Moskoka 70.3

I had been preparing for this weekend for several months, still quite unsure whether I would be able to meet demands of completing a Half-Ironman.  I had put the time in on the bike and run and swam more than I ever had before in my life.  This weekend would be the deciding test to see if I had what it takes to be a triathlete.

After ensuring that I had absolutely everything I could possibly need, and plenty of extras, I got into the car with my support team, mom and my brother Joe, to start the journey north to the Deerhurst Resort in Huntsville.  Along the drive, my reliable Buick went through one of its moments of uncertainty, refusing to start after stopping for a bite to eat in Guelph.  After calling CAA and waiting for close to 30 minutes, I tried turning the key once more, this time hearing the old 3.8 come to life, and we were back on the road to Muskoka. 

Upon arrival, we were surprised to find that they overbooked the hotel and our regular room, was now upgraded to a suite on the Greens, overlooking the golf course.  I thought that maybe this was a sign that we had some luck with us that weekend. 

The next day we had lots of time to explore the Expo, as well as take a walk around town, which was in full triathlon mode with many businesses offering promotions to the participants of the first annual Muskoka 70.3.  I even had time to go for a practice swim in the lake.  It helped me feel more comfortable knowing how clean and calm the water was before being tossed in there on race day with several hundred others, thrashing their limbs in all directions.   I had arranged all my gear and had to check my bike into the transition zone before dinner that evening.  There was nothing else left to do but wait for the next day, and hope for good conditions.

I woke up extra early on race morning to the sound of rain, battering down on the roof.  Not good!  I had to bring all my gear over to where my bike was parked before they closed the transition zone before the first swim started.  I tried my best to protect my gear in plastic bags, but there’s only so much you can do.  I went back to the room, where Joe and mom were starting to wake up.  I ate a small bowl of my traditional Vector cereal and prepared myself mentally for the big day that was before me.  Before long, I had to be on my way out the door to queue up for the Swim start.  By this time, the rain had eased to an off-and-on drizzle.  It was there that I bumped into one of my occasional training partners and experienced Ironman, Ron.  I asked him if there was any single piece of advice he could give me that would help me through, and he told me to always keep in mind, to have unrelenting forward progress.  That advice has been something that has stuck with me since and is a strong motivator for me when I start to struggle.   

Slowly each wave made it into the water, the horn blew and they were off.  There was 3 or 4 waves ahead of me, so I had some time to think about my strategy, beyond just surviving.  I thought I would take it easy off the start, since swimming is most difficult for me, and just get into a groove.  I knew from running marathons that once you get into a groove, time and distance just start to float by, and I hoped it would work just as well in water. 

Moments later, I was in the water, the horn blew and everyone scrambled forward.  Since that water was still somewhat shallow, I didn’t know when to make the switch from hopping through the water to diving forward and beginning to swim.  I positioned myself well so that I avoided most (but not all) flailing arms and legs and slowly started to find my pace. 

It was a long way to the first buoy it seemed, and then only a short swim out, and then a distance that seemed to be miles away became my next target.  I tried to keep myself composed and remembered that advice Ron had given me.  It was only 20 minutes into the race and I was already reaching for the motivating mantras.  As I looked up, every few strokes, I noticed some blue capped swimming along side me, and I was passing them!!!!!  These would have been the slower swimmers of the wave ahead of me.  I couldn’t believe I wasn’t the slowest swimmer there.   I carried on, taking one breath at a time and moving forward without stopping.   That proved to be a great strategy as I reached the shore and climbed up the muddy banks in less than 40 minutes, a time I couldn’t be happier with.  The “strippers” were most helpful, assisting everyone coming out of the water with ripping their wetsuits off before climbing up the steep path up to the transition zone in front of the hotel.

