Great White North 2010

Today’s post in three acts. There was also a prequel to this blog entry available here, which has all the graphy goodness so you don’t want to miss it.

Act 1 – A Story

Bring a steak knife to the carbo-dinner for Great White North 2011! The steak was great, but the flimsy knife given to cut it was not.

Simmon and I rolled out of Edmonton shortly before six with a mostly blue sky greeting us as we headed west towards the lake. Between the time we arrived and pumped up my tyres (running new tires on both front and back now… conti-podium on front conti-sprinter on rear) the cloud cover came in and by the time the race started it was a grey day. The weather was fantastically forgiving, not punishing you for making small errors in early pace judgement and inadequate fueling/drinking in the same way that blast furnace heat would.

Prior to the start I did my best to stay away from the large crowds of stressed out triathletes and was able to stay calm while 750 other people managed to seem to do everything but. No real start line was drawn but the waters edge was what I believed to be implied. With the 10 second warning there were people up to knee deep in the lake and arranged myself into what was a third row kind of position. The start was quick but not crazy and a general desire to not get punched in the face seemed to prevail amongst the melee of arms and legs so despite looking like an absolute washing machine every time I lifted my eyes to sight there was minimal actually hitting and kicking going on. The 400 meters to the first turn went by quickly with mostly 2 stroke breathing and the occasional 3 stroke to change sides with hopes of avoiding breathing in big splashes of water. Then we hit the brakes… and we hit the brakes HARD. 750 people all needed to make the turn at the first buoy and to do so people were slowing so quickly that I slid right up someone’s back as I was trying to glide coast into the traffic jam. Then zoom, sprinting out of the corner to clear the bunch. The drafting opportunities were fantastic and I took advantage of many of them as we progressed in to the beach and I was back to bilateral breathing for the rest of the way. The approaching shallows of the lake-shore were tasted before they were seen or felt. All the muck (muck is just a nice way of saying goose poo I’m sure) was churned up and I had a good laugh as I stood up and jogged around the buoy for lap 2. I hoped to swim the same perceived pace as the previous lap but this was easier said than done. Getting through a thick pack of swimmers is no easy thing, especially when there’s the occasional person swimming perpendicular to the generally perceived direction of flow. I had a good laugh inside on more than one occasion and placed myself in some very excellent drafts… but the effort level on lap 2 was lower than I would have liked, there wasn’t much I could do. I can’t really complain about the clowns swimming zig-zag all the way along the course, if I was a faster swimmer I wouldn’t have to deal with it… and that’s no-ones fault but my own.

T2 was pretty quick, I heard Steve King announce my name as I headed out of the lake and also heard him mention Travis Anderson at about the same time so I hoped to see him on the bike and wish him a good race. Tough luck, Travis’ transition was slower than mine and I wouldn’t see him until well into the run. I gave Glenn a big high five and he stripped my wetsuit like a real champion, one swoop and it was off, and then so was I. Helmet, shoes, number. Go! No fancy ITU mount for me today, the bike course started on an uphill with no room to coast so I put my shoes on at the bike rack and the executed a mount that any cyclocrosser could have been proud of. I think I probably passed 30 athletes in transition and another 5 at the mount line while I flew through the air before landing on my seat. Good thing too as I had been the 99th swimmer out of the water and I wanted as little traffic ahead of me as possible.

When I saw my HR for the first time on the bike it registered at 175bpm… which was only 2 bpm shy of the maximum it would see for the day which occurred somewhere in the process of my heroically fast transition and mount. I took it almost silly-easy as we rolled down the long gradual hill away from the lake towards town with a tailwind, I followed another dude at a legal distance as he did the job of shouting at everyone else that he was passing them on their left and I could just follow suit. This was nice and it saved me adrenaline, stress and lots of breaths. Once we turned south my HR had recovered back to a level were I felt like I should be allowed to start turning the pedals with any effort I passed the shouter as he had served my purpose and drove off. My HR was too high through town, 160bpm or thereabouts, and kept it easy as I waited for it to come down. Was it taking this long to recover from a hard swim? Was it just taking time to redistribute the blood through my body to the big movers in my legs? No stress, just keep riding easy, I unintentionally jettisoned a bottle of gatorade as we crossed the railway. I was evidently not the only person to loose stuff there as there were bottles aplenty lying in the curb. I didn’t really care about getting those calories or picking up other drink on the course as there were so many aid stations. Off I rolled.

