Monday, March 28, 2016

MSC & Me: A Brief History

It's hard to believe that 2016 will be my tenth year in the fun and crazy world of triathlon. I'm still learning things every day...about myself, the sport, the gear, and ultimately how to get a little bit faster every season!

I came into the sport when I was training with the Western track & field team in 2006. I was so hopelessly injured that I bought a bike so I could at least maintain some form of activity while my multiple stress fractures were healing. I should note that I wasn't some prodigy runner who had scholarships lined up. I had some decent 300 and 400 times but I made teams because I was the hardest worker at practice.

When I started cycling I immediately fell in love with it and I still remember thinking to myself, "I can't be doing this right, there's no way training for something can be this FUN!" I quit track a week before varsity training camp and committed to a new journey, one that I was incredibly passionate about...mostly because it scared the crap out of me!

There was only one problem. I couldn't swim. I don't mean it like most competitive triathletes mean it, as in they wish they were faster. I mean I was literally so bad at swimming that even my parents would make fun of how bad I was at swimming lessons. My mom made me tread water in our backyard pool for 30 minutes before signing up for my first race, just to make sure I wouldn't die.

I joined the UWO triathlon club in the fall of 2006 and immediately found an amazing sense of community. I was the guy wearing board shorts in the slow lane trying not to drown, but there was something very welcoming about everyone facing their own personal challenges; in track all that mattered was whether or not you had made the time standards.

I also met a man in the club by the name of John Salt. First I only knew him by reputation of his torturous 6am spin classes and the crazy fast swimmer in lane 1. Then he told us some of his Ironman war stories and it was the coolest and most badass thing I had ever heard in my life. Finally I found out that he was the owner of the "HSBC Triathlon Series" and he had some pretty cool events. So in 2007 I signed up for a few of his races to really see what triathlon was all about.

Fast forward ten years and I've raced dozens of MultiSport events, volunteered at a bunch more and even worked on the race crew for a couple seasons. That's why I'm thrilled to partner with MultiSport Canada this year as part of the Recharge with Milk Ambassador Pro Squad. Over the last ten years John, Jason and the crew have watched me grow up as an athlete and a person.

In that time the MSC brand has also grown from the small events with a great community-feel to the biggest series in Canada, and John still shakes everyone's hand at every finish line. It's been a lot of fun to be a part of all that and I couldn't be happier to formally represent the Recharge with Milk Triathlon Series this season and help get the word out about their amazing events.

I thought I'd have a little fun and dig a few items out of the archives for a brief synopsis of how I - along with MSC - have grown over the years!

Binbrook 2007 - my second ever tri...I was such a noob!

I finished my first tri season in Wasaga Beach where I qualified for AG Worlds in Vancouver the following year!

This shot is just too old-school not to post - Cobourg 2008

Back when Lakeside was in June, and it was about 6 degrees in 2009! I didn't race locally too much that season - I was racing AG Nationals in Kelowna then Worlds in Australia, so I decided to start training a little smarter. I moved to Guelph to train with what was then called the Provincial Training Centre under Coach Craig Taylor. It was a summer of getting my ass kicked multiple times a day, but it was the most valuable experience I've ever had in my tri career.

Cobourg 2010. I spent most of that season working on the race crew to help fund my flight to Elite Nationals. I gained some serious respect for the MSC crew who often put in 40+ hours of work over a single weekend to make these events happen. Everyone should do it at least once!

2011 was marked by winning my FIRST MSC race at Bala Falls. The Recharge with Milk finish line interviews were a fun bonus!

2012 was highlighted by the Welland Half Iron, hands-down the hardest thing I had ever done. It was also the first season that offered series prize money so my year was all about chasing points. Unfortunately I crashed badly in my next race and John told me he wouldn't let me race again until I had been cleared of concussion symptoms. I had to sit out the rest of the season but was very grateful for his words of wisdom.

