Tuesday, October 18, 2016

2016 Vulture Bait 50K Trail Race Recap

Posted by CheapRunnerMike

The triathlon season ended for me last month but that didn't mean my race season with done with…I still had my first ever 50K Ultra to look forward to, the Vulture Bait Trail Race.

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The race is local for us as it takes place at Fanshawe Conservation Area, just the other end of town.  The setting is beautiful as you run through the woods around the lake, one of the best trails to run in our neck of the woods.  I was looking forward to it, but really didn't know what to expect as my longest training run was only 30K and I had never run further than the standard marathon distance of 42.2K (26.2 miles).  Nothing to worry about, right??

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The race was Saturday morning and we were blessed with absolutely perfect weather…a true anomaly for this race as they were quick to let us all know.  Apparently this was the first time in the 14 year running of the race that the weather has been decent.  I did the 25K last year and we had snow flurries, so we were quite fortunate.  It was cool to start, probably around 10ºC or so, but the sun was shining and it warmed up to 20ºC during the morning.  Michelle was with me as well as she was taking on the single-loop 25K, her first trail race!  She was running with our friend Nancy, and we met up with her and her husband Tom in the parking lot on the way in.  There were plenty of familiar faces to say hi to and catch up with so the time went by quickly as we waited for the race start.  The wait wasn't completely uneventful though as I had to seek out first aid before the race even began.  I went to unlock the bathroom stall and the door was a little tight…as I slid the lock open I though to myself, "I better be careful or I'll end up slicing my finger."  Sure enough.  Knuckle gashed and dripping blood (it was just a flesh wound), I found a lovely volunteer to bandage me up (she also happened to be a nurse, lucky me).  Hopefully not a sign of things to come!

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9:00 rolled around and we all made our way down the steep (slippery) hill to the start line.  I scampered to the back of the pack and found Michelle to give her a kiss and wish her well, then made my way back up through the crowd to the front.  The 25K and 50K start at the same time (can't really call 300 people a "mass start", but you get the idea) and I wanted to make sure I got out quick enough to avoid the crowd as we headed into the single-track.  If you are looking for trail racing advice, that's about all I've got…get in the lead pack and avoid congestion…once the trail narrows you do not want to be stuck behind people that have nowhere to go.  Frustrating for you and frustrating for them too.

A group of about 10 took off and set the pace right from the start.  I had tried to scope out the bib numbers at the start to see who was wearing a 300+ (meaning 50K) as I had no desire to chase the 25K rabbits for very long.  It didn't take long to see the front 5 putting in a bit of a gap on us, and I called back to my buddy Abe (who was doing the 25K race) to let him know that this first 5K stretch was one of the only places on the course where you could book some time as it was pretty open and easy running.  He nodded and took off after the pack.  Shortly afterwards the runner in front of me called back to let me know that he was off the pace of the leaders in case I wanted to chase, but I was quick to let him know that I wasn't interested in running anyone down today.  It was pretty easy to tell who the 50K runners were!

I bridged up to this guy and we chatted for a little while…he had travelled all the way down from Sudbury (about 600km away) because he had heard how great this race was.  We ran for a bit until we hit the aid station at 5K…I just grabbed a quick sip of water and he stopped for a beat or two longer and that was the last I saw of him for the day.

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I made my way across the dam and ducked back into the woods again, beginning the real traily part of the race.  This section was a bit twisty through some pine forest with lots of roots to tiptoe through.  I was finding that I was able to run the road/easy trail sections around a 4:20-4:30/km pace and once I got back into the more technical sections I was down around 4:45-5:00/km…paces I would be very happy to hold.  Coming up on 10K and I saw a runner in front of me that I was reeling in…I recognized his blue shirt (or maybe purple?  Not sure, I'm colourblind #colourblindessdidnotwin) and knew it was Abe.  As I got up behind him I told him not to worry it was only me…nobody was overtaking him.  We started running together and chatted a bit along the way.  He was dealing with some hamstring issues but was holding a really good pace.  We spurred each other on through the next 9 or 10K before Abe eventually had to pull off for a moment to stretch out his wonky hammy on the Thorndale bridge.

