Sunday, November 23, 2014

Running fast is hard....and fun!

So, after a long season of training for longer-distance races like the Mississauga Marathon back in May and the Niagara Falls Barrelman in September, I decided not to set any big goals for the fall.

By big, I meant long. I still wanted some goals - and you know me: I love to race. So the idea of not racing was never a question.

Instead, I decided to set my sights on some shorter races to see how my speed was doing. So I signed up for 3 races:

  • Scotiabank 5k (October 19, 2014)
  • Toronto Women's Run 5k (October 25, 2014)
  • Angus Glen 10k (November 2, 2014)
Now, I knew after a summer of doing mostly tempo (~10k pace) work, I wasn't going to be in peak speedy mode by any means. But so what! I figured running fast would be fun and I'd learn some lessons that would help me going into my winter track workouts.

And was I right? You bet! The biggest lesson I learned was that running fast is hard. And by hard, I mean HARD.

Scotiabank 5k

I'll be honest, I mostly signed up for Scotiabank for the Honest Ed's medal. The store is closing and I figured a medal commemorating it (and the race's 25th anniversary) would be neat. But a friend was getting married the day before on Toronto Island, so I figured there was no way I'd be able to run a good race.

Turns out I was wrong - and right. The day before was nothing less than a full day of running around. Since it was self-catered, I went over and helped from about 9am until it was over. So by the end, I was a walking zombie. I walked at least 6-7k carrying heavy stuff back and forth between locations and a lot of time on my feet.

So yes, I wasn't expecting too much from the race the next day. Plus side: It was an awesome wedding. That was the most important thing!

The next day I chose sleep over eating, so got down to the start just in time to get in line for the shuttle buses to the start line (it was a point to point 5k due to the marathon/half marathon also going on. I arrived there tired, hungry and really, really cold. But I still managed to get my warm-up in and had brought a space blanket which was wonderful. Saved my butt from being a Jana-icicle that's for sure. (In hindsight, it probably wasn't that cold...but it was one of the coldest fall mornings yet, so it felt cold).

The race itself felt difficult - possibly because I don't run 5ks often enough (or because it was cold!). Either way, it took my legs a lot of time to warm-up. During the race, I also remembered why I dislike the course...while straightforward, it goes under the Gardiner and through a tunnel to get up Bay. My watch never gives me the right data as a result. That drives me nuts when I am trying to go fast! So yes, the last couple of km were based on feel and I felt like I was running through a fog. It just felt hard.

Still, I finished in a great time (and a personal best) of 22:42. That was good for 7/480 in my age group, 46/4056 women, and 176/6356 overall. Recognizing that a lot of the fast runners were doing the marathon or half marathon, my placing still really surprised me given the size of the race.

The funny thing here is I felt better after the race than during. I feel like if I had run another 5k race afterwards, I'd have done better now that I was really well warmed up. I doubt it would've been that easy, but it certainly felt that way!

Toronto Women's 5k

Given my results of the previous weekend, you'd think all of the ducks were in a row for me to have a great race at the Toronto Women's Run 5k/8k (I did the 5k). The weather was perfect. I had a longer warm up and felt good standing on the start line.

Alas, too good. There weren't a lot of people in the "Under 24 minutes" group and most of them were way faster than me. Which meant I started a bit quick. My first km was first mile 6:51.

Here is a picture of me going too fast. At least I was happy!

Honestly, I felt great for the first kilometer and a half - but then I got a cramp and was forced to slow down so I could get some deep breaths. The middle few km were much slower - with km #4 4:53. I finally got rid of the cramp with just enough time to pick it up a bit on the return trip past the photographer. I think my smile here was sheer relief.

I finished in 23:15 - so 33 seconds slower than the week before. Amazing how long 33 seconds can feel. But it's still a great time and I learned a lot. In terms of placing, I finished 3/56 in my age group and 17/418 overall. I even got a plaque for coming in third place, along with a Mizuno running hat. 

So despite not being as fast as the week before and getting a cramp because my pacing skills leave something to be desired, I had a fabulous day. The weather was beautiful, the people were friendly, and it was just a great day to be outside!

And the best part? I got some great pictures since one of the photographers was setting up while I was doing my warm-up, so asked if she could take some photos of me. I found this weird- but awesome! Can't complain about practically made to order running pics!  Here's the best one.

Of course, I would've been a bit more picky about my outfit if I'd known I was going to be doing a photo shoot, but isn't that always the way?

Angus Glen 10k

Angus Glen was my big race for the fall after Barrelman. I did it last year and loved it. Mostly because the race kits are amazing (a pile of full sized J&J body products), but also because it's a bit hilly and a nice course. Not sure I'd want to do the half marathon - but the 10k is perfect.

Got there with not a lot of time to spare, so I pretty much had to get ready, get changed (I got a locker for a $5 donation) and out to the start line. After chatting with my coach about starting too fast the week before, I positioned myself a bit farther back (5th or 6th row) and turned my watch on.

"Ha ha!" my watch said, not wanting to get a signal. I turned it off and restarted it - but it was still trying to find a signal when the gun went off. So, trying to be conservative, I stuck to my position and focused on my breathing for the first km (basically until my watch started feeding me accurate pace times. I didn't pass a single person in the first kilometre - which is a record for me. Now, once I was past the first km (which I only ran a little bit), I started focusing on my effort. Around 5k, I found myself running with 3 guys. I caught up to them and passed them on an uphill. This is funny because I didn't realize how close they were...but my friend Brenda was a pointer at one of the turns and she snapped a picture of us.

Hillarious, right?

The four of us stuck together into the golf course, where one of them fell back. The three of us still standing (figuratively), kept going - switching places depending on whether we were going up or down. When we got out of the golf course and were on the home stretch, I dropped another one...but the last guy beat me to the line and promptly thanked me for letting him draft off me half the race. Mind you, he also asked if I could gain some weight and a few inches in height before next year! Jokingly of course.

Overall, I felt like I had a fantastic race. Don't think I would've done anything very different - although a bit less wind would've been nice. I finished in 47:26 - which was a 2 minute PB on this course over last year. The Yonge St. 10k is still my 10k PB - which is no surprise given it's mostly downhill!  I placed 3/112 in my age group, 7/465 women, and 23/644 overall. I even won another hat - this time an Angus Glen Golf Club hat!

Best of all, I had a great day with friends. Several people I know did the race and we all had a blast. Which was exactly the kind of atmosphere I wanted for the races and fun times!

Lesson learned: Running fast is HARD.

So, going back to my point at the beginning of this post: Running fast is hard.

I did these fall races mostly because I wanted to have fun. I had a pretty long season and figured I didn't want to do anything too nuts this fall since I'm saving up all my craziness for next year. I might be crazy, but I am still very methodical. These races were exactly what I needed. But just because I was having fun trying to run fast, doesn't mean I didn't learn a lot. Like:
  1. Pacing is everything. You might be able to get away with starting just a bit too fast in a longer race. But the shorter and faster you're running, the more likely you are to crash and burn if you start much quicker than you're capable of. That's not to say the impact of starting out too fast isn't much worse in a marathon where you might have to walk the last few km. It just means you could go from running a 4min per km pace (or less) to a 5 minute per km pace. That's a huge difference in a 5k.
  2. Everything needs to go right: In short races, to get a PB pretty much everything has to go right. Tripping and falling, swallowing water wrong or, in my case, a cramp, can have a major impact on your time (relatively that is). So, you want to do everything you can to make sure things go right (see#1).
  3. Warming-up is a big deal: For a short race, you need to be warmed up to run your best. At least I do. I found that when I was nicely warmed up, my legs felt stronger and I felt great. Of course...that doesn't mean you can run faster from the get go because (see #1).
  4. Run your own race: Short distance or long distance, it's easy to get caught up with the crowd. Right from the gun, you need to run your own race. That means going out at (or close) to your goal pace...not running a full minute per km/mile faster! Because (see #1).
  5. Running fast is FUN: While running fast is hard, it's also incredibly fun. You're pushing right to the edge of your capabilities. Maybe you'll succeed, maybe you won't - but the feeling of running fast is so powerful and so different than anything else that you can't help but have fun (at least I can't).
So, even if you think you're a long distance athlete...consider taking some time to focus on trying to run fast. Who knows, you might enjoy it!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Niagara Falls in a

Hard to believe it's only been 9 days since I finished the Barrelman (aka the Niagara Falls Half Iron). In some ways it feels like so very long ago. But that seems to be the way with races and all other good things. Once they are over, the time seems to pass by so quickly.
I figure that's to make sure you can focus on your next most-excellent adventure. Because there should always be one, right? Life would be boring otherwise!

