Ironman Mont Tremblant -An attempt to qualify for Kona

I had done my research; with the new lower Kona Qualifying (KQ) slots at Ironman Mont Tremblant, I knew it was going to now take a top 3 placing in my age group to secure a spot.  Based on the history of my AG in this race, I had figured that it was going to take a 9:37 race to secure the 3rd spot.  That meant a 1 hour swim, 5:15 bike, a 3:15 marathon and then 7 minutes for transitions (or some similar combination).

My confidence had wavered all year…  A good training run or ride would boost the confidence, a less-than-stellar training ride would have me wondering how anything close to 5:15 on the bike would be possible, then an age group win at Muskoka 70.3 put me back in a winning mindset.  Throughout the eight month training process, I was sure to never lose sight of the fact that I was going to enjoy the process, enjoy the day, and make sure I crossed that finish line again to earn the title of Ironman!  The decision had been made, I was going push for the time needed for a KQ and if that led to me pushing too hard, too early, and walking the run, so be it…  I just wanted to ensure I did everything in my power to succeed!

We arrived in Temblant on Monday so I was able complete my training/final taper week on the race course as well as enjoying some family vacation down-time before the big day.  Of course, a lot of that time was spent obsessing over Sunday’s weather forecast…  Although we had great weather throughout the week, Sunday was not looking good with expected high winds and 30mm+ of rain, heavy at times in forecast – but when is the forecast ever correct?!?!  This time!

Nervousness  was high on race morning – Ironman is such a long race; there is so much that can go wrong in 9.5+ hours of racing and I was feeling the pressure to perform!  I had made it clear to everyone when it came to what I wanted to accomplish and I didn’t want to disappoint!

Lora had me down to transition for 5am to setup my bike then I made my way to the swim start.  Lora and support crew (Mom, Paul, Tina, Jordan, Eva and Maya) were able to make it down and spend the final nervous moments with me before I headed off for what was going to be a very tough day.

IMMT pre race

‘Oh Canada’, a couple F18 fly-overs, a 5 minute warm-up swim, fireworks, Pro-men at 6:35am, Pro-women, men 30 – 34, and then it was my turn!  The men 35 – 39 were up at 6:45am; there was close to 300 signed up but 257 had made it to the start line (which can be an accomplishment in itself).  I made my way to the front of the pack for the running beach start and we were off.  I got out clean, no-one swam over me so we were off to a good start…  I could see quite a few guys pulling ahead quickly to my left but I stuck to my plan and raced the swim within my means.  The first 1500 meters out took consistent concentration as we were fairly congested and caught the slower guys from the first AG wave quickly – the choppy water had the non-confident swimming slower than usual.  When we made it to the first turn buoy, the swells had become very big for a a small lake!  Although I was enjoying the challenge, it made it tough to get into a good rhythm and hard to determine if I was on pace.  With 500 meters to go, my shoulders were starting to tire which was a good indication that I had paced it properly.  My 1:04:31 over the 3.8k swim was off pace BUT reading others comments post race leads me to believe everyone was about 4 minutes slower than goal/expectation/past results here.  I was 16th of the 257 in AG and 152 of the 2480 OA.

20160821_075042Transition was smooth and I was out on the bike.  By 7k into the bike I had passed the ‘swimmers’, moved into 10th in AG and 93 OA.  This was around the same time that the rain started to come down…  And it wouldn’t stop until close to the end of my run!  I specifically remember thinking to myself at one point during the bike ride ‘Wow, this is hardcore, anyone that makes it through this wind and rain today, has REALLY earned the title of ‘Ironman’!’  I was enjoying myself and it got even better around the 75k mark…  We were on the major climbing section of the first loop and a age 53 calf biked past me…  I had read a lengthy article about ex-pro/extraordinary individual Pierre Lavioe where he predicted a top 20 finish and a 9:30 time…  I thought, this must be him, he’s got the hair and his bike fit is reminiscent of the 90’s when he would have been at his best. I have so much respect for what this man does for kids and sports in Quebec, I was honored to bike with him for 50k. He would pass me on every climb and I would find my way back in front of him on every decent/flat.  The long flat section on the way back to town on the 117 is where I would finally lose him…  He mush have been pushing 30% more watts than me to be powering past me on the climbs but I knew that he wouldn’t be able to keep up on this flat into the wind section the way he sits up on his bike.  I was feeling good about my race at this point; if he was on track for his expected 9:30, accounting for the fact that I started 9 minutes before his wave, I just needed to stay in front of him and I was close to my goal time!

The final 60k on the bike was my biggest worry going into the race but I felt good…  My effort level was up a bit as expected and my speed was pretty close to lap one!  Between kms 122 and 155, I moved up another 10 spots to 54th overall and was able to hold pretty close to that through the final 25k.  My 5:09:32 for the 180k bike was better than expected, had me back on pace for 9:37, put me in 55th overall and 8th in my AG.

