June 30, 2014

Long and agonizing... check.

My training over the winter, as well as my early-season racing, was all geared toward one thing -- preparing for the Tremblant 70.3, my first half-Ironman. I incorporated plenty of long and slow work (well... "plenty" is relative with young kids and a job, but let's just leave it there) aiming to improve my endurance and increase my likelihood of finishing this 113 km endeavour without face-planting. During that race, I carefully paced myself for the same reason. "If you feel like you're going pretty easy on the bike -- slow down more" was the common warning, with anecdotal consequences of ignoring it ranging from suffering through the run to cramping or bonking entirely. As someone who's got only one season of super-sprints under my belt, where I was going balls-out the whole way, this took some planning and discipline. Of course it's easier to go slower -- but the fact remains that the slower you go, the longer you'll be out there doing it. Unless you get picked up by the sag wagon and given a free ride back to transition. I wonder if the sag wagon is air conditioned...

I followed my plan, and finished the race. While my time was embarrassingly slow, I gave it all I had on that day. In hindsight, I needed to take in way more calories on the bike (I relied on a handful of chews to get me through 90 k), and likely more hydration as well. I've got my first Olympic distance race in a couple of weeks. I'm going to try to take some of these lessons learned, apply them, and try to find middle ground at that distance between constant energy conservation and going as hard as possible. Now, to figure out the best way to carry real food on my bike.

Lovely, but I was thinking less leather and more electrical tape

June 26, 2014

Lâche pas la patate - Ironman 70.3 Mont Tremblant race report

Ironman 70.3 Mont Tremblant
June 22, 2014
Goal: finish upright, in closer to 7 hrs than 8
Actual: upright... check. 7:57:27


Well, here it was. I'd done my prep, checked off my list -- it was time to execute. Whatever was going to happen now was going to happen. That said, I didn't want to leave anything to chance that I had a shot at controlling. Saturday morning saw me out on the bike for an easy 25 min just to stretch my legs and make sure all was a-ok mechanically and with my tweaked cleat installation. I felt good, if a little antsy, after a week off. Once I was confident all was in working order, I completed my bike check-in. I'm glad I got this done early, as later in the afternoon there was a huge line up.

My next stop was at the Ironman tent to get a souvenir shirt and towel, and cowbells for the girls. Last-minute items lined the checkout queue... magnets, jewelry, bags, bottles, car emblems... you name it. I joked with the fellow behind me that one could go really crazy in here. He admitted to buying up almost the whole store the year before, for his first 70.3. I had firmly resolved to limit myself to one souvenir. But a commemorative event towel with your name (and those of the other 3000-ish participants) on it?? Come on, I had to. And the cowbells were for the girls so they don't count, I reasoned. The Ironman operation is a well-oiled machine, and the line for the cash went incredibly fast. I was also lucky to just beat the afternoon rush.

Gathering for the athletes meeting

Having never been on the Tremblant swim course and wanting to test the waters (so to speak), I went for a late afternoon swim. Did an easy 900 m, and felt great. The water was a little choppy, but nothing that wasn't easily resolved by switching breathing sides and finding a rhythm that matched the movement of the water. Back to the hotel room for a fantastic dinner of spaghetti and salad, prepared by my aunt. Packed up my transition stuff, laid out my morning clothes, figured out my morning plan, and went to bed.

Heading to transition

I had an unexpectedly good sleep (the night before, not so much) and woke up alert when my alarm rang at 5:00. Jumped into my clothes, made some instant apple and cinnamon oatmeal, and headed down the hall to the breakfast buffet. Had a 1/2 plain bagel with cream cheese, cup of tea, and small orange juice to round out breakfast. Took my gear to transition, then went back to the hotel to PRP, lube up, and grab my swim gear. I specifically picked the hotel for its proximity to the swim course, which made things less hectic.


