Monday, November 18, 2013

Ironman Arizona Race Report

What a season! The 2013 racing year ended yesterday with Ironman Arizona. It's been quite the adventure...I encountered obstacles this year that I never thought I would ever have to hurdle...mostly just due to bad luck! But I look at it as all part of the learning process. All part of the journey. You can't look back, only forward.

The day began at 4am on Sunday, November 17th. I woke up and did a round of my activation exercises and some swim tubing, before changing and getting into my race gear. Then I had a pre-race breakfast of a bagel with PB and banana, coffee, water and some Pepto Bismal. I headed to the race site at around 5am, encountered some unexpected traffic, which was a tad stressful, but made it to transition about an hour before race start. I set up my bike: garmin, shoes in pedals, made sure that my brakes weren't rubbing, bike was in an easy gear, water bottles secured...Then I did a little walk through of transition, checked on my gear bags. Then got my wetsuit on and said a quick hi and goodbye to Papa.

All the athletes gathered at the front of the Swim Start arch. Pros in the front, followed by about 3000 age groupers! I was really not that nervous. I was just excited! There was no pressure for this race. I just was there for the experience, which was very calming. Before I knew it I was jumping off the pier into the water and swimming towards the start buoys. I felt good, strong and full of energy. I was ready.

The gun went off and about 26 of us female Pros were off! I started strong, determined to get with a good group of swimmers. I saw about 5 people take off up ahead. This would be the pack of the strongest swmmers: to 50 - 53 minute type. I knew that their pace would be too fast for me for 3800m so I didn't try to catch them. I ended up swimming beside another female for about 500m. I couldn't see a thing in front of me (I need to get new goggles) so I used her to sight. However, I could tell she was starting to slow and I didn't want to back off the pace that much. I had no choice but to keep going and hope that I was swimming in a straight line. I am sure that I wasn't, but I was all alone and really had no other option. I stayed calm and hoped for the best! Eventually I hit the turnaround buoy and was happy, because I would no longer be swimming straight into the sun. However, it was still difficult to see on the way back. I was sighting almost every stroke and my hip flexors were tightening up. Luckily I still felt strong and my energy wasn't fading at all. Finally, I reached the last turn buoy, but I couldn't see the swim exit. So, what did I do? Stopped, took off my goggles and looked around to see where I was going. I saw the swim exit and quickly put my goggles back on and sprinted towards it! I exited the swim in around 57 minutes. I was hoping for 56 minutes, but goal really was to be in the lead of the chase group and I think I kind of was the chase group! So I had accomplished my goal.

My first transition was a little rocky. I had my wetsuit halfway off, grabbed my gear bag and put my goggles and cap in my gear bag and my my helmet on while running. Ya! I thought I was so good. Then I realized that I had dropped my gear bag off and still had my wetsuit on! OOPS! So I was close to my bike, when I had to run back to the change tent. The AWESOME volunteers stripped off my wetsuit and put it in my bag for me. Then I ran back to my bike and all went smoothly from there.

The bike started out and I was a little chilly. Nonetheless, I was enjoying it. I smiled as I tried to keep my power in check - high zone 2 or 3.2W/kg. This was much more fun than pushing 3.8W/kg, which is typical for me for a half-ironman. It was a 3-looped course, which made it a little more fun, I think. The first half is a gradual uphill, then a gradual downhill back. We had a bit of a headwind on the way out and a tailwind on the return. I got passed by about 5 girls in the first 40km of the bike. I was calm though. I had been told that patience was key to a successful ironman, so I focused on my power and didn't worry about the girls ahead. I finished my first loop of the bike in 1hr41mins, so my goal was around 5 hours on the bike. I really started to feel my best once the temperatures warmed, during the middle of the second loop of the bike. I felt so strong, so powerful. However, I did hit a pothole and off flew my water bottle with my concentrated eload/FLY/salt tablet drink. I debated stopping to grab it, but it had rolled too far away from me and I couldn't have stopped to grab it. I would have to rely on the aid stations for fluid, and the extra calories from eLoad gels, but I had NO extra salt tablets :( I pushed the thought of possible cramping to the back of my mind and focused on the things I could power, cadence and heart rate were all on target. I finished the first 90km of the bike in 2hr36min (not bad, considering my half-IM bike splits last year were all in the 2:40s!). Then at around 100km I REALLY had to pee...I thought about peeing on the bike. Apparently that's what most people I tried, but I couldn't! So I held it in for the next 80km...eek. I still felt strong, even though I had to I used that to distract myself. I actually felt good until about the last 20km of the bike, then my power started drifting into the mid-zone 2 area. I had been warned that I would start to fade in the last 30km so I was prepared for it. I focused on keeping on task, pushing hard enough to stay strong, but not too far beyond my comfort level. Before I knew it I was heading into T2, with a time of 5hrs1min and 2hr25min last 90km!

