Thursday, October 31, 2013

Coaching isn't just for good people

When you think of a coach, what do you think of?

I tend to think of the coach of a sports team. Like Jim Leland of the Detroit Tigers. Or Randy Carlyle of the Maple Leafs (not that I cheer for the MLs, but I do live in Toronto - so I hear his name a lot).

I know lots of professional athletes have individual coaches, too. I've been an avid reader of Triathlon Canada, Triathlete, and Inside Triathlon for over a year now - not to mention most of the running magazines as well. I've seen articles written by coaches - and heard some of the world's best runners and triathletes speak about their coaches. I remember reading about Mirinda Carfrae and her experience with Siri Lindley she left her in 2012, and then went back to her this year leading up to Kona. I also remember reading about Ryan Hall a couple of weeks ago - and about whether his lack of formal coaching is why he keeps getting hurt.

That's not to say I didn't know age groupers had coaches as well. Pretty much right from the beginning I knew that. After all, when I went to triathlon camp back in March - about half of the folks there were being coached by Coach James or Coach Mark of Loaring Personal Coaching.

But it didn't really occur to me that I should think about hiring a coach. I figured the people being coached were far more athletic than I would ever be - and probably had really big goals they were working towards.

Okay, there was also that voice inside me that kept saying, "Are you ridiculous...they'd laugh if you even asked about it..."

And then I ran my first marathon. As you'll see from my last post - I had an awesome time. I smiled the entire way - and enjoyed getting chased around by my parents and brother's family who were out and about to capture my day in pictures.

Truth is though - I wonder if I'd had a coach to ask advice of - whether I might have been better prepared. I was sick the week of the race and didn't really do anything about it. Might a coach have given me some advice or suggestions that would've helped...even if it was just "go to the doctor!"?

That got me thinking about next year...because the minute I was done Run for Heroes, I knew I wanted to do another marathon. Around the same time, my friend Nicole also suggested a bunch of us do the new Niagara Falls triathlon - a half iron distance race (2k swim, 90k bike, 21.1k run). Of course, my first thought was, "Why not?"

After checking in with my brother Anthony to make sure I wasn't crazy (He said 'of course you can do it!'), I started to wonder how I'd prepare for that and run another marathon - hopefully without getting hurt in the process.

And then I circled back round to the idea of coaching.

I remembered how much I learned at the triathlon camp back in March. It was my first time riding a bike with thin tires - not to mention my first time with clipless pedals. And yet, I still successfully road 120 miles that week - that was because of the patience and encouragement of the coaches. I also did my first open water swim in my wetsuit that weekend. And my first interval brick workout.

I also remembered the talks I'd had with Nigel Gray (of NRG) at a couple of the seminars he gave to the Toronto Triathlon Club, and Michael Liberzon (of X3 ) during the TTC bike rides he led.

A few of my friends also have (or have had) coaches - and were more than willing to share their experiences - good and bad - with me. Some of these folks are really talented athletes, others have overcome injuries, and still others had to learn one or more of the 3 sports in order to participate effectively in triathlon (and are now doing so with incredible results). If all of these "normal" folks got benefit from coaching - then I could too, right?

So...with those thoughts in mind, I did what I normally do - which is ...I made a quick and definitive decision to hire a coach to help me prepare, train, and achieve (I hope!) my 2014 goals.

And when I realized I was going to hire a coach - I knew it was going to be LPC. I've known of LPC forever (through my brother). I've seen their athletes' amazing results (many of whom started in a similar position to me...although probably with better biking skills). They sponsored the first triathlon I ever did (the Loaring Beginner Triathlon in 2012).

And, of course, they put up with me at camp last year - when I was so green I fell over at numerous stop lights and basically had a panic attack when riding for the first time in the rain. They never suggested I consider doing less than the planned workout for the day because I was new. Instead, they just gave encouragement when I said I wanted to do it - including the 40 mile infamous Sugarloaf ride (which I did!).

So yes - as of tomorrow (or technically Monday), I'll be working with Coach Mark Linseman of LPC. Coach Mark has an incredible background in triathlon and a wide-ranging knowledge of all things training and nutrition related. Education wise, he has a BSc in Kinesiology and a MSc in Human Exercise Nutrition and Metabolism. He also has the side benefit of not being as close friends with my brother as Coach James is (laugh).

I admit that I am looking forward to learning from everyone involved with LPC as I get ready for the Niagara Falls half iron race next year, with a stop to do the Mississauga Marathon along the way!

I'll admit's really, really strange to put my training regime in someone else's hands. To trust someone else to help me achieve my goals.

But really, when you think about it - I did that once before...when I first emailed Trainer Chris for help to lose weight and become "healthy and fit."

And we all know how that worked out. I went from overweight, klutzy, and running a marathon less than two years later.

Makes me wonder what I'll accomplish over the next two years with the help of Coach Mark and everyone at LPC?

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Running a marathon - 26.2 miles (42k) of awesome.

Last Sunday, I ran my first marathon: the World Alzheimer's Day Run for Heroes Marathon!

A marathon. That's 26.2 miles (42.2 km). To put it in perspective, the marathon was longer than the entire bike course of the Toronto Triathlon I did back in July (which was 40k). Kind of crazy.

And I ran it. When this time two years ago, I hadn't even made the decision to change my life yet. I hadn't discovered that I could be an athlete (a word I still have a hard time equating with *me*)  - despite years of being uncoordinated, chubby, and utterly unobservant. I certainly hadn't realized how much I would love running - love racing - love proving that I can do anything if I set my mind to it.

So, regardless of where you are today - believe that you can do anything. If I can run a marathon less than 2 years after starting my journey on the road less travelled - anyone can. All it takes is time, consistency, a good training plan (or group!) - and being smart.

So - on to the how...

Training for the race

My brother Anthony suggested I join a running club ages and ages ago - and I figured training for a marathon would be a good excuse. After looking around, I signed up with the Marathon Clinic at the Beaches Running Room because it was fairly close and the times were convenient. I was a bit iffy, given the clinic group was prepping for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon - 5 weeks after mine, but I figured I needed all the help I could get.

And it was a great choice. The folks in the clinic were (and are) great. The 3 weekly group sessions forced me to be consistent, even when I was busy worrying about triathlons all summer. There was a great mix of runners with different experience levels - and I got to pick the brains of some very experienced runners. In fact, I was one of only a few newbies in the group - most in the clinic had run at least one marathon in the past.

The training was nice and challenging, but never impossible. I ran 4-5 days a week (one of those was generally a brick since I was training for triathlons too)  - with my longest runs topping out at  30, 30, 32, and 33k. One 30k was actually the Midsummer Night's Run - which I ran on my 35th birthday!

The week before

I got thrown a little curve ball the week before the race. I had a bit of a stomach bug that I expected would just go away. Well, it did: 3 days after the marathon. Maybe I should've gone to the doctor - but c'est la vie. It was never bad enough to do anything other than keep me from eating...

Oh,'re supposed to eat well in the week leading up to a marathon. Especially carbs. Oops. I didn't even have dinner the night before the race. Yes, I know - not a smart thing to do. But given how iffy my stomach was, I still think it was the right choice at the time.

My marathon journey

Last Sunday was a beautiful day for a race. Chilly, but not as cold as it was last year. Or maybe I was just smart enough to wear warm clothes before the race started...unlike last year when I didn't know any better (I ran the half marathon last year).

Picture 1: Before the start - with my parents

My parents and brother Stephen saw me off at the start. My dad got a picture of me starting my brother got a picture of me getting my earphones in. ::laugh:: Oh, priorities!

Picture 2: At the start - trying to get my Ipod working

I started the race off really well. Last year, my first mile was almost a minute a mile too fast. This time, I started much more conservatively - right what I was aiming for.

The first 12k of the course led down to the river and then through the Town of Amherstburg. That's where I saw my parents for the first time. They had signs which made me happy...and made me laugh.

Picture 3: Running through Amherstburg - Laughing when I saw my parents (11-12k)

Around the 10 mile mark, running started to feel harder. That isn't usual for me at all. I haven't had any issues with running under 13 miles in a long time. All of my long runs in training, including my 20 milers went pretty much without a hitch.