By the time I passed Mike Downey (the fastest UofA Tri-club swimmer of the day @ 28:58 – huge props!) my HR had settled down to 155 with me starting to pedal with any effort. I wished him luck as I was now able to start riding a steady pace. I continued on at the steady pace adding in periods of moderate effort when we went up slight inclines through first a long crosswind and then a headwind section. I rolled through 40kms at 60:48 ride time and calculated myself to have an average speed of ~39.5kph. This was pretty slow but considering I’d basically coasted down the hill away from the lake and hadn’t done any work yet I wasn’t worried. It would pick up as I had now started to get into a groove and could ride as I felt I wanted to and had planned to. I soon saw Dave sporting his compression socks and saw he was riding with Kelly and Annette, whom I presumed to be the leading females. I chatted with Annette and then set off. I calculated Dave’s average speed through 40kms to have been between 38 and 38.5 kph presuming he swam 2 minutes faster than me, I figured he was having a good day and was happy for him as I started to enter lonely territory in the race. There was no-one around, more motorbikes than cyclists! I suppose that the marshals want to make sure that the leaders aren’t cheating, but the real issues are back in the packs, which would inevitably be forming without enforcement from officials. When I caught the next cyclist I realized why, it was the lead female, Kristina, to whom I relayed the info that Annette and Kelly appeared to be riding with eachother quite a ways back.

I eventually caught another mini-group of three cyclists just at the top of the hill near Genesee and was getting water and a banana as the leaders started to go the other way and I missed seeing who was who. I wasn’t planning on trying to take a split at the turnaround but I was interested to know which place Stefan was in, and where sat overall. I made the turn and rolled off back down the hill through the valley. Big gears, huge speed, then suddenly not enough gears and just coasting. I was focused on getting another banana eaten in the aero position on the descent, so I didn’t get to see where all my friends were ranked in the field. I noticed a couple as they whipped by my peripheral vision. I climbed the second time out of the river valley very reserved even though the plan had been to start picking up the effort here to moderate or even somewhat hard on the return. I was rolling well off the top of the hill with the sidewind and was going quick, I could feel the sidewind harder than it was before and was getting excited to drill it with the tailwind as soon as we turned right. Schooler passed me as I slowed for a bottle of water in the aid station, but I took some energy from the big crowd at the only reasonably spectator vantage point on the bike course and got up and put in a minute of hard effort to catch back up to Schooler (he was racing for a team so he was irrelevant but I was interested to see what kind of pace he would ride). I rolled along near him for a while and then took over in front when my steady effort was bringing me near to the end of his draft zone, eventually he would re-assume the pace setting. But when he slowed again and I went by I realized why he was no longer maintaining his speed. He couldn’t ride the aerobars anymore! I joked that if you want to race like a triathlete you’ve got to train like a triathlete. He smiled and complained about not being able to sit down anymore. When I went around the corner back into the sidewind I thought I could hear his carbon wheels behind me, perhaps though it was just the deafening sound of my disc going around the corner at 35kph. Off I shot into the sidewind. I waited until there were some trees along the road to lessen the sidewind so I could relieve myself into the ditch while coasting without getting blown over. I then set a new PR, for the fastest speed grass watering job I’d ever done. 40kph. By the end of the bike I’d consumed 1200 calories, although the number is a bit vague because I have to estimate how much HEED I took from the aid station to drink instead of the planned gatorade which got dropped. All in all this was a good amount and I was happy and confident with how it felt (well, the fact that it didn’t feel like anything!)

