Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Toronto Triathlon Festival 2013 Race Report

It could not have been a more perfect day. Naturally I am thinking that it can only go downhill from here, but since my A race is still waiting to happen (Ironman Muskoka 70.3), I'll try not to jinx it. I keep telling myself that everything is going to be A-ok, just like this race, my third ever Olympic distance and second triathlon this year. Have a seat, a coffee and a pretzel, this is going to be another one of these never ending race recaps. I still don't know how to segue into the race part by the way, but my brain is trying to figure it out... please stand by. Below are our official results if you feel that your patience is running out, pun intended.
Let's talk about my legs for a start. Still nothing to do with the race per se, but it has everything to do with how I went into it. Or rather, how I limped my way from the track to the office, to my massage therapist, to 7 Eleven, down into my basement with 10 bags of ice and up in my bathroom twice, taking ice baths. Then eventually in my bed, shivering, rolling my quads with a torture stick, and on the floor screaming while humping the foam roller.
Yep, that Wednesday track workout killed me, and it wasn't as much because of the fast running in the 30C heat, but because of the "warm up" which took my legs from 0 to 50 lunges in 5 minutes. I should have known that not doing my lunges regularly was going to bite me in the ass someday. The pain in my legs, magnified tenfold by the taper crazies, was seriously freaking me out. To make things worse, my massage therapist kindly confirmed that "shredded" wasn't a strong enough word to describe my leg muscles on Thursday, so he sent me home with orders to buy ice and immerse everything from the waist down as many times as I could before the race. And of course stretch, stretch, stretch until I cry.
On Saturday when I went to the race expo at Westin Harbour Castle Hotel, the legs were still on the mend, but I was feeling a bit more hopeful. Meeting my coach, Carol and Sharon also took some of the edge off, but going on a little coffee walk and goofing around with these guys definitely helped.
We missed the 8am athletes briefing by 10 minutes, but got in the 9am one and 30 min later we were registered and ready to rock and roll. Zin found a nice LG tri suit that fit him like a glove and I added one more bike jersey to my collection, then we went to Endurosport where I returned my test saddle and exchanged it for a "real" one, the John Cobb V Flow Max (the saddle that my crotch fell in love with, despite its unfortunate name).

In the afternoon I took the boys shopping for swim suits and decided to buy a new sports bra as well because I wasn't happy with the amount of padding in my regular running bras, as in too much of it to fit in my wetsuit or dry under my tri top. One of those taper crazies, I'm sure. At least I knew I wanted to wear my New Balance Kellog tank top (that I got for free thanks to eating enough cereal bars), my trusted Sugoi tri shorts and my (almost) new K Swiss Ironman Red running shoes. At the end of the day it was, really, all about the shoes.

I managed to get in bed at 10:30pm, with an alarm clock set for 4:15am. I fell asleep within seconds and woke up just minutes before the alarm went off. How amazing!! I must have run out of jitters, because I don't remember anything but quiet, dark and empty. Restful to say the least. Jumped out of bed and into my clothes, waited for Zin to finish his shower, then we both went to the kitchen for breakfast. I had my usual oatmeal frittata and some water. I wasn't too crazy about food so early in the day, but I made sure to take 2 bananas with me so I can top up my stomach closer to the race start. The drive into downtown Toronto was rather introspective, I don't remember any conversation that I may have had with hubbs in the car. Did we even talk? Oops, I totally zoned out. I do remember Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke (link NSFW) playing on the radio and telling myself that it wasn't a bad earworm to have stuck in my head for the rest of the day, despite what the hardcore feminists say. Who cares, really. But you're an animal... and I was feeling a roar ready to come out.
We arrived at the transition area just before 6am and had more than enough time to set up our little slice of real estate. I saw Carol's items ready just 3 bikes away and I thought that she must be close by. Zin was a bit farther away from me as 400 numbers were separating us.
Just as I expected, Carol showed up a few minutes later, then Zin came over once he was done too, and we took a few pictures for posterity. I am totally going to replace my framed wedding photo with this one:
We were all smiles!! Basking in the sunrise glow, because the endorphins hadn't kicked in just yet. But we must have been seriously high on adrenalin, I bet!
We put our bags away, then took our neoprene-covered souls to the swim area, then we waited... Zin was in the 7:02am wave, Carol and I in the 7:14am one. So many people around, it was surreal. It really felt like the numbers doubled from last year. This race is becoming very popular for sure. We talked to a lady from Newfoundland for a little while, it helped keeping the anxiety away. I needed to pee really badly, so I was counting the minutes until I could jump in the water so I can let go, finally. Yes, everyone else swims in it, but don't fish do the same? So deal with it.

