Time to hit the road!

I survived racing on the hamstring at Welland. In fact, it might have gone a bit better than I expected.

The lead up to the race weekend was crazy chez McKnapp. Renovations, pet things, work stress, it was all there. So we decided not to go the night before (jacked hotel rates helped me make that decision, too). We rose quite early race morning, leaving town before 6am, with bike on roof and dog in back. It’s a bit of a longer drive than I like for same-day race arrivals, but we arrived onsite fairly early, allowing me to cram myself into the [very tight] transition zone and do race site recce.

Then off I went to start a long warm-up to wake up my body and activate the hamstring that threatened to keep me off the course. It was nice to have the extra time to witness the very large field of duathletes, including meeting some familiar names for the first time in person, and catching up with some others I’ve met before. The duathlon community isn’t huge, but it’s tight. A pleasant side effect of the sport is having that community.

Race start was in, effectively, a chute, as the group was large and backed into the “Run Out” fencing from Transition. To be appropriately modest, I put myself in the back 2/3 of the pack vs. up my usual spot, near the first 1/3. I was completely unsure how things would go, and kept reminding myself to just be there for the experience.

As the field took off on the first run, I did what I had said I wouldn’t and got caught up in the speed of the group. Nowhere near my planned pace. My speed limiter of a left hammy made me aware this wouldn’t work. Slowed down, then realized I was still going faster than my “safe” pace. Slowed down more. Check.

Each time I felt the hamstring hitch, I’d slow down my run and it would subside. This might have happened twice in the first run, and four or five times in the second, aka longer run, but the very good news was that I kept running, and I did way better on pace than I had feared I would. And I didn’t have to walk.

My run times were not as slow as I thought they would be, and while I finished in the middle of the pack — both in regards to my age group and the overall standings — I did finish, and I felt good for it. The bike was almost inconsequential, but I did do better on that than I have to date — faster pace, consistent, and very comfortable in aero position.

And best of all, when I ran through that finish line, I felt like I could actually have gone on for a bit longer. This tells me the base fitness is there, despite my frustrations in run training. It was a max effort, but I didn’t feel like I was going to die.

Given the stress of the weeks leading up the race, and my physical frustrations, given that I tapered less than usual, I was pleased with how the race felt. I did need more recovery after than I was expecting (still did more training that week than I would have last year after a race), but I’m chalking that up to my increased training loads overall and to the additional stressors, more than the race itself.

The best part is, the mental hurdle has been cleared. Since that Welland race, I’ve been running further, and without meaning to, running faster. There’s still much rehab work to be done, for sure, and I’m not at last year’s race pace, but I’m at least getting somewhere. i’m looking forward to future races, rather than worrying that I won’t make it to start lines.

Team McKnapp Hits The Road

Our vacation in PEI puts me 30 minutes away from the TriLobster races in Summerside, PEI on Sunday, July 16, so I’m bringing the race bike and gear and giving that a go. The sprint duathlon profile looks a lot like the Welland race, short and flat, just with the longer run first, whereas at Welland, it was last. It’s the exact same distances — runs of 2.5 and 5km, and a bike of 20km. A flat course, out and back. It ought to be a pretty good comparison to the Welland race for tracking my progress in this never-ending recovery.

And it should be fun. It’s a very small race, with a field, it looks like, of about 10 competitors in total. Summerside is a small place, and the race goes right through town along the waterfront. There’s a standard (olympic) distance race at the same time, as well as various triathlon and other multi-sport options. With such a small group competing in the sprint du, I realize it’s entirely possible I will place last, running slower than my usual slow.

At this point, what I’m looking forward to is racing in a completely different place, with a different vibe, and the vacation that follows it. And that means I’ll also be training in a new place, which is always awesome.

We hit the road tomorrow, with the tri-bike on the roof racks (I’m told I can only bring one bike) and all our other stuff crammed in the SUV along with the very large Du Dog v2.0. We’ve got 18 hours of driving to do over the coming days, but we scheduled shorter days on our way there to allow for me to fit in some workouts and stay limber.

And most importantly, time to take in the views and experiences Atlantic Canada has to offer.

PEI, here we come!

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Back to basics: Start. Finish.

A week and a half ago, I was fearing the worst — that despite my plans to start the duathlon season late in an effort to rehab my leg, I was still not going to be able to compete.

