July 31, 2016

Race report - Canadian National Sprint Championships

July 24, 2016
Finish time: 1:23:59 (10/15 AG, 57/119 OA, 150/248 men and women)
Goal: top 10 AG... accomplished

Nationals, right here in Ottawa

This is it! My A race for 2016. Everything in my training from January to this point has been geared to peaking for this day. I've been racing every 2 weeks since the beginning of May. While it's been a great injection of intensity in my training, it has started to catch up with me a bit (you can check out my race reports from Sporting Life, Early Bird, Ottawa River, Smiths Falls, and Sydenham to see the progression). I started experiencing some symptoms of overtraining, all while feeling like I wasn't doing enough preparation. Frustrating, but I need to remind myself that training stress isn't the only stress the body needs to recover from.

Standing in lines of various sorts this weekend, I met lots of friendly folks. Two people I spoke with traveled from Vancouver — and one of those (in my age group) has been to at least the last 3 World Championships. I found Nationals somewhat intimidating last year in Magog, and had the same sort of nervousness before this race. I'm always one to arrive good and early on race morning, to scope out a good rack spot and have plenty of time to prepare. That wasn't necessary today, as we had to rack our bikes the previous afternoon/evening according to race number. I was grateful for one less thing to think about in the morning, since we had an early start -- my wave was scheduled to go at 6:45. Since numbers were assigned sequentially across age groups, all those in my group were racked together and some of us had a chance to chat.

With my awesome cheering squad

Swim: 750m 17:52 (PB!)

If someone had told me this time last year I'd be swimming in Dow's Lake, I'd have laughed and said "Not if you paid me." Considering I've raced multiple times during no-swim advisories, that's saying something. The last time I was in Dow's Lake was 20 years ago when I fell out of a rowing shell... I took the long way around to the shore, to avoid putting my head underwater. The next day, they pulled a dead body out of the water. I seriously am not making this up.

Swim start on a beautiful morning

We were directed to pick up our timing chip at the swim entrance, 15 minutes before our wave start. I got there at least that early, but there was quite a queue. The para-triathletes were slightly late starting, then the officials decided to combine the women's waves into a single start. This actually worked out fine, as we all had to start in a single line touching the wood boardwalk. So there wasn't a clumped mob of people sprinting over each other at the gun. The water temperature was 25.5C, so no wetsuits. I was fine with this, as I've been training without one for most of the summer -- anticipating that they would be disallowed for this race. There wasn't much opportunity for a warmup, so I just calmly put my arms through the full range of motion with some long, smooth strokes near the starting area before coming to rest with my hand on the boardwalk and my legs treading water. The course was straightforward, with only two large buoys to navigate before hanging a left around the pavilion to the exit stairs. Learning from previous races this season, I focused on strong, steady pulling, controlled breathing, and keeping my own line. I was able to draft quite a bit, which worked out nicely. I didn't feel at any point like I was working too hard, thrashing around, or spiking my heart rate. I've described that unpleasant feeling as "the faster I try to swim, the slower I actually go." The water was definitely murky with quite a bit of particulate, but I just tried to ingest as little as possible and not think about it. I was grateful to be able to swim at all, given that the Olympic and junior races the previous day had run as duathlons after delayed water test results forced a last-minute swim cancellation.

Feeling good after a personal best swim

T1: 2:12
Bike: 37:10 (32.3 km/h) — first draft legal event

As soon as I hopped on the bike, I set off in search of a wheel to latch onto. The first one I found was travelling slower than I wanted -- so I burned some matches to find the next opportunity (fellow OTCer, Rachel). It would turn out to be energy wasted, as that first rider as well as some behind her got swooped up to where we were, in what turned into one large group by the time we were halfway up Colonel By. We were talking, pointing out road hazards, and working well together. The first group of men passed our group just as we headed around the Hog's Back u-turn. This was one of the scenarios that had concerned me when going over potential draft-legal perils in my head. But it went remarkably smoothly -- I led the women's group heading around the turn, and communicated that I was going wide. The men’s pack went by without incident, and our group held together.

