Tuesday, 31 May 2016

2016 Subaru Shawnigan Lake Triathlon

Well, if the Delta Spash 'N Dash did not herald in the 2016 triathlon season, the 2016 Subaru Shawnigan Lake Triathlon did. With just 2 weeks before I (literally) jump into the Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon, Shawnigan was a good race to mentally prep myself for my second tri season.

Early Saturday morning, I loaded my gear into the rental car and started my drive to Vancouver Island.  Although off to a late start, I still managed to make the 7:00am ferry.  After a very rainy drive, I arrived at Shawnigan Vacations.  If you are ever in the area and need a place to stay I HIGHLY recommend it.

After unloading all my gear (sans bike), I decided to head down to West Shawnigan Lake Provincial Park early for a quick swim.  Athlete/Bike check in was not until 1:00pm but wanted to make sure I knew where everything was before raceday.

I arrived just in time to watch the IRONKIDS Fun Run.  It was a great to see the many kids who may one day grow up to love endurance sports and inspire a future generation.

Leading the kids race was LifeSport's own Dan Smith.

I first met Dan last year before the Subaru Vancouver Triathlon when Andrew (my coach) was still with LifeSport.  Dan remembered me and had been following my progress on facebook.  And apparently I'm "half the size" I was last year.  I don't see it, but we are our own worst critics.  But more on that later.

I put on my wetsuit and proceeded to test the waters.  I recently invested in a new, triathlon specific wetsuit.  My old one is still good, but is a little on the cheap side and stiff side.

While shopping around for a new wetsuit, I narrowed it down to the 2XU Race 3 or the HUUB Aerious 3:5.  Both fit and moved very well, but my gut kept leaning toward the 2XU Race 3.  It had less paneling than the HUUB.  In my research, I found that wetsuits with a lot of paneling are more prone to tearing.  I am a pretty strong guy and did not want to invest in a wetsuit that had the potential to rip after several instances of putting on and ripping off.

The water was very cold, and as I was walking in I noticed the bottom was very rocky.  The race was a waste deep start, so that did not worry me, but I would have to swim as far in as I could to avoid tripping on the rocks during the swim exit.  Luckily, my courses with SeaHiker have prepared me for just such situations.

After my nice, brisk swim, I headed back to dry off and check in.  I grabbed my bike from the car, checked in, put my race number on my bike, then dropped it off in transition.  I covered the bars with a garbage bag due to the rain.  It did not matter much seeing as how I would be soaked when I got back on it the next day. I grabbed my bags and heading back to my room for a shower and lunch before coming back for the pre-race briefing.

Back at my room, I started to organize my gear for the next day.  I realized I must have left the bag with all my check-in stuff (stickers, bib, timing chip, swim cap, etc) at the expo.  Once I had the rest of my stuff laid out, I headed back to the lake to find my bag and for the pre-race briefing.

While waiting for the meeting to start, I saw a few friends I knew.  Carlo and Diana, who train with me under Andrew (Coach Powell).  Diana was nice enough to lend me an extra race belt, since I had forgotten mine.  She said it was Race Karma, as she forgot a helmet at a race once, and someone had an extra.  Now she brings 2 of everything.

I also saw Gary, who was the volunteer captain at the Whistler Ironman last year.  I had the privilege to volunteer at the finish line from 7:00pm-Midnight and see so many amazingly inspiring athletes finish.

After the race briefing, I grabbed some dinner, went back to my room, did one last gear check, read, then went to bed.

The alarm went off at 4:00am.  Then again at 4:10am. And again at 4:20. When it went off at 4:30am, I got up.

I showered, prepped, grabbed my gear and something small to eat, and was out the door.  I parked at the Community Center and grabbed a shuttle to the start.

It was a beautiful morning.  The sun was rising right over the water.  This turned out to be a slight issue, but more on that later.

The first thing I did was check my tire pressure. Leaving your bike out overnight in the cold can (and did) greatly reduce your tire pressure. I then checked my gears, making sure to keep it in a relatively easy gear for the bike start, and the sensors; cadence, speed, heart rate, all good. Then I proceeded to set up my transition area. As I set up my area, I chatted with the other athletes. We were ready to go. I had walked through transition the day before so I knew the swim entrance, what landmarks to use to find my bike (turn right when I line up with the yellow Power Bar flag then 2 sections in on the right), where to go with the bike (straight down, turn left, up the hill, through the trees, turn right), I knew where the mount line was, I knew where the dismount line was, how to get back to my transition, and where to exit for the run.

I did one final check then began to put on my wetsuit.  I made my way down to the water to get acclimated to the temperature and get in a quick warm up.  The water felt very warm at first, but turns out that was just because the ground had been so cold.

