Monday 20 July 2015

The Legend of the Dude in the Green Helmet

Home field advantage is a real thing. As it relates to Tri, it's hard to find a better boost than the one I get at the Kal R.A.T.S Triathlon. It's a little sprint-distance in my hometown of Vernon, B.C, with a tough course and a ton of local energy. There aren't many races that combine a fantastic grassroots feel, a terrific beginner experience, and some pretty interesting racing at the pointy end, in quite the same way. The last two years I've volunteered at the Paradigm Naturopathic Kids of Steel Triathlon at the same venue the day before the race. I find the joy the kids take in doing this sport to be both inspiring and grounding; it puts me back in touch with Tri in a big way.

Naturally, I'm always fired up on race morning. Add to that the fact that it was Father's Day, and my dad was there watching---the motivational equivalent of a gunpowder keg.

I was also looking for that first "Great" race of the year, as I felt that all cylinders weren't firing optimally at this point. I knew they needed to be, as the Kelowna trio of Jake Van Allen, Sean Bell and Cory Krist had been racing very strongly through May and June, and they'd be ready to go. As would my friend Chris Young. Chris's training seems to consist of pursuing his Masters in Civil Engineering, working on a farm, and balancing all that with family time, yet he'll show up and podium at local races at will (maybe I should've stayed in school...).

Onward to the swim start. Thankfully Okanagan lake was cool enough for wetsuits. I'm having a lot of fun in the Blueseventy Helix; I've learned a lot about wetsuit fitting recently, and do the little things ever make a difference!

.....though not enough of a difference to hang with the lead pack ("still need to swim, Nate!") which included my girlfriend Tara and her Helix. She'd been feeling "not very fast" leading up to Sunday.  Could've fooled me!

I did put down a solid swim though----not to mention an uncharacteristically fast first transition----- and started mowing through the front pack on the bike. I knew Sean would be out front after the swim that Cory and Chris would be throwing down some fast rides, and that Jake would keep us all in sight and then attack on the run. 

That didn't matter at the moment, because I'd FINALLY found that rhythm I'd been looking for all year, and hit the bike course on fire. And by the 8k mark Sean, who was leading the race, was coming back to me.


Every cyclist knows the sound of a tire flatting. First came Denial----I looked around for a crop sprinkler to blame the sound on-----then Anger as I had to pull to roadside. A lot of Anger. Let's just say I was glad the kids from the day before were long gone and out of earshot. As I hadn't brought a spare kit, that was it for the racing; time to walk back.

Or not. After realizing I was done, I'd been cheering and giving splits to some of the others as they'd gone by. One of those was Chris, who was making up mad time as he always does on the bike. But as I was getting ready to hike back, I heard 

"Take your rear wheel off!!" 

Chris had turned around and biked back to me.  He knew what this race means to me, and knew how important it is to me to race in front of my Dad and the rest of my family.  Long story short, his wheel wound up on my bike, and I was back in the race. 

The rest of the race was a blur. I'd dropped to about 15th with the flat, but pedalled my brains out and came into T2 in 7th. I tore out of the transition knowing there'd be a huge gap to the top 3, but ready to empty the tank to see if I could put a dent in it. I had my fastest run on that hilly course, and hauled three guys in to finish 4th behind the 1-2-3 of Jake, Sean and Cory. They're all great athletes, and deserve the sweep. I'm looking forward to some great battles against those 3 over the next few years. I went and found my family, and we watched Tara hang tough to finish 4th in a great women's field.

Meanwhile, the Legend of the Dude in the Green Aero Helmet was growing. The bike course is an out-and-back, and on the way out one would have seen Chris carrying his bike back towards transition. On the way back, though, a volunteer lent Chris their bike. So as the finish slowly filled up, I kept hearing things.

"Did you see the guy in the green helmet?"

"Yeah, he was carrying a bike and a disc! Hope he's alright."

"Oh! I saw him on a mountain bike wearing that helmet. No shoes!"

"I know! And he was still passing people!"

And so on. It was cool, and I'm glad people were asking. They found out exactly what happened at the awards presentation, as I explained to the Kal Rats what had gone on out on course. 

I think the character that Chris showed is one of the more understated aspects of Triathlon. The sport itself is such a physical struggle; you're very much "fighting the good fight." And while winning feels great, it's that feeling of striving, embracing the struggle, that's so addictive about this sport. What Chris did for me showed a lot of respect; he knew how important just being able to fight again would be to me.

There are now some young athletes in Vernon who look up to me, and I really wanted to put on a show that day, to teach excellence by example. But I hope that any kid who heard this story from their parents might have learned even more from Chris. I wouldn't wish a flat tire on anyone, but displays of sportsmanship like that are one of the hallmarks of this great sport. 

