2017 Multisport World Championships
Well this is it – this is what all of my training has amounted to; those hundreds of hours pushing pedals in the pain cave, thousands of kilometres on the roads, and the half dozen hours of pool time hahaha. All of that in preparation for this one day. Before I get into this, I just want to thank everyone from the bottom of my heart who have helped me along this journey. Your relentless support will be forever appreciated and has definitely not gone unnoticed.
Penticton, British Columbia
Geordana and I left our apartment in downtown Toronto on Thursday morning to meet my Dad and brother at Pearson Airport who would also be travelling with us. Between all of our checked bags and my bike it almost felt like we were permanently moving. After a short layover in Calgary and finally descending into Penticton, moving permanently would be just fine with me because this place was absolutely unbelievable. Maybe I’ve just become too accustomed to the concrete jungle, but this place was a breath of fresh air. I mean this figuratively because in reality it was still a tad smoky. Nonetheless, all of us were excited to be here!
After checking into our rooms at the Penticton Lakeside Resort, I quickly built my bike and headed out to meet Jasmin Aggarwal, fellow Canadian athlete for some course recon. Having ridden the course a couple of times already Jasmin took the lead on this one and we proceeded to ride the course in its entirety. Couple things I noticed immediately; like the rest of Penticton, the bike course is absolutely breathtaking – it’s a two loop, out-and-back course running along Okanagan Lake on highway 97 going north towards Kelowna. I had to take this in as much as I could now knowing that I wouldn’t be able to appreciate how beautiful this is on race day – there would be more important things to worry about. The second thing is that the course is pan flat and very fast. This is definitely a plus for me as this would fall right in line with my strengths. Between now and race day I would ride the entire course four more times to ensure by Monday I would know exactly where the turns are, when I would eat, when I would drink and exactly what my effort should be at any given point on the bike leg. I also practiced slipping in and out of my bike shoes on the fly several times after the incident I had in Bracebridge the weekend prior. No chance I was messing it up this time.
The run course I also previewed a few times with my Dad and brother. We would meet first thing each morning to go for a 30 – 40 minute run together. Best way to start any given day in my opinion whether you have an upcoming race or not. The run course is a 2.5km loop that starts on Lakeside drive by the lake and loops upwards on Martin Street into town and back again. The section on Martin Street is a long steady “slope” that wasn’t steep enough to call an actual hill, but I’m sure would be pretty painful for the sixth time at 190+bpm (and it was…). On race day I would complete this circuit 4 times for the first 10km run then another 2 times for the last 5km run after the 40km bike ride. Anyways! Now that I had meticulously familiarized myself with the race course, it was time to enjoy ourselves while we could!
Our hotel is right on Lake Okanagan with a beach just adjacent to it. Over the duration of our stay we had frequented this beach quite a bit. On Saturday during the Sprint Duathlon races Geordana, Dad, Joel and I went for a hike along the bluffs to the north east of our resort. We got to see some incredible views, stunning wineries, and other athletes getting in some last minute nervous exercise.
We then watched the Pro Duathlon with Jesse Bauer, Johnny Rasmussen and Paralympic Silver medalist Stefan Daniel representing the red maple leaf. What an experience that was! The speeds that these athletes can operate at is nothing short of robotic. Congrats to all athletes who competed!
On Sunday evening, the night before the race we had met up with a bunch of my friends who were also travelling on this side of the Rockies. They were on the tail end of their trip and made Penticton one of their final stops so that they could come and see me race. This was such a great motivator having your close friends and family by your side supporting you no matter how crazy they think you are. We all had met up for a nice dinner at the hotel restaurant, told travel stories and parted ways for the night.
Having checked my bike and helmet into transition, packed my transition bag and pre-made my breakfast the day before, most of my race morning preparation was mental. I’ve had butterflies in my stomach for weeks now in anticipation for this day. I kept visualizing key aspects of the race and what I needed to get done in those moments. After eating my usual pre-race breakfast of oatmeal, an apple and 2 cups of coffee I grabbed my bag, said bye to Geord and made my way down to transition conveniently located right beside the hotel exactly 90 minutes until the race start at 7AM.
I threw my headphones in and continued listening to the audiobook “Iron War” by Matt Fitzgerald. I had been listening to this book in the weeks previously during my running workouts. It depicts the 1989 Kona Ironman World Championship battle between the legendary Mark Allen and Dave Scott. In this book there’s a chapter where it talks about studies in exercise science done in the late 80s and early 90s with the intention of exploring the limits of human capabilities in endurance sports. Having a very analytical mind myself, this was all very interesting to me. Without getting too far into the weeds, the conclusion of the vast majority of these studies are that the limits to our potential are self-imposed – it’s a mental game. The best endurance athletes are those who are able to fight these instincts of perceived effort and exertion, supress the pain and just keep going.
