Saturday, December 8, 2012

How Ya Goin?

Wow it has been a while! I feel like I need to re-introduce myself or something, its been over 2 months since I have written anything...or at least had the time and patience to let a few photos upload. New Zealand was a place of scarce and extremely expensive internet, and quite frankly I was too busy having fun to worry about posting or uploading photos. I apologize to all my readers for such a long break, so here goes.
 
My last post was just before Amanda and I went to New Zealand, and now we've been back for a few weeks and I've finally found some spare time to look through some of our photos! Lots of new and exciting stuff over the last couple months. What an amazing trip...it went something like this: Toronto-Vancouver-Sydney-Auckland-Queenstown-Mt Cook National Park-Auckland-Rotorua-Auckland-Sydney-Vancouver-home. I have far too many stories and pictures to post here, so here's a recap of the last 2 months in a few snapshots:
 
 
Auckland was Amanda's first World Championships, and I was the team mechanic...so we took part in some of the festivities. 30hrs of travel was a bit tedious but NZ was worth it.
 
Then we got to see these guys do their thing. Man, what a finish of the elite men's race. Amanda and I were both screaming at the top of our lungs. We also caught the men's and women's U23 races in which a few of my friends and training buddies from RTC Guelph were competing...I swear I'll upload those sometime too.
 
 
Monday finally rolled around for the Age Group races. I had a pretty good vantage point for photo ops having VIP access to the race site (Thanks Tri Can!) Amanda had an awesome race in the sprint, tackling her first ocean swim (in 58 degree choppy water), crazy New Zealand winds on the bike and posted a big 5k PB! What a way to finish off a tough but hugely successful season!!!
 

 
Had time for a bit of "money shot" hunting on the streets of Auckland during the race...
 
 
Contrasted to the stark beauty of Queenstown. We arrived here the day after the race and before the plane even touched down I didn't want to leave. This is half way up our monstrous hike to the gondola station (yes, most people take the gondola up and ride down...we walked up and took the gondola down)
 
A little bit of XC riding! It was Amanda's first time on a mountain bike and she managed to get the hang of it on some pretty technical single track. This trail lead out from the center of Queenstown and has to be one of the most incredible trails in the world.
 
 
Then, for the Lord of the Rings geeks out there, we rode horseback through "Middle Earth". Jealous?
 
 
Too many photos and memories than my Youtube-playlist-before-work has time for. But it was an amazing trip and New Zealand, particularly the South Island was an incredible place. Everyone thinks I'm kidding but I would go back tomorrow if I could. I can't wait to go back for some racing of my own, but alas work and Visa bills beckoned. The only solace in leaving was I that I loved mountain biking so much that I bought one when I got home!

 
This is my new baby courtesy of MEC. I had it special ordered from Germany and its the only one of these in North America. It's a Ghost RT 7500 - full XT components and Rockshox Reba RL/Fox Float suspension. It rides like an absolute dream on fast technical singletrack...in my opinion faster than a hardail and climbs and handles better than a 29er. Riding Komoka Provincial Park doesn't exactly compare to NZ but its still a great workout and far more interesting than getting on the road bike when its raining and 2 degrees. I'm not sure if I'm quite a convert yet but after a few rides I think I'm a bit of a natural at XC. And I can't wait to bring it back to Queenstown and really put it to use :)
 
And don't ask me how I can afford this but I also got a new toy for my tri bike. Having gone a year without power on the road and opting for Computrainer training, I decided its not for me and I would like to have power numbers for racing, especially in long course. But not to try to post sign sprint PBs (ok sometimes...I am SO close to breaking 1500), more so to keep me in check on the bike so I can actuall run a half marathon off the bike next year. So the guys at Multisport Zone hooked me up with an awesome new set of Hed Jet 6 Powertap wheels that I can use for training and racing. I'm looking forward to getting more consistent and FAST on the bike next year!
 
 
Oh and I've been doing a bit of training as well. I know a few athletes are putting in big hours and efforts right now, but I'm ok with keeping it a little more low key for the time being. Having taken almost half the year off I need to be patient with the road back. No need to force my times in the pool or pressure myself to nail every workout and boost artificial confidence. My goals are Tremblant 70.3 and Muskoka 70.3 next year, and I'll be fit when I need to be. For now I'm enjoying the process, getting back into the training routine and playing around on the mud.
 
That's all for now, I think I hear some Wham! christmas playing around the corner. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Been a While

So you know when you see someone that you haven't seen in a really long time, and you both make eye contact, but its been so long that it would be less effort to pretend you didn't recognize them and continue with what you were doing, than make the effort to say hi? But you can't help but look again and, "damn, they saw me again"...and now its awkward? I know you know what I mean. Well that's how I feel about this blog right now.

I love to write, its the only thing I was good at in school. And I like to have opinions, even if they are occasionally baseless or obnoxious. So either I could spend my time criticizing the writing and opinions of others, or just take it upon myself to try and carve out my own little literary niche in the triathlon community. The latter tends to be more productive and generates less angry-eyed stares from my mom when she reads this.

Over the summer I let my blog become a bit of a beating post for my frustrations with the race season and I found myself getting overly reflective on what could have been. I have learned a lot from this past summer - priorities, having fun, and gaining more appreciation for a sport that I have not yet figured out - but I feel alienated from the attitude I like to bring to the sport and to what I write about.

There are a lot of athletes in the sport, often at the higher levels of competition, who can at times lack an outside perspective on their training and racing when things go bad. You can't help but wonder, how did they not know they were injured? How did they not know they were not prepared for that level of competition? Why is it that there is a strong positive correlation between the relative strength of an athlete and their lack of satisfaction with a performance?

I think runners are even worse for this than triathletes - running is such an inherently simple sport - but when was the last time you went to a running race and DIDN'T hear someone complain about an injury, the course, the weather, their competition etc. And its usually the fast ones! What kind of example does that set for beginner athletes or those who know they aren't racing to win? I should train more to lose confidence, and get faster so I can complain about myself more?

But triathletes are probably a close second in the world of excuse making at the finish line. Its amazing the perspective you can gain from simply watching a race that you would otherwise prefer to be competing in. Sure, I want to be fast, really really fast. But not at the expense of losing my reasons for participating. I NEVER want to be the athlete who crosses the finish line and has ANYTHING negative to say, either at the race or in writing. As an endurance athlete, if you race poorly, you can regret your lack of preparation and nothing else. We don't do endurance sports because they're easy or we expect all the stars to align for every event. The fun is in the challenge. I love training, racing, the traveling that comes with it, and sometimes telling my story about it. And I'm tired of making it seem as though I don't enjoy what I do.

I want to be the athlete who didn't have it all the talent handed to me, but am proud of how hard I work because I do this for myself, and who is grateful for any chance I get to race. Whether I win or stagger across the finish line. No empty flashiness, no questionably epic pain faces, just focused and having fun. If this blog is an autobigraphical story on my career in triathlon, I'm closing the awkwardly self-reflective chapter of painful overthinking, and getting back to talking about fun things, exciting plans...and still the occasional opinionated rant when I feel the need to weigh in.

First is some more exciting traveling! In a few days I'm taking on a different role and perspective and heading to Triathlon World Champs as a member of the support staff, but more importantly a ridiculously loud spectator for my girlfriend Amanda who is competing at her first Age Group Worlds. I'm looking forward to turning this into a bit of a travel blog for a few weeks while we are in New Zealand, assuming I don't break my neck in any one of: freeriding, zorb balling, hobbit hunting, horseback riding through the mountains, or the world's biggest ledge swing.

When we get back it will be right into training for 2013, and I already have most of my season set. I am still giving it some thought but I am really happy with my plans so far. I can't wait to get the year started off right with LPC Florida Camp, and I am also looking forward to putting in some more miles on the R3 and race for the CoachChris.ca cycling team again. I'm always going to be a triathlete first, but I love cycling, and its fun trying to figure out the finer aspects of road racing. And I just happen to be pretty good at it :) I'm even getting a Powertap back on my bike, in large part so I can post my sign sprint wattage PB's. But more on all the new toys when I get back!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Rehab

If there was a rehab facility for a bike shopping addiction, I would be there. But there is not. So all I've got is injury rehab...and enough bikes to cover any kind of riding my ADD mind conjures up.

