December 26, 2016

Practice your guts

I've had a chance to reflect on the 2016 race season for lessons learned -- and this is the big one. "Practice your guts" is a phrase I originally heard in reference to a quote from famed horseman George Morris. He is an exceptional teacher, and does not suffer fools, wimps, or excuse-makers lightly. Here is the full article where I first saw these words.

Practice your guts

Practicing your guts means getting on your bike for a training ride even though it's raining sideways -- because you might encounter those conditions in a race. It means doing hill repeats in the Gatineau Park until you can descend confidently without touching your brakes. It's embracing, rather than avoiding, situations that take you out of your comfort zone. I did a bunch of that this year.

Suck it up, buttercup
Draft-legal racing
Every season I try to do something new. This year, I signed up for my first draft-legal triathlon at the Ottawa Triathlon, which also served as our national championship. I immediately began looking for a drafting clinic where I could practice riding in a pack and work on some bike handling skills. Skimming through the race details, I saw something to the tune of "if you experience body contact on the bike, it's important not to panic and take everybody down. Just go with it." Body contact? On the BIKE?!  I attended a great clinic put on by the Bytown Storm -- by the end, we were riding comfortably side by side while leaning on each other, putting an arm over someone's shoulders, and passing a bike pump from rider to rider. We also spent some time on bike handling drills, and riding in a paceline.

I had a great time racing in this format at Nationals, and my fearful "what if" scenarios turned out to be not so bad! 

Female AG draft group coming into T2 at the Ottawa Triathlon

Flying mounts and dismounts
OK, so I should call what I did this summer the "not so flying" mount -- I threw a leg over, shoved my right foot in the shoe, pushed off and started pedaling. The dismount, well... you've kinda gotta be all-in for that one. I'd say these 2 moments are my least favourite in a race, as they're the only times I've felt I could actually get hurt. Seriously, I'd rather get punched in the face with a Garmin during the swim -- I had this happen, so I'm in a place to compare -- than do a flying mount/dismount.

I still get anxious doing flying dismounts

On one of my practice sessions a few days before the Early Bird Tri, I ran, jumped, got my right foot in, and managed to catch my dangling left shoe on the pavement -- whipped me over onto my right side like a fly swatter. Ow. Hit my head hard enough to piss me off and give me a headache, and put a nice divot in my brand new helmet (yes, wearing new gear for this exercise was stupid). So, my compromise to myself this season was to at least grit my teeth and leave the shoes on the bike... I figured the "shove foot in and go" method would still be faster than running in cycling shoes. Not to mention fishing around trying to get my feet clipped in.

Do I really want to mount with my shoes on the bike? Sigh... ok, fine.
Steep descents
This is the one I feel best about this season. Years ago, a bad mountain bike crash landed me in the hospital with a concussion, and left me with no memory of most of the day. I gave up mountain biking soon after. You could accurately call me a nervous descender when I finally picked up a road bike years later.

Universal sign for "warning -- change of shorts may be required"
If you've ever stood at the top of a hill on a bike looking at this sign, you know there's really only one way to get down -- and that's to just put on your big-girl underpants and get it done. And to feel comfortable with it, you've got to do it more than once.

Wheee! My fastest max speed so far, descending Pink Hill

What did you do this year to get out of your comfort zone? What are you planning for next year? 

August 24, 2016

Race report -- Thousand Islands Sprint Triathlon

August 14, 2016
750m swim, 20.7k bike, 5k run
1/7 AG, 8/50 OA female, 38/110 men and women

Breakfast: bacon gouda egg sandwich, grande skim chai, citrus nuun

Ready to race!

This is one of my "not to miss" races, I've done it each year since I started triathlon in 2013. Normally I make a weekend of it, as Brockville is a lovely town with charming B&Bs, terrific waterfront along the St. Lawrence, some little shops, and a decent pub. But due to logistics this year, it was a down-and-back day.

I'd been on vacation since a couple days after Nationals -- and got back a couple of days before this race. Managed a little running while I was away, but hadn't been on my bike or done a swim workout since Nationals. Add jet lag, and a very sore neck from who knows what (sleeping in the airport/on the plane? Too much time since my last chiro adjustment? Just getting old??), and it wasn't a recipe for peak performance. But I just wanted to go and enjoy this race as my last race of the season, now that pressure from Nationals was off.

Apparently I left my brain on vacation, as I wandered around trying to pay for parking, then forgot my phone in the car (which I needed to pick up my race kit) so had to do some walking around before getting racked and ready. I also realized I forgot my race belt -- thankfully Clare offered up an extra. Got to the transition zone too late to get my preferred rack, but managed to eke out a bit of space nearby.

Oldest train tunnel in Canada -- I haven't tried it yet as an alternate exit to the transition area

Swim + T1: 21:28

In the interest of simplicity, I chose not to wear my wetsuit -- marking the first time I've gone without in a wetsuit-legal race. Though I didn't see an official measurement, the water temperature was pleasant enough. Got in the water a little earlier than necessary and got a bit chattery in the teeth before the start, but quickly warmed up once we got going. I couldn't really lift my head to sight (owing to the sore neck), so I just followed the crowd. Unfortunately I think I chose poorly, and dipped in too far on the way to the far buoy. Before the race, a bunch of us were marveling at the men's 1500m Olympic swim we'd witnessed the night before -- the winner barely produced a 2-beat kick, his legs flowing behind him like streamers. That's not how I swam (or, let's face it, have ever swum). But it's good to have goals! Running to my bike, I had to pause for a couple of beats when I almost turned the wrong way. Corrected my course, ducked under a tree, and kept going.

