- 2k swim, 90k bike, 21.1k run
- Chip Time = 5:10:12
- Category Place = 14/38
- Overall Place = 78/286
The usual set-up, with my 2014 addition.
This past weekend marked my return to long course triathlon in nearly two years having taken last year off to address some injuries and regroup. It’s been a long process involving many long days of running in near-zero visibility and -stupid degree temperatures, numerous ridiculous leaping and skipping drills down the public Friendship Trail here in town in front of my neighbors, a rigid functional strength building program (which isn’t much more manly than the leaping and skipping drills) and, yeah, lots of other tedious stuff. It has not been an easy road, like, at all, and Sunday was the first real opportunity to see it all in action. Of course, there’s been some signs along the way this year that things have going well with new PB’s set at the Around the Bay 30k in March (click HERE for results) and the Binbrook Sprint triathlon one week ago, but my focus and interest has always been on long course. So this was the first ‘official’ test of the season in my mind.
Truthfully, despite my training successes so far, I was very nervous going into this event given my outdoor training season had been delayed almost an entire month thanks to Mother Nature being a total bitch throughout late March and early April, and this event itself being pushed forward two weeks. I just didn’t have the immediate confidence I’ve had prior to competing in this event in the past, so this was going to be…interesting…and I’m chalking it up as a ‘successful failure’.
This was actually the one part I wasn’t so worried about, as I love open water swimming and I have become pretty confident in the open water. I’m still working on getting my 2k swim down under the 30 minute mark and I had some pretty lofty hopes of that happening Sunday, but it just wasn’t meant to be.
After setting up in transition, it was time for the traditional ‘Plucking of the Arm Hair’ ceremony where Kelly helps me into my wetsuit by coaxing my Nineteen Rogue swimsuit up my arms and over my shoulders with the assistance of a pair of industrial rubber gloves and copious amounts of baby powder. Oh, it’s quite the process – believe me. Check it out:
See how much fun this is? (picture courtesy of: Garrison|McArthur Photography)
Eventually, we managed to wedge all my bodily folds into place and I made my way down to the swim start with approximately 15 minutes to go. The water was brisk, but completely bearable which was a nice surprise. The last report I got was that the water in the canal was still at Arctic temperatures but, thankfully, the water had warmed up a bit in the past two weeks. I had a short warm up paddle and a pee before taking my place in the scrum of swimmers on the starting line. I love this part. I love the camaraderie of athletes all joking, shaking hands and wishing each other luck just before the madness is about to ensue. It’s the total calm before the storm. Different from the past years’ event, we were all to start in waves as opposed to one big mass group so any hopes of swimming with the coach again this year (click HERE for a reminder) were shot as I was to be in the 3rd wave and she starting in the 4th wave five minutes behind me. Oh well.
As per my strategy, I lined up on the inside of the course with a smaller group apart away from the main pack of swimmers in my wave. When the horn sounded to signal the start our wave, my group went out fast and I fell in line behind some other swimmers whom I figured were going to have faster swim times; ‘Let’s see how long I can hang on’ I thought to myself. This time around though, this strategy ended up being a mistake.
The swim start (picture courtesy of: Garrison|McArthur Photography)
For the first 500m or so, it was all good and we maintained a pretty fast pace leading up to the first turn around, but just short of arriving there, we rejoined the main group of swimmers who were swimming to the outside of the course. Now, either my group wasn’t as fast as I thought, or the buoy was closer to the shore than last year meaning we had actually swam a longer distance on a diagonal in order to get to it. I’m thinking it was the later. As we maneuvered around the buoy, I had to go over, around and even under some of the other slower swimmers all wearing the same white swim cap. It was madness and I ended up swallowing a few mouthfuls of water in the process (luckily I don’t have a panic mode while swimming). The second turning buoy comes fast and I worked to get ahead of as many swimmers as I could to avoid another melee and upon turning, it was suddenly WHAM! – straight into the oncoming current. Furthermore, I had now lost the heels of other faster swimmers in the confusion and for the next 200-300m I was all over the place trying to get around and past other swimmers. I must have been swerving all over the course like a drunken driver making his way home after a night out.
Exiting the water (picture courtesy of: Garrison|McArthur Photography)
Another few 100m’s in, around the half way mark, I ran headlong into members of the first wave ahead of me; it was an entire flotilla of yellow swim caps spread out over the course. Usually, I’m pretty adept at weaving between and among slower swimmers, but this was a solid mass of neoprene bodies – side by side – approximately 20 swimmers wide; total roadblock. I didn’t really see any other choice but to swerve all the way over into the middle of the swim course in order to get around them (aside from bullying my way through, which, while I have no problems doing this sometimes, with more ‘challenged’ swimmers I figure it’s just unsportsmanlike). I veered around them knowing full well I was adding unnecessary distance to my own swim in doing so but, hey, you gotta do what you gotta do.
I continued to fight the current all the way into the third turnaround and by this time I was swimming pretty much on my own again. I could feel a few hands slapping my feet but other than that, I was pretty much in the clear as far as slower swimmers directly ahead of me were concerned. In the last 300-400m, I picked up the pace a bit trying to steal back some time and exited the water in 32:54, well off from not only my best time here so far (31:48), but what I know I am capable of. Not that I was terribly disappointed considering that I now had to make not only my longest ride f the year so far, but also my longest Brick run to boot; so one minute in the grand scheme of things is nothing.
My transition was a bit slow (2:00), but I was being meticulous in making sure my shoes were on properly and everything was set up just so since I haven’t had the long opportunities on the bike yet, so I knew comfort was going to paramount with any chance of a decent bike split.
