Thursday, October 11, 2018

Chicago Marathon 2018 Race Recap

Posted by CheapRunnerMike

So I need to start off with a confession…2018 has been an absolute s**t year. It started with me battling back from injury in my last race of 2017 and actually getting myself into decent running shape, but never really to the point where I actually felt good. I raced a half marathon in April at much less than 100% and still managed to get a 1:24 so I figured things were on the right track. A few weeks later in May, Michelle and I ran Ragnar Cape Cod and had an amazing time…it was an absolute blast running with our Florida friends and the course and organization were top-notch, restoring my faith in Ragnar after the South Beach debacle in late 2017. I even got to run the ‘Wiked Hahd’ leg and crushed it. Just a lot of fun.

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Unfortunately the Spring wasn’t all roses. There were some big changes at work that resulted in a lot of extra responsibilities falling on me. I have been in my job for nearly 20 years and have always enjoyed it. This year is the first time that I have actually hated my job. Stress has been through the roof, I’m unhappy, overworked, underappreciated, and oh ya did I mention stressed? Just not fun. And it has taken a toll. I haven’t had much in the way of time and that has meant things don’t get done. Both kids are super busy with swimming and I am the one that takes them to all of their practices and meets, and I do not begrudge that one bit…but it is just another thing that consumes my time. Running just hasn’t been a priority and when I actually have time to get a run in I am already exhausted before I even start. To top things off, Michelle’s Mom, who has been quite sick on and off for a few years now, passed away in August. Just a rough time for our family. Running and racing weren’t even a blip on our radar.

We were dealing with Michelle’s Mom’s passing, cleaning out her place, taking care of the estate and before we knew it we were into September. Oh right, we are both signed up for the Chicago Marathon in like a month’s time…maybe we should start training??? I did the bike and run legs in a Sprint triathlon relay with my daughter and we both had a good time and that was sort of a catalyst for me to get going for Chicago. I started adding the miles and getting in some long runs to try and build fitness but I’ll be honest and admit that it was really tough. My longest training run was 17 miles and for most of my “training” I was doing run/walk…I was seriously considering doing run/walk for Chicago. My fitness had just fallen so much and I was feeling pretty sorry for myself. I had always prided myself that I could basically roll out of bed on any given day and run a half marathon, and run it well. Not true. My base that I had worked so hard to build over the last 5 years was gone.

The thing that perhaps bothered me the most had nothing to do with my race goals. I had reached out to Billy, a Disney running friend, back in late 2017 and offered to help him run a BQ at Chicago. That meant a sub-3 marathon and there was absolutely no way I was going to be able to do that. Just as I was getting ready to go to Billy with my tail between my legs he sent me a message saying, “So I won't hold it against you if you'd like to do your own thing on race day. Neither will I hold it against you if you choose to drop me sometime mid-race. I aim to do my best on that day whatever my body will give me. But just wanted to put it out there that you've got no obligation to run with me if you'd prefer otherwise.” I quickly let him know that I had no intentions of dropping him and also made sure that he knew he was free to drop me if that’s how the race was going. I admitted that my fitness was way off and told him I was realistically looking at a 3:30. We decided that we would stick with the plan to run together, at least at the start, and I think we eventually settled on the goal of ‘Might not suck’. That sounded like it might be the best goal for me going into race day.

Cue Sunday October 7 and it is suddenly race day. Michelle and I walked down to the race start from our hotel and said our goodbyes before heading to our corrals…I was up in B with Billy and Michelle was in L, the last corral. After dealing with bag check and bathroom lines I met Billy in the corral about 20 minutes before the race started. We quickly caught up with each other and decided a bit on race strategy. Billy was aiming for a negative split and wanted to run fairly even splits, blind running of course as he doesn’t typically look at his watch during his races. I said not to worry, I would call out every split for him…although I would be running in kilometres so he would be really worried when I gave him splits starting with 4’s & 5’s. Elites were announced, an anthem was sung and we were off.

The first few miles took us through the tall buildings of downtown, effectively destroying GPS pace reliability for the rest of the race. It was coolish, but also incredibly humid and I was sweating right from the get go…a bit of an odd sensation to be honest. The clouds were ominous and the sky was low…wet weather was a certainty. Billy and I started out nice and easy, with seas of runners flowing past us. We just stuck to our pace and chatted away, knowing the tough miles would come eventually. We crossed the river a couple of times and began our trek north towards Wrigley Field. As we headed up LaSalle I knew we would see my Mum and the kids shortly…they were right around the 5K point. Sure enough I could hear them calling my name as we approached, so I ran over once I spotted them and gave everyone big kisses.