So about a month ago, after being told by series director (and good friend) John Salt that he would not let me enter another Multisport Canada race before getting a full assessment from a sports physician on my concussion, I finally got things checked out. John gave me the name of a very highly regarded sports concussion specialist, Dr. Lisa Fischer.

Only down side, she works at the Fowler Kennedy Sport Medicide Clinic at Western. I don't mind publicly announcing my distaste for the clinic, as it was there that I was told I "should probably give up triathlons for good" when I first injured my back. However that experience is what led me to my current physio Elizabeth Fox, who single handedly brought me back into the sport and has made me a stronger healthier athlete. I was not keen on going back to Fowler for the first time in over four years, but I trust John very much and decided to make an appointment.

Turns out Dr. Fischer is in fact a very good doctor, and I wish I had more than ten seconds of correspodence with her to pick her brain more. She immediately diagnosed a number of unresolved post-concussive symptoms that were being exacerbated by increased heart rate and blood pressure during my training. So it was couch surfing time until further notice. At first I was actually relieved to be sitting at home doing nothing while my friends and training partners were posting PB's at their A-races. It had been such a battle over the month prior to get my body and mind to cooperate and get half a workout in, let alone stumble through my sub-par Bracebridge race, that it felt great to have answers and have some relief from fighting against myself.

After two weeks of no training, no loud movies (I still haven't seen Dark Knight Rises!), no Ipod, and limited computer and TV, I went back for a followup. Unfortunately my previous symptoms of perpetually feeling like I was in a daze and having dizzy spells had given way to headaches and even some emotional symptoms. One more week of sitting on my ass. At least I was starting to feel some motivation to race and anxiousness to get back out on my bike.

Finally this week I had my second follow-up. The only symptom remaining was very minor intermittent headaches, but turns out those were a result of soft tissue damage in my neck. I STILL don't think I crashed THAT hard.......... But I was deemed recovered enough to take part in the "impact test". So they whack my head with a hammer and see if my brain goes foggy again? Nope, just a neurocognitive assessment to determine if there were any residual physiological symptoms impeding brain fuction. So I got to play some videogames and memory tests on the computer for a while and ended up with a score of 92, which is apparently "exceptional" relative to individuals of similar education and percieved intelligence (guess that's why I'm a grease monkey in a bike shop).

GOOD TO GO!

So just over 2 months after defying my bike handling skills and crashing myself out of a race, I got the go-ahead to resume training...starting at under 60 minutes, below 140 heart rate. No running just yet, but so far swimming and biking feels great, aside from feeling pathetically out of shape. Funny how three weeks off seems to put you back three years. But I'm only looking forward and I'm getting a head start on everyone on training for the 2013 season!

In fact I already have most of next season put together and have even registered for some races, but I'm holding off making any big announcements just yet. I will however say that next season's races will be a reflection of where my motivation lies in triathlon, my busy working schedule, and my desire to get back to my roots in the sport...and being fast :)

In non-racing news (for me at least), Amanda and I are leaving for ITU World Champs in a few weeks where she will be racing on her first Age Group Worlds team, and I will be acting as team mechanic for the Age Group team, and recently asked by Sir Craig Taylor to support the elite team as well. I'm looking forward to going in a spectator/support role having gone to AG Worlds twice to compete. I'm sure there will be no shortage of amazing running in NZ and hopefully I will find some good cross training activities (ie. bungee jumping, zorb ball, and testing out my freeride skills) in our travels. Off season is over Nov 1 when I get back and the countdown to a new season begins.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Season Wrap Up

I like to do this every season, for myself as much as anyone, as a look back at the past season and reflect on all of the ups and downs of the year. Sure it was a short tri season, and my upcoming trip to NZ for ITU World Champs (as loyal spectator and team mechanic) means no fall run races, but 2012 was still quite the journey. Here are a few photos from this season:
 
 
Good Friday Road Race: After taking on a full-time job (saying goodbye to living the dream) and my own training programming through the fall and winter, I had no idea what to expect when it came time to test my fitness leading up to Ironman 70.3 St. Croix. Turns out I had some legs on the bike! Despite the sub-zero temperature (while I was acclimating to 40+ degree weather) I controlled much of the race and took 3rd.
 

Ironman 70.3 St. Croix: What a difference from last time I raced St. Croix when I melted in the 50 degree humidity. Cold and rainy, and I flatted out on the debris-covered bike course. At least I get to say that I raced beside Lance (literally...he was bib # 7)

 
Leamington Tomatoman: Some proof of all the laps I put in over the winter. Second onto the bike at AG Provincials and lead for about 12k of the bike.

 
This is about where my strong racing ended in Leamington. A foot injury held me back on the run...not that I was going to catch Lionel Sanders anyway, who ran 15:30.


 
Welland Half Iron: I pushed my luck a little on the bike in my first crack at truly racing the distance. My swim-bike was about 2:52.

 
Man I was smashed at the finish, but I finished! 4:28. I can't wait to nail that run next time and take some serious time off.
 
 
I really wish there was some photo evidence from Huronia looking all bloody and tough...oh well. Instead here is a photo of Amanda kicking some ass in Gravenhurst! She has already racked up two overall wins this year and will be racing AG Worlds later this year. Look forward to some picture posts from that event!
 
 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

I Can't Think of a Title

Perhaps hitting my head knocked some sense into me, or maybe I've just had some time to think...since I don't have much else to do.

First off I want to thank everyone for the support I have recieved throughout what has been a difficult and, for the most part, disappointing summer. And yes, at some points I chose to ignore the support when athletes and coaches were telling me what I finally heard from the doctors after a month of procrastination.

If something could possibly go wrong to prematurely end a race, hold me back from my potential, or mess up a race schedule, it has happened to me this year. I'm not one to dwell on the negatives or look for excuses, but those around me know that everything that has happened this summer has been out of my control. Not that there isn't anything to take from all of the experiences.

I really thought this season was going to be a huge stepping stone in my career as an athlete. Through the winter and spring I trained harder and with more focus than ever, and my road and running races definitely showed that. I hopped in a road race in the middle of a 400km week of riding and found the podium, then got some more hardware and prize money at my first ever half marathon, then ran a 16:59 5k in base training (and had a 4-hour indoor brick session immediately after). Not to mention setting numerous PB's in the pool. I had the most incredible trip down to St Croix for my A-race with Amanda, where I flatted out. Then there was personal tragedy. I raced well in Leamington but could not help but be disappointed when leg craps and a foot injury held me back on the run. Then things started to turn around with the Welland Half - not the race of my life, but a proud moment and plenty of room to improve. Then, for the first time in my life I crashed out of a race...and here I am.

When I think of my successes in this sport I don't have much trouble generating a list; partially because not having much of an athletic background I am proud of where I have taken myself, but mostly because that list is not very long. And I don't mean that to be overly self-critical. But if I were to think of my proudest accomplishments in my career as a triathlete it would look something like this:

1. 2007, my first year in the sport and having no idea what to expect let alone how to train, I set two goals for myself. Do a half ironman and qualify for Age Group Worlds. I did both.

2. 2009 I was offered the opportunity to train with the Provincial Triathlon Center for the summer. I quit my job, moved to Guelph and had my best season of training, capped off by winning AG Nationals and getting my elite card.

3. 2012 my one and only highlight from the year, I finally broke my streak of bad luck at the half ironman distance and finished one, breaking 4:30

Throwing aside all expectations and pressure that comes with (mostly self-induced) the "status" of professional triathlete, those three experiences are what I draw upon most when searching for motivation or direction. After a season like I have had, I can't help but look back and try to figure out where to go from here. My contrast to that list above would be my season goals and expectations from the last three years:

2010 - I pissed vinegar in my first year with my pro card, and despite my motivation I posted a DNF in both of my two A-races that year. My best results were a couple local podiums and a 9th place 2:04 at the Montreal Esprit Olympic.

2011 - DNS at my A-race in an inconsistent year but at least managed to race to my potential a few times and picked up two small wins.

