Ironman Muskoka 70.3 – Finished

It’s been a while since I’ve written on the subject of my Ironman activity. My last race of 2014 and perhaps my last until 2016, was the 70.3 (miles) Muskoka Ironman. I may have to take 2015 off triathlon because I need to undergo some treatment on my hip and back. It’s something I’ve been putting off stubbornly for a long time, but I’m just at the point now where long distance cycling is putting a lot of strain on my body.

And when you are in pain, you don’t enjoy it. And when you can’t enjoy what you love – you have to re-evaluate.

So for this Winter coming at least, I’m going to try some other things; perhaps raise the intensity level and shorten the time of individual training sessions…perhaps to build a real solid core strength.

But I digress…I started this with the intention of discussing the race. Anyone who is interested in racing the Muskoka Ironman will perhaps find my piece of interest, especially if you haven’t done one there before.

The General Race Organization

Staying near the race resort – The Deerhurst Hotel – is practically essential. My fiancee and I stayed in the next door hotel, Hidden Valley Resort. Both of these places are ideal for race morning. Also, I’m so glad we arrived at least a day earlier because there are things that need to be done the day before the race – like check in and bike racking.

Any other hotel would have meant cycling in or getting the shuttle bus and…it would be annoying. The organizers were amazing and the buses and all that stuff were very available but when you are in the zone for the race, common sense and organization of yourself needs to be easy.

There was no rushing anyway and we had bags of time to do the things we needed to for the race and then go eat in the town of Huntsville nearby. Great, beautiful venue and the people are excellent.

The volunteers and the staff made this whole even run flawlessly.

Race Day

September 7th was the day and getting up for 4:30 was tough…and quite cold. Transition opened at 5:30 for athletes obsessing time. This is where you pump your tires up and check the pressure approximately 300 times and then check off all your gear…and then again.

So, it was a bit nippy, and dark, but when the Sun rose, it got so much better and the weather was perfect in the end.

TIP: Take a headlamp for first thing when it’s dark so you can work with both hands.

No wind at all really and getting into my wetsuit, I felt almost too warm – it was time to get into the water.

Continue reading below the video for my account of the race.

The Swim

This is the only bad thing about Muskoka. It’s about a 500m walk down to the lake and there is gravel all the way.

TIP: Take cheap sandals/flip-flops to walk to the swim start. You might lose them…but it beats painful feet before you’ve even got going. You can actually leave them in a station for clothes.

You realize you have to run back up that out of the swim – it’s quite a warm up though.

I was in the group right after the pros and before I knew it I was trading water in the crowd of purple swim caps. The horn went and the water boiled.

It was a wave start, so we went in groups of something like 200 every 6 minutes according to age group. If you swim out of the middle of the pack you are hit from all angles and it takes a while to get into a rhythm – but I enjoy the contact sport of triathlon swimming.

TIP: If you are a strong swimmer – get to the front of the wave or find someone at the front who looks strong and draft behind them. If you are a not-so-strong swimmer, find some space at the fringes or even start behind them. Drafting – is better when you are to the side and rear of someone, not directly behind.

All in all, my swim was good. I have fun more than anything on the swim. Sighting the buoys is not a challenge at Muskoka; they are huge.

Swimming through the shallow water to exit the swim, I was surprised at the level of support waiting. I really helps – they have a great triathlon community there.

T1 and Bike

They have people there to help you get out of the wetsuit, which is nice because when you are frantic, it can sometimes take a while and looks like you are fighting yourself.

Out the suit and up the hill to the bike was fine. Like I said before, it’s a warm up. Getting on the bike was good and the wave swim start means there isn’t a hundred people climbing over each other.

The first 30 km of the bike leg is hilly as hell, The middle 40 km is easier and flatter and then the last 24 km is another roller coaster. Tough on the legs right up until the end.

At one extremely fast downhill section, there was a warning written on the floor with arrows (there is a lot of writing on the road from spectators supporting people etc.) pointing ahead to something. My brain didn’t catch up in time and I hit a pothole at 50+ kph. Luckily I stayed on the bike but my bottle cage behind and under my seat shattered. I lost a full bottle of PowerBar drink (which is amazing btw).

I had 20km left with a few sips of carbohydrate laced drink. That was about the biggest drama I had on the bike course.

