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

Monday, February 9, 2015

Success takes more than talent and hard work

I took an interest in athletics at the age of 8. My parents enrolled me in a house league soccer program in our home town of Port Washington, New York. Every Saturday I'd lace up my cleats (did I even wear cleats then?) and head over to the field. Little did I know that this was the beginning of my lifelong love of competitive sports. Along with soccer there was basketball and then skating, volleyball, swimming and running. I took to athletics pretty naturally, no matter what the sport. I wasn't ever the best on the team, but I did have a natural affinity for most sports and I worked hard. This combination of talent and work ethic got me pretty far. All the way to getting to compete as a professional triathlete!

When I made my decision to quit my full time job in order to compete in triathlons as a pro, I based it on the fact that I seemed to have a lot of potential to do well in the sport (my talent) and that I knew I would work as hard as necessary to reach that potential (my work ethic). What I didn't take into account, was that there is a third necessary element to success..."luck." And I have had my fair share of bad luck in the past few years!

My most recent stroke of really bad luck occurred during my race in Syracuse in June, 2014. I landed funny on a downhill and ended up breaking a piece of cartilage off the back of my patella. Of course, I didn't know this until the end of December! I battled through the rest of the season and even managed a podium finish in Steelhead 70.3. But the pain forced me to withdraw from Ironman Arizona and I was barely training throughout all of September, October and November. Finally, either my body learned how to deal with the floating piece of cartilage in my knee or I became immune to the pain it was causing, because I was able to get back to normal training in December. Well, somewhat "normal" as my fitness level was probably the lowest it had ever been since the start of my professional triathlon career.

So, here I am. I have very slowly build back my fitness to a reasonable level. Nowhere near my peak, but probably about 70-75% of my peak. I have surgery to remove the floating piece of cartilage at the end of February, then more time off training and then, April 1st, I can begin again. But what do I do? Do I continue to try to train and compete at the level of the very best? I know that I have some talent, I definitely have the work ethic, but can I risk the uncertainty and more bad luck? Some very difficult decisions lie ahead...

Friday, November 7, 2014

Week 7: More set backs

I wish that I could report that training has been going well and consistently for the past 7 weeks. However, I can't report on that yet. I had been training for 5 weeks relatively pain free, with the exceptions of some muscle spasms in my left leg. Then 2 weeks ago I hit another major set-back. My knee pain came back and worse than ever. It hurt to swim, bike and run. What does a triathlete do when that happens? Cry? YUP! Question life as they know it? YUP! Want to give up on the sport entirely? YUP! Eat a lot of sugar to feel better? YUP! Watch 10 episodes in a row of Friday Night Lights? YUP!

Successful pro athletes have to give up A LOT for the sport. They have to be inherently selfish to do well, because EVERYTHING they do matters to their performance. To be the best I strongly believe you don't just complete you training. You also have to eat the right foods, get the right amount of sleep, do your best to limit any "outside stresses", etc. It's not easy to do and requires tons of sacrifice. When training is going well and your performance is improving, it is a lot easier to cope with the sacrifices you are making. When you aren't doing well or you are injured, it isn't as easy. If you are like me you feel useless because you don't have anything to identify with if it's not your sport...the time you have spent neglecting friendships becomes evident as you scroll through Facebook to see photos of events you were left out of, because you have declined them every time in the try to take control by coming up with injury prevention plans and strategies for distracting yourself from the look for a part-time job online to fill the time that you would have otherwise spent training. It's not a fun place to be!

Luckily, in these past few days I think that I have accepted the situation. I can't run right now. That's that. The swimming has come back a little bit. I have joined the Kim Lumsdon Swim and Triathlon Club and I LOVE IT! Kim has swum across Lake Ontario many times and is an inspirational lady and a great coach. I am VERY out of shape, but Kim has put me in the fast lane with some super star swimmers and said that I'll get faster. Here's hoping! The biking I can do at a very low power. Luckily I can use my altitude machine to stimulate riding at 12,500 feet and I can ride at really high cadences (like 120-130rpm!) so I can still get my heart rate up with very little load on the legs. I am also proud to say that I can do 3 complete chin-ups in a row (chin-ups are great for your core!). I am not optimistic yet and my 2015 season is definitely undecided for now, but at least I have accepted the "one day at a time" approach and am much less negative these days!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Week 1: Getting Back Into Things

It's been about 1 week since I was able to start training again! So far things are OK, but far from ideal. When you first get back into things after injury it's not easy! No doubt every athlete has been in my situation at one time or another. It's a mix of emotions, including an anxiousness to resume training, fear of re-injury, frustration about not being fit and maybe some worry about gaining weight!