The water was FREEZEBALLS cold. I don't think I've ever swum in such cold water before. I told Carol, "put your face in the water now", and I did the same. We only had about 2 minutes to get used to it, so it was important that we get acclimated pronto. Very shortly afterwards the horn went off and so did we. Our group wasn't very physical or violent, so I didn't get kicked or swum over, but the swim felt a lot more crowded than in my previous races. I found some feet to draft off, but overall I was passing people the entire time until we hit the first buoy. Eventually, I found myself a swim buddy in a woman with an unconventional green cap with lady bugs on it. Go figure, but it was distracting in a good way... stay close to the lady bugs I kept telling myself. I managed to navigate around the buoys like a champ and follow a pretty straight line overall (real GPS trace thanks to my Garmin watch that I put inside my cap).
The water had some hot spots, but not large enough. Around the marina I also swam into a plastic bag and through weeds that looked like chopped cilantro in a soup. After 25min or so, my hands went numb and I couldn't feel a thing anymore. It was my Raynaud's throwing a temper tantrum, but it wasn't time to panic and so I let the arms do their thing, after all I only needed to make ice cream scoops with my hands and push the water backwards, not play the piano.

As much as I could see around, there were no blue caps being rescued, so at least my mind was at ease that Zin must had finished the swim. Indeed, he was looking strong coming out of the water, weeds hanging off his arms and all.
After a few more turns, I could hear the crowd when I was breathing to the right and I was wondering if they were really that loud or it was my imagination. It definitely pumped me up and I started passing people again in the last stretch. Or maybe they were slowing down, but fact is, I was happy to see the end in sight. The next picture says it all.
What a relief! (and I wasn't even peeing)
When I got out of water, I was so dizzy, it was borderline comical. Once I got to my spot in transition, I tried putting on my bike shoes, but I was keeping on falling backwards, and I could not reach down to close the velcros. Thankfully I did not end up on my ass and I managed to leave the transition in a decent 2:30 min time.
I hopped on the bike after hauling my wet and disoriented self up the ramp towards the exhibition grounds without incident, then zigzagged my way towards the Gardiner. Once on the highway, the dizziness turned slightly dangerous as I had a few near misses when I looked over my shoulder, but miraculously I did not fall off. I decided to focus on the people and things in front of me until I felt that I was no longer jeopardizing my balance. I took a few sips of Endura, then a gel about 10 minutes later. I was starting to feel like myself again, ready to push through the wind and up and down the hills. The Gardiner and DVP aren't anything like Muskoka though, so for most of the ride, despite less than ideal conditions, I did not need to use my small gears (ok, maybe twice briefly). I was feeling so much stronger than last year and I was happy to see myself passing people again.
The time flew by and before I knew it, I hit Eglinton where I had to turn around. Given how much head wind we had going up, the way back down was going to be all schuss. I don't know my splits because I forgot to turn on my Garmin for the bike leg (no kidding, I hardly knew where I was!), but it was AWESOME. That feeling of being almost as fast as the cars beside you, it's magical. I suppose the adrenalin was hitting all time highs, so pardon me if I am slightly delusional. It felt THAT fast, I swear.

