Monday, September 30, 2013

Augusta Ironman 70.3 Race Report

What can I say...2013 has been a rough year. A testament to the fact that even the most well thought out plan can be affected by uncontrollable circumstances. It started out with my getting the flu, derailing my plans for an epic training camp in the Santa Monica Mountains...and ended with a stomach bug, at my last Ironman 70.3 of the season, Augusta. Not to mention all the things in between: a bike crash in Italy, a broken arm in July, a flat tire in August...I have never been one to deal with unpredictable circumstances very well. After this season, I hope that I have gotten better at that.

My mom and I arrived in Augusta, Georgia on Wednesday. It was the typical pre-race routine: prep swims, prep bike workouts, prep runs. The workouts went well, other than a few close calls with some no-so-friendly dogs who thought I looked like a tasty meal. The only thing that was off was my stomach. I just wrote it off as pre-race nerves and didn't think too much of it...until the race.

I was particularly excited for the start of the race. We would get to dive off a dock into the Savannah River, which was awesome. One of the things I have always wanted to do to start a triathlon is dive in. Maybe that's my competitive swim background? Anyway, they allowed us in the water to warm-up before the race and I was the first Pro to dive in and start warming up. I was pumped. I was excited for a great day of racing. The energy that I lacked in Vegas was full on for this race. I can't even say that I was really nervous. Yes, the usual butterflies were flapping around in my belly, but other than that I seemed a lot more calm then normal.

At 7:33, the Pro females were off, but the horn failed to sound, so we dove in at the officials saying "go, just go!" This was a bit strange, but off we went. I sprinted the first 100m and was actually leading the way at the start. What an awesome feeling! Knowing I couldn't maintain my pace for the whole swim, I looked to both sides of me and noticed another girl pulling ahead of me. I slipped in behind her, hoping to save some energy while maintaining a fast pace. Soon another girl came up beside me and we swam beside each other for a bit, before she passed me. At about the half-way mark I felt my stomach bothering me a bit. I thought maybe I had swallowed a bit of water, but it was effecting me enough that I slowed my pace and the girls got a bit ahead of me. The sun decided to rise at this time, making it quite difficult to sight. I had been in this situation in Steelhead though, and I knew that I just had to keep the sun spot just to the left of me. And since I had been counting the buoys and I knew how many there were (16), I knew when to turn into shore. I found the swim exit and saw the girls up ahead, only by 15 seconds. I exited the water in 3rd, followed closely by World 70.3 Champ, Melissa. We were all at our bikes at similar times. I had a good transition and was off just behind the other girls.

The bike started out exactly like Vegas. My bike computer was not picking up power, speed, cadence or heart rate. How frustrating! I knew what to do to fix it this time though, so within a couple minutes all was good again. I could see the 3rd place girl just ahead and I worked hard so that she wouldn't open the gap any more. However, by the 5th km into the bike my visor had completely fogged up. I couldn't see a thing! I tried to wipe the fog off from the inside and it flew off the helmet. I debated stopping and getting it as it was brand new! But I didn't and kept riding. I really noticed the difference in having a visor versus not. Maybe it was just psychological, but I swear that I felt the loss of aerodynamics as the wind whipped against my face with no visor to streamline the air around my head. OK, so a bad start to the ride. That was OK. I knew that Melissa and Emma-Kate Lidbury were far down the rode, but the 3rd place girl was just 100m up ahead and I focused on not letting that gap get wider. I was happy with the way my legs were feeling, happy with my power output and heart rate. But I noticed that whenever I took a sip of my eLoad drink, my stomach would ache. This is unusual, as eLoad has been the only drink in the past to not make my stomach turn. Then I tried a gel, and that was even worse. Also very unusual. I felt like I was going to puke. Something was not right. My stomach felt weak throughout the ride, but I would only feel nauseous after taking in fuel so pushed on. At around the 30km mark two other girls had caught up to me. We rode together for a bit, and I made sure that they didn't get away. But my legs had stopped feeling so good at this point and my stomach was not feeling great either. I pushed through, but a little bit more cautiously than I should have, given that I knew I could hold higher power than that. With 20km to go I was in 7th and this was not good enough. I had worked to hard and endured to much to let myself fall that far back. So I pushed hard for that last 20km and ended up finishing the bike in 5th. I was happy entering transition and it was great to see multiple paralympic swim champion, Lantz Lamback, there to cheer me in! However, I knew my nutrition intake had been compromised: only 3 gels and 1000mL of eLoad. Much too little.

