The third annual Skechers Performance Niagara Falls Barrelman Triathlon presented by Recharge with Milk, took place September 18th , 2016. It was a chance for redemption, an opportunity to reclaim my Bike/Run title I won in 2014. In 2015, Brad Arndt put together an impressive 1:26:21 half marathon for the overall win, relegating me to a 2nd place finish. I lost it on the run of all places, witnessing a 9 minute lead to Brad dwindle away. I was beat by a stronger competitor but that didn’t make things any more palatable.
Barrelman is without question, a personal favourite of mine and for a number of reasons: (1) I won the Inaugural event! Any time you can put your stamp on a race, it immediately makes it more memorable, (2) the bike course is flat and fast and mimics the roads of Essex County. This allows me to train with race specificity in mind, (3) it’s a late season race; enabling athletes ample opportunity to tailor training for a peak performance, (4) iconic run course; passing the falls twice and finishing in the heart of Kingsbridge Park adjacent to the splash pad and the large covered pavilion, and (5) Race Director John Salt, who’s passion and attention to detail is outstanding. John goes out of his way to speak to as many competitors as possible, ensuring their experience is a memorable one.
That lack lustre performance a year ago remained as fresh as the day it happened. I’ve replayed the race in my mind countless times but to no avail, always the same result. Christmas had arrived early for this competitor and my present, the opportunity to unleash a year’s worth of pent-up anticipation.
Coming into this race, confidence ran high. My cycling was the best it has been with average speeds surpassing the previous year’s marks. There was an uncertainty with my run though, low energy levels and an inability to push in the later stages was a bit concerning. If I was to be successful, focusing on what I could control and remaining in a positive head space was paramount. The plan, establish the biggest gap possible on the bike and hope those who choose to keep pace, trash their legs for the run (present company excluded).
My biggest competitors on the bike would be Duathlete Michael Gratton and Elite Cyclist Shane Lavell. Michael put together an impressive bike split at Welland’s Long-Course Bike/Run with an average speed of 38.26 km/hr. Shane, a competitive cyclist with the ability to push big power and an equally impressive ability to suffer would challenge for the fastest bike split.
Starting the Bike/Run in a time trial (TT) format (10 seconds between competitors with our time starting as we crossed the timing mat) we arranged ourselves in order of bib number with #801 first out of the gates. Michael was #803; I was #812, and Shane #831. Important is the understanding that with a TT format, competitors who start behind you don’t necessarily have to cross the finish line first to win. Shane’s time would start 3 minutes and 10 seconds after mine. Needless to say, I biked scared for the entire 89k.
In hindsight, I probably burned a few too many matches early on in the race. The first 30k was into a headwind and I wanted to make fast work of my competition. I worked hard to make decisive passes, necessitating in many instances that I pass groups of 12-15 competitors in a single push. It also required I settle into an easier gear while increasing my cadence. Approaching the back of the pack, I’d shift to the harder gears and push until I had cleared the group…recover and repeat.
The tail wind promised for the final 60k was not as prevalent as I had expected. There were random pushes often interrupted by crosswinds reducing their benefits. Fueling included 4 gels, 2 bottles of Skratch Labs and 1 bottle of water. The majority of the bike is unfortunately a bit of a blur. I don’t have a Power Metre so I continued to push as hard as I could, chasing that elusive 40 km/hr average. I never even looked at my average speed until the final stretch. I knew going into the race that I would need to drain the tank, if this goal was to be achieved. If a potential sponsor is reading this report, a Power Metre would certainly bring my game to the next level and I’d be forever grateful.
I crossed the timing mat in time of 2:16:29 and an average speed of 39.13 km/hr. This was my best performance to date and as expected my slimmest lead (at this distance) heading onto the run. Shane, on a road bike had cycled 2:18:38 (38.52 km/hr) and Michael 2:20:27 (38.02 km/hr). My lead was a mere 2 minutes and 4 minutes respectfully. My legs were trashed and the spasms were both visible and painful. Now to run 21k and try and not let a repeat of 2015 take place – my legs hurt real bad!
I headed out onto the run course, focusing my efforts on damage control. I needed to replenish fluids and carbohydrates ASAP. I immediately started ingesting gels, flat Coke and water. I walked each and every aid station consuming first water, then Coke, and again water.
I consumed another 4 gels on the 2 loop course. I was desperately fighting to keep my energy levels up and the cramps at bay. I received a time gap on 2nd place – 4 minutes, keep moving was all I could do.
At roughly 3k, I saw my first competitor – Michael. He looked fresh, as he declared, “I’m coming for you.” Michael chuckled, but I was a little concerned. It wasn’t until the 2nd loop at precisely that same marker; when Michael was nowhere to be seen that I realized I had extended the gap. The first loop was by no means fast, 50:52 but I had opened the gap by an additional 4 minutes.
The 2nd and final loop took everything I had to keep focused. The crowds along the Niagara Parkway were motivating and as I neared that final km marker I heard the voice of Steve Fleck over the sound system. There’s an uplifting effect when approaching the finisher’s line that participants experience and I for one am no different. I crossed the mat in a time of 4:01:56.8, nearly 12 minutes faster than my nearest competitor. It was my slowest run to date at Barrelman – 1:43:37 (2 nd lap – 52:45) but in the end I had accomplished my goal…I had recaptured the Barrelman Bike/Run title!
A huge thank-you goes out to those who support me – Dr. Todd Small & Spencer Jean @ Community Health and Integrated Care, MultiSport Canada Triathlon Series, Recharge with Milk, Skechers Performance Canada, and Cycle Culture.
Register before October 31st to get in at Early Bird rate starting at $195.
Race Date is September 17th, 2017!