Friday, August 10, 2012

Homeward Bound to the Toronto Triathlon Festival

This post would have been finished days ago, but I have been distracted a lot by the Olympic Games in London.  Catching a lot of the sports online during the day and then also watching some of the tape-delayed events on TV in the evening.

I've now been racing triathlon for 4 seasons.  I have raced in other states and even in Canada last year, but nothing could beat racing in your hometown.  Months ago, when I read a tweet about the Toronto Triathlon Festival, I decided pretty quickly that this race would have to be on my race schedule.  As we were already heading home to Toronto just 2 weeks prior to this race for my nieces wedding, this would have to be a trip I did on my own.  I was impressed by the race organizers as they already had a PC (physically challenged) category set up.  The reason I mention this is that when I decide to do a race, I often have to ask about a PC category.  Most race directors will oblige and add the category, but it's a shame that I have to ask.  I feel if a race is sanctioned by the USAT or any other governing group, a PC category should be mandatory.  It often makes me laugh that they have a category for heavier racers (CLYDESDALE and ATHENA) which is something with which most people have control, but not for something like a physical challenge, which is certainly nothing I did to myself.  Now I know, some people are generally bigger than others, but many Clydesdales can lose enough weight in order to be racing alongside all the other triathletes.  I'm sure I might get some flack for this comment, but it's the way I feel.

Anyway, after I registered the race director contacted me and suggested I do a write-up about my racing experience in order to be considered for TRIATHLETE of the MONTH leading up to the race.  I did a write-up and was quickly told I had been selected for the month of MARCH.  What was most impressive to me was a newsletter came out with the announcement of my selection along with Simon Whitfield.  Most triathletes and Canadians will know him as the flag bearer for the 2012 Canadian Olympic team.  I will be getting up on Aug 7th at 5AM in order to watch him race for Canada in London.  Before I left for Toronto, I printed out a copy of the newsletter in order ask Simon to sign it.  Kinda cool with a pic of my family and I on one side, and Simon on the other!  I was awarded a return flight with Porter Airlines for being selected.  I plan on using the ticket to fly home in the fall for a special function at NSS, my high school in Toronto.  
I am still in touch with my kindergarten teacher, Marilyn Fennell.  Her and her husband, Freddie, live in downtown Toronto.  Their place is not far from the race venue down at Ontario Place.  The arranged for me to stay in a guest apartment in the building for the weekend.  This would certainly make getting to the race site a lot easier, as I needed to be there both Friday and Saturday, prior to the race on Sunday.  As I would be traveling down alone, I didn't want to spend all day Friday driving (more than 500 miles), so I arranged to stay overnight at a hotel in Utica, NY on Thursday night and then make the rest of the way to Toronto early Friday morning.

The drive down on both Thursday and Friday were without incident, unless you include the border crossing at Lewiston, NY.  There were 12 lanes to chose from, and I of course, chose the slowest line.   I thought I must have the one real detailed customs agent.  Well, when I got up to the booth, I found out, that was not the case.  The agent asked me citizen, purpose of visit, etc.   When I mentioned I was going to race in a triathlon, she asked me all about it.  I then realize, I got the "CHATTY CATHY" customs agent.  It sure did not make the ride any easier.

I got into Toronto in the early afternoon and made my way along the Gardiner Expressway.  I was now driving on the same highway that would be closed on Sunday for the race.  I had an awesome view of the both the CN Tower and Rogers' Centre (formerly the Skydome).

Part of the bike course along the Gardiner
 I arrived at Fred and Marilyn's and unpacked my gear.  I was planning on leaving my bike in the care and then assembling it and riding it on Saturday afternoon.  My plan was to get down to the Westin hotel to check in and register for the "Fun Run".  I had connected online with Travis McKenzie from Nine17sports who were the event management team for the race and I was eager to meet him.

I arrived in time for the run which I thought was a 5K and ended up being about a 1K, which made me really happy.  The run was a little PR  event by the TTF and Porter Airlines in preparation for the race.  It was simply a run around the boardwalk near the hotel and took me about 7:40 or so.

