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Sheila's Summer Racing Plans
By:  Sheila Kealey   (2004/07/10)


This summer was going to be different. I decided to focus less on triathlon and more on cross-country skiing. I joined the XC Ottawa team to help me in this pursuit. But with cycling and running ideal cross training activities, and swimming great for upper body strength and leg muscle recovery, I figured focusing on some triathlons wouldn't be detrimental to my ski season. At least the recent trend to increased VO2 Max training in the off-season and two-sport phenoms like US Olympian Carl Swenson (who trades his skis for his mountain bike in the summer) somewhat justify my passion. Besides, the effects of XC Ottawa's dryland training sessions at Mooney's Bay remained in my muscles for days, reminding me that I was indeed dedicating more time to skiing!

I recently raced the Subaru Triathlon Series Muskoka long course triathlon and Smith Falls Classic Triathlon. Here's how the races unfolded.

The MUSKOKA race was held in Huntsville, a popular vacation area close to Algonquin Park about 300km north of Toronto. The race features a 2km swim, 55km hilly bike, and 15km run and is traditionally a competitive age group and elite event. The $20,000 prize money attracted an especially strong field this year. The women's field included multiple Ironman champion Lisa Bentley, past Canadian National Champion Tereza Macel, as well as other national and international pros. The men's field was equally impressive, and included Australian Miles Stewart, 16-time Australian Championship Team member and 2000 Olympian. The elite race used a chase format, where the women had a head start of 18'05" on the men, with the prize money going to the first 10 people across the line overall.

With winters devoted to skiing it's difficult to get into good triathlon shape by June, so I knew I'd be a bit out of my league in the elite race but couldn't resist testing myself on this great course against the best.

The swim start was almost uncomfortably quiet, since our pack of 14 women had an 18-minute lead and the swim start was about 1 km away from the bustle of the transition area. I was relieved to be swimming with two other competitors (in such a field, I worried I'd be alone!) and exited the water on the heals of Veronique Fortin and Annie Gervais in 10th place. Onto the bike Veronique went ahead and Annie dropped back. Besides passing one woman on the bike, that was the extent of head to head racing! I raced most of the 55km course hardly seeing anyone in front of me. I was actually enjoying the scenery and thinking how beautiful the bike course was - I should know by now that these kinds of thoughts typically mean that I'm not pushing hard enough! In the end I was disappointed with my bike split. My run was just o.k., but not spectacular, since I was fighting a cramp and headwind on the way out, but did find some energy on the return. I finished 8th woman overall - it was a solid race for this time of year but I would certainly like to have another shot at this race with a couple of months of specific training and racing under my belt!

I had a front row seat for the "chase" format, which saw Australian Miles Stewart first across the line; the first woman (Tereza Macel) was 4th overall and Lisa Bentley was 6th. Although the chase format drew an impressive field, I think it took away from the women's limelight. Choosing a fair time handicap is difficult in such a race format, and in this case it favored the men somewhat.

I was well-rested for the Muskoka race and happy that I recovered quickly since the SMITH FALLS CLASSIC TRIATHLON was the following weekend. This race is the oldest triathlon in Canada and this year's event marked its 25th anniversary. It was a stark contrast to Muskoka for several reasons: it was shorter (500m swim; 20km bike; 5k run - triathletes call this a sprint!); my start wave was 20 minutes after the first wave so I passed about 300 competitors during the race; and I felt terrific and strong throughout. I had a good swim start but didn't' manage to stick to "fast feet" (the drafting effect in swimming is substantial). Onto the bike I felt great, and was surprised to have the turnaround appear so quickly. The stiff headwind made the return 10 km more difficult but I usually welcome a challenging bike course. The 5 km run was a fun cross-country style circuit that had us running across bridges, on grass, sand, pavement - lots of fun! Since my competitors left in various waves by age group, I had no idea how I was doing, but figured it would be a strong performance. I was happy to finish 1st woman and 9th overall. I was especially happy with my bike split since I was less than 1.5 minutes from the lead man Jamie Stephenson. My bike split was almost 10 minutes behind Jamie on Muskoka's 55km course so this was a good confidence boost.

Next up? The Ottawa Athletic Club triathlon, which, in my opinion, features the best possible venue - the Gatineau Park. We will swim 1.2 km in Meech Lake, bike a 22 km loop of the Gatineau Parkway (some of the same portions as the Keskinada), and run 7km along the north loop. The race organization is always superb and this is one of my favorite races. I can't wait!

It should be noted that Sheila won the OAC Tri last weekend. Congratulations!

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