Back into the woods for the last 5K of the first loop…last year this was the area that featured an unofficial "Hillbilly" Aid Station (which featured three types of beer…light beer, dark, beer and root beer.  Plus banjos)  This year was a different take with a beach party going on, complete with Bob Marley & Jimmy Buffett tunes and the Jamaican flag.  The guys were decked out in hula skirts and Hawaiian shirts and offered me margaritas, Red Stripe beer and cerveza…I downed a margarita (LOADED with tequila!) with a Red Stripe chaser, then tried my hand at their limbo station, all while some other guy went zipping by saying something about catching them on his second loop.  Jeez man, taking the lead from a guy doing shots and limbo???  Where's the fun in that?!?  I figured I better say goodbye to the Rasta-party-ans and chase this guy down before he got too far ahead of me.  I closed the gap and got on his heels after another kilometre or so and we ran together the last couple kilometres back to the start/finish area and our halfway point.  We chatted briefly about race position and wondering if anyone was out ahead, which neither of us believed was the case…we were fairly certain we were the first two runners.  We cruised into the halfway point and both of us stopped at the feed tables.  He quickly refilled his water bottle while I downed Coke and water and grabbed a couple handfuls of peanut M&M's and ju jubes.  As I was pigging out refueling the other guy was already out building up a lead of nearly 200m…time to chase again.  I took off and right away I felt gross.  I had been running a bit quicker than I knew I should have been when I was running back to halfway with the other fella and now I was feeling it.  I wasn't exactly letting him go at this point, but I wasn't going to burn all my matches trying to stay with him now either.  I still had a long way to go and I had to run my race.  I settled back into a more sustainable pace and was once again running solo.

I made my way through the quicker section of the trail again and as I popped out by the first aid station near the dam I caught a glimpse of the lead runner already heading up the hill, but surprisingly no further ahead than he was when we started our second loop.  he aid station volunteers confirmed we were 1 & 2 and urged me on to go get him, saying I was about 30 seconds back.  I grabbed some goodies at their station and took off again, keeping to my steady pace.  Back into the woods again I saw a couple out walking their dog…as I got closer I realized that it was Ralph, one of my buddies from work.  I'm not sure who was more surprised to see who.  A quick "hey Ralph!" was all I could muster as I trudged onwards.

Eventually I made it to the cottages section where we were back onto some road and coming up to another aid station…I knew it was coming so I downed my second and final Gu gel (Root Beer, yum).  This aid station was great…more Coke & water along with candies, cookies, chips, crackers and watermelon (which I downed in one big bite).  Seriously, when you are racing there is nothing better than watermelon.  Also at the aid station was the lead runner, once again refilling his bottle.  He left just as I was pulling in, but I knew that I was closing the gap.  Once I took off again I decided to try and make up some ground while I could on the faster surface before ducking back into the woods.  It was about a kilometre before we hit the woods again and I pulled up beside him just as we were going in.  I saw him stretching his arms out above his head a few times and asked him how he was feeling.  He replied that his stomach wasn't great and he was having trouble eating, as well as some cramps.  I wished him well and took off…he didn't even try to chase me.

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By now I was 40K in and was just focusing on making the next aid stations.  As I cruised into the next station the volunteers were still putting their finishing touches on for the 50K runners.  She told me I was about 3 minutes earlier than they were expecting people…that's gotta be a good sign!  I refueled with more Coke, water and sport drink as well as some delicious oranges and was back on my way.  I tore down the black diamond hill and noticed my watch beep at 42K…I was crossing the marathon threshold at 3:31.  I was now into uncharted running territory and way past that 30K training run.  I came out on the final stretch of road and took a peek behind me as I was turning back into the woods…you can see back close to 500m from here and there was no one in sight.  The race was mine to lose, I just had to make sure I didn't do anything stupid.

The next aid station was the unofficial beach party again and all I wanted was water.  I asked the Rasta-party-ans if they had anything non-alcoholic and one of them said, "sure, there's plenty of water down that hill…in the lake".  So Red Stripe it was!  No limbo this time and for the first time ever at their station nobody passed me!  I thanked the guys and headed off towards the final aid station up at the top of the hill.  By now I was wondering if I would see Michelle and Nancy and sure enough as I was just about up the hill I could hear Michelle's voice as she was leaving the aid station, saying something about not letting her husband pass her.  One last Coke, Ginger Ale, water fill up for me at Jeremy's aid station and then off to the finish line.  I came up behind Michelle and Nancy shortly after and they cheered me on as I passed them…I still think Michelle was trying to block me but she'll deny it ;)  There were actually quite a few 25K runners still out finishing their races and they all cheered me on as I went by and I tried my best to encourage them as well, but truth be told I was a little grumpy and tired at that point…the energy level just wasn't there.

I emerged from the woods and made the final 2K run to the finish.  Tom was there to cheer me on as he was heading out to cheer in Nancy and Michelle, and at the finish line there was a decent sized crowd gathered to cheer me in.  I crossed the finish line with a winning time of 4:11:34.  I knew the guys at the finish line handing out medals too and got mine from Kevin, which was kind of a nice touch.  I found a comfy picnic table to sit at and waited for Michelle to finish.  I gave her a big cheer as she crossed the line to complete her first trail race.

We were unfortunately unable to stick around for the amazing post-race food spread and awards ceremony, but I did get hooked up with some pretty sweet swag for my win.  I walked away with a $50 gift card for MEC, and I will soon have a new custom embroidered Columbia Sportswear jacket as well as a new pair of Montrail shoes.  Not bad at all!