2012 - My goals were to finish in the top-15 at 70.3 St. Croix and win the Multisport Canada series prize money. I flatted in St. Croix, and you know the rest of the story.

There are definitely some positives I have taken from my short season this year. First off is my swimming. I have never been a swimmer and it has always been my weakness in this sport. It took me two years to realize that a sub-20 1500m wasn't "just going to happen", and I have worked my ass off in the pool for the last 10 months. The result was 3 open water PB's and very consistent swim splits at all my races - all between 1:27-1:29 over all distances. Sure there is a lot of room to improve, but I am damn proud of that. And I'm looking forward to putting more km's in over the fall and winter.

The second thing I have learned this year, in terms of my motivation is that 1. I am in fact capable of racing a half, and 2. it is by far my favourite distance to race, but more importantly train for. I would ride 700km a week if I could. But I also realized that I don't need a pro card or an expensive destination event to have a passion for training and feel the sense of accomplishment from finishing.n My short-term goals and plans for next season are much simpler than they have been over the last couple years. I have nothing to prove to anyone because I have pro beside my name on the results. In fact I don't even care if I'm racing elite; I probably put more hours in at work than the average age group athlete and I make one fifth as much as the average Ironman athlete.

So my goal in training is to pick races that are motivating and lend to what my body and mind thrive on (ie. long distance), and my goals in racing are to do the ones I like and where I can measure my success by personal gains rather than results. My long terms goals have not changed, and regardless of my focus I still want to break that 20-minute 1500, be first off the bike, or run a 33 minute 10k. But the kind of goals I have are the kind that might take ten years to achieve, and I'm sick of racing myself into the ground every year. So you may not see me on a Rev3 or ITU start line next year, but you can expect me to race like hell at the ones I am at. I still have some decompressing to do, and it will still be a while before I can get on track for next season, but I already have a pretty good idea of what I want the year to look like. The most important part being training hard and racing fast.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Bracebridge

I'm going to give this one away right at the beginning...this will be my last race report. Not ever, just this season. But more on that later.

Last weekend, after a month of battling inconsistency in training, and seven weeks after finishing my last race, I finally FINALLY got the chance to toe the line again. It was back to beautiful Muskoka for Multisport Canada's Bracebridge event. After watching this one last summer I had been excited all year for this venue. Its a very unique event with a time trial swim winding around the bends of the Muskoka River, then a tough bike course and fast run.

I have never done a time trial start but I was looking forward focusing completely on my own race, especially with it being my first one back and knowing full well it wouldn't be easy. Usually the pros are given the lowest start numbers, and not that I need or deserve special treatment, but it was a bit of a surprise when my registration wasn't found and I was given #290. So I would be starting behind the old ladies and would race through everyone, being sent off 5 seconds at a time.

By the time the leaders were getting out of the water I was just starting my swim warmup. But it was actually nice to take all the pressure off and make the race a 2 hour time trial without worrying about anyone else. And it was also nice to know that Amanda was starting 150 places ahead and based on the time gaps I knew I would go by her at some point.

So I had a nice relaxing start to the race, not having to sprint the first 200. As I worked my way down river then back up I got to see all of the swim strokes of the Balance Point athletes I have come to recognize, thanks to Coach Gabbi having us always swimming loops (ie. through each other) in open water workouts.

I got out with what felt like a good swim, and turns out...it was! 21:54, I think my best open water 1500. And I passed over 100 people in the water. My plan on the bike was to push but not too hard so I had some legs left to run 10k. I continued to work my way through the field, not having any idea how I was doing relative to the leaders who were 30 minutes up the road. Having worked on my position throughout the summer I was really comfortable on the bike but I could tell I didn't have the same power as I'm used to. I like nothing more in training than banking big miles on the bike, and I definitely could feel the lack of miles in my legs. But it was a big motivator to see the bright pink Rudy Project helmet of Amanda up the road, and I tried to give her a few words of encouragement as I rode by (and almost got taken out by a car in the process). I continued to ride smart but ended up with a pretty rough bike split, probably about 5 minutes slower than I would have wanted.

I got off the bike feeling fresh and my legs actually felt pretty good as I went off for my first Olympic run in over a year (it seems to be a distance I neglect a bit). I wanted to start conservative and build to a 36-ish min run. Nothing crazy but I would have been happy with that given the summer I have had. So I locked in at 3:40 pace and the first 5k flew by. As I made the turn back I started to pick it up and surprisingly I had no problem doing so. And then the wheels fell off. At 7k my quads started to cramp up and it would not go away. I tried to loosen up while running (which according to witness accounts looked pretty ridiculous) until I had no choice but to stop and stretch it out. I got going again pretty quickly but that was all the fitness I had to give. I stumbled back in with a slow run but thrilled to actually cross a finish line!

And then it got even worse.

Prior to the race, series director John Salt (a good friend and the best series director in the world) made me promise him that I would see a specialist about my concussion before entering another one of his races. He gave me a name for a good doctor and I begrudginly finally saw a professional about this. Turns out that I am still experiencing post-concussive symptoms, which have gotten worse since racing. Despite trying to be cautious I did not take it seriously enough the first time around and now I'm really paying for it...but I'm going to really do it right this time. No training until further notice. Absolutely no racing any time soon. I shouldn't even be looking at a computer screen for this long...

Its still sinking in that its August and my season is over, and I can't even "take it easy" and hook up with the roadies for the rest of the summer. But part of me knew all along that something has been off this whole time, and its comforting to know that it wasn't just a complete loss of motivation to continue with this sport. As I have said before, a concussion is not like any other injury where you can develop a prognosis or train through it. And it doesn't matter that mine was relatively minor. The symptoms I'm experiencing - headache, dizzyness, and feeling totally spaced out all the time - will simply not go away if I don't take it seriously right now.

So its time for a little couch surfing (not too much TV though) and taking the opportunity to wipe the slate clean and after some decompressing, planning out a fun, long and motivating season next year. I already have some ideas but I'm not going to throw anything out there until I have some real time to take it all in and do it right. I'm tired of losing motivation half way through the summer, half assing race schedules and throwing in events when I'm bored. I want to continue improving and moving up, and continue on my direction in this sport.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Recent Thoughts

I promise I have some updates, but first I want to share something with you:

“The men’s side is a little more bleak to be honest with you”

"There's only going to be one Simon Whitfield ever for the sport of triathlon in this country and we have him "

If you didn't know already, us Canadians had a rough go in the triathlon events in London. It started with Kathy Tremblay crashing out and Paula's sub-par race that became a national catastrophe. It's a really touchy subject so I don't want to get too involved, but here are my brief thoughts. I do not know if Paula was still injured, how her rehab was going, or what was going on with her coaches. I do know that Simon Whitfield, who was admittedly far more personally involved in her result that I, dealt with the situation very poorly by immediately turning to Twitter to place the blame - regardless of how Paula's recovery went. Then TriCan embarrassed themselves in front of the world by calling out Paula as a "terrible patient" in her recovery process.

I also know that Paula forgot to put her helmet on in T1. Like the rest of Canada I felt awful for her as she was crying crossing the finish line. But she was not prepared to race. Whether it was physical or mental, and whatever the underlying reasons may be, she simply did not have the fitness or the mental resolve to get herself together after she missed lead pack. I know how hard it is to know you are racing for 20th place in a draft-legal race, and unfortunately she has never had that feeling before until the Olympics, and she couldn't handle it.

And man, it was tough to see Simon crash. There's no question he is one of my role models in the sport, and to see someone you look up to so much look as stunned as I would watching my bike bounce down the road...knowing exactly what's going through is mind: "there goes my Olympics." That hurts. And then everyone has forgotten that Brent and Kyle were racing too, but were on the wrong end of the split and ran like hell for 25th and 27th place finishes.

But more importantly than all of that, I am sick to my stomach reading Alan Trivett's media comments following both of their races. As the president of Triathlon Canada and essentially Canada's spokesperson for Canadian triathlon at the Olympics, I am insulted that he would put something like that out there. No, I am not on the radar screen for national team talent scouting and I'm not even racing ITU. Hell, I can barely even finish a race this year. But as a Canadian elite athlete it bothers me that they would rather make excuses for their utter lack of talent identification since Simon won in Sydney 12 years ago, than tell us what they are going to do about it. It took this "crisis" for them to realize how focused they have been on one or two athletes, and their response is "you're welcome for Simon, but don't get your hopes up any time soon." How about looking at all the young kids in this country who have been inspired by such a champion? Thanks for the vote of confidence.

