Wednesday, July 26, 2017

2017 Bluewater Olympic Triathlon Recap

Posted by CheapRunnerMike

The Bluewater Triathlon in Bright’s Grove is one of my favourite races out there, clearly evident by the fact that this past weekend was my sixth year in a row competing in the Olympic distance triathlon. It is a wonderful local race and it is conveniently located just down the road from our cottage. The race supports a local church and is known as much for the post-race “pig out” as it is for the race itself.

Michelle, Jackson and I left the cottage bright and early on Saturday and made the short drive down to Bright’s Grove…Jackson was going to be helping Michelle out as she was volunteering at one of the run aid stations. I dumped my bike in transition and then went to grab my race kit while Michelle figured out where she was going to be stationed. It didn’t take long for me to get everything ready and set up my transition area, leaving me with plenty of time to socialize with some of the many people I knew who were doing the race. I chatted with Spencer, who was back to defend his Sprint Duathlon win from last year, as well as Abe, who was out to try and knock me off as the top 30-39 year old male. I finished second overall in the Olympic Tri last year, which was good for first in my age group…Abe was second in the age group and has had his sights set on taking me down in this race since last year. We had a side bet for this one too, as whoever wins the age group receives a big bottle of beer from Refined Fool, a local craft brewery. It was decided that whoever won would have to buy the other guy a Refined Fool. Good deal.


Swim – 1100m
18:14 (1:33/100m), 3rd OA / 1st AG

The swim is supposed to be 1500m, but in reality it is about 1100. To be fair the run from the lake to transition might just make up that extra 400m. The swim here is beautiful, always one of my favourites. It is in Lake Huron and hugs tight to the shore…the water is clear and cool, perfect conditions with a wetsuit. This morning was overcast and rain was threatening, but the lake was calm as can be, a sheet of glass. I managed a quick warm up and then just hung out on shore waiting for the start. I took up my position right in line with the first turn buoy, which was a mere 50m from shore. The horn went and I busted it from the start to the turn , trying to avoid the crush of people hitting that turn at the same time. I was successful as I was the second or third guy there, which gave me plenty of clean water for the rest of the race. I just settled in and found my rhythm, cruising along nice and easy. It didn’t take long to get some separation from the field and I was swimming in second or third position most of the time. The lead swimmer was way out front and there was no catching him, but I went back and forth with another guy for second spot. He seemed to pull ahead a couple of times but I noticed he was off line and going out pretty wide, so I knew that if I just held my line I would be out front once we made the turn back to shore. Soon enough we came to the final buoy and I put my head down and swam hard to the swim exit, trying my best to be second out of the water. As I approached the shore I took a quick peek to see how close I was and I could see/hear people yelling at me…not cheering, but yelling, “You’re on the wrong side!”. The shoreline in Bright’s Grove has a bunch of groynes that protect the beaches from eroding away…basically they are metal walls that go out into the water. The water level is higher than previous years and the groyne is therefore a bit lower and apparently not as easy to see. Since I didn’t have anyone in front of me to follow I guess I didn’t notice that I had in fact swam up the wrong side of the groyne. It took a couple of seconds for this to register before I had my “oh $h!t” moment, then I turned around and began to swim back around the groyne to the swim exit side. Of course this meant that the guy I had battled all through the swim with was able to pass me and I had to settle for third out of the water. A bit frustrated but I knew I was still in a good position. Swim time was 17:10, 18:14 by the time I raced up the stairs and along the long path into T1.


Bike – 40K
1:03:27 (37.8kph), 8th OA / 1st AG

Onto the bike and the pancake flat ride. There was a little bit of wind but not enough to really do much damage. I had to work slightly harder with the wind in my face but the slight tailwind evened things out on the way back. I passed a few of the sprint athletes as well as some duathletes and was settling in nicely. I popped a salt tab and was downing water and Gatorade, getting my nutrition taken care of. It wasn’t long before Chris Balestrini went flying past me, trying to chase down the leader. Chris has won the Olympic Duathlon here for as long as I can remember but he has focused on triathlon this year…bad news for us triathletes! He has been coming out on Wednesdays to our weekly Splash n Dash and you can see the improvements in his swimming. It won’t be long until he is a serious threat to the big boys as there aren’t many faster runners out there. Anyways, Chris flew by me and then I was quickly passed again by Mike Coughlin, who I had just met before the race since we racked our bikes beside each other. He went by like a rocket and left me in his dust. No worries, my game isn’t biking guys down…if I chased I knew I would blow up on the run. I just continued to focus on keeping a nice high cadence and holding steady watts. I kept the power just under 90% FTP and managed to hold it there the entire ride, right where I had planned to be.

I saw a bunch a familiar faces out on the course and cheered people on as I went by them. Once I hit the first turnaround I was able to check out my competition and see how close they were. It looked like Chris had put nearly a kilometre into me by the turn at 18K, but when I saw Abe flying by towards the turnaround I figured I had almost 3K on him, a gap that I knew would be hard for him to overcome. I kept pushing and rode the tailwind back to T2, nice and uneventful.


