Tag Archives: Triathlon

Forging Myself into an Ironman

Howdy all! The title pretty much gives it away, but in case there was any doubt, this post will go over my recent race experience in the Muskoka region as I tackled the inaugural Ironman Muskoka. As some of you may be aware, this wasn’t my first time racing in an “iron-distance” triathlon, but it was my first taking part in the big corporate machinery known as World Triathlon Corporation, the group that puts on all the Ironman races globally. Ironically, in the week before the race, the entire corporation was actually bought out by a Chinese company. So I guess in a way, my Ironman standing was now ‘made in China!’. At any rate, this would be my 3rd full iron distance triathlon (almost 4, but the last one featured a half marathon instead of full marathon for the run.

For the uninitiated, an Ironman is a swim, bike, run race, in that order. The distances are not inconsequential either. The swim is typically 3.8km in length, the bike is 180km, and the run is a full marathon, 42.2km. The events are done in order, in a non-stop fashion, on a marked course. There is an absolute time limit of 17 hours to get it done, and some intermediate cutoffs (that really just take people off the course if it is clear they’d miss the cutoffs. Between each event you head to a transition zone to change your gear. In addition, many say that nutrition is the 4th leg of the event. Staying hydrated and properly fueled throughout the day is a big challenge to many. They say over 50% of competitors will experience some form of distress arising from challenges in either nutrition or hydration.

If you’re wondering about my preparations for this kind of race, there really was no specific preparation. On account of all the other types of races I was doing this summer, my only real preparation has been getting out there and doing general training and racing. If you surveyed the 1300 athletes that took part in this Ironman, I’m pretty sure you’d learn I was the only one who did a 6-day trail running race in the mountains 2 weeks before this race. Most folks would have chosen to ‘taper’ leading up to the race, so that gives you an idea about my prep ;-). My principle goal was to get ‘er done, and have fun doing it. As a friend reminded me, this was an opportunity for me to do something I love all day long. I should be ecstatic, right? Truth is, I was excited, and nervous. I was looking forward to tackling a race of this magnitude and seeing what the fuss is all about. So I went in with a good attitude.

Now, what can I say about the venue before I get in to the race specifics? Well, for one, the host site was Deerhurst resort. This is a place that holds a special place in my heart. Not only have I raced in a number of events there, it is also the site of where Deanna and I got together initially, AND where I finally proposed to her! Unfortunately, she was unable to make it with me to this event, but I still got to head down to the water where we got engaged, and felt her presence with me throughout the entire event as a result. It’s a gorgeous setting for a race, and they had things very well laid out for the race looming in the next couple days.

Pictures from the Race:

Swag Haul

Race registration and kit pickup went off without a hitch. I was among the last athlete to actually check in for the event. Many people arrive days in advance, so they checked in the day before. There was a 5pm absolute cut-off, and I only made it on-site around 4pm, thanks to road works on highway 60. After registration, I made my way downtown to watch the IronKids children’s races, and take take part in the full athlete briefing. There was even a beer gardens and food vendors on site downtown. Again, the town definitely rolled out the red carpet for us. Race briefing was entertaining, as they actually acted out the entire race day, including transitions and clothes changes. After that, 4 different bands took to the stage to entertain folks well into the night. However, most athletes sadly didn’t stick around much past the briefing!

The Saturday prior to the race was a low-key day. I managed to get out for a 1.5 hour bike and a 45 minute run to make sure everything was working as expected. I had put on brand new tires the night before I left Ottawa, and really wanted to test them. After that, it was just time to relax, and check in all my gear at the race HQ (run and bike stuff, as well as leaving the bike overnight). That evening, I had a lovely meal with my awesome hosts, and crashed as early as I could for the 4am wake-up.

Pre-Race Video:

Morning came far too early. It was dark and chilly out. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes, had my bagel and bowl of granola, and pured myself into the car to head to the start. The transition zone was hopping with activity. I got my body marked, added my nutrition and drinks to my bike, and headed for the water. The swim was a rolling start as opposed to age groups. That means is works like a running race. You line up next to a sign that reflects the time you think you’ll take to finish the swim, and get in the water with people at your speed. In theory, it means less jostling in the water, and avoids getting kicked and bumped. For the most part, it worked well. I got in the water with the 1:15-1:20 bunch, and set out at a nice steady pace. I had no major expectations based on my challenges breathing on account of my lingering cold. However, when I finally pulled myself out of the primordial soup at the 19th hole to find my land legs, I noted that my actual swim time had been 1:10! Not bad at all.

I let the magical wet suit peelers do their job stripping me of my rubber cocoon, then trotted off up the hill to the transition zone within the Deerhurst Resort ballroom. I wasted no time in stripping naked to apply chamois cream before putting on my cycling shorts and jersey. Volunteers were on hand to help us with our gear bags and clean up after us. It was a great help to racers. I did some quick filming, then jogged to the start of the bike, pausing to allow sunscreen appliers do their thing (even if it was overcast).

I was simultaneously looking forward to and dreading the 180km course. I knew it was quite hilly and challenging, but I’m pretty good on hills, so hoped I’d eke out a 6 hour ride in spite of the challenges. Unfortunately, I was untested this year at racing 180km on my bike. I’d done Rideau Lakes, which is 180km each day for 2 days, but that is not at race pace, and not part of a 3-phase event like this. My focus had to be on nutrition, hydration, and energy conservation. Running is traditionally my strong suit, so I wanted to make sure I had gas in the tank to pull off a good run later.

On the Road

I felt very smooth and relaxed on the bike. For the most part, I held my position, and in fact seemed to pass a good number of folks on the first loop. I was passed by some as well, in particular the speedy cyclists that are not strong swimmers. My nutrition was quite simple. I avoided all aid station food and stuck to my Fruit2 and Fruit3 bars. I wanted to avoid GI issues all day if I could (and trips to the potties). I’d had a Boost before the start of the bike as well, to kick start my nutrition. I also had a bottle of Hammer Nutrition Perpertuem on the bike. I had mixed a 3-hour bottle, and had another 3-hour bottle ready to be mixed at the special needs area at the 90-100km mark.

