Monday, August 26, 2013

Sudden speed in the pool

It's been over a year since I broke 2 minutes on 100 metres in the pool.  That was a major achievement for me.  Since then, I hadn't really seen any big jumps in time.  Even the 2 minute mark isn't a given.  I've probably done it less then a dozen times.  I hadn't swam a sub-2 minute 100 since before my injury.  The 1:58 I hit the first time I did it has remained my best time for a year and a half.  Until now...

Friday morning, I was in the pool.  I'm still off coaching for the month, so I didn't have an assigned workout.  I've been feeling the need for more structure though, so I was following the general formula that Angie uses in my swim workouts.  A warm up, some drills, some steady swimming, then I decided to throw in a bit of speed work.  Not much: 4 x 25m, 2 x 50m, 1 x 100m.  (25m is one length of the pool, so 50 is there and back, while 100 is there and back twice.)

The 25m were feeling good.  I wasn't breaking any of my records on them, swimming them in 27 or so seconds.  It was solid though and I held the pace for all 4 of them.

Then on to the 50s.  What the heck?  55 seconds?  Maybe I timed myself wrong.  Maybe the pace clock was off?  (I'd forgotten my garmin, so was going entirely off the pace clock.)  Then I did it again.

I rested on the end of the pool contemplating it.  This could very well be the morning when I could get under 2:00 again, I thought.  I gave myself a full 90 seconds rest.  This was important to me.  My swimming felt clunky for a long time during/after the injury, and even though I'd had some good races, this sub-2 minute hundred is like the sub-30 minute 5K for me.  It's one of those steps that was a barrier for a long time.  When it's been a while since I've achieved it, I want to prove to myself that I am still capable.

I watched the pace clock make it's way around.  I was starting on the red top.  Then it was go time.

The first 25 metres I concentrated on swimming steady.  I almost always go out too fast and can't hold it.  No lolly gagging or sand bagging, but if it felt hard this soon, I knew I'd be in trouble.

Onto the next 25.  Swimming strong.  Uncomfortable.  I could just stop at 50.  Nobody would know.  No.  I would know.

The third 75.  I had no idea how I was doing timewise.  You lose time when you stick your head up to look at the pace clock, after all.  It was hard.  From looking at my garmin stats, this is the part I always slow down.  Stay strong...

The last 25.  It hurt.  But, it was also in the final stretch.  You can do anything for 30 seconds.  Anything.  I tunnel visioned my focus onto my technique and ignored the pain.  Body roll, high elbow.  Push down that little bit with my chest to keep my hips up.  Don't lift my head...

I hit the wall.


1 minute, 54 seconds.

FOUR seconds faster then I have ever swam 100 metres.

When I first started swimming, a 4 second improvement was easy to come by.  Now, not so much.  Very pleased.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Racing for fun - Strathmore race report

What do you consider to be a fun race?  I used to have it in my head that it would be the kind of race that I would just toodle along.  Something I didn't care too much about.  Maybe do it with friends.  No stressing the training going in and no stressing race day.

I had a couple of races where I tried to do just that and they were utter failures.  Either, I didn't find it fun, or I abandoned the plan partway through.  Finally I realized that a "fun" race for me is one that I push hard enough that I finish feeling like I'm going to puke.  Where I leave everything out on the course, and there's no "could I have gone faster?"

I raced last weekend!  It was a spur of the moment decision.

I'd decided to take August off of racing, and go easy on training.  Easy was supposed to mean, still doing it, but not stressing about following a schedule.  In reality, what happened is getting time to train got a lot harder.  My kids aren't in daycamps anymore, and my husband has been working overtime almost every night, often not getting home until 10:00pm.  Without a race on the schedule, or a plan, I just didn't feel like going to the extra effort to make the training work.  It is rather painful to put one's bike on the trainer or run on the treadmill in August.  So, I've had only a handful of swims and runs in the three weeks since Calgary 70.3.

Last week, Runner Leana mentioned on her blog that she was doing Strathmore, a local women's only race that I did two years ago.  I was hit with a serious case of race envy.   When I checked the race website, there were still spots.  This race always fills up, so that seemed like a sign.  I debated it briefly, then signed up.  Then I tri-pushed and got Kim, another friend, to sign up.   It was going to be an awesome day!

