Race Report: MultiSport Canada Gravenhurst International Duathlon (2015)

Why haven't I competed here before? That's the question I asked myself Saturday morning as I prepared to race in the MultiSport Canada Gravenhurst international duathlon.  

It had been ages since I'd been to Muskoka, the region where the race took place. It was also my first time visiting the town of Gravenhurst, situated about two hours north of Toronto, in the heart of cottage country. As I gazed around at the stone outcroppings, pine trees, sloping hills and beautiful lake, I realized I was surrounded by the real-life equivalent of a Group of Seven painting, and I contemplated sticking around for a few more days to relax.

But that wasn't on the agenda because I was there to race. And this was a competition that could go any direction. Some strong, accomplished athletes would be toeing the start line, including previous winner Andrew McLeod, Daryl Flacks (a long distance specialist and winner of both the Welland and the Barrelman half iron bike/run), Kevin Gallagher and Garvin Moses. Then there's the unknown quantity, the people that could show up to any race and who aren't connected via the Ontario Duathlon Enthusiasts Facebook group. 

As I haven't blogged since June, I'll share some context. I entered this race with tempered optimism because in the couple weeks before the race, things were not going according to plan. This was anything but a calm, clean taper.  

It was (and still is) a hectic period at work, as we were wrapping up one of our largest deliverables of the year, which meant long days in the office, up to 12 hours a day. I skipped a couple of workouts and tried moving others around to keep the quality intact. 

Six days before the race, my training buddy told me that he had accepted a cottage invite and that we wouldn't be driving to Gravenhurst together, complicating travel and accommodations planning. It's not easy - or cheap - to find lodging in Muskoka with little notice. Clearly, my mind was preoccupied! 

Of most concern was my physical and mental preparation. My quads and hamstrings had been feeling heavy and fatigued for weeks, which especially posed a problem while cycling, but even presented itself walking up staircases... and I'm normally a guy that takes stairs two at a time.  

Finally, I have also been battling some serious pre-race nerves this year - a result of the self-imposed pressure to perform after investing this much in training. To me, the duathlon experience should be about having fun, first and foremost, but I've been anxious and hesitant to take part. That had physical implications when, for example, at Woodstock, my heart rate spiked to upper race pace when I did a gentle jogging warm-up.

How have I addressed these concerns? Well, work is a priority and I will simply get it done. I borrowed my brother-in-law's car and found myself a motel room in Bracebridge, about 15 minutes from the race site.  

I got through some of my physical discomfort through lots of Epsom salt baths and foam rolling, as well as through dietary changes. About 10 days prior to the race, I had my first appointment with nutritionist Tara Postnikoff of HEAL Nutrition, to work on meal planning to improve recovery and boost energy.  

With the help of Google, I found a little inspiration to deal with my pre-race jitters, through this article. I love the idea of "carb loading" on positive vibes. 

By the time Gravenhurst weekend arrived and I rolled up to my hotel after a three hour drive through Friday evening traffic, I was actually in a great state of mind. The changes to my diet had started having a positive effect and the mental techniques I was using to deal with the anxiety were perking me up. I was where I wanted to be.  

Well, sort of. The hotel room I booked in Bracebridge - the only one I could find with such late notice - turned out to be a smoking room. "These still exist?" I asked the general manager of the Travel Lodge. Apparently, they do. I slept that night with an extra towel on the my pillows, hoping my asthma wouldn't flare up from the smell. It's all part of the adventure, I told myself. Regardless, the hotel was in a beautiful area, set among tall pine trees. 

Home sweet home.

Race Recap
On race morning in Gravenhurst the weather report read 100% humidity. Combined with the heat, it would be like running in a sauna. Thankfully, the sun stayed behind the clouds for part of the morning. 

Pre-race, a bunch of us usual suspects gathered for some casual chit chat. For several of us, this would be our longest distance multisport race of the season so far, although some had trained for other events.  After the triathletes left for their deep water start, Kevin and I went out for a warm-up jog, sampling some of the rolling hills of the course. 

First Run (10 km): 39:37
I led the pack out of transition, across the grass and onto the roads. Then came hills... and more hills... a couple twists and turns... and more hills. Nick Bianchi from Huntsville joined me at the front of the pack and we worked together, arriving back at transition with me first and him a couple seconds behind. For the most part, I had a very positive mindset during this split and kept up an encouraging mantra. Little did I know, several athletes were hot on my tail. 

