Friday, September 27, 2013

My painfully dysfunctional relationship with swimming

This is the time of the year when I get in the same funk of hating everything about swimming, and especially myself for being a cry baby and writing a blog post about it. But that's ok. It's all part of the process, to face these stupid thoughts of being a wimp and embracing comfort instead of THE SUCK.

Maybe there are people out there who thoroughly enjoy doing endless laps in the pool, but I am not one of them. I absolutely adore swimming in my wetsuit in open water (as long as I'm not attacked by birds, fish or weeds) and I find that getting into my"bubble of bliss" is the best, most relaxing feeling ever, alas only temporary. Once September comes, the bliss is gone and I return to being crammed into half a lane of heavily chlorinated water, not deeper than 3 feet, trying to navigate around hair balls and band-aids, and sometimes trying to find out whether that object at the bottom of the pool is really poop or an innocent piece of plastic.
Every year, the time comes for me to make a decision. Will I commit to a group swim class with the tri club, or do I retreat to my half lane of misery, convincing myself that's not worth it. Because group swimming hurts and not only it hurts my body, because it's so damn hard, but it hurts my ego and my motivation for going back. Besides, the pool times lie. Or they are not relevant. Whatever. If I can swim a kilometer in 20 minutes in the lake, I'll swim the same kilometer in 25min in the pool. 25% slower.  I don't do flip turns and I barely push off the wall, maybe that's what it would take to make those times equal, even though it makes no sense. There are no walls in the lake! And I keep on telling myself that it's all my fault. That I'm not a good enough swimmer because I'm not able to keep up and swim without a crutch, aka my pull buoy. I actually am able to swim without the pull buoy, for quite a long time, but it feels awkward and a constant battle for air, for moving forward, for staying afloat. I heard that may be normal, but I don't buy it.
Last winter I went swimming with the tri group for 6 months. By the end of it I threw my bands, flippers and my kickboard into a corner and said "fuck it!". I put on my pull buoy and stopped kicking and saw my times getting so much better, even in the pool, and I shook my head in utter frustration and disbelief. WHY? What would it take to match these times, to be consistent, and to enjoy swimming at the same time? What am I doing wrong and how can I FIX IT? It's killing me.

I am on the verge of making the decision NOT to go back to the group swim again. What for? Next year I will be doing my first Ironman. I know I can swim the 3.8km in 1h20, based on my open water times which have been very consistent and accurate when it comes to racing in the same conditions. I'm ok with being an average swimmer (most of the time anyway). I am not trying to win my age group and everyone knows that the swim rarely makes a difference over 140.6 miles, especially for age groupers. So, why would I put myself through 6 months of hell when my goal would be to maintain enough fitness in the pool to keep swimming this distance in 1h20? And who knows, maybe with enough repetition, the time will improve as well... I don't see how one could get slower when muscle memory is maintained.

Anyone reading this will most likely say - she has the wrong attitude, she's not competitive enough, she doesn't care about getting better, all she does is whine, whine, whine. Can't she just harden the fuck up already! I DO care about getting better, but I am not convinced that trying to keep up with a group makes me better. Because trying to keep up with them makes my form collapse and my best form is when I am in my happy place, devoid of peer pressure. And is it really a failure to trade discomfort for complacency? Is it worth putting so much pressure on myself, when I could concentrate on getting better at biking and running? I still have not made a final decision, but I'm afraid that putting myself through this kind of misery is going to kill my passion for this sport. And I only do it for my own enjoyment, not for breaking records, so anyway... My head is again a mess, trying to make a sense of all these thoughts bouncing around like ping pong balls.

It's all a matter of perspective... I know.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

How not to fuel when you're missing organs

After the enthusiasm-filled blog post last weekend, today brings a change of mood, mostly due to the food coma in which I have been agonizing since yesterday. Thankfully the legs are still there, as proven in my last run, 7km easy pace which I completed in Z2 as planned. Thank you legs.

However, my stomach has been completely upside down, not only because I have been a lazy ass and did not bring food to work when I should have, but I also indulged without thinking. See, it all started with my birthday on Wednesday and my awesome colleagues who surprised me with the most delicious cake ever. So, in the morning, I had a slice of cake which I enjoyed with very loud moans of pleasure for everyone's entertainment. Then, at lunch, a few of us went out and we ate Indian food in a little restaurant called Taste of Punjab (Brampton peeps, recommended!!). I loved it. Maybe a little too much. In the evening, I went out again, this time with my family, direction Swiss Chalet. I had back ribs and sweet potato fries, a Stella, and a slice of lemon meringue pie, because YOLO, bitches! Happy last year of the 30s to me! Not sure what I ate on Thursday at lunch, but in the evening I found pizza waiting for me at home and ate two slices.

