Wednesday, May 3, 2017

P2A Vol. 3: The Last Laugh

It's race season again! But before my first race report of 2017 I better give you a 5 second update on the last nine months:

1. I had a knee injury that forced me to miss most of 2016 but it's all better now

2. As soon as my knee was healed I tore my rotator cuff. Swim training has mostly consisted of drills and hot tub time.

3. I missed campLPC this year

Alright now onto the race report!

As the above memes may suggest, the past nine months have had some ups and downs in terms of training, injury, and in real life for that matter. Last July I had been sidelined for a couple weeks with a knee injury when I registered for Ironman Canada 2017. I certainly did not expect that I wouldn't race any more in 2016, and at the New Year I would still be questioning whether I would be healthy and fit enough for IMC in the summer.

Fortunately over the past few months things have started to come together, so after far too long between races, I finally kicked off my 2017 this past weekend at Paris to Ancaster. To be honest my biggest goal for P2A was simply to get myself into some decent early season form on the bike after a lot of missed training time from July to December. The forced motivation of starting in the elite wave this year certainly helped get me out of bed at 5AM and onto the trainer throughout the winter. With a strong and consistent winter and spring of training under my belt, I had accomplished that goal before hitting the start line. The race itself was just a bonus.

I've done P2A the past three years now, but I already feel like I have some history with this race. After pacing like a maniac in 2015, the race kicked my ass. Last year I made it my mission to crush it. I basically solo time trialed, leapfrogging groups throughout the race and had one of my best days ever on the bike. I thought I had it figured's only two hours anyway, right? Well P2A wasn't finished with crushing my soul...but with more fitness and motivation than ever, round 3 was kinda like those stubborn rams on Planet Earth who don't stop fighting until one falls of the mountain and dies from exhaustion.

actual photo of me fighting with the race course

I also knew that with the last two years being near perfect conditions we were likely due for a bugger of a day. And sure enough, when I checked the weather the day before this is what Sunday had in store. Note that this race is a west-to-east point to point course, so that 65km/h wind would be a headwind. The entire way.

This year starting with the big boys I knew that I would have to be prepared to start hard, and frankly pace pretty recklessly, given that this race attracts multiple continental pro's and cyclocross National Champions from North America and Europe. Being fairly confident that I was the only age group triathlete in the elite race :) I knew I wasn't going to be racing for the win, but why the hell not give myself a chance! I wasn't going to turn down the opportunity to battle up front and try to hang on for dear life with the big boys.

I started hard and slotted in with the main bunch on the opening 10k of rail trail. I didn't want to go too bananas knowing that it would be far more important to have some legs for the middle 30k which are primarily on road, and the stretch of rail trail from 50-60k that would be entirely into that crazy wind. But I also didn't want to be on the wrong end of a split so early on. The climb at 10k was the first sorting out, and a lead group of 20ish split off the front and I fought hard to just catch onto the back of the next big group of ~30 riders as we got onto the first gravel road section into the wind.

That's me way back there!

I knew the top-20 were legit riders and were likely gone already, but I had safely gotten on the right side of the first major split to stay in the top 50-ish. The pace seemed like it slowed down to a crawl so I moved near the front, then I realized why. It was taking 350W+ to go about 22km/h into the wind. At the first farm lane section I had gotten far enough up that I was once again on the right side of a split in the group and just focused on not getting dropped.

More gears plz!

At some point I must have hit a big stick or rock on the farm lane that got stuck in my frame. There was a hissing sound from one of my tires and a rider came past me and thought my rear tire was flat. I was prepared for a flat with sealant and a spare tubular tire, so I sat up a bit and prepared myself mentally for a super fast repair when we got back on the road. But after I got back on the road I tried hopping on my back wheel a few times to feel if it was flat yet, and whatever had been stuck between my frame and wheel finally came loose and the hissing sound was gone. I was bummed that I lost my group, which likely finished in the ~25-50th spots, but I focused on what I could control...which was putting in a huge effort to bridge back up to another pack of 30+ riders that just went by.

I just tried to get things back under control over the next 10k and made sure to get towards the front of the group before any off-road or headwind sections where there was a potential to split up the group. The trail sections were much tougher than the last two years with a ton more mud, and a few of the farmer's field sections were slightly rerouted from last much rougher sections. On one of the field sections the crosswind was so strong that it was blowing my front tire sideways through the mud, but my only thought was "this is so hard, its AWESOME!"