Now that I have said enough to possibly be denied my International Competition Card next season...I'll tell you how things have been going for me!

I have been really bad with updating this thing so far this summer. I think part of it has been from my lack of racing and struggle to find consistency in training before trying to consistenly post about my training. But it has been a few weeks since my last post and over a month since my last race so I figured it was time to say something.

The past month has been a struggle in just about every way. I was forced to miss racing in Gravenhurst and essentially let go of any thoughts on winning prize money this year, and since then I have had to do a lot of soul searching to regain any motivation to train or race again this year. I was back to training pretty soon after my spill, but probably a little too soon. Huronia was only two weeks after the Welland half, a race that I put a ton of stock in physically and emotionally. I planned on jumping in Huronia just for the hell of it to try and pick up some series points. Then I desperately wanted to feel good enough to race the next weekend. After that I tried desperately to get "fast" after a few months of gearing up for long course.

That leads to about two weeks ago, when I found myself with absolutely no motivation to get my ass off the couch and train. And when I did force myself out the door, my body would give out 20 minutes into a workout. I was pretty close to packing it in for the season, buying a mountain bike and not looking at pavement for a few months.

Fortunately with some good coaches and support from athletes I took the better part of a week off training and hit the reset button on my attitude. And finally, after a month of contemplation and scattered workouts (and some really good sessions) I am racing this weekend!

(yay!)

Sure it hasn't been the greatest block of training, then again it hasn't been the greatest year of results thus far. But I'm not letting myself fall into the trap of only racing when I think I'm fast enough. Maybe I won't have the best race of my life...but maybe I will. And I'm racing next weekend too. My hip still hasn't healed and the swelling on my elbow still doesn't feel very good on my aerobar pads. But racing is fun, and I do triathlons because they are fun. So I will actually update more than once this month and let everyone know how things are going as I get back on the horse (White Stallion is P3's name actually) and find some more positives in this season. Talk soon!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Is it in my head or just in my head

In my last post on the abrupt...and probably really cool to the old lady on her patio who saw it all go down (pun intended)...end to my race in Huronia, I alluded to bumping my head when I crashed. I don't remember actually going down, just the sound of my helmet hitting the road and then sliding across the pavement. My bike mostly survived - just some torn bar tape, scratches and bent rear derailleur - and the only thing that concerned me was what looked like a tennis ball on my elbow.

Luckily I mostly slid so nothing broken, and eventually I washed off the blood and got back on my bike. My Garmin that was paused while my bike was lying in the ditch, had my bike split at 1:07 for my time actually on the bike...the top bike splits were 1:05-1:07. But with one of my main points races, and the coolest race in Ontario, coming up 6 days later, I packed it in when I got back to T2.

Plans started to change when I started getting faint and dizzy spells later that night and the next day, and throughout the week after workouts. With the prevalence of concussions in "real" sports these days I should have taken it more seriously, but I really didn't think I hit my head hard. And that's what helmets are for anyway...right? People crash a lot harder and still get up. I tried to ignore it throughout the week leading up to Gravenhurst and avoided going to the doctor despite having a paramedic and my almost-doctor brother saying it was definitely a concussion.

Just like anyone in this sport I have had a few injuries over the years, although I have done well this year to keep everything in check and stay healthy. But even with my brief stint of recovering, I have never experienced an "injury" like that. It's one of those things where, if you start wondering if you have a concussion, you suddenly have a headache (try it!..no don't actually).

Sure I had some road rash and bruises but I continued to convince myself that I was fine. And it didn't help that I was very motivated to get back on the bike and race again. But it was a very difficult thing to quantify or explain to anyone, including myself. One person would tell me to stop thinking about it and race, the next would tell me I need to sit in a dark room for the next six weeks. Besides, every day I push myself until my eyes are rolling into the back of my skull and my head is pounding. It's called training. So how did I know that those around me, telling me my eyes were glazed over and I wasn't paying attention to what they were saying, weren't simply seeing me on my third rep of 10k ride @ 330W/sub-10min 3k run? And how do I know when I'm healthy when I push myself to that place in my workouts?

All in all it was a very difficult week of sucking up the superficial injuries, trying to ignore those telling me to STOP, doing my best to be honest with myself in figuring out what were symptoms of a concussion and what was just "in my head", then finally accepting that I would not be racing and telling my great support team at Multisport Canada that I would be letting them down after getting me on the start list of a sold out race. It also meant accepting that I likely will not be chasing the top spots in the series points, and will have to re-motivate myself to race a full season for a crack at a couple hundred bucks (still better than nothing!)

Luckily my plans were already set for Gravenhurst, so I still got 4 days off work to enjoy in beautiful Muskoka with Amanda, friends and family. And as hard as it was at times, I got to take in all the great racing in the heat and hills, and helped out a little volunteering in the morning. Amanda had another awesome race...seriously, I talk about her a lot on here. But she is just starting to find herself in this sport and is a 3x provincial champ already, and you can look out for her name in the near future! She is also an amazing support system for all the dark times in my racing endeavors.


What's definitely not in my head is I'm sitting here with no concrete date for my next race, working through a number of painful reminders of a really stupid crash, and - whether it be a lack of preparation, execution, or luck - it is late July, I have trained smarter and more than ever, and:

1. In six planned races have seen the finish line twice this year
2. I have racked up about $3000 in damaged equipment in races and about $100 in prize money so far
3. I flatted out of my A-race and can't afford to travel to another international race

I have taken it all in stride and used it all as more motivation in each workout, but I can only piss vinegar in training for so long. There are athletes I have shared the start line with heading to London next week, athletes I have shared a lane with winning three months worth of my wage at World Cups, and I have found my direction in non-drafting races yet I'm having an incredibly difficult time justifying my time and financial commitment to the sport right now. Ultimately I do not compete in this sport for the results and I do not measure my success by prize money envelopes. But I am training my ass off and it has been a horrendously frustrating and unlucky season so far.

I'm ready to race to my potential and my fitness, set bike course records, run 3:20s and win one by 10 minutes. I guess it just doesn't work out that way though. So for now I will continue getting back at it one step at a time, knowing that in my small successes this year there are some big positives, and hopefully I will prevent this from being the season that wasn't.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The race that wasn't meant to be

Man, this sport is an emotional roller coaster. But I guess that's why I like it. Trying to find success and searching for the "perfect race" is like trying to figure out the meaning of life. Work your ass off, make minor improvements, get wrapped up in your own expectations, fall apart, rebuild your attitude, work some more, get the sh*t kicked out of you, repeat.

After the the big emotional high of actually finding the finish line of a half ironman (with what I would consider a modestly successful results, with lots of promise :) I had to hold myself back from wanting to sign up for a few more this season. I made the decision to stick to my season plan of a few big races but mainly competing in the Multisport Canada series for points. I didn't get much in the way of points in Welland with the tough field and my first serious long course result, so I put together a schedule of 5 Olympic distance races. If I had 4 good results out of the 5, I would probably end up in the prize money at the end of the year.

So that brings us to this weekend in Penetanguishene (Huronia) for the newest race venue in the series. It was a bit of a gamble having no idea how my body would respond two weeks after an emotionally and physically draining race. But I wanted to give it a go and find my limits at the shorter distance.

As is the norm at these races now, there was a handful of very strong swimmers on the start line. After switching the swim course to a 2-loop 750m course due to the heavy rain and possibility of thunder, and a good warmup I was feeling ready to go. I started strong and found myself sitting comfortably between Angela Quick and Alex Vanderlinden at 100m in...until my goggles got knocked off my head. Although I have never had them kicked completely off in a race, I have forced myself to deal with it in training and didn't panic. But after a quick stop to get at least one eye on I had lost the lead pack. I tried to calm down and find a strong rhythm for the 1500 and exited the water about 30 seconds down on my main competition. Time to get to work on the bike.

