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Toronto Triathlon Festival

I’ve had this race on my calendar since it was announced that the second edition of this race would serve as the Canadian national championships for 2013.  I wasn’t able to work it into my race schedule in 2012, so I really didn’t know much about the race besides what was available online, but it just sounded like fun to be able to rip along the Gardiner and DVP.  I planned my training around peaking for this race with a goal of reaching the podium at a national championship.  Having never raced at a national championship I really didn’t know how realistic this goal was, but it seemed reasonable based on studying 2012 results and also results from the apple triathlon which has been the host of nationals in previous years.  An achilles injury had set my run training back by about 5 months, but my run was about 90% for the Muskoka 5150 a month prior, and a solid block of training after Muskoka had me feeling confident my run would be close to 100% for the TTF.

When the registration confirmation came out and I had a chance to look over the list I started to have doubts that my goal was realistic.  Even going through the list quickly I pulled out at least the names of 20 guys who can and have beat me on a regular basis.  In my age group alone was former pro Mike Greenberg, and pro Andrew Imrie who many of you will remember reading about in Triathlon Magazine Canada after his incredible 9:02 performance in Kona two years ago that placed him 44th overall!

The mandatory briefing the day before the race, while a huge inconvenience, was streamlined and well organized and the expo was decent. But taking over two hours of my day to make my way downtown from Milton on an afternoon where both the Jays and TFC were playing, with Queen’s Quay closed to eastbound traffic was a bit of a nightmare.  There was nothing in the briefing that isn’t addressed at every other race by an announcer with a loudspeaker in transition a few minutes before start.  I assume the reason for this briefing was to bring in revenue for the city by ‘encouraging’ people to get hotel rooms and hit the restaurants, and I understand this as the city should get some economic benefit for closing two major highways for a race, but its still a pain!

We stayed in a condo right on Queen’s Quay which made the logistics very easy.  It was an early morning with transition opening at 5:30 for a 6:50 race start, and after a quick breakfast and espresso I rode the 3k down to the race site.  The transition area was laid out well, with rack space assigned by bib number so there was no fighting over premium rack space, which was a good thing as there was very little space.  After getting my stuff set up I grabbed my bike and headed up the rather steep hill out of transition to the mount line for a quick warm-up where I was promptly told bike warm-ups were not permitted as had been explained the previous day in the briefing.  I remember them saying very clearly that swim warm-ups would not be permitted, but nothing about bike warm-ups.  I was a little annoyed by this as the course maps don’t show any real detail of the first kilometer of the bike course, and with a large number of turns before the course joins the Gardiner it would have helped to see exactly where I was going to have to go.  Navigating an unfamiliar course trying to put your feet in your shoes while dodging others doing the exact same thing is a recipe for disaster.

