Friday, July 8, 2016

Interview with Kona Qualifier Rob Buren of Rock the Chair

I first met Rob Buren at the LPC Florida Triathlon Camp back in 2015 – and then saw him again at camp this year, where I learned more about his incredible journey and quest to qualify for Kona. I asked him if I could interview him for this blog – and he was more than happy to participate. Of course, you can find out more about Rob’s journey on his own awesome blog: Rock The Chair.

The amazing thing about profiling Rob is that he answered my interview questions on his way to competing in the Texas Buffalo Springs 70.3 race – one of only three Kona qualifying races for handcyclists. In Texas, Rob came in second in his division, earning his chance to be one of just four handcyclists to compete on the Big Island (and here I thought competing for Age Group Kona slots was difficult!). Can’t wait to cheer him on come October!  

So, without further ado – here is my pre-race interview with Rob!
Robert Buren

Tell me a bit about yourself – have you always been into sport?

I’ve always been active, but I wouldn’t really have considered myself an athlete until I started training for my first half Ironman in 2012. I grew up on a bicycle and loved anything with two wheels. As a young kid in my big brother’s shadow, as soon as he let me ride his minibike I was hooked on motors and going fast.  In my teens I had a few junkie dirtbikes, when I turned 17 I got my first street motorcycle, and once I started working I took up Amateur motorcycle racing.  In 2008 my wife, Sabrina and I trained for and completed our first half-marathon. That same summer I purchased a carbon bike and loved it. The plan was to look into triathlon in 2009.   Unfortunately, two weeks after my half-marathon, I broke my back in a mountain biking accident.

Fortunately, someone in rehab learned that I wanted to do triathlon and connected me with Chris Bourne, one of the pioneers of paratri.  Knowing it was possible, I set out on my journey to become a paratriathlete. Just weeks after breaking my back I was on a borrowed handcycle doing laps around the hospital. Over the next year I learned how to push the racing chair and swim without the use of my legs.  I went from completing one event to the next, and in September of 2012 I did my first triathlon, the Wasaga Olympic distance.  I was hooked.

What has been your biggest accomplishment – in life and/or in sport so far?

My biggest life accomplishment is a work in progress… trying to stay positive and productive since breaking my back in October of 2008. It’s a daily decision to make the best of what ability I still have, and live life to the fullest. Some days are better than others (like everyone), but overall, I’m surrounded by an incredible wife, kids, family and friends that keep me motivated and positive. I’m lucky that way.

In terms of sport, completing the Full Louisville Ironman in 2013 has to be my biggest accomplishment. No other Canadian paraplegic had finished this distance, and in the beginning I wasn’t 100% I could either.  On August 25th 2013, both Sabrina and I completed the race and proved to ourselves that we can achieve big athletic (and mental) goals. This is a special accomplishment that means a great deal to us.

7 or 8 years ago, you had a major spinal cord injury. What was (or is) the most challenging part of dealing with this kind of injury?

I often tell people “not walking is the easy part of being paraplegic”. It’s the stuff that people don’t see, and few paraplegics will talk about, that are hard.  Neuropathic pain, loss of bathroom and sexual function are my big ones. In terms of accessibility, there are few places that I can’t go, or things I can’t do, the challenge is finding the energy, patience and resources to want to venture into inaccessible or inhospitable territory. I know that Canada is a good place to have an injury like this, but there are still many places that are not wheelchair accessible.

What prompted you to sign up for your first Ironman? What did it mean to you to cross that finish line?

A few able-bodied friends had completed the Full IM, and I was in awe of the accomplishment. I hate the idea of being left behind, and I love a challenge, so this seemed like a pretty good one to tackle.  Over a few years I proved to myself that I could do each discipline on its own, but wasn’t sure if my arms would agree to do them all in one day.  Crossing the finish line was a little emotional for me. Putting so much effort into a goal like that, when it happens it’s pretty special.  Having my daughters there was icing on the cake.

What’s the most difficult part of triathlon training and/or racing for you? Why?

The hardest part of triathlon training for me is the solitude. It’s lonely.  This year I’ve found someone to swim with, which has been great.  For every two lengths I do, she does three. We push each other and it’s great knowing that she’ll be at the pool waiting for me.  For the bike though, I’m slower than most able-bodied cyclists so unless they’ve got a recovery ride to do, the speed difference makes it hard to find a cycling partner.  When it comes to running, I’m averaging 18 km/h in training, so I’m faster than able-bodied runners.  Also, I do most of my training during the weekdays, so unless you’re retired or self-employed, it’s not likely that my friends are available to join me.

You’ve now set your sights on Kona. Why? What do you see as your biggest challenge toward accomplishing this incredible goal?

After I completed the full in Louisville, I found myself in a bit of pickle. I know I can do it now, but do I want to train to just do it faster?  Kona is Ironman, and the thought of racing with the world’s best is big enough to motivate me to go for it and to suck up all the shit (good and bad) that comes with it.  Qualifying is the biggest challenge right now. There are only 4 or 5 male handcycle slots every year. There are only 3 races at which to qualify for one of these spots.  Australia Half IM in Cairns had one, Luxembourg, the week later had two, and I’m currently flying to the middle of Texas to complete for the last male slot. If no women handcyclists race, there will be 2 slots for men.  9 handcyclists have signed up, so it’s going to be an interesting race.   Last year I raced in Luxembourg and came 4th out of 7.  I’m hoping to do better on Sunday.

Aside: And he did it! Read Rob’s riveting account of the race and qualifying for Kona here.

How has working with Coach Mark Linseman changed your approach to training (if at all)?

Coach Mark has been great. He’s invested time in going back and looking at the training and races I’ve completed the past few years to figure out what we can do differently to improve.  My last coach was all about going out hard and trying to hang on. With Mark, we’re striving to keep the enthusiasm in check at the beginning of each discipline so that I can increase effort throughout. I’m responding better to this approach and my results are improving, so I would recommend Mark to anyone looking to improve. 
Rob and Coach Mark

If someone reading this blog is interested in any form of paratriathlon, but doesn’t know how to get started – what advice would you give them?

