Heading into Barrelman I didn’t have much in the way of expectations. Even after I had physically recovered from the race in Whistler I was mentally and emotionally drained, and lacked motivation to train. I knew I’d be heading into the race a little undercooked, but I also trusted that I’d built up a ton of fitness in the lead up to Whistler and that couldn’t have all disappeared.
Race morning I was up at 5:45AM. The race didn’t start until 9:00AM, so this was like sleeping in for a race morning. I had a bagel with almond butter and honey, and started working my way through a bottle of Gatorade. Lisa and I were out the door before 7:00AM, and at the race site around 7:30AM. The race starts in Welland and finishes in Niagara Falls. This would be my first race with split transitions. I dropped off my T2 bag, which contained my running shoes, socks, bib, and watch, which would be transported to T2. This meant all I had to set up in T1 was my bike. I pumped my tires, checked my brakes and shifters, and set up my shoes and helmet. I don’t even consider leaving my shoes clipped in for a half or longer, I’ve seen too many people have too many problems. I usually munch on JuJubes, or something similar before the race, but I didn’t have any so I was working on a donut.
I didn’t have plans to do any sort of swim warmup, so I stayed out of the water until we were about 10 minutes from the start.
I set myself up near the front of the group, about 5 people over from the buoy line. I knew there was a line to follow in the water, and I had learned when I swam in Mirror Lake that I’m a heck of a lot quicker when I don’t need to sight. My plan was to get onto the line as quickly as possible, even if it meant dealing with contact (you needed to be right on the line to see it in the dark water).
The gun sounded and we were off. There was some contact, but nothing major. Right away I felt that this swim wouldn’t be like Whistler. There weren’t 1600 athletes starting at once causing a strong draft. I quickly made my way over to the buoy line and started counting strokes. I was planning on sighting only every 100 strokes, and then once I got close to a turn. My first 100 went off without a hitch. My second 100 got a little dicey. I don’t know if the cable disappears for a section, or if it goes deeper, or if I just somehow lost it, but I didn’t see it anymore. I kept swimming much longer than I should have without sighting, trusting that it would reappear. When I finally looked up I’d made my way from being on the far right, up against the buoy line to the left side of the swim area. Oops. I could feel someone hitting my feet every so often, so apparently the person behind me was also trusting that I’d be able to swim in a straight line.
I made my way to the first turn sighting regularly, even when I got back on the line. The first turn to the second turn would only be 50m or less, but that swim was into the sun. The race was really strung out, there was a lady swimming almost next to me, and then there was 25-30m gap to the next closest swimmer in front of me. After the second turn I trusted in the line and went back to sighting every 100 strokes. This time I was ready when it disappeared, and I immediately began to sight. Around this point a swimmer came flying by me. I tried to catch onto his feet and picked up my tempo, but my hopeful efforts never really had a chance, he was way too fast. The rest of the swim back was uneventful.
Swim – 33:40, 1:40/100m, 52nd Overall
I exited the water and ran up into T1. I usually repeat what I have to do in transition in the closing stages of the swim, but I forgot to here. So as I ran I told myself: helmet, glasses, shoes, wetsuit, bike. I got to my bike, stripped off my wetsuit, and grabbed my helmet. I had some troubles getting my glasses on, the got caught on my helmet strap, and I was also slow getting my shoes on. I stuffed my wetsuit, goggles, and cap into my wetsuit bag (which would be transported to the finish), grabbed my bike and was off.
T1 – Run Up – 0:11
T1 – 1:42
I hopped on my bike and I was ready to go. Pre-race I envisioned 240-250W as my goal power (likely more like 244-245 than 248-249). I hadn’t really practiced this, it was based on what my FTP was in Whistler, and wishfully hoping that I was still in the same range. I knew the course was really flat and it should be fast.
As I got onto the road I was riding up around 260W and it felt easy, but I knew it wasn’t sustainable. After the first couple of minutes I focused on getting my breathing and heart rate under control, and bring my watts down towards 250. Over the first 25k I passed a number riders. After 25k it was a very lonely ride. I wasn’t keeping an eye on my watts like I usually do in a race. I was riding what felt right, which ended up being in the 250’s. I suppose it’s easy to hold steady watts without looking at the bike computer on such a flat course.
