training

Toronto Waterfront (Half) Marathon 2013

How did I start for the half marathon and end up handing out water at the 16k water station? Funny story…

Today’s race strategy was to run a relatively comfortable 1:45 half marathon, which would not only confirm my goal marathon pacing for Hamilton in two weeks, but would also be an easy 7-minute PB over last year’s finish.  Sounds simple, no?  It should have been, but I’m starting to think that I have a half marathon curse; I’ve never been able to run a half marathon to my fitness level because something always ends up getting in the way.  This year I was nervous that my recent hip issues would flare up, but hopeful because everything was feeling normal for the past few days.

Starting out on the slow side of a 5:00 pace felt so easy, just like I was floating (more…)

Ironman Canada

Blissfully Oblivious

Have you ever attempted something that you didn’t know was difficult?

When I was about 16 years old, I decided to try making a cheese soufflé for dinner one night.  I pulled out my family’s copy of Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, followed most of the instructions (even back then I had a habit of modifying recipes on the fly) and served up a cheesy, puffy soufflé for my family about an hour later.  My stepmom was incredulous: apparently soufflés are supposed to be very difficult to make, and somehow I had stumbled through the instructions as a novice cook and managed to turn out something puffy and cheesy that tasted exactly like a cheese soufflé is supposed to, despite opening the oven and poking it to see if it was done.  Had I known that they were a very finicky food to make I likely would have thought twice about attempting the recipe, but my ignorance meant I succeeded at something that “everyone says” is difficult.

My first experience with triathlon was pretty similar; I didn’t find out until a few years after my first (tri-a-tri) triathlon that a lot of people think they’re really difficult.  I’m still amazed when I hear marathoners and centurion cyclists talk in awe about triathlons and their goals to maybe-one-day attempt one; if only they knew that the most difficult part is starting!  Finishing your first triathlon is such an amazing accomplishment, but it’s not an unreachable dream for all but a few, as common knowledge would imply.

What if none of us knew how difficult things would be before attempting them? Sure, we’d probably get in over our heads at some point and fail spectacularly at something we thought we could do.  But we’d also take on things we’d otherwise never dream of trying, and we would succeed in accomplishing some incredible things, to the amazement of ourselves and others.  What would you try?

Ironman Canada

In making the decision to move to Ironman distance and sign up for Ironman Canada 2014, a lot of advice went through my head; echoes of friends telling me how difficult the training is, how brutally tough it can be to even make it to the finish line and that you really have to understand what you’re getting into before you commit.  I carefully considered what I’m capable of and if I have the time to dedicate to such a big goal, but in the end I decided to jump in with both feet and see where it takes me.

Being blissfully oblivious to what’s considered “difficult” has worked out pretty well for me in the past.

How to Become an Athlete

This week I was talking to a coworker who started running with our company club last year, and is running her first 5k in a week and a half at Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon.  She asked how my training is going and I told her I’m feeling really strong, and then asked about her upcoming race.  She was telling me how excited she was, but then laughed a little and self-deprecatingly said, “but 5k is nothing to you, and I’m really slow.”  I understand where she’s coming from because I think we’ve all felt that way at some point, but I spent the next ten minutes telling her that her 5k is a huge achievement and convincing her that it’s not about the distance: she, along with anyone else who runs, walks, swim, cycles or lifts weights, is already ahead of anyone sitting at home on their couch.  You may be the slowest runner out there, but you are still a runner and that’s not nothing.

Although I tend to think of my current fitness level and training load as pretty normal – partly because my training partners are just as or more crazy than I am – people can find it really intimidating to talk about their workouts to someone who they think of as extremely fit. Lots of people think they couldn’t do what I do, simply because they can’t do it now; what many people don’t realize is that I started out in worse shape than most of them.  In high school I couldn’t run a kilometer without walking, and my fastest mile took over 12 minutes – in fact I remember watching the first triathlon at the Sydney Oympics in 2000, and wondering how the heck anyone could run 10km without stopping!

So now that we’re all on the same page as to my starting point, let me take you through what it takes to go from a 12 minute mile to a triathlete!

Gravenhurst swim exit

Gravenhurst Sprint Triathlon, 2008

The first time I ever ran voluntarily, it was one kilometer with a friend who insisted on dragging me to the gym at 5:30am, three times a week.  I survived that one, and started running one kilometer every time I went to the gym…and then made it two…then three…and worked my way up to 5 kilometers over the course of about two months.

#1: Find a friend who will drag you to your workout on a regular basis, and make it both a consistent routine and a priority.

My first triathlon was held in the spring in Calgary, and I’m not kidding you, it snowed on the bike and my hands were so cold I almost couldn’t brake. But despite such terrible race conditions, I loved the feeling of crossing the finish line and was instantly hooked on racing!  Racing gave me motivation to train harder and smarter, and I could feel myself getting stronger and more competitive with myself.

#2: Create motivation to train and push your limits; it doesn’t have to be racing, but that’s what got me hooked.