I did feel OK at the start of the run. I was confident in my run fitness going into this race. I had done a couple of 32km long runs, so I knew I had the endurance for a strong half-marathon off the bike. And for the first 10km I was doing great! The run course was such so that my mom was able to cheer me on every couple of kms! It was so motivating to see her smiling face cheering me on. And it was only when I took in nutrition that my stomach bothered me, but it felt much better than on the bike. After 10km, I was holding 4'10/km average pace at my target heart rate. But slowly things started to deteriorate. My legs just wouldn't turnover at the pace I wanted and my stomach was hurting more and more with each passing km. With 5km to go I was passed and I just didn't have the energy to respond. I finished in 6th position, which is still a strong placing for me in a tough field. After the race, it was evident that I had some sort of stomach bug. For about 4 hours after the race I was sick :( Luckily, I was able to tolerate food again (and wine) by 6pm, so I had some calamari and pinot grigio to celebrate the end of the season.

For the next 8 weeks, I have been banished to St. George, where I will be building up a solid base of training (and hopefully some good karma) for my season in 2014! Stay tuned for details of my adventures :)

Monday, September 9, 2013

Ironman 70.3 World Championships Race Report

It was the night of July 22nd when I received an unexpected e-mail from Ironman, officially inviting me to compete at the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Las Vegas. After missing a lot of the qualifying races due to a bike crash and then a broken arm, I had close to ruled out the possibility that I would qualify for Worlds in 2013. Luckily, my strong racing at the end of 2012 and in Florida in May, earned me enough points to nab a roll-down spot to compete this year. I was just ecstatic! This was my only goal for the year and I had achieved it! I called up my coach to tell him and we both came close to tears of happiness at such awesome news. All the hard work was paying off.

We set about to start planning my training for the race. I raced Steelhead 70.3 in early August, my first 70.3 event since May, and proved that my fitness was still there. We planned for me to do once last prep race before Worlds in the middle of August (Timberman 70.3). When I lined up at the swim start for Timberman, I knew I was in my best shape ever, excited from my recent result at Steelhead and from my recent results in training, and ready to prove it. But disaster struck at 50km into the bike, while I was battling for third with super fast athletes, Amber Ferriera and Mandy McLane. I ended up with a flat tire, which ended my race and, subsequently, ruined a golden training opportunity before Worlds.

The next three weeks was all about me putting the Timberman race behind me, regaining my focus and zeroing in on specific training for Vegas. This included hours and hours in the hot box at WattsUp (which would get up to 110F and nearly caused me to pass out once!), race pace and long runs and a short sprint triathlon to ensure I stayed sharp in competition. The highlight of these three weeks was definitely competing in the Multisport Series Toronto Island Sprint. It was an amazing event, right in my hometown of Toronto, with great organizers, volunteers and fellow competitors. Just what I needed to lift my spirits and keep my confidence up going into Worlds.

I arrived in Vegas one week before the event. I was very lucky that I had a homestay that would accommodate me for that long. In that week's time I got to know some of the triathletes in the area who were also volunteers at the race. Everyone I met made Vegas feel like home. Holly (my homestay host) and her son, Guy, let me take over their kitchen with my food and her living room with my bike box, and her closet with all my training gear. All without complaining once! :) I swam with Bob, Deb and Rob at a the Henderson Multi-generation outdoor pool (a gorgeous facility!). Bob is an Ironman athlete, the run support and homestay co-ordinator for Worlds and one of the most friendly people I have ever met. Bob not only made me feel like family, but also set me up with a chiropractor (Victor at Boom Fitness) to get rid of some pre-race tightness I was feeling, He also helped me find my keys which I accidentally left at Starbucks! I also met the co-ordinator of the race, Frank Lowery, and realized just how much planning, organization and time goes into ensuring that it runs smoothly. This also gave me time to acclimatize the the Vegas heat, which, to my surprise didn't seem all that bad. I guess suffering in the hot box at WattsUp paid off!

On the Friday before the race, my coach and my parents arrived. My parents have been the biggest of my supporters this year and have gone out of their way 110% of the time to ensure that they are doing everything they can to help me in my triathlon career. It was very exciting to get to share my experience at Worlds with them. And having so much support there meant so so much. It is the triathlete that competes, but the coach is just as much of an essential part of the race as the athlete is. The coach is crucial in developing the training plan that enables the athlete to reach their potential. Not only that, but the coach knows, better than anyone, the type of hurting and suffering that the athlete endures and overcomes during training and racing and otherwise. It gives the coach the ability to be able to offer the support that the athlete needs, when their emotions and anxiety are at their highest, like on race day. So having a coach there was important for two reasons: so I could share my results with him and because there is no one who would have been able to better support me at the start line.