I couldn't even trade off that feeling against bladder relief. I needed to pee again and after trying a few times, I almost gave up, but since I was more and more uncomfortable, I gave it one last try when I turned on the Gardiner... and voila. The speed rush being pretty much over, it was time to take care of the other unfinished  businesses, like eating and peeing. You know, the bare necessities. I had one more gel and the last sips of Endura, then decided to concentrate on avoiding the potholes. They seriously need to fix the Gardiner, it's getting ridiculous. I saw too many people with flats on this stretch, and thankfully I wasn't one of them.
I made it back to transition without any idea of the time. That was a first as well. I just knew that I did the best I could with the legs that I had. I passed a ton of people, I was passed too, but it didn't let it hurt my ego. The whole time I was on the bike I had a little 57 year old lady in front of me and I only passed her once, temporarily. She passed me back on the next uphill. She was such an inspiration, seriously kicking ass out there. As for Zin, I saw him while riding up the DVP, he was on his way back already. He looked like The Flash out there!!
So back to transition, I was really happy with my bike, and glad that the dizziness had dissipated. I trotted down that ramp without confusing it with a slip-and-slide and even smiled for the camera.
After 1:30 min of transition time, I found my way out on the run. This part got confusing for a split second as I could not remember which way to go, but since my eyes were luckily working fine, I could read the sign across the parking lot and my memories from last year kicked back in. As usual, the sprint swim start was in progress and most of the athletes were still lining up to jump in the water. Oh, they were going to be in for an icy treat! And on this refreshing thought, I started the last 10k of the day.

My goal was to do the run in about 55min. I had told my coach that I should be able to run this fast after the bike. It was my "old" 10k pace afterall, not my best, but far better than the 1:03:00 from last year. I settled into a groove and for the first 2k, nothing screamed back. At the 2.5k mark I got a stitch, but I could run through it. I started concentrating more on my breathing, especially after seeing hubbs running back with pain on his face. He didn't look comfortable at all and I felt for him... I screamed off the top of my lungs a few words of encouragement and I think that he heard me, but his stomach pain was challenging him at each step, so I doubt that my cheer made any difference.
On the course I drank water at every other station, I wasn't feeling extremely thirsty or hungry after the two gels and the bottle of Endura that I had on the bike. I left the transition with a banana in hand, just like last year. I could remember the volunteer's advice at the turn around playing in my head: "time to eat the banana!". And so I did and my stitch went away almost instantly. By the 7th km I started asking volunteers to splash water on me as I was getting hot. But overall I was feeling really good, holding a pace of 5:35min/km. 
At km 8 I told myself, this is weird, I am feeling way too good and I am not hurting anywhere. I felt ashamed for not pushing harder, so I picked up the pace a little. I stopped looking at my watch though, I was distracted by the long line of cars stuck on the road, as well as the other runners and people already coming back with medals around their necks. Oh, look,  they have a TTF ribbon now! Zin for sure had earned his already. That's my hubbs and I am so proud of him!!
Despite his problems on the run, Zin finished strong in 2h31 and a few seconds, with a faster swim split than me (6 months ago he could barely swim a lap!) and a faster bike than many other athletes out there. And of course, a faster run than mine as well because he's always been the speedier one in that department (since he lost 100lb, that is!!). He truly is my hero and I love how driven and passionate about this sport he has become in the past year, all while working 80h weeks and being the best dad and husband ever.  
As for me, I picked up the pace as I said, thinking that if I didn't, Carol would most likely catch me since she's always had amazing brick runs. I could see her getting closer after the turn around, but I decided not to look behind me at all for the rest of the run. I wanted to enjoy every minute out there and I left it up to her to close the gap. I arrived in the chute almost by myself though, glad that I didn't have to battle the last 100m with anyone. The finish was all mine!! I saw Zin and Lauren cheering on me and I was in heaven. 
I was just about to finish the perfect race, without even knowing my time. When I saw the clock I didn't know what to make of it, I could only remember how I started at 7:14am so it looked to me like I had made it under 3h, which was exactly my goal for the day. I could not be happier.
Little did I know, my bike split was much faster than I expected and I actually crushed my goal by 10 minutes, bringing a 14 minute improvement to my last PR from a month ago in Guelph. Now that was worth celebrating!! If I had a beer, I would have poured it on me like the pros.
5 minutes later, I went back to the chute to look for Carol. She was about to have her own Iron War with another girl across the finish line. She came from behind and decided to challenge her to a sprint and man, oh man, that was entertaining!! Too bad I don't have the sound track to this, it was epic!! 
After the race we hang around to wait for my coach and our friends Rebecca and Jeff from the tri club, who were all doing the sprint distance. Coach finished second in his age group and Rebecca and Jeff both took 9th place in theirs. I have some seriously fast friends, you should be jealous. :-)

