Triathlon season is now well underway with races going on almost every weekend here in Southwestern Ontario. This past weekend I took part in my second triathlon of the season in Welland, down in the Niagara region. Multisport Canada was putting the race on as part of their Rose City Triathlon Weekend, which featured short course on Saturday and my race, the Long Course, on Sunday. The weather looked great with no threat of rain and some smoking hot temperatures.
The whole family would be going to the race and we set off for Welland on Saturday morning after Kennedy finished her swim practice. It was a gorgeous day and we decided to drop the top on the Jeep and take the backroads as we didn’t have anywhere to be at a certain time. It was a nice relaxing drive and we pulled into Welland shortly after 3:00, just in time to go to the race site and do a quick and easy bib pickup (one less thing to worry about on race day). After that it was off to check in to our room (we ended up staying at the college dorm) and then off to Niagara Falls to grab some dinner. We have a cool little restaurant there called The Boat House that has become our go-to for prerace dining when down in the region…a little bit off the beaten path, decent food at decent prices, cool patio and best of all, no tourists! A big plate of spaghetti & meatballs later and we were heading back to our room in Welland (with a quick ice cream stop on the way!) to head off to bed.
Morning came and I was greeted by a splitting headache. My allergies were in full force and decided full-on congestion wasn’t enough, so they threw in an upset stomach and the headache for good measure. We went to grab breakfast and I could barely stomach a half of a bagel…not good. Michelle looked at me and said I didn’t look good. I certainly didn’t feel good. Not much to do but dial back my goals and try to be realistic out there, so I got myself ready and we headed to the race site.
We arrived at the race site, the Welland International Flatwater Centre, and I set up my transition area, got body marked and said hi to a few people including Coach Sheri who was there to cheer on and support a bunch of her athletes. A quick farewell to the family and I was off for a short warmup swim.
Swim - 2000m
32:37 (1:37/100m), 3/21 AG
I was looking forward to this swim for a while as the venue is incredible…by far the best open water swim course I have ever done. I had done the exact same course back in September at Barrelman so I knew it was conducive to a quick time. I hung out at the start line with Team Sheri teammate Kristen as we were in the same wave, set to go off at 8:30 just one minute after the pros. The horn sounded and I took off. The start was nice and clean, no real jarring for position for a change and I didn’t take a single elbow to the face. I got into a good rhythm right away and had my stroke and breathing well under control. My favourite feature of this swim course is the rope that runs the length of the canal that has the distance markers for the rowing that competes there…the swim course uses the rope to tie the buoys as well, and the water is crystal clear so you can actually sight off of the ropes under water. I am a notorious zig-zagger, so this helps immensely. I made my way to the rope within the first 100m or so and stuck with it the rest of the way. A few other people had the same idea and the only time I came off the rope was when I had to go past another swimmer and when we had to cross to the other side of the canal at the halfway point. To give you an idea how effective the rope line was, my watch measured the 2000m swim at 1984m…I am never that close let alone short! I was passing a good number of people and very few people were passing me, other than one guy from the wave behind me that made me feel like I was just treading water…whoever you are you looked like a torpedo screaming by my! I made the final turn back to shore and climb up the swim ramp to run in front of the crowd in the grandstand and up the stairway to T1. There was a guy in front of me walking up the stairs so I gave him a heads up that I was coming and ran past him…I don’t get people who walk through transition, do they forget it’s a race?? It was a great swim for me though, pretty sure it was my quickest pace ever and I was over a minute and a half faster than Barrelman last September on the exact same course. All that winter swimming is paying off!
Bike - 56K
1:35:36 (35.2kph), 4/21 AG
There was a bit of a run from T1 to the mount line and then it was off on the roads to the west of Welland. I was familiar with the course as it was identical to the first 56K of Barrelman…flat. I was still feeling like garbage with a headache that was getting worse by the minute. Now that I was out of the cool canal waters I could feel the heat…it was already 30ºC+ and the sun was blazing without a cloud in the sky. The only relief was the wind, but we were riding into it, felt like a bit of a crosswind coming in on the front right shoulder. I kept spinning quick and easy but I was not feeling good. The legs felt tired and heavy and it didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere for the work I was putting in. I passed a few guys right away in the first 5K and I saw Coach Sheri on the course as well taking pictures and cheering her athletes on. She even told me I had a great swim, high praise coming from her! After that first stretch I was riding all alone for a while with no one in sight ahead of me. Eventually a few riders came up from behind to pass me, but the numbers weren’t overwhelming…I honestly was expecting more of them I felt so bad. When we made the turn at Lake Erie to head back towards Welland I immediately saw a boost in my speed with no change in effort…maybe that wind was stronger than I had thought? With the tailwind assisting me I picked up the pace and started to feel better about my ride. I still physically felt like crap, but at least the mental game was getting better. My headache was absolutely pounding by this point and I had loosed off the tension on my helmet as much as I could without having the thing bounce around too much. I even tried to pop it up on my forehead a bit to get some air through as aero helmets are notorious for their lack of airflow. My average speed was creeping up and I was able to get over 35kph, so I kept pushing and even managed to catch a few people. There was still the occasional athlete going by me, but it wasn’t until the 40K point I saw someone that was in my age group...I put a mental marker on him to track him down on the run. Just as we got back into town I was able to experience a race first…getting stopped by a train. Another rider and I crossed the Forks Rd bridge and made the turn onto Canal Bank St and were greeted by the bells and flashing lights of a railway crossing. A line of cars were stopped as well as another athlete, but the train was just sitting there, moving very slowly towards the street. It looked like he was stopping, but who knows with a train and who wants to risk it? The cyclist at the tracks was communicating with the conductor and we were given the go ahead to cross the tracks. Probably not the best time to be shunting given there BEING A RACE and all. Jeez. With that potential mess out of the way we only had 2 to 3K to go until T2…with four of us stopped at the tracks it was hard not to ride in a pack, but especially knowing T2 was so close I backed off as much as I could to avoid any drafting penalties (I don’t think the other 3 cared, they just rode each other’s wheel). It might have been a mistake on my part as the guy in front of me took his sweet time coming into T2 to get out of his shoes and dismount, managing to take up the entire lane while he was at it. As soon as he pulled over near the dismount line I hoped off my bike and ran right by him into T2. By now I was actually pretty happy with how the ride turned out, and it was one of my fastest bike splits ever.