After the Porter Airlines "Fun Run" photo by Flashmobs
I was really excited about what I was going to do next.  I have been in touch through Facebook with a couple of my old high school buddies and we were planning a little get together for Friday night.  We were set to meet up at a little bar down in Korea town (Bathurst and Bloor) called the Victory Cafe.   When I showed up and looked around I found my buddies, Toby, Jan, and Wade.  Chris (who organized the get-together) showed up a little later.  It was a simple evening of catching up, some beers (carbo loading?)  and lots of old stories about high school days.  The group of guys actually see each other a lot, a long with quite a few others.

Toby, Jan, me, and Wade
I am one of the few who actually moved quite a bit away from the Toronto area.  We hung around for quite a while, headed a popular Toronto landmark called Grossmans' Tavern looking for some live music.  Our timing was not great, as the band had just started their break.  I hung out for a while but really felt the need to get some rest.  I said good-night and then headed back to where I was staying.

Saturday morning was relaxed I met Fred and Marilyn for some breakfast and then made my way over to the pool with Marilyn for a swim.   It was nice to stretch out a bit and I think I only did about 1000 yards or so.

Prior to heading to the race briefing I thought it would be a good idea to get my bike out and take if for a little ride.  I got out and was planning on a real short ride, but bring back in my old stomping grounds, I decided to ride up to my old highschool, NSS, to check out the new turf field they had installed.  Alum, Dale Callender and former phys ed teacher, Jim Hutton were the driving force behind getting the money and donations together to get build this field to honor, former high school football coach, Clarke Pulford.  The ride was nice as I headed up to Mt. Pleasant and Eglinton.  Riding back down, I wanted to see how fast I could get riding down Yonge St.  Being a Saturday afternoon, I thought the traffic was not too bad.  The cruise down Yonge St was quite cool

After the ride I got ready to head back down to the Westin for packet pick-up and my race briefing. 
For a new race, there were not a lot of glitches.  I found my race number and then went into the room for the briefing.  At the end of the briefing by both Steve Fleck and Travis McKenzie, they opened the floor to questions.  Once those were handled, we went to get our packets, timing chips, etc.  This was one place where there was a little confusion.  The 100+ of us in the room were all allowed through a single door to then wait in lines.  The system they had was a bit chaotic and of course rewarded people who were great at cutting lines.  Living for more than a few years in the U.S. has given me some experience with this.  The nice and mostly Canadian crowd, patiently waited in some lines that seemed not to move.  I simply went to the last line and found out it moved pretty well.  I got my material and then looked around the Expo.  The Expos are quite neat, but I rarely find anything worth getting.

I walked around a while and then made my way back up to the St. Clair and Yonge area.  I was going to try and meet up with another old friend from the neighborhood where I grew up.  This was Michael Crooks, whose older sister, Charmaine Crooks, ran for Canada at numerous Commenwealth and Olympic games.  She is currently a member of the IOC.  Things did not work out meeting up with Michael.  I don't know if it was cell-phone problems, but we never seemed to connect that afternoon.  I found a nice restaurant to try and have a late lunch/early dinner.  When I asked at the Starbucks, they suggested I try and small pub called The Fox and the Fiddle.  I managed to get a nice salad and plate of pasta and the cost did not really break the bank.

I sat there for a while and then made my way back to the apartment.  After dropping off my race materials, I dropped in on Fred and Marilyn for a bit before turning in for the night.  I put my feet up for a while and watched a bit of TV prior to packing my race bag.  I thought it would be smart to get all the gear I did not need packed in my car.  After that, I set out my food for the morning and then turned in.

Transition was not to open until 5:15AM, so I woke at 4AM and then proceeded to get dressed and eat.  I had no way to mix a smoothie, so I had a large chocolate light, Muscle Milk along with a banana and bagel.  This would be my coolest race morning ride as I basically rode straight down Yonge St to the Lakeshore and then over to Ontario Place.  There was plenty of parking near transition.