One change that I had made as a result of this new found knowledge is that I removed my heart rate stats from my data screens on my Garmin watch that I am able to see while racing. The less I know about how much I am suffering, the better.
After getting set up in the transition area and some nervous banter with friends and fellow athletes Garvin Moses, Liyang Wang, Larry Bradley, Andrew McLoed and Jasmin, I surrendered my transition bag to the ITU officials and began a short warm up. I met up with Geordana, my dad, brother and friends briefly beforehand apologizing that I had got them out of bed before 7AM while on vacation. Geordana placed her hand on my stomach and said “I can still feel the butterflies – you should’ve swallowed a net”. We all laughed about this realizing this is just what I needed to loosen up a little bit. Geordana has always been good at bringing me back down to earth. After assuring me that I would be just fine, my friends sent me off and I entered the corral where male athletes ages 18 – 29 would start first. These 5 minutes until race start felt like the longest 5 minutes of my life. However before I knew it they called us up to the line, heartbeats over the loud speaker, “athletes take your marks”, and the race was on.
Run 10km (34:15 T1 – 1:07)
My original “goal” that I had set for myself in this race was to run a 35 minute opening 10k. After thinking this over given the strength of the running field that I would be competing with; the 35 minute 10k ended up being Plan C. Given the likelihood of everyone forming a few select groups after the first lap (2.5km), Plan A would be to hang on in the lead group and Plan B would be to drive the chase group. If I wasn’t able to hang with either group – then I would do my best to pace myself to a 35 minute 10k which would be a personal best.
After the first lap I found myself in the lead group of eight containing myself, Sam Bell the Kiwi, a Colombian, a Great Britain athlete, and four Americans, three of which were all working together at the front setting the pace. Our first 3 kilometre splits were under 3:20min/km – this was a relentless pace. Once the group was formed the pace at the front let up just slightly. Shortly after we began our second lap the three Americans took off the front giving me no hope of chasing them down; time for Plan B.
After the second lap the Americans were about 25 seconds ahead of us completing the first half of the run in just over 16 minutes. I was now running on the heels of the kiwi, Sam Bell, with the GB athlete, Matt Grantham, the fourth American, Jeevan Philip, and Colombian Alex Diaza rounding out the second group. We completed lap 2 at around 16:30 which would be my fastest 5k ever by a minute.
The Colombian, Alex Diaza, attacked our group of now 3 in efforts to bridge up to the lead group of Americans. I was now working together with my new friend, Sam Bell to keep this chase alive. There were a handful of moments in this run where I felt like I could not keep going and that I had to slow down. Sam and I worked together now in efforts to catch the GB athlete who went off the front of our group. He had got away for around a minute but we ended up reeling him before entering T2. Also in our collective efforts, we had cracked the fourth American. I want to now thank Jesse Bauer, who had competed in the pro race a couple days prior for his relentless cheers throughout the entire race. On the last 750m of the first 10k Jesse called out to me “big gear, no fear!”. This was a welcome reminder that 1) I would soon get to stop running and 2) the bike leg, especially on this course, is my domain – this is where I get to prove myself. I chanted those words back to Jesse and stormed into transition ahead of my 2 fellow competitors. I finished the first 10km run in 34:15 – my fastest time ever.
Bike 40km (57:03 T2 – 1:37)
Myself, Sam Bell and Matt Grantham entered and exited T1 together. I saw my family and friends at the top on the hill outside of transition cheering and this gave me just the boost I needed. I arrived at the bike mount in-between Sam and Matt. I wasn’t sure which line either of them were going to take so I opted to stop completely for a moment, mount my bike and ride on from a standing start. I now had the 2 of them about 20 meters up the road. After meticulously practicing this in the days leading up – I slipped into my shoes after building up some momentum without a hitch. Big gear, no fear.
The out-and-back bike course goes east for a short ways along Lakeside drive and then north up highway 97. I had caught and passed both Sam and Matt before we reached the highway. It’s hard to pick a goal time on a bike course like this given the wind variability we’ve had over the first few days in Penticton. So I told myself that anytime my power meter reads below 350 watts, I would push harder. There was no contingency plan for if it read over 350. If I was reading higher and I felt good, I put my head down and kept pushing – the World Championships are no place to start holding back.
I turned onto the highway and, as planned, ate my first of 5 energy gels. That was a blistering opening 10km and would need some sugar ASAP if I wanted to throw down a devastating bike split. Since the course was so flat, I could see most of my competitors about a minute up the road. This was great psychologically having someone to chase – you worry less about your effort and focus more on reeling in the bikes up the road. I had caught and passed a couple athletes before the first turnaround which put me into 3rd place. Coming up to the turnaround I saw the 2 lead American cyclists Albert Harrison and Cody Foreman. They were about 1 minute and 40 seconds up on me respectively. Moving back into town I could see that I was reeling in Cody pretty quickly so I wanted to make sure I made the pass before turning onto Lakeside drive where the roads got a little bumpier and windier. I came back into town sitting 2nd still around a minute down on the leader and now 10 seconds up on Cody.
