Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Winter Training Update

Its the time of year. I'm not talking about Santa and reindeer and all the awesome latex tubes and narrow-wide chainrings he is going to give me to make me faster in 2015. I'm not even talking about the tupperware containers full of sugar cookies I've eaten in the past week.

I'm talking about the time when all those Twitter pics start showing up of people either on their trainers with some cliche tagline about "getting the work done", or already giving up on winter and heading south for some warmer training. The truth is, November and December training for most triathletes is about as uninteresting as it gets...if they're doing it right.

My last posts left off with putting the book end on my 2014 season and my plans for next year. I think more than any other year that I've been in the sport, this past year's mixture of modest successes and some challenges along the way allowed me to take a ton of lessons into my off-season. I learned that being ultra-motivated going into off-season can be a bad thing, that big miles and wattage in October doesn't mean superstar results in August, and I learned that an inconsistent off-season can affect the entire upcoming year.

To that end, so far this off-season I've successfully spent more time playing with my new Di2 toy, dreaming up new builds and cursing at pressfit BB's than actually riding bikes. Oh and crapping my pants at the thought of doing an Ironman in less than 10 months!

In all seriousness, my intention with planning a full-distance race in 2015 was all about taking an entire year to focus on one event. I don't mean that in the way you might think. Its not a lazy man's decision to go slow and long from here on out. And I certainly don't mean that IM is my only goal for the upcoming year; in 2015 I plan on racing everything from draft-legal tri's, road races and maybe even an Xterra, to a couple 70.3's that will be goal races in the first half of the summer.

I've wanted to do an Ironman for a while now, not in small part just to prove to myself that I can finish it. But for me, doing one next year was a calculated decision to make me a better athlete on every possible level. Trying to actually race over that distance and be satisfied with my effort is pretty daunting to someone whose barely started to figure out the challenges of racing half that distance. In fact its scaring me to the point of identifying all of my weaknesses as an athlete and systematically checking every box.

Some readers may or may not know that since my second season in the sport I have dealt with chronic back issues. Its called spondylolisthesis and yes that's a funny word. Essentially my lower back lacks some structural stability between two vertebrae and its left to the muscles to compensate - but that can lead to tightness and pain. I've had seasons that it has taken me out for some of all of the summer, but for the most part, if I stay on top of physio exercises, core, flexibility and prehab it doesn't affect me.

Essentially, unless I develop really good habits with core and physio I'm not going to be able to push reasonable wattage for 180k, let alone run after. So I've been putting more emphasis on something that I often get lazy with, and a lot of athletes completely neglect. Not only is that going to get me through the race, but I'll be a stronger and more durable athlete for it moving forward.

One thing that Amanda will attest to as my biggest weakness in triathlon is my consistency throughout the year. It's something I've slowly improved upon for the last 2-3 years, and its not that I'm lazy or anything (well, that's not true). But throughout year I struggle at times to find a healthy and sustainable balance between training, work, and sitting on my ass and doing nothing.

While this off-season has already presented its challenges with moving into a new apartment and getting a real job (not to mention the year as a whole), in those tired and unmotivated moments of doing the vast majority of my training before/after its light outside...having that IM in the back of my head (and the $800 charge on my Visa) doesn't hurt.

The biggest reason for me wanting to do an Ironman wasn't even for the race itself but for the training - not only experiencing the ups and downs of the big miles but also getting back to basics and nailing down my technical skills in all sports. I'm probably not alone when I watch NBC's annual Kona coverage and can only focus on how incredibly inefficient many athletes are...and that's at World Champs!

In my opinion there's no race or distance where being technically sound and physically efficient can impact a race; even for a relatively strong athlete ironing out swim stroke flaws can cut minutes off a split - tens of minutes for staying aero on the bike, and hours if you can maintain some type of running form on the run. I firmly believe that focusing a year on base fitness and improving efficiency will not only make me stronger but significantly faster when I go back to racing shorter stuff the following year. Not to mention optimizing nutrition and recovery strategies. Even if the race goes to hell with the unpredictable nature of it being my first IM, I am confident that I'll be racing on a completely different level in 2016 than ever before.

All of this is to say, so far my off-season has been going pretty well. I'm not in peak fitness, but I don't want to be in December. I've spent the last couple months working on my swim stroke, pedaling efficiency and core/physio. That said I'm really happy with the numbers I'm seeing in training right now, but more importantly how much better it feels than this time last year.

I've been consistently working on fixing some issues in the pool, and despite much of my swimming being drill sets and keeping my efforts in check my speed is there when I've tested it. Mixing in plenty of mountain biking in the fall and now some time on the road bike indoors seems to have my power right near my best fitness ever. And while my fall running season was put on hold with some minor hamstring tightness, I've been putting in some good base with just enough faster efforts to know that all the run fitness I built up over this past season hasn't gone anywhere.

I'm confident that I'm setting the foundation for my best season of racing ever, and its coming up pretty fast! Amanda and I are heading down to Florida for LPC Training camp in about 10 weeks, and that's where I'll also be kicking off my race season as well.

Friday, October 17, 2014

2014 in Photos

Sometimes pictures are worth more than words. Sometimes they're just easier because I can steal them from the internet rather than come up with something to write. So here's my 2014 season in photos...for those who like to skip to the last page to find out the ending.