My second transition went better than the first. The volunteers handed me my run gear bag, then one volunteer put sunscreen on my, the other put my running shoes on and the other put my race belt on for me! I felt like a queen. In not too long I was out on the run course...within the first few 100 meters I saw exactly what I needed...a portopotty so that I could pee! After what was probably the longest pee of my life I was finally ready for the marathon.

The run started out good. I was holding around 4:30 - 4:40/km pace and feeling good. I was taking in water and my gels at regular intervals and I was enjoying myself...this continued until about 10 miles into the run. My quads started cramping, my stomach was not wanting any more nutrition and my pace was lack of taking in salt during the bike ride was catching up to me. I got myself through the next 10 miles by taking chips and licking the salt off pretzels that were provided at the aid stations. Seeing Papa cheering at mile 13 and mile 15 helped too! With 6 miles to go, my run turned into a shuffle. And I got the hiccups! REALLY painful ones at that :( So I hiccupped and shuffled towards the finish line, determined to break 3:40 for the marathon...I just had to. My thoughts turned to all of my supporters at this point...I heard Pete K's advice that I had to "have a positive attitude and let it take me to the finish line", I thought of Faye sending me a fruit basket to help me through the tough times in training the past month, my hosts in St. George who believed in me (Kirk and Charity), my cheerleaders during the race (Papa, Bob's family, Deb and Jon), I thought of all the other people who went out of their way to help me get to where I was, my amazing sponsors (WattsUp, eload, Urban Athlete, Enduro Sport, Scott Judges at Fitt1st, Raymond James Financial, Turner-Tomenson Wealth Management) and all the love I have received and feel for everyone involved in my journey. I finished the run in 3hr35 which got me an overall time of 9hr38min and 1st Canadian female, 14th female overall!

And that's the end of my 2013 season! I look forward to an exciting 2014...but, first, it's time for some deep fried food and a nice cold glass (or several) of Pinot Grigio!

Photos coming soon!

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Sunday, November 10, 2013

St. George Training: Update #6

Last Thursday marked the end of the all my hard training for this triathlon season. It has been, by far, the most difficult season of triathlon. Being my second year of professional racing, I had more expectations of myself. I had expectations that this season would go better than the first, that I could work harder and smarter, because I had learned so much from the 2012 season. This was definitely naive thinking, as 2013 brought on a whole new set of obstacles to overcome.

It started with a horrible flu in January that prevented me from attending a training camp in California and I took two weeks to recover from. This set back my training enough that I had to post-pone the start of my race season. I eagerly followed the results of the early season races and saw my competitors all doing well. I was anxious to get back into it. Then, my first race of the season, I lost 2 minutes, because someone had racked their bike on top of mine in transition! Things finally seemed to be going well for me when I had my best race ever in Florida. The momentum didn't last long, though, and a bike crash and DNF followed in Italy, then a broken elbow and a DNF due to a flat tire in August. I ended up missing out on 5 of my planned 9 races. The end result: a lot of training and not a lot of racing! It's tough to put in the work and not get the results you are working towards.