Needless to say, it lit a massive fire under me for the rest of this season! More reports to come soon.

Tuesday 12 May 2015

Wildflower Race Report (or "Strawberry Whine")

Wildflower. What an absolute classic.

To those not versed in triathlon lore: Wildflower has been run by Terry Davis and family for the last 33 years.  It's a rugged, beautiful course set on the shores of Lake San Antonio. Triathlon's version of Woodstock, it's essentially a bush party with a triathlon thrown in, and the atmosphere is far more festive than most Tris.

After flip-flopping for months on whether or not to do Wildflower this year, I bit the bullet and spent two days driving down with my Dad through Washington and Oregon.  It's been a while since the two of us had a proper road trip, and I came away with a ton of great memories to add to a collection that's already pretty full.

Sandwiched within that road trip, however, was the worst triathlon performance I've ever put down. Ever.  From the moment I got to Lake San Antonio and settled in to one of the homes provided for the elite competitors at Oak Shores, it was lesson after lesson about what separates someone like myself (who's done pretty well as an amateur and a couple of smaller races with an "elite" field), from the true professionals.

While the offseason has gone very well, I knew that I still had a lot of work to do to be competitive in a true pro field.  However, after some very reasoned arguments were put forward by those close to me, I decided to go to gain experience and take some excellent notes, while fitting as much training as possible around work and other commitments. Even so, there was a part of me that dreamed that an outstanding performance was possible; Saturday woke me up.  That's the way I think it should be, though:  If you want to call yourself a Pro athlete, then you need to step up and do the work necessary to compete as a pro.  I hadn't yet. Fair is fair.

That said, I started out well.  In fact, I had my strongest swim yet. This is thanks to swimming in an incredible lane at the Waters Wellness swim sessions over the winter and spring, building on the work I did with Laura Medcalf over the past couple of years, and I was really happy to see it pay off in a high-level race.  However, a tactical mistake left me chasing one pack while pulling another, and the swim speed had its cost, which was amplified by the 2-mile run from the swim exit to the first transition (a recent adjustment to the race brought on by the California drought). 

I'd looked to make an impact on the bike, but today wasn't the day for it. Again, racing in a deep pro pack takes a much higher level of physical, mental and technical readiness----a level I still need to work towards, as I'm not there yet. I posted one of the slowest bike splits-----relative to the course---- I've ever ridden.

However, there were positives to take out of a disappointing ride:  1)Wildflower is an incredible, fun course. 2) I actually got practice riding with others, and at following USA Triathlon's stagger rule, which I had never raced under before. I definitely need more practice, as my body wasn't trained for the effort variations that such riding requires, but it was good experience for sure. Also positive:  I didn't fall off my bike, which my Dad, girlfriend, brother, and every friend I had following the race were thinking had happened when I got to T2 far behind my usual schedule.

The run is something I'm trying to never think about ever again.  Which is a shame, because it's a beautiful, challenging-as-can-be course that I enjoyed immensely, performance notwithstanding.  As it happened, the course absolutely flogged me.  I won't get into specifics, but this was frustrating for me; my run has come a long way over the offseason, but errors made elsewhere in the race obscured those improvements.  You reap what you sow though, and if I want a good run harvest that means taking good care to plant the proper seeds on swim and bike.  Lesson learned.

One outstanding positive to take away from the run:  I got chicked.  And chicked. And chicked again.  And yes, this is a positive (though the goal is to never be in that situation ever again).  I seldom go to races where I'm not going to compete, and so I never get to see the female racers go at it except on the occasional turnaround.  Here, though, I was passed first by Rachel McBride, then Heather Jackson, and finally eventual winner Liz Lyles.  It was something to see, as all of them were so focused and ferocious. The fight for the womens podium wound up being a tooth-and-nail battle that was decided only in the final few  kilometers, with the victory achieved in the closing meters. And while I'll  pass on viewing it again from the angle I did, seeing such impressive female competitors up close was a great lesson and a huge inspiration.

And I can't say enough good things about the volunteers!  I think Cal Polytechnic were the main supplier, but at every aid station there were super enthusiastic volunteers from seemingly every background imaginable, splashing the racers (and each other) with water and stocking us up with all manner of life-saving food and drink, as well as shouts of encouragement that followed us up over the next ridge.

It's been a long time since I've had to struggle to the line simply to finish, but it's definitely an experience worth going through every now and then. Challenges are challenges, after all, there to be met and overcome. Isn't that why we do this Tri thing in the first place?