Now, before you read any farther, you might want to get a coffee, or a tea or something. I can't expect this report is going to be particularly short - given how long the race was.

Don't worry. I'll wait for you.

Got it? Great. Then let me tell you a tale...

Signing up

I can't remember the exact day I signed up for Barrelman. I think it was in October last year. I do know that I made the decision to do the race after my friend Nicole offered to drive. Nothing like the idea of an epic road trip to make you want to do something utterly ridiculous. Or maybe just slightly insane. You be the judge.

Around the same time, I signed up for the Mississauga Marathon because I wanted to see what I could really do at that distance. I'd run my first marathon slower than my slowest training pace as a result of a stomach bug - so figured there was a lot of room for improvement.

So I decided that those two races would be my big goals for 2014: Mississauga in May and Barrelman in September. One race in the spring and one race in the fall - with plenty of time in between. I figured it should be doable without being too much. After all, I want to be doing this stuff for life, so have no desire to get hurt by trying to do everything all at once.

Getting coaching

Since starting this crazy journey, I've read a lot of books on running and triathlon. I have a bizarrely addictive personality in that regard...when I decide I like something, I need to read everything I can get my hands on about the topic. But reading about training and knowing how to apply it are two very different things. And with two somewhat competing big goals, I wanted to make sure whatever I did made sense.

So I decided to hire a coach. Now, most of you know about my experience with the LPC Florida Triathlon Camp. In 2013, I went to camp in Florida pretty much an utter newbie. I hadn't even used clips yet on my bike - so I spent my first 3 days at camp falling over quite regularly.

I figured that since the awesome folks at Loaring Personal Coaching had managed to guide me through my first steps as a wannabe triathlete, they'd be good to approach for training help (and also because I wanted to go to camp again in Spring 2014...which I did). You can read this post about how I decided to work with Coach Mark Linseman.

This past year has been awesome working with Coach Mark to get better at swimming, biking and running. I don't think I'd have come close to being ready for Barrelman without Coach Mark's training guidance, support and ability to deal with my numerous questions.

So, thanks up front for all the help Coach Mark!

The training

I spent much of the summer doing everything I could to get ready for the race, including following Coach Mark's workouts as best I could (not perfectly by any stretch, mind you), doing a bunch of prep races to get more practiced at doing triathlon (and get more practice going faster on the bike which I find hard to do outside of actual races), and also finding creative ways to get long bike rides in. Some interesting highlights from my training year include:


Swimming has turned into the triathlon event I am best at (at least by age group placing in races). Who knew? But swimming mostly 3 days a week last year really let me make some huge strides in terms of confidence in the water and speed. More races also let me get more experience in various water conditions (i.e., bigger start waves, cold water, rough water). I even did my first 3.8km open water swim race - which proved I could swim twice as far as I needed to in Niagara at a decent pace. So going into Niagara I wasn't at all concerned about the swim. Which seems crazy I know, since that's what many people fear most.


My arch nemesis - I spent more time on my bike over the summer than I would ever have thought possible. But the truth is, I knew going into Barrelman that biking was going to be my big weakness.

The first best thing I did to prepare for the race was get a road bike during the off-season - a used 2008 Cervelo Soloist from a friend who was upgrading. My goodness, the difference was incredible. I could actually shift gears without thinking!

The second best thing I did was sign up for the Toronto Bicycling Network so I could ride without being dependent on someone else driving to Angus Glen. The TBN hosts casual rides on Saturdays and Sundays...and while they don't go fast, the routes are generally in the city (or go through the city to get to the country) and involve 20-25 people at a time. I did rides with them up to 80km - which was perfect for getting my distance in, while also helping me to get more confident in terms of my bike handling ability and ability to ride on roads with cars (although I still hate it). Also, with such big groups, I had to learn to maneuver around people, stop quickly, and just ride more observantly. This was huge for me.

I also got out on several country rides with other Toronto Triathlon Club folks doing Barrelman - and did two bike tours - the 100k Ride for Heart in June and the 110k PwC Epic Tour two weeks out from the race (which was very hilly).

Another big win this summer was finally finding a workable solution to nutrition/hydration while on the bike. Specifically, on Coach Mark's suggestion, I ended up buying and learning to use a Camelbak. The reservoir holds 2L of water/drink, which made it perfect for a half iron distance race. It took a lot of practice (and several rides where I wore the Camelbak but couldn't drink from it), but I eventually found a way to position everything so I could drink without thinking - making it so I wouldn't dig myself into a big nutritional hole on the bike. What a miracle!

The run

Given that I moved from training for a marathon in the spring into training for a half ironman, my running actually went down a lot over the summer. As a result, most of my run training was relatively straightforward for Barrelman - weekly tempo reps, runs off the bike and recovery runs. All good, but mostly I think the focus was on maintenance than anything else. I had more important things to work on (specifically - the bike!).

Mind you, all the racing I did helped a lot with respect to triathlon-specific running (aka running off the bike). While it took a few tries, I finally had a fantastic run off the bike at the Toronto Island Triathlon - and a great 15k race after a 90k hilly training ride. So much of good triathlon running is just doing it!

A note on strength work

About 8 weeks out from Barrelman, I stopped my weekly group sessions with Trainer Chris because I found I needed more recovery time between big training sessions (not to mention I was racing every few weeks). Instead, Coach Mark had me do 20 minutes of core/agility work a few times a week - which I felt worked well for maintenance. I'll be back to the longer weekly sessions with Chris during the winter though.

Goal Setting

A few days before the race, Coach Mark and I had a great call to discuss goal setting. Now, for me, I had two sets of goals. The first set were the most important - the big picture goals. These included:
  • Don't crash on the bike.
  • Finish smiling.
Simple in principle, but not guaranteed. Along with those, Coach Mark and I came up with more specific time goals for each event based on his view of my training leading up the race. These included:
  • Swim: Under 40 minutes (45 min including transitions).
  • Bike: 3 hours 30 minutes (26km/h).
  • Run: Under 2 hours (faster than 5:45 per km).
  • Total time: 6:15.
To be honest, I saw these goals more as guidelines. Given it was my first half iron race, I really had no idea what I was going to be able to do. I remembered how slow my first marathon was, so I didn't want to get my hopes up too high. And then I found out the bike course was going to be 92.5km, so I figured I might be slower no matter what.

But I wasn't too worried because I had my big picture goals - and those were the most important ones.

Approaching Race Day

The day before the race, I had to get in a 20 minute bike ride, drop my bike off in Welland and make it to the mandatory Athletes' Briefing in Niagara Falls. So my friend and epic road-trip organizer Nicole and I met up just after lunch for the trip to Welland.

In Welland, we quickly got our bikes set up and went for a quick spin. This is where I realized a big was INSANELY WINDY (capital letters intentional). For the entire ride, all I could think of was how dead I was going to be if we had that kind of wind in addition to the forecast rain on race day.

But, we survived our bike ride and got our bikes checked. Watching another bike tumble off the rack in the wind didn't really help my nerves - but at the same time I knew there wasn't anything I could do about it, so I just picked up my kit, set my bike up and met back up with Nicole for the drive to Niagara.

Nicole had found a motel right near the finish line (the Niagara Parkway Court  Motel) that turned into the unofficial race hotel. Seriously, a whole bunch of folks from the TTC were staying there, plus other triathletes from out of town. Prior to getting to the race, I admit I was a bit worried about the iffy reviews of the place, but it turned out to be just fine. Phew.