From 25-40k a few of us started to get the front of the group a little more organized (of course with 90% of the group not pulling through once), and there was another group of 10-15 riders less than a minute up the road. I started to get really frustrated with the lack of shared work and that we weren't making up any time. I pulled through once and another rider said "Why are you pulling so hard?"...seriously?! I get that for just about everyone else there they were riding more tactically and wanted to finish as high up as possible. But I was there for one reason. To HURT!

We were at the critical point of trying to bridge a gap, when either everyone just looks at each other and start worrying about placing within your group, or someone cowboys up and does the work alone. I decided it was time for a hero pull and I put my head down at ~500W and bridged a 30 second gap in about three minutes. I found out afterwards that the group ahead was being led by multiple time CX National Champion Mike Garrigan, which likely had something to do with how long it took us to catch them.

I knew I was going to pay for that in the final 5k but I didn't care. Not that I didn't care about my result, but this race for me was more about putting out a huge effort on a hard day than worrying too much about my final placing. Our big group rode mostly together from 45-60k and I suffered like a bugger to not get dropped on a crazy rough field section and again on the final climbs before the mud chutes.

Mike Garrigan attacked just before Powerline and got off the front of our group that was now down to 20ish. I had nothing left to go with him, and unfortunately that was the difference between finishing 60th and 80th. Powerline was very different from previous years as it had been torn up for construction or something, but that didn't make it any easier. I got through it still in touch with the group and saved whatever I had left for the final climb to the finish. My legs were cramping and I was in more pain than I've ever been on a bike going up Martin's Road to the finish. But I managed to NOT fall off my bike and rolled in at the back of the group.

So at the end of the day, just when I thought I had it figured out, this race once again kicked my ass. I ended up finishing a few spots down from last year which was a bit disappointing at first. I'm sure I can attribute that to my tactics, which from a racing standpoint probably weren't the smartest. But racing in the elite wave I wasn't just going to let everyone go and race my own race...I wanted to get in their and mix things up for the experience (and the suffering). And the way things shaped up throughout the race I am much happier with my effort knowing that I put in a ton of work and managed to bridge a big gap that nobody else could...rather than sandbagging in the group and having a sprint left for the finish. I guess that's why I like triathlon better than road racing :)

I still managed to keep my top-100 placing if I want to give it another go next spring. But if I want to finish higher I would have to put a lot more emphasis on this race in my training than just using it as a spring rust buster. So for now I have made my peace with P2A...I'm sure there will be a round 4 some day, but maybe not next year.

So all that I really have on the horizon right now will be a local tune-up before 70.3 Syracuse, which is my big prep race leading into Ironman Canada. The down side of an Ironman year is that weekends become far too valuable for training to justify racing more than a couple times in the 10-12 weeks leading into it. But I am also just starting to get some swim fitness back after a long winter of hardly being in the water at all. So for the next few weeks I'll be starting to ramp up some bigger mileage and start pushing my swimming a bit. Til next time!

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Some Thoughts on 2016

If I had to summarize my 2016 season with one word...

Image result for trailer park boys meme

I guess I mean that more in the literal sense of the word than how Bubbles would use it.

After Louisville last year it was hard for me to think about anything but another Ironman. Partly to get the monkey off my back with the disappointing result, partly because I loved the training so much. But it's also a crazy commitment of time and money, and it meant missing out on fast racing at my favourite local events.

I decided that this year would be a year of going back to short course racing - I know I have not come close to my potential in shorter distances but historically I've struggled to stay healthy and consistent with higher intensity training. So 2016 was all about doing everything I could to stay healthy and knock down some PBs. Fortunately for us Ontario athletes we have the opportunity to race against many top young elite athletes for some prize money in the Multisport Canada series. My big goal for 2016 was to race hard all year and finish in the top 3 of the series.

Despite that goal, to be honest there were times that I caught myself thinking of this season as a means to an end - ie. get a little bit faster then go race another Ironman. Sure, I was having fun racing local and going after some new fitness benchmarks. But when a knee injury ended my racing season before it even really began, it seemed like my body was just trying to further solidify that thought.

