Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Race Recap: Ironman Muskoka 70.3

This past weekend I won Ironman 70.3 Muskoka. Since stepping down as a Professional Triathlete, due to actually having to work for a living :), I've really struggled with balancing life and triathlon. It's taken awhile to realize what the right balance is. My work hours shot up to 60-70 hours a week some weeks as I did what was necessary to support myself and my family. Trying to train to the level I had before was impossible, recovery was neglected, sleep was compromised, nutrition was de-prioritized. There just wasn't time. I still managed good results, but was constantly disappointed I wasn't as fast as I was before. This year I've really tried to figure it all out. With the help of a few great people, training partners and friends I think I am back on track and my fitness is better than it has been in the past 5 years. I still work a lot but less than I used to, I train a little bit more, I don't sleep enough - but am trying to, I've improved my nutrition and spent a lot of time on injury prevention. It's the small changes that add up.

I've now had a few days to reflect on the lead up and the race this past weekend. I thought I would write a race recap (it's been awhile since I posted), as I learned some valuable lessons from this race that I thought might be useful to share. Before I get into the details, I just want to start with a few thank yous. I am so thankful for the Ironman crew for working tirelessly to put on a great event, the volunteers who make these races possible and who were so incredibly enthusiastic on the day - especially the cyclist who rode with me through the tough 21.1km run course, my athletes from TTC and Tomenson Performance & Wellness who cheered on the day (and motivate and inspire me every single day), Kevin McCormick's family for cheering so loud and accepting sweaty high fives!, the One Capital crew for supporting me at this event, all the spectators, Tara from HEAL (because I've listened to her Nutrition talks so many times all her advice has really changed my life) and especially my friends and family for their endless support (friend/family support really is the backbone for most athlete's success, without this, an athlete can't reach his/her potential). To elaborate on this a little, I want to emphasize how important it has been that Adam has given me his full support. He has said "triathlon will always be your true love", which is true - it is what I feel is my purpose in life, the reason I love to get up (super early every day) and what makes me feel special. I'm not saying this is a good or bad thing, but I know that to downplay my passion for triathlon would be to change who I truly am. Adam, my family and friends accept, appreciate and respect this about me, which makes me feel so incredibly lucky and I wouldn't be the triathlete, coach, RMT, step-mum, person that I am without this.

PRE-RACE: The race weekend started early, well, actually a little later than planned on Friday. Adam and I had a leisurely drive up north, listened to a few inspirational podcasts, stopped at Weber's for burgers and arrived to check in at 3pm. Then headed to the One Capital team cottage. This weekend I was lucky enough to be part of the One Capital team of elite athletes that also consisted of Alex B, Larry O, Don M, Colleen and Michael. All of us finished in the top 10 in our age groups, except Michael who had knee surgery 3 months ago and just did the swim-bike (also, pretty amazing he could do that!) The cottage was huge and on Fairy Lake. The rest of the day I spent relaxing, while Adam biked, and we had an early night. Saturday morning I woke up a little later than usual (5:30am!) and had my morning breakfast of homemade oatmeal+blueberry bread + coffee while I reviewed athlete programs and answered emails. Then Adam and I did a bike ride and I did a run. During the ride, my chain dropped, which is very rare for me, and I got a bit worried. However, it was fine the rest of the ride so that eased my nerves a bit. I felt really good. I hadn't done a lot of Ironman 70.3 effort rides and runs. In fact, my longest run in the previous 3.5 weeks was 16km. Most of my training was long/slow swims and bikes, with some short races mixed in for above Ironman 70.3 intensity. I know that my best racing is done when I'm training more (not everyone is like me and can get pretty fit with short/intense workouts, but I do best with over-distance training). The rest I had taken the past 10 days seemed to have me pretty fresh. The rest of the day went fairly smoothly. I checked my bike (got the best spot for my AG), led my TPW athletes & friends through a swim up the river, attended the race briefing, gave a pre-race chat to TTC. The only drama was when I realized that my bike was no longer in the spot I left it in, the gears had been changed and the rear tire was flat. Adam kept me calm, took the wheel to D'Ornellas and had them change the flat and check the tire. D'Ornellas ruled out the tire had exploded from the heat so this had me a bit paranoid that someone was trying to sabotage my race (another explanation is that the bike had fallen and someone picked it up and re-racked it). Either way, I decided to rack my bike in a different age group over night. Next, I went home, made dinner for the One Capital team and had an early night to bed. Unfortunately, it was a restless sleep with my mind wandering to the mysterious issue of my bike and being worried about another mechanical during the race.