That's when I started to realize that lack of nutrition might just be a bigger issue than I expected. If I was feeling it at 10 miles - that wasn't the best of signs.

I am sure the headwind didn't help. In hindsight, I don't know if the headwind was as bad as it felt, or if it was just me running somewhat on empty. Either way, it felt like there was a pretty rough headwind from about 7k to the marathon turnaround point at 23k.

But, even though I was starting to feel it, I was having a fabulous day. I was lucky to have my parents and brother Stephen's family out to cheer me. They chased me all around the course to get pictures - breaking up the run and keeping me from ever having a chance to think about just how long a marathon is.

Picture 4: Heading outbound to the turnaround - Smiling!

Aside: I love pictures where both my feet are off the ground. It's like I am flying for a moment. And look at  my hair flying was definitely windy!

It was at the turnaround that I realized that if I didn't slow down a fair bit, I was going to crash and burn before the end. While I was drinking water, I could barely eat (I only managed 4 Cliff Shot Blocks during the entire race - much less than I'd planned). It was a very odd feeling. I felt good. I wasn't tired at all. My mood was fantastic. I was smiling. It's just that my legs didn't want to go anywhere. Every step seemed so slow! I knew if I wanted to finish with a smile, I had to modify my pace to something I could sustain on that particular day.

It's the that particular day that you should take as a lesson learned. It doesn't matter how fast you can run most days. All that matters is what your body can do on a given day - on race day.

So, I stopped looking at my Garmin and I instinctively dialed down my pace to something that felt sustainable. I stopped focusing on my time and turned my attention to enjoying the day for what it was - a perfect day for a run. Best decision I could've made.

Picture 5: Heading back from the turnaround - smiling (28-30k)

When I passed 33k (my longest run before race day), I had a moment of being pretty amazed with how far I've come in less than 2 years. I spent a lot of time just being happy with being awesome, and with running in honor of a great man.

Around 36 or 37k, I saw my brother, his wife and their two kids. Turns out Steve had gone to get them after chasing me around for the first 10 miles. It was a nice surprise, and I tried to give them a funny wave as I passed!

Picture 6: Waving to my brother, his wife and their two kids (36-37k)

Little did I know, they were going to find me one more time on the course - around the 40k mark. That was awesome and gave me a last dose of energy that saw me through to the finish. I might not have been running very fast, but I was still running... and, more importantly, still smiling.

Picture 7: Getting closer (40k)

The funny part was that at least half a dozen volunteers over the last 5k commented on the fact I was still smiling and looking good. They could've been lying about the last part - but they certainly weren't lying about the first bit. ::laugh:: It's become my signature in pretty much every race. I tend to be smiling in all my race pictures.

So when you're out there running  a race - whether you're having a good day or a not-so-good day - try smiling. You'll feel good - and so will everyone who sees you!

Picture 8: Closing in - (41k)

As I neared the turn to the finish, I saw my mom waiting in the road for me. I think she was as excited about my finishing as I was (and was also nice enough to take my water bottle off my hands). My dad was waiting right beyond the finish line so he could capture the moment.

Picture 9 - Crossing the finish line

I crossed the finish line in 4:15 with a smile on my face - exactly what I was hoping for most of all for this first marathon. I finished, and I finished smiling! And I earned an awesome medal with a ship on it! (I do love tall ships!)

Picture 10: My awesome medal

Final thoughts

Overall, I might not have had a great "race" by any stretch of the imagination (lesson learned: yes, race week/race day nutrition is that important). But I did have a perfect first marathon experience - a wonderful run on a beautiful day - complete with awesome family members out cheering for me.

So what if I didn't go particularly fast? I don't mind saving that for next time. This race was more about enjoying the journey - about continuing to prove that yes, I can do anything - and that I can do it with a smile.

And by that measure - I was awesome.

And hey, I guess I can call myself a "marathoner" now. Not that I plan too. I think that's an even more bizarre thought than calling myself an "athlete".

Ahhh....I really do love this road less travelled. Can't wait to see where it leads to next!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Toronto Triathlon - A perfect race - no matter the pace

Sometimes everything in the world seems to go against you.

You don't train enough. Life goes nuts. You get injured in the weeks (or days, or minutes) leading up to a race. You trip walking down the stairs. You get to the start line...or 30 seconds in...and wonder if you'll even make it past the first 10 minutes.

That last one was me in Leamington back in June. A panic attack in the water because I hadn't had enough time wearing my wetsuit, coupled with choppy water, left me struggling to breathe the first half of the swim course. I had no idea how much that actually affected the rest of my race. I finished with a big smile -- but I was breathing so hard at the end, I couldn't believe it. It took me hours to recover.

But that's the thing. Some days, something goes wrong. You push through and live off the adrenaline and the high of moving forward. I might not have been smiling coming out of the water that day, but I was proud for finishing.

And then - there's the opposite. The perfect race.

For me, the Toronto Triathlon - Olympic Distance was perfect. It was like everything in the world clicked, right at the right time. Sure, I'm not particularly fast (I finished 24th in my age group out of 40) -- but fast isn't a measure of perfection. Having the best race you can possibly have on a given day is.

And that was me.

I was nervous going into this race, but not the same way I was before Leamington...because I'd now done it before. Volunteering last year also helped - because I knew the procedures, knew the transition area, and had been out on the turnaround on the bike course. I hadn't seen the swim, but I'd been out in Lake Ontario a dozen times since Leamington - not wanting a repeat performance of that swim.

My brother and Colleen were also great. They kept me out of trouble the day before as we travelled around the city exploring festivals, walking around the Distillery District, and finding good coffee.

I felt a lot of nerves setting up my transition area the day of the race. But I was happy to be the second row from the end - making it easy to remember where my bike was racked. I also saw a bunch of people I knew - and that helped settle me down. Folks from the LPC training camp. Folks from the Toronto Triathlon Club - everyone was supportive and in good cheer.

The weather was also perfect. After a week of scorching heat and humidity, the temperature had dropped to low 70s or so....couldn't have asked for a better day.

The Swim

Lake Ontario was freezing. Seeing the line of swimmers getting ready to go in made me realize just how big this event was compared to Leamington. I was in the second to last wave, so I got to see the melee as everyone else started.

Then it was time to jump in. The cold was enough to cut all the nerves out of my system...mostly in an effort not to scream out my dismay. It was much colder than earlier in the week - thanks to a storm in the few days leading up to the race. There were jokes shared with the other girls in the water...mostly about ways to keep warm. No, I did not pee in my wetsuit. I made it through the port-o-potty line, thank you very much.

I planned to start slow and build - a suggestion given to me by a friend. When the air horn sounded...I started swimming, only to realize I'd underestimated my pace and was blocked by 3-4 girls swimming very slowly. I feel maneuvering around them was actually a good start to the race because it gave me something to focus on other than the cold around them and started to build from there.

Picked up speed the whole way I think. Got into a nice groove - especially near the end. I did go a bit off course, mostly when I was swimming into the sun - but I did a good job of re-sighting once I could actually make out the buoys. I have to say there was contact in the water the whole time - most of it benign but annoying. Hope I didn't hit anyone too hard!

I knew when I reached the exit that I'd made good time...and I did: 28:53! A full minute under my goal of 30 minutes! Even better, I didn't feel winded at all after the swim. I just felt great and ready to get on my bike.

Here is me at the swim exit! I was feeling awesome and accomplished and full of energy.

Picture 1: me at the swim exit

The Bike

Everyone knows it's the bike that scares me the most. But after having no issues getting to the mount line (it was at the top of a hill), or over the pedestrian bridge (I'd been worried about crashing)...the clear roads of the Gardiner and the Don Valley Parkway were like a gift.

Without the need to worry about cars or traffic, I just let myself go. There were a bunch of potholes, especially on the Gardiner, but I managed to easily avoid them as I started to get into a comfortable pace. I had no idea how fast I was going (my bike computer sensor refuses to stay on when I am outside - so I just don't bother now), but I felt great. There's nothing like clear and empty roads to make you feel confident and safe.

Picture #2 - me on the Gardiner Expressway

I reached the turnaround much faster than I expected, and then it was just right back to transition.

