Saturday, July 25, 2009

I 'heart' Vancouver

I'm having the best summer. It's been absolutely beautiful here in Vancouver so I really have nothing to complain about. This weeks been awesome - I had a great week of hard workouts, I'm back feeling totally 'with-it' at work, I went to a BC Lions Game last night and today started with a 3 hour bike ride with Tash where we rode to, then up Cypress Mountain and then stopped to enjoy the view on the way down. This afternoon was spent napping/relaxing on the beach in the 30 degree heat of Vancouver's untouchable summer so far. Tonight, I'm hangin' in listening to the rain as it cools down the city.

After a scorcher of a day, welcomed thunder storms rolled in around 5:30. Here's a few pics and a video from my apartment balcony.

Tomorrow morning I'm up early to swim, then my last long run before Calgary next weekend. I'm flying in on Friday, get to spend the weekend with my MOM!!!! Race Sunday, and come home Monday to prepare for a weeks holiday volunteering with the World Police & Fire Games. I'm the Team Lead for Beach Volleyball which is down at Kitslano Beach. A week watching Officers and Firefighters sweating it out playing beach volleyball..... yeah... another tough week for Sarah.....

Happy Training!


Friday, July 17, 2009

The A Race

I can’t believe how nervous I was on race morning. I didn’t think I was, I had driven down from Penticton alone in the car, quiet, enjoying my coffee and the calm of early mornings. I had done some visualization, a preparation strategy used by many and something I have learned to incorporate into every race. I was confident and really excited. I set up transition exactly as I had pictured it, I hadn’t forgotten anything and I had everything systematically laid out just as I needed it. It wasn’t until 10 min before the race that I started to feel the nerves - I was only slightly behind schedule thanks to the predictably long lines at the port-o-potties and I struggled to put on my wetsuit as I had already started to sweat in the heat of the 630am sun. It was going to be a hot day. After a short warm up, I was on the beach with a few other team members who were there to support and to race – each of whom brought some calm through cracking the usual jokes and offering the reassurance that I was prepared and going to have a great day. I'm not sure exactly what was going through my head at this point, to be honest it was a bit of a blur, but I do remember feeling sick and actually shaking with anticipation. I think this was the first time that the distance of the Half Ironman actually dawned on me. Up until this point, I looked at each of the three legs as individual units – today – I was going to string them together in one long, demanding test of endurance that will challenge my physical readiness and my will to complete one of the hardest courses in Canada.

Swim: Mass starts can be daunting. Should to shoulder, pressed back to front standing on the beach, the gun goes off and 111 women race into the water. Luckily, and I’m not sure why, but I am not bothered by the washing machine experience of these types of starts. It’s a turbulent mess of arms and legs. People ramming into you from either side, white water splashing and the unfortunate, but inevitable case of someone swimming right over top of you. Some how, I’ve managed to stay calm and just seem to keep going until the field spreads out and the chaos subsides. It usually only takes 2-300 meters. By then I’ve found a good set of feet to draft off and I’ve settled into a mantra that keeps me evenly paced and clear headed through the 2000M swim. Left arm, right arm, left arm, right arm, left arm, right arm….. Simple. Effective. Before I knew it, I was coming out of the water from my first lap, running around the beach buoy and diving back into the water for lap two on pace and feeling good. I swam pretty well and looking back I think I could have gone a bit quicker – I amped it up for the last 500M bringing it in strong. I wanted to swim in 40min or less – I ended up doing a 41:29. A lesson in pacing mostly, I really could have done a sub 40.

Something fun about this swim – they had wetsuit strippers! If you’ve read any of my past post-race blogs, you might remember that I have a particularly difficult time getting out of my wetsuit after the swim. This is because I have a serious case of noodle legs and between the adrenaline and the seasickness (yes – swimming in choppy water where I’m raising up and down with the waves actually makes me seasick) getting out of a skin tight rubber suit can prove to be a challenge all on its own. Not this time. I see the guy just outside transition waving me in like an air traffic controller directing a 747. With two hands rhythmically pointing to me then to the ground in front of him, I (ever so gracefully I’m sure) come in, lie down on my back, legs out and SWOOSH! With one rip he flings my wetsuit off and I’m back on my feet running into transition. Su-weet!