THE RACE: I had an uneventful race prep. I re-racked my bike in my age group rack, in one of the worst spots to remain inconspicuous, even though Laura Beatty offered to give me her spot (thank you Laura!). I got in a good warmup and was ready to go for the swim. When the swim started I fell back a bit (wish I had some speed!), but then saw that the gap between myself and the third place swimmer wasn't big and it didn't grow. I worked hard to get up to that swimmer and he led me the whole way through the swim. I found it quite easy to navigate the river after having swum it so many times. I knew where the turns were and where the swim exit would be. I swam a 26:59 by my watch (27:05 official time) which was a super fast swim for me that rivals times I was posting in my professional triathlete days. I always tell my swimmers that the key to a fast swim is to sight properly, draft and have good fitness. All three contributed to this time. After a smooth T1, I was off on the bike. I felt good, I checked in on my heart rate, power and effort throughout, took my nutrition and watched the kms pass by. Focusing on what you can control and having patience was the strategy I used and what I find is most effective for long course events. I was all on my own, which was kind of lonely. Occasionally a super fast male would zoom by. No one I could have worked with on the bike. Athletes can gain a huge advantage by working with other athletes outside the 12m draft zone, but usually this doesn't happen when you are one of the first ones out of the water. I had two minor mechanicals (dropped chain), which forced me off my bike twice - which was annoying and I probably lost about 60-90s as I had to dismount my bike both times. I have since ordered new chain rings so that this issue doesn't happen in another race. The bike felt pretty easy the whole way, except maybe the last 20km on Burnel when I was afraid to go into my small ring so I had to grind a bit up some hills. Before long I was back in transition and ready for the run. (1:34:12 excluding the stops, and 1:35:50 race time). The run felt pretty easy for me and in control for the first 14km. Just like on the bike, I focused on what I could control: pace and nutrition. I was even chatting with the lead cyclist. It wasn't until the final 1/3 of the race after climbing the steep climb that I started to have to work. And, wow, it really hit me. Each step was a struggle, I let out a few tears, swore under my breath but I kept going. I saw the second female about 4km behind me and knew that I could win. I am involved in triathlon for myself, to push myself to be my best, to continue to improve, it's an outlet for which my personality thrives, but it's also nice to win! I tackled every uphill knowing that there was a downhill coming and that I was getting closer and closer to the finish. When I finally saw the finish line the tears started streaming down my face and I was smiling at the same time. Breaking the tape and holding that banner high (and not worrying about stopping my watch!) will be one of the moments I remember for the rest of my life. Run time: 1:35:57.

Thank you for reading, thank you for supporting, thank you for believing in me.

And of course, I want to post the amazing results by all my amazing Tomenson Performance & Wellness athletes:

Andrew K - Half-IM distance PB, 17min course PB
Renee K - 40min course PB
Corwin - 1hr30min PB
Brenda Santos - 1hr7min half IM PB
Shannon Brooks - 40min Course PB
Peter D - first half IM
Saul Sacks - first half IM
Kevin McCormick - 20min course PB, 9th AG
Kevin Gandy - first half IM
Mark Henderson - 20min half-IM PB
Alfred Lam - IM MTB prep race- 2nd HIM
David Lamy - Half-Ironman PB
Sara Tomenson - Relay, bike course PB

Friday, November 30, 2018

Training Partners: The Pros and Cons

When I was training as a professional triathlete, I did most of my training on my own. This was largely because my ideal training times were mid-day, a morning workout at around 8am and an afternoon workout at around 3pm, and because the workouts very specific for me and my goals. It was necessary, but I would often struggle with this solo training during harder workouts and felt it limited my performance. Yes, I could hit my numbers and, for the most part, get the workout done to plan. However, I felt it came at a greater cost, because I was alone. The workouts were more mentally taxing, and therefore, more taxing overall. I often complained to my coach about this. We tried to find groups/individual for me to train with. I sometimes swam with the U of T Varsity team, biked with other strong cyclists, trained during WattsUp Class times and ran a few times with Marathon Dynamics (though that ended, because of my knee injury). I always found that my peak fitness could be achieved when I had consistent training partners. I still struggle with trying to find training partners, but recently I have found a swimming and running training partner. Not surprisingly I have noticed the benefits. I am currently swimming faster than I have and running faster than I have in the past 5 years.

So, what is behind the benefit of training with someone? And what can be the cons?

A few of the benefits:

1. The support of others towards achieving your performance goals.
When you train with others they are also interested in how you perform during that workout. They are holding you accountable and this can be motivating. Studies support the fact that just talking to others about your training can help you achieve your targets.

2. Training partners add a bit of fun. A positive attitude during a training session can definitely help to push you a bit harder.

3. More variety in your workouts. I have a swimming background and can come up with some incredibly creative and effective swim sets. However, my run workouts are often effective, but can get a bit boring. Training with others like Tara-Jay and Alex, with different run training backgrounds, has given me some new types of effective run workouts to try.

4. Form/Technique checker. A training partner can give you feedback about your technique. Adam was great at telling me that my head was too high or I wasn't in a strong aero position when I was riding outside or that I wasn't leaning forward when I ran. In the pool, a training partner can give you similar type of feedback.

5. Safety. This is true across all sports: swim, bike, run. Triathlon is a risky sport, with lots of opportunities for injury or accidents to occur. If something does go wrong in your workout, your training partner is there to help you.