Run – 10K
40:21 (4:03/km), 8th OA / 1st AG

It was a quick 39 seconds to get through transition and out onto the run. The first section of the run is a left turn out of transition with a short little 500m run to a turnaround, then you run back past transition for a long out and back along the lakeshore path and road. As I made the left out of T1 I saw Shane from MEC (a local running/biking/outdoors store) heading the other way and gave him a cheer…he was competing in the Relay event and I knew he was a strong runner, so I was hoping I could try to claw back some time from him and use his pace as a motivator. I hit the first turn and took some water right away…it was still overcast but it was warm and muggy. These were the best racing conditions I can remember having at this race and I wanted to make the most of it. I saw a few more faces I knew as I ran back past transition, but no Abe. At this point I was just hoping he was doing okay as I knew he was battling some knee issues and wasn’t at 100%. I came to the next aid station at the park exit and I had to make sure I took some water there as that was where Michelle and Jackson were stationed. I could hear Michelle long before I saw her! I darted across the path and made the cup grab from Jackson and then took off with some fire in my belly. Right after that the rain came and it was quite welcome at that point. It was light and just enough that it felt good. I was holding the pace around 4:15, which felt very manageable…I didn’t see the sense in pushing too hard too soon. I cruised along and made it to the turn at 5.5K…I had made up most of the gap on Shane by this point as he was now about 300m ahead. There was another issue now though as the sixth place athlete, Andrew Scollard, had caught up to me while I was downing some ice water. Before he could actually pass me I started talking to him. We follow each other on Strava but had never actually met, so I introduced myself and we chatted for a bit. I told him he must have really been moving to catch up to me and he said he was chasing hard the whole way and was feeling it now. Perfect. I just kept talking away and staying right on his shoulder. We had upped the pace by now and were running in the low 4:00-range. I wanted to make sure he wasn’t able to recover from his initial effort to catch me but I was still feeling pretty fresh and was saving something for the finish. We came to the second last aid station and I scooted over to grab some water, knowing that Jackson and Michelle’s aid station would be where I made my move. Andrew was hanging on but I could tell by his breathing that he was near his limit. He wasn’t really talking to me anymore either. We came to the end of the road an entered the park with Michelle and Jackson there cheering me on. Just a half mile to the finish. We had just caught Shane, who was putting down a great run of his own, and I dropped the hammer. I took off and sprinted the final 800m. I heard footsteps chasing me and wondered if it was Shane or Andrew, but then I heard “go Daddy! I’m coming!” and realized it was actually Jackson chasing me! I made the turn into the finish chute and the little guy met me on the other side. Shane came in next followed closely by Andrew…I ended up getting him by 10 seconds in the end. The run felt great and I believe that I executed it perfectly…I could have pushed harder and gone under 40 minutes if I wanted to but I didn’t want to risk a blow up.


My final time was 2:03:34, fastest I have ever gone at this race and 3 and a half minutes faster than last year. I took 5th place overall and most importantly the age group win, meaning I win a big ol’ bottle of beer! We stuck around for awards and of course the great food spread…I enjoyed my hot dog, chili and of course the legendary butter tarts. Thanks to all of the volunteers that continue to make this a great race, thanks to Michelle and Jackson for being a great cheer squad while volunteering themselves, and thanks as well to Brad Reiter for the great photos. A special shout out to Ken Walker (along with his wife Deb and daughter Haley) who has been running this race for nearly 30 years now…thank you so much for all the work you do year after year. All of us athletes truly appreciate it!


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

2017 IRONMAN 70.3 Syracuse Recap

Posted by CheapRunnerMike

This past weekend Michelle and I were down in lovely Syracuse, NY as I took on my first goal race of the year, Ironman 70.3 Syracuse. I had chosen this race for a few reasons, the key one being that it was one of the final races offering qualifying spots to this year’s 70.3 Half Ironman World Championship, being held September 9-10 in Chattanooga, TN. My goal was to snag one of those spots.

I knew going into the race that it was going to be tough. Prior to signing up for it last fall I did a bit of reading and asked some people about it and it seems like many agree that it is one of the toughest Half Ironman courses in North America, and if the weather turns at all it makes it the toughest. Last year’s finishing times were slow for a big race with just 42 finishers going under 5 hours, so I knew that I had to respect this course. I put in the training over the winter and spring and I have been running better than ever the last couple of months…I was ready for whatever the day brought.

Michelle and I arrived in town on Friday afternoon and went straight to the Ironman Village at Jamesville Beach Park where we were able to zip through athlete check-in in no time and also picked up all of the race swag. One of my regrets from Ironman Mont Tremblant last year was not just buying the swag I wanted and being my typical cheap self, so this year I just got what I wanted (and tried to not think about how much that US-Canadian exchange rate was going to hurt!). Walked away with a couple of shirts and a running visor, as well as shirts for the kids. I also managed to snag some new aerobar pads for my bike from one of the vendors there to replace my gross and filthy old ones…long overdue and I got them for half the cost here in Canada. We stuck around and took in the athlete briefing and then took off to get checked into our hotel.

We are fans of local bars and hangouts, so we found a cool little place not far from our hotel called The Distillery…they featured a menu full of typical pub fare, lots of specials, and a whole mess of craft and local beer on tap. I was a happy boy! I tried out their House Ale and then switched over to the Founder’s Session (being responsible, I had a race coming up). I also loaded up on the carbs with some spicy chicken pasta…Cajun chicken with linguine tossed in a Buffalo sauce, yum! It was a great meal and the sort of place Michelle and I wish we had to go to at home. After a delicious dinner we hit the local Target to get supplies (bananas and a 12-pack of Saranac) and then went to the Sweet Frog to cap the night off with some frozen yogurt.

