Oct 1, 2016

Firing at all Cylinders & Unrealistic Expectations

I’ve had a really busy summer, and as a result, I haven’t posted lately. Since my last post, I’ve completed three triathlons, one duathlon, and two running races (see results for more info). Being that I don’t have the time to write race reports for all of these races, I’ve decided to write about what I feel are my best and worst performances of these 6 races.

Firing at all Cylinders: Bridgetown Triathlon Race Report

Going into Bridgetown, I felt confident that I would have a good race. I learned a lot from Ironman 70.3 Florida and Challenge St Andrews, and was excited to put it all on the line in Bridgetown. I was also looking forward to returning to Bridgetown because it’s where I did my first half iron distance race. For those that are not familiar, it’s a very flat course, which bodes well for fast times.

Waiting for the fog to clear (l-r): Mark (Campbell), Corey, Jarrett
Swim: 34:37 (1900m)

The swim was delayed by close to an hour due to fog, which surprisingly didn’t bother me too much. There was still a significant amount of fog when they decided to start the swim, but we could see just enough to navigate in the water. This swim is quite unique in that it takes place in a river where you can gain a significant advantage or disadvantage from the current. On this day, based on the times, I believe it was the later. Overall, I was very pleased with my swim! I was able to draft the eventual winner of the race, Corey Deveaux, who is about 5-7% faster than me in the water, for the majority of the swim. After the last turn about 300m from the swim exit, I decided to let him go so that I wouldn’t be exiting the water completely out of breadth. His swim time was 21 seconds faster than mine, and when he told me after the race that he was happy with his swim, this made me even more satisfies with mine.

T1: 0:54

One nice thing about smaller races like Bridgetown is that the transition zones are relatively short. For this reason, and the fact that this was a non-wetsuit swim, my T1 was very fast. I was pleased to be starting the bike portion in second place. At this point I was 37 seconds ahead of third place. My goal leading into the race was to place second (assuming Corey didn’t have any mechanical problems on the bike), but I expected to be in 4th or 5th after the swim. Not having to make up time on the bike was a bonus!

Bike: 2:25:14 (92k)

Having raced here before, and having done 2 half iron distances races this year, I had a pretty good idea of what I was capable of in terms of time and normalized power (NP). My NP was 255 watts at Challenge St Andrews, but I felt like I could have pushed a bit harder. So I chatted with Coach Jesse, and we agreed that I could push around 260 watts and still be able to run well. I had a great first lap with a NP of 262 and I still had lots of gas left in the tank. Because I race with Corey a lot, I often use how far I am behind him as a gauge of how my race is going. At Challenge St Andrews I was almost exactly 10 minutes behind Corey, so I figured (assuming he had a good race) it was realistic to try to match or beat that spread in Bridgetown.  Typically he makes up about half of his time over me on the bike, so I knew if I was going to be less than 10 minutes behind him overall that I’d have to be less than 5 minutes behind him on the bike. As I approached the last turnaround (69k) I determined that Corey was approximately 3.5 minutes ahead of me (including the ~30 seconds he was already ahead of me at the beginning of the bike) – which meant I was right on target. And my NP was holding steady at 261. So far the day was going exactly as planned, until at the 80k mark, when I heard SNAP! Initially I had no idea what the noise was, but I quickly figured out that it was the shifting cable for my front derailleur. This had never happened to me before so I started to freak out a bit. For those that are not aware, the front derailleur is what enables you to control the tension on the chain. There are 2 rings on my bike – commonly referred to as the “big ring” and the “small ring.” The big ring is used while going down hill, on flat terrain, and occasionally on moderate up hills. And the small ring (which I was now stuck in for the rest of the race) is used when climbing up hill. The only thing that helped ease my stress level is that we were on a flat course, and I figured I would still be able to maintain my current wattage if I spun very fast in the small ring. So, I increased my cadence from around 90 to between 110 and 115 and it didn’t turn out that bad. Although my legs were likely a little more fatigued because I had to spin them so quickly the last 12k to maintain my effort, I completed the bike leg with a NP of 260 – 4 minutes behind Corey and 5 minutes ahead of third place.

Here's is a look at my Strava file from the bike portion. 

T2: 0:45

Unfortunately, I entered T2 without my brain J. When I mounted my bike I got on my running shoes and headed off for my run. But after a few seconds of running I realized I still had on my helmet, so I had to return to my bike to drop off my helmet before heading onto the run course. At the time I felt as if this cost me a lot of time, but looking at the other T2 times, it likely only cost me a few seconds. In a tighter race, this could have been very costly. 

