Tuesday, June 23, 2015

TTF: Provincial Championships

When Triathlon Ontario announced that Provincial Champs was at the Toronto Triathlon Festival I decided it would be a good opportunity to jump in a fast and fun race on tired legs after Welland. But after last weekend not going to plan I was really motivated to race well and hopefully get a boost of confidence in my fitness. I know its there, but it has also been a while since I've run to my potential in a tri.

After a quick stop in Dundas to pick up some new goodies from Scott at Dundas Speed Shop (more info to come!) I got to Ontario Place for race briefing and kit pickup, then met up with Team Switzer at Amanda's sister's place about 10k from the race site. After a short bike/run along the waterfront we had a nice chill evening getting everything prepped for the race. I think the more I work and the busier I get, the more I appreciate the weekend getaways to local races.

While Amanda's dad Kevin was up insanely early for the Olympic race, we had a relative sleep-in for our race start at 9:30. Despite the weather forcast not looking good for Sunday we really couldn't have gotten any luckier with conditions. Warm-up felt good, except for misjudging time and only getting in about 20 strokes in the water before getting back out to line up.

I took the start out hard hoping to latch onto some fast feet and avoid pulling too many of my strong teamLPC teammates with me :) The first buoy was about 200m in so it was pretty crowded to get there, but nothing I haven't dealt with before. After that it was another 100-150m to the turnaround so I put in a big effort to try to get clear of the main large group. I may have been a bit optimistic with my top end pacing, and around 500 I was starting to suffer. I saw my Hurdle Project teammate Prakash Pandya come up beside me nearing the final turn, and after some crappy navigation I got out of the water just a couple steps behind him. Little did I know this was shaping up to be a great battle!

When I got to my bike in T1 I discovered that someone must have dropped my helmet and the visor and rear extension of my helmet had popped off. I had lost my psychological edge of looking super cool! But in all seriousness, I'll occasionally welcome the unexpected so I can learn to adapt in a race situation. I put the pieces aside and got on with it. I got on the bike a step ahead of Prak and we were both very motivated to throw down a big effort.

When Prak flew by me in the first 3k of the bike I thought he was crazy going that hard...but I know he is a fast runner and I didn't want to give anything up on the bike. When we got on the Gardiner we were hammering and quickly got through the handful of speedy swimmers, and everyone from the earlier wave. I spent most of the ride out to the turnaround just trying to get my breathing and heart rate under control while not allowing him to get more than 50-100 meters on me. It was definitely a bit of a shock to the system going that hard with most of my training geared towards steady-tempo half IM efforts. But I knew I had good fitness, I just had to go to the hurt box to get there!

I had a bit of momentum coming off the turnaround so I decided I'd give it a go and see if I could get a lead. It was definitely the most fun I've had on the bike in a non-drafting race. We were pushing each other HARD, partly to work together...partly to try to get away :) I was really impressed with his bike fitness as a relative newcomer to the sport. I thought that was my chance to get a gap starting the run but neither of us were letting the other get away. Around 15k went by me again and got about 10 seconds on me, but through the technical section back to T2 we came back together and got off the bike almost side by side. After another slightly slower than usual transition to gather my various helmet pieces together I had a few seconds lead again hitting the run course.

I held onto the lead for about half a mile until Prak came past again...at which point I gave up on trying to keep my effort in check and knew I'd be red lining to the finish. I kept him within 5 seconds up to the turnaround at 2k when we got on Lakeshore. I was running fairly well but lacking a bit of top end speed so I was relying on my endurance and willingness to suffer and try to break the hour barrier - I've been within 30 seconds three times. I saw James, Mark and a few fellow LPC athletes on the way back which helped carry me to the finish.

After the later waves came through I ended up in 3rd, behind Prak and another LPCer Lee Rantala, and we were all within 30 seconds of each other. I once again just missed breaking an hour...it will have to wait until sometime when I'm back to focusing on short-course and building my speed. My swim and run were nothing special but I was really happy with my effort and it was right up with my best sprint races overall. And I was able to take the Provincial Championship for my age group and I get to decide if I want to take a spot to Worlds in Cozumel next year.

