It’s officially in the books. A great race for me and a fairly impressive feat of logistics from the IM crew. I really enjoyed this event from start to finish, despite a bump or two along the way.
In the lead up to the race I had decided to shorten my taper fairly significantly. With the recovery from Guelph taking way longer than anticipated (a full week before I felt that I had power on the bike), I wanted to get in some extra sessions. Also knowing that at Barrelman in 2016 I had tapered a bit too long, I wanted a shorter taper for this one. Also, even though it is an IM 70.3 event, this was sort of a half-A race. Not my season-A, but one that I wanted to be as close to peak as reasonably possible. Tuesday before race day was my last full workout. From there I scaled back according to plan for the race on Sunday.
Friday before the race Tim from Velofix took my bike for a full overhaul. He also replaced my chain (~8000 kms will wear one out, apparently), replaced the bearing in the headset, checked everything else out and cleaned it up very nicely. The ride felt very smooth afterwards. I was thrilled knowing that going into race day I’d be on a ride that smooth. He also checked out my Blade Carbon Wheels and said they were in great shape too. Not surprisingly, my bike was looking very good.
Saturday my wife and I took off for Huntsville fairly early in the morning. We had arrived in time for the 12:30 race meeting, going straight to the race venue and checking into our hotel later that evening. The actual space for the event is very nice, though it is much smaller than I was expecting. Parking seemed to be the biggest obstacle the athletes would face in terms of navigating around the race venue, but the organizers had as much ready as they could reasonably be expected to. The 12:30 meeting was short and to the point. Race overview, a few tricky turns, be safe, that sort of thing. Picked up my registration package, looked around at the shops a bit, and headed off to get my last ride in before the race.
I rode the first 5 km of the bike course out and then back. This section is rolling hills, and not really indicative of the rest of the course. I finished that ride feeling like I was mostly ready to race, the course was going to be challenging, and my bike was working exactly as I’d hoped it would. I did make a few last minute changes to my gear selection though, despite knowing I really shouldn’t do that. Reading over the race info ahead of time, I noted there were three bottle drops on the course. I was expecting one, not three. With three, I wouldn’t need my rear-seat bottle cages. Those are great for training rides but they’re not aerodynamic in any way. I dropped those and replaced it with a small saddle bag with enough stuff in there to fix a puncture if I got one. On my last ride, I was feeling much more aerodynamic, if only in my head.
After checking my bike into transition, I moved to do my last swim before the race. My wife and I walked out to the start of the swim area and I put on my wetsuit. This suit has been with me since 2005, but this is its last race. My repair jobs are working, but the repair jobs are also breaking. The stitching is coming apart in many different places, and it is time to retire the suit. When I put it on for this last pre-race swim, I found yet another space that was tearing apart. At this point I was not sure it would last through the race the next day without shredding to pieces. That being said, the last swim was quite uneventful. I did about a km total along part of the race course. There were lots of boats going by so I didn’t want to push my luck. Did my minutes and got out, satisfied that I was ready for the next day.
With the bike checked in and the work for the day done, I had a feeling of calm. At Barrelman, I was nervous about checking my bike in the day before. Understanding that I wasn’t able to tinker for the rest of the day at the time was nerve wracking. This time, in Huntsville, I was thrilled to be able to get it in and not think about it. We headed off for the hotel, just down the road in Dwight.
Apparently it is becoming tradition for us to stay in dinky hotels the night before races. An odd tradition, but considering we spent about 9 hours there in total it isn’t a bad way to save some money.
Race morning, we were up at 4:15. I scarfed some Pop Tarts, an apple, a banana, a few strawberries, coffee, and at least one clif bar. We rolled out by 5 and were on site to set up the planned 90 minutes ahead of start time. I like to give myself lots of time ahead of races to get set. With a full 90 minutes, that’s plenty of time to make sure I have everything I need, fix/replace anything that isn’t right, find parking, and get warmed up. The morning went off without a hitch.
Gun time was 7:00 am. I was in the first wave. The wave looked fairly large from my perspective. I tend to be a fairly strong swimmer, but I don’t like contact with others. I set up on the far right side of the start, which would have made my swim a bit longer than those on the left side. Thinking I’d cut over as soon as I could, this would keep me out of the way of the super-serious win-at-all-costs folks that legends speak of.
The swim course is a triangle shape, with the last kilometer upstream on a moving river. It was a wet morning, and the water was moving surprisingly fast. My plan of cutting up worked exactly as I wanted it to, and I was even able to grab a draft off at least two different people. Despite a disappointing time of 34:41 over 2 km (1:47/100m, well off my goal of 1:35/100m), I came out of the water in 14th position in my division. The current was strong, and that slowed the field down as we swam upstream.
T1 was the first opportunity I had to use a wetsuit peeler. I was a bit disoriented coming out of the water, and wasn’t even thinking about peelers. I didn’t even know they were there or how to do it. Someone shouted at me “Peelers over there” and pointed. I just followed the point and before I knew it I had two women pulling my wetsuit off. Given this being its last race anyhow, I wasn’t concerned with damage. Made the run up to T1 quite a bit more comfortable too. It was a long transition though. The zone was large enough to accommodate 1350 triathletes, plus duathletes, plus relays. Big. My rack was way at the back, meaning I had to run all the way through this football-field sized zone after the swim. 3:08 was my T1 time. Slow.
Up to this point I was feeling discouraged. A slow swim, a slow transition, and now about to go ride 94 km through hills in the rain and wet. I knew it was going to be a tough day. I was not wrong. My goal for the day was to hit a normalized power of 182 watts, and to stay out of the red (under 229 watts) going up the climbs. To this point I had only seen the first few kilometers of the course, and while I’m somewhat familiar with the terrain that Muskoka has to offer, I was not expecting what came at me.
