Race Report: Guelph Lake I – 5i50

This was my third time racing at the popular Subaru series races of Guelph Lake I, and my second doing the 5i50 distance. The 5i50 is so named because in the triathlon, at least, total race distance totals 51.50km, although the duathlon version covers 52km, comprising a 2km run, 40km bike, and a final 10km run.

Having started my season a full 4 weeks earlier in Ottawa, I’d hoped to be running nice long training distances before this race date. Unfortunately, I only squeezed in a couple of long runs, and even worse, my body let me know a full two weeks out that we were pushing it a bit hard on the training front. As a result, I had to ease up for the final 12 days before racing, making for a bit of a longer taper than I had planned.

At least I entered into the race with fresh legs.

The Venue:

Guelph Lake Conservation Area hosts the Guelph Lake I and II races in June and August, respectively. It’s a gorgeous site. We left the house a bit late, but arrived at about 7:10am, and found a fair line-up entering the conservation area. Thankfully that was moved along quickly by the friendly GRCA staff, who were abundant in number.

After navigating the slow moving parking queue in the mown field on-site, we schlepped across to drop my bike at transition and then on to complete registration. As usual with the Subaru series, the 5-step system is pretty efficient, although the line of triathletes waiting to drop off waiver forms and pick up of packets/swim caps was outrageous [Advantage: Du!]. Body marking, timing chip pickup, race bag and shirt pickup were all done in a matter of minutes, leaving me extra time to set up my gear and get warmed up.

This year’s pleasant surprise was finding that the transition zone was paved with that hardpack quasi-paving material. Carpets were down as runways for the barefooted athletes, and though I’m sure the loose bits of gravel kicked up still caused some woes, the effect of having a hard surface in transition is great for the most part [I still remember the mud and straw of the transition area at Belwood last year in July — it dried so solidly in my bike shoe cleats so that by mid-race, I couldn’t clip back into my pedals!].

With the Try-a-Tri running later Saturday afternoon, and the sprint races scheduled for Sunday, the race site was humming with a mid-sized crowd of 5i50 tri and duathletes, and a small group of spectators — of whom a good 10 belonged to team McKnapp.

Subaru series races always seem to have ample space for the site to sprawl. Lots of vendors, many volunteers to assist with registration/pickup, many portapotties, and clear directions on where to go. For anyone missing those directions there’s usually a volunteer or series staffer around who can provide direction.

The Race:

The waves of triathletes were underway from 8:00am, leaving us duathletes lots of time to warm up and spectate from up above on the roadway before our 8:20 start. As my friends rolled into the venue, I got to greet and do pictures with them while still having more than enough time to do a bit of a run, some stretching, and then queue up at the start line.

The brightest light in my pre-race prep was the surprise arrival of Lightning McQueen, to whom I dedicated this season. What a great boost just before the start.

Run 1: 2km – 08:30.7
Found a good spot in the start mob — third row back, but on an outside edge. I had set an aggressive target of 4:15 per km, and was pleased to hit it bang on. It’s hard to predict what your body will do in a race vs. what you can achieve in your training, but I felt good even pushing myself to this for the first 2km. Out and back and into transition, where I took a good swig of my Hammer Fizz, switched shoes and threw on my helmet to run back out for the bike. Transition time, though, was a disappointing 1:46. Way too slow. That’s partly due to rack location (duathlon racks were the furthest back from the bike entry/exit) but more due to my own slowness. It’s my consistent slow time, at least.

Bike: 40km – 1:14:58
I train on these roads, and have raced Guelph Lake several times, so I knew that the bumps, rough pavement and potholes on the first 4km of bike course along Watson Road were terrible. But after that, the pavement gets a bit better on County Road 22, and then becomes positively pristine for the remainder of the way, until you turn around and come back. There was no wind to speak of, so it was a great day to bike.

My mount was much faster at this race than it was in Ottawa. I’d gone out to practice the night before, mounting and dismounting the aero bike. It sounds simple, but the geometry and balance of the bike, as well as the positioning of my behind-the-seat water bottle cages, necessitates a good mounting technique. As I hopped on during the race, I gave myself a little cheer for having found a faster way to get on the bike. Even my wife commented later that it looked faster and less awkward than my usual style. No flying squirrel, which is truly fast (and awesome to watch) but still faster than previously.

All the same, I had trouble finding rhythm for the first half of the bike. For the first 10km, my quads were screaming, I guess mostly about that first run. And then I realized that I was having trouble drinking from my bottle, which I had sealed extra tight for the bumpy start of the ride to avoid losing all my hydration to splashing.