The hamstring is still stubbornly causing issues when I run, and the last thing I want is to re-injure it and jeopardize my whole season.

If I run too fast, as in anything close to my training pace of last May or June, my leg seizes. And even with a warm up and a moderate pace, invariably at some point anywhere from 15 minutes to 45 minutes into a run, my leg seizes. Unpredictably, and without any prior warning. The feeling is akin to when you actually pull your hamstring — that split second before the searing muscle pain, when the muscles ball up and seize slightly.

For my brain, that’s a signal to stop — because the last time I ignored that feeling  and tried to run through it, I pulled my hammy and was out of a race — and for that matter, completely out of commission for many weeks. At best when this happens, I can make myself slow to a dead pace of about 6:15/km and hope it subsides — at which point I can pick back up and run again. At worst, I have to stop, massage the muscle, and then walk it off before resuming. It’s a few minutes of slowdown, but add a couple of minutes of slowdown to having to run at a slower pace to begin with, and it’s a slip quite far down the results sheet if you’re competing.

The frustration of this is immense. It’s hard to build your running volume or intensity when you’re consistently but unpredictably struck by this muscle seizing. And as a weak runner, I need all the training time I can get.

For each run, my cardiovascular system says “let’s go faster”, and my legs are willing to try. Unfotunately, it turns out, they’ve often written a cheque they can’t cash on that run. Stutter step, stop. Curse. Resume. Repeat.

On occasion, I avoid this cycle completely and feel euphoric. Invariably on the next run, it comes back again. Usually at an insultingly low pace, early in the run. There’s no rhyme nor reason — fresh legs, tired legs, no difference. Hills are predictably tough, so I’ve gone from seeking them out to avoiding them as much as possible.

So with about 8 days to the planned start of my season, back in to my physio I went, worried that her assessment would be that racing might indeed be a bad idea, even a week later on a flat course. Whether that was the case or not, I needed a professional opinion. Despite increasing my training volume, despite making it back to 100% strength in cycling and the weight room, even in hockey, where hamstrings get a serious workout from stop-start skating — despite all that progress, the hamstring was still causing enough trouble while running that I haven’t gotten near to my usual distances at this time of year, nor my usual speed. Never mind making gains in either capacity.

The problem with hamstrings, of course, is that they form a massive portion of your posterior chain. While your calves and glutes take part in running, it’s your hamstrings that bear the brunt of it — and more so the faster or more explosively you move. That’s why sprinters develop such impressive hamstring muscles. And also why they blow them so often.

So, in a sport that requires  running twice, and running as fast as you can given the distance, would I have a chance at finishing if my hammy was in less than ideal form?

According to Susan the physio, yes.

Would I have a higher chance of blowing my hamstring completely in a race right now, due to this past injury?

According to Susan, no.

So with that info in my back pocket, for a whole lot of reasons, I’m racing this weekend.

I’m racing because, as Susan pointed out when she was tut-tutting, poking and prodding me and forcing my legs into movements that she swore were legit assessments and not just plain torture, this is what I work for.

All those hours in the winter, and double the hours in the spring… all the early wake ups and “sorry I can’t meet you until after I do my workout” social plan delays… all the money invested in gym memberships, coaching/training fees and physio and massage… all the psychological strain and physical exhaustion… all the calculating of nutrition and hydration and work vs rest… all the schedule manipulation… all the lugging of workout gear on vacations and business trips… every last bit of the the sweat and struggle is for this, this short four to five month span where we still train like obsessed maniacs, but get to race every few weeks as our strangely masochistic but ever-so-rewarding prize.

It’s for this torturous hour to two hours out in the hot sun, early on a Saturday or Sunday morning, with a handful of people cheering us on, taxing our bodies and challenging our psyches. It’s for the feeling of cresting the last hill or rounding the last corner, seeing the finish line and knowing that once again, your mind and your body came together and showed you that you could do this.

So yeah, let’s race this weekend.

My choice of the race I would start at for 2017 was strategic, even back six or seven weeks ago when I formed my plan and was still optimistic about my leg. The course in Welland, aka Rose City, is dead flat. While I wanted to start earlier in the season, it wasn’t feasible. Locking sights on this one gave me a race date in June that allowed the most lead-up time to finish strengthening the leg, and to try to achieve race-ready fitness. I’d say both of those are about 75% of where I’d like them to be, truthfully. At least in terms of running.