I found a spot and then took my bike out of the car along with my ORCA race-bag.  It was a short walk to transition where I quickly found my bike rack.  As a para-triathlete, they gave us a special area right next to the pros.  Both Simon Whitfield and Paula Findlay would also be racing, but only in the sprint distance as a final training exercise before heading off to London.

Ted and me.
I had plenty of time to set-up and while doing so, I was admiring the views of the Toronto skyline.  I was able to meet up with my high school friend Ted Katsoris.  He is also triathlete and we have been in touch over the last few years after we connected on, yes here it is again, facebook.  When Simon and Paula showed up I tried to wait for a chance to chat with Simon for a second.  When I walked over to him, he extended his hand and said, "Hi John, how are you?"  Now of course, you might say, well, isn't that how decent people are supposed to great each other.  I was freaked out, that he knew my name.  Now we had been in touch on twitter and facebook, but only in passing, so I was impressed he knew my name.

Me along with Canada's flag-bearer in the Opening Ceremonies

He did joke with me and asked why I had a chair in transition.  I mentioned it was part of being a para-triathlete, where he then responded, "Well, if I am out of the water first, I'm stealing your chair!"  Well of course, he was out of the water before me, but my chair was still there after my swim.  I asked Simon to sign the newsletter and he graciously obliged.  I also had a chance to wish Paula good luck in the Olympics as well. I then finished up in transition and made my way to the swim start.

The USAT has a rule where pare-triathletes generally go into the swim in the first wave, but in Canada we are put in the last wave.  The swim was an in the water start after a jump in off a small dock.  I was the only male in the last 2 waves and when the announcer mentioned the fact that he wanted all ladies in the water for the last wave, I could not resist, and called out, "What about me?"  Steve Findlay was on the mic and of course, he quickly had a giggle and apologized, and said, "All the ladies and JOHN in the water please."

Heading towards T1 (by Mike Cheliak)
The swim was in a sheltered marina area right off of Ontario Place.  The course had lots of turns as we mostly followed the perimeter of the basin until we came back towards the boats.  With the sun shining it was difficult to swim back towards the east.  Being in the last wave and starting near the back, I figured I would see very few swimmers.  Well, that was not totally the case.  I saw he same woman for most of the swim and even passed a few of the struggling athletes who were swimming on their backs.  There were some steps out of the water that were easy to climb and there was even someone there to offer a hand if it was needed.  For the 1.5KM swim my time was 0:44:04 (489/501 overall).

It was a short run in to transition and to my bike.  A quick look around and I noticed there were still a number of bikes remaining, so at that point I realized I was not the last out of the water.  Transition was pretty quick at 1:59, but right after the timing mat was a large hill we needed to walk our bikes up that would take us to a bridge over Lakeshore Dr.  Once on the bike this course was what I was most waiting for.  I would be hard to race and at the same time enjoy the view of the city where I was born, but I did my best.  We got to ride through the Exhibiton (CNE) grounds (past the famous "FOOD BUILDING" ) and except for one marshall not really doing her job, the course was well marked.  Once out of the grounds we made our way onto the Gardiner Expressway.  Not a lot of cities allow road (even better, highway) closures, but we had both the eastbound Gardiner and northbound DVP closed to traffic for this race.  We ride all the way past the CN Tower, Rogers' Center (formerly the Skydome) through the downtown core out east towards the DVP.  The ramp onto the DVP was an awesome downhill where I was able to reach in excess of 35mph.  I wondered how I would fare getting up the ramp on my way back.  Once onto the DVP it is a ride on some pretty smooth roads up to Eglinton Avenue where we had a sharp turnaround.  I was passed by a few bikes on my ride, and in turn passed others as well.  At the turn around I got off my bike to re-fill my aero bottle.  With my short arms, I can't reach the bottle cage and need to stop riding to re-fill.  The ride back down to the city was breath-taking and FAST.

