This year marks the start of a 2-year contract for Ottawa to run several major triathlon events under the banner of “Canadian Triathlon Championships and CAMTRI American Cup.” On July 23rd and 24th athletes from near and far gathered at the nation’s capital for a number of events: men and women’s youth triathlons, Canadian Junior Triathlon Championships, Standard Distance Championships, CAMTRI American Cup, Canadian Sprint Distance Championships, Canadian Paratriathlon Championships, Kids of Steel and Mixed Relay Championships. How did they fare in coordinating and executing these events? Read on to find out.
All races at the Ottawa event were held at the Dow’s lake pavilion on Dow’s lake, which is a man made lake that branches off of the Rideau canal. Race kit pickup and lounges were located in the HMCS Carlton, a naval reserve base, which is beside the pavilion. The venue boasts several restaurants within the pavilion and there were washrooms and porta potties to use for athletes and spectators. There was a large amount of parking available however none of it was in the pavilion – most of the street parking and lots were a 10-15 min walk away and there was no place to briefly park to drop off equipment, rack bikes and register so if you’re considering this event for next year, be prepared to walk from the parking lot with all of your stuff. Parking is free on the weekends in the city.
The venue itself was inefficient in more ways that one. Probably the biggest problem with the venue was that it boxes itself in. To access registration and rack your bike you have to cross over the bike/run course. With packet pickup being at the same time as the elite races, this means that you had to wait and be marshalled across the course in between laps. This isn’t very efficient, and is far from the most ideal way to run an elite race. At the very least it had the potential to interfere with the elite races.
To be blunt, the swim course was far from ideal. The swim takes place in Dow’s lake, which is a man-make lake. Swimming is normally prohibited in the lake, but special permission was given for the event. The water in the lake is disgusting. Algae and oil slicks covered the surface near the swim exit as well as more than a few cigarette butts. Expect to come out of the swim covered in algae. While swimming, the water is so murky that its impossible to see the feet of the swimmer right in front of you. The entry was an in-water start; the exit was up a flight of in-water concrete stairs that were algae covered and in the words of the officials, ‘as slippery as ice.’ The first third of the transition was a run on solid concrete which was not ideal on the feet. On the plus side, the water was a pleasant 25.5 degrees C, which means wetsuits aren’t needed. There were only 3 buoys for the sprint swim so your sighting needed to be bang on.
For whatever reason, the swims for the youth and standard distance championship races were cancelled. There was nothing specific in their press release on Facebook or Twitter, just a vague reference to water quality tests not being ready in time for the event. Triathletes often have to prepare to race in a duathlon as the swim can be cancelled last minute due to weather, water temperature or conditions, or poor water quality, and it’s part of the sport. But having an elite level swim cancelled simply for logistical reasons really isn’t acceptable, especially from an event this large.
The bike course was a relatively flat out-and-back around Dow’s lake. For the standard distance, the 20km out and back bike course was done in 2 laps. For the junior and CAMTRI races the bike course was a series of 4 laps on a shorter course. Route was well marked with road hazards outlined in fluorescent orange spray paint. Of note, this was the first year that the sprint distance allowed drafting, and with that allowed only standard road bikes. If you’re a fast swimmer and can get out of the water and into a pack, the drafting really saves you energy. If you end up biking solo, it’s substantially more work than it would be on an aero bike. Transition area was well laid out and bikes were racked by bib number, and bib numbers were arranged by age group. Of note for beginners: there were no aid stations on the bike leg, so make sure to bring whatever hydration and nutrition you need on the bike with you. The road was fully closed which made for a safe and fast course.
The run course for the junior and CAMTRI races followed the same route as the bike. For everyone else, the run was a series of 2.5km loops. The run course began with a long, moderate hill that was a challenge in itself, let alone after a 20 or 40km bike leg. For the standard distance athletes, this hill needed to be climbed 4 times. There was a single aid station on the run that offered water only. The finish line for all athletes was the extravagant, carpeted affair that is usually reserved only for the Elites.
The biggest difficulty that this race suffered wasn’t one of it’s own making. This year was the first year that the sprint distance championships would be draft-legal. This switch created some confusion with athletes, officials and volunteers. I observed a number of athletes who were unaware of specific restrictions bring illegal bikes (toe cages, disc brakes, etc) who were subsequently DQ’d. There was information sent out in advance to all athletes regarding specific bike requirements but unfortunately they were very general, while the race officials were very specific. Disc brakes weren’t specifically mentioned as being illegal, yet this rule was unfortunately enforced. Race officials also flip flopped on whether or not certain items of equipment were or were not allowed- for example some were told aero helmets were illegal while later they were told it was ok. The day of registration, athletes were told they had to rack their bike the day before, and that it was a rule specific to draft racing. There was no mention of this in the pre-race information or schedule. Despite this, on the day of the race athletes seemed to be allowed to rack their bikes freely right up until the race started. Due to the temperature of the water, wetsuits were not allowed and at least one age group athlete was DQ’d due to wetsuit use. I found this confusing as Triathlon Canada’s rules mention that wetsuits are always recommended for age group athletes. Beginners should take note as in most other races, wetsuits are always allowed for age group athletes as a safety measure (although you may not be able to take a qualifying spot if you wear one above the maximum water temperature). If you aren’t comfortable swimming without a wetsuit, this race is not recommended for you.
For a race venue that is positioning itself as a world-class affair, there were some hits and misses. Among the misses were the water and swim leg, general organization and rule confusion, post-race food (only a bagel and/or banana piece) and lack or a sports-drink offering on the sprint course. This last item was critical in my mind as the temperature in late July is always high, and athletes need to have an adequate source of electrolytes. There may or may not be race photos – they weren’t advertised and at the time of writing this I was unable to find any information. Some of these issues could be overlooked in a small, community triathlon, but for a major event with a $115 entry fee (plus taxes, fees, one-day license if needed), I expected more.
The race did succeed in laying out an excellent track, providing a world-class elite transition area and finish line, high quality temporary tattoo race numbers and stickers and an event that was easy for spectators to watch.
I personally enjoyed myself at the Ottawa triathlon championships. I think that the majority of the issues mentioned above were growing pains relating to the new venue and the change to draft-legal for the sprint races. Taking all of the above into context, I’d recommend this event to the seasoned triathlete who is looking to qualify for the national team or looking for a fast draft-legal race as it certainly fulfilled that requirement. For beginners or less comfortable swimmers I’d likely steer clear. This review may come across as highly critical, but I think it’s important that a race such as this is held to a very high standard. Fingers crossed that next year’s event learns from its mistakes and builds on its successes.
Team Running Free Barrie Athlete