December 22, 2015

Race report -- Trimemphre Olympic Age-Group National Championship

July 25, 2015
1500m swim, 40k bike, 10k run
Magog, QC

Breakfast: most of an egg, a piece of lunchmeat ham, 1/2 french toast, 1/2 croissant, 1/2 whole wheat toast, 1/2 bagel with cream cheese, honeydew melon, OJ, tea

Tree covered in knitting, outside the Magog arts center

I've had notes kicking around for this post since July... it's now December. Time to get this done before 2015 is over. I don't really know why it's taken me so long -- this was my A race for the season, it didn't go as well as I'd hoped, and I had to sort through some mixed feelings about it. I raced as hard as I possibly could. I left absolutely nothing in the tank, and suffered pretty deeply during the race and afterward. I was completely satisfied that I gave it all I had. I didn't even look up my results until I was almost done my long drive home -- which is totally unlike me. ;) Qualifying for Worlds was a super-long shot for me this year. But out of all the comments I received after the race, "that's too bad" rang loudest for me. "What do you mean, 'that's too bad'?? I raced my guts out! This was only my second Olympic distance tri, I'm completely satisfied with my effort!" I thought to myself. Did some things go pear-shaped? Sure... but live and learn. In any case, onward. I'm really pleased overall with how my 2015 season ended up. I managed 1st in my age group and 3rd overall female in our local/regional Somersault Series standings. I'm ready to dig in to 2016 and continue to improve. But first, this overdue race report... it's a long one. Better grab coffee. And provisions.

Lots of athletes and spectators at this event -- carpet from swim run-out visible in the background

While my result at Magog wasn't a qualifying performance, it was an improvement over my other Oly result from Toronto last year (by where I finished in the field). I went into it with the perspective that I wanted to race my best race, and there wasn't anything I could do about how everyone else did. This was clearly a strong and experienced field -- everywhere I turned, there were kits with Team Canada or various sponsors emblazoned across them. Time to walk tall and get down to business.

Took a photo of this sea serpent for the kids

I arrived the day before, with plenty of time to do a quick swim, bike, and run before picking up my race package. I neglected to bring my MyFloat, so I left it to blind faith that my shoes and keys would still be on shore when I returned. The water was cool and clear, but the rocky bottom meant we had to tread carefully. My B&B was was an easy bike/walk from the race venue, and was peaceful and quiet.

Late Friday afternoon, clouds rolling through

Kelsey had invited me to dinner with her and some friends. Their AirBnB was a bit out of town, which gave me the opportunity to drive some of the bike course. This is by far the most technical course I have experienced. As I was driving along, I pondered the 90-degree turn at the bottom of a steep hill, and cursed the city planner who chose to put several stands of trees in the middle of a perfectly good, straight road. Having mentally tallied up several "omg..." and "wtf???" spots on course, I was ready for a glass of wine when I showed up for dinner. Bottle in hand, I cheerfully strolled up the driveway... of the wrong house. The gentleman who lived there assured me I was welcome to come back with the wine if I was unable to find the right place. Thankfully I got sorted in the end.

Wonderful view  (with deer flies the size of Volkswagens just outside the frame)

Manning (womaning?) the BBQ

Had dinner Friday with this lovely group

On race morning, I had a quiet breakfast and slowly made my way to the transition area. My start time wasn't until 1:40 pm... which felt odd, as I'm used to racing in the early morning. I tried to rest and find shade as much as possible while I waited, but race nerves meant I didn't eat anything for lunch. This would end up being a bad mistake. 

The decision to allow or disallow wetsuits came down to the wire -- in the end wetsuits were not allowed. I've only ever raced at Sydenham (200m in a super sprint) without a wetsuit, so that was new for me. My mantra for the swim was "Strong, Smooth, Straight". I wanted to emulate the feeling from Brockville last year. My plan was to start around the 2nd row on the beach, keep up with the strong swimmers as long as possible, and find some feet. I had practiced dolphin diving the day before, and when the gun went off I actually made some distance on those who started swimming right away. Bonus! I executed exactly to plan, felt great, and shaved 4:08 off last year's Toronto swim -- without the wetsuit. I'm not sure if T1 is figured into the swim or the bike, so I'm assuming the swim time as it's posted. 

Before -- looking chipper with Kelsey in the transition area

On the bike, I tried to emulate the effort from Sydenham while carrying it over a longer distance. Fuel consisted of swedish berries and almonds. Despite my impression from driving it the evening before -- and the fact that I witnessed someone being pulled from the ditch on a spineboard -- I actually found the course super fun to ride. I had heard from someone to add 10-15 minutes to your expected Oly bike split to account for all the turnarounds and crazy curves. That ended up right, with my bike split 10 minutes longer than TO (again, not sure where T2 falls into this). Felt strong though, and moved up 6 places from my position after the swim.

For the run, I tried to recapture the feeling from Toronto last year. "Leave the bike legs in T2, take new legs out onto the run." This is where the wheels started to fall off, unfortunately. That post-bike heavy legs feeling that normally goes away, just didn't this time. So I'd say most of the 10k was a full-on sufferfest. I had to walk up a bit of an obnoxiously steep dirt hill with my hands on my thighs to keep upright. Someone pulled up in a golf cart to ask if I was ok. I nodded and kept trudging... I think if I'd stopped my legs would have just buckled. I chugged gatorade at every aid station where it was available, but it didn't help. I tried to keep pushing, and actually passed some people which I found kind of crazy considering how miserable and weak I felt. In the end I moved up 2 more places in my AG. When I crossed the finish line, I made the mistake of stopping suddenly and bending over to take off my chip. Bad idea. Sort of lost control of my HR/breathing, got some bad shakes, and had trouble speaking anything intelligible. The medics sat me down to take my vitals and give me some water. Unfortunately while I was sitting, my hamstrings seized. Good times! Anyway, got fixed up by the on-site physios and started to feel better once I had some food and a couple of chocolate milks in me. 