The Saturday before the race it was the usual pre-race routine. I planned to do the open water swim offered in Lake Las Vegas in the morning, but I was scatter brained as usual, and didn't realize I had to wear my timing chip during this practice swim. I had left my chip at my homestay, which was 30 minutes from the swim site! So, as usual, my coach kept me calm and told me to do my pre-race prep brick workout and I could swim in the lap pool later. This is exactly what I did. The brick went well and I was feeling strong. Then we headed to the outdoor pool and I swam an easy 2000yds with some sprints. Then it was time for some breakfast and to get my bike race ready. Later on, it was the pre-race Pro meeting...a bit different than a usual pro meeting, because I was so star struck! Past Olympians and World Champions were everywhere I looked. It was hard to believe that I belonged in the same race as some of these athletes...but I was! The afternoon was all about relaxing. And relax I did. I saw Victor for some last minute A.R.T., watched the inspirational Silverman Ironman race video (thanks Bob), played in Holly's pool and soaked in her hot tub, took an awesome nap and then made a big pasta dinner. It was the perfect pre-race day.

Sunday morning I woke up bright and early at 4am. I had gotten a solid 8 hr sleep and felt good. I did some stretching and some activation exercises, changed into my race gear and had breakfast. At 4:45am, I opened the door to pack my bike into the car and got quite a shock when I realized it was pouring rain! I couldn't believe it was raining, in the desert! I anxiously checked the radar which showed the rain clearing shortly. This eased my nerves a bit. However, the rain did not seem to lighten up at all during the drive to transition, during set up and even while I was warming up it was still raining. This wouldn't change the race, it would only mean that it wouldn't be as hot so I could dial back my fluid intake a bit and ride a bit more cautiously.

At 6:30am the female pros were lined up at the start. I positioned myself in the same spot as I did in 2011, when I competed as an age grouper (to the left side), as I found that was the shortest line to the turn buoy. The difference today than in 2011 was that today I was lined up right beside Leanda Cave! Before I knew it it was 6:34 and the horn sounded and we were off. I had a great start and I was actually keeping up to Leanda's feet for a little bit. Then someone beside me literally swam almost over top of me and I struggled as it felt like she was veering me off course on purpose! I had to stop and go around her form behind to get on the inside. I sprinted for the next 200m to catch the group. The lead pack was way up ahead but I managed to catch the chase group and hung on to their feet as I eased up my pace and caught my breath. After the first turn buoy I was comfortable and about the 3rd person back in our group. We stayed like this for awhile, but as the finish line approached a few girls surged up ahead. I didn't respond as the swim felt like it was going on forever and I could feel my energy levels dropping a bit. I was actually getting hungry and I knew that this was not a good sign 20 minutes in to a 5hr race! I did stay with the chase group and exited the water in the middle of the pack and 13th female (28:32). The run to the bikes was long and muddy. It was still raining which also made it quite slippery. Given my track record of rolling my ankle I was especially cautious. I got passed by a couple of girls during the run, but I didn't worry. However, when I went to put on my helmet the strap was stuck inside and I lost time fumbling to get it unstuck. Lots of girls passed me and I exited transition in 20th position.

At the start of the bike I tried to stay positive. This was not easy as lots of things seemed to go wrong at this point. First, I could hear that my front wheel was rubbing against the brake pad, likely due to extra debri from the rain, so my focus was to open the brakes up while riding and still avoiding a crash! I managed it somehow. Second, my powertap, heart rate monitor and speed/cadence sensor were not being picked up by my bike computer. This may have not been such a big deal, but for someone like me, who trains with constant feedback from such devices, it makes it very difficult to race without this information. The first part of the course was technical, especially with the rain, so there was no time to fiddle with my garmin. Instead I focused on keeping with the lead group and not letting them get away from me on the first long 3km climb. I was still with them until the 180 degree turnaround, which I came to almost a complete stop for. I still struggle with the fact that I am a very timid rider. I look up to girls like Heather Jackson who are so comfortable riding and make it look like the bike is almost an extension of their body, rather than a bike. Anyway, after the tricky turn I finally focused on getting my bike computer working and breathed a sigh of relief as I saw the power data show up on the screen. And now that the technical part of the course was done, I was on auto-pilot, focused on keeping a certain heart rate and power. Although I had missed the pack that I wanted to be with, due to my poor bike handling skills and from fumbling around with my bike computer, I still was left with 3 girls to work with. We legally took turns at the front of our little group until the turn around, where I managed to pull ahead of them. Then I managed to catch up to Amber and we worked together for the rest of the course. She is so strong on the hills! The rain, while it probably caused me to lose a bit of time at the beginning of the ride, was actually quite pleasant in the late stages of the bike. I was definitely bordering on being cold during the ride and not hot, which allowed me to keep my power high. However, I knew that I would have been well prepared to handle the heat on the bike, so I am still torn on whether I am happy or upset that it was raining. Anyway, I got to T2 in good spirits and with a time I was happy with (2:43).