Run: 1:24:59 (~20k)

Being that it was starting to get very hot and I typically don’t run nearly as well in  heat, I began the run feeling cautiously optimistic. I knew I had a comfortable lead on third place, and that it was highly unlikely I would catch Corey, so I decided to settle into a pace (4:15k) that I figured I could maintain for the entire run portion. As the heat crept up to around 25 degrees my pace got a bit slower, but overall I was very pleased with how I held it together. One of the things I focused on over the past year was heat acclimatization – and it certainly paid off on this day. I believe three key things made the difference: doing all indoor spin sessions in 20-25 degree heat; doing ~50% of my running last winter indoors on the treadmill (also 20-25 degrees); and taking salt tabs on the 3 days leading up the race. 

The end result was a second place finish – 8.5 minutes behind Corey and over 10 minutes ahead of third. It’s nice to see what is possible when you’re firing at all cylinders (minus a shifting cable J). This was a personal best at the half distance for both myself and Corey – which made it ever more special. Unfortunately, Jarret’s (Gosbee) day didn’t go quite as well as he wanted, but hats off to him for sticking it out and crossing the finish line! Jarrett was only 3 weeks off of a 45-minute personal best at the half distance and likely wasn’t fully recovered. He and Corey are another reason I chose to write about this race. It wasn’t just my best performance of the season, it was also the most fun “race trip”’ of the year. We decided to stay in Bridgetown the extra night instead of driving the 6 hours home after the race. This gave us a chance to relax, have a few drinks, and reflect on the day – which was a blast!

Now, from the good to the bad: the Cape Breton Fiddlers Run (Fiddlers) Half Marathon…

Unrealistic Expectations: Cape Breton Fiddlers Run Race Report

The start of the marathon/half marathon!
Being that I took a step back from structured training during the month of August after I got back from Bridgetown, I didn’t really know what to expect in terms of a time at the Fiddlers Half Marathon (September 11th). I finished in 1:21:18 at the Long John Jaunt in February, and I figured I was in similar shape leading up to the Fiddlers. The running goal that I’d like to reach the most is a sub-1:20 half marathon (3:47/k) and my best to date is 1:20:58 at the Long John Jaunt in 2012. Ever since, I’ve been focused more on triathlon, and have been unable to put it all together and break that elusive 80-minute mark.

Leading up to the race my plan was to try to match the same pace I ran in February (3:52/k), but when the gun went off on race morning, the excitement of the hometown marathon race weekend got the best of me. My plan of attach on a flat course like this one is to always pick a pace (in this case 3:52/k), stick with it as long as possible, and then if I have anything left late in the race, drain the tank (which almost never happens). If I had followed this strategy I would have come through 5k around 19:20. Instead, my 5k split was 19:01. I know that might not sound like much, but when you are that close to your breaking point, 19 seconds is an eternity.  At that point in time I still felt fairly good but I knew in the back of my mind that it could end up costing me later in the race. I was able to keep my pace between 3:50/k and 3:55/k until I reached the turnaround point (10.5k), but I quickly went from feeling not too bad to feeling terrible. The second half was pretty well a disaster. I ended up running it 2+ minutes slower than the first half, and the only good part about it was that I didn’t get passed by anyone else.. As someone who prides himself as usually being able to maintain a constant pace from start to finish, this was especially frustrating. My final time was 1:23:47 (3:58/k) and due to having unrealistic expectations, I missed the opportunity to have a strong race at the Fiddlers – which is very important to me. I am confident that if I had gone out at 3:52/k, I could have maintained this pace and hopefully finished in 4th (instead of 6th). As I explained above, I knew sub-1:20 was not in the cards, but I went for it anyway. The lesson I learned from this race was to always listen to my gut. Once I got over the frustration of mismanaging my race, I went back to enjoying the incredible atmosphere. It was awesome to see the resurgence of the Fiddlers Run in 2016 – hats off to Nick Burke and his great committee! 

Jul 22, 2016

Challenge St Andrews Race Report

The swim course the day before the race
Since last fall, when a large group of Cape Bretoners decided to register for Challenge St. Andrews, April 10th has been circled on my calendar. Having doing this race in 2014, I knew it was a very well organized event on a challenging (but fair) course. Other than a few minor injuries, training had progressed quite well since Ironman 70.3 Florida (April 10th). Thirteen Cape Bretoners were all set to complete the half distance, 2 in the aqua bike (include my wife Lisa), and 1 in the 5k road race.

