Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Motor City Triathlon - Fabulous Day on Belle Isle! :)

As a Christmas present, my parents gave me the race entry for a triathlon (awesome, right?).

Since it was their gift, I wanted to pick a race close to home so they could come watch. I also wanted to do several Olympic distance races this year in prep for the Niagara Falls Barrelman in September (which will be my first half-iron distance triathlon).

After looking around, I found the perfect race on Belle Isle: the Michigan Motor City Triathlon on Sunday, June 14, 2014 - Father's Day. I liked this race because it was early in the season, only 20 minutes away from Windsor - even though the race was in the US - and included an easy bike course (the Olympic was 4 loops of Belle Isle). I wasn't expecting much time wise, especially since it was 6 weeks after the Mississauga Marathon. I just figured it would be a great practice race - and a good excuse to be home for Father's Day.

Turns out - the race was exceptional across the board. I'd do it again in a heartbeat! :)


After some recovery from Mississauga, my coach got me back into a normal training routine - with less focus on running, more focus on biking and about the same focus on swimming. I was actually surprised by how quick I seemed to recover from the marathon - much faster than back in September, when it took me a good month before I felt very good while running. I wonder if not running at all the first week after the race made the difference, or was it just that I was training more overall between swim, bike and run? Probably both!

My biggest worry going into Motor City was my lack of open water swimming this year. Prior to race week, I hadn't been in open water since the end of last August (the Toronto Island Sprint triathlon). In Florida, our one planned open water swim was washed out by the weather.

But, the weather was on my side and I was able to go for a quick open water swim the day before the race. I went swimming at Sandpoint Beach in Windsor. Since I was on my own (although my mom came to watch, she wasn't swimming), I stuck to where the lifeguards were. Not a big area - but big enough for my first practice, with water that had a good current to practice against.

It was a rough practice, but I found out the water was warmer than I expected. Actually quite pleasant come to think of it. I practiced some starts, and also did some swimming both with and against the current. I was happily surprised to find it wasn't as hard as my first swim last year...apparently the work I did in open water last summer, along with the fact I've been swimming a lot more this year in the pool, made a difference.

Also went for a quick bike ride along the waterfront, before packing it in the for the night.

Race Day!

Got up around 5am on race day and was out of the hotel (we stayed in Windsor so I could be a bit closer to Belle Isle) before 6am. After a stop at Tim Horton's (priorities!), my parents and I took the tunnel to the US and then drove to Belle Isle (about 15-20 min max). Was shocked how quiet the tunnel was...but given how early it was on a Sunday morning, I guess I shouldn't have been.

Got to Belle Isle to find a really well set up race venue. Got my race packet, and then set up T2 (the bike to run transition) - which seemed pretty empty since all I had to lay out here were my running shoes, water bottle and a packet of shot blocks.

After that, I rode my bike down to T1 so I could set up my bike gear. One wrench in my normal plan was the need to get everything into my bag during T1 so it could be transported to the finish, so I tried to keep things easy here: bike shoes, helmet, sunglasses and a different pack of shot blocks. I can't drink on the bike at the moment (unless I stop) so I kept my bike bottle by my shoes so I'd remember to have a long drink before I left T1.

As an aside, I liked that the race had two transition zones. I've never done a race like that - and with Niagara Falls also having two, I figured the practice would be good for me!

After setting up my gear and having a bit of a panic when I couldn't find the swim cap they gave me at registration (it turned out to be in the pocket of my warm-up pants). I spent some time sorting out the swim course.

Despite the water on the Windsor side being just a little rough the day before - race day was perfect. The water was close to glassy. I knew there was a fair bit of current on the far side of the course (going with the swimmers fortunately) so I was a bit uncertain about that part, but overall the course seemed relatively easy.

After making sure I knew the logistics of the course, I got my wetsuit on and had a gel. Since I didn't feel like eating my breakfast (I did have a bagel - but didn't eat it) - I figured I better have something. A couple of shot blocks and a Chocolate GU was what I went with. Worked pretty well and didn't bother my stomach.

After the race meeting, the two men's Olympic waves started. Then it was time for the women...all 38 of us! (most women there seemed to be doing the sprint distance). But first we had to wade out to the start. Given the water was chilly, they decided on an in-water start rather than the beach start I had prepared for. I was good with that since it gave me more time to warm up and get acclimatized to the water. Also, it meant I could just start swimming, as opposed to trying to dolphin dive. :laugh::

I'm the one in the black wetsuit with the orange cap!