A quick little burst and I caught back up with Billy and settled back into our easy steady pace. We were cruising along at about an 8:30 mile pace as we hit Lincoln Park and the rain began to fall. Just past the bagpipers I decided to duck into the port-a-potties as I couldn’t hold it any longer. After the pee that Would. Not. End. I took off and weaved my way through the crowd to find Billy a little ways up ahead. We made our way out of the park and made the turn back towards downtown. Running through Old Town was one of my favourite experiences the first time I ran Chicago back in 2013 (my first marathon) and it didn’t fail to recapture those great memories this time. Despite the less than ideal conditions, there were still plenty of spectators out supporting all of us runners. The streets were lined with people and there were plenty of high fives for kids as we ran past. Billy was getting lots of shout outs for his Wisconsin singlet while I received cheers as well for my getup…it usually went something like this…”On Wisconsin, go Badgers! Oh, and go Hawaii!!”

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Billy got to see his pineapple-balloon toting family through this stretch, which was completely fitting given my pineapple jersey…we had a bit of a laugh about this. He received his boost from their cheers and we started to up the pace a little bit around that time…nothing much, but enough that I could see we were now booting along at sub-8:00 miles. I didn’t tell Billy though since he was busy playing Blind Man’s Bluff…I just let him keep setting the pace. It was still seeming quite easy for me at this point and I felt like I would be able to run forever. We crossed the halfway point as we came through downtown once again and our time was 1:49:28…Billy’s negative split goal was certainly within reach. We turned west towards the United Center and continued to drop the pace hammer, getting down in the 7:30 mile range. It was raining very steadily now and it was cool. The wind also picked up a few times around this stretch and I realized that I wasn’t sweating very much anymore. I had been drinking plenty of water and Gatorade at the aid stations but because I wasn’t working super hard, along with the cool conditions, I wasn’t sweating out my fluids. Yup, time for another pee break. It is rare that I ever have to stop during a race, but twice? This was different. Another post pee break sprint and I caught back up with Billy. We were not coming through 30K and I was finally starting to feel the run a bit. I told Billy that he could probably tell that it was starting to get a bit harder for me because it was at this point that I began to get really chatty. We talked about Disney, running, food and whatever else came to mind…just distractions to what was going on with our bodies. I was past the point I had run in any of my training and Billy was long past his as well, so we knew that there would be struggles ahead despite the conservative pace we were holding.

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Speaking of our pace, it was creeping up again, back into 8:00 miles. We were on our way to Chinatown and I heard someone call out “Hey Canada!” (I was wearing Maple Leaf compression socks) and I turned and called back, “Hey Joe!”. It was a local runner I know and was cool to see a familiar face on course. We chatted a bit and wished each other luck before him and his buddy took off ahead of us. Around this time Billy was really starting to show signs of slowing…the race was definitely taking it’s toll. I kept the chatter up and wasn’t getting much back so I knew he was boarding the struggle bus. I tried to keep it positive and gave us some short term goals to work for, Pac-Manning other runners and stuff like that. I also told him that right around that spot with 5K left to go was all new territory for me, since I don’t really remember anything from my first Chicago after Chinatown. Billy was really labouring now so I asked him a few questions…”Are you hurt?” “No.” “Are you injured?” “No.” “So you’re just tired?” “Ya.” “Well, you can run tired so let’s finish this thing. You know what Zelly’s Chris says right?” “Ya.” “What does Chris say?” “F**k tired” “That’s right, F**k tired. Let’s do this.”

As we made the turn back towards Lake Michigan I noticed an impromptu beer station set up across the road…I pointed it out to Billy “Look Billy, BEER!”, to which he said go get it buddy, or something to that effect. I darted across the road to the table and picked up a Dixie cup of beer and slugged it back with a Dixie cup pinch and everything, just like a real water station. It was actually pretty awful, probably PBR or some other swill, but I was able to check off my only real race goal of drinking beer on the course.