On a flat stretch, I removed the bottle lid, took out the bit of plastic cling wrap I had added to seal it, put the lid back on, and then drank way easier from there on. The Hammer Heed and Fizz combo wasn’t tasting very good in the heat, and I actually barf-burped at the 15km mark, but I managed to take enough of the mix in — and keep it in — to stop my body from cramping up or bonking later.

When I hit the turnaround at 20km, my legs suddenly kicked into gear and I found some more speed. Unfortunately I’d already been passed by just about everyone in the field, all of whom seemed to be effortlessly putting in the miles faster than me.

Coming back into the park, once again, the crowd slowed for the final speed bumps and approach to the dismount. I hammered in past a few more people and made my way back to transition. My speed for the first 20km averaged low, but I did make over 37km/hr for 10 of the final 15, averaging just under 35km/hr for the final 20km. That’s more like what I had as a goal for the ride in the first place. Not the 32km/hr I averaged over the whole course..

My cheering section was so loud and enthusiastic as I ran into T2 with my bike that I was outright laughing. Great to have all that support!

Run 2: 10km – 51:49.7
Transition 2, from bike back to run, was slightly better, and I was underway in 1:29. Still not fast, but efficient enough. The cheering section was loudly encouraging again, and as I trucked back out onto the run course, I had one goal — to clock it at 5 minutes per kilometre. This was amended from my more aggressive pre-race goal of 4:55 per km, but a required adjustment, I knew, due to the heat and humidity of the day. Sure enough, by now it was 9:50am, and the temperature was soaring.

My first three kilometres were good — I saw I was pacing at 4:50, so I slowed it down to 4:55, and then crept back to 4:51. From there, wham, the heat took its toll. Down to 5:11’s, 5:20’s, even a dismal 5:34, before picking back up to the 5:10 range. The course is largely paved, but there are two sections that require running on grass and gravel where a road used to be. Both of these have turnarounds on them, and they tend to be pretty disheartening because you can’t get a sense of how far you have left to go — not to mention that it’s a slower running surface because of the grass and gravel. By the 6 kilometre mark, I was definitely feeling low.

I knew early on that I was overheating, so I stopped at each aid station to take two full sips of water and dump the rest on my head, before trudging a few more steps at a walk and getting back up to a run. It resulted in a major slow down overall, but it kept me moving.

I was channeling every single inspirational thought and mantra I could, but in the end, I had to just picture a magnet on the HR strap on my chest, and a magnet at the finish line pulling me in. The mantra became “Finish Line”. Over and over. One foot, the next, then the first one again.

By the time I hit the final 200m to the finish, I was feeling pretty woozy. I managed to speed up for the slight descent to the finish, but as the volunteer took my timing chip off my ankle, I had to hang on to the fencing to stay upright. For the first time in my life, I was officially overheated.

I collected my finisher’s medal and cold bottle of water, and parked under the nearest shady tree. In the end, I sought a cold pack from Medical, who were awesome about checking in on me for the next while, and spent the next 30 minutes trying desperately to cool off while still visiting with my awesome friends who were there as spectators. Chef d’équipe was great about getting the fluids in me (including procuring plain shaved ice from the snowcone station — brilliant!), collecting my post race snacks and even going and checking results. Within 45 minutes I was feeling magnificently better.

Final time: 2:18:32.5

I placed 9th overall in a field of 47 racers, and 4th of the 9 competing in my age group of 40-44 year old men.

I was less than a minute out of medals for my age group (for medals, they grouped together the 40-44 and 45-49 year old men). Sufficient to say that I’m angry at myself for not pushing harder on the first 20km of the bike, and for being so pokey in T1!

All the same, a top ten finish at this distance feels really good, especially considering I haven’t felt like I’ve had the miles in for a longer distance race. Given that the 40-44 Men’s age group took four of the top ten slots, I think it’s safe to say we had a good group. The field was small but very competitive.

The Positives:

Total race time was two minutes faster than last year. While I had hoped to shave more time off with the faster bike at my disposal, I am happy that I had a much faster first run this time, and I know I can do faster still — I look forward to it.

My supporters were amazing — getting up early to be onsite for 8am, and cheering their hearts out not only for me but for all participants. It’s such a great boost, and I can’t even begin to express how touching that was.

Finally, I consistently love the vibe at the Subaru series races. Perhaps because my first 4 faces were Subaru series, or for who knows what other reasons, I really enjoy showing up to compete in this series. And racing locally, on home turf? That feels pretty comfortable, as tough as the race itself might be.

