Monday, August 24, 2015

Toronto Island Tri and Reflecting

Sunday marked the completion of my second triathlon and my second win of the 2015 season. The MultiSport Canada Toronto Island Triathlon had huge personal significance to me. First, because I won the race in 2013 - when I was at the peak fitness of my triathlon career. And, second, because it marked six months from my knee surgery. Realizing this led me to reflect on where I was, both two years ago and six months ago.

Thinking back on the Toronto Island Triathlon in 2013, I recall feeling like I was soaring through the sky, so happy and carefree compared to today. I felt untouchable, unbeatable, fast, fit and like I could achieve anything that I wanted to. I had met and even exceeded all the goals I had for that season, the main one being to qualify for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships. I couldn't soar forever, unfortunately. Although I am thankful it wasn't much worse, injuries, surgery, circumstance, and even people, have brought me down since then. And, even to this day, I feel like I am fighting for everything I have that is dear to me. In comparison, though, I feel like this state is more "real life" than the one of the past. And, what feels better about my win on Sunday than my win in 2013 is that, even amongst the stress, I can push through and succeed.

The other significance of this race is that, exactly 6 months prior, I was lying in a hospital bed, listening to the surgeons say that I would likely not run more than 10km ever again, and that the likelihood of me racing triathlon ever again was virtually impossible. Now, my story is not like those of others who were told they were never walk again, and then they go on to win huge cycling tours or compete at the Olympics. However, it is a significant story in my mind. And I am proud of the patience, consistency, hard work and determination I have put in to get to where I am today.

For the race report, this about sums it up: Post-race on YouTube

I also want to mention that my sister, Sara, finished 3rd in her age group! She was 3rd out of the water, then passed a girl on the bike and ended up only 20s behind the 2nd place finisher. She only just got back into training in the past 6 months (after taking a break to have her wonderful daughter, Maddy) and it's so great to see her at the top of her age group.

Lastly, congratulations to all the other great athletes out there! Especially those I have been lucky enough to get to know. It's nice to see or hear about their hard work and watch it pay off at the Toronto Island: Mikael Staer-Nathan, David Lamy, Claire Vendramini, Dan Johnson, Mike Mandel, Phaedra Kennedy and Rob Lines.

A special thank you goes out to:

- The volunteers, officials and race organizers
- Kim Lumsdon, my swim coach
- Adam, you are the reason I never stop pushing
- My parents, Maddy, Kevin, Lauren (thanks for the photos!), spectators and fellow racers for being there to cheer me on
- My sponsors: High Rock Capital Management, WattsUp Cycling, The Urban Athlete, Altra Running Shoes, Fitt1st Bike Fitting

A few pictures:

Ms Maddy is getting a ride on Nonno's shoulders. Ideal for spectating.

Monday, August 17, 2015

A weekend to remember: Orillia triathlon racing!

This past weekend was definitely full of excitement! Saturday was the Kids Of Steel triathlon and the kids were competing. Sunday was my race, exactly one year from my last triathlon and 6 months from my knee surgery. Although the weekend didn't go exactly as planned due to some unexpected events (which I should be used to by now - why don't hateful people let happy people be happy?!). Fortunately, it didn't end up effecting our enjoyment too much. In fact, it was a good test to see if I was able to maintain focus during a time of stress. And I think I did an OK job!

Adam, the kids and I drove up to Orillia on Saturday morning. We were staying at Bill and Lynne's on the Severn River once again, thanks to their wonderful generosity. The kids were in heaven with their trampoline, hot tub, river in the backyard, toys and a big TV! We relaxed for a bit before heading to the race site. The kids were up against other kids who had been training with club teams and had a lot more experience, but that didn't stop them from racing super fast. They did incredibly well and placed 8th and 10th in their age groups! Although they were anxious and nervous at the start of the race, they became strong willed and motivated during the race and all smiles at the finish line. It was very inspiring and we were all very proud :)

All packed up!

Top swim and run in his age group!

Super tough!

