Heart & Soul: K-Town Race Report

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Race morning dawns in K-Town. Looking down from our hotel room over City Hall to Confederation Basin, the race site. No rain, just a gorgeous view!

After the mental lows of Guelph Lake I — the 5i50 distance took its toll on me both physically and mentally this year — and then Niagara, where my mental game never even tried to show up, I was greatly looking forward to the iconic Kingston Triathlon weekend.

While the previous races had been a bit trying, I hoped that because this was not only my “A” race for the year, but also a race run in my hometown, it would go better. I was also looking forward to seeing friend and inspiration, the ultra distance master Carsten Quell (aka The Gazelle), who had signed up for the long course triathlon. This would be my first race where I’ve known someone else in the field of athletes.

As further incentive, I knew that season inspiration, friend and former work colleague Lighting McQueen was having a terribly tough go of her treatment in the week or so leading up to this race. I really wanted to put in a good race for her, for whatever that would be worth.

With the car packed, Chef d’équipe and I undertook the drive on Saturday morning, aiming to meet our friends in Kingston by early afternoon, and thinking we’d have missed the worst of the long weekend traffic of the night before. In fact, traffic was so heavy that we only pulled into town at 4:30pm — our 3.5 hour trip having been extended into an infuriating 6 hours at about 50km/hr. Not a great start to our weekend, but we managed to recuperate from the head-popping stress and were still talking to each other when we checked into the hotel.

Fortunately, we arrived with time to transfer gear and bike to the hotel room, admire the view out our window — looking over City Hall towards Confederation Basin, which was the race site — and to say hi to our friends and pop down to the park for early registration. It was hard, once there, to get a sense for the site layout, as so many people were out enjoying the waterfront in the midst of the race site construction, but it was easy to pick up on the great atmosphere. A race in the heart of the city is a totally different affair than the usual “just outside of the city limits” or “middle of the country” race venues.

After an early dinner with our lovely support teams, both The Gazelle and I went back to our respective rooms to do final prep and get some sleep. Two out of three weather forecasts were calling for rain — a lot of rain — so I was prepping for the eventuality of my first wet course. No big deal, as I’ve done plenty of training in snow, sleet, rain and high winds. My only concern was the rather unique course rule for the bike leg. If the LaSalle Causeway bridge surface was wet, racers would be required to dismount and walk across– because the bridge deck is constructed of metal grating, and gets slick and dangerous when wet. While every racer would be confined by the same rule, presumably, it would be a real inconvenience to run across a slick metal bridge — or even to walk across quickly — in bike shoes. Twice — once on the way out, and once on the way back.

Because I grew up in the area, I was feeling good about the race course overall. The run course on streets and recreational paths along the Lake Ontario shoreline would take me past some familiar places, including at least one place my sister(s) used to live, and my father’s old workplace, Kingston General Hospital, right through the area where we used to wait for him by his car, in fact. The bike course was along a very familiar stretch of road near CFB Kingston, past a few of my high school friends’ neighbourhoods, and back.

Fortunately, the weather decided to go against the odds, and race morning shone bright and sunny, with some cloud cover just providing a gentle reminder of what could have been. After a quick breakfast in the room I un-waterproofed my gear (read: took everything back out of Ziploc bags) and off we went to the race site. Did I mention it was a block away? First time walking to a race from our lodgings, and it was very convenient!

The luck of the draw meant the transition zone racks for duathletes were in a prime location right by the bike in/bike out portal. I squeezed into a spot beside a large planter, and laid out my gear. I was feeling pretty calm, focused, and excited.

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The Gazelle and his own Chef d’équipe… contrasted with me, the Bull.

Chef d’équipe and I were pleased to be able to watch the start of the long course triathlon and cheer on Carsten as he started his race just after 8:00am. Carsten is such an affable, supportive guy on any day, and even on his own race day, he was the picture of supportive friend. We saw him off with hugs and words of encouragement and then watched from the shore as his wave got in position to start. Given that the swim out to their starting point constituted a tiring swim in my books, mad respect for these athletes heading out on a 2km Lake Ontario open water swim!

