Wednesday, September 20, 2017

2017 Barrelman Triathlon Recap

Posted by CheapRunnerMike

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bike – 86K
2:15:14 (38.2kph), 7th AG

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

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

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

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Run – 21.1K
1:47:05 (5:05/km), 9th AG

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

2017 IRONMAN 70.3 World Championships Recap

Posted by CheapRunnerMike
Back in June I earned my spot in the Ironman 70.3 World Championships and this past weekend I was down in Chattanooga Tennessee to compete with some of the best long-distance triathletes in the world. Michelle and I made the drive down on Thursday with an overnight stop in Kentucky and pulled into town around lunchtime on Friday, and my sister Emily was flying in around the same time to meet us. We met up at the race village where we were able to explore the expo and I picked up my race kit. I was happy with the swag I was able to pick up with a couple of shirts for the kids and a beer glass and hat for me (I actually bought the women’s hat, liked the colour more than the men’s). The participant bag was the nicest I’ve received so far from an Ironman race as well.
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After leaving the race village we went to check grab some lunch and checked into our hotel. We were staying about 15 minutes away from the venue, not too bad. I had a little snooze in the room while the girls went out to lounge by the pool. Soon enough it was time to get some dinner so off we went to find some grub. We ended up eating at Big River Grille & Brewing Works where I was able to enjoy a nice cold IPA on the patio. As we were getting ready to leave I saw my buddy Luke heading into the restaurant so I called his name to say hi. We chatted for a few minutes and he asked if I had been able to get in the river for a swim yet. I hadn’t, so he showed me a video he had taken earlier that day of a guy trying to swim into the currant. He wasn’t moving at all, and the second he stopped he started floating backwards. Luke said it took him almost 5 minutes to cover about 100m, and then less than 50 seconds to go back the other way. Here’s hoping that they were able to control the river flow for race day!
On Saturday morning I got my bike all ready for race day while watching the coverage of the women’s race and then we all headed down to the race site to watch the women as they were heading out on the run. We snagged a pretty decent viewing location where we saw runners both starting their run and then coming through again for the beginning of their second loop. We saw the leader and eventual winner Daniela Ryf run by looking strong as can be, along with a number of other top pros that I had seen race on TV numerous times. It was really cool getting so close to the best in the world…I was even able to grab a high five from Daniela as she cruised into the finisher chute to claim her victory.
We knew a number of people doing the race and were anxiously waiting them to come by on the run. I was able to cheer for Carol, Ange and Britney but we somehow missed Erin. We did see Luke again, which became one of the themes of the weekend. I think I ran into Luke a good 7 times or so over the three days, crazy when you consider that there were thousands upon thousands of people in town for the races. We also caught up with Matt and Chris, my Splash n Dash training buddies. We chatted about the race and what we were all hoping to do and wished each other well before we headed off to rack my bike in transition in advance of Sunday’s race. The rest of the day was spent lazing around and fuelling up (Olive Garden, where we once again saw Luke) before heading to bed early. The alarm was set for 5am.
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Race day and the transition area was abuzz with activity. There was a really cool vibe going on as everyone at the race had qualified to get there so the level of competition was off the charts. This led to the majority of us to just be chill and not worry about winning or placing and simply enjoying the experience. That’s not to say people weren’t out there working hard and trying to give it everything they had, it just meant that the pressure was off. I put the finishing touches on my race setup with fluids and nutrition on my bike and then hung out with Michelle and Emily while we waited for the race to get started. The announcement was made that this would be a wetsuit legal swim so I was glad I had decided to bring mine along, though I had actually been looking forward to trying to race in my new swimskin. I got into my wetsuit and then headed down to the swim start. I saw Matt again with his family and we wished each luck, then I was into my corral to await my turn. The pros went off first at 7:30 and I wasn’t due to start until 8:00. I found a place where I could be alone and noticed a gentleman taking pictures just on the other side of the fence I was at…I waited for him to finish snapping photos and then I shook his hand and said good morning, and he wished me luck in my race. It was 6-time Ironman World Champion Mark Allen. Cool moment.
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Swim – 1900m
32:48 (1:42/100m)
