My Super League Penticton incomplete adventures.
Last year, after the 2017 ITU Long Distance World Championships in Penticton, I ended up looking for a new challenge. I have been involved in this wonderful sport for nearly a decade. I have had good and so-so races. I was always prepared. This year was a bit different. Earlier, in March, I was really pumped for a promising 2018 tri-season. Honu 70.3 was looming on the horizon. I had worked hard to improve my bike power and was, at the time, running very well. June came and went. Hawaii was an amazing venue, I had the kind of race I was proud of, not great but good. When I went back to training I realized how tired I was and how much this 70.3 had taken out of me. A blood analysis revealed borderline low iron levels. Fatigue lead to low motivation. Every single workout became a burden, an unwelcomed chore. I had lost my mojo in early summer, prime tri season…I was so disappointed and in denial. But it was true, sigh!
I talked to Crystal, had a good conversation with Mike. I explained my feelings but instead of telling me to quit and call it a season, I heard things I didn’t want to hear. I was told: “Don’t pull the plug yet!” This expression, ‘pulling the plug’, resonated with me. It kept the pilot light on. A few days after this conversation I decided to be patient with myself and see how things would end up. Full disclosure: I wanted this training to be over because of ego, I realize that now. It’s as if I was telling myself: “If you don’t stand a chance of placing in your AG, why race at all?” I now know this way of thinking is a mistake! Isn’t triathlon supposed to be fun after all? The question shouldn’t be about ‘placing’ but about ‘enjoying’: Am I going to enjoy this new experience? YES! The minute I left my ego out of it, I felt better. Placing is the icing on the cake, it’s not the cake. Right?
Getting to P-town is always magical. The sun, the heat, the desert. The wonderful lake and wine! Training motivation came back as soon as I got there. I cycled more than usual because a knee injury had kept me from running long distances. I ran for a huge total of 10k in preparation for this race…yikes!
Stage 1 – Area 27
Stage 1 was all about speed. A TT on a race track! Fast corners, rolling hills, short but speedy flat stretches and a sticky, clean surface. While I was waiting for my turn, I could hear the pros results: 18 to 19 minutes for 15ish kilometers. I decided 21 minutes would be my racing target. Waiting on the line, I could hear the beep-beep of the timer. I felt like I was at Le Tour de France! I was going to be Sylvain Chavanel and my heart rate was beating in anticipation: 105 BPM.
BEEEP! My turn! I quickly clipped-on and applied power on the first downhill (150 BPM). Like any short TT, there’s no other strategy than going full gas. This is what I did. My heart rate was now at 175 BPM, despite the heavy, smoky Okanagan air. Airways were burning, lungs felt like they were on fire! I passed the guy in front of me, then the other one. I got caught by an athlete on his last lap, and then I had the road to myself. I cornered like I never knew I could. I just leaned on the bars, counter steered and pushed ahead. I was smiling the whole way, not believing I was finally doing this! I managed my effort exactly the way I wanted to. My lap times were nearly identical: 7:07, 7:15, 7:16 for a final time of 21 minutes 38 seconds (4 out of 15 in my AG). I honestly could not have gone any faster, I was a happy camper! During my cooling laps, I realized how thick the smoke was. I felt like I just had smoked a pack of cigs…horrible! Nevertheless, I was really looking forward to Stage 2.
Stage 2 – Boxing match in the water
For obvious reasons, the day’s event was shortened. An air quality advisory was still in effect. The swim start was really chaotic and did not go as planned. In a nutshell, we were supposed to enter the lake in a semi-disciplined way, one after the other based on the previous day’s position. It did not happen that way, oh no! It was a mass start, a very nasty mass start with the first turn at about 100m. It was brutal! People all over the place…good swimmers, bad swimmers, scared swimmers. Not a good combo. Honestly, I have to say I was wondering if I was going to survive this short swim! I thought some volunteer on a paddle board would eventually find me, face-down, dead. I would be a Super League casualty and they would talk about me in the Penticton Herald! The debate would ignite again: Triathlons are dangerous, some would say!
Weirdly enough, I did not panic, but was close to it. I passed the first buoy as another athlete was loudly gasping for air. Fists were flying! I got kicked. I passed the second buoy and calmed down. As I exited the water, I looked back and felt bad for those still in the water but, hey, I was still alive!!
I had a fast transition and was on the run quickly, with my swim cap still on, goggles in my left hand. I started passing other athletes and could hear heavy breathing all around me. The smoke was affecting all of us, some more than others. Swimming after a hard run was a challenge but I knew what it would feel like since I had practiced this before. This time, I swam by myself, nobody to draft from! Out of the water, and onto the bike. I quickly caught others and reminded myself this was ‘draft-legal’ so I stood behind a few guys on the uphill leading to Lower Bench Road. At the end of the road, I turned around too close to the cone and nearly killed myself in the process, second near death experience of the day! As I applied power to the pedals on the way back, I really enjoyed the fast downhill. Transitioned into the second run and went for a final push. Once again, I caught up to a pack of guys, got passed by another one and decided to go with him. Turned around at the cone, 1km to go with a slight downhill. With approximately 750m to go, I got passed by another athlete. I looked at him, noticed his race number and I thought to myself: “This bugger is in my AG!” I chose to let him go, just a bit, maybe two meters ahead of me and kept the gas on. It was hard! When I finally heard Steve King’s voice announcing at the finish line, I thought it was time to really go and ‘Matt Sharpe it’! I sprinted to the finish line and ended up 3 full seconds ahead of that dude who, by the way, wasn’t in my AG!
After Stage 2, I was 3rd in my AG and really looking forward to Stage 3. There was only one problem, the smoke was getting thicker by the hour. Early on Sunday, at 3AM, I went outside to feel the air…in an instant, I knew we wouldn’t race Stage 3… At 5AM, they cancelled it!
I’m happy with my race despite a lack of specific preparation. The important is this: I had fun! When you leave the ego out the door, strange things start to happen! To my teammates, coach, friends and my wonderful wife: THANK YOU!