Call me.  There’s a lot to know and if I can accelerate that process for anyone, I’d be happy to.  It might mean that I’ll have someone to train with too.

Aside: Rob’s an awesome person – not at all intimidating. Take him up on his offer!

If you’ve learned one thing over your journey the past eight years, what would it be?

If you commit to a goal, tell people what you’re seeking to do, and then show the world that you’re working your ass off to achieve that goal, the world will respond to help you. I’ve benefitted so much from family, friends and even strangers helping me to achieve all the things I’ve accomplished since my accident.

I know you do a fair bit of public speaking, so probably get a lot of questions. What's the one question you wish more people would ask you? (And what's your answer?).

It’s less that I wish people would ask me a specific question, but rather I hope that people will ask themselves, “what motivates me and how can I make the most of any abilities I have?”  When people tell me “oh I couldn’t do that because I have bad knees”, I can’t help but think “so what, find a way…. Go for a swim… do something”.
Just re-reading this interview with Rob makes me inspired for my next adventure. He's proof positive that whatever happens in life, you can do whatever you set your mind to. So get out there and do it!
Big thanks to Rob for taking time out to chat right before his big (and awesome) race!
To follow Rob to Kona and whatever crazy goals he sets after that...bookmark his blog

You can also follow him on Facebook and on Instagram.


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

I feel the need...the need for speed

2015 involved a lot of long-distance training. When you plan to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, and run a marathon…all in one day – you need endurance like there is no tomorrow.

What you don’t need, at least if you’re a normal person like me, is speed. After I ran the Mississauga Half Marathon last May (where I got an awesome PB despite not getting much speed work since I had calf troubles all winter), the vast majority of my training revolved around getting time in – mostly in the saddle since I had a lot of bike fitness to build to get to being able to ride 180km comfortably, but also with running.

I knew I wouldn’t be running the marathon in IMAZ like I would run a standalone marathon – so really, all that mattered was prepping for the distance. Given how IMAZ turned out (I had to walk 25km of the marathon after my back seized up), that training approach was the right one. Slow and steady wins (or at least completes!) the IM race.

Enter 2016. I knew coming into 2016 that my next big goal would be far more challenging than anything I’ve taken on yet.

Aside: Wait a second…that’s not true. Just deciding to ask for help to get fit was a much harder decision, as was the decision to sign up for my first 10k back in 2012 when I hadn’t run around the block. In both of those cases I had no clue if I could succeed – so those were much harder challenges when I think about it.

Okay. Let’s say instead, that I knew my next big goal would be the most challenging fitness thing I’ve taken on since finishing my first race. I think that’s true.

Why is that? Well, because I am suddenly setting my sights on goals that aren’t simply: Finish and Finish Smiling - or in Triathlon-events: Finish. Finish Smiling. Don’t Crash on my Bike.

After finishing Ironman, I knew I’d done all the distances I wanted to do. While I fully plan to do more Ironman races and more marathons, you likely won’t see me signing up for anything longer. I don’t generally have any desire to do an Ultra Marathon, nor do I want to do Ultraman or any other Ultra Triathlon. I will leave those kinds of awesome feats to some of my inspiring friends.  

Nope.  I knew my next goal would be all about speed….about getting faster at all the traditional distances – both in running and triathlon.

The movie Top Gun said it best:

But what does speed mean exactly when it comes down to my goals? Sure, I want to get faster – but what kind of goal can I set to help with that?

Well, back when I ran my first half marathon in 2012 (about 4 months after my first race ever), my brother said to me, “Hey, if you could just double your time, you could qualify for Boston.”

Boston. The word means a lot more to me now than it did back then. Back then, I only knew it as probably the most famous marathon in the world. The one people had to qualify to race. I didn’t know what the qualifying times were, when it was held, or anything else either. I assumed it was way, way out of my league as some random girl who found fitness in her 30s.

But my brother’s comment had me thinking pretty much from that day forward: Could I really qualify for the Boston Marathon? How hard could it be to run the same speed for twice the distance?

Aside: Hard. Very hard.

I hadn’t even tried to run a marathon yet, but I already had the goal percolating in my mind.

I’ve run two marathons since then. The first, in September 2015, I ran in 4:15 – slower than my longest training run that year, because I’d been sick.

The second, in May 2014, I ran in 3:50. That was the marathon that confirmed to me that I could qualify if I worked hard. I was under BQ pace until almost 30k, before fading dramatically over the closing miles.

Enter 2016.

After recovering from IMAZ, I spoke to my coach Mark Linseman about my goals for 2016. Originally, I’d thought to run 2 marathons: one in the spring and one in the fall. But then I was smart. I decided to ask him what I should do – given my goal to qualify for Boston. I asked him simply because this wasn’t simply about doing something…this was about doing something WELL. I wanted to put myself in the best position to qualify…and I knew he’d be a better judge of just what that would take.

Coach Mark suggested I train to run a fast half marathon in the spring, and then build into a BQ race in the fall. He noted that in order to race in Boston, I couldn’t just hit my BQ time of 3:40:00; I had to beat it. These days, it’s hard to tell what the actual race cut-off time will be, but it is guaranteed to at least be a couple of minutes. He suggested a fall marathon would let me target a finish time of 3:35 – giving me some buffer to make sure that if I qualify, I could actually register for and run the Boston Marathon.

So, for the past 3 months, I’ve been training to run a speedy race at the Toronto Goodlife Half Marathon on May 1, 2016. My goal there is to run a 1:40, cutting 5 minutes off my current PB (1:45:19). When Coach Mark suggested that goal, I admit that I thought he was a bit nuts. That’s a really fast time (at least to me).