About 45mins in my shoulders and neck were getting sore. At the turns I began to make sure I took the pressure off my shoulders and stretched my neck by turning my head side to side. With no hills there no good spot to give your body a break from the aero position, so I figured turns were my best option.
I passed through 40k in just under an hour. This was the first time I’ve ever ridden 40k in under an hour. I briefly had visions of riding 40km/h average to T2 for a 2:15 split, but those dreams were quickly squashed. A big chunk of the first 40k was ridden SW and there was a slight tailwind. From 40k to 90k the general direction was NE into a slight headwind. Not strong enough to have any real impact on the race, but I would have needed still conditions (or even a tailwind) for my 2:15 to become a reality.
Most of the remaining ride was uneventful, even slightly boring; I felt like I was on a training ride with nobody in sight to the front or rears for most of it. That is more a comment about the profile than the race itself, on such a flat course there are few landmarks to break it up, and no hills to see competitors who may be well ahead. At some of the turns as I got closer to Niagara Falls there were a few people there to cheer, which did provide some excitement.
I hadn’t pre-ridden, or pre-driven the course, so I didn’t know where T2 was. Around 85k I could see in the distance some of the Niagara Falls hotels. When my bike computer read 86k I passed the 85k marker on the road. I figured I had at least 4k. Just past there is a section where you cross over a bridge. When I was going over the bridge I noticed a Bike In sign for T2, and the course appeared to be heading towards there. I gambled and pulled my feet out of my shoes. I did so just in time, and was just able to dismount my bike before the line.
While I was on the bike I drank both bottles of Gatorade. I picked up a bottle of HEED from an aid station that I intended to drink, but didn’t end up having it. I took a gel when I got on the bike, then a half waffle every 15 minutes from 0:15 to 1:45 on the bike (3 waffles) and then a second gel around 80k. I usually wouldn’t have a gel when I first get on the bike, but I felt like I needed something.
Bike (88.7km) – 2:17:38, 38.7km/h, 8th Overall (6th fastest bike split)
* One thing that I think is important to note is at one of the left hand turns I didn’t see any traffic control. It was a left hand turn off Koabel and onto Willodel and I had a stop sign. I slowed down at the turn, and the car that was in the intersection as I approached was clear by the time I got there. There was an arrow pointing me left, but I didn’t see a police officer or volunteer. For the rest of the race the major intersections seemed well controlled. I don’t know if there was an incident that required the officer to leave, but I did find it surprising. (I have since spoken to the RD and he let me know that there would have been a volunteer there. I didn’t see them, I could have just missed them, or they could have been taking a ‘nature break’; the race was really thinned out at that point)
I got my bike racked in T2 and found my T2 bag waiting for me. I took off my helmet, slipped on my socks and shoes, and put on my bib and watch as I ran out. Lisa had made her way to Niagara Falls and was there to cheer me on.
T2 – 1:20
I ran out of T2 with my legs feeling the effect of my ride. I felt like I was running slow but my first km was 3:55. I likely felt slow because I ran out just behind someone who began pulling away from me. Before I hit 2k a runner came flying past me so quickly I did a double take on my watch to make sure I wasn’t just jogging along. My second km was 3:54. I decided either this race had some damn fast runners, far too quick for me to go with, or some of the other runners were going out too fast and I’d have a chance to pick them off in the back half; either way my only option was to run my race and stay within my abilities.
As I continued to run I kept ticking off km’s. Most were around 4:00, some slightly higher, some slightly lower, depending on the profile of the split. I wasn’t sure if this pace would be too rich for me, but it was what I was going to try to hold for as long as I could. As I ran through aid stations my plan was to only drink Coke. The problem was Coke was in tiny cups, so it was difficult for me to get as much as I needed. The aid stations weren’t long, so it wasn’t possible for me to get Coke from more than 1 volunteer, so I’d also try to pick up a cup of anything else to go along with the Coke. This seemed to work alright for me, my stomach was fine, and I didn’t feel like I had an energy crash.
