Race Report: Ottawa Early Bird


May 21, 2016 | Carleton University | 2km/31km/5km

Though it was my ninth duathlon, this was the first race I have done outside of the Trisport Canada (Subaru) and MultiSport Canada series.

Organized by Ottawa-based Somersault Events, the race appealed to me for the flat, closed bike course and the early race date. Trisport opens their season June 5, while MultiSport starts theirs a week later.

I have the Guelph Lake I 5i50 race planned for June 18. As a result, I welcomed the opportunity to train for and compete at a shorter distance, almost like a test, with plenty of time to train up before that next, much longer competition.

Somersault offered two duathlon distances at the Ottawa Early Bird. Their sprint was 2/25/5, while the “long” was slated to be 2/35/5. Anytime I have a chance to do a longer cycle segment, I’ll do it, since that’s my stronger sport. And since the next race I have booked has a 40km bike leg, I need the time in the saddle anyway.

I knew that this race wasn’t sanctioned by Triathlon Ontario, and I knew that it wouldn’t have a large duathlon crowd, based on years past. For 2015, only 12 competitors did the “long” du. Still, I figured the positives were going to make it worth the trip.

So first race of the year, and the first in a whole different series. How did it shake out?

I was a bit disappointed to place 6th overall, just scant seconds behind my nearest competitor. But I was a good 3 or 4 minutes ahead of the next competitor, and I did nail my target run paces. The best part was finishing the race without any pain or injury. I can’t remember the last time I raced without a nagging pain in either my foot or my leg — or both (big cheers for my athletic therapy team of Susan McGregor and Craig Earley!).

The Trip

Sadly, the Team McKnapp Chef d’équipe had to stay home to tend to our pooch — a familiar story, as this is how we started last season too. She deputized my sister Sue to take over her role for the race. This was a last minute decision, but we had known for a week that it was likely.

I had taken the day off work to allow me to get on the road to Ottawa before long weekend traffic started, so I was packed up and on the road by 11:00am. Race kit pickup was scheduled from 3 to 6pm in Ottawa, so I knew I had to make okay time but wasn’t in a mad rush. I packed a lunch, snacks and loads of water into the car so I could be sure I was getting the right foods into my body before racing, and headed out in full pre-race excitement.

Traffic was, of course, abysmal. Thanks to podcasts and satellite radio, I managed not to lose my cool. I was even able to chat through some work related matters with my boss while en route, which helped clear my head. And despite the slow going, I made it to Ottawa for 5pm, and onto the Carleton University campus to pick up my kit with time to spare. I did a quick walkabout of the transition and finish line areas, and then headed to my sister’s house for dinner and the night. We managed to have a nice visit — including a walk to loosen up my legs after a day in the car — and I still had time to do last minute bike and gear prep before making it to bed at about 11pm.

Race Day: The Positives

Race morning dawned warm and sunny. When I got up at 5:45 the sun was already up — that’s Ottawa for you! Sue and I were onsite by 7:05am, a full 55 minutes in advance of the start. I loved having my race kit already — just had to scramble for someone to assist with body marking and then go find my timing chip. I always prefer to have pre-scouted the race site to lessen confusion and stress the morning of races, and again in this case, was glad I had done so. From parking to finding transition entrances to getting your chip, there’s a lot to scout out while you’re also trying to get physically and mentally ready to race!

Here’s what else worked out well that day.

Taper & Rest: Hit my taper week bang on — by the time I went to bed Friday night, I was just about to go from “balanced” to “undertrained” on my watch. This is the sweet spot for me. And despite travelling all day, I had a great night of sleep. Though it was only 6 hours, it was a restful, sound slumber. By race day, my legs were rested and loose. I’d had acupuncture on my IT band on Monday at physio, and a very intense massage focused largely on my hips about 10 days before race day.

Pre-race nutrition: Sister Sue had planned a delicious and healthy meal entirely around my needs for dinner the night before, so I had a good base to fuel my race. My amazing friend Lisa had dropped off some of her famous turbo muffins before I left Guelph, so I had my familiar breakfast of those and Greek yogurt with about a scoop of  all natural whey protein, as well as a banana. Only had about 3/4 of a cup of coffee, but felt alert. As usual, I tanked up on water as soon as I got up. I’m prone to dehydration, and drinking about a litre of water between arising and racing seems to be a requirement. Sure enough, I felt good throughout my race — both properly fuelled, and hydrated.

