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A Tale of Two Tri’s – Part Two

Barrelman Long Course Tri

Race: Barrelman
Where: Niagara Falls and Welland, Ontario
Date: September 18, 2016
Swim (2.0k): 45:37 (2:16/100m)
Bike (90k): 2:40:02 (33.4 kmh)
Run (21k): 1:41:43 (4:50/km)
Transition: 10:37
Total time: 5:17:54


I thought my adventure into Tri was over with Tremblant 70.3, and in hindsight it should have been. My fall goal race was the Canadian 5k Championship just the week before this race. Yet, I was somehow swept up in the excitement of all my Tri friends signing up for Barrelman. Barely a week after Tremblant, I was locked and loaded for long course Tri #2. This is basically a 70.3 without the prestige and care provided by the Ironman organization of races.

My training plan was my original 5k road race build-up; to that I added 3 swims per week and whatever biking I could fit. As the focus was on the 5k road race, that would be not much biking at all.

But where to improve on Tremblant? Some opportunities for quick-wins: A stronger swim and bike were possible, plus way shorter transitions. I would go after a sub 5h result if the swim and bike went well.

The Swim

The goal was 2000m in 40:00 minutes (2:00/100m). And a lofty goal it was, given I was essentially a non-swimmer less than 9 months ago!

I intended to cut masters swim class at the end of June to focus on my fall road races. In July, with Barrelman freshly booked, I carried on my swim training without interruption.

The hellish experience training for Tremblant became a distant memory. I now looked forward to swim practices: My swim coach was a tough-ass and I loved it! I made some good improvements in the pool based on my lap times and also just by the way the water flowed over me. I still couldn’t kick worth a damn, but in my limited experience that didn’t matter – it was all about the pull.

The swim start was at Welland’s Flat Water Centre, which is a former section of the old Welland canal converted to a rowing basin. It is, for new swimmers, about as safe and assuring as it gets – safety is just a few strokes to one bank or the other. The water temperature was wet suit legal – thank God! – two weeks prior it was not.

The morning mist lifted just in time for the first wave. It was a floating start, so I bobbed around at the very back of my wave, while pee break #1 was executed (Lessons learned from Tremblant). I was so far back from the start line, I started swimming before the gun and was up to speed by the time it fired.

This was indeed a different swim. Relaxed, confident, easy breathing. Sighting was a non-issue with glimpses of the banks between left/right breathes. I had soon worked through the slower swimmers in my wave and caught up to the slower ones in the next! Everything felt great. The water flowed as I slipped between swimmers, focusing on long powerful strokes. I couldn’t wait to see my time!

The rowing basin had distance markers placed on the sides about every 100m. With 200m to go I doubled my effort. Whether I went any faster is another story. 30 m to go, pee break #2, followed immediately by a surprise calf/toe cramp that slowed my progress to the exit area. No worries, the swim was done.

The bank is a bit steep and assistants were there to pull you out. I was a wobbly tottering mess! No wet suit pullers like in Tremblant, I struggled out on my own. I got it over my shoulders and worked the left arm out which then stuck. Dammit, forgot about my Garmin! I reversed the procedure, took off my watch, then remembered I should hit the lap button into transition mode. Nothing happened – I had forgotten to press start! So no idea what my swim time was. Details, details, at least my swim was great. Or was it?

Out of the water, 35 out of 57 for age. My pace was no better than Tremblant, although I didn’t know it at the time. Simply not where it should have been. Perhaps not enough open water swims? For some reason, I had come out of the water completely knackered! I think I know why now…

The Bike

The goal was 2:45:00 (32.7 kmh).

Not much could be expected riding 2 to 3 hours per week, yet I still raised my hopes and expectations. The Barrelman bike course is super flat. This course demands absolute power, and my forte is power/weight ratio. Mountains, not prairies, is where my bike fitness should shine.

I tackled this disadvantage on three fronts. First, what bike training I did, I pushed the pace to full out over the last half hour. Generating speed on tired legs was the objective.

Second, I got aero. My bike got fitted with aero bars, a second set of e-shifts, and carbon rims front and back. Third, I replaced the 11/28 cassette with an 11/23 straight block for tighter shifts through the middle gears.

The aero upgrades came just weeks out from the race. The first time bombing my usual test hill tucked into aero position was a tense situation – sphincter factor of 9! I am relieved to report all my skin is still where it should be. To add to my nerves, my new cassette arrived by courier just one hour before we headed out the door to Niagara Falls on race weekend. Close call!

Aero speed test

Aero speed test


Getting aero $$$.

Now onto the race. Even after a long bewildered transition, I was still a mess and couldn’t snap out of it. I almost tipped over getting on my bike. I was further detained for safety reasons – not permitted to wear my bike cap with the bill facing forwards. Helmet off and back on again!

I also frigged up my transition bags and had my sunglasses waiting for me on the run, which I really wanted for my bike. I did have my day time glasses, but really could have used my hat bill to keep the wind out of my eyes. Details, details, yet again!

A final delay, getting my Garmin into bike mode and started. Yes, it seemed one thing after the other! Frigging around with technology just didn’t help my t-time.

At long last, finally off! My legs were sluggish, so I patiently waited. A quick power check on the Garmin revealed blank screens. Another frig up, my power meter had not paired. I already had no idea of my overall race time and now had to ride by perceived exertion. There was a head wind and I resisted the temptation to fight it – instead I worked carefully against it. Aero, aero, aero! 30k done not much under an hour, 58:10 (30.9 kmh). Three minutes behind goal pace already!

We began the return trip back toward Welland along the shore of Lake Erie. The wind was blowing in off the lake and across the road. My speed increased and the push was finally on. “One your left!”, ad infinitum. A couple of wobbly moments here and there with the cross winds, but the rims were controllable even in aero position.

