By Sam Hudson
It’s back! Racing in the Northern Hemisphere is back! After a few more delays and cancellations, I finally got to line up at the start line of a half ironman (minus a cancelled swim) and race against other people again. Oh how I’ve missed it!
Great White North, for those outside of Canada, is an event in Alberta that has been running for 30 years and has become recognized as a bucket list race in the region which has even attracted the likes of Nathan Killam, Rachel McBride and other local pros to come and compete amongst the hundred or so age groupers.
Situated just east of the provincial capital Edmonton, the racecourse certainly lacks some of the rocky mountain vistas that other Alberta races can boast about. But this does mean a flat and fast course and a great opportunity to set some personal bests.
This race ended up being almost exactly two years after my last race and would be my first in Canada after leaving the UK in 2019.
My nerves for the event were surprisingly low; the fact that the swim got cancelled (due to water quality) certainly helped as I had barely strung three swim sessions together in the previous eight months. But I also felt like I had no hopes or expectations going into the race. It was just a chance to get to the start line and test myself.
For me, it felt much more like a race at the start of my triathlon adventure when I did not care too much about the result. I just wanted to finish and have a bit of fun.
With no swim we were set off at five-second intervals on the bike (self-seeded). There was a lot of standing around not wanting to be next, so I threw myself in at the deep end heading off about fifth. I was confident in my bike leg above all else, particularly on what was a fairly flat and fast course. My confidence paid off as I rode within myself but managed to catch a couple of riders ahead within the first 20 minutes.
After the initial excitement everything quietened down and it was a pretty muted affair. The top bikers broke away from the rest, and I ended up in and around a few others as we changed spots over the second 40 kilometers or so.
My thoughts quickly changed to the run and I backed off the power over the final quarter of the bike, dropping a couple of spots but feeling good enough that I could take the time back on the run.
Well that turned out to not be so easy.
Over the course of the bike, I foolishly didn’t drink anywhere close to what I should have. It wasn’t a hot day and as I drank my drink mix it just made feel off and uncomfortable, so I just drank from my water instead. I didn’t feel thirsty so in my head I told myself I would be ok.
That wasn’t the case.
The first 4K of the run felt great. I overtook one athlete in transition (don’t forget to practice transitions!) and caught up to another just before the turnaround point of the first lap.
Then the cramps started.
It wasn’t terrible at first; just a side stitch. I walked it off thinking that would be it. Then the hip flexors went, then the quads, then the calves. I still had 11km of this run to go at this point and every muscle in my body was telling me to stop.
I don’t know how but I managed to make it to the finish line before collapsing on a bench and having the world spin around inside my head.
I forgot how much triathlon could hurt. But I wanted to go again the next day (once my legs started working again).
Somehow, I ended up winning my age group and finishing eighth overall. It’s frustrating, as I believe I could have ended up much higher up if I had just executed my nutrition correctly. But after two years I can forgive myself for this little hiccup!
Overall it was a fantastic event that was really well organized by the team, particularly considering the late alterations that had to be made after the swim cancellation. Great atmosphere and support on the course.
It is so good to be back racing!
Sam Hudson is an MX Endurance Race Team ambassador.
Being able to move quickly through transition gives you "free speed" and can spell the difference in finish position.
Having a training plan helps athletes with time efficiency, consistency, and recovery so we can get great gains in the end.
Why do elite athletes train at altitude... and will that sort of training benefit an age grouper like me?