Friday, September 19, 2014

2014 Ironman Mt. Tremblant Race Report - The Run

Coming out of the tent with fresh new clothes, and the best looking tri kit that I have (thank you Coeur!), I did not want to spoil the feeling of starting anew with an unfortunate accident, so I jumped in a port-a-potty conveniently situated on the red carped and took care of some lingering business. With light feet and a light tummy, I was springy like a horny bunny.

I started running with my usual "all day long pace" (around 6:30min/km) and my plan was to keep it easy and relaxed and see how far my legs would take me without the dreaded pain that had taken over my knees 2 months prior. And oh surprise, I was feeling NO pain! One km, two km... the hills were looking nasty and my fitness wasn't quite there as I had pretty much given up running for 6 weeks before the Ironman, but I saw most people around me (going in the same direction, because in the opposite one was the fierce fight for the first place female and that was looking quite intense) walking up the hills and so I decided to follow suit. Nobody was there to judge, so why would I care?
We are all legit, dammit. Besides, there was still enough daylight to bask in, so ... smile and enjoy, the journey goes on and there is not a hiccup in sight. After 4km or so we arrived in the old Mt. Tremblant village where the landscape changed to flat and scenic as we reached "Le P'tit Train du Nord" trail. And just like a long train, I continued to hold my place in the stream of bodies, strongly decided not to walk again, unless I was going through a water station and I needed to grab something.

My fuel belt was already feeling heavy and I had no desire to drink anything from it for the time being. Remember my problem with boredom of the palate? Yeah, that can be annoying sometimes. At the first water station on the trail I had the choice between Coke, Red Bull, water and Perform (I think) and I took some Coke to see if my body tolerates it. No immediate adverse reaction and no problem for the next 4km... Win! The studies were there to prove it, drinking Coke in the last portion of an endurance event could enhance performance, and despite the fact that I stopped drinking pop in 2007, getting a little boost with a "gas expeller" side effect, was not going to be a choice to be ashamed of.

I also took a few orange slices to remove the sweet and sticky taste of Coke. My taste buds were already rebellious by then. I continued running steady with almost no walking breaks, still amazed at my lack of pain in the knees. Told you guys that adrenaline and endorphins are powerful drugs... you should do more of those, they're totally legal.

Right after I reached the end of the trail and turned around, it started raining again. Seriously, Mother Nature? Another temper tantrum, but this one did not last enough to spoil the day... maybe 10 minutes in total. We got a little wet, but it was rather refreshing. However my feet got soaked and I started looking forward to the fresh pair of socks that I had in my special needs bag. Soon enough I was back in the village, but there was still a way to go before the end of the loop. First, another chunk of trail in the opposite direction, not paved this time... and I had to watch my footing so I don't roll an ankle. One cannot be too careful on Ironman day, especially when everything is going so well!

Then back on the hills again... and who do I see with 3km to go? Zin!! There he was, he came to keep me company for a bit, although from the opposite side of the sidewalk so I don't get DQ'd or something. I was so paranoid... I wanted to give him my fuel belt and I started thinking of scenarios that would not qualify as "outside assistance" and came to the conclusion that I could just as well throw it inside a garbage can or on the ground and he could pick it up later... but I threw it at him anyway. He took this photo of me just minutes before, when he saw me emerging from the woods so to speak. I chose to keep the bottle of pickle juice with me though, as I never did a marathon without it.
I've got company, haha. I wonder if this picture is a good representation of the male/female participation ratio at this races. 7:1? Anyway, I had NO idea. 

I stopped at special needs where I sat for 2 minutes to change my socks - what a lovely feeling, like a new pair of feet - and grabbed a small box of Pringles. There was also a can of Red Bull in the bag, but since the aid stations had plenty of it and the Coke was working just as well, I decided to leave it. I was already looking classy enough with my chips and my bottle of pickle juice in hand.

Zin continued running "with" me for about 2km, then Wendy joined the party! I loved seeing both of them... and I was still so damn happy... My desire to sign up for another Ironman RIGHT THERE, RIGHT AT THAT TIME was consuming my brain. I almost didn't want it to end. I think I have a problem and no, it was not just temporary. I know what I'm talking about... it's now one month after the race and my fingers are still itching to grab the credit card out of my wallet.

With these silly thoughts in mind, I made it back to Mt Tremblant station where the crowds were loud and wild, already cheering on the Ironman finishers. I thought that starting the second loop was going to be hard, taking right instead of left just 50m from the finish line... But nope, I was on the roll and this party was all kinds of awesome! I was wondering if they had a disco ball at the finish... "You should be dancing, yeah!"

But back on the road, I felt lonely all of a sudden. The hills were looking meaner and steeper and my decision to walk them was starting to dread on me as my knee pain had returned and was at its peak whenever I was resuming the running. It was all manageable though and I was already looking forward to the flat section where I wouldn't have to stop.

I remember arriving on the trail with some daylight remaining, and almost wishing the photographers would still be there to capture us the "magic light". But nah, they were already gone and the lights were already turned on. Party poopers.

I drowned my sorrow in pickle juice. It tasted like heaven! No need to switch back to Coke until further notice, I could do just well with salt and vinegar. The nectar of the Gods, dudes!

I noticed that a lady was running close behind me and at some point she said that I was helping her to keep moving, or she would have stopped running a while ago... Now that was exactly what I/both needed, company to share the pain and the struggle. I asked her if the pace was ok and she said "perfect", but that she wanted to walk through the water stations... But of course, no problem with that, even though my knees preferred the relentless forward motion. I had a Tylenol 3 (codeine) with me in case things got really ugly, so that thought remained my safety net, along with the last minute mantra by Billy Ocean, "When the going gets tough, the tough get going" (read Part 1 for the background).

