The 2021 Gravenhurst triathlon, the second of three races in the 2021 Multisport Canada calendar of events.
As I mentioned in my Barrie Triathlon Race Report from a few weeks back, I’ve slipped, and COVID sucks. My motivation at times has cratered, to the point it sometimes feels like I’m going through motions, training not because I’m enjoying it, more because that’s just what I do.
At Barrie, I reclaimed some of that past magic.
At Gravenhurst, I finally felt like myself again.
Before getting into the full race report, let’s take a step back to a challenging 2021.
Falling Out of Love with Running in 2021
I recently finished “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” by Haruki Murakami, about a lifetime of running and writing. Haruki is both my favourite author and an avid runner. The book explores his journey from the proprietor of a successful jazz club to throwing it all away to write his first book, eventually becoming a world-renowned author. More than that, the book is about how running’s been a focal point of his life, bringing not only stability and joy but transcending that to become a central part of Murakami’s self-identity.
Towards the middle of the book, he talks about running his first ultra-marathon. How he pushed through to the end, achieving his personal goal of never walking a single step.
As great as the experience was, the after-effects were not. For the next two years running was a struggle, something Murakami tried to hang onto, but in many ways, was now a chore.
That spoke to me.
From 2012 to 2020, I’ve loved running and triathlon, averaging a little over 1,200km a year. As great as cycling and triathlon are, the daily act of running has always brought me the most pride.
In the early days of March 2020, I broke my heel, followed by my longest break from running in eight years.
By the time I recovered in late July 2020, I was itching to go.
With no races and nothing to do, I ultimately focused on three new challenges.
- Running every stop along the TTC, which I highly recommend (TTC Challenge Complete).
- Attempt to beat my 19:41 5km PB, finishing with a final time of 20:29 (5km PB Attempt 2).
- And finally, hitting my first 200km month, averaging over 200km a month for the final three months of the year.
It was while running the TTC and listening to David Goggins’ book Can’t Hurt Me, that I decided to take on the 4x4x48. Running 4 miles, every 4 hours, for 48 hours challenge, raising money for The Maddie Challenge and North York General Hospital, supporting youth mental health.
I trained, and trained hard, preparing my body in lots of new and novel ways, by the time race day came I was ready. It was a true mental and physical challenge unlike anything I’ve ever done before, requiring not just the physical endurance to push on, but the ability to push with little sleep through exhaustion and cold blustery early March nights.
And I liked it.
And even though I did, since then, for reasons I still can’t explain, running hasn’t been fun. Running in 2021 has followed a general trend of zero motivation, leading to poor efforts, leading to worse times, leading to less motivation, and on and on.
I still do it, I don’t always know why, with the driving motivation being the simple thought that I’m running for what running once meant, and hoping, beyond hope, what it will hopefully mean for me one day soon.
With triathlons back on the calendar, I finally had something, not internal, but external to push for.
And it went well, really well, far exceeding my wildest expectations.
Will it be the catalyst to transform my relationship with running, I don’t know, but at least for a day, it felt great to feel that magic once again.
Gravenhurst – The Crown Jewel of the MSC Race Series
I’ve had the pleasure of participating in quite a few triathlons over the years including Guelph Lake, three Barrelmans, Gravenhurst, Welland, Barrie, Sutton, Bracebridge, and various Xterra events.
Gravenhurst is by far my favourite.
There are many things that make this event special, the venue’s amazing, the bike and run courses are both challenging and fantastic, with great community cheer stations throughout, but of course, the best part, jumping off a historic steamship at the start of the swim.
Being in the middle of a pandemic, safety is key, and Multisport Canada once again didn’t disappoint.
With pre-race screening, a well-spaced transition, and more, there was just the right amount of safety properly balanced by well-organized wave starts that still kept the competition interesting.
1,500m Steamboat Swim
It’s the swim of course that makes Gravenhurst famous.
And it all starts with boarding one of two famous steamships, the RMS Segwun and Wenonah II. Fun fact, according to Wikipedia the RMS Segwun was built in 1887 and is the oldest operating steamship in North America.
After a short ride out, the doors open, you jump out, and the fun begins.
1,500 meters later you’ll arrive at dock C for the 150m run back to transition.
The swim is typically my weak point, and today was no different, exiting the water 157/239 overall, final time of 36:43 from start to transition.
Not great but with barely having swimming fifteen kilometres in the past two years, perfectly acceptable.
40km Bike Along Hwy 169
The bike follows Hwy 169, the main road west out of town.
With one road, connecting thousands of cottages to the highways, and being on Sunday no less, you’d think this would be recipe for disaster.
But it wasn’t.
And that’s what I loved about Gravenhurst, not only was it the exact opposite of what you might expect, with very respectful drivers, a well-policed course, and great local support cheering riders along the way.
The last time I raced Gravenhurst in 2017 I exited the water 185/287 with a time 33:48, arrived at transition only to discover that my wheel blew while I was gone. Three broken tubes, and eighteen minutes later, I was off. Special thanks to Alan Cabellero from CL Performance Training for saving the day.
Today was better.
No broken tires, no crazy delays, a smooth 2:40 transition, followed by a strong bike.
Finishing in 1:17:06, my second fastest lifetime Olympic bike, finishing 90/239, gaining ground to 109 overall.
10km Run Along North Muldrew Lake Road
My general plan in any triathlon is fairly simple, pace myself well on the bike, save some for the run, and hope to finish strong.
That was the plan at Gravenhurst at least, but of course, in setting my second fastest Olympic time, that plan went out the window.
Returning to transition my heart was pumping, my legs were aching, mentally putting my goal of a sub-fifty-minute run felt in doubt.
But it didn’t work out that way.
Leaving transition I settled into a strong pace of 4:45 for the first two kilometres.
Followed by a powerful third kilometre of 4:32.
At that point, the race was on.
I felt like hell, every part of me wanted to stop, but instead, I thought about how in less than thirty-five minutes this will all be over.
How after it ends, I’ll get in my car, sit in traffic for that two-hour ride home, reflecting on the day in one of two ways.
Either looking back and thinking about how once again in 2021 I took it easy and achieved mediocrity, or how I truly pushed myself for the first time in forever and did something great.
And with that, I focused on doing something amazing and pushed hard, averaging 4:41 on the run with an amazing final km of 4:10 (my third fastest km in 2021), and achieved that greatness (for me) that I haven’t felt in forever.
Final run time 47:41, 48/239 overall.
Final time 2:44:42, 103/239 overall, 86/196 gender, and 16/26 for the 40-44 male age group.
Final Thoughts on the Gravenhurst Olympic Triathlon
It’s been a long two years, two years where I’ve questioned myself, my motivations, and whether or not triathlon was still a part of who I am and what I wanted to do. The Barrie Triathlon this past August fixed that, I wasn’t great, but damn it felt good to be back.
Barrie was the catalyst that provided me with the motivation I haven’t felt in forever.
I don’t know what that means, or what my troubled relationship with running will look like tomorrow, but at least for one fine day in September 2021, I felt that sense of passion and pride once again. Here’s to looking at more amazing things to come.
Thanks for reading,