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!