A little more chill this race... no shoes on the pedals

Bike: 43:14 (28.36 km/h)

Felt ok on the bike, considering how little time I've spent on it in the last month. Got stuck behind a pair of minivans, and had to sit up and hit the brakes about 40 feet from the turnaround. Frustrating, but not much you can do on an open course. Rounding the turn, we got soundly smacked by a headwind, which persisted most of the way home. In keeping with my "enjoy the race, reduce stress, have fun" mentality, I didn't bother with a flying mount/dismount... so that cost me a little. On to the run.

Run + T2: 26:36

The run course changed somewhat this year, and began with a really nice loop of Block House Island along the water's edge before heading down Water Street and onto the Brock Trail. It took me awhile into the run to muster any energy, but about 3k in and headed for home I started to feel the pull of the finish line. Passed a woman from my age group as she stopped at the aid station. Passed a few more people, which gave me an additional boost. Rubbed a pretty decent set of blisters into my right foot, despite thinking I'd applied plenty of Body Glide -- should have made socks part of my "chill out and enjoy" plan!

No socks on the run = nasty blisters. Good thing it's flip-flop season.
All in all, a good day. I ended up at the top of my age group and 8th overall, having chipped away at the field after an abysmal swim by catching 6 women on the bike and another 6 on the run. I swear, if I ever figure out how to swim fast, things are really going to take off!

In closing out this season, I'd like to extend sincere thanks to nuun and to Dr. Patrick Kirkham at Britannia Chiropractic for their support in 2016.

1st AG! Yay!

July 31, 2016

Race report - Canadian National Sprint Championships

July 24, 2016
Finish time: 1:23:59 (10/15 AG, 57/119 OA, 150/248 men and women)
Goal: top 10 AG... accomplished

Nationals, right here in Ottawa

This is it! My A race for 2016. Everything in my training from January to this point has been geared to peaking for this day. I've been racing every 2 weeks since the beginning of May. While it's been a great injection of intensity in my training, it has started to catch up with me a bit (you can check out my race reports from Sporting Life, Early Bird, Ottawa River, Smiths Falls, and Sydenham to see the progression). I started experiencing some symptoms of overtraining, all while feeling like I wasn't doing enough preparation. Frustrating, but I need to remind myself that training stress isn't the only stress the body needs to recover from.

Standing in lines of various sorts this weekend, I met lots of friendly folks. Two people I spoke with traveled from Vancouver — and one of those (in my age group) has been to at least the last 3 World Championships. I found Nationals somewhat intimidating last year in Magog, and had the same sort of nervousness before this race. I'm always one to arrive good and early on race morning, to scope out a good rack spot and have plenty of time to prepare. That wasn't necessary today, as we had to rack our bikes the previous afternoon/evening according to race number. I was grateful for one less thing to think about in the morning, since we had an early start -- my wave was scheduled to go at 6:45. Since numbers were assigned sequentially across age groups, all those in my group were racked together and some of us had a chance to chat.

With my awesome cheering squad

Swim: 750m 17:52 (PB!)

If someone had told me this time last year I'd be swimming in Dow's Lake, I'd have laughed and said "Not if you paid me." Considering I've raced multiple times during no-swim advisories, that's saying something. The last time I was in Dow's Lake was 20 years ago when I fell out of a rowing shell... I took the long way around to the shore, to avoid putting my head underwater. The next day, they pulled a dead body out of the water. I seriously am not making this up.

Swim start on a beautiful morning

We were directed to pick up our timing chip at the swim entrance, 15 minutes before our wave start. I got there at least that early, but there was quite a queue. The para-triathletes were slightly late starting, then the officials decided to combine the women's waves into a single start. This actually worked out fine, as we all had to start in a single line touching the wood boardwalk. So there wasn't a clumped mob of people sprinting over each other at the gun. The water temperature was 25.5C, so no wetsuits. I was fine with this, as I've been training without one for most of the summer -- anticipating that they would be disallowed for this race. There wasn't much opportunity for a warmup, so I just calmly put my arms through the full range of motion with some long, smooth strokes near the starting area before coming to rest with my hand on the boardwalk and my legs treading water. The course was straightforward, with only two large buoys to navigate before hanging a left around the pavilion to the exit stairs. Learning from previous races this season, I focused on strong, steady pulling, controlled breathing, and keeping my own line. I was able to draft quite a bit, which worked out nicely. I didn't feel at any point like I was working too hard, thrashing around, or spiking my heart rate. I've described that unpleasant feeling as "the faster I try to swim, the slower I actually go." The water was definitely murky with quite a bit of particulate, but I just tried to ingest as little as possible and not think about it. I was grateful to be able to swim at all, given that the Olympic and junior races the previous day had run as duathlons after delayed water test results forced a last-minute swim cancellation.

Feeling good after a personal best swim

T1: 2:12
Bike: 37:10 (32.3 km/h) — first draft legal event

As soon as I hopped on the bike, I set off in search of a wheel to latch onto. The first one I found was travelling slower than I wanted -- so I burned some matches to find the next opportunity (fellow OTCer, Rachel). It would turn out to be energy wasted, as that first rider as well as some behind her got swooped up to where we were, in what turned into one large group by the time we were halfway up Colonel By. We were talking, pointing out road hazards, and working well together. The first group of men passed our group just as we headed around the Hog's Back u-turn. This was one of the scenarios that had concerned me when going over potential draft-legal perils in my head. But it went remarkably smoothly -- I led the women's group heading around the turn, and communicated that I was going wide. The men’s pack went by without incident, and our group held together.

