Well, I made it back safe and sound from what has been a journey 4 months in the making. Ever since capturing the 2012 Canadian Paratriathlon Championships in July, myself and my guide Syd have been getting ready for our first crack at the World Championships for Paratriathlon, which was held in Auckland, New Zealand on Oct.22nd.
This race report will capture my ramblings surrounding that trip. If you want the short version, skip to the bottom below the pictures and you will find a few short points that will give you a good idea of the day; however if you have time please feel free to read what I am sure will be a somewhat long-ish report.
In the preparation for this event I had undertaken a bit of a fundraising blitz, as Triathlon Canada supported our journey to Auckland, just not quite 100% of it; therefore from July to October I was asking for and receiving tons of support. This is where I would like to once again thank everyone who supported our (Syd and I) journey down to the “Land of the long white cloud”, otherwise known as Auckland. Without your financial and moral support and even motor support to those who helped me run last minute errands-none of this would have been possible. Be assured I thought of you all often while down there and while sitting on the pontoon waiting to start, I thought of you all once again.
If you had asked me two or three or especially four years ago when I started the journey as a Paratriathlete, if I would be in Auckland New Zealand for a World Championship, I would have chuckled and said –”Who and the heck would invite me to a World Championship?”!! Well, as I tell everyone, I feel i’ve stumbled into this great opportunity. Triathlon is a sport I’ve been doing for 14 years and just want to keep finding a way to enjoy. Having thankfully a small enough amount of talent to be able to luckily be noticed and invited by Triathlon Canada is something that I am thankful for. I have never set out to be a “World Champion” or professional Paratriathlete, however that is the place I find myself now. Having the honour to be on the Elite Paratriathlon team, garnering support and respect from my national sporting federation, it is something I do not take lightly. As Mindy and I say, “it is a job” and that is how I treat it. So with that in mind, I prepared over the past 4 months the very best I knew how, with the resources I had at my disposal and a small handful of dedicated and selfless guides (Syd, Daniel, Steve, Wayne); I put my head down and attacked the pile, hoping the result would be worth the effort I put into the preparation.
I won’t bore you with a ton of details on the day to day logistics of the trip, as you can gleen some of them by reading my blog posts over the past week. I will simply start by saying the trip was long, but not terribly uncomfortable (especially on the way there). The return trip seemed to take 3 days and I was very happy to get home. I would like to say that New Zealand is a gorgeous expanse of a country, however I honestly didn’t get much further then about a 10 city block radius in Auckland. That being said, it is a beautiful city filled with amazingly kind people. My only “dissapointment” if you can call it that, was the weather. I was expecting 18C and sunny…well it was 18C and sunny, the day we left! Pretty much the entire trip I was cold and wet! Syd loved it, as he’d been there before and I guess had the local knowledge; I on the other hand did not pack quite the proper clothes for the sporatic rain/sun/wind mix which left me quite uncomfortable for the first three days until I located an AWESOME greeny/yellow fleece sweater! Oh ya, I dress myself!! Ha!
Race week was typical in the sense that you wander around, check out the expo, scout the course, plan tactics/logistics and get mentally prepared to race. Being the ITU World Triathlon Championships, there were a ton of races going on over a 5 day stretch, from U23, Junior, Elite, Age Groupers and Paratriathletes, you surely could watch your fix of the sport. New Zealand knows triathlon and takes it very seriously, with TV coverage and knowledgable commentors and public. That was a pretty refreshing thing to see!
We arrived on Wednesday morning and flew out the following Tuesday evening, with our race taking place on Monday afternoon. Upon arrival we met up with the rest of our Paratriathlon team which including guides for myself and Brian the other blind/visually impaired Canadian, totalled 8 plus two coaches. Throughout the week we did a couple rides on Big Al (my tandem) a run, and a bunch of swims. The neatest was swimming in a 60m outdoor saltwater pool-that is not a typo….it was a long pool! As race day approached, my mission was to stay dry and warm and avoid the nasty cold that had been going around. Happy to say that I accomplished that goal.
The Paratriathlon race was supposed to consist of a 750m swim, 20k bike and 5k run, however due to the 14.5C water temperature, the organizers cut the swim to 300m. This was for safety reasons in regards to some of the Paratriathletes with different physical challenges that greatly affect their hands or core temp. For once in my life I was at least somewhat disappointed that the swim was shortened, as I have been working very hard all summer to improve my swim and actually I was feeling it to be a bit of a weapon this time. I enjoy swimming but don’t LOVE swimming like Syd, I consider it my weakest of the three events and am usually happy to be out of the water. However seeing how I’ve improved over the summer, the 750m swim I think would have actually played to an advantage to Syd and I. There are some VERY fast runners in the field and I could’ve used the extra :30-1:00 advantage over some of them, but it was not to be.
Paratriathlon is treated in the same esteem to some extent as the pros are, in which I mean that we are given the same comforts of an athletes lounge pre-race with dry and warm places to sit and hang out. This also means REAL bathrooms and no crazy lines-which I get excited about! The coolest thing however is that we get to use the elite transition, which is a “flow through” transition on the blue carpter. It is a wide carpeted, oneway transition area with a very professional feel and look to it; it is awesome! We also get introduced like the pros and really get to feel like athletes (which we are) and not like “good for you special people” athletes, which we can feel like on occasion.
