August 18, 2014

Race report -- Thousand Islands Tri, Super Sprint

August 17, 2014
200m swim, 21k bike, 5k run
Breakfast: greek yogurt w/granola, OJ, tea, cantaloupe, toast w/butter and jam

Finish time: 1:18:23 (2/15 OA, 1/4 AG, 6/26 men and women)

This pretty much sums it up.

In my last race, I went out like a crazy person, hyperventilated, and backstroked most of the swim. I also hammered a little too hard on the bike and felt like I hadn't left enough for the run. Through that though, I had a great game of "pass and be passed" with a faster athlete -- who ultimately won. I came second.

New plan.
1. Lower the stroke rate and focus on getting maximum power through the whole stroke. 
2. Go a little easier on the bike to leave more in my legs for the run. 
3. Use the fresher legs to run faster.

Excellent. Fast forward to today's race. I want to win. Second overall was great last time, because it was my best result to date, and also because the winner totally ate my lunch on the run... there wasn't much I could do about it, especially having emptied the tank as much as I did on the bike. Time for redemption. The morning dawned cool and calm -- a welcome contrast to the howling wind and crashing whitecaps of the previous evening. I know the weather put off at least one potential super-sprinter... a woman in line with me at race kit pickup switched into the sprint du. At last year's event, I got caught in a long port-a-potty line and found myself with about 30 seconds to get into my wetsuit before my start. This time, I had my wetsuit on in plenty of time, and was the first short-distance swimmer in the water to warm up. The water was clear and the perfect temperature. As I warmed up, I stroked my way just past the first marker to line up the second turn buoy and an associated spot on land. I had plenty of time to chill out and find the spot I wanted right at the front of the start line. When the gun went off, I stuck to my plan. Strong and deliberate toward the first marker. A little traffic at the buoy as expected, then a nice straight course to the second marker. The flat water made sighting easier. I had a couple of slight course corrections from the second marker to the swim exit, as there seemed to be a slight current drawing south toward the end of Block Island. Apparently I had the second-fastest swim split, including T1 (there was one man ahead of me). I should be happy with that, and with how smooth it felt, as I've been trying to solve this short-distance swim puzzle for awhile. However, my split was 8 seconds slower than last year's time even though I felt like I was all over the place last year. Not sure what to make of that.

Swim split + T1: 8:03

On the bike, it was a very uncrowded course. Though it was open to traffic, cars were generally a non-issue. We had a short, steep hill at the beginning of the course, and a slight uphill for a few minutes beyond that. This early effort made my legs a little jello-y, at a time when I'm usually spinning in an easy gear after the swim getting the oxygen back into my lower extremities. The course was rolling and a bit breezy. I was conscious of every sensation in my legs, aware that I wanted to spare more than I did last race to tap into on the run. Even so, I was surprised to see my bike split was so slow. I don't have a bike computer, and haven't been using any kind of GPS device on the bike lately. Maybe it's something I should consider... as I was clearly slower than I thought I should have been. A minute slower than last year, which both drives me nuts and led me to substitute post-race vodka for my usual post-race ice cream. I didn't have other cyclists to pick off and pass like I did last year, which might have impacted things from a mental angle. Life's more important elements have cut in on my training, but it's time to do some work. Still, I was the first woman off the bike and onto the run course.

Bike split: 45:10

I left T2 knowing that I had work to do to hold off the stronger runners. There are always at least a few -- I joke that I'm the quintessential triathlete, in that I'm mediocre at all 3 disciplines. I don't have a standout strength to fall back on, or a discipline that I dominate consistently. It's been a challenge for me to find a balance, particularly at this shortest distance -- last race, the bike was pretty quick but the run as a result was not. It seemed this time I did the opposite. My run was my personal best 5k time, over 2 minutes faster than last year on the same course, and the closest I've come so far to my 25:00 goal for run + T2 (I don't wear a watch to track the pure run split). But in the end, I still got passed with about 2 km left to go. Unfortunately the eventual winner had the wrong body marking, so I thought she was in the sprint rather than the super sprint. Would I have been able to catch her, had I known? I doubt it. She was the better athlete on the day, and was simply faster. That said, our finish times were only 25 seconds apart. So you start wondering "What if that person at the swim exit hadn't gotten in my way dawdling and high-fiving? What if my wetsuit hadn't gotten hung up on my chip? What if I'd just pushed a little bit harder on the bike?" That last one is the one that's really grating at me. But of course, that could have made my run that much slower or worse.