The Negatives:

I was much slower than I wanted to be on the bike, so I know what I need to work on. I’ve taken the bike leg a bit for granted since my first race two years ago, but it’s clearly becoming something to work on — now that I have a faster ride, I need to get accustomed to riding faster. I’ve also been riding without a bike computer on the tri bike, thinking I could rely on my Polar V800 on my wrist. Unfortunately, that doesn’t let me see my pacing easily enough in real time, which seems to help me govern my efforts. I’ve already added a Cat Eye wireless to my rig since the race, and sure enough, having the speed in sight makes me work harder.

As for my final run? Worse than last year’s 10km run at this same race. But clearly my body gave all that it could. And despite how awful it felt, I just kept running. I’ve got lots of summer left to work on my endurance, and I’ve already re-doubled those efforts.

With the weather being up and down this spring, but mostly down, we’ve all had limited chances to train in the heat. It certainly had an impact.

Next Up For Team McKnapp

We’ve got four weeks until Niagara takes place July 17. The sprint du in Grimsby challenges with a mix of trail and road running and a short but very steep escarpment climb on the bike. I raced here in 2014 and look forward to trying for better splits all around this year. It’s also a great venue — very small, but festive.

We’ll be on vacation in BC leading up to this race, and I’ve got a bike rented for the final four days of that, in Victoria, to allow me to train consistently. From Niagara it will be just two weeks to the “A” race in my season, the Kingston Triathlon Weekend, where the duathlon provides a unique 4km/30km/7km distance, and I get to share the race weekend with The Gazelle, who will compete in the long course triathlon.

So now, after a solid three days off, including a great recovery massage last Monday night,  plus some light recovery workouts and a weekend back fully training, I’m looking forward to both Niagara and Kingston races, and pondering whether I can make a go at the Olympic distance in September.




I Can.

I grew up, for the vast majority of my youth, playing team sports. Always with a coach. And sometimes, with a very good coach.

Now that I’m pursuing an individual sport – and completely without a team or coaches – I appreciate even more fully what coaches brought to my sporting life.

In addition to the sports-specific knowledge coaches share through endless drills and diagramming, they also drive their athletes to peak physical fitness and performance. When you think you can’t go on, a coach will tell you that you can. When you feel like you can’t go any harder or faster, a coach will tell you not only that you can, but you must. One more set of lines. One more lap of the track or field. One more round of cone drills.

You can. You will. Now go again.

The encouragement, guidance and drive imparted upon me by many of my best coaches has stuck with me, and will often pop into my head at different points in time. Heck, this blog is named for one of those coaching tidbits.

A coach can’t create work ethic. Nor can they create dedication. But a good coach will spot these traits and foster them. A great coach will spot these traits and others and work to mold a better athlete.

So here I am, pursuing this solitary endurance sport, wishing I had a coach — and pondering, even, paying the big bucks to acquire one, even temporarily, to help me sort out the science of my sport, if not to also provide the emotional guidance.

At the same time, I am relishing the mental battle involved in being your own coach, your own motivator to do one more hill repeat, to push just a little bit harder on that next kilometre, to do one more set. Where I really need a coach though, is the reward of positive feedback.

Getting up early to do a tough workout on the weekend is powered by work ethic. Giving up hours of social time and forgoing many other hobbies is dedication. For the most part, and I do mean 99.5% of the time, I’m able to get myself in the saddle, out on the road, up the hill or around the track. The question is what I’m doing in my mind at any point.

To succeed, though, to flourish and excel in any sense, I need to give myself positive feedback.

Without a doubt, I’m at a point where I need to elevate my planning for training cycles. It’s getting harder and harder to nail the sweet spot of pushing myself hard without over-training. The last couple weeks have more than illustrated this point to me. I’ve gone well past my own understanding of how to periodize training, and how to push the envelope for distance and speed. I spent my winter training, trying to get faster, with nowhere near enough recovery cycles worked into the months of trainer and treadmill sessions. A little too late, I’ve come to realize that this is a problem. All my going faster in the winter hasn’t helped me go farther, or faster, this Spring.

You might think it would be an easy thing – train, rest, train again. The difficulty is in figuring out how much time, at what intensity, and how to balance it out with that rest and recovery cycles. Add in that I’m chronically insecure about my performance, and my capabilities, and you get a tendency to push too hard and recover too little – ironically, more detrimental to performance than anything.

