Honestly, I was in the third category – racing under trained. Muskoka is one of the last triathlons of the season and my last chance of the year to validate my status as a ‘triathlete.’ Injuries and life commitments kept me out of events throughout the summer and it was just a tough year to maintain consistent training. I really needed to cross the finish line once before winter to help motivate me through winter training.
Race day started in chill and darkness. By the time the sun rose, I realized I had lost my bib number. Panic followed until the announcement was made that Racer 515 (me) needed to visit the announcer’s booth to get their number back.
Temperatures were still in the single digits when I made the long walk down to the swim. The mist rising off the lake as the sun rose was breathtaking. The water was perfect – warmer than the air and inviting, not intimidating.
While the pros started their race, I had the chance to get in a short warm up and then line up for my wave. The horn blew and we were racing. In fact, we were actually racing! I jumped onto some feet that looked faster than mine and drafted (hung on) for a swift 2 km. I exited the swim feeling fresh and smiling and more than happy to get an assist from the wetsuit ‘strippers.’
Wow, they are quick! In seconds my wetsuit was off and so was my timing chip! Gone! Before I could panic officials were pushing a new chip into my hand and I was running (walking) up the hill to T1 to get ready for the bike leg.
Friends did their best to warn me about this bike course. It is tough – a nearly constant series of short steep climbs that a Puncheur would be at home riding – not someone use to the gentle rolling hills around Toronto. Still, I planned my race around a tough bike ride and decided to hold back, spin the legs, stay fresh and hydrated to save something for the run – right. The bike course all but broke me. It’s the first time I’ve considered dropping out of a race. The last 23 kilometers were brutal – constant steep climbs and descents on rough road – the last 4 km featured two climbs that I saw people walking up.
Coming into T2, I was spent. I wanted to quit – I felt that the course had taken more out of me than I had to give. I racked my bike, took a look at my running shoes and half-heartedly decided to try to finish what I started. I was torn – I did not want to walk the course. I didn’t feel that I would be honoring the race if I didn’t run – so if I was going to finish, it would be with a run, not a walk.
Coming out of transition I saw my wife. No smiles from me, just a grim look and more determination than running style. For three kilometers it was a struggle but then my legs loosened up and I found some rhythm. The run course was also hilly – especially around the start and finish. The crowds of fans, family and even one particularly drill-sergeant like coach helped me keep my momentum going through the final kilometer. Crossing the finish line was such a relief and so satisfying.
I had wanted to quit but looking back now, I think that Muskoka is perhaps the race I cherish the most. I definitely had to deal with a lot of things going on that day – equipment problems, physical and mental distress and going into a race without the base I wanted. What makes it special is that I dug deeper than I have in my past races and found a way to keep going. I didn’t set any personal best; I didn’t finish anywhere near the top of my age group but I think I won a personal battle. That will make me stronger for the next time.
To my family and friends; to the Ironman community and to the town of Huntsville; thanks for sharing a very tough and special day. I’ll be back.