During the warm up, I looked for a landmark to use for sighting.  The sun was right over the swim course and with the glare there was no way to sight the buoys. Looking for an alternative, I saw a large hill in the distance just to the right of the first turn buoy.  If I sighted that and aimed just to the right a tiny bit, that would put me where I needed to be.

I was not nervous for this race at all. My continuous training had me physically prepared and having done this distance a couple times before, I was mentally prepared as well.  My brain had spent the last few months prepping for Escape From Alcatraz and I knew this would be way easier.

It was 90 seconds to the start.  I was in the water and found myself mid pack. At first I wanted to move back, but decided to give starting with the pack a try.  This had not gone well in previous races, but I felt better today.

The Swim

There was no countdown.  No, "Ready? Set? Go!" No, "On your marks."  Just a loud, sudden cannon blast.  For a split second, we all just looked at each other, unsure as to what just happened. Then, before I knew it, I was in the washing machine.  The water was white with thrashing feet.  Hands slapped legs and feet met faces.  I tried to stay calm, but could feel my heart rate begin to climb.  I started doing the breast stroke in an attempt to calm down.  Soon the pack was ahead of me and I could not breath.

I'm in there somewhere getting kicked in the face.

I signaled to kayak that was close by and asked if I could hold on for a bit.  I felt stupid.  This is the second time this has happened in a race.  The volunteer in the kayak asked if I was ok and I told her I just needed to let my heart rate go down.  She could tell I was frustrated and told me to relax and just do what I needed to do to have a good race.  A race official in another boat came up and told the kayaker to move me out a bit, as the women's wave was going to start in 2 minutes.  I told them I would not need that long.  I took another 20 seconds, thanked the volunteer, and began to swim.

While waiting for my heart rate to drop, another swimmer swam up and asked the volunteer if she had extra goggles. Apparently, his had been kicked off.  I have no idea what he did, but I hope he found a solution and had a good race regardless. 

It was slow going at first.  Front crawl for a bit, then breast stroke for a rest.  I kept my sight line and soon I was at the first turn buoy.  At this point, purple caps started to swim past me.  The women's wave had caught up.  This did not phase me however, I am a strong swimmer, but I have no allusions about being the fastest.

As I rounded the corner, I took a moment (doing the breast stroke) to find a good sight line.  There was a very tall group of trees just above the second turn buoy.  A Star Wars quote was in order.

I continued switching between front crawl and breast stroke around the second turn buoy.  As I turned and began to sight off the big blue arch that was the swim exit, I began to find my groove a bit. More and more front crawl and less and less breast stroke.

As I got closer to the third turn buoy, and the second lap, I remember thinking, "I better swim in case anyone is watching."  Then I realized that no one watching knew who I was.  "Screw it." I thought "Give 'em a show anyway."

As I made my turn into lap number 2, I was feeling much better.  My groove was found and before I knew it I was back at the first turn buoy, then the second, and then I was sighting the swim exit.  I concentrated on having a smooth, efficient stroke.  I did not want to sprint to the end and have nothing left for the short jog to my bike.

I swam though all the tall weeds I noticed the day before and the water began to shallow.  I saw the swimmer in front of me stand up and all I could think was, "Too soon!"  The shallows were rocky, your feet were numb, and the less you have to deal with rocks, the better.  I waited until the very last moment to ' pop up and monster.'  My SeaHiker people know what I'm talking about.

I ran up the little ramp while putting my goggles on my forehead and unzipping my wetsuit.  Since last year, I switched my goggles to a pair with flatter lenses with less of a protruding nose bridge.  I found that curved lenses and a nose bridge that stood out too far caused my eyes to adjust and go crossed during the swim.  This became an issue when I would get out of the water, as my eyes did not adjust back well or quickly.  This caused me to be unbalanced and feel nauseated. But the new goggles worked great!  No unbalance, no nausea. Crossing the timing mat, I lapped my watch.  The swim was over


As I rounded the corner into the transition area, I found my landmarks and quickly found my bike.  It was easy as all the other bikes around it were already gone.  I stripped off the rest of my suit, put my helmet on straight away, snapped off my watch and snapped it to my bike, socks, shoes, visor, and after one last quick look for insurance, I was off. 

As I ran through the bike racks, I  shouted to the other athletes in transition.  I did not want one of them to back up and get run over.  They graciously moved aside and I made my way though the woods on the carpeted path up to the mount line.  

Running that far in bike shoes was a bit awkward, but it needed to be done (and I am no where near the level of leaving my shoes clipped on the bike, putting then on during the ride).  

The Bike

I mounted my bike to the sound of roaring encouragement from the volunteers and was on my way.

