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 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.


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!

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