That hill I worried about back onto the Gardiner really was not that bad.  I was able to ride up at a good pace and head back westbound.  Once at the CNE we needed to ride about another 2 miles or so to then turn around and head back east again towards the CNE.  There was a very sharp right up a ramp back into the CNE.  Once on the grounds I noticed the first riders from the Sprint race heading out for their ride.  We started at 8AM and their race had a 9:30AM start.  Once across the timing pad, my time for the ride was 1:40:32 (492/501).  Not my fastest 40KM race time, but a very good time for me none the less.

Another quick transition time and I was out for the run.  The course was an out and back along a path called the Martin Goodman Trail that follows westbound along Lakeshore Drive.  We had to deal with the general public all along the path and that included plenty of cyclists and roller bladers.   There was not a lot of shade along the run, and the sun was shining without any cloud cover.  I did not make the same mistake about ADVIL this time and took 2 right out of transition with a gel and some water.  My back held on for the entire run and I simply tried my best to pace myself as there were light posts all along the path.  I kept up pretty well, running between 3 or 4 of them and then walking between 2.  I did that for most of the way to the turn around.  And then did my best to run a bit more on the way back.  The highlight certainly had to be running by Sunnyside Pool, which is now named in memory of Gus Ryder.  He was my first swimming teacher when I was a young child.  He also coached Marilyn Bell, who was the first PERSON to swim across Lake Ontario.   I wondered then, what he would think seeing me race that day, as back then when I did learn to swim with him, I was doing it in a class with other so-called disabled children.

One thing I wish that race volunteers who take it upon themselves to yell out how far you have to go, did so with some accuracy.  At least two different volunteers yelled out how far we had to go and they were way off.  One said, "2.5KM to go" when actually we had more than 4KM to go.  Also, they did have markers along the path marking the distance, but "someone" thought it would be funny to switch a lot of them around. For example, I passed the 4KM marker, followed by the 6KM then the 5KM.  Also, at one point, the distance between the 7KM and 8KM markers, was less than 1/2 a KM.  No worries, I tried my best to pay attention to my own body and GPS watch.  My buddy Wade showed up on his bike to cheer me on with about 4KM to go.  He asked if I wanted him to stay with me, and I kindly (I think?), said "No thanks".

Crossing the finish line.
As we entered Coronation Park, I could hear the music and the crowds of spectators and athletes who had already finished, grew larger.  I noticed a familiar face with Marilyn about 100m from the finish and then my buddy Toby as well, cheering me on.  I turned the final bend and headed to the finish.  As I crossed the line, I checked my watch and, with the mess up from the swim, I was unsure if I had finished under 4:00:00.  I would find out later in the day, after checking online, my time for the run was 1:31:00 flat, and as I had hoped, my overall time was 3:59:48.  I think this is my 4th race finishing during the 59th minute.  Certainly two great things to take away from the race, both my bike and run were substantially faster than NYC, which I completed two weeks prior.  I know they are different courses, but it still feels good to go faster over equal distances.

Finishline Video

CITY-TV News Story about the TTF

CITY-TV news was at the finish line and I was interviewed by them and was excited to be able to watch the news later at my sister's home with my mother watching as well.

Stacey meeting me after the race!
One of my former students, Stacey, made it down to the city to meet me at the finish, and that certainly meant so much to me.  Along with Marilyn and my high school buddies; Wade, Toby, and Chris it was great having some friendly faces to see and the finish line.

After the race I headed back to the apartment to clean up and say "Thanks" to Fred and Marilyn for their hospitality.  I drove up to Orangeville to see Bonnie, Gord, Mark, Kelly, Haydyn, and of course, my mom.  We had a nice dinner and of course, I took a relaxing dip in the pool.

The only bad part about this trip would be the LONG ride home on Monday.  I left Bonnie's at about 8AM and don't think I got back to Salem until about 10PM or so.  It was a difficulty trip, but I really wanted to be home with Sue and Owen.  I know I've said this before, but Sue does SO MUCH to help support me in what I'm doing and the time she spends at home with Owen means so much to me.

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