The swim was in the Tennessee River and we had a self-seeded rolling start to kick it off. I put myself in the 31-33 minute crowd which I figured would be realistic, but I should have seeded myself faster (since everyone else did!). We were filtered onto the dock and were being set off in groups of 10 about 10 seconds apart. This was the first time I was ever able to start from a dock and therefore able to dive…the guys around me all said they were just jumping in and not diving but I said no way, I’m diving! I knew I would probably lose my goggles but who cares…I wanted to try it and didn’t know if I would get another chance. The beep sounded and we all took a few running steps before jumping in…I made an incredibly graceful dive (prove I didn’t!) and of course my goggles ended up on my nose. I took a couple one-armed recovery strokes while sliding my goggles back on and the other guys that just plopped into the river were just getting to me as I started up again…nothing lost nothing gained with the dive so glad I did it. It made me think of my daughter Kennedy and all the trouble she had with her goggles while learning to dive start and it made me happy to think about how far she has come with her swimming. We started out swimming across the river to the far shore with the current coming on our right-hand side and it wasn’t bothering me at all. I was swimming well and feeling good. I made the turn to head up-river into the currant and still didn’t feel it too much. It was there but it wasn’t really a problem. I was cruising along passing all kinds of people, and not slowly either…I was flying past them. I guess I should have seeded myself higher. It was a really nice swim and in the wetsuit it was actually pretty warm…I’m thinking that it really shouldn’t have been a wetsuit swim but oh well. When I eventually made the turn towards the opposite shore I really started to notice the current. I was sighting the buoys ahead and the current was really pushing me off target so I made the adjustment. Once I made the turn and had the current at my back it was fly time back to the finish. I came up to shore and grabbed a volunteer’s hand as he pulled me up and out of the river, then flopped down to the ground as a couple of wetsuit peelers ripped my suit off for me. Another volunteer called out my bib number and directed me down an aisle where yet another volunteer had my bike transition bag waiting for me. Smooth process.
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Bike – 90K
2:34:34 (33.3kph)
The first 8K of the bike take you on the city streets from downtown out towards the town of Saint Elmo. This was a pretty fast and flat stretch and was a great spot to start getting food and fluids in. I chugged some Gatorade and took in a Gu gel and a bit of a Clif bar knowing that we were about to embark on the course’s big climb up Lookout Mountain. I took a left turn in Saint Elmo and the climb was upon me. I put my bike into the small chainring right away knowing that I was going to need it…the next 5K was a steady climb of nearly 1000 feet with grades at times over 10%. Alex VanderLinden, a local pro I know, had been out to ride the climb a couple days earlier and had said that he averaged between 9-11kph most of the climb…it was legit.
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I managed to keep spinning around 90rpm but it was slow going. I passed a few people, a few people passed me, and I made sure to work hard enough that I felt it but not so hard that I would suffer for the rest of the race. As I came to the end of the climb the streets were lined with supporters blasting music and cheering us on…I was going slow enough that I was able to reach out and get high-fives from the kids that were there. The whole scene here really reminded me of Boston and the support you get through Heartbreak Hill, it was really cool and pumped you up just in time for a nice quick descent. There were a few more shorter climbs and a couple of really fun descents, including a nice twisty one that saw my speed hit nearly 70kph. The remainder of the ride was mostly rolling hills and the scenery was spectacular. My only complaint was on the back half of the course there were four large packs of riders, like 20 guys or so, that went bombing by me. These are illegal draft packs and if you doubt the advantage they provide you’re fooling yourself. I was going over 40kph (on my own!) and these packs went by me like I was standing still, and there were guys in the pack actually sitting up. It was awful. The first pack that went by caused me to visibly shake my head in disgust and one of the cheaters in the middle of the peloton said to me, “I know, it’s ridiculous” as he went by. Well if you know it’s ridiculous then why are you doing it?? The good news was that I heard from a number of people who were also complaining about the draft packs that there were plenty of guys stopped at the penalty tents, though I only saw two guys myself. In fairness I did see the officials out on the course a number of times so they were doing their best to stop the cheats. Sad to see this from guys that are at this level, but maybe that’s how they “earned” their spots.
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Run – 21.1K
1:35:48 (4:33/km)