I traveled to St. Andrews feeling well rested and confident the recent flare up with my left hamstring wouldn't adversely effect my race. The forecast was calling for cool temperatures (14-16 degrees) with a high percentage of showers, which was cause for concern for most athletes, but it didn't bother me too much because I race better in cool weather.

Swim: 29:32 (1900m)

The swim is a counter clockwise loop that is very easy to navigate. Males and females went off in separate waves which meant that overcrowding wouldn't be too much of an issue. The water temperature was close to 20 degrees meaning it would be a wet suit legal swim. When the gun went off I quickly found a good rhythm. During the swim (unlike the bike and run) you really have no gauge of how well you are doing other than where other swimmers are in relation to you. That said, I felt as if I was swimming well, and at each turn buoy fellow Cape Bretoner Chris Milburn (who is typically faster than me in open water) was just a few meters ahead of me - which reassured me that I was swimming efficiently and sighting well.  I exited the water in 20th place overall -  12 seconds faster than in 2014, which I was very happy with.

T1: 4:27

Of all the triathlons I've completed, St Andrews has, without a doubt, the longest and most challenging T1. It involves a run up a steep hill of approximately 600 meters. I navigated my way up and out onto the bike course as efficiently as possible in a time that was 15 seconds quicker than in 2014. I had the 10th fastest time in T1, and moved up from 20th to 16th place by the beginning of the bike leg.

Bike: 2:30:21 (90k)

There are so many variables that can effect bike times in triathlon. Of the three disciplines, bikes times vary (from one triathlon to the next) more than swim and run times - because of the terrain, wind, temperature, smoothness of the road, etc. I was confident I was in better shape than I was at the half in Florida in April, but I knew beating my bike time of 2:22:52 was not realistic because this was a much more challenging course. In 2014 I biked 2:33:12, so I figured something around 2:27:XX was a realistic goal. That said, when you train and race with power, you learn not to focus too much on time. My plan was to be as quick as possible while normalizing at least 250 watts. The wind picked up more than anticipated and it started to rain - both of which made the bike leg more challenging. I was happy to keep my power very close to 250, and ending up normalizing 255, which I was very pleased with! And the best part was, I approached T2 feeling surprisingly fresh. By that point I had climbed my way up into 9th place overall.

T2: 0:47

By looking at my T2 time in comparison to everyone else (4th overall), most would think that my T2 was efficient and uneventful. It was very efficient, but unfortunately it was eventful - almost disastrous. As I was approaching the dismount line I did as I always do and undid the straps on my bike shoes and peddled the last 100m or so with my feet on top of my shoes. Unfortunately, on my last peddle stroke my left shoe started to drag on the ground, which caused my bike to tip to the right. Somehow I was able to get both feet to the ground just in time before falling over. I'm not saying this would have ended my day, but had I fallen it definitely would have adversely effected my run. I parked my bike in T2 feeling as if I had "dodged a bullet."

Run: 1:26:23 (21.1k)

My plan leading up to race day was to attempt to maintain a 4:10/km pace for the run. If I was able to achieve this, it would be 6 seconds faster/km than I had ever run at the half distance. When I reached the first turnaround point of the double out and back course I was right on target and I learned that I was now in 7th place overall. It was a that moment that I figured if I could maintain my current pace that I could crack the top 5 - which was another goal of mine going into the race. As you'll see in the picture below, my pace stayed very closer to my goal pace, and I was actually able to pick it up a bit over the last few kms. With 2km to go, I moved into 5th place, and in the last 200m I was able to out-sprint the guy in 4th, which was an added bonus!

Overall time: 4:31:28

I crossed the finish line feeling incredible. Not only was it a personal best for me at the half distance, I honestly don't think it could have gone any better - which is not something I can say very often! And to top things off, my good friend and training partner Corey Deveaux (who had crossed the line in 2nd place about 10 minutes earlier) was at the finish line cheering me on. Shortly after, two other friends/training partners, Chris Milburn and Andreas Burger crossed the line, followed by the remaining Cape Bretoners in the race. It was fantastic to be able to celebrate with such a great group - including Lisa who, despite having a work schedule all winter that was not conducive for consistent training, completed the aqua-bike (1900m swim/90k bike). I couldn't have been more proud!

