Huntsville – July 10th, 2022
You can feel the energy as you turn onto highway 2 in Huntsville on Friday afternoon. Soon after, you start to see signs saying “race this weekend” and “share the road”. Every 5km is a marker showing you that you’re getting closer to downtown and to the registration zone. Before even arriving in town to pick up your race pack you can tell how well organized this event is going to be. As this was my first long course triathlon, I’m writing this report from the perspective of a first-timer.
Registration opens at 2pm on Friday at the Canada Summit Centre in downtown Huntsville. An empty hockey rink has been repurposed into the registration area, filled with volunteers, vendors and much more. Racers are given their bib numbers, swim cap, timing chip and morning bag then sent off to explore the athletes village. At this point, most of the course has been set up and you can walk along the river to the swim start and check it out. Walking down the dirt and gravel road from transition, I can’t help but think how much this will hurt my feet on Sunday morning. At the end of the road is a large clearing where you can wade out into the water at the mouth of the river/body of Fairy Lake. Taking this in is the last thing on today’s to-do list. Next up, bike check on Saturday.
Having raced one short course triathlon before IM 70.3, I was expecting to bring my bike and everything with me to Transition on Sunday morning. With over 1,000 participants wheeling their bikes into one area, I suppose it’s not a surprise that this was a 7 hour event the day before. Bike check is open from 11am to 5pm on Saturday, and your bike must be in Transition by then if you intend to race the next day. For anyone experiencing issues like myself (I had a new clincher tire that was rubbing against my frame), there are mechanics in the athletes village as well as a local bike shop in Huntsville. The transition area is massive and the 4 racks for my age group, Men 30-34, are in the back left corner. By the time my wheel issues were sorted out, I found myself racking my bike in one of the very last spots.
This is the day we’ve all been waiting for. Alarms start going off at 4:30am and the sun is beginning to rise. I’m staying at a friend’s house on the lake and can see that it’s the start of a beautiful and still day on the water. Nonetheless, nerves are high and I struggle to stomach a muffin and some Gu Energy Chews. Transition is opening up soon, I’m in the second swim heat that launches at 7:05, so it’s time to head into town. I get dropped off at the Summit Centre entrance with my transition bag and walk down to my bike. Transition is buzzing with excitement by now. Half-wetsuit-clad athletes, volunteers and mechanics alike are running around making sure everything is ready to go for 7am. I’m trying to cool my nerves. Having only learned to swim in December of last year, the first leg is intimidating to me. I put my towel on the ground next to my bike, neatly arrange my shoes next to it and put on my wetsuit. Following some stretches and arm swinging, I join the mob of athletes heading down to the swim start.
Volunteers with huge signs are corralling the racers. Look up and find the sign with your swim cap taped to it, and your age group written below. At 6:55, the first group wades out into the water and swims over the starting buoys. 5 minutes later, the first group is off and the yellow caps are into the water. It’s hard to tell how many of us there are spread out across the starting line, I’d guess close to 75 or 100 swimmers in here. The current is pulling me into the lake and I’m treading water not to cross the start line too early. At 7:05 we start swimming into the sun, around 600m to the first buoy. The water is beautiful today, very warm and still, despite the heavy swimming traffic. Swimming around the first buoy, you can spot number 2 at the river mouth about 200m away. Once you hit that buoy, it’s a straight shot down the river to the swim exit. Nearing the end of the swim, cottages start encroaching on the sides of you and seaweed begins to catch in your hands and rub against your stomach. You exit the swim at the base of a short and steep carpeted climb to the “wetsuit removal mats”. A brisk jog through the parking lot (and all the way across Transition) to your bike ends this leg of the race.
After finishing the swim, I’m feeling exhilarated from making it out of the water but still take the time to properly dry my feet and put socks on. I tighten the laces on my shoes and waddle my way from the back of Transition to the bike start. The mount line is right at the beginning of a short but steep climb, and riders in heavy gears are having a hard time getting started. Pro tip: make sure you’re already in a climbing gear to start this one off. The bike course is described as “rolling” and I’d say that it verges on “hilly” in some parts. You’re riding through beautiful lakefront cottage country from Huntsville to Dorset and back, 90km. Most of the course is covered by trees or beautiful shield rock faces, and 5km markers the length of the course. Three rest stations with Gatorade, water and more are along the route should you need them, but I was riding with all my required nutrition that I’d trained with. I had two bottles filled with Tailwind Nutrition Endurance Fuel Colorado Cola (300cal + 75g carb each) and one with water as well as 5 Gu Energy Gel (100cal + 22g carb each) and 2 Gu Energy Chews (180cal + 44g carbs each). Drivers were very respectful in terms of sharing the road and the volunteers, and OPP did a great job of keeping us all safe on the road.
With my bike racked up, I sit down on my towel and slip into my Saucony Endorphin Pros, load up some more Gu and try to cover myself in a bit of sunscreen before heading out. The run course has been changed again this year in order to keep the downtown core of Huntsville more accessible. This means we open up with a massive hill on Veteran’s Way, with the sun high in the sky, cooking everyone in sight. Running through this heat and catching elevation with nearly every step, I’m grateful for the aid stations positioned every two kilometers along the route. Passing through each one, I take a Gatorade and a water to drink as well as a water to go down the back and over my sweltering head. The turnaround comes just after the 10km marker and we’re headed back to Transition more or less the same way we left. Running back down that initial hill was a special feeling. My friends and family were there with signs cheering me on and crossing the finish line was one of the greatest moments of my life.
Overall, I couldn’t be happier with how this race went! It was organized and streamlined the entire time, you can tell this isn’t their first rodeo. The course itself is beautiful and just the right amount of punishing. The support and involvement from the community is amazing, compared to any race I’ve been in before. “It’s all downhill to Baysville”, “You can do it”, “Nice shoes!” and so many more cries of encouragement from the bottoms of driveways follow you from the starting line all the way back to the finish. This was a beautiful event and I’m proud to have participated in it this year. Thanks to everyone involved.