I embarked on my warm-ups, did last minute prep and pee stops, and managed to also be present as Carsten made the transition out to the bike course. With his rather unique bike — check it out here — he was causing quite the stir in the crowds. They may also have been marveling that he stopped outright in the bike chute to greet  us (he’s an ultra distance guy, and not used to hurrying, people!).

Finally, at 9am, the duathlon start was upon us. Here’s how it unfolded.

First Run: I knew the course was fast, but that the crowd racing was generally also fast. So in deference to their speed, I positioned myself a bit further back from the front than usual. I had a nice moment at the start as the City Hall clock struck 9:00am. I was looking up at it and feeling immense pride at having gotten to this point where I’m racing in this sport — and presumably, not making an utter fool of myself. If the younger, Kingston-dwelling adolescent me could know that this was possible, we might have felt a bit better about who we were. It was a flash of a moment, but served as a really nice thought to start.

The starting horn went off, and the quick bunnies took off like shots. The rest of us followed. 4km is a rather new distance for me as a first run, so I was not sure how best to pace myself. I’d done lots of training runs at the distance to get a feel for it, and I had decided to aim for a 4:40/km pace and to adjust from there. By kilometer 2 I had established that I could do a bit better, and sure enough, my average for this first run was 4:27/km.

Thanks to the great rack placement, T1 was a fast 1:06. Fast for me — the race leaders clocked 30 seconds, of course.

2016-07-31 | 2016 MultiSport Kingston Triathlon

Coming back in from the Causeway toward the dismount line. And smiling. Yeah, smiling.

Bike: This was a fun course, and it was a good day for my legs. While I just about lost my bike computer coming out on the course, not having secured it properly after I put in my water bottle, everything went well. My legs were complaining about the 4km first run, but by the time I passed CFB Kingston, I had spun it out and effectively told them to shut them up, and was feeling like it would be a good ride.

Indeed, the legs and the tri bike were in harmony, and churned out a 32.5km/hr pace over the full 30k. There was a strong crosswind throughout the course, but it was just enough to keep us working hard — not a white-knuckle level of wind. I wasn’t doing well at drinking from my bottle on the bike, so I was a bit concerned about hydration and fuel, but I took heart from the fact that it was a cooler day than I was used to, thanks to the cloud cover.

With a new, streamlined approach to transitions — ie no stopping to drink and choke on water, no grabbing of hat or sunglasses or anything but shoes, I managed a flat 1:00 in T2. This, even, after I took the long route out of the transition area. I had almost tripped on some bags between the racks and fence on my first go through, via the more direct route. Good to know your limitations, right?!

Second Run: For the final run, I was determined to give it all I had, and to just hunt down anyone who had a red race bib (duathlon) — or if I couldn’t see their bib, to be sure to chase down anyone in the male 40-49 age group. I was aiming for a 4:50/km pace and just trying to gain some ground back from the field. It’s not much of a strategy, but I managed to execute a few key passes, and finished with abit of a kick.

My overall average was 4:48/km, but the final kilometre was a 4:30 pace. Coming down the final section of the course, on Ontario Street, with crowds cheering from about 750m out of the finish chute, was amazing. It helps the legs go faster, for sure. And it made my heart swell. Of course that could have been the fact that I ran 90% of the final run in HR zone 5.

2016-07-31 | 2016 MultiSport Kingston Triathlon

Finishing with a spring in my step and a surge of pride in my heart. It was a challenge, of course, but it was a very good race.

Total race time was 1:50:19, good enough for 13th overall,  and yet again, 5th in my age group. I was a full five minutes out of the top 10. Fast lead group!

The guys ahead of me were sheer machines on the runs — truly quick. They were well ahead of me. What I loved, though, was that these first finishers in from the duathlon were standing by afterwards, giving handshakes and congratulations to those of us who followed behind. This was a genuinely classy thing for them to do, and contributed further to the feeling that this race is something special.

The Positives: I honestly have no negatives from this race. MultiSport Canada puts on a great race, and this one was exemplary.