Run split + T2: 25:11

2nd OA, 1st AG
Looking back at my "new plan" list, I actually executed it all. Smooth, strong swim -- check. Hold back a bit on the bike -- check (though that may not have been a great plan, in hindsight). Run faster -- check. At this point, I don't think any different strategies will get me to the finish line sooner. With the talented athletes in these local fields, I'm simply going to have to improve my speed if I want to be at the top of the heap. It just smarts to be so very, very close... 

New training plan, perhaps?

August 17, 2014

Race report -- National Capital Triathlon, Super Sprint

August 2, 2014
200m swim, 20k bike, 5k run
Breakfast: Bagel with cream cheese, tall 1% chai, water

Finish time: 1:16:47 (2/27 OA, 2nd in AG, 6/50 men and women)

My early season this year was packed. With training volume, as well as with racing. This was owing to the fact that Tremblant 70.3, my biggest race of the season as well as my first half-Ironman distance, took place in June. Three weeks later, I did my first Olympic in Toronto... essentially coasting on the fitness I'd amassed before Tremblant. Fast forward another 3 weeks. My training volume has dropped off steeply. I'm spending more time snuggling my kids and making pancakes, and less time pounding the pavement and mashing the pedals. By the time I got to Toronto last month, training was feeling more and more like a chore rather than something I looked forward to. My ankles ached, and regimens of ice and foam rolling to fend off injury were starting to get old. I had purposely not registered for any more races past Toronto, as I wanted to see how my body was holding up and what I felt like doing next.

I decided on a super sprint, at one of the local races I'd done last year. Nice, civilized start hour (none of this 6:50 a.m. stuff), a course where I could compare my performance to last year's baseline, and a distance where I knew I could back off on my training frequency/volume and still be ok. I really like this distance -- I don't lose so much time on the swim, you can usually avoid multiple laps of the same scenery, and it's over in about an hour. Which means I can get down to the business of eating ice cream and drinking chocolate milk that much sooner. Not to mention, you have the rest of the day free to do other things without feeling like you need a wheelchair (hello 70.3, I'm looking at you).

On the morning of the race, I arrived in plenty of time to set up my gear, get my wetsuit on, and get a swim warmup in. Yes, I wore a wetsuit for a 200m swim. If nothing else, it acts as a barrier against whatever nastiness is causing the (seemingly perpetual) no-swim advisory at that beach. Best quote of the summer last year came from someone at the same venue. Overheard as I was heading into the water: "I wonder what e.coli tastes like?" My friend, you're about to find out.

The swim was interesting. The whole season, I'd been focused on slow and steady endurance. On this particular morning, I took off at the sound of the gun -- not bothering to sight or even breathe for several strokes. Bad idea. Before long, I'm hyperventilating... and swimming toward the beach rather than the turn buoy. I got myself straightened out, but couldn't slow my breathing enough to put my face back in the water. OK, backstroke it is. Interestingly, I don't seem to swim much slower on my back than I do on my front -- which probably says something about my freestyle ability or lack thereof. Plus, breathing is good. I glanced to each side every so often to confirm I was swimming the same direction as the rest of the crowd. Then I flipped over and managed a front crawl around the buoy and toward the shore. Normally I'll swim till it's almost ankle-shallow, but not this time. You know that dream where you're trying to run away from something, but your legs feel like lead? And the more desperately you want to go fast, the slower your legs move? Right -- so that's what exiting the swim leg feels like when you stand up too early.

Wetsuits. They make you float. They shield you from goose poop soup. What's not to like?

Swim split + T1: 8:27

On the run to transition, Kathy Bradley (a fellow competitor, and usual winner) passed me. I passed her back with a quick transition, and headed out on the bike course. I hammered hard, trying to hit a goal speed averaging 30 km/h. This is where having three turnarounds and two 90-degree turns is annoying... you have to bleed off so much speed. I stayed ahead of Kathy till the final 100m or so where she passed me -- but I was quicker at the dismount line and beat her into and out of transition.

Bike split: 40:54

Kathy is an insanely fast runner... at this point, I just had to see how long I could hold her off. I only made it about 900m before she blew by me like I was standing still. Oh well... that was fun while it lasted. lol I had spent a lot of energy on the bike, and my run did not feel strong. I got a slight side-stitch and ran through the discomfort. The late start, while giving me more time in bed, resulted in a run leg under hot sun in nasty humidity. After the turnaround, it was some time before I saw another super sprint woman -- but I still was driving toward a goal of 25 minutes for the run. I didn't make it... though it's hard to tell how much of my run time was spent in T2, because transition time isn't split out at this event.