Met up with a few other TTC folks and headed over to Transition 2 for the athletes' briefing. Thanks to my friends Hector and Kim, there's even photo evidence!

Here we are at the expo...Hector, Barry, Linda-Kay, Erin, Kim, Nicole and I.

And here I am at the athlete's briefing....I know people sometimes refer to triathlon as a cult. Photos like this don't do anything to disprove that claim!

After the briefing, we (everyone in the first picture above), went out for a nice meal at an Italian restaurant named Antica in Niagara Falls. It was perfect for a pre-race meal - I had plenty of bread, along with gnocchi in a tomato sauce. Yes, I had a drink too.

After dinner and a short walk around, we all headed back to the motel, where I managed to make quick work of sorting out my various race bags:

1. Dry clothes bag for after the race (In other words, an empty bag for putting in the stuff I was going to wear to the race since I figured I'd just wear the same things after).
2. Wetsuit bag (for after the swim - but I used it to make sure I had all my swim/bike gear).
3. T2 bag (for my run gear since T2 was in a different spot).

The bags actually were really useful. Kudos to the race organizers for making it so easy!

After laying out my gear, I got to bed nice and early (before 10pm, that's for sure).

Race Day

I know what you're thinking. "Wow, it's taken this long to read this far and you're just getting to race day now?"

Yes. I did warn you this wasn't going to be short, remember?

Woke up around 6am on race day - which is practically civilized when you come to think about it.

  • Best thing to wake up to on race morning: A guy outside saying, "It's not raining!"
  • Worst thing to hear - a few minutes later: Same guy saying: "I think it's starting to rain."
I'd brought my toaster, so toasted a bagel and ate it with some peanut butter before packing up to head to the shuttle buses. Fortunately, there was a Tim Hortons opened 24 hours on the way. Very strategic location, right? So I got my coffee. Hurrah!

The Tim Hortons go-ers (Kim, Hector, Nicole and I) - even got a ride with Linda-Kay and Barry as they came driving past and noticed us walking in the rain (yes, it had started to rain a bit by that point). From there it was a short drive to the lot where the shuttle buses were.

Very impressed with the organization of the shuttle buses. We made it to Welland with lots of time to spare. Of course, about this time, it started to pour.

But, the upside is that T1 was located right next to the Welland Arena - which was open. So I just went inside and used that as my base for half an hour. It was perfect since I got to use the washrooms inside (no porto-pottie needed) about a dozen times. I also got to put on my wetsuit out of the rain.

The Arena also turned out to be the place to see people - including my friend Helen who is also a member of teamLPC. While my picture with Helen turned out blurry ::sad face:: this one with my friends Erin, Barry, and Linda-Kay was great! Don't we all look ready to take on the world?

In a show of impeccable timing, the rain stopped about 20 minutes before the start of the race. I couldn't have been more appreciative of this if I tried. At the time, I had no idea it had stopped for good - but I definitely felt like the rain stopping was a good omen.

So I checked my bike one last time and then headed down to the canal for a quick warm up. I readily admit the water was amazing. It was warmer than Lake Ontario has been all summer, but not so warm to be too hot. I enjoyed my 10 minutes of paddling around immensely. It was very relaxing and I felt terrific.

I know, another good sign!

The Swim

My wave started at 9:01 - 1 minute after the elites. The announcer was in the middle of his pre-race talk when the gun went off - which made for a bit of an unexpected start - but I didn't let that phase me.

In terms of start position - from my experience at other races this year, I figured I'd likely finish in the top 10% of my wave, so I started second row, a bit right of the centre. This was my first time starting with younger men (it was women under 39 and men under 35 in the wave I believe) - and it was quite a large wave - so I had no idea just how frantic the start was going to be. Fortunately, the fast swimmers got out really fast and I ended up in what felt like a pretty decent sized group of faster than average - but not competitive swimmer fast - folks for the first stretch of the race. I was bashed around a lot, but it wasn't intentional and I had no one actually clobber me. Mostly it was just jockeying for position among people who were probably going to be far more competitive overall in the race than I knew I'd be! But speed wise, I'd chosen the right place to start.

The swim was a rectangle within a canal - which made it pretty close to impossible to swim badly. I started off strong and found myself at the first turn pretty quickly. There was a bit of ruckus there, but I quickly found myself on the long stretch back down the canal. Lost all the people who went out too fast around this point - so it was a bit smaller of a clump swimming together on this long straightaway. I kept a good sight line and felt like I actually was picking up speed on this stretch - although I'll never know for sure.

Before I knew it, it was back around the other end of the rectangle and time to head to the finish. The path out of the water was short, but steep/rocky, so I was glad there were volunteers to help!

Here I am just out of the swim. Sorry for not smiling, I think I was too focused on what I needed to do next. Thankfully, that was the only time I wasn't smiling!

Swim time: 35:56 (pace 1:48/100) - 5/30 in my Age Group


As I ran into T1, I noticed my watch wasn't working.  This was the 3rd time this year I've managed to screw it up - although this time it wasn't my fault. My watch was on, it just wasn't giving me data. Thankfully one of the other girls near me was getting on her bike and told me her swim time, so I realized I was a bit ahead of my plan.

I made quick work of getting my bike gear on, but then spent several minutes (yes, minutes) trying to get my watch to work. I couldn't for the life of me figure out what was wrong. Finally, I just stuck it in bike mode and hoped for the best. It was giving me current pace and cadence so I figured I could work out distance at the km markers.

Got my bike to the mount line and headed out!

Aside: Someone told me later that my watch issues probably happened because I turned my watch on indoors. Although that doesn't really explain why  the file was corrupted when I tried uploading it later since it was giving me total time if not distance - and my current pace, speed and cadence. Really - it was bizarre.

In total, I spent a way-to-leisurely 5:06 in transition 1...but c'est la vie.

The Bike

Oh, the bike. I don't even know how to explain how this went. To put it kindly, this beautifully flat course was full of hills...mental ones that is.

Aside: The challenge was the wind (which seems to be my 2014 race nemesis given my experience at the Mississauga Marathon). Similar to when I ran the marathon back in May, the winds were insane, with gusts above 50km/h. The problem is that on a bike - those winds feel oh so much worse.

So, a couple of minutes into the bike course I turn onto the longest straight stretch of the race...into the fiercest headwind (and partial crosswind) I've ever experienced in my life.  And facing that crazy wind, I spent the first hour barely squeaking out 20km/h. In fact, my bike wobbled so much I had to ride much closer to the centre of the road than I would normally do because I needed the extra space so when the wind buffeted me sideways I wouldn't actually go off the road (and yes, this happened).

I think my hands went numb 20 minutes into the ride from gripping my brakes so hard. It was nuts.

In fact, the only "watch" time I remember from the race was when I had been riding for an hour and realizing I had only made it 21.something km. But I couldn't worry about it because there wasn't any room left in my head to do so. The wind was enough. All I wanted to do was get through it.

And you know something? I did. Yes, yes I did.

Partly out of sheer will-power. These was no way I was going to let the wind keep me from finishing.

Partly because I could sip regularly from my Camelbak. Which, given I'd only just perfected the technique two weeks previous, I found amusing to do while riding in a ridiculous headwind.No, I wasn't thirsty yet. But drinking (the good, sporty kind that is) was a far better distraction than thinking about crashing.

And partly because I remembered how my friend Karina had sung a silly song when we rappelled down Toronto City Hall (28 storeys) a few years ago because she was nervous. So for most of that over-an-hour terrifying stretch I was singing to myself:

This is the wind that never just goes on and on my friend...some people started riding it not knowing what it was...and they'll continue riding it forever just because this is the wind that never...

Okay, so my revised lyrics didn't really make any sense. But that's what you get on a windy bike course about a third of the way through a half ironman.

And then - the course turned. At 27km  or so of the bike, the worst was over (not that I knew it at the time). Honestly, I have never been so happy to make a turn in my entire life. It was such a relief. I went from 20km/h to 30. in about 10 seconds. In fact, it was hard to keep my effort in check I was so darned excited to be out of the wind.