I always like to wrap up the year with a picture post, and even though I have a couple running events coming up this fall, here's what the bulk of my 2014 season looked like!

Florida Camp - tri season just isn't nearly as awesome without a trip to Florida in March. We had an awesome group this year, and Amanda and I have already booked our flights for 2015!

After Florida I had a couple tune-up runs before starting tri season. First I took the win at the Run for Retina 10k, then three weeks out from Rev3 Knoxville I did the Forest City Half Marathon. Coach James said no faster than 4:00 k's for a good 70.3 simulation, so I walk-jogged the last 800m to hit 1:24:03 (one second faster would round down to 3:59 on Sportstats!)

Rev3 Knoxville Half was my first tri of the year. I had no idea what to expect coming off a challenging off-season, but it may have been my best race of the year with a big run PB of 1:28 on a tough course.

 My first Ontario race was MSC Welland. My goal was to destroy myself on the bike and I succeeded with a new bike split PB (44:16 for 30k) and finished 3rd overall.

The weekend after Welland was Guelph Lake Olympic. Hard training and racing caught up to me and I had some comically bad cramping, but I managed to ride well and finished respectably.

 Valens Tri was an interesting day - I had another strong ride then had stomach issues on the run. Luckily I padded my lead on the bike enough to hold on for my first win in 2 years. I was disappointed at first but I'll take a win however I can with the studs racing in Ontario these days. It didn't make for my best finishing tape pic...

I decided to jump into Olympic-distance Provincials in the middle of my biggest training block of the year, and unfortunately I was stuck in tempo mode all day. But it was a good tune-up for 70.3 Worlds.

 Finally the race that my whole season was based around. I had a lot of fun at 70.3 Worlds Champs with my best swim-bike of the year. Not my best run on a crazy hard course, but it was an amazing experience and will only make me stronger for the next one.

After a few weeks off the tri bike I entered my first mountain bike race. I surprised myself with how much my technical skills have improved in the last year on the trails and 42k of suffering was good for 3rd overall. Then I spent significantly more time cleaning my bike than I spent riding.

Despite things not always going to plan I finished the year with one pool swim PB, multiple average speed and power PBs on the bike (20k TT, 30k bike split, 90k bike split), knocked about 5 minutes off my 70.3 run time, and had five top-5's and two race wins. And I still have some running left to do. I'm going into the off-season with a much better mindset than last year and I'm looking forward to putting in the time and effort over the winter.

Next year is going to be a big one with most of my races already in place. I'll be starting off with Around the Bay 30k, an event that I've wanted to do since Amanda was in Hamilton doing her Masters. Then I'll likely head back to Rev3 Knoxville before some local racing and my first goal race at Ironman 70.3 Muncie. Then the rest of the summer will be dedicated to training time as I prepare for Ironman Louisville in October. I've had the idea of doing an Ironman in my head for a long time now, and next year seems to make sense. I'm incredibly motivated to be on this journey already and I know that this time next year I will be a completely different athlete than I am now. Hopefully I'll find some time to write some updates along the way!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Ironman 70.3 World Champs

My journey to 70.3 Worlds all started in June of 2013, the last time I was in Mont Tremblant. It had just been announced that 2014 World Champs would be held in Tremblant and up until that point I hadn't considered trying to qualify for World Champs...I was still a baby with 70.3 races.

The transition to long course racing for me has been a challenging but extremely rewarding task - coming from a background of elite short course racing I brought valuable and somewhat unique experience to it, but learning how to properly prepare and execute a 70.3 is a completely different story, especially with my previous racing lending towards racing hard at the front from the gun.

That's why I love long course though - the journey from setting the training program to waking up on race morning, then trying to execute and get the most out of that training (avoiding limiters such as poor nutrition or pacing...or FLAT TIRES!) gives me new perspective and makes me a better athlete every time I go through it.

After finishing Mont Tremblant 70.3 last year I had two big take-aways from the race - its an incredible venue and extremely well-run event, and if it wasn't for my mechanical I likely would have finished either first or second in my age group, at one of the most competitive races I had done to that point.

So Coach James and I decided to try to get one of the earliest qualifying spots for 2014 Worlds, at Muskoka last year...you can read that race report here. Fast forward to last week, and the day had come at last. I was back in Tremblant, and the awesome venue was just as I remembered it.

I won't bore anyone with the details of race week. Suffice to say I mostly spent the 3 days leading up to the race standing in various line-ups. The event was top notch, but my cumulative time standing in line was far greater that my race time. Anyway, onto the race report.

(obligatory pre-race photo)

My M25-29 wave was at 8:40, so there was plenty of time to lounge around and try to cram as much food in as possible. The pro start was marked with fireworks and a fighter jet fly-over...that was pretty f***ing cool. Then just 40 more minutes and it was my turn.

(You'll just have to trust me that I'm in there somewhere)

My swim has been a bit of a challenge for me this year. The combination of tweaking my swim stroke, swimming a bit less than in previous years, and occasionally lacking some consistency when it came to hard solo swims, has made it an up-and-down year with my swim. My only goal was to swim comfortably, and hopefully hit a similar time to my splits in Tremblant and Muskoka last year.

The swim was a little crowded but I managed to stay out of too much fighting. With it being World Champs and competition being much higher than a typical 70.3 it didn't spread out too much, but for the most part I had clean-ish water and was able to focus on a smooth stroke and keeping the effort in check. When I got to the swim finish I was happy (and relieved) to see 29:14...I think my official split was 29:19.

