Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Ironman Mont Tremblant Race Report: The Prelude

Last August, I took on Ironman Mont Tremblant.

I know. I know. It’s now almost six months later (February 2019) and I’m just sitting down to write my race report. Gad, I barely remember the race, but here I am planning to go back and relive the excitement of swimming 2.4 miles (in the fog), biking 112 miles (with hills), and running 26.2 miles (without a back spasm!). 
But hey, life happens. I’ve been really busy the last six months. I worked a lot – and then there was the fact I went to the Ironman World Championships in Kona back in October. I will take going to Kona (no, I didn’t race! I was there supporting my friend Fliss who got in through the Legacy Program) any day over having written this race report any earlier than now. Sorry. Hawaii will win every time.  

Fliss Rocking her Finisher's Medal
Oh wait, technically I did race. I just didn't do the big dance. I did do the Ho'ala 2.4 mile swim race the week before the Ironman World Championships, and the Path 5k run...and the (In)Famous Kona Underpants Run. If you'd asked me if I'd do an underpants run in my lifetime, I would have sworn that the answer would be, "No!" but this is one instance where my friends convinced me to jump off the (thankfully metaphorical) bridge.

Kona Underpants Run 2018
Spoiler alert: I did do Ironman Mont Tremblant faster than Ironman Arizona…but I wasn’t actually -fast- by any stretch of the imagination. I was more than 3 hours slower than the woman who won my age group. If I ever race in Kona, it will be when I'm 90 and the only woman in my age group!
Now, if you want to read a very detailed Ironman Race Report – I suggest going back to read what I wrote about Ironman Arizona. That six-part series (Prelude, Don't Drown, Don't Crash, Don't Trip, The Aftermath, and The Epilogue) was something special. I highly doubt I am going to get even close to the detail and length of that report here. But hey, that was my first Ironman. It should get the best coverage.  
But I am still going to cover a bunch of things in this report. Feel free to skip ahead (well, you can do that once I've actually written all the segments) if you get bored. I won’t be offended. Promise.
Now, on with the show!
The Prelude
After finishing Ironman Arizona with a back spasm (with a time of 13:59:16), I knew I was going to do another. I had a crazy experience in Arizona, but despite the pouring rain and having to walk 25km of the marathon, I had a great time. That race (along with all that came before) taught me that anything really is possible - that a former overweight klutz who was entirely unathletic could, with the proper training and an awesome coach, complete on of the most challenging endurance races out here.

Ironman Arizona - 2015
Originally, I was going to take a year off and do a second Ironman in 2017. But then I accidentally qualified for the Olympic Distance ITU World Championships in Rotterdam in 2017, so I did that instead. Yes, I qualified because there were more slots for the race than people in my age group….but that’s besides the point. I went to Rotterdam and had a great time if a crazy race (you can read all about my fun running in bike shoes here).  

2017 ITU Worlds in Rotterdam
After Rotterdam, I decided that 2018 would be a good year to do another Ironman. I debated what race I wanted to do. I scoured course profiles and looked at the costs associated with doing another US-based Ironman. Sadly, the Canadian dollar has not been great – so whatever race I thought about doing, it was going to cost an arm and a leg.

I initially liked the idea of doing Ironman North Carolina (I had spectated for a friend who did it 2016) but that was no longer a full distance race. I nixed Maryland because it has had several years of bad weather. Florida was out because I was afraid of the ocean and didn’t want to get stung by jellyfish.
The race I kept coming back to was actually Ironman Mont Tremblant. I raced the Mont Tremblant 70.3 in 2016 and truly loved the course, the community, and the fact the people in Mont Tremblant loved triathletes. They really go out of their way to support the race.

Mont Tremblant 70.3 - June 2016

My biggest fear with doing the Mont Tremblant full Ironman was the course. It’s not easy. The bike course is quite challenging for someone who isn’t a strong biker.  I was worried I would have a tough time doing the bike course twice (you do the 70.3 course twice) and being able to run a marathon after.
Aside: To be completely honest, I also once swore that I'd never do an Ironman with the word "Mont" in the title. Famous last words.

I was also worried about the weather. I don’t do well in the humidity – and mid-summer racing can be very hit-or-miss for me because of my asthma. If I got a terrible day humidity wise, I could be in for a lot of trouble.

So what was the deciding factor? Well, there were two.
First, my coach reminded me that I picked Arizona because it was going to be hot and dry. What I got was cold and wet. He told me I shouldn’t pick a race because of weather. He made a very good point.
Second, I realized that Ironman Mont Tremblant would fall on the weekend of my 40th birthday (My birthday would be on Friday the 17th, followed by the race on Sunday the 19th). And given that Ironman was also turning 40 in 2018, why not treat the race like a giant birthday party with 2,500 of my closest friends?
Ironman birthday party. I couldn’t think of anything better!

40 Years of Me!
13 weeks: What was I thinking?
For Ironman Arizona, I started training in May. I ran a PB half marathon and then, with the weather nicer, began riding outside as of the TTC Collingwood camp.

“Great!” I thought, signing up for the Glass City Marathon on April 22, 2018. I could train hard for a BQ attempt and then go into Ironman training for Ironman Mont Tremblant. No problem.
Of course, I didn’t think about the fact that mid-August is 3 months sooner than mid-November. Not at all. I simply put all my effort into running, and tried to swim and bike at least once a week (I think my longest ride prior to mid-May -excluding my week at Triathlon Camp- was 1h20).