Everything seemed to be dialed in and working well for me. Even the 2nd loop didn’t seem too bad. I knew where the hills and turns were from the first loop, and where I could push a bit vs. save a little energy. I dare say I was having FUN the whole way, with a smile painted on my face much of the way. I stopped twice for a roadside pee break, both times at about the same place on the loop. The scenery was great, and the slightly overcast skies for most of the bike helped. It only started getting sunny at around my 135km mark. We were now into the afternoon, and I realized this would mean a hotter run, so I tried to ensure I kept well hydrated.

I was soon on my last 10km chunk of the course and heading back to Deerhurst. This section has the steepest hill, and while I definitely felt it in my legs, I still felt pretty good overall. Having not really paid too much attention to my time, I was very happy to see my time was just over 6 hours when I finally pulled back into transition. I believe it was 6:04 on the official clock. I should be able to comfortably break 12 hours unless things went really poorly on the run. My original goal had been 12:30, with an internal goal of sub-12. In other words, I was having a good day and getting what I deserved so far.

Back into the big hall I went, once again stripping off my lower layer to swap the bike shorts for running shorts. I opted to keep my cycling jersey on, since it fit nicely, and was good at thermal regulation. It also benefited from having pockets to store food and my camera. I decided to stick with my 100% self-fueled race, using only what I brought instead of grabbing food at the aid stations. The reason for this was that I KNEW it wouldn’t bother my stomach. Of course, it meant that when I ran back out to the course, I felt laden like a pack mule! I’d brought way too much food for a 4-5 hour effort. I ended up jettisoning some Mojo bars by the 1st Aid station on the run. The bouncing was just driving me nuts. My only course food was on the hydration front. I had to switch to Gatorade from my usual Nuun, since I had no bottles. I alternated aid stations with water and Gatorade (or both). As I’d soon find out, this might have been a bad idea.

Running in Huntsville

For the most part, loop 1 of the run (21.1km) was not too bad. I wasn’t exactly breaking any PBs, but had to remind myself that I’d already swam almost 4k and biked a HARD 180k course. So the pace was obviously lower. Energy-wise though, I was good. Looping around for Lap 2, I had already watched the winners come in, and was blown away by their performances. There are some amazing athletes out there! Running back into Huntsville in the now full heat of the day, I could start feeling the tightness in my legs. I focused on a very even stride, making sure I minimized any extra movements, lest I risk cramping. I also popped a few salt pills, and even Ibuprofen, since my plantar fasciitis was flaring up badly. I knew I’d get through the rest, but knew it’d be a mental struggle combined with actual physical pain.

My plan worked well, and with short, even strides, I was on the final road (and 3km) from the finish. Then at 2k out, disaster struck! Both my quads completely spasmed and seized up. I was stopped dead in my tracks, and it was all I could do to not fall. I screamed out in agony alerting all those around me of my pain. I got some sympathetic looks and words from other racers. One fellow even stopped to fish out more salt pills for me to take. Unfortunately, I knew it was too late to really help. I stood there massaging my legs for precious minutes, trying to coax them back to life. I briefly envisioned myself needing to CRAWL 2k to the finish. It wouldn’t have been pretty, but I WOULD have done it.

Luckily, I got the legs under control enough that I could start a cautious walk, being very careful not to trigger more cramping. At the aid station a few hundred meters away, I had a cup of chips to get more salt in me, and decided I had to just keep going. When finally back on Deerhursrt drive, I managed a very half-hearted jog-shuffle into the dying sun. Daring to look at my watch, I realized that I was still well on track for sub-12, so I didn’t worry any further about my state. Instead, I took the time for me. I took in my surroundings, marveled at the beauty of the setting sun over the tree tops and the manicured greens of the golf course, and realized just how lucky I am to be able to do the things I love to do, and with the support of the woman I love. Everyone goes through these experiences in a race like Ironman, and crossing the finish line without having had that kind of struggle or adversity truly would be a shame.

Speaking of finish lines, it was soon my time to hear my name being called. “Stephan Meyer from Chelsea, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!”. Yes, they call out every single athlete that crosses the line to recognize their accomplishments. After crossing the line, I let myself loosen up a bit and not worry about legs cramping again. Instead, I focused on getting some food in me, and collected my hat, t-shirt, and medal :-). After chatting with other racers and volunteers at the post-race food area in Deerhurst, I dragged myself back out to the finish area to watch more athletes cross for the next few hours. Wth over 1,300 athletes, there were still plenty of folks out there battling their own demons and physical limits just to hear their name be called! It was humbling and inspirational watching all the people streaming in.

Guiding Lights

The party lasted WELL into the night, as the final cut-off was midnight, 17 hours after the start. For my part, I’d capped off my race at about 11 hours and 45 minutes. Not my fastest time ever, but a time I was very pleased with. Of course, my mind was already turning towards my next challenge, which lay only 3 short weeks away, when I’d be taking part in Ultra Trail Harricana and trail running a continuous 125km in the mountains of the Charlevoix Region. How the heck will I pull that off? Well, I’m sure I’ll be carrying LOTS of salt pills this time to hopefully avoid cramping. In addition to that race, I had a trip to Las Vegas for a full week in the middle, which is where I’m writing this up from!

The next morning, there was an awards ceremony to recognize all the overall and age category winners, as well as to hand out the coveted slots to the Ironman World Championships in Kona in 2016. We had a bit of breakfast along with that. After the awards wrapped up around 11am, it was time for everyone to make their way back to their respective homes and training grounds, to reflect on their experiences. Personally, I was just looking forward to stuffing my face with lots of junk food for the next week! So there you have it, my tale of Ironman Muskoka. As you may have guessed, I lugged many cameras along with me, and as a result, I have a video to show for is (actually, 2!). The first was embedded up top, and below is the final, race day video. Enjoy both, and here’s hoping everyone is still getting outside and making the most of the tale end of our good weather!

