Monday, May 1, 2017

Don't fear the swim!

Many triathletes find the swim portion of the triathlon to be the most daunting. The number of times I hear that the swim is an impediment to athletes trying a triathlon is too many to count. And the number of triathletes that lack confidence about their swim is just as many. So, I decided to write this post about a logical progression to get from being scared of the swim, to being able to conquer the swim! This post is relevant for the non-swimmer who wants to get into triathlon, or for the swimmer who has failed to progress in the sport since they started.

The steps to better swimming:

1. Get over your fear of triathlon swims
2. Learn to swim and/or improve your technique
3. Get faster

Read on for a more detailed explanation of the above and click on the links for videos.

1. Get over your fear of the triathlon swim

If you've never done a triathlon before, here are a few things you need to know about the triathlon swim that might make it seem a bit less scary:

- You can wear a wetsuit (unless the water/air temp is too hot that it would be dangerous to your health - very rare occurrence) and a wetsuit gives you a natural buoyancy. So, if your excuse is that you sink when you swim, well, that’s not going to happen because of the wetsuit. Not only that, but a wetsuit keeps you warm. so, the water temperature isn’t an excuse either!
- You don’t have to do front crawl the whole time. Yes, you can do backstroke, you can do breaststroke, you can run along the bottom of the lake if it’s shallow. You can even grab on to a lifeboat as long as the lifeboat is not moving forward and you don’t use it to propel yourself forward.
- You don’t have to start with a huge group if you don't want to. Usually a triathlon is broken into “waves” so you are in groups of people in your age group. You can choose to either start 30s or so after your age group is signalled to start their race or you can even sign up to start in the very last wave of the event.

2. Learn to swim and/or improve your technique

So, now that you've registered for your triathlon (maybe one of the many Multisport Canada Events :) - what do you do?

Join a Learn to Swim program offered by the City of Toronto
Get private swim lessons
Do it yourself!

Start with buoyancy drills! Basically, just practice floating! Float on your back, on your side, on your stomach. Always try to keep your feet, hips and head at the surface of the water. Practice treading water in the deep end. Practice vertical kicking.
Do this for the whole 30 minutes every 2-3 days for 1-3 weeks.

Next, work on breathing drills. Blow bubbles with your head in the water, kick with a board and blow bubbles with your face in the water. Next, practice some freestyle strokes with a board.
Add this (20mins) to your buoyancy drills (10mins) every 2-3 days for 1-3 weeks.

Next, master your kick: Kick on your back with your board over your knees, make little splashes with your toes when you kick, kick with a pull buoy/band between your thighs to prevent yourself from kicking with your knees, do some lower back stretches and hip openers to loosen those hips.
Add this (20mins) to your breathing (5mins) and buoyancy drills (5mins) every 2-3 days for 1-3 weeks.

Master your body position and streamline: Progress your kicking drills to the 6-kick switch drill progressing to 3 strokes of swimming between each 6 kicks (3-6-3-6 drill). Think about being as long as possible when you are moving through the water. Keep the top of your head pointed in the direction you area heading. Limit any side to side movementDrive the rotation with the hips.
Add this (20mins) to your other kicking drills (5mins) and buoyancy drills (5mins) every 2-3 days for 1-3 weeks.

Work on your feel for the water: Sculling on your front, sculling on your back head and feet first!
Add this (20mins) to your other kicking drills (5mins) and body position drills (5mins) every 2-3 days for 1-3 weeks.

Add the arms! (finally): Do some catch-up freestyle with a board for assistance with hand entry and front quadrant style swimming (more ideal for distance swimmers). Practice swimming 1 length of front crawl/freestyle at a time, each with a different focus: 1 length focused on heels and head position, 1 length thinking about being as long as possible, 1 length thinking about keeping the opposite arm out in front when you breath and 1 length thinking about arms entering shoulder width apart, 1 length thinking about keeping your hand below your elbow at all times - don’t slap the water with your elbow when you enter, 1 length thinking about pushing the water toward your feet.
Add this(20mins) to your other kicking drills (5mins) and other drills (5mins) every 2-3 days for 1-3 weeks.

