Edmonton Firefighters Off-road Triathlon: Race Report

By Brad Danielson
Success at my first Triathlon!

In the days leading up to the 3rd annual Edmonton Firefighters Off-road Triathlon, I was getting worried that the forecast rain would turn this event into a muddy, slippery mess.  However, the trails actually stayed dry in the week preceding the race, and the weather-man was wrong about race day as well: the expected grey rainy day turned out to be perfectly clear and sunny!  I think all the racers and the many volunteers were very relieved.
This off-road triathlon is put on by the Edmonton Firefighters as a fundraiser for the Firefighters Burn Treatment Society.
In previous years, only firefighters were eligible to compete in the race, but this year the organizers decided to expand the event and allow anyone to race in order to bring in more participants and raise the profile of their fundraising cause.
My wife, Brita, and I had signed up as volunteers for the event back in February.  But 2 weeks ago, the volunteer coordinator emailed me to ask if I wanted to race instead of volunteer.  It seems they had enough volunteers, and were trying boost the racer numbers.  (And he’s been gently prodding me to get out an try a Tri for a while now… Thanks Kevin!)
I’ve always liked the idea of doing a triathlon, but I’ve never actually done one because I’m simply not motivated to spend enough time in a pool to get good at swimming long distances.  But I was told this was a good beginner-triathlon: a short pool swim vs. a big, open-water, mass-start swim.
So my race-entry decision making process went something like this:
Can I run 5km?  Yup.   I don’t run much anymore, but fairly certain I could pull off 5km.
Can I bike 8km.  Check.  The Fiera Thursday night MTB rides and Sunday Power Hour have been giving me plenty of practice!
Can I swim 600m?  Only one way to find out.  I marched myself to the University pool…
After a few lunch-hour practice swims, I’d convinced myself that I might not be the fastest swimmer, but I could do it.
Time to sign up and give this a try!
6:30am on Race day gave me my first real glimpse of the competition: a mixed bunch ranging from total first timers (including some first-time mountain bikers!) to some experienced triathletes in their one-piece tri-suits and talc-powdered shoes.  Oh yeah, and since most of the racers were firemen, there were a lot of heavily muscled dudes!  But the general vibe was that there were 70 people out to have a fun race and enjoy the day, along with a LOT of great volunteers and supporters.  It was a very non-threatening and supportive atmosphere!
Because it was a pool swim, we were split up into heats to avoid congestion.  I’m sure no-one wants to crack open their skull in a crowded swim-lane.  Fortunately, I was put in the first heat, so I didn’t have to wait around and get race jitters.  Swimmers entered the pool with a 10sec staggered start.  I was second-last into the pool, and second-last out; a zero-sum segment I was just happy to get through.  I knew I had about 18 people ahead of me on the bike course when I ran into the transition zone.  I slopped into my shoes, zipped up my Fiera jersey, ran to the mount-line, did a flying cyclo-cross style leap onto my bike, and took off!
 Brita transition zone
The bike course started with cruel and unusual punishment: the steep hill leading from the Kinsmen center up to the High Level Bridge.
However this worked to my advantage – I think I passed 4 people on the first lap up that hill!  After the hill, we dropped into a nice circuit of twisty, technical single-track, followed by a fast gravel path section back to the base of the hill, making a ~2km loop.  I burnt through 4 laps of that as fast as I could go, taking any opportunity I found to pass the faster swimmers!
Brita was working in the transition zone, directing people to the appropriate exit gates.  All I remember about the bike-to-run transition was her yelling at me: “You’re in 2nd place!  Good job!  Now get running – I wanna see you SUFFER!!!”
I have such a supportive wife.  There’s a reason I call her my Drill Sergeant.
 *
More cruel and unusual punishment: the run course started with the same hill as the bike course.  That, I did not enjoy so much.  My run felt ragged and choppy, and I was not able to get into a good rhythm until I’d cleared the hill and got onto the flat section of Sask. Drive.  I was just very glad I didn’t get caught on that hill, as I knew there was another runner not too far behind me.  He finally caught and passed me 3/4 through the run course, but I latched onto his pace and hung with him.  He had more kick left at the end, and out-sprinted me to the finish-line, but it was very close.
Transition from the bike lead strait up a steep running climb - cruel, but not unusual.

Transition from the bike lead strait up a steep running climb – cruel, but not unusual.

So I ended up coming across the line 3rd.  I knew I had made good time on the bike and run course, but because the race was run in heats with the staggered-start swim, I didn’t know if my total time would be good enough for a top-3 finish.   The results weren’t posted until right before the awards ceremony, so I was oblivious until they started calling names up to the podium!  I was a bit dumbfounded, as I was expecting 3rd place at best.  But to win first overall and take the bike prime was a bit of a shock! Full results here. 
Podium Shot.  Brad, keeping those big burly fire fighters humble.

Podium Shot. Brad, keeping those big burly fire fighters humble.

Obviously the mountain biking segment made this race for me – so a big thanks to the Thursday Night crew for all the great rides lately!
The race was well supported with donations from Mud Sweat & Gears, Track’n’Trail, and some other local shops and restaurants, so there were lots of prizes for participants and volunteers.  Brita, the uber-volunteer, came away with an arm-load of sweet shwag, including a fancy jug of beer!  I can attest to it’s deliciousness, as she graciously shared it.   (I not-so-secretly coveted it.)
Volunteer Prizes, coveted by all.

Volunteer Prizes, coveted by all.

The race organizers told me that they successfully doubled participation from last year, and they want to double it again next year.  So I was told “Bring your friends!”  Consider that an official invitation for more Fierans to try this out next year.

Bringing home the hardware!

Bringing home the hardware!
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