The second lap I could feel myself starting to tire – it could have been that I burnt too many matches on the first run or that I pushed too hard on the first lap. Either way, I wasn’t going to slow down so I pushed as hard as my body would allow me, relentlessly chasing down the leader. We got to the 30km turnaround and I was still a minute down; it was turning into a stalemate. I fought hard all the way back into town and entered T2. My dad had shouted that I was a minute down on the leader – what else is new. I finished my ride averaging just over 42km/h with a normalized power of 365W. This would be one of my best rides to date.
Run 5km (18:02)
The first few strides off of my bike I could already tell that if I was to hang on and contest the overall podium that this was going to be my most painful run ever, period. So I started my watch again and this would be the last time that I looked at it until finishing. I rang the doorbell at the font door hurt house and was embraced with open arms as I exited T2.
This first lap of the 5k was blur – I was just fighting to keep turning my feet over. I was right at my limit and moving as fast as I possibly could. After the race some people told me that they thought I was crying coming through for the first lap – they could very well be correct.
Now on the second lap, I was at the turnaround on top of Martin Street, starting to come back down into town and this is where it started to hit me. My tunnel vision went away, I could now see that the streets were lined with people and all of them were cheering. I passed by Bob Wild, giving him a thumbs up as he would be on his way to win his SECOND World Championship title of the week. With 2 Gold Medals he is the most decorated Canadian at the MultiSport Festival – Bob is 86 years old.
Instead of turning for another lap, I turned onto the back-straight which would loop around and turn into the finishing chute – there are 400 meters left. Someone handed me a Canadian flag, I fumbled with it until I was sure I was holding it right side up. I came around the second to last bend and that’s where I saw my friends and family. I raised the flag above my heads and at the top of my lungs, in unison with Geordana we yelled “YES!!!”.
I turned onto the home straightaway and entered the finishing chute – 150 meters to go. My eyes started to well up, I could feel myself getting goosebumps, I approached the finish line with the announcer exclaiming that I was a World Champion. I raised my arms above my head one last time as I crossed the finish line. This is a moment that I will remember vividly for the rest of my life. All of the pain I had felt moments before had fizzled away now being replaced with total euphoria.
Immediately after the race, my friends and I cheered on the remaining Canadian athletes at the finish line. Shortly after that, as planned out very early on in the trip, Geordana and I went to The Peach to treat ourselves to a cake-topped ice cream milkshake because “we earned it” Geordana said. Before correcting her grammar, I thought for a second. At times, I likely wasn’t the easiest person to be around for the days, weeks and months leading up to this day. All of the early morning trainer rides in our small Toronto apartment and my pre-race nerves that seemed to start months prior to the race. Being able to put up with me for that long, if anyone has “earned it”, it’s definitely Geordana. So in no time at all, we inhaled this milkshake which tasted like it could only be a gift from God himself.
Later that evening we attended the awards ceremony where, just like old times, Jasmin Aggarwal and I were sharing the top step of the podium. Only this time we were crowned the AG Duathlon World Champions.
I was excited to find out it is traditional at World Triathlon events to trade team jackets with fellow competitors. So I was not going to miss the opportunity to swap jackets with my new friend, Sam Bell, from New Zealand. Sam and I made an unreal team early on in the race so it was a great pleasure to catch up with him afterwards exchanging stories and jackets. New Zealand, I would also argue, has the coolest looking kit on the ITU circuit so I feel extremely lucky to be wearing the Silver Fern – hopefully Sam feels the same way about the Maple Leaf hahah.
Thank you first of all to all who are still reading – I know that this is quite a lengthy race report. I greatly appreciate your interest and hope you stay tuned for what’s to come.
I want to thank my friends Max, Mehr, Ian and Laura for making Penticton a stop on your vacation. You guys being there cheering me on was such a great boost, and those wine tours afterwards were just what the doctor ordered.
Thank you to my close friends and family for standing by me on my journey. Thank you for being there for my victories and supporting me in my sacrifices. I will be forever grateful for all that you do for me.
And thank you to my supporters:
After some much needed time off, I plan on racing at MultiSport Canada’s Lakeside Olympic Triathlon as well as cheering on friends and family also racing there that weekend. My last race for this year will then be the provincial Duathlon Championships where I will try and better my 2nd place result from last year over the standard distance.
Beyond that, my future athletic goals are up in the air, so to speak. Given the experience I had in Penticton this year, I would love to defend my new World Title in Denmark where the 2018 Duathlon World Championships will be hosted. I would also like to try my luck racing the Olympic Triathlon on a world stage. Between this and my urge to have a crack at the Iron distance races, I definitely have some thinking to do!
Congrats to everyone who competed at the MultiSport World Championship Festival – Set no limits.
Til next time,