Wednesday, April 16, 2014

People who inspire me

Lately, with all the hard training that I've been doing, I've had to dig deep. I've had to find inspiration to keep myself going in tough workouts, on long training days and in times of high stress. In order to train to the best of my ability I have found motivation in the qualities of others. Who are the people that inspire me?

1. Other athletes. These athletes are of all ages and abilities, beginners to elites and kids to adults. Anyone who has gotten off the couch to train. For some people it's harder to be an athlete than others. Those are the people who race to finish. Then there are those who have a natural talent for sports. Those are the people who race to win. Everyone who is an athlete has their own story, and all of them are inspiring.

2. People who are genuinely kind. These are the people that do favours for you, without expecting anything in return. The people that go out of their way to help you for no apparent reason, but to be nice. This could be another athlete competing in the same race as you, who cheers you on while they, too, are fatigued. This could be the person who returns your cell phone after you've dropped it in the parking lot. A lot of the people who have opened their homes to me, when I am in a city to race or train would fall into this category. In general, kindness inspires me to be a better person.

3. People who have it rough. We all know the type. The person who, seemingly, has to overcome endless obstacles in order to succeed. It could be the athlete who keeps getting injured or sick, but pulls through it and still races. The athletes with prosthetic limbs who STILL compete. The person who went through so many of life's struggles, but managed to find happiness in the end. My life seems so easy compared to many others and people who don't have it so easy, but still achieve their goals, inspire me.

4. People who are real. I have spent my whole life trying to fit in, so I always notice those people who stand out. These people are true individuals. They don't hide their imperfections, they don't hide their flaws. Somehow, they can sometimes manage to turn their inadequacies into their strengths, because it's those same inadequacies that make them unique.

5. My sisters. I am the oldest of 3, but sometimes I feel like the baby. I am constantly looking up to my sisters. One of my sisters is 2 years younger than me. She is one of the most optimistic people I know. She knows she excels in situations that she is comfortable in, but she doesn't know how well she does in situations that are new and quite unknown to her. She was on the podium in her second ever triathlon. She embraced her pregnancy and the few months that have followed and not complained once. She has been the definition of a "natural mum". Her positivism and attitude are qualities that greatly inspire. My other sister is a goal getter. When she sets her sights on something, she gets it done. Unlike me, she is better at weighing the pros and cons of the outcome of her decisions before making them. She won't set her sights on achieving something unless she has a very detailed plan in place. A very admirable quality. There's no wonder she has been so successful working in the financial industry.

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

What have I been up to?

After another rocky start to my triathlon season, I think that I may have finally found my groove! So, what have I been up to in the past few months? Well, here's the short version:

I've been swimming...

I've been biking here...

and here...

I've been running...

I've been eating...

I've been recovering...

I've gotten presents...

I've had visitors...

I've seen cacti...

And here's the longer (but not too long) version:

I have been in the southwestern US now for about 5 of 8 weeks. I escaped the Toronto winter at the beginning of March to train in Arizona and Utah. I am so lucky that I have my coaching, my parents and my sponsors, which allow me to actually get away to train somewhere warm for this long.

The first 3 weeks I got to spend in Arizona. I swam with the University of Arizona Masters team almost every morning. I met some awesome, nice, super-fast swimmers there. No doubt my swimming got a huge boost of fitness from having such a great group to train with. I also did A LOT of biking...up Mount Lemmon, through the Catalina Foothills, along the Old Spanish Trail, through Saguaro Canyon. It was absolutely amazing. My running even started to come around as I escaped the treadmill and ventured outside in the Arizona heat and wind and even tackled some real hills! It wasn't all hard work - my mum was with me for the duration of my time there and my dad joined us the last week. Even a fellow triathlete, Faye, and her fiancee, Marty came and spent a few days! After about 80 hours of training in the Arizona desert I was ready for a rest week and to venture north to Utah. I dropped my parents off at the Phoenix airport and we said our goodbyes. Then I was on the highway, driving through the Hoover Dam, past Vegas and headed north on the I-15 to St. George.

