Monday, July 23, 2012

Race Report: Toronto Triathlon Festival

Short Version: 2:08:40 (PB) 7th in AG. Audrey nailed a PB too (2:30:16). A great weekend.

I signed Audrey and I up for this race earlier this year after hearing about the inaugural race through various press releases going around in February. The opportunity to race in downtown Toronto in a unique urban environment along some of the busiest roadways in Canada - (the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Expressway) which were completely closed for us – was too good to pass up. Added to this was the fact I had never visited Canada’s largest urban milieu in the five plus years I’ve been here (I know, I know...). It didn’t take much convincing on Audrey’s part – I just had to mention we’d be cycling on a closed expressway and she was in.


We arrived late Friday evening after driving down from Ottawa (about 5 hours’ drive) and settled in into our cosy private hostel room to log some valuable sleep time.

On Saturday morning after breaky and much needed caffeine kick, we headed over to the Westin Harbour Castle for a mandatory race briefing with Steve Fleck and Travis McKenzie  (guys who I'm sure did more than simply announce) and kit pick-up. Having a mandatory briefing the day before the race was important for the race organisers to ensure everybody was on the same page given the complexities of running an inaugural endurance event in downtown Toronto. (Side note: Despite the fact all athletes were briefed and athlete guides distributed prior to the weekend, I am sure Travis and Steve can testify to the amount of questions they were given on race morning re: info which was gone over in the briefing and the athlete guide – I was near the announcers in transition and heard some of the questions coming up repeatedly). It was a bit crammed as we made our way in to pick up the kits. Ideally, we would have had a third room for kit pick-ups, separating it from the expo. In our experience, it wasn’t too bad given we were already downtown and had nothing else to tend to on Saturday but I can empathise with athletes who had to commute into town for it, potentially taking up an entire day. Volunteers were all pretty well drilled and the process was pretty smooth, though, so they did do their best to keep it going smoothly. 

We spent the rest of the day checking out stuff in downtown Toronto. We enjoyed wandering up Yonge St, where we grabbed lunch and some more coffee, before heading back down to the waterfront were we jumped on a boat to check out the Toronto Islands for the afternoon. It was really crowded out there, but nice all the same – especially fun was renting a quadricycle to tear around on (Audrey couldn’t stop giggling!) - take a look at the video of me figuring out that it only had rear brake and consequently lent itself to a skid attempt.

We headed back to our room and dumped a bunch of stuff before heading up Spadina Ave to Chinatown to grab some Phô from the famed Phô Hung Restaurant (I ordered the Phô house special which came with a bunch of sea creatures and some gnarly meat; I tried them all and came nowhere near being able to finish it).


Alarm off at 4:30am Sunday morning and we roll out of bed having slept OK on the shitty pillows. Downstairs to brew some coffee and eat some breaky before getting all our gear packed in the car so we didn’t have to rush back to check out of the room after the race.
At 5:30am we rolled out from our hostel and rode the short 10 minutes or so down to the race site. The transition zone was well placed right at the swim start/exit; the only “inconvenience” was running up and down a steep ramp to a footbridge across the road to get down to the highway onramp. We leisurely set up our gear.

I pulled my wetty on and wandered down to the swim start for 6:45. As we were ushered into a line for a timely swim start, a guy behind me came through the crowd to the front where I was. “Excuse me”, he said, politely getting by me. That was Simon Whitfield. He, Paula Findlay and Co. got ready to start their ‘demonstration’ event, taking off amid laughter as Simon joked around on the start line – it was awesome these guys took time to come out and do a training run on the course for everyone amidst the London prep. We were quickly in the water where I got the privilege of about a 50m warm up and a nice pee before heading into the large group for the 7am start.

Swim: 23:26   Knowing there were a few National Age Group spots up for grabs I expected there to be a lot of studs at this race hence I started back in the second/third row for the swim. In hindsight, I should have started in the quasi-front row as in the first 200m I had to dodge quite a number of slower guys. By the first can it was pretty open water with a number of guys around. We went through the 12 turns and bends zigzagging through the West Channel of Ontario Place, coming out of the Lake Ontario waters and up the stairs into T1. Please with this swim as I wasn’t sure how the more technical course would go (I tend to suck at turning around the buoys, and well, other things).

