Winterlude Triathlon: Starting 2nd ‘Tri’ at Rudy Award

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Good day friends! Well, I’m starting to feel better about this whole blog post thing now. I’ve almost caught up to my race reports with this posting. As the title implies, I’m going to be talking about the 2011 Winterlude Triathlon in this post. This event is the first official qualifying event I have to do this year in order to get a Rudy Award! Many of you have probably heard me talk about it in the past, as it is something I’ve always planned on doing. So what is it? Well, basically you have to complete 5 events in a calendar year: the Winterlude Tri, the Gatineau Loppet (53k ski race), Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour (360+km in a weekend), a full 42.2km marathon, and an Iron-distance triathlon. For me, it’s never been about the events themselves, but more about the timing of some of the events. After all, I’ve done all those events before, and do long adventure races and multisport events as well. So I know that I have it in me. For pictures of this year’s Winterlude Tri, head over to my flickr page. Afterward, come on back for more stories about it.

The Winterlude Tri is just one of those quintessentially Canadian events that we have around here. Where else do they hold a race that starts with an 8km skate on the worlds longest skating rink, follow that up with a 6km cross-country ski leg, and then capped off with a 6km run along the canal and its’ snowy banks? Well, in a nutshell, nowhere! I wouldn’t classify this as an overly strenuous event, as it is over relatively quickly, but you still need to do some prep, and if you have any visions of placing well, you have to be pretty talented at all 3 disciplines.

Sadly, I am not that talented at these disciplines. Let’s review where my weakness lies in this event. For starters, the skate itself. Unless you have some serious training with respect to pace lines and how to draft really closely with others, you are poop outta luck. Great for speedskaters and inline racers, but not for a guy like me, who gets out on the canal a few times a year and rollerblades strictly on a recreational basis in the summer. In order to try and get a leg up, I did finally bite the bullet and buy my own nordic skating blades. Basically, these guys are 19 inches of metal fury on the ice. They use the same bindings as cross-country skis, which makes transitions a breeze.

Second event, the ski. Well, I’ll say this much, I’ve improved a lot at skiing in the past few years. After discovering the joy of skiing, and getting a nice set of superlight skis, I’ve made great gains, and am even now racing in long events like the 53km loppet. However, keep in mind that I ONLY skate using the classic style (as opposed to skate skiing). What does that mean? I have no hope of coming anywhere near the front runners. They are easily 50% faster than me on snow.

That leaves me with the run. My forte, my happy place. I can really redline here and actually see results in that I can pass lots of people. However, due to circumstances this year, that made very little difference. Keep reading and you’ll find out exactly why that was the case this year!

The lead-up to the race this year held great promise. The ice on the canal is the greatest it’s been in years thanks to a number of factors. I’d gone out on my new blades a few times to test them out and was pretty happy with the smoothness and speed I could get. We had a great base of snow, meaning that the night before the race, the groomer would be able to do a really good job with the snow. The run? Well, that just needs a flat surface, right? Well, they opted to modify the run route taking racers onto the actual ice surface. That could be interesting….

Deanna and I had company for the weekend, so the night before, we picked them up at the train station and checked out the Winterlude opening. I’ll save that stuff for another post though. I managed to not stay up too late, as I had to be up around 6am Saturday morning. Race was starting at 8am. Happily, Deanna also joined me, although our guests opted to sleep in. As a reward, I brewer her a pot of coffee as I ate my breakfast. I arrived, and got set up with a few minutes to spare. Barely enough though. I took a pit stop in a porta-pottie, and due to the line-up, just barely made it back in time to clamour onto the ice and into the pack of skaters.

I set myself up at the tail end of the ‘long bladers’. That is, in front of all those wearing hockey skates. After all, it was inconceivable that I would be any slower than them, but also unlikely I’d be part of the front group of ‘real’ skaters :-). My guess was very right. About 15 seconds after I picked my spot, we were off. I did my best impersonation of a long-track skater, trying to tuck in with people and keeping a hand behind my back. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for smaller groups to form, and for me to find myself towards the rear of this group. Also, it was hell on my lower back. Never underestimate the pain of being hunched over on the ice skating your brains out. When I finally rounded the last bend to hit transition, I’d been skating just over 20 minutes for the 8km course, and was in 61st out of 330.

Running over to my ski stuff, I went for a fast transition, assisted by the fact that my new ski poles are clip-in with my gloves (super-sweet feature). Unfortunately, my right boot binding was blocked with ice and snow and I had to fight to knock out the big ice chunk to get my skis on. Damn! Once fixed, I charged up the little starting hill onto the 2 loop course. It was clear that I was in a minority here. I could only discern maybe 2 other sets of pole marks from classic skiers. Regardless, I double-poled my heart out, and even stepped out of the tracks to take a few skate strides now and again. It was frustrating to get passed by all the skate skiers, but all I could do was keep pushing. Eventually, I passed a the other classic ski folks, and I’m pretty sure I would have won the solo race had there been a ‘classic’ category :-). The 6.2km ski took me just over 33 minutes, and I was the 89th fastest of the 330 peeps. Not terrible I guess.

Okay, time for the run, and time to burn it. I cast off my skinny sticks, donned my trail shoes and tried to run fast. Small problem. Running on solid smooth ice is really not easy. We were sort of equalized in that you could only run/shuffle at one pace on the slick ice without yaktrax. To make matters worse, I once again learned a lesson about double-tying laces, as my shoes came unties after the first 1.5km, and I had to pull off and re-tie. Luckily, I kept passing a number of people and was buoyed by this. Unfortunately, an earlier mistake on the course led to a dramatic shortening of the run. Our ~8k run was chopped down to 3.7km, the majority of which was on the aforementioned slick ice. So much for really making up ground there.

Right before the finish line, Deanna was off to the side snapping my picture, so I decided to detour to give her a quick kiss before finishing the race. After all, it wasn’t going to hurt my standing, and would hopefully make her smile 🙂 It worked, and I subsequently crossed the line with a grin on my face. In the end, this run of 3.7km took me nearly 16 minutes (so quite slow for me), and I was the 56th fastest on this leg. Where did that place me overall at the finish line? Well, I was 64th overall, and 17th of 52 in my category (men 30-35). Event number 1 of the Rudy Award was in the bag!

After finishing the race, I hurriedly collected my stuff, grabbed a cup of warm chicken noodle soup, and we headed back to the parked car. After all, we had guests to entertain! We made it back home before 10am, after which I proceeded to cook up some breakfast for everyone before we started the ‘real’ day!! Not a bad way to wake up and get energized, right? In my next post, I’ll share some of the fun we’ve been having outside of the race stories. But don’t worry, there’ll be another exciting race story after that too, since event #2 of my quest for Rudy Award in 2011 is on Feb.19th! Till then, enjoy this crazy weather!

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