14 months ago, almost to the day, my race at the Canadian Duathlon Championships in Toronto ended in bitter disappointment. I went right to the front on the first run and set a strong pace, only to watch it unravel into a mess of lost power and nutrition issues on the second half of the bike. I limped in for 3rd and was lucky to be that. When Nationals were announced for September 2015 in Montreal, I immediately put it on my calendar and Coach Tommy and I set to work building my entire season towards this race. This report will be in two posts, starting with the play-by-play here followed by my thoughts, reflections and shoutouts later.
Duathlon and triathlon are much more than just the sum of their parts. It’s not just running, cycling, and in the case of triathlon, swimming…they are their own sports entirely. In 2012, I did my first big-time race. Sure, I had done (and won) duathlons prior to my first standard distance duathlon in Cobourg at the Ontario Duathlon Championships, but this one was different.
I was racing an athlete with multiple pro World Championship appearances on his resume, Kevin Smith. I finished 2nd that day, but Kevin didn’t beat me thanks to any one particularly dominant part of the race. Instead, he took bits and pieces of time from me over all 5 stages of the race (Run #1, T1, Bike, T2, Run #2) that added up to 57 seconds and the win by the end of the race. That day I learned a valuable lesson that I have remembered ever since: every little bit counts.
On Sunday, I put my year of hard training together with the racing knowledge I have gained since that race. Leading into the race, I was shocked at the field’s depth. Though it was missing a few big names due to injury, late season burnout or the dark side (triathlon), over 180 people were still due to race including many of the top names from all over Canada. I arrived on Wednesday to give myself plenty of time to adapt to the time change and humidity.
RUN #1 (9.9KM) – 35:23 (3:34/km, 1st overall)
It rained all night on Saturday but by some stroke of luck, as I was setting up transition the rain STOPPED for the duration of the race. I knew that the first run had a good chance of going out hard despite the choppy gravel stretch to start and I was prepared to follow. Everything went according to my expectations…until it didn’t. We went through the first aid station quickly as a group of 5, one athlete made a joke about Mo Farah swinging wide for water at Worlds in the 5000m, I followed him to grab a cup…and all of a sudden we were 2 off the front of the race. At this point I took control of the race with Garry Mathieu on my shoulder…foreshadowing the day.
At this point, the racing stopped and the mind games started. Garry and I started talking to each other…conversing at 3:30/km. It started off nice enough, as Garry offered me his water cup after he saw I had flubbed my own cup (what a nice dude). We went back and forth a bit, and I kept up the conversation throughout the second lap around the basin partially to gauge his effort level (and partially because he was one interesting dude). I got the distinct feeling Garry was doing the same. I was content to run in front, often throwing in small surges that were meant to stretch but not necessarily snap the elastic. Garry had run 13:38 in college…I wasn’t getting rid of him that easy, but I could try to soften up those legs.
THE BIKE (39.5KM) – 1:00:58 (includes T1, 39.8kph, 4th overall)
We came into T1 stride for stride, and I dashed to my bike. Out of the corner of my eye I saw him reach down for his cycling shoes that were not clipped to his bike, and kicked it into overdrive. Knowing the run to the mount line was about 300m from our bikes, I booked it across transition, out to the mount line and onto my faithful Felt B16 shod in 3SIXTY5 carbon clinchers. I knew if I could get a gap going onto the bike I would put him in chase mode for the next little while. I only managed to get 5-10 seconds, but that 5-10 seconds took him almost 8 laps (out of 9) to close down. Don’t tell me transition isn’t as important as swim/bike/run.
The bike course was crowded, as advertised. Between squeezing through tight gaps while passing people trying to ride the tangents on Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, and weaving around people who inexplicably decided to ride on the right instead of the left as instructed (pre-race meetings are important, people!), I managed to have a pretty solid ride. There were some sketchy moments, most notably some nasty cramping in both calves early on, as well as some close calls on the slick and crowded hairpins and S-turns. But the games started again on lap #8…
…because at this point Garry took control of the race. I had been seeing his name pop up shortly after mine on the lap board, and he was very close behind every time I peeked during the hairpin turnaround, so I knew he was coming. Once he made the pass, it was decision time: I could keep going my pace and let him go, hoping to reel him back in on the run, or I could burn a match and ride at my limit to keep him within reach, hoping to come into transition a couple seconds behind. I chose the latter, afraid of him going out of sight and out of mind…and it paid off. He threw everything at me, including hard attacks up the small rises, but I managed to keep him within reach for the last lap, and got my legs ready for the run.
RUN #2 (5.1KM) – 20:12 (includes T2, 3:41/km, 3rd overall)
It was at the dismount that I saw a second opportunity: from about 2 seconds back I saw Garry pull up to the mount line, stop to unclip and dismount. Again I went into overdrive, completing the fastest flying dismount of my life (passing him) and sprinting to my rack spot (stopping only to slide on my Skechers GOMeb Speed 3’s) and then out of transition. This was my opening, and I put everything I had into taking it. I don’t have an exact time on my first mile, but since I saw 3:25 as my average pace for about that distance it was likely under 5:40. This was the decisive moment of the race. The next two miles were not pretty, but the damage was done.
For two miles I struggled physically but fear fueled me to run as hard as I could. In the back of my mind I kept seeing Garry flying around my outside, leaving me in his dust. I refused to let belief creep in until it forced its way in, but when the finish line came into view I began to believe. A shot of adrenaline, an injection of pace, and as I passed the grandstand a wide smile as I heard my pops yelling hysterically. Running through a tunnel of noise, I saw the “Canadian Champion” tape stretched out in front of me and it got very real, very fast. I started pumping my fists like mad , high-fiving people, and I teared up behind my sunglasses.
FINAL RESULT – 1:56:35 (1ST OVERALL, CANADIAN CHAMPION)
As I broke the tape I stretched my arms out wide in celebration and all my emotions poured into one of the biggest smiles to have ever graced my face. I grabbed the tape and hoisted it over my head, looking up to the sky in absolute shock. 14 months after bitter disappointment in Toronto, I had done it: Canadian Duathlon Champion in Montreal. 14 months of painstaking work, long solo training sessions, and foregone outdoor workouts culminating in adding my name to a list that includes (most recently) Sanders, Tremblay and Frake. And it feels gooooooood.
HUGE shoutout to Garry Mathieu for doing his part to make this one hell of a battle. Seriously man, you are one tough dude. Stay tuned for part 2: The Reflection. Until then, keep Du’ing it!