On the Sunday it was the Subaru Orillia Triathlon (800m swim - 33km bike - 7km run). I was both excited and nervous for the race! It would be a true indication of how my training was going. It would be a chance to prove the doctors wrong when they alluded to the likelihood that my triathlon career was over. It would be a test of whether my knee could handle the intensity of a race. It was a chance to be a true ambassador for the people who have supported me. It was a chance to show the people who have tried to bring me down, that I can persevere. All of this was at the back of my mind as I went through the motions of the morning and warm-up. Before long, I was on the start-line!

Pre-race shot

Lost in thought in transition

SWIM: We lined up on the beach for the start of the race. I was feeling tough so I positioned myself optimally at the shortest distance to the first buoy. With about 20s before the start, I looked around to realize that I was surrounded by all males that were taller and stronger than me. Too late to change spots now! So, once we entered the water I was consumed by the typical washing machine effect. Limbs flailed at me from all directions, I choked on water and fell behind as I was blocked by bigger, but slower swimmers. Finally I got into some open water and started swimming towards those ahead of me. Then it was a surge - sit on someones feet - surge to the next swimmer - sit on their feet - surge, etc. etc. type of swim. At around the half-way point there was no one in my vision so I put my head down and pushed hard to the swim exit. Swim time: 10:39 (to the beach), 11:39 (to T1) - 1st place female :)

Going through my head at the swim start

BIKE: Summary of the bike -> hills, some bad roads and potholes, descents, fogged up visor, nearly falling off bike while taking on/off visor, getting passed on the hills, low points, high points, pretty scenery, eLoad = more energy, no eLoad = less energy, being sad about not having ridden over 40km in 2 weeks and not being as fit as last year. All in all, I did feel a bit flat on the bike, likely due to lack of sleep the night before. Luckily, I got a bit of a boost in the last 10km and regained my strength. I caught one of the athletes who had passed me earlier on and brought my average power up a little. I finished the bike in 57:42 and my power was a few watts higher than in my swim-bike race last weekend. Still in 1st place for the females.

RUN: I started the run with Adam, the kids, my parents and a lot of spectators cheering me on. This was just the motivation I needed to stay strong starting the run. I had done some training for this race at 4:05 - 4:15/km and had set that as my goal pace. At the 1km mark I saw my watch register 4:11. I thought I could go faster, so I picked up the pace, with the goal of catching the two runners just up ahead. Next km was 4:02, and then I settled into 4:06/km. I was comfortable, but considering my long run has been only 12km and at a much slower pace, I was still holding back a little. I didn't know how my knee would respond to this intensity. About 2km from the finish, I thought about what had been going through my mind in warmup. The following song lyrics popped into my head: "...Ain't nothing gonna break my stride. Nobody's gonna slow me down. Oh no, I've got to keep on moving. Ain't nothing gonna break my stride. I'm running and I won't touch ground. Oh no, I've got to keep on moving." And this gave me another boost, so I started to really push and I finished the final mile of the race at a sub-4:00/km pace. I was so happy to break the tape as the first female over all! And without pain :)

Off on the run

Big hugs at the finish

All smiles!

More smiles!

A special thank you goes out to:

- The volunteers, officials and race organizers
- My parents, the kids, Adam, spectators and fellow racers for being there to cheer me on
- Bill and Lynne for offering their place to stay
- Kim Lumsdon, my swim coach
- My sponsors: High Rock Capital Management, WattsUp Cycling, The Urban Athlete, Altra Running Shoes, Fitt1st Bike Fitting

Interview time

On the podium

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Back to racing: Bracebridge Swim-Bike!

I got my chance to return to racing this past weekend at the MultiSport Bracebridge Swim-Bike! It had been almost a year since I had raced and the experience reminded me of why I love this sport. Everything about it from the people to the venue to the swimming, biking and running was positive for me.

The weekend turned into another weekend away for Adam and I. We have been lucky to get out of the city almost every weekend this summer, thanks to the hospitality of wonderful friends and family. This time our destination was Bill and Lynne's on the Severn River. And what a beautiful home they have there! It provided the perfect setting for relaxing pre-race on Saturday. I played with my wonderful niece, practiced some transitions (it had been awhile!), relaxed in the hot tub, went on a sunset cruise and carb-loaded with Sara and Adam on Bulk Barn chocolates, sun chips, yogurt covered pretzels, Sara's yummy pasta with meatsauce and garlic bread (Kevin's recipe!).