I was sure to get water and a bit of nutrition in me right away.  This race I tried something new.  I know. I know.  Nothing new on race day, but this worked out... Sort of.  There are no gels allowed on the bike course at Escape From Alcatraz, so I bought a small 'gel bottle,' poured 3 gels in it, and mixed it with water.  The bottle came with a small clip that fit right on my aero bottle. The only problem was that when the Velcro got wet, it would not clasp.  That, and the fact the bottle mounts upside down, so if you didn't close it all the way, you end up with a sticky stem and front fork. 

I soon found my groove and powered on.  My bike skills have shown huge improvement this year and this was the first race with my new bike setup. Hills are still hard, but my new compact crank and cassette make them a bit easier.  My pro bike fit done by BC Bike Fit helped me to be way more efficient in generating power.  This and my new aero wheels came in handy on flats and downhills.

The course was full of rolling hills.  I made sure to gain enough speed on each downhill to not only compensate for time lost going uphill, but to also achieve enough speed to aid in my next climb.

2 laps with the above elevation profile.

At one point, another rider and I played a friendly game of Tag.  She would catch me on the up hills, and I would catch her on the down hills.  At about the 10k point, I bombed down a hill and never saw her again.

About a kilometer and a half later, I hit the one very steep hill.  With my bike in its easiest gear, I climbed.  There was a large group of extremely encouraging volunteers working an aid station at the top.  Once over the top, the course evened out for a bit before heading back down hill. Then it was back the normal rolling hill course.

I was beginning to think to myself that the course felt very long. And about a kilometer after that, I finished my first lap.  The same encouraging volunteers at the mount line cheering as I rode by.

The second lap went by a bit faster, but not by much.  This course felt long (a little over 4k long).  I stuck with my strategy of gaining enough speed on each downhill to make up time and get me up the next hill.

As I reached the top of the first up hill of the second lap, I saw a rider struggling to climb.  As I passed her, I yelled, "You got this!  Almost at the top!  What goes up must come down!"  She stood and began to climb harder.

I bombed down the same big down hill and dug deep up the same steep climb.  When the course flattened out again my watch said I only had 4 kilometers left to go.  My mind began to visualize the run.

Suddenly, a car passed me.  Although not technically a closed course (at least not to local traffic) it was surprising to see a car.  She passed me and then pulled into the lane behind a few riders ahead of us.  Soon, I was passing her and the other 2 riders. Then she passed me again!  Only to, once again, be passed by me.  I was beginning to become very annoyed when she finally moved on.

At this point, my watch read 40 kilometers, but no dismount line yet.  I remembered from the first lap that there was a group of mailboxes on the right very close to the end.  Then, all of a sudden, there were mailboxes!  I was close.  Then.... More mailboxes!?  Which ones where the ones that signaled that the end was near?!  Then, I saw the dismount line.

I rode up, unclipped, lapped my watch, and began to jog. 

I said..... I began jog.  

My legs were not moving.  I had to focus very hard to get them to start moving off the bike. I thought it best to walk to T2 due to the downhill nature and the impaired legs.


As I made my way into T2,  I asked a volunteer which way to go.  On the way out, officials made it very clear to just run one way to avoid accidents.  It would have been quicker for me to go the other way, but I wanted to be safe.  The volunteer looked at me and shook his head saying, "I don't know." So I opted for the quicker route.

Once again, I announced my presence as I ran through the bike racks. I racked my bike, remounted my watch to my wrist strap, took off my shoes, helmet off, visor off, running visor on, shoes on, race belt on, and I was off.

The Run

 Lapping my watch, I ran out of T2 and was on my way.  Usually, when coming off the bike, my feet are a little numb, but today, with the cold as an added factor, I could not feel my feet at all.

As I ran around the finish area and up to the trail head, I realized I was going too fast.  After an uphill, I soon had to walk to regain feeling in my feet. Once at the road crossing, I began to run again, but once again, on an uphill, I had to rest.

Another runner past me and said she knew me from SeaHiker, but I did not recognize her and she was running too fast for me to catch up and find out who she was.

Once up the hill and on the Trans Canada Trail, I began to run again.  My pace was slow and I was upset with how poorly my run was starting out, but I was moving.

At a kilometer and a half, a runner passed me and complimented me on my tattoo.  I began to think about Abi and got a little boost.

I soon found somewhat of a groove and tried to hold it as best as I could.  I had to take more walk breaks than I would have liked, but I was making forward progress.  I watched as the more elite athletes were on their way back on this out and back trail run. I saw Carlo and Diana, who both had nothing but encouragement for me.

At the 2 and a half kilometer mark there was a little confusion.  As I grabbed some water from an aid station, they kept shouting, "Turn around! Right here!"  A few runners and myself stopped, very confused.  We could see more runners ahead of us and this was only 2.5k.  That was when we realized that this was the sprint distance turn around.  The volunteers did not make that very clear.

Around the 4k mark, I began to focus on the scenery to take my mind off my poor pacing and frequent walk breaks.