So, what is my "game plan" for my return to training? Well, I have decided to follow Adam's recommendations (which are rarely the same as what I would recommend for myself!), but usually correct. He's a smart guy. So, I will go 2 months without very much intensity at all. Swimming, biking and running frequently, but never for a long time at once. And all of it in Zone 1 or 2. Especially the running. I will increase the volume gradually each week. I will add in strength training in a couple of weeks. The best time to get stronger is during a time of light aerobic training.

How do I plan to prevent re-injury? I am regularly checking in with a sports doctor and getting treated regularly by my chiropractor, Bill Wells at Urban Athlete. I am also trying to take extra care to self-massage, stretch and strengthen the muscles that were weakened during the injury. I won't run with music either so that I can pay extra attention to any niggles that come up. My runs are mostly on the treadmill, so that I can stop if needed. Or I plan a looped route so that I am never too far from home if I'm running outside.

It is a huge mental battle when you are in this state. I know I am not fit and that is stressful. But stress results in the production of cortisol and cortisol is a hormone that "breaks down" the body. So, I don't want to be stressed! I HAVE to remain positive, despite the situation. I do this by reminding myself that at least I AM able to train right now and, so long as I am patient and don't try to do more training than my body is capable of, I will get a little bit fitter every day. My race season won't start till next spring, so I have lots of time to get fit again. I also get confidence from the fact that I am building a solid base that will prevent re-injury in the future.

Like most competitive athletes, especially female endurance athletes (not all, but some), I am worried about getting fat with so little training! My "natural" self is about 10 pounds heavier than when I am in heavy training and in race shape. So, I know that if I eat normally and don't exercise that is the direction my weight will drift. I need to remind myself that this is OK. Any weight gain will just be used as fuel for when the training ramps up again. I have never had any issues putting on muscle or getting "race fit" (in fact, I tend to lose weight too quickly with training), so a few extra pounds is probably good for me.

Stay tuned for an update in the next couple of weeks!

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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

When it's time to stop fighting.

Some days are bright, some days are grey. Today is a very grey day. I have made the difficult decision to cut my 2014 season short and pull out of Ironman 70.3 Miami and Ironman Arizona.

I take pride in the fact that I am a planner. Right after Ironman last year I had my entire year planned out. I knew what training I would be doing, what races I would be doing and what I should expect from myself in my third year as a professional triathlete. I had made HUGE gains last year. I swam consistently, and was always one of the top girls out of the water. My bike leg was improving, and I was biking about 5 - 10 minutes faster than in 2012. My run hadn't seen many gains from 2012, so that was to be my focus in 2014. Unfortunately, that plan had to be re-worked when I battled an ITB/Hamstring issue that impacted my training from November to February. Which was the time when I expected to make most of my fitness gains. I wasn't pain free until mid-February, and only started running consistently again in March. This gave me 8 weeks to get ready for St. George Ironman 70.3. I think I did well in St. George, all things considered. But I was definitely not making the gains I had hoped for. The running was going well until Syracuse Ironman 70.3 and I was doing it with consistency. In the last mile of Syracuse I landed forcefully on a downhill with a hyperextended knee. This was what has caused the ultimate end to my season. I ran through the knee issues for the rest of the summer, but inconsistently and not without pain. I still managed to fit in two half ironmans in August. I am now paying for those small successes, because I will no longer be able to complete the rest of my season. The diagnosis is a fat pad impingement in my left knee, but I am also getting spasms in the muscles surrounding the knee. The treatment is rest. So I have decided to stop fighting it and for my season, because at this point, fighting won't do a thing. My only plan now is to let myself get healthy again.

This injury combined with other issues I have experienced this year has taught me many lessons. I warn you now, before you continue reading this paragraph, that I am an emotional person. If you don't want to hear me rant on in this manner, then I suggest you stop reading now :) As I grow up, (and yes, I still have a lot of growing up to do!) I have realized that life is not the easy path that you picture it to be. It is full of difficult decisions that you never think you will have to make. You can't be carefree and do things that make you happy without thought, because actions have consequences. What feels good at the time could effect you for the rest of your life. You can't take on too many commitments that you end up spreading your time too thin. And you can't rely on anyone or anything for happiness. In order to be truly happy you have to be able to rely only on yourself. All things that I have learned in the past year and have helped me grow as a person and triathlete.

