Saturday, August 23, 2014

Bracebridge Sprint Triathlon Race Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 22, 2014

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

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

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

Swim

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

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

Bike

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

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

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

Run

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

In a nutshell

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

40 steps to 40: Nine months update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

IMMT Training Week 28: It is what it is

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

Swim

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

Bike

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

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

Run

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

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

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

In a nutshell

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

Saturday, August 2, 2014

2014 Belwood Triathlon Race Report

Winner winner chicken dinner! Wait... what?? No, I didn't win the tri, not even close, but I won this race entry, thanks to a contest put together by Multisport Canada and one of their sponsors, Vorgee.
I received the news that I had won the entry the week of the Toronto Triathlon Festival and in a small measure it contributed to my DNS because I had another race to fall back to. And when I made the decision not to start TTF, I just could not wait to go to Belwood and really RACE! Now where on Earth was Belwood? Was it even in diving distance from my place? Phew, only 70km away, I may even be able to bike there!

I admit that the thought crossed my mind until I realized that it meant carrying my transition bag to Belwood and back. Thanks but no thanks. Zin wasn't going to join me as he'd raced TTF the week before, so I had to find another plan that included a century ride in it, and maybe a partner in crime miles too. Cue in my friend Amanda who is also doing Ironman Mt Tremblant. It was a last minute ask, but maybe she had nothing else to do than join me in another crazy adventure? After all, it was only a few weeks before that I took her up and down the hills of Caledon on our longest ride ever. And she was game! Alright then... How does this plan sound: race the tri at Belwood, then ride 130km extra to get to 160km as scheduled? Isn't it exciting!!? (*evil laugh*)

We left Brampton at 6:15am with the plan of reaching the race site no later than 7:30am. Thankfully we encountered no traffic and before we knew it, we were rolling our bikes into transition. Packet pickup went without a hiccup, then we walked around for a bit to familiarize ourselves with the venue. I took a potty break and ate my banana, then I went to talk to Mike Cheliak, the race photographer, who was supposed to take a picture of me with the Vorgee sign. His son took the photo after all and I was impressed to see that they were both using cameras (Nikon) connected through WiFi. It explains why their pictures make it online so quickly!

I returned in transition and I went to say hi to Cody Beals, with whom I had been talking online for about a year, but never met in person. He's one of the smartest, fastest and funniest (have you read his blog lately?) guys I know and I could not wait to finally meet him and say thanks for being so helpful, supportive and open to give advice to noobs like me.
He was "in the zone" and I didn't bother him for long, but after the race we talked some more and I even asked for an autograph because I believe in him big time. Just watch him, he's turning into a force to be reckoned with.

The pre-race meeting was on too, and I just couldn't focus on the background talk. I was eager to start, but I wasn't even in my wetsuit (like everyone else around me, oops). I had to go back to my bag and look for my sunglasses, and when I finally managed to collect myself (and all my stuff) I noticed that we were 10 min away from the race start. I put on my wetsuit, and I was about to run out of transition when I saw that I was missing my watch. Rats! I had left it in my helmet. More running around before reaching the swim start, like I had legs for it! If you remember my last recap, I had not ran for 10 days coming into this race and I was rather apprehensive about feeling pain in my knees.

Anyway, I made it to the lake (river?) just in time for a quick warmup and 2 minutes later the first wave started. I was in the second wave and I chose to position myself close to the buoys. I believe that both men and women were in my wave and for the first time in my life I got to experience anxiety in the swim. Right off the bat I got shoved under water a few times and I started feeling tightness in my chest and a little panic creeping in. But I collected myself quickly as I decided to steer away from the pack and regroup inside my bubble. Soon enough my breathing returned to normal and I could focus on finding some feet. I found a matching pair at the first buoy and stayed with them for the entire time that we swam across until we made the last turn towards the exit. I passed them shortly afterwards and from then on I tried to keep the pace up and swim in a straight line. I was very curious to see if I swam faster than in previous races. This was my first sprint triathlon after all and I was glad to see that I finished under 14min. Not very fast, but fast enough for a PR!
We had a good run up to transition (150m) and it counted in the swim time. That's ok, I know what my watch said, despite the 1:15 extra that showed up in Sportstats.