Out of T1 and ready to find some wheels to work with

Coming back past Carleton U, we were starting to settle into sharing pulls at the front. I tried a couple of times to break away and bring some strong riders with me, but I think I needed to communicate this better as nobody followed. Looking back to see a 5 bike length gap, all I could do was sit up and merge back into the group. It was too risky to go it alone and waste energy. By the time we passed the Bank Street bridge on Queen E, there were only about 3 of us taking pulls at the front while the rest of the pack hung on behind. In hindsight, maybe I should have backed off farther after pulling off the front. But I didn't want to get caught behind someone who might run out of steam and drop the wheel in front of them. And the gaps that opened up to let me in just naturally occurred only 2 to 3 bikes from the front. Several athletes were former Worlds competitors, and I communicated with them by the names written on the backsides of their national team uniforms. Another rider I called "Purple," identified by her bright purple tri top. It was a real rush, everyone encouraging each other and looking out for the group -- I felt a collective success as a pack that (as far as I know) nobody was taken down by the myriad cracks and potholes. I had driven the course two days prior, and gave notice of the hazards I remembered. Riders pointed at holes, and I heard warnings carried back through the group. Rounding Dow's Lake toward transition, I communicated that I was moving to the right of the lane and slowing to take my feet out of the shoes. Despite the crowd, the dismount went off pretty smoothly — if you don't count my losing a shoe (note to self, crank the torque settings down when I know I'm keeping my shoes on the pedals for mount/dismount).

The dismount I’ve been practicing for all season

I loved the rush and teamwork of the draft-legal format. The group speed was a little slower than I wanted, but failing to achieve a smaller group breakaway, it kind of was what it was. The downside for me is that the bike is my strongest leg. I'm used to being able to put at least a few minutes into other athletes here, which helps me hold off the faster runners. In this case, I wasn't able to gain that advantage. But it was still a great experience.

T2: 1:29
Run: 25:17 — first lap 4:48/km, 2nd lap 5:18/km, average 5:03

So, the run. Sigh. This is the third race in a row that I didn't have the run I wanted. I worked a little harder on the bike than I should have, but I was still feeling good entering T2. Then somehow, almost immediately on hitting the run course, stitches in both sides. This has only happened once before, at Cornwall last year. The pain was constant, and taking a deep breath felt impossible. My legs felt stuck at a frustratingly show shuffle. Of course the obnoxious uphill straight out of transition didn't help -- but the feeling didn't subside even on the downhill. There wasn't any sports drink at the aid station (only water), so I didn't get my usual hit of carbs for the final push. Realistically though, I don't think it would have solved my problem. Did I taper too steeply? Race too much and train too little in my preparation? Take in inadequate hydration before the swim? Not eat enough breakfast? Just have bad luck? I don't know. I'll have to sit back later on and give it some thought. My goal for this run was to leave every last bit of energy out on the course, and I wasn't able to do that. The pain in my sides was the limiting factor. I clutched the muscles below my right ribcage, literally grasping at anything I could think of to release the stupid stitch's grip. I tried thinking "light, easy, and fast," per an HPS training discussion earlier in the season. I don’t know what else I could have done — if anyone has suggestions or tips, I would definitely welcome them.  I’ve been able to run through all kinds of discomfort, but this just about stopped me in my tracks. So frustrating, after all this preparation.

With fellow OTCer Rachel at the finish line, still a little hunched over but glad to be done

My goal for this race was to finish top 10 in my AG — because there are 10 qualifying slots per AG to go to Worlds in Rotterdam next year. I managed to accomplish this (just barely, having dropped from 6th after the bike to 10th after the run). The fine print is that there's a chance I could still get bumped by an athlete aging into the 40-44 age group in 2017. But who knows... I'm satisfied that I had to fight tooth and nail to beat out 5 other people to break that top 10. Mine was the largest female age group, with most having few enough entries that completing the race would earn you a qualification slot.

Family breakfast out after the race

Special thanks to Kelsey, Jenn, and Vince for capturing some shots of me on the race course. Oddly, especially for a National Championship race, there are no official race photos.

Update: I didn’t get good news once the age-adjusted results for the 2017 Worlds team were released. To say I’m disappointed is an understatement. I’m taking some time off, and might post more details when I’m not feeling so crappy about it.

Update to the update: Since I was 10th before getting bumped in the age adjustment, I decided to apply in second round qualification for Worlds (I've noticed they changed this for 2018 -- there's only regular qualification, and open application). I got my spot, and I'm headed to Rotterdam in 2017!


  1. I enjoyed the draft legal format as well! I also had troubles with cramps and I never have trouble with cramps. It maybe have to do with the higher intensity pulls during the bike.

    Don't fret about the automatic qualification slot. You still have a good chance to get in during Stage 2 qualification (Oct 15th-31st). You have pretty high priority since you competed in the nationals. So you just need two women out of all qualification spots across Canada (20 total) to decline in order to get in.


    Hope you are having a good break in Spain!

    1. Thanks, Aaron! I guess we'll have to see how it pans out in October. I had a great vacation -- I'm definitely "recovered" thoroughly for the 1000 Islands race tomorrow!! Haven't been on my bike since Ottawa, but I'm ok with it. Tomorrow's the last race of the season, and it's completely for fun and enjoyment.