But that mindset would sell short the work I put into training in the past 12 months, and some really fun and strong racing. Despite the shortened race season I accomplished nearly all of my goals I set out at the beginning of the year. The most important of which was learning to enjoy the process of banking the hard yards in short course training again. From the New Year's Day double swim at the end of a 35k swim week to the Tuesday night BPT track sessions, I managed to get myself into some pretty good form...for an old and slow Tri Dad (according to my Hurdle Project bros).

With the help of LPC coaches Mark and Alex I overhauled my swim stroke over the winter and significantly improved my open water efficiency. I reached a new level of cycling fitness with speed and power personal bests in TT's and CP tests. And I managed to knock off about 2.5 minutes from my previous 10k PB along with a new 5k best time as well. I wish I was able to translate that fitness into some big tri results, but I was forced to deal with some strength issues that were a long time coming.

So before looking ahead to some big plans in 2017, here's a quick recap of what I did accomplish in a short 2016 season.

Clermont Draft-Legal Challenge:
 Always a fun way to kick off camp LPC in sunny Florida. I couldn't quite bridge to the lead pack as I did last year, but a strong run in a stronger field that last year kept me in the top-10 overall.

Komoka Optimist Easter Dash 5k:
Support your local races! And run PB's while you're at it! 16:35 was a great benchmark to start the local season.

Steaming Nostril 70k:
This was supposed to be a low key tune-up for Paris to Ancaster, and it ended up being one of the most epic events I've ever done. -15 degrees, fresh snow and 30+km winds ensured some character building regardless of the result, and I finished over 15 minutes off the front of my wave.

Paris to Ancaster 70k:

Maybe my best executed cycling race ever, I managed my efforts and finished nearly 30 minutes faster than last year, comfortably qualifying for next year's elite wave.

Mississauga 10k:

This was actually a race that kept me motivated to nail my track sessions all winter. I really wanted to get under 35:00, but after P2A I was wondering what the hell I was thinking planning these races back to back. Fortunately I recovered well and ran 34:18, which got me super motivated to get in the 33's next time!

MSC Woodstock:

The annual Ontario rust buster. My legs decided to stay in bed that morning but I was still able to share the overall podium with some rock stars.

 MSC Welland Long Course:

Welland Long Course was an awesome new course at one of my favourite venues. Decent swim, good bike and damage control run meant I accomplished my goal for the day of top-5 overall.

For about a month after Welland I did my best to try to hold some fitness together despite being unable to run more than 15 minutes pain-free. But after about six weeks of minimal training in the heart of tri season, I decided that I needed to change my goal to just getting healthy. Well, that and being the best damn fur dad a fur child cold ever ask for.

Even though my racing season ended after Welland I still had fun volunteering at MSC races throughout the season. Like I said, support your local races!

The knee pain I was experiencing was a result of numerous minor issues I had been putting off dealing with for far too long. And as I've peeled back the layers of strength imbalances, weird tightness issues and hip joints that don't like to move, I'm also seeing the opportunity of becoming more efficient and durable than ever before. I'm optimistic that I'll be back to running normally soon but I'm in no rush. The number one priority is to get to the root cause of it all and get healthy.

And it's a good time to do that, since I'm doing this next summer :)

Saturday, July 30, 2016

The best-laid plans...

Well I was going to write another summer update and talk about getting the most out of your training through things like nutrition, bike fit etc. But sometimes plans have to change!

It's been a month since MSC Welland but it seems like I've let the whole summer go by before toeing another start line. The week after Welland I was a little low on energy and motivation, so I took the opportunity to have a bit of an unscheduled mid-season break. The plan was to race Belwood the following week and start the second half of the season fresh and hungry for series points.

Unfortunately on the weekend between the two races I developed some mysterious knee pain during a long-ish Kingston simulation workout. I was optimistic that it was just a small niggle that would work itself out, but to be safe I decided to skip Belwood and volunteer instead. Side note - I think every triathlete should volunteer or work race crew once in a while. Not only are you doing your part to help out but it's a great way to remind yourself that racing is FUN!!