I struggled to take off my wetsuit, especially on my leg with the chip, so I ended with a T1 time somewhat slow (2 min). But then I was really happy to be on my bike and start chasing people.
For the entire ride only one other girl passed me on the bike, and she was a duathlete, so that was ok. Many guys passed me as usual, but I also passed back a ton. In the end I am super stoked with my bike split, and with the few rolling hills, it felt like a lot of fun. Absolutely gorgeous course too, which put Belwood at the top of Sprint courses in the Multisport series for me. Will definitely do it again!

Ok, so I spent a little under 1h on the bike for 30km, I had a gel if I am not mistaken, and some water because I forgot my Endura at home. It was overcast and not too hot, so I didn't need the extra electrolytes anyway.

Coming back in T2, I didn't have to struggle with any pieces of equipment and quickly started the run. This course was an out and back along the dam and onto a limestone covered trail. It was beautiful, however the trail was rather narrow and I'm glad that the race wasn't too crowded. I ran the best I could and pushed the effort, but never looked at my watch because it was all screwed up. I wrongly assumed coming out of the water that if I was going to change sports it would save the previous activity and start a new one, but after leaving on the bike I noticed that despite having the watch in the right sport, it was still showing the fields from the swim and it was rather useless. So I decided to keep it rolling so to speak, and hope for a different outcome when I downloaded the activity.
I was still pretty darn happy when I started the run. These pictures were taken about 0.5km out as we crossed the dam. That lady with the number 215 passed me shortly afterwards, as many other people after that. I am definitely not a very strong runner, but in retrospective I am very happy with my effort as I managed to run the 7.5km (I think it was shorter by 300m by the way) in 39min.

And what about my knees? They hurt. Yep, started bothering me after 2km and the pain intensified as I kept running, but not to the point of taking my smile away and the great feeling of accomplishment.
According to Sportstats I finished in 1:56:38 gun time (1:53:45 chip time), enough for a 5th place out of 12 in my AG. I was stoked! I will take a top 5 any time!! And guess who beat me by 18 seconds? Cody Beals' mom with a run split of 32:49. Here's proof that the fast gene runs in the family!!

Another speed demon, Amanda, also finished ahead of me, by 9 minutes nonetheless (told you she was fast!). You can see her in the Coeur top and purple hat to the right of the previous picture. She took 3rd in her AG, so medal oblige, we stuck around after the race, waiting for fresh pizza and taking advantage of the compression boots in the Recharge with Chocolate Milk booth.
I think it was around noon when we finally decided to leave the race site and continue onto our long bike ride. We drove to a sports complex in Fergus and the plan was to do 2 loops of 65km through Elora, Kitchener and Guelph countrysides. However, as soon as we rolled out of the parking lot, we started having some difficulties reading the map. Alas some of the steps that were accompanying the map were not quite right and we found ourselves in a few dead ends and construction areas before making it out of the city and onto the country roads.

But eventually we got to the scenic parts and it was a treat. However, ominous clouds kept following us and we were expecting the skies to open up at any time. We took the time to stop and say Hi to the cows because they were oh so pretty!

By the number of people dressed alike and horse carriages around, we understood that we were passing through Mennonite Country. It was quite a strange feeling to be immersed into this world, and all I could think was that I wouldn't have minded if someone invited me to lunch. I was getting hungry, alright.

I kept munching on my Clif bars, but I was getting more and more tired of them. This whole day was starting to feel long and tiredness was taking over my brain. Amanda's company was great as we chatted every once in a while instead of staring at the back of our wheels the whole time. Our legs were not cooperating as much as we thought they would though. As we arrived on the last stretch before coming back to Fergus, we ran into a dirt road again, but this one was frightening. It was covered in big gravel and we could only ride in the middle of the road on the tire tracks.
We had to walk our bikes for a bit, then we literally started seeing our lives flashing before our eyes as cars were coming fast and furious in the opposite direction and did not care slowing down or moving over to leave us more space. 6km of dirt, that was a LONG LONG time riding with the heart in our throat. By the end of this stretch, we were mentally exhausted and absolutely DONE for the day. We decided to put an end to our misery. 100km in the saddle, and what we did not cover in distance, we certainly made up for in intensity.