Big thanks go out to the organizers and all of the amazing volunteers on this one…without you the race doesn't happen.  Vulture Bait is definitely on the must-do list if you are looking for a trail run here in Southwestern Ontario, highly recommended!  Cheers for reading folks :)

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

2016 MSC Lakeside Olympic Triathlon Recap

Posted by CheapRunnerMike

Just three weeks ago I completed Ironman Mont Tremblant, but there was still work to do with one last race on my triathlon calendar.  My final triathlon of the year was the Olympic race at Lakeside, which is relatively local as it is just east of London.  Lakeside has a Sprint race as well as Kids races on Saturday and then on Sunday there is the Olympic along with a Give it a Tri.  MultiSport Canada runs season long series and I needed one more race to qualify for the Olympic+ series…they take your top 3 results in races that are Olympic distance or longer and crown age group champions at the end of the season.  With a decent result I would be in good shape to win the series for my age group so I decided to sign up and give it a shot despite the heavy post-Ironman legs.  Training was somewhat non-existent leading up to the race as I only had a couple of swims and just one bike ride, but I was getting out running a bit more than I had been during the Ironman training (something that has made me happy…I’ve been feeling disconnected from running for a while and it feels ‘right’ to be back at it).  This race was going to be interesting, I really didn’t know what to expect going into it.

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I arrived at nice and early with plenty of time to get a great spot to rack my bike, set up my transition and say hi and catch up with friends.  It was a very cool morning (only 15º), something we haven’t had in a long time in these parts.  I chatted with one of the officials and he commented that wetsuits would probably not be allowed as the water temperature the day before for the Sprint race was 28º.  I was hoping that I could wear the suit with the air temps being so low, but I wasn’t worried if they weren’t allowed…I have enough confidence in my swim that I knew I would be fine.  Non-wetsuit might even be an advantage for me.

Swim - 1500m
24:21 (1:37/100m), 1st AG

The wetsuit call was made and to most people’s relief, they allowed them.  I headed down to the beach to get a quick warmup in and to scope out the two-loop swim course.  I was in the first wave and we took off at 10:00.  I positioned myself all the way to the far left and went out hard.  It wasn’t long and I had some nice clean water to work with and by the first turn I could see that I was up at the front with about 7 or 8 other guys.  The swim at Lakeside is fairly weedy, something a lot of people complain about, but I actually liked having the weeds just below my fingertips…they were a good reminder to maintain my form (or else I would get a handful of the stuff) and as a bonus it made me feel speedy as I saw the weeds zip by below me.  We made the second turn to head back towards shore and I decided to close the gap on the guy right ahead of me.  A few good strong pulls and I was on his feet, allowing me to catch my breath and settle in again.  I always find it hard to gauge my effort when I’m riding someone’s wake in the swim, but this felt way too easy.  I decided to pop out and go around him and the effort was minimal…good decision as he was slowing down.  I made the turn through the start line to begin my second loop and I  swam the rest of the time all on my own.  There were still a few guys ahead of me but they remained just out of reach.  My hands started grabbing sand and I popped up to run it in…one of my better swims of the year as I was 5th out of the water.

2016 MultiSport Lakeside Triathlon (Sunday)

Bike – 40K
1:07:26 (35.6kph), 6th AG

T1 was my typical 1:04…I always seem to be right around the 1 minute mark.  I set out to take on the 40K bike course, complete with wind and rolling hills.  Right from the start I could tell my legs really weren’t feeling it.  I wasn’t ‘slow’, but they just didn’t feel right.  I pushed with what I had and kept the cadence high and managed to hold off the charging pack behind me through the first 10K.  After we turned north I started to feel the wind a bit.  It wasn’t too bad as there were some treed sections that blocked it and I just tucked in a bit tighter to try to minimize the impact.  A couple of guys rode past but I was still holding my own.  We turned east and were able to get a bit of a push from the wind, but the wind wasn’t able to help me when my crank decided it didn’t want to turn anymore.  I tried to back pedal in an attempt to free it up to no avail so I had to come to a stop and get off the bike.  That’s a get-off-the-bike issue two races in a row now after never having a problem before.  I thought maybe I had dropped the chain and it was stuck but that wasn’t the case…figuring that it was probably bearings I gave the bottom bracket a bit of a knock to try and free things up and that seemed to get things moving again.  A couple guys zipped by me as I was going through my troubleshooting and looking back at my ride details it cost me a little over a minute.  Again though, I stuck to my seven year old’s mantra…”You get what you get and you don’t get upset.”  I didn’t let it bother me as it was out of my hands at that point, but I guess I’ll be looking at that bottom bracket in the near future.  I was able to catch and pass the two guys that went by me but the bigger pack was now a minute closer and a few of the stronger cyclists were able to get me (I’m looking at you Zindine!).  I kept pushing with what I had but between the mechanical and tired bike legs I knew it just wasn’t my day.  I made the turn back towards Lakeside and took on the rollers, which seemed like mole hills after Tremblant.  Back into transition, but not before one more bike gaffe…as I went to slip my left foot out of my shoe I ended up pulling my shoe right off the pedal.  I managed to get it back clipped in and dismounted well enough, but the shoe must not have been quite in as it went flying across the road once I crossed the dismount line.  I yelled back and asked a volunteer to get it off the road for me and they obliged, even tossing it over the fence to me at my rack during transition.  Thanks volunteer!

