cycling

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: Ladder Hills

This week’s spin class was a hit! The long hills are awesome for building endurance and although it’s a tough workout, nobody got bored.  You can also modify this class to suit any length in 10 minute increments – the long workout is up to 2 hours 20 minutes!

Ladder Hills
Time: 50 minutes + warmup and cooldown

Warmup for a few minutes: 90rpm with some short bursts at 100rpm

Set 1:
8 minute climb at 65rpm and 75% resistance (2 minutes sitting, 1 minute standing)
1 x 30s sprint at 110rpm, 30s recovery
1 minute easy spinning

Set 2:
7 minute climb at 65rpm and 80% resistance (2 minutes sitting, 1 minute standing)
2 x 30s sprint at 110rpm, 30s recovery
1 minute easy spinning

Set 3:
6 minute climb at 65rpm and 85% resistance (2 minutes sitting, 1 minute standing)
3 x 30s sprint at 110rpm, 30s recovery
1 minute easy spinning

Set 4:
5 minute climb at 65rpm and 90% resistance (2 minutes sitting, 1 minute standing)
4 x 30s sprint at 110rpm, 30s recovery
1 minute easy spinning

Set 5:
4 minute climb at 65rpm and 95% resistance (2 minutes sitting, 1 minute standing)
5 x 30s sprint at 110rpm, 30s recovery
1 minute easy spinning

Cooldown and stretch

Long Option:
Time: 2 hours 20 minutes + warmup and cooldown (you can adjust the time by eliminating sets)

Increasing Sets:
Set 1: 8 min @ 65rpm / 1 x 30s @ 110rpm, 30s recovery / 1 min easy spinning
Set 2: 7 min @ 65rpm / 2 x 30s @ 110rpm, 30s recovery / 1 min easy spinning
Set 3: 6 min @ 65rpm / 3 x 30s @ 110rpm, 30s recovery / 1 min easy spinning
Set 4: 5 min @ 65rpm / 4 x 30s @ 110rpm, 30s recovery / 1 min easy spinning
Set 5: 4 min @ 65rpm / 5 x 30s @ 110rpm, 30s recovery / 1 min easy spinning
Set 6: 3 min @ 65rpm / 6 x 30s @ 110rpm, 30s recovery / 1 min easy spinning
Set 7: 2 min @ 65rpm / 7 x 30s @ 110rpm, 30s recovery / 1 min easy spinning

Decreasing Sets:
Set 8: 2 min @ 65rpm / 7 x 30s @ 110rpm, 30s recovery / 1 min easy spinning
Set 9: 3 min @ 65rpm / 6 x 30s @ 110rpm, 30s recovery / 1 min easy spinning
Set 10: 4 min @ 65rpm / 5 x 30s @ 110rpm, 30s recovery / 1 min easy spinning
Set 11: 5 min @ 65rpm / 4 x 30s @ 110rpm, 30s recovery / 1 min easy spinning
Set 12: 6 min @ 65rpm / 3 x 30s @ 110rpm, 30s recovery / 1 min easy spinning
Set 13: 7 min @ 65rpm / 2 x 30s @ 110rpm, 30s recovery / 1 min easy spinning
Set 14: 8 min @ 65rpm / 1 x 30s @ 110rpm, 30s recovery / 1 min easy spinning

 

 

Up and Over

Climbing technique is a key skill for competitive cyclists, and lots of recreational cyclists also benefit from learning how to properly pace and crest a hill.  We all have a tendency to ease off a little as we reach the top of a hill and the grade levels off, but if you add a push at the top and over the hill you can recover at a much faster speed than if you rest as soon as you reach the top.  I don’t know about you, but I’d rather do that little push to recover at 35km/hr rather than dying at 6km/hr over the top of the hill.

Okay, so now that we know the best technique for cresting a hill, how do you practice it?  By doing Up and Overs of course!  You can do these outside, on a trainer or in a spin class – whatever floats your boat. The key is to keep the effort level high until you’ve moved from the hill to the sprint.  No sneaking breaks in between! (more…)

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.

meditation-pose1

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?