Although this day was all worth it and it taught us more lessons than we anticipated, it asked for a lot of mental fortitude. All in all, a good training for the Ironman, but I'm not ready to repeat the experience any time soon.

I loved the race and will do it again, but it took all energy out of our legs. This shall be a good lesson in pacing ourselves, otherwise we're going to crash and burn.

Another epic day in the books!

Monday, July 28, 2014

IMMT Training Weeks 26 and 27: Learning from my mistakes

I am tired, but not from working out. I barely exercised in the last 2 weeks and many times I felt like I've literally fallen off a wagon and I've kept looking at the train as it was moving away from me and I just could not get up and run after it. Depressing, I know. Don't get me started or I'll bawl my eyes out. I'm tired because I have been sitting on my butt trying to figure my pain out. I am completely exhausted mentally, constantly juggling with information being thrown at me, with very good intentions of course, but which doesn't help me find peace of mind.

With Ironman Mt. Tremblant being just 3 weeks away, I should have finished another solid 3 weeks cycle, yet all I could do was to stare at my legs and wish for a miracle. I did not want to call it an injury, it is such a dirty word. Besides, athletes are known for pushing the limits of their pain threshold and let's be honest, it does NOT hurt like an injury. It's a nagging pain, that's all, but it's been haunting every single one of my runs. And since I'm the only one who's been inside my head, playing with the pain knobs, I tried to err on the side of caution and not make it worse. It's only in the last week that I started listening to people around me and notably to coach who ordered a proper bike fit, acupuncture and about 0.5% intensity in everything I do, with the condition that I keep moving. And yes, he was the first one to call it an injury (and it got me furious).

So I went for the bike fit. And guess what? Although the seat was at the right height by the books, once I sat on it, my legs would completely stretch out while at the bottom of quadrant, locking my knee. I know for sure that I do not bike like this, at least not unless I try to stand up and stretch my legs, but I end up pedaling with my toes down and heel up and that never gives a break to my legs. I must also be rocking my hips. So my seat was ONE INCH too high all this time, which is huge in terms of bike adjustments. Can you say LOSER? That is me by the way. I remember 10 months ago when I went on a bike ride with coach just after I bought my bike and he looked at me and said: "your seat is too high". He kept repeating it for a month, then he gave up. Did I believe him? Of course not, because my ass knows best. Some think with their head, others with their ass. I'm in the latter category and really not proud of myself.

By the way, for those interested in knee pain that may be due to biking, I found this website that explains the causes very eloquently.

I had the cleat angle and seat adjusted to address #1 and #5 and when I came home Zin told me that #3 is most likely a factor as well because I've always complained about how hard it was to unclip from my Shimano SPD SL pedals (and I'm under 65kg). Given that the leg that I unclip is the one that hurts the most... It cannot be just a coincidence.

So let's assume that I finally know the root cause. I came back from the fit with so much hope, that I imagined my pain going away miraculously in my sleep. Just that it didn't. And here's where I should probably go into recap mode because I'm already back to spinning bad thoughts in my head. Let's go.

Swim

Aaaaaah, that's better! Swimming has been awesome... most of the time.

 I did one pool swim that ended prematurely because of chaos at Mayfield Rec Centre. Someone must have messed up the schedules and I found myself with 40 people in the pool instead of the 4 regulars. I had to get out after 30 min. There was no way to swim properly in a lane when all I was doing was trying to avoid head on collisions.

But going to Professor's Lake was a treat. First week I swam 3 loops on Thursday, and the following week I swam 5 loops (3800m). I was feeling so down, that conquering the Iron distance swim that day was the only thing that could cheer me up. At least I know that I'm going to finish the swim at IMMT, if nobody knocks me out with an elbow to the head that is. I also managed to swim under 1h20 and that's another #win! Exactly where I hope to be on August 17.
The watch stole about 50m.
The only other swim left for this recap was at the Belwood Tri race (separate post to follow), so I will skip it for now.