One last turn and we were onto Michigan Ave, home stretch time. The crowds were back out in force cheering everyone on and it looked like a giant block party. The conditions on the street itself weren’t quite the same party atmosphere as there was quite a bit of carnage all around us. Billy was focused on just putting one foot in front of the other and he was actually looking better than a lot of the other runners out there that we were passing, despite our pace slowing into the 9:00’s. I saw one poor guy doubled over at the side of the road so I came by to pat him on the back and give some words of encouragement only to find he wasn’t doubled over in pain, he was puking. Yuck. Another woman went cruising by us saying she was going to keep running to Boston and it made me smile thinking happy thoughts for her…it’s always great seeing people meet their goals. The final mile seemed like an eternity and then we were greeted by the ‘big’ hill at the end, but I greeted it with joy as I saw my family again at the turn and knew we were finished. Billy and I made the climb into the park and crossed the line in 3:41:16, which was a great result given the training we both suffered through and the conditions on the day. I was able to grab a delicious Goose Island 312 Dry Hop, which was specially crafted just for Chicago Marathon finishers, DELICIOUS!

Goose 312

After that Billy and I grabbed our bags and made our way to the ‘Q’ runner reunite area, where I met up with my family and was also able to celebrate some amazing results from Christian and Kris (BQ WOO HOO!). I changed out of my soaking wet run gear and my Mum suggested that we head back onto the course to try and see Michelle. Based on her little map she thought it would be a good idea to walk back to Chinatown to see Michelle come through around 22 miles and then a quick scoot back to Michigan Ave to see her again around 25. I was like, “Okaaaaaay….” Knowing the area enough to know that was a solid 2 mile walk, plus the walk back of course, after I just ran a bloody marathon. So off we went and 45 minutes later we arrived in Chinatown and waited for Michelle. And waited. And then waited some more. Finally I asked a stranger if they could do me a favour and pull up a runner on their phone for me (I couldn’t grab a wifi signal and I am too cheap to pay roaming charges).

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She was somewhere around 16 miles and the app said she was well overdue for her latest checkpoint. I decided to be not-quite-as-cheap RunnerMike and turned on the phone to call her…she was running with her phone along with cash and a credit card in case things went pear-shaped. And pear-shaped they went. I asked her how she was doing and she said “Fine…I’m just waiting at ‘Q’ for you guys”. Turns out she pulled the plug at 16, she was done. I felt awful for her and we went back (another 2 miles/45 minutes) to the runner reunite to find her. We finally got there and she gave me the lowdown…

Michelle’s training was even worse than mine. Her Mom’s passing was hard for me but obviously much harder for her, and the work that fell on her was also way more than I had. We got out to run together a few times and her longest runs were in the neighbourhood of 10K. I was proud of her for even starting and giving it a go. She ended up walking towards the end of her day and the final straw was when she neared 15 miles the water stations were gone, shut down. She was by no means alone as there were plenty of other runners around, many asking her to run/walk with them, but that was it, she was done. She said that mentally she couldn’t continue under the conditions, knowing that there was no more support ahead, and also realizing that she didn’t deserve to finish with the training she had put in . She was realistic and at peace with her decision.

She decided to grab a cab back to the finish area and started to walk off course to find one. About three blocks later a police officer saw her with her bib on and asked if she was okay…she said yes and explained the situation and he got his phone out and ordered a Lyft for her on his account…super nice of him. He put her in the car and told the driver to take care of her for him. Thank you officer Chris! In talking with Michelle she is totally at peace with her decision…it was the right move and the way she puts it she probably put in 10 miles more than she expected. The good news is that she has a bit of a fire in her to take on Chicago again with proper training…this year just wasn’t meant to be. I’m proud of her for her effort and even more so her attitude in defeat.

After heading back to the hotel for well deserved showers we went to Lou Malnati’s for some Chicago deep dish (and beer) and then we hit Cantina Laredo for our traditional post-marathon margaritas. A great way to end the night!

Thanks for reading folks!


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

2017 Hamilton Road2Hope Marathon Recap

Posted by CheapRunnerMike

It wasn’t the race that I wanted, but it was the race that I got.

