On a beautiful 8 degree windless and cloudless morning, we set up in the T-zone, got in the water and they said “Go!!!”
Tom and I swam beside each other in 4th and 5th spot. I expected James to be close by, but he had a sub standard start. James towed Rob around the inflatable turtle that was the first turnaround and then around the big white swan at 1700m that was the second. They exited the water together, a fitting end to the swim and foreshadowing of their day to come. Olivier followed a few minutes back and Ralph was a few minutes back of that.
I changed as Bjorn Anderson was unracking his bike. Wow, Tom and I must have had a great swim to see him still in the T-zone.
I ran out with my bike, jumped on and started pedaling. For the first time in over 100 triathlons, the elastics keeping my cycling shoes properly aligned didn’t break. I waited for a downhill, unclipped my foot, broke one elastic, clipped back in, repeated on the other side.
“Here’s Toothpick,” I said to myself. This is the initiation to the bike course: 1km long with points of 22% incline. What a great warm-up that is.
Rick, meet your small chainring.
Once at the top, pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, right turn, wicked straight line descent, then up, down, up down, up, up, and then a very technical descent for the next 10 miles on some absolutely amazing roads—all the way to Westernport and “the Wall”.
“The Wall” is a 3 step hill—first step, 20%, straight up for 100m. Second step, 25% for 75m. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the third is step a jaw dropping 31% for 50 pedal strokes. This is the Wall. It is awesome and very intimidating. From the bottom, it makes you think about turning around. It is actually too steep to make mandatory in the race, so there is a detour to avoid it. The detour is not easy, either, but it is certainly doable.
If you do make it up, though, they insert a brick in the wall with your name engraved on it. It’s that big a deal.
I was in 4th spot and even though most of the ride had been downhill to that point, I was more tired than I thought I would be. I seriously questioned my ability and was not nearly as committed to go up the final pitch as I thought I should be.
I shifted into my 39x26, turned left, looked up, put all the negative thoughts out of my mind, stood up and started the ascent.
I paced my effort on the first two steps, and when I hit the bottom of the Wall, the crowd was amazing, and almost seemed to be blocking my option to go around it.
“I guess I gotta go.”
Pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, Pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, Pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, Pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, Pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, Pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, Pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, Pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, Pedal …….. pedal ………. Pedal ………….. pedal ………………. Pedal …………… pedal, ugh ……………………… pedal, ugh ……………………….. pedal, ugh …………………………….. pedal, ugh …………………………………………… Aaaaaargh, pedal!!!! (yes, there are 50 pedals).
I made it! Omigod that was closer than I thought it would be.
And then it was time for the really hard part: the rest of the ride has 6000 ft of climbing and that was the beginning of it. The next 7 miles alone are all up hill with many points at 12%. For reference sake, Whiteface is 8% and Pink Lake is 7%.
The remainder of the ride was extremely beautiful and challenging—nay, it was epic. The bike course was spectacular but absolutely not for the faint of heart—there are super fast and technical descents with trees and drop offs galore, interspersed with some wicked fun hairpin turns. It’s exhilarating if you like speed and can handle a bike, but would scare the bejeezuz out of those not so inclined.
Killer Miller, another tough climb located at 40 miles, is not the last of the brutality that defines this course, and with points at a 25% grade, it makes you question yourself and call for your mommy.
Up to that point in the ride, I had been alone since the first pedal stroke. I glanced back down Killer Miller and there was still no one to be seen. I was free to continue to dose my effort and stay within my acceptable discomfort zone.
With 5 miles to go, eventual second place finisher Josh Beck blew by me like I was a back of the packer. I was almost blown off my bike.
I was so impressed, I did not even consider trying to keep up. No way, no how. Not a chance.
Back at T2, I changed quickly and was off for the run in 5th. I knew the run was hilly, but James and Rob informed me the night before that the run was just as hard as the bike—1000 ft of climbing in 21k. This is basically the same as a small loop of Gatineau Park. It’s a two loop course with most it on paved roads, and 1.5 miles on something like Ridge Road at Penguin Hill on each loop.