The next morning we woke up and went out for a little shakeout run…Michelle and I just did a few kilometres (think it was about 3 or so) and already at that time of the morning it was HOT. Plenty of hills too, no matter where we went around town. I had a feeling this race was going to live up to its reputation. We finished up and went next door to Denny’s to grab some breakfast and my sister Emily came and met us there…she had made the drive down that morning from Kingston to hang out with us and watch my race. After breakfast it was back to the hotel where I did a final tune up of my bike and took it for a quick little spin around the neighbourhood and then we were back off to the race site for bike check in. No issues there and we decided to drive the bike course to see what I was getting myself into the next day (basically a lot of hills. A LOT of hills.) After a quick stop back at the hotel for Emily to check in we were off to dinner at Olive Garden, more carbs with pasta and unlimited breadsticks. A decent fill up and I put myself to bed for the night…tomorrow was race day.

Race morning arrived at 4:45am…I was up without my alarm. Some oatmeal and a cup of coffee in my belly, we were out the door and I was setting up my spot in transition by 6:00. The race kicked off at 7:00 and I was in wave 4, starting at 7:12. We watched (and laughed) at the peacocks strutting around trying to be seen. I had joked the day before that I need to make some fake race shirts to wear to expos, something like “Lard Lad Donut Dash 5K Fun Run – 43rd Place”, just to thwart the cockiness of other triathletes. I was intimidating the other athletes with my runDisney race shirt, I’m sure they were terrified. We went down to the beach and I jumped in my wetsuit and had a quick warmup swim. It was pretty ridiculous as we were only allowed in a small little roped off swim area, so everyone was just swimming around in a big circle. I said to one of the ladies there that it looked like we were trying to make a whirlpool like we did as kids in the backyard swimming pools. It was enough to get loosened up before the start though so it served its purpose. Out of the lake and a quick kiss and goodbye to Michelle and Emily, then I was off to my corral. Race time.

Swim - 1.2 miles / 1900m
31:47 (1:39/100m), 8/159 AG

I was in the largest Age Group (M35-39) with 159 guys registered, so our age group was split into two waves. I was in the first of the two and had discussed the split-wave with my buddy Matt as he had the same situation for his Florida 70.3 race. He told me to just treat it as a time trial and go as hard as I could, knowing that there were other athletes coming in 4 minutes behind me. I took his advice with me to the start line and made my way to the front of the wave. I positioned myself right at the front and on the buoy line, giving me a straight shot on the out and back swim. The horn went off and I was ahead of the pack in clean water right from the start. Clean water didn’t last long as I was on the previous wave in minutes. From that point on it was traffic, lots of traffic. I just weaved my way through the crowd staying on that buoy line. As we got further out I noticed that the chop was starting to pick up…the wind was blowing and waves were forming on the lake. I knew that it was going to be tough once we turned to head back to shore. I kept the pace steady and focused on form, knowing that it was going to be important when the conditions worsened. Around 900m I made the turn and began the 100m swim across to the turn buoy where we would head back towards shore. Right away the waves were on me, crashing from my right-hand side. I just made sure to breathe to the left and all was good, although sighting that turn buoy was a little more difficult as I typically sight from my right. I made it though, which is better than a lot of the other people around me. There were plenty of folks struggling with the chop. Once I turned to shore the waves were crashing head on right into us. It was like swimming upstream the whole time. I just focused on my head position, roll and a strong pull. Still plenty of traffic to deal with and I got kicked twice right in the goggle…both times it completely compressed the socket on my eye and I couldn’t see a thing, so I had to pop up and fix it. It may have cost me a few seconds but it was time well wasted. I went past the final sighting buoy and approached the shore…I grabbed sand (and a few weeds) and popped out of the lake, tearing the top of my wetsuit off and running past the cheering spectators, picking out Michelle and Emily along the way, and then plopped down in front of a pair of wetsuit peelers. They were almost all available, no one was using them for some reason. They ripped the suit off of me in about 1 second and I was off on the long 500m run to transition.

Bike – 56 Miles / 90km
2:50:18 (32.2 kph), 15/159 AG

Long run to my bike in transition. It was hot already and the sun was blazing. I’m usually lousy for wearing sunscreen during a race but I knew that the sun would kick my butt today if I didn’t, so I took the extra couple of seconds to spray myself. Again, time well wasted based on all of the lobsters I saw walking around the park later in the day. All told it was 3:08 from the swim exit to the bike mount, not bad considering I had to run half a kilometre with a wetsuit over my shoulders or a bike in my hands. I hopped on my bike and zipped past Michelle and Emily again and headed up the road, getting the legs loose and ready for some serious climbing. There is 3244 feet of climbing on the bike course (almost 1000m) and it is pretty constant throughout the ride. We were hit with the first big climb just 3K into the bike. I switched into my small ring up front and spun past a bunch of people. First hill down, didn’t drop my chain, I’m happy. We cruised along for a few more kilometres before turning south right into the teeth of the wind that had whipped up for us. The wind was out of the South all day and it was blowing pretty good. The turn also marked the beginning of the biggest climb on the course…really the first 20K or so you are climbing the entire time, gaining nearly 1000 feet. I have never used my small chainring as much as I did on this bike course, it was climb after climb with barely any time between climbs to even shift back up to the big ring before dropping right back down again. Eventually we crested the top of the final climb (in this opening stretch anyways) and had a nice long decent to give the legs a bit of a break. I got it up well over 50kph in this stretch and it felt good to go finally go fast. Once it flattened out we took a couple of turns and hit the first aid station. I tossed my water and Gatorade bottles and grabbed new ones…Orange Gatorade, yuck.