 Fast forward to 2015 back in Welland. My aero game has improved slightly since my road bike clip-ons :)

After a few years of focusing my season around big destination/championship races, I'm really excited to get back to my roots in 2016 and chase some points on the Recharge with Milk series. They truly are top-notch events and with the talent coming out of Ontario these days it has to be one of the most competitive domestic series out there. I'm still putting the final touches on my race calendar but I can't wait to throw down on the MSC circuit again this year. See you on the start line!

Monday, March 14, 2016

Season Opener & campLPC

It seems like just yesterday that I was wrapping up my 2015 season and hunkering down for winter training! And it certainly doesn't feel like a full year has passed and another LPC Florida Camp is in the books. But I took my time getting back into structured training after Louisville and after a couple months of solid training I was looking forward to heading back down south.

I was really excited to once again kick off my racing season with the Draft Legal Challenge in Clermont. Last year I jumped at the rare opportunity to do an Age-Group draft legal race, and despite feeling completely unprepared I finished 5th. I was hoping to better that this year after a recently renewed focus on short-course racing, but with AG Worlds going draft-legal this year it brought a much bigger, deeper and more diverse field...including many other LPCers!

(all photos courtesy of Ken Milner & BPT)

On Saturday a huge group of campers headed to Lake Louisa to catch the ITU race which included my Hurdle Project teammates Jack, Garrick and David and many RTC Guelph friends. Then first up Sunday was Amanda's first draft-legal experience in the Elite Development Race. She's gearing up for sprint-distance Nationals and Worlds, and what better way to get some experience in the unique race format!

I have to give Amanda big props for jumping in the EDR. They combined the EDR and AG races but gave the age groupers a 10-minute head start to help them from getting lapped out. But Amanda lined up with the big girls. She had a solid swim but in the strong field of junior-elites and some U23s she just missed the big chase pack out of the water. Then despite only being on her new road bike a handful of times, she lit up the bike course and was carving the technical sections! Unfortunately she was in a position I'm far too familiar with...she was picking up stragglers who couldn't even hold her wheel, let alone pull through. So she toughed out the ride mostly solo but was in no danger of getting lapped out, and finished strong in her first draft-legal race!

Then it was the boys' turn in a sold out field of all ages and abilities. I saw a few familiar faces from last year including another huge contingent of Canadian Forces guys, a solid group of LPCers and Amanda's dad! It was really cool to have such a range of athletes starting together and there were only a handful of sketchy moments with the race organizers being lenient on the lap-out rule to keep things inclusive.

I was really looking forward to seeing what I could do in the swim knowing that I'm swimming well for this time of year...and with a funky new wetsuit (thanks Santa)! But between the challenging conditions and lacking a bit of race-specific fitness I had a bit of a disappointing swim. I lost my stroke a bit and struggled to find a rhythm after taking it out hard. It's hard to compare times with the swim being quite rough...I can't say it felt great but I'm confident I'll be swimming better than ever in the open water this year!

I got to work on the bike chasing down the lead pack, which I successfully managed to do last year. On the first lap of four I started working with a pair of strong guys and started bringing back time. But just before coming through transition for the first time one guy flatted, and the other couldn't hold my wheel through the tricky transition area. I knew that was going to be a big setback in trying to bridge up and settled into my own rhythm for most of lap 2.

Determined face, determined face

Just before the end of lap 2 I was joined by a two strong riders and we started rolling well. I wasn't feeling super strong on the bike and nearly got dropped at one point, but I made up for my lack of fitness with technical skill, and brought back a 5 second gap through transition :) On the last lap the three of us got swallowed up by a large pack lead by LPCer Lee Rantala. I covered some weak attacks and mostly recovered for the last 3k and came in near the front of the group.

I was still feeling the early-March lack of fitness on the run, but managed to find a bit of a rhythm and ran better than last year. Despite the faster run I only managed 10th in a deeper field this time around. But I got exactly what I wanted out of the race, a good cobweb scraper and a fun start to camp!

I could - and probably should - do a separate post dedicated to camp, but that seems like way too much work! So here's a quick recap on a big week in the sunshine:

My new cross bike was a great road steed!