Through the first 5k with a few good hills I was making up ground on a small group ahead that included the eventual podium finishers. At 9k I was feeling strong and confident, and made a dig up a steep hill. We were warned about the slick roads and technical corners on the bike course, but I made the conscious decision to take all the risks having gained some experience on sketchy ass bike courses in St Croix, and knowing that I would have to make my move on the bike if I wanted a good finish. Over the hill I went, about to bridge up, and my thoughts went something like this:

Strong over the crest...
53x11...
Tuck...
65km/h...
CORNER...
Back wheel locking up, try the front...
Pavement is hard...
Please stop sliding soon...
Are my new wheels ok!?

I really am stupid sometimes. I have been pretty lucky (or just a decent bike handler) and have had very few crashes in my career, but this one was the fastest and hardest to date. Luckily my bike was fine except for some shredded bar tape. No broken bones, just some road rash and a severly damaged ego. I also smacked my head pretty hard, but thanks to my Rudy Project Wingspan I escaped without too much brain damage. I spent about 20 minutes on the side of the road trying to gather myself, check my equipment and decide if I could keep riding. I figured the guys in the Tour can get up and finish after a crash, so there's no reason why I can't.

I couldn't ride aero since I had banged up my elbow but I rode a steady tempo, and according to my Garmin I would have had one of the top bike splits if you discounted my little pit stop. It was a beautiful and technical course and I was bummed that I couldn't truly race it. It was a tough decision seeing athletes out on the run course, but with another series race next weekend I decided to call it a day and heal up for the next one. I was lucky enough to see some awesome finishes from the top guys. Damn this series has gotten competitive. But after a long and lonely drive home contemplating life, trying to come to terms with a frustrating mixed bag of results this season, and searching deep down for some more motivation, I'm looking forward to the next chance to throw down. That is, after paying a visit to the doctor to determine just how hard I bumped my head...not that I listen to them very well anyway.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Welland Half

I'm not usually one to get sentimental but this race report has been a year in the making. For a while now I have been putting a lot of energy and training focus on the 70.3 distance, with nothing to show for it. DNF in St Croix in 2010, DNS at this race last year, flat tire and another DNF in St Croix this spring. After gaining some maturity as an athlete and putting in a s**t ton of training hours I was starting to get the feeling that I may actually have it in me to finish one of these damn things. But with my luck in the past the whole race was still a huge unknown.

So just like last year Amanda and I hit the road to Niagara for Multisport Canada's Welland race weekend. Amanda did the sprint on Saturday, and after three straight weeks of racing she was dealt a tough hand and showed a lot of resiliency toughing out another awesome result (maybe I'll start writing race reports for her too).

I started to get pretty nervous on Saturday night and woke up on race morning with more nerves than I have had in a long time. I had put in the hours, I'm a completely different athlete both mentally and physically than last year, but the thought that I was actually capable of getting it done this time actually added a little more pressure. Long course racing isn't just a different distance, its a completely different sport and I had no idea how to put together a 4-5 hour race.

Swim - 29:43 (1:29/100m)

The swim was a mass start of about 500 people in the Welland cannal. I lined up front and center, and apparently no one else knew that its much faster to start horizontally for an in-water start than bobbing around until the gun goes. At the 60 second announcement I heard a (female) voice behind me..."if you kick me in the face I'm going to f***ing kill you." I gently splashed a few times to claim my space.

As with any mass start the first 400 was complete chaos, and despite being one of the stronger swimmers I found myself in the washing machine with a number of strong athletes in the field, and many more just taking it out way too fast. I was finally able to settle in around 500m and focus on recovering and finding a rhythm for the rest of the swim. I was leading a chase pack of athletes through the majority of the swim, trying to bridge up to some of the leaders without digging too deep. It was hard at times to stay focused swimming in no man's land, in a straight line for a kilometer. I was starting to wonder if I was swimming well at all but tried to bring myself back to focusing on my stroke. At about 1500m, with it starting to feel like a really long swim, I found myself in a group of 4 or 5 and we all came in together. By far my best open water 2k but still room for improvement.

Bike - 2:20:16

With a 400m run up to transition I decided it was best to pull off my wetsuit ASAP rather than run all the way up to transition in it. After a quick pit stop I ran past everyone I had come out of the water with, and had the fastest T1 of the entire race.

All of the talk about this race is how flat and fast the bike course is. And its true...there was literally one time all race that I had to change gears.  I was looking forward to having a strong ride and putting down a fast bike split, but 90k is still a long way to race for me. The first 10k was effortless as I made my way through some riders and my average speed was close to 39 with a slight headwind. At 20k I was passed by one of the strongest riders in the race and since I was feeling pretty good I decided to pick it up a notch and keep him in sight (mistake #1 - race within your own limits). I kept a strong but manageable pace through 30k when I went through a couple small groups (some of which in the swim-bike and duathlon) and got really motivated to be moving through the field. I went through 40k in 1:01 and was still feeling comfortable in the aerobars.

At 55k there was a short out-and-back which was the only chance to see who was ahead. At that point Nigel Gray was off the front with a small chase pack of 4 or 5 riders close behind only 3-4k ahead. My friend Chris Pickering was close behind me as well. As I made the turn looking forward to a bit of a tailwind home I started to realize that I may have pushed my luck with my pace going out. I backed it off a little to try to recover but I was still hurting for the next 10k. I started to wonder how the hell I was going to run a half marathon after all of this. Chris passed me at 70k at the start of a road that was 15k of completely flat and straight riding, and I definitely lost a bit of focus there as I got more and more uncomfortable through 2 hours of riding in the aerobars. I tried to refocus and told myself that if I finished strong I could still break 2:20 (mistake #2 - don't fight for seconds on the bike with a 21km run coming up). After watching the meters tick by on my Garmin I finally got back into town and was in good spirits seeing Amanda as I got into T2. With a good swim and bike I was happy with where I was at - a very good run would put me under 4:20, and I just needed to survive to break 4:30.

Run: 1:35:55.......

I really had no idea what to expect on the run, not only with it being a half ironman run, but with the doubts in my mind all week of my poor run in Leamington and my heel that was still badly bruised. I decided to wear extra cushiony socks and shoes hoping it wouldn't bug me. I settled into a good rhythm of 4:00 k's through the first 3k, which like on the bike, felt comfortable at the time but was way too fast. I quickly realized you can't take a long course race out at goal pace and try to hang on, you HAVE to start very conservative and build throughout.

At 4k my quads started to cramp and I hoped to hell it wouldn't get any worse. I was starting to make up ground on some athletes ahead. My quads slowly loosened up but it was replaced by my feet going completely numb, a feeling that stuck around for the next 10k. I tried to slow my pace to 4:10-4:15/km and still felt ok through 7k. Somewhere between 8 and 9k was the first really rough patch I experienced and my legs were screaming at me to walk. I started to hit survival mode and was grabbing coke at every aid station. I started wondering how the hell I was going to run 21km, but when I made it to 10k there was some comfort in knowing I had gotten that far without completely falling apart yet. But my legs were already shattered. I told myself that if I had to walk a few steps it wouldn't be out of giving into weakness, but so I could run harder for the next 10 minutes. I shamefully started walking the aid stations, something I vow to never do again in a 70.3.

After a short walk and guzzling some coke and water at an aid station, I actually started to run well through 10-15k. But at 16k near the final turnaround my quads and hip flexors started to lock up. It was pure survival...just get back to the finish. I could not get my heart rate up at all but I could barely lift my legs with every step. At 19k we finally fnished the 2 lap out-and-back section and were on our way back to the finish but there was nothing left to try to pick it up. I was trying to make deals with myself - only 10 more minutes, I'm gonna collapse and chug 3 chocolate milks when I finish, only 8 more minutes, I'm quitting triathlon after this. I have never suffered like that before. My last km was probably over 5 minutes, not for lack of effort or motivation to cross that damn finish line. I finally saw it with about 400m left. I don't remember finishing but I do remember collapsing into a first aid chair and having my temperature taken. They were asking me if I was ok and all I could respond with was "coooooke....." Amanda came over and ran to get my some sugar. I was trying to tell them that I was really ok, I just could not activate my quads to get up.