6. It can be humbling. Sometimes, when training on your own, you can believe you are strong/faster/fitter than you are. That's not as common these days with Garmin/Strava/TrainingPeaks, which leaves little about our fitness that is unknown. But when you go head to head with someone, there is no more guessing. You are on the same course, in the same conditions, etc. and it can be an ego-checking experience when you can't keep up. This then helps you figure out what your weaknesses are and can force you to address them.

7. The most important to me: Competition! It is no surprise that having a bit of competition can drive you to perform better. During the past 30x200 swim that I did with another, I knew that he was right on my feet, so I made it my goal to stay ahead and push strong to the finish. Near the end of the set, I made it my goal to try to break away from him, and, as a result I pushed myself harder than I would have otherwise. There have been so many other instances where this has been true!

A few of the cons:

1. You end up training too hard or too easy. If you are training with someone who is much stronger or not as strong as you, then you risk training outside of your appropriate training zones. This could be detrimental to your performance.

2. Trying to match up training times can be stressful. If your training partner lives across the city or has a very different schedule than you, then this can cause more problems than it's worth. Don't go too far out of your way to train with someone else, especially if it means you have to compromise your workout.

3. You do your easy/recovery workouts too hard. If you are a competitive person, a recovery session could turn into a time trial if you choose to do these workouts with someone. This could lead to injury, burn-out, etc.

4. If your training partner has a different goal or goal race than you. If you are training for Ironman, you shouldn't be doing too many of your training sessions with someone training for an Olympic triathlon. You will be compromising some of your training time for non-specific workouts and this can also be detrimental to performance.

In conclusion: I feel that an individual will benefit by doing intense/longer workouts with others of similar fitness and similar goals, but keep the easy/recovery/base workouts solo.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

How a coach helped Andrew take 2 hours off his Ironman time

Three years ago, I completed my first Ironman, self-coached, and this year, I completed my second with the help of a professional coach (Miranda Tomenson). I finished this most recent race over 2 hours or 13% faster. I believe that the Tremblant course this year was easier than the Muskoka course years ago, but not that much easier. I credit my massive improvement to working with a coach. I felt much more confident going into the race this year, and, even if things had went south during the race, I still would have considered the season a success.

I believe that the benefit of a coach comes from having an objective view of how training is progressing. It’s hard to maintain perspective when training yourself and working towards a goal, but, a coach has the ability to view things impartially and plan as necessary. These benefits can easily be viewed by comparing graphs that show my training across the two seasons.

When training for my first Ironman, I never felt like I was doing too much training, there were probably times that I felt like I wasn’t doing enough. This year, there were definitely times when I felt like I wasn’t doing enough. Yet, I trusted my coach, and trained 3 hours/week less than I had three years ago. Yet, I came out of this training stronger than I was during that first Ironman. I have no doubt that without a coach, I would have once again tried to do more. I completely understand the logic behind the less-is-more philosophy, and I completely agree with it. Understanding and believing a philosophy are totally different than applying that philosophy to oneself.

It’s also worth noting in 2015 I had planned to do a lot more than I actually did (the light grey at the top of the bars). This season, after getting sick in January and March, my coach decided to dial things back and focus on keeping me healthy so that I could perform at the best of my ability. The result was that I can only remember missing one workout in the 4.5 months leading up to my race. When I reflect back on 2015, I remember being tired on many summer weekends and having weak excuses for missing long training days. Because I was healthy this year, I didn’t even think about trying to get out of tough workouts. In fact, I felt healthy enough that I wanted to get the workouts in, regardless of the conditions outdoors. This is in contrast to previous years where rain or bad heat would lead me to skip parts or all of big training days.

For all intents and purposes biking, running and strength training took the same percentage of my training time this year as they did in 2015. Swimming however took up less time and the remaining 5% of my time was replaced with stretching. The strength program I was doing this year was much more tailored to what I needed than the plan taken from a book that I was following in 2015. I think the personalized strength training, plus the focus on keeping everything loose through stretching is what has kept me injury free since November. That’s the longest injury free stretch that I’ve had in my 7 years in this sport (and it would have been even longer if I had spent more time paying attention to my equipment). Managing to keep me injury free also contributed to my ability to execute all my key sessions and contributed to my success. Having a knowledgeable coach (plus a good chiropractor) allowed me to know what I needed to do to be ready for my sessions. Once again, this is not something I would have been able to do on my own.

The other interesting thing this chart shows is that I spent less of my training time swimming, yet, my Ironman swim time improved by 9 minutes, in lakes which I remember being equally calm. When training myself, I always felt that there was plenty of literature out there that could help the self-coached athlete improve as a cyclist and runner, but, nothing I read (and I read a lot) ever helped me with swimming. I think there’s still tonnes of room for improvement in my swim, but, I would not have gotten this far without the help of a coach.

This year my Ironman marathon was 90 minutes faster than it was three years ago. I would be reticent to not comment on how a coach helped my run training. The first thing to notice is that I ran 5km/week less this year. If you remove the ramp-up weeks at the start of this season (I didn’t have those in 2015), that drops to 3km/week. Again, the less-is-more philosophy at play.