Out of T1 and ready to find some wheels to work with

Coming back past Carleton U, we were starting to settle into sharing pulls at the front. I tried a couple of times to break away and bring some strong riders with me, but I think I needed to communicate this better as nobody followed. Looking back to see a 5 bike length gap, all I could do was sit up and merge back into the group. It was too risky to go it alone and waste energy. By the time we passed the Bank Street bridge on Queen E, there were only about 3 of us taking pulls at the front while the rest of the pack hung on behind. In hindsight, maybe I should have backed off farther after pulling off the front. But I didn't want to get caught behind someone who might run out of steam and drop the wheel in front of them. And the gaps that opened up to let me in just naturally occurred only 2 to 3 bikes from the front. Several athletes were former Worlds competitors, and I communicated with them by the names written on the backsides of their national team uniforms. Another rider I called "Purple," identified by her bright purple tri top. It was a real rush, everyone encouraging each other and looking out for the group -- I felt a collective success as a pack that (as far as I know) nobody was taken down by the myriad cracks and potholes. I had driven the course two days prior, and gave notice of the hazards I remembered. Riders pointed at holes, and I heard warnings carried back through the group. Rounding Dow's Lake toward transition, I communicated that I was moving to the right of the lane and slowing to take my feet out of the shoes. Despite the crowd, the dismount went off pretty smoothly — if you don't count my losing a shoe (note to self, crank the torque settings down when I know I'm keeping my shoes on the pedals for mount/dismount).

The dismount I’ve been practicing for all season

I loved the rush and teamwork of the draft-legal format. The group speed was a little slower than I wanted, but failing to achieve a smaller group breakaway, it kind of was what it was. The downside for me is that the bike is my strongest leg. I'm used to being able to put at least a few minutes into other athletes here, which helps me hold off the faster runners. In this case, I wasn't able to gain that advantage. But it was still a great experience.

T2: 1:29
Run: 25:17 — first lap 4:48/km, 2nd lap 5:18/km, average 5:03

So, the run. Sigh. This is the third race in a row that I didn't have the run I wanted. I worked a little harder on the bike than I should have, but I was still feeling good entering T2. Then somehow, almost immediately on hitting the run course, stitches in both sides. This has only happened once before, at Cornwall last year. The pain was constant, and taking a deep breath felt impossible. My legs felt stuck at a frustratingly show shuffle. Of course the obnoxious uphill straight out of transition didn't help -- but the feeling didn't subside even on the downhill. There wasn't any sports drink at the aid station (only water), so I didn't get my usual hit of carbs for the final push. Realistically though, I don't think it would have solved my problem. Did I taper too steeply? Race too much and train too little in my preparation? Take in inadequate hydration before the swim? Not eat enough breakfast? Just have bad luck? I don't know. I'll have to sit back later on and give it some thought. My goal for this run was to leave every last bit of energy out on the course, and I wasn't able to do that. The pain in my sides was the limiting factor. I clutched the muscles below my right ribcage, literally grasping at anything I could think of to release the stupid stitch's grip. I tried thinking "light, easy, and fast," per an HPS training discussion earlier in the season. I don’t know what else I could have done — if anyone has suggestions or tips, I would definitely welcome them.  I’ve been able to run through all kinds of discomfort, but this just about stopped me in my tracks. So frustrating, after all this preparation.

With fellow OTCer Rachel at the finish line, still a little hunched over but glad to be done

My goal for this race was to finish top 10 in my AG — because there are 10 qualifying slots per AG to go to Worlds in Rotterdam next year. I managed to accomplish this (just barely, having dropped from 6th after the bike to 10th after the run). The fine print is that there's a chance I could still get bumped by an athlete aging into the 40-44 age group in 2017. But who knows... I'm satisfied that I had to fight tooth and nail to beat out 5 other people to break that top 10. Mine was the largest female age group, with most having few enough entries that completing the race would earn you a qualification slot.

Family breakfast out after the race

Special thanks to Kelsey, Jenn, and Vince for capturing some shots of me on the race course. Oddly, especially for a National Championship race, there are no official race photos.

Update: I didn’t get good news once the age-adjusted results for the 2017 Worlds team were released. To say I’m disappointed is an understatement. I’m taking some time off, and might post more details when I’m not feeling so crappy about it.

Update to the update: Since I was 10th before getting bumped in the age adjustment, I decided to apply in second round qualification for Worlds (I've noticed they changed this for 2018 -- there's only regular qualification, and open application). I got my spot, and I'm headed to Rotterdam in 2017!

July 02, 2016

Race report - Smiths Falls Classic sprint triathlon

June 25, 2016
Swim 500m, bike 20.5km, run 5km

Finish time: 1:16:58 -- 4/7 AG, 6/40 OA woman, 35/90 men and women

Hangin' with my best girls at the end of a long, hot day

The Smiths Falls Classic, in its 37th year, is the oldest triathlon in Canada. It's a late afternoon race, which I found challenging. I've had difficulty with pre-race nutrition and mental focus when I don't just wake up, eat, set up, and race (as evidenced by my tough race in Magog last season). The heat was also extreme, up into the 30s by the time I got into Smiths Falls. As this was my first time participating, I had some extra race nerves due to my unfamiliarity with the town and the course -- it's always easier when you know exactly what to expect. A few days before the race, I dreamed that I was running late to the swim start, didn't have my wetsuit, and didn't know where to go. So to be extra sure I had everything in order, I arrived more than 2 hours early (hey, at least I snagged a prime parking spot). The only downside to arriving so early was having to hang out in the heat of the afternoon until the race started. Once everything was squared away -- including finding a good rack spot and practicing a bike mount/dismount -- I found some shade, filled a 40 oz bottle with nuun, and made sure to take frequent swigs from it.

