So essentially, my whole summer was geared up towards doing this race. I had several shorter tri's and a few longer distance ones, which all worked well as training for this race.
So let's get into it shall we?
The days leading up to this event were a bit nerving, as a lot of people (myself included) spent a fair bit of time watching the weather reports. The weather trend was very cool mornings and they were calling for light rain most of the day. Rain on this bike course can be treacherous, due to the tight turns and hilly course. In 2008 when I did this event, it rained most of the day, but at least it was warm. 10 or 11 degrees and rain was not going to be fun.
In previous years, I went up with my family on Friday and attended the athlete banquet which was always very good. A great way to carbo load for the race. This year, the family stayed at home (hockey try-outs and questionable weather) and I came up with another athlete I know from New Dundee, Greg Hallman (who by the way did awesome in his first ever half iron distance event - congrats Greg!!). I picked Greg up at home at 6am, and we made great time getting to Muskoka just before 10am with a couple of quick coffee and restroom stops.
We were staying at Hidden Valley, which is nice and close to Dearhurst, and it allows us to keep our vehicle with us (as opposed to the airport parking for Dearhurst guests). Upon arriving, we checked in (YES!! our room was ready at 10am!), so we put our bags into the room and then proceeded to walk our bikes to the bike check-in at Dearhurst parking lot. From there, it was onto registration, a tour of the race expo, a quick walk around the swim start and exit, and then we headed to the Power Bar Pro Panel question and answer session that they put on. Like last year, many of the top pro's were there to answer questions, including 2x Kona champ Craig Alexander and last years Kona runner up, Mirinda Carfrae (also both winners of this race last year). Here's a shot of Craig and Mirinda from my less than stellar Blackberry camera
I asked a question to either Craig or Mirinda to see if either of them ever ran any pure "marathon" running races as part of their training program. Craig answered by saying that it's "too much work". This coming from a guy who can run a 2:45 marathon in Kona and a 1:12 half in Muskoka.
After that, Greg and I headed back to Hidden Valley to chill out a bit before heading into town for dinner. East Side Mario's has always been my restaurant of choice for out of town races. I always go there when doing a tri in Huntsville and I ate there the night before my 3:01 Ottawa marathon in May, so I didn't want to break tradition now. Besides, the all you can eat salad and bread sits well with me!
5:20am Sunday morning, alarm goes off, and I am happy to have woken up after a pretty solid night's sleep. I quickly ate some oatmeal and a whole wheat wrap with peanut butter and a banana rolled up inside. After a bit of coffee, my 7 systems supplements and some packing up, we were out of HV by 6:15 and walking in the dark over to Deerhurst. Saturday was a great day weather wise, and likely everyone wished we had that weather for Sunday. As it turns out, most of the rain passed by overnight, and we were greeted race morning with overcast skies and what seemed like a comfortable 13 or 14 degrees. It didn't really feel cold at all. It was almost "ideal" racing conditions...almost!
We arrive in transition and I quickly got to work taking all of the wet bags off my bike and then getting everything set up. After an easy run, to get warmed up, I started putting on my wetsuit for the long walk to the swim start. Once there, I did a good warm-up, and was ready for this race to get started. I felt calm and comfortable, and before we knew it, the Canadian national anthem ended, and the pro's were off and running (actually swimming....you know what I mean!). I was in wave 2, which was a good thing, as that would mean little traffic to negotiate in the middle parts of the swim. 4 minutes later, and the horn went off, and it was game on!