If you look at all above charts together, it turns out that in 2015 my average run training pace was 6:00 min/km and this year it was 6:15/km. What that means is that this year, I ran less, at a slower pace, and still managed to run the marathon faster. This is something that I wouldn’t have had the confidence to do on my own.

I don’t look much at TSS and IF throughout the year, but, I believe that TSS and IF are good metrics for comparing two workouts. As with the previous charts, this just goes to show I trained less at a lower intensity, and the results have spoken for themselves. Back in 2015, my bike training was focused for a good portion of the year on increasing my FTP. That meant high TSS and high IF. I was scared this year that I wasn’t spending enough time working on those things, but, once again, I trusted my coach, and, things all worked out.

Before diving into these charts, I need to note that I don’t particularly like how TrainingPeaks presents CTL/ATL/TSB. I think that CTL shows how much training stress is being carried over long period of time, however, I don’t agree with equating CTL with fitness. One day off results in a drop in CTL of over 1%, and I refuse to believe that one day off training decreases fitness. Similarly, ATL shows how much training stress is being carried over a short term, but, equating it to fatigue seems wrong. If ATL = CTL, am I really that fatigued. When I think of fatigue, I think more of TSB. If I’ve done more recently that I have over the long term, I’m fatigued, but, if I’ve tapered, then I’m fresh.

With that in mind, let’s consider these charts. In 2015, when I started training, I felt like I “only” had 9 months left, and I got right to it. The result was a CTL that climbed very quickly, but put me in a hole (the very low TSB). This time around, I had somebody who knew how to train for an Ironman guiding me and the CTL climbed much more gradually, without putting me into any real holes. Having somebody who knows what needs to be done when makes training so much easier than letting yourself get into panic mode and going hard right away.

Another thing to notice is that I hit my peak CTL in May 2015, and then I spent the summer doing less and less, probably making myself less race ready. This year I hit my peak CTL three weeks before the race. In fact, CTL/ATL/TSB were the same the day before both races. To me, that means, compared to my potential, I was at the same place before races. However, when I was coaching myself, it means I spent February through July training with more stress than I really needed to. It’s not reflected in those numbers, but, the fatigue incurred during those 6 months could not have been helpful. Again, having a coach who can build you to your potential without pushing too far is a huge benefit.

All of that being said, if you want a coach to help you improve, you need to have a coach that you trust implicitly. I mentioned a few times that I felt like I wasn’t doing enough, but, I trusted my coach implicitly. Part of that trust was built by working together since 2016 over shorter distances. I’ve learned to be confident enough expressing how I’m feeling and we communicate as necessary (and by that I mean, we talk daily if necessary, not that we wait until something goes wrong). The other part of trusting in the coach comes from figuring out if they will fit before you start working with the coach. I knew after the 3rd race in my 1st season that I would need a coach if I wanted to progress and that’s when I slowly started looking. First it took me time to figure out exactly what I wanted out of a coach, and then, it was a slow process of finding what was out there and getting as much information about the coach as possible. I think I looked into five or six coaches, e-mailed directly with two and only spoke to one. I would have spoken to more, but, from the conversation we had, I knew that this person was going to be able to provide what I thought I needed to succeed (and so far, I think I have been right). It’s also important to continually reflect upon what you need from a coach, as that will change with time, and not be scared to tell your coach when things change. Early in my relationship with my coach, I kept things to myself, but, as time as went on and we’ve learned how to communicate, I’ve been able to express what I feel like I need, and, I think that has only helped me improve as an athlete.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Race Report: MSC Gravenhurst Olympic Triathlon

It's been awhile since I posted! The intention of writing more has been there, but the time hasn't. I thought I would re-start my commitment to the blog by posting a race report from Multisport Canada Gravenhurst Olympic Triathlon this past Saturday, July 14th.

As most of you know, I have taken a step back from training and racing this year. My training hours have dropped considerably, my racing schedule includes only 5 races this year. I've raced in the Guelph Sprint Relay, Welland Sprint, Gravenhurst Olympic and I have Bracebridge Olympic and Barrelman to come. While I expected this step back to effect my fitness, it hasn't been as detrimental as I thought. I am actually rested for my workouts and have been able to train at some higher intensities than I have in the past. The result has definitely been a positive one. Not only do I feel fit, but, overall I am less tired and have more energy than I have in the past. Although I didn't feel great on Saturday (possibly related to the 26 massages I gave and my average wake up time of 4:45am in the days prior!) I still had a PB on the course and was good validation that this new approach to training is working well for me. Following is a brief recap of the day in Gravenhurst.

Race morning I was up at 4:30am naturally. Apparently that is my new set wake up time! I went about my usual morning routine, including a 10 minute round of glute and core activation and low rep reverse lunges with weights. Four of us were heading to the race: me, Adam and Adam's boys. We quickly packed up the car and woke up the boys about 5 minutes before we were to leave (basically transported them from their beds to the van with their pillows and blankets). We were on the rode at 5:10am and arrived in Gravenhurst just before 7am. The fact that this race is close enough to allow me to sleep in my own bed and not wake up ridiculously early (by my standards) is a plus.