I made both of the scary turns (a U-turn and a sharp right turn right near the end) without crashing - and suddenly my bike ride was done.

After the fact, I found out that I'd managed to keep up a pace of 18mph for the bike portion of the race. That's by far the fastest I've ever managed for ANY ride - even one on my indoor trainer. I was utterly shocked. I knew I'd done well, but for me - that was remarkable. I beat my goal time on the bike by 7 minutes!

Now, if I were a better biker - I could've actually changed gears properly during the bike and likely gone faster...but that'll come with time and lots (and lots, and lots) more practice. On this particular day, I did better than any other time I've been on my bike. That as perfect as it can get, in my mind.

The Run

If you've been reading my blog, you know I love running. So you won't be surprised when I say I loved the run at the Toronto Triathlon. It was a nice out on the Martin Goodman trail (not as crowded as I feared, thank goodness) - and back on a curb-lane of Lakeshore. I carried my hand-held water bottle which meant I didn't need to worry about chugging water at water stations - I could just get into a nice pace. I did end up slowing my pace a bit to have a conversation with two nice folks also racing, until I remembered it was, in fact, a race and got back to it. I know, kind of funny...but after 2 and something hours of racing, you sometimes forget you're supposed to be on a mission!

That didn't make a difference though. I was still faster than I'd projected  (I said 55 minutes - thinking the swim/bike beforehand would really slow me down), finishing in 52 something...only 4 minutes off my Personal Best at the Yonge St. 10k. That was kind of awesome, in my mind!

And best of all - I smiled the whole way. It was a joy to run.

Picture 3: Me on the run

The Finish

As I got closer to the finish, I was pretty sure I was heading toward a time I thought was impossible (sub 3 hours). I might not have worn my watch the whole time (I have a Garmin that isn't waterproof)...but I had timed my bike and run...and unless I'd had a terrible swim (which I knew I hadn't)....I knew I was headed to a "Beyond Expectations" finish.

The finish line was kind of had to run a bit beyond it I think, before turning and heading down the finisher's chute. Not that I cared - the minute I saw the time on the clock reading 3:15...I knew I'd managed sub-3 hours, because my wave started at 7:16...and the race started before 7am. I was smiling already...but that realization made me beam.

Picture 4: Coming down the finisher's chute

I crossed the line of the Toronto Triathlon completely ecstatic...not like Leamington, where I was ready to faint. I was over the moon...and was grinning, even while my brother was trying to get a good picture.

Picture 5: After the finish

The perfect race

It wasn't until at least an hour later that I found out I'd beat my goal time of between 3 hours and 3:15....coming in in 2 hours, 49 minutes and 35 seconds. By that point, it didn't actually matter. I was absolutely overjoyed to finish my longest race ever without crashing on my bike -- and with a smile on my face.

Sure, there were things I could do better...I could have started a little closer to the front in the swim so I didn't waste time trying to get around people. I could have changed gears on the bike (and maybe one day I'll even be able to use my aerobars without being afraid of crashing). I could have picked up the pace a bit on the run, because in hindsight, I probably could've run a touch faster.

But those are things that will come with time (copious amounts of it in the case of riding my bike better). All I know is that for my very first Olympic Distance triathlon - I had a perfect race. Maybe not a perfect race for a lot of people (like I said at the start, I was 24th out of 40 in my AG - not even close to fast with any stretch of the imagination)....but a perfect race for me on that specific day.

I had an awesome swim. I had a phenomenal - best ever - bike. I had a fabulous and fun run. I had a beaming smile as I crossed the line.

Really, the only sad part of the day was realizing I don't have another Olympic triathlon this year. And I really, really want to do more.

But I have a marathon to run. And my best wish is to have the kind of race in the Run for Heroes that I had at the Toronto Triathlon!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Thank you Recharge With Milk for an awesome time at Deerhurst Resort!

Back in March, I entered the Recharge with Milk Accomplishment Series - Getaway Contest. I'll admit, I did it on a whim after I saw a link to the contest on Facebook. Basically, the idea was to write in about what your greatest accomplishment has been.

Now for those of you who've known me since before I started this journey - I bet you knew what I wrote about. For everyone else, here was my entry:

All my life I've been overweight and klutzy. In Nov. 2011, at 33, I realized I had to change now, or I never would. So I asked a personal trainer for help. Just after we started working together, he dared me to sign up for a 10k (I couldn't run at all). It was like striking a match. I ran that race, then went on to do Spartan Race, two half marathons, and more. I was hooked.

Then, after doing a beginner tri, I caught that bug too. I decided to do real triathlons. I've spent the winter running, swimming and trying not to kill myself on my new tri bike. I'm already signed up for a few sprint and Olympic distance triathlons (and a fall marathon).

But that's not my achievement. My achievement was realizing that if I could become an athlete, I could do anything. So I did. I quit my job in August to start my own consulting business. I wanted it all - a balance of work, life, writing, training and racing.

And so far, it's been epic. I love my life. How many people can say that?

I just  re-read my entry now and nodded - because it is absolutely true. I expect it always will be.   The realization that if I can become athletic, I can do anything. And if I can do anything, so can you!

I read some of the stories that people shared. Recharge with Milk shared them on their Facebook page pretty regularly during the contest period. I found every one of them was inspiring and awesome. So I was pretty surprised when I got a call from Recharge with Milk saying that they'd picked my story as the winner.

The prize: A 4 night trip for 2 people to Deerhurst Resort! My friend Chris was more than happy to come her words "I get free trip, and I didn't even have to do anything crazy!".

The trip was amazing. I can't thank the folks at Recharge with Milk enough for making every single aspect of the trip effortless. It was awesome. 

Because I love sharing my adventures, I thought I'd share what I did on the trip - and how I made sure I put my awesome prize to good use. In other words: Training weekend!

Day 1 - Friday night of the long weekend

I took the trip over the Canada Day long weekend. If you're going to go away on the long weekend, having a chauffeured car is definitely the way to go. The normal 2-2.5 hour drive took almost 4 hours. Sitting in air conditioning while someone else got to worry about the stop and go traffic? Priceless!

Even better, the car was big enough to fit my I didn't have to go 4 days without training! Although, I have to admit, packing for triathlon training is so much harder than travelling in the old days when I could just shove a few clothes in a suitcase and be ready to go. 

Seriously, I had my bike, helmet, bike shoes, water bottles, wetsuit, bathing suit, cap, goggles, running shoes, bike shorts/shirts, running shorts/shirts...and then needed to pack real clothes too! 

My friend just brought a small bag. Which is good because I needed all the room in the trunk for my stuff!

Made it to the resort in time for dinner. We got these coupons that entitled us to lots of food while we were there, and we definitely took advantage of it. 

Day 2: Saturday

Early on Saturday morning, I realized that I didn't bring my bike pump with me. I am not sure where it actually ended up - since it wasn't at home when I got back - and wasn't in the car either. My guess is I took it outside to put in the car when we left and then it got left behind...and picked up by someone. At 6:30 in the morning, I wasn't going to find a bike pump though - so I decided to go for a run instead.

Talk about informative! I think I went 10 minute miles on those insane hills (have I mentioned I am a big fan of flat races, yet?). I expect this trip will make me think twice about doing the Muskoka 70.3 race anytime soon, even if I did use their bike/run maps for most of my excursions! ::laugh::

Much of the day was spent exploring the resort. Along the journey I found a rental bike place that had a bike pump they were more than happy to let me use. Mind you, it was so high tech it took 4 of us to figure out how to use it! Eventually had success though - so I was all set to ride on Sunday.

That afternoon, I had my first open water swim (first time was without my wetsuit). The lake was awesome - not too cold and smooth like glass. So much nicer than Lake Ontario! (or Lake Erie during the Leamington Triathlon for that matter!).

Day 3: Sunday

On Sunday I was up at stupid-o'clock for a 25 mile bike ride. It's not that I wanted to get up early - I just knew if I was going to be riding on my own, I wanted to be riding when it was both light - and quiet on the roads. 6:30am fit the bill all the way. I think I saw 4 cars and 5 cyclists the entire time I was out!

I will readily admit that it was by far the most challenging ride I've ever done on my own. Seriously, it was very hilly. At the same time, it was beautiful. I was very excited when I hit the Lake of Bays!

