The ITU Grand Final would be my first World Championship event, first time flying to a race, and first time racing an ITU event.   It has long been a dream of mine to earn a uniform with a maple leaf, and the ITU Grand Final would finally make that dream a reality.  From looking at the results from previous Grand Finals for my AG I knew I would be nothing more than pack filler, but I was still really looking forward to the race and all that would surround it.

Arriving in Alberta

I have never been out west so I chose to head to Alberta a couple days early and fly into Calgary.  From there I would take one of the most beautiful drives in the world, going through Banff and Jasper on my way to Edmonton.  The parks were beautiful, it’s really hard to describe the area to someone who’s never seen it before.  Unfortunately in my adventures through Alberta I seemed to have picked up some sort of sinus infection which I had some problems shaking.

Team Canada

I was really looking forward to the Team Canada aspect of the event.  Triathlon is an individual sport (and I’m not part of a tri club or team), so I was really looking forward to seeing fellow maple leafs out on the course.  On the Wednesday we arrived there was a team meeting ahead of the opening ceremonies.  It was awesome to see so many triathletes all in the Team Canada uniform.  The information Triathlon Canada provided about the race was a little lacking (no information about on course support, no course or transition diagrams, etc) but there was an excitement to get everything going.

Throughout the weekend there was definitely a camaraderie among Team Canada athletes, as well as athletes from all of the other nations.  There would be extra cheers anytime an athlete went by in the (ugly) Canada uniform, and lots of Go Canada’s.

Team Canada Meeting

Team Canada Meeting

Days Leading to the Race

The time in Edmonton was packed with Team Canada events, pre-race training, and other races to watch.

Wednesday I planned to run a track workout but I had no energy.  I ended up running 8.5k, and basically all of it was easy.

Thursday my run went a bit better.  I ran a couple 800’s at the track and got in 15k total.  After that I went out on a short ride of the sprint course and picked up my race kit.

On Friday I finally made it to the pool.  My original plan was to swim every day leading into the race, but my head cold had other plans. The good news is when I got into the pool I hadn’t lost too much from where I was in June.  I was swimming 100’s just under 1:40 and felt like I was moving well.  I got in 2400m on Friday.  My run Friday morning wasn’t so good.  My plan was to do a long run of 32-34k (not an ideal workout heading into my race, but in the grand scheme Chicago is my priority).  My legs had nothing, and I felt awful.  I ran 16k and called it quits.

On Saturday I swam 1700m at an open pool session, there were athletes there from all over the world.  I know I’m not an amazing swimmer, but I realized just how slow I was relative to athletes from some other countries (especially GB and AUS).   Saturday afternoon I had planned to swim the course, but I had a bike emergency to attend to and missed it.  I was disappointed with myself that I hadn’t checked my bike sooner, as this was my only chance for an open water swim before my race and I missed it.  I did manage to get it sorted and had a chance to ride the bike course.  I decided I’d lay off the running until race day.

Sunday I checked my bike and did a transition walkthrough.  I knew my race wouldn’t be too long, but I still stayed away from vegetables and opted for white pasta and plain sauce for dinner.

Pre Race

Race morning I was up at 4:45.  I put on my Team Canada kit, had 2 white english muffins with almond butter and honey, some POM juice, and started working on a bottle of Gatorade.  Edmonton transit doesn’t run that early so I called a cab that picked us up at about 5:40 and we were at the race site by 6:00AM.

Once in transition I pumped my tires, clipped my shoes into my bike, checked my brakes, and put my bike in an easy gear (it’s uphill out of transition).  AG’s were racked by country, so I was racked next to all the other Canadian athletes in my AG.  We didn’t talk much, but it was neat that we were all kind of on the same team.  I did one last run through of transition and was out of there around 6:30AM.

I made my way to the athletes village where they did the staging prior to the race start.  At this point it was still REALLY cold, around 6-7*C.  I waited as long as possible to take off my shoes and move into pre-race staging.  The wetsuit kept my body warm but my feet were freezing.  It was nice to see I wasn’t the only one feeling this way, most of the other athletes in the staging area were hoping around to try to warm their feet too.  The walk from the staging area to the race start was pretty neat.  We were led by a bag piper across the beach where all the spectators were gathered to watch the swim.  At this point I had finished my bottle of Gatorade and took a gel.

Prerace

Pre-race

The Race

Swim

The swim start for this race was unlike any race I had done before.  Instead of a narrow start area that bunches everyone together the start was really wide so everyone started side-by-side.  All the athletes would stand on a blue start platform, and when the gun sounded we would all dive in.  There was no chance to get into the water prior to the start.

I knew I was going to be near the tail end of the field in the swim, so I wasn’t too concerned about where I lined up.  A number of athletes rushed to the far right of the platform, I ended up towards the middle.  We hadn’t been on the platform 20sec and they announced ‘ready’ so we knew the gun was coming.  I suppose this was a good thing because it didn’t really allow the nerves to build.  I heard the gun and we were off.  It was nice not running into people’s feet right off the start, or having someone grab your leg from behind.  I felt good through what I would guess was the first 100m or so, and then I began to feel a tightness in my chest.  This has happened to me before, at the 2XU Open Water Swim Race in 2013 and the Cambridge Sprint earlier this year.  I focused on my breathing, and just after the first turn (about 300m) the feeling had passed.  While I was in the water I felt like I was moving well (for me).  From the first turn I basically had open water except when a fish from a later wave passed me.