It wasn't perfect. I still got some scary crosswinds - but mostly, I felt protected and free to go at a decent pace.

We cruised around a stretch of the lake and looped around and up, to a street where we eventually turned back onto that crazy, hellacious stretch of road...which had turned into the BEST ROAD EVER (capitals intended).


Because that horribly awful headwind was now perfectly at my back. I spent the next 30-40 minutes cruising in the opposite direction...with that fierce wind letting me fly at around 35km/h. Oh, how I wish I had my watch so I could see just how fast I went. I cranked into a high gear, kept spinning above 90rpm (figuring it couldn't be too bad for me if I could stay above 90)...and just went as fast as I could.

It was as fun as the first hour of the bike course was terrifying.

After that, the bike course continued to have its figurative ups and downs with respect to the wind...but in general, it got much better. In fact, by the time I reached the 60k point, I think I had a permanent smile on my face. The race photographer (who I didn't actually notice) even got proof!


Aside: While I don't have any stats thanks to my watch malfunction, the fact I had an almost identical pace for both the first 60k (which included both the head and tail wind sections) and the last 32.5k shows just how much I must have picked up speed in that tailwind.

Aside #2: Do you see the gorgeous blue sky behind me? It was doom and gloom in the morning and the weather reports called for rain all day. You know what I didn't do when I was getting rained on before the start? Put on sunscreen. More on this later (but nothing too bad!).

To get back to the story...outside of the wind...the highlight of the bike was the fact that because I am a decent swimmer (and was in the first wave) - most of my friends who were great bikers rolled by me looking awesome at some point on the course.

Barry (doing the Duathlon), Kim, Erin, Jacqueline and Linda-Kay - from what I remember, they all had a kind word as they went by (along with a few unrepeatable words about the wind).

Linda-Kay was especially awesome since she caught up to me much later in the course than I expected (although she started several waves after me, so that's not as exciting as you might think) and seemed so relieved to see me. She told me later how she knew I'd be hating that wind and was worried I might have had issues.

I admit, it was nice that so many of my friends worried about me while they were busy with their own races. It was also nice to learn that I wasn't the only one who hated that wind. Everyone did.

My last scary moment on the bike course came with about 10k to go - just as I was starting to relax knowing the ride was almost done. A bee or a wasp or something flew into my left eye and got trapped by my sunglasses. Akkk! I made the fastest emergency stop I've ever done, veered onto the grass at the side of the road (and didn't fall!), whipped off my glasses and yelled very loudly at whatever it was that got caught (which flew away).

The policeman at the intersection watched all this with some worry...and a few people asked me if I was okay as they passed by. But I was fine and didn't get stung (this was a blessing given my absolute phobia of bees and the fact I know a couple of people who were stung on the bike course).

After a few deep breaths, I laughed it off, got back on my bike and headed on my way again.

From there, the ride into Niagara Falls was quite nice (and thankfully anti-climactic). The Niagara Parkway is awesome.

As I was riding toward T2, I finished the last sip from my Camelbak, stretched my legs and started looking out for my parents as I got closer. Their plan had been to drive up to Niagara Falls that morning and arrive in time to see me in T2...

And then they were there. My dad even got a few nice pictures of me!

Here's one:

And here's another:

I pulled into T2 feeling absolutely amazing (mostly because I didn't die!). I was also 45 seconds earlier than my bike time goal, even though the bike course was 92.5km!

Aside: Yes, a half ironman distance bike is only 90km...but some unexpected construction forced them to add 2.5k to the route a day or two before the race. After all, what's a few extra km, right?

Bike time: 3:29:15 (pace: 26.5km/h) - 22/30 in my Age Group.

Transition 2

In T2, my biggest priority was to put on sunscreen (see my previous aside about the weather forecast). I was smart to imagine that if the sky cleared up, I'd be wanting some I had tucked a little bottle of sunscreen in my transition bag. Smartest move ever!

Here I am putting it on:

I ripped off the top of a Chocolate Peanut Butter GU (best flavour ever, by the way) - which I planned to eat as I headed out of transition. Of course, I managed to get it all over when I realized I still had my bike gloves on and turned around to take them off. Oops.

T2 Time: 4:56

Aside: Yes, it took me 10 minutes between my two transitions. I realize how ridiculous this is, given I didn't stop to take a nap.

The Run

Needless to say, my run started out a bit disorganized given I had to take my watch off because of the GU (it really was everywhere) - so was carrying that along with my water bottle, a pack of Cliff Shot Blocks, and the still as-yet-uneaten remainder of my sticky GU package. All I was missing was the kitchen sink.

My parents of course, caught this entertaining start on camera...

But hey, at least my starting-out run form wasn't too bad. And I was smiling.

Aside: Notice how in this picture, my shirt is riding up in the back? Well, that's one spot I didn't think to put sunscreen on. So, after the race, I had no sunburn (thank goodness) except for a brilliant thin red line across my lower back. Awesome. And by awesome, I mean, "Ouch!"

There was a water station right out of transition, so I managed to finish the GU, get the sticky GU off my hands and my watch back on pretty quickly.

On the bright side, all of the fumbling meant I took the first kilometer fairly easy - which gave my legs a chance to get comfortable with running after the long bike.

Now, I hadn't done a lot of long running off long bike rides, so I wasn't quite sure how I was going to feel.

Aside: The weekend before I'd done a 65km ride/8k run, but I had to break that up into 50/5 and 15/3 - so not quite the same thing. I'd also had the experience of running a 15k race after a 90k hilly ride during my birthday weekend extravaganza - but I had several hours in between the two to recover.

I apologize for what I'm going to say next - knowing that for many the run was the hardest part of the race.

But for me? The run was an utter joy. A pleasure. The best reward ever after that crazy bike ride.

The wind, so dreadful on the bike, was lovely given the afternoon heat. The view of the Falls was incredible - and we got to run by them (and through a lovely cool mist) twice.

Here I am about 5k into the first loop:

And again!

Not long after this, I turned onto the one real "hill" on the course: a sharp incline at a pretty steep grade (no clue how steep, I'm not good with that sort of thing). Everyone around me was walking up, but I didn't want to screw up my rythym, so I just shorted my stride and ran up. I was slow, but I was running while trying to keep my effort in check.

It didn't take longer than a minute or so to get to the top, so it wasn't nearly as bad I as I expected. Not like the hill toward the end of the Mississauga Marathon.

From there it was a somewhat straight shot across to the Fallsview Casino and then down a pretty steep hill toward the falls. This was a great part of the race because much to my surprise a group of spectators cheered "Go LPC!" really loudly as I went by. No idea who they were, but they certainly gave me a nice boost!

Then it was my first time past the falls - where the spray was just amazing. Best treat ever during a race - and I knew I'd be going by them one more time.

From there, the course circled back up to Kingsbridge Park and T2, where I saw my parents before heading off on my second loop. I still felt great.

On the second loop, I knew what to expect from the course, which was fantastic. It was on that loop that I also started catching up to a few people I knew who had sped by me on the bike. There was one out-and-back section where I passed several TTC folks going in the opposite direction. One of them even bet that I was going to catch up.

If that wasn't a great way to keep me focused, I'm not sure what else would have been. I ran up the "hill" again (much slower than the first time, I admit - but still running).

I got another round of awesome LPC cheers as I went down the hill toward the Falls, which made my day for the second time - especially knowing I was closing in on the finish.

On the parkway in front of the Falls, I caught sight of my friend Erin ahead of me who was using Barrelman as a training race for Ironman Florida in November. I pushed a bit harder than maybe I should've to catch up...and we enjoyed running together for a while. This was fun. It was also caught on camera!

Of course, my push to catch up to her meant I didn't have a lot left in the tank. I wasn't feeling badly, just tired! As we headed toward Kingsbridge Park, I couldn't quite keep up. But hey, I know I ran faster thanks to seeing her than I would've otherwise - and I admit it was a great way for a km or two to pass by at the end of a long race!

Heading into Kingsbridge, I am sure my face told the story about how excited I was, knowing I was going to finish.