The run course in Vegas is tough. It's 3 loops of the course, which started out with about 1.5km downhill then about a 3.5km uphill, followed by another 2km downhill (repeated 3 times). I was off the bike with Amber and Uli Bromme, but I just couldn't find my running legs. I let the girls get ahead of me on the run from the very start. In the first km they had already gained about 30 seconds on me. I was fading. I went from being hopeful about running with those girls to just being hopeful that I could finish. So I took the race in stride...I counted out the loops. After the 1st loop I did start to feel a little bit better. I had found my stride and tried to push myself a bit on the second loop. But by the third loop I was done. Plus, the sun was out in full force and the heat and humidity were soaring. The final 1.5km of uphill running was more like a shuffle. Thank goodness for all the people cheering on the sidelines: my parents, coach, Lesley from Cervelo, Bob & Deb & Rob and all the volunteers. I struggled to the finish line, but I made it. I finished the run in 1:35:15, about 9 minutes faster than 2 years ago. My final time was 4:51:51, which was good enough for 23rd, 3rd canadian female and 4th female under 30 (the top 2 under 30 were in the Olympics last year). I was very happy.

After some reflection about the race, I did realize something was missing on Sunday. I was missing that little bit of "zip" that allows you to push yourself to that next level. I felt that zip in Florida, I felt that in Timberman (until the flat tire). Today, I didn't have it. In the swim I didn't respond near the end when the group pushed the pace. I didn't feel the urge to respond and ride with the group at the start of the bike (yes, I blamed the bike computer, but I still feel like I used that as an excuse) and I definitely didn't have it on the run. I feel like the run keeps you the most honest about your state going into the race. You can push the swim and the bike, but if you don't have that little bit of freshness or "zip" then it will show on the run the most. I don't blame the training for this. I was as well prepared, physically, as possible. But there are some things in life that you can't control. Such as that life stress that comes from things beyond triathlon. That life stress can result in lost sleep, it can be mentally draining, it can cause you to be anxious and sad. All of which takes its toll emotionally and, eventually, physiologically as well. I have felt that life stress recently. It's not easy being a pro athlete. It's not all sponsorships and endorphins and glory. There is a lot of worry, as well. But I guess it's all part of the training. Learning to compartmentalize those emotions, and not letting them effect me negatively, is an obstacle I have to overcome while I am on my journey to me becoming the best triathlete I can be. So, that will be the next step in my training :)

A few thanks are necessary to those who got me to finish line at the World Championships. Thank you to Bob and his family, Holly and Guy, my family (Mamma, Papa, Sara, Kevin, Bianca, Thatcher, Rikki, Rikki's family, Nonna, the Canellas, Susan and NYC Tomensons), friends and fellow athletes for their endless encouragement and support. Thank you to Ironman and the volunteers for putting on a great race. Special thanks to Meg Nolte for the photos and for taking care of my parents. Thank you to WattsUp Cycling (and the hot box!), Enduro Sport, eLoad (I must've gone through a bottle of Zone Caps during my week in Vegas!), Bill Wells and Urban Athlete, Victor at Boom Fitness (for the last minute and very effective A.R.T.), my RMTs Diego and Brad, Raymond James Financial, Turner-Tomenson Family Wealth Management, my training group at Summerville pool (coaches Bob & Andrew and the Toronto Summer Swim Camp swimmers), the Newmarket Eagles (for putting on awesome Tuesday night time trials throughout the summer). I couldn't have done it without them. And, of course, endless thanks to my coach. In October of 2009 I met him for the first time and I told him that I wanted him to coach me so that I could break 5 hours in the Muskoka 70.3. I never would have thought that, 4 years later, I would be the 3rd Canadian to cross the finish line at the 70.3 World Championships. He believed in me then, he continues to believe in me now and it is because of him that I am the athlete that I am today.