In fact, I didn’t start thinking about training required for IMMT until after I’d screwed up at Glass City (I ate too late the night before and had stomach issues that forced me to DNF) and signed up for my back-up race, the Toronto Marathon, two weeks later. 

Aside: The Toronto Marathon was also not good because my quads decided they hadn’t recovered from my DNF 2 weeks earlier). Ah well. At least I tried. Since my stomach was fine, I was able to treat the race as a training run for Mont Tremblant.

Toronto Marathon: Let's call it a training run
Around that time, I had a bit of a panic attack. If I’d screwed up a race I trained for 6 months for – how on earth was I going to complete an Ironman in….9, 10, 11, 12…13 weeks! Yikes! 
Aside: Next time I decide to do two big races in the same year, maybe I should spread them out a bit better. 
My awesome coach Mark Linseman of Loaring Personal Coaching never worried as far as I could tell. At least he always came across as entirely confident I would be fine. Which is good, since I pretty much asked myself why on earth I’d signed up for IMMT every single day from about May 15th until Race Day.
Training: The Bike (Because really, it was my -only- priority)

So, I had 13 weeks to train for a race I considered to be insanely challenging with some crazy hills. So what did I do? I found every opportunity I could to bike, and every opportunity I could to bike on hilly courses.

Collingwood Camp (May 18-21)

I started my training with the TTC Collingwood Camp. It’s always a fun weekend with some crazy hills. I planned to ride 40km, 90km, 90km, and maybe 40m.

Collingwood TTC Camp!
What really happened:
Friday: I rode the 40km ride on Friday, ran into a person who made an unexpected quick stop, and went down hard. Thankfully I wasn’t hurt – just a bit battered.
Saturday: I rode 108km very slowly – in the rain and wind. I had some leg issues because of my fall the previous day, but managed to finish the ride. I realized just how slow I was – which made think I was probably going to die during IMMT – particularly if there was any kind of inclement weather.
Sunday: The weather was cold and windy and I was sore. Then one of the girls I was with had pedal issues and couldn’t ride properly. I decided to ride back with her because no one with bike trouble should ever ride alone (while this was the right thing to do, I admit I wasn’t the slightest bit upset about cutting my ride short). Ended up doing about 35km. 
Moe and I - Collingwood TTC Camp
I did get a nice 25km run in with a different friend on Monday. Because what I needed was more running, right? So funny. 
Essex Weekend (May 26-28)
The next weekend I was in Essex, so I got 2 rides on quieter roads (60km, 90km). On the flat, I was much better. I realized maybe I wasn’t in as bad of shape as I’d thought.
Limitless Fitness Mont Tremblant Camp
I signed up for the Limitless Fitness Camp thinking it would be really great to get in some training on the actual course so I could -remember- how hard it was – but also so I could remember that it was completely doable. The weekend was great. 
Swimming: We swam three times – once in a pool then twice in open water. 
Biking: I rode up Duplessis 3x – once on Friday and twice on Saturday. Yes, it was hard, but I survived. The Saturday right was particularly helpful since I rode 133km – including two times up Duplessis in a row. That, I figured, was harder than doing it twice with a more moderate 50km break in the middle. That’s what I told myself anyways. 
Running: My run off the bike on Saturday was terrible. But then on Sunday I ran most of one loop of the course and felt good. Phew!
Limitless Fitness Mont Tremblant Camp

Stratford Weekend (June 8-10)
Why no, I wasn’t home a lot for the first 6 weeks of training for IMMT – because why would I want some consistent training, right?  But I did get my 140km long ride done, plus another 20km the next day. Being in Stratford also gave me a chance to ride with my Dad both days (On Saturday, I rode 20km with him, then another 122 on my own). I actually found an awesome and quiet road by accident – which made for some solid (and safe) riding!
TBN TNTO Ride Weekend (Toronto – Niagara Falls – Toronto) (June 16-17) 
I followed Stratford up with a 2-day ride with the Toronto Bicycling Network – where we rode from Toronto to Niagara Falls (154km) on one day – and then back (115km) the next day. The first day was excellent…the second day was scorching hot and slow, but solid. This weekend made me feel a bit more confident about Mont Tremblant since the two days combined gave me 270km. While unnecessary for Ironman Training, it was a big deal from the mental training side of things. At least to me! 
The rest of my long rides (aka: my friend Shannon rocks)
From June 22nd onwards, I did many of my long rides with my friend Shannon. I have to say, I couldn’t have done this without her. Shannon was both incredibly organized and phenomenal at finding all the hills that could be found within about 2 hours of Toronto. Despite being a better biker, Shannon was also incredibly patient and supportive. All the rides I did with her were hard – but so much fun! Thanks Shannon!

Shannon and I on one of our training rides!

