Training & Life

Welland Race Prep: Domination Mode

Pop quiz!  What triathlon happens in three weeks, recently got a brand new shiny name and will be not only my first triathlon this year, but my first half-iron distance EVER?   If you said Welland Rose City Triathlon, you get a cookie! But it has to be a healthy one – that race weight isn’t gonna make itself.

You might be thinking I’m a little crazy to be going all domination mode (is there any other mode?) on my first half.  I’m not going to deny the crazy part, but with so much Ironman training under my belt 1900m + 90km + 21.1km feels so totally doable that it might even be about something other than survival.  Don’t get me wrong, domination mode takes some major work. I’m going to share some of the ways I’m preparing specifically for the conditions of this race, and fortunately I’ve got some race-specific tips from an expert: Tommy Ferris from Ignition Fitness puts together these handy videos for Multisport Canada Races.

I know you’ve probably seen these videos before (I have) and thought, “oh yeah, I should watch that,” and then didn’t because you saw a funny cat picture.  Focus!  The cat pictures can wait until you’re in the midst of the taper-crazies and need some real distraction.


Swim Preparation

The canal swim is a narrow rectangle that has portions both with and against the current, which makes it difficult (and probably a bad idea) to maintain a certain pace throughout. Since I’m a numbers girl, and also recently acquired a 910XT that actually allows me to see my splits in the water, I’m going to have to be very careful to avoid getting too caught up in pace times that would push me too hard at the beginning, raise my expectations in the middle and dash them perilously to the ground in the final stretch against the current. (Can you say “bad way to start the bike”?)

Mental preparation is key for this kind of swim, because you have to be prepared to see slow pace times without freaking out early on – not that I would EVER freak out about slow pace times, right workout buddies?? :)

Learning to pace by feel is also one of the key skills in this swim; in the next few weeks I’ll be doing a couple of swim workouts designed to get a feel for my goal race pace of 1:55/100m (note that these are not designed to work on fitness – they’re a mental workout as much as physical).  A great way to get a feel for pacing is to pick a distance (100, 200, 400) and repeat it over and over and over until you get tired/close to the race distance of 1900m.  Maybe make that 2k because round numbers looks so much nicer, and we all know none of us will swim straight anyway.  Time the intervals but don’t check the clock until you’re done, and focus on trying to hit the same pace every time.  I’ll be doing something like 4×400 or 15×100 because I think 200m is a silly distance (for no reason in particular – it’s not as bad as 75m, but still…just a weird place to stop in my opinion).

Bike Preparation

Coming from a self-proclaimed hills girl, a flat bike course is TOUGH! It also has the potential to be windy, which is basically my arch-nemesis on the bike.  You know how I like doing difficult stuff?  Well don’t tell me, “Oh, Welland is easy because it’s so flat!” because dammit, flat IS difficult!

That being said, it’s also a good way to PB the bike.  As much as I love hills, I do have to admit that they generally have a negative effect on time.  The biggest focus of this bike will be setting up for a good run, which means getting in lots of nutrition and maintaining a high cadence so there is some energy left in those legs after 90km.  Practice that nutrition strategy ahead of time, particularly at race pace! Try adding 3×20 minutes at half Ironman race pace, and figure out what you can handle.  I recently did this calculation for one of my long rides as an experiment, and it worked because it got me closer to understanding my nutritional needs and what I can handle.


Run Preparation

Two words: heat training!  Last year’s race was unbearably hot and while there’s no guarantee this year will be the same, it doesn’t hurt to be prepared. It doesn’t take much – one or two runs a week at noon is usually enough to get me acclimatized – but you have to start now because it takes time for the physiological adaptations!  For example, today’s long run accidentally doubled as a heat training run, mostly (okay, completely) because I slept in way later than usual and stubbornly refused to get off the couch until late morning.  We all have days like this.

Usually I schedule one run a week at lunchtime from about March until September. Yes, it sucks when it’s 42 degrees out and you’re getting weird looks as you suffer through the slowest 5k you’ve ever run, but when you finish a race in 35 degrees thinking, “oh yeah, I guess that was a little warm,” you’ll thank me.  You’re welcome.