Goal: 55:00
Actual: 49:02

T1: 6:40

I arrived at the swim start with lots of time to get into my wetsuit and do a calm, relaxed warmup. The water was 63 degrees, and felt perfect... though I saw some people shivering. As long as I'm in a wetsuit, I find the cooler water invigorating -- I prefer it to the too-hot pool water I raced in earlier this month. The wave corrals were very orderly, and as we moved up toward the start I had ample room to choose my preferred starting spot on the beach: on the right side, midway back. I had a few moments to wait in calm, ready anticipation -- then with a blast of a flare, we were into the water. I'm sure people were cheering, as we had for other waves. But I was solely focused on a deliberate entry, and a steady, clear start to what would be a very long day.

Most laid-back swim start ever

The swim turned out to be my favourite leg of the day. The wide beach gave us lots of room at the start, and the course was beautifully marked. Athletes could stay to either side of the "straight line" buoy markers, and only had to stay outside the turn markers at the midway point. This was the most relaxed, enjoyable race swim I've had. Found some feet about halfway up the away leg, but lost them when things got more "active" near the turn marker. On the return segment, the crowd was thicker as faster athletes from later waves caught up.

There was a good crowd of cheering spectators at the swim exit. Since my wetsuit was comfortable to run in and easy to get out of by myself, I bypassed the wetsuit strippers. This was a good choice... I saw a number of pretty dirty shoulders and tri kits on the bike, on those who looked like they'd laid down someplace less than ideal to get stripped. I had an energizing run to transition, getting high fives from my family as we ran like rock stars on a soft red carpet to T1.

Excuse me, pardon me, coming through!


Goal: between 3.5 and 4 hrs
Actual: 3:56:38

T2: 6:35

Transition was smooth and deliberate as I got into my cycling gear and out onto the bike course. As it turned out, my wetsuit wasn't the only thing that came off easily. My body marking had disappeared, as had most of my sunscreen. See my next blog post, "the Aftermath."


There were a lot of fast, strong riders out there. I had to remind myself to bike my own race to match my fitness and training. One of my goals for the bike was to be disciplined enough in my pacing that I could run the whole 1/2 marathon afterward. Then there was my other goal...

I've always been a bit of a nervous descender. More so after a mountain bike crash that left me badly concussed and ultimately led me to leave the sport years ago. A couple of weeks before the race, I had come on a day trip to ride the course. On it is a hill where, the athlete guide enthuses, "you will reach speeds of 80 km/h!" Maybe -- if I have a heart attack, and my dead body continues to pick up speed. On practice day, I rode this hill in the safety lane with transport trucks hurtling by my left shoulder. Terror doesn't adequately describe the feeling. "Now I have to change my bike shorts" would be closer. The experience left me anxious to the point of feeling slightly dizzy descending highway hills at speed -- IN MY CAR. Yeah, I know... it wasn't looking good.

My goal was to make it to the bottom of that hill on race day without panicking or feeling out of control. When I arrived at this point in the course, with the whole road open for our use and seeing so many capable athletes descending in a calm, relaxed -- and really fast -- way, I just did it. I sailed down the hill with the brakes just brushing the tracks intermittently so I knew they were there if I needed them. For the remainder of the course, I took all the free speed I could get. Did lots of passing on the downhills, though I got re-passed on the climbs. If I tackle another climb-heavy race in the future, I'll be getting a different cassette... at many points I was grinding in my smallest gear while others were spinning. I also freely admit I didn't have enough hill training under my belt.

Your mind has ample opportunity to wander over the span of almost 8 hrs of racing. About 40 k into the 90 k bike, I realized I really had to pee. At the athletes meeting, we were told anyone "relieving themselves in nature" would receive a yellow card. As the urge struck in the middle of the open highway with nary a port a potty in sight, I started to contemplate the idea of peeing on my bike -- something I had insisted would never happen. The next thoughts were "I wonder if pee is bad for carbon fiber."  "I wonder if it would do bad things to my bottom bracket." "Normally people at least rinse off with water... all I have is Nuun. Would that be better than pee?" I looked down at my brand new white shoes. Oh, no way. I can't pee in my shoes. If I just peed on the saddle (which is a split nose), would it just go straight through the chamois and miss my shoes? But then it would get into the saddle stitching... ew!! As bike after bike passed me, my thoughts jumped to "Wait -- when do they close the bike course?! Is it possible I won't even make the cutoff?!!" I spent some time doing frantic, sloppy math in my brain, and realized that, short of getting off and walking my bike the rest of the way, it wasn't going to be an issue. Bonus -- by the time I was done figuring that out, I didn't have to pee anymore.