On top of all this, I had a very long work week, which included working in the weekend as well. Since it was due to a new product launch, the food was provided, but the healthy options were very limited. Friday, Saturday and Sunday I ate 2 out of three meals each day at work. Also, yesterday my team organized a potluck and it was all pretty much the same. Bring on the pizza, curries and five kinds of rice, samosas, cookies, cheesecake, egg tarts and all the sugar soaked spongy thingies in all shapes and colors that I could not recognize. It was only a matter of time until my body said "enough with this crap!". I enjoyed all the food, had a bit of everything, but then ended in the washrooms throwing up and feeling like a volcano was erupting inside my guts. I had to cut my day short and come home where I went straight to bed and had an hour nap in an attempt to calm my intestines down.
Stupid clown
I had to take a sick day since I've been having stomach cramps and a lingering nausea since yesterday. Not sure if it's relevant, but two other people took a sick day today. As far as I'm concerned, I learned my lesson well, especially without a gallbladder. This week only, I must have eaten worse than in the entire year, so it's clear that my body is no longer taking this kind of abuse anymore. I am not sure when I'll be able to return to the pool or do my core workout (excuses, excuses), but seriously, anything that uses my abdominal area is freaking me out for now. I am planning to go on a bike ride later on and maybe the fresh air will help. Wish me luck!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Will run for bling bling

So now that the triathlon season is officially over, I am embracing this temper tantrum of running a marathon. It will be my fourth. I know how hard it is to understand the reasons I'd want to put myself through this again, but let's say that I want to finish the year with a bang and not feeling hungry for more. I had a sneaky suspicion that the 70.3 was not going to hurt enough, and indeed, it did not. November seemed to be a reasonable time to end all hard workouts before starting to focus on Ironman training. My coach wanted me to take September and October off, but I threw him a curveball by signing up for the Hamilton Marathon on November 3rd (and then we fought about it fiercely). But I figured that I would still have 2 more months this year to sit on my ass and get fat. Ok, that's really not the plan here, but I'll have to work twice as hard in the "downtime" not to pack on the pounds. Sigh.

Then a friend of ours from the tri club told us that he was going to run a half marathon in Picton in 2 weeks from now, so we decided to make it a mini family vacation and go for it as well. Talk about a double whammy! For a moment I really thought that I'll give my coach a heart attack. But he survived and I hope that he made peace with my rebellious inner child by now. We also found out that Nicole and her friends were going to be in Picton at the same time, and from one thing to another, she signed up too! We're all going to make it a training run, although our paces are all over the map and I doubt that we'll be running in a pack. But I'm sure that we'll find each other at the finish line, and since we'll be staying at the same cottage, eating marshmallows around the fire.

My training plan had me do a few recovery runs and so far so good. Nothing hurts, and it's rather puzzling. I had a total absence of muscle soreness after Muskoka and the following day I was already running all around my workplace like usual. Yesterday I went on my first "long" run, a 14km in the rain and it was so much fun, I didn't want it to end. What I also noticed since I started running again is that I managed to stay both under 6min/km and 160bpm (Z2-Z3) every single time, so I cannot help but wonder if this is a new trend, or maybe I am turning bionic. Within the last two weeks I ran a cumulative distance of 35km, which is a pretty conservative approach because there is no reason to go all out. Yet, I'm feeling like a newborn, and still on top of the world.
Riri the Happy Giant
At the same time, a new workout showed up in the plan: core workout (3x/week). I've been dreading to start this for a year, and for a good reason. It looks like this (and it is just the beginning!):
  • 2 x 10 deep squats no weights
  • 2 x 10 rear lunges each leg
  • 2 x 10 hamstring curls on ball
  • 2 x 1 min front plank
  • 2 x 15 supermans
  • 2 x 30 sec each side sideplanks
  • 3 x 25 bicycle abs
  • 2 x 15 hip raise
  • 1 x 10 single leg squat
It brought upon me such misery, that I thought I would need crutches to get out of bed. My core is not in bad shape, but man, all those lunges and squats killed me! I managed to do only two of these workouts because I am too freaked out that I'm going to snap a tendon or a butt muscle. Baby steps... I still have a marathon to run. And going back to the why of the marathon, it's not my A race this year, so my goal is to run it easy and maybe, just maybe I'll get a PR. And a shiny new medal (make that two, with the Picton half). Last but not least, I LOVE running marathons, but I'm afraid to say it out loud, or someone will try to lock me up.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


