Prior to ITU Long Course World Championships in Penticton, I had only raced one ITU event before: Duathlon World Championships 2011. To this day, that is still one of the best experiences of my career. I remember looking at previous years results and seeing that the opening 10k was usually run right around 30 minutes flat. I thought to myself, “there’s no way they could be running that fast. The course must be short.” Well, I went to the race that year and witnessed first hand that indeed they do run the opening 10k in 30 minutes flat. I ran 32 minutes, and was nearly 2 minutes off the pace. To add insult to injury, I then crashed on the bike. But, that race changed me. It was the first time I saw in real life what world class athletes look like. I knew I needed to get smarter with my training. 8 months later, I ran 30:32 for 10k. Long story short, I went to Penticton with unfinished business.
But I am getting ahead of myself. You might be wondering how ITU Long Course Worlds got on the schedule in the first place. After Ironman Arizona, I vowed that I would not do any long distance races in 2017. Well, that’s not entirely true. I vowed to improve my swimming, and that I would not do another long distance race until I proved I could come out in the second pack, with guys like Sebastien Kienle. I worked really hard over the winter, and then in Oceanside 70.3 I came out in the second pack, 2.5 minutes behind swim leader Jan Frodeno, and only about 1.5 minutes behind the first pack. Two months later at Challenge Samorin, I came out 2:30 down to Alistair Brownlee, and only about 1.5 minutes down to the first pack. What sealed the deal though for me, was that in that race I swam side by side with Sebastien Kienle. That was the goal I had set for myself for the year, and I had achieved it.
One thing I am becoming aware of as I age, is how little we know about the future. You never have any idea when your last race will be. You could get in a freak accident during a race on the bike, and never compete again. It is with this thought, as well as the fact that I had achieved my swim improvement goal for the year, that I decided to do Kona 2017. The proximity of 70.3 Worlds to Kona is very close this year. You would basically taper the first week of September, do the race on September 10th, and then need a solid five days to a week to recover after that race. You wouldn’t start quality training again until maybe September 16th or 17th, at which point you might be able to get in two weeks of quality training before having to taper for Kona. To me, that just didn’t seem like the best way to prepare for Kona, so I decided to pull 70.3 Worlds off of my schedule.
As well, I have been very vocal over the last year about my experience at 70.3 Worlds 2016, and the fact that the current rules on the bike do not accomplish a “non-drafting” bike ride. In reality, as the rules currently stand i.e. 10m spacing between bikes, we are really participating in a semi-draft legal bike ride. If you don’t believe me, here is some CFD data to support my claims:
For the rest of my career I will be vocal that things do not have to be this way. It’s very easy to make the bike ride ACTUALLY a non-drafting bike ride, and that is through an increase in the draft zone, implementation of a stagger rule, or some combination of both. Until then, the language when speaking of long distance racing should be changed to accurately reflect what is happening i.e. semi-draft legal bike racing. That way, someone like myself does not go into a race thinking it is a non-drafting bike race, only to be dismayed at what I saw at 70.3 Worlds 2016. Long story short, if I am going to devote my heart and soul to something, and participate in a semi-draft legal bike race, I would pick Kona over 70.3 Worlds any day of the week.
So, since 70.3 Worlds was off the table, I needed something to work towards in its place. I thought about Ironman Mont Tremblant, but I thought its proximity to Kona might be a little close as well. Then I remembered an email I had got back in February from Triathlon Canada about participating at ITU Long Course Worlds in Penticton. I did some research and realized the race was a 3k swim to a 120k bike to a 30k run. It was to take place on August 27th in Penticton Canada. It was perfect. Most of the damage of an Ironman is done between 120k and 180k on the bike, and between 30k and 42k on the run. Just as the damage was about to begin, it would be time to switch disciplines. As well, the travel was super easy, as there were direct flights to Kelowna (only an hours drive to Penticton) multiples times per day out of Toronto. It is with this thought process that I signed up for ITU Long Course World Championship.
I started focused training for this race a few days after Mont Tremblant 70.3. I was able to put together five quality blocks. In case you are wondering, the focus in my blocks look something like this:
Day 1: Quality Swim and High End Bike.
Day 2: High End Run.
Day 3: Long Day consisting of Quality swim, Long Bike, Moderate Length Run.
Day 4: Long Run.
Day 5: Active Recovery.
Day 6: Quality Swim and Threshold Run.
Day 7: Threshold Bike.
Day 8: OFF.
Day 9: Active Recovery.
Day 10: Active Recovery.
I strung five of those blocks together, and built progress into each. It was probably the best fifty days of training I have ever done in my life. I felt very confident going into ITU Long Course Worlds. I was pretty certain, that if you plopped me back on the Ironman Arizona course, I could better the 7:44 I had set last year.
There were quite a few good guys on the start list: Andy Potts, Joe Gambles, Cyril Viennot, Sylvain Sudrie, Josh Amberger, just to name a few. Who I was most worried about was Josh Amberger. He is one of the best swimmer-bikers in the sport, and his running is improving quickly. He lead out of the water at 70.3 Worlds 2016 by nearly a minute, only to be swallowed up by the semi-draft legal bike pack I mentioned above. He was just as pissed off as I was about it. I knew he would be racing with anger, and I knew he had something to prove. I also knew he had the guts to ride solo, and with a smaller start list, solo efforts would be rewarded. I had a strong suspicion that him and I were going to have a good battle. Listening to him in the pre-race press conference, I could tell he was confident and came to fight, so I knew for certain he would be the one to beat.