After -- not so chipper, but finished

I think some of my run problem may have stemmed from nutrition/hydration. I ate at 9:30 a.m. and didn't race till 1:40 pm... I didn't have any appetite whatsoever and couldn't make myself eat anything between breakfast and the race. Just water, and a cappuccino an hour before my start for a little caffeine infusion. On the bike, I drank a full bottle of Skratch and ate a handful of salted almonds and swedish berries, spread out over the 3 laps. Gatorade on the run. Despite drinking on course and having water plus 2 milks afterward, I didn't have to pee till about 8:30 pm... and the next morning I noticed I was a lot lighter than usual. So maybe some dehydration issues. I didn't have any problems like that in TO last year, even though I ate and drank less, but it was a lot cooler at that race and it started very early in the morning.

I'm looking forward to taking another crack at qualifying for Worlds in 2016 -- right here in Ottawa! But even if it doesn't happen, as long as I get closer than I did last time, I'll be a happy camper. 

Podium overlooking Lac Memphremagog

October 29, 2015

News, and The List

A bit of exciting news! I've been invited to join OTC's High Performance Squad for 2016. I'm honoured to have this opportunity to train with some seriously fast athletes. Judging by the current/former members of the squad that I had dinner with in Magog, they are great folks to be around too. Oh, those nice dinner companions? All (except one who was nursing a bad stress fracture) qualified for Worlds at that race. Time to up my game!

I've finally shaken off the post-season burnout feeling, and I'm enjoying being busy with things other than training... like keeping a new puppy out of trouble, knitting a sweater for my daughter, taking my other daughter to riding lessons, trying to keep the house neat enough that I can find my keys, and of course thinking about what I'd like to do this coming year in triathlon and otherwise. I figure I might as well start with a bigger list, and go from there -- inspired by Kelsey, the Happy Triathlete (and, I might add, one of my new coaches on the HPS next season!).

Say hi to Tinley! She says "Are those running shoes expensive? They look delicious..."

List of things I'd like to do at some point:

  • Sing Handel's Messiah at the National Arts Center in Ottawa
    • So excited to be crossing this off the list this year!!! Everyone come see it, December 15 and 16th. I promise I won't wear lycra. Though I am open to bribes/dares to yell "on your left!" during the Alleluia.
  • Do the Escape from Alcatraz triathlon
    • With the crappy Canadian dollar and the entry fee going up to $750 US, I've adjusted this "want to do" to be simply... swim from Alcatraz to San Francisco. I mean, if I want to race a steep bike or run course, I'll just go to Tremblant or Muskoka and save some coin. 
  • Complete an Ironman
    • Because who needs sleep, a life, or body parts that aren't broken... right?
  • Qualify for and race at Age Group World Championships
    • Want to take another crack at this one.
  • Do a multi-day bike tour
    • Ideally something with really good food and wine at the end. 
  • Live on a boat
    • Don't know where I'll put the bikes, but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.
Anyone have other suggestions? Must-do races or other events? What's looking good in 2016? So many possibilities!

September 05, 2015

Race report -- The Canadian Sprint Triathlon

September 5, 2015
750m swim, 30k bike, 5k run
Finish time: 1:47:51 (4/66 OA, 2/11 AG 40-44, 50/165 men and women)

Sharing the podium with Julie Piché and Clare Gallant

After a number of teeth-gritting, push-through-it races this summer, I had two goals going into my final race of the season. First, to leave my feet clipped in for the entirety of the bike. After a near-miss in my first race where I just about wiped out on a 180-degree turn, I've been tentative on those tight turns and kept unclipping my inside foot "just in case". Stupid waste of speed, and a head game that I had to put an end to. My second goal was to find the joy of the race again. Feel the wind on the bike, enjoy the rhythm of my run steps, appreciate the camaraderie of the participants, and thank every volunteer I encountered. I'm happy to report that I achieved both goals today.

Beautiful morning for a race

Swim + T1 -- 20:40 (750m... actual swim about 17:03)

The swim start was the most rambunctious I've experienced this year. The right side of my goggles got knocked a little loose and I didn't want to waste time fixing them, so I breathed left for the first 400m or so to keep water from getting in my eye. After going out fairly hard, I felt like I couldn't sustain the pace and tried to settle in. I'd say this swim felt about the same as Cornwall... I could have been straighter, and missed catching a draft from the front pack. I heard Christine call a couple of times around the time I exited at the beach, and it seems I was maybe a few seconds faster than Cornwall. I went out onto the bike course 18th out of 66 women, and 2nd in my age group.

One down, two to go

Bike -- 1:00:30 (30k, 29.75 km/h)

The bike course at the Canadian is a familiar one, following the Rideau Canal from Hog's Back locks past Carleton University and back. Originally the course was to be a 7.5k loop, but construction necessitated a shortened 5k loop. I succeeded in staying clipped in at the narrow north-end turnaround, which turned out to be easily manageable. Amazing what sorts of things needlessly psych us out. I knew from driving it recently that the road wasn't in great shape, and there were many athletes on the course at once. This required sharp attention, especially where you had those doing 40 km/h and those doing 18 km/h in close proximity, with the latter sometimes forgetting to yield the left side.

Around 23k, I started feeling some discomfort in my right hamstring and adductor. I backed off a bit, dropping down a gear to raise my cadence and try to spin it out. I had to do this a couple of times over the final 7k -- I've gotten used to not saving anything in my legs at the sprint distance, but a) this bike course was 50% longer than a regular sprint (halfway between a sprint and an Olympic), and b) I didn't want to risk something seizing and tearing. 'Cause that's not fast. In the end, my bike split moved me up 10 places to 8th overall. 