It felt so good to get off the bike…  No major mechanical issues and I kept the rubber on the road on a day that saw many crashes.  Now we just had a marathon to get through.  The clock read 6:29:xx on the way into transition which was 6:19:xx into my race considering the 10 minute gap between my wave and the first pro wave.  Counting 2 minutes for transition, I needed to run 3:16 to hit my 9:37 goal.  Perfect – I can do that!  The first 10k felt great, I was running on pace for a 3:09 marathon…  I knew it was too fast but my heart rate was telling me that it was okay.  I was now up to 6th in my AG and gaining on the top 5 and then it started to hit me…  I thought my nutrition was on point all day but something was not agreeing with my stomach.  I ran another 3-4 very uncomfortable kms… I remember passing Amanda Stevens (5th place pro at the time), we traded some words of encouragement (that was very cool) and my motivation was back up.  I knew stopping could be the difference between KQ’ing or not but by 15k, I had NO choice.  A 3 minutes stop led to Pierre, 2 in my AG and a total of about 10 people passing me but the biggest problem was that my body clearly wasn’t absorbing the nutrition properly as I had NO energy left!  I felt so defeated, I was still running at this point but it was a constant mental battle…  I was arguing with myself – ‘It’s okay to walk the rest, I did my best!’  Then the other side of the argument – ‘Keep running Josh, I want to be faster that last time!  I have family waiting at the finish line and don’t want them to have to wait an extra 2 hours for me!’  Most of all, I did not want my kids to see me walking or have to explain to them that Dad had to quit running!

I walked a couple aid stations between 16k and 19k, drank the Pepsi, ate some pretzels and started to feel alive again…  The mental struggle continued for the rest of the race but thankfully even in my malnourished state, I was always able to come up with more excuses to keep pushing instead of walking.  I would walk half the aid stations for the remainder of the race but but I had a good competitor to run with and was able to run a respectable pace considering the circumstances.

My 3:31:57 marathon led to a total time of 9:53:44.  8th in AG, 50th overall, 37th amateur…  As close as I was to qualifying for Hawaii, I was closer to a complete collapse.  I don’t know when I will be able to chase this dream again but feel that I am certainly stronger after this race and would not bet against myself next time!

Race Video…  Crossing the finish line with 3rd place professional female at 5:30 of the video.

 

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2016… Training, Racing and Big Goals

As 2015 was coming to an end and I was looking for the next big challenge, I set my sights on Ironman Muskoka.  If I was going to do another Ironman, it would again be Mont Tremblant UNLESS there was a race that I thought I would have a good chance at qualifying for the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii at.  Muskoka would be perfect…  I knew the course, I had done well there in the half-Ironman, and going into year two; it already had a reputation for being very difficult which was enough to scare many athletes away.  Apparently the difficulty was holding too many people back from this race and the day before I went to sign up, they cancelled the race.

Back to Mont Tremblant it will be…  We had such a great vacation in Tremblant in 2013, I love the race course, and the complete race experience that the organizers put on is one that could only be exceeded in Kona.  Of course I immediately turned to the results from the last few years in my age group to try and determine if I have the ability to race for a spot in Kona…  That’s not an easy question to answer.  I need to be top 3 in my age group (of ~250)…  Looks like I will need to complete the swim in 1 hour, bike in 5:15, and run in 3:15 or some similar combination that gets me across the line in around 9:35 including transitions.  Just looking at those times make me think, ‘how is that possible?’

Training this year has been tough…  Other priorities, a larger family, and a new job have all increased the demand on my time and energy.  I not been able to focus nearly as much as last year on the sport.  Instead of racing eight times like last year with plenty of ‘warm-up’ races, I only have 2 on the schedule (3 if dreams come true and I’m racing in Hawaii in October).  First up was Muskoka 70.3 this past weekend.

The goal for this race was to treat it as preparation for Tremblant.  The plan was to race comfortable and test my nutrition plan.  I knew this was going to be difficult because in the back of my mind, what I was really hoping for was to be back on the podium, qualify for the 2017 70.3 World Championships and possibly even improve on my 3rd place (in age group) from last year.  I took a look at the All World Athlete list before the race and according to those who I knew and past performances…  There were at least 5 other guys who could finish in the top 3.  A top 6 finish would be a result to be proud of!

After little sleep, race morning is always a nervous time as I count down the hours, minutes, then seconds until the gun goes off.  Arriving to setup my gear in transition led to the usual increased nervousness as I couldn’t help but notice all the guys in my age group that looked like they were here to win!  Race kits with sponsors on them, bikes I only dream of riding, and so many extremely fit athletes!  I again found myself wondering how could I possibly compete with some of these guys.

Time for the swim start!  I was in wave #2, starting 5 minutes after the first group that contained all the 30 – 34 yr old athletes.  I made my way to the front of the pack and got off to a good start; I was in the middle of the usual fight for space in the first 200 meters but I kept it comfortable and was able to get into my rhythm shortly after the initial 200 meters.  I was able to do some drafting but 75% of the swim was done alone…  I need to improve upon this in Mont Tremblant.  My 29:30 was almost identical to last year and had me 6th in the M35-39.

I felt good getting onto the bike course; my HR was a little too high but I think that was to do with a nutritional error I made.  I didn’t know what place I was in but I felt like I was in the top ten.  I passed a few fast swimmers in the first 10k and I kept the effort high as I went looking for the next athlete.  I ended up biking 100% alone for the full 94k; passed about 12 athletes, and didn’t get passed by anyone.  This was very different from last year when I spent the complete 94k with a group, consistently passing or getting passed.  The legal benefits from the drafting you get each time you pass or get passed really add up.  I surely put out a lot more effort this year and my bike split was about a minute slower than last year.