The support crews are epic – they drive past every few minutes to check if you are OK and they are equipped for almost anything if you have a mechanical issue. They couldn’t help me find my PowerBar though.

T2 and Run

Transition 2 was quick – no running up hills this time. Off the bike, run it in for 50 feet and in and out of shoes. Maybe 40 seconds before I was off running.

Now, my quads were telling me something a this point. They were saying “that bike was tough. Why are we running now?”

TIP 1: Brick train – i.e. do specific training sessions where you run off the bike, it will build a very essential strength and muscle memory to deal with this problem.

TIP 2: Try as much as possible to sit in an easy gear at high cadence for the last few minutes of your bike. It helps get the lactic acid moving away from vital muscles.

I followed my own advice but my legs felt swollen nonetheless. That’s Tri-life I guess. I got on with it. Half way in to the 21.1 km run I was OK and in a good rhythm.

I finished with no further issues and with a medal round my neck.

Check out the video of race day below.

Ironman Simulation Days and Cottage Country Rides

Simulation Days

When it comes to long distance triathlons like Ironman 140.6 or 70.3, it’s not enough just to keep training for the individual segments, or indeed two or three in the same day. Sooner or later, a simulation day is necessary to test your body’s abilities, reaction and recovery. More importantly, for me anyway, is the test of my mental focus and willpower to go the distance.

A simulation day, is a practice Ironman. In no uncertain terms, training for half or full distance Ironman races is arduous on the best days and agony on the worst. To do the distance alone on a training day with no support and just your own mind for company is one of the toughest tasks you can undertake. They say the race is tough – for me, simulation days are the toughest.

Not only that, but it’s difficult to do without having a whole day free and a lot of recovery time afterwards. I do a simulation day over a month before the race, just so that I’ve got it down in my head that I can go the distance and that there’s nothing I need to deal with on an urgent basis.

You can’t plan for everything – after all, I’ve had to bow out of a race recently due to back injury – but you can minimize the potential for surprises on event day.

Cottage Country Rides

Ironman trainingI get most of my rides done in an around Montreal, but occasionally, it does me good to get out of the same routine cycle routes I take and throw my body a curve ball and my eyes some new scenery.

That and, hills…lots of hills.


I’ve Started So I’ll Finish – One Of Those Days

Sometimes, when I train, it just doesn’t feel good. I feel heavy on my feet if I’m running, or like I’m cycling through foot-deep maple syrup when I’m on my bike. And swimming is just lung-bursting torture when you are not firing on all cylinders. Those days, I think, are rest days that you didn’t realize were rest days until you were already into your training session. 

Oddly, I learn more about myself, my stamina, strength and perseverance during those workouts than when I feel at the top of my form. It’s easy to have an excellent run when you feel amazing. Sure I can give myself a pat on the back for beating a personal best but it’s the off days that make me feel more accomplished; when I simply get to the end after feeling terrible for 90% of the way.

Running on a hot dayThe other day, in Montreal, it was so hot I thought the Sun was going nova. If you have spent any time in this city you know it is as humid as a swamp, and during the height of summer that means a 30 degree day feels like a 40 degree day. Imagine spending the day in a steam room at the local gym and you will start to get the picture. I decided to go for a fast 10km run around the local park. My training schedule isn’t fixed in stone allowing me to “sense” what I’m up for rather than force something like a strength session when my body just wants to do low intensity stuff.

Anyway, I got my gear on and headed out into the swamp. Honestly, I just have to guts out the first few minutes on a day like that and then usually things pick up but here it was evident that this was not going to happen. After a lap of the local park, which is about a mile as it turns out, my lungs were burning and something I had eaten was stabbing acid tipped stakes into my chest and abdomen for good measure. Still, 10km is 10km. I had started, so I was going to finish.

There is no great moral message in this story except that I slogged it out and finished in a time that was nothing to be hugely proud of. I’ve done 100km cycles that were like sitting up and getting out of bed when comparing the effort expended against this run. I finished. That’s the point. Giving up is not in my nature, and stopping short of finishing a distance I have gone out to achieve is, in my humble opinion, a slippery slope to accepting failure.

Even if you have to walk it…finish the distance you set out to do. You might feel awful but keep telling yourself it is temporary and you will be stronger for it.