I spent the next half our laying on the ground, literally unable to move or walk (and I heard at least one person call me a baby) until I finally loosened up a bit and got some food. I exchanged some war stories with Chris and a few other athletes before heading over to the finish to watch some friends cross.

All things considered I am really happy with the race. This was a race of overcoming bad luck and facing the unknown. The only thing I knew for sure was that I would blow up at some point, I just didn't know when. I certainly was hoping for better than a 1:35 run split, I'm more than capable of running 10 minutes faster. I'm really happy with my swim and bike, and I gained a ton of experience with pacing, and more importantly proving to myself that I am in fact capable of finishing a race like that. A little more fitness and some better pacing strategies and I'm confident I can knock a ton of time off and not put myself in the hurt box so soon.

So after such a big focus on long course for the first half of the season its time to figure out where to take things from here. I didn't get many MSC series points as it was a very competitive race, so I am still planning on racing at least 4 more events. I'm looking forward to a couple shorter races to test my speed, but I'm actually looking forward to putting myself through that torture again. Now that I know I can finish I'm excited to give it another shot and see how it goes.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Leamington Triathlon Race Recap

After what seemed like letting half the season go by before hitting another start line, I finally have some news and I finally saw a finish line for the first time this season! It seems like this happens every year...that despite my best efforts in planning racing schedules I'm impatiently waiting until mid or late June to actually get things rolling. But I have put some really good training in over the past 6 weeks since St Croix in preparation for a season of chasing points in a series of 4-5 Multisport Canada races, first and foremost at the Welland Half this weekend (more on that later).

So just like last year the Leamington "Tomatoman" Triathlon (Leamington is a giant producer of tomatoes, made apparent by the Heinz plant encompassing about 90% of the town) was the final tune up before Welland, and it also served as Age Group Sprint Provincials. Amanda and I headed down to LPC headquarters the night before and had a 20min drive to the race site in the morning.

There were a lot of nerves at the race site prior to the 7:30am start time, and not just for the AG Worlds spots on the line (a feeling I understand having been there 4 years ago!), but also for the lightning hitting the lake about 1km from the swim start. There was some talk of it going to a duathlon, but after a torrential downpour during my bike warmup and a short 15min delay the race went off without issue.

Having learned from my mistakes last year and finding that there is a lot more chop and current in the (dirty and smelly) marina than it seems, I lined up on the far left of the start line hoping the current would push me towards the first turn buoy. After a few fast strokes I found myself to the left of a small pack of fast junior elite swimmers and let the current pull me towards them until I got in the draft. The water was quite choppy and a lot of swimmers were having difficulty navigating so I kept reminding myself to shorten my stroke and sight often. It seemed like every time I focused on that I would move through the string of swimmers, and I continued to keep the pace high and move forward. I came out with what felt like a good swim, and after a fast transition I got into the bike in 2nd place.



Knowing full well how much time and effort I have invested in the bike this year there wasn't much doubt in my mind in what I wanted to do on the bike course. But given how I felt on the bike in St Croix and it being my first "race" of the season, my goal was just to maintain a "relentless effort" on the windy bike course. And after years of racing on road bikes and cheap tri bikes, there was a bit of a psychological edge riding my pure TT setup of the P3 with 85mm front/disc rear, and my funky new Rudy Project Wingspan helmet. I took the lead at 5k, and at 10k I passed the leader of the duathlon that started before us. I have to say...of all the time and sacrifice I put into the sport, handling defeat, questioning why you're doing this, winning races etc., there is nothing that compares to the feeling of being on the rivet, chasing the lead motorcycle at 45km/h. That is what I live for in this sport.

But the feeling didn't last long, as Lionel Sanders - my sparring partner at LPC camp last year, and the only person in 5 years who has dropped me on the bike - was chasing HARD behind me. I pushed it as best as I could, hoping that he would push his luck trying to catch me. But damn, he is a tough bugger! He passed me with about 3k to go. Man its hard to stay focused when you get passed on the bike by a guy that you know is going to run a 15:30 5k. I just blocked all those negative thoughts out of my head and came into T2 18 seconds down. After another good transition he was about 100m up the road.


I knew that he is a world class runner, but I'm also confident in my running and my ability to put myself through hell when I have someone to chase. Unfortunately within the first step of the run my body wasn't agreeing with me. I sustained a bit of a foot injury the week leading up to the race, and while I didn't feel too much discomfort my calf was cramping right away from a week of walking funny trying to compensate for it. A few steps later it would not let up, and I found it very hard to try to let my heart rate come down a bit while running through it. It finally started to loosen up after about 1km, by which point Lionel was well up the road but I was at least limiting my losses.

After the first turnaround on the 2 loop course it was clear though that my run legs were just not there on the day. I just could not pick up my cadence and could not control my HR. With lots of fast little juniors chasing the 5k became pure survival, but with the amount of time Lionel and I put into everyone else on the bike our positions weren't going to change. I finished second in 1:00:29.

I was quite disappointed in my run given that if I ran anywhere close of what I am capable of I would have broken the hour barrier (the closest I have gotten was 1:00:07 last year) and could have easily been a minute faster. And it scared the crap out of me that I have to run four times farther in Welland. Not that I would have caught Lionel, who ran 15:40 off a 28:00 bike split and demolished Coach James' course record. But given my recent run training I know that it is not an accurate reflection of my fitness, and it could have been any number of things, but I am confident that my run legs will be there next time. I have a ton of positives to take away from this race. Probably my strongest swim-bike ever and led the race for 10k, good technical execution, just no run legs this time.

(CR holder, some guy with Batman suit abs, and me enjoying some CM)

But far more impressive than my result, Amanda swam strong through the rough water, lit up the bike course and ran to a dominating first career win!!! I got to see her riding hard in the lead on the out-and-back bike course, and then got to cheer her to the finish after taking 5 minutes off last year's race time! She is very humble about it but it was a breakthrough race for her and a fantastic performance. I'm hoping to find more pictures of both of us :)

So next up is Welland this weekend. It feels good to be back in race mode but I'm trying to stay focused in spite of the mental demons from this race last year. Luckily I vindicated myself from the whole wetsuite fiasco, as I had a spare wetsuit in my car for a fellow LPC athlete who had forgotten his at home for Leamington. I know I could not have prepared better for Welland and I am mentally and physically on a completely different scale than last year. But I am more nervous about this one than I have been for a long time. Maybe just because I am prepared to embrace the result, whatever it may be. I guess we will know in a week.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

What's Been Going On?

You might be wondering what I have been up to over the last couple weeks with the lack of updates and race reports. Unfortunately sometimes plans have to change and life gets in the way of racing. But rather than talk about what I've been up to I thought I would share some far more interesting stuff that has gone on since my last post.


Ryder Hesjedal made history as the first Canadian to win a grand tour!! It was a very proud moment for Canada and Canadian cycling. But I think I will hold off the custom pink paint job on my Cervelo for now. If he wins the Tour I'll do yellow though...


Brent McMahon finished up a crazy 8 months of Olympic qualifying and it came down to him beating one athlete to earn Canada 3 Olympic spots for the men, thus getting him a spot to his second Games. He is a tough bugger and it will be cool to see Simon Kyle and Brent line up in a couple months. Speaking of which, the Olympics are fast approaching!

Between the Tour starting in less than a month and the Summer Olympics starting shortly after, I am strongly considering quitting my job and planting my ass on the couch for two months straight. Or maybe I will see if that will fall under paid leave.



And finally, yes I have been training. I was mistaken for someone actually competing at last weekend's Woodstock Triathlon...but I'll take the recognition for riding 100k into a headwind to get to the race site, then run off the bike. I was pretty bummed to see my buddies Alex and Mark battle it out on the course without me but I'm looking forward to finally getting my race season officially underway in two weeks time.

My slight change of plans has me once again at a local gem, the Leamington Tomatoman as my final tune up for the Welland half. Strangely Welland feels more daunting than St. Croix, despite the two being polar opposites in course profiles. And despite being very confident and proud of my preparation leading up to St. Croix, and having put in a lot more strong and specific training in the month since, I'm still nervous about Welland. Maybe it's that I fubar'd the race last year, or maybe it's that I know deep down that I am prepared to really fight it out at the front of the race, or that while it doesn't compare to STX the race is still worth a lot in terms of prize money (for the overall series).

