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The best laid plans of...

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George Papadakos - Triathlons

I very seldom like to do race reports on myself, but felt compelled to share how sometimes things just don't go your way.

Heading into my first big race of the season at Ironman Muskoka 70.3, I was feeling extremely confident. I even went as far as to say how long it would take me to complete the distance (Mistake No. 1).

The 70.3 distance is comprised of a 1.9 km swim, 90 km bike and 21.1 km run.

As far as the three disciplines were concerned, my swim was strong, the bike had been very consistent and my run was beginning to scare even me. Hard work was starting to pay off with the final leg of the triathlon, and even though I had a nagging foot problem I didn't think it would be a problem (Mistake No. 2).

The lead-up to the race was excellent. I tapered my training down to just short, fast workouts, my nutrition was spot on and I was getting plenty of rest too. I even managed a small vacation with the family to Chicago, which really helped to connect us all after a busy May and June and a big training load.

I mentally went through my checklists and made sure that I had all of my gear for the swim, bike and run. I noticed that I was down a few energy gels, but figured I would pick them up at the Ironman Expo.

Wifey and I made the trip up in good time, and I decided that we should go straight to the race site, get registered, rack my bike and then get out of the area as fast as possible.

I love triathletes, but when they are in race mode you can feel the tension, and to be honest, too much of it just drains you.

With my bike checked in, tires deflated a bit, and a good lay of the land scoped out I was ready to go (so was Wifey).

The alarm at 4:45 a.m. comes early and with it the nerves, and the demands that need to be met before I start my day on the race course.

The drive to the race takes less than 10 minutes and we have to park 2 kilometres away because there is no traffic allowed near the race site.

Race organizers have this down to a science, as they move all traffic swiftly and everyone quickly gets on the bus that takes us to Deerhurst Resort.

We make it to transition by 6 a.m. and I quickly get my gear organized so that I can fly through transition after my swim and bike. I meet up with Wifey who has found her true love, coffee, and then I head to the washroom.

If you have ever been in a race you know the porta-pottie line can be big, but don't skip it. Race day jitters can wreak havoc on you mentally and the last thing you want to do is worry about it.

So as Wifey and I head down to the swim start, the first problem of the day rears its ugly head. Remembering my wetsuit is never a problem, but trying to swim with one that has a broken zipper is.

I couldn't believe it, of all things... the zipper! I had a dilemma already and with only 20 minutes before my race wave went off there wasn't a lot of time to fix it. I contemplated wearing no wetsuit, but the water temperature was hovering around 68 degrees which isn't bad, but I didn't have the time to do a proper warm up.

I opted instead to wear it and do whatever I could. Wifey got the suit fastened at the top with just the velcro. I gave her a kiss and thanked her for the valiant efforts.

I thought this might just work until I got into the water and the wetsuit came undone. I tried to get it to stay fastened but the velcro gave way time and time again. With my swim wave up in 60 seconds it was go time.

With the horn signalling the race start we took off. The wetsuit was holding strong and for a brief moment was thinking I might of dodged a bullet here. Nope.

The top of my wetsuit opened, and with it the drag created a parachute effect that definitely slowed my efforts. With every pull of my arms, my shoulders slid free of the wetsuit which gave me the impression of trying to swim in a straight-jacket (interesting thought).

 

Note to self: Don't just bring wetsuit, check for any and all defects, and maybe even do a swim session in it to make sure its good to go.

 

Once I realized this was my reality I slowed down my stroke rate and tried to really extend past my normal swim stroke. It seemed to work and I quickly felt more relaxed and kind of forgot about the huge gap in my wetsuit.

Coming out of the water in 35 minutes for 1.9km isn't my best, but it's definitely far from my worst so I put that down as a lesson learned and got ready for the bike.

The bike course at Muskoka is 4 km longer than your traditional 70.3 race of 90 km. For some reason it was a mental hurdle that bothered me, and the other challenge is the fact that the Muskokas are beautiful, serene and extremely hilly.

I couldn't get into a rhythm on the bike. Climbing and descending, and descending and climbing for 94 km put a hurt on me. The topography is so foreign to what I have to train with around Tilly.

But I kept to a steady pace and made sure that I drank and ate according to my plan. I had some good and bad times on the bike, but the main ingredient was that I kept going forward and stuck to my race plan and pace.

Coming off the bike in a time of 2:54:14 had me in 39th place in my age group. I didn't know this at the time, wouldn't of mattered anyways. I was content with being off the bike and starting the run.

 

Note to self: Integrate more hill repeats and big ring, big gear riding. Ironman Muskoka is double the distance.

 

As I left transition I found my run legs fairly quickly. The throngs of spectators and volunteers were energizing every competitor heading out onto the run course.

I was running with a guy that had a similar pace to me and figured let's do this. Every racer, no matter who you are, looks at pace and starts getting ahead of themselves.

We were currently running 4:50/km and passing people. We didn't talk, but we fed off each other as we clicked through the early kilometres.

I was thinking this was going to be my fastest half marathon yet, and although I was only 6 km in, I decided to ramp up my pace and see if I had it in me.

In no time at all I was averaging 4:30/km. No doubt my bike pacing strategies were paying off by keeping something left in the tank.

I had gone through 10 km in just under 50 minutes and I was stoked that I was going to crush my half marathon PB.

Then it happened... the wheels fell off. My foot that has been hampering my run for most of the season started to hurt.

One kilometre later I was reduced to a run/walk combo, and the hopes of fast run were slowly dwindling. I have since been diagnosed with Morton's neuroma which causes pain and numbness between your third and fourth toes, but that's a story for another day.

Walking down that last stretch of road in Huntsville allowed for some reflection. Sometimes the best laid plans cannot account for reality and the fact that things happen that you cannot control.

Obviously I would of liked to have done better, but instead of focusing on the negative parts of the race, I looked at the good.

I finished 43rd in my age group, and apart from a very sore foot I felt great.

With a new set of orthotics I am confident that I will be able to run more confidently off the bike, and race Ironman Muskoka with everything I've got.

Until I meet you at the start line, train safe and have fun!

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