Picture 1: Lake of Bays

The road around the Lake of Bays was lovely. Hillier than I would have guessed for a road sort-of going around a lake, but the entire place was green and lush and eye catching. It was even a bit cool, which was great given how much I was sweating!

I was pretty dead by the time I got back. I was so tired on one of the last hills, I actually fell over because I just couldn't keep moving up the hill and couldn't clip out in time to put my foot down. Just a little skinned knee though - nothing major. I finished the ride feeling very accomplished with myself and proud I'd done it - and done it alone! Talk about a good confidence builder for my Olympic tri  (now just a week and a bit away).

The RWM folks wanted to make the trip unforgettable, so lined up a very generous activity credit to use while at the resort. So that afternoon, my friend Chris and I went horseback riding. It was nice to not have to do the work of going up the hills to this great lookout as part of the trail ride.

Picture 2: Horseback Riding 

In the afternoon, I went for another swim - this time in the small waterpark that Deerhurst has. There were trampolines and bouncy things - it was kind of ridiculous and fun at the same time.

That night, we went to see the Deerhurst Decades show - which was a lot of fun and filled with great music. Deerhurst was apparently where Shania Twain got her start. Who knew?

Day 4: Monday

Happy Canada Day! I started this day with another bike ride - this time sticking to the same long stretch of hills because I wasn't sure exactly how long I was going to last. I had a lot of other plans for the day and didn't want to totally burn out before breakfast.

Fortunately, I managed far more than I expected! I almost wimped out after 20 minutes, but convinced myself to keep going...and it was a good decision. In hindsight, those 20 minutes was just what I needed to get warmed up - so the rest of the time was much better and more productive. Definitely had some fun climbing hills...and no falls this time around!

Right after the ride, I went to the lake to test out my wetsuit. It was early enough in the morning there were only two of us in the the three lifeguards something to do.

I admit, I found it much easier to use my wetsuit this time - probably because the water wasn't choppy. It was actually pretty smooth sailing - and I got a good 30-40 minutes in.

After all of that, it was time for breakfast!

That afternoon, I went Treetop Trekking - which was basically a big ropes course in the trees. There were some zip-lines and a lot of obstacles you had to get across...all while harnessed in. The picture below doesn't do the course justice - given everything moved! You'd step on something and then have to catch your balance before moving to the next thing.

I admit, I went ziplining once in Belize and pretty much hated every second of it. This time, I felt far more secure - and though I was nervous (and slow) - I got through 4 courses and the ziplines! The more courses I did, the more confident I got. Thank goodness for my work with Trainer Chris though - because the upper body strength I've developed thanks to him came in good use time and time again on the course!

All in all - I'd say the course definitely challenged my limits - and I passed with flying colours! 

In between the Treetop Trekking, I managed to cover 8 miles. They weren't fast miles - seeing as I was going to/from places - but I figured the mileage would not be wasted...and 8 miles of hills is like 40 anywhere else, right?

Picture 3: Ropes Course

Day 5: Tuesday

It looked like it was really going to rain on Tuesday morning, so we started the day with canoeing. The little bay where the canoes were was great, so we paddled around for a while watching the golfers out on the golf course (If you're a golfer - there seem to be a lot of nice courses in Muskoka!). Then I decided I wanted to get some more open water swimming in (the rain never got to be more than a sprinkle here or there). Given the not-so-summer-kike weather, I was the only one out there - which meant the lifeguards either loved me or hated me.

Either way, I felt a million times better swimming in a wetsuit after so much practice up at Deerhurst. I think that is going to make a world of difference come my next race. I did my first on 30 minutes of open water practice...not wise, I'll tell you.

While I was doing my swim - Chris went for a massage. Then, in the afternoon, I went for a massage while she went for a dip. It was my first massage ever - so another great first. After the activeness of the weekend, the massage was a very relaxing way to end it off.

Later that afternoon, we got a chauffeured ride back to the city - ending a fantastic weekend full of wonderful food, great people and amazing activities. 

My final thoughts on the trip? 

Deerhurst was awesome. I've never felt so welcomed by every single staff member. Everyone smiled. Everyone talked to you. Everyone tried to be as helpful as they could - from the person lending me a bike pump to the waitresses at the restaurant, to the concierge who watched out for my bike the day we had to check out (because checking my bike scared the wits out of me!). If you get a chance to go, I highly recommend it. And if you have kids? There is lots for them to do up there!

Recharge With Milk went above to make this trip incredible. From arranging for the trip to be over Canada Day weekend, to arranging it so everything was covered - (And I mean everything: transportation, accommodation, food - even the awesome activities). They even sent me a bag of RWM goodies, including a great t-shirt, hat - and a Jacket that will definitely get some use in the fall. Not to mention the wonderful person I was dealing with (Jessica) went out of her way to solve every little problem that could've caused issues. I've never dealt with such awesome and wonderful people ever!

So a giant, giant thank you to everyone at Recharge with Milk! This was definitely a trip I'll never for get.

And now I am now really looking forward to doing the Recharge with Milk Triathlon Series - Toronto Island Triathlon on August 25! This trip definitely helped me prepare for it

And a last pic...because I admit...I made sure to get a bit of lounging in too!

Picture 4: Because it was a Vacation after all!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Awesome, with lots of lessons learned: Leamington sprint triathlon

On  June 16th, I did my first sprint triathlon - the Leamington Tomatoman Sprint Triathlon.

I have to admit, I was a bit worried going into this event, given I've been building toward it for a year. Well, not *this* event in particular - but doing triathlon.

If I didn't like it, I was going to be in trouble.

After all, the bike I bought to do triathlon was my second most expensive purchase ever (The first being my Montauk sofa - which I swear is the most comfortable couch in existence). I bought it (the bike) the week after I quit my job to go independent (kind of insane, I know). I also bought it when I really didn't know how to ride any kind of bike (because why take baby steps when you can dive in head first?). Truth is, most people would say I still can't ride a bike, but that's a debate for another day.

The question for me was this: If I didn't like triathlon - what on earth was I going to do with my bike? Fortunately, I won't have to answer that question because the race was fantastic.

Yes, it was hard. Probably the hardest thing I've ever done to date (athletically, that is). There was a moment in the swim when I wondered about my sanity. To be perfectly honest, I almost gave up less than 10 minutes into the race. But I'm getting ahead of myself. I should probably start at the beginning...

Pre-race nerves and general out-of-my-depth-ness

I got to the race around 6:30 in the morning. Triathlons start at ridiculous times in the morning, which makes sense given how long some of them last. But for someone who isn't much of a morning person - having to get up and be somewhere that early is always fun. Thank goodness my training sessions with Trainer Chris Cecile are now in the mornings, or it would've been much worse.

My parents came with me, which is the main reason I picked the race in the first place. While it's a long way from Toronto, it was the most convenient thanks to my Dad visiting the week beforehand and being willing to lug my bike around. Always the planner, I made sure to read the race FAQ before the race, so I knew I needed to drop my bike off in the transition area before heading to registration. That was pretty easy since the signage on the racks was pretty clear.

Registration was busy, but the line moved fast. I saw a few folks from the LPC training camp I went to back in March, including Coach James who was there with a number of the athletes he coaches year round. It was fun getting to see everyone again. I admit that knowing a few people made the whole pre-race thing a bit easier. I didn't feel completely out of my league - only mostly.

Got my bib number and ankle thing (my brother later explained where the "timing chip" was on the ankle thing...I've never seen one of them up close before), then went back to my bike and set up my transition spot. Thanks to the advice of a number of folks from the Toronto Triathlon Club and the training camp, I kept the stuff I needed to a minimum. I will say that I did wear socks (rolled so I could put them on easily). Given I am running a marathon later this year, I didn't want to be worrying about getting blisters when I was in no sense going to be fast.

Found my brother Anthony for the first time after that...and my parents surprised us by showing off their matching "Triathlete Mom" and "Triathlete Dad" t-shirts. Come on, how amazing is that? You can't say my parents don't go out of their way to be supportive and proud, that's for sure.

Picture #1: My brother Anthony and I before the start (no idea what was up with my hair!)