Race Day Video:

I. Am. Aluminum. Man.

Greetings race fans. Fancy title, isn’t it? I’m sure some of you are wondering just what the heck I’m talking about. Well, it’s pretty simple really. On the periodic table, Iron (Fe) has an atomic number of 26. Aluminum (Al) has an atomic number of 13, or in other words, half that of iron. Have you put it together yet? Yup, this race report will be about my recent experience in Huntsville taking part in the Ironman 70.3 event there (a half-Ironman). Of course, this isn’t my first 1/2, or even full Iron-distance tri, but it was my first crack at an ‘official’ Ironman-branded event. It was also one of two that I will do this year, since in a few weeks, I’ll be tackling the full Ironman event at the same venue! Read on for more pictures, details and a video of my race experience in a place that has a special place in my heart!

For any of you that are unfamiliar with the basics of a triathlon, or indeed a half-Ironman, let me break it down to you. Swim. Bike. Run. In that order, in different lengths depending on the event. Always continuous and on a marked course. For a half Ironman, it is typically a 1.9km swim, followed by a 90km bike, capped off with a 21.1km run. Between each leg, you visit your transition zone where you change, grab any food and/or equipment you need, and make your way to the next section. There is no external help, and on the bike, you can not draft off people around you. Each competitor must complete the race using their own power only.

For my album of pictures click the left and right arrows on the image below, and you’ll see all the pics I have of the event.

Ironman 70.3 Muskoka

So, why Muskoka / Huntsville? Well, for starters I love the area. It’s very nature-oriented with great lakes and scenery. Secondly, it is where I got together with the love of my life, and eventually even proposed to her there. The host venue, Deerhurst, is where we got engaged, and in fact, the location of the swim start of the race is precisely WHERE I genuflected and put the ring on her finger! Also, we have some friends in the area that are gracious enough to host us on occasion when we visit, making it a nearly perfect getaway. Also, when I decided to embark on my first ‘official’ Ironman, I realized it would be the first time they hosted one in Muskoka, so I figured I’d tackle the inaugural event, and racing in the Ironman 70.3 event in advance of that would give me a good sense of the course.

Ironman-branded events are known for their efficiency, great support, and organization. They feature lots of onsite information, organized logistics for things like parking and moving around the area. This was my first experience with the ‘Ironman machine’, and overall, I was reasonably impressed. Admittedly, after doing hundreds of events, I’ve seen the entire spectrum, and while I wouldn’t say it was the best I’ve ever seen, it was definitely better than average, definitely in terms of the sheer number of people helping out making sure everything was smoothly executed.  Despite there being nearly 1,400 athletes, I got through the whole sign in process very quickly, walking out with my race number, timing chip and swag bag in under 10 minutes (including filling in waivers!). The key? They put people where they were needed and these volunteers knew exactly what to do in their posts!

In addition to the registration area onsite, there was a modest race expo with a number of vendors showing off their wares, a bike tune-up / tech area, and of course the ‘official’ Ironman merchandise store. I was blown away by just how much merch the IM machine churns out, and equally surprised at the number of people stocking up, kitting out their whole family in commemorative gear. Certainly looks lucrative. In case there was any doubt, I bought nothing. The experience, coupled with the finishers hat, medal and t-shirt were enough for me.

After cruising the expo / store area, I also had the opportunity to listen to an Ironman legend give a talk on how to build from your Ironman 70.3 to the Ironman event just 8 weeks later. So who was the legend? None other than Lisa Bentley, an 11x IM Champ! She not only knows a thing or two about Ironman racing, but is a local hero, and one of the driving forces that got this race going in the Muskoka region. I listened to her talk, and took a few mental notes on how I might apply her tips to my own situation (which is a bit complicated with things like a 6-day trail running race in Colorado BETWEEN the two events …).

Once that was over, it was time for an all-athletes briefing to let us know how things would unfold the next day, including details on food on course, things to watch for, time cutoffs, etc. They made plenty of time for any questions, to make sure that all the athletes left the briefing comfortable that they knew what to expect. With that out of the way, it was time for a nice supper with friends in Huntsville, sort my transition bag one final time, and head off to slumber land before the 4:30am wake up, to allow time for eating, drinking, digesting, and setting up my final T-zone before heading to the waters’ edge for the swim start.

First Wave In the SwimThe weather was gorgeous! Temperatures in the morning were ideal for getting in the water, and starting to exert yourself but not overheating. For those curious, the water was definitely cold enough that wetsuits were worn by pretty much everyone. For my swim, I didn’t really know how I’d do, but hoped to swim similar in speed to my last events. I can definitely say that training in my pool using the Swim Tether that I bought has been very beneficial. Had it not been for that, I likely would not have gotten much swimming done at all!

I waded into the water, with my age 40-45 red-capped competitors for the start. As it turns out, my age category boasted the biggest field and the greatest depth of talent. Say good by to ANY podium hopes on this one! I eased into a smooth pace, deciding to relax and enjoy the day, and not get caught up in the start pandemonium that can catch racers off guard at the start. Before long, I was swimming along smoothly pretty much undisturbed, near what I can only figure was about the top 25% of my group. The water was clear and refreshing, and swimming towards the rising sun was pretty special. It put me in a great mental state before finishing the swim loop and moving towards the next leg of the race.

Although the water exit was only wide enough for 2-4 racers at a time, there was no bunch up at all. Volunteers were on hand to help you climb up the exit stairs in case you didn’t have your land legs. Then, after crossing an arch and the timing mats, there were teams of strippers (wetsuit strippers that is!) to help us out. You just had to undo your zipper, flop to the ground, and they would peel you like a banana, toss your wetsuit back to you and cheer you on as you trotted up the steep, long climb back to transition. Luckily, with the adrenaline, I hardly noticed the 300+m uphill slog, and found myself face to face with my bike in good time. I wasted little time putting on socks, shoes, helmet and running out to the mount / dismount line.

Heading to Strippers

What can I tell you about the bike? Well, for starters, although I had mentioned that the bike leg of a half Ironman is typically 90km, they made this one 94km. Just for fun 🙂 Or maybe because that was the only logical loop roughly that length in the area… At any rate, it was a doozy. Plenty of rolling hills the entire way. There were virtually no flat sections to speak of. On the plus side, it kept things interesting, but the flipside to that is that it was pretty taxing after a while.