Little jog around the park, anyone?

T2 -- 1:51
Run -- 24:50 (5k, 4:58 pace)

Personal best on the run! I'm so happy about this, and not just because of the pace. Also because (see goal #2 for this race) I really enjoyed this run. Because the bike course was longer than usual, I carried Skratch and almonds for fuel. I felt really good when I headed out onto the run course. I approached it with the notion that I would run my own race, push to the edge of my comfort, and be genuinely happy for the chance to enjoy the day and the race. Let the cards fall where they may. As it turned out, I managed to gain another 4 positions on this leg, moving me into 4th overall. As I turned the last corner and headed down the track toward the finish, I heard Todd comment on the big smile on my face. This is exactly how I wanted to finish the race, and the season.

Helping out at Lisa's aid station after my event

After the sprint awards presentation, in keeping with the feel-good vibe, I went back out onto the course to dole out necessities to the runners still competing. I yelled "Gel! Salt! Chews!" so many times, I think at one point my words got muddled and I offered someone shoes. As I held out what I had and asked "What do you need?" I got some good answers -- including "a ride" and "beer". Unfortunately I couldn't deliver on either. Seeing athletes trudge again and again up the hill I'd climbed hours before, I wished I could offer more than a sugar jolt and an encouraging word. I remember the all-consuming effort of my 1/2 Iron race, and empathized completely with those who looked like they were near the end of their capacity as the day got later and the crowd got thinner.

River looking lonely in transition at the end of the day

With my third season of triathlon officially done, I would like to thank Louis Garneau and Dr. Patrick Kirkham at Britannia Chiropractic for their support in 2015. I put a lot of myself into racing, and I so appreciate their belief in me as an athlete. If anyone has questions about Garneau products, I own lots of them -- get in touch with me, and I can tell you about what's worked well for me. For questions about chiro treatment, use the above link to get in touch with Dr. Kirkham directly. Of course, I'd be very happy to share my personal experiences with it as well. I would also like to thank my OTC coach, Mark Manners, for all his help this year.

And now, to celebrate the start of the off-season, I'm going to have a cider in my Cornwall Tri mug and bust out some Pop Tarts! Yeah! :)

August 23, 2015

Race report -- Cornwall Sprint Triathlon

August 23, 2015
750m swim, 20k bike, 5k run
1:25:39 (1/19 AG, 11/65 OA, 54/136 men and women)

"Stripping?" I asked the young man as I approached. "Yes, right over here," he motioned.

I'll get back to that in a second. Now that I have your attention, let's get to the race report. This was my first time at the Cornwall Tri. I put it on my list of "firsts" this year, after hearing glowing reviews from numerous athletes. It did not disappoint.

The OTC gang at Cornwall

Swim (750m) -- 17:09

Thanks to a helpful volunteer who told me my time as I came out of the water, I don't have to guesstimate how much of my swim split was the transition time. I didn't feel as strong on this swim as I did last week in Brockville. The crowd at the start line was very spread out, and I didn't manage to catch a draft off the leaders. I did have a couple of people following my feet, and a small group of us came out of the water at the same time. There were plastic mats fixed underwater at the swim entrance/exit, which provided really good footing. Here's where the stripping inquiry came in. I decided to avail myself of the wetsuit peelers (no, I am not making this up). I quickly pulled my suit down to my hips and laid down on the grass. In one motion, the fellow helping me had the rest of the suit off (gotta love those stretchy Roka quick-release ankles, and liberal application of Body Glide). The whole process didn't take more than a few seconds... well worth it, as it saved me having to stomp my way out of my suit while getting my bike helmet on. I exited T1 in 15th position overall, and 2nd in my age group.

Set up in our numbered rack spaces

Bike (20k) -- 38:50

My goal this season was to hit 30km/h average on my bike legs (with the exception of Magog, where the course rides slower). I've done that a few times this season, and today I hit a personal best average speed of 30.9 km/h. The course was very engaging, starting with a false flat that had you thinking "why do I feel so slow??" until you came back down the other direction. It swung into a research park, introducing a fun set of curves and little rolling spots. A section down the main street ended in another fun "up, down and around" to take us into the second loop. The course was closed along its entirety, so we had plenty of room to negotiate the turns. The little jog toward the transition area included a (very well-marked) speed bump and some zigzagging, keeping us on our toes to the dismount line. I managed to move up a few spots on the bike overall, and into the age group lead.

Run (5k) + T2 -- 27:34

How, oh how can 5k seem so long. It's like some strange space/time warp. I did not feel good on the run today. I can't believe I actually ran faster at the Tremblant 5150, 3 days off an injury, where I just jogged it in and let people pass me, smiling the whole way -- mind you, I also took the bike really easy at that race. (Edit -- just realized Cornwall includes T2, Tremblant doesn't)

About 2k in today, I started feeling a bit of a stitch under my rib, but it was mild enough to ignore. I threw down Gatorade at each aid station (sort of, I actually kind of tossed it in the direction of my face and swallowed what I could). By 3k, I had a stitch on the other side, right under my right ribs. This one was more uncomfortable. Whatever... run through it. Look, a seagull! Hey, someone's selling that car. What do they want for it? $15,000 -- hmm, seems steep. I heard footsteps behind me, and couldn't help turning around. "Oh good, you're not a girl" I remarked to the tri relay fellow who ultimately passed me. At 4k, I pressed a fist into my ribs in case that might somehow help. I managed to pass a woman in that last km, unsure if she was even in my event. Mercifully, the finish line was closer to the road that I anticipated. I gulped down the bottle of cold water I was handed as I crossed. I felt pretty rotten, but I had given it everything I could. Others I talked to seemed to feel the same way, that the run took a lot out of them. I had felt a bit of sensation yesterday in the spot that was injured a couple of months ago, so I made my way over to the physio table so they could take a look. I'm glad I did, as he worked at it a bit, it started to spasm. He very nicely helped me stretch it out.