After Welland I am hoping to add one or two more MSC events to make up for lost points from last weekend, but overall the season goals are still there and I am looking forward to a big year of racing. After such an intense preparation for an early season race it feels like I'm wasting time not having crossed a finish line yet this year, but I think I'm starting to get comfortable with the fact that nothing ever goes to plan.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Next Up

Well....

I spent a lot of time and effort on the lead up to St. Croix, and maybe if this was last season I would be at a complete loss as to where to take things from here. But it only took the first 5 minutes of sitting on the side of the road with my flat to get over the frustration and move on. It's a long season and I have set myself up really well for the upcoming summer.

I have taken a lot away from the race already despite my day being cut about two hours short. First off, I will never race without a spare tire or tire sealant again. I swear by tubulars on my race wheels (I would ride them in training too if I could afford another set of wheels, but I'm already trying to take donations to replace my race wheels after last week!), but since you can't fly with CO2 or sealant I decided it wasn't worth carrying a spare tire on my bike. I won't make that mistake again.

Second, I think I have finally found some serious direction and motivation in the sport: competing at the pro level in long course. Sure I wasn't in the front pack on the bike or making a move on Lance Armstrong, but it was a great experience to line up with those guys and at least feel like I was in the chase with a chance for top-10 at one of the most competitive races out there. I want to continually put myself in the mix and learn from the experiences, rather than shy away from the big races until I deem myself "fit enough".

Finally, I love travelling, but damn it's expensive to try and race abroad...a point that was made even more clear given my DNF. Canada has some awesome races, everything from the local races (that now have prize money!) to some of the most beautiful and historic races out there. I think I'm going to stick to racing a little closer to home for a little while.

And before I leave the race completely behind me, for those who either don't believe me or have a hard time understanding how insane the conditions were on the island - and how polar opposite it was from my last time there, thus what I expected - here's a photo from Terenzo's blog, about 12 hours before the race (and it rained more overnight):


So what's next from here? Well first off I've been working on clearing up a cold that I actually first developed the day before the race, and did my best not to think about until afterwards. Last week was a big recovery week, and this week I will be back on the start line with another O-Cup road race with the Coach Chris team. I'm also excited to be working with James Loaring and LPC again after a winter of doing my own thing, learning how to balance full-time work with elite level training.

I made a couple minor changes to my race plan for the season, but the main goal is still a couple half ironman events, and going after points in the MSC Triathlon series. So my official start to the tri season will be MSC Woodstock in two weeks, and the next big event on the horizon is the notorious (for me) Welland Half. I'm looking forward to chasing points and prize money throughout the year at some of my favourite races out there, and I will cap off the year with a race I have toyed with doing since it started out...the Muskoka 70.3.

Next update will probably be after this weekend, thanks for reading!


Sunday, May 6, 2012

St. Croix 70.3

Well I have been looking forward to writing up this one for a while...about how I expressed my new level of fitness and focus and put everything together on one of the hardest race courses in the world, against some of the stiffest competition in the sport.

First off I want to thank everyone who has supported me and followed my ramblings over the past few months, as I've been a little more transparent with my training routine than usual. And I want to thank my wonderful homestays Morgan, Megan, Mathieu and Max (and Charco) who have put up with Amanda and me here in beautiful St. Croix all week. We have been totally spoiled with relaxing views and hospitality and they made our time on the island really memorable. Now for our trip!

Travel day arrived early...3:30am in Detroit to make our flight to Miami then STX. It's my first time travelling with Amanda farther than driving around Ontario, and she has really made my trip...all the way up to waiting around alone in the pouring rain, worrying for my wellbeing as most of my competition was crossing the finish line. Anyway I'll get to that part later :)

We arrived on the island to beautiful but slightly cooler weather than expected (only about 90 degrees plus humidity), and the adventure began soon after. As we were waiting for our luggage Amanda noticed a guy getting into a taxi with a bike bag that looked strikingly similar to mine. After a few seconds of contemplation she decided to ask the man to look at the name tag on the case...sure enough poor little P3 almost got a new owner, which would have royally screwed me for the race, and probably the rest of tri season as I don't have any fancy bike sponsorships to cover a "stolen" bike. Once that was sorted we were promplty taxi'd over to our homestay, except that our driver dropped us off on the wrong road and we ended up trekking about a mile with all our luggage until we found the biggest house on the farthest point out into the ocean. Sure enough that was our accommodation for the week. A short swim in the ocean and quick run then bed time.

Thursday was an early yummy breakfast in town - Christiansted has some amazing hidden cafes and smoothie bars, everything totally fresh and organic (Amanda and I were in our glory) - then swim familiarization where we met up with just about everyone we knew here, Lori and her husband from 6am Y swims, Dawn Van Vlack from LPC, and my "working class" pro buddy Erich Wegscheider who I had first met here a couple years ago. Besides Amanda being a little shocked at how salty salt water actually is, everything went well and things felt good. In the afternoon I put my bike together and went for a short spin over the 14k first loop of the bike course. To my surprise it felt much easier than the Computrainer version!

Friday was another short swim on course, and in the evening was the "pro reception" at the fancy resort hotel here. Amanda and I discovered that pro receptions are actually quite awkward and uninviting unless you are Lance Armstrong, but at least we all hung around and bugged him for a photo. He seemed pleasant enough! Then it was back into town for a street festival which gave us a really cool taste of Carribbean culture. You don't come to St Croix just for the race!

Saturday was low key and relatively uneventful, besides a stingray sighting in our morning swim and the mid-afternoon deluge of rain that lasted a couple hours and completely flooded out most of the roads on the island. At the pro pre-race meeting a few athletes expressed some minor concern to the race director about the condition of the roads, but the general undertone of his response was "tough shit". I looked at Terenzo behind me and we laughed a little at his response, but we found out the hard was it wasn't a joke.

Race morning rolled around and I was feeling pretty good. Managed to get more food down than usual and packed up the bikes to head into town. It had rained all night and a good amount of the bike course was under water, but I told myself to worry about the controllables and enjoy my crack at what I have trained so hard for over the last few months. Quick warmup, setup, squeeze around all the Lance gawkers and off we went to the swim start.

It was pretty cool to have all the attention on us in the first swim wave, with some stars of the sport lining up along side, and despite the rain I couldn't think of a more picturesque swim start in the world. But I kept focused, took my position on the start line beside Erich and fellow Ontario pro Tyler Lord, and off we went. I had no time or results goals for this race, my only focus was to build throughout the race and finish with a strong run...so I kept things a little conservative at the swim start. Things were a little rough around the first turn that's less than 100m into the course, but I settled into a good rhythm on Tyler's feet for the first 1000. At the far turn Tyler seemed to make a navigational error (which I had only noticed by doing the same thing through the week on the course) and tried to swim as straight as possible, but he and the small chase group I had been in corrected themselves quickly and I lost my draft for the last 800m. I focused on swimming smooth and relaxed and, without seeing any time splits (Amanda said I was just under 30 coming out of the water) I felt ok with my swim. It probably felt exactly how I should have expected...a little more fitness, but a little rusty with it being my first tri of the season.

I came through T1 and was NOT the last bike left on the rack (small victories), heard Amanda's cheers and hopped on for 90k in the pouring rain, over an already very technical and challenging course. Within the first 10k I saw two pros pull off with flats, and at about 12k I went through my first of many foot-deep rivers running across the road that almost took me down. I realize it's difficult to have a contingency plan for such weather when the bike course uses just about every road on the island, but it was by far the sketchiest course I have ever ridden with the standing water (and flowing), gravel, sand and branches all over the road. Nothing like last time I was here when it was 110 degrees without a cloud in the sky. Anyway, it was on to the task at hand...everyone is dealing with the same conditions.