Soon after, I was in St. Jovite. I was also out of Nuun drink in my BTA bottle. Normally I stop and refill it with the bottle from my seat tube, but I didn't want to stop until the final aid station on Chemin Duplessis. I had decided I would use the port a potty there even though the urge had passed.... better safe than sorry. Partway up Montee Ryan, I started to get concerned about dehydration. So I just pulled the bottle off my seat tube and swigged from it on the go. Happily, this didn't cause me to fall down.  Simple skill, I know... but one I had never practiced since all I use normally is the BTA. I had gone right by the rest of the aid stations. My plan had been self-sufficiency, so the aid stations would simply be a backup plan. On the bike this was driven by safety -- having seen videos of pros whipping through grabbing bottles at warp speed, and also having heard horror stories of less agile age grouper mishaps, I didn't want to have to either stop/slow awkwardly or risk disaster.

Duplessis brought the real climbs, as well as some really fun descents. These were short and merciful, though by this time there were several people walking their bikes up the steeper hills. The last descent provided a great chance to rest the legs, and the short stretch to the t-zone let me spin them out a bit in preparation for the run.


Goal: around 2:30
Actual: 2:58:32

In transition, I applied more body glide between my toes and on my heels to mitigate any foot issues on the run. I should have also added some under the upper arms -- which wasn't an issue till about the 18 k mark, where there was, coincidentally, a sign saying "chafe now, brag later." I decided to don my compression calf sleeves, which was a good call. I needed all the support (literally and figuratively) I could get. I had picked up a $2 single-use towel moistened with essential oil and smelling salts... I gave my arms, legs, and neck a few swipes, as well as under my nose in the hopes the oils and salts would energize me. What the heck, couldn't hurt. I left T2 feeling good, and was greeted with more family high-fives.

Leaving T2 and spotting my girls

Out on the run course, it was smiles and thumbs-up for the camera, spurred on by a crowd of encouraging spectators. I spotted the 1 km sign. I kept running, for what felt like a small eternity. An entire season of Game of Thrones was surely filmed in this time. Yeah, feeling ok! Then I saw the next sign.

2 km.

Oh God.

"Not far now!" said a fellow to my right. "Only 19 more," I agreed, still pretty chipper. At 3 k, I dumped out my flasks -- emptying the nasty sports drink that had sat out in the sun in transition all morning. It was dead weight I didn't want to carry. By the 5 k mark, the initial excitement had worn off. "Ok, so only 3 more of these to go," I thought, doing some kind of punch-drunk math. I took water at almost every aid station, as well as ice which I poured down my suit, into my hat, and held in my palms. At some stations I only took water, at others I grabbed a piece of banana or orange as well. Those looked much more appealing at this juncture than the chews I'd brought.

I decided to walk the 8 km aid station, so I could get some chocolate waffle, orange slice, and water into me without choking, as well as grabbing the requisite cup of ice at the end of the line. That was the last time I walked on the course. That might be puzzling, if you look at my very slow run split. To say I ran would technically be correct, though I'm using the term "run" very loosely. Let me illustrate.

How I wanted to look:

How I actually looked:
I didn't so much run as lurch along in a steady rhythm. I felt like if I abandoned that rhythm, I was done. Even during my brief walk through the 8 k aid station, I could feel my hamstrings starting to tighten. So on I lurched. For roughly 12 k. I passed the folks who were walking, but I was not making good time. "Lâche pas!" was the rallying cry from the many, many volunteers who manned the aid stations and the intersections. I was getting passed pretty regularly. The thought "what if I come last" crossed my mind (though this would not be the case in the end). At one point I passed a fellow who was doubled over at a park bench. "OK?" I managed. "Yeah," he said. A few minutes later I was met on the path by a medic. "Are you alright? You look ok... are you ok?" I nodded, and told him about the man up the path, who had appeared to be cramping up. The medic thanked me and headed in that direction. I heard a woman a short distance behind relay the same information.