Training Update: It’s going to be a big week!

I just looked at my training plan for next week: 14 hours of riding, including 5 spin classes (3 of them on Wednesday) and Collingwood training camp with the Toronto Triathlon Club on the long weekend. A total of 19 hours of training when I add in a couple of brick runs and some swims, but the focus is on the bike.

Training Peaks weekly plan

It’s going to be a tough week (anyone willing to make me food will receive my endless love and devotion), but a big block of training is going to get me in awesome shape for the MultiSport Canada Welland Rose City Tri in only 5 weeks!

My focus this week will be on maximizing my recovery: sleeping a lot, drinking water and eating lots of nutritious and healthy food – before, during and after workouts.
Also naps. Lots and lots of naps.

Bike Workout: 1-2-3-4

Here’s the deal for this class: you never do the same thing for more than a minute. There’s no excuse to get bored, and if you take it really easy on the recovery sections you’ll be able to go even harder on the intervals.


Each interval builds on the last by 1 minute, with 1 minute breaks between each interval and each set. I went through the whole set four times: seated climb, sprint, standing climb and sprint.

Warmup with easy spinning for 10 minutes before starting the sets.

Hill Set:
1 min 65rpm / 1 min recovery
1 min 65rpm + 1 min 70rpm / 1 min recovery
1 min 65rpm + 1 min 70rpm + 1 min 75rpm / 1 min recovery
1 min 65rpm + 1 min 70rpm + 1 min 75rpm + 1 min 80rpm / 1 min recovery

Sprint Set:
1 min 110rpm / 1 min recovery
1 min 105rpm + 1 min 110rpm / 1 min recovery
1 min 100rpm + 1 min 105rpm + 1 min 110rpm / 1 min recovery
1 min 95rpm + 1 min 100rpm + 1 min 105rpm + 1 min 110rpm / 1 min recovery

Repeat as necessary and spin easy for 10 minutes at the end to cool down.

4 Weird Ways I Trick Myself into Drinking More Water

We’ve all heard the rule that you need to drink 2L of water a day, more if you work out or drink caffeine. As a population we also generally suck at drinking even half that amount, which has led to every health website out there extolling the virtues of drinking water and the myriad of ways you can convince yourself to do so.

This post is not going to repeat what you’ve heard everyone else saying. You already know you should be drinking more water, and you already know a bunch of ways to make it more appetizing. If that advice was working you probably wouldn’t be here.

So if you’ve already used all the typical ideas like adding lemon juice and keeping a water bottle handy, try one of these 4 weird tricks.

1. Race yourself.


Everything is more fun as a competition, which is why runners innocently out for their morning 5k are constantly losing races they didn’t know they were in. Apply the same concept to water consumption, and suddenly you’re racing to see how much water you can drink by lunchtime (my current PB is 1.25L) or how soon in the day you can finish 2L (my PB is 2:36pm).  Of course drinking 2L of water in the morning and then nothing the rest of the day isn’t going to help you as much as as spreading it out over the day, so use this one within reason.  On your mark, get set…go!

2. Refuse to go to the bathroom until you finish your water bottle.

stubborn girl

Missing those good old days when you could be a stubborn child and refuse to do things, just because? Relive those memories by stubbornly refusing to use the bathroom until you’ve finished your water bottle. You’ll be chugging that water like it’s a sugar-loaded Coke.

3. Write deadlines on your water bottle.


You might get some odd looks from coworkers who wonder why your water bottle has every hour written on the side in sharpie, and you might find yourself chugging that last 100mL every hour to stay on target…but dammit, you’ve got a schedule to keep! Just divide 2L into manageable chunks of time, and mark down times on the side of your water bottle. For bonus points, give handmade water bottles to coworkers as birthday gifts. Who’s laughing now?