Luckily, pretty much all my training is on hills and non-flat roads in Gatineau Park, so I’d say I was well prepared mentally for this type of course. As tempting as it would be to ride along with people and chat, such behaviour is actually an actionable offense. Penalties can abound if you are either blocking, drafting, or riding beside someone. Too bad, as I think it might make triathletes a more friendly bunch if they could just talk to each other on the bike 🙂 I saw bikes of all sorts out there on the course, from super top end tri machines to Canadian Tire specials! As I already knew though, the bike is secondary to the engine powering it. Granted, if you are at the pointy end of the stick, I’m sure the more aero bikes can give you those precious minutes, but in my level, I’m happy on my steed, and focus on form and technique.

For my efforts, I’d say I was rewarded. I managed to complete the whole 94km rolling course in 3:04, which is over 30km/hr, and a speed I was VERY happy with. I had planned on averaging something closer to 28km/hr, so I had some ‘found time’ to work with now. The roads had been quite good, and the aid stations well staffed and well placed. Anytime I thought I could benefit from a fresh bottle or some food, it seemed I hit an aid station (and there were only 3 on course). I had brought my own nutrition, but good to know there was food available had I needed it. I took advantage of the Gatorade out there to supplement my Nuun, and make sure I was well hydrated, as the weather was getting warmer as the day progressed, and overheating on the run is no fun (as I have experienced many times…).

Rolling back into transition, I had mentally worked out my plan, so it was another quick transition for me. Change of shoes, grab some Fruit2 snacks, trade the helmet for a cap, and off I went. I was hoping to crush the run, since in my mind it is my strong suit. I was only partially right. Compared to many other racers, I was definitely a faster runner in my age category, but the overall time was not all that impressive, but I guess given we had already swam 1.9k and cycled a tough 94km course, that is to be expected. I don’t know why, but I always imagine I should be able to bang out a 1h30min half marathon each time. I have to learn to adjust expectations.

I must say, I definitely did start out quite strong, passing a lot of people on my way out of Deerhurst and into the hills that feature prominently at the start as we made our way to Highway 60. I felt light on my feet, and very happy given my strong bike time. Kilometer after kilometer I plodded on, until I was in the town of Huntsville and got to see the lovely Deanna for the first time since my swim exit. She had been on course taking photos and video while I was racing, and had staked out a nice spot in town. I ran over and gave her an ‘air kiss’ before trotting off towards the turnaround a couple kilometers further.

Heading Back to DeerhurstThat’s when my GI issues kicked in a bit. Until then, I’d stopped 2 times (once on bike, once just after the run transition) to relieve myself, but now I was feeling some definite churning below that I know too well from other races. I had to make a slightly longer stop in a pink porta-pottie before I could head back out. After that, while I didn’t have to stop for a pottie again, I did get some nasty stomach cramps, first on my left side, then on my right. I sucked my energy out. I’m pretty good at managing pain, but these were cramps that I literally COULDN’T run while having them. At one point, I was limping as fast as I could while squeezing my side as hard as I could to stop the pain. It was far from pleasant, and I was wracking my brain trying to understand what caused it. I hadn’t strayed too far off my normal nutrition plan, so it might have just been bad luck this time.

At any rate, the next 5 or so kilometers were ‘painfully’ slow. My reward for suffering through the rest of the run was a time of 1:48:07 on the half marathon run. Still a very decent time in my age group, but I KNOW I could have shaved about 5 minutes off that with no GI / cramping issues. Regardless, I didn’t let that hamper my spirits. If I had been out to win, it might have mattered, but my goals are pushing myself, and enjoying the course, both of which I achieved. As a result, when I crossed the line with a final time of 5:34:18, I couldn’t complain, and had a huge smile on my face. Certainly better than the 6 hour prediction I had made due to the terrain.

The other great thing (as always) after crossing the line was the fact that Deanna was there to congratulate me and tell me she was proud of me. At times after races, I can be self-deprecating if I’m not happy how it went, but without fail, she tells me I’m awesome, and it just makes you feel good to know someone thinks you rock! After the obligatory finish-line hang out, enjoying cold water, even colder Erdinger alcohol-free beer (check out where it stands in rankings here), and watching other racers finish, it was back to the expo hall for a post-race meal and the awards.

The food was quite good, which wasn’t that surprising given that we were being hosted at a resort. The awards were typical, in that we had to go through all the age groups, and it was just a big room of people waiting to learn whether or not they had won slots into the Ironman 70.3 World Champs. There are a number of slots up for grabs in most age categories, and if you get one, you have to sign-up and pay ON THE SPOT for the privilege of racing in Austria. I was glad I didn’t have to stick around for all that! Probably the funnest part was the fact that the top male and female finishers each won gigantic mugs of the Erdinger alcohol free beer as part of their prizing, which just looked goofy and awesome!

Near Beer and Medal

All in all, I was definitley impressed with the event, and would recommend it to any looking to take on an Ironman 70.3 event in a beautiful venue. If there is one other thing worth mentioning it is the fact that the entire community is behind this event. Most volunteers were residents, many of them both volunteering and taking part on things like relay teams, etc. There is obviously a huge benefit for local businesses and the community, and they have recognized and embraced this. In spite of roads being semi-opened to traffic all along the route, I never once witnessed any bad behaviour by angry locals, which is more than I can say for other races I’ve done.

If you’ve gotten all the way here, but don’t quite think you got the full sense of the race, then you’re in luck, since I was also filming the event. Below is my final video showing various aspects of the entire race, and giving an idea of the scenery. Watch and enjoy, then keep your eyes peeled on this site for future stories from my upcoming race in Colorado! 6 days of trail running Nirvana! Cheers!