Swim + run to transition: 13:38
After a brief warmup swim to the starting area, I had quite awhile to tread water and float on my back before the women's start. I had planned my line to the buoys, and through the channel markers. Unfortunately, in my desperate attempts to catch a draft I strayed from the straightest path. On the return portion, the sun was in our eyes and it was next to impossible to sight. Again, I followed the wrong train instead of confirming my own line. Oddly, I started to feel some cramping in my quads toward the second half of the swim. As usual, I made my best effort to hightail it to transition.

Bike: 37:46 (32.6 km/h -- PB)

Based on the stated course distance of 20.5 km, I managed to eke out a personal best average speed by a slim 0.2 km/h over my Early Bird ride a month ago. The heat was oppressive, and it was definitely not comfortable. But I wanted to push myself hard on this course, imagining myself on the Sprint Nationals course trying to catch up to the leaders after the swim. I didn't bother trying to save anything in my legs for the run. I carried hydration on the bike, which I almost never do at the sprint distance (in fact, I generally remove the bottle cage from my frame for that few seconds of aero advantage). That turned out to be a good decision, as the handful of swigs I took made the heat a little more bearable.

Still not totally at ease with this move, but I make myself suck it up and do it anyway

Run + T2: 25:34
My effort on the bike, the heat, the late hour, and my unfamiliarity with the course all contributed to a pretty unpleasant run. At one point I heard Todd over the PA system, and figured the finish must be right around the corner. Nope! At the end of the course, there's a little out and back that is tough mentally, as you turn away from the finish before running back toward it. I kept Clare, who would ultimately finish 4th OA and 3rd in our age group, in my sights -- but she was able to stay that little bit stronger on this leg.

Best finish chute company ever

Didn't quite make the podium this time out. But I put in my best effort, and I managed to keep improving my bike split. Now for a final push of bigger training volume before Sydenham, and then a taper toward the Nationals.

My husband's first outing as a spectator -- and of course I don't podium. Argh!

June 24, 2016

Training update

First off, going to go find a huge chunk of wood to knock on... there we go.

Overall, I've been pleased with how my training's been going so far this season. I feel like I should be doing more, but I do need to work, eat, and sleep... and keep a general balance that doesn't revolve around swimming, biking, and running all the time. Not to mention, I'm pretty keen on staying injury-free this year, and so far so good. I race on a J-24 sailing crew every Monday, which I love. There are dance recitals to prep for and attend, school events to volunteer for, garden veggies to tend, laundry that won't wash itself, delicious meals to cook and eat. Additionally, at the end of a long day I have a comfy sofa and a Netflix subscription that beckons. And it will not be ignored. I've made my peace with that.

Where you can find me on a Monday night

I made a brief attempt earlier this month to swim every day. It's my weakest leg, and I thought it would be a good way to make some gains. Unfortunately, after 5 days in a row, I had a sore throat and sinuses, swollen glands, and general fatigue -- which I attributed to the river water going where it doesn't belong. Also, my shoulders were starting to give me trouble... which I promptly took care of by going to my trusted massage therapist. It was just too steep a ramp-up in volume. So I'm splitting the difference, trying to get in the water a few times a week and working on speed rather than just plodding along like I've done in previous years when it was more about getting the distance done. I was super happy at our final swim class, where I swam a personal best 11:07 500m, 1:55 100m and 49sec 50m. Granted they were all-out single shots at it rather than a typical "average of 5" time trial set (for the 100s), but if you've been following my swim updates you know I've been trying to break a 2:00 100m for... well, since I started.

Our last Monday morning OTC swim at Richcraft

I haven't been putting in as much bike volume as I'd like, but the workouts I do are good quality -- mostly thanks to the OTC High Performance Squad. I work a 90% week, and have been trying to time my every other Friday off to have a good long ride. However, things come up and deliverables need to get done. So I find myself on a day off today, but skipping the long ride since I've got a race tomorrow.

At the Champlain Lookout in Gatineau Park

I'm feeling good about my running, coming off a personal best 5k time from my last race (23:52), almost a full minute faster than my previous best. This is where I'm making the biggest effort to keep up the consistency in training, not just for fitness gains but also injury prevention. Around 30k per week is what I'm going for, provided I feel good.

Brick run with Kelsey and the HPS

I've got 3 races (2 triathlons) under my belt so far this season, and another one on the schedule for tomorrow. I love racing not just for its own sake, but I also find it's a great way to push my speed work and ultimately help prepare me for the Canadian Sprint Championships next month. Eep... not so far away now!

June 19, 2016

Race report -- Ottawa River Super Sprint Tri

June 11, 2016
Swim 200m, bike 13.7km (10.4 km timed), run 5 km
1/2 AG, 4/19 OA women, 4/24 men and women

"Really?" I thought, as I sat in the car clutching my Starbucks. Overnight, the 25% chance of rain had turned into 100% chance of cold and wet. Of course, I didn't bother to check for updates before I left the house, at which point it was just mild and overcast... so I found myself without any rain gear whatsoever. Lesson learned. I had arrived at the race and parked, but was having trouble working up the will to actually leave the car. Because transitions aren't timed at this race, I didn't feel the usual urgency to beeline it for the T zone to secure a good rack spot. Ah well -- as a wise person once said, suck it up buttercup.