But over the past few months, Coach Mark has had me do some progressively more challenging training sessions – both at steady (4:55km pace) and tempo (4:35km pace) paces. When I started, those paces terrified me.

My first tempo workout, the first week of January, was a mess. What was supposed to be 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 @ tempo pace…turned into 7x2min @ tempo pace. I couldn’t even go longer than 2 minutes at 4:35 pace without overheating on a treadmill. Yikes.

Aside: Yes, it’s been winter – I’ve done all my hard workouts on a treadmill or at Monarch Park, which has an indoor track.

Since then, while I have generally gotten my distance at pace in, I have yet to actually nail a tempo workout. Not a single one! But I have upped my tempo time to 40 minutes within one session (i.e. I was supposed to do 4x10min – I did 2x10, 3x5, 2x2, and 1) – which is a pretty big improvement.

I’ve had a bit more success with my steady pace workouts. My first one back in January included 10, 8, and 6 minutes of pace work. Since then, I’ve actually hit some of my targets (much to my surprise!). Although not my most recent one; I was supposed to do 45 min steady, 30 min steady, and 10 min tempo….Instead, I did 30 minutes, 15 minutes, and then 3x10 minutes at steady pace – with no tempo. But that means I still did 75 minutes at steady pace (which happens to be below my goal BQ pace) – which is an insane improvement over the 24 minutes I did back in January. 

And through it all, I’ve also been doing track workouts with the Toronto Triathlon Club. Those ones have been far more hit and miss thanks to my asthma not liking Monarch Park all that much (and sometimes missing sessions when I’ve had to move my long run from a weekend). But even there, I was able to do 20x400m between 4:10 and 4:15 pace (on good rest) recently.

The Prep Race: MEC 15km

This brings me to this past weekend. I signed up for the MEC 15k race thinking it would be a wonderful practice run heading into the Toronto Goodlife Marathon. After several years of doing the Yonge St. 10k this weekend (which got cancelled this year), I figured the weather would be pretty nice – and very similar to race day.

Alas, I was wrong. While the temperature for Toronto said it was around -1C, feels like -8C, it seemed much colder on the waterfront (it often is). I got to the race and was already cold. And yet, after warming up for a couple of km in my windbreaker, I decided that wearing it would be a bad plan. I’d rather run cold than get a bit too warm. So I ran in light running pants, a tank top, and a very light long-sleeved shirt.

I don’t know if I made the right choice…but I don’t think I made the wrong one. If that makes any sense. I think running with the windbreaker would have caused issues…but so did not running in something warmer. C’est la Vie. You can only do what you can do.

It was a small race, so it was easy to line up a few rows from the front. I figured given my pace goals, I didn’t want to be too far back. When the gun went off (or blowhorn, or whatever it was), I took off.

Needless to say, I promptly went too fast. I was cold, what can I say. What I was supposed to do was go steady for a couple of km and then speed up….what I did was go tempo and slow down to goal pace. Ooops.

Within 3k, my upper body got warm. This is really normal for me. I tend to get hot very quickly when I run. So I rolled up the sleeves of my shirt, basically running with bare arms. No big deal, I figured. It seemed warmer than I was expecting.

Aside: Famous last words.

For a while, I was doing great. I felt good. My legs were moving nicely. The sun was out – and the sun felt nice – I figured I was doing okay.

First 5km: 4:39, 4:45, 4:45, 4:41, 4:46. There was a long downhill in there. Nothing crazy, but it was down.

Some guy cut me off (not intentionally) from getting a cup of water near the turnaround…so I figured I’d wait for the next water station. I was thirsty, but it wasn’t too bad. I’m just in the habit of drinking water when I race. Usually I carry a hand-held, but I decided it was too cold today, so I’d make do with on-course water.  Good choice, bad execution.

On the way back from the first loop (the course was a 5km out and back on the Martin Goodman Trail, followed by a 2.5km out and back), it seemed like there was a bit of wind. I am not sure if there really was, but it felt colder. My pace dropped a bit. Part of that was because I was going uphill for a bit. Part of it was because we caught the 5km runners and I had to weave around some of them. I didn’t actually think any of this was a big deal. I still felt okay.

I got a cup of water around 7km, but it was really cold…so I only had a tiny sip. Brr! That was enough water for me! I started sipping a gel (Caramel Macchiato flavoured) around 7km, finishing it around 9km. When I hit the turnaround (which was about 5 feet from the finish line…how mean!), I was starting to feel a bit cold.

Second 5km: 4:47, 4:47, 4:50, 4:47, 4:52.

As I turned to start the mini-loop, I pulled down my sleeves for a bit. The sun had gone behind a bank of clouds, so it got a few degrees colder. Sadly, ,my sleeves were sweaty…which means they were damp. As a result, I didn’t get any warmer, I just got colder, so I rolled them up again (figuring cold and dry was better than cold and damp). But there was only 5km left. I could do it. I also know that this 5km was flat. Not even a little up/down. I was looking forward to that part.

This is when I started feeling a chill in my quads. For some reason, when I start getting cold while running, that’s where it happens. My poor quads felt bitterly cold and it was like they stopped working. My pace seemed to fall off a lot. I felt like I was slogging.

I focused on a girl in front of me – thinking if I could keep her within sight, I was still doing well. I’d followed her from the beginning – her pretty much always just far enough ahead that I couldn’t catch up. But she was a good pacer. When she pulled away, I tried to speed up. I kept doing this the whole race.

About 2km out from the finish, I started coughing. The cold had finally hit my lungs. My asthma was doing okay, but my lungs were burning. This wasn’t pleasant. But I just kept going. I was almost there. For the last 5km, I went as fast as my cold legs would carry me while continuing to cough. I also rolled my sleeves back down again. I was so very cold.

I ran across the finish line so very, very happy to be done. I also felt like I was going to puke, but I didn’t. Phew. But honestly, I felt awful.