If you've been reading my blog for a while, or if you just look at the banner above, you must know that I have an old triathlon bike, a 2002 Cervelo One named Neo. I introduced Neo to you last year in May when I found him for sale on Kijiji for the round sum of a thousand bucks (with sweet Spinergy wheels and yellow spokes, because he's fancy like that). Since then, Neo has been my only riding partner and we've been through everything together, from my first ever triathlon to my first half Ironman. We rode in the city and in the countryside, in Muskoka, in Mt. Tremblant, we even went to Milton and back on my longest ride this year (110km). Wherever I went, Neo came with me. Neo taught me everything about riding a tri bike: clipless pedals, aero bars, aero drinks, bottle exchanges and ... relieving bladder pressure on the go. Very important stuff. Almost a life and death matter.
But since I got him, Neo never took a break. He's tired and he's letting me know that. I took him to the mechanic a few times already and although the prognosis is good, he needs a good lube and having his chain looked after regularly. He also needs to have his spokes serviced, which will have to be done by a specialist. His shifters and rear derailleur are a bit grumpy too and need regular adjustments not to skip. So Neo, as an older fella, needs more maintenance and definitely some rest. I get it. With Ironman Mt. Tremblant on the horizon, I need a bike that won't let me down and unfortunately with Neo, this can happen at any time. Also, Neo has a regular crank (39/53 teeth on the chainrings instead of compact 34/50) and is tiring my legs in the long run (or should I say, ride). So, I had to make a decision. I was going to buy a new bike at the annual bike show in Toronto, but it would have been more or less the luck of the draw. Knowing how many hours I am going to spend on it in next year, I needed a perfect fit. And so, a few weeks ago, I decided to go downtown and try a few bikes and see if I find a good match.

Our first stop was Wheels of Bloor, a huge store that carries most of big brands such as Felt, BMC, Argon, Pinarello, Kuota and of course, Cervelo. I wanted a bike that had 700C wheels, so Zin and I can share or exchange wheels if needed (maybe some race wheels if we win the lottery?). Anyway, it was clear that I had to move up from the "mini" 48cm frame size to at least 50cm (I am 5'3", 67cm inseam). There weren't many choices for me in the store, aside from a Felt and a Cervelo. I asked to try the Cervelo first, a P2 because that's all we could afford. They measured me, put on a pair of regular pedals, then they let me go in High Park to do a few loops. And a few loops of pure bliss those were. Of course, I could only imagine how beautifully this bike rides, but once I started turning its pedals, I fell in love instantly. What is not to love about a Cervelo P2 anyway? Riding on it is pure poetry. I did not want to try anything else after this. I had found my new best friend and I already knew that her name was going to be Trinity.
I decided not to take Trinity with me at Ironman Muskoka 70.3, not only because she was new and we didn't know each other very well, but because I wanted to reward Neo for having been so good to me in the last 2 triathlon seasons and give him a chance to prove how awesome he still is on those hills that we dominated together on our training rides. He amazed me for never losing the chain or giving me a flat, for not skipping at all and for stopping like a champ when I had to put on the emergency brakes. We finished the race without incident and I am very thankful to him for being at his best that day.

But now it's Trinity's time to shine and show me how reliable she can be. We already went on two rides since I brought her home and I'm in awe of her. We fit together perfectly and I cannot wait to take her on new adventures. Alas the triathlon season is over for this year and I fear that our outdoors rides will be limited since the cold air brought back my coughing fits and I'll have to make sure I don't aggravate my asthma because of it. Most likely Neo will remain on the trainer over the winter and I'll spend more quality time with him watching Breaking Bad on Netflix and sweating profusely.

Last but not least, for those who don't get the Neo/Trinity connection, I suggest you watch The Matrix. I leave you with the key moment of the first movie, where you understand their bond. Just like in the movie, I hope Trinity and Neo will remain together for many years to come.