All in all, I had the best day ever. My hubbs completed his first triathlon ever with some times out of this world, my friend Carol finished her first Olympic distance in under 3h and with a run PR (on tired legs!!) and I beat all my expectations for the day with a huge PR and ready to go for another round. For me, the best achievement of the day was not only to finish and beat my times in every leg, but to finish with fresh legs and realize that I am prepared for much more. This triathlon gave me a huge confidence boost for the 70.3. For the first time ever I feel ready to attack this new distance and give it all I've got.

Must have been all the ice baths...

Thursday, July 18, 2013

And now we wait...

The Toronto Triathlon Festival is just 2 days away! And I've got the taper crazies pretty badly. It's not that I even stopped exercising like before Guelph Lake Tri earlier this year, but I have a few extra rest days, well needed by the way. So much needed that I have all the imaginary pains going from my right pinky toe to my left ear lobe across and up and down and sideways. Today I could not take it anymore and I booked a massage therapy session for after work tomorrow. I will also ask my therapist to make a fire and sing while dancing around me a few times counter clock wise for good juju. By the way, I just tried to stand up and noticed that my pain got 10 times worse in my quads, of course.

The past 7 days have been intense, no questions about that. I must have also eaten more, because somehow I woke up with 4 extra pounds which I decided to lose stat. All before Sunday. How? By thinking really really hard about 6 pack abs, cyclist thighs and tight butts, while drinking a beer and eating chicken wings and ice cream. If you really, really want it... well, wait for it, it will happen (said no one, ever). Yeah, I feel flabby and bloated and I'm not even PMSing, but some days I imagine that I'm pregnant. There's got to be a reason to this madness!!

And then there is the bike which is waiting for a flat or some other mechanical failure, like my derailleur flying out or the chain getting stuck between cogs. There is always a possibility, other than me crashing and breaking my neck and dying. All this, in my head, day in and day out. For some reason I haven't thought about drowning or getting eaten by a sea creature that somehow made it to Lake Ontario yet, but I'll be watching Sharknado tomorrow and that should take care of it.

The only way to make them taper crazies go away, is to look at these pictures and tell myself that I've got this (more or less...)! Hopefully, without a flu developing overnight, some super-extreme heat alert that melts the Gardiner or a tornado spout that spits me out of the canal. Oh I have a fertile imagination, you should be afraid.

Wheee, boobies!
Watching Zin swim is fun
Holy mother of quads!
He's going to kick serious butt
And... Back to boobies!
Yeah, well, distractions are good. Much better than this, right?
Photo by Joey Mole, Safety Harbour, FL
I think I'm going to drown my worries in a guacamole hat. Over and out!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Running in circles

You know what's funny about speed workouts on the track? Nothing. Nada. Zilch. If you are smiling, you're not working hard enough. If you are not puking, then you aren't hangover enough. Ok, that's not really what I meant, you better be puking without a reason, or you're still not working hard enough. It's been two weeks now of track workouts with the coach and a few other willing victims. He doesn't have a whistle, he doesn't have a stop watch, but you better speed up when he tells you to move your ass. There is no other reason to be on that track otherwise.

My last track workout went something like this:
24 glorious laps
I didn't know what was waiting for me when I got there. Coach said "I know it's hot today, but warm up your legs with 1200m easy". Ok, that I can do. Easy peasy. I put down my water bottle and off I went.
The sun was still high up and with the humidity at 62%, it was going to be a sweaty one for sure. Three laps later, we stop and do the dynamic stretches, A B C's, accelerations, I can't even remember what else. This part is always a blur. I just know that's not fun. A necessary evil as usual. Anyway, it's far from being relaxing, it's meant to get your limbs and heart going, and going hard.