Duathlon National Championships 2013

Typical for me, my race in Montreal was just another whirlwind trip as part of a busy weekend and training schedule. My main focus right now is the Hamilton Marathon in November, so this was a training race with the goal of qualifying to compete in the duathlon world championships in Spain next year; going in to the race I was aware that I wouldn’t need to go all out just to qualify, and decided not to waste precious energy on trying to place.

Of course, the week leading up to the race wasn’t exactly ideal: I didn’t taper – in fact, I did a bonus 9km run with Mike (B) and Mike (O) on Thursday – and I hadn’t been on my bike since the world championships almost a month ago. But since when have I let details like that bother me??

I drove to Montreal on Friday, arriving at the hostel at 10pm and going straight to bed as I was up again at 5:30am and trying to find somewhere to get breakfast. I had planned on my usual Tim’s bagel breakfast sandwich and coffee, but settled for a 24hr McDonalds down the street from the hostel (which messed up and gave me an egg mcmuffin rather than a bagel breakfast sandwich). Mistake: thinking an egg mcmuffin and coffee at 7am would keep me satisfied until noon when I finished the race.

I arrived in time to see the start of the Ironman distance race, and realized why the transition was so gigantic: the Esprit Triathlon de Montreal included sprint, Olympic, half iron and full iron races on the same day, on the same site, in addition to the sprint and Olympic duathlon races! I have to say the race organization was stellar, although the French race briefing was significantly longer than the English one…so I wasn’t really sure what the course was. Oh well!

The weather was initially threatening, but cleared up before the start.

The weather was initially threatening, but cleared up before the start.

First Run – 10k

The first run started out in the middle of nowhere on a gravel path, but quickly joined the main trail for two laps around the Olympic basin. I had planned on running about a 50 minute 10k, but my legs were tired and I was struggling by the halfway point so decided it wasn’t worth trashing my legs. I managed to draft off a bigger runner for one particularly windy section (which helped maintain my pace) and I finished the run in just over 51 minutes. Heading into T1 I and was feeling a little less lethargic (although a little hungry) and looking forward to hopping on my bike for some speed!

Bike – 40km

As soon as I got onto the main bike course, my first thought was OMG the bike course is the Formula One racing circuit. I had been worried about a crowded bike course because I had to do 9 laps and the full and half-iron athletes were already on the course, but it was fantastic! The turns were tons of fun, the road was wide enough that passing and staying out of the drafting zone (which was 12m per ITU rules) wasn’t really an issue. The trickiest part was remembering to say “gauche” and ” droit” instead of “left” and “right” when passing.

IMG-20130907-00149
I don’t think I stopped smiling for at least the first three laps, and by then I was almost halfway through and my legs had warmed up. I glanced down at my watch and realized I was averaging about 32km/hr, much faster than usual! The wind picked up a bit in the second half (and my legs were tiring) so I ended up finishing the bike portion in about 1:18, matching my 40km personal best from August. And I even managed to count to nine laps!

Second Run – 5k

I was feeling great heading off the bike, especially knowing that I was on track to beat my goal time of 2:45 by a significant margin. My legs felt strong coming out of T2 and I ran my first kilometer in 5:16, but the lack of taper and proper breakfast was starting to catch up with me and my pace slowed as I continued around the basin. With a few hundred meters to go I glanced around to see if there was anyone else close by in my age category, but was surrounded by men and decided my legs didn’t have a sprint in them anyways. I picked up the pace a little as I neared the finish, just to make sure the photographer caught my good side, and crossed the line in 2:39:40 with a 27 minute 5k.

Photos and Sportstats Results

Mission accomplished! My 5th place finish snagged me a place on Team Canada for the AG duathlon world championships in Spain next year, and I finished the day knowing that I executed my race plan perfectly. Although I could have gone faster had I tapered and focused more on the race, I was satisfied with a solid time in each event and knowing the race fit into my marathon training plan.