From 17 k to the end was a lonely stretch. I saw cars of people leaving, bikes on the roof, thumbs up out the window with yells of "You got this! Almost there!" The company of the bike course was gone. In this last stretch, there were no runners coming the opposite direction to break up the monotony. The signs, in reality spaced a kilometer apart, seemed to stretch further and further between. By kilometer 19, I was truly in hell and fighting back tears and snot with every encouraging word the straggling spectators offered up. In what I thought was a somewhat cruel addition to the course, the route meandered up a circular driveway, past the front door what I'm sure was a cool, relaxing hotel, and continued around and out the other side. A short climb followed, and then the final descent through the village. At this point, I made a valiant effort to pick my feet up. For the inevitable finish line photos, as well as the more practical reason of not wanting to trip and fall on my face on the downhill stretch. All I saw on that final 100 m was the empty paving stones between the black fences.

Painful final stretch toward the finish

I raised my arms and crossed the finish line, beyond spent and exhausted on more levels than I have yet experienced (except maybe in childbirth). I caught a glimpse of a figure prone on what I thought was a massage table -- awesome, I need some of that! Turned out it was a woman strapped to a gurney, bags of ice packed around her neck. I also saw a fellow in a wheelchair -- who hadn't been in one when he started the race -- waiting for a massage therapist. I finished. I had been hoping for a faster time... but I finished. Upright. With just enough in me to hug my kids tight, limp over to the massage room, and pick up a fantastic free poutine. At this juncture, I can't imagine ever doing this again. But I've learned that never is an awfully long time.

Worth it

June 25, 2014

The Aftermath

Lessons learned from my first 70.3:

  1. If your body marking came off with your wetsuit, chances are your sunscreen did too.
  2. You can become a better descender on the bike almost instantaneously if properly motivated. Fast downhill = free speed. This becomes pretty compelling during a 90 k ride before a half marathon.
  3. If you're grinding up the hills in your smallest gear while people spin away next to you, you should have gone with a different cassette. 
  4. It doesn't matter how spent you are at the end. It's still worth walking up one more hill to get a free massage. Likewise for standing in line to get poutine. 
  5. I'm happy to watch you do your morning-after "recovery run" while I recover my own way... on a patio with eggs benedict, Advil, and a huge latte. 


Double ow.

June 19, 2014

Installing your cleats so they don't move, a.k.a. "Can I dig through your trash"

This was the second time I've hit up my friendly neighborhood bike shop for busted tubes. The first time was to make swim bands for myself and my swim class buddies. This time, I was looking for a way to keep my cleats from slipping loose on my cycling shoes. Note to other small folks --12Nm carbon leaf pedals are a pain in the rear. I plan on lobbying Look to make a 8Nm version so I don't have to torque my whole body (and yank my cleats out of whack) to get out of them.

I got this MacGyver-ism idea from a resourceful Slowtwitch forum poster. The gist of it is to create a rubber gasket between the shoe and the cleat, to help prevent the cleat torquing out of position when it's under load.

Step 1: Acquire an old tube

Mountain bike tubes are best, as they're wide enough to cover the whole cleat surface once you open them up. My local shop was happy to give me some from their trash bin.

Step 2: Prep the tube

The spray adhesive we're going to use works best if the surfaces are clean. So cut out the section of tube you're using, and wash it with a little dish soap. Dry thoroughly. Put your cleat on top of the tube and trace around it. Cut out the cleat shape as well as holes for the screws.

Step 3: Glue the rubber to the cleat

Spray adhesive to both the cleat and your new cleat-shaped piece of tube. Slap em together. Wait for any excess adhesive to dry, or wipe it off, so you don't inadvertently permanently install your cleat to your shoe.

Step 4: Install the cleat to the shoe 

Screw the cleat in place as usual.