Staying motivated to push to the full race fitness level, to keep training hard and long hours, requires the actual “reward” of a race environment. After that disappointing injury-induced DNF to finish the 2016 season, I need this mental lift. With the assurance from my trusted physio, I’m all for making that start-line and getting past my mental block.

When I did my very first duathlon in June 2014, the mantra was “Finish. Don’t finish last.” Frankly, at this point, I’m simplifying it further, because I’ll take last place over a DNF at any time.

My rules for racing the sprint at Welland, then, are utterly simple.

  1. Start the race.
  2. Finish the race.

As usual, I will focus on the bike portion of the race as hammer time. But this time, it will be fun to put my new levels of training to the test for the short 20km cycling course. I’ll be treating it as a time trial, knowing that on the run that follows, I’ll be taking it easy. And as for that run, I will pace for the legs, not the ego.

Sorry, ego. From my training sessions to date, it seems that means I’ll be running 5:10/km. Even slower if I have to. But hey, that’s still a whole lot better than not running at all.

Is it risky? Maybe a bit. But it’s also a good test for me to make myself stick to my own race, and not focus on who’s ahead of me, passing me, or for that matter, lapping me. The task is simple — do the race to finish it, and forget about trying for a place in the standings. It’s going to be a tremendous challenge. And I’m all about the challenge.

I clearly have more work ahead of me on this leg of mine. But for now, at whatever pace, let season 4 begin for Team McKnapp.

 

Eminently Coachable

I chronicled my attempts to learn how to swim in my last post, and how that led to having a 1:1 private swim instructor for ten weeks. This week I completed my fifth week of that instruction, and I can honestly say that although I’m still nowhere near ready to tackle 375 to 400m in open water, I have seen a huge improvement.

In those five weeks, I’ve gone from flailing my way through single lengths to flailing and swimming my way through 20+ lengths. But best of all, my confidence in the water has increased, and the swimming has started to feel more natural. Not entirely natural, but more natural.

And I firmly believe that’s the profound difference coaching makes. I’m receiving instruction from someone who’s pushing me hard, but also building my confidence. Someone who’s letting me prove to myself what I can do, rather than letting me fear what I can’t. There are major and minor corrections to be had each week, but more and more, those are minor tweaks.

As someone who grew up playing team sports, always coached, I benefited from the instruction and guidance of those coaches. I can still remember small tidbits from just about every coach I’ve had — not least of whom was the grade school track coach whose siren call led to the title of this blog.

“Hard all the way” to the finish line. Don’t slow up because you see the line ahead.

But duathlon for me has been a solo sport without coaching. I’ve done what I can to learn about training, about both the cycling and running disciplines, racing strategy, gear and form. I’ve learned from race experiences, from mistakes and from seeing others’ successes. From research and reading. From doing.

However, after my suprisingly decent freshman and sophomore seasons, I knew I wasn’t making much more headway on my own. I was training harder, but making no further advances from a sometimes-third-place to a usually-third-place or even higher. And mid-way through my third season, ie last year, I felt I could even be losing ground. So I wondered if perhaps I ought to be seeking some coaching.

After looking around at the various models of coaching available, I dismissed that option. It didn’t fit into the budget, but more so, I told myself that coaching is for those competing at higher levels than a “front-of-the-middle-of-the-pack” age-grouper.

So imagine my pleasure when my lovely wife, Team McKnapp’s Chef d’Équipe, gave me my birthday present (early) last month, which was three hours of coaching from Mike Coughlin, of Discomfort Zone Performance Coaching.

Mike is an ultra-distance guy, who has competed and continues to do so in a variety of disciplines. And with quite a record of success. His coaching is based out of Guelph, and has caught my eye a few times over the last few years.

The approach was to set two sessions, at 90 minutes each. I was terrified before my first session, in the way that someone is scared of something while also excited for it. Having someone help me sort out whether my running and biking was causing injuries, provide guidance on correcting any issues with biodynamics and reframe my training approach would be amazing. Having someone scrutinize all of the above could also be mortifying.