Last 5k: 4:51, 4:56, 4:50, 4:55, 4:46

 I very quickly put on all the extra clothing I’d brought with me. I was still cold. But I waited a few minutes to cheer on my friend Michelle who was right behind me…before I headed out. I think it took me a hot shower, a heated blanket, and most of the day to feel warm again.

All in all, my time was very good. 1:12:04 according to my watch – a 5 min PB over the only other 15k race I did - back in 2014 – the Midsummer Night’s Run 15k. Officially, I finished in 1:12:06 I found out later). I finished 6th out of all the women (Okay, there were only 35 or so women) and 44/182 overall. Pace wise, I went 4:48 per km. I had been aiming for 4:45 (well, for 13km since I was supposed to start of easier than I did).  Given the weather, I was really happy with that. If it is ever 5 degrees warmer in 3 weeks, maybe a 1:40 really is doable. We will see!

Speed-work works

When I think about everything together, it’s kind of amazing how much I’ve improved in just 3 months of focused speed work thanks to Coach Mark's help. As long as I don’t get hurt, I’m well on my way toward getting into the shape I need to be in to run a BQ in the fall. Of course, anything can happen on race day (as I well know from my “Oh it will be hot and dry” expectations for IMAZ)…so we’ll see.

But in the meantime, I’ll continue to have a lot of fun. I have to admit: Running fast is fun…even when I think I'm going to die.

Funny how that works.  

Sunday, March 20, 2016

LPC Florida Tri Camp - Last Day: Orange Grove Run and a Ride with Power

The last day of the LPC Florida Triathlon Camp is always my favourite day. That’s because we get to run the utterly spectacular Orange Grove Trail. This 16km (10 mile) loop is red clay/dirt – and includes some beautiful views – including, often, several orange groves.

In past years, this run has started right at sunrise, but with the time change moving to the weekend after camp, the sunrise was too early – so the coaches decided to start the run a bit later. That was fine with me – it meant I got a little extra sleep, and also had time to eat an English muffin with some peanut butter in advance of the run.

Unlike previous years when I ate too much at the Irish Pub, this year, I was feeling pretty decent stomach wise before the Orange Grove run. Alas, the temperature was already climbing when we met up at the start of the trail – and the humidity wasn’t much better. I did use my inhaler, but I admit, I was uncertain how this run was going to go. I was also testing numerous things on this run – including my Mizuno Catalysts (first long run in them) and my new LPC running singlet. I was hoping that both would turn out to be good purchases.

Before we started, we had a group picture – I think we were all raring to go! 
At the start of the Orange Grove Trail

I put my handheld water bottle in the support van. In hindsight, this was the absolute wrong move. But you’ll hear more about that as I go along.

My goal from Coach Mark for this run was to do the first 8k easy, then 6 steady and 2 tempo. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. (In other words…this didn’t really happen).

The first 8km were beautiful, but incredibly difficult for me. My asthma was really kicking me in the butt, so I had to run incredibly easy for most of this time – which didn’t feel at all easy. I was sweating but none of it was evaporating, which meant I got incredibly hot. I wasn’t particularly thirsty, but I found myself wishing I had water with me to try and cool down. Even running slow, I didn’t feel very good.

I admit, I was utterly over the moon when I saw Coach James at the half-way point. I picked up my water bottle and took a few moments to catch my breath. As I leaned against the car, he asked how I was…my response was ‘terrible!’ Given I normally come up with something positive to say about most situations, you can tell I was feeling the heat/humidity pretty badly.

My only saving grace that first 8km was that I hadn’t had any foods I can’t eat before I run – so I avoided a full-on asthma attack (I generally only have those when I mix eating the wrong foods - like dairy, citrus and a few other things - before I  exercise). I wasn’t breathing particularly well that first half, but as long as I ran slow, I was okay.

While I was stopped, I took an extra dose of my inhaler. Between that and pouring water on myself, I was feeling much better just a minute or two later. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to hit my steady pace (~4:55 pace), much less my tempo pace (~4:35), but I tried to up my effort heading into the second half.

I could tell almost right away that I was feeling better. My first km after stopping was significantly faster than all of my other kilometers so far. Every couple of minutes, I made sure to take a small sip of water and to pour a few drops on my head. It was like magic, I tell you. The difference in hindsight was astounding.

I caught up with Coach Mark fairly soon after (he’d been within sight for much of the first half of the run - running with one of the other campers). I mentioned as I was passing by that there was no way I’d be hitting my goals for the run. He said to just aim for a negative split given the weather. With the second half more hilly (making it harder) – a negative split made for a more realistic goal in the heat, while still being challenging. I agreed that’s what I’d do.

And I did. While I lost my data for this run (and the other stuff from Thurs/Friday at camp), I remember that I was well under my first 8km pace for most of the second half of the run. Especially near the beginning. I wasn’t at goal tempo pace by a long shot, but I was in the 5:15-5:30 pace for all but 1km of this – except the last km or two, which I’ll mention later.

Going up and down the hills was spectacular, although footing is always a bit challenging in the dirt. I think this time last year was the last time I ran on dirt (besides a couple of runs on a dirt track) – so I’m not good at it. Always worried I’m going to mis-step. I kept my habit of sipping water regularly and dumping it on my head. It made a massive difference. It was like I was on a completely different run from the first 8km.

With about 2 or 3 km to go, Coach Mark caught up with me and ran with me. He couldn’t have picked a better time (it may have been intentional – I didn’t ask!). Either way, as we ran side by side, I was able to pick up the pace for the last couple of km, which is what I was supposed to do. I don’t know that I would’ve had the oomph to do it if my coach wasn’t right next to me! When I looked afterwards, I managed to get under 5min pace for both of those – if barely. I think it was 4:59 and 4:51 for the last 2…but I will take it in that weather!

Crossed the ‘finish’ line feeling toasted, but did manage to squeeze out a 200m cool down to get my mileage right to 10 (or 16km). Had fun waiting for everyone else – and also took a picture of another group that was running who asked me too. Yes, it was a busy trail that day!