The Video

Chasing Helicopters in Saint Donat

Ahhh, winter racing. As you know, sometimes, I plan to enter races far in advance of their actual occurrence, and sometimes, I just sort of throw my hat in the ring for something to do. This post, a report from the Endurance Aventure Winter Triathlon, falls pretty much into the second category. I knew about the race for quite some time, but since I didn’t know anyone heading up for it, I didn’t sign up right away. However, upon learning that a few friends were heading up for it, and the fact that I had some space in the calendar, I decided to make the 2.5 hour drive up and make a go of it. And just to make it more memorable, I opted to cover the event for Get Out There. Read on to find out how this race played out and how I did.

I’ve been burned in the past by making winter road trips for races, but decided that the 2.5 hour drive shouldn’t be too bad, even it we got snow. Luckily, conditions were actually perfect for the drive. The race was actually set to get underway at 8:30am on Saturday, so Deanna and I opted to make an overnight out of if an booked a little room in a local motel, along with others from the Ottawa crowd. I was actually pretty happy that Deanna joined me, as it meant that she was able to snap some great pictures of the event. She posted them up on flickr and on facebook, but to make it easy, I’ll just let you check ’em out here 🙂

Another good reason to take part in this race was that it would give me a chance to see how I might stack up when I take part in the ITU Winter Triathlon Format race in March, where I’m racing as an ‘Elite’ race. It’s a long story, but I really think I should be an age grouper there, but in the end, I’ll be lining up with Olympians and Pros. Yup, I’ll probably be dead last in that race, but wanted to see if I can actually make the 1.5 hour cutoff time limit! But I’m jumping ahead, aren’t I? What exactly is this race? Well, as a triathlon, it’s 3 events. In this case, the format is Snowshoeing (4.2km), followed by Speed Skating (12km), and capped off with Skate Skiing (6km).

The part that really had me intrigued was the venue, and specifically, the speed skating portion. At 12km, and this being my worst discipline (I only skated once this year before the race!), I knew I would be slow, but the course looked cool. We had to do 14 laps of a natural course that wound its way through the forest! No joke! The night before, 3 of us headed over to check this out, and it was pristine. Perfectly smooth ice, wide enough for about 2 racers side by side, and featuring s-turns, inclines, and declines. It would definitely be a challenge, but a cool one. So, let’s look at my performance.

StDonat Results

The first thing you might notice is that I *did* make it in under 1:30. Not by much, but I’m pretty sure I can improve on that with a different course and different conditions. Although the weather had called for relatively warm -9 or so, when we awoke early to head to the venue, it was more like -25! I was freezing, and not at all looking forward to the start. I knew I’d warm up, but I had to change gloves, and ended up keeping a jacket on the whole time. Cold fingers make transitions painfully difficult, and low temps wreak havoc on my filming as batteries tend to die quickly.

For the snowshoe, the course started pancake-flat for about 400m, then went on a wild romp straight up a mountain. I hadn’t counted on that. You can see by the relief in the image that this site was in fact a large hill, featuring 125m of climbing in about 1.8km. One racer directly in front of my at one point decided to toss his breakfast and had to step aside. Others also mentioned that breakfast was quite possibly coming back up on account of the effort. Luckily, mine stayed put in my stomach, but it was still tough. James and I were running neck and neck pretty much the whole course, with him right on my heels, matching all my passes. We had started the race back in the pack a bit, but made up several spots on the snowshoe, which I knew would be my strongest discipline in the race. I pulled into transition just ahead of James with the 10th fastest time, and would only drop back after that.

I had a pretty quick transition, and made it onto the ice just ahead of James, but while I was fussing with camera and gloves on the opening lap, he caught and passed me. Oh well, I could only work at trying to approximate something like a proper skate technique for the next 14 laps. Sadly, somewhere around lap 11 or 12, James actually LAPPED ME! I was crushed. But not overly surprised, given my single, 40 minute skate of the year. Mental note: must do a *little* more training before my big Quebec City race in March! I ended up losing about 4 or 5 spots in the skate, but on the plus side, I got to enjoy the scenery for much longer than my competitors! Ha ha ha. A nice part was that on every lap, Deanna was there to cheer me on and snap pictures. I won’t share most of the images as it is painfully obvious how poor my skate form was!

Back into transition, and it was time to slap on the skinny sticks and head out for a nice little ski. I have been working a lot more on my skate skiing this year, and hap hopes of at least making it look decent. Switching from skating to skiing took a little adjustment in the first few minutes, but something seemed off. Turns out the cold snow, and less than perfect grooming conditions made my progress feel much slower than I’d hoped. Plus, we were back out on the hilly part. Not quite as pronounced, but there was some pushing to be done. Luckily, I learned later that lots of other people found the ski a tough slog as well. In practice, I can tell my skate skiing is improving, I just need one good race with good conditions to prove to myself that I actually know what I’m doing now!

Happily, the final 500m or so were downhill, and there was a nice steep descent to the finish chute where people were cheering all the racers on (and Deanna was waiting). I had a big smile on my face from the days’ effort. I knew I hadn’t cracked top 10 or anything, but it was a really enjoyable race. The race setting was pretty much perfect for this type of event. Small town, friendly people, good organization, amazing course, and good competitors to test myself against. Obviously I wish I had been higher in rankings, but I was happy overall. My final time was 1:26:09, good enough for 16th overall, 15h male, and 8th in category. I’m always impressed at the caliber of the Quebec racers. It’s no wonder the Quebec athletes are winning Olympic medals for Canada in Sochi!

So why did I mention chasing helicopters? Well, in spite of this being a relatively small event (there were under 200 total), they actually had a helicopter on the course filming the action! In all my years racing, this is the first time I have ever had a helicopter hovering overhead while I’m racing. It was pretty cool, and adds another bit of excitement to the event. Sadly, for my own coverage of the event, I had no helicopter support. I was left to my own devices as usual, consisting of the ubiquitous GoPro strapped to my chest, and a better camera on a tripod for before and after the race footage. In spite of my low-tech approach, I’m still happy with my coverage, so please check out the video I shot below if you haven’t already 🙂

As a closing thought, I’d definitely recommend this event to anyone who is interested in trying out a winter triathlon. I absolutely loved the course, and Saint Donat is a great little community not far from Mont Tremblant. We had a nice post-race break at a local cafe before heading to the awards at the host hotel, which also offered a great spread of food as part of the race entry. Top to bottom, it was a well-run event. I’m looking forward to taking part in another race they put on this summer, the Raid Gaspesie International, a 3-day adventure race in September! If this was any indication, that should be an awesome adventure as well!