I learned that her name was Jane and that it wasn't her first Ironman, but at that particular moment, it was probably going to be her last. I wonder if she changed her mind since... ;-) It was definitely nice to have someone to chat with, and the kilometers went by one by one, rather uneventful. The night fell upon us way before the first turn around and it was dark in places and very quiet. Several times she felt bad for asking me to walk, but I kept reassuring her that it was no biggie. In a short delirious moment we even wondered if we could make it under 14h... but quickly abandoned the thought of being stressed by an arbitrary number. We knew that we still had a few hills ahead and most likely it was foolish to dream of significantly speeding up when we were actually fading down.

Once we reached the second turn around I told her that no matter what, we were going to stick together until the end. She asked me to promise her that I would run ahead and have my own moment at the finish line... That was a deal... if only I could still run by then. :-) The old village was now deserted, with only a few scattered people yelling at us "Lache pas!!" (don't give up), drinking beer in front of their houses. My own celebratory beer had to wait a little... Only 3 more kilometers... Wendy was there again, but I was out of words. The emotions were slowly taking over my tired self and I was dreaming of the finish line... Lights, music, Mike Reilly's voice, space blankets, and my family! I told Wendy that I was sorry for not being as talkative as before... But she knew and she didn't say a word. The pain in the knees was there in full force, but I was resolved not to take the T3 until after I become an Ironman. It makes it even more Ironman-er without drugs, right? Whatever my mind was tricking me into thinking, I was game. And tough, almost-Iron tough. Billy Ocean kind of tough (even though I wasn't looking for Jewels on the Nile).

As we were approaching the roaring crowds, I shared my mantra with Jane and she said, "isn't this a song by Billy Ocean"? What a woman, she knows her 80s too! It made me smile, just as we turned the corner onto the cobblestone path, surrounded by a sea of people. She said... go, go GO... and I RAN. High fives left and right. BEST FEELING EVER... and it only lasted a minute.. two maybe? I heard my name and Mike Reilly got it right!! Did he rehearse or what?! I raised my arms in the air and took half a second to savor being under the arch. I was still feeling like a million bucks.

Someone gave me a blanket, then I heard another familiar voice in the crowd. It was Zin with my mom and my boys. I walked over and gave them all big sweaty hugs.
A fleeting moment, and still a blur
Jane arrived a moment later and together we went to grab our medals and some food. Food, really? I didn't feel like eating any food! I put some fruits in my plate, but they tasted like ... nothing. My tastebuds had either left the building or the fruits were really that bad, I'll never know.

I talked to Jane for a minute, we exchanged Twitter handles (I still haven't found her since, I must have gotten it wrong), then Wendy came to sit with me... I drank my beer and ate some fries... I was definitely more thirsty than hungry. My body was feeling totally fine and I told myself, wow, I felt much worse after a standalone marathon. About 10 minutes later I was getting cold and wanted to see my family really bad. So I went to have my finisher photo taken, then met with my loved ones.

We went to pick up my bike, my bags, I put on some warmer clothes, we took the bus to the air field, then drove back to the cottage, where I went to sleep. The End. :-)

And what else is there to say? I DID IT. I AM AN IRONMAN.
I had an spectacular day and I am totally hooked. I smiled the whole time, I survived the pain, I made friends, I learned lots about my body and how it can handle the unknown. I found that the most important is to stay in the moment and just... enjoy. It may come easier to those who don't run after podiums or a time on the clock... and once I freed myself from expectations (about a minute in the swim, when I looked at the sky), I had a blast. From the first breath in the water, to the first pedal stroke, to the moment my soles hit the pavement, I kept reminding myself that this was just a long training day.

So I raced smart, I kept the heart rate down and my ego in check, I ate and drank regularly, and in the end... it really didn't feel bad at all.

Anyone can do an Ironman? Absolutely!! Stop doubting yourselves!

However, I could not have done it without the support of my family and friends, close and far. My Coeur tri kit did not disappoint (zero chaffing!!), my bike Trinity did not fail me, thanks to my best bike mechanic, my hubby. My ROKA wetsuit kept me warm and buoyant without excess tightness and panic attacks. My coach gave me a great plan and helped this 40 yr old body reach the level of fitness and endurance to do the unthinkable and for that I am extremely grateful as well.

I could not have asked for a better day. Will I do it again? OH YEAH!!!

(To read the whole shebang - follow the links for The Swim and The Bike)

Saturday, September 13, 2014

2014 Ironman Mt. Tremblant Race Report - The Bike

After leaving the changing tent inferno, I picked up my bike from transition and off I went. For having driven up and down Montee Ryan pretty much every day before the event, I knew every inch of pavement, and it didn't scare me from the elevation standpoint. It's actually a great introduction to the landscape, but with a lot less space around to navigate. There were parts of the road that were downright dangerous if you were flying downhill passing someone. No place to go if something or someone jumped in front of your wheel, so I tried to be careful and not do anything too crazy that would get me in trouble. Before you know it, 10km done, boom!