My spirits were lifted as I knew the most challenging part for me, the swim, was over and now I only had to bike 93km and run 21.1km.  Pretty simple, right?  As usual, my transition time was not breaking any records.  I really like to take my time and make sure I’ve got everything I need.  Once I was out on the road, I felt like I was getting a good groove going.  The course is quite a challenging one, with lots of big hills and turns, but because the roads were still a bit wet from the rain, most people were racing cautiously, myself included.  I knew that it wasn’t worth it to shave a minute or two off my bike time, if it meant increasing the risk of wiping out and wreaking my body, which I knew, still had a lot of miles to cover later that season.

        Everything was going great until I felt my back tire start to deflate around the 70km mark.  “OH NO!!!!!”  I thought this type of thing only happened to other people, but not me, and not during a race.  Well, I couldn’t just sit on the side of the road and sulk.  Ron’s words repeated in my head and I thought the only thing to do was see if I couldn’t change the flat and keep on moving forward.  That is precisely what I did, and I was lucky that I had practiced changing a tire only a week or two before when I bought a little kits with the required tools, which I had with me.  Many racers slowed as they passed me, asking to check if I was all right.  It was a great feeling to know that even when they are racing, they are looking out for others.  Just knowing that lifted my spirits and helped me change the tire and get it pumped up without loosing too much time, or so I thought. 

I was back on the road and after my break in the ditch for almost 20 minutes, my legs suddenly felt so fresh and ready to go.  I was passing people like nobody’s business.  I felt an urge to try and make up for lost time.  I hammered through the last 20 km of the bike, entering the second transition with lots of momentum.  I shouted to Joe, standing on the sidelines, about what had happened and why I took so much longer than they had expected.  I grabbed some gels and was back out for the run. 

This was where I had planned to make up most of my lost time.  I was pushed back in the pack because of the flat, and now I was climbing my way back up to where I was before, and even gaining some ground since others were really getting tired by this point.  I was tired too, but I was quite used to running on tired legs from all the marathon training, which some of the champion swimmers and cyclists did not have.  I noticed that my pace was far too optimistic during the first 2-4km as I developed some nasty cramps.  I slowed my pace and shot back a gel.  At the next station, another gel, and one more a few minutes later.  I wanted so badly to keep my pace up but I needed to solve the terrible stomach and leg cramps.  After about 5 or 6 gels in the first 10km, I started to feel a bit better and settled into an aggressive rhythm.  The rain had returned, and this time much heavier, beating down on the tired racers.   I was still passing people faster than I could count, and the crowds of competitors were thinning out a bit.  One big runner I passed, who looked like an experienced triathlete, shouted at me as I ran by, “You’re running so fast, you must be doing a relay or something!”  He was of course joking, so I joked back and told him that this was just my warm-up for the Waterfront Marathon in a couple weeks time.  He laughed and said he would see me there as I continued on. 

I was really digging deep over the last few kilometers, knowing that the end was close and that I still had a couple guys in my sights to pass.  I fought hard over those last minutes and mustered up a sprint over the last couple hundred meters towards the finish.  My official finish time was 5:54:32”.  I was quite happy with that. 

Joe had followed my instructions and started running an ice-bath when he saw me run past the suite on the Greens with only 5 km to go.  I hobbled back to our room and gently lowered my battered body into the bath.  It was difficult, but it also felt so good on my muscles.  After a good soak while sipping on a protein shake, I washed myself and got into some warm, dry clothes.  Clothes never felt so good until that moment.  I hobbled over to the main part of the hotel (most of my walking for the following day or two was hobbling) to check out the final results.  I was very happy with my time and my placing, especially considering I changed a tire half way through the race.  

After all the finishers came through, I was able to collect my bike and pack our things together.  It was a long drive home, and all those gels were making their way through my system, creating a type of chemical release so offensive that even I was gagging.  We arrived at home fairly late and I was long past tired.  I was so exhausted that I think I fell asleep before my head hit the pillow that night. 

To my surprise, only a few days later, my legs were already recovered, or at least felt fairly fresh.  It must have been the ice-bath, or maybe the protein shake had something to do with it.   Whatever it was, I was happy to be out training again, knowing that my next marathon was just over a week away. 

© Brian Groot 2020