Onto the run and my legs felt great right away. I flew through the first kilometre on adrenaline at a way too fast 4:02. I was pretty sure that I would be seeing Michelle and Emily shortly and sure enough there they were in the middle of the very first climb. I ran over to give Michelle a smooch and then gave Em a quick hug and I was back on my way. This run course was no joke…it was climbing nonstop and the climbs were long and hard. If you wanted a good time on this course you were going to have to earn it.
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I made my way up the hills to the first turn and we headed into a really pretty park area along the river. There was shade through this stretch and a bit of a descent as well to allow some recovery in the legs. We ran through a boardwalk area before coming out into a little subdivision with another big climb and then the bridge that took us across the Tennessee River and up the biggest climbs on the course. The aid stations back in this section were having a lot of fun as they were themed as police (one of the guys was SWAT team, and carried a flyswatter in his holster) and another station was a hula party. The neighbourhood was out in full force cheering us all on through what was probably the toughest stretch of the course. As I came down the last hill the out and back sections of the course briefly came together and Matt spotted me coming so we nailed an awkward high-five and cheered each other on. Another short little climb up through a section that reminded me of a small town downtown area and then we turned onto the wooden pedestrian bridge to cross back into downtown Chattanooga to start our second loop. I saw Carol and her friend Becky right after the bridge and they were cheering me on and I couldn’t help but smile…they were certainly having a good time with their races already in the rearview mirror.
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Out onto my second loop and I saw Michelle and Emily again. I had told Michelle before the race that I was just going out to have fun and not push too hard…I mentioned something about kissing babies and taking selfies out on the run course. So when I saw her again I decided to run up and grab a selfie with her, which I think she was a little surprised by. I was really enjoying myself and just having fun out there. As I turned to get back on the run she yelled that if I kept my pace I would be under 5 hours…well, that surprised me. I hadn’t really been watching my pace or time so didn’t realize that, but figured I may as well try to get under 5 since I was on track for it. I started to buckle down a bit and keep the pace around 4:30/km and managed to do a pretty good job of it. The climbs were a little slower and the descents a little faster but I was holding it together pretty well. My right foot had felt funny right from the start of the run, almost like it was numb and I couldn’t really feel anything more than a stump at the end of my leg. It wasn’t getting better but it wasn’t any worse either. At this point it was just getting annoying so I tried to just push it out of my head. I was onto the last tough climb on the north side of the river and someone came up from behind and smacked my butt and told me to get going…it was Chris who was out on his first loop. He went by in a flash of neon and was looking really strong. I asked how his leg was feeling as he had been dealing with IT pain and he said it was sore…makes his run that much more impressive, the guy is a beast. I chatted with some other runners to pass the time and then as I started to cross the wooden pedestrian bridge into the last mile I saw a guy ahead of me with ‘Jeff’ on his bib…it made me laugh as I thought of Jackson and some stupid thing he says…”My name is Jeff” in some dopey sorta redneck accent…and it gave me that final bit of motivation I needed to get through to the finish. I made the turn down to the finish chute and hit the red carpet. I was well under 5 hours so I let myself enjoy the moment as I crossed the line with a final time of 4:57:21.
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I was given a finisher’s towel, shirt and hat, along with a delicious ice-cold Coca-Cola (so good!). Then I started to head out of the finisher’s area and realized I couldn’t put any weight on my right foot. I limped around until I found Michelle and Emily and then sat and took my shoe off, revealing a VERY swollen foot. I ended up going back to medical where they checked it out and gave me some ice for the swelling. It wasn’t long and I was able to hobble around much easier so off I went to grab my finisher food and beer.
After grabbing my bike and gear we loaded the Jeep back up and then went for some lunch at a joint called Sticky Fingers where I had some delicious BBQ and IPA. Emily was catching her flight home afterwards while Michelle and I headed to Nashville for the night where we had a great time on the town before making the long drive home on Monday.
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All in all it was a really great weekend…lots of fun with people I love, was able to watch an awesome women’s race on Saturday and take part in a fantastic race myself on Sunday. Just a lot of fun. Thanks to Michelle as always for your support and thanks for coming to cheer me on as well Emily. Thanks to Coach Sheri for getting me to my race in one piece and thanks to all of you for your cheers from afar…I appreciate everyone’s support and well wishes. Cheers folks!



