My brother and I walked over to the start together, but then I needed to make a pit stop (next time, I'll remember to take a pit stop before putting on my wetsuit). When I got back, it was time for us to get in.

I didn't really get a warm up - a fact I realize now was a big mistake. About all I got was maybe a minute of two of very light paddling. For reference, the water was kind of gross (lots of dead June bugs...ick), but with the wetsuit at least I wasn't at all cold.

The swim: plenty of time for second guesses

750 meters isn't very far to me. Yes, I recognize that to newer swimmers 750 meters is a long distance, but I used to swim a fair bit. I may not be super fast, but just the week before I'd done almost 2,000 meters non-stop in the pool. I figured I'd be fine.

What I didn't account for was a storm coming through the morning of, leaving the water chopping and the current on the outward leg coming directly at my face. When we got the "go" - I took off...only to raise my head sputtering a couple of seconds later. The water was insane.

I spent the next 10 minutes fighting the current and trying to breathe. I'll be honest. There were moments there when I wondered what on earth I was doing. I wondered how on earth I was going to get through the whole swim...and if I'd made a mistake with all this triathlon stuff.

As I was treading water at one point trying to catch my breath (and bring down my skyrocketing heart rate), a guy in a kayak came by and asked me if I was okay. I said I wasn't stopping, just trying to get my breath. He waited while I did so, giving me some nice words of encouragement. About 30 seconds later, I got back to it. Got to love being in a wetsuit though. They are just so buoyant.

Once I was around the turn buoy and going a different direction, it was like night and day. I was able to put my head down and focus on where I was going for the first time in the swim. I am sure I did the last 450 meters in less than half the time it took me to do the first 300.

Picture 2: Ready? Sure!

Lessons learned on the swim: I didn't have much (i.e. - one 30 minute session back in March) open water swimming experience in my wetsuit prior to this race - so I knew it would be challenging. I just didn't get how challenging it could be. My focus before the Toronto Triathlon (a 1,500 meter swim) will be to get a lot of practice in the open water with my wetsuit. I don't want to be surprised by whatever comes on race day. And du'h - I need to get a real warm up in before the race starts!

Transition #1 - Swim to Bike

I was thrilled to (finally) get out of the water. I was also thrilled to remember the advice to pull off my cap/goggles and tuck them in my wetsuit sleeve as I unzipped my wetsuit. I am sure that helped make my life easier when I got back to my transition spot: one less thing to worry about!

Getting my wetsuit off was easier than I expected (I put a bit of Body Glide around my wrists/ankles...maybe that helped). I got my helmet and glasses on first, then my socks and shoes. I ate a gel (pre-opened) and think I had a sip of water.

Then I tried to put on my Garmin watch...well, fumbled with it is a better word. I am sure I wasted 20 seconds just trying to do it up. Oops.

Picture 3: Heading into T1 looking way more awesome than I felt. I love this pic.

Lessons learned from Transition #1: I think I actually did pretty well...except for fumbling with my watch!

The Bike: Woohoo! I didn't crash!

I managed to get my bike to the mount line and get going pretty quickly and without incident (yea!). I was feeling tired from the swim - but most of that was my lungs, not my legs - so it didn't affect my actual riding.

The first few streets were a bit bumpy (which I hated!), but once I got outside of the town proper, the roads were great. The wind was blowing sideways a fair bit, which rattled me at times - although I am sure good cyclists wouldn't have even noticed. I prefer head/tail winds because I feel more stable...even if riding in a headwind takes more work.

I had these visions beforehand of being packed like sardines on the road, which wasn't at all the case. I had lots of space, no doubt because I was near the back of the pack. Although since I saw all the people coming back the other way, I don't think crowding was an issue for anyone. The joy of a small race!

Believe it or not, I actually passed a few people. Was kind of surprised by that! I made a dreadful U-turn at the turnaround (but didn't fall over!), and then headed back the way I came. I found coming back much easier, probably because I got my bearings my then.

Picture 4: On the bike course...looking confident, despite my nerves!

Lessons learned from the bike: Actually I was really happy with how this went. Once I learn how to gear better, I might actually be able to go faster. As it was, I went about 16.5 mph, which is the fastest 20k I've managed so far. Mostly, I just need a lot more time in the saddle so I can feel confident and not afraid I'll crash every time I hit a bump. People keep asking me when they'll see me riding in aero...well, one day. I've managed it a few times, but I wobble a lot every time I switch between the brakes and the aerobars, so I expect it'll be a while before I'll be doing it in a race situation.

I just learned to ride a bike from scratch last summer...and did my first real rides on skinny tires (and in clipless pedals) back in March. I've come a long way since then...although I know I have a lot farther to go! I'll get there.

Transition #2: Bike to Run

I managed to stop my bike right before the dismount line and get it back to my spot in transition easily enough. I almost turned the wrong way (forgot I was coming from the opposite direction as I had from the swim) but my parents steered me the right way. From there it was quick off with the helmet and shoes and into my runners.

Lessons learned from T2: Not much I'd do differently here - just move a bit quicker.

The Run: Finally, my forte!

Aside: I find it hilarious that I think of the run as my forte, but really - compared to swimming and biking it is. Doesn't matter than I've only been doing it for 18 months - I am actually pretty decent at it.

Seriously though, I can't tell you how happy I was to get out on the run course. Finally, I was on my own two feet, without any worry about drowning or crashing. I felt tired at the beginning of the run - but again, I think that was still residual exhaustion from the bad swim and not actually from the bike. My legs felt fine!

The run course was 2 loops of 2.5k, so everyone was on the course together. That was nice because I didn't feel way behind and got to share greetings with a few folks I knew. I got settled into a good pace and just enjoyed knowing I was almost done - and that I was going to finish my first sprint triathlon!

The funniest part about the run was that about half-way through the second lap,  my brother who finished about 20 minutes ahead of me found me on the course so he could cheer me on and give encouragement (mostly yelling at me to run faster). It was hilarious, but worked. Kind of like when I was finishing my first half-marathon and I sped up when he told me I was close to the end. Amazing how much faster you can run with encouragement.

No doubt his shouting is the main reason I am smiling in the run photo! The encouragement kept me going right through to the end.

Photo 5: Nearing the end - still smiling!

Lessons learned on the run: I think I did pretty well on the run. It took me a little while to settle into a pace, and I could've probably pushed a bit harder (at least according to my brother), but overall, I had fun the entire time.

The finish!

Got through the finish with a smile on my face. Being handed a wet towel was the best reward ever. I was toast, that's for sure.

Picture 6: Me in my exhausted glory - just past the finish line!

After meeting up with my parents and brother and brother's girlfriend, I got some chocolate milk since my stomach wasn't interested in food.

Around this time, I learned that despite finishing far back, I managed to take 3rd place in my age group. I was a bit baffled by this, until I learned that there were only 5 of us in my age group - which made a bit more sense. Not that I cared. I got a medal! Any bit of encouragement is a good thing in my mind!

Picture 7: I was pretty baffled over the fact I earned a medal - but it was kind of awesome anyway!

All in all, I had an awesome day and a great race. I do have to say a big thanks to my parents and Colleen who were great cheerleaders. And to my brother Anthony who was in the race with me - and still found the energy to cheer me in at the end. You guys are awesome.

Final results
  • Swim: 18:48 -- 2:32/100m - Ouch. Told you it was dreadful! To put it in perspective, I was hoping for 15 minutes.
  • T1: 1:49 --  Pretty good for a first time, given I had to take my wetsuit off!
  • Bike: 44:34 -- 26.9km/h - This was great for me! I can only get better from here!
  • T2: 0:55 - I'll take it.
  • Run: 25:52 - Much slower than my standalone 5k time, but given it was my first time running 5k in a triathlon, I can't complain!
  • Total: 1:32:06 - I had a general goal of getting 1:30, but given the really tough swim, I am thrilled. Mostly, I am happy I had a great day - and loved every minute of the race (Okay, except for the first 10 minutes). Onward and upward!
Final thoughts
  • Will I do it again? Heck yes. Already signed up for a few more races this summer (I assumed I'd like this one).
  • What is one thing I'll fix time? Actually warm up before the race.
  • Am I feeling better about biking? Ask me that when I can actually change gears without veering wildly. I'm just happy I didn't crash!
  • Are you going to be ready to do an Olympic tri in 24 days? Of course I will be. And I'll keep telling myself that every day for the next 24 days!

