Subaru Ironman Muskoka 70.3
Ironman Muskoka 70.3 took place on July 8thin Huntsville, a very quiet town set in the heart of Ontario’s Cottage country. I scheduled this as a B Race, an opportunity to test my fitness, nutrition, gear and preparation for Ironman Canada taking place 3 weeks after on July 29th. As I discussed with my coach, the race needed to be well executed with me stringing together a solid swim, hitting my power goals on the bike, and attempting to race off pace rather than heart rate on the run. My goals for this race were:
- Have a strong swim
- Bike in 2:45
- Run pace average between 4:15 – 4:30/km
- Execute good nutrition plan
Results up Front:
It’s been my experience that athletes are only interested in reading reports from people of a similar caliber. To that end, I am a self-described strong age group competitor in the 25-29 group. My final time at Muskoka 70.3 was 4:33:05 (AG 5th, 30thMale, 33rdOverall).
Travel, Pre-Race Activities and Accommodation
Being that I live in Barrie, the drive up to Huntsville was an easy one, I aimed to be on the road at 8:30 am on Saturday the day before the Race, and much to my pleasure faced no cottage country traffic. If anyone were to decide to head up on the Friday, this is something that needs to be taking into consideration. The location, Canada Summit Center, was easy to find and with a bit of luck, I was able to come across a great parking spot maybe 750m from the center. Overall the travel to and from this race is easy and it earns major points for that reason.
After parking, I quickly went down to the athlete check-in area which opened at 11. As long as you knew your bib number, posted outside as well as online before the race, then check in was very smooth. You flowed from the waivers, to the sticker/ race-pack, then over to the swag pick up (decent bags but there have been better) and finally to pick-up your timing chip. Even with changes to some of my information I was through athlete check-in within maybe 15 – 20 minutes. As with most races, check in leads you right into the race expo, the Ironman Store was lacking in some of their gear but the vendors from the local area had great set-ups with some fantastic deals. A quick 20 minute out and back on the bike to check everything and then it was down to bike check in. The process here was also flawless, volunteers confirmed your bike had its sticker on, and advised you not to leave any nutrition on the bike before pointing you in the direction of your AG rack location. It caught me off guard that the transition was set up as a ‘first come first serve’ in terms of getting your rack spot, luckily being early I fared well and racked in a good spot, a little bit of strategizing with athletes around me made sure we all had ample space the next morning. A short run to shake out the legs and then it was down to the swim start. If you are considering racing here, be advised, the swim start is a good 10 – 15 minute walk from the summit center. I got into the water at about 2pm, the swim buoys were not yet up, but pre-markers made it clear where the race would take you. One thing however that was not covered was how the swim start would work and this was a big surprise on race morning (I lucked out big time!). After swimming and packing the car it was off to the accommodations.
I thought that booking a hotel 1.5 months in advance would be ample time. I was wrong. By the time I started calling in mid-may all hotels in the local area were booked out and could only offer me a wait list spot, beyond that I was looking at either staying at home or trying to find an Airbnb which was also proving tough. Ultimately, I settled on saying at Deerhurst, a great location (12 minutes to race site) but very pricey. The room came well equipped however, with a microwave, mini-fridge and stove top, which made eating on race morning very easy. This is a resort though, my advice here is to book your accommodations early or make it a vacation – just be ready to pay. Huntsville has many small restaurants as well as your typical chain restaurants. Unfortunately, I steered clear of the small ones to focus on hitting my nutrition numbers exactly (right now I work with a nutrition coach and we wanted to hone in my macro-nutrients be well fueled for the race, its easier to count these at the chain places).
Overall, I was hoping for a time of 4:45, as I said above I beat this by about 12mins and crossed the line in 4:33:05. The race went a little something like this:
Swim – 29:55 (1:34/100m): As I said before the swim start is a good hike from the transition zone, this is also where morning gear drop is. Give yourself more time than what you think you need to get down there. By the time I did make it there, drop off my morning clothes and get into my wetsuit, it was race time. The swim start is a staggered wave start, with about 5 minutes between each group. What they don’t tell you however is that you will have the time between your start and the one in front of you for a quick warm up (this saved my butt). The athlete guide also says that the swim will be started in waist deep water, which may be true if you’re the same height as Shaquille O’Neil or the Hulk – the rest of us though were treading water. The swim had some tall weeds to start but quickly cleared off into lake water that was fairly dark. As you round the second turn to head back you are put into a current and can feel it pushing on you decently well. My original goal was to hit the swim in 27:30 and I’m fairly certain that without that current I would have. Be prepared to add time. Beyond that there was the battling of catching the swimmers in the wave ahead, especially as people fatigued in the narrow upstream section. I climbed out of the water feeling strong and made the run up the carpet (very nice touch) to the transition zone. I got in and out of T2 in 2:12, now only 2:07 back from where I wanted to be heading onto the bike.