While the race site is a bit of a maze to navigate due to the layout and obstructions of the location — which is a busy park most of the time — they fit everything in perfectly fine. The transition zone held the almost 500 racers without any real issues, the volunteers were great at getting us where we needed to be, and the overall atmosphere was charged and electric.

The race itself is iconic, and Kingstonians support it as much now as they have over the past 30+ years. The community as a whole cheers on racers as they pass — even stretched out along the bike course, where families stood at the ends of their driveways and cheered every single rider on. The volunteers on the course were enthusiastic and supportive, cheering louder and more passionately than I’ve seen in any other race. I’ve never seen so many racers cheering on others after they’ve finished their own race as I did here, either.

The course is interesting and just challenging enough without being technical — there are a few hills, but the out-and-back makes it an easy one to navigate. And racing in a largely urban environment? What a blast. Partly because I know the area so well, but more so, because it’s a whole different level of energy.

Once again, I was pleased with both hydration and nutrition choices. I’ve started eating just a touch less breakfast before the race — as usual, about 2.5 to 3 hours before start — but have also added a pre-start line gel or chews to the mix. This means my stomach is largely empty for the race, but the system is fully fueled. More comfortable, especially on the bike, and more effective for preventing bonks. I’ve also switched from drinking straight water before the start to having electrolyte-based hydration, to help me pre-hydrate, meaning I can worry less about drinking up while on the course. If I can find a more palatable on-bike option that meets both my fuel and hydration needs, I’ll be happy. Hammer Heed is working for me in every way but palatability.

After the finish, having reunited with the Chef d’équipe, I got to greet and pose for pics with my Aunt Maureen and Uncle John, who had driven in from Gananoque to cheer, and then navigated through the post-race routine for a bit before we went out to cheer on passing racers and await The Gazelle, who finished his race — 2km swim, 56km bike, and 15km run — in an impressive time of 3:56:46. Having these long course athletes mixed in with the sprint tri and du made for an interesting race.

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It was a tremendous race experience, most welcome after the season so far. I’ll be looking to do Kingston again, without a doubt.

Any race that leaves me smiling like this deserves a return visit. Good for both heart and soul.

Race Report: Niagara Sprint Duathlon

 

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Switched up the uni — blazing red for Niagara!

Four races down, and now a few weeks to prep for the fifth — and maybe final, or maybe not — of 2016. So this would be a good time, then, to catch up on the last two outings, the Niagara Sprint Duathlon, in Grimsby, ON, and the Kingston Duathlon, my “A” race for the season in my hometown of Kingston, ON.

Here, to start, a snapshot of the Niagara race.

There’s no better way to put it than this. I was not into this race.

When I signed up, immediately after my 5i50 at Guelph Lake in June — which to review, was an immensely tough challenge — I wanted something  in the mid-sprint distance falling halfway between then and Kingston at the very end of July. Niagara is one I’ve done before, and enjoyed greatly, and it can be a day race with no major travel — plus the run distances were long enough to be pushing me towards Kingston’s longer sprint distances — so I signed up.

Unfortunately, as I’ve chronicled, we had to put our dog down a couple of weeks before the race, just before we headed west on vacation . Add on to that the post-vacation “I’ve trained but I’m not sure it was hard enough” doubts I always have and add on a very tender IT Band, and I was feeling quite out of sorts about entering this race. Registration was paid, though, and my body was more or less ready, so I followed through.

We drove to Grimsby the morning of the race. With a later start time of 9am, it gave us time to make the hour plus trek and still have lots of on-site time. Because this race site is small — Nelles Beach Park is not a big venue — and we’d been here before, I had little in the way of nervousness about arriving in time to get set up.  Sure enough, despite an unannounced and rather major highway closure, we made it in plenty of time.

[How do you know I’m not into a race? I don’t listen to a single track from my pre-race playlist in the car. Whoa.]

