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Archive for August, 2012

This is a long one. Grab a coffee…   :o)

First of all, I must say that representing Canada at this race was much more than I had expected. The uniform, the maple leaf, the team photo, meetings, the crowds cheering GO Canada! It was just an amazing experience that I will train hard to be able to do it again.

We landed in Barcelona exactly 1 week before the race. Given the time zone difference of 6 hours ahead, and previous experience from IM France back in 2009, I knew that at least 5-6 days were to be needed in order to fully adapt. By Thursday I was able to sleep before midnight and by Friday I was pretty much set.

Since we drove from Barcelona to Vitoria, we had planned to use the car as much as possible and make 1 day trips around the region. We were able to visit Bilbao, Pamplona and San Sebastian. All must visit places if you are ever in or around the Basque Country. As this was a taper week, training was fully accommodated with rides in the mornings around the bike course and runs by the afternoons. The best one was a 30min run completed around the Playa de la Concha, in San Sebastian. I really had to force myself to stop, as it was just too beautiful of a landscape. I was also able to squeeze in a swim workout with Team Canada on Wednesday morning.

Most of Team Canada arrived either Tuesday or Wednesday. Thursday was registration, and when we had our team social meeting. It was nice to meet a lot of my team mates. People from all over Canada, some really strong athletes. It was interesting to note the mix of the distance each had been more comfortable at racing. For many this would be their longest race ever, but many had done several IM already and were confident about having a strong result.

Friday was our team photo, the official opening ceremony and the pasta dinner. Team Canada also had a light run and a bike/swim course “recognition” events on Friday and Saturday, but I thought they were a bit too close to the race and skipped those. We did however drove around the bike course, or at least what we thought it was the bike course… Haha! We were right on it for about 70%, the rest was going to be a surprise! But looking at the course profile I didn’t expect anything out of the ordinary. The course did look tougher than I thought initially, but not scary.

Saturday was a total relax day, with the only activity being the T1 and T2 bags and bike drop-offs. With 1,100 people racing, it actually went quite quick and smooth.

With 4km swim, 120km bike and 30km run, this was a perfect race for me to check how I would perform in a race longer than a half-iron distance, as I am planning to take on the old IM Canada course next year, 3 years after my second (and last) IM.

One thing that was off the charts: The heat! It was really hot all days leading to Sunday, with temperatures over 35C at 2-3pm (time I would running the 30km) everyday. But by pure luck Sunday came very cloudy and even if a light rain early in the morning. It was a bit windy, but an easy trade-off from the sauna like days we had before. The sun did come out during the run, but the day’s high was about 25C.

Well, to my race now (finally).

Sunday morning.

Woke-up at 4:30am, had breakfast (could not find bagels, so had to improvise with regular bread), checked my nutrition and ready I was to take the first shuttle from the hotel to the start/T1. It was about 20 min drive and we could tell it was cold just by looking at the windows.

The transition zone was really interesting. I had a few Team Canada mates around me and we chatted and helped each other to get ready. Right beside me there was a group of Brazilians, which I also started the chat with. Different from other races I’ve been was the fact that we had to wait at our transition “area” (in front of our bikes) until each wave was called to the beach area for the swim start.

 Swim

My wave, 30-34 and 35-39 men AG, was the 4th to start (pro men, pro women, para-athletes went first), 15 min after the first wave. It had about 150-200 people, and the majority took their spot closest to the right end, which seemed to have the best line to the first marker. I went there as well.

One minute before the start and they stopped the music, changed to just the sound of a heart beat… THAT was awesome! It got me really excited! The problem was that it probably got everybody else excited too! Haha! With a beach start, as soon as the horn went off it was carnage! Wow! I don’t recall a more aggressive start in my life. For the first 5 minutes or so all I did was try to stay afloat. I hit a lot of people, but I was also like a floating punching bag! Lost the count of how many times people hit my face, tried to swim over me, etc… Monday morning I woke up with my jaw feeling really sore, I could barely open my mouth (my wife didn’t mind too much).

After the initial “aquatic version of an Irish pub braw” the rest of the swim went ok. I found some decent feet to follow and up to about 2,200m we had clear waters ahead. Then we started to catch a lot of people from the previous waves and I lost the feet I was so happy with. For a good 700m or so I was by myself, which sucks because I have to swim harder and also constantly check for the markers. Then a group of fast swimmers from the wave after mine went by me. I thought: “heck, I’m going with them”. After 5 min I realized their pace was out of my comfort zone, so I slowed down and got dropped. The last 700m was again on my own, with a guy from my wave coming by and swimming beside me for the last 200m.  Last 100m was all kick, kick, kick. I felt my right quad cramping a bit but decided to ignore it… Haha!

 Swim time: 1:02:13 – 1:33/100m (9th AG)

 T1

T1 was a long run away for me, as my bike was racked at the very end, but it was nice because it was right beside the bike exit. While stripping my wetsuit off I felt my right quad cramping again. Again I decided to ignore it. I took my time, and after I had all set and properly packed in my T1 bag, I got my gels and salt pills and hit the road.