 

One More Tri During Winterlude

Mad Trapper Mike

Hello friends and fellow outdoor lovers. I’m happy to bring you another rapid race report on another of my recurring winter races. This time, I’m talking about the 35th annual Winterlude triathlon. This event is each year not only a challenge to participants, but also seemingly to the organizers, as the weather always seems to wreak havoc on what they have in store. This year was no different, as you will learn about shortly! For my part, I was once again covering the event for Get Out There, so I had cameras on hand, and filming duties. As such, I didn’t get too many actual race shots, but did manage to nab this sweet picture of Mike at the finish line. There’s something epic and so ‘Canadian’ about seeing a frozen beard at the end of a cold race, isn’t there? At any rate, check out the limited pictures I did take, the click through to read the rest of the story and see the video.

Pictures from Event

So, let’s get to the heart of this race. For starters, it isn’t terribly long or overly taxing. Now, of course, if you’re going max effort, even a 1k (or 100m for that matter) race is taxing. What I mean is that this type of event has wide appeal and is accessible pretty much to all. It happens in downtown Ottawa starting at Dow’s lake, and races along the canal for the skate, through the arboretum for the ski, and along the parkway for the run. In terms of distance, we are told about 8k skate, 6-8k ski (in 2 loops), and a 5k run. This of course all depends on what the weather dictates. For this year, a heavy thaw, snow, and re-freeze cycle had us guessing if there would even be a skate in the days leading up to the race!

Lucky for us, the event went off with all 3 events. However, the order was juggled. Normally it is skate, ski, and run, allowing us to wear ski boots for the first 2 events, and change footwear once. However, due to changing the run course (and presumably impacting road closure options), it was shifted to a skate, run, ski. This of course meant changing footwear twice. Luckily, I’d done the same thing the week before at Frost and Fire, so had learned a couple tricks. Most important being having the ski boots properly set up to get done up when you have limited feeling in your fingers (which is almost always the case on a winter day when it’s 8am and -20 out!!). However, apart from that little change, everything was set to go.

Race Summary / Stats

My Race Stats

The real challenge for me was going to be racing with the leaders here. I have gone skating a grand total of once (1) this year leading up to this race, and my skate skiing is still sub-par. In my mind, I still had hopes of staying with the lead pack on the skate, getting in a solid run, and holding on in the ski. Well, dreams be dashed! I held on for the first 1k or so on the skate, then gradually drifted off the lead pack after the first hairpin turn. Regardless, I pushed hard, and stayed with a smaller chase group, and had a respectable skate time of just under 22mins. No results given, but I’m guessing it was in the top 30 or so of 277. The ice was generally in good condition, and I have no excuses other than my own lack of technique and skate fitness 🙂

Next up was the run. I had a pretty quick transition thanks to my speed laces (elastic laces used for triathlon that let you just slip on your shoes). Grabbed my second camera (I wore one on my head the whole way, and carried a second one on the fun on a QuickPod), and jogged out of transition. I took it easy the first couple hundred meters, doing some filming and getting my legs used to running. Once I felt ready, I gradually turned the power up and got my cadence up higher. I started passing a bunch of people, and felt quite strong. I was only improving my spot in the race, and reckon I moved up maybe 8 spots. I had a bad stitch at one point, but was able to run it out and not lose any more spots. I think I was only passed by 1 or 2 the whole way, so I was happy with my 21 minute 5k time at -20 carrying 2 cameras and filming 🙂

Back into the transition zone to start what I was dreading most… the ski. I was of course skate skiing, as even if I was not a great skate skier, it would still be faster than classic. Due to the cold temperatures combined with the fresh snow, conditions were pretty slow. Even I noticed the sand-like or icing-sugar like snow conditions. I suspect my lighter weight made it slightly easier going for me, but it was still a tough two loops. I didn’t think I was passed by too many people, but it looks like timewise, I was probably out of the top 40 on the ski. Ultimately, this lead to a final placing of 37th of 277, and 11th of 48 in my category. Not great, but not bad. after all, I knew I was out of my league, and just out for a great day of exercise celebrating winter in our Nation’s Capital.

Whereas the run was a very simple out and back along the parkway, the ski took us on a fun twisting and turning romp through the arboretum with little climbs and hills to zoom down. They had done a good job grooming for the conditions, and I managed to avoid too many traffic jams on my second loop by politely skiing around the slower folks. On the plus side, it looked like most people were having a ball out there. That is, except for the poor fellow who had been chasing me down, and would have kicked my butt on the ski if he hadn’t snapped a pole on the pursuit. He skied in very shortly after me, to my shock (as I knew he was a much faster skier), then held the broken shaft aloft and cried “I nearly had you!!”. All in the name of fun folks.

Once the racing was over, there was some time to mill around and chat with people, but given the cold temperatures, most racers didn’t hang around too long. If you were a racer, however, there were some warm beverage options at the finish in the form of warm chicken soup or warm hot chocolate, which did help somewhat. As for me, I stuck around a little longer in order to get some race footage of people coming in, as well as to have a few words with Rick, the race director. The reason of course was to get what I needed in order to finish my race review. If you haven’t seen it, it’s embedded below, and should give you a good idea of the over-all race. With this one out of the way, it is now time to tackle my two biggest winter events: the Canadian Ski Marathon, and the Gatineau Loppet. Stay tuned for those reports next!

Video Review

Chasing the Snowman… 2 Races in 1 Day!