I moved to Utah 6 weeks ago. I needed a little change of scenery. A fresh start. And something new to train for...not another 70.3 distance event, but an Ironman. Up until 6 weeks ago I had not run more than 32km in 4 years, or biked over 165km or done any training sessions longer than 5 hours, since a 7hr ride in January. My hard training started in earnest on the 4th of October and ended on the 7th of November. So I had basically 5 weeks to build up the endurance I would need to complete an Ironman. So what did it take to get me ready for the start line in 5 weeks? A total of 21 hours of swimming, 50 hours of cycling and 23 hours of running. I don't know how this compares to what other Pros are doing. Could be less, but, because this was my first time tackling longer distances I had to be careful not to over do the training. It's always that delicate balance between training too much and not enough. Without a huge base from which to build my training, I had to be careful. My longest session was 7.5hrs and involved a 195km bike ride (power increasing from low to high zone 2 throughout the ride) followed by a 10km run at Ironman run pace, my longest run was a brick run of 37.5km with the last 12.5km at a 3:10 marathon pace and my most favourite workout was a 60km ride with Charity that involved low cadence/high power intervals around the desert, at the base of the red mountains.

So, now, all the hard training is done. Was it enough to tackle the Ironman? We will see. Regardless, Ironman will be an experience...a chance to tackle that distance, without the pressure of wanting to place well and to just to race to the best of my ability. I know that I am going to aim to swim at the front of the chase pack, to bike within a pre-determined zone regardless of what the rest of the field is doing, and to run by feel. If I can do this, stick to my nutrition plan and finish the race with nothing more to give, then I will consider the experience a success.

My next post will be a re-cap of the race (no doubt I will learn a lot!) and then I will be taking a little bit of time off training and mentally recharge, welcome my niece into the world, get caught up on life outside triathlon, and get ready for 2014. I learned a lot about training and racing last year, but I learned a lot more about myself this year. No doubt the learning will continue as I continue in the sport. Thank you for reading.

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Some more pictures from Utah:

Sunday, November 3, 2013

St. George Training: Update #5 & Zion National Park

The past Monday to Friday was another big training block...I had my biggest 5 days of swimming in awhile (close to 20km), I re-visted lactate threshold intervals on the bike and on the run, I rode a total of 280km, ran a total of 50km, and had my second last 2hr+ brick run of the season! The highlights of my training were being able to do swim sets with pull/paddles on faster pace times than I could without them (that's never happened before, I've always needed my legs!), nailing all my power numbers in every bike session, being able to cycle for 10 minutes with one leg, finally being able to consume 250 calories/hour while exercising and negative splitting my 26km run. The lows of this past week of training were getting a flat tire (on the trainer!), taking 10 minute to change the flat tire (yikes!), having VERY tired arms after my epic pull/paddles swim set and feeling super sluggish in the pool for the 2 days afterwards, my knee pain that just won't go away :( I only have two more 6.5hr training days to go, then taper, then Ironman Arizona on November 17th and then the off season!!!

Today I decided would be a good day to visit Zion National Park. Unfortunately, I didn't dress warmly enough and I have zero tolerance for cold so I didn't see as much of it as I would have liked. I plan to make another visit before I leave, so hopefully I do get the chance.

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Pictures from Zion:

More info about Zion National Park

Monday, October 28, 2013

St. George Update: Detour to California!

This weekend I decided to take a quick break from Utah to go watch Janet finish a 200 mile bike race in Furnace Creek! She did AMAZING in the event, climbing thousands of meters and finishing in under 13 hours. I thought I would post some pictures from beautiful Furnace Creek:

Friday, October 25, 2013

St. George Training: Update #4

It has been 4.5 weeks since I left Toronto to begin my training adventure in the US! A brief stop in Georgia for Ironman 70.3 August, followed by a cross-country road trip to Utah, then some epic training here, unlike I have ever done before. I have successfully completed 2 of 4 training blocks. And, in just over 4 weeks, I will arriving back home to Toronto, for a much needed break. Then, I will start training for my 2014 season in December!

