In early August, after several great weeks of training and a good race at Kingston, I had the crazy idea that I’d like to do the Canadian 226 for something different. It was local, inexpensive and I was coaching people for it, so I figured I should experience it to give me a better perspective so I could write more appropriate programs for it. I got the same idea about the Calabogie Soloman. The problem was, they were a week apart. That’s would make things pretty interesting. And then there was Esprit where I had the race of my live the year before. I had to go back to defend my title. It’s just the polite thing to do.
So, after Kingston, I piled on the kilometers on the bike, started to swim a bit more regularly and ran a bit ?. I teamed up with client/fast guy Ryan Cain, George Reid and a few others for regular Wednesday rides and did more long rides on the weekend. I did a bunch of beach to beach swims with Leslie Sanderson and became quite comfortable with gauging my effort and speed. Almost all of our swims were within 30sec of each other.
I was the defending champ at Brockville, so I decided to race there as well. Besides, it looked like a pretty good field and it would be a lot of fun. It served to let me know I was on the right path.
Soloman was a hard but controlled race. My recovery was almost immediate so I set my sights on the Canadian, where I had a great day. My ride was not what I had expected, but I suppose I was a bit tired from Soloman.
I recovered pretty well from the Canadian, at least on the surface, and set my sights on Esprit.
Before I go any further, I have to thank Nancy for her support. She never questionned my plan and did not complain too much about the early morning wake ups. We should all be so lucky.
Similar to the Canadian, I hardly slept the night before. This is quite new for me: I usually sleep really well before races. I guess I’m actually excited about racing, or really nervous about the potential for a spectacular implosion.
I woke up and went to Tim Horton’s, got my coffee and two bagels, then back to the hotel to pack up. It was cool and raining.
Nancy drove me to the race, and then racked her own bike. Her race was not until 10, so she went back to the motel and Starbucks to relax.
I set up my t-zone spot and put my arm warmers on the aerobars, just in case I wanted them. I set everything else up so it would be close to dry by the time I needed it (in plastic).
At 6:30 AM, 88 of us entered the water and then the gun went off. Three of us were off the front rather quickly. I put myself right on the wire so I swam as straight a line as possible. It should have occurred to me that the wire is what they attach the swim buoys to, but it did not. (I have a good engine; I’m just not very smart). So, at the very first opportunity, I swam into a buoy. And then another one. Eventually, I caught on that I should swim just to the left of the line and all was much better. I was swimming in second spot to the second turn when I decided to swim side by side with the swim leader. I noticed he was drifting back a bit every now and then, and then catching back up, then drifting back, so I figured he was swimming as hard as he wanted or could. We exited the water for the first lap side by side at 27:35 and I put in a hard little sprint to be first back in the water and maybe gap him (forcing him to close the gap). That seemed to have worked as he did not/could no get back up beside me. I swam a wee bit harder and got away clean for the second loop. Off in my own world, I settled into a good pace and followed the wire on the bottom. I was just the left of it when I swam into one of the big buoys. They stick out 1m more than the little ones. It stopped me cold. I laughed. I started swimming again, and banged into it again. I laughed. And again. I did not laugh. Like I said, I’m not very smart. Finally, I swam around it. I can only imagine what the guy in the kayak was thinking, something along the lines of “looooo--ssser!!” I am sure). The rest of the swim was uneventful and I popped out of the water in 55:38, a slight negative split, but very comfortable.
T-1 went smoothly enough and I was off on the bike feeling good. I started to put my arm warmers on and realized that doing so while moving would be very dangerous, so I threw them away, a mistake I would later regret.
I was riding really well and feeling fine for the first 90k. I was passing lots of the half Esprit guys and even caught Dev on the bike. At one point, Nancy handed me one of my bottles and I grabbed it easily enough, but dropped it trying to put it in my bottle cage. I realized at that moment I was getting cold. I wished I had my arm warmers at that point, but did not stop.
Eventually, the half Esprit train started to pass me. First Charles Perrault, then Ryan Cain, then Mike Scherman, then Pierre Lavoie, then Barry Dmitruk and a few others.
I continued to ride along, noticing my heart rate was now a full 10 beats lower than the first half of the ride, and it felt hard. I was shaking from the cold and could no longer feel my hands, arms or legs. I could see them moving, but did not have control over them. I could not shift gears. I could hardly squeeze my water bottles. With 80k to go, I was in big trouble and needed to warm up. Fast.
I strongly considered the option to drop out. If it were not for the fact my family made the trip to watch the race and I did not want to disappoint them, it would have been an easy decision. The last time they came to watch me race was in Peterborough, 2000. I dropped out 5k into the ride to notch the 3rd DNF of my career. I was sick for 2 months afterwards, getting healthy just in time for Kona.