Skis at the Ready

Hello all. It should come to no surprise to anyone who knows me that I will often enter and be interested in new and interesting races / challenges to keep me motivated to train and race. Well, recently, there was a new challenge unveiled at a Mad Trapper race (started as a mere suggestion, but ‘snowballed’ into the real deal). The challenge was that on January 26th, a ‘Snowman’ and ‘Snowwoman’ would be crowned. How so? Well, the fastest time combined in the Frost and Fire Winter Triathlon from the morning and the Mad Trapper Night Race in the evening. I do fairly well at the snowshoe races, and I also dabble in multi-sport, and most importantly, I have the energy reserves to race twice in one day :-). I was registered in both, so the stage was set to see if I could become the first winner of this mostly symbolic award. How did I do? Well, read on for both race reports (and videos!) and the conclusion. I didn’t take too many photos (was focused on fliming), but you can see them here and here before reading on.

Frost and Fire Winter Triathlon

The first event of the day was the Frost and Fire Winter Triathlon. This was a brand new event for this year, and I was keen to try it out. I generally take part each year in the Winterlude Triathlon, which takes place downtown in Ottawa, but the more rural setting of the Frost and Fire was appealing to me, as it was near Wakefield, QC. Also, whereas the Winterlude tri is skating, skiing, and running, this race would actually be snowshoeing, skiing, and running. I’m not much of a speedskater, so I thought I might do better in this race.

The day started out cold, but not completely unbearable. The race consisted of a 2.5km snowshoe (single loop), a 9-10km ski (double loop), and a final 5km out and back run. The entire event was spread over a large farm area, with the snowshoe and skiing snaking a bit into the surrounding woods. There was a reasonable contingent of racers on hand for this inaugural event (about 30 for the triathlon, with another 30 for the 10k run), and only later would I learn that some of the top local triathletes had come out to play.

I lined up at the front, next to Dave McMahon. Given that these were generally not the snowshoe racing crowd, I figured I had a good chance of finishing the snowshoe close to the front of the pack. Unfortunately, with a mere 2.5k of snowshoeing, even if I was fast there, I knew I’d lose a lot of time in the ski, as there are MANY faster skiers than me. The trail was more exciting than I had expected, and although some of it was in the field, there were still nice little hills to climb, and trees to snake around. At the end of the snowshoe, I was in 4th, and had a pretty quick transition to head out on skis, which as predicted is where I dropped a few spots.

The ski was a tricky course in my opinion. The track got pretty narrow in a lot of spots, and additionally, there were some really steep, wooded climbs that were almost bare ice. I was slowed down a lot here, but encouragingly, so was everyone else. Luckily, because of the numbers, clutter wasn’t too much of a problem, and I only had to execute a few passes on my 2nd loop as others were on their 1st loop. Looking at the raw numbers, it looks as though I had the 10th fastest ski, so I dropped a few spots. No time to dwell on that though, on went the running shoes, and out I went for the final 5k run.

The run was very straightforward. 2.5k on a country road, turn around, and come back. At the far end, there was a pretty steep climb to make sure you were still pushing, but all in all, easy peasy. I tried to hold my place, and managed pretty well on that front. I had the 8th fastest run, and when all the three events were tallied up, I finished 7th overall and 2nd in my category. Not great, but I was hopeful that most of these other folks either wouldn’t be in the snowshoe race, or that I’d be faster in a pure 10k snowshoe race! Post-race, we headed to a local restaurant for a chili meal and the awards ceremony for the triathlon. It was a nice atmosphere and went quite well. I would definitely consider this race again, and encourage others to look into it. For the best overview, check out the race video I put together:

Mad Trapper Night Race

What can I say about the snowshoe race that hasn’t been said in past posts? These races kick ass for so many reasons. They are just long enough that you can bust a lung and feel accomplished, but short enough that recovery time is fast. The post-race food and atmosphere is really great socially (brownies and beer anyone??!?), and the people that come out and take part are great, salt-of-the-earth types. BUT, there was some interesting twists for this race. Namely, the course!

Although we’d gotten heaps of snow this year, Mike decided to try something different for this year’s night course (yup, we race by headlights at this one). With the promise of record numbers of racers, and the fact that it was at night, he opted to actually groom the trail with his snowmobile! Not only that, but this was the most straightforward course he had ever laid out. Long, straight stretches, with only a few sizeable climbs, instead of the constant ups and downs and sharp turns we were used to.

Sadly for me, that meant this was not a race course that would favour me at all. I’m more of a technical runner, and rely on the tough conditions to stay ahead of the the speedier road runners that come out. However, I wouldn’t let that deter me. I lined up at the front and threw everything I had into the race, pushing my heart rate into the red zone the entire way. I had a good battle going with a couple other racers, but at the finish, only managed 9th place overall, and 8th in my category.

Regardless of my position, the race itself was beautiful. It was a perfectly clear night, and also a near full moon, guaranteeing amazing scenery on the run, with the twinkle of 80 racers’ headlights, and the moon glistening off the snow as we made our way around the property. Also, at the post-race, there was another fine fill of chili, and brownies, washed down with tasty beer. There were prizes galore, and we even held a mini-auction to raise funds for impossible2possible. So all in all, a great event once again.

So, what about that Snowman award you ask? Well, unfortunately for me, I only came in 2nd for the prize, being nudged out by the legendary Dave McMahon. Oh well, I guess having your coach beat you isn’t that bad, right? I was only partly sore about it, because originally he was slated to be in Lake Placid for a ski race. Had he gone… well.. you know… I woulda won it!! 🙂 Maybe next year, right? Unless of course he wants to defend his title. Either way, to see the video review I put together for the Mad Trapper, check it out below:

Grinding it Out in Huntsville

Heading out on Bike Course

They say everyone has a doppelganger somewhere in the world. Well, apparently, I may have inadvertently crossed paths with my ‘sporting’ doppelganger at the recent inaugural Muskoka Grind Off-Road Tri. You see, I finished this race in 4th place in my category, a mere 1m14s off the podium. Okay, 1:14 isn’t that close in a 2.5hr race, right? Well, it get’s interesting event by event. For the swim, this fellow was a mere 3 seconds faster. The bike? He was only 16 seconds faster. And the run? Well, I took that one by 16 seconds! So in reality, our moving time was only 3 seconds different!! However, where I lost time was in transition, and with good reason. I had to get cameras mounted and ready for the bike and run, since I was on-site covering the event for Get Out There Magazine. As a result, I once again have a nice race video and some pictures to share with you all. Read on for the whole story about this well-run race at the Limberlost Forest and Wildlife Reserve.