My first week in St. George was an easy week. I settled back in, did some short swims, bikes and runs to keep the legs moving, but mostly I just relaxed and recovered. My second week here, this past week, was when the real training began again! I got re-aquainted with the St. George bike and run course - wow, are there ever a lot of hills! I met some cows who looked scary, but were pretty harmless. Had some good sets in the pool. Brought my run fitness a little closer to where it was pre-injury. All in all, a good week! The next two weeks I will be repeating this past week of training, only each week gets a little bit harder. Then I will have an easy week before I race in the US 70.3 Pro Championships :) After being inspired by fellow pro triathletes who have already started racing, I am getting excited to compete again!

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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Triathlon is about more than swimming, biking and running.

In my years of competing in triathlon I have accumulated a lot of knowledge about the sport. My main conclusions are that triathloning is about more than swimming, biking and running - and many people are unaware of that. So, this post is meant for you: the aspiring triathlete, the beginner triathlete, the triathlete who's goal it is to win their age group or the triathlete who is thinking about turning pro.

My advice for triathletes (beyond the swim, bike and run):

1) Have patience. This is difficult to hear for any endurance athlete, as the goal is typically to complete a given distance in the fastest time possible. However, there is that phrase, "slow down to speed up" and that is very relevant to triathlon. For example, there is no point in increasing your speed or volume, if you don't have proper technique. It very commonly leads to injury. (More on this topic to be published in a book later this year. Stay tuned!)

2) Pay attention to detail. Know the course you are going to be competing on (including the transition area), it helps you enjoy the race more. Ensure that your bike fits, ensure that you are both aerodynamic and comfortable so that you don't lose "free speed", ensure that your bike is properly tuned up (tires get worn out, bike chains get stretched, cables can break or stretch and bolts can get loose or rusty), ensure you plan and practice proper nutrition, ensure you have used all your equipment before the race.

3) Don't practice until you get it right, practice until you can't get it wrong. Race day is full of additional stressors and the added anxiety makes you more likely to make mistakes. However, if you have practiced enough, this is less likely to happen on race day. For example, ensure that you can run after a race pace bike session, make sure you can sight while swimming at race pace, practice your transitions, and even...practice that bottle exchange, over and over!

4) Train your weaknesses, first. You may be a fantastic cyclists, but a weak swimmer. You may have great speed, but no endurance. So don't emphasize the cycling in your training and keep all your workouts short and fast. Focus on what needs work, even though it might not be as much fun.

5) Rest and recovery days don't just mean no swimming, biking or running. Unfortunately, "off training" days don't mean you get to load up on chores, eat lots of junk food, indulge in a few too many beers or glasses of wine. Your recovery days are actually more important than your training days in some respects. Your body is repairing and rebuilding during this time, so that you can benefit from your hard sessions and be ready for the next block of training. So what you do and what you eat actually matters just as much (or more) as on a training day. Eat simple sugars before, during or right after a big training session, but on your off days: Stay off your feet, get a massage, try to eat healthy food loaded with vitamins and minerals, hydrate on water. (Sorry if this isn't what you wanted to hear!)

6) Proper nutrition is key. This is more important for the longer races. Plan out your nutrition before a training session or longer workout. Practice your race day nutrition in a race simulation workout. For help figuring this out, see eLoad's nutrition calculator here. Also important is to eat enough carbohydrates the day or few days (for racing) before. This will ensure you have enough fuel to get you through that training session or race, and that you will be able to perform to your full potential.

7) Don't overtrain. Have a few key workouts per week or per training block (less is more if you have a busy schedule - remember what I said about recovery?). The remaining workouts should be low key, or have different goals. An easier/aerobic run (compared to running your guts out at race pace) is not lost training time, it is time to work on technique, to test out new running gear. Frequency improves economy (the energy it takes to perform a given task) and is better for injury prevention, so opt for more frequent sessions (even if many of them are easier or shorter) over a few longer sessions.

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Saturday, March 15, 2014

New bike for a new season!

While I was training in California, a few special deliveries arrived for me in Toronto. Among them was my new SRM and Rotor 3D+ cranks, QXL rings and ... my new Quintana Roo Tri bike! It was like Christmas in February :) And I was SO excited. However, I did not trust myself to get the bike set up perfectly. so I turned to my support network: The Bike Zone to do the mechanical work and Scott Judges, at Fitt1st, to do the fit.

