Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Guelph Lake 2 - Last test race before Barrelman

So, for my last race before Barrelman, I decided to do Guelph Lake 2. Originally, I picked this race because my brother lives nearby and we'd talked about doing it together (he'd do the Du while I'd do the Tri)...but given he's coming back from a foot injury, he made the right call not to enter this race!

The race was still perfectly timed. I was down in Essex visiting my parents for the week (more on the epic ride with my Dad on his 64th birthday in a future post), so it worked out well that my Dad drove me to Guelph for the race and my friend Brenda kindly offered to drive me the rest of the way home to Toronto.

Guelph is a bit longer than a traditional sprint - a 750m swim, 30k bike and 7km run. Basically I was planning to treat this race as a fun training day. I'd much rather ride my bike in races because I feel like it's better training than any outdoor riding I do on my own (where I am generally too worried about cars to get up much speed), so I am good with having a lot of training races on my schedule.

So...how did it go?

The Frantic Prelude to the Race

Got up at stupid-o'clock  in the morning to head out from my parents' house in Essex (Stopping for a Tim Hortons coffee and bagel on the way). Luckily, at 4:30am on a Sunday the roads are very quiet so my Dad and I made really good time...until we hit Guelph - then it took a long time to actually get to the conservation area. We made it though. Helped that my brother Stephen was coming to watch and got there early enough to give us directions!

My Dad dropped me off near the registration so I could get going while he parked (It was less than 30 min to start time...so I was cutting it close time wise). Dropped my bike in transition, made an urgent pit-stop (thanks to my brother for saving me a place in line), got registered, and got body marked in record time. Then I went back to get my transition area set up and put on my wetsuit when I realized I didn't have my watch with me. Yikes!!!

My brother called my Dad. In the best coincidence of the day, he'd forgotten the camera - so was at the car picking it up when I called. He found my watch and got it back to me with no time to spare before my wave start...well, with time enough for one quick pic with my brother, but that was it!

My coach had given me a warm-up plan for this race - and after seeing how useful warming up is, I was looking forward to it. But given my late arrival and frantic watch mission, I was lucky to get to my wave start. I didn't even get a single toe in the water before the start, much less my bike/run warm-up. Oops.

But, I was there and the weather was spectacular - so life was good! Even saw my friend Emma (doing her first Du!) and Brenda (who came a long way to spectate!) very briefly - although I was definitely flustered and had no time to chat!

The Swim

The race had been moved the day before the event because water quality at the normal beach was poor...so I wasn't sure what to expect at this, supposedly better, beach. Looking out at it - the water was very calm. This was my first triathlon in a tiny lake - so while I wasn't certain, I expected the water to be pretty warm. It was practically room temperature, which made for a very easy swim start. No acclimatization required. A lot of folks swam without wetsuits - but I generally swim a lot faster with mine on, so as long as I can use it in a race I will.

Over the course of the summer, I've become a lot more confident in my swimming compared to other people in my age group.At least at small races I can generally start at the front on my wave and not worry too much about people swimming over me. So for Guelph, I started in the front row with a pretty straight sight line. It was a good choice.

Right near the start, my left goggle started leaking (my own fault for not having a chance to warm-up and get my goggles perfectly sealed). I didn't stop to try and fix it - just wanting to get out of the water as quick as I could without drinking any of it (I heard that the water had a lot of bird poop - gross!). 

The challenge is that my right eye doesn't focus really well on it's own. It is hard to explain, but while I can see perfectly thanks to eye surgery 6 years ago, I can't quite focus when only looking out that eye. Think about looking at a line of text in a book. When looking out of my right eye only, I can see all the words, but my brain doesn't quite want to process them.

So, while swimming and only being able to look out of my right eye, I had to trust my instincts. Thankfully the course was very simple, so it was easy. I was a bit paranoid on the way back since I couldn't quite see the swim exit (although I had no problems seeing the marker buoys) - so I ended up keeping my head out of the water more than I needed. But other than that, I had an excellent swim. Came out of the water in 13:50 (4/25 in my AG) - and I was smiling too...

The Bike

Had a quick transition for a change and got out on the bike course. The hardest parts were actually getting to the mount line (running uphill on grass in cycling shoes) and getting back down into transition afterwards.

The ride was pretty good. The course was full of rolling hills which meant I had to change gears a fair bit. I'm not quite smooth with the constant shifting, but I am getting better at it. The roads were pretty decent and mostly quiet except for one road that had far more traffic than I would have expected for a race. Fortunately for me, the traffic always seemed to be in the opposite direction (which was not good for people going the other way). My bike time was 1:04:35 (14/25 in my AG).

