Well, my season has officially kicked off. On Saturday, I participated in the Guelph Lake Olympic Triathlon at the Guelph Lake Conservation Area in… you guessed it… Guelph. All in all, it was a pretty good day for me and I’m generally happy with my results and with the event itself. I managed to take advantage of the increased training load this season and drop a few new PRs, test out some new equipment and skills, and still have some fun in some hot hot heat. Here’s how things went down.
In the week ahead of the race, I was not really planning on a recovery week or any kind of taper. For me, this race was a ‘C’ race, meaning I’d show up and do what I can. Basically just see what happens. I’d been planning to take the Friday as a training off-day though, which would give me at least one full day of recovery. That sort of still happened, but not quite how I’d imagined it.
The Sunday before the race was the last day of my Base phase for the season. Starting Monday I’d have moved into Build. Er, well, that was my plan anyway. Turns out the prior week absolutely cooked my legs, and by Sunday I wasn’t able to even finish my cycling workout – cut at half to save the fatigue. This is most likely for a few reasons. First, I was running again. I’d not hit a ton of kms, but that on top of my cycling load hit the fatigue level pretty hard. This would have been the second week back from taking two weeks off due to my back problem, and still easing into longer workouts. I believe my longest during this time was 55 mins. Second, my cycling load was an all-time high that week. I had just bumped my FTP to 210 watts (an estimate based on feel, no test) and given that it was the last week of Base, the volume was very large too. I think the FTP bump was more what cooked me than the actual volume, but likely both contributed. So, when Monday rolled around and I was still feeling toast, I skipped my swim workout and took a rest day. Tuesday was supposed to be the start of my new cycling plan, which means a proper FTP test. I took advantage of having received my new turbo frame from Kinetic and rode on that (more on this coming once I have a bit more time to ride on it). That FTP test, which took place two days after I was too cooked to finish a 2 hr workout, logged an additional 19 watt bump, taking my FTP to 229 (3.4 w/kg). The following morning I was planning a 90 minute endurance zone ride, but instead after still feeling like I had cooked bike legs decided it was a good idea to do a run FTP test (SMRT). That test consists of a 10 min solid effort warm up with a 20 minute go-all-out test. First one of the season, mostly due to putting the test off again and again. I logged an FTP in that test of 4:40/km and 165BPM, while also absolutely crushing my all time 5km PR. Previously this was at 25:00, which I had set at the Brantford Classic around 2007. Since then I’ve come close – last year I hit low 25 mins. This test had me come in at 22:02 – nearly three full minute improvement. And on a dirt track. An enormous boost in my confidence leading into Guelph Lake. Of course, that hurt, and took a few days to recover from as well. I managed a great swim workout Thursday night but the other days and workouts leading into Friday were mostly low and slow, endurance/recovery/skills based stuff, including trying to get enough confidence in my cycling shoes to do a proper flying T1 start. All of this led to a rest day Friday right before the Saturday morning race.
The morning of the race I was up at my usual 5AM – getting up this early regularly paid off as for me this was entirely normal. Coffee, bagel with jam, banana, loads of water and a bit of Gatorade for breakfast. I downed two Clif bars – one on the way to the race and another about 40 mins before start. Had the car loaded up and was out the door by 5:45 AM. My wife was a great sport through this early morning too. She even put up with me babbling about what I expected at the race for just about the entire time. That’s tough to do at the best of times, much less in a sleep deprived state.
I’ve raced the Sprint Tri at Guelph Lake before, but that was ages ago. The lake hadn’t changed (obviously), and the course hadn’t really changed either, so this was a bit of a return to familiar territory, albeit 10 years later. The results of my old race are in the Race Results section here, so feel free to check them out. This venue, well, in honesty I have very mixed feelings about. It tries really hard to be great. The swim is fantastic, but has a horrible uphill run of about 250 meters to get to T1. The bike has some great challenging rollers through low-traffic roads and is a single loop out & back, but also has huge sections of road that are just awful to ride on – bumpy, potholed, and just terrible. In & out of T2 is solid. The run course is where this course really falls apart for me. Several short & steep climbs and rolling road, a mix of paved road, gravel, grass, dirt, and broken asphalt, and sparsely populated staff (though plenty of aid stations, very happy about that) made this one, well, not so great.
I will say that the staff and volunteers were all fantastic. The aid stations were well supported and those handing out drinks did a much appreciated and excellent job. Aid stations had Gatorade and water (and one with a hose), and were spaced out to be roughly 2 km from one another, give or take a turn around or two. Thanks to all volunteers – without the race volunteers the event would never happen, and I certainly appreciate the work you’ve done.
