Month: July 2013

Descending Tabata Intervals

This ride is inspired by the HIIT (high-intensity interval training) training method known as Tabata, which involves alternating 20 second intervals with 10 seconds of rest for four minutes. It doesn’t matter what exercise you do for 20 seconds, as long as it gets your heart rate up; lunges, push-ups, burpees, mountain climbers, sprints and squats are all great options. There are some great Tabata videos on Youtube if you’re looking for inspiration!

This class is designed to be taught continuously, with no extra breaks beyond those listed. The rest periods are half the length of the intervals, which get progressively shorter towards the end of the class and finish with a four-minute sprint Tabata. All recovery should be done seated at an easy resistance and 90rpm cadence.

Descending Tabata Intervals

Total ride time: 50 minutes of intervals, 10 minute cooldown and stretch.

3 x 2:00 standing flat, 1:00 recovery (9:00 total)
Start off with easy resistance on the standing portions and gradually add as the class gets warmed up. Standing cadence between 70 and 80rpm.

4 x 1:30 hill, 0:45 recovery (8:30 total)
Add a bit of resistance every 30s while climbing, maintaining cadence at 65rpm.

5 x 1:00 tempo, 0:30 recovery (7:30 total)
Pick up cadence above 100rpm, maintaining moderate resistance. Everyone should be breathing hard by the end of each interval!

6 x 0:50 jumps, 0:25 recovery (7:30 total)
Add some resistance and keep a steady cadence at 80rpm with four-count jumps. Easy spinning at 90rpm to recover.

7 x 0:40 standing hill, 0:20 recovery (7:00 total)
Maintain climbing cadence of 60-65rpm during interval and really make the resistance challenging!

8 x 0:30 hill/sprint, 0:15 recovery (6:00 total)
Alternate intervals between a tough climb at 70rpm and a high-resistance tempo at 100rpm (four of each). Get ready for the sprint finale!

8 x 0:20 sprint, 0:10 recovery (4:00 total)
Finish with the traditional Tabata, sprinting at 110-115rpm during intervals and spinning lightly during recovery.

10 minutes – single leg drills, cooldown and stretch.

Gravenhurst Sprint Triathlon

If you ever race Multisport Canada’s Gravenhurst triathlon, you’ll thoroughly and overwhelmingly come to understand the need for heat training. Something about consistent temperatures close to forty degrees and no shade on the run course seems to be rather convincing.

But it’s easy to forget about the heat when you’re chatting with other triathletes and drinking ice water at the bar on the Winona Steamship, watching and cheering as a blast from the ship’s horn sends off the first wave of swimmers. Although some athletes find the five foot jump off the ship to be a little scary, it’s a straight swim in to shore with a wide start line and no pileup around turns. The bike course is quiet and scenic with a few turns and rollers to keep it interesting, but nothing that really makes it difficult.

The intense heat on the run is only a bonus for those of us who love racing in conditions most people would describe as insane.

Pre-Race Thoughts

I had some pretty tough goals for this year – I wanted to finish the sprint distance in 1:20, which is about 8 minutes faster than my equivalent time from last year (I’m approximating my time from last year because the bike course was 2km longer in 2012).

Unfortunately I came down with a sore throat and stuffy nose on Tuesday, and I wasn’t able to shake it off despite concentrating solely on sleeping and eating well for the remainder of the week. While it’s tempting to blame this on a cruel twist of fate, I know that this was my fault for pushing my body’s limits for training volume and lack of sleep; I only ever get sick when I’m overtraining or under-sleeping and I was probably doing both. Not a recommended strategy, just in case you were contemplating giving it a try.

The Swim – 750m

Given the warm air and water temperatures, wetsuits were optional on the swim and many people chose not to wear them. I’m already hot stuff (ha!) so I stuck with my plan to wear my wetsuit. As a bonus, I think I sweated off a couple more pounds before jumping in the water – nothing like getting down to race weight at the last minute! My strategy was to stay relaxed and consistent on the swim, try to find someone to draft and come out feeling in good shape to have a fast bike split. I managed to stay relaxed and consistent…a little too relaxed as it turned out, as I discovered when climbed onto the dock, checked my watch and saw 16:44. Including the run up to transition, my total swim time was 18:17 – 3 seconds slower than last year!