Race day dawned bright and early.  I car pooled with Kim to the race, and we had a relaxing drive chatting along the way.

When we got to the race, it was social centre.  There were lots of Team Trilife people there and I kept running into somebody I knew.  We cheered for people coming out of the swim and hung out.  Before long, it was time to race.

The Swim

Since this is a pool swim, it's a staggered start based on your estimated swim time.  I'd estimated my swim time as 12-13 minutes, then second guessed it.  I swam just under 12 in Vulcan when I still had the stress fracture and wasn't pushing off properly.  I hung back a little bit, so that I'd be near the end of my wave.  You always start with slower people and finish with faster people so best not to stress too much about it.

Photo Courtesy of Neil, Runner Leana's husband
I jumped in and started swimming.  It had been a while since I'd last swam, so I was taking the first 50 metres to settle into my pace.  Not too hard.  I know that if it doesn't feel easy for those first 50 metres, I'm probably going way too fast.

When approaching the wall at 75 metres, my foot got tapped.  I stayed on my side, and let the woman behind pass me.  Then I pushed off right behind her to see if I could catch her draft.  Yep.  She was going at a decent pace, but I had no trouble holding on to her.  In fact, after a few more lengths, I started wondering if she was fading.  It was feeling easy, but I wasn't sure if that was just because I was drafting.  Was it worth the effort to pass?

I decided to keep hanging out behind her.  I figured even if I swam slightly slower, I would at least go into bike fresh.  I find a lot of people can decide to speed up if they think they are being passed, and I didn't feel like going to battle.  With 100m left, I accidentally tapped her toe on the push off, so at the following wall, she let me by.  I had a great rhythm for those last 75m, and realized that I probably should have passed.  I could feel how much faster I was.  My garmin confirms that I swam much slower between 200m and 425m then I did for the rest of it.

Then I was up and out of the water.  You have to walk on the pool deck, so I used it as a moment to catch my breath before heading out the door and running the rest of the way to transition.  Yipee!

Swim: 12:46 for 500m (includes time walking to lane and out of pool.)


The bike I felt really strong.  I debated whether I should hold back to save energy for the run, but decided I would just push it and keep pushing it.  I was willing to take the risk of blowing up because with such a short distance, I figured I could pull off a finish even if it really hurt.

The fun thing about a staggered start is that you get to pass lots of people on the bike.  I made it a goal to catch up and pass every person that appeared ahead of me.  I figured it wouldn't take long for faster people to start catching up to me and passing me, but it didn't happen once.  Not once!  I wasn't passed at all.

I underestimate myself on the bike.  What I thought was a hard, maybe risky effort was probably a completely appropriate race pace for a sprint.  Truthfully, with more consistent training leading up to it, it could even be an appropriate race pace for an olympic.

Then, pulling back into transition.  I got off my bike and headed for my spot.

Bike: 44:47 for 20km (Time includes both transitions.)

The Run

The run.  This one has been my wild card this season.  Leading up to Calgary 70.3, I'd only been doing run/walk intervals.  Once I completed Calgary 70.3, I finally had the confidence that my foot was truly healed.  So, I was going to run it.  The whole thing.  I even had the hope that maybe I could pull of a sub-30 minute run, something that I hadn't accomplished since early this year.

I seem to have a pace that I almost always fall into off the bike, about 5:30/km.  In any longer race, this is the time to look at my pace, and pull back, because I can't possibly sustain that pace over the long haul.  This time, I didn't look at my pace, and I didn't hold back, because I was going to run this thing, damn it.

Within the first kilometer, it was feeling hard.  I'd gotten so used to the run/walk intervals, and I was taking that away from myself.  No walking!  This is what I've been waiting for, I reminded myself.

I started to get into my rhythm.  It was still hard, but it was maintainable.  I could hold it.  Every time I got the urge to walk, I reminded myself that I would have killed to be able to run this race three months ago.

I grabbed some water at the aid station and kept running.  Except it was in hard plastic cups!  Boo.  You can't pinch those to drink while running.  So, I just aimed for my mouth, got a bit in and most of it on my shirt.  No worries.  It was hot anyways.

I was hurting, but feeling so good on the way back.  I barely looked at my garmin.  It didn't matter.  What mattered was that I running.  I smiled.

