Race Report: Montreal Esprit International Duathlon - Canadian Championships 2015

I've procrastinated writing this entry.  I admire those who crank out a race report mere hours after they cross the finish line.  I'm tempted to do the same, but I usually pause to let the emotions sink in, the Sportstats results to go live and the event pictures to be posted.  Sometimes, that "pause' turns into several weeks, as it did for this race.  So here goes...

The Montreal Esprit Duathlon was my first true destination duathlon. I wanted to soak up the entire race weekend experience, from start to finish.   It would serve as a test case for travelling with gear -- i.e., taking apart and reassembling my bike.  Oh, and it was also the Canadian Duathlon Championships.  

Going into race weekend, I had set a few goals: 
1) Aim to place in the top 20 finishers; a more more aggressive goal was top 10, but I recognize that I achieved that at last year's nationals, which was missing much of the Quebec contingent. 
2) Finish in the top 5 in my age group; a more aggressive goal was top 3. 
3) Qualify for Worlds again. Here I had 1 in 2 chances, seeing as there were 19 in my AG and the top 10 would qualify. 

My less quantifiable goals were: 
4) Address pre-race jitters and go into the race in an enthusiastic state of mind.  
5) Rip it up on the bike course. 

As I mentioned, this was my first "destination" duathlon where I would not be travelling by car and where I would be disassembling my bike.  That latter point made me a little nervous because, while I've made strides in understanding bike maintenance, I had never removed my handlebars.   I rented a box through BikeBoxRentals.ca and, after investigating planes, trains and buses, I opted for VIA Rail, which has one daily departure to Montreal with checked luggage.  

I packed light (almost everything in the duffle bag) so that I could drag the big bike box.

Upon check-in at the hotel, who appeared aside me but Ignition Fitness teammate Jesse Bauer.  He was staying there with his parents and was hanging out with Moritz Haagar - second place finisher at the Alberta provincials.  Together, we grabbed a pasta dinner in the lobby restaurant, talked shop and caught up.  

Saturday morning, Rob and I went to Cora's on Ste. Catherine, our traditional Montreal brunch destination, before meandering over to Simons, our traditional Montreal shopping destination.  (We left empty handed this time.)  

Before long, all of the Ontarians had arrived and that gloomy and rainy afternoon, we made our way to the race briefing.  Looking at the faces and knowing the strength of the athletes, it was clear "Team Ontario" was ready to represent.  Looking at the rain in which long distance triathletes had just competed, I prayed for a weather miracle!

Trying to figure out transition exits. 

That evening, we went out for dinner - pasta and pizza, naturally - with many of the same Ontarians and our friend from Alberta.  If you believe in it, something must have been in the air that night, because all of us eventually medalled, and two of the top three overall sat around our table.  

I felt tapered and strong going into Sunday.  My only real concern was the weather and the slickness of the bike course.  The rain started again after dinner and continued until I reached transition in the morning when, thankfully, it stopped, not to start again until the awards ceremony following the race.  

Transition itself was a sight to behold, with about 158 duathletes (in the standard distance alone) setting up for the race.  Fellow Ontarian Kevin Gallagher had space next to his bike in an ideal spot, so I claimed it, with Jesse, Moritz and Andrew McLeod nearby.

Transition area for standard distance duathletes.
Sprint distance duathletes had a separate set of racks.

First run (10 km) 37:45: An awesome, muddy good time.  We took off down a gravel trail, pockmarked by puddles and mud.  My goal was to run a 3:45 pace.  I pushed it hard near the front group, until it broke apart with Jesse leaving with a couple others, which was followed by a second chase pack and (if I recall correctly) me in a third chase pack.  Over the course of the 10 km, we jostled for position and it required some surging so that I wouldn't let another athlete get away.  I led the group for a while, including when we were heading into the wind - much to my dismay.  My final time was 3 seconds off my stand alone 10 km PB.  I was pleased with the result, especially considering I had been nursing an aching shin and had only run about three times since Bracebridge in August.   

Dodging puddles.

T1: The timing mats didn't capture transition, so that time was added to my bike split.  I struggled to get my helmet buckle fastened and paused for a puff from my inhaler, because the combination of humidity and cool air partially triggered my asthma.  Still, looking around, I was exiting onto the bike course on par with most of the others in my group.

