Growing up in Nanaimo, British Columbia, sports were always a huge part of my life. Throughout my childhood many weekends were spent in hockey rinks across the province. Upon reaching high school, a newfound passion for volleyball emerged and engulfed my life. I love competitive sports – they are the epitome of a meritocracy. The currency of sport is measured in hard work, perseverance, discipline, and character. When we suit up in our familiar colours all the worries in the world seemingly disappear. The only thing that matters is the pursuit of victory – be that victory defined by physical or moral means.
In September of 2013, I began a new journey as I moved out to Kingston, Ontario to attend Queen’s University. This new chapter in my life also marked the ending of the previous chapter – a chapter which was defined largely by sport. While I found success in my studies at Queen’s, I could not help but feel as if there was a void in my life. Having succeeded in my first year studies, I was awarded a prestigious opportunity to work in a research lab at Queen’s for the summer. Working a summer job further exacerbated the “void” as I had much free time outside of work that I was doing little with. I began filling this time with bad habits. Upon the end of May, I reflected on the month that had passed and realized that I did not really have much to show for it. I vowed to make a change.
My father competed in triathlons in the early 2000s. As a young child, our family went out to spectate Ironman Canada in Penticton, British Columbia. I remember watching these superhero-like athletes go by me and was blown away when my parents informed me that, no, these were not superheroes, but regular people with families, jobs, and lives outside of triathlon. I knew then that one day I wanted to compete in triathlons. With an already demanding athletic load growing up, I never had much of a chance to try out endurance sports during my time in Nanaimo. I ran a half—marathon in Grade 11 off a lackluster training regimen (crossed the line in a blistering 2:06) and had competed in one or two kid’s triathlons at my father’s races as a 9 year old. That was the extent of my experience in endurance sports.
Heading into June of 2014, I realized that this summer presented an unprecedented chance to venture into the sport of triathlon. There were a few problems though. First off, I couldn’t swim much more than a length in a pool. Secondly, I didn’t own a bike. Despite these challenges, I got to work. I went to the pool every morning, and watched swimming videos at work and at home every night. Slowly, but surely, I started becoming a swimmer. Meanwhile, despite not owning a bike, I would do four workouts a week on the spin bikes at the gym. I made rapid progress, and by the end of the month, I began searching for races to put my skills to the test. The K-Town triathlon was the clear logical choice. The race offered two distances to choose from: the short course (800m swim, 30km bike, 7.2km run) and the long course (2km swim, 56km bike, 15km run). Not one to seek out the “easy” way, I signed up for the long course race.
As I began training for the race, I kept my parents largely in the dark regarding my aspirations. My dad is a very rational person, and I knew if I told him of my plans that he would not think it was a good idea. He would be right. Going from a relatively sedentary lifestyle to competing in a long course triathlon is 3 months in a recipe for failure. Not only that, but going from being barely able to swim 25m in a pool to swimming 2km in the 3ft swells of Lake Ontario is not only reckless, but very dangerous. However, I realized that if I was going to complete the race I would require his old equipment. I returned home in mid-July, only 3 weeks before the race, and informed my parents of my plans. They were understandably skeptical and encouraged me to think through my plans and reconsider. However, I was able to convince my dad that if I could prove to him that I was competent enough to complete the race, that I could use his gear. He reluctantly agreed, and we strapped a kayak to the car and we headed down to a local lake. Much to his (and my) surprise I was able to struggle through a 2km swim. A man to his word – he gave me his gear and his blessing, and I returned to Kingston ready to race. To this day, that first race three years ago remains among one my most cherished accomplishments. From that day onward I was hooked. In the subsequent three years, I would make life-long friends, learn many lessons and get to travel around the world. When the opportunity presented itself to race the 2017 edition of the Kingston Long Course triathlon, I immediately jumped at the chance.
This year I have been focusing on short-course racing after racing long-course triathlons exclusively for the first three years of my triathlon career. While my heart is still in long-course racing, I recognize that I need to build my speed in short-course racing if I want to accomplish my long-course racing goals. Following an unfortunate DNF due to a flat tire at the Toronto Triathlon Festival two weeks prior to the Kingston Long Course Triathlon, I began a “crash course” preparation for long distance racing. Despite only two weeks of focused training for the race, I headed into race weekend feeling fresh and ready to go. This race holds a special place in my heart and it was no secret that I really wanted to win it in front of my adopted home town. The race would be tightly contested however, featuring among one of the toughest fields of the season in the local circuit. It was shaping up to be an epic day.