Our race started at 3:15pm and after checking in, setting up our transition area alongside 109 total Paratriathletes (10 tri6 men, 8 tri6 women) –Tri6 meaning blind/visually impaired– we doned our new NINETEEN FREQUENCY wetsuits (these things are once again truly amazing products).
Syd and I walked down the ramp to the pontoon which was located in a wharf within a harbour, and bordered by piers lined with spectators, which was again pretty special. We sat down, side by side with our fellow competitors, feel dangling in the cold but not crazy cold water, and waited for the start.
With approx. 1 minute to the start we were instructed to enter the water and hang onto the pontoon. We were in the first of 3 Paratri waves (which contained Tri6 men and Tri1-wheelie-men and women). Syd and I knew that the 300m swim would be just an all out sprint for dear life and we knew we’d be in the mix. To our left was the British team and multi world champ and to my right was the Brazillians, also talented guys. Syd and I swim front/back, meaning I follow the tether and swim right behind him. Many of the blind guys do this, however there is controversy over the rule as some say it is an advantage…..umm YA! It is drafting, it is an advantage, BUT drafting is allowed in triathlon at every level, so we are not sure what the stress is about this? It is very very obvious if a guide is “pulling” his athlete and of course this should not be allowed, however if I have a permanent drafting buddy, I dont’ see anything wrong with this. In triathlon at all levels people team up in the swim to draft each other and gain hydrodynamic advantage. We are not out to cheat, we are out to race, taking every advantage the rules allow–that is sport.
The siren sounds and the next 4:37 were a blur of white water, yellow bouy, arm, punch, tether, Syd’s feet, yellow bouy, fogged goggles, punch, kick, breathe in mouthfull of water, white water, punch, then exit pontoon. It felt like and Ironman swim at top sprint speed. Syd later said that we hit the pontoon in 3rd place and within 1-3 seconds of the GBR and BRA teams, gapping the rest of the field.
Out in 3rd was ok, and we scrambled up the pontoon in what was the first of 2 not so spectacular transitions by both Syd and I. He had trouble with his wetsuit, I as tripping on the tether, and we were fumbling a bit. Oh well, more practice needed as our Edmonton transitions were nearly perfect, we know we can do much better.
Out onto the 3 loop of 6.7km FLAT bike course, we were 30 sec down on GBR and BRA. Syd and I love BigAl and really feel he is a rocket ship of a tandem. We are confident on him and settled into a hard pace chasing 1st and 2nd. It took the first lap for my legs to come around and for the heart rate to come back down. The 2nd lap we caught and passed BRA for 2nd, still 30 sec behind GBR. Nearing the end of lap 3 the BRA team passed us again and we stayed with them til T2, getting off the bike together.
Again, T2 was a bit of a shambles…as somebody kicked my shoes which had my blackout glasses and tether in them. Plus I sat down to put them on…SAT DOWn?!!! What was I thinking…that is just wasted time. Plus it is much easier to step into your running shoes then it is to pull them on while seated. Best I can figure is it was an instinct when I only saw one running shoe, I hit my butt and groped around blind guy style for the rest. Syd manged to find the blackout glasses and other shoe and I got back up and off we went. I guess at least our dismount into T2 was smooth and pretty, but people watching live feed from home sure enjoyed my T2 performance. “You looked angry”, “you were feeling the ground all over”…..ya, I was definitely giving the ground a good caress, but wasn’t angry….yet!
Off onto the run we were 3rd, as the GBR team now has about 1:20 on us and the BRA had about 15 sec. The run was 4 loops of 1.25km back and forth in front of transition. The crowds were very loud and supportive (although I didn’t seem them due to the blackout glasses) and the roads wee super smooth and nice to run on.
Syd and I took the pace out fairly fast and my legs felt great as we maintained a 30m gap on the 2nd place BRA team. ending the 2nd lap I started getting a pretty back diaphram spasm under my right rib cage, it had started on the bike but eased a bit initially on the run. However this time it was back with a vengence! In a longer race when this happens, you ease off the pace and calm the breathing and it goes away, however in a 5km all out run, you don’t really have time to back off. If I back off, the gap to 2nd gets bigger and who knows if the cramp even goes away. The only option was to hammer away and try to calm the breathing and hope it goes away. It did not. Lap 3 and 4 were a blur of wheezing and praying the stupid cramp would go away. In the early stages of lap 3 the Serbian teeam came running past. Crap:( We wwre now in 4th place and for some reason I initially thought we got passed for 5th place. I immediately went to a head space of “this sucks, I try so hard and I’m going to end up getting passed by everyone”….I right away realized how bad of a headspace this was and fixed it quickly. I asked Syd if we were in 4th or 5th, he said 4th and so I made a decision right there. I realized that I didn’t train that hard, get that much support and work to get all that way to Auckland just to give up mentally becasue my dream of a podium was pretty much lost. That would have been unprofessional, childish, selfish and disrespectful to everyone who supported me. I knew I would not be happy with 4th but I for sure knew giving up mentally and crusing into a 5th place or worse place just because I didn’t see the point in suffering anymore, was a real stupid thing to do. So right then and there with about 2km to go I was determined to hold 4th and by some miracle recover and catch third.
