Mike Burwell Triathlon – 3/7/2005

I was planning a trip to see my parents in Toronto after my June 05-burwell-1.gifbusiness trip to China. My wife Lis was going to drive up along with her mother Anne, who was visiting from Australia. It was an opportunity for all of us to get together, as well as for Lis and I to take some things back to Washington D.C. which my parents were storing.


As a bit of a lark I checked out if there were any sports competitions on while I was there. There was a 10 km road race on Canada Day (1 July), but since I was arriving from China late the night before, I decided to give it a miss. I don’t do well racing with jet lag, on a few hours sleep, and after sitting in a plane for 14+ hours. However, I discovered that there was a triathlon in Welland, about 2 h from Toronto so after persuading long-suffering Lis to bring my bike and other gear up from Washington I was entered. My coach Margie called it a ‘tri-on-a-spur’ which it was. It was also my first triathlon.

We drove down early in the morning and it was going to be a very nice day. Clear skies, warm temperature, although there would be some wind. We knew we were getting close when we started to see people with triathlon bicycles on their cars.


It was a small field of only 113 people and the swim was in the Welland canal. This connects Lake Erie with Lake Ontario and bypasses Niagara Falls. The transition area was right next to the canal in a very picturesque setting.

I had kept up my running in China, and even finally got around to buying a bike which I will have in Wuhan for when I go there on business, but I knew that my swimming would be my weakest component. I was pleased that it was a wetsuit legal race as at least the wetsuit helps with buoyancy so I can put more energy into propelling myself forward (or to be more accurate flailing around!).

The had several races on at once including a Sprint Triathlon and an International Distance Duathlon (cycle/run). They started before my event, the Olympic distance triathlon.

It was fun to watch the earlier races and see the range of people entered. There were these superfit athletes, this was the ‘Provincial Short Course Championship’ but also the duffers who were out there just to give it a go. In the Sprint triathlon there was a woman who was very overweight and in her late ’50s who took forever do to the swim. However, she persevered and exited to a round of applause and cheering from the crowd of supporters. Almost anyone can do a triathlon, the challenge arises when you want to do it well.

Soon it was time to start my race and I entered the water. I really like the way I float in my wet suit instead of sinking so I happily floated in the water at the start line. The race was up the canal, around a buoy to the other side of the canal, and then back again. This made it a bit easier for swimming in a straight line as you just needed to stay parallel to the canal walls and there wasn’t that much water to cover if/when you got lost.

We were off in the typical melee which swim starts usually have. I was kicked, elbowed, prodded, but also gave as good as I got. Soon it got easier, because everyone had left me behind, but that was only until I was passed by the next wave! I really don’t like swimming.

I pesevered and by the time I got to the turnaround point I was pretty well on my own, with only a few behind me. Depressing. I continued on and it seemed like forever before I reached the end. I exited 93/113 to the cheers of Lis and Anne, but with very rubbery legs.

I wobbled over to my bike and changed into my gear. I wasn’t the height of efficiency and had troubles with everything. I knew that my first tri would be a learning experience, but this was not positive. After a bad start I was finally on my bike and headed out on the road.

With a small field, and my pathetic swim, there wasn’t anyone I could see but after a few minutes I saw someone in the distance. I then adopted my basic race strategy of reeling in the riders in front, while staying in my heart rate zone. The ride took us out from Welland into the countryside, up and down some surprisingly steep hills. I passed quite a few people which made up for my swim, and I even began passing some of the duathlon and sprint competitors, admittedly not the serious ones.

There was one killer hill with what was probably about a 12% grade which was quite memorable — a lot of people walked up so I passed them (slowly) on my bike. The first rule of cycling (even outside of a race) is that you never walk your bike, unless it is seriously broken.

There were quite a few people watching the race and cheering us on which was very nice. The police were controlling the traffic at intersections and were also supportive. A very positive atmosphere indeed!

Eventually it was back to the transition area and I had improved over my swim (42/113). Lis greeted me with an energy gel which I quaffed while donning my shoes and then it was to the run.

The run was to turn out to be exceptional for me, although in th05-burwell-2.gife picture to the right I do look like I’m suffering a bit. It was a 10 km run through a wooded area so it was not overly hot. I felt really good and was able to make excellent time. There were sections on gravel but also on a multi-purpose trail which was paved.

By now I had caught up with a lot of people and it was fun running along with them, catching up to slower ones, and even being passed by others. I planned on picking up the pace for the last km but I missed a marker because suddenly the line was ahead of me! It was over all too soon. I had a run which will be hard to ever beat:r 6:37/mile. I suspect that they mis-measured the distance since at the track I can generally only do 6:20/mile for 1-2 miles. Either way I felt good and I was very pleased with my run.

I ended up 43/113 with the following splits:

  • Swim: 35:05 (2:20/100 metres)
  • Transition 1: 2:22
  • Bike: 1:17:53 (32.4 km/h)
  • Transition 2: 1:20
  • Run: 41:04 (4:06/km)

Both Anne and Lis said the enjoyed the race, and it was great having them as my cheering section. Must do this again, once I sort out my pathetic swimming!


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