Monday, June 10, 2013

6 days until my first sprint triathlon: Dealing with anxiety.

Wow. My first sprint triathlon (Leamington) is coming up in 6 days.

I remember making the decision to do triathlons this year. I did it after having fun doing the beginner tri at the Loaring Triathlon last July.

At the time, I knew I had almost a whole year to get better  - so of course I'd be fine. Right? But it's amazing how a year puts a lot of distance between you and a goal. Doing a "real" triathlon in my head has always been a year out. And now it's just 6 days away. Strike the nervousness chord with a hammer, why don't you?

But when I decide to do something, I try and prepare myself to the best of my ability. And I've done a lot to get ready for this weekend. Like:
  • On the advice of my brother, I signed up for the LPC training camp back in March, where I learned a million things about triathlon from the coaches. Besides getting my first lessons in biking (up until then, all I'd done was 500 miles on my trainer), I also got advice on how to sight in open water - a skill I've been practicing ever since. Alas, not in open water - but not much I can do about that. Open water swim sessions don't start until July!
  • I went to the Toronto Triathlon Club training weekend in Collingwood and, despite the bike accident, got a lot of riding in - not to mention some swimming and some running off the bike.
  • I've gone on a couple of the TTC club rides on Saturday mornings out in Markham thanks to a girl in the club who is happy to carpool in exchange for coffee. These rides have been great for getting me a bit more comfortable on the roads, especially given my twitchiness following the bike incident. It's also been great to get some advice and encouragement from the coach who leads the ride.
  • In a similar vein, I did 2 50k rides this past weekend - one with the club and one with my dad/brother. No incidents on either ride - and a whole lot of stopping/un-clipping on the second ride - gave me a big confidence boost in advance of this weekend. Even my run off the bike on Saturday felt pretty good.
  • I've been running - and finally, finally am picking up steam again after straining my toe back in March. It's taking me a long time since getting back to running, but I finally feel like I'm back to where I was before the injury. My speed came back pretty quick, but I felt like my endurance was off a fair bit. But I went for my first half-marathon (HM) length run since early March a week ago Sunday and it was my fastest HM training run ever. Definitely another confidence booster.
But that doesn't mean I'm not still nervous. Which is why I'm writing this post. It is utterly normal to be nervous before a race - especially a first race, or a race at a new distance (I expect similar anxiety before my first Olympic Tri in July).

So how do you deal with nerves? Well, I'll give you my top three things:
  1. Set simple goals...especially for a first race. Mine are to a) Finish with a smile on my face; b) Finish without any incidents; and c) Not to come in last. Sure I'd like to do reasonably well (well being a relative term of course), but until I set a benchmark, I am not going to make any time goals. So this race is to see where my starting point is. From there I can worry about getting better!
  2. Remind yourself how well prepared you are. I've been training a good 7-10 hours a week. I know I can swim, bike and run double each distance. I've had a few good brick workouts and have sponged up all the advice on triathlons and transitions that I can from other people. I've done the best I can up until now.
  3. Be prepared to deal with anything that comes up. I know the weather could be terrible on race day. I know I could blow a tire (and that I'd probably spend an hour replacing it). I know there are a bunch of other things that could go wrong - and well, so what? If something goes wrong, it's not the end of the world (I hope not anyways...while zombies attacking during the bike might make me go faster, they might not be good for my long-term racing enjoyment).
  4. Remember to Be Awesome Today: This mantra got me through my first half-marathon - and my second. It's gotten me through riding in the torrential rain when I was terrified. I fully expect it will continue to bring a smile to my face every time I say the words. Because being awesome isn't about winning. It's about doing. It's about living life to the full. It's about proving that anything is possible. Remember that when you need the inspiration to keep going.
Okay, that's 4 things. But remembering to be awesome isn't really about dealing with's about remembering why you're out there. I decided to do triathlon because I realized I love training. I love racing. I love learning new things. I love proving what I'm capable of. And most of all, because I am having fun every step of the way.

And if having fun is the only measure of success - well, I am sure I'll come out a winner on Sunday!

 Wish me luck!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Toronto Triathlon Club Training Weekend...and the almost disaster

Last weekend, I went to Collingwood with the Toronto Triathlon Club for their (I guess I should say "our" now, since I'm a member. I still feel like a bit of a poser bear with me).

I always knew this was going to be different from the LPC Florida Triathlon Camp - where James, Nissim, Jeff and Mark scheduled every activity around teaching, mentoring and providing dedicated help across the three sports and everything in between), but I was hoping to meet some Toronto triathletes, get some excellent training in (especially given I haven't had the spring I was hoping for training wise - what with the foot injury and the insane amount of real-life work), and also learn from fellow club members - pretty much all of whom were more advanced than me (not hard, I know).

I was fortunate to get a ride up on Friday with another TTC member, who has turned out to be one of the most awesome people in the world. She's had more than her own share of interesting experiences - and was headed to camp to settle back into training after some time away from Triathlon. We chatted the entire way there (and back), making it to Collingwood just in time to catch the tail end of the welcome session.

I was staying in a cottage with some wonderful folks - from all sorts of backgrounds. Many had done triathlon before - although not all - and a few are well on their way to prepping for some long-distance races, most notably Mt. Tremblant (I think a third or more of the folks at the training weekend are doing either the 70.3 or Ironman Mt. Tremblant races). The nice thing about everyone there though (which was a lot like the LPC camp) was that everyone was wonderful, nice and supportive - no matter how experienced or not.

That really gives me confidence that triathletes really are a good group. I had wondered if the folks at the LPC camp were just a unique bunch because of James and Co. In reality, what I've found is that triathletes, regardless of where I've met them (one day I'll mention the Starbucks encounter) have been unanimously awesome, supportive, and nice.

On Saturday, we split up into several groups for a bike ride in the morning. The weather was a bit cool, but really - perfect for riding. I joined the group planning to do 60k, which I figured would be incredibly challenging given the number of hills in Collingwood and surroundings.

And it was. I don't know what speed I was going, but it was definitely pretty slow most of the time. Fortunately, we had a nice little group going to keep each other entertained, so I didn't feel too behind or slow. Given it was my longest ride since the Florida camp, I was feeling pretty good. I'd gained a little (just a little) more confidence on the bike, and even  managed to use my aerobars for a short flat stint. We made it 50k without any problems on my part (although one girl had a bit of a tumble in her clip-in pedals...don't I know that feeling!) and I was feeling awesome about the day.

And then disaster struck.

You see, the roads in and around Collingwood are pretty well maintained....except that they've used tar or something to fill in some cracks and potholes. Someone referred to these fillers as Snakes, because there were like lines of black down the otherwise normal roads. Apparently these Snakes get warm and tacky in the heat...and in one particular spot which I just happened to ride over, the patching job wasn't quite graded (there was a bit of an indent in the road).

The Snake's divot (for lack of a better word) caught my tire and I went tumbling. Fortunately, we were going slightly uphill at the time, so I wasn't going too fast (not that I would've been going fast anyway). My helmet took the brunt of the fall, a fact I am very grateful for. It cracked like an egg, exactly like helmets are designed to do, protecting my head in the process.

I was all set to keep going -- and did for about a minute or two...until the most experienced person in our group rightfully said "hell no" given we were about to head into the biggest descents in the ride (although she probably wouldn't have let me finish in any regard...a fact I appreciate in hindsight. She was much smarter about the whole thing than I was) ... well, she didn't put it quite that way, but that was pretty much the gist of it. She called for the support van - which came to collect me.

The driver of the van was awesome and took me into Collingwood to pick up a new helmet so I could ride on Sunday (yes I was battered, scraped and bruised...but I also knew I wanted to get right back  out there). Around the time we got back, I found out the head folks wanted me to get checked out for fear I might have a concussion.

My head felt fine, but apparently that's not a given when it comes to concussions (as many of them knew for a fact) I acquiesced to going to emergency because I didn't want to spend the rest of the weekend sitting around doing nothing. As someone still new to any kind of athletic endeavor (and therefore to training accidents and the injuries that go with them), I probably took the potential for serious injury pretty glad other, more experienced folks, were there to keep me in check.