But once I arrived on the Hwy 117, I had to start working harder right away. There are some long climbs and a few fast descents, but overall I'd say it's a rather boring stretch of the course, that goes out for another 23km before you get to turn around. You can see what I'm talking about in the gorgeous graph below. Hwy 117 is from km 10 to 33 and back, before you go into the little tail at the bottom.
Given the winds that you may encounter on this highway, the first big descent after 6k of non stop climbing is the most exciting part as it gives you the first good adrenaline shot of the day. After that all you should really care about is to stay legal and not to ride on the shoulder like everyone else does. Don't get me wrong, it is a beautiful course from km 1 to 90, but in the context of a race, it becomes work, and very hard work at times, so you have less time to admire the surroundings. There aren't many people to cheer you on either, so for the most part you are with your thoughts and for a few seconds at a time, with those who pass by you, or you pass back later on. "Hey, dude, didn't I see you earlier? And then... "Alright, feel free to pass me again, no hard feelings..." (I'll catch you later... or not).

I started eating as soon as I got on the highway and I continued to eat solids at 35-45 min intervals, trying to go from one kind of food to another on a rotation, with a sip of liquid to make it go down faster. I cannot stand boredom, especially that of the palate. I had 5 salty balls, 3 gels (1 Espresso, 1 Mint Chocolate, 1 Salty Caramel), 1 Kind bar, 3 bottles of Endura and 3 bottles of water (I stopped to fill up twice). I also had 1 half of a banana (maybe 2?) at one of the water stations, and a few pretzels that another athlete shared with me because I told him that they looked tasty.

And just like that, with the wind at your back, after it sucked your soul on the way out, you find yourself leaving the highway and turning into downtown St. Jovite, which is a sort of cheerful interlude with a side of false-flat that laughs at you in the face: "A-ha, gotcha!". I laughed back at it and promised to bring confetti and a party hat the second time around.

Then Montee Ryan (should have been Descente Ryan this time) brings you back into Mt. Tremblant, where the masses go wild. I found this part quite exhilarating and my heart was ready to explode with joy while riding through the crowds, but I also knew that the worst was yet to come... so I contained my excitement, yet my face still got a cramp from smiling so much. I remember seeing the photographers there and told myself that was the best spot for taking pictures, just before everyone starts crying. The last 10km before the last turn around are pure torture and they do put an end to everyone's enthusiasm for sure. Mission: stay upright, don't break your chain, don't stop (or you'll never be able to start again) and if you can, keep your butt on the saddle and the heart rate under control. Translation: slow and steady. This is no place for heroics, because you'll have to do it all again in a few hours.

I did my best not to burn all my matches on this climb, and followed to a T my own pieces of advice. The turn around could not come soon enough, but once it did, it was like fireworks! I swear I wanted to get off my bike and do a happy dance. I celebrated with another fast descent, and double the adrenaline shots thanks to all the turns and reduced visibility.

And shortly afterwards, I could finally say LOOP ONE DONE!! (pretty sure I yelled even louder inside)
Loop two started just like the first one, but with a stop at special needs about 1km in. I exchanged one of my Endura bottles and I was on my way. Things got a bit more interesting on this loop if I can say... For one, there were more bottles scattered on the road to avoid, like the big Aerodrink that I encountered during one of those fast downhills that I was telling you about on Montee Ryan. It's a miracle that I did not hit it. I may have even closed my eyes for a fraction of second thinking that I was about to go down. Phew, one avoided, three dozens to go?

Back on Hwy 117, and the hills had not moved. Still there, yup. Plus, the wind came back to keep them company. So both decided to spoil my party, but I was not going to give them satisfaction so easily. I probably slowed down a little, or rather I started telling myself that I needed to save my legs for the run since they were burning a bit more than the first time. The same 10 people that I had been playing tag since the beginning were still there too, but this time I wasn't so eager to pass them back. I kept repeating in my head: "This is just a long training day, be patient. There is still a marathon away. Don't get greedy!". Over and over again. I would say that staying put and trying to judge how tired my legs were was the biggest challenge of the day.

For those who like data porn, here are some nice charts and squiggly graphs thanks to Velo Viewer.

Ok, so where was I? Still on the highway, that's right. Well, there isn't much to say about the rest of the ride... St. Jovite, Montee Ryan, Mt. Tremblant... same old, same old, but with a lot less people around. Most spectators must have been gathering around the finish line as the pros were already on the run. However, I did see my little family just when I was about to start the last set of hills and that gave me a great mental boost. The last climbs felt even easier this time, go figure. I also found myself descending faster too, but I had to tap the brakes a little because I didn't want to crash so close to the finish.

And to make it even more exhilarating, with 5km to go, we got hit with a DOWNPOUR. I don't think that I could have gotten more wet than in those last 10 minutes. Thanks for the shower, Mother Nature! You must have known that I had pee-pee'd in my bike shorts 3 times.
I'm so happy, I'm gonna burst!
Oh, and the crampy smile? Still there!!

Bike: 7:01:24

Back in T2, I found a chair to sit on right away, then repeated the struggle with my clothes, only that this time I didn't have another towel to dry myself off before putting on my tri kit. I had to ask for help from a volunteer to untangle the back of my tri top, then put sunscreen on my back. Thankfully there was nobody around to yell against it. It still took me a while until I completed the wardrobe change, but again, comfort was a priority rather than speed. Dry clothes never felt so good!! Grabbed my fuel belt with 2 little bottles of Endura and 1 bottle of pickle juice, more salty balls and gels, my puffer and off I went again.

T2: 11:23 (1 minute faster than the first time, yay!)

For the run, go here.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

2014 Ironman Mt. Tremblant Race Report - The Swim

30 weeks of Ironman training, 3 years in the making since I saw Chrissie Wellington tearing up Kona with shredded skin on her legs, and read Matt Long's "The Long Run". Three years of watching people of all ages and shapes crossing the finish line. I was told that with hard work and perseverance, anyone can do an Ironman. Okay then, challenge accepted. Now here we are...