 T1 was interesting with it being set up like a full Ironman, with wetsuit strippers, transition bags and change tents. It was all new to me but I managed to get through the organized chaos pretty well and felt good getting on the bike.

I didn't have any specific goals on the bike...somewhere between 2:20-2:30 seemed pretty good. Last year my split was 2:34, but with my mechanical (got a rear wheel replacement and lost my power meter) my actual moving time was closer to 2:25...which was way harder than I should have ridden and I paid for it. My biggest goal was to stay clean despite the (literally) thousands of people drafting in huge packs, and hopefully have a little boost in overall power from Knoxville.

(loving the Rudy Project lid)

We had a bit of a headwind going out to the first turnaround at 33k and my power was a bit above my target, and average speed only in the 36's. But coming back from there I felt great, I just wanted to get through 30-70k as fast as possible knowing that the hardest section was still to come. Nutrition was good, pacing was good, and I was comfortable in aero throughout.

From 70-80k is the toughest part of the course, but having raced it last year and ridden it earlier in the week I knew what to expect. I kept my power in check on the tough climbs and rode well all the way through 90k...it was definitely my best executed 70.3 bike to date.

Coming off the bike I wasn't concerned with my position, knowing that it was a huge and competitive race, and refusing to join a draft pack certainly lost me many positions. I wasn't there to cheat, I was there to race. And I was executing a great CLEAN race.

My biggest goal for this race, as it has been almost all season, was the run. Up to this race, every 70.3 I have done I've knocked a couple minutes off each consecutive run, and on progressively harder courses (Welland, Tremblant, Muskoka, Knoxville, 70.3 WC). This one was no exception, as the run course was changed from the standard 70.3 and had over 300m of climbing, including twice up the 24% grade through the pedestrian village. Many 70.3 BIKE courses don't have that much climbing. But my run training had been going extremely well leading up to the race and I was confident that I was in 1:25 shape on any course...likely 1:20 on a flat course.

Through T2 with the funny transitions - actually it was great to have a bike catcher and only have to worry about grabbing my bag and getting my shoes on - and off I went at 3:45/km pace. That didn't last long.

Right away I didn't have the same speed in my legs that I did earlier in the year at Rev3 Knoxville where I ran 1:28 on no slouch of a course. I made it through the first few k's at roughly 4:05-4:10/km, which I still would have been really happy with on that course. Whether it was all physical or in some part mental (not feeling 100% on a beast of a course) my pace was dropping at 5k and I was feeling like I would expect to feel at 18k. I kept it together enough to tell myself to just relax on the first lap, and hopefully my legs would come around on lap 2. My first lap split was exactly 45:00...not where I wanted it to be, but it at least gave me a chance to still break 1:30.

 (end of lap 1 up through the village...suffering already)

Knowing what to expect going back out for lap 2 played in my head, and by 12k I was in damage control. I was still running, and did not allow myself to walk a single step...it was just really slow. A few times I started to feel a little better and picked up my feet, only to still see 4:40s on my Garmin, but at that point I didn't care about my time. I just wanted to get the damn thing done.

I ended up with a 1:34 and change run split. Far off my original goal for this race. But more than any other race I've done, I have a ton to take away from this one. It was an amazing experience to be at Worlds, and I definitely took a few risks with my pacing, rather than hold back as long as possible to get to the finish line in one piece. Not every run can be a PB, especially when I'm learning to ride harder as well. So I'm confident that the next one WILL be a faster run, off a faster swim and bike. I seriously can't wait to tackle a pancake flat course like Welland again and see what kind of time I can hit.

I had hoped to continue my tri season from here, and especially after not fully realizing my run fitness I'm motivated to break 1:25. But I've got some BIG goals next season, with a lot to take away from this year...so for now its time to relax a bit, hit a few local running and cycling races, and potentially have a go at a fall half-marathon.

Thanks for following along and reading...its been a fun season!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Do You Even Triathalon Bro?

My next race after the Subaru Valens Tri was supposed to be the K-Town Long Course Tri...likely my favourite race in Ontario for the uniquely awesome and challenging distance, and as I discovered last year the timing of it works really well to prep for a late season 70.3. Unfortunately after Valens I managed to catch the summer cold from hell...I wasn't deathly ill but just wouldn't go away and it forced me to take close to 10 days off training. Along with that I was struggling with some shoulder issues in the water and needed to get a handle on it before the 2k K-Town swim that can be really rough. So Coach James and I decided that it would be best to pass on Kingston and race Age Group Provincials the following weekend in Bracebridge.

Luckily the way it worked out I managed to get a bit of a mid-season break and a mental recharge along with starting to get my feel back in the water. I got some really good workouts in leading into Bracebridge including the longest brick of my life and some really strong runs. Its crunch time in my prep for 70.3 Worlds so the plan with Bracebridge was to get a solid Olympic distance race in my legs in the middle of a hard training block. And while I didn't exactly get the result I would have wanted, I accomplished that goal.

Last time I did Bracebridge I was a late entry and started in about 300th place in the TT format which made for a challenging race with most of my competitors finishing half an hour ahead of me, but at least I knew what to expect this time. I started in 37th this time so I figured if I had a solid performance the only athletes that would be ahead of me by the end would be the elite guys, of which there was a solid contingent.