The boys and Adam dropped me off at transition. They headed to McDonalds for pancakes, while I set about checking in and setting up for the race. Just a side note to mention that the venue in Gravenhurst is great for families - it's close to quite a few restaurants, there is a basketball court and other such kid friendly amenities near by, like Kawartha Dairy Ice Cream. So, while the boys did their thing I could focus on myself. Warm up included a 15 minute easy ride with a few 30s pick ups and then a 15 minute run with some drills and strides. I usually warmup for 45-60 minutes for a Sprint, 30-40 minutes for an Olympic, 15-20 minutes before a half-ironman and about 10 minutes (swim only) before an Ironman. We all include a warm-up before the main set in our training sessions and it is just as important (if not more so) to include one prior to our races.

A highlight of the Gravenhurst Triathlon is the fact that you get taken out on a steamship and start the race offshore. It's about a 5ft high jump into the water and then you swim to the start line, line up and then start in waves like a usual race. The elite age groupers were sent out in a pontoon boat so that we could get to the start line a bit sooner and get in a bit of a warmup. This also gave me a chance to scout out the course, which has been known to cause many people to swim off course (not those who have done my Toronto Tri Club Open Water Swim Clinics or Cherry Beach Swims, of course). Unlike Welland (where I started with about 50-70 other people) there were only 5 of us at the start line in my wave. The horn went and we were off. Jesse and Marek took off quite fast at the start and I couldn't keep up to catch Marek's feet. So I swam on my own for the swim. Even with my good sighting technique, my distance vision seems to be getting worse and I found it a bit difficult to see the buoys. I used a white boathouse and the splashes of Marek and Jesse in front of me to help me navigate in the right direction. Once I was around the first turn buoy and headed back to shore, I used the white roof on the Island to sight and made sure I stayed well to the right of it (people tend to swim directly towards it and off course). In the last 500m I started gaining on Marek. I picked up my kick in the last 200m to get the blood flowing to my legs again and we exited the water together. I finished the swim about 11s faster than last year.

I had an easy T1, though I felt more tired than I expected, and was onto my bike comfortably. The first 4km of the ride I spent trying to get my watch to find my power meter. I got a new watch this week and I synced it to my power meter during my warm-up, but I guess it had unpaired while I was swimming. At one point I was pedalling with my arm extended and wrist by my crank arm to try to get the watch to pick up power! After realizing that I was only riding at a below average speed (34kph) already 4km into the race I gave up and decided to just ride by feel. The last 36km were a more respectable 36.9kph. This type of bike course suits me well: rolling hills, non-technical out and back. Also very well suited for beginners attempting their first Olympic Tri. I was pleased with my time, 15s slower than last year, but I think it would have been faster had I been more focused in the 4km instead of upright and trying to sync my watch to my power meter.

My goal for a 10km run off the bike in an Olympic Triathlon this year is to break 40 minutes. I've done it once (Orange County Triathlon in 2014). Unfortunately, that didn't happen in Gravenhurst. As soon as I started the run I felt flat. I'm not sure if that was the humidity or fatigue or what, but I didn't have the bounce that I've recently had in training and that I had in Welland. The sports drink I took during the ride seemed to be sloshing around in my stomach and my legs were heavy. The ups and downs and sharp turns on the course made it difficult to find a rhythm. When this happens I do my best to stay positive, I got energy from seeing the others and focused on what I could control - putting my best effort forward. Seeing my sister Sara with a huge smile in 5th female position was also a huge positive. She is amazing. Her other commitments limit her training time to less than 7 hours a week - but she works hard to get in her key sessions (even if it means doing them really early or really late at night). She is extremely talented and a fierce competitor, which usually means she lands on the podium in most of her races. With positive thoughts in my head I made it to the final kilometer, which is mostly downhill and finished strong. I was 1min7s faster than last year. All in all, the race was a PB on the course, so that's a great sign!

*My race is also on STRAVA

A special thank you to those who have stood by me from the start of my career as a professional athlete, through personal ups and downs, my knee surgery, and now, even as I take a small step back from racing:

- The Multisport crew, volunteers and Tri Ontario officials
- My parents for their continued love and support throughout this crazy adventure of mine.
- My sisters for being my inspiration to work hard and never give up.
- Adam for doing A LOT of driving, for keeping me calm when I get anxious and for making me want to be the best version of myself. It helps so much to have him there on race day (and the boys!)
- My health care team, especially Bill Wells (Chiro). A high stress life makes you more prone to injuries. I am so fortunate to have Bill and others keeping me healthy.
- All my readers for their support and for following me in my triathlon endeavours
- Fellow athletes at the race and training partners, especially Sara and everyone at Tomenson Performance, WattsUp and TTC!
- Endurosport for building me the perfect bike and all your mechanical help
- My sponsors: Title Sponsor:High Rock Capital Management, WattsUp Cycling, Blade Wheels, The Urban Athlete, Fitt1st Bike Fitting

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Benefits of massage for triathletes

As many of you know, I am a registered massage therapist at Swansea Massage Clinic at Jane/Bloor and WattsUp Cycling at Kipling/Gardiner. I am also an endurance coach to many triathletes, runners, swimmers and cyclists and an elite triathlete. I received my BScHon from McGill University in Biochemistry, my MSc from U of T in Medical Biophysics and my massage diploma from Sutherland-Chan. I have been coaching for 15 years and a massage therapist for the past 2 years. This blog post is based on a talk I gave at the Running Room and will demonstrate how massage can help triathletes.

