Montreal Demi-Esprit Triathlon Re-visited

More than a few years ago, I did the Demi-Esprit Triathlon in Montreal.  Since then, I have done the full Esprit with great success, so I love the race set up.

This year, due to a lack of motivation to run, I thought I would downshift to the half and give my body a bit of a break.  The problem was that I kept thinking to myself “You’re defending champ and record holder.  You have to do the long one.  At least lose the title.  Don’t give it away uncontested.  Fight for it.”  It was not logical and strictly my ego talking, but it was gnawing at me fiercely.

I knew I was going to race in Montreal.  It was just a question of which event.  I felt I was in good swim and bike shape for a moderate effort, but not a really hard race.  I felt I needed to test myself a bit more to prove I was as bike fit as I thought I was, so I did and came out of it feeling pretty good.  That was a good sign.  I knew I was strong enough to do any event I chose, and to do it well.

Race week, my mind flipped back and forth between the full and the half—I was in very good swim and bike shape.  I could manage a marathon, but I did not think I could run it well.  It would be ugly.  On the other hand, I felt I had enough run volume to allow me to run hard for 15k, and maybe 17k.  I would only have to hang on for the last 4-6k.  I was leaning towards the half, but was torn as to what to do.  I repeated to myself again, “the marathon would be ugly if I did the full.”

So, on Tuesday at the track, I did what not many other people would do:  I sat alone in my car waiting for Mike Woodford and Ryan Cain to show up for our weekly hammer session.  When I was ready, I grabbed a loonie and walked in to meet Mike.

“Mike, you gotta help me.”
“Huh?”
I held the loonie up and said, “Heads I go long, tails I go short.  You call it.”
“Huh?  Seriously?”
“Yes.”
“You’re going to decide between a half IM and a full by flipping a coin?”
“Yes.”
“Heads.”

I understand this is not the way one should choose their race distance, but hopefully everyone understands my level of fitness and ability.  When I say I am not in great shape that does not mean I am in bad shape.  It’s a very fine range in which I play.  I likely have less than a 5% difference in performance when I am really fit and not so fit.

I also fully understood that what I was doing was akin to playing Russian roulette with 4 bullets and the likelihood of success was not great.  I accepted that and put my fate in the hands of Mike Woodford.

I flipped the loonie, caught it, laid it on my wrist, and then took a deep breath.
“Tails.  I’m going short.  Well, not short, but not an IM.”

I felt relieved to have the decision made.  I thanked Mike just as Ryan showed up.
Off we went for our warm-up and workout, which went pretty well (I was only dropped once).

On Thursday, I went for a ride in the Parc and my legs felt really strong and smooth.  Naturally, I questioned my decision again.  I repeated to myself again, “the marathon would be ugly.”

On Friday, I went for a swim and felt fantastic. 

I repeated to myself again, “the marathon would be ugly.”

I dropped by the Sportstats office to chat with Marc Roy, who informed me he had just merged the files and I was set to go in the full. 

“Marc, I’m doing the half.”
“Danny sent me the file with you in the full.”
“Marc, I’m doing the half.”
“Okay, we’ll switch it when we get to Montreal.”

“Was this fate pushing me,” I thought?  “Stick to the plan.  Do the half.”

We drove to Montreal, got all set up and went to the hotel for dinner.

Peter K, Julie Laflamme , Yves Fortin, his family, Randy Roffey and I stayed at the Sandman Hotel. It is conveniently located and a nice hotel.  Nothing special happened and it was business as usual until bed time.

The next morning, we woke up at 5:15 and got rolling to the race site by 6, arriving at 6:10.

Transition zone set up was a breeze and I was ready to go.  The question of the day asked of me was, of course, “why not the long race?”  I had to think about a proper answer, not wanting to tell people that I’d flipped a coin to make the decision, and came up with “I’m not ready to run that far.”  It was honest and to the point.