Fellow LPC Hurdle Project members Stephen Blankenship, Billy Bostad and I drove up from Guelph on Friday afternoon. Saturday was spent getting short activation workouts in and I also had the chance to visit and catch up with friends. With an 8 AM race start, I awoke with excitement at 5 AM Sunday morning to get ready for the race. We ventured down to the race start and I set up my transition area, got my timing chip, and got my body marking done. Before I knew it I was hopping in the water to swim out to the start line. I was feeling good and ready to race hard.
I aligned myself at the swim start between Alex Vanderlinden and Daniel Clarke. I had identified Alex as a person who would be good to swim with. We both were similar calibre swimmers and were among the strongest swimmers in the race. As the horn sounded, I got off to a quick start and found clean water swimming side-by-side with Alex and Angela Quick. As we approached the first turn buoy, I dropped down to his feet to catch the draft. Once we left the safe confines of the harbour, the water got very choppy, which, in combination with small-sized turn buoys, made it very difficult to accurately navigate the course. About 300m into the swim, Alex actually stopped swimming and popped his head up. I did the same, upon which he asked me “Do you know where we are supposed to go?” I shrugged, pointed in a direction and we got back to swimming. At the subsequent turn buoy, a navigational error took me on a long detour and I lost contact with Alex and Angela. I swam the remaining portion of the swim solo and came out of the water in 3rd, 41 seconds down to Alex and 19 seconds down to Angela.
Result: 2000m, 31:51, 1:35/100m (GPS: 2300m, 1:23/100m)
After a smooth T1 I hopped on my bike and got to work. My legs took a little bit of time to settle into a good pace, but I eventually I found my rhythm. I tried not to worry too much about what was happening up the road, but I was definitely disheartened to see Alex at the turnaround and realize that I had not made up any time on him. Nonetheless, I continued racing my race and began reeling him in very quickly. With about 10 km to go, I made the pass to enter into first place. Alex wasn’t looking too good, so I was feeling confident that if I could increase the effort for 2 minutes as I went by him that I would be able to drop him. To his credit, he mustered up some strength and was able to withstand my attack and hang on. Upon looking back a few minutes after the pass and seeing him behind me, I dropped down the effort and began to prepare for a run duel. I arrived to T2 in first place overall, 19 seconds ahead of Alex.
Result: 56.2 km, 1:23:18, 40.5 km/h, Strava
A strong T2 meant that I began the run with a 20 second lead on Alex. I decided to attack the first mile at an effort above race pace to hopefully expose his tired legs and break him mentally. However, he was able to stick with me and I made the wise choice to settle into a more reasonable pace and let him bridge up to me. He caught up to me between the second and third kilometer. We ran stride for stride for a few kilometers, Alex opening up a small gap on the uphills and me closing the gap on the downhills. However as we headed into the 5km mark along the hilly trails of Lake Ontario park I was not able to match his speed and he began breaking away. Throughout the remainder of the run Alex continued to grow his lead as I struggled through the undulating terrain. Shortly after the turnaround point, I conceded that I was not likely going to catch Alex and my focus turned to holding on for a second place finish. I settled into a more conservative pace and was able to overcome the physical and mental struggle to finish in second.
Result: 15km, 56:55, 3:47/km, Strava
Final Result: 2:53:55, 2nd Overall, 1st EAG
Following the race, I had the opportunity to chat with my fellow competitors and many friends who came down to watch. Throughout the race, I definitely felt the hometown love with people throughout the course cheering me on. Despite coming up short of the win, I was very happy with my race. Three years ago I finished in 81st with a time of 3:46:59. This year I finished in 2nd with a time of 2:53:55. If you had told me back in 2014 that three short years later I would cut down my time by 53 minutes and finish in second I would have thought you were crazy – and you would have had to have been to make such an outlandish prediction.
Here’s to being crazy.