Swim + run to the transition entrance: 5:03
This was the most pleasant part of the race. The water was flat and a very comfortable wetsuit temperature. Our small group spread out quickly, and I lost track of where I was in the pack. But I swam a straight course, and felt fine about my effort.

Bike: 20:27 (30.4 km/h)
By the time I hit the bike course, it was really pouring. I held back a bit for the first few km, wary of water-covered potholes and potentially slick road surface. My bike was solid as ever, and I managed to keep the rubber side down. Bonus points for not unclipping like a weenie around the u-turns. Unfortunately, by the time I got back to the transition area my back brake was rubbing badly and something in my freewheel clutch was making an odd noise.

Run: 23:52 (PB!)
Because the transition wasn't timed, I was able to confirm the first couple of twists and turns on the run course with volunteer and fellow OTCer Andrew before crossing the timing mat. Within the first 700m of running on wet grass and through a huge puddle, I realized my wet shoes were going to do a number on my sockless feet. Oh well. This was my first time at the Ottawa River Tri, and I definitely needed all the direction given by the great volunteers along a course that twisted on and off the paths, around trees, and onto the road. This is the first time I've broken 24 minutes for 5k -- at least officially, as my 24:07 at the Early Bird a few weeks ago included T2.

The best part of the whole race was being surprised at the finish line by my Mum, who brought me dry clothes and hot tea. Since it was 9 degrees out and I was soaked to the skin, this was like winning the lottery.

Since there are a couple of untimed zones on the course, it's tricky to tell exactly where you finished until everyone's in. I was initially surprised to see that 3 girls came in ahead of me, as Andrew had told me I was the first woman as I exited transition for the run. These young ladies were seriously fast. I left before awards were given out, but I was able to congratulate them on Monday -- as I discovered they're part of the Bytown Storm junior development program that swims at Richcraft when I'm there with my OTC group. I introduced myself as the first runner-up old lady. ;)

May 23, 2016

Race report -- Early Bird Long Triathlon

May 21, 2016
500m swim, 33km bike, 5km run

Breakfast: oatmeal w/brown sugar, tall skim chai
Other nutrition/hydration: 1/4 of a Honey Stinger waffle on the bike, Nuun Boost

Finish time: 1:43:11.7 (13/44 OA, 3/11 AG 40-44, 63/115 men and women)

We had a great day for the first tri of the season, nice and warm with no wind. This event, like all my racing between now and July 24th, is geared toward preparing for my biggest race of 2016, the national Sprint Championships. I try to do something new every year, and this event is going to require a number of new skills. It's the first draft-legal race for age-groupers in Canada, which means there'll be a whole lot of us racing in a pack for the first time. No way that'll end badly... right? Well, since luck favours the prepared, so far this year I've taken a drafting clinic, spent all my riding time on my road bike (as tri bikes aren't allowed in draft-legal racing), and finally forced myself to learn a flying mount and dismount. On that latter point, don't wait till 3 days before a race to practice... or you could be sporting scrapes and bruises with the rest of your race kit. I know that of which I speak.

Decked out with OTC tat on left shoulder, road rash on right shoulder

Swim - 13:48.7
Frack. What a gong show. This event features a pool swim -- which I don't love (I prefer open water). Racers start around 10 seconds apart, and seed themselves in order of expected swim time. Having swum an 11:27 time trial the week before, I seeded myself as usual, figuring I'd get passed by a couple of folks and maybe pass one or two who were overambitious with their estimate (which is how it has played out the past two years). This time, the first 150m were unencumbered. Then a guy who was a little confused came swimming down the wrong side of the lane at me. No problem, keep going. I felt a tap on my foot, and I dutifully made plenty of room to let a woman come past me. Unfortunately, once she was out of my draft and having to work harder, she suddenly started side-stroking and then stood up in the lane. OK, it happens. Except then she did it another two or three times. Sprint past, run out of gas, stop. I let myself get caught up in the stopping and starting, and trying to keep a steady rhythm was hopeless. At this point, there's a bottleneck of people behind, who are getting pretty miffed. Mercifully, the swim only lasted 500m. Regardless of what everyone else was doing, I should have been focused and confident enough to do my own thing and push through. Lesson learned. I took 13 seconds off my previous best T1 time for this race -- it's a long run up to the T zone from the pool -- but it wasn't enough to offset my crappy swim split. Oh well... onward to the bike.

Shoes ready for a flying mount. Cue Jaws theme.

Bike - 1:01:04.7 (average 32.4 km/h) PB
This is a personal best average bike speed for me, over any race distance. My past average speed (which I use rather than total split time, since the course was 2k shorter this year) for the Long Tri was 28.1 km/h -- on my tri bike. To practice riding the same setup I'll need in July, I used my road bike today, without aerobars. Disregarding my flying mount wipeout a few days prior, I decided to stick to my plan of leaving my shoes on the bike. I had never done this in a race, but figured the way to learn is to just do it. My goal was to mount and dismount with this setup, and not fall off my bike. Mission accomplished! One shoe did pop off the pedal after my flying dismount, but a volunteer grabbed it and handed it to me right away so I lost minimal time.

Concentration... next step, take feet out and place on top of shoes while pedaling. Omg...

Run - 24:07
This was a personal best 5k run time, which I was extra happy with since it was off a longer bike course. At this race, the run split also includes T2 -- looks like the flying dismount saved me some precious seconds. As expected on this course, my legs felt heavy... I felt slow, and like I might run out of steam. Also as usual, I didn't wear a watch and just tried to run as fast as I could. At the finish line, people asked me how it went. I honestly didn't know.