Monday, August 21, 2017

2017 Goderich Olympic Triathlon Recap

Posted by CheapRunnerMike

Short version…I swam well, I biked well, I ran well, but I raced like crap.

Long version, read on.

While just about everyone else I know was racing at Ironman Mont Tremblant this weekend (huge congrats to everyone who took part!), I had the Goderich Olympic Triathlon on my schedule. I did this local race a couple of years ago and knew that it was a challenging course with a tough swim, lots of hills on the bike and a run along a beautiful rail path that was a long steady climb the entire way out. A really great course that makes you earn every minute of your finishing time.

The race was on Sunday morning and we were up at the cottage for the weekend, so the drive up was only an hour or so. We arrived at the race site with lots of time to get my race bib and timing chip and then go set up my transition area. Michelle and Jackson came up to cheer me on and Jackson had a friend there with him as well. We chatted with some familiar faces and I got a quick warmup swim in, checking out the waves that were crashing into shore and the rollers out on the water. It was going to be a tough swim today!

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Swim – 1000m
18:55 (1:54/100m), 1st OA / 1st AG

The Goderich swim is usually tough, probably one of the reasons it is only 1000m instead of the typical 1500m. There were huge waves when I did the race a couple years ago and last year was even worse, causing the swim to be cancelled. There were plenty of waves again this year but not enough to stop us from getting the swim in. We all lined up just a few feet into the water and the race began. Almost right away I could tell that I was at the front or just a couple swimmers back at the most…it was hard to tell as the waves were crashing on us heading out and the swells were bobbing us all up and down. Sighting was difficult but it was easy enough to spot the orange buoy that we had to turn at. I hit the first turn and was now pretty sure I was the lead swimmer, not that I would have even been able to see someone out ahead of me with the swells. The waves were coming from the side know as I set out for the next swim buoy. I kept cruising along focussing on good form, keeping myself small with big arm swing. I sighted as best I could as I went up and down the waves but it was not easy. It seemed like I was staying on course but as I made it to the second buoy I realized I couldn’t see the third and final buoy anywhere. I started swimming head up trying to find it with no luck. I looked all around me and there was no one…a whole bunch of swimmers were coming up from behind but I was a good way out ahead of them. Maybe I had missed the second buoy? Easily done in these conditions I suppose. Then I spotted some race officials nearby on a Jet Ski…I started waving at them and yelled “Do I turn to shore here?” They came over and said yes, I was supposed to turn back towards shore so off I went towards the yellow flags on the beach marking the swim exit. I was going at a good clip now with the waves pushing me in, but it wasn’t long before the Jet Ski came up to me and said “You need to go around that buoy!”, pointing in the other direction to the third swim buoy that I couldn’t see earlier. Crap. The swim pack was nearing the buoy so I hightailed it the other direction and narrowly made the turn just before the pack, then busted it into shore where I somehow managed to still be first out of the water despite my bonehead mistakes. This was mistakes number one and two. More to come.

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Bike – 42.5K (if you stay on course that is)
1:16:11 (33.5kph), 7th OA / 3rd AG

As I ran from the beach up to transition I was stewing about the mistakes I had made. I saw transition and turned to run in but then someone yelled that I was going the wrong way, transition was the next entrance. Seriously?? I guess we actually run across the run finish chute before going into T1 and there wasn’t anyone blocking off the chute, so I just thought that was where we turned. Ya, it wasn’t. Mistake number three. I turned and headed into the actual transition area and was halfway to my bike all the way at the far end when they started yelling at me again. “You missed the timing mat! You need to go back!” Oh come on, this was just getting stupid now…I had no choice but to laugh as I turned around and raced back to the mat. Mistake number four. Then off to get my wetsuit off and head out on the bike. Officially my T1 was only :59 seconds, so at least that was good…of course that doesn’t count all of the other time spent running around touring the race site (that was all hidden in my swim time!). Anyways…out on the bike.

The bike is hilly and there is no easing into it. The first hill comes right away and it is a pretty steep climb up from the beach. I started the climb and once I made the top of the hill started putting down some watts, trying to put some distance between the chase group and myself. I was zipping through the neighbourhood when I came to the first busy intersection just under 2K into the ride. There were a couple of police officers who were at the intersection to control traffic…or at least that’s what they were supposed to be doing. Instead they had their cruisers parked on the side street and they were out of their cars just chit chatting with each other. I came speeding up and had to come to a complete stop when the one officer asked me if I was the lead bike. Uhm, yeah. “Oh sorry”. He got in his car, hit the lights and went out to stop traffic and then proceeded to direct me straight through the intersection. Straight. Not left. Which was where the course went. Seriously. Mistake number five for those playing along at home. I went through a couple more unmanned intersections and was pretty sure I was now off course in a town I don’t know at all. I did know where the course went though, but I couldn’t tell you the street names. I was able to head north and back west though and then I saw streams of cyclists going by a few blocks ahead. Geez. An extra one and a half kilometres of sightseeing but I was back on course, with who knows how many people now ahead of me. Nothing to do now except put my head down and get to work.