On Sunday I ran the Hamilton Road2Hope Marathon, which is consistently one of Canada’s fastest marathon courses and one of the top Boston Qualifying courses in North America. I was coming into the race with a shorter than ideal training block due to my triathlon season creeping into mid-September…only 7 weeks of actual marathon work. The training went very well though and I was able to get both my speed and endurance up, with only one small hiccup along the way in the form of a minor hamstring strain two weeks out from race day. I took care of the hamstring though and it felt fine during my last hard workouts and heading into the race.

Michelle and I left for Hamilton early on Sunday morning, grateful for the extra hour of sleep that daylight savings afforded us, and also thankful that my buddy Jamie was able to get my bib for me beforehand, which saved us having to get to the start even earlier. It was an easy hour and a half drive even if the fog on the roads was as thick as pea soup. The forecast was calling for rain, a chance of thunderstorms, lots of wind, and mild temperatures. It was cool at the start, probably sitting around 10ºC or so, but the conditions were great for running. I moved up towards the front of the pack to find my starting spot and noticed my buddy Patrick so went to say hi…I walked up to him with a mouthful of Honey Stinger Chew and couldn’t actually say anything at first, but thankfully he saw me as well and we were able to get a quick chat to wish each other well. He was being his usual selfless running self and was pacing his friend. I went back to the line and we were about 5 minutes out from the 7:45 start…then the skies opened up. The rain was cold and sideways. We had all discarded our warm clothes at this point and there was a large group of shivering runners soaked to the bone, hopping around trying to stay warm as best as we could.

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The gun finally went off and I went out just behind the lead group of 4 or 5 runners. The pace was quick but I just wanted to get going to warm up a bit. The rain did relent a bit and turned into a steady drizzle and the wind was thankfully at our backs for the first 2K, so it didn’t take long to settle in and get warm. I began to chat a bit with a runner beside me and then realized it was Mitch, one of my Strava buddies. Mitch was second overall in this race last year so that gave me a bit of an idea of where I was currently pacing and I knew it was too fast…I had cruised through the first two kilometres in 3:41 & 3:52 respectively. We made the first turn and we were now feeling the wind a bit more and I said, “Sorry Mitch, the pace is too rich” (see what I did there…ya), so I wished him luck and dropped back to the pace I had trained for. It worked well as the pace felt light and easy, never forced. Even as we turned again and were into the teeth of 30kph+ wind and hit the rolling hills I was feeling really good and the pace just came naturally. I had managed to separate from the group and was running with one other guy who was racing his first ever marathon. We chatted a little but he wasn’t very talkative. I was a nice guy though and went ahead of him in the wind and told him to tuck in behind me. We crossed the 10K mark with a time of 39:50 and around this point I heard a familiar voice behind me…it was my racing buddy Trevor on his bike. He was there cheering on one of his friends and saw me just a little bit up the road (I am hard to miss in my tie-dye jersey and pink sparkle visor), so he zipped up and we chatted for a bit. It was a nice break from the race monotony. Shortly after that my good deed of cutting the wind was rewarded as a couple other runners bridged up with us, including Trevor’s friend John. He pulled up beside me and said, “Let’s get this conga line going!”, and then he took a turn pulling us along. I scooted back around him after my quick break and took another pull and then he said that he would take another turn at the next kilometre marker. We went back and forth like that for 4 or 5K until we made the next turn and the wind was no longer in our faces.

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Unfortunately it was around this time that I was becoming aware of my hamstring. It didn’t hurt by any means, but I knew it hadn’t recovered as much as I had thought going into the race. The pack decided to pick up the pace by a second or two per kilometre, but I decided that my best bet was to just hold the pace I was at and not push it. Everything else was still feeling good. The guys took off and were never too far ahead of me, but I was now left to work on my own. Thankfully we were through the windiest sections of the course up on the top of the Escarpment. I went past the halfway point of the race and was clocking in 1:24:50 with everything still feeling great…the hamstring was still lingering but it wasn’t getting any worse. I made the turn onto the Red Hill Valley Parkway, the highway section of the race where we run down the Escarpment towards Lake Ontario, with 115m of descent over the next 8K. Right away my legs speed up and my heart rate slowed down…I was through the toughest part of the race and starting the fast back half. The marathon course had caught up with the half marathon at this point and I was passing lots of people, feeding off of their energy. Then just as I passed the 24K marker disaster struck. I felt like I was shot from behind and my right hamstring just said “Nope.” It knotted up on me so quickly and violently that I almost fell over…I couldn’t even walk. I was legitimately looking at finishing the day anywhere between 2:48 and 2:52 and just like that my race was over. I was stopped in my tracks and tried to stretch it out and eventually managed to get to the side of the highway where I was able to prop my leg up on a guardrail and get a bit of a better stretch while massaging the knot. It was moderately better, at least I was able to walk, so I decided to continue. If it wasn’t for the fact that I was on the side of the highway with nowhere to go I would have quit on the spot. My only options were to continue down the hill to the end of the highway or turn around and climb back up the highway…I decided to trudge on to the end of the highway. Eventually my walk turned into a light jog. The hamstring was no better, but no worse. I was dealing with the pain. Then my jog became some kind of mutated hobble/shuffle run. I was almost at the end of the highway but I was starting to actually, sort of, run. It wasn’t fast and it wasn’t pretty, but it was forward progress. I was even passing a couple of people. Off the highway and onto trail, almost at the lake. I started doing some math…I had 11K to go and if I could manage a 5:00/km pace it would at least be enough to get me under my 3:15 Boston Qualifier time. I decided to make the left hand turn and finish the run.