This training block included 3 easy days then 8 days of hard training...95km of running, 450km of cycling and 20km of swimming. The training block finished today with a 37.3km run. You can imagine how I felt this morning, already feeling beat up from my biggest ever training week, knowing that I had to complete a marathon (almost!). To add insult to injury, I had to get in a bike workout just prior to the run, of supra-maximal intervals. Ouch! However, the workout was a success...I followed coach's orders and descended each 12.4km section. I was definitely hurting at the end, but not as much as I expected. I think I'm getting used to these super long workouts. I am sure that it helps that I have also worked on increasing the number of calories, and, especially fluid that I take in during these sessions. Don't underestimate nutrition!!

Tomorrow, after a short swim, I will head to California to watch one of WattsUp's superstar cyclists, Janet Wilson, compete in the Death Valley Double Century (200 mile road cycling event). You don't see many people with the work ethic and determination as this woman. No doubt she has spent hours suffering in WattsUp's hot box and probably gone on 100 - 200 mile rides in the cold weather of northern Ontario to prepare herself. She is one of the people that truly inspires me. And I am so excited to get to cheer her in at the finish line, with fellow WattsUp athlete, and another superstar cyclist, Julie Toole. View more information about Janet's race here

Another exciting bit of news is that Kirk and Charity (my hosts in St. George) opened up their bike shop this week! They specialize in building and fitting bikes, Argon 18 and Felt. AND they ship to check them out here.

That's it for today's post...bedtime :) Photos:

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

St. George Training: Update #3

The past three weeks I have been living in some sort of dream. It's been eat, then train, then eat, then write training programs for my athletes and do work, then train, then eat, then Skype, then sleep, repeat...for some people this might sound much to boring, or lonely, or both. But I love it. There are definitely days when I think it would have been easier, less risky and much more profitable to work in a regular day job. But so long as I can scrape by doing something I love, I am going to do it. I just don't want to have any regrets.

So, now onto the important lessons I have learned during this training block so far:

(1) It is possible to get faster for each repeat when you are doing a set of 4 x 1000 in the pool, or to negative split a 30km run, or to hold a higher power in the last 90km of a 180km bike than in the first 90km. How? It's called pacing. Many people go out too hard, thinking "this is gonna be the breakthrough workout I've been hoping for, and I'm going to be able to hold 50W higher than my previous long ride". This is not the mindset to have...I would suggest starting out holding the same power that you averaged on your last ride of a similar distance, then, push the pace in the last half or last third of the workout. A lot of my long workouts have had this focus...I have started easy, then gradually increased the pace or the power as the workout goes on. It is extremely important to get a feel for proper pacing when doing long workouts, to prevent burning out later on.

(2) Always have a growth mindset in training, because, just like life has its ups and down, so does a swim, bike or run! Having a growth mindset means being an optimist, searching for the positives, thinking of how take control and improve the situation. So that is the approach I have taken during this training block. If you just don't have the swimming arms in the pool, you can seize the opportunity to switch the focus to technique and drills...if you feel your legs are too heavy to run, you think about what good training it is to run when you don't feel good (assuming you can keep proper technique)...if your forgot your sunglasses on a bike ride, well, your sunglasses might fall off in a race, so you use it as a new experience! :)

(3) A 7.5hr training day doesn't feel quite as bad the second time around! After last week's longest ride ever, which I barely managed to descend (from low zone 2 in the first half to high zone 2 in the second half), I felt like death. I could barely muster up the energy to head out for a run afterwards. The run was less than epic at 8 minutes/mile pace...However, yesterday I nailed my power targets on the bike (which was 20km longer) and then ran at a 7:23/mile pace off the bike! I was still pretty dead at the end, but I heard this quote from fellow WattsUp athlete, "It doesn't get any easier, you just get faster". And it's true!

(4) A random epiphany (there's going to be those during endless hours of training!): The bad decisions you make have more weight than the right decisions you make and the things that go wrong have more weight than the things that go right. And it's the same thing with could put in a million hours of training and preparation, but a moment or one poor decision can end it all. If you mess up your taper or nutrition, get sick or you suffer a mechanical problem or you ends your race.