Many many thanks to my sweet husband for this amazing gift. From what I heard it should cover my birthday, Christmas, and the next 10 wedding anniversaries. Happy everything to me!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

2013 Ironman Muskoka 70.3 Race Report

Our A race, our first 70.3 distance and first big endurance test, the one that could have had us in tears, but instead it brought us only smiles: Ironman Musoka 70.3. If you doubt it, there is enough photographic evidence in this post. We had the best day ever and we could not have asked for more perfect racing conditions. For the short version, see below. Otherwise, get ready for another (very) detailed race report, because that's how I like them.

The plan was to leave for Muskoka early on Saturday morning, go to Deerhurst Resort to register and pick up our race kit, wander through the expo for a bit, have lunch in Huntsville, go back to Deerhurst to leave the bike in transition and attend the athletes meeting, then back to Huntsville for dinner. And with a few little detours, that's exactly what we did. The drive to Huntsville was uneventful despite the pouring rain, and 2.5h later we hit our destination. We had to park our car outside the resort on an airfield about 2.5km away and take the shuttle bus back and forth. No biggie, the shuttles were running all day long and we never had to wait more than 5 minutes for them.
Everyone takes this picture, but this one is mine
My second ever school bus ride. Much better than the first one... a tale for another day.
I'd never seen one of these signs before
The registration went smoothly, it was easy like 1-2-3, just follow the signs. Got the swim cap, wristband, chip and goodies bag, then we went to the race expo where we goofed around trying on a few things, eventually buying the necessary attire to successfully establish our street cred.
We're blue, da ba dee da ba di... (cookie points for those old enough to recognize the song).
If you did, congrats, you're over 14, you can continue reading. 
We met our friend Carol at the expo and the three of us went in town for lunch. We made two stops, one in a small restaurant where I had a scrumptious spanakopita with greek salad, then two doors down in a bakery where we "sampled" a few desserts. Maple syrup pecan tart - to die for!! I only had a half, but I should have bought a dozen. No picture alas, but I hope you can smell the hot fresh pastry and the spinach in the one below.
Culinary break over. Back to triathlon.

At this point, the weather was still a bit gloomy, with a little drizzle to keep us fresh like vegetables in a supermarket. After returning to Deerhurst, we left our bikes in transition, then we attended both the athletes and pro panel meetings where I scored a huge Merrell transition bag prize filled with goodies (tshirts, socks, sunglasses, towel, wetsuit mesh bag, pens, coffee mug, shaker and a gift certificate for a pair of shoes). WIN!! They just picked one number out of all registered athletes and it was mine. Un-freaking-believable!! I never won anything like it in my entire life, so that was a huge surprise.

After the meetings ended, we went on a little walk around the resort as we wanted to look at the swim start and exit. We discovered that a 400m (1/4 of a mile) hill was waiting for us to run on up after the swim. I wondered whether I should leave some shoes there, but I had no other pair than my bike and running shoes, so I quickly abandoned the idea. Barefoot running was going to be. HTFU.
You run all this...
And this (and some more)!
After you exit here. Watch your step!
At the swim start beach, some dudes were in the lake for a last dip. I asked them how the water was and they said COLD. Oh well. I've done Lake Ontario before, this was just a puddle compared to it. How worse could it be?
Triathletes on the beach
And enough Muskoka chairs to watch them swim
I took a few minutes to enjoy the scenery, then walked back to transition for a last check on my bike. Air, lube, bags on saddle and handlebars, bento box removed, check! Neo was racked beside an younger cousin, a Cervelo P4 with Zipp wheels. The contrast was rather striking.
Neo must be the hippie grandpa in this Cervelo family
Neo's yellow spokes are funkier than your Zipps
I was just a few places away from Carol and her bike. I dig her bike's red tires (and her Conan tshirt).
Hey girl! Doing a triathlon today?
Zin's bike was in a very different area of the transition, so we had to go opposite ways, so to speak. He came back a bit later with his pump and lube and gave Neo a last pep talk. I bet it went something like this: "If you don't take care of Riri tomorrow, I'm going to pull out all your funky yellow spokes one by one and poke your slim aero engineered ass with them". Yeah, he must have.