With so much emphasis in my training and racing this year being on pacing, fuelling, controlling my effort etc. it was a lot of fun to mix it up with some speed. It reminded me of my roots in the sport and I think after my long course adventures this year I might take some time to get back to basics and have fun getting faster next year!

The best part of the race was taking part in an event with so many friends and teammates. Amanda had an awesome race with one of her best swims ever and smoked the bike course with the top female split, and also earned a spot to Worlds. Now we just have to decide if we want to go next year in the new draft-legal format! And teamLPC dominated once again with a ton of awesome performances. It's inspiring to be part of such a strong group, it makes the championship races a lot of fun.

I still have a few things I need to work out before my next race at Muncie 70.3. I have a long overdue physio assessment and I'm tweaking my bike position slightly to try to avoid the issues I had in Welland. A fast and aggressive bike position is pretty meaningless if it affects your run afterwards! But it was nice to put Welland in the past and get some confirmation that things are still going in the right direction and I'm on track for some good fitness moving forward. I've got a couple more weeks of fine tuning before Muncie, then I get to look forward to a mini mid-season reset before IM training really starts up.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Rose City Half

Last weekend's Multisport Canada Welland Half Iron did not end the way I had intended, but I have no second thoughts on the outcome. The reality of endurance sport is that regardless of your preparation sometimes things just don't go to plan, and it's not a reflection of your fitness or ability as an athlete. Get over it and get ready for the next one :)

Coming off the bike in third behind two pro/elites with confidence in my running was a position I've been working towards for 4 years in a half ironman. But the unknown and unexpected is part of the fun in this crazy sport. So I will take it for what it is – a matter of getting what I needed, and not what I wanted out of this race. To be honest I wasn't keen on sharing my thoughts on the race at first, but in sticking with my theme of transparency through the ups and downs of this IM journey, here's the scoop.

Welland and I have somewhat of an interesting relationship. I think I've had the race on at least some iteration of my race schedule every year because it's an awesomely fast and fun course. It's the race you do to set your PB, and then come back again to try and beat it. But Welland and I don't always see eye to eye.

The first year I planned on doing it I posted a DNS, having forgotten half my gear at the hotel room in Niagara Falls. In 2012 I finally had my first modest success at the half-distance, with a still-standing 2k swim PB, 2:20 bike and survived a 1:35 run. Since then I have put Welland on hold, consistently bringing down my run time on progressively harder 70.3 run courses.  Last year when I ran 1:28 in Knoxville it didn't seem like a stretch to get close to 1:20 in Welland and go sub-4:15.

So after surviving some of the hardest 70.3 courses on the continent over the past three years I decided it was time to give Welland another crack. I didn't have any make-or-break time goals, but this was a goal event for me…I was fit and prepared, and I wanted to continue building on my progression at the half-distance. Swimming has been going ok, my pool fitness is good but I'm still working on finding my open water stroke. I'm riding faster than ever and my run at Around the Bay reassured me of my ability to run 1:22-1:24 on tired legs. So when I actually calculated my realistic goal times based on how training was going I came up with 4:10-4:14.

The only unknown I had was a minor but stubborn issue with discomfort and efficiency on the bike over the past month. I had chalked it up to fatigue and tightness from my long rides, but leading up to the race it was getting to the point that I was ignoring some pretty clear signs of muscle imbalances and overuse. I was hoping that tapering for the race would help shed any fatigue and tightness leading into the race, but it actually got worse during the week and it got to the point of just trying to not think about it before the race. Unfortunately hindsight is 20:20, and it seemed to me like a meaningless "niggle" that comes out of nowhere in taper week and disappears on race day. So with that mindset I was looking forward to taking some serious time off my 4:28 from Welland in 2012.

The swim course this year was in the opposite direction from what it typically is, meaning that we would be swimming under the bridge within the first 300m. Everyone in my wave crowded to one side of the start line, meanwhile I decided to start on the very far end in the middle of the canal with a clear line to the first turn. It made for the easiest swim start I've ever had, watching everyone battle it out beside me while I settled right into my pace, and just before the first turn around 500m I slotted in behind a small group.