Run - 15K
1:06:10 (4:24/km), 1/21 AG
Another quick transition buoyed by seeing Michelle and the kids on my way in and it was out to the run course. The 15K run consisted of 3 loops of 5K along the Canal path. The run was in a great setting with no traffic to worry about and the opportunity to run in front of crowds in the WIFC grandstand 3 times. The only negative was that there wasn’t a lick of shade and it was scorching hot by now. At least there were plenty of aid stations to go by and they were well-stocked with water, HEED, Coke, ice, gels and cold sponges…you pass an aid station 12 times over the course of the run so support is never far away. As soon as I left T2 I saw Coach Sheri again…she asked how I was feeling to which I responded, “Shitty!”. The headache wasn’t getting any better and now that I was running I really felt the heat. I made sure to start taking water right away and took a drink and dumped the rest over my head at each station. I was flying out of T2 and clocked my first kilometre at 3:51…waaaaay too fast in this heat. I made an effort to back off and decided that I should try and settle in somewhere around a 4:30 pace. Less than 2K into the run I spotted the guy in my age group that I made a mental marker of and flew by him. For as awful as I was feeling I felt like the run was starting out well. I went by quite a few people on the first loop and only one guy passed me (some young 20-something whippersnapper). I ran in front of the grandstand crowd and easily spotted Michelle and the kids as they were right at the path cheering all the runners on. I blew them a kiss and grabbed some high-fives before setting out on loop 2. My first 5K was a pretty speedy 20:43. I went by Coach Sheri again and she was happy with my run so far and the number of people I had gone past…that’s easy to do in the first 5K though, it’s whether you can keep it up or not that really counts. Everyone was bound to fade in these conditions, so I was just trying to not fade as quickly as the others.
Loop 2 was a lot more crowded as athletes were making their way from the bike to the run and I was feeding off of the competition and reeling plenty of runners in. The heat was taking it’s toll but I just keep drinking water and pouring water and ice over my head. I also started to add in some HEED on this lop to try and get some electrolytes in (I had also had an entire bottle of Gatorade while on the bike). I saw a few teammates on the run and got high-fives from Stacy, who was looking strong as usual on the run. Around the canal and by the family again where I told Michelle I would see her at the finish…22:38 for the second 5K loop, still hanging strong. This last time by Coach Sheri she yelled at me to get some calories on this loop, which I bonked on not having a clue what to take…there was no way I could down one of the gels they were handing out. Then she added on, “Coke! At this aid station!!” Light bulb! Man did that Coke taste good…mmm, mmmmmm!! I enjoyed the quick boost and picked up the pace a bit. More people, more cheers, more encouragement given to other runners…all the while feeding my push to the finish. I made the final turn and starting busting it with everything I had left…saw the family one last time and took the left turn to the finishing chute. Across the line in 3:15:53, 4+ minutes better than my loose goal of 3:20, and a handshake from John Salt to seal the deal. All of this despite tough conditions and never feeling even remotely good physically. My time gave me 20th overall and was good for 2nd in my age group. Pretty happy with this result, especially since I had basically written the race off just a few hours earlier.
I spent the rest of the day nursing my headache (thanks again for the pills Stacy!) and hanging out with the family. We went to Saint Catharines for dinner at one of our favourite local hangouts there, Bugsy’s, and then took the short drive to Niagara-On-The-Lake for some ice cream (yes, two days in a row!) before setting out on our drive home. Having the family around to travel to races and cheer me on sure makes racing more enjoyable…I’m so lucky that they put up with my training and racing schedule. Thanks guys!