A Gold Rush for ActiveSteve

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Yup, after years of trying for it, I’ve finally landed a legitimate first place finish in a race. It’s just that simple. I could go on with the fanfare, and a long build up, but why put you through that, right? However, since that would be completely out of character, I’ll back up now, and give you the entire background and story. The event I’m talking about is the National Capital Kayak Triathlon, put on by Somersault Events, and took place at Mooney’s Bay in Ottawa on July 28th of the long weekend (well, long weekend for those who work in Ontario… I had to work Monday). It was to be my last race before the Iron-distance race I’m doing on September 1st. Also, my goal was to win this one, not just ‘do well’. If you’d like to see some pictures of this race, check out the folder on Flickr. Now on with the story.

As with most Somersault events, there was to be a large number of different races on the same day, with different starting times and race-field size. I’d picked up my race kit the day before, to make sure I had all the details right, and knew where to go. I also took the chance to ask about how many people were in my race. I was told that there was only going to be about 6 people in the race! What? Six? Well, although those odds look great on paper, all it takes is one speed-demon to dash my hopes. So although I was relieved to hear that the field was small, I wasn’t going to get ahead of myself. Also, by the same token, it’s always a little disappointing when the starting field is that small. I might mean that I don’t get to push myself as hard as I should.

Saturday morning broke to great weather. It was a bit cool first thing in the morning, and the humidity was also down, as a result of some recent rain. The forecast called for sunny with cloudy periods, meaning that although it should be a nice race, with not too much sun or heat. My race was slated to begin only at 10:10am, which was also good for a nighthawk like me. It also allowed for a few people to come cheer me on. On hand for this race was Kev, Dave, Jody (my hopefully number one fan and paparazzi extraordinaire), as well as my sister. Yup, even though her family was getting set to move away for her first foreign posting, she managed to make the time to see her little brother race one more time. Thanks for making it out sis!

Showing up at race site, we drove the car as close as we could to the beach to drop off the boat, as well as all my other gear. This is when I realized just how far it was going to be running from the boat to the bike. Overall, the distance was over 500 meters. For this reason, I decided that I’d wear water shoes in the kayak, so that I’d be better prepared to actually run between the two race sections. I thought that if I was barefoot on the sand, I’d be slowed down. After dropping off the kayak with the other 5 vessels assembled on the beach, I ran my other gear to the transition area. Other races were already in full swing, so there were runners, swimmers, and bikers all around. In spite of the crowds already assembled, I managed to get a pretty good spot in the transition area, right at the end of the rack. This makes it the easiest to find my gear, and get going quicker.

After being satisfied that my equipment was set, it was time to head to the beach to get ready for the start. There was supposed to be a volunteer down by the boats to give us a briefing. When I got down there, it became clear very soon that they actually weren’t exactly sure how this race was going to work for us. In the directions, it had stated that we’d be doing a LeMans start, meaning we’d be running to the boats, jump in, and start paddling. However, now we were being told we could just start in the water if we wanted. Also, we’d have a motorboat lead us out, in order to show us the route. This was for both safety, as well as to make sure we all took the same line. We all decided we’d much prefer starting in the water. Particularly because that meant that in a tippy boat, you’d be stable before starting, rather than risking rolling the boat trying to get it. We lined up in the water and waited for the start gun.

As soon as the race started, I had to give a great effort just to try and keep up with one of the paddlers. This was not going to be a walk in the park by any means. There was also another guy right on my tail, and this was right at the beginning. I was sincerely hoping that they were pushing too hard off the bat, and would slow down later on in the paddle leg. Of course, the same could go for me. I hoped I wasn’t pushing too hard. I had some fluids with me, and hoped that staying hydrated would help me for the long run, rather than focus on just pushing super hard at the expense of my body’s well being. That could cost in the running stage. By the time we got to the 2km turnaround point, it was clear to me that I was outclassed by the two other lads. They were now well ahead of me. I couldn’t let that get to me though, and I just put my head down and willed myself to push hard. Although the weather was quite clear, there was a pretty stiff little cross-wind which was causing me a little bit of trouble on my boat. I have no skeg or rudder of any type, so to go straight means some fancy paddling. Unfortunately I’m not that fancy. But I did manage to keep things moving, and soon saw the shore (and some of my fans!).

Coming into the shore, I was the third person off the water, but could see the other two guys still on the run-up to the transition. I wasted no time throwing off my PFD and paddle, and took off at pretty much a sprint. The volunteer said “Don’t worry, you’ll catch them.”. My response, half joking, half serious was “Damn right I will!”. She thought that was the funniest thing ever, Kev later told me. However, it did give me the motivation I needed, and before I had even gotten to my bike, I had caught up to the guy in 2nd place. Once I grabbed my gear, and ran out, I had passed him, he apparently took his time getting set. One down, one to go. I knew what the other guy was wearing, and hoped he wasn’t too far ahead. I was racing on my tri-bike, but didn’t have race wheels like in the last race. Darren, who had lent them to me last time, was also racing that day, and was using them himself. However, due to the winds, I think that wasn’t too bad, as with the race wheels, you can get blown sideways in a cross-wind.

