Elite Triathlete

Barrelman 2015

A detailed account of my experience at the Barrelman half-iron in Niagara Falls.

Featured on the MultiSport Canada blog.

Sep 22 2015

The MultiSport Canada Barrelman triathlon is quickly becoming an iconic race. Based in the Niagara Falls region, it offers a great experience for racers and spectators alike, with a superior swim venue, flat and scenic bike course and a fun run along the falls. Last year, I didn't finish the race, stopping halfway into the run after trying to find a way out the entire race. I was burned out after a tough season trying to find form and simply didn't want to be there anymore, so this time around, my goal was to avenge the DNF and have a wicked race.

This year, I struggled with different issues throughout the season, namely identifying a major weakness: mental strength. I started to work with a sports psychologist in July, after a terrible race at Challenge St. Andrews forced me to face things head on and seek help. Since then, I have come a long way. My mental approach began to improve almost immediately, and with each race I did, I learned something about myself and how to apply the tools and strategies I was learning. Internally, I started to race much better, capable of overcoming obstacles that would have thrown me off completely just weeks before - which gave me a huge confidence boost heading into Barrelman.

Before the start, Alex Vanderlinden and I had talked about trying to break away on the swim. That sounded like a solid plan, but wasn't meant to be, for me at least. My swimming hadn't been quite as sharp in the last month, with a lot of tapering and recovery between races in a packed August and some illness preventing the highly consistent training needed for a move like that. I trailed Alex by about 10 seconds for almost the first half of the swim and then fell back to the main pack, while he took off, putting almost a minute into us.

The new swim course in the Welland International Flatwater Centre is beautiful. The stands give spectators the best view of the swim in any triathlon and the run up from the water past the stands makes the athletes feel like superstars with everyone going wild and cheering. Truly a front-row experience.

T1 can be characterized as a bit of a tumble, as I had somehow forgotten to hand in my post-race bag, and had to throw it across the transition area to the large collection of bins while ripping off my wetsuit. In that confusion, my timing chip managed to fly off my ankle and I had to take a few seconds to frantically strap it back on. I didn't lose too much time in the end, heading out onto the bike with most of the main swim pack.

The first 30km of the bike were awesome. I was crushing it. Power was steadily climbing to target zones and my average speed was looking like a champion. After two rough half-irons this season, I was excited to be ripping it up like I know I can. My head was clear and in the game; I had no demons present and was ready to give it everything.

I passed a couple guys and could see a dot moving in the distance, getting closer and closer. I had moved into third. At about 15km in, my girlfriend and her dad came speeding by in his car, yelling out the window at me and snapping photos. Just a few minutes later, I saw them up ahead on the side of the road, her dad crouching on the ground with a pro-camera setup. I felt like a celebrity athlete with race papparazzi. It was exhilarating. They continued to do this, motivating me, until the course didn't allow them to continue safely at about 60km. (I will note that they did not come close enough or stayed near me long enough to allow for any drafting, nor did they give me time splits; I only got word that Alex had crashed out).

After the honeymoon phase of those first 30km, the wind picked up and it became very tough. I do not understand how a headwind can be present in every single direction. If you turn into the opposite direction, should you not have a tailwind?! It got tough, but I knew it was so for everyone, and kept my focus. However, at 45km, things started to unravel again. I puke-burped and gagged. Like I have in every half this year, at that same point. It wasn't as bad this time, but it slowly became more and more difficult to stomach drinks, gels and bars, and even water wasn't going down smoothly.

By 60km, I was cooked. The eventual winner passed me and I tried squeezing out the watts to stick with him, but my legs were popped. My power plummeted. My speed nosedived. I averaged 35w less in the final 30km than I had the first 60, barely able to keep momentum.

Amazingly, no one had passed me yet and I entered T2 in third place. I was dismayed to find that my palm bottle had disappeared from my bike-run bag – I distinctly remember placing it in there – and so headed out onto the run knowing I had to hit every aid station in order to make it to the finish.

My legs began to tighten up and cramp immediately, but I knew if I just kept going they would eventually loosen up. By 8km, they did, but it was so so difficult to get my body going. I could only last about a minute at pace before I had to dial it back down, feeling the bonk creeping in. I had to walk through each aid station, forcing myself to down as much coke and water as I could get, running as best I could to the next station. I was so happy to see the brightly coloured tshirts of the volunteers hopping up and down.

My coach, Tommy Ferris, and girlfriend met me at the halfway point and did a great job of encouraging me, and I had their words, "Stay strong", running my through my head for the second lap. I stayed as strong as I could, still holding on to third place.

The run course was changed slightly from last year too, and it was great. It's probably one of the most enjoyable run courses I have ever done, with enough variation in the scenery to keep you interested and alert, and rolling along. I actually enjoyed the second lap in spite of my struggles, the mist off the falls a wonderful feeling.

Finally, I crossed the finish line, nearly collapsing into John Salt's (race director) arms as he shook my hand. I was gutted to later learn that I had fallen to fifth place, as two other athletes who started in the second wave had put together slightly better races. I lost third place by only 43 seconds.

I am happy that I fought through to the finish and it is clear that I have improved my mental game so much this year. There were so many small obstacles and challenges throughout the day that not too long ago would have thrown me off, caused me to DNF, but I stuck it out and finished strong.