4. Train yourself like a dog. Use treats.

dogs & chocolate

Positive reinforcement isn’t just for dogs and children anymore. Make a rule that you have to drink 500mL before your morning coffee, or finish your water bottle before taking a morning break…or if you’re really serious, try my favourite: no chocolate unless I drink 1L by lunchtime. Chocolate creates a lot of incentive.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever tried?

How Being a Perfectionist Changed my Eating Habits

Sometimes I’m so full it hurts and I’m already thinking about when I can eat again. Right now, I’m wondering if I should eat another dried fig, or maybe a slice of bread with almond butter. I already ate dinner and I’m definitely not hungry, but I can’t stop thinking about food. At the same time, I’m trying to suck in my tummy because I feel fat – it’s not the same as being fat, because I’m not – but I feel like my tummy sticks out more than it should. And if I slouch I get a crease between my belly and ribs and that really bugs me because I’m a thin person, and thin people don’t get creases in their tummy when they slouch.

No more food until the morning. I’ll be better tomorrow – I won’t eat as much, and then I’ll feel thin again. I can do it. I just need to be stronger.

I’ve never told this to anyone except for one person I absolutely trust, but I think other people need to hear it: I have (or had) an eating disorder.

…Maybe a better way to put it is I have a disordered eating habit.  It’s not that I’m anorexic or bulimic, but my relationship with food has a tendency to be more about controlling how I look rather than enjoyment or giving myself the nutrition my body needs to function.

Food is strongly connected to how I feel about myself because it allows me to control the way I look. It’s not that I don’t think I look good, it’s that I don’t think I look perfect.  Although there are many good things about being a perfectionist, the drive to constantly improve also means that nothing is ever good enough; an imperfect body is a daily reminder that I have failed. Even worse, being an athlete gives me an excuse to obsess over details like weight and body fat percentages in the name of performance while fueling unrealistic expectations of how my body should look. I don’t just want a thigh gap or a bikini bridge, in my mind I should have both – and be able to run a sub-45 minute 10k.

It’s easy to tell myself that this is an unreasonable way of thinking, and that none of us are perfect and never will be. I get that; my brain understands the concept, but it doesn’t override the feeling that I could be better than I am. Couldn’t we all improve in some way?

An increased focus on athletic performance last year gradually led to an extreme preoccupation with food and weight loss. I tried a variety of methods to control my image and performance: from tracking everything I ate and obsessively analyzing macronutrients, to cutting out whole food groups and even trying a cleanse. I saw some temporary “success” which only fueled my obsession with whatever I was doing, but I weighed myself every day and eventually the number on the scale would go up – renewing the spiral of guilt and increasingly extreme attempts to control my eating habits.

During this time I didn’t actually lose any weight, but became more and more obsessed with food until it was all I would think about. Every waking moment was spent calculating calories, planning how little I could eat and thinking about everything I wasn’t eating.

On a rare beautiful evening in March, I had some free time and spent it walking around downtown Toronto, surrounded by people but all alone with my thoughts for an hour and a half. I thought about what my eating habits were doing to me emotionally, and how I was negatively impacting my health by using extreme methods to strengthen my control. I was tired of being unhappy and guilty about something that is meant to be enjoyed.

That night, I wrote a very short post about my decision to become vegan. The choice was a result of a very strong feeling that I needed to change what I was doing to myself, and strengthen some core beliefs from my childhood that had gotten lost as I grew up and adapted to society’s expectations. It hasn’t completely cured me of my obsessive tendencies surrounding food and I don’t think it ever will, but it helps by providing enough structure to make me feel comfortable about how I am eating.

It’s amazing how much stress can pull you down, which I realized as soon as the weight was lifted. Living in a way that supports my core values surrounding the treatment of animals and the environment while eating healthy foods has really made me feel good about myself.

If you talk to most people who have made a significant change in their life, they consistently talk about how their transformation was the cumulative result of small improvements over time rather than some great fundamental overnight shift. It’s so true that you’re never done growing, and although I’m on the right path I still struggle with the desire to use food as a method of proving that I am in control rather than enjoying it for what it is.

