A Return to La Belle Province: Esprit Weekend Race Report

I recently capped off my 2016 season on a high note, returning to Montreal, Quebec for the Esprit Triathlon weekend.  I went into the race both excited and a little nervous, knowing that cycling on the Formula One Canadian Grand-Prix track would be a blast (if the weather cooperated), but also knowing this was my first and last chance to qualify for the 2017 World Championships.

I arrived Friday evening by train.  I'm getting the hang of destination races, managing to pack most of my gear into my 2XU transition bag (purchased last year), my bike in a borrowed case (thanks Roger!) and healthy snacks in an insulated cooler (from my storage locker).  Checking into the Sandman Hotel felt like a homecoming of sorts and I put together my bike fairly successfully, only dealing with a minor mishap when a washer and spacer ring rolled away from my head set.

Despite my best efforts, I missed the pre-race meeting, but soon the athletes were returning to the hotel and we were off for our traditional dinner at Restaurant la Piazzetta in Longeuil.  That place must have good karma, because last year, everyone who ate with us as on the podium.  This time, we all had good luck too.

The restaurant terrace, sans athletes. 

After dinner, I met with Jesse Bauer.  One of the few pieces of equipment I'd been looking to buy was a deep rim carbon front wheel and it happened that he was selling his -- a 3Sixty5 60 mm fat carbon clincher.  Sweet.  I know you're not supposed to try anything different on race day, but I figured this would be fairly safe.  We went through the process of installing it and Jesse checked over my bike assembly job, fixing the loose headset.  Apparently, you don't want that thing jiggling during a race...

Our race started at 11:45 a.m. the next day and, as usual, I arrived at transition over two hours early, picking up my registration kit and racking my bike in the sunshine.  Liyang Wang and several others from the 2016 Worlds team popped up - it was again like a reunion.

Unlike other races, I couldn't do a bike warm-up, as the course was already full of athletes from an earlier race.  That meant I spent time wandering aimlessly, before eventually deciding to lay in the shade under a tree, to rest my feet.  I texted Rob and he reminded me to drink water and that's when it hit me: I was already pretty thirsty.  Not a good sign.  Before I knew it, race time was upon me.

The view from under my tree, as transition slowly fills up.

Sprint legal athletes killing time before their race.

First run (10 km): 40:56
The biggest factor was the heat.  It was over 30 with the humidex, the complete opposite of last year, which was cool and wet.  Looking at the results online, I saw that many people were at least two minutes slower than last year.  I took advantage of every aid station, dousing myself in water or ice shavings.

Over 95% of my training since May has been cycling, so I wasn't confident about the run.  I knew I still had the cardiovascular endurance to do it; whether my leg muscles would agree was another matter.  Over the course of the 10 km, I had several lengthy, internal debates, resisting the urge to walk or lay down.  I kept telling myself that today wouldn't be the day I would walk.  And so I kept running, finishing the split in 19th place and wondering if I could catch people on the bike.

That said, I want to recognize the heroic efforts of the athletes competing in the half distance triathlon, including the ever fabulous Heather Gardner of Tribe Fitness.  Heather has played a huge role in creating a running and fitness community in the City Place neighbourhood in downtown Toronto.  Her influence in the running community is felt by all, even if you don't know it.  Read her race report at: https://catchingheather.com/2016/09/15/race-recap-montreal-demi-espirit/ 

By this point in the day, many of the half athletes were in the midst of running a half marathon in that heat.  They were essentially doing four long laps of the same, square course, with minimal shade.  That takes resilience.  Kudos to each of them.

Now that's a finish!  (Photo stolen from Heather's blog.)

T1: 1:07
Nothing out of the ordinary, which was the point.  Having practised before the race, I was in and out fairly quickly - remembering to affix my watch to my bike, unlike at Toronto Island last month.

My bike waiting patiently in transition.

Bike (40 km): 1:01:39
The flip side of spending so much time on the trainer this season is that my cycling strength has grown quite a bit.  But for some reason, at both Toronto Island and a recent Real Deal Time Trial, my speed didn't match my power output.  Esprit offered the chance for redemption.

I was ready to dive into this course, push hard and give it my all.  And that's what I did.  We faced headwind on the slightly technical, curving part of the course, which was also partially protected by trees.  We caught a tailwind on the straight, back section, which was great for cranking up the pace.

Moments into the bike portion, I saw that my Garmin had failed to connect properly to my power meter, even though it worked earlier in the morning.  That meant no power or cadence readings.  I still had speed from the GPS and I worked on maintaining what felt like a high cadence and passing... and passing... and passing.  There were sprint athletes on the course, so I didn't have a good sense of athletes in my field.  I later found out I had moved up ten places during this split and set a new PB for 40 km.  It was a confidence-boosting experience after so much work this season.  #zoomzoom.

T2: 1:35
Equipment malfunction!  Having done a flying dismount, my pedals again rotated as I pushed my bike, dragging my shoes and knocking one right off.  Thankfully, a fellow racer handed it to me, not delaying me too much.  It's still an annoyance and I need to visit my bike shop to address it.

Second run (5 km): 21:36
This time run, I focused on form, driving back my elbows, and reaching the aid stations to douse with cold water.  I forced myself to pick up speed to prove to my mind that I could still do it, but then slowed again.  Not to matter, no one passed me.

Finish: 2:06:53.  
That's nearly 1:30 slower than last year, entirely due to the runs, seeing as my transitions were faster this time and I beat my 2015 bike split by nearly three minutes!  Regardless, you race your competition of the day - not the past or future - and I placed 10th overall, 3rd in my age group.  The top three in men's 35-39 age group standings were a complete duplicate of last year, with Mathieu Paquet in 1st and Jason Lemire in 2nd.  They are both strong, fast athletes - kudos to them!

Earlier, I had mentioned the good karma of our pre-race dinner.  Well, happily, we did extremely well in both the draft legal and standard distance races.  Jesse Bauer took the overall win in draft legal, with smoking hot runs and fending off the cycling tactics of the chase pack.  Everyone that shared dinner the night before qualified for Worlds... including me!  We made sure to celebrate once the race was over!

Angela, Natalie, Christian, Dave and Karri, cleaning up in the draft legal race. 

That's a wrap for my last race of the season.  I'll post a season debrief in the coming days.  In the meantime, I'll be enjoying some leisurely bike rides and runs without my Garmin.

All the best!