Bike

Alright, so let's rewind for a minute. At the beginning of the week #26, I still had no clue where my ITB/knee pain was coming from, but I was decided to find out, just that the only method I knew was brute force. I had stopped running the Thursday before, as you may remember from the last recap, then on the following Tuesday I hopped on my bike for a hard trainer workout. THE hardest this year. In my defense, I was following coach's schedule and it was asking for a "sub threshold workout". I chose Aniakchak from Trainer Road because it looked challenging enough, without knowing that I was going to spend more than half the time AT threshold (according to my HR). And it was such a sweet, sweet sweatfest, I loved every minute of if (ok, maybe not the first 5 minutes of the last interval where you can clearly see how I bonked). But a salty ball to the rescue, and a few minutes later all was good with the world again.

Nothing hurt while I was doing the bike and certainly not my ego. But of course, those 6 smashed records were going to keep it inflated for the rest of the season. However, the next day... my IT band woke up screaming. Rub, rub, rub with every step... I could feel it so tense on the outside of my knee, it would snap back in place whenever I'd sit down and stand up. Nasty!! So biking had something to do with it after all...

I had to take it easy for the rest of the week since my knees needed some TLC. Did an easy spin on Friday, but raced on Saturday. The following Monday I had the bike fit and since then it's been easy spin after easy spin every other day, no more than 1h at a time. Pathetic. But at least I am listening to coach now and he ordered that I stay put.

Run

The first week I knew that I was going to run in Belwood, or at least I hoped I could. But before the race I wanted to take a real break from running, just in case it was the culprit for my knee issues. So on Thursday, after swimming 3 loops, I decided to run in the water for 30 min. That was hard!! I came out of the water, legs were shaking and my heart was beating out of my chest. But at least it felt like a workout. Alright then, I can do this.

After racing on Saturday, I returned to the lake for more water running. This time I did a full loop and it took me almost 40 minutes to water run 750m. Everyone was lapping me and the lifeguards were all wondering what the hell I was doing, but I managed to keep a straight face and convince them that my apparent doggie paddling was a serious athletic endeavor that had to be admired. I seriously wanted a medal. This was NOT a jog in the park and I was in serious pain out there. Yeah, it was becoming apparent that water running wasn't going to work for my IT bands either. After reaching the first buoy I started feeling the rubbing outside my knee again. In the middle of the freaking lake!! Get me outta there!! I continued stoically until I completed the loop, then put on my goggles and furiously swam with a solid kick the whole time because I couldn't get my legs to shut up.

And so I had to find yet another way to keep moving, and I found the elliptical. I did 2 more "runs" on it this past week, thankfully without pain around the knees. Hey, if that's what it takes, I'll elliptical myself until my arms and legs fall off!

In a nutshell

I am learning from my mistakes. I am almost 40 years old and I still make monumental mistakes. How many times in life have I told myself that "I'm too old for this shit"? Well, it appears that I can also be "too stupid for this shit". But I got it now. I think.

I went to an all-in one massage therapist, acupuncturist, ex army guy martial artist. He does not mess around!! I may come home with bruises all over, but I believe that his treatments WILL make me better. I need patience, and a lot of it. I wish I went to see him a month ago when the pain started...

I went to Via Ciclante and saw JP who did a bike fit. We may have found the cause of my misery. Again time will tell. He also promised me a 20 watts gain after the fit. Yeah, right. Not sure I believe that, but I haven't tried either.

I went to a chiropractor/ART specialist. He found a thousand spots that hurt when he pokes at them. He gave me treatments that turned me into a wet noodle, just like the massage therapist, but with a slice of nausea on the side. My friend Matt, who just finished IMLP, swears by him. He may not fix my IT bands, but my body sure needs a hard reboot. I feel that ART does that wonderfully.

I am listening to my coach, but I no longer have a very precise schedule. I just know that I have to keep moving and keep the workouts short and not very intense.

What else can I say? I am a mess, but I want to believe that I will heal eventually. Injury or not, I got handicapped to the point that I can no longer run without pain, but I hope that it will get better before I get to toe the line at IMMT. There are no shortcuts to this finish line. This is my journey and it's too late to look back and start having regrets. Next recap will bring better news, I promise!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

2014 Toronto Triathlon Festival Race Report (DNS)

TTF has always been one of my most anticipated races. I'm pretty sure that I was among the first 10 people who signed up when the registration opened last year. How could I miss it? By now, I have an emotional connection to it as it was my first ever triathlon in 2012 and I always loved everything about it. I raced it every year since, so it was unfathomable that I skip it. I got my Olympic distance PR there last July and it still stands by the way. However, this year it was going to be all about having fun given that IMMT is only a few weeks away. Besides, it was Zin's A race and I really wanted to be there for him instead of stressing my brains out.