2016 MultiSport Lakeside Triathlon (Sunday)

Run - 10K
41:47 (4:10/km), 2nd AG

The temperature was warming up a bit and the sun was shining…really great conditions for a nice 10K run.  Judging by the empty racks in T2, I knew I was still up towards the front of the pack.  I took off for the two-loop run and started picking of relay runners and duathletes right away.  The run here is great as it is on a nice dirt road…really easy to run on.  There are a few potholes to look out for but I’d rather that than running on hot, hard pavement.  Just before I hit the first turnaround I saw Zin coming towards me from the other direction…he yelled something at me basically saying he wanted me to try and catch him.  The volunteers at the water station got a kick out of it and it gave me a bit of motivation.  I dug in a bit and picked up the pace.  Heading back to the start turnaround I saw teammate John coming (easy to spot each other in the Team Sheri jerseys) and we nailed a picture-perfect high five.  He’s in his first year of racing and looked great, getting better every time out.  I hit the start/finish turnaround and set out for lap number two.  My legs were really feeling good now and I was finding my groove.  It helped that there were a lot of other people on the course which gave me motivation…I was cheering people on as I went by and feeding off of the energy they were putting out.  I made the last turn and began the run back to the finish.  I was picking off plenty of people now and moved past Ryan Van Praet and his guide Steve Moore.  Ryan is a blind triathlete who is training for Ironman Florida this fall…it is so cool getting to race with him, what an inspiration.  He is tethered on both the swim and the run to his guide and they ride a tandem tri bike like a couple of bosses.  They went by my like I was standing still on the bike and took home the fastest bike split of the race.  He looks like he’s going to do great at IMFL!  Next up was the eventual race winner Jim Sunners…Jim is in his 50’s and shames the best of us with his fitness.  Very impressive.  I went past Jim with less than a kilometre to go (he started in a later wave than I did) and gave him a cheer…he just yelled something about how I better not be on my last loop :)  I came up to the turnaround to cheers from some familiar faces in Loe and Scott, then headed down the chute to finish up the day.  I crossed the line in 2:15:37, which was good enough for 8th overall and 1st in my age group.

2016 MultiSport Lakeside Triathlon (Sunday)

With the age group win I was assured of enough points to win the series as well, so I had achieved the goal I set out for myself.  It was a great season and I thoroughly enjoyed it, with podiums in every race not named Ironman Mont Tremblant.  Thanks to everyone for their support this year and thanks to MultiSport Canada for hosting such a great series right here in our own backyard…we are so lucky to have local races all summer!  Thanks for reading, cheers!

2016 MultiSport Lakeside Triathlon (Sunday)

Sunday, August 28, 2016

I am IRONMAN! 2016 Ironman Mont Tremblant Recap

Posted by CheapRunnerMike

They are what get us out the door when all we want is to sit on the couch and relax.  What gets us to the pool for another hour session while your buddies are going to grab lunch.  What pushes us through that last 10K up at the cottage when you know your family and a cold beer is just a moment away if you decide to quit right here and now.  They are our goals.  The things we decide months in advance are important to us, for one reason or another.  To show others what we can do, to show OURSELVES what we can do.  To see just how far I can push this body of mine.  See if I will crack, either physically or mentally, or if I can overcome and reach that goal that I have put so much importance on.  I set a lot of goals for myself, particularly in sport, and this year there was no bigger goal for me than Ironman.

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I signed up for Ironman Mont Tremblant way back in October of 2015.  I had known for a while that I wanted to do one, but I had always told myself that I would wait until I was 40.  While out on a trail run the idea kept bouncing around my head that my fitness was good enough and with the kids getting older I was able to manipulate my schedule in such a way that I could get in the necessary training.  I knew I had the Boston Marathon to look forward to training for in April, so I decided to call Coach Sheri Fraser to see how realistic it would be to train for both Boston and my first Ironman at the same time.  She assured me that I could do it and after discussing my Ironman idea with Michelle I took the plunge and signed myself up.