At the awards, I wasn't sure how I had ended up until I heard my name called. I excitedly received my "podium 2015" beer mug, but still wasn't sure where on the podium I had landed. Only when I checked online did I see that I won my age group.

Yay, new glassware!

August 16, 2015

Race report -- Thousand Islands Sprint Triathlon

Aug. 16, 2015
750m swim, 20.7km bike, 5km run
Breakfast: oatmeal w/brown sugar, blueberries and apples, tea, water, 1 egg

Finish time: 1:27:19.5 (5/45 OA, 1/8 AG 40-44, 22/106 men and women)

I love this race. Apart from Lac Tremblant, this part of the St. Lawrence is my favourite spot to swim. The town of Brockville is lovely, and well worth coming down the day before to spend some time in. This year was extra special, as my kids and I spent the night before the race on my parents' boat, moored in the harbour on Block Island within a 5 minute walk of the transition area. Apart from some late-night screeches, giggles, and "stop touching me!!"s coming from the aft bunk area, it was a restful evening and the most convenient home base possible (short of pitching a tent in the T zone). I was up early, so took the opportunity to pick up my race packet and get my bike racked before the crowds arrived.

Sunrise over the swim course

Racked early in front of the oldest train tunnel in Canada

Our digs for the night before the race

Swim (750m) + T1 -- 20:12

Once I had some breakfast into me, it was time to get my gear set up, put my wetsuit on, and receive last minute good-luck hugs and kisses (and a helpful observation from my eldest that I have a hole in the underarm of my wetsuit -- argh!). We had perfect water conditions, and the wave starts worked out great. Under-40 men, over-40 men, then women and relays. The swim felt pretty good, though I haven't put in the time this summer to make any real headway with speed improvements. (Edit: On reflection, I feel stronger on the swim than I ever have. But after putting in quite a bit of swim time over the winter and early spring without a lot to show for it, I got a little discouraged and decided to maximize my overall race gains by focusing those training hours toward the bike and run -- where fitness improvements could yield minutes rather than seconds.) I've been trying to mitigate the damage by staying on a straight course and drafting as much as possible. This is one of the longer local sprint swims (some are 500m), so I was at risk of losing ground early if I wasn't efficient about it. Hard to tell my actual swim time since the split includes the run up from the swim ramp and T1, but I exited transition 12th out of 45 women.

Bike (20.7 km) -- 41:08

I was happy to take 4 minutes off last year's bike split. That said, I had 3 spots on course that cost me some time. First, the turnaround was narrow and I put a foot down (ugh), then took what felt like an eternity to get clipped back in. The second was an encounter with a large fox -- who was crossing the street just as I was coming through, thankfully on a section where we weren't on our aerobars. I stopped pedalling and looked right at him... he paused, then thankfully changed his mind about crossing in front of my bike (which would have been a losing proposition for both of us). The last unfortunate slow spot occurred when I hit the brakes and almost turned left down the wrong street where there was a policeman directing traffic and a bunch of cones were set up across the right-hand lane. Despite the hiccups, I only got passed by one woman on course (who was racing the Olympic, not the Sprint). Instead of the usual "looking strong" or "keep it up", she said "Come on girl, you can go faster than that. Let's go!" Pure gold, totally spurred me on. As did the cheers of "Go Kirsten!" and "Go, Mummy!" as I crossed the dismount line and ran into T2. In fact, some random spectators echoed "Yeah, go Mummy!" for good measure. I managed to gain some decent ground on the bike leg, moving into 6th place.

View from our boat, across the harbour to part of the run course

Run (5km) + T2 -- 25:59.7 (hey, that 0.3 seconds under 26 min. is important)

Cramming half a waffle into my mouth and taking a big swig from my Skratch bottle, I set out onto the run course prepared to suffer. It wouldn't be for long, since it was a 5k course... but the forecast was for oppressive heat, and after my abysmal run experience at Magog I was ready to grit my teeth and push through whatever presented itself. Thankfully it went pretty smoothly, despite some confusion where a new part of the course intersected with a construction zone, and some near-misses due to the unusual "stay to the left" clockwise orientation. "There she is!" came the enthusiastic call and supportive smile from the Olympic tri woman who had passed me on the bike, near the run turnaround where she wasn't too far ahead. With less than 1km to go, a 16-year old blew by me like I was standing still (she would end up beating me by less than 9 seconds). I couldn't answer her speed, so just kept pushing as I was able straight up the hill to the finish line at the crest of the railway bridge. Still managed to gain one more position, moving up to 5th overall and taking 1st place in my age group. 

The best part of the race was sharing it with my Mum and Dad, and my girls. A bonus perk was having access to the marina showers since we were moored there... making for a much more comfortable ride home to Ottawa. Via Dairy Queen, of course. 

Who wants ice cream?

July 17, 2015

Recovery 2.0

I've posted before about recovery, but in this last week before my biggest race of the season I'm trying to take it to the next level. There's not much more to be gained in the fitness department at this point, except by allowing my body to absorb as much accumulated fatigue as possible. Maybe I'm grasping at straws a bit, but I can use all the help I can get. So here are a few of the things I've been up to lately to try to squeeze every drop of benefit from the training and racing I've been able to do.

You thought golf attire was dorky? I've upped the ante with this mini-golf get-up, post-Tremblant 5150. Behold, the compression calf sleeves. Really, is there anything more alluring than legwear that says "I could have picked up some compression stockings at Rexall, but then I'd look like an old person and besides these cost 3 times as much so must be better"?

