By Billy Rainford
Welcome to the last Monday Morning Coffee before Christmas. Emily and I made our last trip down to my buddy’s restaurant before Christmas, so I’m a little behind on my coffee ramblings this morning.
I think, since we’ve got the LRX Alberta Arenacross Championships to talk about in more detail later, I’ll spin a little yarn this week, if you don’t mind.
I’m going to tell this story because it’s racing and most of you reading DMX either run, cycle, or both to stay fit and ready for MX, but it definitely resides in the “Non-Moto” section.
The year was 1995 and the race was my first-ever draft-legal Olympic distance triathlon at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) in downtown Toronto. I had spent the winter training in Utah, so I was ready.
That year, they held a round of the International Triathlon Union (ITU) World Championships in Toronto and they held a “citizens wave” race before it.
I was an up-and-coming age grouper and was looking forward to this event in front of a pretty decent crowd of spectators and top pros.
We ended up having to race at the hottest part of the day, after they ran an 8K running race on the course. My buddy, Pete Brooks (I know he reads these things, so I like to insert him into these things whenever I can), was a wickedly fast runner and entered the run. I can’t remember how he did but I’ll never forget what he said when he crossed the finish line…”I pity the fool who has to do a triathlon in this!” Yes, it was a now-dated Mr. T reference, but it was fast-approaching 35 degrees Celsius and the sun was beating down relentlessly on the still grounds of the CNE. There wasn’t a lick of breeze to cool anyone off.
And picture this: can you imagine actually putting your face in the water in that little inlet on the Gardener Expressway side of Ontario Place?! That little patch of warm, dank water where they do water ski exhibitions and the like. Never would you actually swim in that grossness, but there we all were getting set to dive in.
I made sure my “warm-up was appropriate,” as Kevin McKinnon would always say before the start of the races. “Race time is 11:45! 15 minutes to the start!” Yep, high noon on the hottest day of the year.
They also held a rollerblade race beforehand, too, which I guess they hoped was going to be the next big thing. It wasn’t.
Anyway, we all hopped into the water and immediately felt it get hotter. This was not a good sign. With kicking legs bruising each other’s thighs as we treaded water waiting for the start, the gun went off and we began racing the 1500m first leg of the race, trying our hardest not to ingest any of the awfulness.
It was a two-lap swim course and you had to go up on the dock and then dive in again to complete the swim. I never dove with goggles on so mine, of course, ended up around my neck and I had to fix that before continuing.
I made it to the end and then headed out on the 1 kilometre run to the bike transition across the Gardner in the CNE parking lot. It had gotten even hotter out since the start of the swim and that water did nothing to cool us down. This was going to get weird.
I found my bike and headed out. Now that I think about it, it wasn’t an Olympic distance race, it was shorter. The bike was only a 20k, if I’m now remembering correctly. The swim must have only been 750m.
That must have been the case because it was 8 loops of a 2.5k course right in the CNE grounds. It had a long back straightaway where you could really get the bike and your legs spinning fast.
I made a few passes and found myself in the lead pack. Like I said at the beginning, I’d never done a draft-legal race before and as I sat in the pack it felt like I was just on a cruise, so I decided to drop everyone.
I put my head down and got comfortable on my aero bars and proceeded to put the hammer down on that back straight. I was killing it and looking forward to just pedalling away from the field.
When we got to the corner on the end of the long straight, I sat up off my aero bars and made the 90-degree right-hand corner and glanced back. Everyone was just sitting on my rear wheel up on their brake hoods! They had just used me as a wind break and enjoyed some time off as I made a fool out of myself at the front. Lesson learned.
I didn’t move to the front of the bike again down that section but instead enjoyed the draft like a smart person would.
We were flying. I remember coming up to lap a buddy and telling him to hop onto our draft line. We were at too great a speed difference and he just wasn’t able to latch on, so off we went.
You don’t really know how hot you are on the bike, sometimes, especially in a shorter, 20k race. As I crossed the line and ran my bike back into the transition area to grab my shoes for the run, it sort of hit me just how brutal it was out. With no 50kph wind, it hits you pretty fast.
I threw on my running hat, slipped on my racing flats, and spun my race number around to the front of my Speedo for the finishing 5k running race. Yes, you heard that right…we wore skimpy bathing suits for these things back then.
I was in 2nd place as we headed out and was right on the heals of the leader. It was so damn hot that I didn’t know how we were going to finish this thing.
To my surprise, the leader grabbed a fishing hat and put it on his head. I couldn’t even imagine having something that warm on! No way.
As we hit the long back straight, I noticed him start to wander a little ahead of me. He was feeling worse than I was, and it didn’t look good for him.
I could feel his pace begin to drop off a little and knew I should make my move to the front. Before I even had a chance to pat him on the back as I went by, he did one final weave and hit the ground in a heat-stroke-induced heap. He was done and I found myself leading the race!
I came back by the finish line and crowd with one more lap to do. Could I hold this pace and win my first “big” race? It looked like it was going to happen!
As I headed back down the long straight for the final time of the day, the heat and stillness really started to hit me. Although I was getting encouragement from people I knew still on the bike course and on the sidelines, I really started to feel the effects.
I’d fully bonked once before in my racing career and so I knew the tell-tale signs leading up to a full wall hit. I started asking myself my name and address and location. I could answer them all correctly but then started to worry about the fact that I was asking myself in the first place!
It was a short run but things happen fast when your body wants to shut down. I felt my pace begin to slow, but I only had about 1k to go for my big victory. Could I make it?
As I entered the finishing area, I was still out front but could hear the sound of 4 feet running up behind me. Dammit, it was the two racers I feared the most, Richard Browne was one and I can’t remember the other guy’s name, but he was the fastest runner in the race. I was toast.
They went by me with less that 200 metres to go, but there was nothing I could do about it. Hell, I was too busy asking myself my address to pick up the pace!
I don’t remember which one of them crossed the line first, but I know I was 3rd but first to the water. Yep, I went back to the lake and jumped in to cool off. Unfortunately, it actually felt warmer when I jumped in! It was horrible.
I got out right away and wobbled my way back to the transition area searching for shade.
I don’t know how many of you have ever felt like this, but I was not myself for about an hour afterward and only slowly began to feel better as the awards ceremony began.
I’m still proud of myself for not quitting that one, but I know that a first place plaque likely one that I would have held on to. I have no idea whatever happened to the one for 3rd place.
My parents were at 99% of the races I’ve ever done and we even have about that same percentage of them on VHS. One day, I’ll have to transfer them over to digital so I can bore you with many more stories like this one. Haha.
OK, that had nothing to do with Moto, but I was looking through some old family photos to send my sister and mom out in BC for Christmas and found that photo at the top in the pile. Hey, this is Monday Morning Coffee and you just drank a cup, so quit complaining! A story is a story, no?
I’ll get to work on the content from the Arenacross now. Thanks to Jessica Longname from Tree Three Media for hooking DMX up with some photos and video interviews from the event.
Have a great week, everyone. I’ve also got to venture out to the mall for some shopping, so that’s where you’ll find me having my next coffee…