Well...that's all for now :)

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

St. George Training: Update #2

I have completed my first block of training here in St. George. From October 7th to the 14th, I ran 80km, rode 400km, swam 20 kms and did some core/strength training, for a total of 28 hours of training! Before I comment more I just want to thank the many people who have been supporting me, especially while I've been here - so far away. In the past few days I have received texts, emails, Skype calls and even a letter in the mail(!), from people telling me that they believe that I really can become the triathlete that I strive to be, one day. I have never had so much support for something in my life. Your kind words of encouragement help more than I can describe. On those long rides, in the cold weather, when my legs feel like they can't turn another pedal stroke or I can't run another step, your words are with me and getting me through. So, thank you.

Since my last post (October 7th) I have had some epic swim sets, my longest ride ever and my longest run of the year and I have learned a lot (bypass the first two if you don't like sciency details!):

1. Nutrition is more important than ever on long training sessions. I learned an important lesson this past week: you don't eat during a long training session => your don't have fuel at the end of your session => you can't go fast => you get discouraged! A person can store about 1400 - 2000 calories as glycogen in your liver and muscles (leaner and stronger and well trained athletes can store more) and you have almost an endless supply of fat supplying calories. But you need glycogen to provide glucose as a quick source of energy & to help utilize fat for energy (I won't get into the biochemistry!!) Since I am used to training sessions never being more than a few hours I have never needed to worry too much about fuel. I could rely on my previous meal and eLoad during my sessions. However, since I am burning 3000 or more calories during these recent multi-hour training sessions, I need to eat during, and eat a lot! Digestion and exercise are not easy to do at the same time and, I have realized, require training! So that is what I need to work on next time.

2. Drinking is also important during any training session, regardless of duration. More science for you: you lose lots of fluid during exercise, mostly as sweat (even in the pool!) and when you lose fluid, your blood volume goes down and your heart rate increases as a result (not good). So how much do you need to drink? There are all sorts of experts out there with contradicting opinions and they will tell you different things. Everyone is unique and, if you can afford it, can do a sweat test to figure out your own needs. I am taking the approach that I need as much fluid as my stomach will allow...about 500 - 750mL per hour (apparently there are some elite ironman athletes that drink close to 1L per hour!). Important to keep in mind that "fluid" does not mean water. I add about 2 Zone Caps (salt tablets by eLoad) per 750mL and about 1 scoop eLoad and 1 scoop eLoad FLY to water (salt and glucose improve fluid absorption into the gut and help regulate electrolyte balance and provide calories, respectively). On my most recent long run I made some miscalculations which resulted in my only taking in 300mL per hour and a HUGE side cramp in the last 40 minutes of the run and a HUGE loss in weight. Not good for performance (or my attempt to negative split a 33km run)!

3. WattsUp socks can also double as cycling gloves. Night before my long ride, 2 gloves go into washer and dryer and only 1 comes out...I could do my ride with one glove (Micheal Jackson style?) or wear socks on my hands and have a matching set. I chose the latter, with the spot for the heel in the sock doubling as the spot for my thumb. Perfectly functional: I had no trouble shifting gears, braking and my hands stayed toasty warm!

4. When you are desperate, a city block in Ivins, Utah can double as a running track for 1km intervals! Track meet on the nearby track meant I had to improvise and find a city block to do my 1km repeats on. Not only did it work, but I had my fastest times for 1K intervals ever!

5. There are so many friendly people who live in St. George, from the clerk at the grocery store, to the barista at Starbucks to people I meet in the pool and out walking their dog. I don't know whether it's the nice weather or scenery or the outdoorsy lifestyle out here, but everyone is super friendly. Especially the family I have been living with: Kirk, Charity, their daughter Selah, two dogs and two cats! I have never been treated so well. Charity even cooked me an AMAZING thanksgiving dinner (even though US thanksgiving isn't until November).

6. If you choose to pursue a crazy dream, one that is risky and one that has the potential of setting you back further than when you started it, you can't have any hesitations once you are on that path. You can't listen to the voices of doubt inside your head, you can't listen to the people who don't believe in you, you can't look have to keep on going, keep on thinking positively, repeating the words of support that you do get. Keep setting little milestones for yourself on your path toward that big milestone. That is the only way you have a chance of reaching that seemingly impossible dream.

Next training block is set to bring 40 hours of training in 8 days...I will be checking in again soon.

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