Every once in a while I need a reminder, and that’s why I wrote this; I think there are other people out there that might need a reminder sometimes too, and some more who might not yet be ready to make that change. If you ever feel like you need more than a blog post, talk to me. Send me an email, leave me a comment or find me on Twitter. We all have to look after each other because that’s what makes the world a better place.

Addicted to Progress

Yesterday on Facebook, plant-powered athlete/author Rich Roll asked:

What are your best thoughts & ideas on how to set and achieve a goal? Curious about new ideas for a new project I am working on. Let me know what has and hasn’t worked for you.

Eerily, I was mulling over a variation of that question during my swim yesterday morning (which, admittedly, may have contributed to some slower-than-usual pace times), so I had some ideas ready:

There are two ways to get to a big goal, and the method that works depends on the person and where they are in their journey. Some people need a big, crazy goal to get them motivated, while others find something so big to be daunting and need to take smaller steps towards their goal. 8 years ago I started with the goal of running 1km, and this year I’m doing my first Ironman.

I’d like to expand a little more on that answer, and talk about how I’ve used the concept of big and small goals to transform my lifestyle.

ORTA Trail Race

So how do you know whether to set a small, achievable goal or a big, crazy goal?

Well, let’s assume that making constant progress will eventually get you there no matter what.  If goals can be broken down into a series of sub-goals to achieve, then we just need to figure out how to make sure you’ll keep playing long enough to make it to the end-game

Who are the experts in making sure people keep playing? Video game designers and casinos.

In 2001, John Hopson wrote an article called Behavioral Game Design, in which he explained how game designers use psychology to get people addicted to their games.  He specifically discussed reward schedules, concluding that variable reward schedules – in which rewards are given after a variable or random amount of activity, such as winning at a slot machine – are the most addictive:

In general, variable ratio schedules produce the highest overall rates of activity of all the schedules that I’ll discuss here. This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the best, but if what you’re looking for is a high and constant rate of play, you want a variable ratio contingency.

A more recent article by Chris Bateman expands on the variable ratio contingency to describe the highly-addictive strategy used by subscription-based games like World of Warcraft: escalating ratio contingency.

It seems as if the merit of the escalating schedule is that in the early stages, the rewards come regularly, which helps the habit set in, while later on the rewards come further apart which gives more time to focus on the nature of the activity rather than having the activity overshadowed by the reward.

If you read the preceding quote from the perspective of setting a goal, you can see how it’s initially advantageous to set smaller, easily achievable goals in order to reward progress.  As the activity itself becomes enjoyable, the rewards are no longer required as frequently and those big, crazy goals don’t look quite so daunting.

So get yourself addicted to progress by learning from the experts. Start small, and escalate as you progress.


The escalating schedule mirrors my journey over the last eight years as I went from literally wondering how anyone could  run 10km without stopping, to training for my first Ironman.

Initially, my goals were achievable within a month or two – I think it took me two months to progress from jogging my first 1km to finishing my first 5k in 32 minutes (yes, I still remember my time).

A few years later, my goal to finish a half marathon took over four months of training (and yes, I remember that time too – 2:03:59), reducing the frequency of the reward as my fitness and enjoyment increased.

It’s been over 8 years since my first run, and now I’m spending 8 months focused on a single goal: Ironman Canada 2014.  I can honestly say that it’s no longer just about the goal – although trust me, I’m still going to be celebrating when I finish – but the journey itself has become the reward.

And that’s how you become addicted to progress.

So now that you know the psychology behind making goals achievable, what goal are you going to get addicted to?

Time for a Change

There have been a lot of thoughts jumbled around in my head lately – I think the best description is that there was a knot in my head – and tonight I had the most amazing opportunity to spend time with myself. I got outside in the beautiful evening, and walked until I had figured things out…which took a long time, but was absolutely worth it. I’ve decided to renew the values I had when I became a vegetarian at 4 years old: it’s time for a change, and for me that change means adopting a vegan diet.

