I love racing in Muskoka so I was very excited to finally take a crack at the tough Muskoka 70.3 course. I also figured that after three years of rain, the race was due for some decent conditions!
The pre-race days got off to a stellar start when I crashed while turning around at the end of a road on an easy 30 minute spin on thursday. No idea what happened, the road was in terrible shape but I didn’t see any gravel and I was going very slow. Maybe there was some oil or something on the road is all I can figure. The nice part of the slow speed was minimal road rash, mostly contained to my hand, the crappy part was I went down hard on my left side and had some nice bruising around the head of my femur. I was able to ride home with minimal pain though, and couldn’t feel it at all in aero position. I felt it a little more sitting up. After getting home I called up a good friend of mine (who is a physiotherapist!) for advice and she came over right away and worked on loosening my IT band since that rubs back and forth over the affected area. She also squeezed me in to her clinic the next morning between appointments for ultrasound and further loosening. Fortunately friday was a day off anyways to let it heal up a little more.
On friday we packed up the car and blasted off for Huntsville. I dropped my wife and two girls at my mom’s and then headed out to Deerhurst to pick up the kit, and also check in to the condo my dad had rented for the weekend. That was awesome to be able to stay at the race site and not have to be bussed in. My amazing wife had very kindly offered to let me stay out at the condo by myself that night while she stayed at my mom’s with the kids so I could get a good night’s sleep.
Saturday brought more spectacular weather and I joined other athletes in a quick warm-up brick on the race course. I felt good on the bike, no pain from my hip, but my shoulder had started to seize up now as I guess I fell on it too. My hip did hurt during the run, but it wasn’t too bad, and I figured it would probably be the least of my concerns by the time I got out on the run anyways. I racked as soon as bike check in opened to get a spot as close to the bike out as I could and then went to chill out and calm the pre-race jitters for a while. I drove the bike course with my dad since it had been a couple months since I had ridden it and to make sure the corners had been swept since a couple had been covered in tons of loose gravel the week before. By the time I got back to the condo I was starting to feel the pre-race stress levels rise and I am not exactly sure why…but it didn’t help things when I walked into the condo where my wife had arrived and was feeding the girls lunch. She had a funny look on her face and tells me our 10 month old Emma just threw up everywhere. One thing fatherhood has taught me is that if your kid gets a stomach virus you have a very high likelihood of being visited by your breakfast in the near future…in this case my only saving grace is it usually takes 2-3 days to hit me so I was pretty sure I’d be fine for the race. Then about 2 seconds later our three year old pees all over the carpet. None of this is helping my stress levels and in my head I can hear Frank Costanza yelling ‘Serenity now!, Serenity now!’ During afternoon naps I walked down to the beach for a quick swim as, thanks to an incredibly hot summer, I hadn’t swam in my wetsuit for months. I joined about 50 other people doing the same thing…most of us thinking the exact same thing which was that the huge, most elaborate inflatable kids play area I had ever seen looked like a lot more fun than what we were planning to subject ourselves to the following morning.
After checking the swim exit, insanely unpleasant run to T1, and the expo out it was time to relax for the evening. My wife worked on my shoulder and hip for me and I was feeling nervous, but still pretty good about the following day. I went to bed fairly early to get another decent sleep which was not meant to be. Emma, was sharing a room with Leanne and I and woke up at midnight deciding it was time to get up – this is about 5 hours earlier than I was planning on getting up. She was promptly removed from the room by my wife, but after an hour of attempting to get Emma back to sleep it is decided that Megan will join me in our room, and my wife and Emma will move to the other room. Good in theory, but at 1 am attempting to move a playpen which is slightly wider than the three doorframes it must pass through made it difficult in practice. At about 1:30 I settled back into bed for a couple more hours of sleep interrupted no less than 3 times by Megan who thinks A) she hears a train B) she hears something else C) is scared by a strange sound when I am attempting to put her back to bed which turned out to be my elbow cracking. 5 am couldn’t come quick enough and after breakfast and a coffee I grabbed my bags and joined the mob of other half-asleep triathletes emerging from their condos and heading for transition. After checking and double checking my transition set up I was off for the 10 minute walk to the swim start as the sun started to come up on what has to be the nicest day the Muskoka 70.3 has ever seen.