The pace was pretty tame, but with the long 1k stretch being into the current this time I decided to save some energy and stay in the draft of the group. A couple times during the long straight I tried my luck at picking it up and going solo, but after 25 hard strokes I decided it wasn't worth the extra effort. Whether it was the long stretch up-current, or my decision to conserve energy and stick with the group, or just not having a great swim, my time wasn't what I was hoping for. But similar to my swim in Knoxville last year, given my very limited open water/wetsuit swimming so far this year I was ok with it, and more importantly I felt good getting on the bike.

Plenty of racing left to nail down that swim. At least my new suit looks rad

After a fast transition I got on my bike with just a handful of athletes ahead of me between a few fast swimmers in my wave and a few guys from the pro/elite wave. I settled into my goal wattage and had some free speed thanks to my new teamLPC skinsuit and my Rudy Project Wing57. My power meter died around 22k, because I'm an idiot and forgot to change the batteries last week when it started to go. But on the flat course I was already dialled into my pacing and just got to work ticking off the miles.

There weren't many athletes around to key off of, but I knew I was riding pretty well and had the potential to put down a fast bike split. I went through 40k around 59 minutes and almost couldn't believe how easily the k's were going by. I thought about my ride in 2012 when I was basically toast after 50k on the bike and the rest of the race was a sufferfest. I was careful to keep my effort in check but I had the feeling that I was having a great ride.

65k into the ride, a massive PB for the distance and my best bike split ever

By 60k I was pretty sure that the only two athletes ahead of me were Alex Vanderlinden and Andrew Bolton, both of whom started in the wave ahead and seem to be very fit and fast this year! I got to the turn at 68k when all there is left is a 20k stretch of perfectly flat and straight road left to get back into town. I vividly remember how uncomfortable I was at this point in 2012, and couldn't believe how fast and fresh I still felt in the aerobars.

I knew I was going to be extremely close to breaking 2:15 (40km/h), but once again I thought about 2012 where I pushed the last 10k way too hard in an (unsuccessful) attempt to break 2:20 by a matter of seconds, and proceeded to have a death march run. I decided to ease up getting back into town and stretch out my calf and hamstring which had been getting progressively tighter throughout the ride – my "niggle" that most definitely didn't disappear on race day. But I got off the bike with a split just a hair over 2:15, with only Alex and Andrew up the road.  I started doing the math with my cumulative time and knew I had sub-4:15 locked down, with the potential of going sub-4:10 if I had a run similar to my effort in Knoxville last year.

Derp face coming off a strong ride

I settled into my goal pace of 3:50-4:00/km but right away I knew my legs weren't going to agree. Having done a few 70.3 now I know what to expect getting off the bike in terms of leg fatigue, and I knew this was different. I was having specific and intense pain in my left glute, which I quickly realized I had been compensating with on the bike when my right calf and hamstring were causing me trouble. As motivated as I was to lock down a podium spot, I knew something wasn't right. I eased up to 4:10-4:15s and the pain got worse.

By 4k I knew I had to make the decision between walk-jogging through a long half-marathon, or pack it in and figure out these issues before it affects any more of my training or races. It probably would have been a much easier decision if I hadn’t gotten myself to such a good position in the race, but it was the decision I had to make. Amanda had run out on the course to around the 8k mark, and despite her insanely awesome cheering I told her I was done. We made the long walk back together in the rain while I watched everyone run by. It was really tough, but more than anything else it reinforced that I need to iron out these small "minor" issues that will inevitably present themselves when you are pushing your limits in a long course race.

So now it's time to get proactive and determine the cause of what's going on. I quickly ruled out the thought that I rode too hard and blew up. I've ridden much harder in training and run well off the bike, and I've come off the bike in a 70.3 in a far worse state fatigue-wise and gotten through the run. I'm working through a few possible causes between muscle imbalances and re-evaluating my bike position, which I'm running more aggressively than I have in the past for long course. Its likely a bit of both that are playing off each other, but it's given me some serious urgency in sorting things out with another half coming up in a month.

Racing-wise I'm just going to get right back on the horse and jump in Sprint Distance Provincials this weekend. I know I have good fitness and won't be risking anything in a sprint so it will be a good opportunity to put this one out of my head and move on. Then I have a few more weeks to work out the kinks before my first A-priority race of the year at Muncie 70.3. With a similar course profile to Welland I'll take some confidence in my bike split there, and look forward to putting it all together.