Definitely ready for a chocolate milk

In total, I took 16 minutes off my previous Long Tri time -- the bike was 2k shorter, but still a good improvement with that considered. Didn't fall off my bike during the mount/dismount. Had personal best run and bike splits. I ended up 3rd in my age group, so managed a podium finish. Now it's time to swim -- a lot -- before my next race.

May 14, 2016

Tips for fast triathlon transitions

There are people in triathlon who glide like porpoises through the water. Fly along the bike course, quads firing hard enough to power a small city. Blow past all mere mortals like a bionic gazelle on the run. They could probably put on a pot of chili in T1, bake some bread in T2, and still beat us to the finish line. Then there are the rest of us -- you know, people who started swimming after they had kids -- this is my clan. So, in addition to optimizing available training time to get as fast as I can, I pay close attention to opportunities for "free speed" in a race. There are all kinds of things you can tweak, such as your position on the bike, your helmet, bike tires/tubes and tire pressure, race wheels...  but perhaps the biggest place you can make easy and instant gains (without any cash outlay) is in transition. 

Get there early and choose your spot

Some races have assigned rack spaces, in which case you don't have a choice of where you set up. And all well-run races have transition areas set up so that all athletes have to travel the same total distance regardless of where they're racked. But in races where you can choose your rack location, arriving good and early isn't just good for the pre-race nerves, it can help you get an optimal transition spot. Though everyone has to run the same distance through the T-zone, you can weigh whether you'd rather run a shorter distance in your wetsuit, or a shorter distance with your bike. Perhaps there's a tree or other permanent (the "permanent" part is important) landmark that will help you find your stuff faster.

Arriving early assures a prime spot on the rack

Keep it simple and distance-appropriate

Regardless of your actual transition location, resist the urge to spread out like you're moving in. Depending on the length of your race, you probably don't need all of the stuff you think you need. For a shorter race, a cleaner setup is better to ensure speed and efficiency. For a longer race where you're maybe not so concerned with shaving seconds, you might prioritize comfort over speed. For example, in the photo below, you can see my transition setup for a half-Ironman. You definitely don't need all of that, but if it fits in your allocated area and it will make you more comfortable, some things are worth having just in case. If I could go back and change it, I'd eliminate the fuel belt -- there are plenty of hydration and nutrition options at the aid stations. However, I'd keep the Body Glide, the compression calf sleeves, the extra waffle and chews, and even the single-use "refreshing" cloth with essential oils and smelling salts. It was a long day for me, and sometimes the little things that help you feel better go a long way.

Ready for anything at Ironman 70.3 Mont Tremblant

Now, for a sprint or Olympic race, you can be a lot leaner in your transition setup. Skip stuff that takes time to put on -- bike gloves, compression gear, separate watches/computers. Do not bring a bucket, stepstool, or foot washing tray. Do not tie a balloon to the rack to facilitate finding your bike -- many races state they will remove anything extraneous from the racks before the race begins. Plus, if it gets detached or popped by accident and it's your only landmark, you're hosed.

What I keep in my transition area, Sprint or Olympic:
  • small towel to put stuff on and stand/wipe feet on
  • running shoes and socks
  • bike shoes
  • sunglasses and/or hat
  • bike helmet (for a sprint, I'll rest it on the bike between the aerobars... for an Olympic, that space is occupied by a hydration system)
  • race belt and number
  • a bite of food, usually part of a chocolate wafer -- and a bottle of sports drink to swig from to wash it down (this is typically for a sprint, where I don't carry nutrition or hydration on the bike)

Know where you put your stuff (no, really)

Don't just glance around and go "Yep, 2nd rack from the end. Check." Is that second rack from the end at the swim entrance? Or the bike exit? What does your approach look like as you're actually running through transition? At every race, I will walk from the swim in, to my stuff, to the bike out. Then I'll turn around, find my stuff again from the bike in, and walk from there to the run out. At the same time, you can confirm the surfaces you'll be running on between legs of the race. Grass? Sand? Asphalt? That might figure in to what you decide to do re. socks, shoes (pre-clipped to the pedals vs. on your feet), etc.

Be visible

There are all kinds of ways to make your transition spot more visible. I place my shoes and sunglasses on a small, brightly-coloured towel on the ground. Stand at the end of the rack and look toward your bike -- your towel shouldn't stick into the middle of the aisle, but you should be able to spot it pretty easily. I also carry my race gear in a bright yellow bag. Sometimes bags aren't allowed in transition... but when they are, it's a nice bright beacon (I push it to the back of my transition area, or beneath my bike). Still want a little more visual kick to help guide you? You could use wild handlebar tape, or a brightly coloured helmet. Just make sure to keep things contained -- don't abuse your rack space, and be respectful of your neighbours.

Bright gear is recognizable at a distance

Once you've decided what you want/need to have in your transition area, you'll want to lay it out such that you can put it on as quickly as possible when the time comes to do so. Consider the order in which you'll do things. The first thing you'll need to do is get out of that wetsuit...

Getting out of your wetsuit

This can be a big time suck if you haven't practiced, and aren't prepared... but there are lots of little tricks that can add up to big time savings. Consider trimming a bit off the bottom of your wetsuit legs -- if you're worried about wrecking your gear, consult the manufacturer's website as they'll usually state how far up you can trim. This can help make the suit easier to get off, and won't negatively impact the buoyancy. I haven't done that myself, mainly because my suit has super-stretchy panels in the ankles specifically to enable quick removal.