I was actually a little bit disappointed the morning of the race. All of the races leading up to the Long Course Triathlon had been non-wetsuit. I don’t have a ton of non-wetsuit experience, so was looking forward to testing my swim gains out in this setting. Unfortunately, the water temperature had dropped about a degree and the race was deemed wetsuit legal. It was bittersweet, as I knew this would work to my advantage, but it came at the expense of much needed experience. It only took me three milliseconds to stop crying.
I had analysed everyone on the start list and their swim ability. I marked Paul Ambrose and Jeff Symmonds as the closest to my ability level, who would likely swim in the pack directly in front of me. They called us out by start number and I was closest to Jeff Symmonds, so I lined up right next to him on the start line. It was a beach start, and the water was shallow for quite a bit. The gun went and I quickly realized my dolphin dives need some improving. I was quickly gapped by Jeff. Once the water got deep, I went to work on bridging the gap. By 200m I was on his feet, by 400m I was beside him, by 600m I was beside the leader of my pack, and before the first turn buoy, around 1000m in, I was leading the pack.
As a developing swimmer, this is not where you want to be. I wanted to be on the feet of the guys in the pack in front of me. I swam the next 2km solo. The entire time I could see the pack in front of me, so I knew I was likely having a good swim. I am very confident that with better positioning on the start line, I could have made that pack. I emerged from the water with just over a 4 minute deficit to Josh Amberger, 2:30 deficit to Andy Potts, and about a 40 second deficit to Joe Gambles. These are who I thought would be the major players on the day. This deficit was pretty good for me, as I often have equal or larger deficits, with 1100m less of swimming. I also was certain I had truly improved as I swam nearly 70% of the swim solo.
Out onto the bike it was clear as day that Amberger had come to play. I figured 330w would be a good conservative pace, that I was pretty certain I could run well off of. To put that into perspective for you, I pushed 315w at Ironman Arizona last year, and rode 4:04 for 180k. At about 25k I got a time update and had only pulled back about 20s on Amberger. This did not surprise me though as I knew he was an excellent biker. I didn’t give any thought to his ride at 70.3 Worlds 2016, as one man cannot out-bike 20 men working together. I stayed focused and kept faith that he would eventually start to fatigue.
I got another time update at around 75km. The deficit was down to 2:30. I was still holding 330w, dead steady. My legs were really starting to come alive and I was certain I would be able to hold that for the entire bike, if not more. I got another update at 90km and the deficit was down to 1:45. This is just as we were about to head down one of the more steep and technical descents on the course. As I was heading down the hill, at 70.2kph, my back tire blew out. I was a little bit scared as we were on a curve, and passing age-groupers on their first lap. Eventually I came to a stop and hopped off the bike. I stayed eerily calm.
I should mention at this point, that I am an idiot. The day before I was going through my flat kit and realized I had stolen the tube to replace a flat on my training bike, and replaced it with a very short valve tube. I said to Erin that we need to stop at the expo after the pro-briefing so I can get a longer valved tube. Later that day, we were walking by the expo and Erin reminded me about the tube. I said, “don’t worry about it, the odds that I am going to need it are close to zero.”. I am an idiot.
So, now was the time to find out if the valve on the tube was long enough. I got the tire off, pulled the tube out, inserted the new tube, centred the tire in the channel, and then got the tire back on the rim. I cracked the Co2 and tried carefully to centre it on the valve that was sticking out a few millimeters inside the disc. Unfortunately, the valve was so short, I emptied most of the Co2 into the air, getting maybe 20PSI into the tube. This would not be enough to ride. Fortunately, I had two Co2s in my spare kit. I cracked the second one, and tried to push the valve out as far as possible. This time I got the Co2 into the tube and aired it up to what felt like 80-100PSI. I put the rim back on, grabbed all the garbage and shoved it down my shirt, then carefully got back onto the road, trying not to get hit by the hundreds of age-groupers flying by me. In the end, I was able to change the flat in just under 4 minutes. The total time lost due to the ordeal was just under 6 minutes i.e. the time I started to decelerate due to getting the flat, to the time I started to get back up to speed after fixing it.
Back onto the road, I knew my bike split was going to be poor. I knew that if I had any shot at winning this thing it was going to be on the back of an excellent run. For the final 28km I pushed only 297w. I came out of T2 with just over a 6 minute deficit to Amberger. It was a three loop course, so I immediately broke that down into 2 minutes per 10k. I went off in a pace that I was semi-confident I could sustain without blowing up hardcore. I have done a ton of running at 3:15-3:20/km leading into this race, so I figured 3:25/km would be manageable.
I went through the first 10k in 34:19, and had pulled back right around 2 minutes. I knew that whatever I pulled back in the first 10k, I would pull back even more in the final 10k, so I started to believe it would be possible to catch him. I ran the next 10k in 35:36, and went through the half-marathon in 1:13:31. Through 20k I was down by only a minute, and I knew then that I would catch him. Around 23km I pulled up beside him. Nothing was exchanged as I believe we both race off of similar energies, and a congratulations for a solid effort is the last thing you want to express in that moment.
I kept the pace honest until the finish. Approaching the finish line I grabbed a Canadian flag and flew it proudly. I took the finishing banner, gritted the teeth and flexed the muscles. This was a showing of both my revenge and gratitude for the race back in 2011. I must say, I am very impressed with how Josh Amberger raced. He laid it all on the line; swam off the front, biked off the front, and fought to the bitter end. I am excited to battle with him again soon.
All and all, I am happy with the performance and the choice to do this race. I am certain my swimming is improving, and my bike and run training are moving in the right direction for Kona. I was able to get back into quality training only a few days after the race, and I will be able to put in four solid training blocks before Kona.
Now that I have written this chapter book, perhaps I will maintain this blog a little better moving forward. Thanks for reading.