Photo from gallery: Great White North - 2010

I coasted into T2 quite happy with my ride knowing that I’d kept it conserved enough to run fast but had still put down a satisfactorily quick ride, I waved to the crowd which gave me a great cheer and hopped off my bike. I had my bike racked and my socks and shoes put on quite efficiently and then was off.

Photo from gallery: Great White North - 2010
Photo from gallery: Great White North - 2010

Almost immediately I could tell that the muscles in my lower legs were tight. The most concerning spot was just on the outside of my right shin, Extensor Digitorum Longus, and it wasn’t happy. (Thanks to this great resource for the muscle ID and treatment suggestions: Athletes Treating Athletes) It wasn’t classic shin splits but it wasn’t nice. My goal was to try to just run at a 1:30 half marathon pace until 8kms and if my HR was low then it was just effort in the bank that I could spend on the second chunk of the run. I could see Cal Zaryski ahead and knew that he would be running closer to a 1:22-1:25 pace, so I told myself if he wasn’t putting time into me then I was going too fast. This likely sounds like a counterproductive racing strategy, but my goal is to make it to the finish line as fast as I possibly can, not to compete and so this wasn’t a hard pill to swallow at all. I was largely concentrating on trying to be able to run at all with the frustration of my lower legs and didn’t control my pace as well as I could have or should have. It took until about 4kms at which point I had finally got my pace dialed back. It was partly the fact that my HR had come up that helped slow me back down to goal pace, this is something that continues to need practice, not necessarily in general, but specifically in brick workouts: running patiently slowly with a low HR.

Photo from gallery: Great White North - 2010

Pace/HR Chart

From 4kms through to 8kms I felt fine. I was increasingly frustrated as I passed through successive aid stations that did not have any gels on hand for me. This was frustrating and I tried to figure out how I was going to make up for the calories I’d planned to down from the gels which I had understood by the emails to have been promised at the aid stations. I tried drinking the flat coke, but it was flatter at some aid stations than it was at others. After a couple tries of that I wasn’t happy and switched to drinking HEED at each of the aid stations, this turned out OK. It meant that I missed the opportunity to try and feed on the run as I would have liked to have practiced for Penticton. Such is life.

At around 8kms I was hoping to switch to HR based running and lift it up to 162 bpm. It took me a while of just observing the HR before I decided I had actually better close the gap between the HR I was running and the target I had set. I came across an intersection where Ben and Lindsay were volunteering and they gave me the extra boost to make the change. Ben’s voice sounded really encouraging when I saw him and I believed him when he said I was running well, from there on I ran well, then a long stretch of tailwind pushed me along for a while and I kinda tricked myself by thinking the wind would push me like it does on a bike… it doesn’t really, but it makes you feel better about your running and I ran well. Then into the headwind I paid the price for cheating my brain into thinking the headwind had previously helped and was now hurting. I ran hard into that headwind, and when I got out of the wind I ran even harder. Once I was within 5kms of the finish I made the dangerous calculation of how fast I’d have to run to still meet the goal of a sub 1:30 run. The answer was 4.8 minutes (That information is dangerous, it could have slowed me down if I was not feeling good) but the motivation continued as I was quite regularly seeing other members of our club. The traffic on the path through the one final stretch and I had to do some cross country to get around the big clumps. With a mile left I broke out into an uphill headwind section and things weren’t pretty but I stuck with it, and then inside the last kilometer there were people watching… you have to run fast when people are watching!

Photo from gallery: Great White North - 2010

I didn’t realize that there was a clock for me to see at the finish line until I was almost under it at which point I had to make a mad dash to get in under 4:14, which I did. Not that I had to sprint the last 10 meters, because I’d beaten sixth place by more than 6 minutes! After the finish I was really dizzy just like Chinook two weeks prior. This time it lasted an uncomfortably long time and I just lay on the pavement waiting for it to go away. Once I got up and walked over to sit in the golf cart and drank a bunch of calories was able to stand up again without feeling so bad, I’m not sure what to make of it.