Done, done, and done. Crossing my fingers that this is going to work.

UPDATE: This has worked fantastically well. I haven't had to touch my cleats since installing them this way, which was over a year ago now. Success!

June 17, 2014

False starts

Ever have one of those days? Where you lose your cell phone off your bike and it disappears into the ether? Then you make multiple wrong turns on a 100k ride, because your map was on your cell phone? And over that ride, you get cut off, harassed, and narrowly missed by a truck passing in the safety lane of a divided highway? Wow.

On the plus side, I didn't crash, didn't bonk, and didn't actually get hit by a car. The blackfly bites acquired while searching for my phone will fade. The "aero neck" (i.e. total inability to flex my head forward) will pass.

Time to taper and regroup.

June 04, 2014

9 things I've learned about recovery and injury prevention

First, a little backstory. If you're not interested, go ahead and skip down to the list. I got into triathlon a little less than a year ago. It started with a new pair of running shoes. They were so bright and spiffy, it dawned on me that maybe I should... actually go for a run. In my early 20s I had played ultimate and dabbled in mountain biking, but I hadn't "gone for a run" in about 17 years. I had heard of try-a-tri events -- the run distance was 2 km. How far was 2 km, anyway? I had only ever run by time, and that was ages ago. I wondered if I could run that far? A month later, I was up to 5 km -- and trying to get faster at it.

Then I signed up for Ironman Tremblant 70.3, and the real work began. I read up on running form. Building volume. Building distance. I came upon alarming statistics about the prevalence of running injuries. I started a RunKeeper 1/2-marathon training plan, with the aim of steadily progressing toward that distance while minimizing the chance of injury. I wanted to share some of what I learned, from people with a ton more experience than me, about recovery and injury prevention.

1. Listen to your body
Know what discomfort vs. pain feels like for you. If you feel an off sensation somewhere, be mindful of it. Is it getting worse? Does it disappear after warming up? I have often run through discomfort -- but never through real pain. At one point, a niggling weakness and soreness I felt in my knee hadn't resolved with decreased distance and a couple of days off. So I bagged running workouts for a week, electing to keep up with cycling and swimming (which didn't hurt). Thankfully this solved the problem. Nip small issues in the bud and allow yourself to heal... instead of setting yourself up for a bigger injury and longer layoff later on.

2. Use a trigger point foam roller
"Are you foam rolling?" was the immediate question from my coach Geordie when another athlete and I mentioned some soreness we were experiencing. I have to admit, I thought this must either be some kind of cultish trend, or perhaps something that "real" athletes do when they're trying to recover from, say, a 50-mile running week. Rolling a piece of foam under your leg? "Oh, it'll hurt. But it's great," Geordie insisted. Seriously -- if you do enough running that you get stiff muscles (which is pretty much anyone who does any running at all), get thee a trigger point foam roller and start using it. It is fantastic.

3. Don't stretch cold muscles
You've probably heard by now that stretching before you warm up is a no-no. Make sure those muscles are warm before you stretch. 

4. Allow time for your body to absorb training and fatigue
I'll never run out of wise words from Geordie. These stuck with me, on a day that my legs felt trashed from a long run a couple days before. "Fatigue is fitness waiting to be gained." The trick is, you have to allow time to absorb that fatigue and recover in order to realize those fitness gains. Which leads me to this next nugget, which seems almost counterintuitive...

5. Do most of your training long and easy
I read something on Slowtwitch (a website and forum for triathletes) that drove home for me exactly what this means. A forum member said "Do lots and lots of running at a pace that you would be embarrassed to be seen doing." He called this a "bag run," owing to the fact that you want to wear a bag over your head so nobody recognizes you. A higher volume of slow, easy work allows you to recover faster -- and therefore train more -- than if you frequently go hard and fast. 