And then he says - "tonight you guys are going to do fartleks". You remember how I said in the last post that coach thought my fartleks weren't hard enough? Well, this was definitely going to be a lesson in fartleks, albeit a very easy one. Run 20 laps, with the odd ones at 1/2 marathon pace and the even ones at 10k pace. No stopping. 8km of speed intervals. *gasp*. I did a quick mental calculation, I should alternate 5:35 pace with 5:15 pace. I think I can do this.

First 4 laps went by fast, or so I thought. 1.6km, 5:28 average pace. My math was right. And then coach asks, "what is your lap time?". D'uh... I dunno. I just know my instant pace. Ok, let me hit the lap button after this one. Ok, here it is, this was the "fast" one. 2:03. The next one, at 1/2 marathon pace, 2:15. Coach then says, "try to do the next one in 2:00". I speed up a little, this is not comfortable, but I hit it right on the head, 2:00.02. One more "slow" one, and he says, "try to go under 2 this time" so I speed up even more. This feels really hard now... will I be able to recover? After all, my 1/2 marathon pace is 1 min faster than my long run pace... I really do my best and at 4:41 average, I finish the lap in 1:52 and I yell in between laboured breaths, "this is faster than 5k"!!! Next mission, 1:58. I do it in 1:57.7 and I am told that I should stick to that pace for the remainder of the "fast" laps. I feel that I'm getting close to losing my dinner in the grass. I manage to do a few more... but then at lap 18 I really must stop for some water, then I get dizzy and a stitch under my rib cage bends me in two. Coach says, "that was good, enough for the day, go cool down for 1200m". 3 laps "slow" and then I'm done!!
A 5-something average with a 2.4k easy?
The show starts at the 15 min mark
This workout really felt like the hardest run I've ever done. Running so many laps under 5min/km? There is a beginning to everything. Who knew I had these in me? There was a man on that track on Wednesday who believed that I could. And now I do too. I may not be made of champion DNA, but at least I can go beyond my own mental threshold once in a while. My legs didn't break, I didn't puke my brains out and my heart did not burst that night, but it's been pumping tiger blood ever since. Believe me when I say that I can ride that high better than Charlie Sheen.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

And running in all this?

Yes, there is still running in all this. Some will say that it's the most important sport out of all three in triathlon. Not only you have to be able to run, but you have to be able to run on tired legs. Needless to say, running has been hard. I don't remember when was the last time that I went for a run and didn't ask myself how my legs were going to survive, or how long it was going to take them to feel lighter and faster. I still run 3-4 times a week, with the long run being on Monday or Tuesday, after many hours spent in the saddle on weekends.

It is said that fitness gained on the bike transfers on the run, but not vice versa. Somehow it works and I have been feeling improvement over the past months, especially in speed workouts. These usually happen on Wednesdays when I meet my coach and a few other "regulars" on the track for series of 600s, 800s or 1000s. Fartleks are now a thing of the past, not hard enough according to my coach.
Then on Saturday I have a run off the bike, usually for 15min, followed by hills, tempo or aerobic run on Sundays, no more than 8-10k. For a colourful visual, see below.
Happy little boxes
These are the workouts that I end up completing in a week, the schedule on paper is generally a bit harder. I seem to end up missing a workout each week because of life. I try to put in the most important ones, usually, but I'm only human and certainly not a robot. I do what I can to keep this sport from becoming a chore, I think it's important to choose your battles and still enjoy yourself, especially when most of your joy comes from sweat.

So anyway, this post is not for sharing with you my latest PR or number of laps I completed without puking on the track. None of this happened by the way, but I'm not sure what I could tell you about my running that you don't already know, or that I feel it'd be worth sharing. If you are curious, you can dissect all my workouts on Runkeeper. I have nothing to hide, it's all there.

To end on a cheerful note though, last weekend, in the middle of the 110km bikefest, I met with Nicole and her happy bunch of running acolytes. She organized a "runch" at her place in Milton and since I wasn't scheduled to run that day, I joined the fest after putting in 2.5h of solid bike riding. It was as wonderful as you could imagine a group of sweaty, euphoric adults, eager to share their favorite culinary creations at the end of a rewarding run.