All done at Deerhurst, we headed to Huntsville again, this time to check in to our hotel and go look for a proper place to carb load. We spotted a little restaurant with a sign outside that said Pasta - Pizza - Gelato. Exactly what we needed, so without thinking twice, we asked for three seats and noticed that we fit right in. Everyone around had a triathlete wristband, was eating shitloads of carbs and drinking water. Yep, welcome to the club.
YUM. That is all.
Looks good? It tasted even better. I had a pizza with speck (smoked prosciutto) and arugula, while Zin settled on a pizza with red peppers, artichokes, black olives and whatever else made it a "Primavera". I managed to eat almost all of it, leaving only one slice and enough space to fit a two scoop gelato (mint and chocolate) to end the feast. 
We then went to the hotel where we prepared our transition bags, bottles and everything else needed for the race the next day. Like good triathletes, we switched off the lights at 9:30pm. I managed to get a pretty decent sleep until 3am when my brain decided that it had enough rest and started listening to every sound in our surroundings. Not sure how enlightened it got in this exercise, but it let me fall asleep eventually, only to get awaken by the alarm clock an hour later.

You guessed it, I did not shower (what a waste of water, the lake was gonna do just fine), but I put on my tri suit, two sweaters, capris and warm socks, then hauled back to the car the too many bags and boxes that we had brought with us. Outside it was so COLD!! Raynaud's kicked in for good measure and I had a little moment of panic. Am I going to be able to shift gears later on, or my fingers are going to freeze in place? The idea of a warm tea made its way into my head and lit up a bulb hotter than the Sun: Tim Hortons!! I'm coming for you!

So we went to meet Carol at Timmies and have breakfast there, which technically was something new for me (on race day! oh noes...) Anyway, I eat their food often enough to know what to expect. I had an egg whites and ham breakfast sandwich on a biscuit and half a bagel with peanut butter and an orange juice. No coffee for me. I knew that was not a good idea since I was trying to minimize the bathroom breaks, but I was hoping that the adrenaline would give me the perfect kick start instead. And what about the tea, you say? I totally forgot about it by then. Pea brain.

With a full belleh, we drove to the airfield again (I did #2 in the portapotty there), then took the bus to Deerhurst.
Back in transition, I prepared my little slice of real estate and then started a mental ping-pong about what to wear on the bike. To wear a jersey and bike shorts or not? Mirinda Carfrae's words at the pro panel came back to me, she said she was going to wear one. Ok, trust the pros, they know what they're talking about.
Bare necessities
When I was done, it looked just like this. Am I not a neat freak? Notice the homemade energy bar and puffer inside my bike shoes - the two most important items to take on the bike. As for the banana, I was planning to eat it just before the swim.

I took a last bathroom break inside the resort since there was no lineup there and walked by Carol who was waiting for her turn to the portapotty.
Hey, girl, is that Kermit the frog? ;-)
Look at her, such a smart cookie for wearing socks. The long walk to the swim start was seriously preoccupying my mind as I remembered the huge blisters I got once for walking barefoot on the hot ashphalt. I could imagine getting those again before even starting the run. Yikes!

Anyway, soon enough I made peace with the idea that "it is what it is" and stopped worrying about random bullshit. Put on my wetsuit, grabbed my goggles, swim cap and banana and went to look for hubbs so we can walk together the long walk. I stayed away from pavement as much as possible, walking on the wet and cold grass (that was actually nice) and eventually we made it to a parking lot where all swim waves were waiting to get access to the beach. Gave my hubbs a kiss and asked him kindly not to die that day. Then I had my banana and put my watch inside my swim cap and goggles on top.

Our wave (W35-39) was the fifth after the pros, at 8:30am. We had about 12 min to warm up in the water, and that was plenty of time in my opinion. We were told that the water was 65 degrees F, but had a nice surprise when we got in (what do I know about Farenheit anyway?). Pretty warm for a chilly day! This was going to be an "in water" start, so we kind of lined up across half of the lake and waited for the gun (horn?) to go off. And just like that, our half Ironman journey started.