The first ~23 km are through a back road. It is also a fairly rough road, and has what I’d describe as punchy climbs. The short but steep climbs seemed relentless. One after the other. I was very glad I had some light weight gear – the difference between climbing in carbon wheels and stock is massive. The Blade Carbon Wheels don’t just help on the flats, though there was plenty of benefit there too. But, cycling is about power and I watched my average speed drop down to 26 km/h at one point. This was so discouraging, as I was hoping to average above 30 km/h. If the terrain didn’t smooth out, I’d have been in for a long hard day with a really disappointing result. Then it got worse.
What goes up must come down, and I was flying down a hill. I left my top tube bag unzipped (lazy) and hit a bump. Half of my gels fell out onto the ground. I had taken one, had two left, and had a package of Clif bloks still. I kept going. Zipped up the bag and figured that if I needed anything I’d grab it from one of the three aid stations. Then it got worse.
There is a section of winding road with some short punchy climbs. I didn’t notice that we had climbed a lot, but not really descended at all. The descent was also very steep, and around a corner. The ground was wet, but it had stopped raining. My tires were slicked. As I came around a soft right turn I noted a sign that said to slow down. I immediately hit the brakes, but the descent was steep. Both brakes were being pressed but with the wet, I wasn’t slowing. I squeezed the back harder as I saw a sharp 90 degree left at the bottom of the hill. Nearing the bottom of the hill my rear wheel locked up and I skidded. I managed to keep the bike up, but at the cost of crashing head first into a blue crash barrier. Quickly, I went bum over noggin over handlebars into some bushes with the bike landing on top of me. I could not believe what had just happened, and couldn’t decide if I was relieved that I was unhurt or disappointed that I crashed. Then I got angry that such a corner existed, then I got angry that I couldn’t handle the corner. I started yelling that I was ok, and the police officer and race volunteer came over to assist. They pulled the bike off me and helped me back over. I checked over the bike. Apart from sandy it looked ok. Brakes still worked. Off I went. From the crash to back on the bike was about 90 seconds according to my GPS. But I was rolling again. No damage to the carbon wheels and apart from a few scuff marks on the frame and a bent front brake lever, I got away with it. The rear tire that had locked up has a huge skid mark in it though and now needs to be replaced. I didn’t realize how close I was to popping that tire at the time. Probably a good thing I didn’t though because I’d have been paranoid about it for the rest of the race instead of eventually relaxing into a good rhythm!
Thankfully, the rest of the ride was actually good. I was out of the technical section shortly after this crash and the rest of the course had much more reasonably graded hills. It was downright enjoyable. There was no major equipment damage from the crash, and my race strategy was solid. I was sleek and aero down lots of hills too thanks to my Blades. Nothing quite like flying down hill not pedaling and still passing people. I came out having achieved my race goal of 182 normalized watts on the dot, which was exactly the plan to set me up for a great run. My ride time was 3:05:31, which was longer than I’d have liked, but to go faster I’ll need more power. That was good enough for 32nd fastest in my division.
T2 was also slow, because I had to pee really bad. With that and running across the football field, I was 3:14 through T2. But I was feeling better than I had ever felt coming off the bike, ever. Even better than I did at Guelph where I all-time PR’d the 10km run.
The run course isn’t all that pretty, but I’m a pretty big fan of it nonetheless. Two loops plus a short out and back to get to and from the loops. Heading up the first big hill was a tough challenge, and I was close to walking it through the steep sections, but I pushed. Glad I did too because once past the top, the course is a gentle downhill for several kilometers, until the turn around where you go back up it. Then the run goes back through downtown (where the loop starts) and to the east across a river before looping back to the start of the loop. A good chunk of the race course is closed to traffic, and several hundred spectators lined the streets. That was quite the experience, running through them. A lot of fun, and a good boost too. Across the entire run course, the spectators were amazing. Hat is off to the town of Huntsville and citizens.
I decided early into the run that I didn’t want to look at my GPS watch to get my splits. My run was feeling good and I was setting a strong pace. I knew that whatever number was on there at each kilometer was likely to freak me out and cause panic. I decided that as long as I continued to run well I’d not look until I was at 16 km. This was the right choice.
My goal for the run was to have a good run. That was it. Put together a complete race. To do that I decided I wanted to try something new, albeit not risky at all. I took Pepsi on the course. Simple. And holy hell this will forever change my runs. At each transition stage I took one water and one Pepsi, downing as much of both as I could handle. Within 100 strides of taking the Pepsi, I was feeling much better, with the slow slide down until I hit the next aid station 2 km down the road. I could not believe how awesome this made me feel. I also accidentally grabbed a cup full of ice chips at one point. It was hot, but not crazy hot. Not really sure what to do with them, I poured them down my shirt and let them melt. This felt great too, so I did it again later in the race with good results as well.
By 16 km, I was ready to know how I was doing. To that point according to my Garmin I was averaging 5:02 / km. Unreal. If I was able to pick it up just a little bit, I’d have broken my season goal of a 5 minute per km half-marathon. Pick it up, a little bit, I did. I put what I had left in me in that run. It wasn’t much, and I was only racing against the clock, but I finished in 1:45:05 – good for an average pace of 4:58 per km. 23rd fastest run in my division too, and for the first time ever I gained position in the run segment. I’ve never done that before, ever.
After that run, I was thrilled to be running across the finish line in a total time of 5:31:39. On a much harder (and 4 km longer) course, I beat my Barrelman time from last year by 4 minutes. This race had many firsts and I am thrilled with my result. My swim was decent, bike was on plan and successful, and run exceeded my time goal by 15 minutes.
As always, a big thank you to my wife and family for support. The race organizers did a great job putting this one on, and I’m sure I’ll be back next year fitter and faster.
Next up, MSC Barrelman!