With one kilometer to go, I picked up the pace.  I felt so strong.  The finish line was in sight.  I shut off the part of my brain that tells me I hurt and just concentrated on moving my body.  Running tall, running strong.

And I crossed the finish line.

Run: 28:59 for 5K.

This may be the closest I've ever come to puking upon crossing finish line.  I was actually looking around for a garbage can in case I couldn't stop myself, but before long, I had my breathing under control and was feeling good again.

This race was a victory for me.  I thought Calgary 70.3 was my come back race, and it was.  But, in a way, so was this.  This race, I was able to do without holding back.  Without fearing the injury and without feeling like I had to play it safe.  I raced with everything I had on that day.  I proved to myself that I still have it.  If anything, getting through this injury has made my mental side so much stronger.  Nothing can stop me now.

Total time: 1:26:30 (A minute and a half faster then last time I did this race.)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

After the big race - reflections on getting through the injury

It's been over 2 weeks since finishing my second half ironman.  The journey to get there was a lot more difficult then for the first one.  Interestingly enough, the actual race was easier.  As happy as I am overall with it, I feel a little disappointed in that aspect.  On one hand, I feel like I didn't put everything I had on the table.  On the other hand, I recognize that I raced very safely.  Not every race should be a "safe" race, but I was at a point where that's what I needed to do.

Coming through my first injury has been a huge learning experience.  Now that I'm on the other side of it, I can look back at that process with interest.

For a very long time, I wallowed.  I've received plenty of comments commending me on how well I took it, or how positive I was dealing with it.  Let's just say that the public face I put on is often different then what's really happening.  Actually, that's not entirely accurate.  A more accurate statement would be to say that I avoid public (including my blog) when I don't like the face I'm wearing.  What I say on my blog, I believe to be true (though sometimes I am in denial of reality), but when I don't blog, that's when I'm not so positive.

I think the first injury is really tough for any athlete.  It sure was for me.  Running is the one discipline that I never stopped, even at times when I took a bit of time off of swimming or biking.  Running used to be a great big "I can't".  I was afraid that if I ever stopped, I might never start again.  And I love running.  Really truly love it.  There is nothing else that gives me the rush that I get from running.  I felt like I had a part of myself ripped away when I found out I couldn't run.

Knowing that I can work through an injury has given me strength going forward.  When I first found out I had the stress fracture, I was sure I would never be glad it had happened.  While "glad" isn't quite the right term, I think it's become a valuable experience.

For one thing, injuries are a reality of doing sports.  I had a fear that an injury could be a show stopper for me, an end to triathlon.  I no longer believe that.  If I get injured again, it will be with a knowledge that I possess the strength to get through it.  Any injury sucks.  It almost always means short term plans are compromised, but I now know that in the long run, it makes me stronger.

There are things we can all do to lessen our risk of injury.  I wasn't doing most of them.  Despite the presence of strength workouts in my training plan, I rarely did them.  I did core work when I attended spin class, and not consistently on my own.  I continued to carry unnecessary extra weight on my frame, and while it probably wasn't a factor in this injury (statistically a low weight puts you at higher risk of stress fractures), it increases my chances of other injuries.

While injured, and recovering from injury, I did physiotherapy.  Initially, it was to address the muscle loss I incurred from wearing the aircast.  Then we started addressing muscle imbalances and general strengthening.  She added a couple exercises a week, and before I knew it, I found myself doing a full body strengthening routine, including core.

When I started this season, I thought I'd accomplish huge things physically.  I knew I had untapped potential, and I intended this to be the season that I tapped into it.  I planned to hit new speeds and blow away my old personal bests.

What I hadn't anticipated was this was the season I was meant to become stronger mentally.  This was the season I needed, to find strength within myself.  To learn that I have the ability to get through the hard times, rather then just riding through the good.

Training the mind is the biggest part of getting stronger.  That little bone in my foot has taught me some valuable lessons.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Calgary 70.3 race report 2013, the run.

This is part 3 of the race report.  Part 1 and Part 2.

Transition 2

Once off my bike, I headed into transition.  Since this race is a point to point race, you don't see T2 before the race.  Last year, I tried to go completely the wrong way out of transition.

