Great White North Triathlon
The day had finally arrived! The Great White North Triathlon. After years of running half marathons and obstacle races on and off I was looking for a new challenge. I purchased a bike last summer and enjoyed a couple nice long rides. It seemed like a natural progression to try to tackle a triathlon. I loosely started training for my first half Ironman distance triathlon back in September. At the time I was working 21 days straight with a 7 day off schedule, 12-13 hours a day. Needless to say my training was taking a back seat. I was lucky to get 2 hours a week of training and my diet was like a rollercoaster.
Moving into December I started taking my training and eating habits more serious. Stepping on the scale at the end of November I noticed I was after putting an extra 25 pounds on in a little over a year. My heart rate climbed pretty fast over short distances on the treadmill. Practicing a ketogenic diet and consistent cardio quickly turned my lifestyle around. I lost 12 pounds in the first month and my distance and speed quickly improved. Impressive seeing that i had a couple missed workouts and a ton of unhealthy meals during the Christmas holidays.
My training continued until the end of June with more consistency. Naturally I did have slip ups on the way. Working out of town until May seriously made me lack time in the pool and prevented me from gaining any traction with technique. Luckily when I transferred back to Edmonton I started to make some slow progress.
Leading up to the last month I had an opportunity to complete two short races. The first a sprint. My time was decent for my first race. i did struggle through the pool swim and had trouble getting my heart rate back down. The second was a standard distance with and outdoor lake swim. It was only my second time in a wetsuit swimming and struggled severely with breathing due to not being use to the tightness of the wetsuit around my stomach and secondly not being able to see the bottom of the lake mentally caused me having problems exhaling under water. From what I researched this is a very natural feeling. I did finish the swim and the race and was happy with my time with it being my first race at that distance.
Going into the final week of the race I was in Atlanta for a conference and a work meeting. Not an ideal week for training and eating with the networking that was taking place. I arrived back in Edmonton late Thursday night. The next day I was up late with family and friends celebrating Canada day. I was close to convincing myself to skip the race by mentally psyching myself out. Sometime during the night of July 1st. I had a moment where I decided that I haven’t spent all the money and time training to give up that easy. I marked this as one of my goals for 2016 and wasn’t ready to fail. I started thinking of the quote i’ve adopted over the last year. “There will be days not knowing I can run a triathlon, there will be a lifetime knowing that I have”. That motived me to go ahead with the race, what did I have to lose.The next day I went to pick up my race package. My assigned number was 404. The man giving me my timing chip found this really funny and said “Information not found.” Took me a second to catch onto that techie joke. I heard the same joke another three times over the weekend.
The morning of the race!! Luckily I had convinced myself nothing was going to stop me now. I woke up just before my alarm at 4:30am to the beautiful sound of thunder. I went downstairs to have my two white bagels with butter and black coffee while I watched the storm to the south. All I could think was if it would pass and the race go ahead. I put on my tri suit, Garmin watch and heart rate monitor and grabbed my gear for the road. As we reached the race location the clouds had split and the weather was beautiful. I dropped my truck off at the finish line, kissed my wife goodbye and jumped on the bus to Allan Beach Resort to check my race gear into T1, put on my wet suit and prepped for the race. I planned to get there super early. I was fully ready an hour before the race. As planned I jumped in the water to practice swimming. I felt some trouble from the beginning and came to shore. I sat for 2-3 minutes and went out again and the nerves started to fall away. there were a lot of first timers doing the same as me. Talking to them helped us all out. With 20 minutes to go I sat in the water and started meditating by taking deep breaths with my eyes closed. What I should have expected every 30 seconds someone interrupted me to ask if I was okay. I tried meditated with my eyes open and it worked. No more interruptions.
(7:30a.m.) Start time!!! We all walked through the transition to the small beach, a couple quick announcements, singing of O Canada and we were off. I let the first two rows jump in first and walked into the lake about 8-10 steps before dropping down into a swim. The first 100 meters I was bouncing off people as everyone was trying to find their direction. A couple of light kicks to the body and struck by flying arms and everyone was falling in line. Over the next 100 meters I could feel my breaths getting shorter and I was afraid I would run into trouble. I started taking shorter strokes and told myself it was going to be okay. I found people going my pace and started to relax. Now I was finally into a comfortable rhythm during a swim in a race.
The swim was a triangle, with the first buoy 900 meters up the lake. I knew if I make it there I would have no trouble completing the rest of the race. As I reached the buoy it was a little bit of a traffic jam trying to round the marker. As luck would have it someone turning struck my head knocking my goggles off and pulling my swim cap with it. I quickly began to panic and pulled the cap back on. I placed my goggles back on and was breathing heavy. I tried to get back into my rhythm but my heart rate was pounding and I couldn’t breath fast enough. At that point I had to take control of my mind and slow my breathing. Within 3 minutes of my episode I was back on track. That was a huge accomplishment for me to overcome and get back in the grove.
The next leg of the triangle was 600 meters to the right and seemed to come quickly. As i rounded the second buoy I noticed I had dropped back a little. The last leg was 500 meters to the beach staring into the morning sun. It was a little tough to sight the beach with the sun so I followed the people ahead of me.I felt good and pushed until the end. Swim time 46:08
When I exited the water I felt better than my last two races and jogged to the wetsuit strippers. As they pulled off my suit I remembered my Garmin watch and timing leg strap were over the outside of the suit. I told the lady to wait, I would put my arm and leg back through and she said no and yanked the suit harder. It worked! I was off to T1 to dry my feet and put my socks, shoes, helmet, glasses and gloves on. I grabbed my bike and I was off. Transition 1 time 5:14.