Sunday morning we woke pretty early to get to the race. Sara (my sister) was doing her first ever Olympic distance triathlon and I was doing the Olympic swim-bike. It was a chilly morning, but looked to warm up in time for the race start and turn into PERFECT weather conditions. I was excited and happy to come back to racing with a low pressure event like a swim-bike. Sara was pretty nervous, but I knew she would do so awesome. Despite not running for the past couple of weeks due to a knee injury, she was in top form.

Before long we were ready to start! Bracebridge is a time trial start, so the athletes start the race 5s after one another. This can be great for weaker swimmers (I strongly recommend this race or the Sprint to athletes who are not as strong in the swim or first time triathletes or those who get anxious at the swim start). However, it also means that you don't really know exactly where you stand compared to others in your age group during the race. Sara was #44 and I was #64 - numbers allocated from youngest to oldest. We lined up alongside the dock and John Salt (the race organizer and an all-around super friendly and great guy!) was starting us off. Sara and I said our final good lucks to one another and then it was time to focus...

I started the swim a little tired from a relatively big week of swimming. Also, having not raced in awhile I found I didn't really have an extra gear. So, I just focused on catching the people in front of me and eventually felt like I was moving at a pretty good pace (or maybe that was because I was swimming downstream!) After the turnaround I saw myself being passed by a male swimmer so I thought "this is my chance to pick up the pace." I did everything I could to stick with him. I did end up accidentally touching his feet while trying to stay with him, to which he responded by attempting to kick me (really hard!). I dodged his kick a few times and then made sure NOT to touch his feet again as I followed him to the swim exit. I exited the swim in 21 minutes, which is far from a PB, but a time I am happy with considering I have been swimming at 50% of the volume I have in the past.

I had a fairly smooth transition and then I was off on the bike. The male swimmer I had chased was just up ahead and our spacing was staying the same through the first few kms, so I made it my goal to try and stick with him during the ride. The course was really nice, a few climbs and mostly smooth roads. I did get stuck between a couple cars turning onto Highway 118, which forced me to a stop for 10-20s (frustrating!). But I pushed hard (maybe too hard) once I got passed them to keep the other cyclist in my sight. At the turnaround of the out and back course there were 3 of us riding a few hundred meters apart and, even though my legs were not happy, I pushed hard to continue to ride at their pace. I ended up being the first back into transition in a time of 1hr10mins for 42km - second fastest female bike split. My normalized power was lower than I was hoping for, and lower than my 90km power in past half-ironmans, but very good considering I was doing very little biking last fall and winter :)

After the bike I handed in my chip and then I did an easy 10km run on my own. I ran on the bike course so I could watch the cyclists coming in through the last 5km. As I ran out I cheered on a bunch of athletes, including Sara, who was having an awesome race! I was happy to be running at 150bpm heart rate (Zone 2) and at a pace of 4:35/km. I was even happier to be running with ZERO KNEE PAIN! I finished my 10km in a time of 46 minutes, with lots of energy to spare. I finished my unofficial Olympic triathlon in a time of 2:22 :)

I ended up coming first overall for the females and males in the swim-bike. It was awesome to be standing on the podium again!

After I finished my race, it was time to go cheer Sara on! We weren't sure before the race whether or not she would be able to run. She hadn't been able to complete a 6km run on Tuesday without pain. She saw Greg Lehman at The Urban Athlete on Wednesday and he treated her and gave her the go-ahead to run in the race, with some plans for what to do if she did feel pain. When I saw her in the last 500m looking strong I started to tear up. Not only was she about to finish her first Olympic distance triathlon (and pain-free), but she was going to finish super fast! I ran with her through her last hill and saw her cross the line. In true Tomenson style, she just wanted to know what place she finished! Her time of 2:48 put her as 7th in her age group and 19th female overall. A stellar performance! I also want to mention that she did almost all her training for this race at either 5am or 7:45pm to fit it in!