Coming into transition I was greeted by a very nice surprise, there were no other bikes on the M35-39 bike rack.  I was in 1st place but I knew there was at least one directly on my tail.  As I was racking my bike, I heard them announce the name of the guy wearing the team USA kit that I had passed in the last 20k…  Looking back on the results from the World’s in Chicago last year, this guy completely dominates me at the Olympic distance.  This is my best distance, I didn’t see him again until well after the turn around.  I was able to dial back my effort a bit in the second half of the run once I felt comfortable knowing that no one in my age group was gaining on me too quickly.  I wasn’t close to catching anyone, so I focused on saving my legs and holding my position in the race.  Until with 2k to go, I take a look behind me and someone was within 200 meters…  I didn’t know if he was in my age group and I didn’t want to take any chances so I hammered the final 2k.  This moved me well a head of this chaser but probably added a couple days to my recovery period from this race.

My 4:47:xx was a minute slower than last year BUT good enough for 1st in my age group, 15th overall, qualification for the 2017 70.3 World Championships and most of all, it was a confidence boost as I chase the dream of racing in Hawaii this October.  By no means do I think that I will easily qualify in Temblant, but I think I am in the top 10.  Landing in the top 3 like I need to is going to take a near perfect race…  Pace has to be bang on, I have to get my nutrition just right, I need to race to win, not be afraid to suffer, not be afraid to lose.  I will be racing on the edge…  If I go too hard, I will be walking the final 21 kms of the marathon, but if I get it just right, I may be booking a flight to Hawaii.

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ITU World Championships – Standard Distance

With a 3am wake-up call on Wednesday, my Mom, Jordan and I hit the road… We arrived in Chicago early afternoon after a tiring 11+ hours in the car so I could participate in the opening ceremonies parade. Out of the 44 countries that were represented, Team Canada had the 4th largest team; not too far behind the US, Great Britain and Mexico so it was very easy to find the team after making it downtown Chicago a little late. After a quick parade around Buckingham fountain, we hopped back on the ‘L’ train for our short ride to the apartment we rented through AirBnB. Completely exhausted, but already behind one training session, I decided to get in a quick run before bed.20150916_180515
Thursday was packed with sight-seeing: A bike ride along the Lakeshore and around Soldier Field, a trip to the Field Museum, an architectural boat tour, and the Children’s Museum/Navy Pier. Friday was almost as busy; I was downtown early for the team photo, then back to Navy Pier to get Jordan on the Ferris wheel (it was closed due to weather Thursday evening), to the apartment for a 5 minute lunch and back on the ‘L’ to get down to the team race briefing, packet pickup and then to watch the women’s elite race.
Not surprising but by this point my body had given up on fighting the cold that I was slightly feeling on Thursday morning and I was feeling pretty horrible. I had also missed 3 training sessions by this point (more than I have missed in the last year) but I wasn’t too upset… It was my choice to sacrifice training and rest, and put sight-seeing as the top priority and it was well worth it as we sure got our fair share of Chicago in our short time there!
I was a little concerned about being sick still for Saturday morning but a bigger concern had arisen. Due to the fierce weather (high winds/rain/flash flooding) that had happened Thursday night and was predicted for Friday night/Saturday morning – ITU had made the decision to ban disc wheels (and then an hour later told us it would be a last minute decision, so be prepared). WHAT? Be prepared with an extra rear wheel set up and ready to race on in the AM? Myself and plenty others who ride a disc hadn’t brought a second set of wheels! It was madness; online posting, mass emails and my method of stopping strangers in team Canada gear to beg for their rear wheel. Thankfully, team Canada really came through for their teammates as many of the athletes who had competed in the sprint distance earlier in the week and were still hanging around were offering to help! By 6pm on Friday, I had three options for a rear wheel (a couple were very heavy and slow but I was thankful none-the-less). We even had a teammate offering up his tools and help to set up the gearing for everyone. The problem was, I had high hopes of hitting the sack by 7:30PM and going back downtown to get a wheel set up would have had me out all night and in bed by 10PM if I was lucky. I made the decision to hold off, go to bed, get down to the race site early, and start working on a replacement rear wheel at that point if needed!
Up at 5AM on race day (for a 10:50AM start) and the first thing I see is an extreme weather warning on my phone… ‘Winds up to 50km/h and 7 – 10 foot waves expected at Chicago beaches’. I get down to transition at 7AM and see a guy walking with a couple race wheels so I politely let him know that I would be happy to take one off his hands and he lets me know disc’s are being allowed! Although confused as the weather seemed worse than originally expected, 700lbs of stress were lifted off my shoulders. Now, 3.5 hours to go before my start time and for the first time I was feeling relaxed and ready to race!

Thankfully my fantastic support group for the day were down to the race sight early so I image1_2was able to relax with friends and family for over an hour before my start. I don’t get nervous/anxious before most races anymore but this was different. The swim was going to full of guys around my ability, so finding clean water had me worried. The bike was rumored to be very technical with its fair share of rough roads… There were going to be flats and crashes and I couldn’t help but think about what happened last time I traveled to the US to race. Having some familiar faces around really helps keep the negative thoughts away! Next thing I knew it, they were calling my group (M35-39 group 1 of 2). I was starting with 60 of the 120 in my age group and the remaining 60 would follow 3 minutes later. We made our way onto the dock, I gave Jordan a wave, we jumped in, and we quickly lined up before gun went off.

