Gateway to Muskoka: Gravenhurst race report

Gravenhurst is known as the Gateway to Muskoka and its landscape is covered in trees, exposed rock and lakes and rivers.  It's one of my favourite race venues in Ontario and a perennial favourite for duathletes and triathletes alike.

I competed here in 2015, then volunteered at the race when an injury sidelined me for part of summer 2016 and knew I had to come back in 2017.

For me, the day kicked off in line at Tim Horton's, where oodles of athletes dropped in for breakfast or a coffee and I ran into John Salt, Founder and CEO of MultiSport Canada (MSC).  Where else do you get to have a casual conversation with the CEO of the race series the morning of the big event?  I'll pick up more on that in a moment....  We had a friendly chat, others in line said hello too and I met a triathlete who was racing Gravenhurst for the first time.  When MSC comes to town, you know it.

There were already familiar faces in transition as I arrived and this being my first MSC race of the year, it was great to catch up with folks I hadn't seen since last summer, as well as meet some people, like fellow MSC ambassadors Tim Doris and Jesse Elf, in person for the first time.  There are many things I like about these races and one is that they are intimate enough that you get to know people season after season.  Many of us duathletes also keep in touch virtually year-round through the Facebook group, Canadian Duathlon Enthusiasts.

A bit about the race itself. 

At Gravenhurst, standard distance duathletes start with a challenging 10 km run up North Muldrew Lake Road, which is dotted with plenty of challenging hills.

In years past, visitors to the area would ride a train down to the wharf and would take a ship to their destinations out in the lakes.  In present day, triathletes start their race by jumping off an historic steamship in Muskoka Bay and swimming to shore.

I admit, it's pretty tough to start off the duathlon with a hilly 10 km run, a good deal of which is in the sun.  But if you can handle this course, you can handle almost anything.  In 2015, I led the run and finished with the fastest split.  Not this time!!  My sincere thanks to Andrew McLeod and Tim Doris who basically pulled me along on the first run, when my inner voice changed from "This is great" to "How will you sustain this?  You better slow down!"  As I started falling off the back of a cluster of duathletes, Tim came along and basically told me I couldn't slow down.  So I didn't.  And I thank him for that!

Next up was the 40 km ride.  I loved the alternate route we took on the bike.  In fact, it's the only one I know, because we used it in 2015 too.  I like the long, swooping hills, smooth asphalt and paved shoulders, which are great for speedy descents.  For a cycling enthusiast, it's a sight to behold when you see all kinds of riders away into the distance.  This highway feels like a drive to a cottage and I enjoyed it, although when two athletes, the Schindler brothers, passed me like I was standing still, I realized I had better get back to business! 

I'm still learning how to keep my mind focused on keeping up the pace and even though I cycle with a power meter and a smart trainer, I don't have the best sense of how hard I should / can be pushing without running out of energy.  I find there's a big different between indoor workouts and getting outside and an even bigger change on race day.  It's a process of trial and error...

On the second run, I was feeling the effects of my caffeinated gels, which put a skip in my step and a smile on my face.  The Smiling Assassin was back in action!  As I made my way out toward the 2.5 km turnaround point, the elite/pro triathletes began making their way back to the finish, followed by some of the duathletes.  Over the final 1.5 km I found another duathlete in my sights and made my move to catch him, but he saw me and pushed ahead himself.  He finished eight seconds ahead and even though I didn't reach him, this reinforced to me that the mind is stronger than the body - even when I thought I was going as fast as I could go in that run, I was able to pick it up a notch.

While I am happy to have finished in 10th place overall and with a bronze medal for my age category, I had set other criteria to define success at the race and I met nearly all of them.

 The view at the finish line.

After the race, as an ambassador, I got to volunteer at the finish line, which is an incredibly inspiring and rewarding experience.  It is thrilling to see the expression on the face of someone who has just completed their first du or tri.  And it's rewarding to be able to contribute to their experience, just as volunteers welcomed me so many years ago - and continue to today.

As I mentioned earlier, I ran into John Salt early in the morning at Tim Horton's.  Well, everyone participating in an MSC event gets a chance to meet John as he greets all athletes at the finish line with a handshake and a congratulations.  To me, that's another sign that this race series is focused on creating the ultimate welcoming experience for participants.

Another cool feature of the MSC series is their sponsorship agreement with Martin's Family Fruit Farm.  Followers of this blog will know that I'm a vegetarian and I love my healthy food (and the occasional glass or two of Pinot Grigio!!), so I jump at any chance for a real food snack.  When I found their apple chips in with the post-race food, I loaded up.  (Bonus - all athletes received a bag in their race kit, so I had caramel apple chips the day after the event!)

What's more, Cody Beals, one of the top 70.3 Ironman athletes in the world and a Martin's sponsored athlete was on site giving out the samples.  That meant we could get training tips while snacking together on apple chips.  How fun is that?  Only at MSC.

Post-race, I wandered around, catching up with old friends, chatting with the vendors at the booths and meeting new people. 

Me, Brenda and Roger.  Sadly, we missed fellow athlete Joni for our picture!

There is usually a handful of Ignition Fitness athletes, as well as Coach Roger, who coaches me, competes in the relay and works for MSC.  Does he ever sleep?

Garvin and I with our bling. 

While I didn't get a chance to check out the STAC booth, I've had my eye on their virtual wind tunnel technology as something I'd like to test.  Note to self: chat with them at the K-Town duathlon in August!

As the awards ceremony progressed, this neon cycling jersey caught my eye and I asked for permission to take a picture.  You've gotta love a kit that reminds you to "Stay Positive."

And speaking of staying positive, as the awards ceremony was underway, 85-year-old duathletes Bob Wild entered the finishing chute and crossed the finish line, to a massive cheer and standing ovation from everyone assembled.  He is truly inspiring!

This dog at the Velofix Hamilton truck had the best gig at the race - just relax and look good!  I spoke to his owner, Sean Green to ask for his advice about tire tubes.  While I've been now racing for several years, I'm still figuring things out, especially when it comes to my bike.  Sean listened carefully and gave me a lot of helpful advice.  We also shared a laugh when I pulled out my phone to take notes, explaining that in my post-race haze, if I didn't write it down, I would likely forget all of his advice by the time I got home!

When I finally said my good-byes and departed the race site, it was well after lunch time, so I made my way to the Oar and Paddle, a local restaurant, to refuel on a kale salad and pasta.  And lest you think I'm a complete puritan, I bought a half dozen butter tarts from a bakery in town - no pictures! - as a little reward to myself for all the hard work, and to my partner Rob for putting up with my training.

My thanks to MultiSport Canada for putting on this race series, which has been a big part of my life for the last several years; to Coach Roger of Ignition Fitness; to the team at The Runners Academy who put me back together when my body gives out; and to all of the awesome duathletes out there that make up the community for our sport - you rock!

Up next, I travel to southeastern Ontario to Kingston for the MSC K-Town Duathlon.  There are still spots available so if you haven't signed up yet, head over to the web site and register!  Hope to see some of you there.

Happy training and racing!