Oftentimes, we also did brick runs off of our bikes (one time, we even did a swim/bike/run brick) – making for some long but incredibly productive training sessions. Honestly, I think these were the main reason I did so much better than expected in Tremblant.
For those that are curious…my long ride/run bricks included: 
·       June 22, 2018: 122km bike (663m of climbing)/8km run 
·       June 29, 2018: No big ride. Friday (18km), Sat (75km), Sunday (60km including a 14km TT)
·       July 7, 2018: 163km (1,340m of climbing)/10km run
·       July 13, 2018: 2200m swim/151km run (1,087m of climbing)/10km run
·       July 17, 2018: 180km ride in Essex – no climbing. This was mid-week since I was doing the Toronto Triathlon Festival on the Sunday.
·       July 27, 2018: 152km bike (1,664 m of climbing)/20km run. 
·       August 3, 2018: A triple brick riding on the trainer and running outside: 90 min bike/8.5km run/90min bike/10k run/90 min bike/10km run – descending both the bikes and the runs.
·       August 11, 2018 (Taper Week): 1500m swim/2 hour (50km) bike/1 hour (10.6km) run.
In the end, I only did 11 rides over 100km. To me, that seems low – but the reality is my coach didn’t have me waste any time. He focused on quality over quantity for those 13 weeks. And it made a difference.
Of my long rides, 8 were brick workouts – with four brick runs over 10km, including one 20km brick and one brick that was actually three descending one-hour bricks. I also had one brick that included a 2200m swim first. 
Verdict: I can’t regret my run focus over the winter – much as I probably should have been on my bike more pre-May. But with the time I had, I trained exactly the way I needed to in order to succeed. I also tested my nutrition plan several times – perfecting my plan for race day. In the end, the execution speaks for itself. 

Group ride with Shannon, Lori, and Andy
Okay, I will be honest. I didn’t swim much in advance of Ironman Mont Tremblant. I swam something like 228km the year I did IMAZ. In 2018, I swam 123km. That being said, I got a bunch of quality swims in – including three big open water swims (4.5km, 4km, 3.8km) and a handful of swims between 2.5-3.2km.  I mostly swam twice a week – at least in the last 8 weeks before the race. I won’t comment on my consistency before that. One swim with my friend Brenda at Professor's Lake was particularly awesome!

When I don't have to swim at Cherry Beach (Professor's Lake Swim)
Spoiler: Despite not swimming as much, I still swam faster at IMMT than at IMAZ. Don’t ask me how!
Given I spent six months training for a marathon before going into Ironman training, the last twelve weeks didn’t include a major run focus. Many of my runs were off the bike (see above regarding the 20km brick) and my longest run (30km) was actually the day I did the triple bike/run brick workout. My biggest standalone run was 24.6km. 
If I had to describe my IM run plan, it would simply be: prepping to run better off the bike.

After my third brick run of the day - last big training session

I only did one race in the lead up to Ironman Mont Tremblant – mostly because with the short training cycle, I simply didn’t have any spare time. The race I did do was my favourite local race: The Toronto Triathlon Festival.
I’ll be honest, the race was awful. The swim was fine, but it poured rain on the bike – making it scarier than even IMAZ was. At times I was hit by waves of water coming from over the median. I was scared out of my mind. Slowest bike ever because my only goal was not to die (I succeeded). But hey, I did follow the terrible bike with my best run ever in an Olympic distance tri – so it wasn’t all bad!

TTF 2018: So very, very wet

Conclusion to The Prelude
Okay. At 2,500 words, I guess I am done for installment #1. Maybe this race report (which I haven’t even gotten to yet) will be as long as the one for IMAZ. One day I will learn to be brief. Today is apparently not that day.
More on Race Week and Race Day in the next installment!

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

ITU World Triathlon Championships: When finishing really is winning

Rotterdam ITU World Championships...found the Canadian Flag!
Looking back now, it is hard to remember the whirlwind that was the ITU World Triathlon Championships in Rotterdam. Partly that’s because I spent 10 days travelling in advance of the race with my niece (we visited London, Edinburgh and Amsterdam), and another 10 days afterwards going on a cruise in Italy and Greece with some friends who came out to watch the race. The week I spent in Rotterdam even included a dear friend from France visiting for a couple of days. It was definitely an Epic European Adventure.
But this post isn’t about the whole trip. It’s about how I had the opportunity to represent Canada on the world stage – and how, even when the race through me a curveball, I kept on smiling.
I always tell people, my three big goals in a triathlon are “Finish, finish smiling, and don’t crash on my bike.” That day in Rotterdam, I achieved every one of those goals. I couldn't have been happier.
To get to the chase, I finished dead last in my age group in 3:48:29, but my time isn't what mattered that day. What mattered was that I crossed the finish line.
Sometimes, finishing really is winning. 
Now - here's the full story.
Qualifying by Accident: Don’t mind if I do
In the summer of 2016, I heard about a new triathlon in Ottawa. I thought it would be a great excuse to go back to my favourite city in Canada (I went to school at Carleton), so decided to go up for the weekend. 
I rented a bike for the race (I don’t drive and I couldn’t take my bike to Ottawa on the train) – so you can tell I wasn’t taking myself too seriously. I knew it was the national championships, but really – I’m not fast compared to fast people, so I was just out for a good time.

Having a good time in Ottawa
The race itself was great. I wasn’t upset about the cancelled swim (despite it being my best sport) because Dow’s Lake is kind of disgusting and weed-filled (I hate weeds more than anything). The bike I rented was a lot better than my own bike (it was full carbon, including the wheelset) – and I had a magnificent (for me) bike split. It is still my fastest average bike speed ever for a race of any distance. The two runs (the race was turned into a modified duathlon) were decent, but not great. My overall time was solid for me, but I still came in 7/8 or 7/9 (I can't remember exactly). But there were 10 world championship slots per age group for the Olympic Distance race so I qualified. 
So, when I say I qualified by accident, that’s what I mean. It wasn’t because I didn’t legitimately qualify (I technically did) – but because there were more slots than people in my age group. And I didn’t go to Ottawa expecting to qualify (When I did nationals in Toronto, I think I finished 20/37 or something). It just happened by accident.
Regardless of how I qualified, there was no way I was going to skip the opportunity to represent Canada at the World Championships. I mean, really. I learned how to ride a bike in 2012 – borrowing a mountain bike to do my first try-a-tri. How awesome that just 5 years a few months later, I’d be at ITU Worlds? Way too awesome a chance to pass up.
The Prelude: Did someone call for crazy weather?
Outside of Ironman Arizona, most of the races I’ve done have been quite small - so I wasn’t at all prepared for just how -big- the ITU Worlds in Rotterdam were going to be. I mean, they put up special signposts for the race.