I picked up my race stuff...
I left my bike in transition...
I prepared my race food...
Salty balls, of course! 
I carb loaded in style...
My hubby's pasta is better than Ironman's 
I even took a selfie with Mike Reilly... 
And hoped that it was not going to be bad luck 
After a week of pure cabin fever and enough trips to the Ironman village, I could not wait to get started!! And race day started early for sure... Alarm clock went off at 4am and I literally jumped out of bed. I didn't sleep much that night, despite going to bed at 7pm. I tried to relax for an hour or two, then turned off the lights at 9pm. Around midnight, my brain decided to start singing: "When the going gets tough, the tough get going" by Billy Ocean. No, for realz.

How many people get an earworm in the middle of the night before an Ironman? *raises hand* This girl does. I even got a mantra without asking for one. The mind works in miraculous ways ... Alas it did keep me awake for a few hours until 2:30am.

 Anyway, I bet there are worse ways to spend a night than singing to Billy Ocean and planning wardrobe changes. Say what?? Well... Since I could not sleep, and given that it had rained non stop for a week, I had to look at the weather app one more time. The day was going to be cold and overcast in the morning, sunny with scattered showers in the afternoon. Hmmm... Told myself that comfort should make it more tolerable for sure. And so I decided that I would wear my bike jersey and shorts on the bike, then change into my Coeur tri kit afterwards. I made a mental note to add a towel to my bike gear bag as well.
Upon waking up, I had to scramble for a bit to find my new bike clothes and make some last minute changes to my special needs bags (is it just me or everyone does it?), then I prepared my bottles of Endura for the bike and fuel belt. For breakfast I had 2 slices of toast with butter and ham, 2 boiled eggs and some juice, and a banana to go for eating closer to the start.

The plan was for hubbs and mom to come with me in the morning, then go back and pick up the boys from the cottage sometime during the bike leg. So after we finished eating, we all drove to the airfield to catch the bus to the village. Thankfully we didn't have to wait for the bus as I got close to having a nervous breakdown after an irrational scare that race transportation options may have changed from the previous year. I never checked and assumed they were the same, and did not want to believe anything that my husband was telling me that morning. Perfectly normal, right?
Soon enough I was in transition pumping the tires on my bike, just by myself like a grownup. I also attached 4 gels to the bike (or did I do this the day before? Looking at the pictures above, it looks like it) and placed all the bottles in their holders. 2 small bottles at the back + 1 big bottle on the diagonal tube with Endura, water in the aero bottle. I also went inside the tent to update the contents of my bike and run bags thanks to my mid-sleep wardrobe decisions.

Then I proceeded to body marking where I looked for my friend Wendy who I knew was volunteering at the event. Spotted her in seconds, but had to line up to get marked. Her sharpie writing skills were quite popular, it seemed. She gave me a huge hug and I asked her to sprinkle some magic dust above me for good juju. After doing her best fairy impersonation, I felt immediately better, then told her "cya later, alligator", or something silly like that. One thing for sure, I wasn't yet crying.

I still had two missions left: to find the special needs containers and a port-a-potty. Following instructions from other awesome volunteers, I found both in no time, but then proceeded to take my time... if you see what I mean... Things were not moving fast enough when I needed them to. Grrr. I had no time to waste though, so I decided to call it a day in the plumbing department and start walking towards the swim start.

About halfway I ran into Amanda, her dad, Doug (both in our FMCT tri club) and the rest of the family. For the sake of catching up on the latest pre-race gossip with my friends, including state of bowel movements, I stopped there as well and wrestled into my wetsuit as per the usual ROKA dance. While I was contorting myself trying to smooth out all wrinkles along my arms, I see another familiar face just across the path. My Coeur team mate Kelly! What a surprise!!

It was the first time that we were seeing each other outside of our computer screens and I recognized her right away. I offered Kelly a few words of encouragement and we exchanged hugs. I wasn't going to keep all that magic dust just for myself, especially when I knew that others were in need of some too!
Twin smiles!
Her hubby took this picture of us and I like it so much (thank you)! All smiles - that's how it should always be. (You can even see Amanda and Doug in the background). Right at that moment, I knew that the day was going to be a great one. Surrounded by friends and family, doing what I love  - not for the win - but because I can. I could not be more grateful for being there. 

We walked slowly towards the beach, then I realized what mayhem was surrounding us. People walking in all directions, caps of all colors everywhere... I was in the last wave, women 40+ and I had no idea where to line up, but I knew that I wanted to do a short warm-up swim before the start. So my plan was to walk towards the lake and see what happens. I gave Zin a big smooch and just like that we got separated and the anxiety kicked in. 

 Eventually I found myself among many other green caps and they were all lining up behind a volunteer with a sign for our group. Nothing out of the extraordinary, but I had to ask whether we could swim for a bit and I was reassured that we could once we got closer to the lake... ok then... patience... Once the group got moving, I headed for the water. I remember thinking that is was rather cold, but not freezing. I jumped in and swam for about 5 minutes and managed to turn my zen mode on. I watched the wave ahead of us leaving, then rejoined the green caps as they were marching towards the start. I then saw Zin and mom who were also looking for me and ran to them for a last kiss and picture. Emotions were free flowing by then and my eyes got teary, I had to lift my goggles and put them on my head.
Not even a minute later the countdown started. The canon went boom and we all started walking towards the water... I was just about to do a dolphin dive, but at the very last moment brain sent the message "Abort! Abort!" as it realized that my goggles were still on top of my head... It made me laugh out loud. I rushed to put them on, then dove... but I had a sneaky suspicion that I would have to stop and do a better job since they started leaking instantly. I still swam a good 100-200m before I decided to come to a full stop. Someone who must have been following pretty closely started apologizing for bumping into me. It was rather hilarious to see our "sorry -  no it was me, sorry - please go ahead - sorry again" exchange in the middle of the lake. So... Canadian, eh? Who said that Ironman swim starts were all muscle and mean knock outs? Mine could not have gone better... so far.

