Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Race Strategy for the Chinook Half IM

So I've taken a bit of a hiatus from blogging, and for that I apologize!  But we're back in the midst of race season now and I thought I'd impart some strategy tips for some of the races that I've done.  Kind of a race review, but before the race, so that a few of you know what you're stepping into.

I'll do this one for Chinook, and I'll do one in a month for Ironman Canada.  So here it goes....

The Swim

The swim
The swim at the Chinook Half is a two lap swim of Lake Midnapore.  The water temp this time of year is about 16C degrees which is cold, but not Ironman Calgary 70.3 or Subaru Banff Triathlon cold.  Its a smaller body of water so it does warm up pretty quickly.

Its a small field of about 200 for the half, so seeding isn't quite as important as a larger race. The trick here is just to sight the buoys and pace yourself well.  At the end of the first lap you have to get out of the water, run across the beach, and get back in for your second lap.  The luxury of a two lap swim is that you know when you're onto the back of the swim and when you can push a little bit harder.

General Tip; Towards the end of the swim, kick a bit more so that you can get blood flowing back into your legs before you get out of the water.  Also, don't stand up until you can touch the bottom of the lake with your hand.

The Bike

The Chinook Half bike course, and olympic bike course for that matter, is pretty hilly, and probably the most technical bike course of any race of that distance in Alberta.  The prevailing winds always come out of the west, and since you're riding towards the west (the mountains), the ride out to Kananaskis is going to be a lot slower than the ride back home.

Last year it took me about 1:39 to get to the turnaround, and about 1:13 to get back, and that was keeping power pretty even.

Chinook Bike Course Elevation Profile
The advice that I would give to most triathletes on this bike course is to go super easy on the hills. There are far too many climbs to push and if you aren't careful you could hit the run having burned too many matches to put down a solid run split.  In a 39/26 gear ratio (biggest gear in the back, smallest ring in the front, usually the smallest gear a TT/Tri bike has), even a decent cyclist would be dancing out of the saddle at about 70-80rpm to try and keep from going past their lactate threshold.

On these hills, if you need to get out of the saddle, focus on rocking the bike from side to side and letting gravity do the work and try to keep your effort to a minimum.  If you find yourself getting short of breath on the climbs on near the turnoff to Bragg Creek, back off, you can make the time up later.

The nice thing about an out and back like this is that you do most of the work on the way out.  On the way back in, gravity and then wind should allow you to take a break, recovery, and get some calories back in before the run.

General tip:  I say this to runners and cyclists when they're in an endurance race, unless you're fighting for a podium position, you have to pace your race on effort, not speed.  So when you hit a hill, focus on keeping your effort constant, and just ignore your speed.  If you're on a 90km bike ride in Zone 2, unless you're an exceptionally strong cyclist, or a seasoned triathlete, do the hills in Zone 2.  You should be able to talk to someone without too much labour even as you climb the hill.

The Run

My homeboy Keith on the run
Ride for show and run for dough.  This is where you put it all on the line.  The Chinook run course is a two lap run course that's actually pretty flat with one major hill each lap when you come out of the Fish Creek Valley.  Its a pretty scenic run course so you should be able to take your mind off things once in a while.  And with such a small field, the runners really get stretched out at this point, so be mentally prepared to be in some pretty quiet sections in the run course.  This may not sound like a big deal, but just know that you'll be on your own in some spots, and find a way to use that to your advantage.

The temperature for the race is never really crazy hot like Ironman Calgary 70.3 can get in late July, but you'll still want to listen to your body very closely.  With lower temperatures you may find yourself not needing as much water if you usually take in lots of fluids be sure not to over hydrate.  On the flip side, if you're used to working in heat, the cooler temperatures may throw you off and you may not pick up on your thirst.  So get dialled in with what your whole body is signalling (too much fluid in your stomach? Back off the water.  Getting a little thirsty, drink water. Starting to feel spaced out and a little light, back off the pace for 10 minutes and get some calories and fluid in you asap).

General tip: Your legs will feel wonky after the bike.  That's a fact of triathlon, pay careful attention to your pace for the first couple kilometers and don't push too hard.  Your stomach can't handle fluids as well when you're running vs biking, and after 90km on the bike your legs will want to turnover at a higher rate than you probably run at.  Stick to your target pace and make sure your legs aren't writing cheques your ass can't cash.


Chinook is a phenomenal race put on by Mike Bock who does so much for Calgary's local athletes.  Mike is a top notch guy so if you see him be sure to thank him for putting on such a phenomenal race is one of the most beautiful places in the world.

Also be sure to thank each and every one of the volunteers on the course.  Without them these races wouldn't be possible.  A little thank you goes a very long way.  They know you're tired and that you're pushing your hardest, which is why those two words really do mean so much.

Have a great race out there everyone and I'll see you at the start line!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the post- racing this race the first time, looking forward to the bike! Should be a great day.