Tiger Woods, eat your heart out

Let's talk next about the trigger point foam roller. We've had a turbulent, on-again off-again relationship. Since my piriformis injury last month, we've become cautiously re-acquainted. To add a little spice to the relationship, I've introduced a 3rd partner... the tennis ball. As recommended by my physio, the humble tennis ball -- when rolled beneath your glutes with the weight of your body on it -- can become a device of both torture and relief. (Sidenote... I think when blogging about tennis balls starts to sound steamy, it means I need to get out more. Maybe put on a dress or something. But I digress.)

Tennis ball absent, missing in action since I last saw my youngest kid playing with it

Moving on to the Epsom salt bath... I've heard all kinds of great things about this longstanding remedy to muscle soreness. I've had people ask me how it works. I usually manage an answer like "It draws the stuff that makes your muscles sore, out of your muscles." I really need to knock the rust off my undergrad biology so I can sound a little more convincing. I added about 10 drops of lavender essential oil to a cup of salts, and gave it a shot the other evening. Verdict? I think I felt a little better afterward... and really, having a warm bath doesn't suck. So I'll call it a win.

4 kg of Epsom salt. If all else fails, I can do curls with it.

By far the coolest (literally and figuratively) thing I've tried for recovery is the Cryo-Cabin. If it sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie -- well, that's what it looks like too. Complete with nitrogen vapour rising out of it like Han Solo's carbonite prison. Are you kidding me? Who would pass that up! Apart from claustrophobics. Or people who don't like getting cold. Behold, the Enclosure of Doom:

"I love you!"... "I know."

Yes, I'm naked in there. And yep, you read that temperature gauge right... -145 degrees. You step in, wearing a couple of pairs of socks -- presumably so your feet don't freeze solid to the platform and necessitate an awkward call to the fire department. The technician adjusts the platform height so you're roughly up to your neck in the tank, with your head sticking out. You're asked to keep your hands out of the tank, as "they get cold pretty fast" -- I didn't argue, figuring this was an appropriate occasion to just do what I was told. The tank uses liquid nitrogen to cool the chamber, shooting frequent jets of vapour at you over the course of the 2.5-minute treatment. One of the techs asked me to turn 90 degrees every 15 seconds, so my body didn't get blasted in the same spot the whole time. I felt kind of like a rotisserie chicken... if the purpose was to freeze the chicken rather than cook it. I felt my skin get very cold, then really stopped feeling much of anything. When it was time to get out, I was a little hesitant to touch my skin, recalling demonstrations where someone gleefully shattered all manner of objects after they emerged from a nitrogen bath. In actuality, I'd say the sensation was pretty close to that feeling you get on your legs when it's -30, you've been skating on the Canal with a good north wind ripping through, and you neglected to wear long underwear. Except in that case, you're on the hook for way longer than 2.5 minutes since you need to be there at least as long as it takes to get your kids a Beavertail. When I emerged, people excitedly asked how I felt. Well, for the first few minutes I didn't really feel anything due to the numbness... which was an improvement over the slight achy-ness I went in with. Once feeling returned, I'd say I still felt pretty good for about 20 minutes before some of the soreness crept back. And getting thrown in a freezer on a hot day did feel invigorating. Would I do it again? Well, this was a one-time free trial at the grand opening event. I can't really see paying $40 a pop for 2.5 minutes of super-chilled nudity. Neat to try it, though.

Another key element of recovery is sleep, and general rest. I read somewhere that for optimal recovery, if you're standing, sit. If you're sitting, lie down. If you're lying down, get some sleep. What?? Yeah!! All this talk about being too sedentary and the perils of sitting around all day... ha! I'm sure there are dissenting studies -- like those I choose to ignore that say red wine isn't really good for you -- but I'm going to go with the idea that putting my feet up and binging on Netflix makes me a better athlete. 

July 12, 2015

Race Report -- Sydenham Triathlon, Super Sprint

July 12, 2015 
200m swim, 20k bike, 5k run
Breakfast: Sbucks bagel and cream cheese, tall 1% chai, water, some of my Skratch bottle

Finish time: 1:13:36 (1/23 OA, 1/4 AG, 1/30 men and women)

Wooooooooooyeahhh!!! Today, I had my first OA win -- and also came in ahead of all the men, which was a nice bonus. I've been close before, but I was really pleased to finally pull it off.

Smiles and swag (and sweat... lots of sweat)

I decided against driving down to Sydenham (near Kingston, about 1.75 hrs from Ottawa) the day before. My car's been giving me issues, so I figured I'd throw the extra $100 at that rather than at a Motel 6. Besides, my event didn't start till 10:00, so as long as I made it there before kit pickup closed at 8:30, it was all good. I'd get up at 6:00, throw on my suit, top up my tires, hit Starbucks for drive through breakfast, and be on my way before 6:30. Except that's not exactly what happened... let me start by saying:

Never touch your bike before you've burned off the early-morning stupids.

I discovered that the fastest way to empty your tires of every last drop of air within 1.5 seconds is to push the schrader end of your pump against the presta valve on your tube. Now you know -- in case you ever want to do that.

No problem, still got out of the house in time to keep to the schedule. Except when I got to Starbucks, it turned out they didn't open till 6:30. So I kind of did that hovering by the door thing, watching the baristas move around inside till they opened the doors. OK, still recoverable. Munching my bagel, I hit the highway with a little extra getup-and-go -- and proceeded to miss the exit to highway 7. Really? Anyway, I did eventually make it to Sydenham, find the venue, get my race kit, rack my bike, and settle in.

Bright start to a hot day in Sydenham
It didn't take long for the sun to get uncomfortably hot. I'm currently sitting here at 7:30 pm, and the humidex is still at 37. It was stinking hot out today. There, that's out of the way. I was the first super sprinter in the water to warm up, mainly because the lake was so beautifully cool. This is the first race I've ever done without a wetsuit -- yes, even the 200m swims. Don't judge... I love me some free buoyancy, alright? There were dozens of small fish cruising around, and when I stopped in the shallows and stood still they started to gather around my legs. Some looked intrigued by my shiny blue nail polish. Before a feeding frenzy could ensue, I meandered over to the start line.