This race, I was more prepared with the set up.  The volunteers were also super helpful, making sure I got my bike to the right place.  There was no room for my bike on the rack, so when I asked if I could move one of the other bikes over, one volunteer completely took care of racking my bike for me while the other dumped out my bag so I could get ready.

Change shoes, helmet off, hat on, grab a gel.  I already had 2 gels in my spibelt number belt, along with my inhaler.  There are gels on course, but I don't like relying on them.

I turned to go out of transition, and then turned around to go back.  I'd forgotten to take off my jacket!  I was really glad to have had it on the bike, but there was NO way I'd want it on the run, even if the day was cool, and it was warming up anyways.

Once I got rid of my jacket I was out of transition and ready to run.

The run

It was time to run, the part of the race that I was both afraid of and excited about.  Of course, those two feelings can be almost synonymous, since fear is exciting.

Right after transition, my family was there to cheer me on, so I did a very wide turn in order to catch a couple high fives.

Then it was time to run.  After talking to Angie (my coach) about it, I'd settled on a strategy of running 5 minutes and walking 1.  I wasn't thrilled with the necessity, but it was the reality of doing this race so soon after being cleared to run.  Since I was doing the intervals anyways, I decided to make them work for me.  Rather then dwelling on the fact that I had ahead of me the longest run I'd done in three months, I was only going to think about the interval I was on.  I wasn't running 21 km.  I was just running 5 minutes at a time, until I crossed the finish line.

I quickly settled into my standard post bike run pace, at about 5:30/km.  TOO FAST!  I felt great, but I know very well that I can't actually hold that pace in a race of this distance (yet).  I moderated my pace.  It actually felt easy, but I knew it wouldn't stay that way.

The run of this race is an out and back.  One of the very cool parts about that is the fact that you get to see some of the fast finishers.  I saw a teammate, Sharon (also one of the other team trilife coaches) coming in when I was on one of my early walk breaks, so I used my extra lung energy to cheer her on.  Damn she's fast!  In my age group too.  Hmm, I only have to cut a couple hours off my half ironman time to catch her...

There's about a 4 km loop before going down into the weaselhead.  If you don't have supporters there, it can be painful, because it means you pass really close to the finish line an extra 2 times before crossing it.  If you have supporters though, it's awesome, because it means they see you on the course an extra time.

My family was great support on the course.  See the leaves in Sweepea's hands?  Those are her pompoms.
 After a boost from the family, I carried on.  Run 5, walk 1.  It was still easy at this point.  I headed down the big weaselhead hill.  Carefully.  I have done virtually no running downhills since getting back to running, but I really didn't want to walk it.  I focused on not letting the pace get away from me, but at the same time, not using my feet as brakes, if that makes sense.

For the most part, the run was just feeling good.  If I'm 100% honest, I don't feel like I "raced" this race.  I was doing it to complete it, which is exactly what I needed to, but the it didn't start feeling really hard until very late in the race.  My foot felt fine, although, I can't say I really trust my ability to feel pain when I'm in race mode anymore.

Up a really steep hill, and then not long after that was the Team Trilife aid station.  Which was AWESOME!  The cheers that I got were a fabulous extra boost.  Angie asked how I was doing, and I told her I was golden.  I was.  I felt really good.

Not long after that, my tummy started to rumble.  Damn.  I remembered it doing this just a little further along in the race last year.  At that time, a porta potty magically appeared, so I pretty much had forgotten about it.  This time, I was going to have to go a little further to get there.

After stopping off, I carried on.  I was almost at the turn around point, and while I won't say it was still easy, it was only mildly uncomfortable.  The main reason I don't like run/walk intervals is because I find myself looking at my watch to see how far off the walk is.  I don't do it because I need to walk though.  If I was just running I wouldn't do it.  I tried to limit the watch glances.  It does beep/vibrate when it's time.

To the turn around and then back.  My legs were feeling it at this point, and the way back is more up then down.  Carry on.

It was starting to get uncomfortable.  My garmin was the boss.  When the garmin said to run, I ran.  When it beeped after 5 minutes, I walked for a minute.   I made exceptions for the two steep hills on course, and for a few seconds at the aid stations, while drinking from the little cups.