I don't know if it was me, or what, but I thought the swim course was slightly different than the prior two years. The course is normally a perfect rectangle, but this year, it seemed like we had to take a bit of a left hand turn at the first buoy, right beside a bunch of boats. This made for a bit of congestion in the swim, likely the most I have ever experienced in this race. I got a bit knocked around, hit, pushed and slapped, but nothing I haven't experienced before. I tried to just find some open space, and after a few minutes I was pretty much OK and swimming free and clear. After the right turn at the 2nd buoy, I was more or less trying to just hold a nice steady pace and try to find some feet to draft off of as much as I could. I did a bit of drafting here and there, but likely swam most of the race on my own. Nothing else was too memorable about this part, and 34 minutes later, I exited the water. Ideally, I was hoping to go 33 minutes in the swim, but 34 was definitely alright, and a 4 minute improvement over last year. After the swim exit, I took advantage of the wetsuit strippers which is definitely a good idea, and also decided to slip on a pair of runners for the 300m UPHILL run to the transition zone. Once in T1, I quickly got my helmet and clear sunglasses on and was off on the bike. It was warm enough that gloves and arm warmers or an extra shirt was not required (for me at least).
With the 1.9K swim and 300m uphill run to transition, my heart rate was high right off the bat. The first 20K of the bike course is definitely not easy. A lot of steep rolling hills to keep that heart rate pumping. At this stage, I was passing a lot of people from my wave, as I was only 28th in my AG on the swim. This was motivating, and kept me pushing hard. Once we got on the main roads of Hwy 35, it was time to push the pace. The roads were freshly paved, overcast, no wind and cool. Perfect biking weather. I was making good time here and the average speed kept going up.
My nutrition plan on the bike was as follows:
- Start off with a normal concentrate (260 calories) of Infinite in my aero drink bottle;
- Carry a double concentrate (520 calories) of Infinite in a bottle on my frame;
- After the aero drink is empty, put the 2x concentrate bottle in my aero drink bottle and pick up 1 water at each aid station to last the rest of the race;
- I also grabbed one gel at each aid station to give me that little extra bit of calories;
This plan worked well and I had no issues with it at all.
The middle 35 or 40K of the bike course went by really fast. I found myself going back and forth with two other athletes, which kept things interesting. After the 2nd aid station down in Baysville, things started to get tougher. Firstly, it started to rain. Not too heavy, but enough to get the roads wet and slippery in the most difficult and technical part of the course. At this point, I found myself all alone. A few of the guys I was riding with got ahead of me and joined up with another small pack. For 20 or 25K, I struggled to catch back up with them, as I really wanted to be with a group, rather than all by myself. I'd say with 15K to go, I got passed by Chris Van Kooten who started in a wave (or two or three) behind me. For some reason after he passed me, it helped pull me along (no drafting of course) and we caught up to the pack of guys I was trying to catch for the last half hour. Chris carried on, and left us all, but I was now back with the group of other riders, which really helped. To my surprise, one of the riders in this pack was Jeff Beech, a former pro triathlete from Waterloo, where I am from (more or less anyway). That was super motivating, as he is in my AG. If you would have said I would be going into T2 with Jeff Beech at the beginning of the race, I would have said you were crazy. That being said, we all rode together for the final 5K of the ride and as we approached T2, I had a nice smooth dismount, and I actually beat him over the dismount line, and was likely in about 3rd place in my AG at this point, making up 25 spots over the 94K bike.
Into T2 though however, that would be the last I would see of Jeff. He is an awesome runner, and with his quick transition, he was gone. I took some extra time to put my Garmin watch on to track my pace, socks on my feet to avoid any blisters and then grab my Nathan Speed belt, for extra nutrition for the run. I think this added 15 or 20 seconds over Jeff's time, so by the time I got out to the road, he was already 100m ahead and gaining ground quickly!
So although I didn't really know it at this point, I think I was in 4th place in my AG starting the run, as Jeff Beech took over 3rd in T2 and eventually would end up in 2nd. Right off the bat at the 1K marker, we had to climb a pretty decent hill on the run. I could totally feel my quads starting to tighten up, which made me nervous. I don't think it was nutrition, but purely the effort put out on the bike. I quickly took another salt pill, and hoped all would get better once we hit some of the "flatter" sections on Hwy 60. Once there, things seemed to get better and I was ticking along at a nice pace. I got passed by only a few runners, and I past a few, so things were staying pretty even. Starting at about the 8K mark, things got tough on the run. We had a few good climbs to get to 9K and this really took a lot out of me. On the bigger climb, I did a few short walking breaks of only a few seconds, but it did seem to help. I never really lost any ground on the athlete that was in front of me who just kept running. The turn-around point was at about 10.5K and after that, it was supposed to be a lot easier, as it was mostly downhill from there. As it turns out, I progressively felt worse as the run went on. The downhills were pounding the legs, and every type of incline was making me more and more fatigued. I figured after seeing some of the athletes coming back from the turn-around, I had a decent chance of getting on the podium if I can just keep the legs moving, so I was definitely motivated.