One of the nice things about this flatter, more rolling stretch of the course was that I could finally enjoy the beautiful scenery. Seriously, what a gorgeous part of the country. We continued south into the wind around a pretty little lake with cottages all around it and hit the halfway point. I was aiming to put out 220W on the bike and the first half was a little high due to the big climbs, as I had expected. I was right around 30kph for the first half but I knew that I would be able to ride easier yet faster on the back half due to the wind and lack of really big climbs. I tucked into my aerobars and just cruised, ensuring that I kept the power steady by spinning quick up the rollers and not pushing it too hard on the flat sections. It was around 60K in when I finally saw someone from my age group pass by me…I considered chasing him for a split second but quickly thought the better of it. A few minutes later another one of my age groupers went past but I ended up catching him on the very next hill. We went back and forth with each other pretty much the rest of the ride…I didn’t let him get too far away from me and managed to leapfrog him on almost every hill, only for him to go by on the corresponding descent.

At 70K we made the turn north onto the appropriately named Sky High Road, another big climb for about 5K. The last 20K of the ride was similar to the climbs and descents of the first section. I swapped out my water and Gatorade at the final aid station and dug in for this last tough stretch. Right away it was going wrong…the guy that handed me my water gave me a bottle without a cap so I had to take a swig and stick it in the cage on my downtube…a lit bit sloshy but okay. Shortly after that I went to take a slug of Gatorade and…nothing. I squeezed again and still nothing, so I unscrewed the cap and, yup, it was sealed. Come on. I stuck the cap in my jersey pocket and peeled off the seal, taking a big gulp to try to avoid sticky sport drink getting all over me, but there was no way I was getting that cap back on. I was moving along at a good clip through these hills and had to hold the open bottle with one hand (my second cage is mounted horizontally between my aerobars, so couldn’t use it), and I couldn’t get the cap back out of my jersey pocket unless I completely let go of the bike…not happening at that speed on that road in the middle of a race. I took another good slug from the bottle and then just dumped the contents. I shoved the empty bottle back into my cage and trudged on to the finish. A couple more climbs and one final big descent (which had a nice sharp 90 degree turn in the middle of it, along with a 40kph speed trap) and I was jumping off my bike and running into a very empty transition area…I hardly saw any bikes at all.

Run – 13.1 Miles / 21.1km
1:37:18 (4:37/km), 6/159 AG

Without the long run from the beach, T2 was a much quicker 1:33…still a bit longer as it is a big transition area and I reapplied my sunscreen. I sprinted out of T2 with my legs feeling really good…I had been taking salt caps on the bike as I knew I would be in trouble with the heat. By the time I got onto the run course the temperatures were soaring and the heat index was in the mid-90’s, along with blazing hot sun and no shade. What wind we could actually feel at this point was certainly welcome! I ran past Michelle and Emily and Michelle said something about me being “well in the top 20”, which made sense given the lack of bikes in transition, but I had to remember that I just had to run my own race and keep in mind that half of my age group started 4 minutes after me in the other wave. I checked my pace and it was a bit too hot, around 4:00/km. I kept telling myself to slow it down and was trying to hold it around 4:30/km. I quickly caught and passed a couple guys in front of me and then pulled up beside the guy in my age group who I went back and forth with on the bike. The two of us ran pretty much side by side for the first 5K and then I made a bit of a push up a hill and put some distance between us. I also saw another guy ahead from my age group and I put the pass on him as well…I had already moved up two spots on the run.

The heat was brutal now and you could see its effects on everyone. By now there were a lot of people on the out portion of the course as I was running by them on the back and they were struggling. I was still holding on though and made my way back to the turnaround to complete my first loop in 46 minutes. I was feeling the heat though and my pace was starting to fall off. Shortly into the second loop the back and forth battle with the bike guy swung his way again as he scooted past me. He opened a bit of a gap but I never let him get too far ahead…he was looking alright but not great, no better than me I was thinking, so I was pretty confident that I could reel him in next time we hit a hill. And there were plenty of hills on the run course as well, no flats here with over 600 feet of elevation to deal with. Sure enough I caught up to him and made a pass, pulling away for what I hoped would be for good.