I dropped my bike off at The Bike Zone (located at 734 Dundas St East) for them to assemble it. I couldn't believe how many bikes and accessories they have there. If you are looking for anything cycling related - you are going to be able to find it there. They have everything from road, mountain, tri and commuter bikes...and tons of gear and other accessories. And super quick service! My bike was all assembled and ready for pick up by the following day.

The next thing to do was pay Scott Judges a visit at his bike fitting studio. I knew I could count on him to get me as aero as possible on my new bike, without compromising my comfort. A new bike geometry on the Quintana Roo meant I couldn't just simply set up the bike identically to my old bike, so this was necessary. Being on the QR meant I was graduating from 650c to 700c wheels! Now, I am not against 650c wheels at all, but I was definitely at a disadvantage if I ever had a flat tire or an issue with my wheels - especially during a race. Not to mention the fact that they don't even make trainer tires for 650c wheels. So I am happy to say that I've graduated to 700c wheels :) However, with this change meant that it would be hard for me to get in the same aggressive position as I was in before. Hard, but not impossible! Scott was able to change up my stem, adjust the headset and get me into the same position as before.

I have ridden my QR now about a half a dozen times. On the computrainer to start - given the freezing cold temperatures and snowstorms I didn't have much of a choice! But, now, since being in Arizona I have been able to ride it on the roads as well. A few things that differentiate it from other bikes that I have been on are:

1) A more comfy ride. Scott at Fitt1st says that the fact that the front fork is a bit more curved - so the fork offset is greater - helps to give the bike better shock absorption and stability. I hate riding on poorly paved roads so this was very exciting news! And cycling in Tucson (anyone ever ridden on Tanque Verde?) has really put this statement to the test. The verdict - it's true - the ride is definitely smoother! This will definitely help me when I race on courses like that in St. George and Steelhead, which can have some very bumpy roads.

2) SHIFT Technology. This is what Quintano Roo bikes are known for. They have an 18mm shift in their downtube that direct air away from the drivetrain to minimize drag. Have you ever gone from riding the bullhorns to riding the aerobars and feel like you were instantly propelled forward?! Well, as soon as I get aero on my QR - that's exactly what I feel. And take a look at the bike from front on - you can barely see it!

3) Di2 Electronic Shifting! The Quintana Roo is able to support electronic shifting, which has been just amazing. Being able to shift easily from the bullhorns while climbing a steep grade, is probably the highlight. Not to mention the precision and speed at which the bike can shift. What a nice change!

4) It just looks FAST! Black and grey with an orange stripe! Nothing is more intimidating in the transition area than a bike that looks SUPER quick. Who says winning in triathlon doesn't have a mental component to it? :)

I am also happy to report that my first set of 2 minute Supra-Maximal Sustained Power intervals were a good 30W higher than last year. Co-incidence? Better bike fitness? Or better bike? Hmmm...

**Special thank you to Joe and Chris at Enduro Sport for helping me with some last minute adjustments on the bike before I left for the US. Their expertise is top notch. And to Peter Karmaszin for naming the bike Carlos!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

California Training Camp: Week#2

Today is my last day in California. Although I am going to miss the sunny weather, the magnificent views, the outdoor pool, the warm temperatures, the beach and amazing outdoor riding, I am excited to see my friends and family (especially Maddy!) back in Toronto. I will be home only briefly, for some rest and recovery, before I embark on my next training adventure in Arizona!

The second week of training was as epic as the first. The biking was heavily emphasized on this camp over swimming and running. Having only really been cycling seriously since 2009 (a much shorter time than I have been swimming and running), so I was going for tons of bike volume over the past two weeks. I think that we accomplished that goal, as I totalled 1100km of cycling and 24000ft elevation gain! I did manage to fit in 8 hours of swimming, 6 hours of running and 2 hours of strength work on top of that, to ensure that I didn't become "just a cyclist!" :)

Some of the highlights of the second week of training:

1. Getting to join in with the Cycling Escapes group again on the Tuesday. Had great company on the bike with Peter - a lawyer/cyclist/runner from London!

2. Having a super nice swimmer lend me a pair of goggles when I forgot mine, which was followed by an amazing swim of all-out 50s free!