I was keeping the nutrition up by taking in a gel every 5K or so. In addition, I was taking in salt every 20-25 minutes. I never really had much more cramping like I did in the first K, just a lot of fatigue. The last 6K were quite tough, and I just had to keep telling myself to keep moving, as you've been doing so well up to this point. I got passed by another athlete at 17K, but that would be it for the rest of the race. Once we got back to the top of the hill on Canal road, it was a nice downhill to the 20K marker. The last K of the race has a pretty tough climb back to Dearhurst, but this is where the crowds were. Half-way up the hill, I just wanted to take a few quick walking steps to feel better, but the crowd wouldn't have it. They yelled for me to dig deep and fire up those quads as there was a runner about 30 meters behind me. This definitely got me going. Funny enough though, as I passed, I heard them yelling to that guy to dig in and go after me. They just wanted to see a battle, but I wasn't about to give them one. Since I had no idea if the guy behind me was in AG or not, I just had to give it all I had for the final 600 meters. So going as deep as I could, I rounded the transition zone and sprinted (all relative at this point) to the finish line to finish the run and the race with a new half iron PB of 4:56:26.
Shortly after finishing, it started to rain, and I immediately felt cold, so I grabbed my finishing shirt, hat, medal and about 5 cups of my favorite chocolate Powerbar Protein drink and headed inside for a much deserved massage.
After the wonderful massage and stretching, I grabbed some food and checked the first wave of results. YES!!!, I finished 4th in my AG which got me on the podium and a guaranteed spot for Clearwater, which was my main goal. Here are the final results for the day
Although I was one of the finalists in the 7 Systems improve more contest, I would have had to do 4:40 in this race to improve upon my previous years time of 5:01. I knew all along that was not really an option, so my real goal was to podium and take a spot for the Foster Grant 70.3 World Championship in Clearwater, Florida in November. Mission Accomplished!! Sweet!
After wandering around and talking to some friends and watching some other athletes finish, I finally ran into Greg, who had just finished up some food himself. We both got cleaned up and showered, just as they were starting to give away the Clearwater spots for those that automatically qualified (like ME!). So I filled out the paperwork and got them the $325 USD (yah, steep I know!). After that, they did the awards and we then took off. It was almost 5pm by this time, and we had about a 4 hour drive to get home.
Special thanks goes out to my family of course. Deanna who does an awesome job of looking after the kids when I'm out training or racing. There is absolutely no way I'd be able to do what I do without her great support!
Thanks to all the guys that I swam with over the winter at WLU. Kraemer, Keast, Hamilton et all. You guys definitely made me a better swimmer by pushing me harder than I'd ever gone before. Almost all of my 5 minute PB improvement was in the swim, and those 5 months at Laurier are a big part of that. I look forward to another good winter with you guys, as I get ready for Ironman Austria next July.
Thanks to Zach and the team at Ironheart Fitness for the hard rides this past winter on the Computrainers. That set me up well for a great season of training and racing on the bike. I was only 38 seconds off of having the #1 bike split in my AG!
Finally, thanks to Martin, Jasper and the crew at 7 Systems for hooking me up with their awesome 7 Systems product. Since using 7 systems, I haven't missed a podium spot yet in any race, and I've had some real good training (and recovery) days. I've stayed healthy and strong ever since I started taking 7 Systems.
So although Muskoka is done, I'm not. I race this Saturday in the Lakeside Sprint where my oldest son Holden is also doing the 6-7 KOS race. He's got a good shot at taking home that title, as he did a race in June and won by over a minute!
Till next time.