I returned to transition and was about to head out for a quick run, when I caught sight of the longest line-up for the most inadequate number of port-a-johns I have ever seen at a race.  Very poor planning considering I was getting email updates weeks before the race describing the 50% increase in participants from last year.  I elected to forego any sort of warm-up, made sure my transition space was set, grabbed my wetsuit and joined the line.  There were a lot of really nervous and somewhat annoyed participants slowly inching forwards while the minutes ticked away to the race start.  I think it was about 35 minutes until I was finally able to take care of business and jog down to the start corral, arriving just as they began the national anthem – about 8 minutes to spare!  We had been briefed that is was in fact wetsuit optional with a water temperature of 21C.  I was in the third wave, and after the second wave was launched we were called to proceed onto the dock and jump into the water.  My first thought upon hitting the water was that it was nowhere near 21!  Closer to 17 would be my guess.  I moved over to the far left as that had worked very well in Muskoka one month earlier and waiting for the horn.  Once we were off I was able to set a nice tempo and found clear water right away.  The water itself was fairly clear, but the temperatures were bizarre.  I’d start to get used to it and warm up a little only to swim into a freezing cold patch that would cause my feet to go numb!  About 200m in I looked up in front for silver swim caps and saw a group of three guys about 5m ahead.  I put on a quick surge and caught the back of that group until it seemed to split a little and I was forced to decide which swimmer to follow.  It seemed the one on my left had a better line to the turn so I jumped on his feet, and followed him around the first two turns.  Now we were right into the swimmers from earlier waves, and given the narrow nature of the course there was not a lot of room to maneuver around the slower folks.  Worse still was we were now looking into the rising sun and I couldn’t see the swimmers ahead until I was right on top of them.  With no space and no warning there were a few times when I literally ran right over someone.  I hate doing that because I know its often the slower swimmers who are less comfortable in the water, and getting run over is a very unpleasant experience even for a confident swimmer.  I managed to keep finding the feet I had been following, taking a lot of care not to smack their toes as I know how annoying that is.  At one point he stopped and rolled over on his back and I was a little afraid I was about to find out that he was starting to really disapprove of my drafting but he had stopped swimming to fiddle with his goggles so I continued on.  It was about this time I started to suspect that when I chose the feet to follow I had bet on the wrong horse and the lead swimmers had made a decent gap.  The remainder of the swim was fairly congested and due to the glare I really had no clue where I was or where I was going, but the narrow course kept anybody from getting too far off course.  I was happy to hit the final turn and put the sun behind me and had absolutely clear water until reaching the dock.  I didn’t wear my watch for the swim but felt as though I had put in a solid effort and figured I should be right around 22 minutes.  Turns out it was a good estimation.

Swim: 21:56 (1:28/100m) 4th age group, 29th overall.

It is a very short run to T1, not allowing me to entire peel my wetsuit by the time I got to my transition space which ate up a few precious seconds.  I grabbed my bike and started up the rather large hill to the mount line, the hill sapping enough out of my legs that I just didn’t feel a flying mount was going to end well, so I came to a full stop before climbing aboard and heading off.  The first part of the course has many turns, and due to it being the longest ‘no-pass zone’ I have ever experienced in a race it is very easy to lose time here.  The three riders up front didn’t seem to be in too much of a hurry to get anywhere!  The road is wide and closed to vehicle traffic so to have to wait until hitting the highway to pass seemed excessive.  Once I hit the ramp onto the Gardner I started to push a little harder on the pedals and quickly settled into my race rhythm.  The eastbound stretch along the Gardner was a bit of a grind as it was very exposed to a strong headwind.  It wasn’t too long before I was passed by very strong cyclist Jakub Macel.  This I expected, and I knew I didn’t stand a chance of keeping up with him on the bike, so I just put my head down and stuck to my planned power output, making sure I didn’t give up too much time.  After turning northwards onto the DVP I allowed the power to drift up a little as the trend was uphill all the way to the turn at Eglinton and I knew there was more to be gained by overdoing it on the outbound leg, than by saving my legs for the inbound where I would be helped by gravity and a decent tailwind.  As I approached the turn I could see the fast guys from the earlier waves starting back down and I was encouraged that there didn’t seem to be a large number of riders ahead of me.  A top 20 overall placing seemed to be in reach.  I hit the turnaround and started the very fast return leg to transition.  I knew the tendency would be to let the power drop as I was getting helped along by the descent, and then the tailwind so I made sure to look at my numbers often to keep me honest.  I felt pretty strong throughout the remainder of the ride, and Jakub ended up being the only rider to pass me.  Towards the end there was a short out and back before the exit ramp off of the Gardner where I was able to see the lead riders hadn’t put a ton of time into me.  I put a bit of a surge on just before exiting the highway to make sure I had clear road ahead before going back into the no-pass zone.  I was happy to have left my shoes attached to my bike as usual as I hopped off at the dismount line as navigating the steep hill back down to transition in cleats would not have been pleasant.  When I hit the rack I counted 3 bikes putting me in 4th in my age group.

Bike: 59:50 (40.1 kph) 3rd age group, 15th overall.