I put my head down and the copilot on, and swam, smiling with each breath. I could see the sky and the sun breaking through the clouds and I could feel so much happiness, that I almost started crying again. I am glad that I managed to hold back my tears because it would have been rather embarrassing to stop and empty my goggles without a good enough reason. The lake got very choppy about half way towards the turn buoy, but I remained unfazed. I swam in bigger chops before and they always make me think of being a rocking chair... or swinging in the giant arms of the lake... I love open water swimming so. damn. much. You just have to go with the flow, embrace the movement... There is no need to fight it, you'd lose anyway. 

I briefly looked around me and there were caps of all colors everywhere. Green wave, what green wave? We were all like veggies in a giant soup. I kept doing my thing, making my way through the sea of people, clinging on feet here and there... Nothing much to complain about, other than a pair of feet that were hitting the water so hard and creating a loud disturbance, that I had to swim away from them repeatedly. The sound and vibration were penetrating my body and were making me highly uncomfortable, like a jackhammer through my eardrums and chest. I wonder, have you ever experienced something like this? I, for one, I was amazed how this person was still moving forward after 2.5km of super hard kicking. 

I managed to distance myself and continue on my own tranquility path, without percussion sounds in the background. The lake became quieter too in the last quarter of the swim, and I was able to fully relax... I had no idea if I was within my estimated time of 1h20, because it certainly felt laborious for about half of the swim, but I reached the beach with the masses and a huge smile on my face. What else could have I asked for? I was done the first leg of the race and I was about to jump on my bike for a long day on the rolling highways. 

Swim: 1:26:07
I am done the swim, yay!
Once I got inside the tent, I noticed that things had changed from the previous year. Volunteers were no longer giving athletes their bags, we were on our own to find them. Thankfully the water in my ears didn't alter my capacity to read numbers and remember my own, yay! Grabbed the #983 bike bag and went inside the changing area.

Holy cow, that was crowded! There was not a single seat available and I had to look around for a bit until I found a clear spot to empty my bag. In the background, I could hear the volunteers' team captain yelling at them "DO NOT HELP THE ATHLETES!! THEY ARE ON THEIR OWN! DO NOT HELP THEM EMPTY THEIR BAGS OR PUT THEIR ITEMS BACK IN THE BAG". I looked at her with a big W.T.F. on my face. I had been there as a volunteer the year before and there were no such instructions, or rather it was all the opposite. We were supposed to help as much as we could. I told the captain that things had changed since last year and she replied to me that someone must have not done their job then...  Yeah, but it was her who gave us the instructions, not someone else... Oh well. A volunteer who I also recognized from last year was beside me, ready to help, but she was utterly confused about what she was supposed to do there in this case. She just sat there, looking at me while I was changing clothes with a bewildered look on her face. We were both sorry for each other and that was kinda sad.

 I had no clue how long it took me to change all clothes, dry myself with the towel, put on my socks and shoes, helmet, food in my pockets, etc... but I did not rush. It was more important NOT to forget something and avoid an unnecessary panic attack. I'd say that if I hadn't changed clothes I would have certainly saved 7-8 minutes, but since I didn't even know what to expect from the day, being speedy in transitions was not a priority. Keeping my head in the game was.

T1: 12:29

For the bike, go here.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Bracebridge Sprint Triathlon Race Report

After 5 weeks of feeling sorry for myself, I was actually looking forward to this last little race one week before Ironman Mt. Tremblant. Of course, no race is without risks and I knew that I was taking a small chance to either drown, crash or break something. But in the spirit of getting all the cobwebs off my knees and putting in a little speed work before the longest day of my life, I embraced the buzz that came with the preparation for this race.

We woke up at 4am since we had a 3h drive ahead of us. We needed to make the trip in order to pick up our boys from two weeks of camp anyway, so this was a perfect opportunity to pepper our drive with some good sweaty fun. We arrived at the race site early enough to stop for breakfast at a nearby Tim Hortons and to drive the bike course. It was still the crack of dawn and the fog was making the landscape nicely eerie. Ooooh, spoooooky......
We returned to the race site, then went through packet and chip pickup, body marking, bike drop etc. etc. By now, we are used to the Multisport series routine, it is a well oiled machine. I chatted for a bit with friends in transition, then I went to find a portapotty.  And once I found it, I didn't want to leave it... sorry to all the folks waiting in line. Unfortunately this only left me with a few minutes to get ready. Given how I need to wrestle with my wetsuit for 15 minutes to put it on, I was in a bit of a rush, but eventually I made it out of transition before it closed and into the water for a quick warmup.

This swim was in a river and it was a time trial start. Basically we had to line up in the order of our bibs, then start swimming at 3 seconds intervals. It was pretty neat, my first experience with this type of start. Alas the river was rather narrow and I found myself zigzagging right off the bat, especially going out with the current. There were swimmers everywhere and lots of breast strokers, which made for quite an interesting, non linear swim. After the turn around, and once we started going against the current, it appeared that everyone ahead of me decided to do the breast stroke. I lifted my head and saw a wall of people looking around them, kicking sideways. I feared for my ribs and so I started moving towards the median line. Not sure whether the current was stronger there, but ironically, that seemed to be the path of least resistance. I pushed through and before I knew it, I reached the shore and I was done.
Does this picture make me look mean? Don't mess with me!!
Transition went ok, but I struggled to take my wetsuit off, as usual. There is no way to just step on this one and see it coming off. I have to help it around my ankles with my hands and it almost ends with me falling back on my butt. Classy. Oh well. I can't always win.

