Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Ironman 70.3 Syracuse - 12th OA (5th AG)

Holy crap that was hard!

Syracuse 70.3 officially takes top spot for hardest course I have ever done, and also one of my favourite 70.3's to date. In my prep for Whistler I wanted to find a 70.3 that would allow me to test out my gear and nutrition strategy on a similarly challenging course profile. Turns out I also managed to simulate Ironman suffering about as accurately as possible without actually doing an Ironman...so all in all it was mission accomplished!

I went down to Syracuse on Friday night with my parents to stay with our long time family friends who live about 20 minutes from the race site, and I was immediately kicking myself for not doing this race before. It's a beautiful area and with it only being about 4.5 hours away it's also one of the closest Ironman 70.3 events to home. Being able to stay with friends so close by made it that much more enjoyable.

I got my race prep done early on Saturday and got a feel for the terrain in the area. If the hills weren't enough the forecast also called for 104F humidity and 25mph winds on race day. I knew that I was in for some serious suffering, but that was kind of the whole point!

Possibly even more important to me than my performance or result was that it was going to be the first real test of my new IM nutrition strategy that includes a lot more sodium and tweaking my carb intake both on the bike and run. In a few of my recent long course races I have run into stomach issues that I had never experienced in training, so it has been difficult to replicate or predict. I figured "sh*t hitting the fan" conditions in a 70.3 would be a pretty good simulation for Ironman :)

Now for the race itself...

Similar to Milton a couple weeks ago, my primary goal for the swim was just to get through it alive and without any shoulder pain getting onto the bike. After a quick warm-up and some of LPC Coach Alex's dynamic stretching and core activation exercises it was my turn to get rolling in wave 10.

I managed to find clean water fairly quickly...that is until we hit all the previous waves of swimmers. But that's par for the course in any Ironman event so I just did my best to get through the traffic without wasting too much energy or demolishing anybody.

About 4-500m in I noticed some pretty significant chop that was in our favour for the time being. You know when you see the waves rolling past you while you're swimming with them, it's gonna suck going the other way! I quickly realized this would mean a long and difficult 900m back to shore so I backed off the pace a bit to anticipate a negative split in effort on the way back. I already had the feeling that this race was going to be ridiculously hard in every way possible.

Sure enough as I made the turn the wind made for a challenging swim coming back. It was tough to sight and not get pushed off course but I was able to stay relaxed and focused on a good turnover and staying high in the water. I kept reminding myself of my mindset for the day: the process and execution is more important than times or results. When I got out of the water I didn't see anyone else from my wave around and not many bikes were gone on my rack, so I knew that regardless of the times I managed to swim reasonably well. I took some extra time to throw on my Castelli jersey that I'll be using for Whistler to give it a test.

Accurate depiction of the scenic venue...terrible depiction of the tough conditions 

I knew that this was going to be a challenging bike course, that's why I chose this race. But man, it's a friggin challenging bike course!

There wasn't much time to settle in and find my legs before the first climb...which was 9 miles long. The first 40k of the course was almost entirely uphill and into that stiff headwind that was whipping up the lake earlier. My power numbers were on the low end but I knew this was the perfect simulation for Whistler so I focused on climbing efficiently and executing my nutrition strategy.

I can assure you that's a grimace and/or tears, not a smile

After what seemed like an eternity of riding uphill into the wind I laughed when I saw that I had averaged under 30km/h at ~240W through the first hour on the bike. After a few brief moments of feeling good from 30-45k I was starting to feel like I was 150k into an Ironman, not 50k through a half. My legs were empty, my butt was sore, it was already stupidly hot and I was getting frustrated seeing the low power numbers I was putting out. Let me tell you, this was a beast of a course to not be feeling strong or fresh for. And 90k of 30+km/h wind and 3500ft of climbing is a long time to question your life decisions when you still have a half marathon to run after.

Questioning life decisions

I had to catch myself a few times when the negative thoughts started flowing as I watched the miles tick by impossibly slowly and my power dropping. But I was able to stay focused enough not to get down on myself or pack it in mentally. I told myself that worst case, this would be a great IM simulation day even if I shuffle through the run. Best case, I know I'm still fairly fast and efficient on the bike at my IM power output, and my legs might come around for the run to still finish well.

I decided that I was going to ditch my Garmin at T2 and just run by feel. I wasn't sure how things were going to go but I wanted to give myself the opportunity to reset and just let things happen rather than tie myself to a goal time or pace. This turned out to be the best decision of my day.

I settled into what seemed like a reasonable pace through the first 5k of the run, but having never done a 70.3 run without a Garmin I wasn't totally sure how I was running. It was already total carnage on the run course with the heat and hills, and looked far more like an Ironman run course with a large percentage of athletes from the earlier waves walking.

I was feeling decent and I knew that as long as I kept moving forward I would pass a lot of athletes. My two goals for the run became: 1. Don't barf, and 2. Just. Keep. Running. My stomach was still a bit testy through the first lap of the run as I made sure I got enough carbs and fluids in to be in good shape for lap 2. I backed off the pace a couple times to let my stomach settle down, but was able to bring it back up shortly after each time. Despite what seemed like a slow pace I was passing literally hundreds of athletes from the waves ahead and there were very few on the run course who seemed to be moving as well as I was.

Where's the next aid station, I need my watery flat ice-coke

Heading back out for lap 2 was a bit of a mental struggle but I got myself fired up knowing that this is where I would make or break my race. I had my aid station menu dialed in as I grabbed one cup of ice to throw down my suit, then poured a cup of coke into another cup of ice and sipped on the delicious watery flat ice-coke until I finished it. As I got deeper into lap 2 I was motivated that I still wasn't slowing down as the run course continued to claim casualties around me. I still had no idea what pace I was running or what my placing was but simply based on how many people were walking and/or barfing I knew that I was moving up.