Bike 2:29:16 (36.04 km/h) –The bike course which is notoriously hilly, is in my opinion, not that bad. Sure there are a few climbs, but this is a half-iron, you have to work for it. The steep climbs are also normally set up with a strong downhill, play your gears smart and you can normally roll a good portion of it. The Aid stations on the bike course were well set up, I hit a Gatorade at the 45km turn around, stocked it and kept going. Throughout the bike the nutrition plan was:
- Salt tab and cliff bar between Km 5-10
- 6 cliff gels by 1hr in
- 1 salt tab at 1 hr
- 6 cliff blocks and 1 cliff bar between hrs 1 – 2,
- 1 salt tab at 2 hrs
- 6 blocks between 2hrs and finish
- 1 salt tab at 85kms
- Gatorade / water as needed (1.5 – 2 for the course)
I hit this plan perfectly and it paid dividends into the run section. The athlete field on the bike was friendly, police were well placed at intersections and the roads were in good condition with no sand at any cornering locations. The only downside to this was that the roads were not closed to traffic, disappointing when Ironman charges the fee it does for the races. Well drivers were for the most part considerate, there are always a few that are too aggressive. On the bike I had a normalized power of 241w and average power of 228w. Ultimately I managed to reach the two goals I had established for the bike course and beat my goal time by a healthy margin. A solid T2 would set me up nicely for the run.
Run 1:29:25 (4:14/km) * also a ½ marathon PR – The run course is a rolling to hilly course with some extremely hot sections lacking in any shade, the name of the game here is keeping cool. Ultimately this went down like most long distance runs do, some great cheering through the main parts of town (especially as I was headed back on lap 2) followed by some sections of “am I even still on the course”. The course markings in some locations were unclear and the design of the course made it pretty ambiguous as to whether or not you were running on the right or left, additionally there were many sections of the course that were off-chutes seemingly there for no reason other than to add distance, it became a little frustrating. The only other down side to the run was that the aid stations seemed sporadic in their placement and had no set order for which products would be where (this almost lead to me dumping pepsi down my back into my race kit instead of ice). Granted the volunteers were trying, and doing their best to please 1550 athletes, but some more direction from race organizers would have gone a long way. From an execution perspective however, the run went more or less as planned. One of my sub goals was to run the first km at 4:45 and do a quick systems check to figure out what my body needed. But as always I came out hot and put down a sub 4’ km. I felt strong though and aimed to hit my 4:15 pace that I wanted to run the race at. I kept a gel flask with 3 gels and 2 oz of water in my hand to provide fuel and hit the aid stations for ice and water. I also kept salt tabs in my pocket with the goal of taking one every ~45mins. I cruised through the run staying happy, and remembering the key running cues that my coach had talked with me about, good arm positon, even horizon etc. I lost a bit of time when I bumped into an old friend as we rounded out loop one and spent too much time talking together. But happy runners are fast runners and this may have left me enough in the tank to keep a good pace throughout. Ultimately, I hit my pace goals, maintained a steady HR but didn’t take down as much nutrition as I will need to when I race IM Canada in just over a week. This will be a big area of concentration while in that run. The Muskoka 70.3 run course could use some improvement, but ultimately it provided a respectable challenge, some decent scenery and good cheering sections – not much more can be asked for.
A long race report / review but I wanted to give the event the attention it deserves being Ontario’s only Ironman event. The organization, setting and volunteers at this event are all fantastic, it offers almost everything that people expect from racing Ontario, but for some reason this did not feel like an Ironman brand event to me. My recommendation is that this would, and was for me, a fantastic training race or B race. If you’re experienced in the 70.3 distance than by all means, take advantage of the proximity and add another race to your check list. For new athletes though, or people looking for an A race Muskoka would not be my choice. The race is fairly early in the season, I would say that you should get comfortable racing a few more times and use the summer to improve your skills looking to knock out your big day nearing the end of the summer. Traveling a little for your race will also make the event seem more like everything you’ve built it up to be on those grueling training rides and runs and perhaps lead you to an event that has that typical Ironman brand feel that people have come to love.