T1: 0:43
I'm reminded why the coaches all say, "Practice your transitions!" With my shaking hands, I couldn't get my Garmin 310XT onto my new bike mount. When it finally clicked into place, I accidentally hit the lap button, switching it into run mode again. Argh. I took off and planned to fix it on the ride. On the bright side, I again executed a flying mount, so I think I've nailed that technique. 

Bike (40 km): 1:05:24
Weaving along the skinny mounting chute, I wanted to get some triathletes between me, Nick and whoever else was nearby.  But then to my complete surprise, Andrew passed me just out from transition, before I had even put my feet in my shoes. (In fairness, I think he hadn't yet put his in his shoes either.) Now that's a tough competitor! 

I planned to use him as a pace bunny, but between me fiddling with my Garmin (at the time, I really wanted to have some data from the ride) and then being blocked by a passing truck, I lost him. In the end, his bike split was a full two minutes faster and he was pumping out some serious power.

My back-up goal was to stay ahead of the others...  which worked, until Daryl caught me before the 20 km turnaround, standing on his pedals and zooming past in a red flash. I then committed to using him as a pace bunny and really, really keeping up. Alas, I didn't... In the second half of the ride, I slowed noticeably, perhaps due to fatigue, dehydration or headwind. Truthfully, I did catch myself daydreaming somewhat at one point.

Shortly before transition, someone in a University of Toronto jersey passed me and since I didn't see a bib, I figured he was a local out for a ride or perhaps a triathlete.

Given my leg issues prior to the race, I was still feeling really motivated and prepared for the second run. 

T2: 48
I was glad to be sliding into my Sketchers Go Runs, which are made for fast transitions, though I was slowed by the Garmin mount. I grabbed a water bottle and fiddled with my watch while heading toward the exit. 

Second Run (5 km): 21:06
Ouch, ouch, ouch. My glutes throbbed as I began this run, struggling to build speed. I had planned a sub-4:00 min/km pace to catch those in front. In hindsight, I think I had tucked too far forward on my bike, putting a different pressure on my sit bones, which led to the pain, which still ached two days later.

Despite the soreness, I was in a happy mindset, waving to and thanking volunteers just outside of transition and getting further motivation when I found friends staffing the first water station.

As I neared the turnaround point, I saw Andrew in the lead and Mr. University of Toronto Jersey right behind him, wearing a duathlon bib. D'oh! That was unexpected and I realized it knocked me down to fourth place. But Daryl was still in reach and I planned to catch him. 

There's a scene in one of the Fantastic Four movies where Johnny says, "Flame on!" several times and his powers just won't ignite. I felt the same way each time I tried to surge on the second run. "You've trained for this," I told myself, spying Daryl ahead of me, "Now go!" My legs would turn over but the speed didn't increase. 

We both kept moving at pace and Darryl finished in third and me about 22 seconds later, in fourth, for a final time of 2:07:38 and second in my age group. Andrew won a duel with Mr. University of Toronto and placed first. 

Daryl making it look easy!

Andrew taking first place with a roar.

I learned later that this was a bike course and overall PB for me at the international duathlon distance. But more importantly, I was elated about the positive vibes I carried throughout most of the race. I battled those doubts in my mind and the demons in my quads to have a rockin' good time. I think and hope many of the other athletes did too, as there were a lot of exhausted smiles and friendly banter at the finish line as we rehydrated and doused ourselves with cold sponges.  

At the finish celebration, I met Mr. University of Toronto, who I learned is actually Nick Petrescu, a fellow resident of downtown Toronto. He was triathlete turned duathlete for the day when his race sold out. He said he enjoyed the speed and the competition of the duathlon and that he will likely be back, possibly to Wasaga Beach. On behalf of the other duathletes, Nick, we hope you come back for more!

 Athletes, friends and family relaxing during the awards ceremonies.

Many thanks to the team of staff and volunteers at MultiSport Canada for your continued support for the duathlon scene in Ontario. My thanks to Coach Roger of Ignition Fitness, for continuing to push/pull me to new heights and to my nutritionist Tara Postnikoff as we begin this journey of dialling in my diet (more on that in a future blog post). I would also be remiss if I didn't thank my chiropractor Dr. David Homer of Yorkville Chiropractic Centre and my physiotherapist Raj Suppiah of Foundation Physiotherapy, both of whom take care of the aches, pains and injuries that result from life in this sport.  

Thank you!

As a final aside, on my lengthy trip north on Friday night, I spotted a billboard advertising butter tarts. Having already gone hours without food, the thought of an old fashioned butter tart stuck in my head throughout that evening and into the next day. Before I drove away from Gravenhurst on Saturday, I made sure to make one more stop at The Bakery.

Fuel for the drive home!