The Swim

The water was chilly at the start (colder than the day before), but not as cold as TTF was last year. I started a little too far to the right, but it actually gave me a good line of sight to the turnaround buoy. It also let me swim on an angle so I didn't get the sun right in my face. I had tinted goggles, but the sun was so bright the tinting didn't do much.

Somewhere on the first 500m, my left goggle decided to leak. This made it a pain in the neck since the buoys were on the left the entire time. I tried to adjust my goggles a few times at the first turnaround, but nothing really helped. Thankfully, the water was pretty calm, so I eventually tried to ignore it and just focus on looking out of my right eye.

At that first turnaround, I started coming up on men from the wave before. Was a bit surprised by that.

The next 750m or so was in the opposite direction - and with the current of the river. I ended up a bit far over from the buoys than I thought, but in hindsight, I think that just gave me better access to the current. Although at the time, I felt like I had really screwed up the line I chose to swim - since it seemed to take forever to cut back toward the line of buoys once I got to the next turning point.

For the 750m, it felt like I was practically on my own. I attributed it mostly to swimming a slightly outside course, but it also seems like I was one of the better swimmers in the women's wave. I think the fast women were WAY ahead, but the rest were behind me.

Around the time I cut back toward the last turn buoy I felt a couple of folks drafting, with myself and a guy changing spots a couple of times when we turned.

The last part of the route was almost impossible to navigate. The sun was right in my face...and while I could make out the swim exit when I sighted, I couldn't see the turn flags which were set up in the water that we had to swim through before turning in toward the beach. I actually stopped completely at one point to try and figure out if I was on course, but with and without my goggles, I couldn't see. The guy near me also stopped. We both asked if the other could see it, but neither of us could.

Kind of hilarious in hindsight, although it made the fact I couldn't see out of my left goggle a somewhat moot point.

Swam forward and hoped for the best. Turned out that this time, I was right on course. I finally saw the flags when I was about two feet from them...straight ahead and centred. Lucky me!

I swam my way right into the beach and the big Finis arch, until the water was only a few inches deep. Pretty good swimming I think - and a lot faster than running. I lost the guy on the swim into the beach, probably because I made it closer to shore swimming than he did.

Came out of the water with no clue as to my time since I didn't have a watch on. Saw my family, but I guess I surprised them since they didn't get pictures:

Aside: I later found out that I finished the swim in 26:18 - 1:46 per 100m - two minutes faster than my first Olympic Distance swim at TTF last year. I am sure most of that speed was thanks to the forgiveness of the current since I don't actually think I swam very well, especially not with trying to fix my goggles and trying to find the finish! But hey, I'll take it.

Rank on the swim: 8/38 women, 2/7 in my AG.

Transition 1

Got my wetsuit off no problem (although I learned when I got home that I somehow managed to lose my goggles...grr.) and shoved it into my bag. Got my helmet and glasses on, then my socks and shoes (I can't stand the idea of not wearing socks). Ate a couple of shot blocks, had some swigs of water, started my watch (it was mounted on my bike) and got going.

Time: 2:25...one of my faster transitions, but I think I could've been faster without having to shove things in a bag! :)

The Bike

Ran my bike out of T1. This was my first race on my road bike (I decided to race on my new-to-me road bike this year since I still can't change my gears on my triathlon bike). I admit...I loved it. I knew from doing the Ride for Heart that I could go fast (for me) on this bike, but I still wasn't expecting to do as well as I did here. I am sure some of that was the flat course and the fact I had a chance to get a feel for the course by the end (4 loops remember), but it was also the fact I could change gears!

Here's me at the start (red shirt):

Then on the second lap:

And on the fourth:

It was a great race for my parents and my brother (who surprised me by coming out to watch!) since there were lots of chances to see me: 4 times on the bike and twice on the run. Really - think about this race if you have anyone coming to watch!

And then it was time to head into T2:

 Overall, I had a fantastic bike - my best by far. I think I was a good 9 minutes faster than at TTF last year. Kind of amazing. What a difference. Guess I have learned something this past year.

Rank on the bike: 14/38 woman, 3/7 in my AG.

Transition 2

Got my bike racked and was into my running shoes pretty quick. The big time waster here was getting my watch off my bike...but even that wasn't too bad.

Time: 1:31

The Run

Grabbed my water bottle and the pack of shot blocks and headed out on the run.

No, I did not stop to use the loo...although I did fumble a bit trying to get my watch on.