At 7, the full took off and we were allowed to get in the water to warm-up.  The water was cool, but refreshing.  I felt awake and ready to go.  I looked around and saw Eric Roy, Dev, Peter, Jean and 200 others all wanting to be in the same place at the same time.

At 7:27, the first full swimmer finished his first loop and a bit later, the second one.  At 7:30, Danny McCann gave the start and away we went. 

I have had the great fortune in the last few years to be in and around the lead pack in the swim rather quickly, where there is generally lots of space and respect for others space.

Not so on this day, at least for the first 400m.  I was knocked around quite a bit and was reminded of just why it is I love this sport—you never know what is going to happen and that is exciting. Eventually, the fast starters faded away and we formed a great pack of about 15.  We all kept our space and only bumped a few times.  I felt no need to get to the front of the pack as I could see what I thought was first and that was close enough for me.  Besides, Eric Roy was doing a fine job leading my way.

We exited the water as a big group and then the fun really started.

I had a very smooth transition and was 3rd or 4th out onto the bike beside the lead woman.  She was flying!

I hammered hard on the bike trying to catch the lead but before I knew it, he was out of sight.  I had no idea who it was, but I was holding 40-45kph and losing time. 

One of us was being unreasonable and I figured it was me.  My experience on this course has been that it has taken me about 5 laps to find my cycling legs.  I usually use the same three or four gears on each lap for the first 5 laps until I find my groove, then drop the range down one cog and use them for the rest of the ride.  My legs were responding as I had foreseen, so I patiently settled in and did my thing.

Lap by lap, I watched as Eric Roy steadily gained on me, eventually passing me without saying a word.   I watched him disappear in the distance with no hope of seeing him again on the bike.

On lap 5, my legs kicked in and I was able to drop to the next range of gears.  While I ride a beautiful 2008 Kuota Kalibur from Bushtukah, my disc wheel is at least 17 years old, so it is a bit antiquated.  It only has 8 cogs on the back instead of 10.  With 10 speed shifters and only 8 cogs, they do not mesh perfectly.  I know I can get four clean shifts, then two screwy ones.  I call them the Sweet 4.  I chose to have the Sweet 4 in the middle of the freewheel with the screwy ones on either side.  After lap 5 when I dropped the range I would use by one cog, I used the cable mounted barrel adjuster to move the new Sweet 4 down one cog.

I rode harder than I thought I could.  Catching and passing people was hard to do because everyone was riding so friggin’ fast.  I was constantly questioning my ability to maintain the effort.  I was slowly catching strong riders who were a lap behind due to slower swims.  They would hook on, pass me and I would hook on then surge past in an effort to break them, which was usually a successful tactic.

I rode through a few good sized packs with a word or two of advice for those not trying to avoid drafting.  Hopefully, it was enough to wake them up, but I doubt it.

I knew Pierre Heynemand was in the race.  To my knowledge, we had never raced each other before, but Pierre was the record holder in the Esprit race, having gone 8:46 before I broke it in 2006.  I knew he was a force to be reckoned with.   I did not know Tony Biernacki, who was a lap behind me, but was riding at the same speed as I was.  His calf said 43 and he was putting me in a world of hurt, so I did not think I could let him go.  I red lined to keep up, going way deeper in my tank than I thought smart.  Fortunately, his surge was just a surge and not his steady pace, so we leapfrogged past each other whenever one of us saw a weakness in the other.  This lasted for many laps.

Eventually, we were caught and passed by Jerome Bresson.  He went by so fast I never once entertained the thought of going with him.  He was absolutely on fire, and would go on to ride a phenomenal 45.2kph for a startling 1:59:17 ride time.  I was right to let him go as easily as I did, not that I had any choice in the matter. 

Soon thereafter, course record holder Charles Perrault caught up to us, went by, and then stalled 50m in front.  He was no longer getting further away.  Tony slowed to go into the special needs area and I seized the opportunity to attack.  I almost killed myself to get away from him and back within range of Charles.  A little while later, Charles and I caught up to another fast rider and as we rounded the lap counters.  Marc Roy yelled out:
“Charles, you have 2 laps.  Rick you have 3 laps, Pierre, you have 4 laps.”

