“Tri”-ing my best in the 2010 Winterlude Triathlon

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Howdy folks! Hope everyone is going okay during this delightful cold snap that we seem to be suffering through in Ottawa. Must say that I’m not a huge fan of trudging to the bus stop every morning in what seems to be lower than -15deg C weather! But I digress, this isn’t the place to discuss weather, is it? You undoubtedly are tuning in to read about my latest racing results, right? Well, at least that’s what I’m here to write about. Quite a treat too, as this was my first ‘required’ event for the Rudy Award that I had planned on nabbing this year. However, that seems more unlikely now, given that I’m probably trading a ‘required’ event to do a 24 hour adventure race instead. What can I say? I know where my priorities are. Fun first, results second! At any rate, I’ve already paid entry for a few of the other events, so I’ll do them and race hard 🙂 To see some pictures from before and after the 2010 Winterlude Tri, you can check out my set on flickr. Not too much excitement there, but at least you’ll see how the transition area was laid out. Now onto the story!

This wasn’t my first Winterlude Tri, however, I can tell you that it was my first ‘full’ Winterlude Tri. You see, every year, it seems that the poor event organizers have to re-jig the course based on weather conditions, lack of snow, or too much snow! This year was no different, but at least they did manage to lay out a course with the required 8km skate on the canal, a 2-loop 5km ski through the arboretum, and finish off with a 5km dry run along one of the nearby parkways. Unfortunately, due to our use of the parkway, they had to move up the start time from 9am to 7:30am so that we’d be off the road before the ‘sno-bus’ started running at 10am! Now, you all know how much I love early mornings, so I was not amused about needing to get up at 5:30am in order to get there and set up on time for the starting gun on the ice. Boo. Such is life however, and I could only grin and bear it.

Speaking of bearing it, another thing I managed to do this year for this race was secure a nice pair of Nordic Skates for the skate portion of the race. Of course, not ever having used these puppies, I set out to do some training earlier in the week (yup, that’s right, I waited until 6 days before the race to set foot to ice!). Between Sunday and Wednesday, I managed to rack up about 40k of ice time, but couldn’t seem to get any real speed. As it was, I seemed to actually be slightly slower than my running pace. That was not cool. However, I learned through some friends that my problem may lie in the boots that I was using. They were classic cross-country boots, which offer no ankle support, which led to very difficult skating techniques by me. So what did I do? Well, believe it or not, the night before the race, at 8pm, I went to a shop and picked up a brand new pair of combination cross-country ski boots. These allow you to use them in both a classic ski, as well as skate skiing, but offering ankle support. Seemed like a good way to spend $236 to me.

So just how much better did they treat me? Well, as soon as I set foot to the ice at 7am on Saturday, I could tell they would be a dream come true for me. The skating now seemed effortless, and I cursed myself for not getting them sooner. Knowing that my transition area was all set, I opted to do a bit of practicing on the ice before the race start, and it was AWESOME! i felt much more confident now that I could at least skate faster than those wearing hockey skates (ha! those crazy plebs!). I lined up at the back of the ‘long blade’ skaters, and when the gun went off, found a really nice rhythm. Mind you, I was nowhere near the front guys, but I was certainly in the mix, and more importantly, ahead of the hockey crowd. Looking at my pace, I ended up averaging around 2:36/km on this leg, whereas in training with the other boots, it was closer to 4:43/km! Incredible. Not to mention it just felt great. With the long blades, you can just glide over a lot of the imperfections in the ice. By the time I finished the 8k, ran to the transition, and got to the ski start, a mere 21:44 had elapsed, good enough for 21st in my category, 89th overall in this leg.

So, what about the ski? Well, let’s just say I knew that would be my achilles heel. For the main reason that I was classic skiing, not skate skiing. They are worlds apart in terms of speed. It wouldn’t be for lack of me pushing hard though. I double-poled every chance I got, and just generally red-lined my way through the windy course. I actually managed to pass a few of the slower skate skiers, but for the most part, I got whupped and passed by plenty of others. Honestly, it is kind of depressing knowing that your choice of ski style eliminates you from any real contention. In the future, it would be nice they would actually rank people based on classic vs. skate skiing, however, I’m sure that would be logistically challenging, so I’ll just whine about it on my blog :-). In spite of the obvious speed challenges, I still managed to pull back into the transition in 22:28. It gave me 23rd spot in my category for the ski, but dropped me to 103rd overall in the ski. No surprise there.

This is when I encountered my first ‘technical’ difficulty, and it was a perplexing one. Between the skate and ski, I had ditched my heavy mitts in favour of light fleece gloves. Hmm, turns out that really cold wind blowing on hands over the preceding 25 minutes posed a problem. My fingers were completely numb! I don’t just mean a little, I mean totally! I couldn’t grip anything, so I could hardly remove my ski boots, let alone put on or tie my running shoes. I struggled a minute or so before giving up. However, instead of running barefoot, I just yelled at a spectator to ask them to help. My saviour came over and happily helped get my shoes on and tie them up. Apparently, being the father of 2 young children made him uniquely qualified 🙂 I thanked him for his assistance and got back to the task at hand: putting in a respectable 5k run to wrap up the race.

On my way out of the transition area, and crossing the timing mat, I was happy to see that my dad and his wife had actually made it out to the race! I wasn’t sure they’d make it out so early, but apparently, they were both interested in seeing me in a race, as they have never had the opportunity. They didn’t notice me at first, so I yelled at them. I guess they aren’t used to seeing me in ‘race mode’. It lifted my spirits a touch, and put a spring in my step. I got right to work by passing a few runners right off the bat. My fingers gradually started thawing out as I ticked over the kilometers. The course was an out and back on the parkway beside the canal, and it was turning into a glorious morning. I managed a nice big smile, and just kept focused on my pacing.

Crossing the finish line, I managed to clock a time of 21:50 (a pace of 4:22/km – not my best, but not terrible). For the running leg, that was good enough for 12th in my category, and 40th overall. Considering I had been prepared to take about an hour and a half total, I was pretty elated to see the clock read 1:06:02 total. In terms of overall standings, that put me in 23rd of 44 in my category, and 84th of 273 overall. So mid-to upper third of the pack. Considering my lack of skating finesse and the fact that I classic skied, I could definitely live with that.

After the finish, I gave dad and Nicole a nice little tour of the typical race area, showing them the transition zone and explaining how things work. My dad was pretty interested in some of my gear and seeing how things were set up. It was nice sharing something that is such a big part of my life with them. I certainly don’t see them too often, so if was well worth the extra few minutes shivering ;-). Also, it gave me some company to head out for a little post-race breakfast with. I was still cold through the entire meal, but the big breakfast at Perkins certainly ‘perked’ me up again, and got me ready for the rest of my day!

So there you have my little tale of racing the 2010 Winterlude Tri. Hope you all enjoyed it. The next big event is in under 2 weeks now, and is the Gatineau Loppet, a 53km slog of classic skiing for this non-skier! Till then, rock on kids!

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