This past weekend in Niagara Falls I put a bow on my 2015 triathlon season. I had decided to end the year with a bang and signed up for the Barrelman half iron-distance race…way back in March when I registered I had every intention of this being my goal race for the year. As the race drew closer however, instead of getting excited about racing I was just excited to be done with racing for the year. It has been a long season, and my last few races have been a bit of a disappointment for me as I have suffered out on the run (which should be my strongest discipline).
The race was set to take place on Sunday, starting in Welland and ending up down in Niagara Falls. Michelle, the kids and I headed down to Welland on Saturday to take care of kit pickup, racking my bike in T1 (where it would stay overnight with a tarp over it since the weather was calling for rain…lots of rain) and attending the athlete's briefing. Everything went smooth enough but the rain did end up coming in while we were there…it was bucketing out. Better to get it out of the way though and not have to worry about racing in the rain. I ran into quite a few people I knew from the London Tri Club and just from around the tri scene, so it was nice to catch up a bit and wish everyone good luck. After leaving we drove the bike course into Niagara Falls, checked into our hotel and then went to do what we do best…carb load.
Sunday morning came and it was just perfect outside…sunny and cool, amazing racing conditions. It was set to warm up to around 20ºC as the day went on, so certainly wouldn't have to worry about it being a scorcher out there on the bike and run. We jumped in the Jeep and were at the swim start at the Welland International Flatwater Centre by 8:15…plenty of time before my wave went off at 9:10. The venue itself was great…it is at the end of the Welland recreational canal and is where they hold all kinds of rowing events, including the recent Panam Games. There are stands on the banks for spectators and they were able to enjoy great views. I finished setting up my transition area, kissed Michelle and the kids and went down to get a bit of a warmup swim in. I was able to hang out for a bit before the start with some of the ladies from the Tri Club (Trudie, Mary Elizabeth and Carol), always nice having some company to help keep the nerves at bay.
Swim - 2000m
The water was perfect…cool, clear and flat. The canal is a great place to swim, so easy to sight. There were orange markers along the route and green tetrahedrons for the turns. On top of that there were markers almost the entire way out and back used for rowing, so it was super easy to stay in a straight line. I wasn't able to find any fast feet around me so I ducked out into some cleaner water and just plowed along on my own. There was a lot of congestion as we were in one of the last waves, so I was coming up behind a lot of slower swimmers. I've been fortunate in the races I've done this year to be in the first or second wave every time, so it was just my turn to be near the back. I knew this would happen going in so I just didn't let it bother me.
The swim went great though, I was really happy with it. No issues with leaky goggles or getting kicked and pulled by other swimmers…just a nice swim. I had been hoping to do the swim in 35-36 minutes, so was happy to pop out of the water at 34. A quick run in front of the stands full of cheering spectators then up a concrete stairway to T1, followed by balling up my wetsuit, goggles and swim cap to throw in my wetsuit bag (as T1 was in Welland and T2 was all the way in Niagara Falls). In and out of T1 in 1:47 including the run up, not too bad.
Bike - 89K
As I ran up to the mount line coming out of T1 there was a crowd of people that had basically stopped in their tracks to get on their bikes…I was able to find just enough room to scoot between them and then leap onto my bike to get going. Out onto the bike course things were just as busy for quite a while…lots of slower riders from the earlier waves to navigate around. We set out to the west from Welland where we would do an out, then loop down to the shore of Lake Erie and back to Welland, then out east to Niagara Falls. The 25K out portion down to Lake Erie had a nice tailwind, but that meant the last 65K of the ride would be into a headwind. I used the tailwind as best I could to really get going and then planned on just maintaining a strong pace with a fast cadence for the duration of the ride. I kept my cadence over 100 for the entire ride (12 avg), so I was never really pushing too hard. The course itself is very flat…my Garmin only showed 94m of elevation gain on the bike over 90K, compared to 114m on the 21.1K run. I actually prefer some hills on the course as I am light enough that I end up passing a lot of people on climbs and can use the descents to pick up speed…a flat course you just end up pushing the entire ride.
I was able to fuel well on the bike, taking in a full bottle of Gatorade, another bottle of water, a Clif bar and a couple of Louis Garneau gels. I knew I was pretty well hydrated as I actually needed to pee towards the end of the ride. The only anxious moment I had on the ride came right at the 10K point when I passed another athlete. I called out "on your left" as I always do to make sure he knew I was there. I gave him plenty of room and after pulling back in front of him I heard him yell "Oh shit!" followed by a crash as he rode right into the 10K marker sign. I was already a ways up the road and didn't see it happen, only heard it. The bike lane might not be the best place to set up the distance markers (basically a little sandwich-board type sign if you haven't seen them before), but also a reminder that you need to pay attention at all times and keep your head in the game. One of the pros I know was actually leading the race on the bike and rode right into a parked police car at a T-intersection. He crashed hard and his bike went flying…his day was done but thankfully he is doing okay. I came upon the scene not too long after and the ambulance had just finished loading up. I didn't know what had happened, nor did I know it was someone I knew in there, but it is always unsettling to see that on the course.
