First off, I want to thank all our readers for your patience while I took a very selfish year to myself with minimal writing. Secondly, thank you to you all in advance for reading this super long post. I didn’t want to spare a detail, so I included lots of pictures to break everything up!
I’ve just made my way back from Worlds in Penticton, where I raced the Elite Standard Duathlon last Saturday (spoiler – results here)…the reason for my selfish year. It was a roller coaster, and the gathering of duathletes from around Canada gave me a chance to talk to a lot of people that I knew previously to varying degrees. The number one piece of feedback I received from duathletes during my time in Penticton? Was it people asking for advice, training tips or wanting to know more about my journey to my first elite international ITU start? Nope. It was this:
“I love your blog, why don’t you write more/did you stop writing?”
…or something to that effect. Getting to the start line on Saturday entailed a lot of bumps, obstacles and hurdles, and it required 100% of my focus to be on my own personal journey, rather than that of my sport as a whole. There was a lot of introspection and re-vamping of my own brand, and a long to-do list to check off in order to get to the start line. That said, now that I’m safely on the other side of this experience I realize I dropped the ball a bit too much, and gotten a little bit too far away from my brand.
So let’s fix that. I want this post to take the form of answers to the questions I received, because I think that’s how my experience can generate the most value for my fellow duathletes out there looking to make this leap. So let’s do it!
On why I took this particular journey…
After the question I got above, the next question I got was why I chose to get my elite card for Penticton, rather than racing the Age Group races in pursuit of high placings. To be honest, my original goal set last year was to do just that: race the AG races at my best, see what happened and make a decision on racing elite in Denmark after that. But then I got this idea in my head near the end of last season while talking to Alexandre Lavigne leading up to and after the Canadian Duathlon Championships in Penticton (standard distance) and Edmonton (sprint distance). I finished one spot behind him in both races (4th and 2nd respectively), and we both started dreaming about representing Canadian duathlon on the world’s biggest stage.
It kind of took hold of me, and the curious side of me wanted desperately to know how I would fare against the likes of Benoit Nicolas, Emilio Martin, Yohan Le Berre, Benjamin Choquert and Mark Buckingham. Doing it in Penticton would allow me to make my elite debut as one of the youngest competitors and work the kinks out in a familiar location. I could do it in front of a home crowd, and with all of the advantages that come with racing at home instead of in Europe where several additional layers of complexity would have been layered on top. As a stepping stone, I don’t believe it was better or worse than racing AG in Penticton…just a different way of easing myself into elite competition.
On preparing for the race…
Having already lined up for races in Penticton, Edmonton and Montreal Esprit (where I took the sprint distance win in a cagey affair), I added Powerman Michigan to the back end of my season to pad my resume. It was enough to secure my International Competition Card from Triathlon Canada, and from there I embarked upon 2017. You can get all the dirty details on my 2017 races from my #InstaRaceReport’s on Instagram, but I think it’s valuable to go over why I organized my season the way I did.
Duathlon is very much so a niche sport in North America, which makes it very hard to (a) qualify and (b) prepare for an elite draft legal World Championship. I focused my spring on running fast for 10km to pad my selection resume, running a full indoor season of 3000m races before hitting the roads for a 16:10 5k in March and a 33:10 10k in April. May long weekend kicked off a bike focus for me, aimed at preparing the system to ride very, very hard for the first lap of the bike leg and then hanging on. I topped out my 5 minute power at 306W (5.5 W/kg) and my 30 minute power at 265W (4.8 W/kg), and did a bunch of bike racing (mainly criteriums and road races) to work on positioning and tactics in the group.
I had two key non-drafting duathlon tune-up races, a course record at the Footstock Duathlon in June and a runner-up finish to Stefan Daniel at the Provincial Duathlon Championships in Red Deer. Non-draft racing turned out to be a more ideal form of preparation than I thought, as it is a good opportunity to put everything together. I supplemented these with draft legal race simulations with the Edmonton Triathlon Academy, which allowed me to fine-tune skills like transitions, positioning, bridging to and working with a group, and running off the bike. I don’t generally believe in a “sum of all parts” approach to multisport training (piecing together training from the different legs that combine to make a multisport event), but without races to use as training sessions, I was able to make it work. Despite the sometimes bumpy DIY approach to elite duathlon racing, I felt confident I was toeing the line prepared.
With regards to the atmosphere and support…
This was by far the best part of race weekend, so it deserves a bump over the performance aspect. Canada, you are AMAZING! I’m used to being 100% self-sufficient (ie. I monopolize my parents’ recreation time), but this time around I kept finding that everything was taken care of for me, and that my parents could actually have a vacation to themselves! The LOC did a stellar job blowing everyone’s expectations of “world class event” out of the water. My plan to lay low in a quiet corner at the Team Canada meet and greet was shot to hell, because I had lineups of you wanting to say hi the whole time. Right up until the introductions, I was in awe of the calibre of event I was racing.