There was not much contact in the first half of the swim, aside from a few gals who were zig-zagging and bumped into me, accidentally? I tried to stay with the pack and not sight too much, I couldn't see the buoys anyway since I was swimming into the sun. I took the first turn like a boss, then tried to keep as close to the buoys as possible not to get lost. Turned again, and found myself staying on another woman's feet for a while, that is until I got too close and got a kick in my right goggle. Ouch, that hurt. It was about the same time that a few human torpedoes from the following wave passed me and man, these people were fast! I was glad that people remained civil and nobody got aggressive without reason, so I could stay focused pretty much the entire time, repeating the mantra in my head "perfect stroke, turn the hips, split vision, complete the pull, palm facing back, not down". Oh, and don't drown.
Nice sighting job there!
The last third of the swim felt the longest. For the life of me, I could not see the exit, and there were people everywhere I looked. I tried staying close to the buoys again, the water was getting more and more murky, and the blue caps behind us were now joining in the fun. My personal space started to feel cramped. Eventually I saw the steps and started kicking to keep the people behind me from grabbing my feet. 
Hello Mr. Photographer, sorry that I'm having a bad hair day.
Before I knew it, I was done and volunteers were helping me out of the water. I saw a photographer as I was crossing the mat - wait, can I take my goggles off first? - nope. Keep going, dummy. For most of the run up the hill I was fiddling with my watch, so I don't remember much. Maybe a few people cheering, but no feet issues or anything else that marked my fuzzy memory negatively.
One thing I do remember though is that I chose to keep my wetsuit on and remove it by myself in transition. I wanted to stay warm for as long as possible. I had no issues taking it off, for once I wasn't dizzy. I put on my bike jersey and shorts, but skipped the arm warmers. I also put on a warm pair of Merrell socks that I had won the day before, again remembering what the pros were saying about booties and whatnot to keep your toes happy. I didn't have booties, but the socks were just perfect. I also put on biking gloves, another first in a triathlon, but knowing how technical the course was, I thought it'd make sense to save my hands if I were to hit the pavement.
The fun is just starting!
One of the many aero dudes and I. You can pass me now.
As soon as I got on the bike, people started passing me - all those men in their 50s and 60s were sure faster than me and many of them had fancy bikes with race wheels and interesting clicking sounds. As a matter of fact, for almost as long as this ride was, people still managed to pass me. I did my own share of passing as well, but all these compact cranks were sure catching up with me on the uphills, while I was zooming past them in the downhills for a sweet, sweet revenge (albeit temporary).

I took my first gel, like I did in my training rides on this course, as soon as I arrived on Hwy 35. I had no water with me, but I had plenty of Endura, so I was wondering how my stomach was going to handle all these carbs during the race. Just before Dorset (km 35) I ate one of my energy bars as well, even though I wasn't feeling very hungry. I did my first ever bottle exchange without incident and chose the PowerBar Perform over the water. First mistake of the day, but not catastrophic. I also stopped to pour it inside my aero bottle. No way I was going to do this while riding, I still need to visit the circus to learn this skill. I remembered last year that I drank a bottle of this stuff and it wasn't bad, but this time, it tasted what I imagined salty piss would. 2-3 km later, I started burping and that wasn't a good sign.
All teeth!!
I tried drinking again after 10km and the burping was still there. That's when I decided to stop the Perform and go back to the Endura which I had in my bottle on the seat post. Not sure you see where this is going... but at km 50, I finally managed to pee and then of course, about 10 minutes later I thought it'd be a good idea to rehydrate and did so successfully for most of the time I was on Hwy 117. I drank out of my bottle maybe 2-3 times, then it occurred to me that I had peed on this bottle. Ooops. Mmmkay.... I guess I'm gonna stop now and get rid of it at the next bottle exchange, even if it was a nice insulated bottle that I liked dearly. In Baysville I scored a goal with a perfect throw in the net, then grabbed a water bottle which I had to put in the same cage because my aero bottle still had the yucky Perform in it, d'uh. Talk about first world problems.

Back to biking now. The course was as beautiful as I could remember it, despite its challenging and relentless hills. I tried taking in the beauty of the surroundings as much as I could, even though some pain in my back was creeping in. My goal was to keep a steady pace and the rpms above 90 whenever possible. Change gears, stay aero, breathe, enjoy the day, save the legs for the last 10k and for the run, of course. After we turned on South Portage road, I noticed that the road was recently paved, but it was not as smooth as it looked. There were bottles, cages and CO2 cartridges everywhere, which kept the ride interesting as we had to pay attention and avoid them.