6. Sleep
I think most of us (myself certainly included) tend to forget what a really good night's sleep feels like. I attended a talk on recovery techniques given by Lisa Balerna -- a fantastic local duathlete who can probably run backwards as fast as I can run forwards -- who underscored the importance of sleep in helping the recovery process. I experimented with getting a true 8 hours, or 9-10 hours even, of sleep at night. The difference was unbelievable. I woke up without an alarm, and I felt good. Of course it's often not an easy thing to fit in that much sleep (unless you have little ones like me, and just surrender to falling asleep in one of their beds at 8:30 p.m.). And I don't manage it every day. But if you start thinking of sleep as part of your training regimen, it's easier to make the time to do it right.

7. Be mindful of nutrition
OK, I'll go ahead and say it. Sometimes I get a hankering for an unspeakable place that rhymes with "McSchmonald's." However, far more often I'll really feel like a big arugula salad with peppers, avocado, sunflower seeds... you get the idea. Life's too short to say "I can't eat this -- ever." But being mindful of what you're fueling yourself with is important. Your body can't repair itself and function optimally without a good balance of nutritious foods (guess we'll file that under "duh"). Keeping healthy, whole foods in the house makes it easier to eat well. There are loads of racing "diets" out there, and I'm not going to get into any of them (mostly because I'm no expert), but you can't go far wrong with the following mantra:

Eat stuff that IS an ingredient, rather than stuff that HAS ingredients. 

8. Carefully consider your race schedule
I love racing. During the season, I treat races as my hard workout for each discipline for that week. Since I train alone, the added push of adrenaline and competition is just the ticket. However, I've recently experienced first-hand the cumulative effects of frequent racing. The past month for me has included a charity bike ride, two triathlons, and a 1/2 marathon. At the last triathlon, a fellow competitor and I talked about how we felt residual fatigue in our legs from the 1/2 marathon the week before. Now, this is fine -- provided it meshes with your goals. In my case, all these early-season events were calculated practice for my A race at Tremblant. But if you're looking to race your absolute best, make sure you allow adequate time to recover between events.

9. Don't wear high heels
So last year, I managed to finish the season injury-free -- then tweaked my knee taking a bad step in a pair of (really smashing and awesome) high heeled boots. Safety first! Save the fabulous shoes for after your A race, people!

Edit: Hey, it's a year later and I've tried some new things for recovery... check it out, if you're interested!

June 02, 2014

Race report - Perth Triathlon (double distance)

June 1, 2014
1 km swim, 32 km bike, 6 km run 
Finish time: 2:04:03

Up at 5:00 a.m. for the drive to Perth. Guess I should get used to it, transition opens for the Ironman at around the same time. Had an instant oatmeal for breakfast, and sipped water in the car. Handy tip: if you put your oatmeal in a mug, you can kind of slurp at it while you’re driving. As the racks started to fill up, I’m not too proud to admit I was a little intimidated. It seems every Ironman athlete within 100 miles of the place showed up to race. Literally every bike on my rack (except mine) sported an Ironman race sticker. Not to mention the athletes themselves – I’ll put it this way, my friend’s wife (who just finished running the Boston marathon) exclaimed “Wow, these people are really fit – I feel lazy!” Yikes.

The pool water was tropical – thankfully they opened both doors to the pool deck to let some cool air in. My luck with wearing things for the first time on race day ran out – the tri top I chose for the day turned into a sea anchor, filling with water as soon as I got into the pool. Oh well, live and learn! I shared a lane with a very nice older gentleman named Bill. “Great!” I thought, taking note of Bill’s grey hair and slight build, “Maybe I’ll even be able to draft a bit.” Not so much, as it turned out. Bill pulled ahead by the 2nd lap and was gone. My swim was uneventful. Since all of us in the first wave started at the same time (2 per lane, 5 lanes), I felt caught up in the initial sprint and spun out a bit, which left me a little slow and tired for the middle section of the swim. This was the longest distance I’ve raced in the water to date – my last race being half as far at 500 m, and last year’s races being 200 m.
Swim split, plus T1  26:16