3. Realizing that I can climb STUNT in the same gear the entire way. STUNT is my favourite climb in the Santa Monica Mountains :)

4. Running 8 miles - my longest run since Ironman! And running 6 miles after a 60 mile ride :)

5. Being in the USA after the women's hockey team won the gold medal game and the men's team advanced to play Sweden in the final. (Had lots of fun telling the cashier at the grocery store I was Canadian after those victories!)

6. Managing to take more photos. (See below).

7. Being stronger on the last climb of every day by about 4 to 6 minutes (or 5 to 10 Watts!) from the first week.

8. Vanilla/coconut cake. A nice treat after a tough day of training!

9. Facetime. Don't know how I would have gotten through the week without it. It does get lonely training on your own.

Here are some photos of the second training week:

Sunday, February 16, 2014

California Training Camp: Week #1

It has been amazing to be revisiting the Santa Monica Mountains and getting in some crazy mileage on the bike! Yesterday marked the end of my first week here, which included 6 days of training and 1 off day. In those 6 days of training I logged 24.5 hours on the bike, and the rest of the 32 hours I was running and swimming. To be honest, I didn't know what kind of shape I was in heading into this camp. I have been struggling with an injury that has left me on and off running for the past 3 months, has effected my bike training and, even interfered with my swimming a bit. So…when I arrived here I knew that I would have a lot of hard work ahead of me.

When I arrived last Sunday I quickly unpacked and settled in, and then headed out for a short brick workout just to loosen up the legs. It was my first time outside on my bike since Ironman last November and it felt GREAT! Not only was the fresh air a nice change, but the scenery and the smooth roads in the Agoura Hills area make it so conducive to riding. I pushed my 30 minute easy ride to 45 minutes and got re-aquainted with my bike. Even the run felt pretty good - perhaps the cold weather in Canada was what was keeping me injured! :)

The first week I was here I joined in with Cycling Escapes, to take part in their Santa Monica Mountains Climbing Camp. I had done this camp last year and LOVED it. It was appropriately challenging for me, and probably for anyone, as there are all types of cyclists with different abilities from around North America that attend. The first day of camp I got in a swim before my ride, then I was on my bike less than a half an hour later to meet the Cycling Escapes group for our first day of climbing. We rolled out of the parking lot together, towards the west side of the Mountains for an amazing first day. Our first climb was up Mulhullond, the famous "Rockstore" climb, that takes about 30 minutes. I was feeling pretty good, in fact, but I knew it was just the first day of five, so I held back the best I could in a group riding environment. The second climb of three that day was Yerbe Buena - my least favourite climb of the camp. The roads are bumpy, which is no fun when you are working hard and climbing. Then, after 50 minutes of climbing, you finally reach the top, but then you are literally vibrating as you start to descend down the windy roads - a bit scary and uncomfortable! Still satisfying once it's over, though. The third climb of the day was Decker, a steeper, but shorter climb on VERY smooth roads. My legs were definitely feeling it at this point and I was struggling. I arrived back at the hotel after a big 105km day of riding and finished it off with a short run. I was a mix of feelings at the end: exhaustion, hurt, but also feeling proud of accomplishing something. And this mix was something I hadn't experienced in a long time.

The second day of the camp we would tackle the east side of the Santa Monica Mountains. This included a long climb up Piuma, with absolutely amazing views of the ocean and then a climb up Topango Canyon and Fernwood. During the second climb I almost felt like I was back in Italy - with little villas lining the road that I climbed up. It was spectacular! The third day of the camp was a bit of a rest day, but we still tackled the Westlake climb (the steepest of the camp) and Latigo Canyon Climb (the longest climb of the camp)! However, these climbs were separated by a ride along the beach, which was a nice treat. At the end of Day 3 I was pretty tired and had already reached my biggest week of training in the new year, even though I was only 4 days into the week!

The fourth day of the camp was a 100 mile (160km) ride and my Garmin stats say 11,700ft of elevation gain! To head into this ride already exhausted from the previous few days was tough, not only physically, but mentally, also. I just wanted to survive! I took the climbs one at a time and I made it without feeling too tired! Highlights of the day included meeting some other strong cyclists who are local to the area and hearing about some other places to ride, the SAG being there at the top of every climb with food, water and encouragement, the awesome weather, beautiful views, pushing myself in the last 20km while riding with another member of our group, the climb up Encinal Canyon (my favourite climb of the camp!), actually finishing the day in one piece and, of course, all the food that I got to eat afterwards!

