The Great White North Triathlon
This past weekend I had the opportunity to race at an event that has been on my bucket list for a while, the Great White North Triathlon. It’s based in Stony Plain, Alberta, about a 45 min drive from the Edmonton airport. It’s been on my list for a while as I’ve always heard positive things about the course, the volunteers and the organization. On Sunday, in its 24th year running, it definitely didn’t disappoint.
The swim course is one 2k loop in Hubbles Lake. Conditions were cooler and it was a wetsuit legal swim. I lined up with Jeff Symonds, Nathan Champness, Karen Thibodeau and a few other speedy swimmers hoping to catch a free ride on some fast feet. I botched my start though, missing the group and spent the next 600 metres swimming out and around the giant mass that had a better start than I did. I’ve come to realize just how important the swim start is, learning the hard way on a couple occasions this year. I’m hoping I can work on this before Ironman Mont Tremblant next month as 3800m’s on my own will be a taxing way to start a very long day. I came out of the water 2 mins back from the leaders in 25:38, quickly got through T1 and out onto the bike.
I could tell my legs were good right away judging by my perceived effort vs my power numbers. I rolled out of T1 with Anthony Toth who is strong cyclist and I know has the leg speed to run me down in a race. I didn’t want to make it easy to come with me on the bike so I put in a surge early on to build some separation. About 15k in I could see the leaders. I rode by Elmar Heger who let me know that it was Nathan trailing behind Jeff up with the lead motorcycle. I kept a steady pace for the next 15 minutes but didn’t seem to be taking any time out of them. At the first turnaround it looked like I was about a minute back. After the frustration of seeing how riding in a pack, even at legal distance, plays to a faster bike split and with less effort at IM 70.3 Mont Tremblant two weeks earlier, I didn’t want to leave Jeff and Nathan to work together while I rode on my own. I took a risk and made the choice to ride hard for 10 minutes to see if I could bridge up to them. 9 minutes later I closed the gap. I sat in for a bit and recovered.
About 80km’s of the 90km course is a two loop out and back. Conditions were slow on the bike as the wind was strong for the entire ride. It’s no secret that Jeff is a world class runner off the bike and Nathan is no slouch either, I had to take my chances on the bike if I was to stand a chance against them. After we made the turnaround at T2 and headed out for the second loop I made my move and attacked into the headwind. I was able to push the power on the climbs staying aero and slowly built a gap on them. This was my first time leading a race with a lead motor cycle, I’m not going to lie, it got me pretty fired up!
I came into T2 a little over a minute ahead of Jeff and Nathan with the fastest bike split of the day. The problem with being first off the bike and onto the run course is that volunteers aren’t expecting you. Some were surprised when I came running through the first aid station but they quickly recovered and handed me what I needed. Jeff caught me about 3 km’s into the run. I was relieved in the sense that I was a bit unsure where I was going as the run course varies between paved roads, gravel roads, paths and even across a grass field. Ironically we ended up running 200m’s off course anyways as a turn sign had been blown over. A volunteer came running out and yelled at us to come back and at that point Nathan leap frogged from 3rd to 1st as he was there to make the turn. I was pretty bummed at that point as I felt like all the hardwork I put in on the bike to build a gap had been taken away but the reality is my running still hasn’t bounced back since my bike crash in New Orleans. My run legs weren’t giving me what I needed to out run Nathan on the day so I had to make due to hold onto a podium spot. Shortly after the first 5k turnaround I had an opportunity to see the gap to the pros running behind me. I recognized Justin Birks who looked to be running strong but I felt I had a big enough gap. There was another guy in a black trisuit who I didn’t recognize and looked like he was running an open 10k. At this point I think the gap was a little over 6 minutes.
At the last turnaround with about 5k to go, Dusty Spiller (the dude in black) had closed the gap to a little over 2 minutes and didn’t show signs of slowing down. I tried to change gears but the legs were giving me nothing back. With 2k to go I couldn’t see him, but when I checked at 1k I could see he was closing in. I thought about all those hard track sessions, the sacrifices I’ve made this year, the sacrifices my wife has made, anything to try to get my legs turning over fast enough to get me over the line before he caught me. The effort felt like I should be running 2:50 per/km pace but it was more like barely holding onto 4:00min pace. I managed to hold on with a 13 sec margin to Dusty in a time of 4:01:11, a new PB by 8 mins. It’s definitely worth mentioning Dusty ran a 1:14:57 claiming the fastest run of the day.
Though far from a perfect, the reality is perfect races are few and far between, it’s all about getting the most you can out of your body on the day and I definitely managed to do that. My running will come as we build my volume back up with consistency. I’m stoked to claim my first pro podium, actually earn a paycheque and do a bit better than just breaking even on the trip. This is a race I’ll definitely plan to return to next year as it had a great group of volunteers, an awesome local triathlon feel and a very talented group of local athletes that were fun to race against.
A big thank you Michael Brown, his team and all of the amazing volunteers that made this race possible. Thanks to Ken Anderson for these amazing photos! I also want to thank my sponsors that have been so supportive of me this year: Felt Bikes, Sugoi, Vision, Main Street Automotive, North Shore Athletics / Kintec, North Shore Road Bike and Nathan Sports.
Next on the calendar is Ironman Mont Tremblant. I’m really excited to return there so soon to race as Jenna and I both had an amazing time there for the 70.3 last month. Though I’m not particularly looking forward to the work that needs to be done over the next 4-5 weeks, it wouldn’t be rewarding if it was easy. I’m pumped for my Ironman debut as a Pro and to see how I currently measure up as Ironman is a completely different race than the half distance.