Aside: I know I had a few tears in my eyes at that point. There's nothing like coming into the finish of a crazy race to make you realize just how far you've come - and not just in terms of the distance of the race. 3 years earlier I hadn't even started my journey on the road less travelled - and here I was finishing my first half iron distance race.

My mom was waiting for me at the turn into the finish chute to give me a last big boost (Thanks mom!). And she also yelled, "You're going to beat your goal!" - which was amazing since my silly watch wasn't giving me actual time - so I had no idea what my total race time was. I knew I was on track to beat my run goal, but had no idea where I was with respect to my overall time.

Run time: 1:58:01, 6/30 in my Age Group

The Finish

I got a last jolt of energy seeing my mom, and then turning to see the Barrelman archway and the finisher's chute, knowing that I'd done it. I was grinning all along that stretch, but I am sure I was beaming by that point.

The race photographer caught me right when I crossed the finish line.

But the truth is my dad captured the best picture of the day - and maybe my favourite race finish photo ever. I think it says it all in terms of how I felt about Barrelman.

My parents were just as thrilled as I was that I finished. We even took a selfie together.

Aside: I don't think I could've smiled any bigger.

My final time was 6:13:12 (almost two minutes faster than my goal - even with a longer bike and 2 ridiculously long transitions. That was good enough for 13/30 in my Age Group - a much higher final ranking than I was expecting, that's for sure.

I talked earlier about an epic road trip - well this was definitely an epic race. I'd highly recommend it to anyone who wants to do a half iron triathlon. Great organization, great volunteers and an incredible course.

Some added case you're actually still reading this.

Lessons from the race

Being my first half-iron distance race, I learned a ton. Here are a few highlights:
  • Doing a half ironman (at least when you're my speed) - isn't even close to as hard as running a marathon. The next day I was a bit sore, but not too bad. Two days later I just had a few aches. By Wednesday I was feeling normal. This was a huge surprise.
  • Recognizing the point above - that doesn't mean I didn't need some time to recover, especially since this was my last race of a pretty active triathlon season (I do love training by doing races). I listened to Coach Mark and took the first few days off after the race (mostly because I had a ton of work to do, let's be honest) - and even this week, most of my workouts are short and relatively easy. It's not until next week that I go back to doing some more intense training sessions.
  • If you have a GPS watch...don't turn it on indoors (before a race at least). That's apparently what caused all my watch issues this didn't get a proper signal, something got corrupted and in the end I lost all my data even if I could at least see the important things (i.e. pace, speed, cadence) in real time.
  • Wind on a bike sucks. A lot. Although if you're stuck with 50km/h least hope to get a tailwind - because it will feel like you're flying.
  • I've become a much better rider in the past few months. Not a good rider by any stretch, but better. At the beginning of the summer, I doubt I'd have been able to manage riding in that wind without either crashing or having a panic attack. Instead, I pushed through. I admit, surviving that wind will probably be the memory I go back to whenever I have other crazy bike issues in the future...I'll keep saying, "I got through that wind at Barrelman, I can get through this."
  • Coaching helps. Coach Mark helped me enormously in the lead up to this race (and all year, for that matter). I never could have done this by myself.
  • Next time? No napping in transition areas. Seriously...10 minutes. I can't get over that one (although still glad I stopped to put on sunscreen).
A few last thoughts

11 days removed from the race (yes, it took me over 2 days to get to the end of this post) and it's so strange to think that I did it. But then I look at my medal and my finersher's hat, and the awesome picture my dad took and I know I did.

There's something about racing...when it's over, it's hard to recapture your feelings while you were running the race and crossing the finish line. I certainly tried in this race report.

But maybe that's why I keep signing up for races - because the joy never really goes away. Every race is different. Every finish line is special. And, too, because I honestly love it (and all the training too). I can't imagine anyone can look at pictures of me racing and think I'm not enjoying myself immensely. Honestly, it's too bad they don't give awards for the person smiling the most on the race course. I suspect it would be me most every time. ::laugh::

I'm already looking forward to my next triathlon...even though it won't be for months. Thankfully, I love running races just as much (if not more) - so that will give me something awesome to do in the meantime.

Thank you!

Big thanks to my parents, Coach Mark, all of my friends in the race, all of my family and friends who followed online (kind of amazed at how many people were interested in my journey to the finish line), and to MultiSport Canada and all of the Barrelman volunteers who made the day one I won't ever forget.

You are all Awesome.

P.S. Yes, I'm done now. Really.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Guelph Lake 2 - Last test race before Barrelman

So, for my last race before Barrelman, I decided to do Guelph Lake 2. Originally, I picked this race because my brother lives nearby and we'd talked about doing it together (he'd do the Du while I'd do the Tri)...but given he's coming back from a foot injury, he made the right call not to enter this race!

The race was still perfectly timed. I was down in Essex visiting my parents for the week (more on the epic ride with my Dad on his 64th birthday in a future post), so it worked out well that my Dad drove me to Guelph for the race and my friend Brenda kindly offered to drive me the rest of the way home to Toronto.

Guelph is a bit longer than a traditional sprint - a 750m swim, 30k bike and 7km run. Basically I was planning to treat this race as a fun training day. I'd much rather ride my bike in races because I feel like it's better training than any outdoor riding I do on my own (where I am generally too worried about cars to get up much speed), so I am good with having a lot of training races on my schedule. did it go?

The Frantic Prelude to the Race

Got up at stupid-o'clock  in the morning to head out from my parents' house in Essex (Stopping for a Tim Hortons coffee and bagel on the way). Luckily, at 4:30am on a Sunday the roads are very quiet so my Dad and I made really good time...until we hit Guelph - then it took a long time to actually get to the conservation area. We made it though. Helped that my brother Stephen was coming to watch and got there early enough to give us directions!

My Dad dropped me off near the registration so I could get going while he parked (It was less than 30 min to start I was cutting it close time wise). Dropped my bike in transition, made an urgent pit-stop (thanks to my brother for saving me a place in line), got registered, and got body marked in record time. Then I went back to get my transition area set up and put on my wetsuit when I realized I didn't have my watch with me. Yikes!!!

My brother called my Dad. In the best coincidence of the day, he'd forgotten the camera - so was at the car picking it up when I called. He found my watch and got it back to me with no time to spare before my wave start...well, with time enough for one quick pic with my brother, but that was it!

My coach had given me a warm-up plan for this race - and after seeing how useful warming up is, I was looking forward to it. But given my late arrival and frantic watch mission, I was lucky to get to my wave start. I didn't even get a single toe in the water before the start, much less my bike/run warm-up. Oops.

But, I was there and the weather was spectacular - so life was good! Even saw my friend Emma (doing her first Du!) and Brenda (who came a long way to spectate!) very briefly - although I was definitely flustered and had no time to chat!

The Swim

The race had been moved the day before the event because water quality at the normal beach was I wasn't sure what to expect at this, supposedly better, beach. Looking out at it - the water was very calm. This was my first triathlon in a tiny lake - so while I wasn't certain, I expected the water to be pretty warm. It was practically room temperature, which made for a very easy swim start. No acclimatization required. A lot of folks swam without wetsuits - but I generally swim a lot faster with mine on, so as long as I can use it in a race I will.

Over the course of the summer, I've become a lot more confident in my swimming compared to other people in my age group.At least at small races I can generally start at the front on my wave and not worry too much about people swimming over me. So for Guelph, I started in the front row with a pretty straight sight line. It was a good choice.

Right near the start, my left goggle started leaking (my own fault for not having a chance to warm-up and get my goggles perfectly sealed). I didn't stop to try and fix it - just wanting to get out of the water as quick as I could without drinking any of it (I heard that the water had a lot of bird poop - gross!). 

The challenge is that my right eye doesn't focus really well on it's own. It is hard to explain, but while I can see perfectly thanks to eye surgery 6 years ago, I can't quite focus when only looking out that eye. Think about looking at a line of text in a book. When looking out of my right eye only, I can see all the words, but my brain doesn't quite want to process them.