I’m not starting this alone. I deeply appreciate the support of Héctor, who surprised me with a cookbook by my favourite vegan blogger, Angela Liddon of Oh She Glows. I feel so incredibly blessed, and very relaxed. Time for a new start!

Happy Monday, everyone. :)

Wild Rose Cleanse: Day One

This week I decided to try a cleanse.  I know cleanses are viewed skeptically by most of the “I actually want to be healthy rather than just skinny” crowd, and usually lumped in with magic weight loss pills and wonder supplements.  Trust me, I feel the same way about most and I’m not about to go on a strict lemon-juice-and-cayenne-pepper diet.  The reason I decided to try a cleanse that I have evaluated as being healthy is because I believe in trying things for myself, rather than just following what everyone else says.  It’s true, I might be buying into the exaggerated claims of a multi-billion-dollar industry; but that’s not a reason not to give it a try and see how it works.

As for why I decided to do a cleanse rather than just following a normal healthy diet? For the past few months I’ve been noticing that my digestion is a little off and I’ve been having really strong cravings (no, I’m not pregnant!); yesterday I couldn’t resist a brownie with my lunch, simply because I saw a tray of desserts at reception, and that’s so unlike me.  I’m interested to see if the change in diet and supplements results in an improvement to how I’m feeling.

The other reason is that I feel like I need a reset on my diet.  I haven’t been eating well lately (by my standards), and considered doing an elimination diet a couple of weeks ago to break the sugar cycle – this worked until I started pulling 60 hour weeks at the office and had a couple nights of bad sleep, then I was right back on the sugar train.  The diet that goes along with the Wild Rose Cleanse is very close to a typical elimination diet, restricting sugar and dairy while focusing on foods like fish, whole grains and vegetables.  That’s the other reason I chose Wild Rose: the diet is real, unprocessed food.  None of this “fruit juice with ginger three times a day” stuff, because I know that wouldn’t last – maybe a day, and I would go nuts for actual food.  If you’re interested in critiquing the diet, a the whole thing is listed here.

So today is day one.  Steel-cut oats with whole cranberries and cinnamon for breakfast, and fried brown rice with egg, peas and corn for lunch.  Apparently the first few days are the worst, so I’ll keep you posted!

Off-season Challenge!

Super exciting, I know!  But before I go into the details of what I’m doing in my off-season I’m going to talk about what my goals are and why – because everything has a purpose.


This is what the off-season is for.

My five main goals for this off-season, along with how I will achieve them:

Goal 1: Recover from training and racing hard in 2013.
> Take a two week break from formal training after the marathon (done!).
> Keep training light and relaxed for the months of November and December.

Goal 2: Fine-tune my overall nutrition by experimenting with different foods and recipes; come up with foods that are easy to prepare and nutritious, to support my Ironman training.
> Reduce my overall sugar and refined carbohydrate intake, focus on whole foods.
> Make a cookbook of foods that are easy to prepare (in advance if possible).

Goal 3: Lose some weight in preparation for next racing season, with the goal of reaching ~16% body fat by January (approximately 117lb, from 121lb today).
> Weigh myself every day (this isn’t for everyone, but it works for me), and track my weight along with my nutrition using the MyFitnessPal app.

Goal 4: Work on strength and flexibility to rehab and prevent injuries.  Specifically this means incorporating overall strength training and trying some different fitness classes.
> Weight training 3x per week with a focus on glute and core strength.
> Try yoga, kettlebell and/or Crossfit.

Goal 5: Work on refining technique (specifically in swimming) and maintaining a basic level of fitness.
> Get in the pool a few times before January – I’m being reasonable here…
> Spin class twice a week to maintain bike, run and overall cardio fitness.

So here’s my challenge: From today until December 31, I will do some form of exercise every day.

Obviously this doesn’t mean hard exercise every day! Once I’ve done my exercise, I’ll share what I did on Twitter.  Here are some ideas:

  • Spin class or trainer ride    
  • Core workout
  • Weight training
  • Swimming     
  • Stretching
  • Yoga/kettlebell/fitness class
  • Running or walking

Anyone else in for the challenge?