I was in the fourth swim wave to go 18 minutes after the first wave of pro men so I had a bit of extra time to squeeze into my wetsuit and get down to the beach. The swim start is great as the start line was wide with most competitors lining up in the shallow water so I went out a bit deeper where I had tons of real estate. I didn’t want to have to go out hard to find open water so that worked out perfectly. The guy next to me asked what I was planning on swimming so I said 1:31…he was planning on faster than that so I already had my feet! Horn went off and I went out at a nice moderate pace and found open water and a good rhythm immediately. I felt like I tracked really well to the first turn, I ended up dropping the feet I was planning on following and got a great line really tight on the first turn. I dealt with a little traffic from previous waves, then found some fast feet on the way by me and dropped in behind them. Thanks to Tyr for the hurricane wetsuit my competition was wearing as the maroon made it really easy to find the swimmer I was drafting after I lost his feet several times during the last half of the swim. When I came out of the water I was told I was in sixth, I think I had moved into fourth by the time I hit the bike thanks to a quick transition.
Swim – 30:22 6/97 Age group
The plan for the bike was to hold back a bit for the first 20-30 k, build into a steady effort during the flatter highway sections through the middle, and hopefully use the energy I saved during the first third to hammer to T2. Holding back for the first 5k was easy as my heart rate was way higher than I wanted due to the steep run-up to T1 and the first round of hills. I wasn’t pushing too hard, spinning easy up the hills and coasting down, expecting to have the slower swimmers in the age group start passing me in droves. At about the 10k mark I started to have a few faster cyclists pass me. We formed a decent paceline for a while, but it was a really lousy stretch of recently laid chip and tar and with constant rollers it was tough to keep legal distances between riders…something that was not lost on the officials as at least three motorcycles kept a watchful eye in about a 5 km stretch. I dropped back after one of them told us to break it up as I certainly did not want a bonus 4 minutes. The dwight beach road stretch was awesome as a group of us were pushing pretty high speeds with people lining both sides of the road as we passed by the beach. When we hit the highway I wished I hadn’t dropped off the back of the group by so much as we were now into a headwind and they seemed to do pretty well working together, and from my vantage point it looked legal for the most part. Now my issues started as I began to feel as though the nutrition I had taken early in the bike was not going anywhere. I had filled my 40 oz speedfil with Amino Vital, and had 6 Gu gels for 900 calories total. I didn’t want to haul extra weight up the first set of hills so I planned on picking up water from the two bottle exchanges on the flatter sections. At this point I had only had 1 gel and a few mouthfuls from my bottle so I was a little concerned that my stomach already felt full and bloated. I decided to hold back a little longer to help my stomach empty out since it was way too early to start missing out on calories. Coming up to Dorset I felt a little better so I threw down another gel and grabbed a bottle of water from the aid station. The stretch to Baysville was a long grind into a headwind that was steadily increasing…it is also the least scenic and interesting part of the course so it was tough to focus on anything other than my stomach which was still feeling overly full…not to mention my choice of bringing my cheap fish oil pills I use when I travel vs. the really good fish oil that I take at home (but has to be refrigerated) was starting to haunt me and would continue to do so the rest of the race. I opted not to take another bottle from the drop in Baysville as I still had tons of amino vital left and half of the bottle I picked up in Dorset and started to push a little with a bit of a tailwind after the turn onto Brunel. After the turn onto south portage I started to feel pretty good. I started taking in some much needed calories again, and I caught up to a guy who had passed me earlier. I was faster on the flats and downhills, but he was really hammering the uphills and re-passed me everytime so I was content to coast the downhills and trail him at a safe distance. Finally my strategy appeared to be working as I was starting to see some of the riders I let get away at the beginning come back. I was starting to feel some fatigue, but not as much as I thought I might be feeling during the hilly last 25 km. I was very alert for any signs of hip adductor cramping which happened to me on a training ride a few weeks earlier. So far so good! Then literally within 3 minutes of that thought crossing my mind and with no warning whatsoever my right adductor went into spasm and locked up. On the next big downhill I coasted and tried to stretch it out to no avail. On the next climb I spun really easy while taking in two gels, a couple real big pulls from my bottle, and two salt pills…the triathlon equivalent of throwing a hail mary at this point. It seemed to help but I had to really back off on my power as the muscles were twinging with every revolution. I knew that from Brittania to north portage it was mostly downhill, with just a few big climbs after that. I kept the cramps at bay by climbing out of the saddle and they didn’t happen again until about 89 km…this time I kept pedalling as I only had 5 k left with a couple nice downhills in the final minutes of the ride. The cramp subsided during the fast downhill onto canal rd and I limped into T2 hoping that I had seen the last of them. At this point I had missed my goal time by a few minutes, but had moved up to 5th place in my age group…although I had no clue about the time or placing as I decided to stop looking at the cumulative time on my Garmin when things started to go south.
