triathlon

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.

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?

My Training Essentials

This past summer I drastically increased my training load over what I had done in the past, from “you run a lot” to “wow, are you ever NOT training??”, and also quickly realized that increased mileage  and training frequency (and therefore decreased recovery time) means more aches and pains that can easily turn into injuries.  This fall’s marathon training and the subsequent focus on running has forced me to learn the weaknesses of my body, what I can run through and what I can’t, and how to manage the aches and pains before they become injuries that stop me from running altogether.

Although I’m hardly an expert on recovery and injury prevention, there are a few things that have had a huge impact on keeping me on my feet and training – things I really wish I knew about when I started logging those extra miles.  Let me know if I missed any of your favourites! :)

BodyGlide

Pretty much every endurance athlete I know uses BodyGlide on at least something during race day, but I betcha I put it in a weirder spot than most… Get your mind out of the gutter, everyone puts it there! :)

Whenever I run more than about 18km, I have to rub BodyGlide between my toes or I’ll get blisters.  Actually, between my toes is about the only spot I get blisters, and it’s really annoying because changing shoes or socks makes no difference (and before you suggest it, I’m not running in toe socks or FiveFingers).  BodyGlide between the toes is less gross than it sounds, and an absolute lifesaver when training or racing long.

Foam Roller

Foam RollerWhat would I ever do without my trusty blue foam roller? Like everyone else, I bought mine and then ignored it for a couple months until my Achilles started bothering me during runs.  A few days (and complete disappearance of my pain) was all it took, and now I spend about 10 minutes or so with my roller most nights.  Sometimes it’s just a quick roll on whatever’s tight, but I’ve actually spent over 40 minutes of quality time with my roller before when I had time, and was it ever painful wonderful.

I started by looking up some videos on Youtube (this is my favourite), and then modified the techniques as I progressed.  At first I would have screamed in pain if I tried to put my full body weight on the roll, but now I can (most days) roll most major muscle groups without having to support myself too much.

Stretching

So we all know that lots of training means some things get looser – like my pants (yay) –  while other things get tighter – like my abs (yay) and …EVERY MAJOR MUSCLE BELOW MY WAIST.  This usually means I end up getting weird looks for stretching my IT band in the office kitchen while waiting for the kettle to boil, or sticking my butt out so I can get a good hamstring stretch when I bend down to pick something up!  Kind of embarrassing…

Anyway, about the time I started making rolling a routine I also started doing a few little stretches afterwards.  Sometimes I do some sun salutations or warrior poses when I get up, but most of the time I get down on the floor before bed, roll out, then spend a few minutes relaxing from the day and stretching out whatever feels tight.  I never thought I would say this, but it’s actually one of my favourite parts of the day now.

Massage Therapy

Finding a great massage therapist is like finding treasure!  A friend of mine recently recommended I visit Sharon, and I was blown away by how well her technique aligns with what I like – and what I like is PAIN!  Really getting into a deep tissue massage can be incredibly painful, but once the bruises heal (yes I actually bruise, and yes I’m actually proud of it), everything feels so much better and I’m able to keep a higher training load without getting injured.  I usually go every couple of months because I’m not made of money, and use my foam roller for maintenance in between torture sessions.

I always joke that RMTs would make the best interrogators, because they know just how to find that spot of exquisite pain and keep working it until you cry for mercy.  It’s pretty much true, except we pay them for the pleasure.  Can anyone deny that we’re crazy?

Epsom Salts Baths

After a massage, a race or a hard workout (or sometimes just because it’s cold out and I had a rough day), there isn’t much that beats an Epsom salts bath.  It’s a very simple but incredibly relaxing treat, especially when paired with candles, wine, and a book of your choice.  Also helps with DOMS, aka the reason you can’t walk properly after a race.

A few times a year I go all out with the relaxation and recovery, and make the trip down to Body Blitz Spa (pictured in the photo) where I can spend a few hours in the sauna, steamroom, dead sea salt and Epsom salts pools, and the cold plunge pool that is both freezing cold and totally worth it.  Ahhhh….

Sports Physician

https://i1.wp.com/www.chicago-chiropractic.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/clinic-img2.jpg

If all else fails as it inevitably will at some point, a good sports physician can mean the difference between arguing over a diagnosis and treatment plan with your family doctor (spoiler: it’s always 6 weeks rest and to stop training so much), and having someone whose goal is to get you back up and training for that Ironman as soon as possible. I see Dr. Douglas Stoddard at Sports & Exercise Medicine Institute (SEMI) in Toronto, and not only is he highly recommended within the athletic community, but consultations with him are also covered by OHIP (Also: SEMI has a referral program, which means you get a massage for every three people you refer. So tell him I sent you).  If you’re looking for a doctor and don’t live near Toronto, try checking the physician directory at the Canadian Academy of Sport and Exercise Medicine.

Specific Nutritional Supplements

The best way to get the proper nutrients is from real food through a healthy, balanced diet, but I’ve also found that supplementing with specific vitamins (B12 and D) has a significant impact on my energy level, sleep quality and mood.  Good quality sleep, and therefore the energy to make it through my workouts, has helped me train better and recover faster, and means I’m not snapping at everyone I see for the rest of the day!  I also take an iron supplement since I am prone to anemia, particularly when I’m running a lot.

Learn from my mistakes: I discovered through trial and error – mostly error – that vitamins B12 and D are energizing and therefore have to be taken in the morning, unless you want to be up all night, so keep that in mind if you decide to take these vitamins.  I’ve got a pretty good system going for me now, and if I notice I’m feeling unusually tired it’s because I’ve missed a few days.

That pretty much covers my recovery and injury prevention inventory.  If you’ve got more suggestions, please leave me a comment so I can try out some of your favourites!

Happy training!

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!!

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!).