Massage, by definition, is the assessment and treatment of soft tissue and joints in order to maintain, rehab or augment physical function or relieve pain. This means that massage therapists can perform various forms of assessment such as assessment of posture, gait, muscle strength, nerve function, and even more. In addition, therapists can perform many techniques such as general Swedish massage, deep tissue massage, myofascial release, low grade joint mobilizations, muscle energy techniques and some massage therapists are even further specialized and can perform modalities such as acupuncture, myofascial stretching, cupping and Active Release Techniques (ART). Even if you don’t know what these techniques are, you can bet that any manipulation that can improve the function of soft tissue and joints can be of use to triathletes, given the strain of swimming, cycling and running on the body. Also, massage therapists usually spend an hour or more with each patient, which allows for a more holistic approach to therapy. This means that rather than focus on just one area of the body at a time, like some time constrained health practitioners have to (some Chiropractors only have 20 minutes with their patients - however, my Chiropractor Bill Wells spends as long as he needs to relieve pain!). Massage therapists have time to assess related areas as well and sometimes the whole body.

So, when would you go see a massage therapist? Most triathletes who I see either come to me for maintenance of function, injury prevention and/or to benefit their performance (if they have an upcoming race). Other times, triathletes come to me with various injuries and pain.

Massage for maintenance:

Massage for maintenance of function and better performance is very important. A massage therapist can assess an individual and identify muscles that are weak or joints that have decreased mobility. They can use various techniques to improve circulation, break up adhesions, increase range of motion and decrease muscle tension. Massage has even been shown to reduce overall anxiety, lower stress and improve sleep, all of which can all help prevent injury and improve the performance of triathletes. Not only that, but massage therapists are qualified to provide a strengthening and stretching program that can complement a triathletes’s training plan.

How often should a triathlete go for massage?

When I was competitive, I would go for a massage once every 1-2 weeks or about once for every 30 hours I spent training. For most recreational athletes/triathletes, this translates to about one massage every 2-4 weeks. This is what I recommend to the athletes I coach. However, other factors play into this. If you are older or have a history of injury then more frequent massage is beneficial. If you don’t stretch or do your own program of stretching and strengthening, then this means you would also benefit from more frequent massages. If you see a chiropractor or physiotherapist, then less frequent massage is necessary. It also depends on budget. If you have a health care plan, (and this is a good time to mention that most benefit plans cover massage therapy) it’s best to plan more frequent massages when the volume/intensity of your training is high and less frequent massages when you are training less.

What is the ideal timing for a massage?

The best timing for a massage is the day or two days after a hard workout, on an OFF day or after light exercise. The day following a massage should be either an off or easy run day. I would recommend getting a pre-race massage 2-4 days beforehand. This shouldn’t be a very deep tissue massage, but a bit lighter pressure with the focus on circulation. Do not get your first ever massage right before a race.

What to tell your massage therapist?

I see a lot of patients who tell me mid-way during the massage that they are training for a triathlon. Before the massage starts, you should most certainly let your therapist know what you are training for, your total training volume at the time, how often you are doing speed work, hills or intervals, if you trained that day or have a training session the next day. If you are OK with allowing a few minutes of the massage time for assessment, tell your therapist this if they don't ask you. This will allow the therapist to check your posture for any imbalances, check the strength of your hips, check your balance, check your flexibility, check common joints that typically get stuck: ankles, SI joint, tib-fib joint, upper back. That will allow for a treatment that is focused on ensuring proper function of the muscles you are using for your training.

Massage for injury:

There are many times when I see athletes who have various ailments. If this is the case, the massage therapist will spend about 10-15 minutes prior to the treatment assessing for the cause of the pain/injury. Even if it is knee pain, a proper assessment also includes checking the hips and the ankles and their associated muscles. Once the massage therapist has identified the areas of weak or tight muscles, or decreased or increased mobility at certain joints or a spot of swelling then that therapist will plan for the massage treatment. The massage treatment will last about 30-40 minutes with time at the end of the appointment for a re-assessment and for the therapist to prescribe a self-care program with stretching and strengthening exercises to help the injury heal.

