I decided to race Muskoka just a few days after finishing the Mont Tremblant 70.3. While I didn’t quite have a “perfect” day in Tremblant I was undeniably hooked on the feeling of making baby steps towards learning and improving myself over the 70.3 distance. I wanted to be in control of my bike effort over the whole 90k, NOT GET A FLAT TIRE, pace my run well to avoid quad cramps, and most importantly try to grab one of the earliest qualifying spots for 2014 World Championships…which are in Mont Tremblant. I dedicated the rest of my summer to accomplishing these things.
But first things first, the day before my race Amanda and I went up to Wasaga Beach for one of the final Multisport Canada races of the season. On the morning of her race the weather really couldn’t have been much crappier, but she sucked it up and showed some serious focus and determination to post a well deserved run PB and another overall podium and AG win. Not to mention her dad who also dominated is AG once again. As soon as awards ended we were off to Hunstville for day #2 of a crazy weekend to end a long and busy season. I was lucky enough (or just diligent enough in my planning) to get a last minute room at the host hotel so race morning was pretty easy…taking the elevator down to transition.
Of course a 70.3 wouldn’t be complete without a little bit of race morning panic…and for me it was realizing that I didn’t pick up my timing chip at registration the day before. But I managed to track it down in the morning without too much difficulty. The hardest part of my pre-race was deciding on my bundle-up plan for the bike – it was nice and sunny but below 10 degrees getting out of the water. I decided on socks and toe warmers, and throwing on a dry bike jersey over my tri kit, with gloves and arm warmers in the back pockets in case it was really cold on the fast descents. Quick warmup and I was feeling really good.
Swim: 29:36 (1:29/100m)
I took the swim start out a little more conservatively than I usually do (I tend to champ the start) as I didn’t want to go anaerobic in the first 30 seconds of a 4-5 hour race. There was a bit of rough housing in the first 200m but I managed to keep my effort controlled and build throughout the course. I could tell my stroke was there and I was feeling good, and thanking Coach James in my head for getting me to the start line feeling strong and fresh. Despite a bit of crappy navigation on the back stretch trying to get around the swarms of scissor kickers from the earlier waves, the swim seemed to fly by and I was done before I knew it. I ended up swimming almost exactly the same as Tremblant and Kingston this year, but at a much more controlled effort and I couldn’t wait to get up the insanely long hill to get on my bike.
Bike: 2:41 (35.1 km/h)
I couldn’t help but laugh at myself with how long my transition took, taking off my wetsuit and putting on a full wardrobe of clothing before getting on with it. But I’m glad that I was prepared for the cold weather and had a specific plan when I got to my bike, it made my ride infinitely more comfortable. And somehow my T1 time was still much faster than most.
It was a great feeling to get on my bike and actually have to back off my power, compared to my last couple races in which I’ve really struggled to get my legs going. Although my 2:41 bike split doesn’t seem to be anything impressive I was really happy with every aspect of my ride. I rode technically very well, passing a ton of people on the descents and safely getting through sections where there were a lot of crashes. But most importantly I maintained my power targets on the uphills AND downhills. I’m really amazed at how much a power meter helps on a tough course like that, it made the course actually feel much flatter. I can’t even count the number of athletes who I would pass on a flat section, then see them grind back past me on an uphill, just for me to drop them again at the top and never see them again. All I could think was “you just added a minute to your run time right there.”
I was careful not to overgear the hills and keep my power below 300W on the way up, knowing that the real race starts about 10k into the run. I was comfortable in the aero position, even on all but the steepest climbs and judging simply by the speed at which I was passing everyone I knew I was riding well. Through the first 60k I was starting to wonder what all the fuss was about this bike course...it was beautiful, I was in complete control and having a blast. Then I turned a corner at 62k and found all the hills.
The last 30k of the course was definitely the hardest section and I struggled at times to stay focused, but for the most part I managed to hold it together without digging too deep. Through the last 10k I purposely brought my power down a bit…I was paranoid about feeling ok getting off the bike. And I managed to successfully pee myself while riding. This may seem ridiculous but when you’re on the run course and your body is looking for every excuse to stop running just for a second, having to pee does not help the mental battle.