The training was long and arduous, officially beginning on February 1, but unofficially building fitness in the pool, on the bike trainer and on the run all through the winter.  No offseason.  It was worth it though as I had a great marathon training block capped by a solid showing on a very tough day in Boston and age group podiums (and even a second overall) in all of my triathlons leading up to the big day in Quebec.  I had done the training under the watchful eye of a great coach and I just had to trust that she knew what she was doing and the results would be there on race day.

We made the 8 hour drive to Mont Tremblant on the Thursday before race day and checked into our condo without any issues.  There was Michelle and the kids, my Mum and Dad, and my sister Emily along with her husband Jon and their two kids…a full house.  My brother Dave even came up from Montreal for the night on Friday.  We took it pretty easy leading up to race day on Sunday, only hitting the Ironman Village when necessary and staying off my feet as much as I could.  I was able to get over to see Coach Sheri and a bunch of my teammates for some last minute advice as well as an easy prerace ride of the toughest part of the bike course, the out and back hills on Chemin Duplessis.  I also hit Lac Tremblant a couple of times to get some easy swimming in, and I took advantage of the Coffee Barge that was out in the lake serving triathletes free espresso…what a treat!  Before long it was Saturday night and the eve of the race was upon us…off to bed to try and get some sleep at 8:30.

The alarm broke my slumber at 3:45 and I headed downstairs to grab a cup of coffee and a bagel with peanut butter.  Michelle was up shortly after and the two of us headed across the street to catch the shuttle to the Ironman Village.  We arrived on site shortly after 5am and I checked on my bike, pumping the tires and loading my food and drinks, then did a last minute check of my swim-to-bike and bike-to-run bags before getting in line for body marking.  As soon as I peeled off my London Triathlon Club sweatshirt to reveal my Team Sheri tye dye jersey I had a pair of hands grab me by the shoulders from behind…I turned around and it was Nick, one of my teammates that I had just met a couple nights earlier at Sheri’s place.  We chatted while we waited in line and wished each other luck.  After getting marked up I met up with Michelle and we began the walk down to the beach.  As the roads merged Michelle spotted my Mum and Dad, my sister and Kennedy and Jackson…they had taken a shuttle to come watch the start and it was great to see them before things got started.  We waited around at the beach for a bit and there were some bagpipers playing some music followed by a couple of welcome speeches and the National Anthem, then a real treat as we had a flyover from a CF-18…wow!  The noise was incredible and people were really starting to get pumped up.

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I got my wetsuit on and hopped into the water for a quick warmup swim and then got myself situated in the sea of lime green swim caps that made up the Men’s 35-39 age group.  The pro men kicked the race off at 6:35, followed by the pro women and then Men 18-34.  We were up at 6:45.  I had met up with my buddy Matt, who I’ve trained with all summer at Splash n Dash, and we chatted a bit and he gave me some tips for the mass start…this was his 4th or 5th Ironman so I welcomed the advice.  We lined up together as far to the right as we could and when the horn went off I held his feet for all of 10 seconds…man there were a lot of people!

Swim – 3.8K (2.4 miles)
1:05:44 (1:43/100m), 25/257 AG

A 3800m swim, 180K bike and a full 42.2K marathon loomed before me.  I stood at the edge of the beach waiting for the day to start and I realized I wasn’t even nervous.  I had a healthy respect for the distance and the task at hand, but nerves didn’t come into play.  I was ready.  I dove into the cool waters and started to swim.  I focused on my stroke, on my breathing, the roll of my body.  “Where is Matt?”, I wondered.  Before long that question was answered as I swam up on him.  I tucked in beside him for a little bit and noticed that I was pulling ahead.  I took this as a good sign as I consider us fairly even in the water, giving him a slight edge.  I wondered if I was swimming too hard but it felt easy…that was what counted right now.  In no time I was onto the blue caps from the wave before us.  I had already closed the 3 minute gap on them and was now dealing with a lot of traffic.  I kept Matt’s advice and stayed off to the side, finding what clean water I could.  I came up on some feet now and then but there was no one going fast enough for me to utilize their draft.

As I approached the halfway point of the swim I noticed that the waves were starting to roll pretty good…the wind was at our backs from the south and it was picking up.  I was fighting the waves a bit but knew it was going to be a tough choppy swim on the way back.  Sure enough as I made the turn to swim the short across portion of the out across and back swim I felt the waves slamming me on my right hand side (the side I like to sight from).  Fortunately there were only a couple of buoys to pass before turning to head to the finish, but heading to the finish meant shipping directly into the chop.  I was certainly aware of it but I didn’t let it bother me too much…I just kept swimming while thinking about my form.  Body roll.  Big arms.  Strong pull.  At the awards ceremony the following day, women’s winner Mary-Beth Ellis said that the swim was as rough as any ocean swim she has had to compete in.  Again, I didn’t think it was that bad…not easy but not ocean waves by any means.  I was just cruising along and felt really good…I’ll often get bored and zone out during the swim in longer races but I was focused the entire time on this day, just being aware of what my body was doing and making sure I maintained good form.  Coach Sheri was definitely in my ear.

