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Olympic Triathlon, Esprit Montreal 2014 race report

(Disclaimer: since 1/3 of my fan club is bilingual (Diana), 1/3 is French (mom) and 1/3 is English (Peter), and I wrote the last one in French, this one is in English. I promise you the next one will be in Wingdings.)

After the bad luck in my first triathlon where I had 2 flats on the bike section (Sprint triathlon in Rouyn-Noranda), I immediately registered for another triathlon: I couldn’t let 2014 end without at least one triathlon completed. Rouyn taught me multiple things, but there were two that stuck: first, I still swim like a rock (and that’s not being nice to the rocks). Second, even though I still swim like a rock, I know I got enough stamina to do an hour of swimming non stop. With this in mind, I figured I could register for a longer distance – the Olympic triathlon (1.5km swim, 40km bike, 10km run).

I recall it was a little more than a year to this day. We were at a kid birthday, a friend of Sabrina, and a few fathers were discussing bikes and doing a little more exercise. At that point I had started getting better at running but I still couldn’t run 5km non-stop. I was biking more and had considered going to the birthday party on my hybrid bike (It seemed far back then. It’s not. It’s not even 20km away from our home and I have been there often on Sunday rides by now. But it seemed far back then). I had not purchased my road bike yet. But in the discussion, we mentioned triathlons. It dawned on me at that point that this is where everything was headed for me – I needed to do that. I just felt that after all those years of doing nothing, it would be a defining moment in my « getting healthy progression ». I didn’t know the extent of everything that would be needed, or any of the technical stuff, what transitions were, or even what was the difference between a sprint, an Olympic, a half-distance or long-distance triathlon. But I wanted to do one.

The week before the Esprit Triathlon was spent preparing. Physical preparation up to that point was done, so what was left was to pack my extensive list of gear (both necessary gear and just-in-case) and keep myself calm. Like I said elsewhere, who knew that packing for a 2.5h event was more complicated than for a 2 weeks vacation…

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Calm. Right.

I was both excited and panicked. Excited, because I had the feeling I would do relatively well. Panicked because there were still bike failures in the back of my mind. You can trudge along in a swim or a run, but without a bike, you’re cooked. Also panicked because a week before the race, they were announcing storms and rain for the weekend. Déjà-vu. The nerves peaked on Friday evening but eventually I calmed down and had a decent night of sleep.

Since my wave was at 11:40, I didn’t have to wake up before the sunrise and I would have plenty of time to digest my breakfast and drive to Ile-Notre-Dame. Weather forecast was dead on: it was raining (although we’d be fortunate that there would be no thunderstorms). Raining a lot at some point, actually. I arrived fairly early, parked the car and went to register myself. Fortunately, a thing I learned from freezing my butt off in the rain in Rouyn was to bring warm clothes and an umbrella.

The car was parked in the middle of the Grand-Prix racetrack, where the bike course was to be. From there, you took a small overpass and walked along the Olympic bassin used in 1976 Olympics for the rowing events (and still used for Dragonboat races and such). Today it would be used for swimming, and the walkway around it would serve as run course.

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Boy. Does that little yellow buoy seem far 😦 and I wasn’t even at the swim start yet! To the keen eye, the buoy is the little yellow dot right dab in the middle of the picture. You’d have to swim from one end of the basin to the buoy, then back to your end of the bassin. 750m forth, 750m back. It doesn’t seem much. Maybe the size of the buoy made it look worst. But I was starting to wonder if didn’t overestimate…

After registering myself, picking up my bib, bike stickers and getting my arms and legs marked, I went back to the car to pick up my bike, backpack and waterproof bin (another thing I learned in Rouyn: keep your stuff out of the rain. It would turn out that many other athletes in Montreal looked at my bin and said, why didn’t I think of that!). Set all my stuff in the transition area, then went back to the car because I had forgotten to pay for the parking. Went back to the transition area and then went back to the car as I had forgotten my bagel in the car. Thankfully, I had lots of time to kill and chatted away with fellow athletes. Another thing I learned in Rouyn is that whatever you bring, someone else is bound to have forgotten it and you can really help your fellow athletes. My floor pump got pretty handy!

As it was getting closer to 11:40, and as I was getting more soaked (umbrella can only do so much after standing for 3h in the rain), I put on the wetsuit, flip-flops, visited the bathrooms one more time (it’s not easy to pee in a one piece tri-suit) and headed to the « beach ». To my delight, my fan club was waiting for me!