 T1: 3:43 (73rd AG – Ouch!)

Bike

I took a different approach to the bike part for this race. Up to a 70.3 I just go for it, Hammerfest style. But being this a race around 2:30hr longer than a half-iron I decided to go with a controlled effort during the first 65km (which was the first lap). Then, if I was feeling strong, to push harder the last 55km (same course as the 1st lap, but with an early detour to downtown where T2 and the finish line were).

The first lap was ok. I was getting passed by some people thought I could ride with, but decided against so I could keep within my controlled effort plan. The good thing was that I was feeling strong and still able to maintain a decent avg. I was able to keep with my nutrition plan and the new gels I was taking seemed to be working just fine (my gels got stolen when we had to change rooms at the hotel and I forgot my bag with the gels I normally race, GU Roctane, and my Infinit formula. Noticed just the day after when I went for a ride and needed them. The hotel staff found the Infinit bag, but the gels were gone).

Then I hit the 65km mark. That’s when I had to make the “Ramones’ choice”. I went for it. My legs were fresh and I was now passing a lot of people. People who had passed me earlier, people I hadn’t seen before, even a few pro women who were not having a good day. Everything was awesome, but that changed when I caught up with one of my nightmares… “The Pack”! This group had about 12-15 riders who were clearly working together, with some playing fair but a lot of them bluntly cheating, sucking the wheels of whomever was at the front. Noticeable was this Spaniard, who later I found out finished with a top 15 in my AG. To make things even more interesting, we were at the part of the course that was predominantly rolling hills, with a few short flats in between. I am not (yet) a good climber, but I am an above avg flat rider, so I was like a yo-yo, going to the front of the pack on the descents and flats and falling to the back on the climbs. This lasted a good 20km or so. I even got a warning (!) from an official, saying that I was not allowing the 12m distance after I got passed during the climbs. What? Really? But I know better not to argue with an official (even more so if no penalty was given). So now I was not only playing the yo-yo game, but one with a bungee cord when got to the end, as I had to make sure everyone was “cleared” before I could start doing my usual chase to the front of the pack. Our Spanish wheel sucking friend? Not even a look from the official. Bias? Haha!

Finally, a part of the course without climbs came up. By then I knew exactly who in the group was playing fair and who was not, so as I pushed to the front I talked to these 2 British guys, 1 American and 1 Swiss. I said I was going for it and would love to work together with them, fairly, no drafting BS. The Brits and the American agreed. The Swiss either didn’t understand or didn’t like the plan, so he stayed.  About 10-15min in and one of the Brits came by my right (it took a while to get used to them doing this) and said that our Spanish friend was sucking my wheel really bad. That’s when I said let’s drop him. We went harder. It worked, but our American friend also got dropped.

By then the “new gels” were not agreeing as much with my stomach as they were earlier. Can’t say for sure how much of it was because the new gel or if the amount of stress I put my body through the second half the bike course may have been a contributing factor. Regardless, my nutrition plan was not followed during the second half, as I made it through only with Infinit, “missing” 2 “gel charges”.

The rest of the bike was fast and furious… Haha! I REALLY enjoyed going through the roundabouts without missing a beat. It felt so good! The last 5-7km we decided to bring it home safely, as we entered the city streets with tight corners and lots of speed bumps. Not the ideal place for racing each other.

The crowd support around the bike course was really nice, specially at the climbs. We went through a lot of villages/towns and people were outside cheering everybody. Really nice.  But the closer we got to the downtown area the crowds got bigger. Bigger I’ve ever seen. It was amazing. Little did I know this was just a small sample of what was about to come next.

Bike time:  3:15:26 – 36.92 km/h avg (27th AG)

 T2

In and out of the transition tent. Got my gels (just in case), checked my salt pills “inventory” and off I went. I really needed to go to the bathroom, a good sign my hydration plan was working, but there was nothing at T2. I asked around, but nobody knew where the closest potta-potti was.

 T2 time:  2:32 (67th AG – Ouch again!)

 Run

The run exit from the T2 tent led to a corridor that was full of cheering locals. But that corridor led us to the run course, directly to the heart of it, the main plaza of the city, where the finish line was. Wow! I knew there was a big stands there, but I would’ve never expected to see so many people cheering like it was a World Championship (wait…), and it was outside the plaza as well, and around the whole course. Sometimes I think I could count 5-6 roles deep! Just incredible. Impossible not to feel motivated by it. To make the moment even sweeter, our bibs had our first names on it, and our uniforms had our last names. I had a lot of people cheering for me and saying, we know you are Spanish! You are just disguised as Canadian! I even had a few people screaming “go cousin, go!” haha!

I became familiar with the feeling of having tired legs just before finishing the bike, but when the run starts it’s like a new set of fresher legs are waiting for me. It’s great, and it was happening again. “All the hard training is paying off.” The 30km and the finish line would be waiting for me after I was to complete 4 laps of 7.5km through the old part of the city.