I only partook in the eating, but I promised Nicole to join them on the next edition of the event, which should definitely become a "thing" (psst, can we make it on Sunday?). Who said running wasn't fun, especially with friends huffing and puffing in tandem?

Friday, July 5, 2013

Taking swimming to new lengths

Oh, swim.... What a love/hate relationship we have. How can I make it up to you? What about a post dedicated to you, full of pretty pics? See, I've taken up this new sport called triathlon and you are the first bottleneck. You can make it or break it. Most people fear you. I don't, as long as I wear my trusted wetsuit. But I do hate being in the pool and going back and forth like a turtle in an aquarium. I've had great times in open water so far and I can't wait to go back for more. See, yesterday I completed my longest swim ever, 3km at Professor's Lake. It was the perfect day for it. Coach asked for 4 loops, and I ended up being the last one out of the water. But I didn't mind since I wasn't late and nobody had to drag me out with a kayak.
I was there to push my limits and surprisingly enough, I felt that I could have done one more loop, which would have put me on par with a full Ironman swim. Even if I hate the drills and the never ending lengths in the pool, it all pays in the end. So here I am, happy with myself, celebrating the times I tried to mingle with the fish, Instagrammed for the extra oomph, or should have I said, splash?

Professor's Lake
Rain or shine, as long as it's open, this is my go-to happy place. It's clean, quiet, safe and close to home. We do 750m loops, either clock wise or counter clock wise, it's always a surprise. If there was just one reason to move to Brampton, this would be it. In the middle of the suburban jungle, Professor's Lake is where I go to escape.
The weather can't hold us
One thumb up for clean water
Guelph Lake
My first race of the year, first mass swim start, first time swimming against a clock in the pouring rain. Beat my PR. A great day, despite Mother Nature's crying spells.
Two thumbs up for warm water!
James Dick Quarry
Went there on a Sunday afternoon to check it out, ended doing two 1km loops. Not my favorite place. Despite the inviting color of the water, it was very sandy and if your goggles leaked, you'd feel like giving a sandpaper rub to your eyeballs. I don't mind using it like backup when I just have to get that swim in, but for the drop-in price of $10, I think I may prefer the pool.
Wet feet to get in
Mary Lake
Vast, majestic, and definitely terrifying because of all the speed boats zooming across its waters. You may find a quiet corner, but Port Sydney isn't one. Muskoka is the land of lakes, so I am sure that we could find peace somewhere, but the day we went we didn't have much time to search for one. The water was warm, but choppy, a good open water experience overall.
Majestic, but dangerous
Kelso Lake
This was the place where I wore my wetsuit for the first time, where I got acquainted with open water swimming last year. For a little trip down the memory lane, follow me here. However I had never adventured beyond the "shallow area" buoys. Last Tuesday though, I did and I felt like I could have died. There are very thick patches of grass in this lake and once you find yourself in the middle of one, it's very hard to find your way out, other than plowing forward. You get tangled in them grasses with both hands and feet and although not dangerous per se, they could be if you cannot handle the feeling. I panicked, several times when this happened and I imagined being unable to continue. I was by myself, 500m away from the beach, alone with my fear and my feeling of hopelessness. Thankfully my instincts were stronger and putting on my best Tarzan style, I made it out of this jungle the few times that I had to. A 1 km loop was enough. Never again I said, not at Kelso anyway.
Swimming in the sunset
Zin was there too, attending an open water clinic with the tri club. I am glad that he didn't have to fully experience the wilderness of this place. In celebration of his longest swim ever as well (2.2km at Professor's Lake), I leave you with this image in which he totally looks like a pro coming into transition. I am so proud of him, I never imagined that he'd enjoy putting in so much effort in workouts like he does. He is definitely ready for his first Olympic Tri 15 days from now. He's going to kick some serious butt, just watch him.
Transitioning like a pro!
Now swim, we're going to remain friends until the end of the season, right? There is TTF coming and I will return in the cold water of Lake Ontario for a 1.5k dip with endless turns, then Muskoka 70.3 where I'll be marking my territory in Peninsula Lake. Oh I know I will. But it's for good juju, because what else could I trust on an adventure as big as my first half Ironman?