Saturday, July 24, 2010

Those days

Ever had one of "those" days? The days where nothing in particular goes wrong but somehow you get worn out, it's grinds you down, chips away at you one test of will at a time? Maybe you were exhausted, you burnt your toast, you spilt the milk, you couldn't find your car keys, your hair was frizzy, you hit your head on the car getting in, you got to work and realized that spilt milk left a huge stain on your shirt and so on and so forth your day never gets any better. Nothing catastrophic happened but the only thing you want to do is to lock yourself in a room and cry?

Ha! I've been there.

In fact, yesterday around 150km into my ride, I was there. The day had gone really well. I was feeling great, legs were turning, I had lots of water/hydration, sun was shining but not scorching and there must have been a hundred smiling faces on the course throughout the day. All was well! Until I hit the wall. I was tired. I was keeping it together but slowly losing pace for about 7km's. The next 20km or so are a false flat (appears to be flat but your actually going uphill at a 1-2% grade - ie; mental torture). My back was hurting, my hips were on fire, my toe was asleep and numb plus I would have robbed someone for a pizza had I seen one.

Just as I was starting to give in mentally, I was feeling down, I look ahead and it's the start of Yellow Lake Road. This is a hill earning a reputation for taking victims of heat and exhaustion and just doing them in. The last big climb toward the end.

Honestly, I wanted to cry. I just wanted to stop. and cry. I did stop, I shook out my legs, I stretched out my back I had another (6th) power bar and just took a second to regroup (no crying though). I got back on my bike and kept going, it wasn't like I had a fresh pair of legs or anything, but at least I was able to pull myself together. I was slowly but surely making my way up and (as if perfectly timed by the universe trying to makes it's point that much clearer), I got a flat tire.

Time to laugh this off. The first thought through my head was - "sweet! another break and I have an excuse to be standing and drinking". A nice man who was out as a support vehicle for another group of riders, whom I now refer to as Saint Al, came to my rescue and helped me change my tire. He even topped up my bottles with ice cold water.

With a new tire and my head on straight I was ready to finish this ride. Thankfully (with a few small exceptions) the rest of the ride into Penticton is downhill. I finally got moving again and had sometime to consider my day. First and absolutely foremost, I was proud of myself for finishing. All my practising being "awesome" this year has paid off in excess. Before I look at my pace, my time or anything, I automatically think to myself "you kicked ass today" because no matter how you look at it - that course is killer and getting through it for the first time is a major win. Then I looked back at my brief period of struggle and I realized - brief is exactly what it was. While your in it, it seems like there is no end. You are never going to stop feeling like crap and your whole day can be summed up by that crappy period where you were sure you sucked at this and that giving up and crying on the side of the road was probably the best solution. But in hindsight, that was maybe 10km of the day. The other 170km was awesome!

I still have a hard time figuring out exactly what I thought of the day. It was long, hard and I was tired. But, that's exactly that's exactly what I had expected. I didn't expect it to be easy and that I would breeze through it. I guess it was just another learning experience. I chose to see it this way:

The course is long, but it's not too long.
The course is hard, but it's not too hard.

Life lesson for the day: stopping and crying may sometimes seem like your only and best solution, but all you have to do is keep going and that [moment] too shall pass. When you sometimes get kicked when your down, laugh it off, smile and take advantage of the extra downtime that additional setback provided. When it's all over, you'll look back and realize what a small moment in time that struggle was and that really, overall you had a pretty awesome experience.

Big swim today and then heading back to the city.

Friday, July 23, 2010

After a nights' rest...

There is one thing I've figured out...

The only thing I can change now is my attitude.

It's going to be a great day.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Busy is as busy does

Without spending 3 full days at home, I picked up a last minute opportunity to come to Penticton again this weekend to ride the full Ironman bike course tomorrow. One of the clubs coaches has been here all week running a gruelling training camp and I found someone that was coming to meet up with them for just the weekend portion. I've been looking for the chance to ride the course in full (and sooner rather than later) so I jumped on the chance to catch a ride out here and join the group so I have a little company out there.

With less than 12 hours notice, I find myself this evening sitting around a pot-luck, carb loading/fat loading/protein packing dinner discussing hydration, nutrition, support vehicle locations, grinding climbs and killer descends, potential bonks and safety precautions when it hits me... Holy s#*t! Tomorrow morning I'm going to ride 180km (no lunch breaks, rest stops or entertainment stages as per Ride to Conquer Cancer). There's no faking it - I've got to actually pull out a 7-7:30 hour bike ride up hills, over mountain passes, through head winds and down into valleys and still have the legs and will to run a full marathon when its all over (not tomorrow, but in 37 days).

