For the last three years, I’ve circled Barrelman as one of my annual highlights And for the first two of those years, nothing went to plan.
Some of you will already know that I didn’t finish last year’s race. I collided with a police cruiser on the bike, and ended up in hospital as the pro race forged ahead without me.
Two years ago I didn’t get to the finish line, either, having tried to race Muskoka 70.3. lakeside Olympic and Barrelman back-to-back. Bad idea!
This year, after suffering some setbacks in August, my only goal was to get to the finish beside Niagara Falls (and not let Ang catch me in the swim, since her wave started a minute after mine).
So the priority of Barrelman shifted from being an A race to more of a B+ race. As a result, the front end of my race prep week still saw some pretty intense training, but towards the end of the week, we built in a bit more rest to add a little snap to my step.
Swim: comfortable but strong
On Sunday morning, the body was feeling ready to go, and I was excited to see how the day would unfold.
Goal number One: don’t let Ang catch me on the swim. The pro wave was comprised of five men and four women, so there was ample room on the start line and I got off to a clean start. Last year, I knew a strong swim would get me a small gap on the other guys, but this year with Jordan’s improvement and Jack being a strong swimmer, I knew I couldn’t get away.
I didn’t want to burn any matches so I kept it comfortable but strong. About 300 metres in, ex-national team swimmer Sheila Treleaven came around us and I attempted to get on her feet. Last year, Sheila was in the AG race and swam about a minute faster than me, so I knew these particular feet would be fast.
I hung on for about 100 metres and slowly, inevitably, the gapped opened. I took a second and decided to settle into leading the chase back instead of burning matches to chase someone not in my race.
For the next 1,000 metres I settled into a comfortable hard pace and going around the second turn buoy I put in 20 hard strokes hoping to open a little gap.
Just after the surge I felt someone touch my toes and knew my push to break away didn’t work.
At about 1,600 metres Jordan came up beside me and I decided to ease up and get onto his feet. It was at this point that I felt someone else touch my toes, so I knew Jack was still with us as well.
Sitting on Jordan’s feet I tried to conserve as much energy as possible. I knew I’d need every ounce I could muster for the bike when the attacks would come.
Just before the final turn I noticed a blue cap from the wave behind us coming up so I jumped off of Jordan’s feet and put in a small surge to get onto these faster feet. Turned out there were two blue caps and one was Ang. So goal number one was a fail! I let the faster feet of Lee and Ang pull me in over the final 100 metres.
All told, the three top contenders for the men’s title were all within about six seconds of each other and the race was well and truly on.
Into T1 I put the pedal to the metal because every second was beginning to count. Even a 10 second gap would make it that much easier for me early in the bike. Thankfully, this went exactly to plan as I was able to put in about 20 seconds on Jordan and Jack. Lee was the only person ahead of me at this point.
Bike: riding scared and confident
Onto the bike I put in a quick surge and got onto Lee’s wheel. Then I put my shoes on while enjoying the draft at five meters.
The rest of the bike I was just riding scared, but confident. In K-Town earlier this summer. Jordan caught me at about five kilometres into the bike. And Jack usually catches me within a couple kilometers in the short course races, where we’ve gone head-to-head. So I was continually expecting either one to ride up and catch me.
With the first part of the race into a head wind and a cross wind, I pushed things a little harder than planned, knowing if the tail wind was strong and with all the corners in the second half of the course, it would be hard to keep the power up for everyone.
Ten kilometres passed, then 20 passed, then 30 had slipped by. The guys still hadn’t caught me. I was beginning to wonder what was going on.
With each kilometer that ticked by, I was getting more and more confident that I would be able to come off of the bike with the leaders.
The last few months I’ve been been working on my aerodynamics with STAC and their CFD scans and I’ve picked up the new Giro Aerohead from Ziggy’s Cycle. In other words, I’ve been looking to buy a little bit of free speed, and it’s helped a lot.
I knew with the tailwind most of the way home those guys were going to have to put down some big numbers to reel me in. Maybe they’d have to push a little too hard to bridge up.
Either way. I was still concerned. Every corner I would look behind expecting to see one of them right on my wheel, but I didn’t even catch a glimpse until we hit the zig-zag section about two-thirds of the way in.
I kept focused, kept dialled in to ensure my speed was high. I pushed and knew that my chances of a win increased with every pedal stroke that kept me in the lead.
