The 2009 Niagara Duathlon was not on my schedule heading into this weekend but I was itching to race a short distance event since we have been racing many international and long distances for the past few months. I was able to trade in a few tasks around the house for an extra racing pass and just hoped the weather would hold up so we could go fast.
As morning rolled in the skies looked a little dark but, thankfully, we were treated to a dry, warm day before the violent storms of the evening screamed through the area. The air may have been a little humid but not much of a factor with all the water stations out on the course. After losing my aero bottle straw in Gravenhurst, I knew I would have to go without water on the bike so I prepared ahead of time and did not let it become a distraction.
The start of the race was much different than the past few years at this location. They increased our first run to 2.5k from 2k with a loop in the wooded trail, which turned out to be damp and muddy. As we had a rather large field (136 athletes) for a duathlon, I jumped out quick to get away from the crowd. Another runner made his way even quicker than I to the front and was looking very speedy. This duathlete was wearing basketball shorts so I assumed his cycling may be a little slower than mine. With this in mind, I let him go as he created a pretty large gap between us.
As we made our way through the loop in the forest, I started to close the distance without picking up my pace. I continued to stay with my game plan and pushed through the mud eventually making a small climb out of the bush and back to the sidewalk for our final kilometre to the bikes. I was still in second place but well within reach of our leader. As we made our way back into the park I was only five seconds behind him and knew my transition would get me out to the bike line in the lead.
As predicted, I had a super quick T1 and was rapidly on my way towards the Niagara Escarpment and our climb up “The Beast” of a hill. As I arrived at the foot of the hill, I slipped down to the small ring to allow me to spin up and save my legs for the rest of the ride. In the past, I have grinded my way up these types of climbs and been super tired by the summit. My ascent seemed efficient and I passed a great deal of the triathletes out on the course before me. As I reach the top my legs were still fresh so I started to hammer it out along the flats up top.
I was now making my way through a lot of the other tri racers feeling very good about my cycling speed. I kept up the pace and didn’t see anyone from the duathlon until close to a minute after the halfway turn. I knew some of the others would become motivated once they saw me so I pushed harder until I returned to the hill for the downhill test. Since this was the first time I was to experience this (in 2007 I flatted out of the race after the climb and in 2008 the hill was not used due to rain) so I did not want to get too aggressive with a lead. I made my way down the hill in a controlled fashion and knew I had very little riding left remaining so was starting to feel confident about my current position.
It was at this point that my race went a little off track, literally. As I approached one of the intersections at the bottom of the hill, a police officer standing in the middle of the road waved to my right. I did not sense anything behind me so I thought he was directing me to turn right. I made the turn but did not recognize this section of the course and did not see any other riders or signs. I started to panic a little and looked back at the intersection looking to see what the police officer was now doing but he was focused on the cars stopped around him. I then saw another cyclist go straight past him and circled around to get back to the race.
Once back to the action, one of the other competitors, that I had passed on the top of the hill, asked me what happened. I told him what had just happened as we rode side by side so he encouraged me to put down the hammer. He seemed willing to give me the spot in great sportsmanship. It was a very nice gesture but I told him I was in the duathlon so he didn’t need to slow his progress as we were in different events.
I promptly got back up to my cruising pace and returned back to the bike zone without further incident. Upon reaching the racks I could see I was still in first place and pretty certain my run would be good enough to hold off anyone today. Shortly out of transition, we had a downward slope to the next side street which helped get my turnover up to the rate I wanted. I was gradually making my way through even more triathletes and felt like I was running one of my finer final legs this season. I didn’t want to look at my watch to see the actual pace and was only focused on finishing strong.
Soon after the turn on this run I could see second place close to 400 metres back. The course took us back through along the side streets for a short distance before a little detour through a lake view park along crushed gravel paths. This was followed by another connection along the side streets before we were directed back into the wooded trails for the 6th kilometre. During this section I didn’t want to wipe out or make any mistakes so I cautiously made my way around the mix of mud, wooden bridges and wood chip paths, giving some time back to my chasers. Emerging from the woods I only had one kilometre left but was not about to let up. I had a goal in mind (based on last year’s time) but did not hit that due to the trails as they were not included in last year’s version.
My time may have been a little short of last year for the final run but it was enough to deliver my third win of the season. With only a few days of preparation, I went in with smaller expectations than the past few events but walked away happy about all three stages of my duathlon. My bike time was second in the duathlon and would have been fast enough for fifth in the triathlon. If you take away my little adventure at the bottom of the hill, I probably would have had the best split in the duathlon and been very close to the top three in the tri. These are the kinds of results that motivate my training efforts and give me hope that I will be able to compete in the triathlons (in my age group) next year, if I work hard on swimming during the off season.