3. So, you've got near perfect technique, but now you want to get fast, so what do you do?

Join a Swim Team (Such as Masters or Triathlon swim teams with good and attentive coaches. This will help you get faster, no question)
Train smart on your own

To elaborate on the "train smart on your own" I will remind you that:

- You need to continue to work on technique with the swim. As soon as you feel your technique fall apart, your practice is over or you need to take some extra rest before your next length/set.
- You need to vary your training. Speed work, critical swim speed work, endurance work, pull and paddles work, technique, and race simulation are crucial. You can't swim at the same speed all the time. You need to swim faster at times and slower at times. How much emphasis on faster or slower swimming depends on the race you are training for.
- Work on your weak spots. If your kick isn't very good then focus on improving your hip and ankle mobility. If you aren't strong, then do some swim chord work. If your elbow drops during your pull, then focus on that.
- You need to swim in the open water. Pool swimming is quite different from open water swimming, so if you want to be successful in the triathlon swim, you've got to practice it.

I've given you the tools for a good progression for a triathlete swimmer, now it's your choice to use them!

I coach Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday at Regent Park Pool year round for the Toronto Triathlon Club. I also coach open water swims in July and August for the Toronto Triathlon Club. Find out more information about the club and their swims here.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Is there still time to be my best?

As I've mentioned before, the days where I could spend my time training, eating, sleeping, recovery are well behind me. In 2011, I quit my full time job as a research associate at Sick Kids Hospital to pursue triathlon coaching and compete as a professional triathlete. I was lucky to be living with my parents at the time, and they were very happy to support my triathlon endeavours. I got to live a *relatively* low stress existence, with the bulk of my stress being the physical kind that comes with hard training. Winters were spent in the southwest US, springs and summers were spent racing in the northeastern US. And I was fast! I qualified for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in 2013 as a Pro, finished Ironman in 9:38 and was among the top female triathletes in Canada.

Fast forward to now. It's 2017, I'm very happy, but life is more stressful. I'm post-knee surgery, working over 40 hours a week, a business owner, a part-time step mum of 3, dealing with the stress of ongoing legal issues and trying to keep up the same level of fitness. I'd like to think it can be done, I'd like to think that my best triathlon days are ahead of me, I'd like to think that a spot in Kona is mine for the taking. Is it? Are these realistic expectations? This, I don't know. But I won't give up that dream without a fight. I will train as hard, as smart and as effectively as I can. The next couple of years will determine whether I have it in me. The following elaborates a bit on my current training and my training for the rest of the season.

So far, 2017 seems promising. My swimming stays about the same from year to year. My CSS is between 1:21 to 1:23/100m and has been for the past 3 years. When I trained with the U of T swim team, my CSS was closer to 1:16 - but I'm quite content with where things are at right now. On the bike, I've seen some of the highest top end power ever, so I hope that means my long sustained power can also go up. On a recent 5hr ride I held ~150W NP (only 17W lower than Ironman in 2013) so that's a good sign. I continue to struggle with my running. Pre-surgery I could run a 4:30/km over 12 to 30km quite easily. Now, the pace for the same effort is closer to a 4:55/km. I keep telling myself that running is all about, I will continue to just keep putting in the miles and hope for the best.

This trip to California has been a nice escape from the physical stress of daily life and has allowed me to up my training accordingly. The goal here is volume. A little bit of quality, too, as it's impossible to climb the Santa Monica mountains only in Zone 2 :) So far, things are going well. In the past 3 days I have completed 45 minutes of strength based work, 3 hours of swimming (8100m), 11.5 hours of biking (265km) and 2hrs (24km) of running. Tomorrow I will have a shorter day with a swim and then a short bike before travelling to San Francisco for the rest of the day and Sunday to visit a friend. The short break will allow me to adapt to the training I've done here so far and finish my solo camp off strong on Monday to Wednesday.

When I get back to Toronto, I will take a short rest to recover and absorb the training. The problem is that I will have to do this while catching up on all the work I've missed while being away! When I feel fresh again I will start another short and hard training block that will end at March break. Then it's Florida time with Adam and the kids and without my bike! So, I will use this time to build my run volume. (Special thanks in advance to my parents for helping out with the kids while Adam and I exercise :) ) Then, I will push hard on the bike in April with intensity, while I put in my biggest volume month on the run. May will see an increase in bike volume and a decrease in run volume, but an increase in run intensity. Then race season starts in June!