The Run

It was pretty hot by the time I got on the run, so I was glad I thought to bring my hand-held water bottle. The biggest issue was just as I was running out of transition I realized the GPS on my watch wasn't on, so I wasn't getting pace data (I have a different watch mounted on my bike to make my life easier - so I didn't notice this during that segment of the race).

I fixed it as I began the run, so it didn't affect my time at all. What it did affect was the pace/distance data the watch provided...so I never really knew how fast I was going or how far I had left in the run. Oh well! I settled into a pretty comfortable pace and just went with that. Ended up in a conversation with a guy for a good 15 minutes of the race which probably slowed me down a bit (oops) - but then I realized I was slowing down and picked up my speed again.

I actually loved the last few hundred meters running down a hill and into the finisher's chute. Talk about feeling like you're ending on a speedy note. Automatic finishing kick! Final time was 35:50 (pace of 5:08 and a finish of 7/25 in my AG). In hindsight, I could've ran faster - but overall, I felt pretty good with how I did.

Here I am coming into the finishing chute:

And crossing the finish line!

My finish time was 1:57:32 - which was good for 11/25 in my age group, 47/158 women and 215/453 overall! No idea how that relates since I haven't done a race at this sprint+ distance, but I'll take it. Maybe I could've run a bit faster - but truth is I am glad I didn't since I had to run another 12k later that day (Barrelman training after all) - and that was pretty darned hard as it was!


Heard my friend Emma finish the duathlon as I was running toward the finish, but I missed actually seeing her. I found out later she rocked the duathlon and placed in her age group. I was not surprised by that. She's awesome on hills if you remember from my ride with her a few weeks ago!

I did, of course, see my Dad, my brother Stephen and my friend Brenda! So awesome to have such great people at the finish!

Here I am with my Dad

And here I am with my friend Brenda and my brother Stephen!

Special thanks to my Dad, Steve and Brenda - for making the trip to Guelph, for taking awesome pictures - and for just being there to share the day. You guys are awesome!

PS - The Best Compliment Ever

During the race, a 20 year old girl actually made me tear up. We ran side by side for a minute or two around the 3-4km point...and she said something along the lines of, "Wow, I hope that when I'm 36 (In triathlon, everyone's age is written on their leg - so she knew how old I was) I am in as good of shape as you. You're built for this."

Little did she know that 3 years ago, I hadn't even made the decision to get fit yet. I thanked her for the compliment, said she was doing fantastic, and shortly thereafter ended up in front of her - although I cheered her on when I passed her a few minutes later after the turnaround.

After I left her, I admit, I got some tears in my eyes. I never in a million years would have guessed that someone would ever pay me a compliment like that. It's one thing to do all this stuff. It's another to realize that younger people might see me as a role model (for lack of a better word) - even a stranger during a race.

I've journeyed a long way down the road less travelled in less than 3 years. It is hard to remember sometimes just how far I've come - until comments like this one make me think about just how crazy and insane this road has been. Who would have ever guessed? Not me, that's for sure.

But if I can do it - anyone can!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Toronto Island Sprint Triathlon - Lake Ontario Love/Hate Relationship

I had a bit of a moment the day before the Toronto Island Sprint Triathlon when I found out that the water temperature was a frigid 10 degrees. They actually cancelled the Try-a-tri swim, switching that event to a duathlon - and warned that the triathlon could be switched as well.

After a quick email exchange with Coach Mark to get some advice, I got to the island fully prepared to do my first Du. But then, they announced the water temperature had gone up to 14 degrees. So, while they could not do the full 750m swim, they would have a 375m swim instead. Awesome news!

I got to the race with plenty of time to do my warm-up, which I think really helped. A 15 minute bike and a 1km run. By the time I was finished, I had enough time to get down to the waterfront and watch some of the other waves going off. Also bumped into my friend Wendy who had come out to cheer me on! Got to love my friends!

One big benefit of this race was that there was a good 15 minutes between each wave. What this meant is that after the previous wave started, I had 15 minutes to get used to the water. Since I'd stayed downtown the night before (so I didn't have to take a cab), I forgot to bring a bottle of warm water. So, I just sucked it up, got in as quickly as I could and spent the entire 15 minutes trying to acclimatize. I splashed water on my face, got my wetsuit soaked, and eventually managed some actual warm-up swimming. Along with jokes about whether or not swimming in the lake counted as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, I imagined that I was in the Caribbean. Seemed to work well enough.

The Swim

The second the gun went off, I swam as fast as I could - hope being I'd be finished before the cold actually set in. My watch said I did the swim in under 7 minutes. The official time of 8:12 included a long run up the beach and my tripping in the sand and face-planting. Thankfully, no harm done. It was sand after all. The worst part was I was covered in sand for much of the bike!