At least I look classy enough pushing my bike out of transition. Like a boss!
I am glad that I didn't trip and fall on my face because I could not see a thing. My sunglasses were all foggy but I pretended that I was seeing perfectly so I don't get pulled over for impaired biking. Thankfully by the time I hit the road, everything was a-ok! The course was still fresh in my memory and I was ready for some hills, so I rode conservatively, using all my gears on the uphills and coasting as much as I could on the downhills, just like I was planning to do at the Ironman. This was almost like dress rehearsal, but without the dress, thank God.

For some reason I felt rather sluggish during the ride, most likely due to the hard trainer workout from a few days prior... But that was ok, I still ended with a decent time (42min for 20km) and besides, I had nothing to prove. I remember the last words that Phaedra's hubby told me before I started the swim, and they stayed with me throughout the race: "If anything hurts, STOP. This race means NOTHING." Yes, indeed. It didn't matter a bit what was going to happen this day. Eye on the prize, this was JUST a rehearsal. As usual, I was getting passed on the uphills and I was bombing the downhills, but I was also staying alert and careful. Made it back in one piece, and left behind no regrets. 

Then, the real test began: the run. Right off the bat I had a hill to climb, on grass. Not my favorite, but I got it done, then up along the river and over the bridge towards the opposite shore. That's where I saw Zin who had 1km left. I was happy to see him finish so strong. I was just starting, but what else is new, he IS a beast.

I was listening for any sign of pain, and it first came around km 2. However, it was manageable and I realized that the more I was running, the more it was fading out. Or maybe I was the one doing the muffling, I will never know. Fact is, I got through 5km of running without ever wanting to stop, or feeling that I needed to. It was not one of my fastest runs, since I can't say that I tried to stay speedy in the 5 weeks before this race, but it was decent. And you know what? I was darn happy with decent (and little pain).
Oh, and a PR that got me 5th in my AG again. This was actually my first ever real sprint distance in 3 years of racing triathlons. As I said a few times before, I like doing things backwards. I have yet to do a try-a-tri, y'all!

After the race we hung around for a little since Zin ended on the podium by taking 3rd in AG. His first triathlon podium, there was no way that we were going to miss it.
I am so freaking stoked for him!! There are 2 more races left for him and he's having a great time with these shorter distances. He even tried to convert me a few times, but for now I am still in love with the slow and steady dose of pain. 

And that's about it folks... we left quickly afterwards to pick up the boys from camp, then drove back home with ice on my knees and ITBs. A day well spent, a full system check before THE big race. You have to give it to me, I know how to keep the taper crazies away! ;-)

Friday, August 22, 2014

IMMT Training Weeks 29 and 30: Wait for it...

I am not a perfectionist freak for nothing! I have to get this last update out of the way before writing the IMMT race report. So you'll have to wait a little longer for this: Irina S, you are.... an IRONMAN!!! Ooops, did I just let the cat out of the bag? My bad.... :D

But technically, it was at the end of week 30, so a mention belongs here too. Now, what the hell happened in those two weeks before the Ironman? It was supposed to be taper, but my mind was racing. And I was also getting ready to race a sprint triathlon. Oh wait, does it mean another race report before THE race report?... This blog is becoming borderline evil. But it should make this update so much shorter, me thinks.


On Monday of the long weekend, my friend Carol called me and asked if I wanted to go to the quarry. Despite the high chance for thunderstorms, we took a gamble and it ended being just perfect. Two 1km loops, nice and steady.

On Saturday of the same week I swam in Bracebridge 750m (time trial swim in a river, wicked!), then the next day I swam 2 loops at Professor's Lake (1.5km). Open water swimming, all the time!!
The week after, we took residence in a cottage by the Lake Dufour in Mt Tremblant, where I could not wait to jump in the water. Only that it rained, and rained, and I didn't feel like going in right away, so I waited until Wednesday to finally get my swim in. But it was absolutely blissful! For a last swim before the Ironman, I could not have asked for a better one.


On the same Monday of the long weekend, I also went on a bike ride, the longest since I was told that my bike most likely messed my hips, knees and ITBs. Emma organized it and a few of her cheerful friends (Richard, Sam and Nicole) attended as well. For once I chose to stay at the back of the pack and enjoy the surroundings, which were absolutely stunning!! Without exaggerating, it must have been one of the most beautiful rides that I've ever done, and it made my heart sing. 55km with my lovely chatty friends and my hubbs (and a bakery stop) - the perfect way to start the week when your mind is about to get lost in lala-land.

However, this ride, while long for my achy knees, did not convince me that I still had what it takes to complete an Ironman. I had to go back on the trainer and see how many watts I could still push. I needed some numbers to believe. So I chose Citadel, a sweet dose of Tempo and Threshold work.
And my legs worked!!

With a bit of relief on my mind, I went to the race in Bracebridge on Saturday, and rode long enough to remind myself how to switch gears on hills and fly down the inclines with a grin bigger than my face.
Then in Mt Tremblant, I did 3 more bike rides to reacquaint myself with the IM bike course and the hills of the Laurentides. First, a quick but scary 10km around the cottage. Not a minute of flat and bad roads everywhere. The next day I took my wheels to Mt Tremblant village and back to the cottage by Montee Ryan. It was all fun and games until 1.5km out from the cottage, where a 15% hill was waiting for me. I was climbing it a few times a day by car, but by bike it was a different story. One that almost finished with puking. Seriously, what was I thinking? Will you talk to my ego, please? Last but not least, a 20km out and back on Hwy117 with Ironmans-to-be Amanda and her dad. I asked Zin to come with us as well and make sure that I don't climb the darn hill again.