Making the turn for the final lap, Syd encouraged me that is was now or never to make a move on 3rd place but I just couldn’t. My legs felt awesome but my breathing was so shallow I just couldnt’ get any oxygen to power them along. With about 1km to go Syd cheered on the very fast moving Aussies coming from behind and I wheezed to Syd “How far back?”. He proceeded to tell me 150m (which was a bit of exxageration but a tactic for Syd to push me all the way to the line). So for the last 1km of so it was all out suffering to make sure I got to the line in 4th.
We made our final left turn onto the blue carpet finish straight which was about 200m long. I again asked Syd where they were, but don’t recall his answer. I figured I would give it all I had for one last dash, making sure I gave it everything I had, as was the promise to all my supporters. I held my breath, gritted my teeth and went at the line as hard as I could. Turns out I didn’t need to as the Aussies were still a few hundred meters behind but I was proud that I didn’t coast to the line moping along. I ran hard all the way through and ALMOST puked, which I think people had side bets on!.
After the finish I was pretty bummed out as I knew I had third if not even second place within my grasp and failed to deliver the podium finish I thought was so attainable. I knew nobody would be upset with 4th place but I was quite bummed as I really tried hard to mentally prepare myself to have a big day and really believe in my abilities; then to fall short really shattered my confidence.
Later however while I sat with my teammates at the hotel enjoying a drink, we scanned the results. Upon seeing the splits i felt a renewed sense of confidence and pride in my race. As you will see later with the stats, we had a solid race, we were within seconds of the leaders on pretty much everything except our transitions. Now I say OUR because Syd didn’t have great transitions either, BUT he at no point really held me up…so it was a jointly slow transition day. I was encouraged to see that I do actually have the same skills/talent to “hang” with these podium finishers and I was instantly motivated to prove it. So now we move on to 2013 and find a way to improve.
I must once again state that Syd showed up with his A game…he was prepared and fit and could’ve gone faster if I needed him to. I know it is “my” race but I am sure him seeing the BRA team 30m up the road and me not being able to close the gap, must’ve been extremely frustrating for him. He is a competitor who is there to help me yes, but also wants to win too. I do however hope and am sure he knows that I gave it my all and desperately wanted to get on the podium to reward his hard work too. Also that I showed up in the best shape i’ve been in for years, with my swim feeling like a weapon (to me) and my cycling and running being strong. I wanted to prove to him just as much to myself that I was fit and ready to go……but some days your body just won’t cooperate 100%. Mine that day gave me about 90%…however to podium and to win I will need nothing less then 99%, saving that 1% just in case I need it for a sprint finish:) I am obviously very appreciative of his efforts as often the race is as much between him and I as it is with the competition. Think about it…he goes into every race with me knowing he has to lose as he can’t beat me across the line according to the rules BUT he can surely beat me up on the way to the line! He pushes me and helps me step up my game, that is a huge weapon in my arsenal I think!
So below are some pics from the day and some bullet points to sum it up.
It was a great experience, however it honestly wasn’t a big learning curve as it is triathlon and we know a lot about triathlon. It was a lesson though to clean up the untidy stuff like transitions and also a positive lesson that pushing through a crumby run can still make you feel rewarded at the end. Oh ya, I mentioned a lot earlier about “not being angry…yet”. I think you’ll see in the picture that the grimace was equal parts pain and anger. I was ticked at myself and that was a run of anger to the line. I know I can do better and I am angry when I don’t deliver, but next time will be different!
A HUGE THANKS TO:
-NINETEEN WETSUITS, E3, RUNNING FREE, RUDY PROJECT, SPEEDFIL
-Syd and his family for helping me on this journey
-my wife for putting up with me and my stress
-Everyone who gave generously to help get Syd to Auckland
-Steve & Dan & Wayne for getting me out and on the bike and run.
-Leslie for helping me get in the water at Lake Morningstar
-all my family and friends who showed their support from all over Ontario and even the USA and Australia.
Place 4 of 10 Tri6 Male
300m swim- 4:37
20k bike – 30:17
5k run – 20:28
Transitions – SLOW!
-2nd fastest swim and bike splits
-solid run split despite suffering cramping
-able to push through that much discomfort for that long=mental confidence
-comparing splits to leaders=we are equally as talented and have potential
-legs felt great
-Syd was fit and ready to rock
-Big Al was awesome again
-NINETEEN wetsuit was amazingly comfy
-New Zealand is a very lovely and friendly place
-Being treated like an elite in all aspects
-4th is close to 3rd but means we need to improve
-cramping is never fun
-cold and wet weather
-a little bit of rest
-search for more sponsorships in terms of clothing and shoes and $$$
-planning for 2013 season once we obtain race schedules