I started off strong and relaxed, waiting for my running legs to find me. By mile 2, we were reunited and I ran well, passing Zack Ruble who had beaten me out of the water and off the bike. I wished him a good run and set my sights on running the best I could, hoping another of the people in front would come back to me.
The first loop was pretty good and I saw Rob and James running well, about 30 seconds apart. To that point, they had swam toe to finger tip, rode the entire bike course together (drafting is a non-starter between these to strongmen and especially on this frickin’ course). They would stay that way for the rest of the race.
At 8 miles, I finally caught a glimpse of the lead woman on her way back as I was on my way out. She was flying and I encouraged her to keep going, ass-u-mming she was on her first lap while I was on my second. After all, I was in fourth.
I was having such a great day that I had become a bit too confident and skipped a few aid stations. I knew this was a mistake, but not the end of the world.
Unfortunately, I began to fade a bit around 9 miles. I had pushed hard for a long time and did not expect to hold my effort, but this was hitting me a bit harder than I would have liked. I grabbed a gel at the next aid station and a few minutes later, felt better. I did not walk on any of the hills, but I took them more gingerly.
I held my spot, crossing the finish line 4th person and first Elite Amateur.
I stopped the clock in 4:59:38.
17 minutes earlier, Bjorn Anderson crossed the line, followed by a hard charging Josh Beck. I was exhausted, but basically fine. I was able to stand tall, get some food, go back to my t-zone spot, pack up, then head back out on the run course to see how Rob and James were doing. Fortunately, they were within 400m of the finish line, so I did not have to go too far.
Yes, I did say I was 4th person, but i was actually 3rd male.
The woman I had seen was not on her first lap of the run like I thought. She was in front of me. Her name is Susan Williams. She was 3rd overall. Her resume includes a 2004 Olympic Games Bronze Medal in triathlon. She’s the real deal and had a spectacular performance.
The next athletes across the line were Zack, 2nd place woman Margaret Shapiro, then uber cyclist Lynne Bessette, who has won World Championship medals in everything cycling except uni-cycling, then Rob (47 yrs old) and James (47 yrs old), with others interspersed between Tom (52 yrs old) and Olivier then Ralph. Tara Norton of Toronto finished a strong 4th female. The race announcer wondered what was in the water up here, and whether there were any triathletes left in Ottawa. He was suitably impressed with our strength, but more so our ages and strength combined. We told him there were plenty more where we came from J
In terms of results, the Ottawa old guys finished 4th, 9, 10, 18, 20th and 32nd once all the women and age groupers who left in later waves were factored in. In the Elite Amateur division, we swept the podium. Tom, Olivier then Ralph were 7, 8 and 9th. Had we raced in our respective age groups, Rob, Tom and I would have won with James taking 2nd behind Rob.
In summary, Ottawa Old Guys ROCK!!!!!
In summary, part 2, Savageman Triathlon lived up to it’s name and reputation—it is truly a very hard day with no guarantee of a finish, no matter how well prepared you are. But that’s why you do it, and it feels so good when you do make it.
It’s organization is exceptional—from the pre-race information to the signs along the course jokingly selling triple cranks, lighter frames or wheels for twice the regular retail prices to the two signs on Killer Miller that read “Who is this Miller guy?” and the next one “And why does he hate me?”
For a comparison, this was my third half IM in three weeks, starting with the Canadian 113 in 4:25, Esprit in 4:02 and now Savageman in just under 5hrs. This should give you an idea of the challenge of the course. To be fair, the Canadian 113 was my most poorly executed race of them and I should have been about 8 min or so faster, but you get the idea—it’s very hard but extremely rewarding. I am very proud of this race.
In the “It could happen to you” category:
Strange but true.