Swim

image3It was a tight swim, the course was narrow and everyone was fast! The first 500 meters was very frustrating, I had no chance to get in a rhythm, we were all just fighting for our own space in the water and it felt like it was never going to end! The next 300 – 400 meters were better, I was still in a pack, I still wasn’t comfortable but at least I was able to swim without too much contact. Finally, with 600 – 700 meters to go, the group I was in began to separate a bit and I was finally feeling like I was able to race. I passed a few guys here and had open water the rest of the way. Despite all the warnings, the water in the protected harbour was fairly calm; it was only rough/wavy for the final few hundred meters and I was feeling good by that point and was welcoming a little extra challenge! I came out of the water just back of the top third with a decent time of 23:35 for 1500 meters which was 45th of 120.

Bike

After a very long run to my bike and a smooth transition, I was out on the bike course. The image1(1)bike course was very technical and added some additional challenges. The majority was in tunnels or underground so there were numerous sections where the eyes needed to adjust from riding under the bright sun to a dark tunnel – this created a few nervous moments while the eyes made the adjustment! The roads were narrow and conditions were acceptable but did require your full attention to be sure all potholes, manholes, ect… were avoided. There were also plenty of sections with metal on the road… On the first of MANY 90 and 180 degree turns, I witness a rider not too far ahead take the corner too sharp, slip on the section of metal road surface, and go down. I took that as a sign that I was going to have to ride a little cautious! I wasn’t able to keep an eye on my speed very much as GPS’ do not work underground but my HR was a little too low for the most part. I wanted to push the pace more but congestion and the nature of the course setup didn’t allow me to ride my style. This course was set up for a technical rider who can recover well from large surges of energy; that is not me; I am a consistent energy output rider which works on 95% of triathlon bike courses. All that being said, it was a fairly fun course and had some fast sections (unfortunately most of them came to a quick stop because of a 180 degree turn). Rumor was that the course was 38.5k but at 57:17, my average speed would have been over 40km/h and I highly doubt that I rode a course with that many turns at 40+km/h… I assume 37km – 38km would be more accurate. Similar to the swim, I ranked 43rd of the 120 in my AG.

Run

Another long run to transition and then out onto the run course: The run course was fantastic; 4 loops so it was very spectator friendly and each loop included running around Buckingham Fountain! It was flat and had the potential to be very fast but all the surges to get back up to speed on the bike course had taken a lot out of my legs. I still had a good run – goal pace was sub 3:54/km and I ran at 3:56/km. For some reason, the run course was very long… 10.75km according to my Garmin so I had no chance at making my sub 39 min goal! 42:09 had me in 43rd for the run of the 120 and landed me 40th overall!ITU World Triathlon Final

Overall, it was a great experience being a part of a team Canada and with a 2:09:31, I finally got my sub 2:10 Olympic distance triathlon!image2(2)

Thanks for reading, thanks for cheering!

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The Canadian – Sprint Triathlon – A Tune up for Chicago

In preparation for the upcoming Olympic distance Age Group ITU World Championships (Chicago), I was looking for a shorter race to help me improve my speed. This one fit the bill perfectly as for timing (2 weeks before World’s) and location since we were able to turn the weekend into a short but good visit with family.
Shorter races are far from my specialty: I tend to be able to go long with minimal reduction in speed compared to many but I do not have that extra gear that the really fast short course guys have! That’s okay with me as the ultimate long term goal is qualifying for the Ironman World Championships; but in preparation for Chicago, I have been putting in some hard speed work to improve my short course game!

Swim (750 meters)

I was happy to be in the first wave today… An 8 am start for men 39 and under. The 170 athletes were separated into 3 waves going on 5 minute intervals. I lined up in the front row of the 60+ athletes going at 8am. It was a great swim, no contact, and I was in second place by the time we rounded the first buoy about 50 meters into the swim. It stayed that way until the guy who was tickling my feet the whole way sprinted past me in the final 50 meters… I exited just behind him and about 30 seconds back of first place. My 14:34 includes T1 and a very long run from the beach to T1.

Bike (30km)

2015 Canadian Iron 113 Triathlon, Duathlon and RunsWhile I was in T1, I was able to see the top 2 guys head off on the next long run between transition and the start of the bike course. After the 500m run to the mount line, the bike course consisted of a 10km out-and-back loop which was already full of 70.3 and sprint duathlon athletes. By 2k into the 30k ride, I had moved into 2nd and by the second turn around it was clear that I was gaining on 1st place… I made that pass around the 15k mark and was leading the race (for my first time). The bike course was pretty full by this point with the 11949383_10153472436080289_2642803078648497669_nremainder of the sprint racers out there so it was hard to tell if anyone was gaining on me… Then with 2k remaining, I was passed but I returned the favor in the final 200 meters as I wanted to be 1st off the bike. My 47:55 includes an extra km of running to and from transition so my average speed while biking was just over 39 km/h… Very close to my goal of 40 km/h.

Run (5k)

11988673_10153472436085289_6552988045929888260_nI was passed running into T2 and started the run just behind 1st place… I held on for 500 meters but this guy could run. 19:07 was my best ever 5k time and put me 3rd overall; 1:18 back of the guy in front of me and 4 minutes behind a very fast guy from the 40 – 44 age group in the second wave.