My main goal for the swim was to get through it with a controlled effort and without having any shoulder issues. I was pretty disappointed when I saw my time after the race but given that I had missed some time in the water and a few weeks ago I couldn't swim 400m continuous without pain, I'm at least happy that I got through it without any pain...and it looks like all the swim times were on the slow side so I'm confident that its a step in the right direction.

The rest of my race is best described this way (don't click if you don't like cuss words)

Within the first 10 meters on the bike my bottle of sport drink launched from my BTA cage, and even if I had planned on stopping, it had broken anyway. Luckily I had packed 2 gels but only half a bottle of water as my main source of nutrition/fluid in an Olympic distance race is sport drink. I embraced the new challenge and got on with the task. My plan was to build the effort but when I hit the first short and steep climb 5k in I immediately knew it was going to be a tough ride. My legs were empty from a hard week of training. I tried to find a rhythm and bring up my power through to 20k but by that point I knew that I had to adjust my expectations and focus on climbing efficiently, descending well and staying aero as much as possible. I ended up riding at my goal 70.3 wattage but there was some comfort in knowing that at that power output I'd be on pace for around a 2:25 bike time in Tremblant on a similar course.

At least my Rudy Project Wing57 kept me looking fast

More than anything else for this race I wanted to put down a strong run. My Olympic distance run PB has held for 4 years despite getting extremely close in my last two Oly-distance races. And based on my recent run workouts I was pretty confident I could run 36-mid off the bike. But when my first km split was 20 seconds behind that pace I had a pretty good idea that it wasn't going to happen. I managed to bring my pace down over the next 3-4k but by the time I hit the turnaround I had nothing left. I was running at my half-iron pace and it felt like the last 5k of a half. At that point I knew that I just had to get the damn thing done regardless of the result...I was flat from a hard training block but it was a great prep for Tremblant, even if I had intended to finish 10 minutes faster.

So that's the way she goes. I had a bit of an existential crisis after checking out my splits, but it will be an important piece of the puzzle leading into my big race of the year. All my signs in training are pointing to me hitting my goals in Tremblant and I can't wait to get there.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Valens Triathlon

This past weekend I took part in one of the new races in Ontario this year, Valens in the Subaru Series. My goal this season is to get to the start line of 70.3 Worlds fit and healthy (ie. not burned out) in September, and knowing my tendency to load up the first part of my season I've had to make an effort to be patient with my race schedule and not overextend myself...or my wallet, before the important events.

Since banking a solid half in Knoxville and a couple good races in June, July is kind of a transition period before the higher priority races with K-Town Long Course and Worlds coming up. Valens worked perfectly in my schedule as a short low-key event and about a 20 minute drive from Amanda's place in Guelph. I was also excited to check out the new event with what looked like a fun run course.

Despite spending a lot of time in Guelph and riding in the area, I had no idea that Valens Conservation Area existed until I saw the new race on the Subaru calendar. But it was a great venue for a laid back local race. After a quick warmup and surprise visit from Coach James and a couple LPCers we were off, and Amanda followed a couple waves later in the swim-bike.

After the cramping issues I had in Guelph Lake I decided to take a conservative approach to the swim and tried to stay smooth and relaxed rather than flailing through the 750m as I often do. Its hard to tell how the swim actually went with all of the swim times being quite slow but I kept my effort in check and was out of the water in 3rd or 4th with one athlete about 15 seconds ahead and another who swam very well about a minute up on me.

When I got on my bike and could see the flashing lights of the lead vehicle through the rain in the distance I knew it was just a matter of time before I'd get up there. But my run was a bit of a question mark heading into this one since I badly bruised my foot during a brick workout after Guelph Lake and hadn't really put in a decent run since. So I wanted to take the lead on the bike early and bank as much time as possible in case I wasn't running quite to my capabilities. I also had a bit of extra confidence in my aerodynamics thanks to my brand new Rudy Project Wing57 helmet, which was super comfortable on a windy and humid day.

After about 8k of heading into a strong headwind I passed the second place athlete as he was overtaking the leader, then I had a long section of tailwind to put my head down and try to get away. I haven't been in the lead of a race since 2012 before I had the setback of missing most of the season with a concussion...man it felt nice to be chasing the lead vehicle again :) My power wasn't great but my Garmin had my average speed at 39.2km/h for the 25.5k which I was pretty happy with given the conditions and the tricky exit/entrance into the park which I DID NOT want to champ just because I was in the lead.

The pre-race email for this event mentioned that the majority of the run course was on trails, and if it was raining they would likely get very muddy. So I took my lesson from Xterra Milton last year where I made the mistake of wearing racing flats on a greasy trail run, and brought my Salomon trail racers this time which turned out to be the perfect choice for the terrain and conditions.

I ran well through the first 2k and loved the trails, but after that I started to get some bad stomach cramps...my first thought was "sh*t not now", and then the more productive thought came, "try to relax and belly breath." My stomach was off the night before but I chalked it up to pre-race jitters and didn't think about it again until then.

Unfortunately it only got worse for the next couple minutes until at just before 3k I was doubled over throwing up. I was about to start feeling sorry for myself thinking how embarrassing it would be that the leader of the race might drop out. But lucky for me Coach James was running the opposite way down part of the run course at that exact time and said "you're in the lead, have no choice but to suck it up!"