The bike started a little familiar. Up the little hill that brought me to the lake was the same section from my Allan Beach Triathlon. Take a right for 500 meters and onto Stoney Plain Highway. I took the ramp exit to hwy. 779 south for a few kilometres, circled the whole block passing the Stoney Plain Pavilion where the T2 and finish line are located, and take another off ramp to head north back onto hwy. 779. I followed the course roughly 20kms straight out, complete a 180 and follow the course back for loop two. The bike course is relatively flat with a 100 meter hill just before the turnaround, and hit it again on the way back. With two laps that’s a total of 4 times.
Nutrition stands are set up on average of every 15kms. and usually have bananas, gels, water bottles and bottles filled with a PhD electrolyte drink. I did grab two of the PhD on the course but didn’t finish the second. I had my own Hammer Perpetuem that is designed for exercise over 3 hours in length. I sipped it every 15 minutes at directed. It was easy to keep a steady pace on the course without pushing too hard but for some strange reason I had some major stomach pain during the bike. It might have been a combination of inhaling some lake water and one of the gels I picked up at the first station. I just sucked it up and pushed through it. It eventually went away on the run.
Throughout the course I did manage to pass roughly 30 racers and only remember being passed 5 times. Going up the hills I was able to use my legs to over take a decent amount of riders. My heart rate averaged at 150 bpm. and peaked at 170 going up the hill.
Coming back in for the final 20kms the weather started to turn for the worse. The wind picked up and was pushing me around. It was hard to tell if it was heavy rain coming down or if it was hail because the drops did sting on the face but the storm only lasted for about 10 minutes. I was in the clear and back to blue skies by the last 8-10 kms of the bike leg and felt good coming into transition 2. Bike time 3:17:00.
I jumped off my bike and jogged into T2. This area was very organized. Once the volunteers see your number they point you to the area your run gear is located. It seemed every 3 seconds somebody else further down the line was yelling directing me when my running bag was until I found my stall. I loaded my bike up on the bar and began removing my bike gear. I kneeled down to tie up my shoes and stuffed two Hammer nutrition gels in my tri suit and was quickly off to begin the run. Both my wife and her friend were at the end of T2 taking pictures before I exited the stall. Transition 2 time 3:15.
Once i rounded the corner I had my first gel and realized I still had my bike shorts on. Oh well, too late now, they were staying on for the rest of the race. I did come out of the first corner at a fiery pace. I knew If I wanted to endure I would need to slow down. It is the most spectator friendly area of the course and it gave me a boost with everyone cheering on.
Once I passed through the first section I could still feel the pain in my stomach area and took a walk break. There was a water stand that I took advantage of, realizing I should have drunk more liquids on the bike. I seen a camera my just up ahead so that forced me back to running. You can’t have people thinking triathletes take walk breaks!
I managed to run to the next aid station which seemed to come fast. I’m not sure on the total amount of aid stations, but there seemed to be one every 1.5-2kms. After the second aid station I could feel the tiredness set in. My legs were getting heavy and the sun beating down wasn’t helping. I decided I would try to run every 5 minutes and walk one. As I completed the first 10km lap I felt a little burst of energy from the crowd and zoomed on through to the second lap. When I was back on the trail fatigue was starting to hit. I know a lot of it was mental as my body didn’t feel too sore, but my heart rate was also rising. At this point I decided to drop back to run for 3 minutes and walk 1 for the remainder of the race. The run was the slowest competitive half marathon of my life at 2:24:05. But to put things in perspective, that was the first half marathon I tried to complete after a 2km swim and a 90 km bike ride!
Coming into the last three bends to the finish line you can begin to see the crowd cheering. At this point all the tiredness and fatigue slips away and it’s a dash to the finish line. The great thing about having your name on your bib is people see it and cheer you on by your name. A lot of people were high fiveing me on the last 200 metes and you fell a little like a rock star. At that point I was reflecting back on what I just accomplished and felt extremely proud. A couple quick strides later I was across the finish line with a beautiful medal around my neck and my gorgeous wife was waiting taking pictures. I grabbed a chocolate milk and my Great White North t-shirt and took a few more pictures. It was time to grab some food and a beer and take a much overdue seat to rest my legs.
I’m glad my first long distance triathlon was at the Great White North race. The course was great. Hubbles lake at Allan Beach is beautiful (why did I not know this place existed until this year). The swim was a nice triangle-shaped loop that’s wide enough so you’re not swimming on top of people. The bike course was flat and fast and had a decent hill (what more can you expect in this area of Alberta). The run was one of my favourites. The trail system in and around Edmonton doesn’t get enough love for races. Most are pavement races which is a shame with some of the beautiful trails we have. Well done GWN for taking advantage of this.
The two things that stood out the most for me was 1. Organization of the race weekend. From package pick up to picking up my bike post race I felt very confident that I had nothing to be concerned about. 2. The most important thing I will remember is the effort put in by the volunteers. Leading up to the race it seemed they were getting desperate to find volunteers. I was concerned that this would be an issue with the race. It definitely wasn’t a factor. It seemed everywhere volunteers were needed on the course there was more than enough. Most importantly they were going out of their way to ensure you were taking care of. A huge thanks for their support!
My major fitness goal for 2016 had just been checked off the list. I do plan to complete at least 3 more races this season. The ITU Triathlon, Edmonton Marathon and The Grizzly Ultra Marathon trail race in Canmore. More challenges to go that I will review. I hope they all are as rewarding as this race.