The Muskoka 70.3 race is the race I put all my effort towards and usually structure my season so that I peak for this race. Living in north America, this is ideal since you can still get some good base work during the months of May and June before ramping things up for September.
Unfortunately last year I had a horrible race in Muskoka (click here for details) so I had an entire year to look over what went wrong and adjust my approach to this race. One thing most people will tell you about the Muskoka race is that it's a grueling course! Not only do you swim 2000m and bike 94km but the bike and run courses have some nasty elevation changes that will quickly pinpoint your weaknesses and where your training failed. I honestly believe this course deserves its own type of training compared to other 70.3 races that I've done.
That being said, my entire training season was based on being prepared for this race so that meant loads of hills and climbing work both on the bike and on foot. A good portion of the summer my long ride of the week was a 3 to 4 hour ride from Creemore, Ontario to Collingwood, winding in and around the Blue Mountains. Throughout this ride you could find anything from hour + climbs to short steep climbs (for example the climb up Scenic Caves Rd.).
So, going into the race, I felt prepared and was ready to put in a hard day's work. Since I only remember this race as being hard, mentally challenging and on some occasions totally demoralizing, I have to say that I did have some doubts about how I was going to perform and if I was going to meet my goal.
I had originally planned of swimming 30 minutes, biking 3 hours and running 1h45 with 5 minutes in Transition for a total race goal of 5:20. This would be a PB at this race and an aggressive goal I thought I could achieve.
At the swim start, I was ready to race, I lined myself dead in the middle of the starting line that spanned a good 50m or so. Did my usual technique of going all out for a few hundred meters and settle ahead of the main pack. After sighting a bit saw the lead pack ahead of me followed by my pack which had myself and 2 other guys. For a while we were swimming beside each other. By this time, I assumed I was evenly matched with these guys as they made it this far with me so I decided to drop into their wake and let them do the work. We rounded the first corner, I felt great, still in their wake and still sighted to see where the lead pack was and they were not too far ahead. I thought to myself I could stay with these guys all day and feel super comfortable for the bike leg or I could hurt a little, bridge the gap to the main pack and then try to settle. I ran this conversation in my head for a good 5 minutes or so before I decided to break away, crank up the effort and make an attempt to catch the pack ahead of me. I'm kicking hard, powering through the catch, breathing heavy and occasionally sighting and sure enough, I wasn't getting any closer to the pack, after about 100m or so, I give up trying to catch them and settle back into my pace. Sure enough, the 2 guys I was working with catch up to me, one of them apparently tried to lose me but I stayed in his wake until about 100m left in the swim, where I could tell he took his effort down a bit, probably to get his lungs back for the bike leg.
|Recording the splits on my Garmin 310XT|
Finished the swim in 32:06, 6th in my AG.
Coming out of the water was tough enough but the Muskoka 70.3 makes it even tougher by having a T1 of about 400m long and uphill!! Funny enough, the days highest heart rate recorded for me was during this stretch! I knew I wanted to get 3h on the bike and since it’s a 94km bike loop, that meant holding a 31.5km/h avg so I decided to put “avg speed” on my Garmin and use that as a loose guide. This was really a godsend as it helped me push or ease off at certain spots. The first 30k were nice and steady with a very high cadence – in hopes of working the lungs instead of the legs. I didn’t push much on the hills and just kept it comfortable. Based on the course and how I’ve trained on it before, I knew that by km 60, my avg speed would be the fastest of the day so from km 30 to 60, I pushed to get that average speed to about 32, knowing that it would drop from 60 to 94k. At km 60, I got up to 31.8 which had me a bit worried but I still felt great and on top of it all and nutrition was perfect. Sure enough it slowly trickled down from km60 onwards, hammered harder and harder seeing the avg speed trickle down to 31.5 and down to 31.3 by one of the last major climbs leading to T2. With about 5k to go and the course being net downhill from that point to T2, I hammered to bring it back up to 31.5. with a bike split of 2:59!
|My Cervelo P2 performed exceptionally well on race day!|
Finished the bike in 2:59:05, 28th in my AG
Onto the run... But first a little back track... For a good 30k during the bike leg, I had to pee like a race horse, I tried to loosen up on some descents and some flat stretches without any luck! Sounds ironic but when on my bike, the "flood gates" simply don't open. This is something I tried to practice leading up to Ironman Canada but I simply failed. I don't know if it's the way I'm built or what but I simply can't pee on the bike. If there is anyone out there with some tips, PLEASE HELP!! So obviously the first thing I do out of T2 is hit the port-o-potty's!! I must have been in there for a solid 2 minutes before I was ready to go... So between this and the attempts to pee on the bike, I can comfortably take off an additional 3 minutes off my finish time!!
|Climbing on the first km of the run course|
I decided not to look at my watch until about 5k so that I could settle into the run without being affected by pace or time. You never know what your pace is like based on the effort but I felt great, I felt fast and the leg turnover was awesome. But I felt like that holding a 5:30/km pace so I really didn’t know what I was doing. Finally looked at my watch and was running an actual pace of 4:20 at the time with an average pace of 4:40 as I passed the 5k marker. Right away I thought back to the countless amount of times my coach Sara Gross had mentioned about forgetting to try to bank time early in the run - it simply doesn't work. So I eased off a bit and brought my heart rate back to a reasonable level. Got to the 10k point and saw 47min or so and I was totally re-energized. I had a goal of 50min 10k’s for the 1:45 goal time so having 3 minutes in the bank felt great. Especially when km10 to km15 are net downhill. The next 5k were also awesome, took it all nice and fast, by this point, I didn’t care about the HR and decided to start to hurt in the lungs a bit so I started to push. I had a guy running behind me who was probably running about 5 seconds per k faster than me as he was behind me for the longest time, slowly caught up and then slowly started to pull away by this point so when he was about 10 feet ahead of me, I decided to stay with him. Sure enough every once in a while I’d look at my actual pace and he was clocking a 4:30 so I stayed with him for about 5k and then eventually he pulled away as it really started to hurt, I started to feel my form breaking down and km15 to 20 has some nasty little steep sections that brought me right down to 7min/km. I remember losing 2 seconds / km on my average pace in a stretch that was about 100m long and this was without walking! With about 4k to go, I had an average pace of 4:48/km pace, realized that my 1:45 goal time was well in sight. So sure enough I crank up the engine a bit, had a good pace going for a while and then cramping (both stomach and muscle) started to pinch me all over the place and so I eased off. The last 2k were really just a parade soaking it all in, recovering a bit until just before entering the transition zone. I saw 2 other racers who looked my age so, literally, I go all out, get close, see "38" written on his calf (I'm in the M35-39 age group), whiz past him, get close to the other guy, he’s 36, wizz past him and then carry the pace right to the finish line. So gained up 2 spots in the AG in the last 10 seconds of the race!
|Excuse me... Coming through.|
Finished the run in 1:41:38, 19th in AG
Add it all up and my final time was 5:17:30. I have to say that out of all the races I've done, this was the most perfectly executed race that I have under my belt. The training leading up to the race was great, I had set a reasonable but aggressive expections for myself and fought physically and mentally during the race. It's partly why I made sure to report it here in detail so that I can go back to this blog and job back my memory for future years!