I got out on the run as quickly as possible and was greeted by a calf cramp almost immediately upon leaving transition.  This was unusual as I usually get calf cramps on the swim, hip adductor cramps on the bike, and quad cramping on the run.  I made an effort to pull my toes up as I planted my foot, landing back on my heels for a hundred meters or so which seemed to help.  By the time I hit 1km it was more or less gone.  The first two kilometers were rough.  I was holding my target pace, but I just didn’t feel comfortable or relaxed.  My breathing was rapid and not as controlled as I prefer and I just didn’t feel I had it all together.  I got passed by two runners, one of whom was no concern as he was under 25 from the first wave and I was already eight minutes up on him.  The other one had me worried.  He looked strong, was running well, and was wearing a bib number in the 300s.  I didn’t know the exact bib numbers of the 35-39 age group, but I knew we were basically from the very low 300s to the low 400s.  As he went by me I was sure I had now slipped back to 5th in my age group, and I knew the way I was feeling I just didn’t have an answer.  For the next few kilometers a debate raged back and forth in my head.  Part of me feeling hanging onto 5th was good enough.  The other part of me knowing I had 5km to make up time if I could dig a little deeper.  Fortunately I could still see the 4th place guy up ahead and the gap was holding, not increasing.  I found my legs through about 3km.  I didn’t feel great, but at least I felt like I was running.  Stay relaxed.  Fast feet.  I kept saying that over and over in my head.  Through 4km I passed Macel to move into 4th which gave me a bit of a boost.  The weather was perfect, lots of sun but cool temps, the wind at my back.  Unfortunately the latter was about to change.  I hit the turnaround which now took the course off of the jogging path and onto Lakeshore all the way back to the finish.  Fortunately Lakeshore is much more protected than the bike course so the headwind didn’t feel too bad.  My watch beeped at every km split, and each time I was encouraged to see I was close to my goal pace of 3:45/km.  By this point I could feel the twinges in my quads starting and I knew it was just a matter of time before it became full blown cramping.  I made a concerted effort to relax, took a GU roctane, and prayed I could hold them at bay until the finish.  It was a little frustrating because I was beginning to feel like I could make a surge to try and chase down that last podium spot, but I was afraid to for fear of bringing the cramps on.  I could still see the guy about 10 seconds ahead, and the gap wasn’t getting any bigger, in fact I was starting to think I was closing it ever so slightly.  As I approached an aid station around the 8km mark I saw him slow up quite a bit to take on some fluids and I seized the opportunity, exiting the aid station right on his heals.  I knew I didn’t want it to come down to a sprint finish, so I made the decision to attack early and launched my finishing kick with well over a kilometer to go.  I never looked over my shoulder, I just put my head down and dug it with everything I had left, closing that very painful final kilometer to cross the line and confident I had taken the final spot on the podium.

Run 37:40 (3:46/km) 3rd age group, 23rd overall

After I caught my breath Leanne found me and said she had heard the announcers call first and second in the M35-39 age group as they crossed, but there were several racers whose age groups were not announced as they crossed, so I still didn’t know for sure if I had taken 3rd. Fortunately the results were posted shortly afterwards and I was thrilled to see I had indeed got my podium, and in fact finished 10th overall.

Final time 2:01:17, an olympic distance PB by almost 8 minutes!

I felt that the race organization itself left a lot to be desired.  The awards ceremony seemed like an afterthought, and not really reflective of the race being a championship race.  Prizes only for first male and female overall, and no draw prizes. Logistically, I know this race is far more difficult to pull together than anything else in the area, but issues such as insufficient port-a-pottys are pretty glaring oversights.  One a positive note I found the volunteers incredible, and the swim caps were the most comfortable I’ve ever received at a race!  Apparently that might indicate I have a big head, and others were complaining they were too loose and kept falling off!  It is still a very new race, and I know the organizers used a lot of last years suggestions to make this year better.  I really feel that this race will continue to improve every year and it will eventually become the world class event to match the impressive venue.

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