Runs? What runs?? I did 1h of elliptical on August 6th and yes, I did run in Bracebridge for 5km, and not on my hands. But that was all. I took a 1h walk on the run course in Mt. Tremblant while looking for geocaches. I also left mental notes to pick up in the dark moments of the Ironman marathon, but little did I know, I was not going to need them.

In a nutshell

What is the minimum that you can do with an injury in order to keep your fitness to finish an Ironman? This question kept me awake for many nights during these 2 weeks. I don't think there is a scientific formula for it though. I kept on going back to my experiences running marathons with less than the recommended 30km long runs in order to fall asleep. I know I can run a marathon, but can I run it after 3.8km swim and 180km bike with shredded ITBs?

I used this time to poke at my fitness and see if I could, if I tried. I think I succeeded, with minimum pain, or rather, a manageable amount of pain. I was somewhat relieved to see the training coming to an end. The last 6 weeks were like a long death march and I did not enjoy dealing with so much guilt, uncertainty and the constant feeling of inadequacy.

And now it's time to end this update as well. It feels like history all of a sudden...

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

40 steps to 40: Nine months update

The last update I did on my personal list of goals for this year (called "40 steps to 40") was at three months because I forgot to write one at one month, and also at 2 months. You'd think that I'd remember to write one at 6 months at least? Well, nope. It's been now 9 months!! But better late than never...

1. Finish Ironman Mt. Tremblant.
10 days!!! Enough said. Fingers, toes, eyes and hairs crossed.

2. Clean up my diet
I'm doing my best. I am still eating grains and carbs and sugar, but in lesser quantities. I no longer try to limit these to the morning like I attempted for a month. I eat everything in moderation, and I still stay away from fast food and everything that is deemed unhealthy because of the usual crap that it contains (chemicals, colors, additives, HFCS etc). My carbs to vegetable ratio is still very bad (veggies every other day if I'm lucky), and I know that this is the reason that I have not been losing weight.
Baskin & Robbins "Rainbow Sherbet" kiddie scoop. One of the few treats that I can still eat.
I also found that I'm allergic to cow milk and derived dairy, but only the North American kind. I can eat French and Swiss cheese all day! (looks like everything makes me feel like death, regardless of the country of origin). It is not lactose intolerance in the sense that I cannot digest it, but 90% of my asthma seems to come from this type of dairy, that I was eating/drinking with every meal as butter, cream, milk in my coffee, yoghurt, cheese, iced cappucinos, whey protein in my energy bars and salty balls, pizza, bakery goods made with butter etc. I realized that I was triggering my asthma and thus making it worse constantly. I since eliminated most sources of dairy and my asthma has completely disappeared (when in absence of other triggers like perfume, cold AC air or exercise). I used to need my puffer twice a day, but in the last month I've only had to use it once, and it was at the end of a race.

I consider this to be a bigger win than "cleaning" my diet overall. What does that mean anyway? It's not like I am eating garbage. I think I may be ready to striking this one as done. I made significant changes that led to an improved health and less need for medication. Big Yay!

3. Lose weight to reach 125lb
What a joke. Why on Earth am I so attached to this number? I don't know...It's a nice number. I love this number. Is it realistic for me? Maybe not while I train for an Ironman. I wrongly assumed that I would shed all this weight due to the amount of training that I would put in, but not only my training hours did not pile up like I feared (my biggest week was 16h), but it seems that I may have replaced some fat with muscle as well. I wear the exact same clothes as last year when I was 8 pounds lighter and they still fit the same. I feel healthy. Yes, I do have chubby arms and some fat spilling out of my spandex tights and tri kit, but I can look at myself in pictures and not hate what I see. Do I want to be stronger and more toned? To have a 6 pack? Muscle definition on my legs and back? Sure I do, but I'm soon to be 40 and I've only been doing this sport for 3 years. I may get there eventually, or not... it all depends on my level of commitment to strength training (which I hate with a vengeance). But given all my injuries this year, I think that something MUST be done to strengthen some parts of my body (glutes, hamstrings, core) that are obviously not cooperating.

We'll see what happens after the Ironman. Until then, I leave you with my weight and fat mass as measured over the past year. Numbers at the top left are from today. I don't understand Withings' "normal" range by the way.

4. Run a 5k race under 25min - DONE! (as part of the 10K race. It counts because I make the rules!)
5. Run a 10k race under 52min - DONE!

8. Complete a 70.3 triathlon - DONE!
10. Swim 4x50m medley non stop - I feel that I'm going to do this after the Ironman when all I'll be able to do is swim. Ha!
11. Swim with fins in open water for fun - DONE! It was NOT fun.
13. Bike to Niagara Falls and back - DONE! (from the other B-town, Burlington) It was A LOT of fun!
14. Bike to Blue Mountain and back - hubby has this one planned for after the Ironman. I'm thinking birthday ride, maybe?
15. Bike the Caledon Trailway - I wanted to do this with my boys... They need new bikes first. Hmm. That's a pickle.

16. Climb a mountain - Mt Tremblant, here I come!!!
17. Volunteer at a race - DONE! I volunteered with the office folks at the Race for the Kids and I will also volunteer at Muskoka 70.3 in September.