I hit the shallow waters and soon enough my stroke started to grab sand so I popped up out of the water and started peeling my wetsuit down to my waist.  I remembered Sheri’s tip about the wetsuit strippers and ran past the first ones and all the way to the last bunch who were standing around just waiting for people.  I plopped to my bum and the two volunteers ripped the suit off my legs.  I said Merci Beaucoup and ran off with my suit in hand…it was nearly 500m of running along the red carpet to the change tent.  I ran quickly and passed a bunch of lollygaggers along the way, then grabbed my swim-to-bike bag and hit the change room.  I made short work of my helmet and sunglasses, then tossed my wetsuit, swim cap and goggles in the bag before handing it off to a volunteer and running another 300m through transition, bike shoes in hand, to find my bike on its rack.  I had a great spot near the bike exit and only a couple of spots in from the end.  I slipped my shoes on and ran to the mount line, ready for the next stage of the day.

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Bike – 180K (112 miles)
5:31:04 (32.6kph), 26/257 AG

The bike was going to be dicey.  Rain was in the forecast and the dark skies looked ominous.  The course had no shortage of hills with 1800m/6000’ worth of climbing.  My longest ride in preparation for the day was just over 180K, so I knew I could do the distance, but there just aren’t hills like this where I live, and I hadn’t been out at all this year in the rain…it has been an extremely dry summer in Southwestern Ontario.  I wanted to go out strong on the first 90K loop and hit the hills with what I could and then take it easier on the second to make sure my legs weren’t cooked for the run.

I jumped on the bike and took off from transition…Michelle and the family were there at the mount line to cheer me on and shortly after I saw Sheri as well, who informed me I was the first one (of our group) out on the bike.  I settled into an easy cadence around 100rpm and began to tackle the course.  We rode along the road out of the Village towards the highway, about a 15K trek.  The highway is divided and the entire Northbound side was shut down for the race with all of the vehicle traffic routed across the median in the Southbound lanes.  Never have I been fortunate enough to ride a bike course that is completely shut down to vehicular traffic like this was, such a treat.  On top of the traffic-free course, all of the roads were pristine…beautiful, smooth asphalt the entire ride.

As I was spinning away along the highway the rain started.  At first I wasn’t sure, but it looked like some raindrop spots were on the road ahead of me.  It didn’t take long to confirm the rain as it started pattering down on my helmet…plop plop plop, just like the sound of rain while you’re in a tent.  I knew it was coming though so it didn’t phase me…just roll with it and take the day as it comes, not much else you can do.  I continued to ride hard in the wet conditions and made it out to the first turnaround on the highway.  As I made the turn I was greeted by a blast of headwind accompanied by stinging rain in my face.  The wind out of the south was strong, with gusts reaching 40kph.  I reached the top of the first hill heading south on the highway and was able to grab water, Gatorade and a banana half, discarding my empty bottles in the hockey nets provided…a fun mini-game trying to score on the volunteers manning the nets with their hockey sticks.  I was drinking constantly and taking in plenty of calories courtesy of broken up pieces of bagels and Clif Bars as well as salted mini potatoes.  Adding in the bananas at aid stations as well as the Gatorade and I was able to average between 200-250 calories per hour, supplemented with an eLoad Zone Cap salt tab once an hour.  Nutrition was always going to be a wildcard on this day, but I had trained with this strategy and it had worked so there was no reason to fear any GI issues on the day.

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I continued up the hills on the highway and heard a rider come buzzing up behind saying I was looking good…it was Scott, one of my teammates.  He cruised by on his way and I just kept spinning quick and easy up the highway.  Eventually we pulled off of the highway and made the quick skip into town.  The crowds were out lining the streets cheering us all on, such a great morale boost!  After a quick climb up to downtown we turned and headed back on the return road towards transition.  There were a couple of climbs going back up Montée Ryan and going up the second of them I saw Scott up ahead of me.  I was climbing well and making up ground on people at every hill we came to.  I made a rookie mistake on the hill though and shifted from the big ring up front to my small ring and dropped the chain.  D’oh!  Luckily I was able to quickly get unclipped and yell out to those behind me that I was stopping and managed to stay upright…would have been very easy to fall over on an incline like that.  Again I stuck to the theme of my day and didn’t let it get to me…no panic, just get the chain back on and grind my way up the rest of the hill from a dead stop.  As Jackson would say, “You get what you get, and you don’t get upset.”  I didn’t dwell on the chain drop, but I did worry a bit as I knew the tough Chemin Duplessis hills were only a few minutes away and I was going to need that small ring up front.  I went through it in my head, making sure to shift carefully and not just slam the shifter down hard all the way, and also getting into the small ring long before the last minute.