Verdict for the shoes was a tentative ‘good’ – although I need to test them on normal pavement. They did feel much better than the Inspires, with more support than the Sayonaras though – so I am very hopeful they’ll work for the Toronto Goodlife Half in May and the Tremblant 70.3 in June. We’ll see.

The LPC run singlet was wonderful as well – fit was perfect. The only issue is the water really soaked into the back of the shirt rather than evaporating – but that could’ve just been the highish humidity. Either way, I expect to be running in it more often as the weather gets nicer – so I can give it more trials. At first test though – it worked – and I didn’t get any chaffing. Mind you, I did use a bit of body glide just to be sure. Better safe than sorry!

After the run, my wonderful friends from Missouri were heading out since they had a long drive ahead of them. It was very sad to see them leave – but it was so wonderful having them here for the week.  I’d post a great picture of all of us – but those pics are on my dead phone – so I will have to wait and see what I can do to get them off of there!

After cheering on Coach James’ Dad who made it the full 16km (he's an amazing inspiration, that’s for sure), the rest of our house headed back to the resort for a bite to eat and to get ready for the last bike. Although only a couple of us actually did the bike, since the others wanted to pack and get sorted for their trip home.

The afternoon ride was spectacular. Despite being tired, I was really looking forward to testing out my borrowed PowerTap wheel.  I even rode a lap around the resort before the ride just to make sure the wheel wasn’t going to fall off – and to see if the power was syncing with my watch. It was!

We started the ride with a visit to the fountain at the entrance to Emerald Island Resort. I got there a bit early, but that worked well since there was a family there taking pictures –  two from California and 2 from Asia (I can’t remember which country – I think it might have been Hong Kong). After chatting with them, I learned that one guy had a sister from Guelph – where Coach James is from. What a small world. After taking a ton of pictures for them, they took a few for me (also on my dead phone) – and were off before the rest of our group got there for a group photo. Perfect timing!
A group picture before our final camp ride!
Following the photo, we biked out to an empty subdivision about 15km away from the resort. Well, technically, we biked past it first to get a picture at the Disney World entrance. That was fun. It is also one of the few pictures I have from that day right on hand, since I emailed it to someone! Lucky me!

Small but mighty Group B on the final Camp 2016 Ride
After the picture, we biked back to the subdivision. As I was starting to say above...this sub-division is awesome. It’s a 1.5km loop – which was pretty much completely empty of all traffic. This made it incredibly easy to ride fast. Wanting to test out my new power meter, I did exactly that. I ended up doing 7 laps…1 easy, 1 hard, 1 easy, 1 hard, 2 easy, and then 1 extra to find one of our riders who was waiting at a different corner than the rest of us. I was actually excited to do another loop because I was having so much fun. I honestly think this was the most fun I had all week. Or maybe not – but it was close. I just loved, loved, loved it. Given how tired I was, it was kind of amazing. Goes to show how much having a new piece of technology can do to get you excited and energized! Hilarious, right?

Power wise – I can’t remember anything but the two hard loops. For the first, I averaged around 214 watts (~35.7km/h), while for the second I was a bit lower (around 210 watts, 35.2km/h). Those could be off given I'm not sure as to the accuracy of this power meter compared to the one I did my FTP on - so take the numbers with a grain of salt. Although the speed is accurate - which is crazy.
What you need to know is that I’ve never done those speeds on a flat outside – EVER – except going down a hill or long false flat (think riding down the Beeline in the rain during IMAZ)….which is amazing all by itself.  Goes to show how much I was wanting to test the power meter since I didn't worry about going too fast for comfort (the lack of cars helped immensely though - had there been cars, I wouldn't have been so fast). Also, we’re talking these speeds for around 2 minutes – so not very long by any stretch at all. But still – it was fun!
I very quickly learned that power will keep you honest. If you’re coasting…you can see it (I went down to 66 watts around corners)…I certainly did, so rode harder. Not sure how that will work to keep from going too hard at times – but for this one day, it was so much fun just to do some testing. I loved it. Also, I never would’ve even tried to ride hard without a good excuse! When I texted my friend Paula after, I think she was overjoyed to hear how much fun I'd had! Can't wait to do more riding with this wheel when the nice weather comes!

After doing the fun loops, we headed back to Emerald Island – where we had plenty of time before getting ready for the final night dinner. I admit, I was pretty tired, so it was nice to get some downtime! I went with 3 of my fellow housemates to happy hour at the Tiki Bar at the resort clubhouse and tried the Florida Lager. It was actually quite nice. After a few drinks there, we had time to get back to the house and pick up our leftovers before heading to the main camp house for the final potluck.

In previous years, we’ve gone out for dinner – but I liked this option so much more. It was much more relaxed and I got to talk to everyone. Mind you, I was utterly exhausted, so I headed out a bit early. I was dead to the world by 10pm that’s for sure.

On the bizarre side, I was woken suddenly at 11 or 11:30pm when all of our fire alarms started buzzing. They’re hard-wired so if one goes off – they all do. I was so sound asleep, I spent 15 minutes thinking it was a truck backing up outside before I realized it wasn’t. Out in the hallway, my other housemates were trying to figure out what was happening since there was no fire. We finally figured out that one of the alarms had a dead battery…but then we had to fiddle with half of them before we got the stupid things to shut off. Gak. These wired alarms are great if there is a fire…but for a low battery, it was overkill to the n-th degree.

I ended up reading for 30 minutes after that since I was wired (pun intended), and then got back to sleep thankfully! I was then up early enough to have a cup of coffee and to say goodbye to several of my housemates before it was time to head to the airport and back home.

All in all, it was an incredible week. I learned a lot, saw many friends, made many more – and had a blast training with everyone. Big thanks to everyone at LPC for putting on such an incredible week.  I think this was my favourite camp yet!
I’m already looking forward to 2017 for another week of awesome adventures and training – okay, and to finally do the Allen’s Challenge with as part of my 5 year camper-versary celebrations – assuming my friend Paula really is willing to do it too. Ha. It’ll be nuts. Can’t wait!