The best description I’ve read of over-training is that it’s better called Under-Performance Syndrome. If I feel I am not ready to race (not enough miles in, pacing below my goals, etc), I fear under-performing. So I’m going to compensate by training more and training harder. It isn’t necessarily training smarter.

This, in turn, leads to actual under-performance — slower run times, less power on the bike, and a loss of focus — focus that’s required to succeed in any sport.

Fear of under-performance can be based on plain old insecurity as much as looking at the data from previous race times, current training, or accumulated mileage. There are plenty of places for me to go to find proof that I’m not ready to race this week, including the mirror. The ever-present “I’m an overweight, middle-aged wannabe” line of thinking puts a limiter on my confidence, and I have no doubt, acts as a speed limiter to my legs. And with a big race this weekend, the Guelph Lake I 5i50 duathlon, all of this is fully occupying my head.

The reality, of course, is that there’s always cause to panic. Whether it’s an injury, a tough few weeks of training due to competing priorities, or some kind of other interruption, there’s usually something that makes it worrisome before the starter’s horn sounds. At least I know that come this point in preparing for a race, there’s nothing more to be done in terms of physical training. I’ll go out for a mild “stay loose” workout later this week, but the last couple days of training have maxed my legs out and I need to give them a good rest.

Preparedness, with just four days to go, is about rest, nutrition, gear readiness and planning. Driving to and from work usually involves podcasts, but this week, it’s all upbeat, fast-paced pre-race music from my “Get Moving” playlist. I’m reminding myself of my race strategy (as unscientific and amateur as it may be). I’m making sure to get enough sleep, and eating even a bit healthier than usual. Lunch time is spent watching inspirational endurance and multi-sport videos on YouTube. And I’m enjoying, as usual, that pre-race sweet spot — even though it’s doubt-laden.

Always, the lingering doubts.

Of all the aspects of the race occupying my brain right now, it’s the 10km final run that worries me. I really don’t feel I’ve got my base miles down, but more so, I’m dreading the course. It’s a meandering, boring and hot traipse through the Guelph Lake Conservation Area campgrounds and back roads, with little shade and even less distractions. The first run is short enough that it doesn’t stress me out the same way. And although 40km at full speed on the bike is difficult, it’s on familiar roads that I’ve trained on many many times in all kinds of conditions, and let’s face it, I enjoy hammering down on the bike.

Since the long run in any race is already my mental weak point, never mind on one of my least favourite run courses, I’m working this week to not only boost my confidence in my physical preparedness, but to re-position my thinking and prepare for those low moments mid-course when I need to re-focus and be positive.

All those years of being coached, even if it was mostly in team sports, need to guide me now. There may not be a coach over my shoulder, yelling from the sidelines, or giving a pep talk in a strategically called timeout, but the spirit remains true.

Cue the inner coach: You’re trained. Your body knows what to do. Now let your legs prove it to you.

When, after 1.5km, I’m feeling like another 8.5 is going to be impossible; at 5km, when my left foot starts throbbing; or at 6.5km, when the heat is so oppressive it feels like I’m running in an oven set on bake; when, at the 8km marker, I’m debating how fast I can possibly go to make it to the finish without keeling over; and at the bittersweet 9km marker, trying to compel an exhausted body to push harder to make the finish with nothing in reserve; at all these times, I need to have that inner coach, the self-coach, ready with positive, encouraging coach’isms.

I can.

I will. 

Now go, feet. Go.


No Excuses.

We’ve all seen the t-shirts and the memes: “No excuses”.

Usually it’s on a black oversized t-shirt, written in a gimmick font that looks like a stamp or rusted metalwork, worn by some scruffy 19 year old whose idea of sports is watching the MMA or scuffling up the street with a cigarette in his mouth. Sometimes, it’s emblazoned over a black & white picture of The Rock or some other muscle-bound guy who clearly takes it to heart.

In any case, it’s an oft-repeated cliché.

Cue the scene.

Yesterday was cloudy. It was windy. And due to both of those, as well as a current low front, it was cold. Colder than forecast, even. When I popped out at lunch to go get a coffee down the block, I was chilled, even though it was 1pm and it was supposed to be 17 degrees Celsius. I was in pants and long sleeves and I can say it was not even close to 17.

Add to the mix that I was feeling bone tired. My workout loads have been higher and harder, and my body is reminding me that I am supposed to introduce more rest into my schedule. Because… 42.

The night before, after hockey and a quick sprint, I came home lamenting that my legs just have nothing in them. While I’m skating fine, I feel like I’ve got no gas in the tank while I’m on the ice. And worse, I feel like I’m making no progress on my run times. There’s no zip in the legs, no spring in my step, even though I’m in less pain than I have been in ages.