So, that is how this full time working pro-triathlete (who still believes her best performances can be ahead of her) is planning her upcoming training. Stay tuned - as nothing ever goes to plan. Or maybe it will this time?

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Managing Sleep and Training

I often hear of athletes saying that they only get 4-6 hours of sleep in order to fit their workouts in. It never fails to surprise me: don't they know this is counterproductive? Then I remind myself that before I knew how important sleep was, I would do the same thing. So, I thought I would present a little background information on why sleep is so important, with the hopes that it will encourage you to find the right balance between sleep and training.

Sleep is an essential part of our daily routine, required to return our body to homeostasis and for us to maintain a healthy living. It is a time during which our body heals, both physically and mentally. It is when our bodies grow stronger from previous training as the muscles rebuild and our brain re-sets to handle the next workout.

There are two stages of sleep: Non-REM Sleep and REM Sleep. Non-REM sleep makes up most of our sleep time and is when our bodies are in a parasympathetic or "rest and digest" state, brain activity is low. REM sleep is a time when brain activity is high, yet our bodies remain paralyzed. This prevents us from acting out our dreams. The combination of both states allows us to store nutrients, promotes injury healing, restores cognitive function and gets us ready for the next day. Sleep is incredibly important for normal functioning and even more important for athletes, considering the mental and physical training we endure.

How much sleep do we need? The following is recommended:

Newborn: up to 18hours
1-12months: 14-18hours
1-3 years: 12-15hours
5-12 years: 9-11 hours
13-18 years: 9-10 hours
Adults: 7-8 hours or more
Pregnant women: 8 hours or more

Keep in mind, these are the requirements for the general population and athletes likely need a bit more.

How does lack of sleep effect athletes? Here are a few effects:

- Prevents muscles from healing and growing stronger, which can lead to lack of progress and injury
- Effects cognitive function, which may prevent you from mentally getting through either a high intensity or high volume workout
- Increased appetite - will lead us to consume excess calories and "junk foods" ... ever wonder why you are gaining weight while training for something that causes you to sacrifice sleep?
- Impatience and irritability - don't become an annoying training partner!
- Decreased performance
- More prone to illness. Athletes lower their immune system when they train, combine this with lack of sleep and it makes an athlete much more susceptible to sickness.
- Decreased reaction time. This is especially dangerous when riding out on the road.

What is my rule on sleep and training?

Let me preface this by saying that I have never needed a lot of sleep. This has been tried and tested as I've still been able to make gains in fitness with 7-8 hours of sleep per night (maybe with more I could get even stronger?). I have a very strong parasympathetic drive - my resting heart rate is 40-42bpm, which, I'm speculating allows me to "rest and digest" a lot easier than others. I actually have a hard time sleeping longer than 8 hours. So, my "rule" on sleep is that I need an average of 7.5 hours in 3 consecutive days in order to handle a big training load (TSS > 100) on a given day. So, if I have gotten 6-7-6 hours of sleep before a big training day I will need to modify.

How to improve your sleep? These are a few things that work for me:

- Write down all your worries on a piece of paper about 1hr before you go to bed, to help clear your mind and prevent worry at night
- No alcohol before bed (alcohol can initially help you fall asleep, but it can easily disrupt REM sleep later in the night as it becomes metabolized).
- Meditate to fall asleep
- Look at pictures of people sleeping before bed
- Don't nap longer than 30 minutes! While napping can make you feel better, it certainly disrupts your sleep cycle during the night, and prevents normal healing and sleep functions from occurring.
- Establish a sleeping routine. I go to bed and wake up at the same time almost every day.
- Medications can effect the sleep cycle, so try not to take sleep medication before bed
- Workout 3 hours or more before bed

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Bike Training in the Off-season: Strength and VO2max

