Friday, July 31, 2015

2015 Belwood Sprint Triathlon Race Report

Where did July go?? Yikes! It feels like I was racing just yesterday! Oh wait, that was the race simulation day with our club... So I better get this race report written before another one comes looming over me. Here we go!

*scratching head* Wait, that was quite a while ago... Where did my memory go?? Jeez, I'm getting old.

Belwood, Belwood, Belwood... I think I remember now...

Second race this year for me in the Multisport series. As I said a few months ago, I decided to take the year off from long distance racing and focus on getting stronger and faster (maybe). Less pressure, more fun. And get the hips and knees working again! That's THE mission.
This race came just one week after the IM Muskoka 70.3 swim and relay/volunteering adventure and needless to say, I was pretty pumped about it. However, a little cautious and nervous too, because I had not run more than 5K this year and this was going to be a longer type of sprint tri, with a 30K bike and a 7.5K run. *gulp* But I have to trust the process and put faith in my body's ability to overcome. I could not have been more careful until now, and worst case scenario I'd have to walk a few kilometres. No big deal, it's not a marathon after all.

With this "plan" in mind, I managed to let go of most of the stress and embrace the "whatever" attitude that has been driving my season thus far. Zin was going to be my sherpa for the day and together, we woke up at the crack of dawn to drive the 70km from our house to the Belwood Conservation Area. This race is of my favourites and I could not wait to get the day started! Once on site, I was surprised to see so many people compared to last year. The field was packed and as usual, my AG is one of the most competitive. Of course, all my expectations went out the window.

I racked my bike in transition and set up my little mat, then went to pick up my bib, chip and get body marked. A lot of members of our club were there, so I was chatting left and right, which kept me relaxed. A girl told me in transition that she knew me from reading my blog. Well, hi there stranger!! Leave me a comment *wink wink* (ok, this happened after the race, but most likely I'll forget to talk about it once I get there, so I am taking the opportunity now).

Then I squeezed myself into my wetsuit and joined the troops by the lake. I was going to be in the second wave, along with the older guys, and from my experience at the races that I've done this season, it's been working pretty well for me. These guys aren't the most aggressive, and they swim rather carefully. Once the horn went off, I put on my best motor boat impersonation and tried not to swallow too much water while grunting underwater. It felt like a super hard swim catching feet here and there but mostly a solo effort. I looked at my watch coming out of the water: 15:00 min - very happy with the result! Quite the difference from the first swim in Woodstock.
My heart was beating out of my chest and it didn't settle for a while, especially with the long-ish run to transition. I got on my bike in a jiffy, but I was gasping for air with each pedal stroke. To say that I was racing hard was an understatement. I was wondering if I wasn't going to blow up at any moment!
After a few minutes I looked at my watch, I was going over 33kph. I passed a girl in my AG within the first 5K, and it gave me a mental boost. Someone called the fast bike gods and didn't tell me? But then I remembered why I liked this race so much. The bike IS smoking fast!! By the mid-point, I was averaging over 35kph. I could not believe it, but then the reality hit me in the face just like the head wind that was waiting around the corner. BAM. Slow down, girl. You get to reeeeaaaaaally push those pedals now. I took a gel as usual, then got back to work. This whole time I was breathing hard, definitely pushing all the watts. Looking at my HR average (175bpm) on Strava, this ride was a true sufferfest. Graph below says it all.
I could not say that I wasn't racing my heart out. I remember one girl from my age group passing me, but overall I was passing a lot of people and doing awesome. Beast mode ON! I continued this trend thanks to the good amount of caffeine that just hit my system (that's why I stopped drinking coffee last year, haha) and finished strong with an average of 32.5kph. I kept my expectations in check though. I was there to give it my all, but not die trying to beat my PB.