IMG-20130907-00155

Duathlon World Championships

A little over a year ago, I signed up for a standard-distance duathlon in Cobourg on a whim. The timing fit with my racing schedule and I had never raced a duathlon before, so I figured why not try it out? It turned out to be the wonderful beginning to a journey that culminated in racing for Team Canada in the Duathlon World Championships.

I had no illusions that this would be an easy race, either from a competitive or personal perspective. As I’ve gotten faster, I’ve realized that racing short(ish) distances becomes more and more difficult – the endurance comes not from the muscles, but rather from mental fortitude saying I can do this – because I finished blazing interval sessions, tempo rides with a headwind and neverending long runs. Just keep going. Faster. Faster.

I have never raced in Ottawa before, but after this experience I would highly recommend it. The bike and run courses followed a winding parkway along the river, with gliding turns and shallow grades but no major hills to speak of. The first run was two laps of a 5km course, the bike was two laps of 20km and the final run returned to the 5k course for one lap.

Goals

This is the most important race I’ve ever done, and of course I had time goals – both realistic and “secret” ones – and process goals. Some of these were based on my experiences in other races, some based on my training leading up to the race. Besides finishing and having fun (which are goals for every race), I wanted to:

  1. Maintain an even pace throughout. This meant evaluating my pace to make sure I was pushing hard enough but leaving some energy for the finish – particularly since I have a habit of going out too hard in the beginning, slacking in the middle and finishing hard to make up for it.
  2. Push hard on the bike. I admit, I’m a wimp on the bike – I once had someone tell me I don’t know how to suffer, and I see this when I finish a race knowing I could have gone faster. No mercy in this race.
  3. Run the first 10k in 46 to 47 minutes (average pace 4:36 to 4:42). I wanted to have a solid first run without going out too fast, and aimed for 0:30 to 1:30 off my 10k running personal best. But if we’re being honest? I really wanted to see if I could run a sub-45 10k.
  4. Average above 30km/hr on the bike, which means finishing 40km in under 1:20. I’ve never broken the 30km/hr barrier, and averaging exactly 29.3k/hr in two previous races was frustratingly close!
  5. Run the second 5k in under 25 minutes (average pace under 5:00). Beating a 5:00 pace off the bike would be a first for me, especially after a hard ride, but my secret unrealistic goal was 22:30. Don’t tell anyone.
  6. Finish under 2:30 overall. Somewhere between unrealistic and achievable, if everything came together perfectly.
  7. Not last place. Please.
parade

Waving the flag at the Parade of Nations! (Photo courtesy of Lesley Furnell)

Race Morning

I had already picked up my race kit, attended the race briefing and dropped off my bike in transition the night before so race morning was pretty straightforward, but I never really relax until I’ve gotten my transition area set up. My 7:25 wave start meant I was up at 5am, out the door with a blueberry bagel in my tummy by 5:45, and on the race site with my coffee shortly after 6am. I went through my ritual of setting up my transition (realizing that I forgot the purple transition towel I’ve used in every race for the past 5 years), pumping my tires up to 118psi, dropping off my extras at bag check and doing a little jog and some strides to wake up my legs. I wasn’t nervous at all (which was pretty weird), and feeling strong and ready.

The First Run – 10km

All 171 women started in the second wave, with a brisk cool headwind as we headed west along the parkway. I focused on maintaining a consistent pace as I watched the majority of the field pull away from me – although it was disappointing to see everyone pulling ahead, this is my race and I knew if I raced others now then I would burn out. Save the kick to the end – more people ahead means more passing opportunities later!

My kilometer splits were all between 4:32 and 4:45, with the exception of the last climb up a slight grade towards transition. My chip time was 47:59; however my Garmin recorded a distance of 10.26km and time of 47:53, putting my pace at 4:39 and (in my opinion) achieving my time goal for the first run!