There are many triathlon related injuries that I see. Acute injuries, such as those from a trauma, such as a rolled ankle or a ligament tear, can be treated by a massage therapist. In the early stages of the injury, the massage therapist can massage related structures (but not any swollen area) and areas that might overcompensate for the injured area. For example, someone with a rolled ankle will typically have tightness in the outside of their lower leg and usually tight muscles on the opposite leg from an altered gait/walking style. Some of the joints may also be restricted. After that structure has started healing, the therapist can help prevent scar tissue from forming and re-injury. For chronic injuries, which are common in triathletes, massage can also be effective. For example, tendonitis is often caused by muscle weakness, decreased mobility at a joint and increasing the volume by too much too soon, without adequate rest. Fro example, poor or uncontrolled mobility at the hips, glute weakness and hamstring tightness/weakness can be a cause of upper hamstring tendonitis. A weak rotator cuff can lead to shoulder tendonitis. Massage therapists can help this injury by massaging the tight muscles, performing techniques at the site of the tendonitis to help heal the tissue and by prescribing exercises to help to strengthen appropriate muscles. Another example, are shin splits, which can be relieved by the massage therapist massaging the front of the shin and improving mobility of the ankle. IT band syndrome (ITBS) is another common triathlete/running injury. Massage therapists can improve the mobility of the fascia surrounding the IT band, perform cupping techniques, decrease tension in the muscles surrounding the area and prescribe glute strengthening exercises to the athlete to improve stability of their hips. These are just a few examples of injuries and how massage therapists can help with them.

Good self-care for the triathlete:



Thursday, January 25, 2018

What Swimming Taught Me About Life

I started competitive swimming in grade 5. It all started when I tried out for my school swim team. I went to Allenby public school and we were lucky enough to have a pool. Yes, it was shorter than 25 yards and only 3 lanes wide, but that didn't matter. I still can't believe that simple structure would start me on a path that would define the rest of my life. I liked swimming on the school team so much that my parents enrolled me in the Granite Gators Novice Swim Team the following year. I was the oldest swimmer in the group, and that's probably why I was one of the fastest, and being one of the fastest was probably why I loved it back then. I sure wasn't the fastest forever, but I continue to love the sport. So, whatever the reason I swim, it was and has been enough to have kept me swimming at various levels of competition for 21 additional years and counting.

In this blog I will talk about some of the parallels between what I learned competitive swimming and how those lessons have helped me in the rest of life. Here they are, in no particular order:

1. Sometimes the impossible is possible. It was February of 1998, the finals of the 200m breast stroke and my last chance to qualify for the Provincial Championships that year. I missed the standard by 0.02s during that race. The next night I had the 100m breast stroke, in which my previous best had me 4s away from the standard (a lot in a 100m event). I was much better at the 200m breast stroke and didn't think I would even come close. To a 12 year old, it seemed *impossible* to qualify in the 100m event. Yet, something magical happened in the finals that night and I swam a 1:26, 2s faster than the standard and 6s faster than my previous best time. That was the first time I remember experiencing what felt like *a miracle*. Since then, I have dared to dream big. I came 47/50 in my age group in the 2008 ITU World Champs, but I still dreamed of competing as a Pro Triathlete one day. Not only did I get to compete as a Pro triathlete, I came 23rd female overall in the 2013 70.3 World Championships. When I was stuck in a research job I hated, I dreamed of owning a Triathlon Coaching Business, even though I had zero business experience, only a bit of experience coaching, no knowledge of anatomy and I am an introvert to the extreme. Yet, after a lot more education, a lot of risk and a lot of I help, I have achieved my dream. And there have been other circumstances where I started from nothing, but had dreams of achieving something, and I've succeeded when other's didn't think I could.

2. Don't be motivated by extrinsic factors. My Papa, who (along with my Mamma) I credit for a lot of my success in sport and in life, once did slip and motivated me with "If you break 3:00 in the 200m breast stroke, I'll get you a pager." Yes, I did break that 3 minute barrier and I did get my pager. However, usually when you are driven by external motivation, the reward is not all it's cracked up to be (a pager is really not that exciting!). After breaking that 3:00 barrier, I realized it wasn't the pager that made me happy it was the feeling of accomplishment that came from that achievement that did. And I have remembered that moving forward. It's not about the medal at the end of the race, it's about racing to the best of your ability. It's not about the money that you bring home from your career (although some money is necessary) it's about the positive effects you have by doing the work you do. It's not about the status of Professional Triathlete, it's about getting the experience of competing against the best girls in the world. It's not about improving your diet so you can look good in your outfit, it's about improving your diet to move freer and be happier in your own skin. So, look inward when you set goals, because that allows you to be truly rewarded.

3. When you get injured, keep moving. When you hit an obstacle, find a way around it. The only swimming injury I ever had was once in grade 8 or 9 and it hurt to move my arm above my head. I'm not sure what the injury was, but it meant that it hurt to swim. What did I do? For that whole week (or maybe two), during swim practice time, I ran for 1 hour and kicked with fins in the pool for the subsequent hour. I didn't just stay home and miss practice, I did the next best thing that I and my coach could come up with. When I returned to the pool I had lost some swim fitness, but not nearly as much as if I had not done any training at all. This taught me two things: if you hit roadblocks in your life then find a way around them, take the next best path, and eventually you will end up back on track. It also taught me that when I do have an injury, to keep moving. Movement is the best thing. Obviously, if you are run injured then don't go to 5x10 minute intervals at maximal sustained power, but a low intensity swim or low intensity ride will keep your fitness from dropping drastically, promote blood flow which helps heal injuries, load the tissue a little bit (to prevent scar tissue from forming) and lower stress levels which can promote healing.