I finally hit the finish line, nestled in the lower level of the Expo area. Wildflower being Wildflower, there was too much fun going on to get too down about   things.  I found and congratulated some friends on excellent finishes (Nathan Killam was 8th in the men's field and Jen Annett 9th female overall), ate my weight in fruit (the race is worth doing just for the strawberries), and went and found my dad. As he does, he put what was a very disappointing race into perspective.

"Nate," he said, "I'm just happy to know you hadn't fallen off your bike."
Can't argue with that. I shut the race out for the time being and we spent a fantastic couple of days traveling home.

So that was Wildflower.  A tome full of hard lessons bookended by four days of travel through the Northwestern United States.  Life is good.  I'm already at the drawing board looking at the refinements that need to be made in each area of triathlon and life to perform better the next time I take on this terrific course.  Hopefully that will be next year, as I'm already chomping at the bit for another shot.  But that's triathlon, and that's life.  So until we meet again, Wildflower!  Thanks for an amazing race weekend.

Tuesday 10 March 2015


Boom! A long winter.....over! Chalk up a win at the UBC Tri on Saturday. Tara and I had been looking forward to this race all offseason; it's always a great kickoff to the racing year, with a bunch of fast BC athletes looking to knock off the rust.

Since Challenge Penticton last August, I've been putting the work in on the swim and run to erase the deficiencies that led to my blowing to pieces at the 15k mark on the marathon while trying to hang with the leaders. I've been on a steady diet of Humble Pie, bringing up the back of Lane 6 (Tara, a former Olympic Trials swimmer, is the "next slowest") at Patrick Waters' swim group. With a 1500m pool swim to start things off, UBC would be an excellent test of an off-season's worth of work.

Since it was a pool Tri, the race sent us out in a staggered format, 10 seconds apart. Tara proceeded to do what she always does in the swim: take everyone to school. Fortunately I was able to use her zipping by in the other direction as constant feedback----and motivation to NOT GET LAPPED!!!!

After a nice long transition run with a healthy little uphill (practice for Wildflower maybe?), it was out on to Southwest Marine drive for one of the fastest bike courses in B.C. In the lead after an improved swim, I was eager to get to the first of 7 turn-arounds and see where Justin Birks, Chris Young, Brendan Naef and Graham Hood were. All were charging hard. Speaking of charging hard, I got a huge boost from a pair of Energy Lab VC90s that came during race week.

-Cut to a quick review: WOW!!!

(More in-depth review coming soon).

Needless to say, they provided both a performance effect and a psych-up, and led to more time gained.

The run was what I'd been looking forward to, as it was my Achilles heel in 2014, and I'd put in some solid winter work to rectify that. The long and the short of it is that there's much more work to do, but the groundwork is definitely being laid. It felt great to be back in the Saucony Kinvara (5) for this race. Every triathlete has that shoe that just feels magic when you need to put down a strong run after a hard bike, and the Kinvara is mine.

I booked it home on the run, trying to thank as many of the awesome UBC Rec volunteers as possible while racing. I hammered up the approach to the finish line and sprinted across in first place. The finish area and its lead up were in a much better area than last year, allowing spectators to string out and cheer us up the final hill through to the line.

Congrats to Brendan, Justin, Chris and Graham, also HUGE congrats to Jen Annett on a third straight win and a 6th overall finish, and to Tara for the swim clinic and F-25-29 age group win.

And a big thanks to my sponsors! This was my first Tri as part of the Saucony Hurricane Canada team, as well as my first race for Energy Lab. Thanks to Patrick from Waters Wellness for the swim workouts leading up to the race, and to Chris Elliott RMT for thwarting all my attempts to injure myself in training and racing. And lastly, thank you to RB Piping and Save-On Foods for helping me through a very challenging winter to start the race year off with a bang!

More to  come in the near future. Getting better at this "timely" thing. Thank you for reading!

Monday 12 January 2015

Creating a "Virtual" Reality

The Virtual Job Search Coach comes on board!

I'm happy to announce that I'm currently working with Stacey Taylor at Virtual Job Search Coach ahead of the 2015 season!  One of my Resolutions for this year has been to improve the skills necessary to better represent my current sponsors and demonstrate to prospective businesses that I can do a great job of promoting them through my racing, and I've connected with the right person to help me in this endeavour.  

Stacey is committed to providing "exceptional service to clients through relationship building, assessing client needs, analyzing their challenges and creating personalized solutions."  Values like this, and the level of commitment Stacey brings to her work, are a perfect fit in my support group.  Looking forward to taking my sponsorship skill set to the next level in 2015!