I zoomed past transition to complete the last 16K of the first loop, the dreaded Chemin Duplessis out and back.  A challenging section with a 125m climb out and then a fast downhill back to transition…and it was just bucketing rain by now.  Spectators lined both sides of the road in this section encouraging everyone up the hills with their shouts of “Allez!  Allez!  Allez!”  I was able to pick out the family and Sheri along the route here as well, always a nice boost to see familiar faces.  I spotted Scott on one of the first hills on the way up and scooted past him…I really enjoy climbing and just loved this section of the ride (at least this first time!).  I was able to get in and out of my small chainring without issue, just being aware of what I was doing and not being stupid with my shifting.  After ascending the final hill I made the turn at the top and zoomed down the hill towards the halfway 90K turnaround.  I was on the brakes and still hitting speeds of 60kph in the pouring rain.  I just made sure to be aware of those around me and was careful to hold my line.  I heard of a couple of really nasty accidents that occurred on this stretch after the race and honestly can’t say that I was surprised.  The course itself wasn’t dangerous, even under the conditions, but there are a lot of athletes that managed to make it dangerous, for themselves and others, simply by not using their common sense.

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I hit the halfway point in 2:38, a time I was more than happy with.  The legs still felt really good but I made sure to start taking it a bit easier for the second loop.  I spun easier, going one gear easier than “easy”.  I had a few guys still go flying by me but I was still able to pass a good number of riders, many of whom were out on their first loop.  The rain continued to teem down on us and I was absolutely drenched.  I made the decision to not wear socks on the bike leg and I believe it was the right choice…I couldn’t imagine how awful they would have felt in this rain.  My bike was getting to be unhappy with all of the water and was starting to make some creaking noises, especially on the hills, and the shifting was nowhere near as crisp as it was to start with.  After the race Sheri picked up my bike for me and noticed that my rear tire was actually rubbing on the cutout on my seat tube…I was working harder than I needed to with every pedal stroke.  My chain was also covered in little rust spots afterwards despite having just lubed it.  I could barely see at times as my glasses were so wet, coupled with the rain and road spray.  Plenty of excuses but none of these things put me off during the ride…I just kept pedalling, drinking and eating.  My food was in a gross, sorry state towards the end due to all the water as well…my bagels were disgusting, just a soggy mess of yuck, and my potatoes were now mashed potatoes.  I knew I had to keep taking in the calories though, so I just made a scoop with my hand and dug right in.

An uneventful second loop and I eventually made it back to the Duplessis out and back.  I decided before I got there that I wouldn’t attack the hills in the same manner as I had the first time, I was just going to drop into the small ring right away and take every hill a bit easier.  I jumped back up to the big ring for any descents, but the strategy worked well.  On one of the larger climbs I saw a volunteer out in the middle of the road telling the riders coming down the hill to slow down, go easy and get on their brakes.  It turns out this was the Race Director himself and he was out there because of a very bad crash that had occurred earlier.  I made sure to be careful as I came down the hill and I nodded when he said “Easy easy”, to which he gave me a thumbs and said, “Yes!  I like it!!”  I made it safely to the bottom of the hills and turned into T2, jumping off my bike at the line and handing the bike off to a volunteer, then running to grab my bike-to-run bag in the change tent.  Thank goodness those bags were in the tent to stay dry!  Swim done, bike done, just a marathon to go! 

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Run – 42.2K (26.2 miles)
3:57:12 (5:37/km), 29/257 AG

The rain continued as I set out on my run.  I was hoping to hold my pace around 5:00/km (8:00/mile) and I could look to pick it up a bit in the last 10K if I had anything left to give (spoiler alert:  I didn’t).  I run past the cheers of the family, who were happy to see me looking happy and able to wave after the long bike ride.  It didn’t take me too long to find a friend on the run as a young guy named Trevor came up from behind me and asked what pace I was running…he must have liked my answer because we ran together through the 5K or so.  He also commented that he was a fan of my pink sparkle visor…between the tye dye jersey and pink sparkle visor I always get plenty of comments out on the run.  I was hitting every aid station out there, grabbing water and dumping it over my head (it was still raining, but it was sooooo humid!), or grabbing Coke and maybe a banana.  I did end up having to use the port-a-potty at one point as the pressure was building up inside of me to the point that it was painful.  I jumped in and started to relieve the pressure and there were immediately rumblings of another kind (TMI, sorry).  In total I lost almost 3 minutes for the two bathroom stops, but I likely saved that time and more in comfort so it was worth it.  This run course was two loops and was easy to break up.  The first 5K was on the hilly road out to the town of Mont Tremblant, and from there we turned onto a flatter, sheltered path called ‘Le P’tit Train du Nord’, translated ‘the little train of the North’, which we took for another 5K before turning around and heading back on the same path to the finish area.  It is an old railway that has been paved over to create a 200km bike path heading north from Montreal.  It is tree-lined on both sides providing excellent cover from the sun, but on this day all that cover did was hold the humidity. 