Collingwood's hospital is pretty small - although I am sure the 3 hour wait in Emergency was much less than I would've faced in Toronto. I eventually saw a Doctor who gave me a few tests, asked me a lot of questions, and said he didn't think I had a concussion. He said he wouldn't tell me not to continue with the training weekend, given my lack of symptoms...but told me to listen to my body.


I gave this positive news to the folks back at the TTC..., had some food, and then headed to bed...promptly set my alarm for the 7am swim on Sunday.

Sunday dawned very early...and I was starting to get sore. Fortunately, the worst part of an injury doesn't really happen the next happens the day after that. So I made it to the swim feeling like if I took it pretty easy, I'd be okay. And I did. I actually swam in a slower lane than I would've otherwise (I swim 100 in under 1:50...and was swimming in the 2-2:15 lane). I found swimming with a bunch of other people in the lane really annoying (I know we all did, so that isn't meant to be a knock on anyone), but it was good for keeping me slow and steady. I didn't push at all, until we had the 100 meter time trial.

I was lucky...given my injuries, I got to swim in my own lane for the time trial (I think the club was much more concerned about my injuries than I was...probably rightfully so). I swam the 100m in 1:26, winning my heat by 1 second, which was kind of awesome (The fastest person there was like 15 seconds don't think I was fast by any means). I felt like the last 25 was really slow given my shoulder injury, so was pretty amazed to get my best 100m time ever (I can't remember what I swam in high school, but I was pretty awful and 25 pounds heavier, so I expect it was slower).

After the swim, we had a Tim Hortons run, then it was back to the house to get ready for the next ride. This was the bigger-hill day (kind of scary, given the day before blew Sugarloaf out of the water). I decided for the shortest ride - 50k, with a couple of other girls who were about my pace (I think either could've gone faster...but they were kind enough to stick with me).

Riding that day was hard. I knew it would be...but I also knew I had to do it. I am already terrified of riding my bike and given enough time after an incident to think about it, I probably would've been even worse. So I did it.

I kept my hands gripped on the brakes the entire time. I took the down hills at a pretty timid pace. I barely changed gears (despite the crazy hills...thank goodness I have a little power if no speed) because I was too twitchy to take my hands off the brakes.

When we finished the ride (no comment on the fact we took a gravel road that turned out to be pretty treacherous), I was utterly relieved and overjoyed to make it back unscathed...or at least, no more the worse for wear than the injuries I got the day before.

When we got back, the three of us did a pretty easy 1k run, followed by a 1k walk. I admit, it was nice to run...I like the steady feel of the ground!

Later in the day, I took part in the Yoga session (which I missed the day before, since I was in Emergency), which felt pretty good after the swimming, biking, and short run.

We had a lovely dinner out as a group (and were all give a Toronto Tri Club hat and socks, which will no doubt come in handy) and then our house went back and had some pie and ice cream. Okay, there was a Beaver Tail too. ::laugh::).

On Monday, I was definitely on the sore side of sore (my shoulder hurt *a lot*)...and had had my fill of nerves for the weekend. I decided to go all in for a good run, rather than do another bike ride. I went out with a handful of other folks, my first real run with other people.

I loved it!

Okay, it was darned nice to finally, finally be good at something. (Am I allowed to say that?). A bunch of us went out, and five of us kept to the front. A few km in, one of the girls (who leads one of the Running Room Marathon Clinics I've been debating doing) turned back, only scheduled for a short-run that day (or no run, I can't remember), leaving 4 of us. One of the guys had some stomach issues, so stopped for a potty break, leaving three of us...then on one of the hills, the other girl told us to just go I finished with one guy who was a darned good runner probably keeping it a bit easy for me.

We chatted a bit the entire way, even speeding up on the last mile or so without realizing it (a first for me). Guess running with other people really does make a difference!

I admit, the run gave me a bit of confidence back. After two hard days of biking and the accident, it was nice to do something effortlessly to end the weekend off. When I got back, it was time to pack and head home...which I did.

All in all, it was a great weekend, despite the accident which I realize now could've been a heck of a lot worse. 

Mind you, I paid for my Sunday antics the rest of the week (My shoulder is still tender a week later, I have bruises all over --I mark badly and bruises don't go away quickly--, and I came down with a cold that knocked me flat for 3 days) but I still swear by the whole getting back in the saddle approach I took.

You want proof? I said yes when offered a lift to another club ride this weekend (40k)...and while I was still very, very twitchy, I made it through without any problems.

I know I am a terrible rider right now. I also know the only way I am going to get better is by riding. And the one thing I apparently have is a thick head (or at least a thick helmet). So onwards and upwards!

Did I mention my first sprint triathlon is in 3 weeks? Yes...I think I can start to panic now.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Pacing is critical: A clear lesson from the Le Chocolat 5k

So apparently I should listen to my watch, even when I think it is lying to me.

Yesterday I ran the Le Chocolat 5k in Windsor. I went down to do the run/walk with my mom for Mother's Day, rather than going home next weekend. My mom, Angie, and Colleen (two of my brothers' significant others) decided to walk the 5k together, while I ran it. The weather was gorgeous: sunny and warm with no humidity. Perfect for running.

Maybe too perfect, actually.

When the horn went off, I ran forward with a small group of other people. I wove around a few folks (who I thought were moving slowly, but in hindsight were probably going at a smarter pace than I was.) and ended up only a few steps behind the really fast people.

I glanced at my Garmin and thought it was acting weird. It was spitting out ridiculously fast pace times: 6:10-6:20 per mile. I figured there was no way my watch was right. So I just kept running, thinking my watch would figure itself out. I hit the waterfront trail and my pace did 6:30. It was about there that I realized that maybe my watch was correct...and if it was, I was running too fast.

My growing realization was proven when I passed the first kilometer marker at 3:43 - which was a crazy number to me. In hindsight, the KM marker had to have been miss-marked. According to my Garmin, I hit 1k around 4:10.

Of course, I figured out I was running too fast too late to do much. Between 1k and 1 mile (600 meters or so), I slowed down a bit. I finished the mile in 7 minutes.

And then I slowed down a lot. During mile 2: I dropped 90 seconds. Yes, I went from a 7 minute mile to an 8:30 mile. I picked up my pace again toward the end, but by that point, I'd already learned my lesson from the race: pacing is critical.

Let me repeat that: Pacing is critical.

I finished in 22:30...but the course was only 2.9 miles according to my Garmin. So if I extrapolate time-wise, I would've finished an actual 5k around 24:05. This would've been a good time for me - 30 seconds faster than I ran in April after I got hurt, although not as fast as my 5k back in December (23:16).

But I do wonder if I'd paced myself better for the first kilometer if I'd have actually finished faster. According to my Garmin, I ran the first 400 meters at a 6:17 a mile pace...a full minute per mile faster than the pace I'd been aiming for (7:15-7:20) - and faster than I've ever recorded on my Garmin.

So - lesson learned. Glad it happened in this little almost-5k race and not in the marathon I am running this fall!

And now for the fun side of the race...which was still awesome, despite the fact I didn't pace myself well.
  • I was running in a race with my mom. How wonderful is that? Really, that was the best part of the day. 16 months ago, I'd never have bet we'd do something like this together.
  • I came in 14th out of 532 finishers! Seriously. I was 12th out of all the women (It was for Mother's Day, so the race participants were mostly women). I was also 6/173 in my age group (30-39).
  • Running along the waterfront is fantastic. I need to do it more when I am in Windsor.
  • It was kind of awesome to see my mom, Colleen and Angie going the other way as I was heading back. They were cheering me on - and I did the same. I think that's when I picked my pace back up a bit!
  • The finish line medals looked like a half-eaten chocolate bar. Kind of awesome.
  • There was a lot of chocolate at the finish-line - and every participant got a Coach purse (another reason mostly women were running)!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Dealing with Injury - don't be a doorknob

Back in March, I had probably one of the most awesome weeks of my life attending the LPC Triathlon Camp in Florida. Certainly it was the most awesome in terms of learning just what I was capable of.