I finished the swim in 26:27, good for 54 of 67 in my AG.  My goal was to swim 25:00, or 1:40/100m.  According to my Garmin the swim was long, at 1630m instead of 1500m.  This would have given me a pace of 1:39/100m.  Three things could have happened:

  1. The course was long
  2. My sighting was poor
  3. My Garmin wasn’t very accurate

I’m not sure what it was, but the good news was I was out of the swim!

Ready

Ready

GO!

GO!

T1

T1 was a little over 500m.  As I ran through I peeled off the top half of my wetsuit and went over in my head ‘helmet, bike, go’.  I had my shoes clipped into my bike and my sunglasses attached to my bars with an elastic band so I wouldn’t need to fumble with them in transition.  As I ran towards my spot I noticed just how cold my hands were.  My fingers had a tough time holding onto my wetsuit to tug it off and once I grabbed my bike I only had a loose grip on my handle bars.  As I ran to the bike mount line I decided not to do a flying mount, rather a ‘slow way down gingerly hop onto my bike’ mount.

My T1 time was 2:37, good enough for a tie for 15th (I was already making up time!).

Bike

The bike was a 2 lap course.  There were 3 hills of note per lap, but I thought it had the potential to be a fast course.  Given my lack of cycling since Syracuse I didn’t really know what I should target for watts, so I decided to try to hold around 240W and see how that worked.

Heading up the first hill I was passed by an athlete from GB.  Once we got to the flats at the top of the hill I was also passed by a fellow Canadian athlete.  On the descent back down the hill I flew past both of them.  The 3 of us would switch positions a half dozen times over the bike course.  The weather wasn’t bad enough to slow me down, but I was cold on the bike, especially during the descents.  Most of the course was newly paved, but there were a few rough sections, and I saw a surprising number of athletes with their bikes by the side of the road.

The crowd support throughout the course was great, but it was really special at the end of each lap near transition.  It is a fast part of the course with newly paved roads so you can really move.  You ride by flags from all 70+ countries represented at the event, and there’s all sorts of people out cheering.  I really tired to take it all in (one luxury of being out of contention after the swim!).

On the bike I had about 300mL of Gatorade and a gel (well more like 2/3 of a gel, my hands were still really cold and I couldn’t squeeze it all out).

I completed the 39k bike course in 1:03:02, 39 of 67 in my AG.

Getting my shoe on

Getting my shoe on

Starting the 2nd lap

Starting the 2nd lap

T2

Not to continue to beat a dead horse, but it was still cold as I rolled into T2.  A couple days prior I had tried running in my shoes with no socks and got blisters.  Since Chicago was my priority I decided I’d take the time to put on socks in transition.  This simple task is made much harder by damp feet and fingers that don’t want to move, but I figured it was time well spent.

2:44, 50 of 67 in my AG.

Run

I was looking forward to the run.  I’ve been running more in the last 10 weeks than I ever had before, and I was getting good results.  Prior to arriving in Alberta I set of goal of sub38:00 on the run (really wanted 37:30).  44:17 was my previous best in an Olympic Distance, but I’m a completely different athlete now than I was then.  I was still feeling the effects of the cold I picked up in Jasper, so I wasn’t sure where it would leave me, but I’d lay it all out and see how it went.

The run course was relatively flat, 2 loops.  Half of it was on road, the other half on hard packed trail.  I ran out of transition on a sub 4:00/km pace.  There was great crowd support and I was feeling good.  There was an aid station less than a km into the run.  At ITU races they give you water bottles as opposed to cups.  I find cups easy to drink out of, the bottles were a hassle.  I tried to take some water but was pretty unsuccessful at getting any down.  I wasn’t too concerned, I told myself it was only 10k, I’d make it.  My first few km’s were in the 3:50’s and I had begun to catch people in front of me.  My legs wanted to pick up the pace, but I was having trouble taking full breaths; I felt like I was just sipping air.

As I was finishing the first lap my excitement level was rising.  Most of the course is pretty lonely, but then you make a right and you see loads of people lining the course waving various flags.  This really got my heart pumping and I was ready for another lap.

The second lap the course was a lot more crowded, but not so much that it became an issue.  People from later waves were now also on the run course, and that gave me more targets to run down.  The second lap flew by and before I knew it I was at the far turnaround with a mile to go.  My pace rose into the high 3:30’s and as I neared transition I had pulled up next to an Aussie (who I later found out was in my AG) and we were running side-by-side.  There were a lot of people and a tons of Canadian flags.  As we ran onto the blue carpet with about 300m to go I was looking forward to a sprint finish with him.  Unfortunately my lungs told me no faster, and he pulled away from me.

I ran 38:33, good for 22nd of 67 run splits in my AG.

Running

Running

Post Race

I was happy with my performance.  I wouldn’t say my preparation for this race was ideal, but that was because of a conscious decision to focus on marathon training.  I did as well as I could have done on the day given my condition and preperation.  My final time was 2:13:26, which put me in 44 of 67.  After the race I really loved the vibe.  I ended up chatting with the Canadian and Brit who were around me on the bike, as well as a number of the other athletes.  It was a really upbeat, positive scene.