10655239_10153472436895289_3550543207417260632_oGoal accomplished… I swam well and think I can hold a pace very close to that over twice the distance in Chicago. I biked faster than I ever have and I know I can hold that effort over an extra 10km 2 weeks later! I ran my best 5k and will be looking to run my fastest ever 10k (sub 39:29) in Chicago. 11 days to go!!

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K-Town Long Course – Back On the Road, Back On the Podium

For the second time in two years, I was getting ready to tackle Multisport Canada’s Kingston Long Course Triathlon. For the second time this summer I was getting ready to race back-to-back weekends! It worked out perfect last time as I had my best race ever in Muskoka (the weekend after an Olympic distance race). Things were a little different this time… I wasn’t recovering as quick from the Xterra. The difficulty of the Xterra bike course demanded a completely different riding style than I am used to; this meant I was working muscles that do not get trained regularly so they have been taking longer to recover! Either way, I felt that I was ready to take on this race distance of 2k, 56.2k and 15k!

Swim

The 2k swim starts and ends beside the harbour downtown Kingston. Conditions of the St. Lawrence River can really vary… Although the water was completely calm when I arrived at 6am, by race time (8am), there was a little bit of rough water to deal with. I was in the second wave (8:04am) with M/F 35 – 49; the first wave (that went 4 minutes earlier) was made up of the Pro’s, Elite age groupers and M/F 34 and under.
As soon as the first wave left, I made my way to the front of pack to get ready for our turn. The start was good, I was not crowded at all and I got out close to the front without any incidents. It was a straight shot to the first turn buoy; after that, I was having a difficult time navigating the course. Maybe I have just been spoiled this year with flat water swims swimthat contained plenty of large, highly visible swim buoys? The guy I was swimming and I were both having a hard time determining which way to go after each turn. Of course, I knew the general direction of the course, but there were a few occasions where I had to almost come to a stop in order to find the next buoy. It was a combination of the waves, the bright sun in our eyes, and the smaller than average green buoys that were spaced out further than average. I felt like I was fighting through the entire swim; struggling to find my line and then struggling to keep up with the guy I was trying to draft off. I knew I was going at a decent speed because when I lost the draft, it would take A LOT of effort to catch back up! This happened a few times between 500 and 1700 meters… I swam the final 300 meters solo as I wasn’t able to bridge the gap again. I surely covered a lot more distance than I needed to due to my poor sighting but my 31:09 was close to a minute faster than last year and was 11th fastest of the 196 competitors.

Bike

Immediately on the bike, I was feeling the effects of the Xterra… My hips and gluts were very tight! I started taking on nutrition and took a couple salt pills very early in the ride in bike3an effort to help my body loosen up. By 15k I was feeling a lot better and felt that I was now riding at my potential. In hind sight, I wish I would have pushed harder through those first 15k anyways… With the wind going in our favor over that section, this would have been a great time to really increase the average speed and I had lost out on that opportunity!
By 5k into the 56.2k ride, I had passed everyone from my wave, so everyone I trailed now had a 4 minute head start on me (giving me a 4 minute advantage)… The problem is, the 4 minute head start put all the guys I was competing with pretty far up the road so I was riding 100% solo. As I approached the turn-a-round I was able to count myself in 15th place. I was able to catch 2 of them in the second half of the ride moving my to 13th but not being able to see 4 minutes ahead meant I never really knew who I was competing with at any point in time.
My 1:30:55 was 2.5 minutes faster than last year and 9th on the day but I was expecting closer to 1:28.

Run

runI felt good starting the run and knocked off a couple 4:07 kms… I knew that pace was a little too optimistic, so I dialed it back a bit and keep it pretty steady other than a couple slowdowns that I was able to shake off. I passed two more on the run but again, with a 4 minute advantage on everyone in front of me, I never really knew exactly where I stood. My 1:01:58 was over 4.5 minutes better than last year, 6th fastest in the race and my best discipline this day.

I had a good race; 3:05:58 was 8 minutes faster than last year and had me in 8th OA.  I was very happy to take my first ever age group win and to make it on another podium this year, but I have some room for improvement on this performance!

It never really occurred to me until someone mentioned it before the race started, but, what I should have done, is register as an elite age grouper so that I would have been able to race with those going for overall podium spots. 6th and 7th were within 60 and 45 seconds of me but without being aware, I never put in that extra effort to chase them down. I also swam faster than 2 of the top 7 guys which would have led to them catching me on the bike course and giving me someone to chase/ride with.  Next Year!

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Xterra Parry Sound – My First Attempt at Off-Road Triathlon

WOW… I did not know what I was getting myself into when I signed up for this race! From the Xterra Youtube video’s I have seen, the mountain bike courses have all resembled XC (cross-country) terrain with nothing too technical or difficult. I raced my mountain bike in the Surf & Turf and my lack of experience on a mountain bike did not hurt my results much if any. This was NOTHING like anything I had ever seen or experienced! More on the bike course later…