Who's idea was this anyway!?!?!?!

Well, I'm not gonna lie. I'm a little nervous tonight. Thank goodness I came when I did because I wouldn't want to do this alone. Coach Drew is here and will be out on course all day in his van with water and food and helping us out should something go wrong with our bikes. Plus there are at least two other training camps that I know of that are also riding the full course tomorrow so it's actually going to be a busy day out there. It's comforting knowing I won't be alone.

I have no "words of wisdom" or anything motivating/inspiring to write tonight... honestly, I'm a little freaked out right now and just hoping that my post-ride blog tomorrow will be a happy report on a great day. Less than two hours ago I was finishing dinner so stuffed that I couldn't possibly eat another bite and now... the more I think about tomorrow, I'm afraid that I just might lose it all :(

I better get some rest.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Race Report - Osoyoos Half Iron

It's been a crazy week and after a long hot race, the arriving of houseguest, a wedding on the island and 4 days in Tofino, I finally have a moment to do the race report from last weekend.

I'll start out by prefacing that this was not a great race for me. I went up to Osoyoos to camp, train and prepare for the race in the heat of the desert. Unfortunately the plan backfired on me. After a day or so of 40+ degrees and no escape to air conditioning I half heartedly knew my plan could take a turn for the worse but kept positive. Between not sleeping well at night, no napping during the day, no escape from the oven like heat and not eating well because of all of the above, come race day I didn't have what it took to get through the day as I had hoped.

The morning started off badly with my bikes computer crapping out on me. A stretched wire or something stopped it from calculating my speed, distance, cadence and time. All of which I rely on while out on course. Mind you, things could have been much worse, at least it wasn't a mechanical issue and I could still ride. Despite the malfunction, I was in good spirits and laughing with a fellow Ironman trainee about how different this year was for me compared to last year. This race last year was my very first half iron and at that very point, I was shaking like a leaf wondering if I was going to make it through the day. This morning though, I was all smiles, feeling good and ready to go through the motions. Of course this year my motivators were slightly different. Last year I was hoping that with a good race, I might qualify for the 2010 Long Course World Championships where on this morning a year later, I was just using it as a training day in preparation for my big day in August.

The swim went quickly and without much thought. I picked up a draft on my first loop and stayed right on her toes throughout the second loop of the course. I came out of the water in 41:51 which is slower than my regular pace, but not by much and could have easily been corrected with better sighting and swimming straighter lines. Nonetheless, I was fine with it - this is just supposed to be a training day so it was more important that I felt good and swam smart by finding that draft.

I was really looking forward to the bike course because I remembered how I struggled last year. I was looking forward to seeing how my advanced education, better training and new attitude would fare well for me in a racing environment. Without the use of my computer to measure my cadence I would have to go on feel for how fast I was spinning my legs. Without the speedometer, I would be guessing my pace and without the odometer I would be guessing where on course I actually was. The worst of all though was I had no time clock. I did have my watch on, but it wasn't as helpful as the timer on my bike computer. So, out I went with the purpose of staying positive, keeping my pace in mind best I could and following my hydration and nutrition planning. All went well and on my way back (approx 3/4 way through the course) I was remembering last year where at that point I was being dropped by my pack and losing ground/motivation/energy very quickly. Today however was the complete opposite. I was passing the pack I was hanging with, I was feeling 100% and still smiling at the supporters on the side of the road. Even going up the backside of Richter I was remembering the struggle of that very climb last year and how torturous it was. Every stroke was a grinding test in will and I hated every second. Today, I smiled to the top, passed other athletes and gave supportive cheers as best I could. At that point I was thankful for all my long rides and trips up Cypress Mountain in the last year.

As good as it felt to have such a positive ride, when I got to the bottom of the course my time calculations from my watch were sketchy and I wasn't sure that I had actually done any better than last year. Turns out I didn't and I came in at 3:40h which was about 4min slower than last year.

Onto the run. This was going to be the test for me. Last year I lost it on the run giving into the heat and my lack of nutrition throughout the course. This year I was much more prepared and was excited to see how it would unfold. I tried experimenting a little by running with my fuel belt and carrying my own hydration/nutrition with the intention of sticking to my 2:1 drinking and eating plan every fifteen minutes. Normally I wouldn't do this in a race, and you don't see many athletes who do (you just rely on the aid stations on course), but since I had found a plan that had been working so well for me in training, I was eager to test it in a race.

