Magog Paratriathlon World Cup
July 13, 2019
750 m Swim, 19.8 km bike, 5 km Run
“Just go out there and go for the win.”
“It’s not like you have any competition here, right?”
There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance. I’ve flirted with that line many times throughout my life but especially as I continue to see success on the international level of Paratriathlon racing. I was once again walking that line heading into Magog. Having looked and analyzed the start list from every possible angle, I was convinced that no one could beat me unless they had the race of their life. After all, I’d beaten most of these guys at previous races and my current efforts should be enough to keep those I haven’t raced behind me. I knew one thing though, I wasn’t going to be happy with anything less than my first ITU win.
A Stormy Arrival
I and several members of the Paratriathlon Resident team loaded up a couple of vehicles and drove from Colorado Springs to Denver on the morning of July 11. We had to laugh because we were a motley crew indeed. Melissa Stockwell (above the knee amputee), Howie Sanborn (wheelchair athlete) and myself (totally blind). Somehow we all managed to pull together three bikes, several suitcases, a racing wheelchair, and navigate successfully without leaving anyone behind.
We were joined in Denver by our fellow resident teammate Kendall Gretsch (wheelchair athlete) and several other athletes and support personnel who’d flown from Colorado Springs or other parts of the country. Then it was onto the plane bound for Montreal.
We arrived in Montreal and it was raining which would quickly turn into very stormy conditions. Howie and Melissa had each rented vans and we were able to get all of our gear into them. Howie’s handler (who assists him in transition during the race) met up with us in Montreal and drove one van, while Melissa and I rode in the other. It was getting on toward 7 PM and we were all starting to get hungry and cranky. Zack, my guide had been delayed more than two hours out of San Francisco so I texted him to just meet us in Magog once he got the rental car. We drove around an hour before finding a Canadian version of a Chipotle. We were in the French speaking part of Canada, but thankfully most people also spoke English. While I can understand the most rudimentary French thanks to studying French until my junior year of high school and then taking two semesters in college; I hadn’t used it in a long time. While I could get the gist of what people were saying, it was often too fast for me to comprehend clearly and when I tried speaking, it was often easier to just be the stupid American who couldn’t understand or speak French. So I found it amusing that we were in Canada, eating Mexican style cuisine and the primary language around us was French.
After a delicious meal of burritos, we got back on the road. Shortly after leaving the restaurant, the skies opened up and we were in the midst of a rainstorm the likes of which I hadn’t seen since I lived in Florida. Melissa cautiously drove as this was easily the most intense rainstorm she’d ever driven in and we seemed to be having issues with out headlights. Melissa was having a hard time seeing the road and even the other vehicles around us on the road. Howie eventually texted saying that we appeared to have no headlights on whatsoever. After turning a couple of knobs, Melissa suddenly exclaimed “I can see!” Guess we just hadn’t tried locating the right headlight setting hard enough.
We eventually made it safely to our hotel in a small town about a 15 minute drive outside of Magog, Canada. We got checked in, put the bikes in the Team USA conference room, and headed to bed. Zack got in a couple hours late having also driven through the crazy rainstorm which thankfully let up some time during the night.
Magog’s Monkey Wrenches
“Shit!” Zack exclaimed as I heard a metallic snap while tightening the bolt on my seat post. Fortunately the Team USA Coach, Ken, had a spare seat post collar in his bag of miscellaneous supplies. Crisis averted. Then we got to the race venue and heard that the swim was likely going to be non-wetsuit since the water temperature had measured 25 degrees Celsius that morning–just over the wetsuit legal limit for ITU racing. Wetsuits generally provide a little more buoyancy in the water therefore promoting better body position which translates to better speed in the water. The less proficient a swimmer you are, the more advantage you get from a wetsuit. I’m a terrible swimmer compared to the top end visually impaired men but on the bright side none of the top guys were here. In fact, one might argue that I was the best swimmer in the VI field. Nevertheless I would’ve preferred to wear my wetsuit. But in preparation for a non-wetsuit swim, Zack and I dove into the shallow waters of the lake we’d be racing in tomorrow without wetsuits and proceeded to swim well. Then it was on to the bike to do a couple laps around the bike course. There were a couple small hills and some railroad tracks but apart from that, the biggest issue we seemed to be having was that the electronic shifters were acting up on the Chinook. However the bike mechanic had just arrived so we figured there was an easy fix like just charging the batteries or reconnecting a wire that he could help us with.
