Great White North – 2012
The day started with fried eggs and a liter of yogurt. Many great days in the past four or five years have begun that way. I don’t think it’s a coincidence. With my blood sugar controlled and some fat and protein in my stomach I made my way out to the lake for the start of the race. After pumping up my tyres and talking with everyone I wanted to talk to I still had an hour to kill. I sat myself down amongst all the commotion and relaxed prior to the start. Eventually when I couldn’t see any other athletes who weren’t wearing their wetsuits I finally decided I should put mine on. We then proceeded to make our way to the beach and stood around for another 15 minutes waiting for the horn to send us off on our way. I had got myself pretty cold by this point with the lightly falling rain and bare-feet on the sand, and was a bit concerned but reminded myself that the water was plenty warm and I’d be fine once I got going.
I started in the front row despite knowing I’d swim at least 10 minutes slower than the fastest swimmers that day. There were 800 people lined up and only 400 meters to the first turn and I didn’t want to be stuck in the melee that would inevitably result. I swam the fastest 400 meters I have swum so far in 2012 to start the race, and turned ahead of the vast majority of the commotion. I then proceeded to try and spend the next 1600 meters catching the drafts of the dozens and dozens of people who were passing me in the water. It sounds like a totally stupid strategy, but retrospectively I think I would probably do it again. It made for a very comfortable swim, and I never felt strained. I also wound up swimming quite quickly thanks in part to the fact that I was always in a good position to get a draft (i.e. amongst swimmers who are faster than me).
Upon exiting the water I saw 36 minutes on the clock and was very pleased. I was a bit of a zombie in transition, being quite dizzy, but I was soon on my bike and not feeling so bad at all. I lost my bottle of gatorade within 25 meters of transition when crossing a speedbump and navigating traffic that was employing typical age-group triathlon bike-handling skills. It was raining and only 10kms of downhill tailwind to the first aid station so I just pedaled on.
I did the first downhill tailwind section of the ride pretty much as you would expect me to: fast! I rolled an average speed of 49.6 kph to the turn southbound. I was in love with life at this point, riding a bike very fast is pretty much my favourite thing in the world to do. Turning south I started to pick off a number of friends and team-mates many of whom looked calm and relaxed and enjoying their days so far. Turning west into the headwind I started to focus on head-position to maximize my aerodynamics through what would be a key portion of the course. I had settled my heart-rate quite nicely after the swim and was ready to start cranking some watts. My legs were feeling good and I was on-target as far as I was concerned, the field was beginning to thin out quite significantly at this point and the people I was passing I was no longer ripping past.
Then I heard a hissing in the rain and thought that my brake pads had started rubbing on the rim in the rain. I don’t know why, but when I reached down to try and adjust my front caliper my rear rim hit the road and I went a bit squirrelly, the hissing was gone because all of the air had drained from my tyre. I was very calm about the whole situation, knowing that my hopes of earning a fastest-bike-split-of-the-day-cheque had now gone out the window. There was nothing I could do now, but dose my blood-stream with too much adrenaline. Before I had stopped I already had the lid off of my tube of sealant and was going to try and be moving within 2 minutes.
The sealant didn’t go in for whatever reason. Maybe because the whole thing was soaking wet, maybe because the sealant was a couple years old, maybe because it couldn’t go ‘around-the-corner’ of the cutout in my disc, or maybe just due to operator error. I had to do a full tyre change, Cam had now pulled up in the support vehicle and jumped out to help. I thought I was going to get a spare wheel from him but evidently he’d already given his spares away for the day because the wet roads were causing a ruckus for debris getting stuck to tyres. I had the new tyre out and it took some elbow grease and thumb strength to get the old tyre off before I could pop the new one on. Soon enough I was off down the road, but was going to be a pretty big chicken regarding cornering on the spare. The wet conditions meant I had almost no confidence that the glue would make a quick bond.
Leaving the scene of the crime I had a low heart rate and was absolutely killing it for a while. This was a big problem, my lower back started to hurt and I had also got myself pretty chilled during the 9 minutes spent at the side of the road. I had totally forgot what I was doing, namely riding a bike in a triathlon, and was trying to catch back on to the peloton in a road-race. It was a terrible strategy and when I realized what I was doing I was pretty mad at myself and then got really un-focused on the task at hand.
I had begun to then pass all of my friends and team-mates for a second time as I went through the river valley. Did I mention that I was scared for my life going down the hills in the rain on a poorly glued tyre? I was scared shitless and wasted a lot of free speed in the process. Coming out of the river valley the second time I started to regroup a bit from the thrashing I had given myself immediately after the flat and set out for the final 30kms or so back to town. I did an alright job through this section of pacing myself with a lot more restraint knowing that I had already done some significant damage.