At Rotterdam Centraal Station!
And there was advertising all over the city.

Going down into the subway
I was overwhelmed by the whole production of it. I had no idea what I was in for – and it was incredible.
They put up street signs!
Now, I have to admit - the week leading up to the race was a blur of incredibly bad weather and nerves - from the day Team Canada was going to do a practice ride and there were wind warnings of 100-125km/h (I decided to give that ride a miss), to the day we did a course recon ride and ended up getting blasted by a spell of torrential rain and wind. Even the practice swim was difficult - so choppy I was just happy that swimming is by far my best sport.

The weather changed every five minutes. But mostly, it rained. A lot.
The organizers even had to cancel the Parade of Nations because it was pouring outside. Team Canada worked hard to make do despite the random weather…thankfully our pre-opening ceremonies get together was inside…but trying to get a team shot proved to be a bit challenging. At least you can see me (and my Moose-cot Digby). There were 300+ Canadians in Rotterdam. Talk about awesome!
Team Canada!
We got a second picture at the Opening Ceremonies - although the lighting still wasn't very good, unfortunately (and not everyone was there). You can still see Digby and I though!

Team Canada at the Opening Ceremonies!
A perfect day for a race
After the craziness that was race week, you can imagine how nervous I was about the weather for race day. Thankfully, race day turned out to be the most magnificent day of the entire week (the only nice day to be perfectly honest). Relatively sunny, light wind, beautiful temperature. Really, it couldn’t have been better.

Race morning - cool, but calm.
So…after a really long prelude (in which I skipped over a million awesome things…sorry)….on to the race! 
The swim
Got to the swim start with plenty of time to spare. I was pretty chilly, even with my wetsuit on, but otherwise I felt good. I dumped a bottle of water down my wetsuit before the start in order to stave off the cold water (but in the end, I didn’t find it that cold).

Waiting for the swim start.
As different age groups walked onto the dock, they were calling out names. Truth be told, if they said mine, I didn’t hear it!
We started in the water, with one hand touching the dock. I am not the most observant person in the world, so I didn’t realize this until a race official walked by and told me to do so. Oops.

I'm in the black wetsuit with the orange cap.
The start was a bit crazy, but surprisingly well spread out. I learned pretty quickly that there is a big difference between being a good swimmer and a great swimmer though. In local races, I am considered a good swimmer in my age group….in Rotterdam…ha. Not so much. But I did fine and came out in a decent time (just under 28 minutes). I felt good, had no trouble sighting, and felt calm and relaxed. 

Feeling good coming out of the swim!
Transition 1
The run from the Swim Exit to Transition 1 was close to a kilometer long. My coach had told me to be cautious with this, so I took it at a nice, but measured jog the entire way. Smiled at my friends as I ran by them.
Smiling as I approach my friends.
My spot in transition was fantastic, so it was easy to find my bike in the myriad of bikes that were in the transition area. It was muddy, but otherwise good. 
The Bike
Aside: I decided to rent a bike for Rotterdam. After my incredible experience with bike rental, I thought it would be just as good in Rotterdam. Alas, the carbon/ultegra bike I was supposed to rent got stolen before I got there, so I ended up with an aluminum road bike that wasn’t nearly as good. But I figured it would at least be serviceable. Little did I know.
The bike out of transition was fun with lots of people cheering. That was probably the most fun of the entire bike ride to be honest.
Coming out of T1. Got to love cobblestone.
The Rotterdam bike course was kind of insane with something like 42 turns on each of 2 laps. Thankfully, very few of these were outright U-turns which are my nemesis when it comes to biking.  

Early in the tire looks fine here.
I was excited when I made it through the entire first loop without having a stop/go turn. That was a really big deal for me. I wasn’t going super fast given all the turns, but I was doing much better than I expected. The temperature warmed up, so I felt pretty good on the bike and the winds were pretty light.
Before the end of the first loop. My tire already looks flat...I didn't notice.