Speaking of the road conditions, at km 75 just as I had finished tackling a steep hill, I saw the guy in front of me falling and I had to put on my emergency braking reflexes and veer around him. I almost ended in the ditch and, sorry Mr. Official, but I crossed the median lane as a fallen athlete was lying in pain right on top of it. I put my bike down and went to see how badly he was injured. I told people that a cyclist was down and that they needed to pay attention. I took the bike from under him and put it beside mine... Two other folks stopped as well and they gave me water to pour on his wounds. He had a very bruised and sore shoulder and bleeding elbow and knee, but thankfully nothing was broken or dislocated. After a few minutes I helped him get up and asked if he was ok to continue biking... but I was really nervous for him, this was not going to be a leisurely ride as we were back on the very technical hills. Someone went ahead and said they would call race support for him. He nodded that he was going to be ok, then I went on... Shortly after I saw the support vans driving by, so I was relieved that someone was going to look after his injuries. 

It was the first time ever that I saw someone wiping out in slo-mo just in front of me and that must have given me another adrenaline push because after this stop, my legs got a new wind, and I was feeling stronger than ever. I started passing people again, this time on the uphills where some of them even chose to walk their bikes. I knew every single one of the hills remaining and I was counting them down. In the last 5k a girl passed me and she said "Oh wow!! A Cervelo One!!" I asked her how she knew about it and she replied that her first tri bike was one just like mine and that there aren't many left out there. It put a huge smile on my face and I passed her back, never to see her again. She should have kept the old Cervelo instead of going with her new Specialized ;-)

Never a dull moment on this ride!
A few minutes later I was rolling my bike back into transition and I could not be happier. I was alive! I did not lose my chain once! I did not crash, puke or pass out! I was upright and running and nothing was hurting, this day was too good to be true!

I removed my bike jersey and shorts and took another leap of faith by keeping the same socks on. Put on my cap, shoes and bib on, Clif blocks in my pockets and off I went. I could hear people being announced as finishers, but it did not bring me down, I really was looking forward to this run. So many people cheering around, I was feeling like a winner already.
Damn I am making this SOAS kit look good!
The hills showed up right off the bat, but overall the first 10k had more downhills than uphills, as you can see on the elevation map. I saw Zin at km 5 and he looked stronger than ever. We gave each other a high five and I went back to my happy la-la land. My "dream" pace was 5:45min/km, which I could maintain all the way to the turn around. I ate 4 Clif blocks at km 4, then 4 others at km 10. I was pouring water on me at each water station and drinking at every other one. As usual, my side stitch showed after 4km, but I chose to ignore it and it went away on its own.

I had this little voice inside my brain that was telling me that I shall not walk this half marathon. Silly, I know, but why walk if I wasn't hurting? I pushed on. At km 12 I saw Carol and asked her how she was doing. She looked strong, but she told me 2 words : GI issues. I knew exactly what she meant, so I hoped she'd find a way to get over them soon. I was thankful that nothing was bothering me, other than the sight of yet another hill. So the second half was slower than the first and my pace went down every time I had to go up. However my next goal pace was 6min/km, but I was more interested in keeping my smile and enjoying the day. This was going to be a PR anyway. I had given up looking at my watch a while ago since the pace was changing all the time and I didn't have auto lap on.
By the time I hit km 20, everything was still A-Ok!
Boy, I'm happy as a cucumber!
Shortly after this, I was on the last stretch before the finish line. The crowds were getting louder and I could barely contain my smile. I gave a few high fives and a few low fives to the tiny ones, then entered the corridor around the transition and eventually heard my name being announced. As I was getting closer to the lady ahead of me I backed up a little to let her savour her finish and give the photographer a chance to refocus. ;-)
Look at me, I'm a STAR! And I didn't even rehearse before.
I didn't need a catcher to hold me after the finish, but the guy who accompanied me to the next volunteer to have my chip removed recognized me when I told him that I knew him from last year when we volunteered together in the same spot, and he asked me which side of the race I liked better. Hard question, but so far, nothing can replace the rush you get when you cross that finish line. The beautiful, colourful medal around my neck and the feeling of accomplishment were second to none.
Best looking medal ever!!
Best feeling ever!!
Hubbs also had a blast and worked hard not to get chicked. He should have had no worries, he's so much stronger than me and truly amazing for competing in such a hard race barely a year after losing 100lb and getting in the best shape of his life. His second triathlon ever, and he beat my time by one hour, with a sub 3h bike split and a great run and swim. Here are his best moments of the day:
No tri bike or race wheels. It's all in the willpower and the legs.
Zin's signature hands. It must be the sign for "badass".
Pro finish!
There you have it. The end of this adventure. The beginning of a new one. The full Ironman better be hurting more, because I'm having too much fun! I remember Chrissie Wellington's words written on my tshirt "You can do it!". Not only I know that I can now, but I'm also staying true to her second autograph: "All smiles!".
Zin is not impressed. This race did not hurt enough. I think it's hilarious.
We trained for a year for this race and for me, it was the first stepping stone in conquering the full Ironman, hopefully next August in Mt. Tremblant. If you've known me for a while, you probably are wondering why I haven't done a full Ironman already because I am NOT a patient person. I fell in love with this sport in 2011, after reading Matt Long's book The Long Run and seeing Chrissie Wellington taking the win in Kona with wounds on her legs as big as my face. At the time it seemed like the perfect challenge for a mid-life crisis. And I believe it still is, but as I have been fast approaching the 40's, I had to learn to be patient, to train and race smart, to teach my body to become an efficient fat burning machine instead of big ball of fire (and raging hormones). So, even though I allow myself to take some risks with my racing season (see my upcoming marathon in November - say what? coach does not approve), the last 2 years have all been about building endurance and making sure that I finish this race with a smile on my face.