I had nothing to fear, of course. Mike showed up for our first session and put me right to work on the bike on the trainer, getting me to spin while we talked through background and hopes for the time he had with me. We then hit the roads for a ride together and the track for a short run. He was able to given me quick tidbits and observations on the spot, but promised more during our second session the next week.

Best of all, he reassured me that I’m not a thundering rhino on the bike or when my feet hit the pavement/track. Which is what I am in my mind. Well, maybe more of a cross between a thundering rhino and a charging bull.

Long story short, Mike’s second visit to Team McKnapp headquarters brought some running drills to help me perfect my technique and train my body to a higher performance level. But best of all, he gave me valuable insight into a more effective training regimen, and a few “reframing” thoughts that helped me shift my thinking.

I look forward to joining Mike and the DZ denizens on some of their group rides — which must sound odd to anyone who knows me and my introverted nature — and I suspect I’ll be tapping into Mike’s coaching more along the way. We didn’t even touch on the swim, after all.

Between this swim instruction and the performance coaching, I’ve had quite an uplift in my psyche, which is a great way — an amazing way — to enter the final phases of pre-season training.

And that’s what a coach can give you. Perspective, constructive feedback, a few tips and tricks that will stick with you for life. A boost, a push, a gentle kick in the backside. Whether it’s a firm voice from behind the bench in a freezing cold arena at 6am in 1986; or in 2017, up on the pool deck, shouting down to me at 8:00am as I flounder my way from “aqua-useless” to “was that a dolphin?!”; on the street in front of my house at 7:00pm on a drizzly evening showing me some drills; or, perhaps, later, sitting at my dining table encouraging me to reframe my thinking around my training volume and intensity… it’s feedback and perspective that sticks.

So while I am enjoying the particular challenges of a sport that is largely solo in nature, I’ll be making sure that I don’t end up viewing this as a requirement to go it alone.

 

Did Not Finish? Does Not Compute.

I abruptly stopped  posting last fall after my “Bell Lap” piece. The abrupt silence was likely in response to the even more abrupt end to my season.

I headed into the Lakeside race weekend in the second weekend of September knowing that it was a bit risky pushing for a sixth race, just one week after the fifth race at Guelph Lake II. At Guelph, aiming for a better showing than I’d had at that site in the longer 5i50 in June , I gave it my all and was rewarded with an age-group third place medal for my efforts while narrowly skirting a hamstring blowup on the final few kilometers of the last run.

But, I figured, I could push for this last one, a short one, for the symbolism, for the support of Lightning McQueen, and because it was a short race, a flat course, and one I’d done well at the year before.

I felt pretty good. I had taken a solid combined recover/rest protocol leading up to the Saturday start, and although I was mentally tired from the season of training and racing, felt physically decent.

That race morning at Lakeside brought rain, thick clouds of hungry mosquitoes, and a muddy and puddle-laden race site. In any case, it would prove to be a short stint in misery for me that day.

The first run at this MultiSport Canada series duathlon, a 5km out and back, is mostly on flat dirt roads. The duathlon field was large, and we set out quite fast. The roads were a bit squishy and there was a touch of slide with each step, but more so, my left hamstring was not ready to forgive me for the push in Guelph the week before. It was twitchy within 500 meters of the start, and though I kept backing down my speed, I knew I was in trouble by the 2km point. Cresting the little hill of the turnaround gave a moment of relief, as I heeded my long-suffering physio’s recommendation to “engage my glutes” on the hill. Coming back down, I felt okay. And then, suddenly, back on the flats, not.

The thing with a hamstring blowing out is that you can be fine one second, or even be a bit crampy or twitchy, but running along all the same. And then, suddenly, running is not possible. Like a crash test car slamming into a wall, my race, and for that matter, my season was over. I pulled over to the side, gave myself a stretch and a massage while everyone in the field passed me, and then tried a few steps. Nope. All done. Non-negotiable. Not even a walk back to the start would be possible.

One race too many. Or just some bad luck. Either way, a very sudden end. And a first DNF (Did Not Finish).

First DNF

First DNF in 14 starts. Took me weeks before I could look at this without wanting to cry.

So began several weeks of absolute rest. No walking beyond the absolutely necessary. No stairs unless required (curses on my old brick house with three stories and loads of stairs!). No running, cycling, or hockey.  All while dealing with the mental struggles of having my first ever DNF and not knowing when a full recovery would be possible.