LPC Florida Tri Camp - Day 5: Starbucks, Swimming and Sugar(loaf)

After a week of working, I am getting back on track with my blogs from last week’s LPC Florida Triathlon Camp….Sorry for the hiatus! On the plus side, since I felt guilty for not updating soon enough - I wrote a lot. Just what you wanted, right?

On the sad side, my phone I don't have many pictures until I can figure out how to get them off my phone. I do have a few, but not many. Sorry!

In all seriousness, the fifth day of camp started off at River Island over at the Orange Lake Resort. According to the schedule, we had a 20 minute run to start the day – but Coach Mark told me not to do the run (because I’d done some good running in the brick workout on Wednesday – and then had a long run on tap for Friday) so my run turned into a walk to Starbucks for a coffee. Can’t argue with that option! I finished my coffee just in time to join the group for a mobility session before the swim – led by Coach Liz. This was a nice way to start the day.

Following the exercises, we jumped into the Lazy River. I really do love this pool. One day, I need to see it when it’s full up with people and inner tubes. Bet it’s an entirely different place.  Today’s swim was fantastic. We did some warm-up, and then did some practice turning in one particular section of the river. I only managed to scrape myself against the wall once. That’s pretty good for me. I was following someone and didn’t notice the wall was so close. Where are the lines when you need them? 

Part of the Lazy River at Orange Grove Resort (Photo Jenny Clark)

We also did some work on sculling – which is a skill I am much better at after a fair bit of practice this past year. I still prefer mid-sculling, but even with front-sculling, I’m not too bad. We then did some more drafting practice. This time I was partnered with a friend who is a stronger swimmer than I am. But it worked beautifully since I was able to draft off her quite well. This rarely happens for me, so I was quite happy for the opportunity. At times, I had other people on my feet somewhat by accident, and another time someone snuck in behind her, so I drafted off her hip. That was great practice too – and I actually found it easier than drafting off the feet.

All in all, this swim was a great success. I felt really good coming out of it.

Back at the house, we had time for a quick bite to eat before heading off to the Irish Pub – where we gather for the ride to Sugarloaf. On the plus side, when we finish the ride, there happens to be an Irish Pub to toast the triumph. Isn’t that fortunate?

It was starting to get warm (i.e. hot) on the way to Sugarloaf. I was riding with the B Group again – the group doing the 95km loop. Everything started out pretty well. Other than one road that is a bit busy to get away from the Irish Pub, it’s a wonderful route. We spend a bunch of time on paved bike paths which is awesome, followed by rolling country roads to get to Sugarloaf Mountain. 

About 40 km or so into the ride, I had to stop abruptly in the middle of a hill when a friend came from behind while starting up. This caught me by surprise and I had to stop. No worries. I was able to put my foot down so had no mishaps. The challenge was getting back going again since I wasn’t in the right gear. It took me a good couple of minutes to finally get my bike going again. I was able to catch up with Paula and we road together for a bit as we slowly caught back up to the rest of the group.

Little did I know, that was an out and back section – so I could’ve just sat and waited for everyone to come back to me. Ha. As if. As I was riding back, one of the guys in our group had a flat. He was fine when I passed him, but apparently broke a tube so Paula stopped to give him hers. Back at the original corner where I’d managed not to fall, we waited for him to catch up. When he did…he flatted again. Seriously, how much bad luck can one person have. But I think that was the last one for the day. Better on a training day than in a race though. And at least it was a nice day.

Thank goodness I had my Speedfil bottle since I drank a ton of water over that section of the ride. As we approached Sugarloaf, I admit I was looking forward to the water up at the top of the hill. I made it up Sugarloaf – it felt harder than previous years, but in reality it wasn't really. I just think I went a bit harder than in the past.

At the top, C Group caught up to us, so we waited and got a picture of all of us in front of the house. The nice people who live there keep coolers of water by their front gate for riders to use – so I refilled my water bottle and drank about 10 little cups worth of water. Yes, I was hot. I finally remembered to bring some cash, so left a donation in their donation box for the Wounded Warrior Project.  Apparently they’d just sent about $2k in donations in according to their sign. Glad to see cyclists being so generous.

Top of Sugarloaf - B and C Groups
With half the ride to go, I was pretty tired. Thankfully I convinced Paula to stay with B group because the two of us rode much of the rest of the way fairly close together, while the rest of B group was a little ahead (although they waited for us at different points). We weren’t too far behind – but it felt like it at times. C’est la vie.
The funniest thing that happened on the way back was the fact the store kept getting farther away. Honestly, I could’ve sworn we reached the store within 10km of Sugarloaf last year…but this time, we didn’t reach there until around the 75km mark. So funny.

Apparently the store was never where I thought it was. Mind you, it wasn’t wear Coach Nissim said it was either since at one point he said it was about 5km away…and it was more like 25km. I tell you, the store kept moving on us!  

But we made it to the store around the time I ran out of water – so I filled up my bottle again, and also drank a Coke. I admit, it was delicious and much needed. I think the Coke gave me some extra energy, since I didn’t have any issues with riding that last 15-20km. I actually started feeling good again. Maybe I needed to eat more – although I thought I’d been pretty good with my nutrition. While training for Ironman, I really got pretty good at it. But maybe it the heat, I needed a bit more than I was taking in.

We got back to the Irish Pub where I was able to stow my bike in the trailer, and then change out my shoes. Inside, I was more than happy to have a beer (aptly named ‘Fat Tire’) and some French fries. Sadly, their patio was under construction, so we couldn’t sit outside.