I was able to pass a number of people heading up the climb along the highway and made the turn east. A couple more passes and then I saw my buddy Carol up ahead looking really strong (she went on to take first place female!). As I went by her she was like, “What happened to you??” I gave her the quick and dirty on going off course and got back at it. Very shortly afterwards another familiar face came along, this time it was Abe passing me (the only guy to pass me the entire day). He went by looking like a beast and knowing how strong he is on the bike I decided that right outside of his draft would be a great place to spend the next 25K or so. Abe continued rolling and I was feeling really good pacing off of him, but when we began to head south we had a 90 degree turn with an immediate climb. This slowed Abe enough that I entered into his 3m draft zone meaning I had to pass him. Until this point I was almost positive he had no idea I was even there, which was what I had wanted. As I went by I made some sort of comment about hanging on his wheel and almost right away he went by me again, but this time he hammered it a bit harder and really pulled away in an effort to drop me. I didn’t even bother chasing as I knew that I was already on the fringes of where I wanted to be power-wise and trying to stay with Abe would only torch my legs for the run. Mistake number six. From that point on in the bike I was solo, with only the hills to keep me company, until we merged towards the end with the duathlon and try-a-tri. The best I could tell there were four or five guys up ahead on the bike, but I really had no clue. Back into Goderich we came and finally, with only 2.5K left we go, we were done with climbing. Yup, this is a tough bike…and riding 44K while everyone else only does 42.5K doesn’t make things any easier!

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Run – 10K
42:21 (4:12/km), 2nd OA / 1st AG

Empty racks in transition so at least that was a good sign. In and out in :44 seconds. As I was finishing up the bike I had seen Abe already out there as well as Cason. Cason is super fast, so I knew first overall was no longer a possibility…I would be running hard, hopefully for a podium spot. I left T2 and saw Spencer coming in to finish (and win) the duathlon. He got a high-five from Jackson so I decided to grab a high-five from both of them as well as I went by in the opposite direction. As I passed the family Michelle asked me if I was okay and what happened, knowing that there must have been some sort of bad thing on the ride. I just grunted and shook my head.

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The run begins with the same big hill as the bike, but halfway up the hill we duck off the road and onto an old rail trail. It is a beautiful run with a couple of bridges to run across and lots of shady spots. I came up behind Tanner, yet another Splash n Dash buddy doing the race and he asked what happened to me on the bike…seemed to be the question on everyone’s mind! He was actually second out of the water and never saw me on the bike, so was a bit surprised seeing me behind him. Next up was Abe, who had slowed down with a nasty side stitch…the consequences of a hard bike he would later tell me. Abe said that the podium was right ahead and I could see third place there for the taking. I was able to pass third shortly afterwards and focused on moving up to second place, but the two leaders were nowhere to be seen. I would have to wait until the turnaround at 5K to see what sort of gap I was still looking at. The legs were feeling good and if properly motivated I was ready to run them down. Well, Cason went flying by me on his way back towards the finish and I could see how strong he was looking. I told him he was crushing the run and there was no one in sight behind him…he was way out in front. I glanced at my watch and saw that he was almost 2K ahead of me…no chance. It wasn’t long before I saw second place coming by and the gap to him was also pretty insurmountable at nearly 1.5K. I wasn’t catching second place today either, but I would keep running strong and see what happened. I made the turn at 5K and began making my way back towards the finish and cheered people on the whole way back. I made sure to keep going hard enough that nobody was going to catch me but I wasn’t really motivated enough to push hard and make it hurt knowing that the guys ahead weren’t about to be caught. I made the turn off of the trail and gave it a good final kick to the finish line where I heard Michelle cheering me on. I crossed the line with a time of 2:19:08 which gave me third overall and first in my age group…a really solid result in spite of all the mistakes I made during the race. Overall I had to be happy with my performance but also knew that I needed to do a better job in the future with a few aspects of my mental game.

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After the race we hung around for a bit and were able to catch up with friends to see how their races went. I was able to congratulate both Cason and Carol on their great wins and was happy to see so many Londoners and Splash n Dashers up on the podium collecting hardware…you were well represented Coach Sheri! Thanks everyone for reading and special thanks to Michelle for the great race day support. Next up, 70.3 World Championships in Chattanooga!


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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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 68º.  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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!