I have recently been watching a show on the History Channel called Alone. Basically, 10 people are dropped off in the most remote areas of Vancouver Island, alone, with only a set amount gear, and the one who makes it the longest, wins.  Apart from the survival aspect, the ones that lasted the longest had the best mental game.  They could get inside their own heads, assess the situation, and occupy their minds to better cope with the isolation.

I began to take this lesson to heart and started to shift my focus away from my poor pacing, frequent walk breaks, and being passed.  I began to think about triathlon, endurance sports, and training as a journey.  I was at this specific point in my journey, the athletes who were passing me were further along in their journey, and I was further along in my journey that those I passed.  We were all out there for different reasons.  We all had to start somewhere.  Some of us started later in life, some of us earlier, but we were all out there, on the same course, continuing on our own separate journeys.

This, in addition the all the superman comments, helped to put me in a better head space as I reached the 5k turn around.

As I began the back section of the out and back, I heard a "Fly us to the finish supermanI"  To which I replied, "I only fly when I'm on the bike!"

The woman caught up with me and we began to talk. I told her about how I was feeling and she reminded me of the fact that I was still out here doing it.  We spoke about our upcoming races and training before I let her take off and run her race.

As I passed an older man, who was just ahead of us during our conversation, he encouraged me and said, "See you at the finish and at Arizona 70.3!"

The rest of the run was small goals. Walk to that bush, then run as long as you can.  Make it to that pole, then you can walk.  Walk to that tree, then run. This went on until I had half a kilometer to go.  At that point I was determined to run the final 500 meters all the way in.

I turned around and saw one of the High School athletes who started the run at the same time I did struggling.  I called back to him, "C'mon! Only half a K left!  Let's run this in!  You got this!"  He began to run and as he passed me I shouted, "That's it!  One left turn, down a hill, across the street, then onto the finish!"

The Finish

Before I knew it, I was at the left turn.  I sprinted down the hill, dodging roots and rocks.  I ran across the street and onto the carpeted path, dodging folds in the carpet.  The last thing I wanted to do was trip this close to the finish. Then I was on the grass.  One final left turn and there was the finish.  By the time I thought about what I wanted to do in my finish photo, I was already across.

As I was presented my medal, I stopped my watch and almost fell over.  I was beat and my legs were screaming.  I grabbed something to drink and slowly made my way out of the finisher area.

I saw a few of the athletes who encouraged me on the run, shook their hands, and thanked them for their help in getting me through it all.

While watching other athletes finish, I stopped and spoke with Carlo. I walked back over to transition to begin to pack up and spoke with Diana for a bit.  She had come in 3rd place in her age division last year and (unknown to her at the time) she had done it again this year.  I expressed my frustration with not having a good run and she tried to cheer me up.  I made a joke about getting my moneys worth.  "If you do the math, I got the better deal.  If I'm gonna spend all this money on a race, I'm going to stretch my dollar."  Everyone within earshot had a good laugh.

I made the mistake of looking at my division standing, which I will not discuss here.

I packed up everything but the bike (which I came back for later) and made my way to the shuttle.  The 3 other athletes on the shuttle and I spoke about the race. One of them informed me that lots of people sign up for this race, but due to the weather or the temperature, they back out. This causes to the race to be full of elite and/or serious athletes.  This helped me feel better about my division standings and put the race in better perspective.

The gentleman asked me what got me started and I told him about Abi. He told me how he had a 7 year old son and wanted to be a good role model and show his son how to be strong.  He also told me not to stress about the panic attacks in the water.  This only being my second year in the sport, he promised me it would get better, but only with time.

I drove back to my room, showered, packed up, picked up my bike, and headed home.

Not until today, while typing this race report, did I start to feel better about my performance.  Actually looking back at the bike course and the elevation changes, this was one of the hilliest courses I've raced.  And averaging almost 30kph on that course!? No wonder my legs were spent on the run!  And my run time was not relatively bad either considering the rocky terrain and elevation changes.  My swim, despite the breaks and panic attack, was still right where my other swims at this distance had been.

I guess it took reliving the day though fresh eyes and a closer look at the course to realize that I have nothing to be upset about.

In 2 weeks, I will racing Escape From Alcatraz, a race that kind of terrifies me. But that is the reason I signed up for it.  I just need to take the lessons I learned at Shawnigan and apply them to whatever gets thrown my way in San Francisco.

Thank you for taking the time to read another one of my race reports! 


  1. Fantastic race report, Joseph. It was so great to share the race experience with you. And thanks for the kind mentions in your report. You continue to inspire me!!!

  2. Well done Joe, you mind if we link to this page? Great account.


    1. Feel free to link what ever you would like! These stories are here for all to enjoy and hopefully be inspired by!