Swim split + T1: 7:46

You'd think that 200m would be a piece of cake, given that yesterday I swam 3k. However, despite positioning myself well at the line and feeling good during my short warmup bursts, I was soon getting passed and feeling thrashy instead of strong and smooth. This is not new for me, but it's frustrating that while I can swim at a leisurely pace for ages, things go to hell as soon as I pick up the pace. On the plus side, I don't have to flip over on my back anymore to keep breathing.

Mercifully, the swim was over quickly and I started running as soon as my feet found land. I passed a number of folks on the run to transition. Unfortunately, at least 3 of them passed me back when a lens popped out of my sunglasses and I had to pause to get it back in. This was not the day to be biking and running with no shades. With everything finally sorted, I headed out on the bike in 5th place.

Bike split: 39:41

Personal best on the bike! I finally broke a 30km/h average speed, which I'm really happy about. Though the course was open to traffic, vehicles were mostly very respectful and gave a safe amount of space. I took the lead near the end of the outbound leg -- which I wasn't sure of at the time, as I didn't know how many people had beat me out of transition. The turnaround was slightly confusing, as I had interpreted from the course map that it went all the way to Perth Rd. so I had the flashing light at the intersection in my sights as I initially blew by the actual turnaround. Heading home, I tucked down small on the downhills to try to ease off the legs without giving up too much speed. I kept pushing to the end of the course, knowing I would need some breathing room to hold off faster runners.

Run split + T2: 26:09

I hustled through transition, cramming half a waffle into my mouth and chasing it with a couple of gulps of Skratch. I don't carry anything on the bike for the 20k distance, and I normally don't take in any food for this race distance. But with the heat, and the fact that my two previous days had contained a 2 hr ride and 3k swim respectively, I didn't want to push my luck. The run course along the Cataraqui trail would have been lovely, had it not been for the oppressive heat. I kept reminding myself that everyone was running in the same conditions. I passed a bunch of people, but until I reached the turnaround I still wasn't sure of my position. Honestly, I didn't fully trust it even then, as there's always the possibility someone's wearing the wrong colour bib. I got passed only once, by a woman in the Oly group. That sounds pretty good on paper, but I felt pretty wretched and would have preferred to be doing something other than running at that point. Everybody on the course, and even after the finish, looked like I felt. With a seemingly endless 500m to go, I glanced over my shoulder to see if there was any sign of someone catching up. There wasn't. I kept going as best I could all the way across the finish line. I wanted to run the best time I could, but also frankly... the sooner I got there the sooner I could stop.

Somebody get Todd a snowcone, stat!
Accepting my award from Christine and one of the awesome volunteers

Celebratory dinner, even got most of my body marking washed off first

July 11, 2015

Race report -- Bring on the Bay

July 11, 2015
3k swim
1:14:39 (38/56 AG)

Beautiful morning for a swim
Another first crossed off the list! This was my first time tackling the Bring on the Bay open water swim, spanning 3 km between Nepean Sailing Club and Britannia Yacht Club. A day after a 2+ hr bike ride, and a day before racing at Sydenham, my main goal was to get in a solid long swim training session and have a good time. I seeded myself around 70 minutes, which scored me a nifty green swim cap and a comfortable spot in the rolling start off the dinghy dock. As soon as we hit the channel leaving the harbour, it became immediately apparent that it might be a better day for sailing than for swimming. Most attempts to sight ahead ended in getting slapped in the face with a wave. Trying to breathe to the left on the northward leg yielded a similar result. 

Thankfully, the choppy water conditions were more than made up for by a) my wetsuit enabling me to bob like a cork, b) large sailboats anchored every 100m that were pretty hard to miss, and c) 650 other people heading the same direction. You figure most of them probably know where they're going. There was also a fellow on a stand-up paddleboard corralling us into a pretty narrow lane on the outbound leg. 

Once we turned eastward it was easier going, and a straight shot to the ladders at BYC. Because of the rough water, it was tricky to draft without making contact. Consequently, I ended up swimming more of the course solo than I intended. I felt good throughout though, and while I kicked it up a notch over a few short stretches, I kept most of the effort at a steady simmer to keep something in reserve for my tri race tomorrow.

The most fun of the morning was post-race breakfast at Cora's with a gaggle of folks from the OTC. Yeah, food! Only triathletes would discuss the best remedy for ingested river water over a big plate of eggs and toast. If you're interested, yogurt, probiotics, and Coca-Cola were at the top of the list. Hey, if it takes rust off a nail, I'm sure those bacteria don't stand a chance, right?

Post-event breakfast with OTCers

...where shenanigans inevitably ensue

Goofy and slightly waterlogged

June 24, 2015

Race report -- Mont Tremblant 5150

June 20, 2015
Sprint (750m swim, 20k bike, 5k run)

Goal: Finish... if possible, run the whole run split
Actual: Check, and check. 1:40:54 (68/257 women, 16/69 AG)

Photo copyright Debra Jamroz. Used with permission.
Goo Mama!

I love this race venue. WTC (the corporation that runs Ironman) is not without its problems, but they know how to put on a good show. And Mont Tremblant is a real treat, for a multitude of reasons including the village, accommodation a couple minutes' walk from transition, a beautiful course, and plenty of family-friendly activities. I think if I slow down my racing ambitions and pare the calendar down to just one or two events, this will still be one of them. About the only drawback is having to negotiate the sale of my firstborn child to afford the hotel. Ah well -- sacrifices must be made!