Well, turns out that no amount of hydration, nutrition or planning was helping me on this day. Long before the end of the 21km run course I gave into the heat and just hoped to make it to the finish line. I tried sticking with my plan of drinking and eating but it quickly turned into just running/walking from aid station to aid station anyway. It was nice to have the extra hydration in the heat when I needed it, but I don't think I would have been any worse off without it. By 2:20 I officially gave up and just walked/shuffled my way over the finish line with at 2:38h run. Pretty disappointing.

At first I chalked up my poor performance to the pre-race heat. The camping plan most likely played a role in my exhaustion and I learned a valuable lesson about the necessity of air conditioning, napping and good quality sleep. However, after having a few days to reflect I think I found another factor playing into my 7:07h dreadful finish on Sunday.

Last year, although nervous, slightly unprepared and unknowing of what I was in for, I had something then that I didn't this year. Motivation. I knew that the top 10 in my age group were going to be given spots in the 2010 World Championships that would be held in Germany. I knew it was a total long shot, but throughout the race, I had that motivation that kept me going. Mind you, I finished last year barely standing, dehydrated and nauseous, but I left everything that I had on course. This year, my intentions were just to go through the motions, use this as a long training day in preparation for Ironman. Did I get what I aimed for? Yes. Was I satisfied with my effort? Not so much. I'm glad that I felt much more positive throughout the race, especially on the bike. But I think I lost focus and went too far into the "training day" mentality. I doddled out there, was daydreaming where I should have been focusing and lost my motivation to be in the "race" even if only racing myself. I've learned that having some results based goals are good just to keep you pushing. Had I been more aware of the time/pace, I may have pushed a little harder to keep going. Instead, I went in thinking that just finishing was what I wanted and that's what I got. Just finishing.

I'm not letting my "just finished" result weight to heavy on me. While I'd hope at this point the bar would be raised a little higher for myself, this IS my Ironman year and goals are completely different. Just finishing is my goal for Ironman and so if I look at last weekends race as a foresight into August, I'm right on track and Osoyoos was a big win for me.

That said, next years goals are starting to take a little more of a competitive shape. No more doddling and daydreaming - it's too friggin' hot out there to spend any more time than necessary on that pavement.

6 weeks and counting to the big day. I just finished a nice recovery week in Tofino and today I start the last 3 week cycle of training before I tapper into Ironman. I can't believe it. After 5 years, I have three weeks of training left. Unreal.

Speaking of which, I'm planning my last trip out to Penticton next week for training. Stay tuned :)

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Lessons in Triathlon

I've learned a lot over the years training in Triathlon. I started doing the most basic research on my own looking up suggested pre and post race meals, hydration planning, heart rate monitor training, found marathon training plans, swim workouts, learned about hill repeats and time trials. There are as many different ways to approach your training as there are opinions from those you ask.

When it comes to nutrition and hydration there always seemed to be some sort of mathematical equation to formulate what I should eat/drink, when and how much. If your like me, you gave up trying to figure that confluent mess of numbers out after reading something like "consume 225-400 calories per hour per 1kg of body weight divided by the amount of Ml you sweat and multiplied by the current temperature of the region in which your training". Or perhaps your hydration advice looked something like "0.5 - 0.6 ounces of water per pound of body weight, or 240-280 liquid calories per hour of exercise, or 16-28 ounces per hour." Huh?

I gave up trying to understand those hydration articles a long time ago. I now stick with the trusty age old method - trial and error. Yes, this method does take a bit more time to figure out and it does involve quiet a bit more "error" than what the scientist guys behind formula X=y, but eventually, you find a plan that works perfectly just for you because... it was made by you!
The good thing about this 'made for you' plan is also that it's as flexible as you need it to be. If you need more water or a boost of energy long before your formula guy says that you should - by all means - drink away!

After much trial and just as much error, here are a few things I've learned this year (that seem to be working so far)

Food and Fuel First: Everyone knows you need to hydrate. Not just the day before your big workout or race, you need to be hydrating heavily at least a few days out. You should be drinking a ton of water everyday anyhow, but pre workout and pre race you should add in a sports drink or some kind of hydration booster. Being hydrated on your long run or ride will make all the difference in the world. I have know idea how many ounces or ml I drink or what that ratio is to my body weight in Kg, but I think it's fair to say - it's alot. I keep an eye on my watch and drink two or three giant gulps every 15min. I never wait until I'm thirsty, if I'm parched, I'm in trouble. I've just this year found a calorie intake plan that works for me too. All the hype out there is geared towards gels and boosters. I found last year that gels for the most part just make me feel sick. They don't sit in my stomach well. I found PowerGel Blasts last year that I really liked, but found they weren't holding their own and I had to eat far to many of them to get the results I needed. So, while not very many articles and trends lean towards eating solids during your long run, I've found great success with the good ol' Cliff bar (Power Bar seems to be an ok substitute as well). Yup, nothing fancy, just a cliff bar and every 30min I walk for about 45 seconds - 1min and eat 2-3 bites. That's all. I make sure to stop and eat/drink on schedule. If your keeping track, that's an intake every 15min, so in one hour I drink four times and eat twice. That's just a template. On longer runs if I feel I'm dragging a bit. I just eat a bit more (always bring extra food).

