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!

BG_Barrelman 2016

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.


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.


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.


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 30ยบ 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.


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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!