Sunday, July 5, 2015

Bit by the triathlon bug – Motala ITU World Championships RR

Warning: brace yourself for an extremely long post ahead. :)
Some personal struggles, some training, and finally some of my reflection at the World Champs. I’ve left out the fun travel stuff for future blog posts. :P

Boring pre-race thoughts and struggles.

It’s funny how life’s lessons can be pretty unpleasant at times, and yet you must face the new opportunities presented to you head on. This scares me.

The big competition was happening in this cute little farm town that the locals giggle about when I mention Motala, Sweden.

Here's my story and a little snapshot of my journey and struggles to this world championships:
  1. Got laid off from my job
  2. Gained some insights by racing a lot more (Mike McMillan may say this is an understatement)
  3. Accidentally qualified at Vancouver for 2015 Worlds (albeit, as one of the slowest National Champions in recent history for my age category, but hey I’ll take it).
  4. Got a new job
  5. Signed up for Worlds (Jen Moroz qualified as well and peer pressured me to sign up…but it’s not her fault as I may be the easiest person to convince for a race-vacation, “racation” when there's friends, travel and race involved)
  6. Got laid off (yes not a typo, again…due to the same tough job market)
  7. Got a little bit better as a triathlete
  8. Have the race of my life at the World Champs! I’m ready for this!
I’m learning to think like a triathlete and less like a traditional runner. I was willing to devote to a fast race from start to finish with transitions included like the typical hockey analogy of playing for the full three periods.

My finances were certainly stretched, with not having to fall back on the steady income. This forced me to cook more meals and eat out less. I’ve incorporated more pasta and even dare I say it…salads into my diet. Sigh, this was a blessing in disguise. It made me a more efficient athlete. I don’t crave burgers and fries like I used to anymore, but I do still sometimes binge-out on the slurpee department however. :P

Pre-race conditions and strategies.

Especially for the newbie triathletes in the lead-up to any big competition, I would say it’s pretty normal to dwell your energy on the race conditions and moan about the bad and hope for the good.

There certainly wasn’t a lack of this in this race as the water temperatures to air temperatures dipped near the lower spectrum of the fancy matrix calculations (I haven’t bothered studying it since they would change it anyways).  We only found out within the last 24 hours from race start from our team manager that the swim would be shortened from 4k to 1.5k. The little canal locking bridges were going to go up at 11:30am and may conflict with some racers on the bike course, so the race start time was adjusted a little later to accommodate the shorten swim. A little more sleeping-in time for all. Considering the midsummer sun rise was at probably around 3am and the race start was close to 9:30am, we had over 6 hours of solid sun to prep for the race start. It was nice!

Normally I would be thrilled for the shorten swim aspect, since I would think that I am a runner and the general notion that runners don’t like to swim longer distances. However I learned to tune the distractions out and just accepted it for what it is. I was satisfied with any distance because I trusted my training for a 4k swim will show regardless in the actual distance of the race unless of course the entire length of the swim was to be cancelled.

Brendan Naef, a professional triathlete and a very good friend who I have raced with in my first five ironmans called me up before the race to talk about some strategy. He’s a great mentor for me even though he’s too modest to admit it. After pestering him for a bit in the weeks advance, he eventually suggested that I should be more aggressive on the bike because my “strong” running background this year can handle it.

Mike McMillan, a close training friend, also suggested I don’t soft-pedal. I guess that means no negative splitting and taking it easy on the bike unless there was a sharp hairpin turn.
I’ve completed the training; hopefully this was worth the gamble. It is the World Championships after all. 
Race numbers and timing chips everywhere! Can you spot them all? :)

Nutrition plan.

I’m a gels person.

One gel pre-swim. Packed 6 gels for the bike. And 3 gels for the run.

3 salt pills for the bike and 5 more for the run.

2 penguin bars for the bike.

Bought this Swedish powerade passion fruit for the bike.

The rest of my nutrition was relied upon the aid stations.

Note – Little did we know, we all found out during the race that no gels would be provided at the aid stations. It was a fair decision, but I think it affected most people as this was not anticipated.

Ok the race, calm cool and collected.

With the shortened swim and delayed start, we had plenty of time for chit chat and photo ops.
Such a rookie mistake to forget the bento box.
Solution: Zip-lock bag and electrical tape.

Pre-race jitters

Cold, slightly choppy, and crowded swim start!

Race start was a floating start and separated into three heats starting at 10 minutes apart. First elites, second males under 50 and thirdly females and males over 50. Para-athletes started a further minute back from the third heat.

The gun was off.

My race experience was a bit different from the ladies and older males heat. Despite being a little crowded starting in the second row near the centre on the way out, I actually got to swim on the way back with the tail current. Mostly clean swimming the entire way, I didn’t experience any extreme kicking or grabbing unlike the horror stories heard from the later heat. Sighting off the church was helpful as someone suggested earlier during our team swim orientation. Everyone was pretty respectful despite the crowded packs. Certainly there were the odd times of touching others and friendly bumping near the turns.  I drafted people most of the way and very fortunately got a quicker swim for 1500m by a couple of minutes when everybody else saying it was a couple minutes slower. A lady on our team Canada team had given me a nice compliment that I was the only person she came across who didn’t whinge about their swim time. I was quite thrilled going 2 minutes faster than my personal best. 25:12. (1:41 per 100m pace). It was a great start to the day!

A dizzy T1.

Sandwiched by two fellow Canadians beside me. I was the "jam".