Bike: As I’m running out of transition, fumbling with my bike computer (something I should have done pre-race) I encounter another race ‘perk’ – sunscreen applicators! A few ladies standing on the directional turf out to the bike course shout as I approach “do you want sunscreen?” of course, my answer is “yes!” and in an instant, there are three women (6 hands!) rubbing my arms, back and legs with 30SPF. Nice! And just like that, I was out on the bike course.

Super stoked on my swim and my ‘catered to’ experience in T1 (first transition) I was smiling and feeling good about the being on the bike. Coincidentally I ran into Stan, one of the experienced members of our Tri-Club who was out riding the course as a bandit (he wasn’t registered in the race but out riding the course – is this technically illegal? – no… but not exactly something that’s encouraged). All smiles, and full of support Stan rode behind me all the way up Richter Pass. The climb up came and went with ease, something I feel like I owe to my training rides the week earlier. The rollers on the backside also came and went without much effort. I was riding well, felt great and on pace. It was just before the half way aid station that I caught up to and started to pass a few people, a confidence builder for sure. Despite having just caught a few, I stuck with my race plan and at the aid station stopped to refuel, pit stop (use the port-o-potty) and eat once I got back on the bike. In doing so, I felt 100% turning around, and catching a welcomed tailwind heading back on the only flat portion of the course.

Of course, knowing that this is not an easy course by any means, my ride wasn’t all smooth sailing. I climbed up and over the rollers heading back, each one starting to get a little harder than the last, and although I had caught up to a few people and passed them, I was also pulling a small pack of four or five. This is not a draft legal race, and while they probably weren’t close enough to be getting any huge physical advantage from my draft they were close enough to gain a mental edge. When you’re in front of the pack, you feel a little like a rabbit being chased. You’re not quite sure who’s behind you, how close they are, how they look (if they’re strong or struggling) it’s a bit of a guessing game that can distract you from your race. When your behind, it’s easier to relax, focus on the pace the leader is setting and stay cool. You can see if they are getting tired, watch where they are fading and use the fact that you’ve caught them as motivation to over take them. When that happens, not only does it boost your confidence, it deflates the person that you’ve passed. So, as the final roller approached, and it’s a big one, it took it’s toll on me and I really struggled up it. I lost my rhythm and got passed by 3 on the climb. It was a bit of a downer and it’s where I started to hurt a little. At this point too, my back was really starting to hurt and I knew that the tough part of the racing was starting.

I had been racing for over three hours, two and a half of them on the bike in the 35 degree desert heat. I had just been passed by three on a tough climb and another one was gaining ground closely behind. Up ahead – I still had to climb the back side of Richter Pass. I tried to stay relaxed, but the straining pain in my back made it almost impossible to do. More pain = more tension = less energy = slowing down = getting passed by one more person = another blow to the confidence. At the bottom of Richter Pass, I could see all the way to the top, and half way there already was the pack of 4 I had pulled through the last 20km’s. It was a long and lonely climb watching them get further and further away. By the time I reached the top, they were long gone, however, so was my “Debbie Downer” mood (thanks to a shot of sugar/electrolytes) and I celebrated another successful win in the “Sarah vs Richter Pass” climbing series. I had a huge smile on my face and decided that it was about time I got off this damn bike. Maxing out at 71km/h I raced down Richter and caught two of my ungrateful-clinger-ons. I was in great spirits as I finished up my ride in 3:38h.

Run: Once in transition, the first thing I did was take a 2 Litre jug of water that I had prepared and poured it over my head and down my back. The heat is a serious factor in the desert and the dousing in water was a tip handed to me by someone who raced last year. On the bike, your core temperature can rise without much notice since the wind (especially after just flying down the pass) can keep your surface temp slightly cooler. However, about 1km into the run, the still, scorching heat can hit you like a truck and by then, it’s too late and your reliant on aid stations. Definitely glad I took the advice, as I left to start my half marathon in good spirits and in pretty decent shape physically. Because of the heat, the run was definitely a matter of running aid station to aid station, I used my heart rate monitor to stay on pace, but I don’t think it would have mattered – I had only one speed this day and going too fast was not going to be an issue.