With six race starts, five completions between late May and early September, this forced “absolute” break was welcome in some ways. It launched a winter of physio and strengthening exercises for my posterior chain. And, fortunately, within a few weeks, I was just ready enough to start my next challenge. A challenge that would humble me more than this DNF, on an ongoing basis, and in a way that I welcomed.

More on that very soon.

The Bell Lap

Last week brought with it the fifth race of my duathlon season, a strong outing at Guelph Lake II that resulted in a third place Age Group medal, a top 15% finish overall, and some restored pride in my abilities.

More on the race and results later — but in short, this could easily have served as the final race of the Team McKnapp season. I’ve completed more races than I had intended (which was four), made some progress and endured a few difficulties along the way. My body is reminding me that we’re 42 now, and that recovery is a requirement, not an option. The ever-patient Chef d’équipe has let it be known that she, too, is tired of races.

And let’s face it, wrapping up “at home” on the Saturday of Labour Day weekend would make a nice ending point.

But there is still a bit more to be done.

Today marked Lightning McQueen’s final chemo session. The last few have been tougher than the ones before, remarkably so. So it would make sense that Joanne’s excitement about wrapping up the chemotherapy portion of her cancer treatment was also marked with trepidation about having another couple of weeks of misery from that treatment. And maybe even trepidation about the next course of treatment itself. Understandably so.

A mind-boggling schedule of radiation awaits Joanne, as do other forms of treatment and follow-ups. But this final round of chemo marks a huge milestone. The grit and determination of this woman and her family as they persevere from one set of unknowns to the other is admirable.

As Joanne rang the bell exiting her treatment today, she entered the bell lap.

The bell lap, in many race events, is the final lap – the one in which racers know just how far they have come and how far they have to go. Whether it’s a 400, 1200 or 10000 metre race, whether running, cycling, or swimming, the bell lap is where competitors dig deep and find the last reserves they have to bear down to the finish line.

So for Joanne, one more lap.

And for me, as one small gesture of support, it’s one more race – the sixth of the summer – a bell lap for Joanne. Saturday morning, I’ll tackle Multisport Canada’s Lakeside sprint duathlon. I have no idea how this race will go, given what I laid out in last week’s event. It’s a short race, which means finding a fast gear early and staying in it. And for this friend I call Lightning, it’s got to be nothing short of top gear.

I can guarantee that every single cowbell and bell a spectator rings on Saturday will be bringing to mind (and heart) the incredible strength of this friend of mine – and everyone else I know who has gone through chemo and rung that bell on their way out.

The fight for one’s life isn’t a chosen one. But takes a tremendous strength and fortitude to stay in the race, from the first lap all the way to the finish line.

It’s your bell lap, and you’ve got this, Lightning. You’ve so got this.

Heart & Soul: K-Town Race Report

Kingston_KTownTri_View

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.

Kingston_KTownTri_Gazelle

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.

K-Town Tri Weekend: Here We Come

After planning for so long, it’s a bit funny to have a race just looming right ahead. But suddenly it’s Thursday –and on Saturday morning, we head to Kingston for my ‘A’ Race, the duathlon at the Multi-Sport Canada Kingston Triathlon.

The Sprint Duathlon at Niagara was a good tune-up race a couple weeks ago. My mind wasn’t in the right place heading into the race, but I still felt good  about my performance overall, especially on the bike, where I regained some focus, and on the first run, where I matched my Guelph Lake I 5i50 sprint speeds, proving to myself that it wasn’t a fluke. Now if only I could match my sprints from last August!

I had some renewed IT band issues for two weeks before the race, so couldn’t ride much leading up to it, but the rest apparently did wonders — as I felt fresher, physically, than I have yet this season. Unfortunately, the funk didn’t fully clear, and I found myself questioning a few times during the runs exactly why I race, and why I am not getting better at it. More on that another time.

In the week and a half since, I have had some good recovery workouts. Unfortunately I also had a big collision at hockey this Monday night that has my back and tailbone screaming. I’ll be attempting a short run tonight and a moderate bike ride tomorrow to prove to myself that I can gallop and hold aero position long enough to race. I am hopeful, as time also continues to heal, as does Arnica — and a lot of time with my physio yesterday. Heck, there’s always Advil on race day. Wouldn’t be the first time.