On the bike course
I entered onto the course uneventfully and got up to my cruising pace of 35km/hr rather quickly, making sure to take in some water and focusing on getting my breathing back in check. So far, so good; it was cool out but not cold and everything seemed to be turning over well. Then we turned onto Feeder Rd. to head out of Welland and – BAM! – directly into a headwind which never – ever – let up for the rest of the ride. Seriously, I fought the wind as best as I could for as long as I could and at every corner I thought to myself ‘okay, just get around this corner and there will be a tailwind’ but, nope, it was just more headwind. There was simply no escaping it so I just accepted it and pedaled on. It is what it is.
All things considered, my legs felt good as did my energy levels as I was being conscientious to fuel every 15-20 minutes or so as I am prone to forgetting to do (hence my shitting the bed in 2012 when I completely bonked in the last few kilometers from the finish). I kept reminding myself that this was merely a practice day for my feeding strategy prior to my last completion of the season in September since I haven’t had that opportunity yet this year, not having done the distances I normally would have by this point.
At the 60k mark, I did something I have not yet had to do in a triathlon…stop to pee. I’ve experimented with on-the-bike evacuation before, but I’m nowhere near that kind of mental dedication (or stubbornness for that matter) yet so I opted to pull over and let’er rip…directly into a headwind. I’ll spare you the gory details.
Heading into T2
The upside to this is that I felt, like, 3lbs lighter, and the minor cramping I was experiencing in my stomach subsided immediately. The downside is that, while the entire stop might have only cost me, say, 1 minute in total, I had now lost my pace group heading back onto Feeder Rd. for the long 15k straightaway back into Welland…right into that damn wind. Now, riding into the wind sucks at the best of times, but without pacers or even other cyclists in the vicinity, it’s particularly tedious…and it was. I knew I had lost my ideal pace, but I had little choice.
As I turned back into Welland near the end of the ride, I emptied my water bottle and had the last of my Shot Bloks, got out of my cycling shoes and proceeded to spin out the legs a bit as I coasted into the dismount line to begin what I already knew what was going to be the hardest part of the day. But isn’t it always?
I dismounted the bike nearly 10 minutes off my best 90k time (stupid headwinds, got through T2 fairly quickly (1:25) and after tucking my motivation into my jersey, proceeded out onto the run course to really begin embracing the suck.
heading out onto the run course (picture courtesy of: Garrison|McArthur Photography)
I already know that I haven’t spent enough time running off the bike – this became very apparent in Binbrook. My last (and only) long run off the bike a month ago didn’t go particularly well either and it was with lots of anxiety that I started the half marathon on on this day. I tried to find the right gear as I exited transition onto the run course. Kelly was there in the early going as were some of my fellow TryForce gang and that was enough to get my mind past the nervousness and back onto the task at hand. In the first 500m or so I passed by my coach going in the opposite direction (she was, maybe, a minute or two behind me) and noted that she must have had an amazing bike (and swim). It did however light a little bit of a fire to get into my race pace to stay ahead of her. Kristin from Legacy Performance with whom I have worked with on my run technique (click HERE) over the off season reminded me from the sidelines to loosen up my shoulders and give myself a shake out. Yes, it’s true…I tend to run like a ‘football player’, I know. I’m trying to loosen up and I am usually pretty successful with it during my training runs, but after 2 hours and 40 minutes of being aero, well, I was a bit stiff in my upper body. Thanks for the reminder, Kristin.
All in all, I was pretty happy about the way my running legs were holding up off the bike. As I passed through the first aid station manned by my TryForce peers things were going fairly well and their encouragement helped me get into a rhythm. I knew it was going to get more difficult (much more difficult) in the later stages, but for the time being ‘ol Thunder n’ Lightning didn’t feel so heavy and my heart rate was smooth and even, unlike what I experienced in Binbrook the previous week. So that’s good.
Unfortunately, the “cool” weather they had predicted the day before (and, in fact, it was just that during Saturday’s sprint event) had instead become hot and humid…and me without my sun block. Crap. By the 10k mark I was a gross sweaty mess (as usual) and I was pouring as much water over my head as I was pouring down my throat in an effort to keep from overheating. I took cups of ice, sponges of cold water, anything they handed me in a matter of fact providing it was a single degree cooler than the air on Merritt Island which was getting to the point of feeling like breathing in hot soup. I don’t know what it is about Merritt Island, but it always feels hotter than it probably is. I followed my new routine of walking through the aid stations in order to get the water in as well as give a quick break to the soles of my feet which were by now burning from running on completely saturated soaks which, I have to say, is my least favorite part of racing.
As I kept watch over my time (on the new Ironman Timex I got for Father’s Day) I knew that meeting my personal best was not going to happen on this day but I still wanted to turn in as best a run as possible to the end. By the time I crossed the finishing line I had run a time of 1:50:59 which ended up being only two minutes slower than the personal best of 1:48:59 I set here back in 2011 (click HERE for more details)…not too bad for a comeback year I guess.
In summary, my overall time doesn’t seem that impressive, hence the ‘failure’ part of my original sentiment. However, I did have a quicker swim time than both my previous outings at the full distance and my run was only two minutes off the pace. What ending up killing me were the headwinds out on the bike course which, is completely beyond my control. Sure I haven’t done the same volume of training on the bike that I might have by this point in other years but, all in all, I didn’t suffer…much. Had I gone harder on the bike which I know I am capable of, I inevitably wouldn’t have had the run that I did, so I’m considering this as my ‘success’.
Challenge #3 complete (picture courtesy of: Garrison|McArthur Photography)
So while I fell short of my ultimate goal of going under the five hour mark, I’m still happy with the performance given the challenges I’ve been addressing the past two years. I have one more ultimate challenge this season aside from my other planned events (see my EVENTS tab) this year and the plan now continues to spend more time running off the bike and drop a few more pounds prior to September.
Onward and forward.