So it would be pretty accurate to say that I almost didn't care. I didn't obsess over the weather, I didn't think about what to wear, other than I wanted to put on a new Coeur kit that I had ordered and could not wait to receive. I had a fancy race helmet, a bike in perfect working order with speedy race wheels, new road cycling shoes which I learned to clip in without a hiccup. All I needed was for Zin to come pick me up from work on Friday and drive downtown to retrieve my race kit.
We arrived at Coronation Park where the expo and the pre-race meetings were organized under big tents, as opposed to the fancy Westin Harbour Hotel in the years before (no big deal, it was actually better because we didn't have to drive through the construction clusterfuck around Union Station), and we had to wait for the next meeting to start, or no race packet pickup for us. I also found Carol (is she following me or what?! :-)) and altogether we went to listen to Steve Fleck go through the 10-12 min of slides that turned into 45 min. Get me outta here!! I knew each slide by heart. However, there was one slide that literally jumped at me as it talked about the swim conditions and the fact that a swim warm-up was NOT going to be allowed. WTF?! At least in the years before we had about 5 min to splash around. Not this time. This slide also mentioned a water temperature expected between 13-15C. Double WTF!!

I felt compelled to write this tweet.
You may remember that I skipped the swim at Woodstock for the same reason. Under 16-17C, it's too damn cold for my noggin. And so the doubt started creeping in. Why would I subject myself to this if I already declined to swim in similar, yet slightly better conditions (thanks to the allowed warm-up swim) at Woodstock? What if I get a cold? Last year my hands and feet already went numb because of my Raynaud's, what if I get impaired and unable to steer my bike properly? I already had a near miss last year because I was so dizzy coming out of the water.

Anyway, thanks to the company, I didn't have much time to stress about the what ifs. Not until I got back home, but then I looked at the weather app. Thunderstorms and rain and wind, oh my!! I proceeded to organize my transition bag, put the tri kit beside my bed, my change of clothes, my nutrition, every single detail was ready and then I decided to call it a night. As I lay down in bed, staring at my ceiling, I let the thoughts sink in.

My knees were hurting and I had not been able to run more than 3km without pain. I should be resting instead.
It was going to rain. A lot. And I was going to remain soaked for hours.
It was going to be freaking cold in the water. Colder than I could handle.
I was going to fly down a highway on my bike, with puddles everywhere and water in my eyes and slippery oil patches and O M G. What if I crash?!!

And at that moment I knew that the risk was not going to be worth the reward. Most likely I wasn't going to get a PR and worse, I may even get sick or DIE. Yes, I do think about dying on my bike a lot. I would be stupid not too. Have you ever launched yourself head forward on a slope? The tiniest error can end in a LOT of hurt. Have you seen the Tour de France this year? Let that be an eye opener. If you crash, game over. No more Ironman and all training, all sacrifices thus far, gone down the drain. So I posted a status on Facebook saying that I was reluctant to start, but then my mind was already made up. I turned off the light, counted down to 5 and I freed my mind. I slept like a baby and the night went by in a blink.

Next thing I know, the alarm clock goes off, it's 4pm and I'm at peace. I get up, put on city clothes, I don't even look at my tri bag. Hubbs and I go to the kitchen, we have breakfast. Hey, I can even have coffee! Isn't that a treat?! If I were racing I would have had to skip. Bike comes out of the car and I don't even sigh. All I care from now on is seeing Zin SMASH it!!

I drive us downtown again and I drop hubbs off near the transition, then I go park the car. As I started walking along the canal towards transition, I looked at my wristband. I had not removed it. That's ok, it was going to give me in and out privileges and I was glad for the opportunity, I could be much closer to Zin and to all my friends racing that day. If I dare to say, I has happy and content with myself.