The bike leg was on a course open to traffic, which was thankfully light. Got into a good rhythm as the course rolled up and down. Into the second lap, I could feel the fatigue still in my legs from the ½ marathon I raced the week before. Note to self… if you’re going to truly race, a week in between is not enough time to fully recover. Nutrition/hydration on the bike was, per usual, a couple of Honey Stinger chews and a Profile HC bottle with a Nuun tablet. Slowed down my drinking toward the end of the bike, as I felt like I needed to pee – this would not make for a fast run, any way that scenario played out. And I really like my bike. I’m not going to pee on it. If you’re reading this and are not well-versed in all things long-distance tri, then I assure you this is not a joke. People pee on themselves. And their bike. I’m serious, go Google it.
Bike split  1:06:36 (personal best for this distance)

A spectator offered “At least the hard part is over,” as I hunched over in the T-zone getting my shoes changed for the run. At that point, getting my running shoes on without falling over was the hard part. Left the transition area striding out on my tired legs – quickly realizing that was not going to hold for 6 km. Immediately shortened and quickened my steps, and kept that going as best I could to the finish.
Run split  31:12 (personal best for this distance)

All in all, I’m happy with my effort on the day. I got a taste of just how fast some of these more experienced distance triathletes are. And the older gentleman who smoked me in the pool? Turns out he’s a multiple Ironman finisher. My hat’s off to you, Bill! 

Race report – Ottawa 1/2 Marathon

Race report – Ottawa ½ Marathon
May 25, 2014
Finish time: 2:02:55 
Breakfast: instant oatmeal, orange juice 
Hydration: Fuel Belt w/Nuun (1 tablet between 2 flasks) 
Nutrition: handful of Honey Stinger chews and one orange slice

Less than a year ago, I wandered into a local discount sports store. They were having a sale on running shoes. I was at a point where I was trying to make some healthy changes in my life, so I decided this was an opportunity to replace my current shoes. The ones that had given me 17 years of faithful, though infrequent, service. “What kind of runner are you?” the helpful store employee inquired. Instead of responding with “The kind who doesn’t – unless they’re being chased by someone. With a weapon.” I looked her in the eye and admitted that I may, or may not, ever actually run in these shoes. Maybe I’ll take a Zumba class. Or something. But if the mood ever struck me to actually, you know, run – that I’d like to be able to do that too.

Turns out I did do some running in those shoes. I also bought a road bike. And some goggles. I’ll spare you the details for now  fast forward to May 25th. On this particular morning, I found myself getting ready for my first half-marathon, along with over 31,100 like-minded people. I saw small groups of team-gear clad athletes running on Laurier Bridge to warm up. Are you kidding me? We’re about to run over 21 km! Reminiscent of the duathlon I did last fall, I glanced around and took cues for dynamic stretches and warm ups (that didn’t involve actual running) from people who looked like they knew what they were doing. I headed to my corral early, as I wanted to glue myself to the 2:00 hr continuous pace bunny. My plan was to follow him as far as I possibly could. I wasn’t sure if my “break 2  hours, at least by a few seconds” goal was even realistic – my best-laid training plans were interrupted by a brutal flu in April, followed closely by a week off to resolve some knee pain. Plus, my last long slow run took me 2:15 to run 18 km. Was it even possible to cram over 3 more km into a time 15 minutes quicker? What the hell. Figured I might as well go for it, and find out.

As our start time approached, the crowd got denser. Before long, I was packed in a sea of people (a sea of shoulder blades, really – from my short-statured viewpoint) that extended in every direction. As our group approached the start line, someone accidentally stepped on my shoe and pulled it halfway off. With thousands of people surging behind me, I hopped forward on one leg to get my shoe back on, thinking “Don’t trip. Don’t trip. For the love of God, don’t trip.” 

The energy at the start line was fantastic. We set off down Elgin Street to cheering crowds and pumped up music. I stuck close to the pace bunny, conscious of the danger of going out too fast. Called out and waved to my Mum and my kids as we moved onto the Queen Elizabeth Driveway. Felt great for the first 10 km, enjoying the enthusiastic spectators with witty signs, and the live music. “Hey, that’s a 10k personal best!” I exclaimed happily to the pace bunny after glancing at my watch. “This is just the warmup,” he smiled. Then the hills started.