Sara finishing the bike! - photo courtesy of Kevin

Next up for me: Orillia Triathlon next weekend!!!

Thank you so much to:

- My sponsors: High Rock Capital Management, WattsUp Cycling, The Urban Athlete, Altra Running Shoes, Fitt1st Bike Fitting

- Bill and Lynne for generously accommodating us and cheering us on at the race

- Kevin and Maddy for cheering, Adam for being my coach and Race Sherpa!

- Kim Lumsdon and her swim group for keeping me motivated

- John Salt and the other staff and volunteers at the MultiSport Bracebridge event

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Exciting times are ahead!

After much debate about my future, I have finally decided on what to do next. In order to let my knee heal properly I have decided to take the 2015 off long course racing. I did not make this decision easily and it took a lot of re-assurance from Adam and my doctor that this was the right one. So, rather than push myself through long runs and another tough season with my fingers crossed that my knee will be OK, I am going to take it easy and let my knee heal properly. Now, that doesn't mean you won't find me at the local Ontario races, trying to get in a few FAST sprint distance tris this year!

You may be wondering, well, what is she going to do with all that extra time? Or you might not care much :) Well, I will tell you anyway. I am actually be going back to school. Apparently a BSc, MSc and 2 additional years taking Kinesiology courses wasn't enough for me! This Monday I will be starting a 10 month program to become a Registered Massage Therapist. I have LOVED coaching and helping the athletes I work with achieve their best performances in triathlon and other endurance sports. As an RMT, I will be able to do more than that by helping athletes recover from their hard training sessions (through massage) and improved knowledge of how the body heals. I am very much looking forward to being an RMT/Coach/FASTER Pro Triathlete in 2016!

Stay tuned to my blog as I write about the challenges of balancing training and school and everything else :) Thanks for reading.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

A few things I learned along the way

Today I was thinking about how much things can change in just a short while. I was reflecting back on where I was a few years ago and I realized I never could have predicted where I would be today!

June of 2012 was when I raced my first half-ironman in the "PRO" category, so just about 3 years ago. I only realize now how naive I was about so many things. So...what are some of the things that I have learned? Well, here are 3:

1. It takes time to get good. I had lofty goals for my professional career...each year I had a goal I hoped to achieve. Then, after 5 years (in 2017), I wanted to retire having come top 5 at Kona. Hah! Well, I think it's great to have goals - but those goals have to be realistic or one of two things will happen - you will get injured OR you will get disappointed and quit early.

The former happened to me. I achieved all the goals I hoped to in 2012. So, I was on to what I wanted to accomplish in 2013...qualify for IM70.3 Worlds was the big one, hold 195W in a half-ironman bike and a few others. I would say I accomplished 90% of my goals. But in order to accomplish these goals I had to ramp up my training quite quickly (especially the running) and I got injured. In hindsight, I am not surprised. Perhaps life's way of telling me to slow down? A lesson that I should have taken more time to build a base for my training. That I should have spread out the timeline of when I hoped to achieve my goals.

So, I am using this experience to look towards the future...I have goals, but they aren't rushed. And there really isn't a timeline. When I accomplish the first one, I will then set the timeline for the second. For example, my goal for 2015 is to run consistently (without taking any unplanned rest days). If I can do that, then I will aim to complete a half-ironman and then I will set the next goal.

2. You have to learn to embrace change. No matter how well you plan or try to control things nothing is really in your control. Everyday things change. You deal with change due to injury, your personal life, work, family, friends, etc.

The prospect of change doesn't mean that you just have to go day to day without any organization to your life! I think that you should still go about your life, preparing and planning for the future the best that you can. But when something unexpected comes up, you can't let it derail you completely, you just have to try to "calmly" make adjustments given the new situation. There will be days when everything goes wrong, but there are days when everything goes right and days that are a mixed bag of things. So, in my Mamma's words, "you just have to always remember that everything happens for a reason". I'm still not great at this, but I am much better.