Soaked sponges, salt tablets, crushed ice, water, water and more water I ran through the first 15km’s comfortable and happy. I was with a few people I rode the bike with and even caught a few others. Because it was a two loop course, I saw lots of smiling familiar faces coming and going on various parts of the course. Lots of support and lots of encouragement.

With about 6km to go – the real race began. The body does strange, strange things when you push your limits. I first knew things were starting to go downhill when stopping to walk through the aid stations hurt worse then continuing to run. The change in muscle requirements starts to become painfully obvious. You start to have limited ability in what your body will offer and you have to choose – will it be the constant motion of running (looking straight ahead, arms systematically swinging back and forth, and the unchanging rhythm of your legs) or will it be the new muscles called on to walk, the energy required in saying "water" to aid station volunteers, grabbing food, chew ice etc. because it’s getting harder and harder to do both. Knowing that passing up water/sponges at aid stations is not an option, I go from “hero to zero” pretty damn quick. I’m 6km to finish and the tank is no longer running on fumes – it’s empty, and no amount of crushed ice is going to refuel it. I ran with a girl (that I passed coming down Richter) until about 3km to the end. Then my race was over – I was cross eyed, my ears were ringing, I had stopped sweating (bad news) and I knew that getting across that finish line was the only important thing. Slowly, the girl I had competed against, practically shoulder to shoulder for the last 2:20h drifted ahead and around the corner. Finishing was now my only goal.

Finally, after a 2:26h half marathon, I crossed the finish line at the Osoyoos Desert Half Iron. I finished in 6:52h and in 11th place in my age group. That girl that drifted away from me at just shy of 2km from the finish was the 10th place girl in my category and took the final spot for the World Championships. While I thought I would have been devastated at not qualifying, turns out that I’m not upset at all. I gave it everything I had, left nothing on the course and have no regrets.

I remain loving this sport and have a whole new respect for the demands it makes. I’m proud of myself for finishing, and look forward to racing again soon. 2 weeks to be exact. I’m heading to Calgary to race the Ironman 70.3 (Half Iron) August 2. I’m excited to see what that race will hold for me now that I have one of the hardest races in Canada under my belt and a little experience to learn from.

Thanks to all for the calls and support! Here's a pic of me trying to put on my game face at the swim start - totally faking it - I was freaking out! S.

Friday, July 10, 2009

"The hay is already in the barn"

Last week I had an epic week out in Penticton training on my own in preparation for my big race this Sunday. I was so glad that I went, I got in some huge rides, saw the bike course, ran the run course, slept, ate and relaxed.

Thanks to my friend Adrienne, I had a place to crash right in Pentiction that was steps away from the Ironman Canada start (287 steps I think). Adrienne wasn't even around that week, but a few new friends from Calgary were and her place turned out to be a hub of Triathletes from all over that were there all doing the same thing I was.... training.

I left casually on Monday afternoon, it was a beautiful day to do the 4.5 hour drive into the interior. I decided to do the Hwy 3 route instead of the Coquihalla Hwy as someone tipped me off that it was a much prettier drive - and HOLY SMOKES was it ever! It's a twisty, windy route through the mountains with some of the most beautiful scenery that I have ever seen. Again, I've done a fair number of road trips and travelling throughout North America and this drive had me pulling over at rest stops to take it all in and (quite literally) giggle to myself that I actually live in this place.

Because this week was more about mental preparation than anything else, the workouts weren't killer - tough - but not killer. In the end, it was 6050M of swimming, 160km's of riding, and 32km's of running, but the quality of these miles far outweighed the quantity.