The run course was two loops of the interior of the island - with some of the running on sidewalks and some on the road.  The sidewalks were a bit cracked up, but that wasn't too much of an issue. The big challenge was that it was getting warm by this point and most of the run course was not shaded.

I was really glad to have my handheld water bottle because I drank almost the entire thing over the course of 10k. I also ate a couple of shot blocks.

Toward the end of the first lap, I had the highlight of my race when a race official asked me if I was the lead female. Ha! I thanked them, but said I was still on my first lap. But nice to know that I was looking good enough to be mistaken for the race leader (who was a girl from the University of Michigan, who finished the race a good 25 minutes ahead of me).

Here I am approaching the end the first loop. I actually heard the race announcer mention my name as I passed near the finish line on my way out for the second lap. Kind of awesome to have race announcers actually pointing out people, even mid-way through their race.

The second loop went pretty well, although I was getting really hot by that point. I wasn't going as fast as I'd been aiming for - but I did manage a good steady pace.

And then I reached the finishing chute:

...and got within sight of the finish line.

When I saw the time - I was shocked. I thought I'd done pretty well, but not just how well. I wasn't sure what my actual finish time was, since the clock was according to the men's start and I didn't track my swim time, but I knew it was a massive Olympic Distance PR no matter what.

Needless to say, I was definitely smiling when I crossed the finish line! I know, aren't I always?

Run rank: 9/38 women and 2/7 in my AG

The Finish

Instead of medals, the finish line finisher's token was a metal cup. That was different and I quite liked the idea of it since it's something I can actually use (although I do like medals). They also gave out one size fits all reusable warming jackets which might come in handy if I ever need to do a cooler race. I certainly didn't need it after this race! (I also got a nice race t-shirt in the race kit.)

After grabbing a drink, my parents and I sat around  and waited around until the awards ceremony (my brother had to head out - but thrilled he came to watch. I wasn't expecting it! Every time he yelled at me to go faster, I tried!). They didn't have the finish times posted, but I figured I had a shot at getting a place in my age group since there weren't too many women in the race.

...and sure enough, I came in 2nd in my Age Group with a time of 2:35:39! My reward: A medal! I was thrilled. :)

I also came in 10/38 women...which has been giving my dad the greatest pleasure. I keep having to try and not laugh too hard when he tells people I finished in the top 10. He makes it sound like there were 2000 people racing. ::laugh:: Oh, parents. Got to love them. But I can tell how proud they are, regardless of my time. Just the fact they came out to watch meant a lot to me! Couldn't have done this race without them!


Final Thoughts

Really, other than a kind of hilarious swim, I had a terrific race. I was honestly shocked by my final time. It was a PR over my first Olympic Distance race by around 14 minutes (I finished TTF in 2:49:36). And the best part was I improved across the board: I was 2.5 minutes quicker on the swim, 9 minutes faster on the bike, and 2 minutes faster on the run. For a race I was thinking was just going to be a good way to start the year...this race turned out to be fantastic.  Great course. Great volunteers. Great experience.  I'd highly recommend this race to anyone!

Special thanks to Coach Mark of Loaring Personal Coaching, since I am certain he's a big reason why I did so well. Can't believe how much I've improved in just the 6 months I've been training with him. Kind of amazing. Thanks Coach!

Next up? Toronto Triathlon Festival - Olympic Distance on July 13th!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Long-awaited Mississauga Marathon Race Report~!

With my first triathlon of the season just a few days away, I realized I should get my act together and write up a race report from the Mississauga Marathon! It was either do it now, or do it never! I chose to do it now (finally).


As you know, I enlisted the help of Coach Mark (of Loaring Personal Coaching) to help me this year because I wanted to train for both this race and for the Niagara Falls Barrelman half iron triathlon in September.

As a result, training was a lot different from when I trained for Run for Heroes with the Beaches Running Room.

First off, I kept up a lot of swimming and bike sessions throughout this marathon build (usually 2-3 weekly sessions of each). Last summer, after the Toronto Triathlon Festival, I think I road my bike once before the Toronto Island triathlon...and went swimming a couple of times. This meant I didn't need to run as much. I think my biggest week this time around was ~55km of running, compared to ~77 for the build to Run for Heroes. But the week I did 55k of running, I also did 2h15min of biking and 2h30 minutes of swimming, plus 1h20 of strength/core stability work.