Passing the halfway mark, I was feeling good, although something started to feel off. I wobbled badly on a few turns, but I thought it was the terrible road surfaces. Then I hit a left turn on cobblestone with a slight decline. My tire seemed to have no traction and slipped out from under me.
I had one moment of panic thinking I was going to fall. I honestly have no idea how I managed to stay upright. But somehow whatever I did with my handlebars kept me from falling and I was able to emergency break and finish standing up, if shaking from the after-effects of thinking I was going to fall. That’s when I noticed my tire was dead flat.
Aside: I’m not sure exactly what happened. From the pictures, it looks like my tire was going flat earlier in the race….probably as early as 2/3 through the first loop – which is probably when my handling started to feel really odd. But by the time I hit this turn, the tire was dead as a doornail. I’ve never had a flat while riding, so I had no idea what I was feeling. 
I didn’t panic at that point. I was just incredibly relieved that I didn’t actually crash. 
While I couldn’t find a cost effective flat kit anywhere in Rotterdam (and this rental didn’t come with one like my one in Ottawa had), I had bought a can of emergency repair foam so figured I’d be okay. Friends had used the foam and said it would get me through the race.
This is where I learned that NOTHING NEW ON RACE DAY also goes for equipment used to change flats. I failed dismally with the foam…and had no other options on me.
Aside: I later realized I had a good-sized gash in my actual tire – so it was more than my tube that was the problem…so I probably couldn’t have fixed it either way…but still, that doesn’t actually negate the importance of the NOTHING NEW ON RACE DAY rule.
After failing with the foam, I realized I was in a spot of trouble. I had nothing else to try to fix my flat, there was no bike support, and people were racing by so quickly it wasn’t like I could ask anyone for a spare tube (I still didn’t realize my tire was the actual issue). 
I am pretty sure I must have looked around aimlessly for a bit at that point. It would have been really convenient for an extra wheel to fall out of the sky at that point. Alas, it didn’t happen. After a minute or two, I realized that if I was wanted to finish, it was going to have to be on my own two feet. 
So I ran. 
In bike shoes. In my aero helmet. Pushing my bike. I ran. 
And, oddly enough, I smiled. Because once I started running, I knew I’d keep going – unless or until someone made me get off the course.
No one did. 
I had numerous volunteers ask me if I was okay. I had several ask if they could drive me back to the start. I even had one very distressed volunteer ask me if I knew just how far it was back into the City Centre. 
I always answered with a smile, “Yes, I’m good.” – “No, I will get there, but thank you.” – “A long way, but I will get there.” 
The only instruction I got was to keep right and be safe – particularly on one very narrow stretch. Of course, I did so. I didn’t want to get anyone else into trouble. I just wanted to finish.
The hardest part was running up and down a big bridge because my shoes were slippery and the road was narrow. But I did surprisingly well and was able to hug the side of the bridge to stay out of people’s way. 
After the big bridge (and 5.5-6km of running), a lifesaving Canadian woman stopped to see if she could help me. She actually gave me her entire flat kit – since I had nothing at that point to work with. Honestly, I was never so appreciative in my life. I made sure to find out who she was afterwards and thanked her profusely. 
So I stopped to change my tire. Again. I know how to change a tire, so this process went pretty well. Except when taking the tube off, I found the gash in the tire wall. Don’t ask how I missed this earlier. It wasn’t huge, but for being in a tire, it was pretty big. It was also right on the main part of the tire where it would be ‘impacted’ when riding.
I honestly had no idea what to do about it. So I simply changed the tire, and hoped for the best.
Ha. That didn’t work.
Aside: A broken tire isn’t fixed by the same stuff you’d use to fix a tube. In talking to my coach afterwards, I was told there really wasn’t anything I could’ve done at that point.
So there I was, still a good 7km from Transition – having lost another 20 minutes or so trying to fix my unfixable tire.
At that point, I decided to do something a little foolhardy. And a little dangerous. Something I would -never- recommend and can hardly believe I did in hindsight. I decided to ride the mostly flat tire/rim. I figured it was a rental bike – and I had to be able to go faster than I could running at least. 
Aside: To be fair, I was pretty speedy running in bike shoes. My average was about 6 min/km for those 5.5-6km – which is my ‘normal’ easy run pace so you can tell I was trying to book it…but I knew I still had to run a 10k if I ever made it back into transition.
Thankfully, the worst of the technical bits of the course were over. I figured I could just roll easy and stop if I needed to. I was afraid, but I was also really worried about my time – and if I’d even be able to continue if I made it to transition. I had no idea if there was a cut-off. I just knew running would take me a good 45-min to an hour, whereas on the bike, I could hopefully cut that time in half at least.
So I did it.
Second loop...riding with a flat. Like my old tube? I didn't want to be caught littering.
I was so very ready to be done here. I was trying to smile, but I just didn't want to lose control.

And low and behold, I didn’t die.
I have never felt so happy to see transition in my life. I was grinning like a mad fiend I am sure. When I saw my friends Chris, Greg and Karina on the road leading into T2, I shouted, “Have I got a story for you.”
I feel bad for making them wait so long for me – particularly since they knew how worried I was about all the turns on the course. But I am sure they were relieved to see me alive, well, and apparently unscathed. 
Aside: There are -no- pictures of me running with my bike that I know of. The reality is I did it in a really random part of the course (KM 27-33) where there were no photographers. All I have is my Garmin and some nice blisters to show for it. Oh well. Just trust me when I said I was smiling the whole time. I know that I don’t need pictures for my own memory. I will never forget the experience, particularly how hot I got running with my helmet on and how much I wished I had some water with me. Since I didn’t have my own bike with my speedfill, I didn’t bother carrying a bottle because I can’t grab one easily while biking. I figured I’d just drink in T1 and T2 which is pretty standard for me. Needless to say, that plan meant I was not very well prepared for an extra 6km of running while on the bike though. Oops. 
Transition 2
In transition, I was very happy to get rid of my bike, not to mention my bike shoes. Putting on my running shoes was a joy because they felt so light. I downed some water from my waiting bottle (and poured the rest over my head), grabbed a couple of gels (I was definitely hungry at this point)…and headed out onto the run.