I've never been a strong cyclist (relative to other female professional triathletes). I have swum competitively since the age of 11, I have run since I was 7 years old (as a soccer player, then on school cross-country teams and then as a triathlete), but I didn't own a bike before the age of 19. I never even liked to ride a bike! It wasn't until 2008 that I actually started training on the bike. Then, in 2009, I started riding indoors in the winter and in the summer to compliment my outdoor riding. I saw a HUGE jump in my cycling fitness that year and, since then, I have been able to make small gains every year (thanks to WattsUp cycling and computrainer). However, I've never been quite satisfied with my progress. My highest FTP has never been higher than 205W (3.8W/kg). My best normalized power for the bike portion of a half-ironman is 192W (187W average power) or 3.45W/kg. While these numbers are strong, they lag behind other Pro females, who have an FTP of 4.0W/kg and are at or above 3.8W/kg for the half distance.

This year, Adam and I decided to do something a bit different with my bike training. We decided to place a huge emphasis on training me to be able to recruit my glutes while riding. Adam did a lot of research this summer on glute recruitment and how to specifically train these muscles - which is now heavily emphasized in the WattsUp program. My "butt training" started with me riding in running shoes or with my bare feet on top of my bike shoes (to isolate the glutes during the "push down on the pedal stroke"), a lot of glute activation work (bird-dogs, side-band walks, glute bridge, etc.). This training progressed to lots of hills and slow strength work in December and some short VO2max sets. Without doing much VO2max work at all, I had a personal best 5min TT in December of 259W in aero position - that's about 4.9W/kg. Then, I went on to do a 20K TT at The X3 Lab, where I held 218W avg power for ~36minutes (~4W/kg). My previous best 20min TT from last year wasn't much higher than that. Currently, I'm doing a lot of work with short intervals at 240W to 300W. That makes 205W feel super easy!

In addition to on the bike work, I have included strength training. I have a glute activation routine that I complete 3-4 times/week before hard bike workouts. I also have a strength routine which I complete twice per week. Currently, my strength routine involves forward and reverse lunges with light weight, single leg deadlifts with light weight, single leg angled leg press with heavy weight and straight leg deadlifts with heavy weight.

As I move toward race season (my first race is June 11th) I will progress my 240W+ intervals to 2, 5, 10(?!) minutes. I will combine these workouts with FTP, tempo and endurance rides and continue strength training. The hope is to FINALLY hold 200W NP for a half-distance race!

Test Sets 2016 to 2017:

5min TT - Dec 23rd: 259W avg P (5min)

20K TT - Dec 30th: 218W avg P (36min)

5 minute TT - Feb 3rd
20 minute TT - March 24th
20 minute TT - May 4th
Half-ironman - June 11th, Sept 18th (Barrelman!)
Long course (56km) - June 25th (Welland) and Aug 6 (K-town)

Monday, November 14, 2016

Week #1 in Review

The first week back to training has officially come and gone. I'm quite happy to be back into structured training!

Unfortunately, I lost my heart rate monitor. After Miami, I recall putting it away somewhere for "safe-keeping." Of course, that special spot was long forgotten over 2 weeks. Other than that, training started off well.

The Swim = 12.2km

I did two 3.1km swims focused on strength using paddles (one day speed, one day endurance)
I did one recovery swim (IM and dolphin kick on back) **dolphin kick on your back is an excellent core workout to do if you don't want to skip your swim in favour of strength!
I did one quality 4km swim with Kim Lumsdon Swim Club

The Bike = 4hr15min

I have been focusing on improving my technique on the bike. I definitely have trained myself to rely too much on my hamstrings and quads while cycling, so I am following the October WattsUp program to improve glute recruitment on the bike. I've been biking with running shoes, focusing on squeezing the glutes with each downstroke, and, most important, ensuring my back is flat and not rounded. Flat back = glute recruitment = more Watts!

I have also been following current November WattsUp workouts for on the bike strengthening and neuromuscular development. Strength using slow cadence/high power and neuromuscular development (maximizing number of muscle fibers firing together) with max power/max cadence STOMPS!

