legal bike, and I know that I have good high-end power to cope. And I felt fairly confident that I could get through the bike without dying. But I quickly learned that there is a HUGE difference between riding a mountain bike, staying upright and hitting my lines etc. and actually racing a mountain bike, pushing its limits and maintaining a good average speed. Not to mention that we had previewed the course on perfectly dry and fast conditions, and race morning brought rain and ridiculously muddy and slick trails. I guess I wouldn't want it any other way for an off-road race, but it pushed the advantage to the mountain bikers (vs. posers such as myself).
The course was two loops with only one or two slightly technical sections and a tough climb on each lap. After clearing the first technical part on the first lap I caught a bit of wet grass on a wide open stretch of singletrack and went down pretty hard. Guess I wanted to get my money’s worth for my first off-road tri. But that’s part of mountain biking so I was immediately back on my bike but was stuck behind a couple riders that stopped me on a couple sections before I got past.
I find that (being an XC noob) its very easy once you make one mistake, to get way too uptight and over-brake everything and make even more mistakes. But I managed to get through the only tricky descent much faster and smoother than on our training ride and got some confidence back. After finishing the last lap I was really starting to wonder what the hell I had gotten myself into but I did my best just to not make any mistakes and stay on my bike…I figured its always slower to crash than ride a little more conservative.
I managed to get through the bike, losing a bunch of time to the leaders and those who know how to ride XC. But only took the one spill and rode pretty well through the technical sections. And considering I’ve never owned a mountain bike until earlier this year, and until very recently I’d spend more time walking my bike through the trail than riding it, I was thrilled to still be somewhat in the race.
I felt good getting onto the run as I had a hard time actually riding hard enough on the bike to get tired, but I kept it conservative leaving T2 as I had a feeling we would be doing some climbing. The first km was mainly uphill and as soon as we got into the trail section I picked it up. As much as I felt completely out of my element on the bike, I was totally comfortable on the run given how much trail running I do in training. I had no problem taking on the aggressive sections. But there were some sections that I was kicking myself for being so unprepared and too cheap to buy good trail shoes. I know that I could be a good trail runner but learned the hard way that just like anything else, you need the right equipment.
After about 6km of awesome trails (and an amazingly well marked course) we were back onto gravel and I tried to pick it up again. I knew that I had good fitness coming off Tremblant and it felt good to have some more to give through the last 2km. I passed about 8-10 people (some relays) on the run and crossed the finish line in 9th and first in my age group.
(photo courtesy of Alex & Ben Vanderlinden)
Overall I was once again really happy with my effort on the day. Despite my super-concentrated ~10 days of prep, I was handed a good ass kicking on the bike and it was humbling to have my weaknesses exposed and have to suck it up and get through it anyway. I loved the run and can see that as my strength if I decide to give off-road another go. My goal was to win my age group (national title!) and I accomplished that. But for now I’m excited to get back to the “easy” stuff on the road and see what kind of strength I have developed from all the hills on the trail.
Next up is one of the biggest races of the year in Canada, another National Champs at the Toronto Triathlon Festival. For me it will serve as a fast and hard prep race leading into the K-Town Long Course Tri, but it will be great to race through downtown TO in a crazy competitive event. I’m not sure what to expect there with the level of competition and given that I don’t remember the last time I’ve gone through a full summer with everything (mostly) going to plan. But I’m going on good fitness and focus…so it would be nice to break the 2 hour barrier (my best Olympic is 2:03 a few yrs ago) or get on another Nationals podium.
(my poor baby got dirty!!!)