It was a bit of a long transition in T2…having not really seen the area until I got in there I only knew roughly where my rack was. I found it easily enough (luckily I ran on the correct side of the rack) and my bike-to-run bag was waiting for me with my shoes and visor. I always race in my New Balance 1400 flats, but this past week I decided that with the run being a half marathon I would go with something just a little more comfortable in my Saucony Kinvaras. The Kinvara is pretty much my everyday training shoe and the shoe I wear for marathons so I wasn't at all concerned about running the last leg of the triathlon in them. Once I had my shoes on it was another long run to the end of transition and I was in and out in 1:42.
Despite my last few runs being slower than I had hoped, I had come off the bike with my legs feeling good for all of them. My problem was just that I would tire out really quickly, which I figured had a lot to do with the heat but I couldn't say for sure. I wouldn't be able to use the heat as an excuse today though because the temperature was perfect. I took off with legs that felt good despite having just rode 90K and I saw my family almost right away when I hit the run course. High fives all around and I was off for the first of two loops. We ran along the river for a little bit before ducking into Dufferin Islands Park. We had a little out and back in there before heading up a big hill past Marineland and along Portage Road towards Casino Niagara. Heading up Portage we could feel the mist from the Horseshoe Falls and it was certainly a welcome addition to the run. I was going along at a good pace, but I kept telling myself to slow it down and not burn up those matches too soon. I was trying to keep my pace around 4:30, but the first couple kilometres were a touch quick (4:06, 4:07). The climbing helped bring my pace into check and I was able to settle into a good groove between 4:15-4:25 for quite a while.
Once we finished climbing the hill on Portage we ducked onto a public walkway the goes behind the Casino. There were lots of people out walking back there but the race had enough volunteers around to make sure no one was getting in the way of the runners. I saw a mother with her two little girls sitting on a bench watching us and gave one of the girls a little wave…she smiled and waved back happy to be a part of the action. When I came by on my second loop they were still there and she started shouting "Mommy! I remember him!" as she jumped up and waved at me…made my day .
As we exited the pathway we had to descend a flight of stairs to get back to the street…there was a short set of three or four stairs up and then the long flight down. The volunteer was yelling out "up the stairs then down the stairs" and I couldn't help but sing out loud (I got a few looks…)
Wee Willie Winkie, running thru the toon,
Up the stairs, down the stairs, in his nightgoon
Rappin' at the windaes, tappin' at the locks,
Are all the bhoys and ghirls in bed? For now it's 8 o'clock
My Mum would be proud. I got to the bottom of the stairs and then it was a massive downhill…nearly 100 feet in just 200m. Quite the quad burner after the long incline. Then it was onto the Niagara Parkway with the Falls right beside us…hard to explain in words what an awesome feeling it is to run past the Falls. You can't help but appreciate the power and the beauty and it inspires you to push on (which was helpful because it was immediately back to a long incline). I got back to Kingsbridge Park where the finish was and saw the family again as I set out for loop number two. More cheers and high fives to fill up my tank for the final push. I was at 45:37 for the first half of my run and I saw that my overall time was only 3:57:xx…I only had two goals coming into the race, one being to finish with a decent run and not feel like a piece of garbage, and the second being to go sub 5-hours. If I could manage the first goal then the second was a virtual lock. Knowing this helped me push through the second loopp even as it started to get tough around 14K. There were a couple times towards the end where I contemplated a little walk break through a water station but I pushed those thoughts out of my mind. There wasn't another race on the calendar for me to save myself for and there wouldn't be a chance for redemption. I was going to push through to the end with everything I had. As I ran past the 20K marker I switched my watch over to just see total time…I wasn't only going to break 5 hours, but I was going to be under 4:50. I dug deep to pull out whatever was left in my legs and ran that last kilometre hard…I saw Michelle and the kids as I came down the finishing chute and I slowed up to just enjoy the moment. One of my running buddies just went sub-3 on her marathon last week to net a massive PR and she had one of the best finishing pics I've ever seen…she had a huge smile on her face as she fist-pumped her way across the line. I guess she was my inspiration as I was punching the air as I came across the line in 4:47:21 (although I also seem to be sticking my tongue out for some reason??)
I had smashed my goals, my expectations and my previous best effort. I was thrilled with my result and I felt great in the process. I collected my finisher's medal and hat then went over to enjoy the moment with my family.
4:47:21, 36/496 OA, 9/43 AG
Multisport Canada put on a great event as always and this is one of those races that people will keep coming back to. It is a fantastic event with a beautiful course and easily the best swim venue I have ever raced at with the Flatwater Centre. John Salt and his team deserve heaps of praise and this event will only continue to grow year over year. Thanks to John, his team and all of the volunteers that made this such a wonderful event.
Thanks as well to my family for being out there supporting me…despite my best efforts to be fast, I know it was a long day for you. Your cheers, smiles and high fives really helped me push through so thank you!