Entering transition I was feeling pretty disenchanted with the whole idea of running 21 kms. It was a good thing that it wasn’t until after the race that I realized how little running I had done in the lead-up to the race. I had some sort of mental block or something because I had imagined that I had done pretty much the same lead-in to this half-iron run as I had done during my lead in to the Oliver half-iron run. I hadn’t. In fact, during the four weeks prior to this race I’d only run once, and only for 18 minutes.
Naïvety was my friend, and I set out and jogged alright for the first kilometer, one of my better brick transitions in recent years. Then my lower back started to tense up and my calves started to really ache and groan. The lower back was directly related to my stupidity on the bike, and the calves were directly related to my lack of running. I was actually having a pretty fun time at this point. A large part of this was due to the fact that I had tons of energy and that the only things that were limiting me were muscles. I wasn’t very happy with things but I feel like I had an alright mood which was a vast improvement on where I’d been on the bike when I was being an idiot. It’s a lot easier to be in a good mood when you’ve got sufficient glucose to feed your brain. I jogged along for a while, mostly keeping it moving faster than 5 min kms. I was stopping to walk briefly at the aid stations to try and give my legs a bit of a break. I then found that I was drinking too much coke when I did this and eventually quit walking the aid stations because I specifically needed *less* aid.
I stopped for a few seconds and stretched some muscles when I passed some buddies cheering on the run course. I also wanted to unload the CO2 cartridge that I was carrying. I waited up long enough to let Travis catch me and then we ran along together for a little bit. I couldn’t get my heart rate up at all, I couldn’t get the muscle recruitment to warrant it, and so I was fully capable of chit-chatting as we jogged along. Annett passed us here despite not moving like her regular self, and later Kris who was running well, showing off some serious leg speed and focus. As we saw the leaders coming back I felt inspired to do some crazy cheering because the rain was keeping most of the spectators away. It was down-right exciting to watch Stefan come by, I was almost 100% sure that he would catch Kyle Marcotte based on their proximity and how the two of them looked.
I was slowly making progress along the course and wasn’t being passed by too many more people. There are some longish straightaways just before the turnaround which seem like things are spread out but it actually goes by incredibly quickly if you just focus on the running. As I left the turnaround I ditched my sunglasses with Ben and had a little bit of a headwind which cooled me down a little bit which was nice. The humidity was at 100% and running with a tailwind meant that sweating wasn’t really working as effectively as it should have been so despite it being around 15 degrees, I was getting hot. The tension also released in my lower back and I was able to pick up my knees a little bit. I started to lift my pace and set my sights on maintaining the gap to the people ahead of me instead of fading further. As I progressed along the course my hips and lower back opened up a bit more and I finally was capable of running. Once I could finally start accessing the muscles my heart-rate was able to come up and I ran quite nicely indeed. I started picking off the fading triathletes ahead of me and passed between fifteen and twenty during the closing half hour of the race. When I finally could run I made good time, my calves were killing me before I started running hard and my hamstrings really started to complain when I lifted the pace but I was pleased to average 162bpm for the closing stretch at 4:17 per kilometer pace. I was quite pleased with this outcome and pleased that when I finally did have an opportunity to get a race out of myself I didn’t just jog it in to the finish, but rather laid it on the line and went for it.
The flat tyre cost me 9 minutes and 30 seconds when it should have cost me two. That’s mistake number one. Mistake number two was getting distracted by the flat tyre and making all kinds of pacing errors which proceeded to cost me relatively significant amounts of time on the bike, but more importantly the surging locked me up for the run. I don’t know how likely it is that I could have managed the 4:17 pace for the whole half marathon even if I had paced the bike properly, I would have been limited by my lack of running and my calves and hammies would have protested louder and louder eventually. Also, I wouldn’t have been able to access the ‘redemption’ motivation that I had to finish strong. ‘Redemption’ motivation may have been replaced by ‘competitive’ motivation if I was still in the hunt for a fast race, who knows, I didn’t have any of that on the run, that’s for sure. I didn’t have a PR in me at all by any stretch of the imagination (sub 4:14), but I would have easily been inside 4:25 without my mishaps, and possibly close to the 4:20 barrier. The 4:20 barrier is not just notable because it’s 4:20, or because Tim Clark’s race number was 420, but because it’s the threshold for qualifying to race as a professional. Eight guys did it this past weekend.
Thanks to Becky and Lenka for the photos.