Bike – 2:49:09 11/97 AG
Arriving in T2 I heard the announcer mention top age-grouper Claudia Johnston was heading out on the run course, so I figured I was still in good shape as she was in my wave and usually has similar bike splits to me in short races, and gets stronger as the distance gets longer. M legs felt tight but okay heading out on the run and within 1.5 k I had passed Johnston and had a bunch more runners in my sights. I hoped to hold around 7 minute miles, anything faster was a bonus. I started catching a lot of people, but unfortunately most were from the previous wave, and I didn’t recognize anyone from my age group. I was also incorrectly assuming I was around 10th in the age group as opposed to 5th. I started to fade a little around the 7km mark and was passed by two runners, one of which I had passed a few hundred meters back, and fortunately he faded on the long climb approaching the turnaround and I got him again. The other was a relayer so no worries! My stomach was still causing me some concern, but no sign of cramping, and my bruised hip never even entered my mind so obviously it had healed up nicely. I had the odd very faint twinge in the quads going up the steeper hills, so I tried to take gels on schedule, as well as the powerbar perform stuff they serve at the M-dot aid stations whenever I felt my stomach would tolerate it. Approaching the turnaround I saw two of my targets coming back the other way, less than a minute up on me. I caught one fairly quickly, and the other about a km later using a downhill to build speed for a pass. At about the 13 km mark I was passed by a local athlete who I knew was a fast runner. I knew that he would be one of my main threats as he is a stronger runner and cyclist than me…but a slower swimmer. I had him by nine minutes out of the water, but he had chased me down now. He built a bit of a gap, and to be honest I didn’t think I’d hang on to him. I was pretty much smashed by then and if someone had told me he was enroute to a 1:27 half marathon split it would have been pretty easy to let him go, but he never quite snapped the string. A couple quick downhills had me right on his heels again and I stayed right on him for another couple kilometers before taking the lead. We chased down another runner in our age group before heading up a couple of punchy little climbs along the scenic but demanding portion of the course along the fairy vista trail. There was one steep downhill followed by a short, but tough uphill and I decided to make a move. I took the downhill as fast as the aching quads could tolerate and hammered up the next hill. The footsteps were still there, but seemed a little farther back. With 4k to go I decided to push the pace, not sure if I was jumping the gun as I watched my heart rate approach red line. The rest is a bit of a painful blur, counting down the kilometers, afraid to look over my shoulder. But a quick look over the shoulder with a couple hundred meters to go and I knew I had him. I don’t think I’ve ever been more ecstatic crossing a finish line. I still had no clue where I finished, but I knew I had run just over a 1:31 half marathon in my first attempt at the distance and was very happy with that. It wasn’t until about 10 minutes later as I was lying down in the med tent becoming more aware with the demands I had placed on my body in the closing miles, shivering under a blanket in 25 degree heat, that my wife got a text from a friend of ours that said ‘2nd? Seriously ?!’
Run – 1:31:18 3/97 AG
Total – 4:54:54 2/97 AG 24/818 finishers
Unfortunately for me I had to give up my slot to the 2012 Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Las Vegas as I am instead focusing my energy on my first attempt at full distance racing at the inaugural Ironman Mont Tremblant three weeks prior. Congrats to all the other finishers, especially the other Running Free athletes I saw on the course. I will definitely be returning to Muskoka again provided it remains on the calendar as at this time its future appears to be in jeopardy. Hopefully the fact that registration was up considerably this year over last year will help keep this incredible race around for many more years.