So, do I think that was enough running? Well, I did feel much more prepared than for my first marathon. My longest run this time around was 35k, which was several more km than my first marathon training schedule. Also, my runs this time were very focused (and fit to me). I did track work on Tuesdays, some steady/tempo work on Thursdays (with hills at times), and very well thought out long runs (mix of easy, time at MP runs, course simulation runs, etc).

I admit, it felt weird to be running less than the first time...but the swims and bikes took the place of the recovery runs - so I think it made sense. Also, it meant I could do more - and be training for triathlon at the same time, which was the whole point! I didn't want to lose bike/swim fitness (if you can call my biking skills an ability) while training for this race.

I also had a week at the LPC Florida Triathlon Camp during March - just six weeks out from Mississauga. This was actually great since it let me get an almost recovery week from running (my long run was only 20k that week) while also getting a much needed dose of intensive cycling and swimming. I loved it.

In April, I did one prep race - the Yonge St. 10k, where I beat my PB on the same course last year (46:29 compared to 48:40 last year), along with my 5k PB (22:56, compared to 23:17). I did this without looking at my watch after the first 1k, since my coach was trying to teach me how to run on feel.

Yes, the YS10k is a net downhill course - but that's why I only compared it to last year's results. Overall, I cut more than 2 minutes off the same race compared to last year...that made me feel very good about my prospects going into this marathon.

Overall - I'd rate training for this marathon as an A. I was pretty good when it came to getting my sessions done. I believe I only missed a few workouts during the training period - and only 1 long run (very early in the schedule).


Given I picked a race that was out in the middle of nowhere (when you don't drive...Mississauga is the middle of nowhere) - and I was doing the race on my own, I decided to book a night at the race hotel (Novotel Mississauga) to make my life easier. Best decision I ever made.

I took the Go Train out to Port Credit for packet pick-up on the Saturday, and then took the bus directly from Port Credit to Square One (the race start - where the Novotel is) right after. Worked like a charm. I also learned that if you take the Go Train, you can use Mississauga Transit for 75 cents! How awesome is that?

Race kit pick-up was in Port Credit Memorial Arena. I found that very easy - and the race bags were stuffed to the brim with free stuff (some of which I collected at the expo). I even got some free cat food and plant food - but I've used all of those since - which I find speaks to the usefulness of it!

I found it odd that the race shirt was the same whether you did the full, the half marathon, or the 10k (I was spoiled given Run for Heroes had such awesome distance-specific race shirts). But given I did the full - that didn't matter at all. The shirt itself was a simple tech t-shirt in light blue for the women (photo below came from the Mississauga Marathon). I did love that I got a choice of round or V-neck (I took the V-neck) - and it fit well, which is nice. I've worn it to run since - so it'll definitely get well-used!

I felt really good the night before the race and actually slept really well. To be honest, after Run for Heroes - I knew I could run a marathon, so I wasn't really nervous about this one. I felt good, wasn't sick, and felt well trained, so I knew there was nothing more I could do. That probably translated into an excellent night of sleep - even if the "night" was only 5 hours long.

Race Plan

I wanted this race to be the marathon where I could see what I could do. Originally, that was going to be Run for Heroes - but then I got a stomach bug that kept me on the couch the week of the race and had me on the start line having not properly eaten all week. By 10k into that race, I knew my only goal was going to be "Have fun and finish smiling". Which I did! See - here's the proof.

But I still needed a tentative plan...and that started with not going out too fast because Mississauga is a very fast course in the first half.

In particular - my goal was NOT to get to 8k faster than 40 minutes...and to reach the half-way mark around 1:48-1:49. That would, if all went well, put me in a good position to finish in 3:39:59 - 3:49:59.

Race Morning

Race morning dawned cold and very windy - but it wasn't raining, which was a bit of a miracle given they'd been predicting rain for days beforehand. Mind you, the wind was strong: 30-40km/h, with gusts up around 60km/h or something crazy.

I felt amazing though. In fact, I felt so good - it made me realize just how wrong I felt the morning of Run for Heroes.  At Run for Heroes, I was excited, but I didn't have the same energy or pep in my step I had in Mississauga. In hindsight, I now know just how sick I was for that race...because now I know what I should have felt like after tapering for a few weeks.

Seriously - I felt incredibly ready and raring to go the morning of Mississauga. I couldn't have felt any better.

I wore track pants and a ski jacket out to the start because it was a good mile or so walk from the hotel. When I realized the truck accepting gear bags wasn't too busy, I kept my warm clothes on as long as I possibly could. After that, I stripped down to my running shorts, tank top and arm warmers. I also brought fuzzy socks to wear over my hands. I'd debated wearing a long-sleeved shirt - but knew I'd probably get too warm for that and didn't want to have to take off a shirt mid-race.