Bike (40 km) 1:06 (including T1):  Andrew pulled what is becoming his signature move (he also did it at Bracebridge) and passed me as I was putting my feet into my shoes.  I'll throw down the gauntlet for 2016 and make sure that doesn't happen again!

Moments out of transition, my computer mount loosened and my Garmin swung out of view.  Coach Roger had given me the advice not to focus on a computer and instead focus on riding.  Okay, this must be a sign. 

The challenge for me is, despite having the goal of just hammering and not paying attention to a computer, I have difficulties making that happen.  I have an internal dialogue with myself: "is this as hard as I can go?  Can I sustain this pace?  It feels pretty painful and it seems fast."  My other challenge is that my perceived effort increases when I'm in aero position.  In other words, it feels easier to maintain a pace when I'm upright than it is when I'm in aero.  (My physiotherapist Raj has recently assigned me some core exercises to help with this issue.) 

I thought I was going quickly.  I was happy because after a couple of laps, despite the wet conditions, I was able to round all the corners while staying in aero - a significant accomplishment for a fair weather rider who does all his training indoors.  That said, I look back and wonder if I should have hopped out of aero so that I could have taken the corners sharper and faster - how much time did I lose carving out big curves? 

Eventually I lost a sense of my distance and pace, and kept pulling up my computer to glance at it.  When I finally exited the course, I feared I hadn't gone far enough and kept thinking someone would DQ me.  (The course may have been slightly short - a fellow Ontarian did an entire extra lap because he too thought he was under.) 

Aside from Andrew passing me on the bike, only one other cyclist did the same, which meant I rode alone for the most part.  I didn't have a good sense of my placing, nor was I able to compete and push against any others.  It wasn't until after the race and I saw my bike split that I realized it wasn't nearly as fast as I had hoped.  I figure that it may still be a PB, once T1 is removed, but it didn't meet my expectations after having trained hard on the bike for several weeks and for a flat course.  All the more motivation to focus on the bike for next year.  

Second run (5 km) 21:29 (including T2): I was a little disoriented coming into T2.  A few other cyclists arrived at the same time and I hadn't even realized they were behind me.  Thinking back now, I know some of them were in that same pack from the first run, so on the bright side, I should have known that we had all completed the full bike course. 

Smiling and cramping -- here comes the finish line!

I was in good spirits on this run (smiling assassin going to work!), thanking the volunteers and while I wish my time were a little faster (hard to tell what it was because T2 is in there), I did manage to run down two guys, including one in my AG, which secured me third place.  

Favourite pic of the entire weekend.
Moritz, Kevin, Andrew, me, Jesse, at the finish line.

Jesse atop the podium, with Moritz in third. 

Mathieu Paquet claims first in M35-39, with me third. 
Missing from the photo is Ontario's Jason Lemire, who took second. 

Looking back to my goals for the race, I achieved the first four and took a good shot at the fifth.  I continue to make the transition to a true "racing" state of mind, which goes beyond setting a pace and sticking to it, but to jostling with fellow athletes and getting into the mental game.  (For an elite example of the racing state of mind, check out Jesse Bauer's race report.)  I appreciate how much I've grown after two years of coaching and recognize how much more strength I can build, particularly on the bike, and how much more I can learn about the sport.  

I left Esprit elated and I was pumped to keep on training, unlike this time last year, when I was ready for a lengthy breather.  My results at both provincials and nationals qualified me for worlds, so I've decided to jump in and make the trek to the championships in Spain next June, which provides added motivation to work hard this winter.  

Thank you's to... my partner Rob for the encouragement and for accompanying me on this trip, Coach Roger and Tommy Ferris at Ignition Fitness for laying out my training roadmap, physiotherapist Raj Suppiah  of Foundation Physiotherapy and chiropractor David Homer of Yorkville Chiropractic & Wellness Centre for keeping me healthy and nutritionist Tara Postnikoff of HEAL Nutrition for helping me figure out how to fuel all of this activity!

Next race report: coming home to my sixth Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half-Marathon...