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!

Monday, June 27, 2016

MSC Welland Long Course

Round two of the MultiSport Canada Series went down this weekend in Welland. Welland has been a mainstay on my race schedule for the past five seasons as the wicked fast course offers a great benchmark for early season fitness.

This year brought some exciting new changes with the new distance - now the same as my long-time favourite K-Town's 2k swim, 56k bike, 15k run - as well as the new venue at the Welland International Flatwater Centre (the same swim/T1 venue as Barrelman). I've always loved the Welland event, but I was blown away with the sheer awesomeness of the WIFC when I checked it out on Saturday night:

Calm before the storm

This race was one of my higher priority events for the season since it carried the highest series points of any event, and I felt that the distance would suit me well. I'm focusing on mostly shorter distances races this year but my strength definitely lies in long course, so this one was a great target for me. My goal was to use my long course experience to my advantage against some of the young dudes with higher top end speed and hope to outlast them. Turned out it took all of my strength and experience just to finish the damn thing, but I'll get to that later!

My goal for the swim was pretty simple, and perhaps a bit counter-intuitive. But I wanted to finish the swim feeling really good. I've come to realize that most of my best triathlon swims have come when I was relaxed, focused on form and trying to stay as efficient as possible in the water. The flip side of that is virtually every time I try to hammer out a new swim split PB, I inevitably go anaerobic in the first 200m and feel terrible not only for the rest of the swim, but usually most of the bike too. Knowing that I can swim xx:xx time in the pool is meaningless if I can't get on my bike feeling good afterwards. So after feeling pretty brutal for my entire race in Woodstock, my goal in Welland was to stay more in control of my effort, focus on my internal pacing throughout the race, and build within each segment as well as the overall race itself.

The swim course was one of my all time favourites I've ever done in the calm and clean water of the rowing basin which made for an amazing start to the day. There was only a handful of athletes in the elite wave which made for a pleasantly uneventful swim start. After a few fast strokes I settled right into a comfortable and efficient rhythm and gradually built my effort throughout. I was basically in no man's land for most of the swim with 4-5 athletes well ahead and the rest somewhere behind.

When I hit the far end of the swim course I brought my effort up another notch, and the very slight chop coming back helped me keep a good turnover. With about 500 meters to go my LPC teammate Adam Doxtator who swam with me in Woodstock came past, so I jumped on his feet and got towed along back into shore. I knew that I must have had a decent swim to get out with him and more importantly I felt great getting out of the water.

Once we were on land the conditions were going to play a big role for the rest of the day with strong winds and nearly 40 degree humidity. After a quick T1 that included getting my sleeved suit over my shoulders and zipped up, I was on the bike just ahead of Adam. My goal was once again to build my effort throughout the bike, knowing from past experience with the old half distance that the last 15k of perfectly flat and straight road can feel like forever if you're overcooked or uncomfortable in the aerobars. I also didn't want to go too much above my goal 70.3 wattage knowing that the run was going to be a sauna.

Adam passed me around 5k and I knew from Woodstock that he is a strong rider but an equally fast runner. I didn't want to "legally" sit on his wheel with TriOn's tiny 5 meter draft zone, so I focused on my own effort and as I got into a good rhythm I kept him well within sight for the first 30k. It was starting to get pretty lonely out there with nobody else close to me until I passed Angela Quick around 45k who was crushing it out there! But I managed to stay focused and felt good throughout until I backed off slightly in the last 5k in anticipation of the run.

I didn't look at my power numbers during the ride, electing to focus purely on perceived effort. But I finished the ride right on my goal of a strong 70.3 power output at 255W with nearly perfect even pacing (1.01 VI, 258 NP [3.6W/Kg] for the data junkies). I was happy to stay a little on the conservative side with a tough run ahead, but that was still more power than I pushed over 20k in Woodstock two weeks ago!

After a slightly longer than usual T2 to get socks, visor, Garmin and a handheld water bottle on, my legs were good at the start of the run but it was HOT.

I was pretty confident in my run fitness going into this one and more than anything else I really wanted to throw down a big run at this race. Not only have I had some breakthrough standalone run times this season, but just a week before the race I ran 5x2k tempo off the bike in similar heat faster than my current Olympic-distance run PB. I knew I had to respect the conditions but I was excited to see what I could do after a well executed swim and bike.

I settled into a comfortable 3:58 pace to the turnaround of the AWESOME 3-lap run course and got my first check on who was around me. I was in 4th with Adam about two minutes up the road, and about 3-4 minutes ahead of another LPC teammate Billy Bostad who has nearly identical run times to me. I was feeling pretty good and had my "hot weather menu" down for each aid station - ice down the suit, sponge on the neck, and coke/water as needed along with the gatorade I had in my bottle.

Just before the end of the first 5k I started getting a bad cramp in my chest and my first thought was "not this again..." I slowed slightly but it only got worse. I certainly didn't expect to be in the hurt box so early, but it was also early enough that things could turn around if I managed it well and didn't let it dictate my race. I walked about 100m as I tried to stretch it out and breath deeply, then slowly got back into an easy run. When I finished the first lap I was feeling a lot worse for the wear than I would have expected but my average pace hadn't dropped as much as I thought. I saw Alex Vanderlinden at 5k who told me I was looking good...I figured he was just being super nice but was face-palming behind my back, but later he said everyone appeared to be suffering equally.

I told myself to settle into whatever pace I could manage for lap 2, then empty the tank on the final lap. It felt a little too much like the back half of a 70.3 for my liking, but my long course experience paid off as I focused on my cooling strategies, getting whatever fluids in that my stomach agreed with, and not letting the conditions or how I felt affect my mindset. I was passed at some point by someone who was running very well, and at the final turnaround I knew that I'd have to keep it together to stay ahead of Billy for a top-5. Fortunately I think everyone was hurting just as badly and I managed to hold onto 5th and maintained what I would consider a respectable 70.3 run pace.

At first I was disappointed in my run, not only because it was well below what I felt I'm capable of, but because that was my biggest goal for the race. I certainly have some homework to do in terms of sorting out these stomach issues that are becoming more than just a fluke in my longer distance races. But it was a big mental victory for me to get through that run after being reduced to walking with a LONG way still to go. It would have been very easy to give up on all of my performance and placing goals and just get to the finish line. And the swim and bike felt infinitely better that in Woodstock two weeks ago, so I'm confident that I'm putting the pieces together with the bulk of the season still left.

I have to say another congrats to all of the teamLPC members who dominated the podium again including Jack Laundry who destroyed his first go at long course. And congrats to everyone who battled out a very tough day. Another top-5 for me at this race means that I've started the season with some good points in the bank for the series, and I'm looking forward to chasing some more throughout the season. And now that I've got a good swim and bike under my belt I am extremely motivated to run well at my next crack at this distance in Kingston! Thanks again for the read!