I could not have gotten here without coach David Jenkin and my biggest supporter, my hubbs Zin, who had to endure all my mood swings and pushed me to get out of the house even when I wanted to curl in a ball and cry (I was most likely hungry). Also my partner in crime, Carol, who should know how much I owe her for being my inspiration to get off the couch 4 years ago. Last but not least, my friends and training buddies from the FMCT tri club, with whom I shared so many great memories this year, you all made this season the best ever!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

One week

One week from now I will be racing my first half Ironman distance in the heart of Muskoka. I keep telling myself that if I make it to the run, there is no reason not to finish. I'm ready. I've been training for this race for a year now, after walking on the Ironman carpet during my first volunteer experience at this same race. I've trained for hills, wind, heat, rain, even for choppy water and lake weeds. There is nothing I can do at this point other than paying attention where I step (I am the champion of ankle rolls), who I am hanging with (if you're sick, stay away from me or I'll poke you with a fork) or what I put down my throat (a cronut burger? thanks but no thanks!).

This taper is not like the others, at least until now. I am calm and confident. I know that I may not sleep the night leading to the race, but until then, I appreciate the silence in my head. There is some background noise, but it's more of a soft white noise than a loud fanfare. There are fears that all of us triathletes face. A flat tube, a broken chain, a derailleur flying out, dehydration, tummy ache, sunburn, dodging bottles, people and potholes on fast winding roads, accidents, black eyes and broken goggles, going out too fast, fading too early, and dying in the most literal sense of the word. For once these fears have not been keeping my brain going round in circles all day and all night, but I wonder if this isn't just the calm before the storm. For sure my stomach will start to rebel and all kinds of pains will come out of nowhere, everywhere. But I know better. They won't stop me from being at the starting line in Hunstville, on September 8.
This week we had our last long workouts before the race. Last run, a 12k on Friday, early in the morning nonetheless, last bike ride, a 50k "very hard aerobic" this morning (what the hell does that mean? is it race pace? I hammered it just in case) and in the afternoon, our last open water swim, a 2.25km at James Dick Quarry in Caledon. None of these hurt and that's a good sign. I wonder if I didn't turn zombie sometime in the last 3 months. Maybe my pain sensors are all un-dead by now. 

Next week I'll have 3 rest days. It sounds like a lot, but I'll sure try to enjoy them. I have been debating what to wear on race day. I have this nice SOAS tri kit, but it's too big and I don't know how it will feel out of the water. Either it's gotten bigger with each wash cycle, or I'm shrinking, but I realize now how an M size would have fit so much better. It's not that I had a choice anyway (all sold out)... Oh well, next time... You can see how loose it fits, especially on top. With an extra bra underneath maybe there is a chance that it will stay put. It can get pretty outrageous when I'm assuming the aero position on the bike. I certainly don't want my boob spillage to create any accidents! I think I'm going to hop in the shower with it and decide afterwards. First world problems. *sigh*
And that's about it for this post. It was just a quick update to let you know that the I've been taming the taper crazies like a champ and to my surprise I haven't stabbed anyone in the process. I'm proud of myself. I think I can get to the starting line with all my sanity. Or almost. Since when endurance athletes are anything less than crazy? 

One more week. Wait for it...