Once I hit the first of the two out and back sections of second loop I was feeling just about done…my pace had really fallen off and I was putting in kilometres in the 5:15 range. I continued to take water, ice, Coke, more water and more ice at all of the aid stations and was eventually able to dig deep and make a push for the final 5K. It was nowhere near fast, but I managed to get the pace back into the high 4-minutes range. I was passing a whole bunch of guys in my age group now, but with the multiple wave start coupled with the two-loop run course there was no way to know if they were anywhere near me. Eventually I made it back into the park and was running along the path towards the finish line, just a half mile to go. Wouldn’t you know it, back and forth bike guy pulled up beside me. Seriously, this guy was like Robert Patrick’s T-1000 Terminator, he just wouldn’t die! I saw him pull even and knew how hard he would have had to have worked to get back to me and I knew that I had to drop him right away, so I gave everything I had and just sprinted all out for these last 800m, dropping him right away…I finally broke the guy. I approached the finish chute and made the final turn, hearing Michelle and Emily cheering me on. It was a bit of a blur as I was getting loopy from the heat and the big finishing kick but I knew it was over. The announcer called out my name and remarked about the great time that I put in and it was over…final time 5:04:04.

I collected my finisher swag and grabbed a slice of shade under a tree, waiting for Michelle and Emily to show up. It didn’t take them long to find me and they had the cooler with them so I was able to just lie down, crack open an ice cold beer and start the recovery process. I really had no idea of how I finished, what my time was, nothing. Michelle figured I was around top 7 in my age group but wasn’t sure as the Ironman tracking had crapped out on her phone. Guys were still coming in that started 4 minutes after me, so it was hard to tell. I knew I had raced well on a tough day and had a good shot at a Worlds spot, that’s all I could ask for. I took a dip in the cool lake with a bar of soap and got myself cleaned off, then we headed into town to grab some beer and pizza at The Distillery. Once I sat down I checked my phone and saw a message from my buddy Luke saying, “5th place bud congrats!”…sweet! I had made the age group podium and had a guaranteed spot for Worlds, I just had to show up at the roll down ceremony with my credit card. We downed our meal and headed back to the park just in time for awards. It turned out that it was an incredibly tough day for everyone, even harder than the year before, with only 14 athletes going under 5 hours. I did indeed end up coming in 5th in my age group and the gap between 1st and 5th was just 4 minutes…incredibly tight. My time was also good for 25th overall out of over 1300 people. I was called up to the stage for my award and a little while later went up to claim my spot for the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Chattanooga this September. My age group was allocated 7 spots for Worlds plus one additional spot for 8 total…the top 7 guys all claimed their spot and the final slot only rolled down to 10. I’m glad I didn’t slack off expecting slots to roll!

It was a great day and I was happy that Michelle and Emily were able to be there to share it with me. The conditions were brutal and this was the hardest course I have raced on (it made Mont Tremblant seem like a joke), but I was smart and stuck to my plan, racing with my head as much as my legs. The weather did beat me in the end, but I held on a lot longer than most people out there. The training I had put in paid off on race day (thanks Coach Sheri!) and now I have the great opportunity to go and race in the World Championships. I’ll take it easy for a little bit but will be back out training real soon and taking on some local races over the next couple months leading up to Chattanooga. Thanks for reading folks!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

2017 Milton Sprint Triathlon Recap

Posted by CheapRunnerMike

Triathlon season is underway!  I did my first race of the year on Sunday up in Milton at Kelso Conservation Area.  The course is beautiful and challenging as it is held at a little ski hill on the Escarpment, so the hills are plentiful…a good warm up for my Half Ironman in Syracuse in two weeks.  Unfortunately the weather wasn’t the greatest as it rained all night and continued through the earlier Try-a-Tri race, but ultimately relenting about a half hour before we started at 9:45.


The Milton race offers a Try-a-Tri for beginners and Juniors as well as the longer Sprint race that I took part in.  This race is a bit longer than a typical Sprint as we swim 750m, bike 30K (instead of the usual 20) and then run 7K (instead of the traditional 5), all on hilly terrain…a very good challenge to knock the rust off and kick start the season!

Swim - 750m
11:43 (1:33/100m), 3/55 AG

I was able to get out and swim the entire course for warmup and the water was just right (if you were wearing a wetsuit) at 68ยบ.  My first impressions were, “Ew, this is weedy”.  Every stroke it seemed like you were grabbing huge swaths of seaweed…gross.  I was also getting seaweed stuck in my goggles and on my arms…I felt a little bit like swamp thing.  No matter though, start time was approaching.  I was in the second wave, going out 3 minutes after the elites and men & women under 30.  There was certainly a large crowd out in force for the first race of the season…


The first wave went off and I made my way into the water, getting myself lined up right beside the start buoy.  The countdown was on and next thing I knew we were off.  I swam hard all the way to the first turn about 175m in and I was right on the feet of the lead pack.  I’ve never been able to swim with a pack in a race, I never seem to be able to find the right group, so this was exciting for me.  It didn’t last however, as we quickly came up on the back end of the wave that went off before us and there was a LOT of traffic.  I lost my pack and just did my best to try and weave my way through the field.  It likely slowed me down a little bit but I had a feeling that I was swimming really well.  There were no other red swim caps around me, only the blue caps from wave 1.  Eventually I came up beside another red cap as we were closing in on the swim finish and I stuck with him as he was clearing a nice path through the crowd.  I felt the lake bottom in my hands (instead of seaweed) and popped up out of the water to begin the run into transition…turns out the swim was good enough for third in my age group, I’ll certainly take that.