There was only one turnaround where I got a chance to see that I still had a comfortable lead, and based on the pace that the second and third place athletes were running I just had to keep running to keep the lead. So the rest of my run was at "puke threshold" which was slower than my half ironman pace, but luckily enough to take the win.

I had mixed feelings as I crossed the finish line at what Amanda described as a lazy jogging pace. First off I was thrilled just to be finished because it was a very uncomfortable run. I was also really happy to finally get another race win after 2 seasons with a lot of podiums behind some strong pro's. Then I was disappointed that I couldn't enjoy the run course because I LOVE trail runs, and I could have run 3 minutes faster on another day. I also felt like it took away from the result that I had a disaster run but still won the race.

But ultimately I got what I needed out of the race, my swim was more controlled and I'm slowly putting the pieces together to swim well in September, another good bike split which has consistently been my strength this year, and I sucked up a mentally challenging run. If I wasn't leading the race I more than likely would have dropped out, and I adjusted my effort and expectations to meet the realities of the day. And I only had that cushion on the run because I had the fastest bike split by over a minute, and I've worked hard on the bike this year. So maybe it wasn't my best performance ever, but I've had to wait a long time for this one! Its exactly what I needed as I switch back to gearing up for longer distances again...a little extra confidence and fitness after consistently solid efforts in the first half of the season.

I was just as happy for Amanda who has faced a lot of challenges this year, but took the win in the swim-bike and threw down the fastest bike split of any female on the day. She's worked extremely hard despite things not going her way this year and I can't wait to see her put it all together with the effort she's been putting in.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

LPC Domination Triathlon (formerly known as Guelph Lake)

This past weekend was Ontario Club Championships at the Guelph Lake Tri Weekend. Despite it being practically a home-town race and one of the biggest events in Canada, somehow I had never done the Olympic-distance race at Guelph Lake. I've done the sprint many times, including one of my best results last year, but the one time I raced the Olympic in 2010 I pulled out on the run with an injury. Its a good honest course and always brings lots of strong competition, so I was looking forward to getting the monkey off my back, putting in a big effort and doing my part to help Team LPC with some championship points.

Coming off a solid race last weekend including a PB bike split I had some confidence that my fitness is going in the right direction but I was still a bit nervous not knowing what to expect from the course and a deep field. But there was an awesome contingent of LPCers at the race, with lots competing and plenty more coming out to support. Weather was perfect, warm-up was good and I lined up together with four other LPCers.

Swim: 24:03
My focus for the race was to be patient and build throughout each segment, and try not to get overly excited off the start with the strong competition. I had nice clean water off the start and slotted behind Mark and Chris knowing they would likely swim around 21 minutes. I held on to them for a while, then started to go backwards from 500m to the far turn on the course until I finally found find a bit of a rhythm on the way back into shore and brought back a bit of time and distance on the small group (pretty much all LPCers) ahead of me.

I was really looking forward to getting on the bike and seeing if I could ride myself to the front of the race, unfortunately my legs had other plans. When I got out of the water my hamstring cramped badly and would not let up as I ran, then hobbled, then walked up the long hill to transition. So I did the only thing I could, I sat on my bum and watched a stream of athletes run past while I took my wetsuit off and tried to stretch it out. Fellow LPCer Garrick Loewen aka my little brother (who won the sprint event!) ran down to see if I was ok, likely thinking that I had been bitten by a shark.

(photo cred. Ken Whitlock & BPT)

Eventually it loosened up enough for me to stand up and slowly make my way up to T1 and get on with my race. The good news was that I later found out, not counting my little picnic stop, my 1500m swim time would have been right around 22-flat, which is a solid swim for me and my best of the season so far.

Bike: 1:02:15
It would have been really easy for my to give up at that point with the race well up the road and not being sure how my legs would hold up on the bike. And Ryan from a few years ago probably would have. But I put it out of my mind and changed my focus to putting down a good bike split and going from there. After all it was Club Championships and I wanted to contribute some points to LPC.

Luckily I felt ok getting on my bike and settled into a good rhythm. My plan was to focus on not burying myself on the early hills and really work the flatter middle 30k of the course. My power wasn't as good as in Welland last weekend with my hamstring a little twitchy but I was still making progress and picking off athletes. I managed to move up quite a bit with a relatively good bike split, not my full potential but some reassurance that my bike fitness is continuing to improve with my big races still many weeks out.

Run: 38:23
I had the run in the back of my mind through the whole bike wondering if my legs were going to cooperate with me. But I settled into a good rhythm right away. I really wanted to take down my Olympic-distance run PB which would mean aiming for sub-37. I really liked the run course with a mix of terrain and surfaces that seemed to make it go by faster.

I was right on pace through the first 5k (18:22) and it felt manageable to hold. I had made my way into the top-5 on the road and I could just barely see Coach Mark up ahead around 7-8k. I decided to take a bit of a risk and pick it up knowing that I'd have to put in about 15sec per km to catch him. And then everything cramped up again. My last km was at Ironman shuffle pace just trying to hold it together without getting re-passed with my quads, hamstring and diaphragm cramping up. I was a little too optimistic with my pacing, but I'm not going to take down any PBs without taking a risk now and then. I ended up in 6th with Mike Hay just nipping me in a later wave.