I was going to meet up with some friends from Daily Mile...but didn't realize the Running Room had two entrances until I went to use the portos (Which had a perfect view of the main entrance to the RR) before the race started (d'oh) - so missed out on that.

Made it to the actual start with 10 minutes to spare (too windy to get there much earlier). There wasn't a 3:40 pacer, so I just tried to find a spot somewhere in the middle third of the crowd. I have no idea what was said at the beginning of the race - but I did catch when the race started! :)

The Race

First off...if you want a fast half marathon...Mississauga is the place for you! Oh my goodness, the first half of this race was speedy. I knew this going in and had to reign myself in from not going to fast.

The first third was mostly flat, with some nice long easy downhill stretches. The roads were well paved and I had lots of opportunities to run behind other runners to cut some of the wind. I was blasted at times by gusts, but it didn't feel so bad in the beginning.

Around the 4k mark, I tossed off my socks (the ones on my hands) at an aid station. Good-bye fuzzy socks!

I ate a shot block around 5k, then had a gel at around 10k. Was running perfectly at this point. I reached the half-way mark a few seconds under my target - 1:47:48, ( a new PB by over 2 minutes) and still felt awesome.

And then, the really weird stuff started. This is the point where I was running into a headwind (and the half marathoners had turned off 7-8km previously making it less easy to shelter behind other people). I was quite excited about the turnaround because the wind should have been at my back for the last part of the race.

Ya, right. I reached the turnaround, turned and ran about 10 more steps before I realized I was headed.into an even fiercer headwind! Seriously.

Here is a picture just after I turned. I was smiling (like usual), but if I'm honest, my expression was also saying, "What the heck? This wind should be behind me now!"

Of course, my attitude was still great. After all, can't do anything about the wind. I just put my head down (figuratively) and kept running (and smiling!). I started to bleed time, but I made it to 30-still on an excellent pace (I crossed the 30k mark around 2:36:30).

Around 30 or 32k, there was an inflatable wall at the top of a crazy hill. Kind of hilarious, but it was fun to run under. Not long after the wall (if I remember correctly), my friend Ken shouted out from the side of the road. He lived nearby and mentioned that he'd keep an eye out and try and cheer! So great to see a familiar face. It made a difference right when I needed it.

Then came the challenging part of the course: beautiful waterfront trail, yet very rolling with a million turns, not to mention insane wind. Thank goodness for the view, because I was not going fast at all by this point. I felt like I was running with someone pulling me backwards (like the resistance running I've done in my sessions with Trainer Chris). No matter how fast I thought I was going...I wasn't! ::laugh::

Fortunately, this is when the photographers were out in force. So despite my speed - I had lots of evidence that I was still smiling.

See, here I am going over a bridge...

And here I am running on the waterfront path...

And here I am getting closer to the end...

Around 41k, my friend Pranada was on the sidelines cheering really loudly. She'd trekked out from Toronto just to be there to cheer a bunch of us on at the end. And boy, did we all need it. Thanks Pranada!!!

Then, I was just a hundred meters from the end!

 ...and then just a few feet away!

I crossed the finish line in 3:50:56, just under 25 minutes faster than Run for Heroes. I was over the moon. I was utterly exhausted. But, most importantly, I was still smiling!

Final Thoughts
The truth is, I don't think I could've had a better race. I was well tapered and feeling awesome. My nutrition was spot on (3 gels, 3 shot-blocks). I ran the first half of the race right on my target paces. Really, the only thing that didn't work out for me was the wind - and I had no control over that.
I honestly feel like this was the best race I could've run on this given day - and I was absolutely thrilled with my results. Of course, that doesn't mean I don't want to do even better. As soon as I finished this race, I started to wonder which marathon I should do next!
Not that I'm going to make a decision right away. Right now, my attention needs to turn to triathlon - and getting ready for the Barrelman in September. Once that's done, I can set my big goals for 2015!
Until then, I'll say that the Mississauga Marathon, despite the wind, was amazing. I'd highly recommend the race. The organization was amazing. The aid stations (every 2k) were well stocked and championed by some amazing volunteers (thank you all!). It was honestly a fabulous experience. I'd certainly do Mississauga again - although next time I might do the half, just to see how fast I can go on that front half of the course!
Thanks again to Coach Mark for all the guidance and support - Couldn't have done it without you!