So I pressed on, accepting my fate, whatever it might be, determined to finish for them.
Steve and Sheri McCready drove down to do the Olympic distance race, but decided, quite wisely, since they had not yet entered, to be expert spectators and support crew. Steve handed me my bottles for the rest of the ride. My hands and arms were not really mine at that point. At 120k, I had to stop and get a jacket from Sheri. I was so cold she had to put it on for me. This is a moment I will cherish forever.
I got back on the bike and the shivering stabilized, but never did stop. I shook for the rest of the ride, but did not get any worse. I was eventually able to figure out how and where on the course to squeeze my bottle to get some fuel.
With a few laps to go, Guy Boucher, number 115, went screaming past me. I had no idea he was on the same lap as me so I let him go, not that I could have done anything about it.
When I rolled in to rack my bike, thinking I was in first place, I noticed a very nice bike already racked. I’d seen it go by not long ago. It was Guy’s. He had a rocket ride of 4:45 on a horrible day.
Louman was close to my t-zone spot, standing on the other side of the barricade. He said I was only about a minute down, but I think that was from Guy leaving and me arriving. I still had to change to my run stuff.
Normally, my transitions are pretty smooth and efficient. This time, I was a basket case.
I tried to put my socks on while standing, but could not hold my balance. I put my hand on the ground to stabilize myself, but my hand/arm was too cold and weak to support me, so I fell over. Okay, I was down. With soaking wet and cold stumps for feet, I tried several methods to get my socks on and ensure they were wrinkle free. Eventually, I got them on and then my shoes, too.
I looked through all my bags for my toque and gloves but could not find them (realizing they were in the car). I tried to put a long sleeve top on but I could not find the arm holes to even get it started.
I grabbed my Mizuno running hat and off I went. T-2 time was close to 5min.
Surprisingly, even on my stumps-for-feet, my running legs were there right away. Within a few kilometers, I was no longer shivering and could feel my feet and hands. I was knocking off some pretty fast kilometer splits and was confident I would make up some time on the leader. It was just a matter of how much time, and when.
At the end of the first lap, Louman told me I was 5:25 behind. “Huh?” Wow, he must be running hard up there, because I knew I was.
I pressed on, holding my speed. At the end of the second lap, I was still 5:25 behind. I was shocked I had not made any progress. I was running well under 3hr marathon speed and not gaining anything. I figured one of us was over our head, and I knew how I felt and of what I was capable, so I pressed on, chasing hard. And hoping.
On lap 4, I had to stop for a bathroom break. Knowing that I had not gained anything on the leader, I knew this was really risky, but I could no longer hold off the call of nature.
After as quick a stop as I could manage, I was off again in pursuit of Guy.
And then my shoelace came untied. I had lace locks on and ran for a little while with it flapping all over, but then decided to tie it up out of the way.
At the end of the next lap, Louman told me I was 5:40 down. “Really?” I asked. Thinking I would have lost closer to 1:30, I was pleasantly surprised to have only lost 15sec. Finally, he was starting to come back. Maybe. There was always the chance he stopped for a washroom break as well, so I did not let myself get too excited.
At the end of the next lap, I was 3:30 down. I had taken back 2min.
I dug deep and hammered the next lap, taking back another 2min and, starting the 7th lap, I could finally see him 30sec on front of me.
I ran hard to catch him. He still looked pretty good and I complimented him on his race, and then hammered to take away any hope he may have had of jumping on. I continued going hard until I was sure I was out of range, unless I blew up worse.
At that point, I backed off about 15sec per kilometer and the 8th and 9th lap were pretty relaxed. It was at this point I noticed the wind had really picked and was a headwind up on the final straight to the finish. It was quite strong and I started to lament and pity myself because I had the wind in my face for this section.
And then I looked over onto the bike course and realized how lucky I was. There were people still on the bike. There I was, less than 40min from being done, and winning, complaining about the wind when there were people still not done the bike, and likely to take over 16hours to get done their race. I gave my head a shake and just enjoyed the rest of the run, eventually catching up to Richard Cawthorn and Bruce Haydon, both on their way to finishing their first IM distance triathlon.
This was, without a doubt, the most challenging race this year for me, and by far the most exciting. I had to race as hard as I could and battle not just a formidable Guy Boucher, but the elements that almost beat me. It was almost a lot of fun, but the challenges are what make racing worthwhile for me.
The chatter among a few e-mails in the days before the race was all about the weather and how awful it was going to be. In 26 years, I’ve never worried about the weather.
After that race, I will now give it much more consideration.