Final thoughts: “crap, now I’m behind everyone”.

The Bike – 20km

I blazed through T1 in 1:02 for a new personal best, ripping off my wetsuit, donning my sunglasses and helmet and bravely leaving my shoes on the bike for a flying mount at the start line. I managed to accomplish all this (including doing up my shoes while riding my bike) without falling flat on my face. I know, I know, I’m practically a pro already.

Cresting the hill

Feeling strong out of T1!
Photo courtesy of My Sports Shooter.

The next 5 kilometers consisted of shouting “on your left!” every 30 seconds as I passed all the stronger swimmers who didn’t have the same level of bike fitness; it’s a great ego boost, but also very demoralizing to find out just how many people were ahead of me after the swim. Nutritionally, I decided to try out plain water on the bike rather than my usual 50/50 mix of water and gatorade, and only took two Clif gels, one before the race and the other 2/3 of the way through the bike.

I could tell the spin classes contributed to my bike fitness (see my previous post re: YAY HILLS!!) since I felt incredibly strong on the rollers outside of Gravenhurst, and while my average speed of 29.3km/hr wasn’t as fast as I liked, 40:58 is still a very respectable bike split, or at least respectable enough for a grade of “meh”.

P.S. It’s worth mentioning that I was also successful in getting out of my cycling shoes for a flying dismount, although I think I scared the volunteers at the dismount line when I came flying through (sorry!).

The Run – 5km

Running has always been my strongest sport, and with my specific focus on running this year I’ve seen some very significant improvements; I was hoping to be within about a minute of my 21:33 personal best from Pride Run several weeks ago (yeah, the race that was only running, and had nearly perfect conditions with a slight overcast and temperature around 20).

The strange thing was, my legs felt fine – relatively speaking, of course – but as I tried to push the pace I developed a stitch on my right side. I haven’t felt this in…a year? two? three? so I was a little confused by the sudden appearance of an old nemesis. Focusing on my form and breathing helped a little but I wasn’t able to go faster than about 5:05 pace without significantly increasing my discomfort. The heat really wasn’t a factor for me, despite humidex temperatures close to 40 degrees and little to no shade on the run course (see? heat training works!) and I actually felt pretty good as I crossed the finish line – which was actually disappointing because if I don’t feel like crap then I should have gone faster.

The upside? I was feeling good enough to snag a veggie burger before they ran out!

My total run time of 25:44 was still a triathlon PB, as was my total time of 1:25:52.6 (placing 4/21 in F25-29, complete results on SportStats).

Lessons Learned

  • Transition is obviously my best sport.
  • Sleep more! Don’t try to handle enough training volume for a half-ironman along with multiple races every month unless sleep and nutrition are absolutely perfect, or the result will be a compromised immune system, people who don’t want to hang out with a cranky triathlete and muscles that don’t have any kick.
  • Apparently doing my first open water swim during a race is not The Best Training Strategy Ever. If anyone is looking for me this week, I’ll be at Cherry Beach fighting with the weeds.
  • I’m not sure plain water and only one gel during the race really worked for me. I suspect the stitch was nutrition-related, so for the upcoming Toronto Triathlon Festival I will be returning to my 50/50 gatorade mix and Gu gels (with caffeine! woo!).

Hills, Heat and Anything Difficult

On a weekly basis, my spin class will groan as they hear me enthusiatically proclaim, “guess what? It’s HILL TIME!” – sometimes more than once in a class – followed by, “let’s make this one a REAL challenge!”

While most people hate training in adverse conditions, hills, heat and anything else difficult only increase my enthusiasm, often leaving my workout buddies rather confused; I’ve heard a running buddy mutter under his breath “I knew triathletes were crazy!” when I suggested running our intervals on a hill rather than a flat loop. I never skip a run because of heat – if anything, I’m more likely to head out for a lunchtime run if the temperature is above 35 degrees than if temperatures are cool.