So, while swimming and only being able to look out of my right eye, I had to trust my instincts. Thankfully the course was very simple, so it was easy. I was a bit paranoid on the way back since I couldn't quite see the swim exit (although I had no problems seeing the marker buoys) - so I ended up keeping my head out of the water more than I needed. But other than that, I had an excellent swim. Came out of the water in 13:50 (4/25 in my AG) - and I was smiling too...

The Bike

Had a quick transition for a change and got out on the bike course. The hardest parts were actually getting to the mount line (running uphill on grass in cycling shoes) and getting back down into transition afterwards.

The ride was pretty good. The course was full of rolling hills which meant I had to change gears a fair bit. I'm not quite smooth with the constant shifting, but I am getting better at it. The roads were pretty decent and mostly quiet except for one road that had far more traffic than I would have expected for a race. Fortunately for me, the traffic always seemed to be in the opposite direction (which was not good for people going the other way). My bike time was 1:04:35 (14/25 in my AG).

The Run

It was pretty hot by the time I got on the run, so I was glad I thought to bring my hand-held water bottle. The biggest issue was just as I was running out of transition I realized the GPS on my watch wasn't on, so I wasn't getting pace data (I have a different watch mounted on my bike to make my life easier - so I didn't notice this during that segment of the race).

I fixed it as I began the run, so it didn't affect my time at all. What it did affect was the pace/distance data the watch I never really knew how fast I was going or how far I had left in the run. Oh well! I settled into a pretty comfortable pace and just went with that. Ended up in a conversation with a guy for a good 15 minutes of the race which probably slowed me down a bit (oops) - but then I realized I was slowing down and picked up my speed again.

I actually loved the last few hundred meters running down a hill and into the finisher's chute. Talk about feeling like you're ending on a speedy note. Automatic finishing kick! Final time was 35:50 (pace of 5:08 and a finish of 7/25 in my AG). In hindsight, I could've ran faster - but overall, I felt pretty good with how I did.

Here I am coming into the finishing chute:

And crossing the finish line!

My finish time was 1:57:32 - which was good for 11/25 in my age group, 47/158 women and 215/453 overall! No idea how that relates since I haven't done a race at this sprint+ distance, but I'll take it. Maybe I could've run a bit faster - but truth is I am glad I didn't since I had to run another 12k later that day (Barrelman training after all) - and that was pretty darned hard as it was!


Heard my friend Emma finish the duathlon as I was running toward the finish, but I missed actually seeing her. I found out later she rocked the duathlon and placed in her age group. I was not surprised by that. She's awesome on hills if you remember from my ride with her a few weeks ago!

I did, of course, see my Dad, my brother Stephen and my friend Brenda! So awesome to have such great people at the finish!

Here I am with my Dad

And here I am with my friend Brenda and my brother Stephen!

Special thanks to my Dad, Steve and Brenda - for making the trip to Guelph, for taking awesome pictures - and for just being there to share the day. You guys are awesome!

PS - The Best Compliment Ever

During the race, a 20 year old girl actually made me tear up. We ran side by side for a minute or two around the 3-4km point...and she said something along the lines of, "Wow, I hope that when I'm 36 (In triathlon, everyone's age is written on their leg - so she knew how old I was) I am in as good of shape as you. You're built for this."

Little did she know that 3 years ago, I hadn't even made the decision to get fit yet. I thanked her for the compliment, said she was doing fantastic, and shortly thereafter ended up in front of her - although I cheered her on when I passed her a few minutes later after the turnaround.

After I left her, I admit, I got some tears in my eyes. I never in a million years would have guessed that someone would ever pay me a compliment like that. It's one thing to do all this stuff. It's another to realize that younger people might see me as a role model (for lack of a better word) - even a stranger during a race.

I've journeyed a long way down the road less travelled in less than 3 years. It is hard to remember sometimes just how far I've come - until comments like this one make me think about just how crazy and insane this road has been. Who would have ever guessed? Not me, that's for sure.

But if I can do it - anyone can!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Toronto Island Sprint Triathlon - Lake Ontario Love/Hate Relationship

I had a bit of a moment the day before the Toronto Island Sprint Triathlon when I found out that the water temperature was a frigid 10 degrees. They actually cancelled the Try-a-tri swim, switching that event to a duathlon - and warned that the triathlon could be switched as well.

After a quick email exchange with Coach Mark to get some advice, I got to the island fully prepared to do my first Du. But then, they announced the water temperature had gone up to 14 degrees. So, while they could not do the full 750m swim, they would have a 375m swim instead. Awesome news!

I got to the race with plenty of time to do my warm-up, which I think really helped. A 15 minute bike and a 1km run. By the time I was finished, I had enough time to get down to the waterfront and watch some of the other waves going off. Also bumped into my friend Wendy who had come out to cheer me on! Got to love my friends!

One big benefit of this race was that there was a good 15 minutes between each wave. What this meant is that after the previous wave started, I had 15 minutes to get used to the water. Since I'd stayed downtown the night before (so I didn't have to take a cab), I forgot to bring a bottle of warm water. So, I just sucked it up, got in as quickly as I could and spent the entire 15 minutes trying to acclimatize. I splashed water on my face, got my wetsuit soaked, and eventually managed some actual warm-up swimming. Along with jokes about whether or not swimming in the lake counted as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, I imagined that I was in the Caribbean. Seemed to work well enough.

The Swim

The second the gun went off, I swam as fast as I could - hope being I'd be finished before the cold actually set in. My watch said I did the swim in under 7 minutes. The official time of 8:12 included a long run up the beach and my tripping in the sand and face-planting. Thankfully, no harm done. It was sand after all. The worst part was I was covered in sand for much of the bike!

Here is a picture Wendy snapped of me coming out of the swim. I didn't notice until now just how red my face was from the cold. Wow!

The Bike

I actually had a very smooth transition 1, getting onto my bike with no trouble at all. The course itself was 2 loops around the island. My goal was to break 30km/h on average, which I did (39:13 for an average of 30.6km/h). I was really happy with my bike. I did have to stop and reposition each time I hit the very narrow U-turn on one side of the island, but overall I think I did great.

Here I am coming off the bike.

The Run

I had another easy transition, heading right off onto the run course. My goal was to average under 5 minute kilometres, which I had not managed yet in any triathlon. But out on the island, I finally had a breakthrough - my best run yet in a triathlon! I actually got faster over the run, actually managing a negative split totally by accident. My run time was 23:41 for a pace of 4:56 officially (the course was apparently 4.8km), and 4:46 by my watch (which said I went 4.98km). Either way, nicely under my goal time!

Finished the entire race in 1:14:20. While I can't make a perfect comparison (last year the swim was 750m and the run was 5.4km), I know this was a faster and better executed race overall!

This also was the first race where I feel I executed my race plan perfectly. I had a great warm-up, I managed the change in the swim, and I exceeded my goals on the bike and the run. Kind of awesome. I even got my watch to work properly the entire time!

Really would love this kind of day at Barrelman!

It's my party and I'll bike, run and swim if I want to! :)

Since starting my journey to become fit, I've used my birthday to hit new milestones of fitness.

In 2012, I ran my first ever half-marathon distance (in a training run).

In 2013, I ran my longest distance ever (at the time) in the Midsummer Night's Run 30k.

So, when it came time to decide what to do for my 36th birthday, I was a bit at a loss. I couldn't run a new milestone (Right now, a full marathon is as far as I expect to run at any one time. Not interested in running ultras).

And then my friend Kim (from Two Years to Kona and Our Fresh Kitchen) suggested the Toronto Island Lake Swim on my actual birthday (Sunday, August 17th). The race on the island had 3 distances, including a 3.8km one (that's the distance you swim in a full ironman). I've never swam 3800m in one go before - and the most I've swum in the lake was around 3200m. I'd once done a 2-swim day that was 3950 total, but that was split into two sessions (one lake, one pool) several hours apart.

So there I had it. My longest swim ever and it would be in open water!