Just out of T2 and entering the park, you can see I'm in the process of having a GU.
The Run
There isn’t much I can say about the run – other than it felt so much easier than the 6k I’d already run during the race. The run course was primarily in a park, which meant there was lots of shade (unlike on the bike course) – and I actually found it to be the most pleasant part of the race. Quite possibly that’s because once I hit the run I knew I would finish the race. Similar to at Ironman Arizona when I got off the bike after riding for hours in the pouring rain – the sudden sense of relief associated with simply knowing I was going to finish was magical.

Starting the second loop of the run.
At that point in the day, it was mostly people a bunch of age groups older than me on the course, so I spent a nice amount of my time passing people (although a few people came speeding by me too…let’s not pretend). My run wasn’t particularly fast, but it was surprisingly solid. And, while I might not have been able to go as fast as I’d planned, I can promise you that I enjoyed every single moment of that run. Of knowing I was going to finish.

Either starting the second lap, or coming in for the finish. 
The Finish
As I came down the main street to the finish, I was crying a bit and smiling at the same time. I tried to soak in the feeling of people cheering – knowing I earned that moment more than maybe any other race in my life.
Crossing the finish line.
I crossed the finish line in 3:48:29. I came in dead last in my age group by 35 minutes (I didn’t quite come in dead last in the entire Olympic distance race, but was pretty close).
But my time didn’t matter. On that day – dead last felt like I’d won. Why? Because crossing that finish line taught me a significant lesson about who I am and what I will do when things go wrong.
Given the option, I won’t give up.
Given the ability, I will keep moving forward.
Given the opportunity, I will finish what I started.
That day in Rotterdam, I finished. I finished smiling. I didn’t crash on my bike. As a bonus, I had the chance to represent my country on the world stage and, my finish time aside, I think I did it pretty well.

No doubt I earned this medal.
Special Thanks
Big thanks to my Coach Mark Linseman of Loaring Personal Coaching who has been essential in helping me keep moving forward – growing, learning, and getting faster each and every day. And to everyone in LPC for always being willing to give me encouragement, support and advice – particularly my fellow athletes who were in Rotterdam.

TeamLPC in Rotterdam!
In particular...two of my favourite LPC ladies - Helen and Josette. You ladies rock!

Before one of the practice rides.
Also to my parents, brothers, and their families for always supporting me and for believing I can do anything I set my mind to.

And to the friends who came all the way from Canada to watch me race. They were a big reason it didn’t even occur to me not to keep going. They crossed an ocean to watch me race….and darn it, I wasn’t going to let them down.
Thank you all.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

LPC Florida Triathlon Camp - Day 6 - Mega Run at the Orange Grove Trail

If you're ever near Orlando or Clermont and want to do a long run, the best place ever is the Orange Grove Trail - a spectacular 16km loop (10 miles). It's incredibly quiet and running on the dirt/clay road - while challenging - is a lovely experience. You get to see the orange groves that give the trail its name, but also some cows, lots of grassland, and even some water (not sure I'd go so far to call this a lake).

The Orange Grove Trail - definitely a road less travelled.

Each year at the LPC Florida Triathlon Camp I've run this route. Some years I've run a bit more (up to 21km if I recall correctly).

This year, Coach Mark asked me if I'd be up to the challenge of doing 2 loops of the trail as part of my current marathon training cycle. That's to say, 2 loops after a long week of training, including the 95km Sugarloaf ride the day before.

My answer was something along the lines of, "Heck yes!"

I woke up on Friday morning a bit unsure of whether I'd bitten off more than I could chew. But I figured I'd get it done. My goal was to simply negative split the run. I didn't really have any time goals.

Because of construction, we ended up leaving a bit early - meaning that I started my run at close to the same time everyone else did. Well, technically I got about a 15 minute head start I think, since it took about 38 minutes before the speedy fast folks started to pass me.

Ready for a big run!

In my head, I split the run into 2 x 2 8km segments. This works because the 8km point is a traditional rest stop with a support vehicle (where you can re-fill water, etc.), while the loop ends back where you begin.

I took the first 8km segment quite easy because it was misty and humid and I didn't want to get into any breathing trouble. I stuck just under 6min pace per kilometre. About 7km in, Coach Mark caught up to me with some of the faster folks. He ran with me for a few minutes and suggested I try to take the next 8km segment a bit harder. By that point, I figured I was in good shape to be able to do so.

I didn't stop at 8km because I was carrying a Nathan Handheld bottle so I was good for water.

The second 8km segment was excellent - probably the best segment of the entire run, which is nice given the 'back half' is where all the hills were. I was very happy with my pace through there - still on the easy side, but faster than the first segment at about 5:30-5:45 per km.

As I came through the starting point, I also decided not to stop (bad idea in hindsight), although I did wave to the folks who had finished the first loop and got some motivational support as I headed out for loop #2.

The third 8k section started off pretty well. The mist was long gone, however, and the heat was ratcheting up considerably. I didn't realize it, but I started to fall off my pace from segment #2. Part of this was the fact I wasn't drinking enough water. A few km into the section, I realized I was running out and I didn't know if I'd see anyone to refill it. I knew my second loop was somewhat of an outlier in terms of folks running, so I wasn't sure if I'd see a support vehicle. So I started to really conserve my water. As the heat started to wear me down, I even walked for a minute around one very sandy corner because I was worried I'd trip in the dirt.