You might be thinking that I’m totally crazy (and you’d probably be right, my dad’s been telling me so for years), but I have a good reason to legitimately enjoy making my workouts a suffer-fest: I’m competitive. Races don’t usually consist of perfectly calm water, a tailwind for the entire bike course and a flat run at 16 degrees with a bit of cloud, so the more I suffer now, the faster I go on race day.

Running in the heat or tackling crazy hill repeats on my bike make me a stronger, faster athlete, and if that’s not enough to make me work for it, I just think of all my competitors who decided to skip their tempo run today because it’s too hot, or those who decided that 3 hill repeats are enough. Those are the ones who will slow down in the last 3km of the run when it’s 35 degrees out and we haven’t seen shade in 20 minutes, or who will see me pass them on the big hill in the middle of the bike portion (you know, the one with the turnaround at the bottom so you can’t keep any of your momentum for the climb back up).

I also get a mental kick on race day when I encounter adverse conditions. The cumulative experience of having finished runs in extreme heat and completed long rides in the middle of a downpour mean that instead of freaking out, I just remember that I’ve done this before and I can do it again. It doesn’t make it easy, but it makes it something I can do. If races are 50% mental then that’s a huge advantage right there.

The key to training in adverse conditions is to adjust your expectations and take precautions if necessary.

  • If you’re running in the heat: make sure you hydrate well, wear a hat and sunscreen, and realize that you won’t be able to run as fast as usual; nobody is doing tempo runs at their usual pace when it feels like a sauna. Try to start heat training in the spring so your body can gradually acclimate as temperatures rise.
  • If you’re doing hill repeats: take it easy on the first few because the effort builds up quickly, and judge your effort by heart rate or perceived effort rather than pace or speed.
  • If you’re riding in the rain: leave more space when following (in addition to the safety considerations, you also likely want to avoid getting a faceful of spray off their back tire) and slow down on turns as slick tires combined with oil from the road can get very slippery.

Now, I realize I’m not going to convert everyone to crazy athletes who enjoy hills and run when it’s ridiculously hot outside, but there is a perverted pleasure in doing something difficult and succeeding. Why do you think people do Death Valley ultramarathons or climb mountains? Instead of focusing on how much faster you could be going if only it were cool and flat, take satisfaction from knowing that you are a tough, badass athlete who can handle anything!



Pride Run and Olya’s Apricot Scones

My race mornings are usually fairly typical: waking up entirely too early, grabbing a bagel and some coffee, then driving for an hour or two to the race site and arriving about an hour before race start so I can set up transition and use the porta-potty before the line gets too long.

Last Saturday morning was entirely unlike any other race morning: it was relaxing.

I woke up early, before the alarm went off, and took my time getting out of bed. The sun was shining and it looked like a perfect day for racing – warm but not too hot, and slightly overcast. The combination of knowing that it was a short enough race that it was going to be really painful, and that I had a chance to place quite well if I had a good race gave me some pre-race jitters, but I like a little nervous energy before a race.

But the best part of my pre-race morning was walking to Café Olya for some coffee and the most delicious apricot scone I have ever tasted. CO is a very cute coffee shop and bakery owned by a husband and wife team, and the atmosphere is casual and friendly with a few bar stools and touches of coffee-inspired décor. The bakery is located just behind the coffee bar and we could watch Olya preparing some strawberry custard croissants that looked positively to die for, but what caught my attention was the little glass case to the right of the coffee bar where I saw a crispy and buttery apricot scone. How could I resist?

Of course the coffee was wonderful, nice and strong the way I like it and served with delighful conversation. I followed my first sip of coffee with a bite of apricot scone, and thought I had died and gone to heaven. The scone was crunchy on the outside and so soft on the inside, the apricots stuffed inside were sweet and moist and the creamy custard rounded out a delectable combination of flavours and textures. I enjoyed every bite of my scone and every sip of coffee.

It’s difficult to see how the day could possibly get any better, but I love racing so much that it was almost inevitable. My legs were feeling a little sluggish during my 3km warmup but felt better after some strides, and the run settled my nerves slightly. I knew my legs would feel better once the race started, and I was hoping for a sub-20 minute 5k.