You can find more info about VJSC at  

Tuesday 6 January 2015

Here we go!

Only a week into 2015, and despite a record snowfall here in the Thompson/North Okanagan it feels
like the year is already gaining momentum. The cold and snow certainly influence one's training, but
I'm of the feeling that the harsher the winter, the sweeter the spring, in life and in triathlon.

It doesn't hurt that I've had some great people to train with, both in Vernon, where Tara and I were visiting family over the Christmas Holidays, and Kamloops, to which I'd return for work every few days.  The end of December and first week of January included a few sessions with the Vernon Master's swim
club and Melissa Spooner's Endurance Health and Fitness crew (amazing what some Christmas "end
2014 with a bang!" sessions  and whatever new set Coach Bruce wants to test on his Lane 1 lab rats
will do for you).  Now that we're both settled back in Kamloops, we're getting up to the Tournament Capital Centre to train with the new Master's/Triathlon program run by Patrick Waters of Waters Wellness Consulting.  So the long and the short of it is I'm running out of excuses for large swim deficits next year!

Speaking of teams, the 2015 sponsorship map is starting to take shape. RB Piping, the Starting Block
and Save-On Foods are on board for the New Year, as is Saucony, who I'll  be representing as part
of their Hurricane program. I'm looking forward to linking/posting some of the great things my
sponsors get up to throughout the year. For example, Jim at Save-On usually has 4-5 community
initiatives on the once. This Christmas season included helping out at Upper Room Mission
(serving lunches in the parking lot after a burst water pipe forced a building closure), Carolling for a
Cause (set up outside the store on Dec 10th, benefitting United Way), and Vantage One Credit
Union's Gobble Giveaway. It's easy to stay motivated when your sponsors are working and giving so

On that note, time to get swimming. The Vernon Master's meet is coming up quick on the
18th, with the Kamloops Indoor Gran Fondo and the Starting Block 10k hot on it's heels in early
February.  That should calm the race cravings down until the Tri pre-season gets underway in March!

Hope everyone had a great Christmas and New Years. Some great things are about to happen in 2015!!

Thursday 6 November 2014

Challenge Penticton 2014

I have a few habits that need work.  One is meeting deadlines (see all previous blog posts).

Another is the tendency to leave things to the last minute.  Case in point:  Challenge Penticton 2014 where I dipped under the 9-hour mark in the very last minute to go 8:59:32 and take 6th place on the day.

That margin may have been a little bigger had we swam in wetsuits, but half an hour before the start the it was decided that for the first time in the event’s history, the Pros would be racing a non-wetsuit swim. This wasn’t a setback by any means.  I’d had some very strong swims of late, both with and without wetsuits, thanks to Laura Medcalf and her guidance in improving my stroke over the winter.  Also, my girlfriend, Tara, is a former National Team swimmer, and has brought a huge boost to my swim training this year.   Overall, I felt that I could swim well enough to improve my position at the start of the bike, despite a field that had deepened from last year.

The first clue that the swim was going right was that unlike last year, where the pack shot off towards the first buoy and I was left to enjoy a solo effort, I started out strong and was able to tuck in to a pack of 5 over the first 3rd of the swim.  We stayed together the rest of the way, and coming out of the water I was pleased to see that most of the group were athletes who had put over a minute on me the previous year.  And while the lead group had put a solid chunk of time on the rest of us, for the most part the strong swim meant less time would be spent reeling others in on the bike.
After a swim-to-bike transition that dropped me from 12th to 15th, I set about trying to erase the 7 and ½ minutes between myself and the front group. I won’t blame the deficit for my pace at the start of the bike.  My swim and run have moved up to “solid” status, but for the moment the bike is the way in which I can affect a race.  By the end of the Mclean Creek Road segment I’d gone from 15th to 6th, passing Chris Bagg (who was patiently building an excellent race) for 5th on the way to Oliver.  By Richter Pass I was in 4th behind Jeff Symonds, Sean Bechtel and Andrew Russell.  My gap of about a minute behind Andrew stayed steady until the way back from the Cawston out and back, where he unfortunately took a wrong turn and lost some time.  I overhauled Sean for 2nd place near the top of the Yellow Lakes climb, and would come into the 2nd Transition 5:30 behind Jeff.  My bike split would wind up at 4:38:02, 13 minutes slower than Chris Lieto’s 4:25:26 from Ironman Canada 2005, but for sure a decent ride.

The first part of the run went very smoothly.  Too smoothly.  I was so busy focusing on not losing too much time, to Jeff in front and Andrew and Chris behind, that I let slip from my mind the fact that iron-distance is much more than just “go at them.” If you allow the field around you to distract you from monitoring your own body---which I did----you’re going to get smacked sooner of later.