I was walking when I reached the Team Trilife aid station again.  I wanted to run, since the support there is amazing, but I had decided I was sticking to what the garmin said, and there were still about 8 km to go.  Too early to start deviating from the plan.

The really steep hill down after that aid station, I did walk.  I just haven't done enough (any) fast running with high turnover lately, and I've done no downhill running in my training.  I decided not to push it on this one.

When I got to the hill back up, I also walked that one.  The garmin beeped for my walk break while I was on it, and beeped to start running when I got off of it.  This is the point in the race where my legs were really feeling cooked.  My legs would have loved to stop at this point.  I could see the finish line, but instead, I ran past it to finish the last 4K.

Last year, this final stretch was really really tough.  This year, it was hard.  Just hard.  I will admit I wanted to walk.  And I did walk, but only 1 minute out of 6 when my garmin said it was time.  At this point, I shut off the connection between my legs and my brain and carried on.

I saw Trish, a teammate that I've swam with for the last few years.  We'd finished the swim within seconds of each other and played leapfrog on the bike until she left me in the dust as I braked down the hill.  Now, I was reeling her in.  And to distract myself from the fact it was hard, I focused on that for a bit.

I caught Trish when we were just over 1 km away.  One of the spectators encouraged us by telling us "the hard part is over!"

Really?  It felt pretty hard at this point.  Just saying.

Then I picked up the pace.  I was going to finish this race strong.  There was nothing left to hold back for.  Sure it was hard.  It even hurt, but damn it, I was crossing that finish line.  It was the first finish line of a full triathlon this season and the first post injury triathlon.  That finish line meant so much to me.

The medal is awesome.  It's huge.  I did this race last year, and I thought that was a good medal.  The one was a workout to wear.

Official Times:

Swim: 45:31
Bike: 3:36:13 (Including both transitions, about 6 minutes for both.)
Run: 2:39:22

Total time: 7:01:07

Final chapter to come: Post race thoughts

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Calgary 70.3 race report 2013 - the bike

This is part 2 of my race report.  Find part 1 here.  (Sorry for the delay!  I went camping with my family this past weekend and was internet free.)


I headed over into transition and to my bike.  My bike which, very happily, had tires that were nice and full of air.  :)  Thank you to the fabulous folk from Speed Theory.

Off with my swim cap and goggles, on with my sunglasses and helmet.  Socks, shoes.  Arm warmers or jacket?  I had been leaning towards the jacket before the race, on account of likely rain.  I decided that I make more rational decisions when I'm not in race mode, so I should stick with that one.  Jacket it is.

I dried my hands a bit on the towel, but even so my gloves stuck to my hands getting them on.  I know a lot of people don't use gloves in triathlons, but I really prefer the comfort of them for longer races.  Maybe it's partly because I am still riding a road bike, without aero bars.

Then I was heading out.

T1 time: around 3:45 (I forgot to lap my garmin until I was already on the bike.  My garmin says 4:39, but I think it was close to a minute before I hit it.)

Another photo courtesy of Runner Leana
The Bike

Off onto the bike.  The course starts with a loop around the lake before hitting the roads that take us to the highway.  I was feeling pretty good at this point.  Sometimes I have mild nausea after the swim, but it wasn't hitting me at all.

One of my major goals for this race was to stay in the moment.  This meant, at this moment in time, all that mattered was the bike.  Granted, I needed to do it in a way that would allow me to run after, but any worried thoughts about what was coming up in the run were shut down.  I could deal with the run when I got there.  Keeping this mindset helped me a LOT during this race.

As I finished up my loop around the lake, I saw my family and got a little cheer to send me on my way.

The bike course was completely different from last year, on account of a different swim location.  It was a bit short, at 85km, but challenging, with lots of hills in the first half of it.

I geared down when I needed to, and spun up the hills.  I was not going to make the mistake of burning my legs out in the first half of the ride, when I still had a long ways to go on both the bike and run.

My garmin was not fully functional for some reason.  It was giving me my current speed, but wasn't giving me distance, or average speed.  I also wasn't getting an accurate heart rate reading, as anytime I looked, I had a heart rate of about 70 bpm.  Ummm, no.  I wasn't sitting around blogging, which is about what I'd have to do to maintain a heart rate of 70.  I was a bit disappointed about the lack of heart rate info, but it just meant I had to really pay attention to my rate of perceived exertion instead.