I was set up at a decent rack position in transition and doing my warm-ups well in advance of the race start — in fact, we had time to watch a bit of the triathlon starts from the roadway above Lake Ontario. It was a gorgeous day — sunny, low humidity, and very little wind, even beside the lake. Still, my head wasn’t in the game.

As the starter called us to the line, I was not even close to being mentally set. In a funny “does this mean something?” moment I also realized my heart rate monitor had stopped registering my heart rate — so my heart wasn’t in the race either, at the start. (Luckily that problem was quickly sorted out with some fresh water on the strap!)

I figured at this point that at the 2/25/7 distance, I could just go through the paces and get to the finish. Long story short, it went like this:

First run: The run course is longer than the posted 2km — about 2.4 km. My goal pace was around 4:30 min/km, which I thought was a wee bit aggressive on my part given my last race here, where even if you factor in the course length discrepancy, I ran about a 5:10 km pace. Granted that was two years ago, but still — this run course is about 1/3 wood-chipped trail with lots of tree roots to pick around and over, which is interesting but slows you down.  All the same, I hit a 4:20 pace.  Guess my fitness has improved since my first season of duathlon!

T1 was my usual minute-and-a-half range, at 1:35, which is still just slow.

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This way to the hill, guys!

Bike: I chose to ride my road bike out of respect for the escarpment climb. This is a good quad- and calf-burner in the first 5km of the course, which leaves many an amateur walking their bike up the final portions. It’s hardly Tour de France material, but the 9% grade is more than most of us get to climb on a regular basis, at least not over the span of a full kilometre. Fortunately, the bike course is only 25km, and there was a sub-10km/hr wind, so the time lost by not being aero on the tri-bike was bound to be minimal. Sure enough, I cranked through that climb and still made a pace of a hair over 30km/hr. Very pleased with my focus on the bike, which I’ve worked on. Even with the nice Ontario wine country views, I was focused on the race.  And descending that escarpment? So sweet. I descended at 67km/hr, even with my usual abundance of caution.

Second Run: I had a bit of a slow-down in transition. Due to the heat, I drank some water at my mat before heading out. Unfortunately then I choked on it. So I had to turn back for more water, which added a few extra seconds on top of the first delay. At any rate, I was back out on the course within 1:34.

Unfortunately, this is where my psyche just up and called it quits. I was barely even on the course and I was questioning why I was doing this — nobody was forcing me to be there, I reasoned. Why didn’t I just stop? Despite the good first run and bike, I didn’t want to be doing the rest of the race.

But the deal is that I don’t get to call it quits for a lack of mental stamina — so I distracted myself by counting  the signals from my watch for 500m segments to make myself feel better. Only 14 beeps of the watch ’til I’m done. Only 13 beeps. Only 12 beeps… 11 beeps… by the time I was down to 7 beeps remaining, I knew I was halfway and could just suck it up to the finish.

Finishing strong, with nothing left in the tank both physically and mentally.

Finishing strong, with nothing left in the tank either physically or mentally.

Trail sections and mental defeat aside, I held a 4:55 pace on the 7km run. When I crossed the line, I knew I’d done all I could.

I finished 17th of 50 duathletes overall, with a total race time of 1:38:43. I placed in my now predictable 5th in my age group (of 11) — about 3 minutes behind 4th place and well over 4 minutes behind 3rd. Not my best race for placing, but also not my worst. Mediocrity is becoming my specialty!

Positives: The run course has been tweaked to be better than it was last time I did it (2014). The Subaru Series from Trisport Canada is a great set of races, and this one especially showcases their organizational skills, passion, and dedication to multi-sport.  I quite like the Niagara venue for its smaller footprint and atmosphere, and the course itself with the quirky climb and trail runs, so it was too bad my head wasn’t in it. But my body was ready, even if my mind wasn’t, and I think that with all things considered, I did okay.  I was pleased with my ability to overcome the mental battle and put trust in my body. And again, I was pleased to nail my hydration and fuelling both pre- and during the race.

Next, it was time to rebound — to physically recover, yes but more so, to rejuvenate myself mentally in order to be prepared for Kingston, just two weeks later.