Battling it out on the Bruce

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Every now and again, I head to a race with the specific intention of putting it all out there, and shooting for a win. This year’s Bruce Peninsula Multisport Race was one of those races. You’ve seen the video, but I figured some of you might also want my specific thoughts and reflections of this excellent event put on in the near-North of the Bruce Peninsula, and makes use of the famed Bruce Trail. While I didn’t take the top spot, I did manage a solid 3rd place in the long (100km) course, all while narrating and filming as I went. Read on to hear the whole story.

This year’s edition was the fourth time the race was put on. While I have known about the previous editions, I had been unable to make it work with my race calendar, UNTIL this year. I had the time, and figured I’d be in pretty decent race shape, so I signed up to take on the long course, while the lovely Deanna signed up to race in the shorter version of the same. The race is based in Wiarton, ON, which is a trip which easily takes longer than 8 hours. As such, we took Friday off, and made a weekend of it, squeezing in a visit to Deanna’s Uncle in Mississauga.

For the rest of the weekend, we were booked into an awesome ‘Cabin Tent’ at the Spirit Rock Outpost and Lodge. It made for cozy accommodations, and the owner was a really nice guy, who had also lived in NZ for a while, giving us some common ground to chat about. Below are some pictures from the weekend, including the tent.

Arriving earlier on Friday gave us a chance to wander around Wiarton for a little bit, and seek out Willie, but he was hiding in his house when we were there. It also gave me time to get set up for the race, since I had a 5:30am shuttle bus to catch on Saturday, and needed all my gear checked in at the arena. We got to meet the organizers and some of the other racers in advance as well. Our original plan of eating at the HQ fell apart when we learned they’d run out of all the truly exotic lasagnas (Elk, Pork, etc.), and were left with veggie lasagna. So instead, we opted to try a local ‘dive’ restaurant recommended by one of the directors. I had a jamaican curry meal. That *may* have been a bad call, as we’ll explore soon! Back to camp, and in bed before 10pm, enjoying the sounds of nature.

4:30am came FAR too early for my liking, but I got organized, had a quick breakfast, and in not time Deanna and I were heading to my shuttle bus. Luckily, Deanna’s race didn’t start until 10am, so she would eventually find time to have 3 (!) coffees before she started racing. For my part, I had a couple muffins on the bus before unloading to to an AMAZING sunrise over the Georgian Bay. It appeared that the weather was on our side, as the water was glass smooth. I probably could have used a tippier (read: faster) boat, but was happy to have my trusty Cobra Eliminator.

Both the short and long courses featured paddling on the Georgian Bay, as well as trail running and mountain biking. I knew the kayaking was my weakest discipline so I was happy it was out of the way first, and would give me the chance to chase from the back. The opening leg for my race was a 16km circumnavigation of an Island from a beach that is on native land which we’d had permission to use just for this race. Thank goodness for permissive landowners!

After our final safety and race briefing, everyone from the long course took off. There were solo racers, tandem racers, and relay racers, making a total of 36 different boats out on the water for our start. My main goal was to minimize time lost on the water. With the starting gun, I tried tucking in with the leaders and holding on. However, it wasn’t too long before two boats had a clear lead, then there was a cluster of 4-6 of us chasing. Gradually, I fell off the pace a bit more, and was passed by a few more boats. I always find it difficult to maintain focus and effort on the paddle, as it is the one sport that I truly prefer to be a ‘recreational’ pursuit. Probably because I’ve never formally trained much, nor cared to. Improving biking and running have always seemed more productive, not to mention logistically easier!

Long story short, by the time I finally got around the island, and pulled back up on the beach 16km later, I was probably 10th-12th off the water. Not only that, but my stomach was in some distress, and I sprinted straight to the conveniently located (albeit very messy from a ‘tipping’) outhouse. I easily lost 5 minutes in transition dealing with my GI issues. It was unclear whether this was a result of some new nutrition I was trying out (I know, rookie mistake) or the previous night’s curry. In the weeks since, I’ve used the nutrition again with no ill effects, so it is quite possibly the super hot sauce I had sampled :-(. Oh well, lesson learned, stick with pre-race tested foods (delicious Subway Italian BMT anyone?)

In spite of my pause, I was feeling pretty good, and methodically got ready for the next stage, a 36km mountain bike leg, including an ‘optional’ 6km tough singletrack on private land. In no time, I started making up my lost time, passing teams and solos on the opening paved sections leading to the first singletrack part. I just kept pushing the watts and focusing on my eating and drinking, anticipating the fun trails. My technical abilities were put to a solid test once I hit the singletrack, but I dare say I had a solid ride in there. I passed a few riders early in the tough parts, and also came across some with unfortunate flat tires.