Monday is always one of my favourite days of the camp, as we head to the NTC for a big day of training. First up was a workout on the track, somewhere I've become intimately familiar with since coming to Clermont for track camp many years ago. Since I raced on Sunday I had a shortened set of 9x400 on 2:00 dec 1-3 (79, 75, 73). Then it was up to the pool for a solid swim in the fast lane with some drills from Coach Gabbi and Coach Alex, and a set of fast 50s.

After a big morning we were treated to seminars with Coach Mark and a great Q&A with Lionel. It was great to have him back at camp...I still vividly remember the crazy guy in 2011 who pedaled his bike so hard that every bearing and bolt was creaking underneath him. I remember telling James "this dude is going to be the best long course athlete in the world some day." I'm still in awe of what he's accomplished since then, and he's still just as crazy. But he's one of the nicest and most genuine people in the sport, and it was an honour to share some training with him throughout the week.

We changed things up a bit this year and the highlight of Tuesday was the world-renowned Allen's Challenge. The "miracle mile" sub-four minute barrier was demolished with Johnny Pulford clocking a 3:16 for 11 scoops of ice cream and 5 toppings.

The 84k ride and run off the bike used to feel like a long day for me, but after going through Ironman training it felt more like a nice warmup! Unfortunately I was a little under the weather and shortened my run off the bike. I thought back to last year when I ran 16k on the hottest day of camp and part of me wished 2016 was another Ironman year...

We were back to Lake Louisa for brick intervals. This is typically the workout that the young-ins beat up on ol' RyGuy. But I was still feeling sick and drained so I cut my workout short and missed out on some hard yards with the boys. I'm not sure if I wasn't quite recovered from the race and then went too hard on Monday, or if I was fighting some sickness. But I decided to shut it down in hopes of feeling better later in the week

I was really motivated to have a great day of training on the longest day of camp after the last two days not going to plan. It started off with a ~4500m lazy river swim. I committed to staying with the ITU guys and Lionel for a s**tload of open water simulations. I remembered how I lost my feel for the water and a bit of focus during my race, and did my best to swim HARD and hold good form. I ended up having one of the best (and hardest) swims of my life staying within touch of the fast guys the whole time.

Thursday afternoon is the long ride out to Clermont and Sugarloaf hill. Last year I completed my first century on that ride and was a huge step in my IM training. This year I just had 90k on tap, but before we even got to Sugarloaf I somehow managed to break the lower jockey wheel and crack the cage on my rear derailleur...which mechanically speaking, means you're f**ked.

I sat on the side of the road for about 40 minutes trying over and over to shorten my chain to ride single-speed and find a gear that wouldn't skip too much or lock up. Eventually I limped up Sugarloaf where our sag wagon Ken (Gabbi's husband, also photog genius and beer connoisseur) picked me up.

I was pretty bummed that my perennial favourite ride was cut short, but was satisfied in my mechanical skills to at least get to the pick-up point (and thankful for being prepared and carrying a multi-tool with a chain breaker). Case in point for those cyclists who aren't mechanically inclined...learn how to do basic repairs on the road so you don't get stranded in scary Trump-voter areas!

The last day of camp is always my favourite...Orange Grove 10 miler! Last year I did two laps plus some bonus for a 35k run that was one of the most memorable runs of my life. This year was a little bitter sweet as I fell in love with the long miles last year. But the workout this time around was easy warm-up for the first half, tempo coming back. I told myself that if I was only doing one lap I was gonna make it count! I averaged 3:36/km for the hilly 8k coming back, which I was really happy with and gives me confidence that my long-time goal of a sub-35 10k might be getting closer.

We finished off camp with a short-ish 55k ride for which I was fortunate enough to borrow LPC pal Kyle's sweet Speed Concept! I've always wanted to try one out and it sure was fast! But my P3 isn't going anywhere anytime soon :)

We're now back in Canada but race season is coming up quickly! I already have some spring races planned including some fun on my cross bike, then a couple running races before tri season really starts. I'm looking forward to staying a little closer to home this year and focusing on the MultiSport Canada points series and TriOn long course series. It's going to be a fun year getting back to basics racing local and racing hard!