Summer doesn’t truly start until June 21, but warm weather at the end of May and into early June almost always signals the arrival of Canadian summer. With it comes Canadian race season. This year, I kicked it off with Ironman 70.3 Victoria on June 3.

 

Trouble in the Wild, Wild West

It’s always nice travelling west for a race. I find I easier than travelling east for sure. With the 6am start in Victoria, I could actually try to stay on Eastern Standard Time, since it made the race start feel more like 9 in the morning. So much easier on my body!

I’ve finished strong in Victoria the last two years, so I was ranked first going into this year’s edition of the race. With the privilege of wearing number one come a few extra responsibilities. I sat on the pro panel the day before the race. I also met with several of my sponsors who were attending the race

After I built up my bike, I found the shifting was giving me some trouble. It’s always worrisome when a mechanical issue crops up the day or so before a race. Luckily, I was able to get everything working well enough to race, and I quickly put that in the back of my mind as I went into race mode.

 

A Change in the Weather

The week leading up to the race, Ontario had seen some amazingly hot weather. The temperature was hitting 30℃ on the regular. Victoria was classically cool. The days leading up to the race were calling for 11℃ with some rain. At the pro meeting, the topic of conversation was about what we would wear, trying to make the call. Arm warmers, long sleeves, undershirts? I had come prepared and was going to go for toe covers, arm warmers, and an undershirt.

 Paul Higgins

Paul Higgins

As it turned out, we hadn’t needed to worry. The morning of the race was perfect: 16℃ and no rain. I quickly changed gears and kept only the toe covers. When race morning arrives, you need to be ready for anything.

Strength in the Field

This year presented the most competitive field that 70.3 Victoria has seen, with a lot of strong Canadians taking on the challenge. I went into the race wearing number one—essentially a target on my back.

There were a couple of strong swimmers in the field, and I knew the swim would quickly be pulled apart in small groups or 1 or 2s. Everyone crowded over the left side of the start line, so I made my way over to the right to get some clear water. As quick as I could, I maneuvered into a position where I could see what was happening. Sam Betten shot up the left side with Brent McMahon in tow. I was angling to get into position so I could get onto their feet. Soon, however, I found myself fighting with Frank Sorbara. He was on my hip and, try as I might, I could not shake him loose. Cody Beals was tantalizingly close for the entire swim, but the gap between us was just a hair too wide to bridge. I hauled out of the water in 6th. I leap-frogged Sorbara through T1 and headed out on the bike.

 

Rough Riders

Over the first 15 km, Nic Chase and I jockeyed for position, passing and repassing each other. At about the 15k mark, Nathan Killam and Kevin Portman caught up to us. I knew they were riding well and I had to go with them to see if I could get my engine firing. But Killam put in a very decisive surge, so I settled in to my own pace and let them go. I was going to have to play my cards on the run, so the key was not to let them get too far away from me during the bike.

 Paul Higgins

Paul Higgins

Throughout the ride I had some downs, where I really had to mentally fight to keep the power on. Victoria is the kind of course that has lots of short, sharp climbs and quick corners. This keeps you active for the entire ride. The only out and back portion of the course occurs around 75k, and we head straight up a 3k climb and then back down. I was able to figure out my position and gauge some of my competition. I was holding steady in 6th. I rode strong for the last 15k, with Chase hot on my heels.

I came flying into T2. I needed every second I could make up on my competition. My plan was to lay down a steady 11k, then just open up the last 10k. It was going to be a battle of wills as we ran through the forest.

 Paul Higgins

Paul Higgins

There is only one short out and back section each lap where you can see you competition. After a rough start to the season, I wanted a top 5 so badly to get everything going in the right direction. I ran past Greg, my old roommate from university. He had come out to watch the race and, as I dashed by, he gave me great motivation to push that much harder.

At 7k, Greg told me that 4th place was still 90 seconds ahead of me. I knew I had to stick to my guns and hold my pace. It was a really difficult mentality to hold out there on the course, making sure I kept on the pressure. At 16k, I heard 4th was only 30 seconds ahead and fading.

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I threw it into high gear and hammered home the last 5k. I was able to pace 4th at 18k and saw Stephen Kilshaw had brought back some time on me. I wasn’t going to give up any places today! In the last 3k, I laid out all that I had left.

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Onwards, Upwards

Overall, it was a good day. I am happy with 4th and to see some improvement. My season is trending in the right direction. But I am still so hungry for my first podium of the season and win of the year. I know it will come. I just need to keep putting in the work.

After the race, Cody Beals, myself, and my brother took a hike up Mt Doug. It was nice to enjoy the landscape of Victoria at a much more leisurely pace.

Victoria’s now well in the rearview mirror. I flew home on June 4 and I’ve been ramping training up as I prepare to tackle my next challenge. This coming week, I’m off to Ironman 70.3 Mt. Tremblant.

 

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