I have almost all the athletes I coach follow similar types of workouts as described above in the early parts of the off season. When out on the road in the summer, or working hard all the time, it's easy to pick up bad habits. It's easy to ride with a rounded back. It's easy to start using compensatory muscles when the primary drivers are fatigued. Doing technique work early in the season ensures that subsequent FTP training is done utilizing the proper muscles. FTP work all the time will not get you stronger.

The Run = 40km

This is where I am trying to make the most gains in the off-season. The run is my main focus for November and December. My workouts during this time are primary designed to slowly progress my weekly run volume up to 60km/week. So that I can be running 60-70km/week in the spring. This past week I started at 40km with two hill repeat runs, 1 long run (12km - haha!) and a short brick run.

Strength = 80mins

Six days a week I include a 10 minute activation/injury prevention routine prior to a bike, run or swim workout. When you run, your feet are either on the ground or off the ground. Your glutes and balancing muscles are being used when your feet are on the ground and your core is being used when they are off the ground. Weakness in these muscles leads to compensation by other muscles and subsequent injury. So, my injury prevention routine is strength training for the core and glutes, as well as including a few balance exercises.

Two days a week I do straight leg deadlifts, lunges and squats. When WattsUp gets its new leg press I will use that, also, because it can be used to strengthen one leg at a time. These exercises strengthen the cycling and running driver muscles: glutes, quads and hamstrings. Repetitive activity often leads to improved strength/endurance in the muscles themselves, but does not strengthen tendons. Overuse injury often occurs in the tendon or musculotendonous junction, usually because the tendons aren't strong enough. Resistance training strengthens both the muscle AND the tendon.

I will look to post an update on my training as often as I can. Stay tuned!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Planning for Triathlons in 2017!

It's been two weeks since Miami Ironman 70.3 and two weeks since I did any sort of formal triathlon training. Yes, I've hopped in the pool a few times for some easy swims and done some short runs. I've tried to be a bit more lazy than usual...turning on Netflix when I would have normally tried to fit work or training in. I've cleaned the entire house, learned how to cook some new things and got caught up on life. It's been a nice change of pace. However, I know it's time to start things back up again as I'm starting to feel anxious and overly rested!!!

So, what are my plans for the upcoming season? I get to compete as a Pro again, so that's exciting. The trick is to be able to continue to train like one, while working full time! I do like to plan, but I also know that even the best laid plans can get derailed more often than not. So, I'm going to progress through the off season one step at a time. Adam and I are trying a more collaborative approach to my training this year. As a result of my atypical work schedule (I don't work 9-5pm), my schedule is different each day and each week. This is near impossible for a coach to work with! Thus, to avoid potential arguments, we decided that I would plan my training and Adam would oversee it to ensure I'm not over or under-doing it. One of the most important roles of a coach, anyway. This was our approach to Miami, and, although I didn't hold the numbers that I wanted (tough to say whether this was due to being improperly trained or the bronchitis) we are implementing it for next season.

November and December training involves a component of injury prevention (glute, core and balance exercises) daily provided by Bill Wells at Urban Athlete, cycling specific weight training, proper cycling mechanics using the WattsUp program, strength based swimming (paddles and VASA trainer) and strength (hills) and consistency on the run.

Total time for:

Work = 40-45 hours
Training = 12-14 hours
Sleep = 7 to 8 hours per night

My *tentative* race schedule is as follows:

June 11, 2017 - Eagleman Ironman 70.3
June 25, 2017 - Mont Tremblant Ironman 70.3
July & early Aug - Multisport Canada Races
Aug 20, 2017 - Ironman Mont Tremblant
Sept 17, 2017 - Barrelman Half Triathlon
***Rest of season TBD***

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Race Report: Miami Ironman 70.3

What a season! Let's start this post with a bit of a recap...After finishing school in June I didn't have much time to ramp up the training to be fit enough to compete in Calgary Ironman 70.3 on July 24th. Thanks to Nigel and his athletes from NRG I was able to do some really hard workouts to get my bike fitness up quickly. Unfortunately, at this time I also did too much running too soon and ended up with a run injury (sprained superior tib-fib). As a result, it was a tough battle to the finish line in Calgary, my first half-ironman post knee surgery. But really, I was happy that I was even able to race again! After Calgary I did some local Multisport races, still battling some nagging injuries that weren't enough (luckily) to keep me sidelined but enough that I didn't want to push the volume/intensity on the run. In September I competed in the Barrelman Half Ironman, in which I saw some the fitness and speed I had in 2013 come back. I didn't want to let this reclaimed fitness go to waste and I needed to validate my Elite/Pro status for 2017, so that prompted me to enter Ironman 70.3 Miami. I needed to finish within 12% of the female winner in order to compete as a Elite/Pro in 2017.