I made the 3.5 hour drive to arrive at the race site (Georgian Nordic Ski and Canoe Club) by 8am (2.5 hours before the start). I had a little talk with the guy who parked beside me (former professional triathlete and soon to be winner on this day – Sean Bechtel) who mentioned the importance of pre-riding an Xterra bike course. He was also unfamiliar with the course as he also drove up the same day and this was the inaugural year for this race; he was heading out to do one loop of the 11k… I knew that trying to keep up with him even on a recon loop was not a smart idea for me 2 hours before the race start. I should have drove up a day early like many of the other athletes had done to spend some time on the course… It was pre-marked a week in advance for a reason! After picking up my race kit and setting up (shoes and a towel) in the second transition zone (T2), I did decide to do a quick test of a bit of the bike course. Thought’s that went through my head as I pre-rode the start of the bike course; ‘this can’t be right?’ ‘I thought they wanted to attract new people to this sport, not scare people away!’ ‘Is this really happening?’ ‘Why is that arrow pointed straight up that boulder?’ ‘Why is the next arrow pointed straight down that 20ft drop?’ ‘What if it rains?’ ‘If it rains, I QUIT!’ After 500 meters I had enough and I just didn’t want to see anymore so I went back to my car, grabbed my gear for T1 and rode my bike the 1.5kms down to the swim start/T1.

Swim

The 1500 meter swim consisted of two 750 meter loops with a beach run in-between. It took place in a section of Nine Mile Lake that is around 100 meters wide so we swam up one side and then back down the other. Nestled in the granite rock not only provided a beautiful setting but it also kept the lake perfectly calm; ideal race conditions.
Swim courseIt was a beach start so I lined up in the front row of the 62 soon-to-be Xterra Parry Sound finishers. I knew that I was not going to be very competitive on the bike course so I wanted to get as much as I could out of my swim. The gun went and we were off; I had a good start and stayed in front of any possible mayhem. Around the 200 meter point I tucked in behind another swimmer to conserve some energy and someone did the same behind me. The three of us swam in a line around the two turn buoy’s but by around the 500 meter mark I reminded myself that taking it easy in the swim today was not a part of the plan. I put in a bit of a surge and pulled off to the right in an effort to not only pass but to not allow either of these two guys to draft off me. It worked; I had dropped them before the end of the first 750 meters. During the short beach run between swim loops, I was able to get a view of where I stood… I was about 25 meters back of 3rd place and we were well back of the two pro level athletes. Nothing changed during the second loop and I exited the water in 4th. My time of 24:50 includes T1 and puts me in 6th as I took my time in T1 and lost my 15 second lead over the 5th and 6th place swimmers.

Bike

Before I get to the race, a little background on my mountain bike training/experience/equipment is in order. No excuses; I fully admit that in comparison to these Xterra/MTB veterans, I suck… I am in awe of what these athletes can do on a MTB!
When I made my season schedule, I had plans of riding my mountain bike once a week or at least a few times a month so I joined the local MTB club… The problem is; they ride Sunday’s and Wednesday’s… Sunday is long run day and often includes a family obligation, and Wednesday night is Jordan’s T-Ball. Riding alone was always a possibility but my lack of knowledge regarding the local trails and my lack of ability makes both getting lost and injured likely so I would really rather have the company to keep me out of trouble. So, I had only ridden my MTB once in the 7 weeks leading up to this race and a total of 5 times this year on-top of just a few rides last year. A combination of not making training for this race a priority and a false illusion that my fitness would be enough to keep me competitive was a major mistake!
When I purchased my MTB last year, I was sure to get something that was good enough to get me through a standard XC Xterra bike course. It’s heavy, it’s a hardtail (no rear suspension), and my rear wheel/tire combo is VERY far from a race wheel and is not tubeless… But, it did only cost me about 10% of what many of these Xterra athletes have spent on their bikes! It’s been fine on the hardpack trails I’ve had it on. There was no hardpack today! I brought a knife to a gun fight.
Back to the race: Out of the water in 4th, onto the bike in 6th, a few seconds behind 4th and 5th… We first had a 1.5km dirt road ride up to the site of T2 where the first of two 11km loops started. The first 3 kms of the loop was the hardest 3k stretch… By the end of it (just 4.5k into a 23.5k ride), I had already fallen 4 times. One was a bad one; I had a poor line on one of the steep 15 – 20ft descents. I slowed down as much as possible but when I clipped the tree at the bottom I went over my handlebars. I peeled myself out of the dirt to see that there was a camera man getting it all on video… Awesome! Completely winded, with a bruised ankle, bruised chest, and bruised ego, I made my way back onto my bike and immediately knew something was wrong. My front wheel was warped, rubbing on the fork and had a broken spoke… With about 19k to go, I wondered if my day was over?! Thankfully, that was not the case as it was still functional. I continued on cautiously on the descents and corners. By the end of the first loop, I had only been passed by 3 others so I was still in the top 10.
Now, back into the toughest part for loop 2 and pretty close to that same spot where I broke my front wheel on the first pass, I blew my rear tire! I checked my GPS, 8 – 9 km to go… Way too far to run it out! I was not looking forward to repairing the flat but I was prepared with a spare tube and CO2. Before I started to change it on my own, I remembered that I had recently passed a couple volunteers so I yelled back to them asking if anyone could change a flat. One of them quickly ran over to me and let me know that he was the race bike support! PERFECT!! I took the opportunity to rest and get some nutrition into me while he changed the tube for me! I was down a total of almost 4 minutes and was passed by 4 more competitors (down to 13th). I only fell one more time and passed 3 competitors after my flat (2 had flat’s of their own) so I finished the bike in 10th place. My 1:27:55 was 19th fastest on the day but just finishing was a success for me!
Never had going 16km/h on a bike been so difficult! The bike course put a beating on my bike and body! When we weren’t being slammed around by the rocks, we were fighting our way through sand; so as much as I was looking forward to finishing the bike, I wasn’t sure how the run was going to go…

