Main photo: Jess Adam (second from left) created a half-Ironman-like 70.3 mile triathlon for herself and invited others to join her. Carolyn Croxall (left) and (from third left) Scott Schelter, Jen Knowles, Luke Felhaber, James Hunter, and Graham Pollington took up the challenge. (Don McCormick)
By Don McCormick
When the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled all events, triathletes worldwide—and triathlon host communities like Huntsville—were devastated. Ten to eleven months of training and preparation, gradually increasing in intensity to peak for that major event of the triathlon season wasted. What now?
Jess Adam, local triathlete, triathlon coach, and an inspirational leader of many of Huntsville’s TriMuskoka Triathlon Club triathletes decided to do a 70.3 of her own design and invited others to join her.
“I had signed up for two [Ironman] 70.3 races,” explains Adam. “I had been training really well through the winter and I didn’t want the training to go to waste. I really wanted to get a time goal of sub-five hours and I really thought I was ready this season. So I thought, ‘I’ll do it myself’. So I designed a course and invited some friends and members of the triathlon club to join me.”
Six others decided to join her—two would do only the swim and bike portions and the four others would try to also do as much of the run as they could. The event proved to be too much for everyone on that particular day. Only Adam finished the course and even she fell far short of her sub-five-hour goal.
Adam felt she was well prepared but getting the right amount of rest prior to a race is a delicate and critical part of preparing for such an event. “I’d trained as much as I’ve ever trained. I did everything right. I built properly and I tapered properly but coming into the race I couldn’t get my legs to recover enough so it didn’t go as well as I hoped and I didn’t get my sub-five-hour time.”
The swim started from Avery Beach. It was a fog-enshrouded start but the kayakers and paddle-boarders recruited for safety did an excellent job of guiding the swimmers across the bay and down the river to River Mill Park. “It was a beautiful swim actually—one of the nicest I’ve ever done,” says Adam. “I went under 30 minutes for the swim which was great but as soon as I got on the bike and went up the first hill I knew my legs were tired. I hoped they would come around but they never did.”
Once into the run, Adam stopped under a tree and said, to herself, “‘I can’t do this!’ I was very tired and in a lot of pain. This was my own event and I could just quit. But I thought about the people who got up at five a.m. to help us, my family out there supporting me. I’m the coach of the club and I’ve got to set a good example. I don’t want to tell my kids I quit. So I said to myself, ‘just keep running and let’s see what happens’.”
Along the run she had friends, family, and training buddies out supporting and giving her pep talks. “That was very helpful,” explains Adam. “I needed everyone on that run. It was rough but I kept going, taking one kilometre at a time and I got there. If I hadn’t involved all those other people I probably would have shut it down on the bike and tried doing it on another day. Everyone thinks that triathlon is an individual sport, but I learned on Sunday just how untrue that is.”
This turned out to be as much a mental challenge as a physical challenge and Adam got a very real measure of her mental toughness in this race.
Luke Felhaber came the closest of the other participants to completing the course but couldn’t finish the run. “This was supposed to be a big training [and] race year for me leading up to the Barrelman 70.3,” explains Felhaber, “but COVID changed those plans. Not having a goal or plan threw my training into a tailspin in the spring. I am very thankful to Jess for helping me get out of that funk. The event gave me a goal to work towards and a focus for my training. I was very happy with my swim and thought the bike went pretty well but was disappointed by my run. I Iearned a ton that I will use going forward into next season. A huge thanks to everyone who helped make the day possible.”
Jennifer Knowles said she “really enjoyed doing a group activity…better than just training.”
For Carolyn Croxall the event was a chance “to get out there and push it like a real race over some longer distances.” She set a new personal best on the bike course.
All expressed their appreciation to Adam for organizing the event and to the volunteers and supporters who participated. It gave a focus for training, something that COVID had taken away.
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