Here is a picture Wendy snapped of me coming out of the swim. I didn't notice until now just how red my face was from the cold. Wow!

The Bike

I actually had a very smooth transition 1, getting onto my bike with no trouble at all. The course itself was 2 loops around the island. My goal was to break 30km/h on average, which I did (39:13 for an average of 30.6km/h). I was really happy with my bike. I did have to stop and reposition each time I hit the very narrow U-turn on one side of the island, but overall I think I did great.

Here I am coming off the bike.

The Run

I had another easy transition, heading right off onto the run course. My goal was to average under 5 minute kilometres, which I had not managed yet in any triathlon. But out on the island, I finally had a breakthrough - my best run yet in a triathlon! I actually got faster over the run, actually managing a negative split totally by accident. My run time was 23:41 for a pace of 4:56 officially (the course was apparently 4.8km), and 4:46 by my watch (which said I went 4.98km). Either way, nicely under my goal time!

Finished the entire race in 1:14:20. While I can't make a perfect comparison (last year the swim was 750m and the run was 5.4km), I know this was a faster and better executed race overall!

This also was the first race where I feel I executed my race plan perfectly. I had a great warm-up, I managed the change in the swim, and I exceeded my goals on the bike and the run. Kind of awesome. I even got my watch to work properly the entire time!

Really would love this kind of day at Barrelman!

It's my party and I'll bike, run and swim if I want to! :)

Since starting my journey to become fit, I've used my birthday to hit new milestones of fitness.

In 2012, I ran my first ever half-marathon distance (in a training run).

In 2013, I ran my longest distance ever (at the time) in the Midsummer Night's Run 30k.

So, when it came time to decide what to do for my 36th birthday, I was a bit at a loss. I couldn't run a new milestone (Right now, a full marathon is as far as I expect to run at any one time. Not interested in running ultras).

And then my friend Kim (from Two Years to Kona and Our Fresh Kitchen) suggested the Toronto Island Lake Swim on my actual birthday (Sunday, August 17th). The race on the island had 3 distances, including a 3.8km one (that's the distance you swim in a full ironman). I've never swam 3800m in one go before - and the most I've swum in the lake was around 3200m. I'd once done a 2-swim day that was 3950 total, but that was split into two sessions (one lake, one pool) several hours apart.

So there I had it. My longest swim ever and it would be in open water!

But that's not all. Given I was training for Barrelman, I still needed to get my long run and ride in. Well, months ago at the Mississauga Marathon, I purchased entry into the Midsummer Night's Run at a low rate (they were also giving away extra shirts) on Saturday, August 16th at 6pm. So I was already planning to do that. But then my friend Emma (from Running in Tune) offered to give me a grand tour of the region around Burlington (i.e. take me on a long ride out of the city!) that day. So my birthday weekend became an epic training weekend, including:
  • Saturday morning: 90k hilly training ride
  • Saturday night: 15k Midsummer Night's Run
  • Sunday morning: 3.8k Toronto Island Swim Race
Now, one of the best parts about having Coach Mark is that I asked him whether I was nuts for doing all of this. Of course, his answer was "Go for it." In fact, he was great - giving me a good nutrition strategy to use - especially between the ride and the run. I think it made a huge difference!

So, how did the weekend go?

Training Ride

I got up pretty early on Saturday morning to make the GO train out to Appleby...but it wasn't too early that I couldn't nab a coffee to drink en route (priorities!). The forecast was talking about rain, but luck was in our favour. All we got was a handful of drops...so no complaints from me!

Now, Emma had warned me that the route was going to have some hills. "No problem," I figured. Hills are good, right?

What I didn't realize was that my occasional hills and the hills out at Angus Glen are nothing compared to the Halton Hills. The entire first half of the route was very rolling...and added to that was some excellent wind (crazy wind!). I couldn't believe how slow I was (meanwhile Emma proved to me she'd have no problems killing a duathlon since she's so strong on the bike!).

But - the hills were on beautiful and mostly silent roads. I loved riding out there. Also, I learned that some of the area we were riding in would be a part of the PwC Epic Tour - which means I'll be facing these hills one more time before Barrelman! Yikes!

I needed proof we did it, so here's a picture of Emma and I about 2/3 of the way through I think.

Midsummer Night's Run - 15k

After the awesome ride with Emma, I caught the GO train home, making sure to eat/drink on the way according to Coach Mark's guidelines. It started to pour just as I left the subway station near my house, so I did have to ride one block in a downpour. I'll take that over an entire ride in one!

I got home around 4:30pm, which gave me just enough time to relax for a little bit (and drink more fluids) before having to catch a bus down to the Midsummer Night's Run. Thankfully, the rain only lasted the 30 minutes I was in my house. The rain was done by the time I had to leave. Excellent timing, don't you think?