Photo from gallery: Great White North - 2010

Act 2 – Race Plan Execution

Stay calm at the start, stay away from groups of over-stressed people. Permission to be nervous but stay calm.

Just an on-shore warmup like I normally do before getting into the pool. Line up near the front, second row in center for the beach start. Run in to get going quick, don’t spike HR with a sprint.

Go hard for up to 200m if I can tell that there are feet around I should be catching. Hopefully something is found and I’ll settle into a moderately hard effort on someone’s feet or the same thing if I have to swim on my own. Hopefully I’m ahead of people who will be swimming faster than me so I can pick up some feet as they come around. Don’t redline for too long.

Keys to swimming well: long strokes, quick transition from hand entry to vertical forearm, don’t let legs snake after the torso through the water. Finish the strokes.

Aim to swim the second lap at same perceived pace as the first. If I’m alone, key is to find a rhythm and sight well to stay on course.

Goal: No specific goal set for swim other than to do my best. Aim for a slightly higher effort level than Chinook, anticipate that with an accurate course a 32-33 minute swim is possible.

Not able to go too hard off the start due to immediate congestion. Probably wasn’t close enough to the front, the wide start also meant that fast people were likely spread very widely. The bottleneck was going to happen anyways though. Did same or lower effort than Chinook Half and hence the reason I was a tad off my target time with the swim.

Bike General Strategy: Reserved effort on the flats to start, settle in and ride fast and efficient. Work harder through the rolling hills by the bacon farm and the two climbs in the middle of the course, maintain harder effort on the way back. Sight off of the remaining cyclists ahead of me and reel them in, don’t race to T2, but begin racing for the finish line with about 40km to go on the bike, meaning ~2.5 hours left in the race. Stay on track for ~1100 calories minimum.

Total food: 2×24oz bottles of Gatorade = 350 calories. three half bananas = 180 calories. 2 tube shot bloks = 400 calories, 3 gels 3×110 = 330 calories. If I want bananas then I don’t eat the gels, grab water along the way, ensure I drink minimum 1 bottle, 2 if hot.

Do not pace off of other cyclists, they are likely going too slow. Enjoy the ride, say hello to team-mates that I see while on course. . When passing stronger cyclists especially near the front of the race, take a drink first as a regulatory measure so that I know I’m not breathing that hard and then go past with sufficient speed that they’re not generally going to feel confident to come with me.

Let HR gradually rise towards 150bpm rather than hammering to get it up there. Fast cadence in headwind, run the big gears in tailwind with slower cadence, keep the power output smooth and my body aerodynamic. Aim to conserve momentum.

Once back into the smaller streets on the way back into town remain cautious, sprinting corners is only going to induce cramping so might as well be gentle here.

Goal: Average HR > 150bpm. Mentally pace bike to begin racing home from Genesee.

Incorrectly anticipated I’d be starting the bike with a HR that was going to need to come up to 150bpm instead of a HR that needed to come down to 150bpm. I think I made the right decision taking it so easy on the bike, if I were to have raced with no HRM I definitely would have been faster through this stretch, whether or not it would have cost me though is an open question… My heart rate wouldn’t have come down unless I took it easy, so I would have been faster but it would have been at the expense of doing it… and then likely the rest of the bike at an even higher effort. Nailed the goal with 152bpm on the bike, able to ride aero the whole time without any issues of muscular discomfort in glute-med or lumbar back, although I did find the shorts less comfortable today than at Chinook, likely because this course is only out of aero position for a grand total of 11 corners and optionally on two hills. Whereas Chinook has bum-shifting opportunities at less corners but more climbs are relatively notable durations out of the saddle. At the end of the race I thought about switching shorts for IM but on sober second thought IMC has a course with more opportunities for ass-relief than GWN so I’ll stick with what I’ve got.