This was meant to be a dry run of sorts for my A race this season -- the national qualifier at Magog in July. However, an injury this week put a crimp in that plan. After a great, hard, Tuesday evening workout with the OTC, I had just a short run and short swim left in my week's plan before racing the Olympic 5150 on Saturday. I suited up for my 20 minute Wednesday run, and -- found I couldn't. Something weird was going on in my glute/hip. Hmmm. No problem, I'll just walk a few steps, massage it out, I'll warm up out of it. Cue massaging my own butt on the side of a busy road. Tried running again. Made it about 8 steps. This was not good. I jog/walk/hobbled my way for about 15 minutes before throwing in the towel. Walking was still fine, so I figured I'd just take the day off and try again tomorrow.

Fast forward to the next day -- it was worse rather than better. Walking was uncomfortable. I felt a strange clicking of tissue over my hip. My glute was complaining. This is now Thursday, two days before my race. I hustled over to the nearest sports injury clinic, and was able to get in right away to see a physio. Diagnosis: strained piriformis muscle, as well as a ridiculously tight IT band. In plain English, I strained my ass. Glamourous, I know. They threw everything at it but the kitchen sink... heat, ultrasound, rolling, stretching, that electric current thingy. And the manual therapy -- mother of God, that hurt. But I figured if that's what it takes, ok. They taped me up (with blue kinesio tape, naturally, to match my bike just in case this all worked out) and sent me on my way. Friday morning, back I went. More of the same, plus this hellish torture method known as cupping. I know "cupping" sounds a little 50 Shades, but it's really just garden-variety excruciating. The physio I was scheduled to see was named Mina. I envisioned a sweet, small woman. Mina is in fact a large, strong man who made the previous day's manual therapy seem like a gentle spa treatment. "Are you doing ok?" he asked as I clutched a pillow under my face. I replied honestly "Well, I haven't thrown up on your table yet. But I can't promise anything." More tape, and off I went. Grabbed the kids, the bike, the gear, and hit the road -- via Tim Horton's of course. It's a road trip, after all.

New racing stripe

Switching events to the Sprint was completely painless (pun sort of intended) at packet pickup, and once the kids and I picked out our requisite "Ironperson" souvenirs it was time for dinner. I know, I was only doing the Sprint. But I feel like my 70.3 last year gives me license to pick up M-dot gear for at least a little while. Plus, they make you go into the merchandise tent to pick up your athlete bag. It's like exiting a museum into the gift shop. Only it's slightly more tempting, and considerably more expensive.

Making signs

I wore my chip to bed, with a safety pin holding it closed. Slightly paranoid? Perhaps. But after a hotel parking garage mishap that rearranged my bumper (never rely on a grade-schooler hanging out the window to tell you if you've got room to back up), I didn't want to leave anything else to chance.

Didn't sleep very well, and woke up around 4:45 before my alarm. Was the first one in the dining room for breakfast, which I sort of staggered through. Time to get my gear down to transition. Took my first step outside, and the 5 degree air seemed to laugh "You're going swimming in this! Ha!" With my breath visible and my sandals-clad feet cold to aching, I racked my bike and headed back to the hotel to don my wetsuit. Have I mentioned how much I love staying a stone's throw from the T-zone? Was nice to run into some familiar faces from the OTC, volunteering, racing, and spectating. And that is some dedicated spectating, showing up to the swim start at 7:00 on a day you're not racing!

The Frost Fairy hitching a ride on my BTA bottle

With fellow OTCer Curtis at morning transition setup

Swim: 750 m, 18:36
T1: 6:02

I braced for what I thought might be a long line to check my swim bag -- essentially just a plastic bag with my "walk to the swim start" shoes in it, held shut by a drawstring. Nope. We were told to toss them up to a guy standing in a dump truck. Feeling hopeful that I would ever see my shoes again, I knotted the drawstring and gave it my best overhand pitch. I had a good warmup, the water feeling warm compared to the air and the wet sand on the beach. All the women started in a single wave, and I placed myself a few rows from the front at the right hand side. My goal was to simply have a good, steady effort as it would be my first activity after the previous couple of days' worth of physio. In the end I was faster than at last year's 70.3 -- which makes sense since it was less than half the distance. Any other comparisons are tough, since our local races include at least part of the transition time with the swim split. I love swimming in this lake, and the water was calm and comfortable. We were pretty bunched up though, and after taking a hard kick to the abdomen my main concern became dodging the whip-kicks of people who spontaneously started breast-stroking in the middle of the pack. This was definitely more of a problem in the sprint than in the 70.3 last year. As we turned the corner, we caught up to the back of the men's wave. Felt great as I emerged from the water, and the wetsuit conveniently doubled as lower-body compression as I tentatively jogged down the carpet toward transition. So far, so good.

Bike: 20k, 46:49
T2: 2:33

Tower, this is Ghost Rider requesting a flyby

This is officially my favourite bike course ever. With my new 11-28 cassette, the steep uphills were no problem, even while trying to spare my injured area. Athletes were pretty bunched up after the swim and it took some maneuvering and lots of counting in my head to clear people's draft zones and avoid an infraction, though frankly there wasn't much drafting advantage to be had crawling uphill at 5 km/h. I've got ideas on how some of this traffic might be avoided... stay tuned for the next blog post. I got passed plenty on the uphill sections by folks who were really pushing, which was fine and expected. The nice part was doing plenty of passing on the downhill portions. Grinning ear to ear, I let out a big "Woooooooo!!!" as I started the homeward descent after the turnaround. Reaching the end of the course felt like the end of an amusement park ride. Throngs of spectators and volunteers cheered us in as we reached transition, and I was feeling good to start the run.