All in all, I’d say this was a challenging ride – moreso than I was expecting – but nothing I couldn’t handle. After riding 180km with 100kmin the rain at IMAZ, riding 95km with hills, even in the heat and a bit heavy legged I wasn't worried. After riding much longer distances, this never felt like it was going to kill me. I knew it wasn't that long relatively, so I'd reach the end eventually. So hilarious how your perception of distance changes following an Ironman. Don't get me wrong though. I would not have wanted to ride another 5km on this particular day!
I think my overall pace was a tad better than last year (although we rode a different course – since last year we did 87km including Sugarloaf twice), but since I lost my data from the last 2 days of camp, I will never know for sure. I do recall I did this ride in ~4:13 of riding time, compared to ~3:58 riding time for 87km the year before – which suggests a very slightly faster pace.
This was also my longest ride ever at a CampLPC - 95km compared to last year's 87km Sugarloaf ride! Awesomesauce.

I learned afterwards it actually hit 90F or so on the ride, so that’s a good reason I was hot. But who cares. It was such a fantastic day and I wouldn’t change it. I find this ride is constantly challenging – partly because as you get better – you work harder. Can’t wait to do it again next year!

That night, one of my Missouri friends offered to lend me her PowerTap wheel – which is a back wheel that has a power meter as part of it. I’ve never actually used a power meter on the road; my only experience with one has been doing my FTP test last year and then this year. After making sure she really was serious, I gratefully accepted. It will give her a great excuse to come visit me in Toronto, so she can get the wheel back. Well, if I don’t hide it of course. She swore I was going to love training with power.

It took me a bit to get the wheel on, but everything seemed to work just fine once it was set up (although I will take it to a bike shop when I get home, just to make sure everything is well aligned – and to get a new chain since mine is getting worn).

I said I’d test it out the next day during the bike – and would report back to her on the results. Alas, she was leaving after the run – so wouldn’t be there for my inaugural power ride!

Still – big thanks to my awesome friend (you know who you are!). I still can’t believe she’s lending this wheel to me. That really goes above and beyond. I owe her big time! But if I get faster this summer – it’s going to be her fault!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

LPC Florida Tri Camp - Day 4: Brick at Lake Louisa State Park

One of the best parts of the LPC Florida Triathlon Camp is the brick workout over at Lake Louisa State Park. Okay, there are a lot of best parts to the camp experience, but Lake Louisa is one of the few places where the riding is almost completely traffic free. Doing the brick workout there also allows everyone to go at their pace, so everyone gets the workout they want that day.

As a reference, this was also where the ITU race was on Saturday - so this was my second time here this week. I was excited for the training opportunity.

Lake Louisa State Park
In the same parking lot where some of the ITU stuff had been set up, the coaches set up a real transition area (complete with a bike rack) which makes practicing transitions very real.
LPC Transition Zone
We started with a warm-up loop for both the bike and the run. The bike was an 11km loop around the park complete with some turns and some nice long but not too crazy hard hills. The run was 1 mile (or less for people who didn’t want to run as much) – and  a slight uphill out and downhill back.

My legs were a bit tired from the ride the day before to Allen’s, and my asthma was giving me a little grief because of a bit of humidity in the air, but I was feeling good overall. I was just conscientious of keeping everything as a real warm-up, unlike last year when I went too hard right off the bat.
So I simply went out of my way to enjoy that first loop and not worry about speed. Not that my watch was giving me distance properly (still!), so speed didn't matter. Whatever speed it said I was going - it was far less than actual. So the whole time focused on effort. I am sure Coach Mark doesn't mind that. It's good practice.

After the warm-up, we went through transition practice - running up to our bikes, changing into bike gear, mounting, riding a brief circle, dismounting, racking our bikes, changing to run shoes, and then running out. This was fun. I actually did a pretty good job with this – much to my surprise. I must be getting better at transitions – not that you’d know it from my snail pace transitions at IMAZ. I think the whole thing took me 2:06 – which is great for me. Of course, we didn’t have to peel our wetsuits off either – so that would have added a lot more time no doubt.
 Lap 1 - You can see why I need to sunscreen my lower back!
The main set for me was 3 loops of the 11k bike/1 mile run. Coach Mark had me try and descend 1-3 – and build over the course of the set. During each set, we practiced transitions – which I really liked. 

The first set went pretty well, and I descended the second loop just a bit. About mid-way through the second set the wind really started to pick up. By the third loop, I was a bit nervous with the shifting wind – and had a bit of nervousness going downhill. At one point I even felt my bike blow sideways a bit on a fast descent (for me anyways), but I managed to keep control. I’m definitely getting better at bike handling when something unexpected happens, that’s for sure.

After my last bike rep (which I think was marginally the fastest), I had a slightly slower final run.  My legs were too tired to push as hard as I wanted. But I was at least in the same zone as the first two runs, so that’s not too bad. All of the reps were above my target steady and tempo paces mind (i.e. around 5:00-5:05 per km, rather than around 4:55 and 4:35). This was a bit frustrating, but I also was erring a bit on the side of caution early on hoping to descend…so I can’t really complain! I am glad I had good bike sets at least, and that the runs were passable.

After a quick break to eat, we changed into our wetsuits and had a short open water swim in the tea-coloured Lake Louisa. The colour has something to do with the trees along the shore, but the outcome is that the water is very dark and somewhat eerie. You can't see anything.
I've never seen an alligator - thank goodness!
Oddly, I don’t mind the dark water at all because, unless all I can see is sand, I don’t want to know what’s in the water with me. I hate weeds more than anything – kind of odd I know, but that’s me for you. It’s not that I don’t swim fine above weeds – I just really hate looking at them because often I get this sense they’re reaching out like arms and I want to avoid touching them. My triathlete friends find this funny.
Coach James giving instructions (Photo: Brad Reiter)

The open water swim was awesome - probably because I love swimming in open water so much more than in a pool. I ended up swimming at the back of the second group – and finally got a ton of excellent drafting practice. It seems like every round I had someone’s feet, which was awesome. I did very well sighting, even with people in front of me. I’m glad for that since I’m sure that’s the main reason I could stay with people. I didn’t wander off the short course at all.
 And we're off! (Photo: Brad Reiter)
After the swim, we had a wonderful stretching session with Coach Liz Campbell. Between the yoga and the swim, my legs felt so much better than they did right after the bike. I was almost recovered or so it seemed to me. Not like I tested it.
About to start yoga
That was it for the training part of Wednesday. It was an incredibly productive morning that's for sure. The afternoon: not so much. I think most of us relaxed for a few hours. In the later afternoon, my housemates and I went to the outlet mall (thanks to Coach Nissim for the ride) and had fun shopping. After a less than stellar experience in the Sketchers store, I did find a nice pair of run shorts at Nike. Thankfully I didn’t see anything at Pearl Izumi that really called my name. I feel pretty good for only spending $20 – between the shorts and a pretzel to eat while waiting for others to finish looking around!