In my training, I kept my cadence and perceived rate of exertion constant – which meant going slightly slower uphill, and faster downhill. Our diligent pace bunny kept his pace, already an aggressive one for me, constant regardless of the terrain. I managed to stay on the bunny’s tail (so to speak) almost to the Museum of Civilization on the Hull side. But he gradually began to slip away, as I started to question the wisdom of signing up for a race where I would have to do this AFTER a 2 km swim and a 90 km bike ride.

The crowds reappeared as we made our way toward Colonel By Drive. At this point, many people were walking. One girl weaved unsteadily to the side of the road. “Slow down,” my brain suggested. “Walk. Stop. This sucks.” “The faster you run, the faster this will be over,” I insisted. I felt kind of off, like I should either eat or drink something, or I should really NOT eat or drink anything. I swished the remaining mouthfuls of Nuun water from my flasks and swallowed. So far, so good. I spotted my girls (with the awesome sign they made for me) and Mum again at the Pretoria Bridge, and managed to run over and give them a kiss. The final push up Queen E toward the finish was, or at least felt, uphill. Almost there. Almost there. Don’t leave anything in the tank. I raised my arms and crossed the finish line, my race over. Surprisingly, I had the presence of mind to stop my GPS watch within half a minute or so. I was happy to see that I had come in so close to my goal time. Closer than I had hoped for or expected.

Oh, and I ran this race in a new pair of shoes. Turns out I’m a runner who pronates a little, but I prefer a neutral shoe that is light, cushioned, and has between 8-11 mm of drop. You know, in case anyone asks.

Race report - Early Bird Tri

May 17th, 2014 (better late than never!)
500 m swim, 36.4 km bike, 5 km run
Finish time 1:59:15
Breakfast: instant apple/cinnamon oatmeal. 

Arrived nice and early to a brisk day. I was pretty cold by the time I had set up my transition area, so I wore a bunch of extra clothes down to the pool thinking I'd put them all back on after the swim. Wrong. Warmed up enough after 500 m, and the sun had come out enough, that I ran back to the T-zone with my extra clothes under my arm. Swim went well -- I seeded myself conservatively and it worked out according to plan. Felt kind of like open water in there, lots of passing and jostling as folks started close together. Found a good pair of feet and followed the bubbles for the last 200 m or so. My big problem is going out too hard, having my breathing get all ragged and suddenly run out of juice... I'm pleased that I managed to avoid that today.
Swim split  12:42, including the run out of the building (yes, I'm what my swim coach Geordie would call a "patient" swimmer lol... at least I'm faster now than I was in January, so I'm headed the right direction).

The run to the T-zone was pretty long and went through a construction zone
, but I managed fine in my sturdy new flip flops. Bought to replace the old pair someone (accidentally, I'm sure) absconded with from the pool earlier this week. I marked my new pair with "Hey... wrong shoes!" hoping to prevent a recurrence. Bike leg was windy, but good. Held aero the whole time, which I'm happy with... been practicing with my new bike, as it's kind of shaped like a sail and can go a little squirrelly on me in a crosswind. Not today!

Bike split  1:15:34 (any lack of speed is strictly attributable to the engine in my case, not the bike)

Was happy to discover my legs could hold me in a vertical orientation after getting off the bike. Just kept pushing as much as I could on the run, and I'm satisfied I left it all out there -- although, I didn't throw up at the finish line so I suppose there are still some gains to be made in that regard.
Run split  25:41

So, in summary... too bad I'm a year older this year! In my previous age group, my time would have been good enough for 2nd. As it was, with the fast old birds, I just missed the podium and took 4th. I'm still very pleased with my effort... the longest tri I've done to date is a super-sprint (just started last July), so this was a good step up. Big thanks to Geordie for all your help with my swimming, and for the solid advice on injury prevention and mitigation -- you're the best!!

p.s. Broke the cardinal rule of racing ("Don't wear new stuff for the first time on race day"), and got away with it today. New trisuit and helmet -- both awesome! Thanks to Louis Garneau for their support.