The Early Bird catches the worm

Ever been to Ottawa for a sporting event?  It may just be me, but I find there's something that just feels healthy and athletic about the city.  With its multitudes of riverside paths, Bike Sundays, popular race weekends and, of course, the world's largest skating rink, it just feels alive.

I made the trek east for the Victoria Day weekend in order to visit family and do a spring duathlon.  Normally, MultiSport Canada Woodstock would be my first race of the season, but it wasn't held this year and so I went looking elsewhere.  I'm glad I did.

Living in downtown Toronto, I don't own a car, so I rent
from Avis to get to races. I loved the black Dodge Charger
I got for this trip. Bonus that it totally matched my bike and race gear!

Somersault organizes a series of runs, triathlons and duathlons that take place in eastern Ontario.  They're known for road races such as the Fall Colours half marathon and The Canadian iron distance tris and dus.  Having grown up in this part of the province, I've long wanted to do one of their races and this time, I made it for the Early Bird Duathlon.

Much like the Sketchers Performance Race Series, my "home" series organized by MultiSport Canada, this one immediately felt welcoming.  The volunteers were pleasant throughout registration and in explaining the race course to me.

It also helped to see familiar faces in transition, including Jane Armstrong Cook, a 24-time member of Team Canada, and Christian Vaillancourt.  All three of us competed in Aviles, Spain, last year at Worlds.

The race home base was Carleton University and duathletes spent most of our time on Colonel By Drive, passing by the transition zone just beside the road.

There is a big benefit to this event layout: athletes and spectators alike get to see a lot of the race action.  My mom didn't have to move a step and by my count, she would have seen me pass 11 times during the race.  For a sport that isn't the most spectator friendly, you don't get much better than that!

Our first run was a zippy 1 km out and back, up a slight incline.  Following a quick transition, we then returned to the street and headed in the opposite direction, to begin the first of two or three laps of an 11 km course.

I loved having a bike course that was free of vehicular traffic.  Let me repeat that.  A car-free bike course.  That meant that newer participants wouldn't have to content with the stress of racing and avoiding cars.  Veteran athletes could focus on pushing hard and passing safely, without worrying about impatient drivers aggressively overtaking them.

Both runs followed Colonel By Drive, like the bike course.  For the first run, we had the road to ourselves.  But on the second run, the road was filled with cyclists, so to keep runners safe, we had to run on the grass for about 3 km of the course.  At times it was uneven and you needed to go single file to avoid rolling down a small hill.

Both sprint and long distance duathletes (my category) raced at the same time.  One athlete took off like a shot from the start line and built a lead that he maintained through the first run.  For some reason, I didn't bridge the gap between us, even though it seemed like we were running at the same pace.  (I've got some sport psychology to ponder there.)  Going onto the bike course, from what I could tell, I was the first of the long distance athletes.

Cycling along the river in Ottawa is picturesque.  But I was there to work, not sight see.  We had a slight headwind on the uphill away from transition, which translated into a great tailwind and downhill upon the return.  Along the 33 km route, I unfortunately noticed three pairs of athletes drafting.  On my final lap, I studied one pair and there was no denying it - they rotated regularly and kept close to one another.  That's disappointing as this is strictly a no-draft race.

Heading out onto the final run, my legs felt pretty good, the benefit of the previous few weeks doing brick training.  While I didn't enjoy running on the grass for the first 1.5 km, we soon moved onto pavement and then a trail that twisted and turned along another part of the river.  I passed Jane Armstrong and cheered her on as I continued on the course.  Shortly thereafter, I heard footsteps a metre or two back and noticed that bystanders were yelling "Go Meghan" to the person behind me.  She was breathing hard and I thought she would pass, but we eventually fell into a rhythm.  A couple hundred metres before the finish lined, I picked up the pace and dashed away.  At the finish line, we chatted and I learned she was Meghan Adams, a member of the provincial U23 triathlon team.  Very neat!

To my surprise, upon completing the race, I learned that I had won the long distance.  The athlete ahead of me appeared to have completed the same distance, but was registered for the sprint race.  I'm not sure why or how that happened, but after flagging it for the officials, they said that I was the winner.  

Somersault offers some decent swag for race winners and I was originally given a two-month coaching package, but seeing as I've already got an awesome coach, Roger Hospedales of Ignition Fitness, I traded that in for a pair of sunglasses from Zizu.  They're lightweight, shade my eyes and and fit around my big head without pinching, so I think they're the perfect surprise gift.  

It was awesome watching Jane and Christian race, and for the first time, I met two other duathletes heading for Worlds in Penticton, Adam Eikenberry and Igor Music.  We all had strong performances and each left with some lessons to ponder for the season ahead.  

Jane, Christian, Adam and Igor in action!

Looking at the Early Bird, I see one small area for improvement: add a timing mat at the run entrance/exit to transition because without it, transition time was added to the runs rather than pulled out.  But other than that, it is a fun and fast race to kick off the season.

I'd be remiss without giving a shout out to Somersault staff member Louise, who was staffing the awards ceremony.  A long-time member of the company, she is leaving to take on a new adventure: adopting three children.  Thanks Louise for giving so much to the multisport community!

Louise - photo borrowed from the Somersault post-race newsletter.

Perhaps the best part about the race experience is that I had a family member there to watch: my mom.  I usually travel to races along, so it was extra meaningful to have someone there.  To win the race with her watching was an added bonus.

A post-race selfie with mom. 

I will now take a month's hiatus from racing, as I will be travelling to join the Governor General's Canadian Leadership Conference, which will take to me to British Columbia, Saskatchewan and eventually back to Ottawa.  After resuming training in late June, my next duathlon will be the Gravenhurst Olympic distance in July.

My thanks to Ignition Fitness and Coach Roger, as well as our sponsors, Skechers and Sweet Pete's, our bike store sponsor, for all of your support.

Happy racing!