Before donning your wetsuit, apply Body Glide (or Trislide, or whatever you're using) liberally around your neck (this part is to avoid swimming "hickeys" from chafing), wrists, and ankles. I'd recommend against vaseline or cooking spray as lubricants, a) because I've heard they can damage neoprene, and b) because... well... it's kind of gross.

As you're running from the swim, unzip your wetsuit and yank it down to your hips. At some races, they have wetsuit strippers who will help get you out of your suit as soon as you exit the water. I've both used and bypassed this option... you have to decide whether it's worth your time to stop. Once you reach your gear, give a last hard yank to get your suit down as far as you can. Then step on it with alternating feet to pull your legs out.

Grab and go

While you're stomping yourself out of your wetsuit, you'll have time to put on your race number and helmet. When I can (i.e. when I don't have my hydration system taking up that space), I rest my helmet upside-down on the aerobars with my race belt either over or under it depending on how windy it is. Make sure the straps are open and untangled. Some people leave the race belt clipped closed, and step into it... of course, you have to wait till you're out of your wetsuit to go that route. And you have to trust yourself not to get tangled in it and fall down (which I do not). If I'm wearing sunglasses on the bike, I'll place them in my helmet with the arms open. 

Be very careful as you're hurrying in transition that you comply with race rules regarding helmets. At most races, if you forget to do up your chinstrap before mounting the bike, or if you unclip it before dismounting, you risk disqualification.

Race belt and helmet at the ready for easy access

Now, let's deal with the feet. I like to leave a little area of towel, about as big as both my feet, empty so I can stand on it and wipe off any bits of dirt/gravel if required. Have your shoes open and ready to step into. If you're wearing socks, scrunch or roll them and place them into each shoe so you don't end up fumbling with them. I use bungee laces on my running shoes so I don't have to waste time tying them. 
Optimized for a fast change of footwear

If you wear a hat, sunglasses, sweatband, or other stuff on the run, place them together on your transition towel so you can grab them in one swipe. You can don all this stuff while you're running, no need to hang around in transition.

Make haste slowly

Remember that when you're in transition, your heart rate will be up, and your hands and legs may be a little shaky. Be deliberate and efficient, rather than scrambling.

Have any of your own transition tips? Leave a comment! :)

May 10, 2016

Race report -- Sporting Life 10k

May 8th (Mother's Day!), 2016
Breakfast: Oatmeal with blueberries, tall skim chai

This year's Sporting Life 10k was my second open 10k race -- my first was the same event last year. It's perfectly situated on the calendar to serve as a season opener, before triathlon gets going for the year. I'll admit that, after several months of training with the incredibly fast athletes on the OTC High Performance Squad, I'd been feeling maybe a little unworthy and a bit anxious about my own speed and fitness. Last year I ran this race in 51:17, and I had set a goal this year of breaking 51 minutes. That doesn't sound like much of a stretch, but the day-to-day context around my training has changed considerably from this time last year. I'll also admit I'm heavier. I had read somewhere about losing 2 seconds of speed per km for every extra pound of body weight you're carrying* -- for example, an extra 5 lbs of un-burned-off Cheetos would translate to 1:40 extra time tacked onto your 10k. Eep. I was worried I wouldn't even be able to match last year's result.

*I just now looked this up, and apparently the common wisdom says 2 seconds per MILE, not km. Not that this is reason to dive head-first back into the Cheetos, but thought I would mention it.

With my other half... it was his first 10k race!
During my easy run a couple days before the race, I added a single short interval just to get a feel for what my sustainable race pace might feel like. It felt pretty good, and was a good confidence booster. The morning of the race, we woke to bone-chilling cold and rain. It was an early wake-up call, as we had to be downtown and standing in our corral by 7:45 a.m.  My husband, who I had encouraged to race with me, may have had some choice words. We assured the kids they wouldn't be forced to actually watch us run, and they shuffled to the car in pyjamas and coats -- ready for hunkered-down Netflix watching with my brother while Mummy and Daddy were freezing their rear ends off.

The race itself is very well organized, and the course runs a beautiful route along the Canal. The double out and back layout means during your race you will see both the very fastest runners and the very slowest. Both groups inspiring, for different reasons. We started in the first and fastest corral, where (in very Canadian fashion) people squeezed toward the back, sure that everyone else must be a bit faster than them. Starting about 3/4 of the way back in this wave turned out to be perfect seeding. We didn't have to dodge people in our way, nor did we get trampled.

I prefer to race without a lot of technology, so I left the heart rate monitor and phone at home in favour of a borrowed digital watch without GPS. I glanced at it to check my time as I passed each km marker, attempting to hold the 5:06 min/km pace that would net me a 51 min finish. The plan was to do this until the last km, then empty the tank and pick up whatever time I could in the final kick. My first few km were very close -- at the 1 km marker, I was 3 seconds early (not bad, for not having GPS or pace indication!). Then another 3 at the next marker. Then a handful more at the next. By the 7 km mark, I had chipped away enough seconds here and there that a sub-51 minute finish looked likely. By the 8 km marker, I realized that there was a chance I could break 50 minutes. I picked up the pace slightly, making my move a full km earlier than I'd planned. It was difficult to hold that effort over the final 2 km, and I just gave it all I had without looking at my watch. I didn't bother stopping the timer until I was well over the line, so was unsure of my exact finish time. A minute and a half later, I cheered my husband into the finish chute and -- once we were pretty sure neither of us would fall down -- made our way over to Lansdowne park for medals and bananas.