Other than a few scrapes and bruises, I made it through swim sessions, 140ish miles of biking, and a wonderful 10 mile run (and a bunch of shorter ones). Really, I was feeling on top of the world and raring to go when I got home.

And then I tripped over my suitcase. I was at a hotel, my bag was on the ground, and in the middle of the night I tripped over my suitcase and ended up with a terribly painful fourth toe.

I couldn’t walk without limping pretty badly.  Running was out of the question. Swimming was out for a while because the thought of jarring my toe (either flip-turning or getting out of the pool) made me sick. So, I went from 100 miles an hour to almost nothing. I saw my trainer twice a week and I was doing a bit of biking (on a stationary bike), but that was about it.

I knew rest was important, so I coddled my, elevation, the works. It was just a toe, so I figured there wasn't any point in going to the doctor. I just decided to give it a few weeks of rest.

Okay, fine. I'll be honest. The truth was that I didn’t go because I didn’t want to hear my toe was broken and I really should be avoiding running for 6 weeks.

And my method seemed to work pretty well. At least until, when my foot was feeling better, I decided to test it on a treadmill over Easter weekend. This was a full two weeks later. That run felt pretty good, so I decided slow and steady would be fine. So the next day I tried another short run…and just about died.

Not really, of course - but whatever I did was too much and knocked me back almost right to where I started. I was limping again. My toe hurt. Even the ball of my foot hurt.

With my first race coming up (the 5k Race to End Homelessness…see two posts previous for my race report), I knew I needed to go to the Doctor. I now needed to know if the toe was broken because if it was, I knew I couldn't race on it. I also realized that I needed help figuring out the right way to get back to running.

Much to my absolute joy, the Doctor said the toe wasn’t broken. Instead, I’d strained a ligament in the toe. Verdict: It would take a while to heal fully, it would ache for a long time, but I could run on it. The doctor suggested taping the toe to another one (Buddy taping) – and just running on feel. If it was achy, fine. If it hurt – stop.

Now – 4 weeks since the Doctor visit, my toe is almost fully healed. I am still taping it (it is still tender at times so I know it’s not quite perfect yet), but I finally feel good enough to pick my running back up again. I proved that with the most recent 10k I did.

So what’s the verdict of this story?

  • If you get injured – and it’s still bugging you after a few days (after generous amounts of RICE – Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) – go to the doctor. I was afraid of what I was going to hear (probably a very common issue with athletes), so I avoided it until I realized I had no choice.  If I’d been told it was a ligament strain right from the get-go and had taped it right from the beginning, maybe I’d have recovered a bit faster (probably not much faster…but still).
  • Be careful ramping back up – I thought I was going easy when I did a second run the day after testing my foot/toe the first time. Apparently, what I thought was easy was definitely not, since I got set back at least a week. After seeing the Doctor, I was smarter about it. I ran the 5k in Florida without a watch, knowing I’d stop or slow if I felt I needed to. The next two weeks, I only ran 3 days a week (which is my usual), and kept the pace very easy. I did one 10k run before my first 10k race, and it was at a very easy pace. I mentally went into the Yonge St. 10k with the belief I was using it as a test run. If I needed to go slower, then I would. After doing that successfully – I am only now stepping up my training by introducing longer runs and speed work. So, take the time you need to make sure you don’t hurt yourself again.
  • Be willing to adjust your training plan - I have a bunch of races planned this year – from 5ks to a marathon and triathlons. After getting hurt, I realized it was better to take my April races easy – than to push hard and get re-injured.  So I adjusted. I signed up for similar races in May, so I could use my April races for training/testing. 
  • Don't be a doorknob - Sure, you can be worried about “what if?” when you get hurt…but don’t let the worry keep you from finding out the truth about what’s wrong. It’s not the X-files. Better to get the truth and go on from there.
I’m a klutz. I expect I’ll end up with more bizarre injuries (hopefully not before big races). Here's hoping I don't forget not to be a doorknob in the future because I love what I am doing right now. I’ve learned that I love running and training and racing. If I’m going to keep doing these things for a good long time, then I need to be smart about what I do when things go wrong.

Similar to going to camp to learn triathlon techniques, when it comes to recovery from injury, I need to pay attention to the people who know best…and not Google Search (Of course I didn’t use that when I first injured myself…cough).

Monday, April 22, 2013

Race Report: Toronto Yonge Street 10k

Wow. I am writing a race report only one day after the race. How amazing is that? Maybe I should wait a few weeks to post it. Or not!

So, yesterday I ran the Yonge Street 10k. Originally, I’d planned for this to be my big 10k of the year (same course as the Sporting Life 10k – which was my first race ever and my running benchmark - just a few weeks earlier), but after spraining a ligament in my toe (and several weeks of almost no running), I decided to make this, like the Race to End Homelessness 5k two weeks ago, a test run. Given a good result, I’d then make the Sporting Life 10k my big effort if all worked according to plan.

I woke up around 6am and had half an English muffin, a tiny bit of peanut butter, half a banana, and a coffee. My stomach had been off for the few days ahead of the race, so I was iffy about eating, but knew I needed something.

I spent a good 30 minutes trying to figure out what to wear. I’d laid out my race clothes the night before, but the morning of the race was -2 – a bit colder than I was planning for. In the end, I went with my plan (capri running shorts, a tee shirt and arm warmers)…at least until I got to the start and was way too cold. Fortunately, I had a light running jacket in my bag check bag, so I traded the arm warmers for the jacket and repined both my Official Bib and my “Runners United In Support of Boston” bib (which I wore on my back…along with many of the other thousands of other runners).

Had a nice chat with another woman in the line for the port-a-potties, and then went off to my start corral. Somewhere in there I also did a bit of a warm up (1/2k jog and some dynamic stretching), although I am sure I should’ve done more. That’s what I get for wasting so much time on clothing choices! Although it was really cold…wonder if all the hopping I did in the start corral counts as warming up? At least it got my heart rate up!

I was in the first corral (not including the Hand-cycle participants who actually started first), so had a pretty good spot to hear the welcome speeches. There was also a moment of silence in memory of what happened at the Boston Marathon. It was nicely done.

The race itself was awesome. There’s really nothing at all like running down Yonge Street with a thousand other people.

My stomach was not happy most of the race (I’d had something of a stomach bug in the days leading up to yesterday). I was just glad it never got bad enough to really affect my pace. Thank goodness!

Mind you, my little stomach troubles were nothing when I saw people in Boston Marathon jackets. Every time I saw them (some were running, some were along the course cheering), I’d run faster. Seeing those jackets was like a shot of adrenaline. Every time I saw one I remembered how lucky I was to be running that day.

I expect every time I see a Boston Marathon jacket for a good long time to come, I will have the exact same response: I will recall what happened there and be reminded of how very, very lucky I am to be able to run.

My final time for the race was 48:40. This was 3 minutes and 22 seconds faster than last year. I was utterly thrilled. I honestly don’t think I could’ve done better than I did. In terms of stats…my time put me:

·         43 out of 533 in my age group of Women 30-34 (top 8%).

·         261 out of 3089 of all women (top 8.5%); and

·         1184 out of 5610 overall participants (top 21%).

Aside: Can you tell I love stats and measuring my progress? I know I am crazy that way – but for me it is part of the fun of it all. I run because I love it. I keep track of my progress (I immediately download my Garmin after every run and compare it to other runs of the same distance) because I wouldn’t believe how much I’ve improved otherwise!  And on that note, I was happy to see that I ran every mile of this race faster than every mile of my previous 2 10k races!)

After crossing the finish line, I got my medal and some nice goodies (the best of which was a great promo race shirt for registering early) and walked a mile and a half to the subway for my trip home.

Final reflective thoughts

What happened at the BostonMarathon was a tragedy – in reality, there is no word strong enough for how awful it was. But running is a gift and one that should be celebrated. And that’s what racing does. It lets you celebrate your achievements, your training, your progress. No matter where you are or how fast or slow you go – you are moving forward. That is worthy of celebrating and supporting – and everyone running in the race today – and the people wearing Boston Marathon jackets and cheering on the streets – knew it.

Never forget what happened in Boston or the people whose lives were changed forever because of it. But don’t let fear ever keep you from moving forward.