Anyway, two week after Belwood I still hadn't run 30 minutes pain free and accepted that I should get an assessment...actually I was kicking myself for being naive and not going two weeks sooner. I just kept thinking, "well I'm doing my core and rolling, how could I get injured?" After a thorough assessment my strength and stability is in fact pretty good, but a few minor points of tightness and inflammation were adding up to the discomfort I was feeling.

So unfortunately for the first time in about six years I've caught the injury bug and I'll be missing out on some of my goal races. I was very disappointed to accept that I won't be racing K-Town this weekend which carries bonus series points and is also one of my favourite races in Ontario. And with other life/work commitments I may not be able to fit in my four MSC races to stay in the running for series points.

That was a tough thing to accept given that it was my main goal for the season. The biggest challenge in chasing points is staying healthy and consistent the entire season, which historically I have struggled with when focusing on short course, and obviously I still have lots to learn. And of course it's been frustrating at times when recovery is far from a linear path. But like I said...triathlon is still supposed to be fun! So rather than throw a pity party I'm staying positive and learning as much as I can about my weaknesses and how to prevent these issues in the future.

In all honesty there have been a few things that have been years in the making, and up until now I've managed to do just enough prehab to keep them from putting me out. I'm actually happy that I'm addressing some deeply rooted strength and range of motion concerns that over the last two years I had basically accepted as something I'd have to live with as an athlete. I will also take it as a good lesson that I am being forced to address these things now, in a year that doesn't have an Ironman or World Champs looming.

I've managed to stay pretty consistent with my swim and bike training over the last four weeks and I know that once I'm healthy my run fitness is good. I've been avoiding "testing" my running and have focused only on what I know I can do pain-free, but I can tell that things are slowly progressing. So I am setting some new goals for the rest of the season focusing on shorter distances and I'm looking forward to seeing what I can do.

Depending on how the next 10 days go I am tentatively planning on racing Orillia in the Subaru series - an event that I haven't done before and have always wanted to check out. But I've changed my focus from targeting a late season 70.3 and my new goal race will be back in Welland for some fast and furious racing at the new Age Group Draft Legal Championships.

Thanks for the read and I'll do my best to keep things updated throughout the rest of the season. Happy training!

Monday, July 4, 2016

Dialing In: Race Nutrition

Is it seriously July already?? For a while there it seemed like summer would never arrive, now we're already deep into race season and I'm wondering where May and June went!

For athletes who traveled south to start the season they may be taking a mid-season break before a big push for a late season goal race. For those who stay a little closer to home the MultiSport Canada schedule is just kicking into full gear with many of my favourite events just around the corner.

And for me, the week after the Welland Long Course race was a bit of an unplanned mid-season reset. Work was busy and that only added to some pretty significant physical and mental fatigue after the race. At first I couldn't really understand why considering I only had two tri's under my belt for the year - not including Clermont Draft-Legal which felt more like part of training camp than anything else.

I did however put a lot of energy into my pre-season cycling and running races. I knew I had been training well but I surprised myself with the new PB's I was hitting in all three sports. It got me even more motivated for the tri season as I wanted to see how I'd stack up against the big boys after a few years of going "old and slow" :)

I certainly didn't have bad races in Woodstock or Welland - I was very happy to get a top-5 in both events which currently puts me in second place in the series points. But I also didn't truly race to my potential in either event. To be completely honest, I had a bit of a pity party for a couple days after digging into my data for both events and comparing it to my early season benchmarks. Based on how well I was rolling in the spring I'd classify both results as pretty average.

Fortunately it didn't take long for me to have a more positive and productive outlook on things. I decided to make the best of a week of lower motivation and energy levels and take the opportunity to assess some of the finer details of my training and racing. Overall it's already been an amazing season and if it ended tomorrow I'd be happy with what I've accomplished. But with the bulk of my racing still left it was a good time to take stock of how things have gone so far and what I can improve upon.

First up was my race nutrition...

A photo posted by Ryan Power (@ryan.power.5) on

We have an amazing resource in teamLPC with Coach Mark Linseman and his expertise in race day nutrition. I seriously wonder sometimes how anyone gets through long course racing without the knowledge and experience that Mark can provide our team. It's not like nutrition is something I've neglected...I've always been extremely detailed with my race day nutrition plan. But over the past year it seems that it's becoming more than just a fluke once-in-a-while thing to have stomach issues on the run.