Just after getting past the bike mounting line, I was having a hard time getting on the saddle. My pedal kept flipping over on me, and I could get clipped in. Eventually, I gave up trying hard, and just jumped on the bike cowboy style, and finally got clipped into my pedals. I put the bike into high gear, and mashed the pedals for all I was worth. This was a good chance to get a feel for the bike course that I’d be doing 12 laps of in the upcoming iron-distance race. I was passing lots of racers (part of other races), and kept an eye out for the guy in first place in my race. Finally, I spotted him in the distance, on the first half of the first lap of my 2 lap bike course. I could tell I was gaining on him, but didn’t want to push so hard that I burnt out and he re-passed me later on in the lap. When the time was right, I made my move, and didn’t look back. However, at every turn, I’d glance around to see how far back he was. He never seemed to be too far.

On the last half of the second lap, I was going through my transition strategy in my head. I had to make sure that I got through it as quick as I could, in case this guy was a running speed demon like the fellow in the last race that beat me 😉 He was still a little ways off from me, so I had to maximize my lead. I was also a little worried about the cramps that I had in the last race, and hoped they wouldn’t come back to haunt me this time. Coming up the final hill, I kept the pressure on the pedals, rather than coasting to the dismount line. Once there, I hopped off the bike, and broke into a run once again to get back to the transition zone. By now, Andrea, Dave and Kev, along with Jody were all there screaming for me. It was a nice boost.

I made yet another speedy transition, and got out on the run course. I still didn’t feel great on the run, but things were definitely better than they were in the last race. My heart rate was up pretty high, and I was passing a lot of people again. I felt strong, and was determined to keep pushing hard regardless of any cramps or pain. After all, it was only a 5k run, so I should be able to get through it in fine form. As I had worried, the cramps did return, making me pretty angry. Try as I might to run top speed, I just couldn’t. The pain was too great. However, the guy in second place at least wasn’t anywhere to be seen yet. I made it to the turnaround spot, and kept pushing to keep the pressure on. About 500m further, I passed the other guy heading the other way. That meant I was now about a kilometer ahead of him, and only had 2km to go. The chances of him catching me now were pretty slim.

In spite of the near-assured victory now, I still convinced myself he was right on my tail, just to see how fast I could finish. I skipped the water station, and ran sort of like the wind 🙂 As I came around to the finish area, I caught sight of Jody snapping some shots, giving me the motivation to show her a strong finish. The final part of the race was up a hill to the finishing chute. I could see the clock, and it looked like my time was pretty similar to the last one. I crossed the line, now sure that I had gotten first place. Yay for me!

After the race, we hung around, since I wasn’t sure if there would be an awards ceremony or not. I stood around chatting with Kev, Dave, Andrea and Jody, enjoying the fact that it was a bit overcast. After a little bit, I got my biking and running gear sorted out. I wasn’t about to trudge back to get the boat until we were actually leaving, since it was so far away :-). I finally asked a volunteer, who told me there was no awards, you just had to tell them you won the race, and pick up your prize. Andrea was a bit bummed that they wouldn’t be making any sort of announcement that I had won, but that was okay with me.

I walked over to the race results postings to confirm that I had in fact won. There, I found out that by the end of the race, I had put 7 minutes on my closest competitor, which is a pretty strong finish. I went back to the table to claim my medal and prize, a $20 gift certificate at Pecco’s. Yippee! After another round of pictures with my friends, it was time to head back to get the boat. When I was getting it, I ran into the fellow who came in 2nd place. We talked a bit, which is where I learned that he used to be a competitive paddler. Well, that explains that. He also said he was a pretty strong biker, but hadn’t gotten out much this summer. However, he said he was a weak runner, which is where I put a lot of time onto him. He was a really nice guy, and I’m sure we’ll race again in the future. There is actually another Kayak Tri this summer, but it’s at the same time as I’ll be doing my Iron distance triathlon, so I’m definitely out for that one. Perhaps he’ll have his chance to win that race.

So there you have it. A pretty short and sweet account of how I finally broke my curse, and got a first place finish in a race. I’m not saying it’s going to happen all the time, but at least I know that I’m physically capable of winning now, and maybe that’s just what I need to keep pushing myself to more podium finishes. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be tapering in preparation for my Iron race, but don’t expect me to podium that one. I’m shooting for a very respectable 11h 30min finish though, and even that will take most of my physical capability and determination. It’s just yet another step in my quest to find out just how hard I can push myself. Until next time, take care, and go out and have some fun, summer isn’t going to last forever you know!

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