After bike familiarization it was time for the race briefing. The ITU official stumble-bumbled his way through the presentation leaving many of us confused. The printed maps of the swim bike and run courses didn’t match up with what was online. The official seemed unclear on what the rules were regarding wetsuits and how it applied to wheelchair athletes versus non wheelchair athletes. In the past wheelchair athletes could wear a wetsuit no matter the water temperature. However this year it turned out that wheelchair athletes would now be subject to the same water temperature regulations as the rest of us. But hold on, apparently wheelchair athletes could wear wetsuit bottoms. But could the rest of us?… It turned out that the ITU official giving the briefing had brought the briefing from a race that had taken place in Montreal two weeks before and hadn’t bothered to check beforehand if it was the correct briefing. Needless to say we were all a little frustrated at the lack of organization. I took a deep breath and just prayed that we could get the shifting on the bike figured out and then just go have a solid race the next day.
When we got back to the hotel, David (the Team USA mechanic) went to work on the Chinook eventually discovering that we needed to replace a battery that controlled the shifters themselves. Then we also had to charge the ETap batteries. Additionally the break rotors had gotten slightly bent in transit. So David slowly bent the rotors back into shape while the Tap batteries charged, and Melissa gave Zack and I a battery that she’d gotten from Howie so that our shifters would again work. To be on the safe side, David also reattached the shifter wires and programmed the shifting. It was after 10 PM when David texted Zack and I to let us know that the bike was shifting beautifully again and we shouldn’t have any mechanical issues… Hopefully.
In the meantime, I was getting my pre-race nerves and jitters. I set numerous alarms to ensure I got up in the morning, which always annoys Zack and I tried to cover my nervousness with bravado saying things like “Let’s just go kick ass.” Finally I fell into an uneasy sleep.
It was a fairly warm and humid morning as we loaded the bike into the car for the 30-45 minute drive to Magog. I was already sweating and I hoped the heat and humidity wouldn’t play as big a factor as it usually did for me. We found parking on a side road less than a kilometer from the race venue and set about doing our last minute checks. Bike was shifting. We had all of our gear now we just needed to get over to check in and get ready to race.
We hung out in the athlete lounge for quite a while chatting with our USA Teammates and fellow competitors. Before too long it was time to make our way down to the swim start. It had been officially announced that it was a non-wetsuit swim. So grabbing my swim cap, tether and goggles we headed down to the beach.
Just before 9:55 AM a race official called out the names of the B1 men and women racing so we could line up. I was positioned somewhere in the middle of the group. Not ideal, but I’d grown fairly confident in my swimming ability that I could fight out of the throng and get out front away from the crazies. Normally we started much deeper in the water with it up around our chests, shoulders or where we were unable to stand. Today however the water barely came up past mid thigh. This presented a curious question, did we try to run for a bit before starting to swim? Or did we try to dolphin dive? Or did we just start swimming. I decided that I’d let my instincts kick in when the horn sounded. Then came the count down. “On your mark…Go!”
I took a couple quick running steps and dove into the water and started swimming. Later I’d learn that I was at the very back of the pack to start out as everyone else ran or dolphin dived, but it didn’t take Zack and I long to cut through the chop to get into the middle of the pack and then from there up to the front.
The water was choppy due to a breeze and the shallowness of the lake. I felt myself slapping someone’s feet and decided to stay on them for a bit. It turns out it was the feet of the South African team who’d Zack and I’d become friendly with the day before after swim familiarization and while we’d been standing in line waiting to check in that morning. They were swimming well, but I knew in my gut that I was the best swimmer in the field. Zack knew it too so just past the midway point of the swim, he maneuvered me around the South Africans and got us to the front. The water was still choppy but as we turned to start heading back in toward swim exit the chop was more behind us helping to push us forward. All I could do was focus on my technique and try to stay as smooth and steady as possible. I could feel that I wasn’t swimming as fast as I would like. I was working much harder than I should’ve been for the pace we were going. Eventually I began feeling weeds at my fingertips then sand and it was time to pop up out of the water and run. Zack ripped off the tether and hopped to my right side so he could better guide me. We ran up the steps out of the water and hit the timing mat leading into transition.