For my part, the machine and the man held up admirably through that 36km bike. The scenery was quite amazing when we were riding along the clifftops looking out along the Georgian Bay and along the Bruce Peninsula, but sadly, I had little time to admire it. Plus, whenever I did pause, it was to try and capture some useful footage for my video. All in all, I was happy with my speed and progress, and eventually pulled into the next transition area as one of the first bikes. As this race is more adventure race than triathlon, as racers we all had to carry our own food and water most of the race, only able to re-supply at the transition areas (just like in AR). This suited me well, as my years of practice have left me in a good position to pull off quick transitions. In under 3 minutes, I had changed, filled bottles, grabbed food, shot footage, and was off!

Next up was a 20ish kilometer trail run following the spectacular Bruce Trail. For those uninitiated, the Bruce Trail stretches nearly 900km between Tobermory at the end of the Bruce Peninsula, all the way to the Queenston in the Niagara region. Obviously, we were only seeing a sliver of this trail, but it was in fact my first time visiting the trail, and even this region in general, so it was yet another cool place in Canada that I can add to my list of ‘been there, raced that!’

As most of you know, trail running is probably my strongest suit, so I was looking to light it up a bit out there, but had to keep more in the tank for the next 30km mountain bike and final 6km trail run. Also, there was another unscheduled ‘curry stop’ I had to deal with on the side of the trail (thank goodness for large leafy plants!). I only passed one other racer on this section, so it was clear that the pack had definitely spread out since the paddle. I wasn’t clear exactly what my position was, but if I could base it on the volunteers that were on course, it sounded like top 5 was likely, but not the first…

Instead of focusing on the mental games of guessing where I was, I just focused on a steady pace and careful footing. I had made the decision the night before to actually have someone professionally ‘heel lock’ and completely tape up my left ankle, to hopefully avoid the pretty consistent ankle rolling I experience in longer trail runs. I made for a strange sensation to not have any lateral motion in the foot, but the gait was largely unaffected (apart from some pain as my foot swelled up inside the tight taping job). I would credit this taping as one of the best ideas I’ve had in a race in a while! Obviously full rehab would be better, but let’s face it, this is peak race season, that will have to wait until November(ish)!

By the end of the run, the sun had risen to its apex, and the temperatures were climbing up and resulting in some long, baking stretches on the road. The final 5 or so kilometers were all on exposed gravel roads, which was when the only real mental challenge hit me, as it was uncomfortable pushing that hard, wearing black long sleeves, and low on water. However, once again, experience won the day for me, and I was able to push on until the transition area appeared once again.

No time to waste, but this time the transition took slightly longer at almost 5 minutes, but again, this included chatting with volunteers, getting some footage, changing, refueling, etc. etc. Also, knowing it was another long slog on the bike before another reprieve, and with the heat, I wanted to make sure I was properly fueled. This second bike featured a fair bit of flat topography, with some long road stretches, and trails that were rolling forest trails for the most part. My average speed stayed relatively high, and within 98 minutes, I found myself already at the next transition. I was surprised, but not disappointed, especially knowing I had only about 6km of running left before I could rest.

I was able to more or less confirm that I was now in a podium position. Volunteers weren’t all sure whether racers were tandem, solo, or relay racers, but from my reckoning of knowing who was ahead, I had myself pegged as being in 3rd place for solos. Fueled by that thought, I decided to press hard to make sure there was no chance of anyone catching me from behind. I assumed it was too late to pass anyone ahead now, but running as hard as I could certainly wouldn’t hurt!

The final section was split between roads, and another short stretch of the Bruce Trail, featuring spiral staircases, and a shoreline run back into Wiarton. As I neared the finish, there were spectators cheering me in, as well as Deanna at the finish yelling for me and looking totally recovered from her race already! Of course, they HAD been done for a couple hours already, so that wasn’t surprising.

After crossing the line and collapsing in the shade with some cold water, I confirmed with the finish line staff that I had in fact nabbed 3rd overall for the solos. No great fanfare around that, but for me, it was a well-deserved podium. The two that had beaten me were both seasoned and accomplished racers with a good pedigree, so I was just happy to be in the same caliber. When the awards ceremony took place, I got to head onstage, stand on that podium, and claim a prize from the table. My choice? A candy basket from a local confection store 🙂 Caramel corn, fudge, peanut brittle, etc. YUM!

From there, it was back for a shower at the camp, then a tasty celebratory meal of bacon quiche and mushroom soup at the Green Door Cafe, which was awesome! Oh, and even more awesome, we convinced the local Beer Store manager to open the door for us after his 6pm closing so that we could buy some celebratory beers! We ambitiously bought 8 tall cans, and only ended up each drinking 1 in the tent later before crashing!

All in all, a great weekend in yet another nice corner of our country, and another fun road trip with a great companion. Next up for me is my first 100km trail ultra run. Luckily, it is NOT a race, but I’m sure that won’t make it any easier. Till then, enjoy the rest of the great weather we’re having, and if you haven’t done so yet, check out my review video below!

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