Tuesday morning I eased into the week with one hour of continuous open water swim.
Conveniently, Penticton has a nice 1900m buoy line that stretches from one end of the beach to the other. This also happens to be serious Triathlete territory so by 6am there's a pretty steady stream of swimmers heading into the water for their morning workout. The waters are calm, clear and free of sea monsters (ie: shadowy figures darting past you or underneath you that you typically encounter when swimming in the ocean or other water where you can't see the bottom - très freaky). Of course - this is my vacation, so I don't head down for my morning workout without first enjoying my morning coffee on the beach.
After a bite to eat and some daytime TV back at the house, I was out for my second workout - a ride up to Apex Mountain. Again, incredible scenery, quiet roads and PERFECT weather. A balmy 29 degrees and not a cloud in the sky.

Thanks to my new Blackberry Curve -not only did I always have a phone on me in case I got stranded out on the bike, I was able to take pictures all week while out on my adventures and upload them to Facebook right away! I love technology :)

The best part about training weeks like this - is that your only purpose is to train and recover. Which means alot of eating and sleeping. So after my ride - back to the house to eat lunch, then off to the beach for a nap! Woo Hoo!

Wednesday morning started with a 2000m time trial in the water. I was really excited to see what kind of pace I would need to have for the race next weekend, and what kind of time I could expect to see in the swim. This morning I was going to swim hard like I was racing and see what the result was. Unfortunately, when I got down to the water, the calm smooth glass like water from the day before was no more. It was super choppy, white caps even! Great. So regardless of the unwelcoming swells, I get in the water and give a good effort to complete the workout I wanted. It was a tough, tough swim but in the end I did 1900m in 40min. Which I think can be translated into a decent sub 40min/2000m swim in calmer water. I was happy. Waterlogged from all the water I choked on, but happy.

I headed back to the house (just a few steps away remember) and changed into running gear and immediately headed out for an easy 35min run. My legs were still sore from the Half Marathon that I ran on the previous Sunday, and from an IT band that apparently had strained during that race. I was taking it easy and trying to work it out. By the end it had loosened up. After some lunch, more daytime TV and a quick nap - it was off to Osoyoos (about an hours drive away) to ride the infamous Richter Pass which is the first part of my bike course, and a well known force of destruction on the Ironman Canada course. My plan was to ride up it twice just so that I knew I could handle it on race day

In case you didn't know, Osoyoos is Canada's only desert. It's hot, dry and, oh yeah - HOT. By 1pm when I got down there, the mercury had risen to a comfortable (read with sarcasm) 33 degrees Celsius and not a stick of shade to be found anywhere. I parked in the Husky gas station parking lot, doused myself in sunscreen, loaded up on liquids and headed out. The climb is about 13km up the side of the mountain - with a few flat parts to break it up - I did it very easily in 50 minutes. I stopped to take a picture of the backside when I got to the top, then turned around, whipped down in just shy of 25min, re-applied my sunscreen and headed back for another climb to the top. Again, the climb taking 50min and doing it easily. I was stoked on it being not as big of an obstacle as people had made it out to be.

After my two satisfying climbs, I headed back to Penticton for a nap and some good recovery time on the beach.. ahhhh.. I love vacation.

Thursday I found the water in the same condition as the morning before - choppy, cold and unwelcoming for my planned speed workout. Oh well - it was great training. I did a great interval workout and was joined by Sean, a friend of Adrienne's who was also staying at the house and training for this years Ironman Canada in August.

In the afternoon, I headed back to Osoyoos to do 1 loop of the 2 loop race run course. I mentioned before that it was HOT in Osoyoos and I meant it - it was another blue skied, 33 degrees with no sign of a little cloud cover to break up the scorch of the mid day sun. I was just doing an easy 11km, slow - just looking to get a feel for the course, not to do it in record time. I was well hydrated, rested and fueled and headed out. By the time I had gotten back to where I started, I had taken 3 walk breaks, was seeing stars, had a small incident with a little vomit and was having trouble breathing the thick desert air. Ok - so the heat is intense. Duly noted. It was a darn good thing I had taken the opportunity to acclimatize before the race - these are lessons much better learned before race day. Luckily I could dip in the lake, cool down quickly and relax under the shade of a tree before driving back to Penticton.
Friday morning I did a nice easy ride out to Naramata. Penticton is wine country and Naramata is it's capital. Nothing but vineyards and rolling hills with the backdrop of the lake and the mountains. Not a bad way to welcome the day if you ask me. The afternoon had in store an easy 45 min run, but after the beating I took in the heat the day before, I had a hard time completing the run and pulled up after 30min. Recovery is key. To the beach I go.