The fifth day of camp was another big day. I started with a 3200 yd swim - mostly arms only, then the last ride with the group - 91km and 6700ft of climbing and then a 4.5 mile run. The niggles started to come today: sore kneecap on my right side (likely due to tight quads), super tight calves, a bit of tightness in my left medial quad…Not surprising after my biggest training week on the bike, ever! So it was decided that I should take a complete day off training on Saturday.

All in all the camp was a great success:

1) More mileage than in last year's camp, because we got rained out the last two days in 2013.

2) All the climbs of the camp were faster by 3 to 8 minutes compared to 2013 - despite the fact that I had more training and fitness going into the camp last year.

3) I was not limited at all by the injury I have been battling for the past 3 months.

4) I am no longer scared, worried or hesitant about my 2014 season. Despite a rocky start to the year, it still has the potential to be my best season yet!

Next week, Adam has said that I am to repeat this past week in the upcoming week, but unsupported with the presence of other riders in a group and the SAG support vehicle. The goal: improve my times on all the climbs! Yikes. I will keep you posted on my progress and whether or not I can do it!

Also, thank you so so so much to Richard and Erica from Cycling Escapes for making this past week an unbelievable experience. You can find more information about the camp here.

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Photos (sorry, not many, hopefully more next week):

Monday, November 18, 2013

Ironman Arizona Race Report

What a season! The 2013 racing year ended yesterday with Ironman Arizona. It's been quite the adventure...I encountered obstacles this year that I never thought I would ever have to hurdle...mostly just due to bad luck! But I look at it as all part of the learning process. All part of the journey. You can't look back, only forward.

The day began at 4am on Sunday, November 17th. I woke up and did a round of my activation exercises and some swim tubing, before changing and getting into my race gear. Then I had a pre-race breakfast of a bagel with PB and banana, coffee, water and some Pepto Bismal. I headed to the race site at around 5am, encountered some unexpected traffic, which was a tad stressful, but made it to transition about an hour before race start. I set up my bike: garmin, shoes in pedals, made sure that my brakes weren't rubbing, bike was in an easy gear, water bottles secured...Then I did a little walk through of transition, checked on my gear bags. Then got my wetsuit on and said a quick hi and goodbye to Papa.

All the athletes gathered at the front of the Swim Start arch. Pros in the front, followed by about 3000 age groupers! I was really not that nervous. I was just excited! There was no pressure for this race. I just was there for the experience, which was very calming. Before I knew it I was jumping off the pier into the water and swimming towards the start buoys. I felt good, strong and full of energy. I was ready.

The gun went off and about 26 of us female Pros were off! I started strong, determined to get with a good group of swimmers. I saw about 5 people take off up ahead. This would be the pack of the strongest swmmers: to 50 - 53 minute type. I knew that their pace would be too fast for me for 3800m so I didn't try to catch them. I ended up swimming beside another female for about 500m. I couldn't see a thing in front of me (I need to get new goggles) so I used her to sight. However, I could tell she was starting to slow and I didn't want to back off the pace that much. I had no choice but to keep going and hope that I was swimming in a straight line. I am sure that I wasn't, but I was all alone and really had no other option. I stayed calm and hoped for the best! Eventually I hit the turnaround buoy and was happy, because I would no longer be swimming straight into the sun. However, it was still difficult to see on the way back. I was sighting almost every stroke and my hip flexors were tightening up. Luckily I still felt strong and my energy wasn't fading at all. Finally, I reached the last turn buoy, but I couldn't see the swim exit. So, what did I do? Stopped, took off my goggles and looked around to see where I was going. I saw the swim exit and quickly put my goggles back on and sprinted towards it! I exited the swim in around 57 minutes. I was hoping for 56 minutes, but goal really was to be in the lead of the chase group and I think I kind of was the chase group! So I had accomplished my goal.