Back in T2, I did a quick body check - all systems a-ok. It was a scorcher of a day, so I decided to take my cap with me. I was also racing in my brand new Coeur Sports team kit and I was feeling all kinds of fast and fabulous in it, just like the pros (hey, guys, have you seen my logos?? ;-)). The cap was, of course, matching my kit and my nails, which I had done for the first time this year - just for the occasion. I may not be a girly girl, but I could not pass on the opportunity to wear ALL THE PINK. Did I just say that out loud??
The legs didn't feel good at first... But of course, I can still count the number of bricks I've done this year on my fingers. But I pushed on. My secret goal was to finish the run under 6min/km, but given that I was running 30 sec slower/km, it didn't feel like an attainable goal at the time. However, my love for this race kept my spirits high. I was having a blast and no way I was going to let the negative thoughts invade my zen space.

I stopped looking at my watch and went by feel. I've started doing this more and more lately since I don't have a lot of expectations and it's been quite liberating. I am learning to stay in the moment, listen to my footsteps and my breathing, taking it all in and just enjoy being able to move, you know. If I were to start thinking about the heat, the wind, what could happen to my legs, what happened last year, what went wrong, etc, I find that it completely ruins the experience. Who wants to run cranky anyway?

I took water at each station - one cup to throw on my face, and one to throw on my back. Whatever I managed to drink was good enough. By the turn around, I had put on the turbo and I was feeling awesome. Let's take a look at the effort thanks to Strava...
Dang. Looks like I could have pushed harder. Joking... That's what a negative split looks like.

Eventually I saw the finish line and I was pretty relieved to be reaching the end of my longest run without pain in my knees. I kept running strong and I was so glad to reach the chute, when all of a sudden a lady passed me and I saw that she was in my age group. She was sprinting hard and I tried to stay with her, but I had no more gears, alas. I finished just a few seconds behind her, without regrets.
You can see me running down the chute in the picture above. Once I reached the finish mat, the photographer was busy checking his iPhone and did not take a picture of me. I was a little bummed, but I wasn't going to yell "Dude, what about me??". Maybe whatever caught his attention was really important. Oh well, this one will do.

Julie waited for me and told me that she chased me the entire day and thanked me for making her work hard. Remember the lady I passed on my bike in the first 5K? Well, it was her and she had made it a mission to beat me. This absolutely made my day. Knowing that I was someone's competition made this race even more special.
I finished 6th in my age group and exactly 5 minutes slower than last year, all lost on the run. At the end of the day I had an awesome swim, an awesome bike and a decent run, and I met my goal of running under 6 min/km. For my longest run this year, it was not too shabby, me thinks.

And that's all folks! A little abrupt, I know, but I've delayed this post long enough, plus I'm too sleepy to keep writing. See you next time!!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Team "Beets and Pickles" IM Muskoka 70.3 Race Report

Last year when I signed up for IM Muskoka 70.3 I was CRAVING another endurance event. I was in the middle of my depression flareup and I needed a goal. Something to get me going, to make me feel that I can. Despite the fact that my body could not, but I didn't know that. A month after I signed up, I attempted to run again, and that was a beautiful disaster. Since then I've had many highs and lows, but after starting working with a physiotherapist to address the weaknesses in my body, I had to abandon the idea of putting any mileage on my legs that would create additional damage. This was the hardest decision of all and it required very painful mental workouts to LET GO.

IM Muskoka 70.3 was the one race that I was hanging on, despite knowing that I would have killed my legs if I chose to race it unprepared. But once May came and went, I had to make the decision to either ask for a partial refund or change it to a relay. At just one week from the deadline, I asked my friends on Facebook if someone was open to be in a relay with me, and to my surprise, Ken and Robin jumped in right away. None of them had an experience with the half Ironman distance, but I knew without doubt that they could do it, and do it brilliantly. And so Team "Beets and Pickle(s)" was born.
The excitement grew as the weeks went on, but for once my race anxiety remained low. A 2km swim? Bring it on! I started swimming in open water more regularly and noticed my times improve significantly. I was secretly hoping that I maybe, just maybe, I would be able to PR this leg. Either way, it was going to be fun because I love, love, love open water swims. Insert all exclamation marks here.