T1:  1:23  Slowwwwww. It took me forever to get my wetty off. I’m going to be taking some scissors to my wetsuit ankles and hopefully spending a bit more time in the suit to get it worn in more.

Bike: 1:05:08  Good split. I was hoping for something in the 1:04-1:08 range in this unknown and rapid looking course, and I got it. As I was busily navigating the no pass zone and skipping over the edges of the curb out onto the road, I had my head down messing around with getting my feet in my shoes. Mistake. My only bottle, mounted horizontally between my aerobars, shot off and skittled away. Shit. I didn’t stop, telling myself something like “Well, you already lost a bunch of time in T1, let it go and we’ll manage it”. Probably not the smartest self-counsel given the forecast was for +32 degrees and a lot of humidity – I should have stopped and grabbed it. After going through the second no-pass zone and onto the Gardiner Expressway, I settled in and took a good look around at the CN Tower and the Toronto skyline to my left, and views of Lake Ontario to my right, as we pedalled eastbound. I told myself “Scrub it mate, it’s a training race, you didn’t taper or rest or build so just take it easy we’ll grab water in T2. It’ll be right”. Not two minutes later, a pair of race marshals rolled up beside me abord a motorbike. “Hey, you want your bottle?” Holy crap – “YES!” What a champion! 

Game on.

Thanks Ernies Video for the image.
With renewed vigour I put my head down and got into it. At the 10km point my average speed was north of 40km/h and I was having a ball. There were a number of steady false-flats on the way up the DVP to the turn-around at Eglinton and me and another guy traded passes (he was stronger on the downhills, me on the inclines) every once in a while. The way back into T2 was tougher than I anticipated – even with the net elevation loss – as there was a steady but strong breeze coming in off the Lake making us work.
Made it back to T2, having skipped nervously down the ramp with bike in hand.

(In my defense, it says 39.91km because I didn't hit start until I had mounted my bike and got up to speed a bit)

T2: 0:39

Run: 38:05   Good run. Not stellar, but good. Legs weren’t too sprite for the back half and I was outsprinted by two guys who shot up behind me in the finish chute.

Of all things to be mentioned in the briefing, the fact we were supposed to run on the left side of the cones wasn’t. Not a big issue my any means for those of us in the first wave who were off the front early on – we were running on the right until an official leading the 1st place male came back towards us - but potentially troublesome for those coming along after as if conflicted with the general flow of the public traffic on the path, resulting in many confused path users. Other than that, the course was great! It allowed me to get a nice perspective of the waterfront. It was nice running back to the finish line with the crowds and the skyline in the backdrop.

I went a but to early on my way to the line and was chased down by two guys  who pipped me, just! Turns out on the day there were four guys who went 2:08:40 and three of them were m25-29 - an AG where a little over a minute separates 5th from 10th. Tight!

Courtesy of Nick

Post-Race: First job was to get in some water! Once I stopped I figured out it was actually pretty warm. I got myself a long massage/chiro session (like 30mins) from a nice bloke who smashed my legs more than the race! We went and grabbed lunch - fixing up that pizza craving I had - and then went and did our final touristy thing and visited the CN Tower, a must!

Other stuff: In my opinion, this event ticked all the boxes for a unique urban triathlon. It was smoothly run, the volunteers were well drilled and, frankly superb – my dropped-bottle experience showcased nature of the organisers. Being an inaugural event run in the heart of one of North America’s largest cities, small glitches and bumps were to be expected. We came to this event prepared to be a little patient and to simply try and enjoy the weekend. I’m thoroughly glad we gambled on this race instead of something like Muskoka 5150 or Magog where the rest of Quebec and Ontario studs were. Oh yeah, and this was a PB in my 4th Oly race.

To Jeff Chong and his team, Travis McKenzie, Steve Fleck, officials and, of course, the volunteers and other athletes – chapeau!

Oh yeah, and I made it onto TV - that's me running out of T1 with my bike about a minute into the clip (#20)


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