Wearing 4 layers post-race, and ready for a large, hot breakfast
We collected the kids and my brother, took everyone out for a big breakfast at the Heart & Crown on Preston, and looked up our results. Here's where I ended up:

Time: 49:59... wait for it... .9. Yes, I broke 50 minutes by 1/10th of a second. Met my goal, and scored a personal best.
Placing: 5/180 AG, 72/1246 women, 234/1895 overall

I'm thrilled with this result. I'm feeling better about where I am in my training. I'm looking forward to the tri season. And, most importantly, I raised some money for CHEO from friends and colleagues. Happy Mother's Day!

April 15, 2016

Spring is here -- sort of!

My HPS buddy Simon said on his own blog that if someone goes silent for awhile, it usually means one of two things. Either things are going badly, or things are ticking along great and they're just super busy training. In my case, I have to claim a little of the former. I'm not sure if I was trying to ramp up too quickly, or if it was just a case of stress or bad luck, but I spent a good portion of last month feeling... well, generally crappy. Fatigue, sore neck, sudden inability to hit my heart rate targets on the trainer, general cruddiness. Tack on a little impostor syndrome, doubting that I actually belong on the OTC high-performance squad. Thankfully, I also had a family vacation to Florida last month. I bagged my initial plans to swim like a freak and put down killer run volume while on holiday. Instead, I ran an easy 5k every 2 or 3 days. Went for a leisurely rollerblade a couple of times. Did quite a bit of walking. No biking or swimming at all. For the first week, the fatigue was joined by swollen glands, night time cough, sore throat, and sinus pressure, in sequence. Nothing horrible, just general un-wellness. Then by day 8 or 9, I felt better. Just in time to go home! Still, I was thankful for the perfectly-timed dose of warm weather, sunshine, and rest.

Gettin' er done on semi-frozen sidewalks

The spring weather at home has been slow to materialize, with only a few warm days teasing us before Mother Nature laughed "just kidding!" and dumped another solid helping of snow. I'd also say "warm" is a little relative... the roads were dry and clean enough to take my bike out for the first outdoor ride of the season. But my apparel included chemical hand and foot warmers, and Saran Wrap over my feet to keep the wind out where the toe covers didn't reach.

April 6th -- Canada geese wondering whose idiot decision it was to lead the flock back north

My pace cyclist with her game face on
I think we may have finally turned the corner, though -- here is a shot from yesterday's lunchtime ride. A leisurely exploration of the surrounding area, without my Garmin, was the perfect way to welcome spring for real. On the race front, my first of the season is coming up on Mother's Day -- the Sporting Life 10k. My goals are to chase my PB, enjoy my first race with my husband, and get tuned up for the upcoming tri season.

April 14th -- This is more like it

One more fun thing of late, is that nuun has the 2016 'team nuun' athletes up on their site. Including me -- whoa! Check it out...

Crazy, right? My oldest daughter thinks I'm cool!

February 09, 2016

Welcome, 2016!

It's hard to believe the first month of 2016 has passed. My extra several pounds of built-in winter insulation have been successfully installed (see how I'm making lemonade here?). For me, January was focused on absorbing some life changes, a move, some schedule shuffling, and starting up High Performance Squad training with the OTC. Somehow I managed to sneak in a few outings on my snowshoes and skate skis as well. I'm aiming to start upping the training load again, gradually, while focusing on enjoying the outdoors and keeping it fun so I'm still hungry for it come July. 

Well hello there, 2016!

Warning -- dorky tri data blabber follows

A couple of weeks ago was our first LT (lactate threshold) test of the season -- otherwise known as "pedal till you barf up a lung". The insult to injury here is that in our TTP class, the hour on the bike is followed by an hour (minus time taken to wring out your shirt, mop the lakes of sweat off the floor, and get downstairs) of strength training. Followed in turn that evening by a series of plank exercises. I wondered out loud if it counts as impaired driving if your legs feel like overcooked calamari.

Getting that data was worth it, though. In the past, I've relied mostly on perceived exertion to determine how hard I've gone on workouts. As a bit of an experiment, having received a Tickr X heart rate monitor for Christmas (thanks, husband!), I'm using heart rate zones to train, ultimately comparing the data with how I feel. So far, using the zones defined by the LT test has been great -- as it turns out, a Z3 climb on the bike shouldn't spike my heart rate to 173! Who knew. I'm focusing on keeping most of my weekly effort in Z2 to rebuild my aerobic fitness after the off-season, and monitoring how much time I spend in Z3-Z5 tempo/speed work (for example, TTP spin class). I'm also trying out Training Peaks, which calculates fitness, accumulated fatigue, and race-readiness based on heart rate data across workouts. Yes, I am truly tapping my inner nerd this season.

Remembering how to skate ski after a 10+ year hiatus

On the sponsorship front, I'm very thankful to Dr. Patrick Kirkham at Britannia Chiropractic for his continued support this season. I'm also excited to have been chosen to join Team nuun 2016! I try hard to avoid using the word "just" -- such as "I'm just an age-group athlete" or "I mostly just do short-course" -- because that word sucks the joy out of any statement you add it to. But I'm humbled that these folks are willing to support me as an athlete. Seriously, if you're reading this and have known me longer than 5 years or so, you're probably wondering what quadrant of the Twilight Zone you've fallen into. Yep, I'm running without being chased. Believe it.

Taking some time to have fun with friends has also been great lately. A bunch of us gathered on a whim to deliver a crushing (well, if you count demolishing plates of bar food) at the Nepean Sailing Club trivia night. Kids included! 

Catching up with friends
I highly recommend injecting a healthy dose of get-togethers and laughter into your training regime. It really does make the winter a little warmer.