Following my experience at the 2016 Ironman World Championships, I realized that I had reached the limits of my self-coaching abilities. If I was to reach the next level in the sport, I would have to seek help in designing, planning and executing training plans and race strategies. After an extensive search, I was very excited to join the LPC Hurdle Project under coach James Loaring.
Upon the completion of my final year at Queen’s University, I made the decision to move to Guelph, Ontario for the summer to train full-time before I begin my career in September. This summer has presented an unparalleled opportunity to devote all my energy and time to the sport and progress has most certainly been evident. I was excited to begin the season in Tobago at the MASSY Rainbow Cup to put my training to the test.
I was joined on my trip by three other LPC Hurdle Project athletes. We departed Toronto for Port of Spain, Trinidad on Thursday afternoon. We arrived in Port of Spain Thursday evening and were planning on catching a connecting flight to Tobago later that night. Unfortunately, we got caught up in Trinidad and Tobago customs for over three hours meaning we missed our connecting flight. There are two ways to get to Tobago from Trinidad – by plane or by ferry. The ferry has been unreliable as of late due to a variety of maintenance, business and operational challenges. As a result, the demand for flights to Tobago has increased significantly. By the time we finally arrived at the Caribbean Airlines desk we were told that they were no longer accepting standby passengers for the evening and that we should return at 4am the following morning. We were able to track down a hotel room and get 3 hours of sleep before returning to the airport – not exactly an ideal sleep two days out from the race. We were able to get standby tickets for the 10:30am flight, which would then be delayed an additional 2 hours. We finally arrived at the Grafton Beach Resort on Friday afternoon, 15 hours before the race was set to start. We quickly built our bikes and were able to get in a short swim, bike and run on the course. The race hosted an excellent pasta dinner that evening which we attended before getting an early night’s rest. We were all tired from the crazy travel itinerary!
Following one of the best pre-race sleeps I have ever had, I woke up at 4am to prepare for the race – my customary wake up of three hours prior to the 7am race start. We headed down to transition at 5:30am to set up and get warmed up. Following the elite athlete introductions, the horn went off and we ran down the bank and into the Caribbean sea to begin the race.
Since moving to Guelph, I have seen massive improvements to my swimming. I have gone from swimming 10km/week to 20-25km/week and have been surrounded by elite swimmers day in and day out. I was excited to put my improvements to the test.
I had a great start to the swim. I hurdled myself down the steep sandbank and was able to dive under a crashing wave. A lot of people try to dive over waves, but I find diving underneath the wave crash to be just as effective and much easier to execute. Thanks to my good start, I was with the lead pack heading around the first turn buoy 100m into the race. This is where I made my first tactical error of the race. I knew heading in that I would be racing against Jason Wilson, the Bajan Olympian, and members of the Venezuelan national team. While I had made significant improvements in the water, these guys are still a league above me in terms of swimming abilities. Heading around the first turn buoy I made the tactical decision to ease off a bit and let them get away while I drifted back into a chase pack which better suited my swimming skill set. Unfortunately, no chase pack materialized and I was forced to swim the remainder of the race solo. In hindsight, I should have tried to stay with the lead group as long as possible to minimize my deficit heading into T1.
Result: 1500m, 21:23, 1:25/100m
As a large, strength-based athlete, I preform best in flat, cool races. Unfortunately for me, the course in Tobago was far from my ideal course. The course featured 8 5k loops of hilly and technical riding. To make matters worse, the humidex was approaching 40C throughout the race. Despite the challenging conditions, my hard work on the bike paid off as I was able to pass two Venuzuelan athletes. However, when I was passed by the athlete from Martinique I made my second strategic error of the day. Typically in triathlon, we aim to ride at a constant power output. Unlike typical cycling, where one tends to “hammer” the hills (large surge in effort) and coast on the downhills, triathlon cycling emphasizes a consistent effort throughout the uphills, downhills, and flats. This results in a more efficient usage of energy and helps to keep the legs fresh for the run. The Martinique athlete was riding more of a traditional style, coming out of the saddle on climbs, greatly increasing his power output. Given the hilly and technical nature of the course, I think, in hindsight, that it may have been beneficial to approach the race from a more traditional cycling strategy as the Martinique athlete did. Nonetheless, I arrived safely to T2 in third place.
Result: 40km, 1:06:18, 36.2 km/h, Strava
I usually like to be a little ignorant heading onto the run course. Obviously I do my homework and learn the course ahead of time, but I like the idea of not knowing what’s coming. As the run course in Tobago was 2 laps of the 5km loop we just finished biking around 8 times, I was not afforded my innocence – I knew full well the pain that was coming and I was not excited about it. Within the first 2km, one of the Venezuelan athletes blew by me and I decided not to pursue. I plugged away kilometer after kilometer – hill after hill. I had to employ some mind tricks in order to get through the hot and challenging run. At the Ironman World Championships, I crossed the 32km marker as I was exiting the Natural Energy Lab, meaning I only had 10km to go. Any time I began to fade in this race, I recalled upon that memory and how I battled through those last ten kilometers in more challenging conditions. I was able to stay strong and before I knew it I was making the turn onto the beach and into the finishing chute to capture 4th place overall.
Result: 10km, 42:22, 4:14/km, Strava
Final Result: 2:11:17, 4th OA
The top 5 finishers were acknowledged at the awards ceremony and we were all given bottles of champagne to celebrate. This was my first time participating in the podium champagne shower and it was a blast! I certainly hope it won’t be my last.
Overall, I’m quite happy with my result at the MASSY Rainbow Cup. It was a challenging course featuring challenging conditions, but I was able to push through it. I’m especially pleased with how I was able to handle the adversity that came with the challenging travel itinerary in the days prior to the race. It would have been easy for me to let that get to my head and have a poor race, but once I arrived in Tobago I put it out of my mind and focused on the race. After all, one can only control what they are able to control. My only regrets in the race were my two strategic errors highlighted above and the fact that I did not recapture the Venezuelan athlete who finished third. I made the right decision in not pursuing when he passed me, but I would learn after the fact that he began to fade and finished only a minute ahead of me. Had I known he was fading, I could have perhaps dug deeper and tried to catch him in the final kilometer, but it would have taken a heroic effort to say the least.
Following the race, we were fortunate to have three full days to explore Trinidad and Tobago. We boarded a small boat with a pilot named “Criminal” and explored the beautiful secluded beaches and reefs in Tobago. We also attended the post-race party and the “cooler lime”, which was a full-day beach party the day following the race. I was excited to embrace the culture of the island – especially the food! I ate many chicken rotis, had a few doubles and may have consumed too much Stag one night. It was truly an experience of a lifetime that I will not soon forget.
I owe a huge thank you to the Rainbow Warriors Triathlon Club and the Gooding family. Their hospitality was absolutely incredible. They continually went the extra mile to give us the full Trinidad and Tobago experience. From taking us on hikes, feeding us, to giving us a full-day tour of Port of Spain, they were unbelievable hosts. Not to mention that the race organization and execution exceeds any race I have been to in Canada, aside from only Ironman Mont-Tremblant. This is especially remarkable considering this race took place on a small, remote island in the Caribbean. I highly encourage all athletes to consider making the trip down to Tobago for this race in the future. I know I will certainly be back!