4. The pace clock teaches you to think quickly under pressure. There's nothing like swim sets like 30x100 on 1:25 pace time. You are swimming as fast as you can, have less than 5s of rest at the wall and are basically deprived of oxygen the whole time, yet you STILL have to count and perform simple addition. Oh, and swimming also teaches you short term memory. Because sometimes Coach says, "what was your time for each 100? And if you can't remember, you can do the set over again."

5. Pay attention to the details. Races are won or lost in 0.01s. If you take a breath too often or not often enough, if you mis-time your flip turn, if you take one stroke too many in a length it can make or break your dreams. This is something that holds true in life, too. A spelling mistake on a resume and it's unlikely you will get an interview for that job, one miscalculation or wrong decimal place on your tax return and you can owe a lot of money, one mis-step and you can slip on ice and break a bone. Swimming taught me that when I do something, I should do it as close to perfect as possible. It taught me to take the extra time to pay attention to the details. (I probably don't pay enough attention to the spelling and grammar in my blogs though!)

6. Hard work doesn't always mean you will be the best, but you should still work hard. When I was swimming as a teenager I had close to perfect attendance. I tried my hardest all the time and I didn't make excuses to get out of practice. I trained when I was sick, I trained when I was sad or mad, I trained when I wanted to be with my friends, I trained on my birthday. When I missed a practice for my grandmother's funeral, I made it up the next day on my own (with my sisters). I was one of the hardest working on the team. But it was apparent by the middle of high school that I would never be the best. I was just not given the swimming genetics to make me so. It was a hard lesson to learn as a kid. It was tough to know that just because you put the work in, it doesn't mean that you will achieve your dreams. However, working hard in the pool may not have made me the best swimmer, but it did teach me to work hard in life, because even if it doesn't mean I will be the best it will mean that I can be the best version of myself.

Of course there are so many more things swimming taught me, such as the importance of having goals, discipline (huge!), organization, be early or on time (you don't want to miss your race), failure to prepare means preparing to fail, respect your teammates, avoid drama, shave your legs regularly, don't do anything on a full stomach, etc. If you grew up in a highly competitive sport or club then I know you can relate to the above. And if you are raising kids, then I hope that he/she/they can find something he/she/they are passionate about and learn valuable lessons from their own journey.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Useful swimming tips: Part 2

This is the second part of a blog about useful swimming tips. Please see my previous post for more basic swim technique tips. Once you perfect your streamline, body position and front quadrant swimming you are ready to progress to more advanced concepts like hand entry, catch, pull and recovery.

Technique Tip #5: Hand Entry

Your hand should enter the water about a forearm's length in front of you and directly in front of your shoulders. It is a common mistake to enter the water with your hand too far in front or too close to your head. It is also very common for your hand to enter too narrow, so that it crosses over to the other side of your body. Keep your fingertips facing forward (don't enter the water thumb or pinky first) with a slight spread to your fingers (not tightly closed or widely spread). Lastly, upon hand entry, don't point your fingers upwards to the surface of the water, point them slightly angled toward the bottom of the pool.

A few useful drills/videos to help you practice hand entry are: salute drill and preventing the crossover

Technique Tip #6: The Pull

Your pull should direct the water straight back towards your feet and your finger tips point down toward the bottom of the pool (forget what you learned about an S-pull). A common mistake is to let your arm cross the center line of your body (especially when you breathe). Another common mistake is to pull the water too deep with a straight arm, so bend your arm at the elbow so that your hand passes about a forearm's depth beneath your body.

Technique Tip #7: The Recovery

There are some swimmers that prefer a shoulder driven/straight arm recovery stroke and others that prefer a elbow driven/bend arm recovery stroke. This video shows some various recovery styles. How do you know what's best for you? Typically, swimmers with a higher stroke rate prefer a straight arm recovery and swimmers with a slower stroke rate do better with a bent arm recovery. Also, swimmers with less mobility in their shoulders would benefit from an elbow driven recovery (yet, I commonly see the opposite which leads to injury). Key points are that the elbow should be higher than the finger tips during recovery.

If you have shoulder problems and want to switch to a elbow driven recovery, a few drills to try are: finger tip drag drill/zipper drill, salute drill, slow motion recovery

Technique Tip #8: The High Elbow Catch

This is the most difficult skill to grasp in freestyle and I recommend perfecting all the other aspects of your stroke before attempting to work on this.

To start to learn the high elbow catch, I suggest a specific progression:

1. Practice the high elbow catch in the mirror

2. Practice with swim tubing

3. Practice on the side of the pool deck

4. In water high elbow catch drills (best with fins, snorkel and less desirable is a pull buoy)

5. Picture yourself swimming over a ladder that is parallel to the surface of the water and using your high elbow technique to pull yourself over top of it.

The next part of my swim technique posts will be an open water skills specific post. Stay tuned!