Run General Strategy: Gradual start to the run, reserved on first out and back, 4:16 pace cap until the school, then with about 2/3 of the run remaining aim to pick it up through final hour, building pace.

first 8kms: focus on breathing, want feeling like I’m running easier than during a MAF test, notably short of breakpoint of deep breathing. Keep it capped at 1:30 half marathon pace, MAF HR cap. Let people get away from me if they are going to get away from me, self control.

On the way to turnaround, Run efficiently. Picking up pace from first 8kms slightly, goal to run 4:10kms or MAF HR whichever is faster. HR cap at 172bpm.

On the way back from turnaround Go Hard! MAF Pace is target, MAF HR is the absolute floor of acceptable effort. Keep lifting knees and picking up my heels, maintain proper running stride even if tired

Final mile back from junction: keep it flying! No need to sprint unless I’m contesting a position as this will exasperate recovery.

Nutrition: Gels at the aid stations, 3 miles, 6miles, 9miles. HEED at all aid stations. Water on body and ice if available and heat warrants it.

Goal: Run sub 1:30

As discussed in Act 1, I struggled with quite a bit of discomfort and then was focused on doing what it took to run and experimentation with how that felt, it meant that I didn’t have the mental focus on getting the pace quite right. I was able to dial it back as I was aware that I was going too fast but it took a while to reel myself back sufficiently. Picked up to MAF HR nicely once I tried and got in a groove, I found the pace feedback every 500m to be variable due to aid stations etc so paid less and less attention to it as I went because I knew that it was acceptable. Ran harder in the last mile than I needed to but I was seizing the opportunity and having a blast doing it, so if it means I hurt more the day after then that’s fine.

Act 3 – The Club

Stefan put in a good effort on the day, he really pushed it on the bike hoping that he could win the “fastest bike” prime which he did and then still managed to run well. Dave also had a great performance, he didn’t look like a champion when he rounded the last bend and came into view but, with 100 meters to go he pulled his form back together and ran across the finish nicely inside 4:30 which is really a great performance. Darren passed Andrea on the run which I wasn’t totally sure if he’d manage when I saw them go by in the other direction, but I’m sure makes him secretly super happy! The womens team wrapped up a win in their division with a swim that was more anticipated than any other swim in the history of triathlon, a bike ride from Shari that showed everyone who was boss with the 6th fastest female bike split of the day, and a personal best half marathon to wrap it up. Travis rounded out a great swim and frustrating bike ride where he struggled to feel good about putting food down with a run that is much more respectable than he gives himself credit for. Then came two big surprises. Or perhaps they weren’t surprises, just well guarded secrets regarding the performances that they knew they had it store but weren’t willing to divulge? Mike Downey made his HIM debut in 5 hours (if we give him the 30 second benefit of the doubt just like the Boston Marathon, which of course, we will) with the aforementioned swim a quick bike and a good run. The rumour from the spectators is that he needs to work on his transition though! Then Lesley cruised across the finish line with a mighty fine “crash course in last minute training” performance, breaking her PR from last year on this course with a notably improved bike leg. While she seemed to be chalking it up to “I don’t know how”, I think the consistency of training through ‘cross season and through the early winter when the majority of people do nothing of substance, and she maintained consistency did a wonder of good, combined of course with chasing Travis around on some challenging bike rides. Michele cruised across the finish in her debut performance having suffered a rather lengthy flat tire pit-stop on the bike putting together a run within only a couple minutes of her open half marathon performance in April, which has got to make her happy. Not far behind, Jen Moroz cruised in with a full trio of times that I believe she will be happy with, having also made her debut at the distance. Anita chopped an enormous 23 minutes off her time from last year, greatly improving both her ride and her run. Aisling also scored her first finish at the HIM distance and was quite pleased with it all things considered at the finish.

Photo from gallery: Great White North - 2010
Photo from gallery: Great White North - 2010
Photo from gallery: Great White North - 2010
Photo from gallery: Great White North - 2010

Thanks to Becky for not getting mad at me when I stole some photos of the race from Facebook without asking her

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