So my long-term goal has been to qualify for the Age Group World Championships at the Olympic (standard) distance triathlon. However, as my swim continues to need work, I know there are a few years to go still. That said, I had a bit of a surprise last year when a triathlon got switched to a duathlon because of water conditions and I ended up second overall. Suddenly I began to think of the possibilities of Duathlon Worlds (in Denmark!) while continuing with my swimming. With that in mind, the goal for 2017 was a standard distance duathlon qualifier, while still doing tri’s and various bike and running races.
Early spring I looked at the race calendar and Ontario had two standard distance duathlon age group qualifiers: Bracebridge in July and Bowmanville in late October. At the time I remember commenting that a duathlon in late October was just stupid, so obviously I would try for Bracebridge. I knew it would be tough as there are only 2 spots per age group, but my bike and run are getting to be fairly high level.
Unfortunately, I ran into a knee issue before Bracebridge with a piece of cartilage becoming dislodged and causing some havoc. At that point I decided to either just drop the idea, or if the weather was good to do Bowmanville in October. Sure enough, the weeks leading up to Bowmanville we had probably the warmest October ever. I got in a lot of great rides in the sun and relative warmth, so signed up. However, as race day approached the forecast got worse and worse predicting it to be cool and wet.
With an afternoon start, I was able to make the 2.5 hour drive that morning, and it was raining the whole way there. I also noted how hilly it got as I approached the venue, the Canadian Tire Motorsports Park race track. Immediately on arrival I noticed two athletes from the sprint race that morning being bandaged up from crashes, and upon commenting about this to someone else, he mentioned that another one was in even worse shape. Apparently as a car race track it is covered in spilled oil and has never been salted. During the race I noticed on some newer patches of pavement the water beading on sections like it does in an oily pan. So in addition to cold and wet, it was also going to be slippery, and I hadn’t even seen the hills yet.
We delayed as long as possible before setting up in transition as there was no shelter, and there would be no going back once wet. However, we did have to bite the bullet and get out there for a “warm up” lap. At least Spencer Summerfield was kind enough to share his umbrella so I could keep my post-race gear as dry as possible. Out on the course and it right away in the first corner I took things too fast and when I tried to brake my back tire just locked up and kicked out. Having to ease off the brakes, I blew the corner but fortunately there was a run-off for cars, so no big deal, and I looked around to make sure no one saw me mess up the first corner. From there on I knew I was going to have to pre-brake into any of the downhill corners. The next thing I noticed was the climbing. When you think of car racing, you think flat. Well, you’re wrong. The course had 50-55m of climbing each lap, and we would be riding 10 laps. Check out my ride profile:
Certainly there are few races around here where you do 500+ metres of climbing in a 40k ride. So cold, wet, slippery, and hilly, we were in for it…and boy did we get it.
Run 1 – 10.2km – 43:29 (4:15/km)
I was depending on the first run to warm me up, and it certainly did the trick. A bumpy course, with a short loop on wet gravel roads followed by 2 loops of the race track, meant my heart was pumping and the blood was flowing. A group of guys got out in front of me a good distance, and I was only able to pull a couple of them back on the bigger hills of the run. Relatively uneventful other than that my socks were thoroughly soaked before the ride began, and I was far from confident about my position in my age group.Bike – 35.1km – 1:08:04 (31km/h)
While on the run, I was thinking about what to wear on the bike. I had brought a jacket as well as a pair of dry gloves to switch into if I wanted. However, I remember how long it took to get a jacket on at the Woodstock Triathlon, and I wasn’t feeling that bad with the run. With a bunch of guys ahead of me whole all seemed to fly through transition, I made a snap decision to leave the jacket and keep my already wet gloves from the run. This probably saved me a minute or two in transition.
The first couple of laps on the bike weren’t that bad. I took the corners relatively cautiously, and found the groove for the right gear to kick into the 13% section of a climb. However, the elevation was already beginning to tell in my quads by lap 3, so I knew I was going to have to manage things carefully. On the plus side, I was slowly but sure bringing some of the fast runners back, particularly on the climbs.
However, by lap 4 things started to get uncomfortable. I was finding that the warmth I gained on the big climb each lap wouldn’t sustain me for the whole of the next lap. There was a downhill about mid-point of each lap, and this began to feel colder, and colder, and colder. In fact, the Race Director informed us after that the temperature went from 11C to 5C over the course of the hour long ride. With the wind and rain, it felt even colder than that. I soldiered on, noticing a couple people dropping out as I went by transition.
By lap 7 I was in a very bad way. My hands were freezing up, locked on the bar-end shifters of my aero bars. I was having difficulty uncurling my fingers to hit the brakes from the downhills, and my shivering led to speed wobbles. I could no longer feel my feet. I had thought about stopping at transition to get my jacket (as we had been informed would be allowed), but realized that I had left it uncovered from the protective towel during my first transition, so it would be hopelessly wet by now and of little use. I soldiered on, counting down the kilometres to the finish.
By lap 9 I was nearing delirious. At some point I was whimpering, so began to talk to myself because that seemed less weird. An official warned me about my drafting distance as I slowly passed a rider I was lapping, and I briefly considered stopping, getting of my bike, and using it to whack him over the head. It seemed absurd at this point with 17 of us even left in the race, on the ragged edge of hypothermia, riding 5-15 kilometres slower than usual, that the 20 second passing rule was of remote significance.
As I approached the end of lap 9, the course was pyloned off and officials were waving us into transition. The hollered at us that the bike was cancelled at this point, and if we did the final 5k run our times would at least count towards the race overall.
Run 2 – 5k – 25:10 (5:02/km)
Transition 2 was a bloody gong show. My hands were frozen stiff, and I couldn’t feel my legs from the knees down. It was nearly impossible to undo the boa dials on my bike shoes, and getting them off was just as hard. I tried to stand on my towel, but my legs were too stiff to work right, so ended up just standing in my socks in a puddle to put on my run shoes.
I set off at a plodding pace with my legs feeling like dead clubs. I could hear my footsteps in the wet gravel, but was getting little feedback. Turns out that running without feeling was better than what came next. My left foot started to thaw first and it began to feel like I was stepping on 10,000 needles. The right started to come back next, but as soon as circulation came up the leg my calf started cramping. More circulation, more cramping. At this point I had managed to uncurl my stiff fingers, but now couldn’t close them. At the water station a volunteer handed a cup to me and I simply slapped it out of his hand, unable to grip.
Near the end I passed a lady and we commiserated, commenting on how ridiculous the whole thing was as we plodded through a puddle deeper than our shoes that had built up across the muddy path.
We packed up in misery, still deeply cold in spite of the second run, and retreated to the relative comfort of the race facilities. Changing into mostly dry clothes, I got a kind gentleman to set the bathroom tap at a reasonable temperature so that I could de-frost my hands. On the plus side, the post-race meal was quite lovely, and the volunteers were exceedingly pleasant, bringing hot chocolate to where we were sitting with blown quads and burning fingertips. The timing folks informed us that they would have to send the results to Triathlon Canada to see if they would count with the shortened ride. I knew that with 1st in my age group and 5th overall I was definitely in if they counted, but we would be stuck waiting for over a week.
Well, an email finally came this week, and I’m going to Denmark to represent Team Canada.