I actually had to pace myself slower during the first lap, as I was going a bit faster than I thought I should be at that point. I also found a potta-potti at the km 3 mark. I was about to use one of the many pubs located around the run course (latter I met this American who said he went and the owner took a picture of him while using the can! Haha!). Finished the lap feeling strong, HR right on target (maybe even a bit lower than expected), and was able to have 1 gel and still hold the fort.  Team Canada managers where cheering for us just before entering the main plaza and I gave them the 2 thumbs up! At the plaza I played with the crowd and got a huge response. That was so much fun! Printed in my memory for life.

During the second lap I was thinking if I should start pushing harder at the second half of lap 3 or if I should wait till the last lap. HR was the same as first lap, still feeling strong. I was on pace to break 7 hours! Wow! Went by Team Canada Managers and still gave them the 2 thumbs up! One thing that dazed on me though was the number of people that was passing me, like I was standing still. It was clear to me that if I am ever going to be at the same overall level as the others I was riding with my run still needs to improve, and a lot.  I played with the crowd again. Again, huge response. This time I also saw my wife, she cheered “Go Champ, go!” and I blew her a kiss. Printed x2.

The third lap started just fine, all systems check, green, go. Then it hit me, like a curve ball I never saw coming. The wall was as big and hard as I’ve ever felt before. My pace just dropped almost by 1 min from the previous km. I tried to go harder, my legs just didn’t respond. It was not muscular, just no energy at all. Checked my HR and it was at the lowest it had been the whole day. It was obvious right there that my nutrition/race plan and execution was faulty. Ok, so what now? That realization really doesn’t help much during the race. Plan B was on. Never mind it had just been requested, debated and approved by the board only 30 seconds ago. It was time for the “Saint Coca-Cola of all Triathletes”. The plan was to start taking Coca-Cola only during the last lap, but that was plan A, the wrong one, remember?  Haha! I went by the Team Canada managers and gave then a big tong out… A lot can change in 7.5km.  Went by the plaza and the crowd was still there. Amazing. Had to play with them. Same response. Saw my wife again, gave her a high five. Printed x3. And off I went to my last lap.

The last lap. That’s the downside of a course with laps. You know exactly what’s coming and how far you are. The run course was not difficult, perfect for me, almost as flat as a pancake,  but it’s 90% on concrete, which is harder on the body. Now take that to another level with no energy left, no form remaining and the brain going “nice job, stupid!” That’s when I thought I could keep the same pace, survival mode, and still finish ok, or I could HTFU and not walk straight for a couple of days later. I was going on vacation after the race, so HTFU it was. For the first km I was able to “improve” my pace by almost 0:40/km! But I was pushing really hard! Then it went downhill big time. 0:40/km became 0:20/km and then 0:10/km slower than I was going before! And I was still pushing hard! It hurt both physically and mentally. That’s when an aid station came by, and I grabbed about 4 cups of Coke… Drank them like I was in the Sahara for months!  That’s when I first walked too. To make sure I drank as much Coke as possible was more important than my goal of not walking during the run. But I was able to get back on running as soon as the cups were dry. Did the same thing over the last aid station as well.

Within the last km I noticed that I could still “break” the 7:10hr “mark”. I paced myself enough to make sure I could make it, but also remembered that the finish line was actually about 150m AFTER the 30km mark.  Last push of the last pushes… Thanks to the common “adrenaline kick” I crossed the line with a few seconds to spare. If only that kick could last longer.

 Run time: 2:45:51 – 5:31/km (67th AG).

*Interesting note: 2:29:00 would have still been 57th in my AG, and that would have a been a picture perfect run for me. Which leads to my comment about improving my run.

Total time: 7:09:44 (46th AG, out of 84. 291st OA, out of 900+)

Overall it was an amazing race. Worth all the expectation and then some.  It was priceless to have the honour of representing Canada and wearing the maple leaf uniform. I was also very happy to have the Team Canada managers to allow us to wear any racing hats we wanted, not just the one from the uniform. As in any other race, I used my TEAM SANDBAGGERS (Represent!) one! It was great to somehow represent a group of training friends (even if part-time for some, haha!) who has always been really supportive. Because of that I left everything I had at the course. My final time was the fastest I could’ve done on that day. Maybe a trade-off between bike to run minutes, but with the same result. There were some mistakes (nutrition and bike tactics comes to mind), that I have already learned from, and will even more when I get the chance to look at the data from the race. But the best part is the confirmation that there is a lot of room for improvement and I am really excited and looking forward to taking the proper steps to get there. And last but not least, it maybe be cheesy but after reading Chrissie Wellington’s book I caught myself smiling the whole time, even through the hardest moments. Interesting enough I had a couple of unrelated people approaching me after the race and said they really enjoyed seeing me racing, as it looked like I was having a great time. So right, even when it hurt big time it was awesome!

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