In first year university I ran a little, but the changing routine and monotony of running alone meant I gradually stopped running regularly, and didn’t really pick up my fitness again until I joined the University of Waterloo Triathlon Club in third year.  I started racing again soon after, and had regular workouts with other triathletes who not only challenged my competitive spirit, but also gave me training tips and advice.  I started racing faster and longer, which made me willing to work even harder.

#3: Surround yourself with people who are passionate about your sport and can give you motivation and advice.

When I graduated from university, 6 years after finishing my first triathlon, I bought myself a carbon fiber triathlon bike (my beloved Kuota K-factor) with some help from my grandpa and family, and joined the Toronto Triathlon Club.  My training became more consistent and focused, which resulted in an age-group placing and finally moving up to Olympic distance in 2011, then qualifying for the duathlon world championships in 2012.  Many of my friends are dedicated and passionate triathletes who support and push me in my goals, and training is no longer something I have to think about: whether I will go for a run is not a question, the only question is when and how far.

#4: Make it part of your life.

Really, that’s all it takes.  You honestly don’t need to be a high school track star or a natural-born runner like some lucky people; I’m not physiologically any better suited to triathlon than your average human being, I’m just stubborn and a bit obsessive.  Don’t get caught up in what you can’t do right now, but start working on the things you can.

And finally, regardless of how insignificant you think the distance may be, at the end of the day I want to hear about the workout you did on the weekend or the race you’re really excited about.  We’re both passionate about the same thing: pushing the limit of what we thought was possible just a little more each day.  Isn’t that an incredible achievement?

What have you accomplished recently that you couldn’t do before?

Garmin 3:17:25, 33.01km

Sunday Recap: Moving Forward

Saying it’s been an emotional day would be a bit of an understatement, and that doesn’t even include my BIG NEWS! (It’s at the bottom).

Today I tackled my longest training distance in preparation for the Hamilton Road2Hope Marathon: 33km with just me, the rain and my very awesome playlist.  Last week’s 30km run with Héctor was tough enough, particularly after 27km, and this week I had not only an extra 3km but I was on my own with no one to talk me through those last few kilometers that were so painful.  Plenty of challenge!

My route started on the east side of Burlington at Appleby Line, and followed the lake to Hamilton where I covered the last 10km of the marathon course before turning around and retracing my path.  Immediately I stumbled across a power line trail, which was absolutely gorgeous in the morning fog and filled with fellow runners and walkers to keep me company for the first several kilometers.  I decided to run by effort today rather than by pace like I usually do, and quickly settled into a very comfortable 5:45 pace (the fact that I can even honestly write the words “very comfortable 5:45 pace” makes me feel so amazed at the incredible improvement I’ve experienced over the past month of training).  I also ran through the preparations for Burlington’s CIBC Run for the Cure and garnered some cheers and jokes about my “headstart” from volunteer course marshals, before moving down towards the lake and feeling the power of Lake Ontario waves crashing into the pier.

After crossing the bridge into Hamilton, I was officially running on the course for the Hamilton marathon and I was struck by how beautiful and energetic the trail becomes, with waves and surfers dancing in the lake, photographers capturing the action and beauty of nature, and a multitude of runners, cyclists, walkers, dogs, children and squirrels filling the trail with the joy of being outside and active.  How could I not enjoy the run?  I was smiling the whole way and didn’t want to turn around when I reached 16.5km. (I did though, because I know how long runs work – you’re supposed to feel great in the middle of them, but it’s a terrible time to make decisions regarding distance).

I felt great all the way up to about 20km when I started to feel little twinges of pain in my left knee.  A tight IT band is not a new issue and it just means I need to spend more quality time with my roller, but it was tough to realize I was in pain and still had 13km to finish.  (Just in case you’re worried, yes I can run through it, yes it’s painful, but often it gets better after a while and I’m not making it worse).  I kicked it up a notch with a special Espresso GU gel I brought along for when things got tough.  Cause I’m tough too.

With 8km to go and my knee pain fading, I started picking up the pace again…and realized that the difficult part of the run had started while I was distracted with my knee, and that this was going to be a very long 8km. I had the mixed blessing of running back through the now-dispersing Run for the Cure, which was nice because I got some cheers and encouragement, but sucked because there were now lots of people to dodge – and my legs weren’t really in any condition to be dodging anything.  Shoutout to the guy I passed, then informed that “I’m a ninja!” when he commented that I snuck up on him: I was delirious and my blood sugar was probably very low.  Apparently I get a little crazy around 28km.

Around 29km, I had to cross a street then run back up onto the pathway.  I cried a little because of that slope that I am going to call a hill.

At 30.5km, I started talking to myself.

At 32km, with 1km to go, I picked up the pace to a blistering 6:20/km, a little terrified that my legs would just collapse, throwing me into the pavement without enough energy to even raise my arms.  I avoided this doomsday scenario (which I’m sure would have ended with me curled up on the sidewalk bawling), finished that last painful kilometer by talking myself through 100m increments, and stumbled to a halt as my Garmin beeped my 33rd kilometer split.  Then I started crying as the low blood sugar and incredible sense of accomplishment hit me all at once.