Before I could find hubbs, I ran into Margarita, she is one my long time blog readers who won a top at a small contest that I ran on my blog last year, just before TTF. We met back then and stayed in contact since. She has stayed true to herself in her pursuit of endurance challenges, and I could not be more proud of her. She did TTF last year and came back for more!
As you can see, it was still dry when I met her, but not for long. Literally 5 minutes later the skies opened up and it started pouring. Here's what my hubby's transition spot looked like:
I bet putting on your wetsuit was the best course of action for everyone, but also the most challenging. Oh well, people seemed to do just fine. I followed Zin to the swim start, but I was trailing a bit behind as I kept looking for Carol. And then I found her!
Big MUAH under the umbrella. This girl had a lot more courage than me for sure! I found Zin too, and then things got a bit weird, of course.
The swim was on hold and people were getting anxious. Those two seemed to be doing just fine though. But soon enough, or maybe after what felt like an eternity, they got to jump in. Blue caps, Zin's wave.
Then the yellow caps, Carol's wave. Look at them go!!

As for me, I stayed on the shore, taking pics. It was a hoot. Look who I even ran into!! Simon Whitfield, who even offered to take the selfie himself. He's got it perfected to a science! And it just made my day. Best perk of a DNS, ever!! :-)
I waited for everyone I knew to get out of the water and it was very painful to see so many people returning by boat. I knew at that moment that I had made the right decision. NO REGRETS. I was having a great time cheering on my family and friends and getting to watch the TTF operations from a different perspective. As a matter of fact, I realized that most people were taking me for a volunteer since I was wearing the same tshirt as them. Thankfully I knew so much about the race that I had no problem answering their questions. I even got a volunteer confused when I returned in transition and he asked me if I was there to guard the bags. Apparently he was assigned to this job and wanted to make sure we weren't both doing the same thing. No problem buddy, it's all yours!
In transition, I found other friends from FMCT tri club, including my coach, getting ready for the sprint race. Look at them proud members of the Team Canada (psst, they are all going to the World Championships in Edmonton)!
Then I waited for Zin to come in from his bike, worried that he may have crashed too. But oh relief, there he was!! He made a grimace while running towards his spot, but overall he T2'd like a champ so I didn't worry too much. Honey, don't leave your gels inside your shoe next time.  ;-) And wait, you're not gonna eat anything?
Apparently not.
Soon it was time for the sprint folks to swim, so I returned by the water where I could also see the oly people leaving the transition to go on their run. I saw Margarita again, followed closely by Carol. They were safe too, phew!! Then I did a quick mental calculation and realized that time had flown by and that I should make my way towards the finish line to see hubbs bringing it home. I must have run backwards the entire km that separated Ontario Place from Coronation Park, but I could not see him. Was starting to get worried again. Did he bonk? Did he trip? Did he get abducted by the aliens or fall into a sinkhole? Eventually I arrived at the entrance of the park and saw people coming in who had left way after him on the run and then it stroke me that he must have finished already. That's what he gets for being too fast! Yeah, well... he was not impressed. But he looked good with the medal!! 9th in his AG with a 2h24 time, in a super packed field! He smashed it, alright!!
Soon afterwards it started dumping buckets of water on us. Torrential downpour!! My umbrella could barely do the work. But as long as my iPhone was dry and I could keep taking pictures of my friends coming down the finish chute, I was going to be ok.
We stayed around until everyone finished and the awards ceremony got under way. Some of our friends placed in their age groups and we wanted to be there for their podium. I could also not wait to congratulate John Young, who has also been doing this race for as long as I've been. We were even in the same wave in the inaugural year. Finally, we could connect again after being Facebook friends for a while. Look at those smiles!
He is such a smart, kind, and genuine soul and I have the utmost respect for him and his drive to complete endurance events such as the Boston Marathon and the Ironman. Just watch him! I know he will do great!! Here is a story that Toronto Star wrote on his race that day.
And that's a wrap, my friends! I had a super awesome day at TTF, cheering rather than racing, but without any sort of regret. Hearing from everyone how harsh the conditions were and how dangerous the bike was, I know that I made the right decision. I am proud that I could think clearly and did not get carried away with emotions or guilt. Being in control means that you have to make the decisions that you believe are the best. Ironman training is definitely a learning process.
(To see all pictures I took at TTF, go here).