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I lost Trevor for a little bit but he caught back up to me and then took off ahead on his own…we ended up leapfrogging each other throughout the entire run leg, finishing within about a minute and a half of each other.  It’s always great to have someone to run with and keep you honest and pushing on.  I was able to hold my pace where I wanted it until just before the halfway point.  It was all too much though and I was getting beat.  I had just run the hilly section for 5K back to the finish area, and unlike the first time running the hills, I had to turn right around and run them again.  My legs were gassed and I decided to let myself walk two of the hills, but that was it.  Trevor came up from behind me again and gave a few words of encouragement and I got back at it.  I was also buoyed on the run by seeing some friendly faces out on the course…I was just a little ways ahead of both Scott and Matt so I saw them at the turnarounds, and another buddy doing the race, Zindine, wasn’t too far back either.  There were other Sheri shirts on course and we all cheered each other on, and I saw another teammate, Mary-Elizabeth (also doing her first Ironman) rocking her awesome Smashfest kit..I think we even got a high-five (not 100% sure, I may be making that up!).

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I was struggling again through the flatter railpath section, and as I hit the 30K mark just before the railpath turnaround I let myself walk one more time, this time for 100m (which became 150m) and then no more.  I told myself that I had to run the rest of the railpath and then I would deal with the last 5K of hills.  I was leaning towards switching to a run-walk-run once I got back there, but I was feeling alright (enough) that I decided to keep running.  Around that point I heard someone unexpectedly call out my name and it was Zindine’s wife Irina…always a boost when you have an encouraging spectator and she was in the perfect spot for me there.  I decided to ditch the run-walk and went with plan B…let myself walk two more hills.  I sorta realized this plan as I was already about halfway up a longish hill, and I didn’t want to waste my walk break on half of a hill, so I just kept plowing my way up the hill.  Before I knew it there was another hill, but I decided it was too short to waste a walk on.  This game continued and soon enough I was nearing the end of the run and still hadn’t taken a walk break.  My goal going into the day was to run the marathon in under 4 hours and I was going to be close to meeting that goal, so I just decided to scrap any idea of walking and run this thing home.  I made my way up the last big hill and turned into the pedestrian village for the final 500m downhill stretch to the finish line.  I was sprinting (ya right…) as hard as I could, smelling the finish line just around the corner.  I came to the split for the finish chute/lap two and I gladly kept left this time.  The smile on my face must have been huge…I was slapping the hands of spectators down the chute and started to slow down to savour the moment.  I made the final bend and saw the finish arch before me…I looked for Michelle and the family but it was just a sea of people and excitement down there.  I heard my name called out, “Mike Cooke of London Ontario…YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!”  I stopped before the finish line and turned in a big circle to the crowd around me, clapping my hands, blowing kisses and finally raising my arms to cross the line.  I had done it, completing the race on a really tough day in a very respectable 10:40:48, good for 29th in my age group and 180th out of 2500 or so competitors.  Pretty decent debut, super happy with it.  My goal was to finish in under 11 hours and I was well within the goal, despite rain on my parade.

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After crossing I was ushered to the food tent where I got some food in me and a space blanket to warm me up…the chill set in quickly.  There was delicious chicken noodle soup which was full of everything I needed, and the food that sealed the deal was from the food truck handing out poutine…yum!  I bounced out of the food tent feeling really good (and with a coffee in hand!) and met up with the whole family right away.  Many hugs and kisses, the best reward for the day.

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We headed back to the condo where I was able to enjoy a nice hot bath in the Jacuzzi and then shower off before grabbing a beer and a couple slices of pizza.  Michelle and I then hopped in the Jeep and drove back down to the finish to cheer in the last athletes of the day until midnight.  It was an amazing scene and something that we were both thrilled to be a part of.  We even saw one of my teammates, Colm, and his wife Joanne, so we called them up to the bleachers to cheer with us.  Colm won his age group (70 years old!  He’s a beast.) and is heading to the World Championships in Hawaii…what an inspiration!  We wrapped up at the finish and headed back home…it was finally time to put my head down and call it a day.

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If you made it this far in this post I think you are also worthy of the title ‘Ironman’…seriously, I went on long enough, right?  So thanks for reading and most of all thanks to my family who gave me the support I needed throughout the year leading up to this race.  Without their sacrifices I would never be able to do this…so a huge thanks to you guys from the bottom of my heart.

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