Saturday, March 4, 2017

The Long Overdue Hamilton Road 2 Hope Post

Here I am at the LPC Florida Triathlon Camp (my fifth year year). I want to write about today (Day 0) - but I realized that I really needed to say something about 2016 first - about my race at the Hamilton Road 2 Hope Marathon.

To be honest, it's been hard putting Hamilton (and 2016 as a whole) into words because it was a tough year training wise.

You see, I worked really hard all year - particularly leading up to Road 2 Hope. My goal at that race was to try for a BQ (a Boston Qualifier) time of under 3:40. I trained a lot. I did one run that was 38 km long. The problem was - most of the training was terrible. Heading into the race I wasn't feeling all that positive because practically every run I had was a mess.

At the time, I thought it was the weather. It was incredibly hot and humid last summer - especially humid. I went through 2 inhalers just trying not to die (that's an exaggeration, I promise) over the summer. My pace work was terrible.

But I still felt like I should be able to do a good race - even if I didn't have a BQ race. For once in my race career, race day was perfect for a run. It was mild, cool - and the course was downhill. I felt generally good, I had plenty of proven food (in this case, Maple Syrup Gels). I thought I was set up for a good day.

And then I couldn't run. Well, I ran, but it was like running through peanut butter. I managed a whole 10k before I fell apart. On the whopper of a downhill, I couldn't get my pace under 6 min kilometers. I faded even further as the race went on. By the end of the downhill, I realized I was really off - and so stopped looking at my watch. My only goal fell back to my simple standard which saves me when things go wrong: finish and finish smiling. I just wanted to run and enjoy what I could do - even if the day wasn't what I wanted.

I finished the race in something like 4:14 and change. To put this in perspective, I only ran 1 minute faster than I ran my very first marathon, which I ran with a stomach bug and only eating 2 shot blocks.

To say I was disappointed is putting it a bit mildly. I am sure a few people realized how I felt about the race, but mostly, I just felt utterly discouraged. I had no idea what was wrong. I swore off doing another marathon anytime soon.

It was my coach who figured it out. He suggested iron deficiency. Being far more observant of my training results, he was the one who noticed it wasn't -just- my run. He said it was my bike too - that workouts that should be relatively easy I was having issues with - and then, of course, the runs were abysmal.

So at the end of November, I started taking double doses of an iron supplement. I've been taking them religiously now for 4 months, but truth be told, I started to really notice a difference about a month after I started them. It's like I was wired compared to how I had felt.

Honestly, I didn't know how badly I felt until I started to feel good.

All of a sudden, I could do harder workouts. At Christmas, I unofficially broke my 5k PB on a treadmill because I felt good and was curious if I could. In January, I started harder bike workouts again - and could do them. I started speed work - and I could do them.

Don't get me wrong - I still have terrible workouts, particularly when I'm having girl troubles or am exhausted from work. But I no longer feel like my workouts for months have been relentlessly bad. When I have a bad workout - within a few days, I have a great one. It's far closer to what life should be like in my mind.

And so - writing about 2016 hasn't been a priority. It's hard to talk when things aren't going perfectly. It's much easier when you can write energetically about how awesome life is.

But hey, this isn't meant to be a lamentation post - just a retrospective. Truth be told, I learned a lot this year - and I did do some awesome stuff despite the training challenges.

One of those awesome things was backhandedly qualifying for the World Triathlon Championships (Olympic Distance) in Rotterdam next year at a race where there were more slots than people in my age group. I came in 7/8th - and they gave out 10 slots.

At that qualifying race (Ottawa Triathlon)...I had the best bike of my life by going 2km/h faster than I've ever done before in an Olympic Distance race -- on a rented carbon road bike. Sure, I didn't have great pre and post bike runs (it was turned into a duathlon because water quality tests hadn't been received yet), but I didn't care. My bike time made that race my big winner of 2016...and also led me to find my most important race for 2017 - because now I get to go compete in Rotterdam for Team Canada. How cool is that?

Yes, I may not have qualified for Boston - but I did qualify for something pretty cool...and it means I am going to be going to Europe in September because the race is a great excuse to do a bunch of travelling.

So while Hamilton was a mess, I can't really be too disappointed in the last year. It turned out to be a good one - just for different reasons than I was planning on.

And this year - I feel like a new person. I feel like all the hope that got a bit strangled last year is now back and raring to go.

Yet, I've also decided not to worry too much about this year. I want to have more fun - and simply see where I'm at after last year's tough year. I want to start fresh and see what happens.

And given I feel a lot better, I've also backed off swearing off marathons for a bit and signed up for the Martian Marathon (on Earth Day of all days...kind of hilarious) on April 22nd. I'm not really trying to BQ this time around - mostly because in 6 months, I'll get an extra 5 minutes on my BQ time. Instead, I'm just hoping to see where I'm at - and to hopefully get a PB at the distance (mine is 3:50:19 from Mississauga in 2014). Oh yes, and regardless of whatever else - I still want to finish and finish smiling.

That's probably not all I can say about 2016....but it's probably enough for you to get a sense of how it went. Oh, except for one of the best parts of the year - courtesy of my friend Karen.. I got to fly out to North Carolina to watch Karen finish Ironman North Carolina. Watching her at that race, and chasing her around to cheer for her for the last 21km of the run -  I had so much fun: probably the most I had that entire year. 

I left there remembering something a summer of heartbreaking training made very difficult.

I love to run.

Even when my speed isn't as fast as I want.

Even when it's humid.

Even when I feel like I'm running though peanut butter.

I love to run.

That day in Hamilton, I could have stopped. But I remembered that run in North Carolina - and I channeled that sense of joy into my race. I knew if I wasn't hurt, I could finish and finish smiling. So I focused on the love of running and forgot about my speed.

That's the big lesson I learned this year: do what you do because you love it. You can strive to get better. You can strive to hit goals (and I will BQ eventually!). But really, if you don't love what you do, why do it?

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