I really had no idea how this race was going to go. Last year it was on the island and I did the 30k option. I tripped on the boardwalk and ended up going a fair bit slower than I had been hoping for. So I had no expectations of this race, even though it was back in the Beaches (making it very convenient for me!). Given my 90k ride, I figured I'd at least get a nice 15k delayed brick, even if I went slow.

I got to the race very close to the start, but wasn't too worried. Had enough time to drop my gear bag and hit a porta-pottie. I did have an argument about what to wear (it was windy and cool) - but I rightly remembered that I ran Mississauga in shorts and a tank and that day was much colder...so I went with my standard race outfit and left my long-sleeved top in my bag. Wise decision that's for sure!

Much to my surprise, the race went incredibly well. I was told to run it without looking at my watch, which I did - and maybe that helped because it meant I had no expectations. The fact it was cool also helped. It's always easier to run when the weather is cool (and not that humid).

My final time was 1:16:54 (pace 5:08 per km) - which landed me 29/245 in my age group, 63/730 of all women and 201/1047 overall. Fantastic results on any day, but given what I did that morning, I was shocked I did so well. It was a nice confidence booster for Barrelman, even with the several hours of rest in between the bike and the run!

Crossed the finish line and saw a few of my friends before heading back home for more food and a good night's sleep. I think I was in bed by 10pm.

Toronto Island Swim Race 

The next morning, I took a cab down to the Ferry docks for the Toronto Island Lake Swim. Now, I was a bit worried about water temperature - but I remembered something Coach Mark had said before the Toronto Triathlon...which was dump a thermos of warm water inside my wetsuit before I got in. So I did. And despite getting funny looks, the water really helped because it meant the warmer water stayed close to my skin and made it easier to acclimatize to the cold water during my warm-up!

A bunch of friends came out to the island too...swimming in the 3.8k with me were my friends Hector and Kim (who had done Ironman Canada just weeks before) and my friend Lori.

Here we are (Lori, me, Hector and Kim)

Other friends - Brenda, Linda-Kay and Carole came to watch and cheer! Kind of awesome of them! :)

The swim was surprisingly good. It was a 3 loop course, which made it more manageable to think about. There were a lot of swimmers (and the waves didn't correspond with anything so I caught up with the slower folks from the first wave pretty quickly) so I took an outside line for the first lap. A little too far outside in hindsight...but c'est la vie.

The first loop was pretty nice but over the course of the next two the water got a bit more rolling and choppy. Thankfully I've practiced in that so it didn't throw me off. I did find I would get the odd chill at times when the sun ducked behind a cloud, but overall the temperature wasn't nearly what I'd been led to expect. I think it ended up being around 16 degrees - which is not terrible for Lake Ontario.

I think my last loop was actually my best since I knew I was definitely going to be able to finish. Came out of the water feeling pretty good and thrilled at my new swim distance milestone!

My watch said I swam 4k in 1:23:55 (and I stopped it late), but my official time was 1:24:46. Apparently, they timed everyone from the first wave start and didn't adjust for the people in the second wave. Annoying, but that's the way it goes. Either way, I was really happy with my time! It was better than I was expecting that is for sure.

I was a bit surprised to be a bit topsy-turvy when I got out of the water, but a nice volunteer suggested I sit down - which I did. That's when my friends found me. Here I am with Linda-Kay and Hector (who finished a good 20 or more minutes faster. Speedy!).

It only took me a few minutes to get my bearings and then I had enough time to quickly change into dry (and warm) clothes so I could see Lori finish.

Once we were all done, we settled down to have some wonderful peach sharlotka coffee birthday cake that Kim made (after my friends convinced the live band to play Happy Birthday for me).

 The cake was absolutely delicious. Thankfully, she posted the recipe on Our Fresh Kitchen!

Here I am with the cake (with Carole in the background!). Interestingly, it looks like I am holding the full cake, but we'd already eaten half...talk about deceiving photo. But wow, that cake was amazing! Thank you Kim!!!

Much to my surprise, my friend Brenda actually made a photo/video montage of the Toronto Island Lake Swim, including the birthday song. She posted it on YouTube, so I can share it with you too!


So my epic birthday weekend was a wild success. Couldn't have had a better time, that's for sure. So great I got to share two days with so many friends. Thank you to everyone who helped make the weekend awesome!

And as a side note (in case you think all I do is train)...after the Toronto Island Lake Swim, I went out for an incredible birthday dinner with my friend Wendy - where I didn't worry for a single second about how much I ate or drank! I also went out the following weekend with more friends, since several were out of town on my actual birthday.