Garmin 3:17:25, 33.01km

So with my monster 33km and a few tears out of the way…

I have some BIG NEWS!

I’ve been thinking about it for a while, and decided to finally take the plunge and register for my first full Ironman!  On July 27, 2014 I will be finishing a 3.8km swim, 180km bike and 42.2km run in Whistler, BC at IRONMAN Canada.

There’s a story behind this, and I’ll share it once everything sinks in a little.  Until then, enjoy looking at my registration page, and appreciate that it took me about 10 minutes to actually press “complete payment” after filling out all my information.  It’s kind of a big deal.

It's official!  IM Canada here I come.

OMG I’M DOING AN IRONMAN!!

Goal Setting: Looking Back, Looking Forward

As athletes, we like to analyze; power output, heart rate, cadence, elevation, pace…with modern technology there is no shortage of statistics available to us. Every race involves a post-race analysis of what worked and what didn’t, how we could have gone faster, what we could have done differently, why we didn’t meet our goals or how we could have exceeded them.

This ongoing analysis makes me really appreciate the time between training cycles, when I forget the details and focus on the big picture: what do I want to accomplish? What will get me there? How do I structure the details so they support my long-term goals?

With the 2013 season not quite over (I still have my first marathon in the works), I’m spending this time focusing primarily on the next 12 weeks of training, with an eye on competing at the Duathlon age-group World Championships in June next year. As I’ve been training more or less constantly since February, I’ve given myself a two-week break from training to recover; it’s not only physical recovery but also a mental break from a structured training schedule, and an important part of making sure my marathon training doesn’t cause burnout.

My upcoming fall races include:
September 7 – Esprit Triathlon de Montréal (Olympic Duathlon, World Championships qualifier)
October 20 – Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon (Run to End Poverty and tune-up race)
November 3 – Hamilton Road2Hope Marathon (Boston Qualifier)

Looking Back

Whenever I see someone making a positive change in their life, like starting an exercise program or cooking their own meals, I tell them to remember this point and look back on it to see how far they’ve come. Think about the first time you went for a run – it probably wasn’t far or fast, but simply starting was a bigger step than any you’ve taken since then. Think about what you can do now, and imagine how impressed your past self would be; or maybe you’re like me and you couldn’t have possibly imagined what you would achieve.

This has been a transformative year for me. A renewed focus on my training has given me incredible results in a variety of distances and sports: this year alone I have beat my personal best times in 3 running distances, duathlon and triathlon. Every race is a new PB and I feel stronger every time, which I’m hoping will carry me through some incredible fall training.

Looking Forward

Training for my first full marathon will be my primary focus for the next training cycle. The Hamilton Road2Hope marathon is only a terrifying 12 weeks away and I’ll be relying on my base running fitness as I condense training into only ten weeks.

My ridiculous, big and scary goal is to finish the full marathon in 3:30 and qualify for the 2015 Boston Marathon. I know it’s crazy; the best dreams are. When I’m 3/4 of the way through my training and just want to give up, I’m relying on my friends and family to remind me that big and scary goals take a lot of work, but they’re worth it.

I know one very important thing from watching my friends train for marathons, ironmans and ultras: nobody does this alone. It takes the support of training partners and loved ones to make big scary dreams come true, and everyone around me deserves a big thank you for getting me to where I am now and supporting me as I chase my own big scary dream.

Bring it on!

Bring it on!

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!

 

 

Finding my Mantra

Words can be such a powerful thing.

Anyone who has trained for endurance sports knows that it is just as much a mental as physical challenge, and it seems every endurance athlete has a mantra that keeps them going through the really tough miles. Even shorter distances have their challenges and pushing your body to its limit for even one or two hours requires some serious mental focus, but I never managed to find a saying that would make me want to push myself just a little faster when every muscle is screaming at me to stop; usually I just think about how much I want that new PB or remind myself that it’s going to hurt no matter what, but the faster I run the faster it’s over.

i didn’t count on the power of the heat training run. It’s one of those mental challenges that’s more about refusing to quit than trying to go fast because no one is setting PBs in 40 degree weather anyway, but it’s the type of run that provides a mental clarity that few people ever experience.

I’ve had some words floating around in my head all week, and in mid-heat-training-run delirium they managed to arrange themselves into a cohesive saying that made me keep going:

“Every moment matters. Make it count.”

Moments are the building blocks of our lives. If I can make every moment count for something than I know that whatever I’m doing has purpose and focus, and that I have done everything I can to make it a success.

The best part is that it’s a great reminder for the rest of my life too. Anytime I start feeling frustrated or as if I’m not accomplishing anything, I ask myself if I’m making this moment count. If every moment counts towards something then I’m making progress, and real progress comes not from all the big milestones but from all the little steps that contribute towards transformation and growth.

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I’m always interested to hear what other people use to keep themselves going when it gets really tough. What’s your mantra?