Thankfully, as I was getting close to the 8km mark, Coach James drove by to check up on me. I admit, he was a lifesaver. I chugged some water, refilled my handheld, and dumped a bottle over my head to cool off. Coach James also gave me a head's up that Coach Mark was running from the opposite direction and would meet me at the 8km point to run the rest of my run with me.

Sure enough, as I got to 8km, Coach Mark was there to meet me. I admit, having my coach there to run the last 8km with me made a big difference in terms of how it went. It was very hot by this point, so my speed plummeted. I don't think I talked all that much - particularly toward the end, but Coach Mark was positive and helpful the entire time.

At one point he gave me some form advice going up a hill. Basically it had to do with lifting my foot up when going up a hill rather than forward so I didn't shuffle (something more apparent after running for 28km I think). So for the rest of the run, each time I went up a hill, I thought "up, up, up" - and it made a big difference. It seemed to help both how my legs felt and my ability to get up the hill.

If Coach Mark hadn't been there, I might have stopped a few times to cool down - but with him there, I couldn't do it. I did take a 30 second walk break (again at a particularly sandy spot), but otherwise I just kept going.

As we reached the end, I realized that we were going to be a tad I did a (not very quick) out and back to get the last 500m or so in. Coach Mark did the same thing although he stopped to open the van door for my friend Karen first (sign of a good coach - he thought of everyone else first). Karen was kind enough to wait for us after she finished her loop of the run.

After a very brief cool down, we got into the car and went to check on Paula. She was happy with her mega-run and was more than ready to call it a day given the crazy heat. With all of us done, Coach Mark insisted on stopping back at the start for a group picture.

Hail the conquering heroes.

I was incredibly happy to get this run done, especially given the rest of the training week at camp. This was also my longest training run of this marathon cycle by 5km, giving me a nice boost. Other than the heat, I think I was in pretty good shape - which was nice since when I was doing mega-runs for Hamilton I had a very tough time. I hope this bodes well for a better race experience in April. We'll see!

Huge thanks to Coach Mark for helping me get 32k done!

On our way back to camp, we stopped off and grabbed some food (and a few balloons for the party that evening). I think we got back to the resort at a perfect time because I didn't really have time to sit down before it was time for the last bike ride at camp. While my coach had listed it as 'optional' in my TrainingPeaks, I knew I wanted to do it if I could. But I know if I'd had time to sit down, I might not have gotten back up.

At the beginning of the ride, we went to the fountain at the resort for a group picture. We had an amazing group at camp this year. The Orange Shirt is for Balance Point Triathlon Club - an awesome group in London run by the fabulous Coach Gabbi Whitlock. If you're in London, check them out. This is the second year Coach Gabbi has come to the LPC Camp - and she's been great. Several times she told me to quite downplaying my accomplishments. And that reminded me to tell other people the same thing.

LPC Florida Triathlon Camp 2017

After the picture, we separated into different groups as usual. I took the fairly short option because I wasn't sure how long I'd last. But like I said, I didn't want to miss it. The Friday ride (new last year after they moved the Allen's Challenge Ride to Tuesday) is wonderful. We ride out to an empty sub-division where you can do intervals on a completely empty square loop. Even tired, I didn't want to miss this ride. It's too nice.

After an easy ride out, we did a few laps of the sub-division. While I didn't have much tempo in me, I did manage 2 laps at a pretty good clip (31.5km) given how much I ran that morning. That was it for me though. Man, I was tired. Happy and smiling as always of course though.

Great gang at the Friday afternoon ride!

After the ride, I dropped my bike off at the main camp house for its trip back to Guelph, then headed back to House of Lido where I had another relaxing dip in the hot tub (and some time in the normal pool). It was a great way to relax after a great training day.

A shower and packing was all I had left to do before it was time for the end of camp party at the LPC Camp House. Was happily surprised to get my Allen's Challenge T-shirt when I got to the party. One of the camper's moms waited for over an hour to get our shirts for us on Tuesday and brought them with her to the party. It was a very kind and thoughtful gesture. See, even the LPC extended family is awesome.
 Allen's Challenge Winners - Ben, John (#3 and time record holder), and myself.
At the party, we had some great pizza (okay, anything would have probably tasted great after running so much - but it was good), and then a celebratory toast to celebrate LPC's 10th birthday.

Head Coach James Loaring toasting to 10 years of LPC.

I am really impressed by what Coach James has accomplished over the past 10 years. I am very grateful to him and to my own Coach Mark for always being incredibly supportive to athletes of every age, shape, size and ability. They've created something amazing in the collegial and friendly atmosphere that is teamLPC and the LPC Triathlon Club. From the people who win races to the people who are just in it for fun and to see what they can do - everyone feels welcome.

Having my brother Anthony insist I go to the LPC Florida Triathlon Camp back in 2013 was probably the best triathlon related thing that has ever happened to me. It gave me the momentum to dream big and go for it.

Here's to many more awesome years LPC! See you at camp next year for #6.

Monday, March 13, 2017

LPC Florida Triathlon Camp - Day 5: 2 reps of Sugarloaf!

Day 5 of the LPC Florida Triathlon Camp started similar to our first camp day - with a run and swim at River Island within Orange Lake Resort.

Similar to the first day, Coach Mark had me skip the run - this time to hopefully help keep my legs ready for a 32km mega-run to finish off the camp. So while everyone else went for a run...I decided to lounge about enjoying the atmosphere for once in my life. LOL. It really is a lovely resort! Can't imagine what it must be like just to come to a place like this for vacation.

