Race Report: Canadian National Duathlon Championships (Toronto Triathlon Festival)

This is a powerful statement. There will always be someone stronger than you. But are you stronger than you used to be?

In 2012, I competed in my first Olympic distance duathlon (10 km run / 40 km bike / 5 km run), hosted by the Toronto Triathlon Festival (TTF). Two years later, July 13, 2014, I found myself on the same course, which again served as the Canadian National Duathlon Championships.

Where it has been challenging to directly benchmark my year-over-year improvement in specific races, because organizers have changed the course or I have moved up in distance, heading into this event, I knew it would be an ideal test of my progress. It was basically the same course, the same time of year in the same city. And yet, that may have contributed to the butterflies in my stomach as the race approached. In 2012, I didn't really know what I had got myself into, but now I had entered with eyes wide open.

Completing the 2012 TTF cycling course on a much sunnier day

As I mentioned in my last post, when I joined Ignition Fitness last December, I set three goals, one of which was to qualify for the 2015 Team Canada age group duathlon team. This summer, there are only two Team Canada qualifiers for the Olympic distance duathlon and the TTF is one of them. So this race mattered! I felt - or allowed myself to feel - a distinct sense of pressure, knowing that I had trained for eight months leading up to this one event. And as it unfolded, it wasn't without its share of excitement.

(Side note: the top 10 finishers in each age category qualified for Team Canada. As there were only 12 men in my category, I figured my chances were excellent. Being one for stretch goals, I decided to shoot for top five in my category.)

The big story of the race was the wet weather. Watching the forecast in the days preceding the race, I silently prayed and asked that the rain hold off for the duration of the race. God took that literally, as she unleashed a downpour on us before the race and another one after it -- but hardly a drop while the clock ticked.
The calm before the storm, literally and figuratively.

Okay, I'll admit it. I'm a fair weather cyclist. My experience riding in the rain is quite limited. And I'm okay with that. (On the other hand, I'll run in almost any weather.) As a result, that morning, my heart managed to both sink and flutter simultaneously at the thought of careening down the Don Valley Parkway, in my aerobars, during a downpour.

Coach Roger gave me this advice: be careful in the corners, ride hard in the crosswinds, break well in advance of any obstacles or turns and be comfortable in the straightaways. Thankfully, the rain mostly subsided before the race, leaving the pavement fairly dry, except for some deceiving puddles that hid nasty potholes.

Already wet before we started but ready to race

Race Recap

First Run (10 km): 39:32 for a new 10 km PB. At the beginning of the race, I tucked in about 12-15 people back from the lead pack. Over the first couple kilometres, Parichit Bagga and I began running siding-by-side, eventually settling into a rhythm and picking off some of the duathletes ahead of us.

We sustained our pace - even increasing it slightly - right into transition. I had a sense that I'd set a new 10 km PB (both standalone and in-duathlon) and hoped it wouldn't come back to bite me on the bike or second run.

And so we begin our 55 km journey.

T1: 1:14. Arriving into transition, the lead duathletes were now mixed with some of the slower triathletes, and so it quickly became challenging to pick out the competition and pace oneself.

Happily, I had a spot at the end of a rack, with fairly unimpeded access to my bike. I wasn't going to misplace it this time. The morning of the race, I mentally reviewed T1 in my head and practised (to quote Jesse Bauer's tips: shoes off, helmet on, GO!) and it worked like a charm... until I attempted a running mount on my bike. In my slightly foggy state, I just couldn't figure out how to do it. Plan B: climb on the way I normally do and take off, sliding my feet into my shoes as I rode.

Bike (40 km): 1:07:04. The first kilometre or so wound through the CNE grounds. I didn't feel comfortable passing other cyclists, given the pavement conditions and narrow lanes, until we hit the Gardiner. At that point, I began targeting and passing the triathletes that were spread out on the road ahead, though I couldn't identify any duathletes. This exercise gave me confidence, but I couldn't tell how fast I was going relative to the competitors ahead of and behind me. It also meant I was spending energy and focus weaving in and out rather than simply pushing hard.

Riding north on the DVP, I recall glancing at my Garmin and pondering how I was riding so fast uphill. Eventually, I finally saw a handful of duathletes heading back downhill and as I reached the turnaround myself, I realized the source of my speed had been a tremendous tailwind, which now became a headwind. Ouch. At various points, I was buffeted by crosswinds and I remembered Roger's advice to ride hard. Oddly, nowhere did I see Parichit, and it wasn't until after the race that I learned he had suffered several flat tires just after getting onto the Gardiner.

The second half of the bike hurt. What should have been a fast descent back into the downtown core became a struggle against the elements. Passing the final turnaround, I saw that some duathletes had made ground on me, which sparked a renewed burst of energy.

Back into transition. They're right on my heels, better move quickly!

T2: 1:12. Second fastest transition of the race. Clearly, I'm more comfortable getting off the bike than I am getting on! Sprinting through transition in wet and dirty socks, I mentally steeled myself for the final run.

Second run (5 km): 19:55. I pushed it hard through the pain, didn't care what I looked like and went for it.

Beginning my second run. Carefully calculating how long until this thing would be over!

I used lots of self affirmations here (You got this. You love this. Four more minutes. One more kilometre and then you can lay down.) and kept reminding myself, "This is what you trained for." (Please excuse the improper grammar; that was the last thing on my mind at the time!) Indeed, it was exactly what I had practised in in training each week, where Roger put me through a hard bike workout followed by what amounts to a 5 km run in 20 minutes (traffic lights cooperating).

Triathletes filled the run course, again obscuring the duathletes. I passed a couple guys in my category, not being entirely sure if they were competitors. Eventually, I tucked in behind someone in a younger age category and held on.

Crossing the finish line happy, wet and tired

My final results: ninth overall and second in my age group, which netted me a silver medal and a spot on Team Canada.

L-R: Me, Mathieu Paquet (gold), Aaron Putman (bronze).
(Note that the post-race downpour had subsided and the sun was finally out.)

Back to my original thought, how have I personally improved over time? I can attest that over the past two years, I've grown, survived the significant 2013 setback of stress fractures, and then come back to make my greatest gains -- and the hardest work put into them -- over the past year.

TTF 2014
World Du 2013
Lakeside 2012
TTF 2012

I'd like to share my heartfelt thanks to my coach, Roger Hospedales of Ignition Fitness, for pushing, encouraging and mentoring me along this journey. A shout out to the other Ignition Fitness team members, including Jesse Bauer, who placed third overall in the race and first in his age group for a gold medal.

My thanks also to the team that has brought me back to health after my injuries and kept me there:
Dr. David Homer of Yorkville Chiropractic & Wellness Centre
Raj Suppiah of Foundation Physiotherapy
Charles Guo of 4Seasons Massage Therapy