19. Read 5 books - still stuck reading Cmdr. Chris Hadfield's book. I will bring books on vacation, I hope to finish at least this one!

21. Find 100 new geocaches - I plan to find a good number of them on vacation. It's my only hope. I miss geocaching so much!!

30. Try paddle boarding - I've scoped out 2 locations, I just need to set aside the time. This will happen!

32. Express gratitude for at least 40 days - *sigh* that is all. I am so grateful.... ALL THE TIME. Writing it down though...  I think I'm still at 10 or so.

Everything else is either not on my radar yet, has been postponed or has been completed. Will do a complete tally after my birthday I guess... Let's see how many I can strike until then. I am not holding my breath on completing them all though. But it's fun to have something to look forward to!!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

IMMT Training Week 28: It is what it is

If you thought that taper was cruel, imagine what's it to taper for 6 weeks. Week 28 was the 4th week of doing less than 10h of workouts (due to being injured, not by choice) and you cannot imagine how damaging to the psyche that is. When everyone else was piling up monster workout after monster workout and solid 16-18h weeks, I barely managed to accumulate 7.5h, and that included 1h of ping-pong at the office. Yes, at this point everything helps to get the legs moving and keep the mind distracted from exploding into a million of pieces of self damaging thoughts. Two more weeks to Ironman and at this point, I'm just trying to ramp my body back up with minimum of pain. I was looking for a 20h achievement badge, but maybe I'll get to 10h after all. I am constantly on the verge a breaking up in tears and wanting to punch a hole in a wall. Having friends around helped a lot and being an extrovert, I've been looking for any opportunity to get social. Just don't leave me alone with my thoughts, PLEASE.


Only one swim this week, but a quality one. I could have swum more if I had put the effort into getting my ass to the pool, but bouncing between walls with no distractions was not going to keep my bad thoughts at bay. Instead, I decided to swim another 3.8km in the lake on Thursday and I enjoyed every second of it. I even got lost in the lack of thoughts so to speak, the 5 loops went by in a blink and I came out of the water with the biggest grin that my face could make without getting a cramp. It also happened to be the fastest Iron distance swim this year and seeing a time under 1h20 always gives me a mental boost for the big day to come.
The second OWS that I had planned got cancelled because of bacteria in the lake, but it didn't bring me down. If I keep swimming long every week it should be enough to keep me BELIEVE.


Coach told me to add 15min to my bike workouts this week and turn up the intensity a tiny notch, while remaining within the "easy" realm. So on Tuesday I set up a trainer workout for 1h15 and gave myself the goal of keeping the legs spinning above 90rpm and the watts above 100. I watched the last episode of True Blood and stayed on target.
Then on Saturday (drum roll)... I went outside!!! It had been 2 full weeks since I had rolled my bike out of the garage and it made my heart sing!! We only went for a quick 1h15 loop, but I loved feeling the wind on my face and ALL THE SPEED! Zin knows me so well. On our way back, he told me to draft behind him on a speedy Strava segment and said that he was going to help me get a QOM (fastest woman on this section among all Strava riders that had done it). I didn't get the QOM, but I moved in 4th overall with a 40kph average (up from 33.9kph on my own!!). It was glorious!
Was it a silly exercise? Maybe, but I can's say no to speed induced euphoria, especially assisted by hubbs. It was a beautiful team effort and sometimes it's good to remind ourselves how much we can do when we push and trust each other. Sucking someone's wheel at 40-45kph takes guts and I'm trying to build a good reserve of courage to bring with me on the Ironman course. #Win.

On Sunday our tri club organized a simulation day (without the swim because of the poopy lake water - it's all the birds' fault! PSA: stop feeding them, people!) and Marlene decided to join us. I couldn't wait!! It's been so long since I've seen her in person... And she's such a bundle of positive energy to have around you, that I couldn't pass on the opportunity. The day before we talked "race strategy" and decided to do the 40km bike course and run as many loops around the lake as our legs felt like. So that's exactly what happened. We hopped on our bikes and made our way through the residential area and onto the long stretches of pavement that divide the Caledon countryside, and we had an awesome time.


Oh the dreaded 3 letter word. The RUN. What used to be my solace, it's now a leap of faith. I was told that I have two choices: avoid running altogether until the Ironman, and wait to see what happens, or keep trying and work with my mind to make it stay put in the right place. The hardest mental exercise has been to go beyond the disappointment of feeling pain when I run since it's showing me that it's too late to "fix" my legs now. I have to start the Ironman knowing that sooner or later I will be in pain and the way I will tolerate this pain will be the key to MY success in this race. No kidding, everyone says that the Ironman is mostly mental, but I will have to start with a deficit on the pain threshold scale and that is quite is frightening.

Anyway, enough with the doom and gloom and back to the actual workouts. Tuesday I did 45min of elliptical, pretty intense I should say, given the amount of sweat produced. I don't sweat a lot, so maybe it was too hot in the office gym? It didn't feel like it, so I'll stick with the intensity explanation.
Then on Sunday, during the simulation day, I ran with Marlene a loop around Professor's Lake. It was very hot and muggy and I forgot to drink before starting the run. Not a good race strategy for sure. But I powered along her, keeping the pace high enough match the length of Marlene's legs and the pain in my knees away. I knew at the end of the first 3km loop that a second one would not be wise and I returned to the "transition area" to join the rest of the people that had finished their workouts.

So if you're following along with the 2 choices that I had for running, I went with "B": HTFU.

In a nutshell

I'm moving (forward), I'm sweating (hard), I'm still improving (my swim time), and I'm still a work in progress in everything else, especially when it comes to my mind. But I will prevail. And I can do this!