Bike - 30K
50:29 (35.6 kph), 5/55 AG

After I relatively quick T1 of 47 seconds I was out on my bike.  Frustration set in instantly as a moving truck decided it would be a great idea to pull out right in front of me and crawl along down the road for over a full kilometre.  I was yelling at the guy as I sat up on my bike, unable to even get going.  When he finally got to the stop sign he thankfully turned right as we all headed left on our bikes…I stomped down on the pedals and took out my frustration on the bike course.  It wasn’t long before I came upon the signature climb of the race, the Sixth Line Hill.  It is a tough hill that features nearly 100m of climbing in a little over one kilometre.  I spun fast and furious and made my way up, passing other cyclists along the way.  I dropped into my little ring about three quarters of the way up but never even got to the point where I needed the large cog on my cassette…it was a solid hill but nowhere near as hard as some people made it out to be.  I actually got to the Irish flag that marks the end of the climb and thought, “That’s it?”  I was expecting it to keep going, but wasn’t complaining that it was over!

The rest of the ride was rolling hills through the countryside and I was cruising along nicely.  It was my usual bike of passing guys on the flats and climbs, then spinning out on the descents while the same guys just coast by me.  The roads were wet throughout the ride but the sun started to creep out about 10K in, bringing the humidity with it.  I had stuffed a gel in my jersey pocket and wanted to get it in me with 10K or so to go on the bike, but I was having a tough time getting it out.  I eventually managed to get it out and ate it up, and then it was another struggle trying to get the empty wrapper back in my pocket.  I struggled but did get it back, and it was a good thing too because as soon as I got it in there the course marshal pulled up from behind me to ask if I was okay (I must have looked pretty bad with that wrapper!)…glad I didn’t just toss it away, I had no idea he was right there.


I was a little anxious about the descent ahead of me on the Sixth Line Hill as today was the first time I was racing with my new carbon 3SIXTY5 wheels, but I was able to control my speed pretty well despite the wet pavement.  I was also racing with a power metre for the first time and was looking to hold around 220 watts…well I was closer to 250 watts for the ride so it would be interesting to see how my legs would fare for the hilly run that was in store.

Run - 7K
26:33 (3:47/km), 2/55 AG

I took a little bit longer than usual getting through T2 as I was chided by a race official for not wearing my bib on the bike…apparently that is a new rule this season.  I apologized, slipped on my shoes and visor and put on my race bib…in and out in 1:07.  The run goes all through Kelso park and consists of 3 turnarounds, lots of hills (you are pretty much climbing or descending the entire 7K), and paved surface for the first 5K with the last 2K on a gravel path that was now a mud slick.  My legs felt horrible from the get go, but my Garmin said I was cruising along nicely at a sub-4:00/km pace.  I was passing all kinds of people and just before the first turnaround at 1.5K I saw another M35-39 ahead of me.  I set him in my sights and went by him.  That was the last I would see of anyone from my age group.

I kept working the hills and chugged along, getting faster as I went…I was through 5K in under 20 minutes and hitting the mud slick.  It was a bit tougher running in the mud but my legs felt great and kept driving onward.  I came to the last descent and had one kilometre to go to the finish and gave it all I had, managing to clock my fastest kilometre of the day with a 3:26.  As I came through the finishing chute I saw 1:33:xx on the clock and I was pretty thrilled knowing that meant I was 1:30:xx, much quicker than I had anticipated for this “rust-buster”. Certainly nice to see that the winter of training was already paying off.  My official time was 1:30:39, good for 17th place overall and 2nd in my age group.  Really thrilled with my run, especially since I thought I pushed a bit harder than I should have on the bike…far and away my best triathlon run ever.


Next on the schedule is Ironman 70.3 Syracuse on Father’s Day, where I try to punch my ticket for the 70.3 World Championship this September.  Milton was a great confidence booster for me and I know that if I race the way I am capable of racing I have a shot at my goal.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

2017 Forest City Road Race Half Marathon Recap

Posted by CheapRunnerMike

This past weekend marked the 35th running of the Forest City Road Races, the premier running race in Southwestern Ontario and my hometown race.  I ran in the half marathon in 2013, 2014 and 2015 and took last year off to volunteer at the race.  I was back to run again on Sunday morning.


The forecast had been calling for rain in the days leading up to the race but the rain passed through overnight.  It was still cool and overcast, with plenty of wind, but conditions were pretty favourable for racing.  We arrived at Victoria Park around 7:30 with the race set to begin at 8:00.  I met up with a few friends and passed some time before getting a nice easy jog in around the park to warm up.  After that I stripped out of my warm gear and checked my bag before walking to the start line.  I was going to be running with my buddy Spencer who was racing his first half.  We were both looking to run sub-1:25 and hopefully closer to 1:22 so we decided to work together as long as we could.

Start to Western University (1K-5K, 19:12, 3:50/km)

After singing the National Anthem the gun went and we were off like a shot.  Spencer and I were solidly holding 4th & 5th place, with 1 through 3 gapping us quickly.  Chris Balestrini was out running, so I was pretty sure who would be winning today…the guy is a beast and has won this race every year I have run it.  He was pretty much out of sight about 500m in.  Spencer and I were cruising though and clipped off the first couple of kilometres at a really good pace to establish ourselves before settling in around 3:55/km.  We were chatting away and holding our pace steady, although Spencer would point out that I really liked to pull hard at every intersection we came to.  I couldn’t help it, I was fired up…especially when a pickup truck with a trailer pulled into our lane to attempt a right-hand turn just as we were about to come through the intersection.  Thankfully the police officer at the intersection put a stop to the guy.  We continued our run up Western Road, climbing the hill to the university.