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Then it was off to the water for a warm-up. When we received the race preparation email, it mentioned that there would be ropes under the surface that rowers use to visually keep the boats straight. I looked for them, but the water was murky near the swim start – someone said it was because they added sand to create a beach.

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And off we went! I started at the back, to the side – I knew I wasn’t going to be the fastest one, and I wanted to avoid being kicked and pulled as much as possible. I looked and looked for the ropes – the water was murky all over the bassin, and all I could see were underwater plants / algae (and quite a lot of it…). Result: I started wandering all over the place, to the point where one kayak told me that I was going the wrong way. Ooops. I really need to practice sighting next year (although I didn’t have that much of an issue in Rouyn… I think there was a lack of visual aids for me in Montreal).

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It’s funny that on this picture, the yellow buoy seems closer (top right corner of picture). After a long 42:04, I exited the water and made my way up to the transition area. Bad news: I was still a slow swimmer, and my legs were much more tired than I expected. Good news: I had predicted myself a split of 45:00, so I was 3min ahead and lo and behold, I was not the last one out of the water.

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Since my legs were wobbly, it was still raining a little and I didn’t want to miss on nutrition, I took my sweet time in transition and had an energy bar and took a few swigs of energy drink.

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I wasted about 4min although a good bit of it was spent running from water to bike, as you needed a map to get through the transition set up at this event… I don’t think it could get more complicated than this, but I assume it goes with hosting 6+ different type of events.

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Yep, that’s me. You can almost make out LEFEBVRE on my butt. I was THAT fast 😉

And then off to the bike portion. Wet road. Thankfully the course is fairly straight, no sharp turns except at one end. This is where I hoped to move a tad up in rankings as I believe my biking to be above average. It went without anything much to report, 9 laps around the Gilles Villeneuve track… I went relatively fast considering the slippery pavement, and exited the bike course in about 1:06:00. A speed of about 36km/h – pretty satisfied with that considering the conditions (I would have liked to push to 40km/h but I didn’t dare with water on the road, plus at some point there were a lot of people on the track. Laps 8 and 9 coincided with the first waves of people doing sprint triathlons – it got crowded). I had predicted conservatively 1:15:00, so at this point I was doing better than expected on my target time.

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Going into T2 – I wasted another 3min in there, taking some time to eat a gel and again using the map to find my way through the maze of bikes. As I hit the run, I am about 5min better than my predicted time. Hurray!

20140906_180222570_iOSThe run didn’t go as well as planned. I had a cramp during half the run, and I couldn’t maintain the pace I wanted (4:30 to 4:40/km). First half was ok in terms of pacing, but around the point the picture was taken I was grimacing and cramping. I slowed down to about 5:00/km. On the bright side, I saw Mina and Diana in the crowd with their big « Go G!!! » sign. Great way to raise your spirits!

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I would continue the second lap, catching up to a fellow racer that was going at the same pace as me (although he had 20min on me since he started the wave before) and chatting a bit. Made the last 20min of the race more bearable!

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Barely more bearable.

Final split time for the run was 49:27. Ugh. Slower by 4-5min than I had planned. Which gave me an overall time of 2:45:00.3

Now, if we add up my predicted times of 45:00, 1:15:00 and 45:00 – I was pretty close in my prediction in the end! 0.3s off! Like my friend Christine said, at this point, I know how the machine is goig to perform. In terms of standings, it gives me 424/786 overall, 343/526 men, 51/74 in M35-39 category. For a first triathlon completed, this is totally acceptable!

Going into more details, in my wave, my split times were:

Swim: 42:04 (71/74 – not the slowest one! – includes 1 confirmed slower, one that lost his chip and was slower than me overall and one DQ)
T1+Bike+T2: 1:13:31 (27/74 – decent)
Run: 49:27 (44/74 – not happy with that one! I know I can do better than that)

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While I didn’t feel wracked up by the effort, I can now feel the batteries are drained. I need some recovery before the next even (Montreal Half Marathon). But at least I got a hug from the cheerleader! I got some work to do in swimming and figure out why the legs went out that way in the run, but coming in the end of the racing season, I think I can use a bit of rest.

Next chapter in three weeks!

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