Run: 5k, 26:53

This is the first race I've done where I dropped all expectations, and made a conscious decision to take it as easy as I needed to. My gimpy areas felt ok heading out on the run, but I kept the pace conservative so as not to risk re-injury given the inevitable muscle fatigue off the bike. On the uphills and downhills especially, I tried to keep my steps light and my cadence high. The weather was beautiful, the volunteers were fantastic, and I really enjoyed the run. There was a woman who I had run closely with for the last half of the course, and it took all my discipline to not bust into my usual home stretch kick. I let her go... and then another, as I stopped to high-five both my daughters on the final 300 m through the pedestrian village. I finished with a smile, happy to have been able to run the whole way, and having had a great time on all parts of the course.

Photo copyright Debra Jamroz. Used with permission.
Post-race fun

Know the best thing about an early morning sprint race at Tremblant? Plenty of time left to shower, play mini golf, and ride the gondola before checking out of the hotel!

Back at home and ready for bed, still wearing her new visor

Big thanks to Garneau, and to Dr. Patrick Kirkham at Britannia Chiropractic, for their support this season. Another huge shout out to my aunt Debra Jamroz for watching the kids and taking some great photos of our weekend. 

May 22, 2015

The Why

After racing twice last week (10 km run on Sunday, Sprint triathlon the following Saturday), I did what anyone would do the day afterward. I got up early, and met my uncle for a 70 km hill ride in the Gatineau Park. Wait -- what? Oh, there's more. I managed to forget my cycling shoes and gloves after packing my bike into the car. So I did the entire ride in my running shoes. Balanced gingerly atop my Keo clip pedals. Wearing my uncle's way-too-big gloves, to avoid a repeat of the "I can't feel my hands" scenario of the previous day. Because nothing says "safety first" like a fast descent where 4 out of 5 contact points to your bike are... suboptimal.

Why go? Why not just pack it in and save it for another day. Because it's today... it's right now. Maybe I'll be fine with my running shoes on the clip pedals. There's only one way to find out. Today, the sun shines and the road is closed to traffic. I've got great company and a bottle of Skratch Labs. This day is the only one we have the power to grasp, now. 

Seriously... why?

The following day, I decided to hit le Nordik, our local nordic spa. The strain evaporated slowly from my muscles as I soaked, rested, and sat through an aufguss steam-and-aromatherapy session. And I thought, why? Why race and push to the point where your muscles are set alight in fiery protest? To keep going when it would be easier to stop? Like the nordic spa (wait -- am I about to compare teeth-gritting racing to a day at the spa?) there is something purifying in it. Some have said it's in the pain. I think though, the cathartic epicenter is at the edge. The thin edge of what we think we're capable of -- which, inevitably, is different from what we are actually capable of. There is ritual in it too. In the morning runs, the noon swims, the weekly spin and strength class. Even in its challenges, the rhythm of it is reassuring. Finally, the Why is in the connection. In the community of friends, the kind support of strangers, in the mixing of people of all ages and abilities on the same course to pursue their goals. It's in your body streaming through cold water under your own power. In the wind rushing by on the bike. In the percussive metronome of your feet on the pavement, connecting you to what is real and making you feel alive.

I've come to know many who use this sport to help others -- more often than not while fighting demons of their own. That last part is pretty quiet in the grand chorus, but it makes the fight less hopeless to know you're not alone.

The next time someone sees you limping around post-race with a big grin on your face and asks "Why the hell would you ever do that?" -- may your Why come easily. And may it fulfill you.

Geordie McConnell, founder of OTC

Come on, the gear is cool too -- in a geeky sort of way

May 16, 2015

Race report - Early Bird Triathlon (Sprint)

May 16, 2015
Swim 500m, bike 23.6 km, run 5 km
3/18 AG, 16/124 OA

Goal time - as close to 10:00 as I could get
Actual time - 12:44 including exiting the pool building (last year: 12:42)

Goal - avg. 30 km/h
Actual - avg. 29.34 km/h (last year: 28.something)

Goal - break 25 minutes
Actual - 24:57

Swim. Lightheaded, warmed up in the pool to relieve the feeling of wooziness. Good swim, main goal was to go out steady enough that I didn't spike my heart rate. Passed about as many people who passed me, so seeding was ok. Wished the gals in front of me on the stairs out of the building had hustled a little more, but what are you going to do. Threw on my running shoes, grabbed my bib and headed for transition. Pushed this part harder than last year, and took a minute off my T1 time -- I knew I'd need every advantage, and couldn't waste any time if I wanted to finish strong in this large field of 250 athletes (124 women).

Bike. Had my road bike at this race, having blown a tire on my TT bike earlier in the week and not had time to address it -- including the possibility of needing new tires, new tube on the front, etc. (these doubts start to creep in when you flat on your first ride of the season). Felt a little slow, but pushed hard on the bike. The benefit of an event with a staggered start pool swim is that the bike course is really well spread out. In the final event I did last season, the fastest women were stuck needing to pass the slowest men early in the bike course as our swim start was only 5 minutes behind theirs. Unfortunately, I found my hands starting to go numb around 6 km into the 24 km bike. No problem... I don't need those last 2 fingers anyway. Then the numbness started to spread, until I was only working off my thumb and my palm -- which I thought would be adequate, until I reached for the brake lever at the turnaround point and had to look down to see if my fingers were in the right place. Hmm. I'm planning to use this bike for the hilly Tremblant Olympic course, so I made a mental note to take the 6 second hit in transition to don gloves next time.

Run. I'll be honest -- this is not my favourite run course. The first couple of km are on a slight, insidious uphill grade, on a narrow strip of uneven grass. Following this is a steep downhill to the river (which of course becomes a steep uphill on the return trip). The pleasant section on the winding path by the river is narrow, which makes passing challenging particularly when someone's coming the other way. I tried not to waste any time in transition, which was included in the run time. I felt like my legs weren't working well on that first uphill, but I just pushed as hard as I could and didn't stop until I was across the finish line. I'm so happy to have finally broken 25 minutes... this was a goal I didn't manage to quite reach last year, so this was a great way to open the 2015 tri season.