By Jesse Bauer
2013 Ignition Fitness Athlete Team member
My first appearance in an international competition ended up being an eye-opening experience for me. It was an amazing experience to be representing my country, and to be wearing the maple leaf on my chest. I definitely got choked up a couple times as I was coming through the transition zone, hearing all the spectators cheering for me and reading my name off my chest while they cheered me on through the course. That was one of the most incredible things in my life, and made a tough day that much more memorable. It was something that I will always remember, and not just for the racing experience.
DAYS LEADING UP TO RACE DAY:
I want to talk a little bit about the days leading up to race day first, because that build was just as important as what actually happened on race day is. I had my last hard workout on Monday, and it went great. Tuesday and Wednesday were recovery/travel days, and Thursday and Friday were days for some reconnaissance and race prep workouts to open up the legs for Saturday. Thursday I went out with the rest of Team Canada for a loop of the bike course to get a feel for the roads. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get the efforts in that we had planned, due to being in a large group, so I had to improvise a bit. No matter though, hay is in the barn. Course looked nice and flat, with the odd roller or two and pretty good surface conditions. Some of the best I’ve been on this year. Afterwards, we went for a run on the 5k loop. The first half was slow, as I didn’t know the loop and stayed with the group. Once we hit the halfway point, some fellas wanted to drop down into Z2 so I went along for the ride. I followed that with 2x1min and 3 strides at sub-race pace to open up the legs before jogging back to the hotel. Feeling good!
I woke up Friday for my last pre-race workout felling pretty good, though the walking around for the meetings and opening ceremonies the day before were still in my legs a tad. Decided to do this one alone (decked out in my Ignition Fitness kit!) so I could get some good recon in and make sure I knew the ins and outs of the course. Legs felt opened up and good after that, and I headed back to the hotel to do some final tweaks on my bike before I checked it in for the night. The excitement was starting to set in!
I woke up on race morning ready to rock. At that point, my philosophy is that you have to play the hand you’re dealt, so I didn’t pay much attention to how I was feeling. I just wanted to get a good breakfast and then a good warm-up in before I toed the line. I did a little spin on the hotel exercise bike before heading over to transition to set up my shoes and warm-up. My fears were put to rest when I got to transition and my bike was still there (yay!), so I headed out onto the river pathway for a little jog before heading to my corral. Legs felt good, uniform looked great, and I managed to get myself a good spot on the line so I wouldn’t get caught behind the horde of people in my wave.
RUN #1 (34:52, 4th fastest in AG):
First run started off hot, as there were obviously some fellas that were anxious to get off the front of the group. The first mile had to be very close to 5 minutes, at which point I had a choice and a slow realization that led to a decision on my strategy for the race going forward. I had attached myself to the shoulder of a Kiwi whose results I had scouted prior to the race. At that 1 mile mark, he started to pull away from me and follow the hot early pace. I had to decide whether or not to follow and risk potentially burying myself before I even hit the bike course, or if I should settle into my pace and risk watching the podium positions run away from me up the road. The slow realization was that although we had done a lot of hard biking and hard running off the bike, I hadn’t done all that much hard running on fresh legs. So I was lacking that top end ability that would have left me feeling confident about my ability to follow the fast early pace and still settle in to my threshold race pace once the boys settled down. So I stuck to my guns and let the pack go. But watching the race unfold, I kind of wish I gone with, as about another mile down the road the gap stalled and I followed them at a similar pace, only I was 20 seconds behind and unable/unwilling to pick up the pace and close the gap. I was struggling with holding my pace and holding the gap when fellow Canadian Jonathan Tremblay came up on my shoulder. He really helped to spur me on, and I managed to pull into transition (after a 10k run that was closer to 10.5km) about 20-25 seconds back and in 4th place on the road in my AG.
TRANSITION 1 (0:47, 6th fastest in AG):
I had a tough position in transition, right in the middle of the zone while the in and out stalls were on the same side. So I ended up having to do a big bubble to grab my bike and then head out onto the course. I also had some trouble with the in/out lanes of traffic and had to wait for some competitors from the older wave to go by before I could head out. So not my best transition, and I likely lost a further 10 seconds here. Definitely out of the ordinary for me.