In fact the last long course run that I'd say I actually felt good in was Rev3 Knoxville over two years ago. Last year at Muncie 70.3 I managed to run decently well but had absorption issues after 7-8k of the run. And in Louisville last year it ended my race after running/walking 30k through severe cramping and vomiting. Then last week in Welland I was motivated to throw down a big run in the oppressive heat, only to get stomach cramping 4k in and be reduced to my goal Ironman pace for the remaining 11k.

The only reason I hadn't looked at my nutrition strategy earlier was because it seemed to be working so well for my long workouts. Last year for my Ironman training I had my carbohydate, fat, protein, mL of fluid and mg of caffeine literally dialled in to the minute for an entire 10 hour race. I tried dozens of combinations of gels, chews, bars, waffles, "real" food and various sport drinks and ultimately I ended up with this (run data above, bike in grey below):

With the help of Coaches Mark and James' expertise, two things jumped out to me when I took a fresh look at my long course nutrition plan.

1. CHO Intake: I'm basically right at the maximum of human ability to absorb carbohydrate. This was by design as I knew that anything less than 80g CHO per hour for a 4+ hour ride left me depleted starting the run. What we deduced from Louisville was that one (or more) outside variables - a larger than usual pre-race breakfast, adrenaline from the race, and possibly poor water quality that irritated my stomach - may have put me from "on the edge" of maximum absorption rate, to over the edge causing a backup. Most of those variables are virtually impossible to experience in training unless I'm purposely trying to sabotage a workout. So it would make sense that the only times I've experienced issues were in a 70.3 in crazy heat off a PB bike split, and during my first Ironman.

2. Sodium: I'm certainly not an expert on the role electrolytes and electrolyte replacement play in exercise. I can tell you that it would be naive to assume that specific muscular cramping is directly related to sodium levels. However, in my case when I really dug into the exact nutrition products that I had been using - even including the fact that I ordered Gatorade Endurance from the US so I could train with it last year - my sodium intake was only 300-450mg per hour which was far too low. In the near future I'll be doing a "sweat test" with Coach Mark to determine my exact sweat rate and sodium concentration, but for now I am experimenting a bit to find what works for me.

Now sodium is a trickier one to dial in than you might think. I've based my overall nutrition plan around CHO intake and up until now the sodium content has been a consequence of the products I'm using. Only certain products have high sodium content, and with that I have to be careful that I'm not affecting CHO, protein/fat or caffeine levels at the same time. Trying to adjust based on what's on course at any given race is a whole new ballgame.

I don't necessarily feel that a custom solution would work for me either. I'm by no means discrediting those products, in fact I've used some extensively and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it. I'm looking at it more from the practical side of Ironman racing. I don't want to have to carry 2-4L of custom blend on my bike, then somehow find room for water as well. And what happens if I drop a bottle? It might work out just fine for pro athletes who can grab their special needs bag on the fly, but as an age grouper I could easily waste 2-5 minutes waiting in line for my bag at special needs. I need a nutrition plan that is logistically feasable, repeatable AND adaptable.

For now this is what I've come up with, and so far very early indications look good. I almost couldn't believe how much better I felt after some long rides this past weekend, like my body was actually using the fuel that I was consuming for the first time ever. I'm sure it will continue to be tweaked but for comparison's sake this is my new nutrition schedule on the bike:

I'm still fairly happy with my run nutrition strategy, with the addition of adding 150-300mg of sodium per hour to the current plan. I prefer chews on the run over gels, but the only weakness of my strategy was that virtually all of my sodium intake before was contingent upon getting sport drink from aid stations. If my stomach stopped agreeing with me, I was basically stuck with chews and maybe some coke if I was lucky. So that will still be a bit of a work in progress, but at least I'll be minimizing the chance of getting off the bike with my stomach already shutting off.

For now this new strategy has got me excited and motivated to race long course again rather than dread how I might feel on the run course. I'm looking forward to applying it to the remainder of my season with K-Town and hopefully a Half Iron on the horizon.

I was going to write about another topic entirely that I've been working on throughout the season but this is already getting way too long! Stay tuned for Part 2 of a more "tech" themed post, everyone's favourite fits!