My first transition was a little rocky. I had my wetsuit halfway off, grabbed my gear bag and put my goggles and cap in my gear bag and my my helmet on while running. Ya! I thought I was so good. Then I realized that I had dropped my gear bag off and still had my wetsuit on! OOPS! So I was close to my bike, when I had to run back to the change tent. The AWESOME volunteers stripped off my wetsuit and put it in my bag for me. Then I ran back to my bike and all went smoothly from there.

The bike started out and I was a little chilly. Nonetheless, I was enjoying it. I smiled as I tried to keep my power in check - high zone 2 or 3.2W/kg. This was much more fun than pushing 3.8W/kg, which is typical for me for a half-ironman. It was a 3-looped course, which made it a little more fun, I think. The first half is a gradual uphill, then a gradual downhill back. We had a bit of a headwind on the way out and a tailwind on the return. I got passed by about 5 girls in the first 40km of the bike. I was calm though. I had been told that patience was key to a successful ironman, so I focused on my power and didn't worry about the girls ahead. I finished my first loop of the bike in 1hr41mins, so my goal was around 5 hours on the bike. I really started to feel my best once the temperatures warmed, during the middle of the second loop of the bike. I felt so strong, so powerful. However, I did hit a pothole and off flew my water bottle with my concentrated eload/FLY/salt tablet drink. I debated stopping to grab it, but it had rolled too far away from me and I couldn't have stopped to grab it. I would have to rely on the aid stations for fluid, and the extra calories from eLoad gels, but I had NO extra salt tablets :( I pushed the thought of possible cramping to the back of my mind and focused on the things I could power, cadence and heart rate were all on target. I finished the first 90km of the bike in 2hr36min (not bad, considering my half-IM bike splits last year were all in the 2:40s!). Then at around 100km I REALLY had to pee...I thought about peeing on the bike. Apparently that's what most people I tried, but I couldn't! So I held it in for the next 80km...eek. I still felt strong, even though I had to I used that to distract myself. I actually felt good until about the last 20km of the bike, then my power started drifting into the mid-zone 2 area. I had been warned that I would start to fade in the last 30km so I was prepared for it. I focused on keeping on task, pushing hard enough to stay strong, but not too far beyond my comfort level. Before I knew it I was heading into T2, with a time of 5hrs1min and 2hr25min last 90km!

My second transition went better than the first. The volunteers handed me my run gear bag, then one volunteer put sunscreen on my, the other put my running shoes on and the other put my race belt on for me! I felt like a queen. In not too long I was out on the run course...within the first few 100 meters I saw exactly what I needed...a portopotty so that I could pee! After what was probably the longest pee of my life I was finally ready for the marathon.

The run started out good. I was holding around 4:30 - 4:40/km pace and feeling good. I was taking in water and my gels at regular intervals and I was enjoying myself...this continued until about 10 miles into the run. My quads started cramping, my stomach was not wanting any more nutrition and my pace was lack of taking in salt during the bike ride was catching up to me. I got myself through the next 10 miles by taking chips and licking the salt off pretzels that were provided at the aid stations. Seeing Papa cheering at mile 13 and mile 15 helped too! With 6 miles to go, my run turned into a shuffle. And I got the hiccups! REALLY painful ones at that :( So I hiccupped and shuffled towards the finish line, determined to break 3:40 for the marathon...I just had to. My thoughts turned to all of my supporters at this point...I heard Pete K's advice that I had to "have a positive attitude and let it take me to the finish line", I thought of Faye sending me a fruit basket to help me through the tough times in training the past month, my hosts in St. George who believed in me (Kirk and Charity), my cheerleaders during the race (Papa, Bob's family, Deb and Jon), I thought of all the other people who went out of their way to help me get to where I was, my amazing sponsors (WattsUp, eload, Urban Athlete, Enduro Sport, Scott Judges at Fitt1st, Raymond James Financial, Turner-Tomenson Wealth Management) and all the love I have received and feel for everyone involved in my journey. I finished the run in 3hr35 which got me an overall time of 9hr38min and 1st Canadian female, 14th female overall!

And that's the end of my 2013 season! I look forward to an exciting 2014...but, first, it's time for some deep fried food and a nice cold glass (or several) of Pinot Grigio!

Photos coming soon!

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