Once set up in transition, I headed down for a good warm up in the lake. I prefer a swim warm up, mostly because once I have things set in transition I don’t want to mess around with them by moving shoes and such. My wife snapped a shot of me right before I got in for warm up. You can see here it was a beautiful day for a race. A very light breeze, sun shining, and at the time of this shot wasn’t too hot. That changed, but that’s for later. If you look closely you can see there’s a bead of repair glue across my right side. That extends way down the suit. there are also two more gigantic holes along the underside and back side that are in desparate need of repair. This suit is 12 years old and has held up well, but it is getting close to retiring. Going to make one more stab at repairing it this week, and if that doesn’t work… well… it’ll need to be retired and thanked for its years of service. Anyway, back to what matters, warm up went as expected. Warm water, slow current, good sighting, wetsuit isn’t flying to pieces, all good. I practiced the run in twice to get the stand-up-point right since I have short legs and the lake is quite shallow with a very slow slope approaching the beach. Hop out & get ready for the start.
I was in the second wave, and this is the first time I’ve been in the second wave when the first wave wasn’t just the elites. Given I’m a stronger than average swimmer, I knew that I’d be catching and passing people in the wave ahead of me, so I self-seeded near the front on the outside of my wave. This was the right choice. The gun went off and off we went. I dove and started swimming, pushing a strong pace out the gate. Trying to get a sense of where I was in the pack, I found that through the first 400-500 meters I was at the front, leading a draft group that went back a fair ways. This wasn’t what I was hoping for. I wanted to be settled into a good pace behind someone slightly faster than me, drafting and conserving energy. There were a few opportunities for me to move over and swim on the heels of someone else, but I just couldn’t find someone that was swimming at the right speed for me. Or so I thought. After a few attempts and slapping a few heels, I ignored the drafting and just swam my race my way. Still had a good swim but wish I had drafted a bit, as this strategy led me to a 1:38/100m 1.5km pace. This includes the time, but not the distance, in the run up to T1 – that bloody hill. 24:38 is my official swim time. A good result – a PR over 1500m in race. Hard to complain about that. But, I also noticed that as I decided not to draft, those that I was trying to draft from were pulling away, and eventually I couldn’t see them anymore. A bit more patience would have done me favours here.
My wife, the official CBSKILLZ photographer, got some shots of me getting out of the water. Thankfully she didn’t get any of me labouring up that hill. That thing isn’t fun.
T1 starts at the top of this hill, includes another ~50 meters of flat running, and then out to a well-placed bike mount/dismount line. I was hoping that I’d be confident enough to do a flying start off T1, but this is a skill I’ve only just started practicing this year. Until this year I’ve used “cycling” shoes instead of “triathlon” shoes. Cycling shoes typically have more straps and buckles than triathlon shoes, and it is just not worth it to try to buckle them in while on the bike. So I had never practiced until this year, when I got my tri shoes. I’m getting better, and I can do it, just not faster than putting them on in transition & running out. I think this was the right decision as well. I was gassed when I went to hop on my bike. I took my time, sacrificed 15 seconds, and clipped in noob-style. No regrets.
The bike course is 20 km out and back for 40 km total. The road is a bit rough getting out of the Conservation Area, and once out, the road is a disaster of rough, uncomfortable, broken road for about the first 6 km. It gets slightly better after that for about another 2 km, and then once past about 8 km is smooth and actually very nice. It’s scenic, if you’re into farm land, and has low traffic roads. The hills are rollers and are mixed between short and steep with long and gradual. Consistent power is the name of the game.
I had intended to average 90% FTP, 206 watts, for the ride. Given that this was based on my new FTP that I had just tested and never really trained with, I was expecting this to go badly. But, I thought, ‘C’ race. Let’s just see what happens. I ended up averaging 193 watts. For some reason my normalized power didn’t calculate though. It did calculate in TrainingPeaks for each 5km interval, and based on that I’m estimating my normalized power at roughly 204 watts. I’d have liked those to be closer together but was still under my intended goal in both. In retrospect, 206 watts is pretty arbitrary. I averaged 193 watts, but on the run started thinking I may have over-biked by 2-3%. Hard to tell, really.