I got off the bike feeling better than I ever have in a 70.3, despite the extra 4km of riding and 1000m of climbing. My goal was to average 240-245W and I was at 242 (3.41W/Kg)…a little more conservative than my ride in Mont Tremblant but my goal was a strong run so I executed my ride exactly how I wanted to. More importantly…NO FLAT TIRE!!!! That was the main goal of my ride, and I accomplished it J
Run: 1:32:59 (4:24/km)
Heading into T2 I wasn’t exactly sure my placing in my age group but I only saw one or two bikes on my rack in transition. As I got onto the run course I bottled up some motivation from friends cheering, and saw James who told me to stay relaxed and try to pick it up on the way back. My goal was to run 1:30 and it took me a few conscious efforts to slow down to that pace, which on the flats felt ridiculously easy.
At about 5k in the lead bike came the opposite direction past me. From a distance I thought to myself, “that guy doesn’t look like Raelert.” And the closer we got to each other, I realized it was in fact my old LPC Florida Camp sparring partner (he always won) Lionel Sanders, leading the race at 16k! And not just leading, he had over a mile on Andreas Raelert. Holy shit! I know how hard that guy works and I was thrilled for him that he was going to get the win. I yelled some encouragement but had to relax myself after seeing him and tried to refocus.
Just as I was getting to a really quiet section of the course around 6k some of the mental demons were starting to creep in. Lucky for me, I have the best spectator ever. Who else but Amanda and her Balance Point cheering squad drove out to the middle of nowhere on the course to give me a big mental boost heading out to the turnaround!! I assumed that she was somewhere near transition and I had blocked out her cheering trying to stay focused, so it was a pretty awesome surprise. She told me that I was 6th in my age group and was looking strong. I thought I was a little higher up but it was good reassurance that I was still within the top-7 to get a qualifying spot in my age group.
Only a few hundred meters later I passed an athlete in my age group (the one and only athlete who passed me on the bike course) who was now walking. Top-5, that’s a little better. I drew some strength knowing that I was moving up. The section from 6k to 10k (and back from 11-15k) was likely the hardest part of the run, but I got through it ok and unlike in Tremblant when it seemed like I was running FOREVER to get to the turnaround, it seemed to come relatively quickly. I was a few seconds ahead of my goal pace, but I was still feeling pretty good and brought my pace down to 4:00/km for the next few k’s. Back through the steepest climbs, my quads were just on the edge of cramping up, but actually loosened up on the downhills and I was still right around my goal pace.
Around 15k I saw another athlete ahead who was in my age group, but just as I came up behind him I started to get light headed and dizzy. I still had one of my three gels left, but it was close to 2km until the next aid station where I could get water to wash it down. I was desperate for some sugar but the thought of another (8th) double latte gel was too much to handle without water. I rested for a few seconds before picking it up to pass the athlete but my pace dropped to 4:30s as I worked through my roughest patch of the race. Since I chose not to bank any time in the first half of the run I knew my run goal was starting to slip. When I got to the next aid station they were only serving athletes on the other side of the course, but my frustration actually got me back in gear a bit. I know that if and when I learn to stay focused through this section of a half marathon my run times will improve even more.
I managed to finally get to the next aid station where I took everything they were offering, and almost immediately I felt better and got my pace back up. Just as I got over one of the final hills James was out on the course and assured me that I had a spot locked up…he also gave some more coaching advice, probably something like “RUN FASTER” but all my brain heard was “its still really far to the finish line!” I dragged my ass over the last hill at 20k and enjoyed the finish much more than I have in my previous half irons. I ended up missing my run goal by 2 minutes, but I can’t be disappointed with that over such a tough course...and still 2 minutes faster than my run in Tremblant. I know my potential is there to run really well over this distance and it will slowly come through with more experience.
It didn’t really occur to me until after just how tough this course is…its not like there are any individual insane climbs like in St. Croix or the Rev3 Quassy run course, not even anything as difficult as the 70-80k section of the Mont Tremblant bike course. But it’s a relentless course that gradually gets harder and harder throughout the race. But I knew that I didn’t sign up for an easy one, and I couldn’t be happier with my execution. My pacing was a little smarter, my nutrition was a little better, and my rough patches are getting shorter and less rough every time I do a half. I know that I still have a lot more potential to get my times faster as I get more strength and experience with the distance, but for now I’m just fine with baby steps each time.
I ended up 4th out of 105 people in a very competitive age group, and locked up my spot for Worlds next year. Its great to have a full year to dedicate towards one race, and I’ll continue chipping away at this distance until then. But for now this feels like a good time to end the season…on a good note with lots of motivation rather than racing until I’m completely burned out, as I usually do.
Once again I want to thank everyone who helped me through this one, it was one of my most memorable races for the support, the course and my effort.