And in addition to the race itself, I’m looking forward to a weekend in my hometown. Kingston is a gorgeous city at any time of year, but especially at the height of summer. Good friends Alex and Carsten are meeting us there, so Carsten can do the long-distance triathlon, and it’ll be the first time I get to see a friend in competition, even if we are in different events.

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Kingston Triathlon set-up for 2015. Looking forward to seeing this in person, at last! (Photo by Multi Sport Canada)

Right now, it feels a bit “normal” in terms of race lead-up, but I suspect by Saturday night and Sunday morning I’ll be feeling fairly nostalgic, and fairly emotionally charged.

Never, in my adolescence, when the Kingston Triathlon was gaining its footing as an iconic event in multisport, did I imagine I’d be a competitor there. Racing along the waterfront downtown, and out the Lasalle Causeway and Highway 2 by the same places I spent a lot of time with highschool friends will bring a lot of familiar turf in an entirely new context. Pretty exciting.

If last year’s race results are any indication, it’s a fast course, raced by some fast people. The distances are a bit odd, and with a 4km first run I will have to work hard to get the pacing right, especially in order to save something for the 7km final run. Given that I hate running so much, this will be a real challenge. I’ll try to keep up with the middle of the pack, as usual, and also try to enjoy the experience for what it is.

What it is, I have to say, is entirely cool. And given that the last few races have been tough mentally, I’m looking forward to having a positive to focus on.

You don’t have to feel good to race well, as I’ve quoted before (not my quote, so don’t be too impressed). But it sure is more fun to race when you do feel good — both mentally and physically. I’m prepared to let the weekend at the Kingston Tri be an uplifting one, no matter the race outcome.

 

 

RIP, Du-Dog

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Du-Dog, resting up in the hotel before my Niagara race in 2014. That’s a Queen-size bed. He was a King-size presence in our lives.

On July 2, at a very early hour in the morning, the McKnapps bid a sorrowful goodbye to our gentle giant, Findley. At nine and a half years old, Findley was ill enough that we had to make the tough call that further intervention would have been strictly for our sake, and not for his.

Findley was our best companion, resident comedian and truly a Great Dane extraordinaire. In his prime, he went everywhere we did — hotels, family visits, cottages, friend’s houses, stores and banks, you name it. Visitors to our house would be greeted with a carefully chosen toy, every time — picture a 130 pound dog rooting through his toy basket to pick just the right stuffy to give whoever came in, whether they were a friend, family, or gruff contractor. He was so used to being commented on in the street that we realized he was answering to the word “beautiful” as if it was his name.

As a well-behaved and well-socialized dog, Findley also came along to many of my races — and after I finished each one, I’d expand my race belt, strap it around his 44″ chest, and he would wear my bib on his back, walking around the site as Du-Dog.

But for every good moment a dog brings you — and there are so very many wonderful and rich moments — in the end, you have to endure the one very worst moment as you say goodbye. It’s heart-wrenching and painful and terrible, even though it’s the right thing to do.

Now, after almost a decade living with this great Great Dane, and just two weeks without, we’re still missing every tail whip, every snore and grumble, every jingle of the collar and tags, every flap of the ears, and every goofy gallop around the back yard.

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Handsome and famous like a rock-star, but camera-shy, always. Findley refuses to cooperate for a post-race photo at Orillia, August 2015.

I’m slated to race the sprint duathlon this Sunday at Niagara. The last time I did this course was in 2014. It was just my second race, and Findley came with us, as he had for my first, at Guelph Lake. Though Grimsby is just an hour from home, we stayed overnight at a nearby hotel, where Findley had his own bed to relax on. It was good he rested up for race day — a day where he was possibly one of the most popular attractions on site.

So now we return to Niagara, but without our companion. To be honest, if I hadn’t registered already there’s no way I’d sign up now. My heart is still heavy and my mind just isn’t ready for the intensity of a race. It doesn’t help that physically, my legs are strained and my IT band is causing me a lot of grief, even after a layoff. But I signed up in June, and I will race.

Just, sadly, without my Du-Dog.

RIP, Findley. You were a very good dog.

 

 

 

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.