Saturday was my big ride. I was heading to Osoyoos to ride the bike course in it's entirety. Fueling up and heading out from the would-be transition area, I started my 90km journey well prepared for the heat and the challenges this course had in store. Richter Pass was over and done-with in 45min this time as I was well versed in it's every nook and cranny and I chugged up with little effort and happy to have done the climb 2x a few days earlier. This time though, I would not be turning around at the top, but rather descending down the backside of Richter and heading out into the unknown of Hwy 3.

I heard about the "Rolling 9" on the backside and that they can be just as, if not more daunting than the climb up Richter to begin with. When I came across, one, and then another, then another... and so on through 9 big descends, followed by 9 big climbs. Each one getting a bit tougher to climb out of as you get more and more fatigued as you go. The trick??? Don't stop spinning your legs! The faster you go down, the less you have to pedal up! I made it through with some energy on reserve - good thing too, because the course is an out-and-back so everything I just did, I'll do again heading home.

At the half way point, I stopped at a little corner store to refuel (eat) and reload (water). The coolest thing about riding out here is the people you run into. People at every turn that are out there (mostly) training for Ironman Canada. I have so much respect for those people and what they are taking on. I haven't yet run into anyone who doesn't take a few minutes to chat with you to talk about their ride, what's coming up, and give you a bit of advice if you ask for it. Triathletes are such wicked people - must be the fraternity of pain we all belong to - an understanding between those that are suckers for punishment.

The way back proved to be more challenging than the way out (usually is). I was getting tired, hot and knew that the climb back over Richter Pass was looming and would be a tough go that I was going to have to dig deep for. After the 5th, 6th, 7th.... 8th..........9th.... climb out of the rolling hills, I saw the inevitable. There she was. Urgh, that damned hill looked big even from 7km's away. I made my way up it, slowly but surely. I got some encouraging honks likely from other Triathletes passing by in cars heading one way or the other. When I got to the top - I turned around and celebrated at what a huge success I had just had. It's that feeling there that gets me through so many workouts, climbs, races, obstacles, whatever - it's that feeling of accomplishment that can't be beat and can't be duplicated. It's awesome.

Hyped up on my "Me vs Richter Pass" win, I started my descend down the other side with a huge grin on my face and my mind on my prize. About half way through the ride home I decided that I wanted one of those Rocket ice pop things - you know the ones.. the red, white and blue things that you buy from the ice cream truck. Hell ya - I wanted one SOOO badly. I think it was part of my motivation to get to the top. I stopped at the Husky at the bottom of the pass and sat right there on the curb sucking down the frozen, sugary goodness and very much satisfied with my ride.

Sunday was my last day. I packed up from Adrienne's and headed back to Osoyoos to do one more loop of the run course. I didn't want to leave having such a tortuous experience with the run. It was a good decision in the end as I ran a decent pace, felt really comfortable with the course and finished feeling strong and not as sick as I had a few days prior. Feeling good, I took a dip in the lake to cool down, stretched on the beach and hit the road for Vancouver by 2pm.

What an amazing week it was. Training aside - I was relaxed, I slept, I ate, I read my book. It really was an awesome vacation. BC is so incredible and I feel like I've only just started to explore what it has to offer.

This week I've taken it really easy. I got in a run workout last night with the club, but as Coach Drew told me - "the hay is already in the barn" (another eye rolling classic line from Drew)- meaning, the training is done. Now, all I have to do is prepare myself mentally, keep hydrated, get well rested and enjoy the race on the weekend.

So, I'm off now for a quick spin on my bike before I pack up and head back to the interior. Wish me luck... only a 2km swim, a 90km bike and a 21km run stand between me and the possibility of the Long Course Triathlon World Championships next year.