Enjoying the view!

Once everyone was back from their run, Coach Alex led us through a dynamic warm-up - which I most definitely needed in advance of the swim.

The swim itself was more technical than the one on Sunday - focused less on distance and more on body position (particularly sculling) and drafting. I appreciated this since I was a bit tired from the Wednesday bike workout and knew I had another 2 big days ahead.

The Lazy River itself continues to be spectacular to swim in - something that never gets old! Today, we even had some neighbours join in the fun.

Company in the Lazy River

After the swim, I got a Starbucks to go because I needed more coffee in advance of the Sugarloaf ride. Also had some lunch. Earlier in the week, I made a great little rice dish with mixed onions, carrots, beans and broccoli. I've been eating it all week - and have been pleasantly surprised how tasty and filling it has been without causing issues for my training. I plan to make it far more often!

Hitched a ride out to the starting point of the Sugarloaf ride - an Irish Pub. Of course, the pub also makes an excellent end point. It's a well chosen venue, that's for sure.

Decided to ride with the B- group (we had a crazy variety of skill levels at this camp so the coaches broke us up into more than the typical 3 groups we've had in past years).

Re-grouping at a corner

Riding with B- was a good choice for me since I didn't want to go too hard on the ride - although we had a few faster folks who had to wait a bit at times. Thankfully they didn't seem to mind.

Nice pic of Rob Buren on his hand-cycle!

This ride included a surprising number of incidents of people making wrong turns because they got too far ahead (or in my case, a bit behind) - although nothing like in past years. Coach Mark managed to find us each time before we ranged too far afield thank goodness. I suspect he rode well over the planned 95km trying to keep us all together.
Coach Mark

All in all though, it was a gorgeous day for a ride. Early on, I had a tough time keeping my power in check (my big goal for the ride since I was doing a mega-run the next day). I ended up having to push a fair bit of power on some of the easier climbs when I thought it should have been easier. I've been doing pretty decently with my biking this year so couldn't understand why I was having a tougher time than in the past.

Coach Mark figured out the issue not long before we reached Sugarloaf. He noticed my cassette was small (I don't know the right term...but basically, I didn't have any easy gears making climbing much more difficult). Apparently when I switched my PowerTap wheel to an 11 speed cassette to work with my new bike, I didn't get a very good cassette type for climbing. Needless to say, I am going to have to get a better one before Collingwood. If this ride was hard with the current cassette...doing Collingwood with it would be nuts.

Regardless of my cassette type, I made it up to the top of Sugarloaf. In my Training Peaks, Coach Mark had suggested I do 2 reps of the hill - including going -down- (something that made me nervous given the hill is quite steep). He's made this suggestion in the past but I've never actually done it. This time, when I got to the top, I confirmed I had enough time to do a second rep - so I turned around and rode right down.

The descent wasn't as bad as I was expecting (although I took it at a snail's pace compared to what anyone else might do). Apparently Coach Mark watched to make sure I made it down safely - a fact I appreciated.

There were some men working on the side of the road about half-way up the hill. As I crawled up the road the second time, I'm pretty sure they thought I was nuts. We did exchange smiles though. I didn't have any breath in me to say anything though. It was hard!

Made it to the top just in time to get into the group picture (which I'll post when someone hopefully passes it on to me). Then I had time to quickly down a few cups of water because the house at the top of the climb kindly keeps a cooler of water by their mailbox for cyclists. I've never met these people - but they have my eternal gratitude.

I didn't even have time for a selfie at the top before we rolled out (well, I probably did but I didn't think of it). This is what comes of working harder than you have before. Ah well. I can just post a picture from a previous year and pretend it is current....LOL!

At the top of Sugarloaf in 2014 or 2015.
Same shirt but a different bike this year!

I rode most of the last half of the ride with my friend Paula - going fairly easy and enjoying the scenery. We stopped at a convenience store where I got a longer break than at the top of Sugarloaf, which I appreciated because my back was feeling tight. I took the time to drink a Dr. Pepper (which tastes amazing) and also to lay down on the ground to get my back in order. Really, that was all it took for my back to re-align or something because I was fine after I stood back up. So funny.
Rest Stop

Coach Gabbi's husband Ken was at the rest stop, which came in very handy when a 20-something woman with 2 young kids asked Coach Mark for help. Apparently she'd taken the car to the store to get something - except her mother had the keys back at the school down the road. It was one of those cars with auto she didn't notice this until she stopped and then couldn't turn the car back on How awkward!

Thankfully Camp LPC came the rescue with Ken chauffeuring the girl and the kids down the road to get the keys. Nice to have the right people in the right place to help someone out. It might have been more complicated without a car to help - so big cheers to Ken!

We made it back to the Irish Pub in good time to get our bikes loaded in the trailer and meet other groups for a nice cold beer!

Kirstie Kniaziew, Coach James, and Rob Buren

I admit, the beer tasted great! I stuck to French fries at the pub along with my beer - then ate a regular dinner when I got back to my camp house.

A well earned reward!

After getting back to the camp house, we learned that the maintenance folks had managed to get our hot tub working at some point that day. I admit, it was both a wonderful surprise and an utter joy. I took plenty of time to soak in the tub (which started out lukewarm but heated up while I sat in it). I think it made a huge difference in terms of recovery for my legs!

Blissfully enjoying the hot tub!