Run split + T2: 27:27

Overall I was happy with how the race turned out. I came close to, but didn't quite hit, my 30km/h goal on the bike. I'm hoping to be that slight bit faster at my next race, on a course that doesn't have as many turnarounds. I missed the 25 minutes I wanted on the run. But that said, I took several minutes off last year's bike time, 2 minutes off my run, and about half a minute off my swim (even though the run to transition -- included in the swim split -- was about 50m farther this year).

August 04, 2014

Lions and tigers and... 5-foot muskies?

Decided to suit up for a nice, leisurely open water swim this morning on Buckham's Bay before all the holiday boat traffic got going. Buckham's is a narrow, 2-km long bay favoured by anglers in both summer and winter for its fantastic fishing. In a conversation yesterday, a neighbour told me about a fish his friend caught last week.

"My buddy starts yelling at me from his boat. Said he caught a 5-foot muskie!" he exclaimed.

Yeah right, I thought.

"So I thought 'yeah, right!'," my neighbour continued. "I figured it was probably this big." He held out his hands a pretty generous fish-length apart. "Wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen him get it into the boat. Unreal. It was seriously 5 feet long." Extending his arms and fingertips for effect, suggesting something roughly as long as I am tall.


Fast forward to this morning. The water is quiet, the public ramp is empty save for one fellow getting ready for an early boat ride with his son (bonus -- someone to help me zip up my wetsuit). I'm excited to try out my new MyFloat -- a nifty buoyant drybag that not only lets you carry your shoes and car keys with you, but also acts as a big yellow buoy so there's less chance of being mowed down by a power boat. You tether it to your waist, and it floats behind you about even with your knees. I pack it up, clip it on, and set out.

The water is warm, if somewhat murky. OK, really murky. I hit some weeds -- which normally doesn't bother me, but today I head for the middle of the bay to avoid them as much as possible. I thought of my neighbour's fish story. Fish like to stay in the weeds right? So I'm good. Though big fish like deeper water. Not so good.

Let's be clear -- I generally have no issue with fish. A fairly sizable one (by our local river standards) swam right under me a couple of days ago while I was warming up for a race. It was only around 18" long... while somewhat startling, it was no big deal. I've dived with sharks, but you could see those coming. No such luxury today. I started to consider what a surprise encounter with a 5-foot muskie would be like. Hey, noise scares away fish, right? I start humming underwater. That'll do it. No, wait -- I probably sound like a wounded animal. A mega-muskie breakfast burrito. I stop humming. I decide to chill out for a minute to take in the quiet beauty of the morning. I look up and gaze upon the loveliness that is nature. And that's when my float, which I've all but forgotten about, bumps into my elbow.

Thankfully the tranquility-piercing scream happens only in my head.

Beautiful, tranquil Buckham's Bay. Cue "Jaws" theme.
You might be surprised to hear that the remainder of my swim was actually very relaxing. I love to go out in open water for an hour and cruise at a leisurely pace. Too bad it's timed in triathlon. Feels kind of like wolfing down filet mignon (while getting punched in the face) rather than savouring and enjoying it.

I was really looking forward to grabbing a to-go latte and breakfast sandwich at the local grill -- which opens at 6:00 a.m. to feed and caffeinate the hordes of summer boaters. I wandered in wearing my swimsuit and towel (It's a small community, and it was a really big towel. Also, I have no shame.) and asked the young girl at the counter for a latte. "What's a latte?" was her reply. I was sure she must have misheard me. "You know, espresso with steamed milk..." Blank stare. Really? The good news in all this was, while the girl's supervisor showed her how to use the coffee machine, I struck up a conversation with a new resident of the Bay who recently moved from Bermuda. Turns out he's an avid swimmer. See? A plus to showing up in your swimsuit! Meeting new neighbours! Wait, that didn't come out the way I intended. Anyway, I filled him in on Ottawa's Bring on the Bay 3k swim, and the upcoming 4k "Escape from Aylmer-traz" interprovincial swim.

Finally on my way with breakfast in hand, I was grateful I'd waited to eat till after my swim. Because if you're going to enter the domain of the giant muskie, you probably shouldn't season yourself with sausage, egg, and cheese.