Western to Old North (6K-10K, 19:59, 4:00/km)

We turned into Western and into the teeth of the wind…it was stiff.  We kept the effort up but the pace dipped a touch once we headed into Gibbons Park.  I could tell that Spencer was fighting it just a little bit at this point as his breathing was getting harder so I told him to tuck in behind me and I would take on the wind for him as best as I could.  I slowed just a touch to let him try and get his heart rate and breathing back in line.  It seemed to help as we were able to get back on our pace just in time for the London Pacers water station (always one of the best water stations for FCRR!).  I knew that we had the big climb of the race coming up though…we were about to exit the park up St James hill, a 20m incline over just 800m.

We turned up the hill and started our climb.  Spencer’s heart rate spiked again and he had to slow it right down.  He told me to keep going and he’d catch back up, but I knew the last thing he needed was to take a breath just to put in a surge to catch me so I slowed down to stay with him.  He got going again but it wasn’t long before the problem came right back.  All of a sudden I could hear another set of footsteps right behind us as the pack behind us closed the gap.  We were at 9K and if I wanted to hold my position I knew I had to let Spencer go.  I took off just before the pack caught me and didn’t look back…I didn’t need to look because I could hear them right on my heels.

Old North to Western (11K-15K, 19:06, 3:49/km)

I really started to pick up the pace after leaving Spencer, knowing that there was a pack trying to run me down.  I was able to enjoy the run through the beautiful Old North neighbourhood and took in the cheers from the spectators out supporting us as well as the delightful strains of the bagpipes…I had a big Scottish grin across my face as soon as I saw the piper ahead.  I continued weaving my way through the streets of Old North and soon came to the corner of Waterloo and Victoria, which happened to be where Michelle was volunteering as a course marshal.  As soon as I turned onto Waterloo I could hear her screaming from the other end of the street…”Come on Michael!  Woo Hoooooo!!!!”  I run up towards her and attempted (and failed) to grab one of the licorices she was handing out.  She informed me that there were three guys right behind me and probably said something like run faster.  I got hustling and picked it up a tad, dropping my pace down to the 3:40’s, despite running into the wind.  Soon enough I was making the turn north on Adelaide and then west onto the long Windermere stretch, which is a little climb followed by a big descent, and with the wind finally at my back!

Western to Gibbons (16K-20K, 19:03, 3:49/km)

As I made the turn off of Windermere and onto Richmond I decided to allow myself a quick peek behind me.  I could see back around the corner nearly 500m before the Windermere Mount blocked my view and there was nobody.  I was entirely clear of the pack that had been chasing me.  Obviously there was no one that I could see ahead of me either, as those three bunnies took off right from the start and I hadn’t seen a trace of them since around 5K.  I was all alone, just me and that stiff stiff wind in my face.  I was really wishing I still had Spencer with me at this point (or anyone, really) as it would have been nice having someone to work with against that headwind.  I just tried to make myself small and powered through it though, pumping my arms and legs as hard as I could.  Back into the university I turned and quickly back onto the path through Gibbons.  Really fighting that wind but still feeling good and strong.  I was working hard but never really struggling.  I passed the Pacers water station a second time and continued up towards St James hill where I kept straight instead of turning as I began to head back to downtown and the finish line.  I crossed under the Oxford Street bridge and one of the volunteers cheered me on, telling me that there was no one in sight.  I took a left out of the park onto Ann Street and then back into a brutal headwind for the homestretch on Talbot.

Talbot to Victoria Park Finish (20K-21.1K, 3:43/km)

It was actually a really nice boost to come up out of the park and onto Talbot, despite the wind and the final climb, because I was hooking up with the tail end of the 5K race…there were actually other runners!  I felt like the climb and the wind had knocked me well off my pace, but I looked down at my watch and saw that I was still cruising in the 3:40’s.  I shouted out encouragement to the 5K runners as I went past them and cheered them into their finish line.  I headed up Central Ave and made the final victory loop around Victoria Park, finishing up strong with a big kick down Dufferin into the finish chute.  The commentators saw me coming in my Team Sheri shirt and shouted, “Here comes Mike Cooke, the Tye Dyed Streak!”  Across the finish with a time of 1:22:13…4th place overall, 1st in my age group and even a 2 second PR!

It ended up being a great day of racing as I had a whole bunch of friends setting new PR’s and a number of them even running their first races at these distances.  Thanks to all the folks at Forest City Road Races for putting on yet another great race, they really have this race thing figured out after 35 years!  Also a big thank you to all of the awesome volunteers (my lovely wife included) who braved some pretty nasty spectating/volunteering weather to support us all out on the course.  Really appreciate you all being there.  Cheers, and thanks for reading!

Monday, March 27, 2017

2017 Around the Bay Recap

Posted by CheapRunnerMike

Race report!  My first race of the season was this past weekend in Hamilton, the Around the Bay 30K Road Race…oldest road race in North America, this being the 123rd anniversary.  This would be my third time doing the race.