The fast swim meant that I would be a little dizzy getting my wet suit off. Hector , talented swimmer and triathlete from our house, said this was quite normal if you pushed it hard on the swim. I drifted for a solid couple wobbles before re-gathering my composure. The poor volunteer in front of me during my episode must had thought I was a zombie.

Grabbed the bike and heard our team manager Joyce cheering. She was a welcomed face and motivation on the course. My fellow Canadian mates in my age category came out around the same time. I managed to see Jamie on the bike rack and wished him good luck.

European-style bike racing.

Everyone was going a touch faster than my comfort effort. I averaged close to 38-39 kph on first lap. I saw Jamie on the first turn-around and then started to push even harder. Too fast!

There were a lot of swedes on the course. I was impressed by the sportsmanlike conduct displayed by most when hazards appear on the course. Friendly gesturing when there was a hand-cyclist on the right, water bottle on the road and sharp turns. The sharp hairpin turn-around was about a 1 metre wide and too sharp of a bend even when going slowly around to approach the next lap. I nearly smoked the gates on a couple occasions at slow speeds. Luckily everyone was pretty careful around me.

The people who had deep rims stayed on pace. You needed these wheels just to play the game. I certainly was enjoying the European style competitive racing. I was holding 37 kph on the second lap and noticed the stronger cyclists slowly pulled away. The moderate winds got a little stronger.

I struggled on the third lap as I ran out of my supply of gels. One more would have been nice. But I guess everyone was suffering a bit on the last lap so it was still pretty steady in placing. I got dropped by a few more stronger cyclists on the second lap but slowly passed a few more on the last lap. Every time I passed the penalty area, some people would sprint to the box to serve their time. Good to know that some enforcement was in place. There’s a nice little grassy patch of farmlands and you can see the linear waves of cyclists weaving through the fields. Some people noticed there was sushi provided by the Japanese support car!? Could this be true? I averaged low 35s kph on the last lap. 3:15:41 (avg 35.7kph) Incredible, way faster than my 70.3 pace!

Uneventful T2.

I grabbed my three gels and kinder surprise container with salt pills. I noticed a good chunk of my rack was still missing bikes which meant I was in good shape. None of the fellow Canadians in my AG were there yet, but I knew they both were great runners.

Some camera time and a solid run.

First two km, I had to shake off some bricky legs. At one moment I even ran backwards like 10 metres to pick up the three gels that dropped from my pockets as the crowds kindly pointed them out. After Eugene marathon and dropping my salt pills, I knew the few added seconds was worth the trip back.

Fedrik from Sweden asked me what my pace goal was and I said 4:20. He agreed and ran with me for the first two laps. We both were cruising smoothly at the same pace. It was nice having foot steps along the way. A lot of stronger runners had passed me. I was still holding strong at 4:30s. I got slower in the trails, did not appreciate the 2x one kilometer sections of trails.

Mary Beth Ellis was completing her third lap when she lapped me going at 4:20 per km pace. The camera on the motor biked pan his camera on me on a few occasions before Mary Beth Ellis approached and eventually passed me. I tried running with her for a few kilometer but I don’t think she appreciated my company as much as I appreciated hers. Fedrik from Sweden held strong and went a couple minutes faster on the last lap. Again, no gels at aid stations, and it was a good call to run back for the gels. I still felt comfortable but my pace slowed a bit as my lack of nutrition followed. 2:17:56 (4:35 per km pace).

Finish finally.

Hector Rodriguez, our top Canadian team finisher greeted me at the finish line. It was a very nice gesture for him to say he was worried I might catch him despite the shorter swim, which he would had digitally spanked me by more time anyways. Honestly I had no idea he was that close ahead and I was more worried the other two Canadian strong runners in my AG and others in my AG would catch me. As always my intention is to make the passer earn the pass. I somehow posted the quickest time from T1 to Finish from our Canadian team, but only barely as Hector was less than a minute from me and discounting his phenomenal swimming abilities.

Final thoughts.

Overall this was a very organized event by ITU. The volunteers were fabulous and the competitors were very friendly and sportsmanlike. Smooth diamond shape transitions and bag tunnels. Even beer bottles were removed from the bottom of the lake the day before the race.

This was also one of the few races where a strong swim, lead to a strong bike, and a strong bike lead to a strong run. My friend Carl Reilly would always say that a good run comes with a good bike. He was right!

I proudly finished 11th in my AG (top 25%) and way above my initial top 50% expectation. My time was 6:03 and probably would be under my goal of sub 7 hours had the course been a full distance but happy either way.  I’m very proud of my result and my fellow Canadians competing and I’m going use this experience as a confidence booster in my future races knowing I CAN race with the Europeans and other AG national champions (no pun there Canada ;)). 

That's racing sometimes, you take a gamble by pushing harder and could snowball into a huge advantage. From qualifying as one of the slowest national champions in recent history to one of the faster athletes on the Canadian team, I was elated to represent Canada with such an incredible performance this year. The additional time off from work also didn't hurt. Another blessing in disguise, but I will need to find new employment in the mean time. Shucks, good things will come to an end, unfortunately. :P

Adam Zanbilowicz who I met at the UBC tri this year also performed well, with the help of his entire family on course. He looked great on the run course.

My travel partner in crime Jen Moroz ran herself to top Canadian female finisher. We were lucky to stay with some like-minded Canadian athletes at our little Canada house. I admire their display of friendliness and supportiveness throughout this experience. Kudos to Hector, Alyssa and Karmen for their fabulous company.
Our little home away from home.

Fabulous fellow housemates.

More travel photos and go-pro videos to come.:) Stayed tuned and thanks for reading!

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