In terms of stats, despite putting out less power (~215w vs ~220w) compared to races like Muskoka 70.3 last year, or Chattanooga 70.3 this year, I was able to hold off guys that usually out-bike me. This is reassuring, but at the same time I know I’m still not back to where I was performing before.
Coming off the bike, I hit the dismount fast and aggressive at a full sprint and allowed the momentum of the bike carry me to our rack.
As I emptied my bag Jack and Jordan came into T2, I knew it was going to be a race to the finish.
As I was leaving T2, place Scott Bradley in fourth place finished his bike ride, making it a four-man battle to the end.
Run: small steps and giant leaps
My left calf immediately started to cramp, so I ran gingerly knowing it was a long day. I secretly hoped that with a little warm-up the cramp would loosen and fade.
I grabbed some Heed and water at the first aid station and took down some of the gel I carried with me out of transition, thinking all I needed was some more salt.
For my race in Los Cabos next month, I’m planning to bring some salt pills, so if I feel the cramping coming on I can address the issue right away instead of waiting for an aid station.
Just making it to the run this year was a big step in the right direction so out to the first turn around I would judge where my competition stood at this point.
Coming back I noticed everyone was still close with the notable exception of Jack, and I later found out he had dropped out and went to medical.
Going up the first big hill my calf was still really tight and I made a point not to push off to much. I simply leaned forward and used the quads to power up the steep rise.
That hill was tough. Both laps it almost reduced me to a walk but I just closed my eyes and didn’t focus on how long or how steep it was.
The next little downhill was my saving grace. I was able to finally relax everything, keep the turn over high, and let gravity take me forward. This was the first time my calf began to feel normal again, and man it couldn’t have happened at a better moment.
Just as we went down the stairs Jordan came up onto my shoulder, having made up about 30 seconds on me in five kilometres. There was some wind on the bottom section of the run, I dropped in behind him for the second time of the day.
I stayed here for a kilometre or two and took a mental and physical break.
On a slight uphill, I made the decision to go. I put in my surge, dropping the pace by about 10 seconds per kilometer.
I knew that I had to make this surge stick. I didn’t look back, just kept pushing and turning over the legs, using the energy of spectators and other athletes to push me forward.
This was the best I’d felt all day. Coming back through the finishing area at the end of the first loop I heard Steve Fleck announce that the lead had stayed the same since we left transition, so I knew the gap was back to about 30 seconds again. Still, I didn’t relax.
I continued to push, knowing that I could salvage a good run split despite the slow start. At least that was my intention until I hit the hill for the second time.
This was easily more painful than the first time. There were a lot of people walking and I used them as carrots to get me to the top.
I usually lap my watch about every 5 kilometres to see what my average pace is like as the race progresses. Having started my watch a late, I hit this hill about 4 kilometres into one of my splits and going up the hill my average pace for that five kilometre split dropped from about 3:43/km to 3:55/km. I was glad I didn’t have my instant pace going up that hill because it might have been demoralizing.
It took a little time to recover from the hill, and even with the downhill that followed, it felt like I was starting to get slower with every step. Every muscle was now starting to scream. I focused on staying relaxed, on my turnover, on my posture. I knew this would keep me as efficient as possible.
It wasn’t my fastest run ever, but it was enough to get the job done.
Job done: breaking the tape
I was pretty ecstatic as I crossed the line yesterday. Earlier, I’d felt like I had only a small shot at winning and I was most likely going to finish third or fourth. I was basing that assumption on my own season compared with the other guys in the race – but that’s the joy of racing. You never know how that day will unfold or what you have in reserve.
So all things considered, third time is definitely a charm for me at Barrelman!
Overall, I was able to execute a solid race from start to finish. No leg was a personal best (bike speed/time was, but power was not), no leg was terrible, and tactically I raced well, saving energy where I could and burning matches where they would pay off most.
And with that, the end to Ontario race season has arrived and I’ve got one race left: October 30 at Los Cabos 70.3. I’m looking forward to executing and improving at the final race before some much needed down time.
Big shout outs
Big thanks to John and the MSC crew for putting on another spectacular season in general and Barrelman in particular. They do so much for helping elite triathletes in Ontario.
Also, thanks to all my sponsors and support crew. Check them out. They’re all great companies with excellent products and they’re great people to work with: Healthy Results Training and Coach Rich Pady, Ziggy’s Cycle, Smith, Runner’s Choice Waterloo, STAC, Vorgee, Infinit Nutrition, and Franklin Terrazzo.
Thanks to all for following along this season and for the words of encouragement yesterday, and throughout the year.