So it may not have been the smoothest race I've ever had, but I met my goals of a strong Olympic-distance race/effort and helping out the team with some points. And I can't finish this without sending special congrats to Jack Laundry and Garrick for picking up the overall wins this weekend. LPC ended up going 1,3,4,5,6 for the men and 2nd for women in the Olympic, and had equal domination in the sprint. I haven't yet heard if we've officially won the club championship based on participation and age group placing, but there was no question that LPC is the dominant club in Ontario these days and its a lot of fun to be a part of it.

Obviously the biggest question I had coming out of the race was where those cramps came from, and how I can avoid that happening again. I'm confident that it wasn't nutrition related, but I've identified a few potential causes that I'm addressing moving forward with my training and prep leading into my higher priority races. All things considered it was another successful race in my season-long prep for 70.3 Worlds. My fitness is good and still going in the right direction, and I've got plenty of time to work out the kinks. For now I'm back to some more hard training with a few weeks before my next race.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

MSC Welland: 2 for 1 Race Reports!

A month after opening my season at Rev3 Knoxville I couldn't wait to get my Ontario racing season rolling. I had planned on starting out with Multisport Canada's Binbrook race the week prior, but with Amanda racing the Welland Half I decided to hold off for one more week and make it a weekend getaway to this flat and fast event.

I couldn't have been happier with my race in Knoxville to start my season, and after recovering well from the race I put in a few good weeks of training in preparation for some shorter and faster races through the middle part of my season. I had posted some solid bike workouts and I was looking forward to seeing what I could do in Welland, which is just about the flattest bike course out there.

Swim: 11:10 (1:30/100m)
The sprint event in Welland is a time trial start, something I've done once before in Bracebridge a few years ago. Some people love the TT start, I guess I'm pretty impartial as it means racing through a steady stream of athletes through the first half of the race.

The one advantage of a TT start is not having to start as fast as a mass start race, but I kind of threw that out the window right away and took it out hard...I guess out of habit. The 750m went by really quickly and while it wasn't my best swim I felt better than in Knoxville and I'm alright with my time. I think I have to accept that if I'm focusing on long course racing without the luxury of training full-time, I can't expect to be PB'ing every swim and still see steady gains on my bike and run fitness. Regardless, I had a not-bad swim and was set up well to push the bike.

Bike: 44:16 (40.7km/h)
After a quick T1 I was steadily moving past athletes who started ahead of me, and by 4-5k into the bike I had settled into a good rhythm and knew I was riding pretty well. We were heading into a pretty good headwind on the way out but I managed to keep my average speed at 39km/h at the 15k turnaround. At that point there were only 4-5 athletes ahead of me despite starting in 57th position.

Once I made the turnaround I was pushing my biggest gear most of the way back and felt strong with my average speed slowly creeping up. Its been a long time since I've felt that good on the bike in a race and I was riding with a lot of confidence. I had a lot of fun on the bike course but unfortunately I got stuck behind cars on the way out of, and back into town. After getting my average speed close to 41km/h near the end of the bike I got stuck behind a couple cars and had to come to a complete stop as they made their way through a stop sign, not wanting to risk going around them and getting DQ'd.

It was really tough to keep my frustration in check given how well I was riding but I knew that nothing positive would come from dwelling on it. Its a reality of local races with open roads. Fortunately my little slow down didn't affect the end result at all, but I was agonizingly close to grabbing the top bike split from pro Wolfgang Guembel. But if that's the only minor complaint I have with my race, I guess it went pretty well! I ended up with my fastest bike split ever, a nice confidence boost moving forward.

Run: 28:47 (3:51/km)
I was 4th onto the run course and by that time the race was totally spread out with the varying start times. I felt pretty good despite pushing the bike but I had no idea what my position was relative to the three athletes ahead of me who had all started quite a bit earlier.

Not much happened on the run besides a good amount of suffering, and I ended up in 3rd with the 3rd best run split (behind the two who beat me). I felt pretty good and I'm confident that I ran faster than my half ironman pace, and after spinning over the run course the next day it looks like the course was 300-400m long. Regardless it was a fun race and I was really happy with the result and how I felt throughout. I'm looking forward to continuing to build on my fitness and see what I can do for the rest of the season!

Race Report #2!

After finishing my race it was time to change roles and become support crew/gear sherpa for Amanda's race the following morning. Having experienced a whole lot of ups, downs, blowups and gear malfunctions in my long course racing, I tried to give her some words of advice and encouragement, but the great thing about long course is that ultimately the only way to get to that finish line is to go through all of that yourself and find the mental strength to come out the other side. I know that Amanda is not one to write up race reports but having seen her put so much time and effort into her preparation for this race, I feel like talking about it on her behalf!

So after some nerves (mostly mine!) the gun went off in her race and off she went, along with a few LPC teammates! I managed to catch her swim start and - unique to Welland's course - again about 1500m in thanks to the swim course going under a bridge before turning around and finishing. Her plan was to stay relaxed and swim comfortably and she nailed it. I barely managed to see her get on her bike after a fast transition and away she went for a fast 90k.

I had expected her to ride around 2:40 (a conservative effort for her), so when 2:45 rolled around and I still didn't see her I started to think that something happened out there. Turns out she took a page from my book and flatted around 37k. Luckily for her, our friend Jason was racing in the swim-bike event and he just happened to be only a couple minutes behind her at that point and helped her fix it. I know far too well how much it SUCKS to flat in a big race and I know that she was really bummed because without the flat she was right on her target wattage and well under her target time. I did my best to give her a quick pep talk on a short out-and-back at the start of the run and told her to forget about it and take the run 1km at a time.