The run along the waterfront was a bit of a boost as there were a lot of runners around with the out and back section…it was nice to see people running well towards the finish. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to cheer many people on, I was just in too much pain. I imagine I had a pretty nasty scowl on my face. At 33K the marathon runners split off as the half made their turnaround and I noticed that I was actually starting to pass people. While others were hitting the wall I was feeling great…all things considered. I had zero fatigue and other than the pain of my hamstring I was doing well. My mental state had improved as I now had a goal to shoot for again. I upped the pace gently and backed off whenever the pain increased and I was able to hold steady right around a 4:40/km pace. We hit our turnaround point and I was greeted by wind and rain…I was finishing the race the way it started, just minus my right leg. I had a lot of time to reflect over the back half of the race and my mind went all over the place. I thought about my kids and how I always want them to give their best and never give up and I was glad to know that I was leading by example. I also thought of Michelle and some of the races she has struggled through but always managed to push until the end to get it done. Racing doesn’t always go as planned and your true character comes out in adversity. I was going to finish this thing and finish as strong as I could.

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As I neared the final stretch I emptied the tank and pushed as hard as my injured leg would let me…I heard Michelle calling my name and cheering me home as I hit the final turn towards the finish chute and I kicked out a 4:25 for my last kilometre. I was done with a final time of 3:05:56, well above what I had planned, hoped and trained for but also nearly 10 minutes faster than my BQ. This wasn’t a race to feel sorry for myself, this was a race where I was able to show what I was made of. I set out to prove something to myself and in the end that is exactly what I did…I just took a different route to get there.

I have had some time since the race finished and have reflected on the day…I know that I have the fire in me to go through another marathon build and put in the type of training required to post the times I know I am capable of. I also now know how mentally tough I can be, something I attribute in part to the suffering I’ve put myself through on the triathlon course. Triathlon has made me a tougher, stronger and better runner. I look forward to the next time I get to go out and test my limits. Thanks for reading folks.


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

2017 Barrelman Triathlon Recap

Posted by CheapRunnerMike

Full disclosure…I may or may not have had too much IPA in Nashville after racing the Ironman 70.3 Worlds last Sunday which lead to me registering for Barrelman, a half iron race this past weekend in Niagara Falls. This is how triathletes get crazy, we register for races after a few beers.

I knew that the race was going to be tough with no time to recover after a tough course in Chattanooga but Barrelman is a great local race that ends the Tri season here in Ontario, so it was a great chance to see a bunch of friends before the offseason. It was a bit of a celebration as well as this race has grown so much over its four years and they sold out this year with 1100 spots…I was fortunate to get in after the sellout. This year MultiSport Canada partnered with Rev3 Triathlon to expand their reach into the US and there were 300+ Americans that came to race with us as well…it was an awesome turnout and Barrelman is now the largest independent (ie non-Ironman) half iron triathlon in North America. Congrats to John Salt and team on this huge accomplishment!

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I raced Barrelman back in 2015 and really enjoyed it and was happy to get to come back again. Being just off a 70.3 a week prior I knew that I had to be realistic with any goals going into the race and had to resign myself to the fact that a podium spot was almost certainly out of the question. This was fine with me and took a lot of the pressure off, so I was able to just go out and have fun. Michelle asked me what I was hoping to do and the only thing I could really come up with was besting my time from two years ago, which was 4:47. Absolutely a time I could beat, but on tired legs? Worth a shot.

