Great White North 2019 Race Report

NOTE: I’ve had this race report mostly finished for the last couple of weeks. Of course I am preparing for another race on Sunday so I figure I’d better post this one! I’m looking forward to the next one!

Overall, this was a pretty great race for me. Going in I felt unprepared for the bike, but felt good about the swim and run. Turns out I had a decent bike too! However, Joe Friel says that you can’t say you had a good bike if you have a bad run. As always, I proved that he is still right! I have quite a few criticisms of the race, which was disappointing and unusual. I’ll outline them as I go. Yes, an email to the race organizers is forming and it has made me appreciate our well-organized local races.


My support crew and I left home on Friday morning and slowly made our way to Stony Plain. I had the best crew EVER! My triathlon buddy from Humboldt and her daughter came with me for the great adventure. Honestly, they were so supportive and kept me level-headed throughout the weekend.. I got stressed a couple of times, but we laughed and had fun with it. We got there on Friday for the carbo dinner – I picked up my race package and found a fellow Saskatchewanian triathlete to have supper with.

The race director made a presentation after the supper. It seems that races have decreased the focus on triathlon and have added other races to the events. In addition to the half iron, there was also an aquabike, a duathlon and an Olympic triathlon. Like the Living Sky triathlon, it was a bit disorienting and confusing. I suppose it’s time to get used to it as it doesn’t look like it’s going away anytime soon.

Anyway, the race director kept focusing on how bad the conditions would be on Sunday and how difficult it would be. He must have said it 10 times during the presentation. There were also a lot of inside jokes about Alberta triathlon which I felt were excluding and kind of weird. I had to keep his words out of my head and not focus on it over the next two days. In hindsight there are SO MANY more things he could have talked about, including the correct information. At one point he said that the half only had one lap on the bike and that there was a typo on the website. Thankfully I drove the course on Saturday and figured out that it was, indeed, two laps.

One thing about a two-transition race is needing to be even more organized than normal. On Saturday morning I had to organize all of my gear before I packed it up to go drop off the run gear and bike. I was very uncomfortable packing my run gear the day before the race. I was just unsettled about making sure everything was in my bag… hoping I didn’t forget anything. Plus putting gels I was really worried that the gels would explode in my bag – so I put the gels into plastic bags. It just felt like a lot of unnecessary prep.

When it was time to drop off my bike, I biked out to the lake because I hadn’t been on it for a week. Plus, biking is fun! I put some bags on My buddy met me out there so that we could drive the bike course and drop off my run bag. I had been told that there was a big hill on this new course that I hadn’t been on before. In my mind it was like the hills at Coeur d’Alene or even the hills that I’d trained on. As we were driving I kept saying, “Is this the big hill?…” and then a few minutes later I’d ask it again. There was a small incline, but I would never characterize it as a “big hill.” It definitely helped me mentally for the race.

The morning of the race was a relief – the lake was glass, there was no wind and it was slightly overcast. Perfect race weather. The threat of the storm was still there throughout the race, but the morning conditions were great. I got my transition area ready and spent some time with my support people. I was excited to get going.

Swim – What the what?!

I got into the lake and felt calm doing my warm-up. Then people started gathering talking about the swim course. I looked out to the lake and couldn’t see any buoys. There was one way on the right side of the lake, but I knew the map was a counter-clockwise loop. Where was the left buoy?! So I asked some people where the buoy was and they didn’t know. I kept asking people and then someone who had done it before said that it was around a bluff of trees. There were no sighting buoys! I couldn’t believe it. Why would they do this?! Isn’t 2000m before a 90k bike and 21.1k run hard enough? They added to it a serious challenge to sighting. I talked to one woman who wears glasses and was just going to follow others. In the end that’s what I did too, but I was extremely uncomfortable for the entire swim. I felt blind. The corner buoys were so far away that it was hard to sight from the middle of the pack. I drafted the entire swim behind someone who was a bit slower than me, but it meant I didn’t stress as much and I got to conserve some energy. My Garmin showed 2300m in 50 minutes. Just an extra 300m… no big deal (sarcasm). I put it behind me as I went into T1.

T1 – Smooth sailing

I had a hard time getting my wetsuit off. It’s a bit snug these days so it’s hard to get off. I put on body glide to help it go on. The wetsuit was still hard to get off! The volunteers helped me get it off and I was on to my bike. I took my time getting my gear on as the last 2 races I had forgot a couple of things in transition. So I made sure I had everything before I headed out on the bike.

The Bike – Better than I Expected

After drafting for most of the swim, I felt fresh getting on the bike. The wind was coming from the north, which wasn’t great for our 2-lap north-south out-and-back. However, having raced 2 weeks before on a similar course but the wind was TWICE has hard. This bike felt easier than that one even though it was over twice as long. Despite having had my longest bike be 50k I felt really good on the bike. It is a testament for training quantity over quality. I’d really rather bike hills than bike long rides, which is what I did this spring. This made “the big hill” not feel so big and my legs felt strong going up. Going down is my bread and butter, so I had fun on the descent. Also, the tail wind going back to the transition area was super sweet. At the end of the day, my average speed was 25k/h, which was much faster than I expected. That’s a great result for a sloth like myself. I ended up with a 3:30 bike ride.

I was going so fast they couldn’t get a good picture!

The Run – Race the Storm

This year I have focused a lot on running and staying uninjured on the run. I had been mostly successful and I was happy to get on with the half marathon. The first 10k felt pretty good, but as all long-distance triathletes know, the middle of the triathlon is the hard part. Physically it’s when the legs start to hurt, the stomach isn’t feeling great, and you’re trying to figure out what nutrition you need to keep going. The 10-17k were so hard! I had to go to doing some intervals using my watch. So I’d do some run-walks, which was hard for me because I was trying to do a consistent run like I’ve been doing for the last few months. At one point I think I walked 5 minutes, but I didn’t stop. Maybe stopping would have been good, but I just wanted to keep moving forward. At about 17-18k I saw the clouds rolling in. They were dark and menacing.

I generally don’t actually race during a triathlon. I don’t even race myself. I do the events for fun. (I was recently told it is called Type 2 Fun.) So it was strange feeling like I was actually racing on the last few kms of the run. I decided that my mind needed to overcome my physical struggles. I had to run if I wanted to finish the race. At 20k I saw the lightning and heard the thunder. I was racing mother nature. As I was coming in, I was being told they were pulling people off the course but I could finish. I got in about 10 minutes before the sky opened up and hail and torrential rain came down flooding the course. I was very happy about that and ended up being one of the last people to actually finish. I beat mother nature that day and finished the run in 2:56.

I couldn’t make the damn number to stay down!

Last thoughts

While I wasn’t completely impressed with the race organization, I enjoyed the race immensely. My last half Ironman was 8 hours so my 7:19 was very satisfying. It was a great day and I was grateful that I got to do the whole race without much interference from the weather. Thank you to my support group! It made my day so much better!

Official Race Results

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