The Bike – 40km

I had a blazing fast T1 (in true Kim fashion), and in 45 seconds I was hopping on my bike and slipping my feet into the shoes waiting on my pedals. I looked down to check my speed and – damn! – realized that my bike computer decided this was the perfect time to stop working. Speed and cadence were transmitting but registering as zero, so something was up with the sensors. I started my Garmin belatedly since I wasn’t planning on using it on the bike, and started doing the math (yay!) to convert km pace splits into km/hr (in case you’re wondering, 2:00 pace is 30km/hr).

The majority of the course was fairly straight and flat with a slight headwind on the way out, but honestly I didn’t even notice a difference with the wind. After about 3km we turned off the parkway to my favourite part: an extra loop with 9 turns within about a kilometer, meaning I could fly fearlessly around corners and overtake people without even trying!

photo

Chasing Donaldson after the 20k turnaround. (Photo courtesy of Lesley Furnell)

I finished the 40km bike in 1:18:11, beating my goal time by almost two minutes and averaging 30.7km/hr! I was very happy with my effort, and I knew that I couldn’t have gone any faster – my heart rate averaged 165bpm which is a pretty solid sustained effort for me. One last tri-berry GU through T2 (0:58) and I was ready to run!

The Second Run – 5km

So apparently when you actually work hard on the bike, it makes the transition to running more difficult. Who would have guessed, right? Well my legs felt awful heading out into the run, and the best I could manage was a jog. Yup, 5k to go in the world championships and I’m freaking jogging.

Past experience has taught me that the first kilometer always sucks, so the best strategy is to suck it up and run fast anyways so I did my best, most efficient post-bike jog and managed a 5:04 split on my first kilometer (apparently I’m pretty good at jogging). My legs evened up after about 3km, so I turned up the dial and passed a few people, one of whom was a fellow Canadian in my age group, Mesiti. Nearing the finish, I glanced behind me again and saw Mesiti gaining on me from about 100m back – this girl was determined. No problem, but I figured I’d turn it up a little anyways and at least look like I wasn’t tired (and yes, I did pass the guy in front of me). Good call, Kim.

run finish close

Sprinting for the finish! (Photo courtesy of Lesley Furnell)

Anyways, don’t you just hate when people in your age group sprint past you 50m before the finish line? Me too, so it’s handy to have a little finishing kick so you can pass them back and win by 2 seconds. I don’t think Mesiti was very happy about how things turned out, but I managed to snag a 2:33:17.9 finish and 20/25 placing! My run was 25:25, and again my Garmin read 5.26km, making my actual pace closer to 4:50.

Full results are available on Sportstats and the ITU website.

Recap and Lessons Learned

I consider all my race goals acheived, with the exception of a sub-2:30 finish – but honestly, I’m not too concerned about that because I broke my personal records in all three individual events and beat my previous personal best by over 13 minutes! Everything came together and I was absolutely ecstatic about my race performance.

That being said, there are a few things I learned for future races:

  • Despite all my training, I have lots of room for improvement in both running and biking (the best description came from a fellow competitor the day before the race: “it’s a humbling experience”). The fastest women in my age group finished the 10k in under 40 minutes and the bike portion in under 1:12!
  • I need more practice running off the bike. When comparing my time in the run portions I realized that many women running 47-48 minute 10ks (similar to mine) were running 23 minute 5ks off the bike, more than 2 minutes ahead of me.
  • My pre-race and race nutrition wasn’t optimal – I didn’t have any specific issues with nutrition, either before or during the race, but I felt that it could have been better. I took one gel about 5 minutes before the fun started and four more during the race, along with about 400mL of gatorade and 300mL of water on the bike (plus some water from aid stations). My future training will involve some experimentation to figure out what and how much to eat and drink to improve my performance.

So what’s next?

I’ve already registered for the olympic duathlon National Championships at the Esprit Triathlon de Montreal on September 7th, where a top-10 finish means I qualify for the 2014 World Championships in Pontevedra, Spain!

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!