Swim: 13min 10sec; first out of the water
“You’re first,” Zack yelled as I panted and ran alongside him. I didn’t respond as we took a hard left and right and threaded our way through transition. My legs felt heavy and slow and it felt like it took forever to get to the bike. When we reached the bike, our momentum caused me to accidentally knock Zack’s helmet off the handlebars. I scrambled to put on my helmet and blacked out sunglasses, then it seemed to take forever to get my shoes strapped. “Smooth and steady,” I told myself, but I felt slow and sluggish.
Finally we ran with the bike through transition to the mount line, mounted up and took off.
T1: 1min 3sec
We settled into the bike letting our legs spin up to a high cadence. I felt a little winded but knew I had to push the pace. Zack and I were strong on the bike and we knew this was where we had to drop the hammer and let anyone chasing us know they couldn’t hang. We made a right hand turn and headed for the first railroad track crossing. In the briefing the night before the officials had said they’d lay mats down over the railroad tracks but as Zack and I approached the tracks there were no mats laying over them. There were mats tossed off to the side of the race course doing the racers absolutely no good. I did my best to relax as we sped over the tracks and began a long straight away slight climb up a hill toward the turn around. We powered up the rise. We hit the first U-Turn and Zack caught sight of our first chaser about 30 seconds behind us. It was the Canadians. I’ll admit I was a little surprised they’d pulled back a bit of time. I figured they’d either swum really well or had really improved on the bike, or maybe I just wasn’t working hard enough. So I put my head down and attacked the slight downhill. Zack and I would fly down this slight downhill a total of three times often reaching speeds of close to 40 miles per hour. We hit the train tracks around 37 or 38 miles per hour, so fast that there was no time to tense up or be worried about crashing. We took turns aggressively and didn’t hesitate to hammer over each track crossing. We hit the second U-Turn and it seemed as though we’d either maintained or increased our lead over the Canadians. Additionally we seemed to be well ahead of one of the two French teams. Before the race I’d marked both Frenchmen as potential podium threats. It seemed though that I was holding a nice and consistent gap of 40ish seconds or more over Antoine Perel, who’d I’d marked as the one with a chance to beat me. “Stay ahead of Antoine,” I kept telling myself. I knew he could run like the wind so I tried to drop him on the bike.
Zack and I hammered away at each successive lap until we made the final turn to come into transition. Zack timed it and gave the command for me to slip out of my shoes. We cruised into T2 with a comfortable 45 second or so lead on the Canadians and at least more than a minute on Antoine.
Bike: 27min 27sec
We sprinted as hard as we could while wheeling the bike along. There were a couple of tight turns to get back to our rack in transition but eventually we got the bike racked, and I tossed my helmet into the basket next to the bike. I grabbed my shoes, yanked them on, and slipped the run tether over my head as Zack did the same while we ran for the run exit. Even though it felt like we were moving fast, I knew this was not a stellar T2 time.
T2: 1min 5sec
Coming into the race I’d set myself a goal of running as close to 19 minutes as I could. That meant holding about a 6:05 per mile pace. The day before I seemed to accelerate up to this pace with relative ease during our shake out run, but today my legs felt heavy and my foot speed and turn over wasn’t there. I screamed inside my head at my legs to get moving, but that first mile was excruciatingly slow. I had a gap and I knew if I could just run what I was capable of then the race was mine to lose, but as we ran I felt the heat and humidity begin to seep into me. My breathing became labored, my turn over slowed down and I began to crack.
We tossed water over me at every aid station in an attempt to cool me down but it was as though I could hear the feet of Antoine coming behind me. I willed my body to go harder and faster. I dug myself into a hole willing myself to go to a level of pain I hadn’t experienced before while racing.