I should mention that the roads were essentially open to traffic. Intersections were marshaled but, compared to Tremblant, a lot more attention for traffic safety was required. The main case in point occurred along the shore of Lake Erie. I was catching up to two women. A car was approaching from the other direction about 100 m ahead of them. That is when a big SUV with New York plates ripped by me in the wrong lane, headed right for the approaching car. The SUV was going way too fast to pull in behind the women and the space ahead of them was vanishing quickly! I yelled “CAR BACK!”. Lucky, they moved over enough for the SUV to squeak through. Simply unbelievable!

A turn away from the lake put the wind in our backs. We quickly arrived in Welland, the second 30k block was over in 51:51 (34.7 kmh). Flying! (At least by my standards). What the wind took away going out, we got coming back – now back on goal pace, and back where we started – now on to Niagara!

The last 30k were an all-out gamble. That was my plan all along, not to leave anything on the bike. And what a ride it was! The final 30k was done in 50:01 (35.1 kmh) and a new 40k Garmin record of 35.4 kmh awarded! That’s almost 20 minutes better than Tremblant, on sweet little nothing for training and considerably less average heart rate. Give all the aero mods a big high five!

Off the bike 22 for age. Come to think of it, I passed mainly females on the ride. The big men indeed held the advantage on this flat course. But now it was my turn.

The Run

Hard to get out on the run when you can’t find your bike rack! The bike/run transition zone is located in Niagara, which I had not scouted. After minutes of wandering around, finally, a volunteer led me over to a single solitary rack tucked off to the side. Nice.

Again some more tottering about, frigging with this and that. I was knackered from leaving it all out on the bike. As I meandered toward the run exit, several people asked if I was alright. As one of those asking was my wife Melissa, who was doing the run portion as a relay, I was beginning to have some doubts. But more importantly I needed to pee big time and the only porto-potty was occupied. Nice!

Newly crowned Tri royalties Daniel Clarke (winner of the Montreal Esprit 70.3) and Lisa Goetz (winner of IM Maryland) had high fives to send me on my run. A little inspiration to kick it up! Thanks for that!

I put the pee on temporary hold. Maybe it was the urgency of the situation that inspired? Unlike Tremblant I found my run legs right away, splitting the first two kms 4:39 and 4:31. A free porto-potty spotted and quick relief was had. I am sorry, I know what you would do, but I was not pissing down my leg into a perfectly good and new pair of shoes!

About 2 minutes later my watch buzzed in with my recovery data: I had absentmindedly stopped it at the pee stop. I have never been so techno-klutzy in my life.

Some people expected the run course would be as flat as the bike course. That was a very big mistake! At about 4k we were introduced to Burning Springs Hill. Aptly named. I ran while the smarter walked. By the time I hit the top it was over. Walk break #1 was necessary to cool off my burning quads.

Then started my enormous shoe malfunction. My feet were having an epic battle with my relatively new shoes. I toughed it as long as I could, then walk break #2 was taken to make some adjustments. It hurt to walk, let alone run. Perhaps I could have softened them up with some pee? Too late now, the tank was empty!

Did I mention the stairs yet? Yes a race route that went up and down stairs beside the Fallsview Casino. Followed immediately by a stupidly steep pitch down Murray Street, followed by a tight turn over soggy grass made slick by a poorly placed water station. Double nice!!

At least running by the falls made up for some of it. Although with my feet in total agony, I hardly cared. And that was just the first lap. We had to do this twice! Extra nice!!!

From my very first walk break I knew my run was a write off, as were any chances for a sub 5h result. I’d rather save my legs for another day, not shred them to hell like I did at Tremblant. Yet, after ego crushing walks at 4.8k, 8.3k, 10.2k, 11.9k, 13.1k, 15.2k and 16.4k, I still managed to move up in my age group. Although I hated the run, and although my newish shoes betrayed me, the terrain was to my advantage: I just walked less.

Finish overall 10th for age.

The Aftermath and Second Thoughts

Well I’ll take the PR. About 9 minutes better than Tremblant. Could I have taken it sub 5h? I will have to pay better attention to details. It was there.

Just based on the run course, I will never to do this race again. The route was awful. I also promise to never walk another run again. Further, no shuttle service was provided after the race. A very long painful walk back to my car reinforced my opinion that I am never doing this race again.

After Tremblant, I was fully expended. I should have taken three weeks off to recharge, but was back training within the week. I thought I could build my fitness further, but the harder I trained the more my fitness failed along with my overloaded adrenal system. At this point in my career, I should have recognized that I was not recovered and over training. The road races I did manage to run were unremarkable and definitely not up to my standards. In fact, the one discipline I trained the least turned out to be my best achievement of the season  – the bike at Barrelman.

(Nov 16, 2016) I have had to pass on three November road races – Hamilton Half, Downsview 5k and Holly Jolly 5k – due to chronic hamstring issues which have been nagging all year long. Such a disappointment; these races were supposed to be a glorious return to the top of the age group rankings. I have backed off and expected recovery to follow, but it has not happened. That is what adrenal fatigue does to you.

My heart rate variablity score (HRV) is at an all time low and work stress at an all time high. All races and training are now off. It is time for a much needed break, one that I should have taken some five months ago.

Adieu and good luck with your winter training builds. I shall return just as foolish as ever and probably ten pounds heavier.


Born and raised in Hamilton & Stoney Creek. Ran X-Country in high school, but not really special at it - a middle of the pack finisher. But then again, really didn't know how to train. Didn't run after Gr 12 due to nasty shin splints. Really never ran in proper shoes back then. Didn't try to run again until age 30. Then tried. And tried. And tried. Shin splints every time. Finally got it going for good at 38 in proper shoes and I have vowed never, ever, to stop running again.

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