I had signed up to take the bus down with the New Balance group, who provide bib pickup as well as the bus to and from the race for only $30…the only way I will ever do this race!  Michelle, my Mum and I caught the bus at 5:30am Sunday and we were pulling into Hamilton shortly after 7:00.  The race didn’t start until 9:30 so we had a bit of time to relax and enjoy the warmth (and toilets) of First Ontario Centre while we waited.  Once the race start was near we all headed off to our corrals to begin the race.  I ran into a few familiar faces I hadn’t seen since last season and said my hellos to Zindine, Brad and Luke.  I was at the start line with Brad and Luke but knew that their opening pace would be a bit rich for me as I had wanted to hold back a bit at the start.  The horn (a train horn since CN was the presenting sponsor) signaled the start of the race and we were off.

The Out (1K-10K, 4:00/km)
The first 10K of the race was through the Hamilton downtown and then out into a more industrial area as we headed towards Lake Ontario.  There was a pretty stiff headwind all through this section and that knocked my pace down a wee bit.  I was moving along well but just wasn’t able to find a good group to tuck in with to hide from the wind…everyone that I came up on was going a little too slow for my liking.  I made sure to not push too hard in the wind and tried to hold the pace around 4:00/km.  I came through the first 5K in 20:03 and began to run side by side with another guy and we held a similar pace through to nearly the 20K mark.  We were holding our own on the flat sections and every overpass we came to we bounded pass other runners.  Looking good for the hills on the back half, which I knew I needed to save the legs for.  We hit the highway offramp and looped around to the 10K mark in 40:03 to begin the next stretch of the race.


The Across (11K-20K, 3:54/km)
As we crossed the 10K timing mat we were also turning out of the wind…it was still there to be sure but it was a much more manageable crosswind.  This is the section of the race where I knew I could bank some time, yet being careful to keep enough in reserve for the hills.  I found a group to run with this time and stuck right on the heels of a woman that was absolutely dialed in to her pace.  We cruised along at around a 3:55/km pace and it was feeling relatively easy after the headwind on the first 10K.  There was another woman a little bit up the road from us and I commented to my new running buddy that she was reeling her in…she just chuckled.  We were certainly closing though and it wasn’t long before we passed her, and good for her too as she ended up placing as the 10th overall female.  We came across the lift bridge and made the turn towards the neighbourhood hills and began the swaybacks with the wind assisting us for the first time all day…

The Hills (21K-27K, 3:56/km)
This section is the meat of the course, where the rubber really hits the road.  It starts out easy enough with some gentle rollers and builds up to a few really tough hills and ends with the Valley Inn Road Hill, the signature climb of the course which was returning after a 2 year hiatus due to construction.  The hills in this section quite simply will make or break your race.  I managed to hold my pace steady through the first couple of rollers and then I saw a familiar sight up ahead.  There was Luke, chugging up a hill.  I came up behind him and made a lame joke about using the force, then proceeded on my way.  Luke was using this as a training run for Boston in 3 weeks, it is a really great pre-Boston course as there are plenty of similarities.  Up on the next hill I recognized another runner ahead.  This time I was pretty sure I knew who it was because of their form and I was right…it was Trevor, the young kid that I ran almost my entire Ironman Mont Tremblant run leg with, along with his mom on the bike beside him.  I pulled up beside him and said, “Fancy seeing you here.”  He just looked at me funny and said, “Do I know you?”, to which I just replied “Tremblant”.  “Mike!” he shouted, “Hey Mom, it’s Mike from Mont Tremblant!”.  He was pretty stoked and I think it was a nice little boost for him to see a friendly face out there at a tough point in the race.  Again I was off though, bounding up the hills and on to the final big Valley Inn hill.  I used the big downhill approaching it as much as I could and then proceeded to chug my way up the other side.  Head down, lean forward, pump the arms.  I chewed the final hill up and spit it out at the top.  I could hear some heavy breathing from someone that was right on my heels the whole way and once I crested the top I just stuck my fist out for a fist bump and it was my female running buddy from earlier…she crushed the hill too.  In fact she nailed it so well that she took off once we were at the top and left me in her dust as she flew towards the finish.  Beast.


The Back (28K-30K, 3:53/km)

The final 3K stretch after the hills back to the finish is all downhill, so you can really hammer it home.  Unfortunately the wind had other ideas on this day…yup, the headwind was back.  I knew how close I was though and I pushed the pace with everything I had left in my legs…I was now chasing a sub-2 hour run which would net me a gold medal.  I ignored my screaming quads and kept the pace rich, passing people all the way back to First Ontario Centre.  As we neared the finish there were cheers from the spectators and we made the turn into the arena to the finish.  I crossed with a bit of time to spare for the gold, official time 1:58:25.


Brad and a couple of his buddies had just crossed the line and both Trevor and Luke were in just shortly after me, so we all congratulated each other and got some pictures together.  Then I was off to the bus to get changed and have a couple of beers before Michelle and my Mum finished their races.  I cheered on some runners and saw the ladies cross the line and then before long we were back on the bus heading home to London. 

Oh, one other cool thing…on the way to the race there was a clipboard passed around the bus for people to guess their finishing times.  Michelle decided that she would guess my time and went with 1:59:16, only 9 seconds off of my actual time.  Turns out I was closest to my guess and I won a $25 New Balance gift card!  Sweet!