“You’re Pierre Heynemand?” I asked.
“Yes.”
“Nice to meet you.  I’m Rick Hellard.”

And then I surged.  My legs were really starting to come around so it was my turn to push the pace.  I was no longer afraid of the effort.  I welcomed it.  I was in my glory—a fast and competitive race with no one backing down and my body responding the way I wanted it to.  It was awesome!!

At the end of the ride, I had dropped Tony and Pierre, with Charles 4.4km ahead.  My ride time was 2:06 with an average speed of 42.5kph.  This was the fastest I had ever ridden, and yet I was somehow over 6min behind the leader.  I was very pleased with myself, and flabbergasted at the ability of the others.  But, I still had a run to do.

I had a smooth transition, opting to put on socks for the run.  I left the T-zone hot on the heels of Patrick Allaire, who I had not seen anywhere in the race up to that point.

We started off quickly and by the first kilometer, had made our introductions. 

“Can you run?”
“Not as well as you.”
“Charles is not a good runner.  You can get him.”
“We’ll see.  I’m not that good anymore, and he’s pretty far ahead.”

By 2k, Patrick had dropped off the pace a bit and my legs were feeling good.  Aside from Ironman Florida, it had been a long time since I had to aggressively chase anyone down on the run, much less 3 people.  If I could hold it together, this was going to be fun.

I put my head down and started pushing harder and harder, though I am not sure I was actually picking up speed.  I gained on and eventually caught Eric, who was running very well.  We exchanged pleasantries and I charged on, now in what I thought was 4th, but actually 3rd spot.  Somewhere along the line, Charles dropped out and I did not notice, highlighting the drawback with multi-loop and multi-event races: it is hard to tell where you are in the race and this day was no different.  I could not what I thought was 3rd (but actually 2nd place, so I was simply pushing myself and chasing a ghost.   I pushed harder every time I felt I could. 

With a 5.2k lap to go, I ran by the clock, noting it said 3:37.   I realized if I could run the last lap in 23min, I could break the magical 4hr barrier.  I resolved to go for it and not repeat my rookie mistake at the Canadian 113 where, with 7k to go, I let my mind wander, and subsequently imploded, resulting in a very uncomfortable last lap of the run.  This day, I was going to stay focused and hammer as hard as I could right to the end.

And that I did.  I never faded and indeed felt stronger as I ran, only to find out Charles had stopped, that I was 3rd, and 2nd place was just 25sec in front of me.  I am not sure I had 25sec faster in me, but if I had I known, I would have liked to find out.  I have no regrets about putting socks on for the run, knowing if I had not and was able to run the same time, I would have caught Jerome.  I need to wear socks for something that long.

All in all, I had a great race with lots of competition which made it a ton of fun.  I really enjoyed the challenge of quelling the doubts in my own mind as I was pushed and pulled way out of my comfort zone. 

I know I am in a different situation than most, but I would trade many easy victories for a competitive race like this any day.  I am very satisfied with my decision to race the half and would do it again in an instant.

So, what made the day so fast?  For starters, the bike course is absolutely awesome with just the right number of twists and turns to keep it highly engaging, so you never lose focus or drift off into Never Never Land.  Mother Nature also cooperated fully in blessing us with overcast conditions for most of the morning, little to no wind to deal with on the bike.  Since they changed the direction of the ride a few years ago, the prevailing headwind is blocked by trees and buildings, and after the small rise at the far end, the gentle decline/sweeping left turn launched us into a 1.5k stretch with a tailwind we did not have to fight to get.  All this added together made for the best conditions possible. Oh, and the very competitive field likely had something to do with it.

If we could just do something about the draft packs on the bike.

Zone3sports, 84 Scout St., Ottawa, ON, K2C 4C9