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When I got near the finish my support crew was yelling at me that if I kept pushing I could break 5 hours, to which I thought "Are you f***ing kidding me?!" I had thought that 4:30 would be a strong but realistic goal on the challenging course. But it turned out that only 14 people broke 5 hours on the day, and my 4:57 put me 12th overall and 5th in a clearly competitive age group. To put it in perspective that's about 40 MINUTES off my PB when I finished in a nearly identical position (11th and 4th AG) on a similarly hot day in Muncie a couple years ago.

I have to say that despite being dealt incredibly tough conditions on an already difficult course, this was one of my favourite races I've ever done. It was an epic course and very well-run event, and I'm already looking forward to coming back sometime to really target it for another crack. Despite having a sub-par bike I felt like I executed to the best of my abilities on the day, and ultimately it served it's purpose as the perfect tune-up for Whistler.

Thanks again to everyone for the words of encouragement and support, my parents for coming along on the road trip, Dave and Linnea for the great company and accommodations, and of course Amanda for holding down the fort with two occasionally pain-in-the-ass fur children for the weekend :)

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Milton Race Report

For the first time since my very first triathlon in 2007 (!!) I returned to Milton to get my tri season underway. It was also my first race in nearly a full year after missing most of last season with injuries.

With Ironman Canada now less than eight weeks out it's safe to say that I'm in the heart of my build. Part of me was hesitant to interrupt the regular training routine to throw in a race, but on the flip side Ironman training is so consuming that I wanted to take full advantage of the rare opportunity to mix things up and throw down a hard effort at a local race.

I had two primary goals for Milton:

1. Get a perfect tune-up in my legs for Syracuse 70.3 on a similarly challenging course
2. Practice the mindset that I will bring to both Syracuse and Whistler this year - to ignore any external distractions and be completely tuned into my own effort and executing my best race, regardless of the outcome.

It also served as my first real test for my swim fitness and my shoulder coming off a rotator cuff tear. I spent most of my winter going to the pool twice a week for a 30 minute drill swim, and although at times it felt like a hopeless pursuit to maintain the possibility of being able to swim this year, Coach James reassured me that there was still time to get fit and all the core-focused drills would help me when I could actually swim freestyle again.

After months of frustration I got a different approach to my rehab from the one and only Joe Putos - the founder of the K-Town Tri, as well as a very experienced physiotherapist. In a crazy coincidence I have shared a lab with him at Western for the last year, and I guess eventually he got tired of me complaining about my shoulder and offered to treat me. With Joe's help things finally started to turn around in April and I was swimming pain-free for the first time in over six months.

I had only gotten 4-5 weeks of twice per week masters swims in before Milton and each one has been an absolute sufferfest, but I've surprised myself with how things have been coming back. I had absolutely no expectations for the swim in Milton but with Syracuse coming up in two weeks I had to at least make sure that I could get through a 750m swim without drowning shoulder pain.

After a nice drive down with Amanda's dad Kevin (aka legend of the 60-64 category) and a cold and rainy warmup with some of my Hurdle Project bros, we got things underway.

I lined up near the far end of the swim start since I didn't want to go too crazy at the start...basically I just wanted to swim a solid tempo and feel in control of my stroke throughout. At the gun I found Andrew Taylor's feet (who I had an epic battle with at the Mississauga 10k last year, and is also a very strong swimmer), and after quickly settling into a good pace I found myself in a large pack at the first turn.

All those hours of head-lead roll paid off as I had it drilled into my brain to keep my core on and stay efficient as I hung onto the group. It was probably the first time I've found myself in a decent sized group and take advantage of a good draft - I have often struggled in the past to draft efficiently with more of a pool swimmer's stroke. Based on my time gap to some of the strong elite swimmers I likely had one of my best swims in recent years. Mission accomplished!

(photo cred. James Loaring) thanks for the wheels Kevin!

Getting onto the bike with a pack of mostly juniors made for an interesting first 5k of the bike. I quickly rode through half a dozen athletes with a few trying to hang onto my wheel, then at the start of the Sixth Line climb they all went hammering past me as I held a steady output. But by the top of the climb I had re-passed the group and settled into a solid effort.

After that the bike was pretty uneventful as I went by a couple more guys and was passed by one strong rider. I was a little more cautious than usual on the corners and the descent down Sixth Line with some much bigger races coming up, but fortunately it wasn't too sketchy as the rain eased off just before the start of the race. I was feeling a little sluggish at times but I ended up riding fairly well finishing off at 280W NP.

The run course was one of the most challenging short course runs I have done and also one of my favourites. Having done a lot of my hard runs on the hills and trails around Western's campus I was right in my element with the hills and mud :) I focused on keeping a fast turnover on the rolling terrain and with three turn-arounds on the course I was motivated to try to bring time back on the athletes ahead.

Between 4-5k I could tell that I was inching closer to one athlete up ahead but I was running out of real estate to catch him. So I knew that I could either cruise in and maintain my place, or give it everything and see how close I could get. Ultimately I came up just short but I was able to finish very satisfied with my effort and with one of my best runs ever, averaging 3:32/km over the challenging course. But not before my Hurdle Project pals captured this epic pain face.

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(vid cred. Bryan Cole)

I ended up in 7th, 1st AG and the 3rd best run split. I knew that my training has been going well the last couple months but it was a pleasant surprise to have good legs for a sprint race to kick off the season. I exceeded all of my goals for the race and I am really looking forward to Syracuse for a much bigger battle on one of the hardest 70.3 courses on the circuit. Thanks for the read and stay tuned for more updates!

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 out...it'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 year...to 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 :)