I can say for certain that my Blade Carbon Wheels were a massive help on this ride. The wind wasn’t too bad, but it was there. I was sturdy and strong in the cross-breeze, and definitely felt the benefit when the breeze was coming from behind. When there was a bit of a headwind, it was no match. But where I really noticed the benefit was around corners. These wheels weigh quite a bit less than my older wheels – I know because I weighed them! It was very clearly apparent here, both in going up the hills and around the corners. I found that I was able to grab speed faster than I used to, and with the aero advantage my speed was still high even when not pushing high watts. Throw in the fact that they look amazing, and I cannot say enough great things about the Blade wheels. This was my first race with them, and it is not at all unexpected but still great to see such a huge boost from the wheel upgrade. I’m firmly in the camp of the biggest bang-for-buck upgrade you can make is your wheel set.
About 2 km ahead of the turn around the race leader whizzed by me going in the opposite direction. He had a whopping lead on the next rider – in the range of a full km gap. But that also meant I’d made up a considerable about of time on the first wave, and must have been sitting in a spot reasonably near the front of the race. I estimated at this point I was about 4 km behind the race leader, and there must only be 30ish people in front of me. Happy.
Everyone on the course was all smiles too, which was great to see. I chatted briefly with a few riders out there and on the back portion was really pleased to see so many smiling folks. Racing is a great thing.
As I got closer to T2, the road turned to crap again. It is so much worse on the way back in than the way out. I understand there isn’t much the race director can do about this but it is just so awful that it is hard not to talk about. But it is all good because I managed a 1:10:49 split, which is (barely) a new PR for me over 40 km. About 30 seconds faster than on the pancake flat, tailwind supported ride at the Barrelman that I had originally set that my then-PR of ~1:11:30.
Back inside the Conservation Area, I slipped my feet out of my shoes (first time in a race!) and prepared to dismount. That is fun. Flying dismount. Recommended. T2 went as expected, fairly typical, and I was off for the run. At this point I noted there were three other bikes on my rack, and so I must have been near the pointy end of my age group. I also knew I had no chance of catching the group and I’d need to basically put down a good pace and just hold on for as long as possible to keep my position. I’m not a great runner – if you look at the race results you’ll see that my run time is way slower than everyone ahead of me in my AG and the next few behind me.
The first 1.5 km were a tough slog. Getting the blood flowing for running always is. By about 3 km in I had settled into a decent rhythm, disrupted only by the course itself. The hills here are no joke. They’re not huge – this isn’t what I’d describe as a hilly course – but it isn’t easy either. One after another, seemingly relentless.
Or maybe it just seemed that way because of the heat. Running through this area there was absolutely no breeze to speak of, and it now being roughly 10:00 AM by the time I was halfway through the run, it was hot. My shoes were squishing, soaking wet from the sweat. No shade. At the aid stations I dumped water on my head which helped to keep cool.
The course, or the heat, or my lack of running, or my potential overbike of about 3% eventually caught up with me. By 6 km, I was under goal pace (5:00/km) but was starting to have a bad cramping of my right quad. Unclear what the cause was, but it sure hurt. I pushed on and ended up with an official run time of 48:51.
This was my fastest 10 km ever – in training, road racing, brick workouts, tri racing, EVER. I’ve said before and I’ll say it again – the run is my weakness. But to break that 50 minute barrier was like crashing through a brick wall. I know I can run faster than that. I know I can bring that time down even with my current level of fitness. Before this week, 50 minutes was a pipe dream. Now, it is a goal accomplished. Pretty great.
My official race time is 2:27:31. Post-race activities immediately ensued. I had a chance to chat with a few people I was racing around and once again everyone was all smiles. Thoughts of the uncomfortable bike course and uneven terrain of the run course disappeared. Water, food, alcohol-free beer (surprisingly, very good) was passed around. Shade, mist fan, and cooling down. I caught my breath and met up with my wife. We waited around for the results to go up and was very happy to see I’d reached 5th in my AG and 39th overall. A great result for me, and took home some hardware too!
I didn’t know they did all the way to 5th place, so I had changed out of my race kit. Nonetheless, as you can see I was feeling great. Thanks to Subaru Series Triathlon for a great day, to Blade Carbon Wheels (coupon code ‘GETAERO100’ to save on yours), to the other competitors for showing up and giving it their all, and to my lovely wife for supporting me in this insane hobby of mine the whole way along.
And that’s about it. 2017 has officially begun, and with PRs across all three disciplines it is already shaping up to be a really interesting season. Next stop is the Ironman Muskoka 70.3 on July 9. See you there!