Then when it came time to step up to the start line, you cranked the level up to 11. I could feel the excitement build as they announced bib 1 through 10. I planned to play the cool dude and jog up to the line like I’d been there before…but then hundreds of Canadians erupted with cheers when they announced my name. I teared up immediately, and couldn’t help but acknowledge you as your support drowned out the introductions of #12 and #13. (In fact, I teared up writing this.) The support continued throughout the race, as I had an army of friends, acquaintances and people I’ve never actually met before cheering for me every step of the way. It was the most inspiring thing I have ever experienced. Thank you again Canada…it was an absolute pleasure representing you!
With regards to performance…
With the welcome I got, you would think I had the race of my life right? Actually, the performance itself wasn’t my best. I’ll be the first to admit I didn’t anticipate the adrenaline rush I would receive from the introductions, and that rush showed in my first lap. I ran it in 7:29 (2:59/km), spiked my heart rate to near-maximum, and put myself in a box that I would regret for the next two hours. After a 33:45 10k, I actually succeeded in reaching my next “end point” where I wanted to be, pushing hard on the first climb of Vancouver Avenue and putting myself into a group with Yennick Wolthuizen (NED), Masaaki Kurihara (JPN) and John Rasmussen (CAN)…exactly where I wanted to be.
Unfortunately, John was still carrying a virus from racing in Yucatan the week before, and Kurihara went off the back with him. I didn’t dig deep enough into my suitcase of courage to get to my third endpoint (with a group after lap 1), and I lost Wolthuizen’s wheel at the top of the climb. From there it was a long lonely 40.5km ride on a grueling 5 lap course. My legs went the 5th time up the hill, and it made for a 5km slog of a second run. Stefan Daniel was just up the road, but I just didn’t have it in my legs anymore and finished 23rd.
With regards to what I did well…
So what went right? Quite a bit actually!
- I got to the start line healthy and in the best shape of my life, which was the number one goal of my 2017 season.
- I learned valuable lessons and gained valuable experience as to what it takes to be competitive on a World Championship level, which was goal number two.
- I felt I navigated the pre-race schedule as well as I could. Elite racing involves a lot more than AG racing, with mandatory race briefings, bike compliance and motor checks, wheel pits, blue carpets and constant media presence. There were a few bumps in the road, but I came through it reasonably unscathed.
- I was successful in bridging to the group I wanted to be in in the first 5 minutes of the bike, after initially missing it on the run.
- I came across the line totally spent, but bounced back reasonably well. Well enough to go 4th fastest in Strava history up Apex Mountain 4 days later!
With regards to lessons learned…
…there was a ton. This race is kind of like your first FTP test on the bike. It’s excruciatingly painful while you do it, and you slide off the bike confident you couldn’t have gone any harder. Then you look at the data and reflect on the effort, re-test a week later, and find another 20 watts. I’m content with my performance, but I came here with lots to learn as well. The lessons I learned are numerous, and I’ll need to adapt quickly if I plan to be right in the thick of things next time around. Good thing I don’t generally make the same mistake more than once!
- Those pre-race meetings? Yeah. There’s a reason elite race briefings are mandatory if you want to race. Oh, and they clean up the wheel station pretty quickly if you’re the last race of the day. Don’t worry, I got my wheels back eventually!
- Knowing your competition is an incredibly valuable resource. I went into the race hyper-focused on a plan centered around the other Canadians. When that went off the rails, I didn’t have enough information to adapt and find other wheels to ride with.
- Adrenaline has a HUGE effect on your performance. It doesn’t take much to build up, but it can make an effort that’s probably too hard seem effortless. Becoming intimately familiar with your limits is an asset, so you can mitigate the effect of adrenaline.
- The first lap of the bike should be UNcomfortable, but digging deep is how you prove yourself to a pack. I missed my pack and it made for a lonely ride. 10 more minutes of intense suffering might have meant riding in a small group and a faster bike split. The number of times I’ve wasted 10 minutes…
- It’s worth it. Oh man, is it ever. Never in my life have I ever been so proud to be a Canadian. Y’all are the best!
What’s next for me?
It’s been 10 days since the race, which means it’s been 10 days since qualifying started for the 2018 ITU Multisport Championship Festival in Odense, Denmark. I jumped back in the saddle for a hard climb up Apex Mountain and then another humbling at the Alberta ITT Championships (where just under 44kph was good enough for the 10th best time of the day). I’m planning to mix it up with the local racers at the Edmonton Velothon on September 4 before taking an invite to be on the start line at the Vancouver Eastside 10k on September 16, to chase the 10k PB I wanted in Penticton. From there I’ll toe the line at the Triathlon Canada draft legal duathlon qualifiers, on October 1 in Boucherville QC and October 28 at Overdrive in Bowmanville ON.
2018 is still up in the air, but I am tentatively planning to do another indoor track season and a short road season before heading to Greenville, S.C. for USAT Duathlon Nationals. USAT’s is about as close as a duathlete can get to elite draft legal experience in North America, so I would like to take advantage of that. The final goal? Racing Elite once again at Worlds in Denmark. I’d love to crack that top 20. Was it hard getting myself to the start line at Worlds? It definitely was. Was it worth all of the work and sacrifice I put in? Absolutely. Would I do it again? I’m planning on it! It’s easy to forget that the podium was made up of men born in 1985, 1982 and 1977…I still have a lot of career left ahead of me. 44 weeks to go!
Until next time…keep Du’ing it!