There were a couple steeper downhills that I had a tough time with.  I just couldn't keep my hands off the brakes.  Having said that, I did take some of the other hills without braking, something I wouldn't have been able to do even a couple months ago.

Early in the ride, I'd regretted the jacket and was wondering if I'd have to stop to tie it around my waist, or something.  By this point in the ride, I was glad I'd made that decision.  It was cool, and kept threatening to rain.  In fact, my finger tips were occasionally feeling numb, so I was glad for the gloves as well.

I had my garmin set to beep every 10 minutes to remind me to hydrate and fuel.  I didn't always fuel when it beeped.  If I was descending, passing, or cornering at the time, I'd wait.  I liked having it to remind me though, as sometimes I can easily go 45-60 minutes without remembering to fuel, not the best idea in a long race.  This kept me right on track.  I was using stroop waffles (like honey stinger waffles, but not individually packaged, or marketed for sports, so way cheaper), drinking heed and had some gels as well.

Then I was passing Bragg Creek, and I knew the most challenging part of the course was behind me.  In some ways, it is good that my garmin wasn't giving me full data.  I can get obsessed with the average speed number, as I'll always work out the average speed I need to maintain in order to meet goals or cut off times.  That might work on a completely flat course on a wind-free day, but I haven't been on a course like that yet.  In this particular course, nobody could maintain the same average speed for the first half that they'd be able to reach in the second.  The second half of this course is mostly a false flat going down.

I heard sirens and just hoped they were unrelated to the race.

Once onto highway 8, the shoulder we were riding on got a lot narrower.  There was not room for two riders unless one went onto the rumble strips.  It was late enough in the course that there wasn't a tonne of passing, but there definitely was still some happening.

At one point, I was approaching a guy and debating whether to pass.  Sometimes I find, the person in front slows down very temporarily to eat or drink and if I pass, they either start pedalling hard while I'm passing, or pass me again right away.  Not so this time.  I wasn't braking, but I had stopped pedalling and was still gaining on the guy.  I'd have to brake to stay out of his draft zone, and this was an easy section of course.

At this point of the highway, there was actually room to go on the other side of the rumble strips while still staying in the shoulder.  I moved over and called out to let him know I was passing.  I did a quick check to make sure I was ahead of him and could pull back in, when another women came through right between us.  She did say something as she came through, but if I'd moved in a second sooner, or skipped shoulder checking, it could have been bad.

I was probably at about 70 km by now and was feeling really good on the bike.  I remember last year being really, really uncomfortable by this point.  I've changed my saddle since then and that's made a huge difference in long ride comfort.  I've also really been working on my posture and position, which has helped with the numbness I typically get between my shoulders.  And, quite frankly, I've just spent more time on my bike this season.

The one annoying thing about the course was the way the signs were placed along the highway.  Basically, there's a smooth shoulder, then a fairly wide rumble strip, then the highway, where cars were zooming past.  There were signs set up to inform motorists of the race that was going on, except they were set up in the smooth part of the shoulder.  This meant that you had to continually weave back and forth between the rumble strip and the smooth pavement.

I came to one section where traffic was stopped going both directions.  I'd already slowed down, but as I approached, there was a woman who told me to slow waaaay down.  Then I was stopped, with emergency vehicles spread out in front of me.  I'm not sure how long, but I'd guess 3-4 minutes.  I was the first triathlete stopped, but very soon, there was a group waiting.  Finally, an ambulance pulled away, the police let some traffic from the other direction go, then we did.

As I rode past, I saw the one thing I was hoping I wouldn't: a riderless bike on the ground.  (Reports since the race are that 3 people were injured.)

As horrible as it was, I knew I had to shake it off.  I wasn't the victim, and I couldn't help the victim by dwelling on it.  Keep riding.

In the last few kilometers of the bike, I started thinking about transition and mentally rehearsing it.  Before long, I had turned and was on the final stretch to transition.  Keep pedaling.  Stay relaxed.  When I reached the dismount line, I stepped off my bike, confidently, with no tip over fears  I headed into transition, to prepare for something I hadn't done for 3 months: run 21 km.

Up next: the run!