BIKE (1:06:02, 6th fastest in AG):
I was actually very pleased with my ride at this race. Despite the tough early run and the wicked swirling wind that seemed to always be a headwind or cross-head that blew my 125lb frame around, I was able to settle into a rhythm and really nail my power numbers. I had wanted to be sub-1:05, but I was happy with the effort because of the conditions. I stayed in aero for all the rollers, was still on pace for an AP of 205 before I started to gear down and spin heading into transition, and was able to keep my NP nice and close to that. The first 20k was pretty uneventful, as even the crowding on the course that I was scared about never really materialized. I spent most of the ride on my own with barely a soul in sight. At the halfway point, I was passed by a familiar face, Sean Delanghe. After he went by me, I spent the next 10km just trying to keep him in sight and to key off of his ride, knowing he was a duathlete of similar ability to me. I lost sight of him approaching the 30k turnaround, but by that point I had settled into a rhythm and was really starting to roll. I also saw another familiar face there, as Erik finally bridged up to me. Since it took him 30k, I knew I must have been having a good ride and wanted to finish on a high note. I kept the cadence up on the way home, and my spirits went with it despite the fact that my legs began to tire over the last 6-7km. But still…that’s a 40k PB in a race so I’m happy with that!
TRANSITION 2 (0:43, 6th fastest in AG):
Similar story to T1, as I had to bubble to drop off by bike and head out onto the run. A little faster here, but still not my best transitions. Small but important details!
RUN #2 (19:29, 3rd fastest in AG):
At this point, the race for the medals was up the road and I had absolutely no idea where I was in my AG. Though I was very happy with my 1:06 bike split, it was on a different planet from the 59:00-1:01 splits of the faster guys in my AG. So at this point in the race, I was just trying to empty the tank and luck my way into a podium or top 5 position. Luckily, those familiar faces who passed me on the bike were peppered up the road from me to focus on one by one as I moved up. I moved through Erik and Vance Lai early on, and then through some of my other fellow Canadians. As I made my way up to Sean, I urged him to come with me and to work together to move up with me. I could tell he was hurting, but he did his best and we made our way to the finish line. This run was definitely also about 400-500m long, as the exit from transition was about that far from the start line. By the time we hit the last hill before the descent to the finish, I was absolutely buried and just trying to turn my legs over to get to the finish. Because there was just nothing left in the legs to even respond when Sean came blasting by me in the final meters.
Overall, I’m happy with this performance. I think I did everything in my ability in the weeks leading up to and during the race, and I crossed the line with wobbly legs and a feeling of being absolutely spent from the hard effort. Though it wasn’t the podium spot that I wanted, being 5th best in my age group in the world is still an incredible accomplishment, and being able to represent my country was an amazing feeling. I’m feeling more and more confident in my cycling ability, and in my ability to close fast on the second run. I would not trade the experience for anything. I’m so proud of my progress this year and I am so excited to take another crack at the international distance this year.
The race and this season in general has helped me identify some areas where I can be better. I would love to keep pushing the envelope on my FTP, and I think the key to that (as well as staying in control of my bike) is to focus this winter on putting on some weight in muscle. The guys pulling away from me on the bike are all carrying 155lbs or more on their frames, and I would like to close the gap there to push bigger numbers and retain better control of my bike in the wind. On the running side, I want to continue my work on running hard off the bike. I’ve made vast improvements here, but there is still room to be better there.
Areas that I would like to address going forward include improving my anaerobic capacity on the shorter rolling hills, because I am finding that I immediately lose quite a bit of power and momentum every time I go up a small rise in aero. I think I may need to supplement this with a little bit more hard running on fresh legs. I’ve found in the past that doing intervals at faster than goal race pace has allowed me to cope with surges and faster opening paces a lot better, and makes goal race pace feel more comfortable as easy during race. Losing those two months in March and April may have set me back further than I had thought it would, as I lost two months that may have been valuable to spend working on the areas of weakness that I felt were a little bit exposed this weekend.
I don’t mean this as a knock to my performance on the weekend, because I’m so proud of everything I have accomplished so far this year. But what are we as distance runners if we aren’t constantly looking for areas in which we can improve and pursue perfection?