Top 5 accepting our Club Championship Award!
 At the awards banquet that evening Corey received an award for finishing second overall, and the Cape Breton Barbarians won the Club Championship for being the triathlon club with the fastest 5 to reach the finish line. Leading up to the race we figured we'd have a realistic shot at winning, and when our top 4 (Corey - 2nd; myself - 4th; Chris - 10th; Andreas 11th) were all in the top 11, we figured that we would be tough for any other club to beat. We just had to wait to see where our next athlete would finish. Stephanie Myles was our next athlete across the line in a very speedy 5:30:53 - good enough for 15th female overall. The prize to the fastest club was a $500 - which hopefully the entire club will get to enjoy once triathlon season is over.

If you've never done Challenge St. Andrews, I highly recommend it! Other than a lengthy T1, it's a fantastic course. In addition, it is very well organized and accommodations are quite reasonable. For more on the race, including all of the Cape Breton results, click here.

Cape Breton Barbarians post race!

Jun 28, 2016

Ingonish Triathlon Race Report

The Ingonish Triathlon has always been one of my favourite events of the year for as long as I can remember. After doing the sprint distance in 2015, I was poised to return to the Olympic distance as my last prep race before my “A” race of the year – Challenge St. Andrews on July 10th. However, the injury to my left hamstring resurfaced 5 days before the race, and as a result, I was advised by my coach to do the sprint instead. Not being able to compete against the top competitors in the Olympic distance was frustrating, but not being able to do so because of reasons that were within my control was even more frustrating. Click here to read why.

Although my hamstring was feeling better each day I decided I’d listen to Jesse’s advice (or should I say order J), and I informed the Race Director that I would be now be doing the sprint distance. The night before and the morning of the race I had a lot of mixed feelings. I was disappointed and frustrated that I wasn’t going to complete the Olympic distance as planned, but I was also relieved that I had made the smart decision and switched to the sprint race.

Swim: 11:26 (750m)

I was very happy with my swim overall. I feel as if I sighted well, and wasn’t completly exhausted exiting the water (as was the case in years past). My time was quicker than it ever was before at the sprint distance, but I don’t look too closely at time for open water swims because buoy placement, wind, current, etc. can really effect your time. I was however, pleased to exit the water so close to the leaders (75 seconds). I exited the water in 5th place.

T1: 2:44

I was a bit disappointed with my transition, but I didn’t let it bother me too much. From swim exit to my bike (350 meters) went smoothly, but I was a bit more disoriented than normal when I arrived at my bike, and as a result, my T1 was 12 seconds slower than last year. Not a lot I know, but nonetheless unnecessary. I exited T1 in 9th place.

Bike: 36:16 (23k)

Because I was hoping to take it easy on the run, I had full intentions of going hard on the bike. Within 5 minutes I was back into 5th place, and by the 10-minute mark of the bike, I was now in first place. I did not look back or let up because I didn’t know how fast those behind could run. I was able to normalize 299 watts, which is in the range of what I was expecting. I was very pleased to finish the bike over 2.5 minutes quicker than last year! This is due to a variety of reasons. Firstly, I’m in better shape than I was last year. Second, last year I did a 140kms on the bike the day before Ingonish Tri and this year I was rested. Thirdly, my new Flo Disc/Flo 90 wheel set and Scott Split Aero Helmet allowed me to cut through the wind more efficiently. 

T2: 0:36

T2 was uneventful, and coincidentally the exact same time as last year. I got off the bike and exited T2 in 1st place.  

Run: 19:21 (5k)

The first thing I did when I got onto the run course was look at my watch so that I could calculate how much of a lead I had on 2nd place. After 75 seconds, there is a right turn that directs runners away from the bike course. At that point, I couldn’t see the guy in second place, which meant I had a very comfortable lead (~2.5 minutes). I did not want to take it too easy because for all knew there was somebody behind me that could run a 17-minute 5k off the bike. So I decided I'd settle into a 4 min/km pace and keep a close eye on the competition behind me. I didn’t see the guy in second until I had about 2k left, and he was about 3 minutes back, so I knew if I kept going the a same pace, that he likely wasn’t going to catch me. I finished strong and didn’t push too hard on the last 2k (which is easier said than done because it is straight down hill).

My hamstring didn’t start to bother me until the last km, which was great! I finished the race feeling very content with my decision to do the sprint distance. I likely wouldn’t have had the willpower to switch to the sprint if it wasn’t for my coach – thanks Jesse!

Total time: 1:10:21 (1st)