Run

It started out a little rough… My legs were cooked, my back was sore, my ankle hurt from one of the falls, and my ass hurt from being slammed against my seat for the past 87 minutes. I immediately walked through the first aid station to get some nutrition into me as I had heard that the run course was just as hard as the bike course. Thankfully, I loosened up and started to feel like I was ready to run… Just in time to reach ‘The Wall’ –

Run course obstacle - Massasauga Rattlesnake

Run course obstacle – Massasauga Rattlesnake

A 45 ft climb at close to an 80 degree angle (I took advantage of the rope provided to pull myself up). The remainder of the two loop 8.5km run was set in the damp/wet (and sometimes muddy) forest. Again, no hard packed trails like I have trained on; every foot strike demanded 100% of your attention. I bit of a misstep on my second loop ended with my shoe stuck 6 inches down in the mud while I continued for a couple steps before turning around to retrieve it. A 40:30 for 8.5k is usually an easy training run but with the difficulty of this run course, it was a respectable 6th fastest run of the day.

I went into this race with the hope of keeping my podium streak alive (at 4 for 4); I left humbled by the bike course. I swam and ran faster than 3rd in my AG (4th OA), BUT, he finished the bike course over 15 minutes faster than me!! I have huge respect for everyone who was able to run/walk/crawl over the finish line of Xterra Parry Sound!

When the announcer asked for a show of hands prerace from any first-time Xterra racers doing the long course, I looked around and didn’t notice many (if any) other arms in the air. Despite the difficulty, this was a fantastic race and experience; I would be hesitant recommending it to anyone new to mountain biking, but for those advanced MTB riders, this is great race! As I expected, I was told by some of the experienced Xterra athletes that this was the most difficult Xterra bike course in Ontario and the run course was a true Xterra experience!
I will most certainly be back to an Xterra start line in the future; a new bike and some more experience might even bring me back to Parry Sound!

finish line

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Ironman Muskoka 70.3 – A Breakthrough Race

Back for the second time and I was looking forward to improving my time from last year! When I walked away least year with a 5:07:55, I knew that was the best day I possible could have had on this course and wondered if that would be my best ever… I’ve seen improvements in most of my races last year and most early this season; but they have not been huge gains. This year I have run a 5k slower than my PR and a half-marathon just 45 seconds better than 2014. I saw some decent improvements in my Olympic distance triathlon last weekend but nothing too exciting. I had been wondering if this is it. Am I as good/fast as I am ever going to be? This is just a hobby, but I am a competitive person and take it serious. I have no false hopes of turning pro, but I want to be better, I want to be able to be in the top 1-2% and compete for a spot in Kona someday! I was starting to wonder if I could ever get there or was the lack of athletic background/natural ability too much of a deficit to overcome? Either way, I am having a great time!20150704_141930Lora, Jordan and I made it to Huntsville early afternoon Saturday. Kit pick-up and 20150704_153947_HDRbike check-in went smooth and we headed out to check-in at our motel. I committed to this race late so accommodation options were slim-to-none… Turns out that the Riverside Motel in Dwight is a decent option for this race, at just 10 minutes away from the race site and plenty of kid friendly activities (including a private swimming hole/mini-rapids to slide down); it worked great for us. We took advantage of some of 20150704_174817the family activities then headed out for the same carbo loading prerace dinner as last year (Naan w/ Hummus and Pad Thai at Mill on Main downtown Huntsville). After a quick visit with the motel owners around the campfire, we headed in for an early bedtime.

4am race day came quick and I was up eating my standard prerace breakfast 3 hours prior to start time. My fantastic support crew (Jordan and Lora) woke up at 5am and had me to the race site by 5:30. I had plenty of time to set up my space in transition and made it down to the water around the same time that the pro men started (6:55). I found the insanely fast Adam Doxtator and we made our way into our start wave coral (our age groups were paired together today in the second amateur wave going at 7:10).

Swim

After a short warm up, Adam and I lined up in the front for the in water swim start… Unfortunately, a large group to the right of me were all pushing for position in the front row and I let them push me out. I realized this was going to be trouble for me as I was too close to the front row and had a group on my back also… It was too late now. The gun went and as expected, I had kicking feet in my face and flailing arms on my back. The plan was to do some drafting off Adam but I threw that plan out the window immediately and just focused on finding some open water. It was a very frustrating first 5 minutes as my head was constantly up looking for some open space; I was expending far too much energy and it felt like I had barely moved. Then as I took a breath, I noticed I was swimming right beside Adam and I realized that I must not have been doing too bad. At that point, Adam started pulling away and I noticed some open water off to the right – I opted to take the clear route so I could get comfortable and get in a rhythm rather than going for the draft. Finally at about 500 meters things were a little more open and I was getting into my race. FP swimThis is where we started passing the slower swimmers from the first wave as well… I had to keep my head up a little more than usual from 500 meters to the half-way point to avoid these athletes.
Around the 1000 meter mark, a swimmer from my wave passed me so I decided to get in his wake… Now things were going better; I was sighting less, conserving energy, and moving at a slightly faster pace. I came out of the water not knowing how I had done after that rough start. I later learned my time was 29:21 which was 12th in my AG and 76th OA. Over 2 minutes faster than last year and the exact same rankings (there was close to 40% more competitors this year – 1250 compared to 900 last year).