We walked to the start line about 10 minutes before the 10am race start, just in time to wish some friends a good race and catch the pre-race announcements and group stretches. It seemed like the race would never start, but then the announcer was counting down from 10 and the confetti cannon marked the beginning of the race!

My race strategy was to stick to a 4 minute pace for the first 2km, then evaluate how I was feeling and adjust my pace for the next two kilometers then go all out for the finish. My first km was quite fast at 3:58, but my legs felt shaky and I was already working pretty hard just to keep my goal pace. The first lap of Queen’s Park was pretty open as I was still with the faster runners and ahead of most of the pack.

I slowed down a little in the second kilometer and was really struggling by the time I got to the halfway point where we started the second lap of Queen’s Park. By this time the walkers had reached the park and I had to do some doging and calling out to get around people, and almost ran into a little boy on the hairpin turn. I really slowed down in the third kilometer and was quite disappointed to see that it took 4:34, about 5 seconds slower than 10k pace, and I was struggling to maintain even that!

The last kilometer along Wellesley was incredibly difficult and I’m very proud of myself for pushing through for a fast finish despite heavy legs and being on the verge of tears. The moment I crossed the finish line, Sarp was there with a great big hug and a bottle of water. The clock said 21:36, which wasn’t fast enough to beat my goal but still gave me a personal best by almost a minute.

Finishing the race

Photo courtesy of Richard Bowry

My finish was good for placing 7/169 in the F25-34 category and 17/495 overall women, and my chip time of 21:33.9 was 56 seconds faster than my previous unofficial 5k PB (I ran the first half of the MEC 10k in 22:30) and 1:17 faster than my official 5k PB from last December. While I don’t think I could have pushed myself any faster that day, I do feel that I would have been able to finish faster if my legs weren’t feeling so tired. I suspect that my 140km ride at Cycle for Sight the previous weekend affected my race more than I expected, and that a week wasn’t enough to really recover enough to race. That being said, I’m incredibly happy with my new PB and it feels great to really race again!

Post-race group photo

With Sarp, Michael and Maya after Pride Run. (Photo courtesy of Richard Bowry)

Banana Spice Muffins

Morning workouts are my favourite! Knocking out an 8k tempo run before most people are awake (and in some cases, before the sun is even up) just feels amazing and sets me up for a fantastic day. However, morning workouts usually mean I’m grabbing breakfast on my way out the door and chowing down on my muffin and coffee on the way to work, or taking something with me to swim practice so I can go straight to the office afterwards. That’s where these whole grain breakfast muffins come in so handy – they’re full of healthy carbs and fibre, very little fat or refined sugar and taste delicious. I usually eat them warm and buttered, along with fresh berries, yogurt and coffee.


Banana Spice Muffins
Yields: 12 muffins

1 c. bran
1 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 c. quick oats
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
3 Tbsp flax meal
2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 eggs, beaten
4-5 bananas, mashed
1/2 c. milk
1/4 c. honey
3 Tbsp molasses
2 Tbsp olive oil


  1. Preheat oven to 400F. Grease muffin tins with butter (don’t use paper muffin cups as the muffins will stick).
  2. In a medium bowl, combine dry ingredients.
  3. In a small bowl, combine wet ingredients then add all at once to dry mixture. Mix only until combined (it’s okay if there are small lumps in the batter).
  4. Spoon batter into prepared muffin pan, dividing evenly. Bake at 400F for 16-18 minutes or until the tops are lightly browned. Remove from oven and let cool in pans for 5 minutes; remove to cool completely on cooling racks.

These muffins are best enjoyed warm and buttered, straight out of the oven. If you prefer to keep some for breakfast rather than demolishing an entire dozen muffins in one go, reheat in a toaster oven for 10 minutes at 250F.

Nutritional information, per muffin: 184 cal, 34g carbs, 4.6g fibre, 12g sugar, 5g protein, 3.8g fat (I know, right? AMAZING!)