Just past 6k there were about 6 stairs up, and then likely 15 stairs down followed by a really steep downhill. On the steep downhill I was able to pass the guy who was pulling away from me after T2. I also made up a lot of time on the guy who blew by me just before 2k, and just after the aid station at the bottom of the downhill I was able to run up onto his shoulder. It was a lot of effort to run up to him, but his pace seemed to come back to a more reasonable speed (4:00ish) once I was there. We chatted for a couple of km’s and then at about 9.5k I began pulling away. I wasn’t trying to make a move, it just seemed to happen so I went with it. I wanted to look back, but I told myself I wouldn’t see where he was until the turnaround for the second lap. Around this time I saw Lisa. I regularly remind her to make sure she’s running upright with her hips under her, so I did a quick check to make sure I was running tall.
As I ran towards the 10.5k turnaround for the second loop I saw some more familiar faces, which is always a great boost. I was feeling good and running well. As I started my second lap I don’t actually remember seeing how far behind the person I just pulled away from was. My focus was forward. Up until that point I was averaging 4:00 pace and I wanted to hold that until the finish. I recall as I passed 11k thinking ’40 minutes of running and then the season is over.’
On the second lap it was difficult to tell where you were at in the race. Some people could be on their first lap running strong, some people could be on their second lap jogging after going out too hard. Around 12k I passed someone in a TRS Racing kit that I recognized from the first lap. I didn’t think anyone else was within striking distance, but I knew I needed to keep my foot on the throttle. The Elites started 1min before me, and some age groups started 5, 10, and 15 minutes behind me. It would suck to lose a position to someone by a few seconds because you cruised to the finish line.
The second lap hurt, but I felt strong. I never second guessed my pace or considered easing up. I continued to crank out 4:00km’s and began to think about how little running I had to go. 7.5k meant only 30 minutes left. 6k was 24 minutes. 5k is a distance I’ve done loads of time, I can do it in under 20. With less than 2k to go I saw 2 guys well in the distance who were both running well. I had no idea if they were 1st or 2nd lap, and if they started in my wave or before me in the elite wave. If they started in the elite wave I didn’t need to actually pass them, only finish less than a minute behind them to beat them. By the time there was 1.5k left I decided to go for broke and push it to the line. Less than 6 minutes left, I can hurt for 6 minutes. As I pushed towards the line I saw friends cheering me in as I did my best to reel the 2 guys in. 1 of the guys made the turn for his second loop, the other proceeded down the finish chute. I followed behind him, less than 17 seconds later, closing with a 3:45km.
Run – 1:24:20, 4:00/km, 3rd Overall (3rd fastest run split)
Overall – 4:18:49
Immediately after the race my initial feeling what that I was really happy to be done. It was a tough run, but I was very happy with my run split. I’d run 1:24 in Quassy on a very hilly run course, but I didn’t have any bike data that race, so I didn’t know if I had soft pedalled it. When Lisa showed me the results I was surprised to find out I finished 3rd overall. I learned that pre-race favourite Alex VanderLinden had suffered a bike crash on the course, which took him out of the race (I’ve since learned he’s bruised up, but okay, which is always good to hear). I came into the race a little under prepared, but really only felt off on the swim. Otherwise I was happy with my day.
The season is over and it’s now time to relax until about December. Then it’ll be time to start all over again for 2016.
Overall I thought the race was good, but I wouldn’t call it a home run. The swim venue was really nice. Swimming at the Welland Flatwater Centre is like swimming in a huge pool. I also really enjoyed the run. I felt like it wasn’t overly hilly, but there were some challenging sections. I didn’t really pay attention to the falls, but I can imagine running by them can be a big draw for some. The bike course I didn’t love though. I understand traffic control is always difficult, and closing roads is near impossible, but there were a few times that I didn’t feel entirely safe on the bike course. Everywhere there were police or volunteers they did a good job to control traffic, but once cars were on the course they didn’t always seem to respect the cyclists. I get that this can be outside of the race directors control, but that doesn’t change the fact that as an athlete I felt that way. I would recommend this race, and I’d think about doing it again, but I would advise anyone doing it to be extra careful on the bike.