This simple plan has kept me running and riding at 110% this year. This most certainly could change as my needs change, but for now... that's the plan.

Quality over Quantity: My second lesson has a working subtitle of "Under cooked vs Over done". My triathlon clubs training plan has three workouts a day on it. A primary workout, a secondary workout and a strength/stretching workout. I assumed that I should be and needed to be following this plan if I wanted to be a fit triathlete. Everyone else in the club must be following it and I don't even have a job right now to keep me from being able to do it. Well, it took about two weeks (if that) of following this plan before I was overtrained and burnt out. Trouble sleeping, no appetite, cranky, heart rate that won't settle, a mind that won't settle and worst of all - crappy workouts. So I must just not be fit enough. I must just have to work harder. Orrrr - I could just do what's right for me and get in one quality workout every day and if I'm feeling good, do the second one. I found that if I promised myself that I would never skimp on the long workouts (one long swim, long ride and long run) every week, and that the rest will depend on how I'm feeling. I just about always get in two workouts of each discipline a week plus two P90X home strength training videos (just upper body). However, my training plans is no longer a bible, but rather a template of suggestions. I make sure that I'm mentally prepped for that tempo (fast) run, or that Cypress Mountain hill climb and if not, I move it to another day and do something I can do with better quality that day. Most importantly, this year I returned to running with my heart rate monitor. I found that making sure I stay in my LSD zone (long slow distance) I finished my runs with energy to spare and feeling 110%. No more dying at the end of my runs. Always finish on a positive note.

Well, I'm packing up camp tonight so that in the morning I can just zip outta here to get to the race early. Think of me tomorrow and send your best thoughts of air conditioning and mint chocolate chip gelato.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Principles of Training

I'm here in Osoyoos preparing for the Desert Half Iron on Sunday. I came up on Wednesday morning planning to camp, train, rest and get acclimatized for the race. Thank goodness I came as early as I did. Wednesday just happened to be the first of a string of days where the mercury has continually risen to 40 degrees with no sign of slowing down before Sunday. The Desert Half Iron race in Osoyoos is easily standing up to it's reputation as Canada's toughest half. The swim is long (2000m compared to the normally 1900m for a half), the out and back bike course climbs up and over Richter Pass both leaving and coming in, plus it covers the rolling hills on the backside. Essentially, this course it the toughest section of the Ironman bike route and because it's an out and back, you get to do it twice. Thankfully the run course is flat with one short incline, however, because Osoyoos is Canada's only desert, the heat has no mercy. By the time you get the swim and bike out of the way, the sun is high in the sky and the heat is on.

Despite it's challenges, there are a few reasons I really like this race. The scenery is incredible, I know that seems like a silly thing to appreciate considering what you have to go through for it, but it's true. Also, the heat is a really good preparation for Ironman. It's a great lesson in fuel, hydration, rest, mental readiness and physical challenge because without great attention to each one of these... this race will take you down.

I'm having a great time so far. Anthony couldn't make it this weekend because a friend of his is getting married on Saturday. Feels like somethings missing, but nonetheless, it's still great to be here. I love camping and training. It's so simple because it's so basic. Train early before the heat hits, eat, sit in the shade and read a book, nap and basically wait out the heat while eating and recovering. Oh, and of course I found campsite with Wi-Fi for obvious reasons. You can take the girl out of the city, but....

Speaking of which, I'm reading a great new book. I'm completely captivated by it because, while there are small differences between myself and the author (she's a married mother of two), it seems this woman IS me. If you haven't picked up The Happiness Project, it's really worth the read.

Motivated after my early morning read over a sunrise by the lake, I had an amazing run. I did one loop of the two loop run course, plus the run too and from camp, so it ended up being about 15km. When my mind is relaxed, great things start to come to me. I've had such a fantastic year and I owe it to my three principles of training that I've applied and continue to stick to.