I came through town after the first 14k loop and was feeling pretty decent. Maybe not quite as much spark as I would like given how well training has been going, but my plan was to be patient and build through the day. I was in about 15-18th place as I went back past my loyal spectator and onto the big loop. Through a few more puddles that almost stopped me dead and over the fun part of the course leading up to the beast. On one of the last little rollers before hitting the big climb I distinctly remember either my bike or my legs feeling really sluggish, and I barely made it up a small ~50m hill before settling back into the aerobars. But my average speed was starting to creep up so I tried to stay aero then maintain momentum over the hills.

By the time I made the turn on the beast (about 30k into the ride) my legs were already getting tired and my back was starting to tighten up. I barely got up that damn hill and was passed by a couple guys, and by the time I got up my back was in agony as I was burying myself trying to hold 5km/h. I know from racing here two years ago, and my multiple times over the course on the Computrainer that this was not normal. I was starting to wonder if my legs weren't cooperating.

The descent back down was really sketchy and at one of the first corners I saw that Erich had gone down with another rider, and he warned me to be careful down the rest of the hill. I tried to hold some speed but I just couldn't get going fast enough to worry about the corners anyway. But I just tried to stay focused, as it seemed that there was a ridiculous number of crashes and flats as I rode by, and I told myself that if I just survived the bike I would probably be in pretty good position for a top 15 finish.

The section of the course from 40-65k is a little more flat but usually a good headwind but we were lucky enough to have very little wind on the course so I was looking forward to putting my head down and start to make up some ground. But I just could not get my speed up and I watched riders go by as I got more and more frustrated, thinking that it was not my day and I would have to settle with just finishing. I threw out my plan of trying to build the day and started digging a little more on the bike to try to at least put in a respectably bike split, but something really wasn't feeling right. I wasn't quite sure if it was my body or my bike - although by 60k my legs were screaming and my back was extremely sore trying to fight out 40km/h...something I can generally coast at on my tri bike. I started wondering what it feels like to ride on a flat tubular.

At 65k I really started to question how I was going to run a half marathon after this, and as I tried to muscle over a short roller I felt my rim start to hit the pavement. I ignored it for a few more pedals strokes, got to the top of the hill, and pulled over to see my rear tire completely flat. And since I decided it probably wasn't worth strapping a spare tubular on my bike, since I've never flatted in a race before, I had no backup plan. I sat on the side of the road for about 15 minutes, contemplating a lot of things but mostly thinking about how completely quiet it was out there in the middle of nowhere on the course, when I should be hearing the wind through my helmet, the media motorcycles and all the locals cheering on the side of the road. I had two really nice marshals stop and try to help, told me they radio'd the support vehicle and said that I should pull my tubular off in case they had a spare. At this point I had been standing there for half an hour, and started thinking if Amanda was getting worried way back at transition, waiting for me in the rain.

After struggling with the tire for a while (I glued it well!) the very helpful but perhaps naive marshal decided to go at it with his leatherman, and before I had a chance to say anything he put a hole through my carbon rim. I politely mentioned to him that it was probably better for me to just get a ride back now rather than wait for a repair. Guess I'm riding my disc for the rest of the season.........

Another 30 minutes of waiting and the sag wagon finally arrived, and they didn't have any spare wheels or tires anyway. I hopped in and made my way back to finally let Amanda know that I was alive, as the leaders were crossing the finish line. I figured the slow leak started somewhere around 25k, just before hitting the beast, and continued to sap my legs until I finally realized what was going on about 40k later. I can't say for sure that it was all to blame on the flat, and that maybe it was a combination of that and not feeling great on the day. And who knows where I may have ended up if I got off my bike top 15 and ran through a few guys. But I'd rather leave those questions unanswered.

It turned out that 8 of the 24 pro men either flatted or crashed out, including 4 of the 5 Canadian men, and somewhere around 5-7 of the 11 pro women either flatted or simply chose to stop riding as the course was too treacherous. I attempted to explain my situation - the course conditions, the flat, the hour on the side of the road, the taco'd wheel -  to the race director, but he had no sympathy. I understand that the weather was in no way forseeable, as this has never happened at this event before. But it reminded me what Ironman and WTC events are all about...take your money with no regard to customer service. It's a shame that such an attitude can pervade a race venue like St. Croix, but every last person I watched come off the bike or in off the support truck, pro or age grouper, was either crying or cursing. And I can bet how much reaction will come out of WTC for their lack of response to the course conditions, having a truly unsafe race go on with no regard for how many people were forced to DNF or ended up in the back of an ambulance. Anyway I don't want to seem as though the entire race was a negative experience or anyone can be blamed for getting a flat tire when I should be prepared, just next time I'll choose Rev3 instead :)

So I caught some bad luck and it happened to occur at a race I was really looking forward to. But it was a great experience to line up against some of the best athletes in the world, hit the water with them and be a part of the pro race...as abbreviated as it was. I was happy with how things were going and there are some good signs for the upcoming year. It has already motivated me to get the rest of my season going, and to work towards stepping it up to the level that these guys compete at. It has been a great trip with my travel buddy and despite the stress of not knowing my whereabouts for hours on end I think it has sparked Amanda's motivation to compete as well. Tomorrow we're finishing off our trip with some snorkelling and sailing before heading back Tuesday morning to London, which has seen better weather that we have this week. So much for all that heat acclimation!

Thanks again for all the support, pictures will come soon.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Limits Reached, Distractions, Final Prep etc.

Last time I updated was one of my key simulation weekends for my prep for St Croix, and as with my entire training block starting a few months back, I continued to find a little more fitness and confidence every time I pushed past my previous definitions of physical limits. Swim camp...races, 6 hour training days, and even just getting it all in through a 40hr work week.

I thought that the half marathon would be my last big effort leading up to the race, and having pushed myself farther than ever before and realizing that my body would still respond, it was a huge confidence boost. But after another solid week of training I found myself back on the start line on Sunday and another 6 hour training day in the books.

Nothing too crazy this time, just the low key MEC 5k that I helped organize (designed and set up the course). On race morning I brought along my racing flats in case I had time to jump in, and after a very sluggish first km I ran 16:59...not my fastest ever but one of my better 5k's. It was a good indicator of my run fitness given my focus on surviving 21km. Unfortunately I didn't keep the podium streak alive, as our little event attracted some very fast times and mine was only good enough for 7th.

*And Amanda ran a PB 5k of 20:06!*

After the race it was straight onto the trainer for another long ride on the real course, followed by a short treadmill run, and swim at night. Those limits I was searching for last week...I found them about 1500m into the swim workout. My exhaustion finally hit me and I barely got my ass out of the pool and into the showers. Luckily I timed it just about right, as the following day I was officially in recovery mode to start a slightly longer than usual taper. Given how well training has been going this winter/spring I'm using it as a bit of a recharge before getting right into training for June/July racing.

So this week has been a much lighter training load, with the addition of some more serious heat prep until I fly out next Wed. I'm really glad no one has walked downstairs yet while I'm on the trainer in 3 layers and a toque, because I'm dangerously close to the line between "is anyone else doing this right now?" and "Have I finally gone f***ing crazy?"

I'm starting to feel my energy come back, and after a couple weeks of questioning where my swim fitness I've worked so hard for this winter has gone, I'm starting to feel more fresh in my workouts and see some splits I'm pretty happy with.

With all the confidence I've built through the winter getting ready for this season, I had to catch myself almost letting it all come crashing down with the news this past week. Maybe I have a very famous reader of my blog, but I had some mixed feelings when Lance Armstrong announced his presence at St Croix...and shortly after seeing the updated pro start list, which had just about doubled since it was last posted.

I had to remind myself, and will have to continue to do so until the gun goes off next Sunday, that I did not sign up for this race for the end result, for a time goal, for a number beside my name. And it doesn't matter how many world champions, Olympians and childhood heros are on the start line beside me. I'm doing this race because it's one of the most challenging in the world, it's great motivation for winter training in Ontario, and it's a beautiful setting to push myself and learn how to race a 70.3. And rather than getting distracted with the inevitable media, live TV and self-assumed pressure that is sure to come with the pro line up at this race...just having the balls to take my equally deserved place on the start line and fight it out on the same level as Lance Armstrong for a day is half my reason for racing. The rest will be to have fun and enjoy testing my new physical and mental limits.