Pictures from the Race

Regardless of how the event turned out, I must say that I have once again found a gem of a place in Ontario. The Limberlost Reserve is a really nice place for trail running, hiking, paddling, and biking. While it is privately owned, and there are active forestry operations there, it is also a reserve with over 70km of trails that are free to use by anyone (although donations are appreciated). This place is just east of Huntsville on the 60, and in all my trips in that area, this is the first time I’ve set foot there. Apparently they also host a great trail running ultra that I may have to look into!

The idea of doing an off-road tri was right up my alley. It combines two of my favourite sports, triathlons, and being off the pavement 🙂 The last time I took part in one was in Calabogie way back in 2006 (read my report here). I’ve done a lot more racing since then, but apparently, I’m still a 4th-place type finisher :-). At any rate, for this race, Deanna and I opted to camp once again in Calabogie at Jim’s place Friday night before and Sunday night. That left a drive from Calabogie to Huntsville on Saturday, and staying with family friends in the area, which was fortuitous, as while Friday and Sunday nights had good weather, it poured buckets in Huntsville on Saturday! Now on to the race.

We got up on Sunday morning with trepidation. Forecast had called for 100% chance of showers this morning. We had pre-rode the bike course Saturday in the blazing sun, and while an amazingly fun course, it would definitely be ratcheted up in difficulty level with heavy rain. Luckily, it was NOT raining, merely overcast, and the forecast had actually dropped down to like 20-30% chance of rain. Lightening was also a risk, which could really mess up the plans by the RD. He couldn’t have people in the water if there was lightening. Again, so far so good, and at the race site, things looked relatively calm.

I got my gear together in my transition area, and headed off to get my body marking done. Deanna offered to help by taking some video for me while I was out for the swim, and I also planned to film the bike course with my GoPro on the handlebars, and carry another camera with me on the run. We were slated for an 8am start, and that went off without a hitch. The swim course was a double loop. 200m out, 100m across, 200m back, around a buoy in knee-high water, then out for a 2nd loop. What can I say? It was uneventful. I gave it a good push and came out of the 1km course in under 18 minutes, good enough for 13th. Happy with that, I trotted off to transition to get out on the bike.

Bike Stats


I took a few minutes in transition fiddling with the camera on my bike, as well as getting all my gear on and smiling for a quick photo before heading to the mount line. As a result of pre-riding the course the day before (2 full loops), I knew what I’d be up against. The trails are actually designed for hiking, so there are no flowy berms to follow on turns in the woods. Often, there were sharp turns with rocks lurking just out of sight. Being aware of some of those would definitely prove valuable to me, as with the overnight rain, things were much slicker than the day before. The trail was immensely enjoyable, and I found a pretty good groove on the pedals. Of course, I know I’m not a world-class mountain biker, so it didn’t take long for Mike Abraham to catch and pass me on lap 1. We were having another of our unspoken battles for supremacy on a racecourse :-). My only hope would lie on the run.

In addition to the sharp turns, there was actually a mandatory dismount section where there were rock steps taking participants down a steep section. I had ridden it the day before, but can confirm they made the right call to make this a walk section. I suspect several people would have gone down and possibly gotten injured otherwise. I stayed focused the entire 2 laps, and don’t think I lost too much time on lap 2, as I kept a steady output. I managed to pass a few people, and was only passed myself 2-3 times. Heading back to the transition, I had the 17th fastest bike split, but looking at the numbers, I had unfortunately lost 9 minutes to Mike, who is a very strong mountain bike. That was a huge deficit to try and overcome in an 8km run! But at the time I had no idea where I stood. Off to the run!

Run Stats

Okay, with the bike out of the way, it was time to tackle my strong suit, the run. I tried a quick transition, and was just running out of the t-zone when I realized I’d forgotten my hydration belt. Given the heat and terrain challenges, I had opted to wear a hydration belt. In retrospect, I regret the choice. Not only did I lost time doubling back to grab it, but the damn thing was bouncing around a fair bit and kept rotating on my torso. Although it meant I could just run by the aid stations, I think it was more trouble than it was worth and led to some lost time. But I digress.

The run consisted of a single scenic 8.6km loop around a lake. The trail was properly challenging in spots, with lots of roots and rocks to navigate. Although it was relatively flat overall, there was one moderate climb at about the mid-point. I focused on a steady, near-redline pace that I hoped would catch me up to Mike (and all others ahead of me). My efforts were rewarded in the form of passing 6 people on this run, but never even catching sight of the mighty Mike. I also got an additional reward towards the end of the loop in the form of a severe left hamstring cramp. I had just passed a fellow, but then had to reduce speed to a limp (as well as totally stop to massage it out) for a good 200m. Dang!

Luckily, I kept this competitor behind me, and managed a little finishing kick when he tried to pass me coming into the finishing 100m of the course. I didn’t like doing it, but I pushed hard to get to the line and keep my spot. Of course, then I found out he was in the duathlon, and hence a different race! Ha ha ha. Either way, the push felt good, and I finished the race quite exhausted and knowing I had put pretty much my all into this. I had the 5th fastest run split, and had put 4.5 minutes on Mike, but in the end, that gave him victory by 4 minutes. Well played Mike! I knew the race would be won or lost on the bike course, by far the longest and hardest part of the race. Overall though, I was very happy with my performance.

All in all, a great day at the office for me. The race was excellent through to the end, where an amazing post-race spread of food was on offer for racers, all catered by local businesses. That included a tasty post-race beer from Muskoka Brewery. Yum! As we packed up and headed out, the rain finally made an appearance. So basically, the entire event had a bubble of good weather for us. Nice. I’d be back in the area in 2 weeks for a 30 hour adventure race, and till then, just training, and volunteering at another race. The summer race season is winding down kids, but stay tuned for a few more reports from cool events!

Video Review of Race