We went to Muskoka on Friday because Zin and I chose to make it a mini vacation. We also needed some time away to relax before the race and thankfully, Canada Day cooperated with our plans and gave us the opportunity of taking 2 vacation days to make it a 5 days break. Hello Muskoka!!
On Saturday we met with Phaedra, her husband, her friends Heather and Dave, and Louis from our FMCT club to go on a short bike ride. I ended riding 1.5h on the Muskoka hills, pretty much at race pace. At first, out of necessity because all these folks were a lot faster than me, then solo because I could not keep up with them and they turned around earlier anyway. I was the only one not racing, so it made sense that I pushed a few extra mile(s).
I found them again at the end of my ride, as they were watching the parade in downtown Huntsville.
For lunch we met with Robin and unfortunately had one of the most disappointing restaurant experiences ever. The food was mediocre, it took forever to get served and it was definitely not appropriate for our appetites. But we had front seats to the city's celebrations, so that explained the inflated prices.
Around 1:30pm we went to Deerhurst to meet with Ken and check our team in for the race. The registration process was rather painless, as this event is a very well oiled machine after a few years in the running. We were in and out in a jiffy. We discussed the time to meet the next morning, paid a visit to Ken's bike in transition, then waited for the athletes' meeting. After saying our goodbyes, I decided to go on a run, since that was in the plan and I had 30 min to spare. Alas I didn't think of taking water with me, and by the first 1/2 km, I was already thirsty as hell. The temperature was at its peak and I was overheating big time. I ran 4km before calling it quits. Knee was a little upset after the morning ride and I ended walking the last km back. It was a perfect reminder that I had made the right decision to leave the bike and run to stronger and better trained people.

I joined the athletes meeting where I finally understood how the relay business was going to work. One thing for sure, it was going to be a long day. What to do, what to do?? I walked over to the volunteers' booth and asked if they needed people still. I was told that places to volunteer on site were limited, but that I could call the transition captain in the morning and check if she needed someone. I took a volunteer t-shirt and hoped for the best.

We went for dinner to Boston Pizza, where the boys carb loaded in style with pizzas bigger than their faces. I chose to eat a salad and dry ribs, but skipped the booze and the dessert (who am I??).  Then we went to bed early and woke up even earlier, so we could check out and make sure that we didn't forget anything. We drove to Tim Hortons for breakfast, but we had to wait a few minutes for it to open. Now that was a first. Then we made our way to the airstrip where we left the car, followed by a ride in the shuttle to Deerhurst.
We were right on time, it was 6am I believe. I went over to Ken's bike and it's like every guy I knew in the race was within a 20 sq feet radius. Of course, I noticed Virgil right away and I went over to say Hi. Photo op!! (and good luck!)
Shortly thereafter, we learned that relays had a special rack in a completely different location in transition. Okay then... let's move our stuff. The relay logistics were clear as mud after all. At the new location I started wrestling with my wetsuit, which is always a painful experience since I put on 10lb and all of a sudden it became two sizes too small. Eventually I managed to squeeze my butt in, took my swim cap and goggles and began the walk towards the swim start. Zin had already left transition since his start was 25 min before mine. I was hoping to get there just in time to see him start and I did just as the gun went off. (I bet he doesn't know this).

The water was warm and it took me by surprise. The lake was quiet and the conditions were just perfect for a swim PR. If only I was not going to fall apart by rushing too much. Not sure if it helped or not, but being in the last wave put my mind even more at ease that no other wave was going to swim over us. After a short warm up, I lined up with everyone else and I just treaded water for a little while...Then the gun went off and I settled into the groove that I'd been practicing for a few weeks already. Fast turnover, complete strokes, thumbs brushing by my hips. It was rather uneventful until the first turn buoy where I ran into a lot of people breast stroking. The next 200m were spent mostly navigating between people, then once I turned another buoy, I found a pair of matching feet and I started following them. The effort seemed adequate, but I could only hope he was going fast enough. Of course I had no idea, it's not like I was going to check my Garmin mid stroke (it was under my cap anyway, so tough luck with it).

I stayed on this guy's feet until the last 100m, where I passed him. I was feeling really bad for touching his feet over and over again, but it's not like I could put on the brakes every time he slowed down. I took a good look at him when I passed him, hoping I could find who he is so I can say thanks. To the gentleman in a ROKA Maverick Pro with colorful goggles, thank you!! Perfect sighting too! (Update: I found him thanks to the race photos and thanked him via Facebook. Such a gentleman, it was a pleasure to exchange a few words with him).