1. Train happy. I had a rather rough start to the year this year, and somewhere around the beginning of April panic struck. My plans for this year where starting to fall apart. I wasn't where I had hope to be fitness wise, I was starting from scratch recovering from a back injury and the workouts on the clubs training plan where a constant reminder of how far behind in my training I actually was. Luckily, I have great friends that allow me to vent my fears and insecurities because in doing so, I find answers. Thankfully, I was able to remind myself why I was doing all of this training and work, and it wasn't to win any championships. It was to accomplish a goal. To finish what I started and to do the impossible. It's about celebrating everyday successes, about acknowledging accomplishments and about a journey of a thousands steps that will take me towards realizing my dreams. These everyday things, tiny triumphs and lessons along the way make me happy, and THAT is my Ironman purpose.

2. Train Healthy/Safe. Reasons and motivations for completing the Ironman are a dime a dozen. Every Ironstruck athlete has one or many things that drive them and they are immeasurable to track. My reason, amongst other things, is that Ironman is a symbol of what's too come. When I said to myself in 2006 "I'm going to complete and Ironman someday", I might as well have said "I'm going to fly to the moon". It was unrealistic, an overwhelming thought and simply impossible. BUT - it wasn't impossible to train for a "try-a-tri" and then running my first 10km seemed to go over well and then my first half marathon, and a sprint distance triathlon and so on and so forth. When I complete the Ironman, it means to me that anything I can/will ever dream of can come true. That said, this isn't going to be the last/only dream that I chase. Training for an Ironman is tough. Tough on the mind and tough on the body, and in the end, I'm not going to win any awards or make a living at this triathlon business, so if I want to continue chasing dreams after this is all over, I have to keep my mind, body and soul safe. I have to stay positive in my mind, listen to my body, and constantly remind myself what my purpose is.

3. Have fun. Ok - you might think this is the same as principle 1, but having fun and being happy are two completely different things. For the most part, training is fun. It's what I enjoy, it's where many of my social circles run and when I'm celebrating everyday successes, I feel like a champ after every workout! But as I'm discovering now, Ironman training starts to get a little lonely. The number of friends willing to join you for a bike ride starts to dwindle after the 3 hour mark. Finding someone to accompany you for a 2 hour run is just as difficult. So now, I spend many, many hours training alone. I'm riding 5 to 6 or more hours on my long rides and they usually include a trip up a local mountain or to keep things interesting, a weekend trip to the Okanagan. The trick is (and this is easier said than done) to keep having fun. I think I've lucked out in that I honestly and truly LOVE riding bikes. Mountain bikes, road bikes, cruiser bikes with the baskets on the front, all of them. I love riding bikes. And although you may not believe me, I love to run. It's not as "fun" as bikes, but long runs are relaxing, they allow me to clear my mind and think quietly to myself and usually it's 1:30 - 2:00 into a run where I get my best ideas! Point is, if your dreading having to workout today, cursing your training plan the entire way up that mountain climb or looking for every and any excuse not to get into the pool today- just don't do it. Why? Nothing good will come of forcing yourself to do something you don't want to do. Rest today, go do something you really like to do and go back to that workout (or any other task your dodging) tomorrow.

Those are my thoughts of the day today (courtesy of this mornings run :). I'm really looking forward to this weekend and will post a race report soon after.

From the heat of the Okanagan... train happy, train healthy, have fun!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Canada Day 4KM swim

Happy Birthday Canada! Lookin' good for your age....

I celebrated Canada's birthday with a 4 km open water swim out at Sasamat Lake. The idea was not to race, but to swim that distance (further than the Ironman swim distance) in open water, with other swimmers and in a competitive environment. My goals were simple. I wanted to finish with gas left in the tank, to swim smart and conserve energy by swimming in a draft and to stay on pace for my Ironman goal. Check, check and check. Mission accomplished.

I swam the first 2000M loop strong but for the most part alone. So on the second loop when two swimmers caught up to me, I slowed my pace and fell in line. It was slightly frustrating as they were swimming exactly the same pace as me so I didn't feel like I was making up time as much as I was just conserving energy by swimming (what felt like) uber slow. Turns out it worked for me in the end because coming out of the last marker, I felt strong and left them all behind finishing 50M ahead of them with excess fuel in the tank and just about exactly on pace. Yey me!

It was a great week of training, lots of miles both on the road and in the pool and a climb up Cypress Mountain for good measure. Next week I'm heading out to Osoyoos to prepare for the Half Iron on July 10th which should be a hot one.

Eat, sleep, swim, bike, run. That's about all that's happening around here these days. 8 weeks and counting to the big day.

Training happy and training healthy.