But that's not all. Given I was training for Barrelman, I still needed to get my long run and ride in. Well, months ago at the Mississauga Marathon, I purchased entry into the Midsummer Night's Run at a low rate (they were also giving away extra shirts) on Saturday, August 16th at 6pm. So I was already planning to do that. But then my friend Emma (from Running in Tune) offered to give me a grand tour of the region around Burlington (i.e. take me on a long ride out of the city!) that day. So my birthday weekend became an epic training weekend, including:
  • Saturday morning: 90k hilly training ride
  • Saturday night: 15k Midsummer Night's Run
  • Sunday morning: 3.8k Toronto Island Swim Race
Now, one of the best parts about having Coach Mark is that I asked him whether I was nuts for doing all of this. Of course, his answer was "Go for it." In fact, he was great - giving me a good nutrition strategy to use - especially between the ride and the run. I think it made a huge difference!

So, how did the weekend go?

Training Ride

I got up pretty early on Saturday morning to make the GO train out to Appleby...but it wasn't too early that I couldn't nab a coffee to drink en route (priorities!). The forecast was talking about rain, but luck was in our favour. All we got was a handful of no complaints from me!

Now, Emma had warned me that the route was going to have some hills. "No problem," I figured. Hills are good, right?

What I didn't realize was that my occasional hills and the hills out at Angus Glen are nothing compared to the Halton Hills. The entire first half of the route was very rolling...and added to that was some excellent wind (crazy wind!). I couldn't believe how slow I was (meanwhile Emma proved to me she'd have no problems killing a duathlon since she's so strong on the bike!).

But - the hills were on beautiful and mostly silent roads. I loved riding out there. Also, I learned that some of the area we were riding in would be a part of the PwC Epic Tour - which means I'll be facing these hills one more time before Barrelman! Yikes!

I needed proof we did it, so here's a picture of Emma and I about 2/3 of the way through I think.

Midsummer Night's Run - 15k

After the awesome ride with Emma, I caught the GO train home, making sure to eat/drink on the way according to Coach Mark's guidelines. It started to pour just as I left the subway station near my house, so I did have to ride one block in a downpour. I'll take that over an entire ride in one!

I got home around 4:30pm, which gave me just enough time to relax for a little bit (and drink more fluids) before having to catch a bus down to the Midsummer Night's Run. Thankfully, the rain only lasted the 30 minutes I was in my house. The rain was done by the time I had to leave. Excellent timing, don't you think?

I really had no idea how this race was going to go. Last year it was on the island and I did the 30k option. I tripped on the boardwalk and ended up going a fair bit slower than I had been hoping for. So I had no expectations of this race, even though it was back in the Beaches (making it very convenient for me!). Given my 90k ride, I figured I'd at least get a nice 15k delayed brick, even if I went slow.

I got to the race very close to the start, but wasn't too worried. Had enough time to drop my gear bag and hit a porta-pottie. I did have an argument about what to wear (it was windy and cool) - but I rightly remembered that I ran Mississauga in shorts and a tank and that day was much I went with my standard race outfit and left my long-sleeved top in my bag. Wise decision that's for sure!

Much to my surprise, the race went incredibly well. I was told to run it without looking at my watch, which I did - and maybe that helped because it meant I had no expectations. The fact it was cool also helped. It's always easier to run when the weather is cool (and not that humid).

My final time was 1:16:54 (pace 5:08 per km) - which landed me 29/245 in my age group, 63/730 of all women and 201/1047 overall. Fantastic results on any day, but given what I did that morning, I was shocked I did so well. It was a nice confidence booster for Barrelman, even with the several hours of rest in between the bike and the run!

Crossed the finish line and saw a few of my friends before heading back home for more food and a good night's sleep. I think I was in bed by 10pm.

Toronto Island Swim Race 

The next morning, I took a cab down to the Ferry docks for the Toronto Island Lake Swim. Now, I was a bit worried about water temperature - but I remembered something Coach Mark had said before the Toronto Triathlon...which was dump a thermos of warm water inside my wetsuit before I got in. So I did. And despite getting funny looks, the water really helped because it meant the warmer water stayed close to my skin and made it easier to acclimatize to the cold water during my warm-up!

A bunch of friends came out to the island too...swimming in the 3.8k with me were my friends Hector and Kim (who had done Ironman Canada just weeks before) and my friend Lori.

Here we are (Lori, me, Hector and Kim)

Other friends - Brenda, Linda-Kay and Carole came to watch and cheer! Kind of awesome of them! :)

The swim was surprisingly good. It was a 3 loop course, which made it more manageable to think about. There were a lot of swimmers (and the waves didn't correspond with anything so I caught up with the slower folks from the first wave pretty quickly) so I took an outside line for the first lap. A little too far outside in hindsight...but c'est la vie.

The first loop was pretty nice but over the course of the next two the water got a bit more rolling and choppy. Thankfully I've practiced in that so it didn't throw me off. I did find I would get the odd chill at times when the sun ducked behind a cloud, but overall the temperature wasn't nearly what I'd been led to expect. I think it ended up being around 16 degrees - which is not terrible for Lake Ontario.

I think my last loop was actually my best since I knew I was definitely going to be able to finish. Came out of the water feeling pretty good and thrilled at my new swim distance milestone!

My watch said I swam 4k in 1:23:55 (and I stopped it late), but my official time was 1:24:46. Apparently, they timed everyone from the first wave start and didn't adjust for the people in the second wave. Annoying, but that's the way it goes. Either way, I was really happy with my time! It was better than I was expecting that is for sure.

I was a bit surprised to be a bit topsy-turvy when I got out of the water, but a nice volunteer suggested I sit down - which I did. That's when my friends found me. Here I am with Linda-Kay and Hector (who finished a good 20 or more minutes faster. Speedy!).

It only took me a few minutes to get my bearings and then I had enough time to quickly change into dry (and warm) clothes so I could see Lori finish.

Once we were all done, we settled down to have some wonderful peach sharlotka coffee birthday cake that Kim made (after my friends convinced the live band to play Happy Birthday for me).

 The cake was absolutely delicious. Thankfully, she posted the recipe on Our Fresh Kitchen!

Here I am with the cake (with Carole in the background!). Interestingly, it looks like I am holding the full cake, but we'd already eaten about deceiving photo. But wow, that cake was amazing! Thank you Kim!!!

Much to my surprise, my friend Brenda actually made a photo/video montage of the Toronto Island Lake Swim, including the birthday song. She posted it on YouTube, so I can share it with you too!


So my epic birthday weekend was a wild success. Couldn't have had a better time, that's for sure. So great I got to share two days with so many friends. Thank you to everyone who helped make the weekend awesome!

And as a side note (in case you think all I do is train)...after the Toronto Island Lake Swim, I went out for an incredible birthday dinner with my friend Wendy - where I didn't worry for a single second about how much I ate or drank! I also went out the following weekend with more friends, since several were out of town on my actual birthday.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

A visit to K-town - and my longest tri yet!

A while back, I heard about the K-town Triathlon in Kingston, Ontario. Now part of the MultiSport Canada series (the same group that will be putting on Barrelman in September) - it has two races. The one that drew my attention was the Long Course Tri.

Kingston's long course triathlon is a unique distance - partway between an Olympic and a half ironman. The swim is half ironman distance (2 km). The bike is 56.2km (compared to 40k for the Oly and 90k for the HIM). The Run is 15k (compared to 10 for the Oly and 21.1 for the HIM). It's the only race of it's kind in Ontario, that's for sure.

But doing K-town wasn't on my radar until I learned about Via Rail's Bike Train. The bike train is a summer initiative that allows you to check your bike (as is - no boxing!) on certain trains. One of the trains is Kingston/Montreal. When I realized that, I decided to give it a try (sorry) over the long weekend so I could go do my longest triathlon yet - a perfect prep race for Barrelman!


I got to Kingston two days in advance of the race because it made the most sense given the Via Rail schedule (there is only 1 bike train a day per direction). This was great because it gave me time to check out Kingston on top of doing the race.

On the Friday I arrived, I took a look at the waterfront, where the transition area was going to be (right in front of City Hall).

I also took a walk to look at the Causeway Bridge because the race website mentioned the need for a lot of caution while going over it. The bridge has a grate floor and lifts up when boats need to go through. I actually got to watch this while I was there checking it out!