Michelle, Jackson and I hit the road on Sunday morning at 4:30 to make the drive to Welland where the race was starting. As a last-minute race we didn’t really have a chance to get a hotel room the night before as rooms were scarce and what was available was $400 and up, plus we already had other weekend plans. It was an easy drive at that time of day though and we arrived at the swim start shortly before 7:00, plenty of time to get checked in and set up my transition area. This race is a point-to-point race, so we would be swimming in Welland at the beautiful Welland International Flatwater Centre (my absolute favourite swim venue) and then we would hop on our bikes and ride 90K (roughly) to Niagara Falls, where we would finish our races with a 2-loop half marathon that would see us run by the Falls twice.

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Swim – 2000m
31:38 (1:35/100m), 5th AG

The race kicked off at 9:00 and I was in the second wave 3 minutes later. I set out at a hard pace in hopes of getting ahead of the pack and then finding some fast feet to latch on to. The plan worked as I made my way over towards the underwater lane rope (used for rowing and awesome for sighting!) and found a swimmer that was setting an ambitious pace. I settled in behind him and the swim felt nice and easy as he pulled me along. It didn’t take long until we were catching the back of the first wave and had to work our way through the crowds. There was quite a bit of congestion but I managed to hold this guy’s feet as we weaved in and out. We got down towards the first turn nearly 900m in and I could begin to feel that the feet in front of me were slowing down a bit so I made a move and went past him, moving out on my own. Well, not really on my own as I was caught up in a mass of Wave 1 swimmers. It was so congested in a couple spots that I actually had to stop swimming, there was nowhere to go. As soon as I made the turn though I was able to find some clean water and cleared the pack. The rest of the way was pretty easy going as I found someone else of similar pace to swim with and we seemed to work pretty well together until the finish. I hit the exit ramp and grabbed a volunteer’s arm as he pulled me up out of the water. I fumbled a bit with my wetsuit zipper but was still able to get the top off as I run up the stairs into transition towards my bike. First leg down and feeling good.

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Bike – 86K
2:15:14 (38.2kph), 7th AG

I jumped on my bike and took off fast. This is a very flat, fast course and today there was almost no wind to speak of, so the opportunity was certainly there for a very fast bike split. I was quickly out of Welland and on the country roads heading west for the ‘out’ section of the ride. My legs were feeling good and I was moving along well, passing lots of athletes from Wave 1. I eventually settled in and was holding my speed around 40kph and the watts were a very maintainable 220 or so. I was cruising along and heard someone call my name and it was my buddy Luke coming up from behind me. He had raced at Worlds as well but it didn’t look like it was slowing him down at all…he went flying by me. He didn’t pull too far away though so I thought why not try to catch him? I had never passed him on the bike before and figured I had nothing to lose in this race so I hammered at nearly 600W to catch him. I came up beside him and said something to the effect of “Uh oh, look who’s passing you!”. To his credit Luke told me to go for it and then went flying by me about 20 seconds later, hoping that I would come along and work with him all the way to Niagara Falls…it wasn’t happening though, I have a long way to go before I can hang with Luke on the bike.

From about the 15K point until nearly 50K I was caught up in a pack of 7 or 8 cyclists, of which there was just me and one other guy that made any effort to not draft. The rest of these clowns would just come up and pass you, then slot in between you and the guy in front of you that you were following at a legal distance behind. As they were now within 5m of the cyclist in front of them, they are required to pass that cyclist as well…if they don’t then they are drafting and that is cheating. Well they never did pass, though they did get up nice and close to the bike in front of them, and in the meantime I am dropping back to a legal distance behind them as I am required to do and another joker goes and slots in again until I have dropped all the way to the back of the line. So I would sit back there (legal) and get angry about it, then I would go and burn a match in frustration by passing (as you are supposed to do) the entire group of 7 or 8 cyclists. Rinse and repeat. I complained to the one other guy who was riding legal and he just said it was a joke. We were caught up in it and there was nothing we could do. I tried riding away from them but they were working as a pack and would always come back and catch me. What really bothered me was that there were two of the female pros in the group and they definitely know better. The pack even sucked up Ryan Van Praet & Syd Trefiak on their tandem bike…Ryan is a visually-impaired triathlete and Syd is his guide and these guys are monsters on the bike...they don’t get overtaken easily. They made a comment to me about these guys as well, could tell there were a number of people on the course who were not impressed.

