PART BEAR. PART MAN. ALL AMERICAN
Location: Muskoka Lakes, Ontario
Last week Amanda and I made the long trek up to cottage country in Northern Ontario (which is in the country of Canada, for those less geographically inclined). Looking for a race to fit between Steelhead and Hawaii, we spotted this opportunity to tick a race off the to-do list, where it has been situated for quite some time. Ever since I had first heard of this race with a funny name, I have wanted to test myself on its challenging terrain. As far back as 1992, when I first started the sport, this community has played host to world-class competition. I remember seeing the legendary athletes Simon Lessing and Michellie Jones snag their first world titles on this course, and I would say that I was inspired to list my names with theirs and other Muskoka winners.
We knew this race was dubbed challenging by all who had contested it; in fact, on a training ride a week before the race, three-time winner Craig Alexander gave me the inside scoop on just how difficult the race would be. He spelled it out in moderate detail, but until Amanda and I drove the course the day before the event, we were really unprepared for just how hard we’d have to work.
Our pre-race time up in Canada was characterized by plenty of eating, plenty of resting, and very little time on the internet. We find that those last couple days before competition, a little decompress goes a long way. We opted out of squeezing in extra training, and we opted instead for filling up heartily at several good restaurants. I would be remiss if I did not mention my fondness for the Deerhurst Resort’s fabulous breakfast buffet. I indulged and even over-indulged in everything from pancakes with real maple syrup to custom order omelets to (Canadian) bacon. I know that the pre-race fueling starts early, especially this time of year, where the training load for Kona is a bit higher. I did not scrimp on my calories, and Amanda and I were very pleased with the tasty culinary options in the Hunstville area. Special shout-out goes to our favorite spot, 3 Guys and a Stove: great name, great ambience, great food.
Race day came early, but not as early as it normally does. For some beautiful reason, Muskoka starts at 8:00 a.m., rather than at the standard too-early times of other North American events. Combine this start time with the fact that Amanda and I were staying at the host hotel (read: on site accommodations!), we did not have to wake up until 5:30! I love me some sleep, and, as it turns out, so does my wife. For the first time in recent memory, I was up and at ‘em before Amanda. This generally bodes well for me, as it means I have likely notched plenty of pre-race Z’s.
We strolled down to the parking lot to load up our Kestrels. There were only about 10 men and 10 women toeing the line, so our transition racks were uncluttered and clean. I had the favorable end spot, so I loaded up the rig with all my necessary items: fancy new TorHans aero bottle, chalk-full of EFS Fruit Punch, FuelBox (bento) with a Vanilla Liquid Shot, and my newly mounted rear bottle with an extra dose of EFS. Despite the weather conditions being fairly benign, I anticipated a high calorie burn, based on the extra long ride (58.5 miles), and the extra hard terrain (up, down, up, down… ).
Our short warm-up jog returned us to our hotel room, where we conveniently took care of other necessary pre-race rituals. (Insert ritual here.) It’s always a fun perk to be able to don the TYR Hurricane (and to coat the nether regions with lubricant) in the privacy and comfort of your own room.
We men jumped out to a fast start in the crystal clear waters of Peninsula Lake. The oblong rectangle (possibly a rhombus) gave us a plenty of room to swim, and despite my sub-par swim, I felt I was off to a decent start, leaving the water in approximately fifth place. The 300-meter run to T1 pushed me back to sixth, but my speedy transition got me back on the road in fifth. From the outset of the bike, I was determined to hammer my way to the front of the race.
I have been riding extremely well in training, and my last race at Steelhead showed me that I am read to race the bike quite fast. I hoped that my legs were on board with the plan to tackle this hilly course with gusto. I wasted little time easing into my rhythm, as I wanted quite badly to find that lead Subaru up the road (and, naturally, whomever it was leading).
Initial time splits had me losing time to the leader: three minutes back at only 10 kilometers into the ride. Hmm. The next split said FOUR, and the one that followed was up to FIVE minutes. Crap and crud. I thought I was riding well, and I thought the average watts looked pretty good. How was I putting forth such a good effort only to be losing and losing and losing time?!
I soon found out that race leader Sean Bechtel was setting a blistering pace. It was not until late in the game that I finally stopped the bleeding: the gap stopped at SIX minutes! Despite my relative unfamiliarity with the bike course, I truly felt that my effort was solid; it turned out that I was not riding badly, but that Sean was merely ripping our legs off (in a figurative sort of way).