3. A "growth mindset" will bring you happiness and a "fixed mindset" will bring you unhappiness. Adam leant me a book awhile back, and I can't remember the name or the author, but it spoke about mindset and the importance of having a growth mindset - or the idea that you CAN change (a fixed mindset is one where you have the idea that you can't change). I never really tried to adopt this growth mindset before, but in the past couple of years I have needed to, and it has made quite a difference. And not just in triathlon (while facing injury), but in life too!

So, when you face challenges (e.g.: a race), obstacles (e.g.: a flat tire during a race), hard effort (e.g.: a hard workout), criticism (e.g.: your nutrition during the race is poor) and/or the success of others (e.g.: your teammate beats you) your mindset can dictate your happiness. A few examples of what I mean: If you view a race as an opportunity to do well then you will be happier than if you view it as a painful experience. If you view criticism as an opportunity to learn then you will be happier than if you view it as someone being mean to you. If getting beat by a teammate can instil motivation versus jealousy than you will be happier. Get my point? Growth mindset = happiness!

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Why I choose Altra running shoes

Some exciting news: in the midst of my recovery from surgery, I received notification that Altra has chosen me to be an ambassador for their brand! I first starting running in Altra running shoes in 2014 and I would never wear another. Up until I started running in these shoes, I had never found the perfect running shoe. I have a VERY wide forefoot, which I thought made me unique, but apparently is quite common. The typical running shoe (especially for women) is quite narrow. This means that my toes are always getting squished and my feet would burn on long runs. It hurt so badly that I would start heel striking just to offset the pressure on my forefoot! So, how has Altra helped me? The answer is three-fold:

1.My feet no longer burn. The wide forefoot prevents my feet from being squished up against the side of the shoes and allow my toes to splay properly upon impact with the ground. Not only does this feature improve stability and toe-off, but greatly enhances my level of comfort when I run. Now that I'm comfortable when I run, I can focus on my run form.

2. The Zero-drop feature benefits my running style. As a forefoot runner, I don't need the cushy heel that most running shoes have. Since there is less impact when there is no difference between the height of the heel and the forefoot, this feature is useful to prevent injury. A word of caution: for those with a history of calf/Achilles problems I would recommend gradually making the transition to zero-drop shoes. Start with 5 minute runs and gradually build from there. And once you are running in Altras, they will probably strengthen the Achilles and lower calf muscles.

Altras in Action: This is me running a sub-4:00/km pace during a training run in my Altras. No heel striking that's for sure!

3.They are cushy! Unlike most of the minimalist shoes that I have tried with a zero drop feature, the Altras actually have a lot of cushion in the forefoot. Especially the trail running shoes that I use for longer runs (Olympus). Even with this feature they are still surprisingly lightweight. I race most of my half-ironmans in the Torin, which weighs less than any other racing shoe I have tried.

Of note, is that prior to running in Altras, I had 1 to 2 over-use injuries in each of my 10 years of running. Since switching to Altras I have had no over-use injuries! (My current knee injury is a result of a forceful trauma to the knee).

Monday, February 23, 2015

Surgery Results

For those of you who were unaware, I was having arthroscopic surgery of my left knee today to remove a loose body (that was present on an MRI I had in December). This injury was due to trauma I sustained to the knee when I landed funny while running downhill in the last mile of Syracuse Ironman 70.3.

The doctors went in and found damage and swelling on the underside of my patella (previously undetected in my imaging results). The doctor said that I probably bruised the bone when I landed during the race, and the swelling and damage done was a result. I am not sure whether, had I rested after Syracuse, the damage wouldn’t have been as extensive or whether it would happened regardless. Anyway, according to the doctor this will limit my ability to run for the rest of my life. They did try to remove some of the damaged tissue they found behind my kneecap, so that should help. But there is nothing more that they can really do. In terms of the loose body, they couldn’t find it and believe it adhered to the mess behind my kneecap and so it was probably removed with it.

The chances that I will ever run or participate in triathlons at the competitive level has now been called into question. In 6 weeks time I am allowed to run again and I will have to take it day-by-day to see how things go. I am trying to stay positive.

"An athlete must persist with hope in their heart and dreams in their head.” -EZ