On Sunday I was thrilled to repeat a win at the MultiSport Canada Bracebridge Olympic Triathlon. It was a hard-fought race with fellow Recharge With Milk Development Team Member Andrew Bolton, whose rate of improvement is stunning. Keith Marchant, another fixture on the Ontario circuit, rounded out the overall podium (full results):

All too often, you only hear about an athlete’s successes: the epic workouts, personal bests and podium finishes. Burnout, injury, scratched races and DNFs just don’t get the same billing. The reality is that training and racing at a high level can be a roller-coaster ride. Sometimes it can be hard to tell if you’re building to a peak or edging towards a meltdown. Finding the balance between training and recovery that optimizes performance and long-term development can be a tightrope walk. I have been open about my struggles in the past and I appreciate when others do the same. After my race report, you can read on for some lessons I learned following my first long course triathlon.

Back to Bracebridge…
One of the unique features of this race is the time trial format with athletes released one at a time in a rolling start. I have a love-hate relationship with this format. On one hand, tactics are largely irrelevant, making the race a more pure test of individual ability. On the other hand, it guarantees maximum suffering for the entirety of the race since you never know exactly where you stand relative to your competitors (mental arithmetic being exponentially more difficult in an oxygen deprived state). An extra finishing kick could make all the difference but you won’t know until the dust has settled!

Swim (1500 m): 19:10, 3rd
I had bib #1, meaning that I was supposed to start first. But as I learned, even elites can make rookie mistakes; I mistimed my warm-up and just missed my start! Thankfully, Race Director Jason Vurma calmly assured me that he could slot me in 6th position. I could have hugged him. After recovering my composure, the swim was smooth and uneventful. I moved up into second place coming into transition.

Pseudo-pro tip: I’m usually a fan of clear goggles, but tinted or mirrored lenses are essential for this race. Every year, I have been blinded by the morning sun rising over the river on the return section of the swim.

These racers lined up in time for their start…

Bike (40.8 km): 1:00:31, 2nd
I quickly moved into the lead feeling strong and confident…
…right up until Andrew Bolton, who started 45 seconds behind me, passed me like I was standing still on the course’s steepest climb around the 5 km mark. I had hoped to hold him off longer than that! That’s when I realized that a comfortable victory was not in the cards.

Despite my advocacy for racing au naturel (i.e. technology-free), my new power meter proved to be quite useful for pacing, particularly to reign in effort on the climbs. For the data-junkies, here’s my ride on Strava (minus the bike mount/dismount) and here are some details:

Average power: 292 W (~4.5 W/kg)
Normalized power: 298 W
Average cadence: 103 rpm (!)
Elevation: 362 m / 1200 ft

Pseudo-pro tip: I recently switched to a compact crankset (i.e. 50/34 vs. standard 53/39) on my tri bike. Before you pooh-pooh compact gearing as a wimpy option for weak cyclists, consider that I averaged over 40 km/h and only spun out on one descent (reaching nearly 80 km/h). Also consider this surprising fact: 50×11 is faster than 53×12. The compact allowed me to maintain a high cadence on the course’s many climbs and save my legs for a quick run. Here’s my article making the case that the vast majority of triathletes—even fast ones—should be riding compacts: 10 Reasons to Consider Compact Cranks.

Bike nutrition: ~400 mL (~150 Cal) maltodextrin-based homemade sports drink

Run (10 km): 34:03, 1st
Despite redlining the ride, I was 2:10 down on Andrew coming out of transition (including the 45 second start time gap). It was an exact replay of last year and not an unfamiliar position for me. I ran well and managed to catch Andrew before the 6 km mark, but the work wasn’t over since I needed a 45 second lead to win.

At the finish line, MSC Founder and President John Salt counted down 45 seconds. I was pretty sure that I was in the clear, but the seconds still ticked by unbearably slowly as I waited. It was fun to see similar drama among racers of all levels as they waited for the official results.

Run nutrition: I swished a mouthful of sports drink around for ~10 seconds a couple times. Many studies have found performance benefits with this “carbohydrate mouth rinse” (e.g. 1234). The cool thing is that this effect is entirely brain-driven, occurring before the sugar is even swallowed or absorbed!

Pseudo-pro tip: Glue the insoles of your racing flats in place to prevent them from bunching up when you cram on your shoes in transition.

Thank you to…


Half Iron Aftermath
In late June, I had a successful long-course debut at the Welland Half Iron Triathlon, winning in course record time. I nailed the preparation, nailed the execution, but I totally blew the recovery. Coming off the high of a breakthrough performance, taking sufficient downtime requires a lot of discipline. Top results and peak fitness engender feelings of invincibility. The last thing you want to do is ease off.
In my inexperience, I treated the Half Iron like any other short course race. My first mistake was to cram in a training block before Huronia Olympic Tri, 13 days later. Just three days after the race I launched back into heavy training with a 180 km ride, against the better advice of my coaching consultant Richard Pady.
My next race was rough. I have never felt so empty—physically and psychologically. But it did provide a much-needed reality check. I accepted the First Law of Holes: “If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging”. After a couple rather pathetic weeks, I had no choice but to scratch the National Championships, my ‘A’ race of the season. A full month after the Half Iron, and with some aggressive iron and B12 supplementation for good measure, I finally turned the corner.
This experience reinforced that its better to be proactive with recovery by taking “voluntary downtime” before it becomes “enforced downtime”. It was bad enough to screw up a few weeks of my race season, but my mood, productivity and general well-being also suffered from this totally avoidable meltdown.
Lesson learned: Long course racing will humble you if you fail to respect its demands. If not during the race, then it will catch up with you eventually. In the future, I will accord that distance the respect it deserves.
Recover well my friends!