Unfortunately her bad luck wasn't done, and around 7k of running right on goal pace she tripped on some loose gravel on the run course and took a big spill and had to tough out an extra long 22km run course! But through all of that adversity she made it through and got to the finish in a very respectable time despite everything. I know that she was disappointed with how everything unfolded, and for good reason considering everything that went wrong, but I'm confident that she will take a ton away from this race and she's going to be strong for the rest of this season! We've both bottled up lots of motivation to tackle this race again next year and take some serious time off our previous results there.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Spring Update and Rev3 Knoxville

What happened to the first five and a half months of the year? It was the winter that never ended, and all of a sudden its race season in Ontario as of this week, and it seems like summer has caught everyone by surprise. I haven't even done an open water swim workout yet!

For those who read this (are you still there?) I have to apologize as it seems like racing is my only impetus to write. Someday I may feel the need to write more on my thoughts and opinions of this funny sport, but for the most part my "story" these days is similar to most triathletes out there. The everyday balancing act of getting in my training around work and life...sometimes I hate it, wish I could just train full-time and race elite, other times I'm sick of putting all of my spare time and money into the sport and regret that I can't afford any far away exotic travels this year. But for the most part I love the daily challenge of balancing it all, and just seeing where it all takes me.

This weekend was my first tri of the year, Rev3 Knoxville. But to give the full story of the race I need to back up and recap my winter/spring (as briefly as possible).

I left off last season with Ironman 70.3 Muskoka, my big A race of the year where I set the goal of qualifying for 2015 70.3 Worlds Champs in Mont Tremblant this September. I was really happy with my preparation, effort, and result and got my qualifying spot with a full year to prepare for Worlds.

I finished that race on such a high that I wanted to keep racing every weekend until the snow started flying. Unfortunately I had a minor nagging injury that I had to take care of first, so I called it a season despite my motivation being extremely high. Coming off a good race, having good fitness and plenty of motivation proved to be a difficult way to start the off-season. I set some solid but realistic goals for 2014 and couldn't wait to get rolling.

By the time the holidays came around I was still water running, having 3 different diagnoses on my foot/achilles/calf, none of which I was satisfied with and no amount of rest was helping. My power numbers on my bike seemed to be going down by the day and in the pool I was swimming slower than I had in years. It seemed like the harder I worked, the slower I got. On top of that I changed jobs and at times was working 50+ hour weeks. It was tough, and I let it affect my consistency when I was sick of feeling like every workout was a failure. I seriously considered just taking the year to play on my mountain bike every day. It was a feeling of discouragement that I hadn't had in years, and after coming off one of my best seasons ever I felt like I had gone backwards on every level.

I guess I still haven't gotten the whole "off-season" thing figured out yet, trying to balance a lighter training load, working on skill and strength, and being ok with occasionally seeing the numbers drop off in the short term for longer term gains. I was reluctant to even go to LPC Florida Camp for a while but I knew I needed a week away from the grind and some quality time with Amanda and all of our LPC friends. Rather than think of training camp as a "test" of my early fitness or a chance to boost my training, I used it as a big, warm and sunny reset button for my training, motivation and attitude.

Florida was exactly what I needed...I had some surprisingly good workouts at the start, had a few moments of feeling completely discouraged again when the fast guys were leaving me in their dust, then got my s**t back together and finished the camp with some great workouts on the hardest and longest days. It was a huge mental victory to know that my fitness was in fact there somewhere and I can thrive when fatigue is at its highest. It was also a huge bonus to have Amanda there, this time as an official member of teamLPC :)

So I came back to Canada (and snow, and indoor riding) with the goal of letting go of any thoughts of a "bad" winter of training, and letting Florida be a springboard for a strong and consistent spring of training. And instead of pushing back my race season until I deemed myself "fit enough", I decided to add some forced motivation and sign up for Rev3 Knoxville Half on the May long weekend.

Whether it was the fear of being unprepared for a half, or a change in attitude and expectations, I managed to put together a really solid block of spring training. I decided to take my power meter off my bike and ride by feel for a month and take motivation from FEELING good vs. determining the success of my ride based on my output. My run fitness came together, and I even hit a swim PB (the day after running a half marathon). My original goal for Knoxville was strictly to break 1:30 in the run...something I know I am more than capable of, and have been getting a little closer to each time (on progressively harder courses). But I started to get really excited to race!

Ok now for the race report...

I hit the road down to Knoxville with my title sponsor (aka mom) on Friday, and got there on Saturday just in time for the practice swim. I had a mini spaz attack when my new wetsuit that I was really excited to use felt extremely uncomfortable during my 15 minute swim but luckily I brought my old suit as a backup and decided I would use that for race day, and spend more time fiddling with the fit of the new suit when I have more time and patience.

I got my gear together, put my Powertap wheel on for the first time in over a month (having no idea what my power would be, I'd use it as a pacing tool rather than basing my effort off of it), and drove the bike course....

On race morning I felt good, but really nervous. I knew training had been going well recently but in the back of my mind I still thought about my less than perfect winter of training. I guess there's no better way to see where you're at than race a challenging half ironman in May!