I came out of the water with a 3 minute PR and I was ecstatic!! My fastest time in Muskoka was over 41 minutes and I was only hoping for a 40-something. When I saw 38 and change my eyes popped out of my head. How is this possible?? Apparently like this:
You can tell by the race photos, I could not be happier. Last time I felt like this was when I finished the IM swim in Mt. Tremblant.
Robin saw me right away and she ran up with me towards transition. Since it was a 400m uphill, it was not difficult to follow me. My heart was beating out of my chest, but my mission was complete. I did my best and made my team mates proud. Back in transition, I put the chip on Ken's ankle and off he went!! It felt weird to not have to remove the wetsuit and to stay behind, but now a different kind of mission was starting: Keep calm and cheer on.
I stayed with Robin for another hour and we watched the first pro men coming into T2 and going on their run. For some reason, Ken's splits were not showing in the tracker, when everyone else had no issues with theirs. Of course, we were freaking out big time. Robin went to ask the Sportstats people if they knew of any riders DNFing, and she was reassured that everyone was still in the race. With a bit of relief and a lot of hope that he was going to make it through, I went to the finish line where I joined my catchers family. Earlier in the day I had ran into Kari and Dorothy, the volunteer captains at the finish line and asked them if I could join them like I did in the years prior. They welcomed me with open arms and unknowingly, they made my day.

And while I was unboxing medals and arranging them on the rack, Ken was kicking butt on the hills and was looking sharp doing it!
I kept messaging back and forth with Robin, both of us waiting with baited breath for Ken to finish his ride. Eventually I heard the announcer say his name and I jumped up and down with immense joy. Only one leg remaining. Go Robin, go!!!

Meanwhile, my shift started to get interesting. We saw Lionel Sanders coming through the finish line then getting bored waiting for his competition to show up.  I had the honor of giving him his medal. With a 15 min lead, he completely killed the field. The girls came in much later as well, so the first hour of pros finishing was rather anti climactic. Are they here yet, was the question that we kept asking ourselves. Jeez, what takes them so long? Haha. Well, the heat and the hills are a match made in Hell, so .. respect. At least none of them collapsed like some did in the past.

But the day was only getting worse for those still out there. Temperatures were raising fast and I was wondering how Robin was coping with the heat and the lack of shade on the course. Soon enough, athletes started pouring through the finish line and I was getting sweatier and stinkier by the minute. Being a catcher will do that to you, but I don't mind it at all; helping these athletes find their legs again after leaving it all on the course is a wonderful feeling. I spent my time at the finish line switching between giving out medals, catching people, welcoming all my friends with whatever voice I had left, holding the banner and eventually, handing out finisher t-shirts and caps. I was at the banner post when Robin crossed the finish line and I remember yelling something silly like "Here comes my medal!!".  I was so proud of my team mates and the fact that together we came in under 6h (5h56 more precisely), for a 28th/73 place in relays.
At the end of the day, it was a tough race, especially for Ken and Robin, but they pushed themselves hard and gave it all. I am super happy that both of them had the opportunity to race in an Ironman event and for Robin, to participate in a triathlon (just like her daughter, who loves them). I could not have asked for better team mates. Many thanks to both of them!! You can read Robin's race report here.
My hubby finished the race with a huge PR, and an outstanding time of 5:21, despite a flat. All our racers from the FMCT club made it as well, and for some it was their first ever triathlon. I am so proud!!
Spending the day racing, cheering, volunteering is the best experience one can ask for. I can't wait to go back on August 30 at the full IM Muskoka for a bigger and louder finish line. I love my catcher friends and it's such a treat to spend a few hours with them. They are the most positive, enthusiastic and fun team, you better believe it. Thank you Kari and Dorothy!!

And that's a wrap folks!! Thank you for reading and cheering along. Sometimes, things turn out for the better, despite the obstacles in the way. Now more than ever, it's best to seize the day!