In-race fuelling: I had two bottles with Hammer Fizz  at my transition mat. I drank about 500ml of it from when we arrived on site to when I went to the start line. On the bike, I was carrying the XLab Torpedo system I had just installed two nights before, with 700ml of Hammer Heed (at 125% concentration) with half a Fizz tablet added. I always add a bit of powdered vitamin C to my Heed mixture to give it a more acid, too — this makes it way more palatable. Given my hydration issues, I was worried about only having one bottle on the bike, and since it’s a new bike and an even newer hydration system , I wasn’t sure how it would go — but I made sure to sip frequently throughout my laps of the course. Although a couple of big bumps lowered the levels in the bottle, I did manage to avoid cramping and take in enough fuel. No need for a gel on such a short course, though I carried one in my jersey pocket just in case.

The First Run: Got stuck middle of the pack for the duathlon start, but there was lots of room to pass to get myself out of the crowd as needed. We ran the first kilometre in a full lane on Colonel By Drive, then at the turnaround, were supposed to run on the grass alongside the roadway. The competitors ahead of me chose to run on the road beside the curb, and I did the same — there were no cyclists on the course yet. First run didn’t seem very fast for anyone — I was in reach of the leaders the whole time. Nailed my target pace per kilometre, and felt like I’d pushed myself without going beyond my early season ability. I can do better, way better, but this was a shaking off of the rust.

Transition: Had a smooth T1 to the bike. Changed shoes, put on my helmet, took a big swig of fluids, and ran out to hop on the bike. It was my first race on the tri bike, so I was a little slow mounting, but I was still back out on the course in under 1:25. For the season’s first race, that was pretty much what I had expected. I’m never particularly fast in transition, but this felt pretty efficient to me. T2 was equally efficient, and I felt great in the first 200m of running out of there again. I’ve managed to keep doing bricks through the off-season, and plenty in training leading up to this race, so the cycle-to-run legs never went away.

The Bike: In addition to being my first race and only my fifth ride on the Ridley tri bike, this was my first time riding a closed course, and I loved it. It’s also a flat course, which is fun for a guy used to the rolling hills of the Guelph area. I kept count of my three course loops without issue, and though there was definitely some discomfort adapting to being in aero position, I felt pretty loose and had good concentration throughout. My pace was about 32.7km/hr, which can definitely be improved upon, but it torches my times on the road bike by about 3km/hr, all while preserving my legs for the next run. I did experience equipment woes in that the big bumps jarred my water bottle loose, so for the next race, elastics will get added to the existing retention system.

Second Run: See my thoughts on the course below — possibly the worst-planned course ever — but all the same, I sucked up that part, as did everyone else, and raced on pace, even on the grass. I also didn’t blow a hamstring, despite the perils. That’s a definite win. Last time I ran grass ditches (Guelph Lake II in 2014) my hamstrings rebelled.

Gear: While I had packed for every weather possibility, race day was sunny and warm, with mild to no wind. My DeSoto TriBib shorts are amazing, offering lots of compression, and a good distance chamois. Though they’re relatively new, I had no reason to notice them during the entire event — well, maybe just before I started, as I wrestled with them in the porta-let!  I’ve also recently found I no longer think of my orthotics when I’m running — which means my feet have adapted, finally. It helps that I just switched shoes for my longer runs, going to the Brooks Glycerin 12. What a great shoe – cushioning galore, but with great ground feel and agility. I’ve gone through so many different models of shoes in the last two years trying to find a good match for my foot woes that it’s not even funny. This one may be the keeper!

Spectators and (Almost All Of) the Volunteers: A loop course gives spectators lots of time to cheer you on, and they did. It was awesome to come ripping by on the bike each time to hear not only my sister, brother-in-law and nieces and nephew cheering me on, but the other spectators too. Volunteers at the turn-around points on the bike course were amazing for cheering everyone — especially the ones at Hog’s Back, who made me smile each time because they were so enthusiastic. A few run course volunteers were clearly just filling their requirements for high school, but the ones at the aid station mid-point were great, as were those funneling us around the corner to the finish line, who gave inspiration as well as direction. I don’t know if every racer feels the same, but I really draw strength from this kind of cheering — it’s an amazing thing. And I will say that although having young kids on the bike course makes it a bit challenging, I enjoyed cheering them on as I went by. Courage, kids!


The Not-So-Positive:

Site Organization: Somersault has been running races for almost two decades. They’re good people who care about multi-sport, and know what they’re doing, but there were some organizational hiccups. Chief among these? They had just three (yes, just 3) portable toilets onsite. Because the triathletes were starting in the athletic facility (it was a pool swim) the assumption seemed to be that they’d use washrooms there. Duathletes trying to find relief before the start of the race were contending with a line up 16 to 18 people deep, and after the races, all of the competitors, spectators and volunteers were forced to do the same — for what were by then some extremely full portable toilets. (But at least they had Purell!)