Swim: 30:17
I had plenty of clean water starting the swim, and likely took it out far too relaxed because of that. I saw a small group ahead of me within the first 400m but I seemed to be content to sit on some feet and chill. My stroke didn't feel great and I wasn't sighting all that well so I figured I might as well save some energy and draft. I wasn't thrilled with my time, but given that it was my first open water swim and first wetsuit swim I can live with it. More importantly I felt really good getting out of the water and likely made up all of the time I may have gained from swimming harder to gain 30 seconds.

Bike: 2:34 (35.1km/h)
There was a lot of talk about how challenging the bike course is in Knoxville...overall I would say it is comparable in difficulty to Muskoka, although Muskoka is 4k longer (edit: my average speed was identical to Muskoka last year, but my average power was about 3% higher...so very slightly more challenging I guess). I felt strong getting on my bike and was riding through the previous waves of athletes from the Championship distance race that went off 15 minutes prior.

About 5 minutes into the ride I was moving really well, and all of a sudden it sounded like I had a flat tire. I got out of my aerobars and heard my tire ticking on every revolution. Being paranoid of what happened in Mont Tremblant last year when my tire bead blew out and locked up my back wheel, I stopped thinking I had a flat. I checked out my tire and it was still full pressure but found a gel wrapper stuck to it, which was dragging through my frame each time around. I regretted stopping so quickly before being 100% sure I had to, but given my history with flat tires I guess you could say I was just being diligent. And hey, 30 seconds in a 4+ hour race really isn't the end of the world. So on I went.

I have to admit that on the challenging course, riding through less experienced athletes from earlier waves, I had to make some daredevil passes on some of the descents not only to maintain my speed, but to stay safe vs. hitting my brakes on a fast downhill. So to those athletes that I scared the crap out off...ma bad. There were a few times in the first and last 10 miles (ie. the technical sections) that I got stuck behind vehicles, that were stuck behind slower athletes. It was a little frustrating, but nothing you can do about it. I mostly managed to pass safely without doing anything too stupid. Mostly.

At 25k into the bike my average power was about 10W higher than in Muskoka last year. It didn't feel too bad but I wanted to stay conservative, after all my goal was on the run. Around this point in the half there is an out-and-back section, and its the only point of the race where you can see your competition without the other race distances on the road. I was in 4th place, with one athlete (in my age group) just up the road, and 2 more about 2 minutes ahead. I let my motivation get the better of my pacing for a while and made my way into third. I was riding well but from 40-60k I basically saw nobody, with plenty of wind and rollers but little opportunity to get out of the aerobars. My power dropped a little, partially because I knew the big climbs were at 70-80k, and partly because it was starting to hurt. But after mile 40 the end seemed to be in sight and I managed to ride really well over the last 15 miles. I came off the bike feeling better than I ever have...for the first time I felt like I actually raced a 90k bike, vs. simply surviving. My average power was a good boost from Muskoka last year, and I felt comfortable and aero throughout.

Run: 1:28:39 (4:12/km)
Out onto the run I felt pretty good, but also felt the fact that it was my first race of the year and my body wasn't really sure what was going on. My legs didn't feel great but I got into a rhythm for the first 3-4 miles, ticking off roughly 6:30/mile (just over 4:00/km). Conservative but also realistic.

It started to turn hilly right around mile 4, starting with a very long and steep hill to the championship-distance turnaround (about 4.5 miles in). The half marathon then continued into a neighbourhood that didn't have any crazy steep climbs, but you were either going up or down long rollers for the next 2 miles out and back. I figured my pace was going to fall off, not fulling realizing how challenging the run course was. But when the turnaround came in sight I was in good position and still on pace for a 1:28 half.

I certainly didn't feel good coming back through the hills, but I managed to maintain my pace fairly well. Last year the hills would have destroyed my legs and killed my pace. When we finally got out of the neighbourhood and back onto the paths I kept my mind occupied by obsessing over exactly what pace I needed to maintain to break 1:30. As with the bike, it hurt, but I didn't really slow down at all. At 18k it was back onto the road to head back to the race site, and my pace finally started to drop. I had to really bring up my effort to get close to my goal pace. But there was no way I was letting that damn sub-1:30 slip. I dragged my butt over the final uphill to the finish, and it turned out I really didn't slow down much through the whole race.

I finished in 4:36 which was good for 4th overall, 1st in my age group by a decent margin. I'm not typically one to "sportstats creep" but it looks like I was only beaten by athletes who routinely are first-overall age groupers at IM and 70.3s. The winner who was only 3-4 minutes ahead of me is a 9:00 Kona/sub-4:10 half IM athlete, which is where I would like to be in the not too distant future. Long story short, I was really happy with my race and it was a huge confidence boost to achieve my running goal on likely the hardest run course I've done so far. I can't wait to see how my fitness reflects in Mont Tremblant, which seems FAST in comparison to Knoxville and Muskoka.

I got some pretty good swag for winning my age group too! Overall I'm always impressed with Rev3 events, and this was a nice surprise. I wish there were more around to compete with WTC...I'd choose Rev3 over Ironman every time, but sometimes it comes down to the closest and most convenient events.

So its back to the grindstone, and I'm going to put my early season fitness to use and have a go at some shorter distance Ontario events through June and July. I'm really looking forward to getting back to basics and racing hard at the local races through the summer that I often miss when I'm training for 70.3s.