The training leading up to the Miami race was going very well. I nailed my key workouts, the highlight being a 115km ride with a normalized power of 172W (and two 35K intervals at a normalized power of 188W) and then a 17km aerobic run at a sub 4:40/km pace. I thought I should be able to at least hold around 185W on the bike and a <4:30/km pace in Miami. I was pumped for a solid day. But it was not to be. What started as a little bit of a sore throat turned into a gross cough about 1 week before race day. And I was diagnosed with an acute bronchitis (viral) on the Monday prior to the race. The doctor's orders were to take a week off training. Hah! Couldn't do that. I did decide I would take the rest of my taper SUPER easy. An off day the next day and then some shorter swims, bikes and runs in the days after, with the hope that I would be ok. I was much better on race day than the days leading up to it, but I still had a sore throat, chest congestion and a cough I couldn't shake. So, I decided I would just do the best I could. Power and run pace targets were thrown out the window and I would be going more by feel. I ended up finishing the race in 4:38, which was within 12% of the winner (with about 4 minutes to spare). So, by that standard, the race was a success! My goal had been accomplished.


The highlight of the swim might actually have been that salt water was very soothing on my throat! Well, that and it felt like a nice and steady swim. I didn't even notice the waves. I just followed the girl in front of me. It was only when I exited the water in 31+ minutes that I though that I may have either swum off course or the swim was long. I hoped it was the latter, because a tough swim means more time for me to get ahead of the strong bike/runners. I did come to a realization after that swim, that having swum for most of my life, I have a really good feel for the water, the currents, how to swim over and not through the waves. If I could give only one piece of advice to triathletes about swimming it's to stay relaxed and not to fight the water.


After having a very good bike in Barrelman, I was hoping for a similar experience in Miami. However, I knew it wasn't to be when I was struggling to get my power above 180W. My heart rate was in the 170s (it should be in the high 150s) and I knew that was a result of the chest congestion. So, I tried to make the ride about staying as aero as possible. I think I did a good job of that as I averaged 37kph at 175W normalized power. I had the 11 fastest bike of the 23 female pro women. In years past I had been among the slowest on the cycling leg so this was a nice improvement to see.


I felt pretty good for the first 10km of the run, but my heart rate was very high and I was having a hard time breathing. I would also have small coughing fits every so often. I knew the second half of the run would be a struggle. I was counting the time separating myself from the girls chasing me down. The gap was getting smaller and smaller. I was passed by 2 girls in the last 5km and struggled to maintain my pace. I hung on to a fairly decent run of 1:35:53 at a pace of 4:33/km.

In the end, I'm very happy with my result. The illness definitely took it's toll, but I achieved my goal and saw some of my former fitness shine through the congestion :)


- My parents for their continued love and support throughout this crazy adventure of mine. They were there in Miami and are always there, always making me a priority when I need them. I am so lucky to have them.
- My health care team of David Lamy (RMT), Michael Hong (Acupuncture) and Bill Wells from The Urban Athlete (Chiro).
- Adam, my coach and partner, and just a great guy in general.
- Saige, Rhys and Mack for inspiring me with their own athletic achievements in the week leading up to my race (Saige - Slow-pitch division champs, Rhys - 9th at xcountry while sick!, Mack - 25th at xcountry)
- All my readers for their support and for following me in my triathlon endeavours
- WTC & Miami Tri Events race organizers, staff and all the volunteers!
- Fellow athletes at the race and training partners, especially those at WattsUp and TTC!
- My other coaches: Kim and Nigel from NRG
- My sponsors: High Rock Capital Management, WattsUp Cycling, MultiSport Canada, The Urban Athlete, Fitt1st Bike Fitting