BikeFP Bike 1

After a good transition (35 seconds faster than last year), I once again decided against attempting the flying bike mount and took the slower but safer route… Although I have practiced it, I don’t ever seem to have the nerves to try it in a race.
I had changed my nutrition plan for this year; instead of water, gels and salt pills; I was FP Bike 5going to get the majority of my nutrition and hydration from Cytomax (a quality sports drink). I had two 220 calorie bottles on my bike and a 400 calorie gel (EFS) flask that I planned on washing down with some water that I would grab after finishing one of my Cytomax bottles. Unfortunately, two of the high speed downhill sections with horribly rough road conditions ejected one bottle after the other. I had had a couple sips from each bottle before I lost them and I was less than 15k into the 94k bike! The good news is that they added an aid station to the bike course this year so shortly after losing my second bottle, I was able to grab a Gatorade and water. My stomach and I are not fans of Gatorade but it was my only option and thankfully it didn’t seem to cause any problems.
I spent the entire ride in a group which did provide some benefit but also had its FP Bike 6challenges. I rode the first 25k with one other guy yo-yoing back and forth off each other every few minutes… We were riding very clean without any drafting; just different riding styles. He would pass me on climbs and I would pass him on downhill’s and rollers. I was focused on keeping a steady effort (instead of pushing hard uphill and recovering on the down) and using momentum to carry me as far up the hills as possible. Eventually our group of two grew to four, then six or seven before the final 10k… This group was a little frustrating at times… Most were doing their best not to draft but there were a couple who were not afraid to sit on someone’s wheel. I spent most of my time in the front or trailing off the back as I wanted to make sure there was no chance I would be handed a drafting penalty. This led to me having to put in some large surges to pass the entire group and sometimes using my brakes to keep a legal distance. My heart rate and perceived effort level were telling me that I wasn’t riding as hard as I could have at many points but every time I made the pass, they seemed to reel me back in. At one point while I was trailing off the back, a course marshal was spending a great deal of time hanging around FP Bike 4the group. I am not sure if any penalties were handed out (or if they were even deserved at that time). With 2k to go, I was feeling good so I put in a hard effort to get in front of the group before entering transition.  I wanted a clean/fast bike dismount and two of these guys were in my AG so I wanted a lead going into the run. I did a quick count of bikes on the 35 – 39 racks and only noticed 5 before me… This would have had me in 6th but I then remembered hearing something about the AWA (All World Athletes) having their own rack. I assumed that I was somewhere around 10th in my AG give or take a couple spots. Apparently there was a bike in the wrong spot or I can’t count and there must not have been another rack for AWA’s because my 2:40:50 (11+ minutes faster than 2014) had moved me into 5th in my AG and 41st OA.

Run

Almost immediately after starting the run I passed a 35-39 male and had another one in my sights. By 4k, I had passed the next guy and was feeling good under the assumption that I was almost surely in the top 10 in my AG. I kept looking back for the six guys that came into FP Run 1transition just behind me as I assumed a couple of them would better runners than me.  I didn’t see any of them until the after the first turn-around and I learned none of them were gaining on me. Pace was great, it was tough but kilometers were passing every 4:10 – 4:15 for the first 10k. Last year, I blew up around 13k so I wasn’t getting too excited. The second turn-around was around 13k, I was slowing a bit but 4:25 – 4:30 kilometers were keeping me happy.  I spent the first ¾’s of the run about 400 – 500 meters back of a VERY fast Kingston triathlete (Nick Cosman); his name was familiar as I we had been the same age group in past years and I become used to seeing his name well ahead on many race results.  I didn’t know if he had moved into the 35-39 this year or was he still in 30-34? With 4k to go, I became determined to get close enough to take a look at the age written on his calf. My pace had slowed but so had his and I was able to get close enough with around 2k to go… 34; so we didn’t have the same start time and were not in the same division but it still acted as good motivation to push the pace over the final stretch. My 1:31:37 was a significant 7+ minutes faster than last year!

I took note of time on the clock as I finished and quickly did the math to account for my wave’s start time… 4:46:04?? Just shy of 22 minutes faster than last year!! I was pumped, FP Finishbut again, I was still under the assumption that I was probably somewhere around 6th – 8th. I congratulated the incredible local triathlete Adam Doxtator on his 4:40 and 2nd in the 18 – 24 AG then Lora and Jordan joined me as I slowly and painfully made my way up to Deerhurst to get into some dry clothes, take a little rest in the grass and finally get some food into me. It was over an hour after I finished when I decided we better take a look at the results. As I eyed the results board, it immediately stood out that my name was a little closer to the top of the list than I would have expected… I noticed the 18th overall amateur and quickly scanned over to find my age group ranking of 3rd; my arms flew into the air for a little double fist pump before realizing no one else was cheering for me. I guess we would be staying for the awards ceremony!

FP awardThird overall the prior weekend was cool but it was a very small local triathlon… This result at a globally known Ironman 70.3 event was by far, my biggest athletic achievement and I am now very close to being at an ability that would allow me to compete for a spot in Kona.20150707_200116

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