After a fight with traffic (Lesson: Go earlier in the day!), I got home and had some dinner before heading off to bed. At least I think that’s what I did. I don’t really remember now. Most of the evenings are a bit sketchy since I was so tired!

All in all, it was an amazing day!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

LPC Florida Tri Camp - Day 3 - Beautiful Day for the Allen's Challenge

It was yet another beautiful day in Florida today, making this the third one this week. Glad it was so nice because this was the second longest ride of the camp – an 86km ride out to Allen’s Creamery in Windermere.

For the past 3 years, this ride has always been on the last day of camp after the 86km ride, but after some feedback, the coaches changed it up to make it a different day. By having it earlier in the week, it gives people more recovery time – plus makes it easier for people to attend a final night dinner without being exhausted. Personally, I loved this change. It made for a great day of riding!

We all collected at the main LPC camp house for a maintenance workshop before the ride – focused mostly on tire changing and being prepared for a flat. This clinic never gets old – as each time you can learn something new. And with many new campers, it’s always good to make sure people are prepared. Following the clinic from Coach Ryan Power, we got ready to ride.
Tire changing clinic with Coach Ryan Power

I rode with the B group again, which was the right choice. For the most part, I had no issues with the pace– not that I’d know any different since my watch refused to give me the right distance or speed. So annoying! I’m now going to try a reset to see if that helps.

The ride out seemed so much faster than previous years – probably because Coach Mark and Coach Nissim got us there with no problems. This is actually a huge deal for me since every year until now I’ve ended up in a group that got lost…last year by a lot! Pretty soon we were in Windermere riding through all the nice houses on our way to Allens. We did ride on one road I didn’t like much, but we weren’t on it for long and I am a much better rider so it wasn't a big deal, thank goodness. Most of the ride was beautiful riding with lots of opportunities to practice riding in a paceline.
Allen's Creamery in Windemere

At Allen’s, 4 people took on the Allen’s Challenge – including a showdown between Coach Mark and John Pulford – as John took the record last year in about 4:50 – for eating 11 scoops of ice cream and 6 toppings.  Coach Mark had been the previous record holder. The bowls of ice cream are gigantic, so watching the challenge is quite a highlight of the week – and today was no less than spectacular.

John and Coach Mark Take on the Allen's Challenge!
All 4 competitors actually finished the challenge (you get 15 minutes to eat it all) and won their free t-shirts. But John Pulford won again – breaking his own record with a time of 3:16 (don’t ask me how – even though I watched it!), while Coach Mark also beat the last record in a time of about 3:45-3:50 (I can’t remember exactly). Crazy!

My friend Paula said she’d compete with me next year as part of my camp 5 year anniversary. We’ll see if that happens or if we both chicken out! I feel like doing a beer mile in -15 degrees and half a foot of snow last week was about as foolish as I get. That much ice cream is a bit insane.

After the challenge, we headed back home – Coach Mark looking none the worse for wear after his ice cream battle. The ride back was a bit more challenging because of the wind, plus a few frontrunners in our group decided to up the pace a bit (no idea by how much since my watch wasn’t working properly). I managed to stay right up front with them for a large chunk of the ride back, but I eventually got tired.

When we were about 15km from home, Coach Mark went off with the fast people, while the rest of our B group took a more leisurely pace home. I probably could have stayed with the B-1 group, but glad I didn’t because I wanted to save my energy for tomorrow (technically today since that’s when I’m writing), when we have a brick workout at Lake Louisa State Park.

It was pretty hot when we got back to the LPC camp house, but I still had a 3km brick run on my plan – or one loop of the Emerald Island Resort. I quickly changed into my shoes – which I’d left in the garage, although I rued the fact I didn’t have my hat with me. Ah well, it was 3km, so I figured I’d be done quickly enough that it wouldn’t be a big deal.

The run was actually better than I thought – although still pretty easy. My friend Flora (a super-fast girl who won the A1A marathon in February) passed me at one point like I was standing still. Absolutely amazing. To be honest, I enjoy watching great runners and cyclists (tomorrow's report will have a similar story about Lionel Saunders) – you can just see the focus and determination in their eyes. And Flora looked incredibly strong. As did Jack and many of the fast guys who also passed me at some point in the loop.

I managed to ride 250m back to my camp house after the run, where I proceeded to spend the remainder of the afternoon sitting in a deck chair on the back patio. Ahhhh, that felt good.

In the evening, a bunch of us went out for dinner at Orange Lake (and a few went for a hard swim – glad that wasn’t on –my- plan) – and celebrated Coach Mark’s birthday. I finally got around to giving him the small gift I brought back from Ironman Arizona and the Epic Road Trip…a mug and a crab magnet that reminded me of my first year of being at Camp when Coach Mark had Crab at Joe’s Crab Shack. I still have the picture of the silly bib with a hand-drawn crab that he wore, even though he wasn’t my coach at the time – it was just funny!

After dinner, we headed back home where I finished the Day 2 Blog and posted it! I’m definitely a bit behind this week, but I’m trying not to fall too far behind!