This past weekend WattsUp Cycling held a training camp for athletes in Huntsville. Adam, Kevin and I were the coaches that helped the athletes navigate one of the most difficult courses on the Ironman circuit. These athletes may not realize it yet, but they are significantly more prepared for this race (and any race) then they were before. Even if they might be a bit more scared then they were before!
The training camp was Friday to Sunday. We planned to swim the race course on Friday and Sunday, but water temps of 11C prevented that! 10 brave people still got in the water though (not me!). On Saturday, we got to ride part of the bike course by taking part in the Spin the Lakes, a fundraiser for the Canadian Mental Health Association, followed by a run off the bike. We practiced some open water swim skills in a warm pool later on Saturday afternoon. Sunday, some of us swam (not me!) then we rode the first 15km of the Muskoka bike course and back, then ran the run course. It was a full on weekend that is likely harder than the actual event itself!
The new Muskoka 70.3 course is very similar to the old Muskoka chase course. The swim course is identical. It is in a river which bends and twists. But having a good swim at Muskoka is not impossible. Taking steps that are within your control to prepare you will ensure that you do have a good swim. This includes familiarizing yourself with the course (swim the river the day before the race), sight often - don't keep you head down and swim blindly, defog your goggles prior to the race (use Aquasphere anti-fog or baby shampoo) and just follow the shoreline on your left. If you follow all these steps, the course is as easy as any other swim.
The bike course combines some of the old Muskoka Chase bike course with the old Ironman 70.3 route. It starts out along a relatively flat/rolling Brunel Rd, then you make a quick left turn onto Britannia - watch out for this turn as it comes up quick. Then you will face the hardest part of the course on Britannia - it's VERY important not to surge too much on these hills as those short and hard efforts will really tax your legs towards the end of the ride. Accelerate into the hills and keep a high cadence throughout the climb. You should be in your easiest gear at the steepest part of the climbs. Don't try to grind up in a hard gear or your heart rate and power will soar way too high. Try to keep the heart rate and power steady. If you know what your threshold heart rate/power is, then try to limit the time you spend above that number. As you near the end of Brittania you will descend a hill and then you make a very sharp left turn onto South Portage Road, which you will take north for awhile. There are quite a few climbs on this stretch, though there are some flat sections too. There is a steady climb before you turn right onto Dwight Beach Road. Dwight Beach Road is mostly downhill - yay!. Then you are out on the highways. If it's windy you will feel it here, but the climbs are far less steep. Try to ride this in aero position as much as possible. If you are on a grade, but can still feel the wind against your face and your cadence is above 70 then stay low in the aero position. Only get up out of aero if the cadence drops too low. The final stretch of the ride is along Brunel and this is not nearly as difficult as the beginning of the ride. Keep the cadence high and select an easier gear as you approach the finish of the course so as to not leave your legs feeling heavy for the run. If you paced the swim and bike properly and had patience early on in the ride then you will be just fine. Another note for the bike course is, if you can, use a compact crankset (I have a semi-compact and that seemed fine) with an 11/28 or bigger cassette - talk you your bike mechanic if you have questions about gearing. You want to have access to some easy gears on this course.
The good news is that the new run course is much flatter than the old run course. The best part - it's two loops! A lot better for spectators to cheer you on. There are still a few hills (one coming right out of transition), but otherwise the course is more rolling ups and downs than anything steep. If you pace the bike properly (if you think you rode slightly too easy that's a good sign!) and stayed on top of your nutrition, the run will not be overly difficult. However, there isn't too much tree cover on the course. If it's hot then keep your core temperature down by splashing water on your head, face, body and legs. Take in fluid at every aid station. Watch your heart rate, if it's slowly drifting up then you may be dehydrated so take in some extra fluid.
The Muskoka Chase (in 2004) was the second triathlon I ever did. I had no idea what I was getting myself into! I had no one to give me advice or tell me what to expect. So, this training camp (and hopefully this blog) will give anyone who hasn't experienced the course a good idea of how to handle the event. Good luck and feel free to contact me with any questions you may have about the course.