Sure enough, right around the 15k mark, Andrew passed me for 2nd, followed quickly by Chris.  At this point my body was beginning what would shortly become a full-scale rebellion, and the one-two punch of dropping from 2nd to 4th did not help.  I lasted until the way back up out of Okanagan Falls at the halfway, where I caught sight of Sean and a hard-charging Simon Cochrane, before the wheels truly came off.  For a few kilometers at the start of the 2nd half of the marathon, it got to “every-second-step-sideways” ugly out there.  At one point on a hill coming out of OK Falls I remember forcing myself to shuffle, as I knew if I let myself walk, “walk” would quickly turn into “find a good napping spot on the side of the road.”

Fortunately, because I always push it on the bike in races, I’d known there was a pretty good chance that things would hit the fan on the latter part of the run, and that I’d find myself in such a condition sooner or later.  So when it eventually got nasty on the marathon, while it was by no means pleasant, it wasn’t a surprise.  Kind of empowering, even; if you accept that you’re in a hole because you dug it, then you understand that it’s you who can dig yourself out.

I don’t think I dug completely out, in fairness.  First Simon, then Sean passed me along Skaha Lake, and I couldn’t do anything about it.  But looking back, I think the biggest positive I can take from that marathon is that I didn’t let those passes blow my ego, and thus my race, to pieces.  I kept the shuffle going, taking in enough food at each aid station to get to the next one.  And slowly the beautiful Skaha Lake view became Main Street, the crowds got thicker, and the long, long home stretch came into sight.

This last part held an awesome surprise for me.  I’d put down a decent two-thirds of a race, but all of my errors made in training, preparing, and on-the-day execution, had caught up to me at kilometer 15 of the marathon and smacked me into the pavement.  Since I don’t race with a watch, I’d assumed that I’d thrown any chance of setting a personal best out of the window.  So when some friends at roadside started shouting that I was on pace to break the 9-hour mark, I couldn’t believe it.  And with 3k to go, when I last hear that I was on sub-9 pace, my perspective shifted; on a day where triumphs and mistakes seemed to cancel each other out, here was a chance to tip the scales to the good, for keeps.

I got my shuffle on and crossed the line with 30 seconds to spare.  In the finish video, you can see my upper body reaching to the right, where Tara has somehow magically appeared (she does that.  It’s awesome.), while my lower body seems determined to go left.  The whole thing was a wonderful blur of the great Steve King calling me across the line, being caught by Tara (and the volunteers rushing to help her  prop up my deadweight), and sitting in a wheelchair pouring beer (Cannery Brewing’s Triathalager---“The Official Challenge Penticton Beer!”) over my head.

The price for the errors of the day, and the last push to go sub09, was an extra 2 hours in the medical tent getting very familiar with a bowl of chicken soup.  That new PB, however, made it worthwhile.  It had affirmed that while I’ve got a lot to work on for next year, I’ve got a lot to build on, too.

And I’m looking forward to doing that building.  2015 looks to be another great year.  Tara and I are just up the road from Vernon in Kamloops now.  The River City has been a part-time training ground over the years, and it’s a pleasure to call it home now.  But for 2014, it was the support of some amazing Vernon businesses that got me to and through my races, and no season-ending recap would be complete without acknowledging them.

Bluebird Sport and Spine:  Huge thanks to Steve for keeping me on track heading into Challenge.

Endurance Healthe and Fitness:  Melissa and the training group, it was a blast doing the sessions with you guys.

Laura Medcalf Swim Coaching: Laura, I laugh when people sign on to work with you and think they’re only getting a swim coach.  They’re in for a treat, as I was.

RB Piping Inc:  Thank you Rick and Adrienne.  You opened doors for me in July and sent me into August with a ton of momentum.

Re-Cycled Accessories:  Cindy and Brock, your logo is awesome, your Accessories are more so, and the help you’ve given me this past year is awesomer still.

Save On  Foods:  Thank you for both the support and the great vibes you put out into this community, Jim!

Sun Country Cycle/Felt Bicycles:  Ricardo, you’re doing huge things for cycling in the North Okanagan, and it was fun watching it happen in 2014.

The Starting Block/Saucony/Eload:  Wendy, when I first bought shoes off you 13 years ago, I don’t think either of us had any idea where it would lead!  Thank you so much for believing in me all these years.

Thanks also to the reader for making it through this.  Hopefully I'll get posts up with semi-regularity throughout the offseason, as new developments happen with the support network and plans for 2015!  Until then, take care.