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!