Transition Zone : Transition racking was marked sporadically. I bypassed racks marked “Olympic” because that wasn’t what my race was called in any of the pre-race material. Later, I found out that was supposed to be my rack — and illogically, they has assigned the longest-distance athletes the worst racking positions. Furthermore, athletes were allowed back into transition right after their races, though there were still competitors coming through competing in their races. That made for some spectacular near-misses. And finally, why get Sportstats for timing, but not have transition zone timing mats? There was no timing going in or out, so  it opens your race up to cheating (which one would hope isn’t an issue, but hey, why leave the opening?!), but more importantly, mucks with people’s times and pace measurement in a serious way.

Worst Run Course, Possibly Ever: The 5km final run was largely on grass, alongside Colonel By Drive. In some spots, there wasn’t even space for a lane of people going out and one coming back, as the space between the curb and a sharp embankment was too narrow. Never mind anyone trying to pass another competitor. Since there were many race running at once, including Try-A-Tri, there was a lot of passing required. It seemed like an odd route choice given that the race was at a university campus. Surely, having taken the trouble to close down Colonel By Drive both ways for the bike course, the race organizers could make a safer, race-friendly running route. Getting to the mid-point turnaround for the 5km run involved, after some 1.5 km on that grass, running down into a deep ditch, onto a paved sidewalk, then on a single-track trail marred by exposed roots and rocks, and finally a section through sand and debris — and again in reverse heading back. The chute to the final 100m before the finish line was a single lane rough-mown through a ditch coming up beside a bank of porta-potties (ones which we were not allowed to use!). It was a run course to endure, not one to torch. Totally unexpected given the university campus location, and the beautiful bike course. And not what a person was prepared for given the course descriptions, which yes, I did study carefully in advance.

Course Length Discrepancy: While I signed up for a 2km/35km/5km race, the bike course was decidedly shorter — like over 4km short! Run distances also came up short — they seemed to factor in a chunk of the transition zone, which is arbitrary for each competitor based on their racking position. I know this seems petty, but when your distances are all off by 10% or more, it seems odd.

Unsanctioned = Unmarshaled: I never thought I’d miss the Triathlon Ontario (TO) officials barking at people, but they do lend order to races. There were several transition zone infractions that made me wish an official was present (sprawling gear, bags and towels and gear set up at the ends of racks). The bike course could have used a few attentive TO officials, as several competitors were riding in blocking positions (hogging the left side of the lane) for long periods of time. With young kids on the course doing Try-A-Tri, a person needed to pay attention and practice really good race etiquette. Ours is a sport of community, but not everyone knows the rules or how to abide by them. TO officials can come across a little strong sometimes, but they do keep races running cleanly and safely. While Somersault had people on the course (thank you, volunteers!), there didn’t seem to be much in the way of rules and order.

My Own Mental Game: As always, I self-defeated on the longer run. While I was pleased to be in reach of the lead pack in the first run for the first time ever, it wasn’t because I was going super fast. On my final run, I was negative in my head the whole time, and I know for a fact that it cost me a placing overall, if not two. This will be my biggest challenge going into my next race — when the final run is twice as long. Frankly, as I’ve dedicated my season to friend Lightning McQueen and anyone else touched by cancer, I feel this was a particularly poor showing. My mental fortitude still needs work.

My Run Times: While I hit my target pacing for both the short and longer runs bang on, it was hardly a lofty goal — so slow you’ll note I’m not even sharing them. I’ve got the miles and the fitness to do better, so I’ll really need to draw on that between now and the next start line. At least I know I can pace to target. Now to improve the target.

Rebounding For June 18

Overall, it was a solid first race, but not an event series I’ll rush to repeat appearing in. I’m glad to have branched out from my usual series, and thrilled to have had such an early start to the season. And 6th place isn’t anything to sneeze at, I suppose.

For June 18, and the 5i50 at Guelph Lake, I’m working on the following:

  • Find more mental toughness, especially for run segments
  • Get back to speed for the 2k run, increase mileage to ensure I’m ready for 12km overall in the race. Due to injuries, I’ve been coming up a bit short so far this Spring
  • Increase overall comfort on the aero bike
  • Ensure I can climb strong on the aero bike
  • Drop at least some of the excess baggage I didn’t manage to drop this winter. Ottawa race pics weren’t kind to my self-image, but it’s very good to be jolted into action!
  • Keep up the work to stay pain-free and injury-free



PS: Though I’ve highlighted some brands and merchandise, nobody’s paying me to do so. I have searched long and hard to find the nutrition, hydration and gear that works for me, so I like share what that is.










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