I still had a decent gap on Antoine at the first turn around on the run. The run was an out and back which we had to do twice so Zack was able to keep an eye on our competition. But Antoine was gaining.
We hit the second turn around and went out for our second lap. My legs were on fire, I gasped for air. I couldn’t get enough air in or expel enough air out. The run course was getting more crowded as more paratriathlon classes flooded the race course. Zack was yelling at people to move, and we were constantly slowing down a step or two then having to accelerate back up. Fortunately I’d bounced back after my first bad mile and was now running at least the pace I’d run in Milan back in April. It wasn’t enough though. Less than 100 meters from the final turn around Antoine caught and passed me. I tried to match his furious pace and was able to keep up for only a few steps before I fell off the pace.
As we made the U-Turn and began the last stretch back toward the finish line, Zack saw the second Frenchman–a newcomer to the ITU circuit–gaining fast. We had to really throw down the hammer not just to try and catch Antoine, but to stay ahead of this new guy. I pushed the pace desperately trying to reel Antoine in. I knew if I could just get back to his shoulder I could out kick him in the last 100 meters. Despite my best efforts though the gap continued to grow between Antoine and myself and shrink between myself and Thibaut. With less than 400 meters left, Zack started yelling at me “SPRINT, SPRINT, SPRINT!” Thibaut was closing fast and if I wanted to hold on to second place I had to dig deep. I put my head down, pumped my arms and kicked my legs out behind me sprinting with all my might.
I hit the line in a final time of 1 hour 2 minutes and 34 seconds just 31 seconds behind Antoine and a mere 6 seconds ahead of Thibaut. It was good enough to wrap up my fourth consecutive ITU podium and my third second place finish.
I wasn’t thinking about this as I staggered across the line and collapsed against Zack. All I could think was “First fucking loser again.”
Run: 19min 50sec
One of the first things we did once we got our breath and became more human was to find out the fate of two tandem teams—one male one female—who’d crashed on the bike course. I’d heard the mens team wreck close to the railroad tracks and on one of our laps Zack had seen the women on the ground to the side of the course. The male team who crashed were our friends David and Tim, the South Africans. Tim, the guide, had some scrapes but David appeared ok. They’d been able to get up off the pavement, finish the bike and finish the race. The female team wasn’t so lucky. We later heard that an ambulance had to be called to take both the guide and athlete, from New Zealand, to the hospital. No one was sure if the crashes had happened due to the lack of mats across the railroad tracks, or if they’d been caused by something else. Nevertheless it’s never good when competitors crash and even less so when some participants are significantly hurt or injured.
The podium ceremony was delayed a couple of hours while judges reviewed times, splits and official finishes across all the sport classes. Zack and I indulged in some beer we’d found as well as a delicious pile of French fries, cheese, bacon and sausage. We cheered on as many of our USA Teammates into the finish as we could. My fellow resident teammates, Melissa and Kendall had strong races, with Melissa getting a win in the female PTS2 class and Kendall locking up a second place finish by less than 20 seconds in the female PTWC class.
The race organizers attempted to make the podium ceremony more lively by handing out bottles of sparkling apple juice to the podium finishers to shake and spray. Naturally they miscounted the number of bottles they’d need and the male PTVI class was the last podium to be presented. So Antoine, occupying the top step of the podium was the only one to get a bottle of the fizzy sticky drink. He shook it and definitely livened things up when he released his finger from the top of the bottle. Zack got a chest and face full and I also got the right side of my face drenched. We laughed and then Antoine passed the bottle around for each of us VI male finishers to take a swig. We congratulated each other on a great race but I knew I hadn’t performed up to my expectations.
We returned to the hotel, cleaned up, and packed up the bike. Then we grabbed dinner at a pizza restaurant with the rest of Team USA and I did my best not to analyze the race too much. After all, I had a chance at redemption as I’d be racing the following week at the USA Paratriathlon National Championships. So I took a deep breath and put my disappointment for yet another second place out of my mind for the time being.
Magog Paratriathlon World Cup Male PTVI Results
- Antoine Perel: 1hr 2min 3sec
- Kyle Coon: 1hr 2min 34sec
- Thibaut Rigaudeau: 1hr 2min 40sec