So at the end of the workday yesterday, when it came time to change into the cycling gear that I had dutifully packed the night before, to go and drive out to the middle-of-nowhere to go for a 40km ride on the aero bike I had wrestled into the car before work, that is when the excuses started lining up in my head.

“You’re overtired and there’s a race next week. You should rest.”
“The wind is 25km/hr with gusts of 35km/hr. Nobody should ride in that. You’ll blow off the road.”
“It’s cold and given what those clouds look like, it might even rain. You only packed for a chilly ride, not a cold one.”

It’s a solid 20 minutes from my workplace to the community centre where I planned to park. Of that drive, a good chunk is on open, un-windbroken roads, where every gust rocked the car. Further proof, said my fading willpower, that I should pack it in and head home.

“I could do my weight workout tonight instead.”
“I need a rest day. I can just ride more on Thursday instead.”

The problem is that the wind is only supposed to get worse all week. Much worse. And if I wanted to make a rest day work, it ought to be today, Wednesday, when I have a massage appointment and household obligations that make fitting in a run or ride almost impossible.

And yes, there’s a race next week, but I shouldn’t taper yet, though I definitely need to back off a bit on the training this week to recoil the springs in my legs. If I didn’t want to double up on some upcoming days, even closer to race day, I really needed to fit in this session as planned.

So I resolved, just moments after almost caving to my own arguments to head right home, that in fact, I would go as planned to the parking lot. I would get ready, putting on every piece of clothing I could, and get out on the bike. If I felt too cold, too tired, after 10km, or if I blew right back off the bike, I could call it a day.

This strategy has worked many a time for many a workout.

Don’t want to run? Get dressed, get out there and start the warm-up walk, and run the first two kilometres. Don’t want to lift? Go down to the gym and start with a single set of everything. Chances are, just about 100% of the time, that workout is going to not only get started, but finished.

Sometimes, legitimately, it’s not safe to train. The weather turns to snow or lightning threatens, or the body really honestly needs a break. But the body and the weather conditions should make that call, not my willpower, sitting comfy and cozy in the heated seats of my vehicle.

I start each week with a plan for the running, biking, strength training, athletic therapy, and cross-training I’ll do. Weather and other factors might cause some of those plans to change, but it at least defines for me what’s ahead, and how it fits in around work, social commitments, and the tasks that make up responsible adult living, like, oh, grocery shopping and ironing.

For the most part, if I’m dragging my feet on doing a workout, I can pep talk myself into getting out and doing the session because this is the path I’ve chosen. If I want to be Marshal McLernon, age-group duathlete of unparalleled mediocrity consistently finishing middle of the pack, I need to do my training.

Incredibly, this can work most of the time. But sometimes, you have to kick yourself harder. And so there’s the “just put on your shoes and start” approach.

And so, last night, I parked my car in the shelter of the treed corner of this community centre parking lot. I gritted my teeth and got out into the cold, and started layering my warm clothing. I had a race t-shirt and arm warmers layered under my long-sleeved jersey. Luckily I also had some compression calf sleeves in my bag, so I put those on to help keep my legs warm. With a set of light cycling gloves, I knew I’d be able to shift despite the windchill. And so, mildly chilled, off I went, fully expecting to have to turn back after 10k, but resolving to at least get my butt in the saddle and give it a shot.

In fact, the butt stayed in the saddle for the full 41.5km. The first 5km were terrible, as my body tried to warm up against the wishes of my sulking mind, which had clearly lost the argument with my willpower.

It wasn’t speedy, what with the winds, and at times it was a white-knuckle ride, due to same winds and a lack of shoulder room on one busy road. Though I wasn’t terribly cold for most of it, I was truly chilled by the time I finished — so cold that my feet hurt and my hands didn’t want to operate my car key — but I still managed decent time with a perfect amount of effort.

As I told my wife afterwards, it was a relief to be tucked in aero position — not only to cut the wind, but also because there’s warmth to be had when you’re all folded in on yourself like that.

Added bonus? There was some solidarity to be had out on the road as the few of us cycling passed one another and mentally high-fived our like-minded brethren.

And that decision to work out? I remain convinced that deciding not to work out can’t be borne of “what if” and “well but” thinking. While we need to cut ourselves some slack and ensure that we take the right amount of rest, it needs to also be strategic, and not based on a lack of willpower. It requires a fine balance and some reasoning skills, but also the determination to follow through.

That is “No Excuses”.