We were warned that in Canada coming anywhere near that bike dismount line would be cause for time in the penalty box: those Canucks love their hockey, so they evidently take that portion of it to triathlon. I performed one of my fastest and most acrobatic dismounts ever; but consequently, I lost both cycling shoes to the roadside. The splits were bad: six minutes down, with only a half marathon to run meant that I had better waste zero time in transition.
I made quick work of the bike racking-helmet displacing-Bolt donning maneuver, and within seconds I was in hot pursuit of Bechtel. I am a big fan of jock math, so the opening K’s of this race kept me occupied with calculating exactly what I needed to run, when compared to what I thought Sean was running up the road of me. When you don’t know a guy’s ability, and when you are new to racing metric, the math does not really do much for you until you have some concrete data. Finally, at about 7 km into the run, I got a split that I was only 3 minutes 30 seconds out of first. This was good news, indeed.
Again, back to my jock math, I determined that I’d need to keep my k’s in the 3:25-3:35 range, with him possibly running 4:00 k’s. This sounded doable, and since I am always game for a sprint finish or two, I kept positive.
Making my way up the long climb at 8 k or so, I began to feel even more motivation. I am driven to compete with those on the road, but like many others, I also yearn to have the fastest run split that I am capable of having. I really pushed the hill, so much so that I think I put my lead bicycle rider in a spot of bother. I can truly say that I was running as hard as I could run for much of that first several miles.
On the out-and-back section of the course, I finally caught sight of the leader. He rounded the turn cones (pylons in Canada) only about 80 seconds before me, so I knew I had made up even more ground. I did my best “I’m gonna get you sucka” look, as we passed one another. Cruising down the same long hill we had just crested, I knew I’d have the lead by 12KM.
Sure enough, I closed on Sean and made the pass. While making my way past him, I encouraged him to hold that effort, as he had definitely earned the podium placing. I later realized that I had nearly six miles to go, so I had better stop encouraging my competitors!
I kept the gas pedal firmly pressed until I reached 15 kilometers (9.3 miles, for the Americans reading). I had put another 90 seconds on Sean, so I felt comfortable with my lead. My inner Paula Newby-Fraser began talking to me: “don’t bury yourself just so satisfy the ego; you are winning, you don’t need to prove anything with a faster run split!” Knowing that each hard kilometer of running meant more time recovering, I tried my best to think of the big picture. Hawaii is around the corner, and I don’t need to crush myself any further. I had achieved my goals of getting the lead, of getting a great fitness boost, and of competing hard; there was no need to completely shatter myself.
As it turned out, the competitive drive to catch first place had an amazing numbing affect on my legs. My fast k’s hurt a lot less than my “slow” ones over the final 6KM. Somehow those extra 30 seconds per kilometer seem to make more of a dent in my quads and feet and calves. Part of me wondered if slowing down actually made me more sore than I would have been had I carried on at my previously torrid pace. Nonetheless, an added benefit of notching back the pace was that I could begin to soak up more of the race’s great energy. I turned my attention to cheering for the oncoming athletes, and, later, to high-fiving any spectator who’d throw a hand my direction. Finishing the final kilometer was quite fun: I jogged and smiled and walked and waved my way across the line, soaking up every bit of that wonderful – and unmatched – feeling of winning.
And then the waiting began: when would Amanda cross that line? And would she have the lead that I saw her grabbing just about thirty minutes prior? Time would tell.
Almost exactly half an hour later, I proudly watched as Amanda jogged and smiled and walked and waved her way across the line. The feeling of satisfaction in seeing your best friend and companion succeed was made all the sweeter by the fact that I, too, had accomplished the same goal. What a great day for Team Lovato; it was truly a memorable occasion for us, and we could not have been any happier than to share it with the fine folks of Muskoka.
As expected, Amanda and I thoroughly enjoyed being able to partake of an event so steeped in tradition and history. We loved every minute of our time in Canada, and we wholeheartedly appreciated the support we received from the locals, as well as from our incredible followers on the web. We will continue to soak up the glory that comes from winning a hard-fought battle, and we look forward to the next events on our schedules: for me, IM Hawaii, for Amanda, the Augusta 70.3. Until then, thanks for the support!