I eventually lost touch with the pack and was soloing it for the final 30K into Niagara Falls and my pace did drop a bit. There were some pretty rough roads back in this stretch and a lot of turns which certainly didn’t help, but the bike split was still my fastest ever for a half ironman. I made the final turn towards transition at Kingsbridge Park and I heard Michelle and Jackson calling my name…they were on the patio at The Boathouse restaurant finishing up their breakfast. Bad news though, the temperature had risen substantially since we started back in Welland and it was now hot and humid. The run was going to be ugly.

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Run – 21.1K
1:47:05 (5:05/km), 9th AG

The run started well enough as I covered the first kilometre in 4:09. I made my way into the shade of Dufferin Islands park and was already feeling the effects of the previous week’s race. I knew that if I kept the pace I was running that the wheels were going to fall off quite spectacularly so I began to dial it back. The heat was also getting to me and I was making sure that I was taking in lots of fluid at every aid station. The big hill up to Portage knocked me on my butt pretty good and that’s when I really realized that this was going to be a struggle til the finish. I saw a familiar face up ahead though, it was Trevor, the young guy that I ran Ironman Mont Tremblant with last year and have run into at numerous races since. I came up behind him and just before I reached him he pulled off to the side to deal with some cramping…the heat was getting to everyone. I wished him well and continued up the hill towards the Casino. There was actually more climbing on the run than there was on the entire bike course…this run feels like you are climbing the whole time and you pretty much are. You get all of the elevation back in what amounts to about a 500m stretch down Murray St. Then it was my favourite part of the run, going past the Falls. I’ve seen them so many times but they always leave me in awe. Unfortunately the air was so still this day that there was barely any mist spraying us, and man I could have used some of that mist. I pushed on up the hill back towards Kingsbridge Park to make my turnaround for loop 2 and saw a guy wearing a ‘Running Sucks’ t-shirt. “It sure does right now”, I said to him. Michelle and Jackson were right up ahead cheering and Jackson ran over to me…I was going slow enough that he was able to run along with me. It gave me a bit of a boost and I used it as motivation to get me through the next loop.

And boy did I need motivation. As soon as I started my second loop the first thing I noticed was how many more people were now out on the run. Lots of people were in from the bike now and setting out for the run, and a lot of them were looking pretty rough. There were lots of walkers already and you could tell the heat was taking a toll on everyone. It was a death march out there. Temperatures were up to 30º or so and with the humidity it was even worse. I just kept trudging along, refusing to walk. Water and ice at the aid stations but I ended up missing a few along the way because they were so busy now. I approached the Falls for the second and final time and took it in…this time there was actually a slight mist making its way across the street to us and I enjoyed every little drop of it (although maybe it was just the humidity, who knows?). Back up the hill and someone commented on my Team Sheri jersey…”Sheri would tell you to get going!” they said. “She would have a lot more to say than that”, I relied, “and she would have a few other words to throw in!” With just a mile left to go we were merging back with the runners beginning their loop and I heard someone call my name…it was Ken Eastwood, the local radio morning guy I listen to as well as a runner/triathlete. We exchanged a high five and I was headed for home. Ken went on to post a big PR and get some redemption after suffering a flat on this course last year, so congrats to him! I made the final turn into the park and heard Jordan Powers cheering me on. “Mike, You’re crushing it!” “No, I think it’s crushing me!” Next thing I knew I was in the finishing chute and heard Steve Fleck calling my name, commenting on the ‘distinctive’ jerseys of Sheri Fraser’s athletes, then a handshake from John Salt to seal the deal. Final time 4:37:55, well under my previous time here and under much more difficult conditions…I had a moment of pride to think of how far I’ve come over the last two years.

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I met up with Jackson and Michelle once I was done and we watched a few more athletes cross the finish line, including my pal Carol who took 10th female after she had raced Worlds last weekend…great job Carol! After that it was time to pack up the Jeep and get some food before heading back to London. It ended up being a really great day down in Niagara and it was nice way to put a bow on the 2017 triathlon season. Thanks to everyone for their support this year!