On Saturday, I got up really early so I could go ride part of the bike course. During my hour long ride, I rode about 25k, including riding over the bridge and then up and down a fair number of hills. I admit, I was a bit surprised by how hilly Kingston was - mostly because I'd never been there before. Still - I had a nice ride and figured I'd be good to go on race day!
After making it back to my hotel (the Sheraton Four Points - about 5 minutes from transition), I grabbed a shower and then headed out for some shopping and sightseeing. One of my targets: Fort Henry. Now, the Fort was a few km away, but I walked there anyways. The fort itself was up on a hill (of course) overlooking Kingston.
On the other side, you could see what I believe is Wolf Island (but I could be wrong!). I loved the towers!

I wandered all around the Fort until I was exhausted and then sat back and watched some marching and weapons drills. They fired one of the big cannon (called a gun on a Fort) - and anyone that knows me knows how much I like cannon. They also fired a lot of muskets, including some neat group firing practice. I really enjoyed that - it went far beyond anything I'd seen before.

Before making the walk back to downtown, I stopped for a beer and watched some sailing practice. It was a nice way to spend a day!

Once I got back to my hotel, I spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing - only popping out for a quick bite to eat.
Race Day!
I woke up on race day and almost had a panic attack - my windows were all fogged up! But when I got closer I realized that was just the humidity fogging up the windows: no rain. Thank goodness!
With my hotel so close to transition and the race not starting until 8am, I had tons of time to get ready. I wasn't hungry, so I went out for my quick warm-up ride before eating a Honey Stinger Waffle for Breakfast (whatever works, right?) and setting up my transition area.
I got to chatting with a couple of girls whose bikes were racked nearby. Both of them were also doing their longest triathlon yet - and one was doing it in advance of Barrelman. So I wasn't the only one with that idea. As we put on our wetsuits, we were watching people start to get in the water. I had my normal pre-race gel and then wandered over to the dock. I wasn't worried...until someone said, "Wow, there are a lot of red caps in the water!" I had been told I was in the second wave, so this brought my head up very quickly.
The race start was a good 50-100m out in the water. Since no one on the dock knew the wave order, I just jumped in and swam out. Good thing too because apparently they changed the start order and I was now in the first wave. My swim out to the start gave me a decent (if short) swim warm up...just in time for the gun to go off! Phew! Fortunately, that water was actually beautiful - so it was very easy to swim in.
The swim itself was a weird parallelogram (probably the first time I've used that word since high school math class) - but I felt like I got into a decent rhythm pretty quickly. The buoys were well placed on the way out - although on the way back there could've been an extra one or two. Thankfully I had enough stuff in the background to sight off of.
According to the race, I finished the swim in 40:24 - but that included T1. My watch said I finished the swim in 37:30 - which means my transition time was around 3 minutes (I have slow transitions, I know). I was really happy with that swim time though!
Hilarity ensues: The bike
The bike was a bit of a rolling disaster - but only in a funny way. Nothing irreparable! About a kilometre into the bike I realized my watch was still in swim mode. Argh. I apparently failed to put it in multi-sport mode when I started so I had to reset it. I tried to do this on the go, but it was just way too complicated. Not wanting a repeat of TTF (where I couldn't see my speed/cadence the whole time) - I stopped for a minute and fixed my watch. After all, my coach really wanted me to pay attention to my cadence - and the whole race was meant to be a practice for Barrelman. I figured it was worth it. And I was right: best 30 seconds I've ever spent.
Of course, another 15 minutes or so after fixing my watch (about 10k into the course now) - I realized I had to go pee - I mean I really had to go. So much so I spent the next 15k thinking about how quickly I could get in and out of a porta-pottie at the turnaround. I am sure I'd read that there would be one.
And then I got to the turnaround. There was nothing! Oh no, I thought. I spent the second half of the course spending more time holding it in than I did worrying about my pace. In fact, there were several times I stood in my saddle just to give my bladder a break (this is so ridiculously funny in hindsight). And of course, the whole way I was thinking, No wonder people pee on the bike! But that was not an option for me.
And before you ask, I didn't see any convenient bushes or trees. Well, there were lots, but I would've had to wade through a lot of grass and weeds to get there. With my luck, it would've been poison ivy. So I held it. And held it. And held it some more.
Meanwhile my Camel-bak experiment (a way to drink on the bike) was a fail for this race because I daren't try and take even a sip of water. Also, I didn't quite have it fitted properly, so it slid a bit over to my left.
So there I was riding up and down hills, slightly lop-sided, in desperate need to pee.
56.2km has never felt so long.
Despite this comedy of errors, I made it back to transition (and to a porta-pottie) without any incidents. I admit, I was not smiling when I got off my bike. All I could think about was how badly I needed to go - and that I just needed to make it a few more steps!
 I finished the bike in 2:04:20. I was hoping to break 2 hours, but given my entertaining mishaps, no complaints. I learned a lot for Barrelman!
Almost home: the Run!
After taking my long-awaited pit stop, I headed out on the run course...just as the winner of the race - Cedric Boily - crossed the finish line. I actually got to see him just as I was headed out. He did the race in 2h47 minutes. Wow!
The run course was surprisingly hilly but there were a lot of aid stations, which broke it up nicely. I found the course very scenic and enjoyed the waterfront views and getting to run by Kingston Penitentiary. Fascinating building (just like you see in the movies) but kind of creepy too. Don't need to see that from the inside, that's for sure!
I forgot to have a gel in T1, so as soon as I was on the run I had a couple of shot blocks. I also started sipping from my water bottle. Given it was a decently hot and humid day, the fact I had only had two tiny sips of water so far in the race was no doubt a bad thing. This is why I like my handheld. I didn't have to guzzle water - I could sip it on the go. Worked like a charm.
At every aid station, I topped off my water (I drank a ton) - I was surprised at how nice and cold it was! And then, at pretty much all of the stations on the back half of the course, I also dumped a cup of water on my head. I was broiling by the end.
In terms of the run itself - I got into a decent pace and kept it up for much of the 15k (it obviously shifted on the hills). I had a sore muscle in my side from my lopsided Camel-bak (only used on the bike!) but I don't think that slowed me down too much. All in all, I finished the run in 1:27:02. A decent run on a hot/humid day - and I enjoyed most of it, which was nice!
Crossed the finish line in 4:14:34 (10/15 in my AG). Yes, I definitely was smiling as I crossed the finish line. It was an awkward smile - but a smile!
What I Learned

K-Town was an amazing triathlon to do. It was a beautiful race venue with amazing volunteers (Thank you to any who might be reading this!). It also was long enough to really give me a taste of what I'm in for at Barrelman. Specific lessons learned, included:
  • Check, double check, and triple check your wave start.
  • If you have a Garmin 910 - to put the watch in multi-sport mode - you need to hit Enter on the screen BEFORE you hit start. I really need to knock this one into my head.
  • If you're wearing a Camel-bak on the bike, fit is crucial. You don't want it to sit lopsided.
  • Sometimes it's worth stopping for 30 seconds in a longer race to fix/adjust an issue rather to spend hours being annoyed by it.
  • Double check if there are porta-potties on the bike course. Having to go is the most distracting thing ever. If you think you might need to go - go in T1! (For those of you that pee on the bike - well, I guess you don't have this problem. Personally - barring an incident, I am NOT going there ever. I am not fast enough that a minute or two in the loo is ever going to be an issue).
  • A visor (Got mine through the Toronto Triathlon Club) is actually great to wear on a hot and long run course....leaves room for you to dump water on your head at every aid station!).
  • Don't forget to smile and thank the volunteers on the course!

Seriously MultiSportCanada? The K-town medal was AWESOME (gorgeous design!) and the finisher's hat to go with the shirt was a nice surprise! Thanks for a great race!

And thanks always to my coach - Mark Linseman (of Loaring Personal Coaching) who continues to help me get better at swimming, biking and running - and at doing triathlons. He also manages to put up with my long-winded training reports every day. Seriously, even in Training Peaks, I have zero ability to be "brief."