Thank you very much to my supporters for everything they did this season. I apologize if I let you down.

Special thanks too...

My sponsors: Turner-Tomenson Wealth Management and Raymond James Financial continue to make my life as a Pro triathlete possible, Scott Judges at Fitt1st, Bill Wells (Chiro) at Urban Athlete, Brad Wilson (RMT), all my equipment sponsors: Quintana Roo, ISM Saddles, Gray wheels, Rudy Project, Karhu Running Shoes, eLoad sports nutrition, IBB Cyclery in Utah, The Bike Zone in Toronto, Swiftwick socks, Suunto, Perfect Fuel Chocolate, Funkita/Funky Trunks swim wear, SRM, Champion System, X-1 Audio.

The important people in my life: My parents, my sisters, Adam, fellow triathletes and friends.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Steelhead ironman 70.3 - A Mental Battle!

Race one of two 70.3s in two weekends has come and gone. As with every race that lasts as long as a half ironman, it was a mix of many ups and downs. Every time I race I want it to be the perfect day, but it's never going to happen with so many uncontrollable variables. The sport alone consists of 3 disciplines. It's one thing to aim for a peak performance in one on a given day, but for 3? That's even harder. Then there's everything else that could go wrong: losing a water bottle, mechanical issues on the bike, someone racking their bike on yours in transition, blisters, wind, heat, rain, etc. But there is one thing that you can always control if your try, and that's your mindset. Having a positive attitude no matter what happens (because no race is perfect) can turn your day around and lead to a successful race. This is what I learned in Steelhead.

Leading up to this race, Adam and I decided on an easier than normal taper. This was due to the fact that I was a bit more fatigued than usual a week away from the race and the fact that my knee was STILL somewhat painful. So I did very little biking and no running. Usually the week leading up to the race has 3 hour long bike sessions with intensity mixed in, and lots of brick runs. Out of necessity that was not possible this time.

The Swim:

Steelhead is a beach start, which puts me at somewhat of a disadvantage (as most short people will understand!). It is just much harder to run in water when it's up to your quads and not your shins! I had a choice: dolphin dive in very shallow water or TRY to run! I opted for running at first and was quickly in last place. Dolphin dives it was! Or, I should say, face plant into the sand it was! Oops! I finally found something that worked: just swim. I was still at the back of the pack when we reached deeper water. But, luckily, fellow Pro Cait Snow was also close by at that point. So I used her to guide me back to the front of the pack. The swim was pretty uneventful after that. I stuck on Cait's feet the whole swim. I did try to pass her, but I would just ended up swimming beside her and not ahead, so I decided to save some energy and draft. It was comforting to know that I could swim with her, as she was over a minute ahead of me after the swim in Eagleman. I felt my swim had improved since I started training with Bob Hayes at Somerville, in combination with the U of T tri club. This was proof of that. My knee did start to bother me about 3/4 of the way through the swim, however. So I stopped kicking very hard with the left leg. A bit awkward and worrisome. Once we hit the sand at the swim exit I knew it would test the knee. I was able to run just fine through 200m of beach though so that gave me good piece of mind.

The Bike:

After what felt like a long transition I was finally off and on my bike. I expected the legs to feel great and refreshed after such an easy week. Normally they feel pretty good at the start of a race. This didn't seem to be the case today. I felt like I was cycling through sludge from the very beginning. I did my best to stay positive, but it was hard. I couldn't help but think, "if it's this hard right now, how hard is it going to be at 60,70,80 and 90k?" The next series of events didn't help: getting passed quite easily by two other girls early on, my power meter reading wrong (it said I was at around 20-40W throughout most of the course, but I didn't feel THAT bad), the super bumpy Hagar Shore Rd, a calf cramp that forced me to stop pedaling and stand up on my bike to stretch it out several times in the last 30km...getting passed again at 85km and feeling deflated enough to ride the last 5km easy into transition. I had never felt so tired at the end of a ride and I thought about giving up. I just didn't understand how I could have felt so weak. How could my ride be almost 10 minutes slower than in last year's race? I questioned everything: my training, my equipment, my nutrition, my attitude leading up to the race. Mentally I was diving into a dark and unpleasant place.

The run:

A combination of seeing my parents and having a pretty quick transition boosted my spirits a little at the start of the run. This was enough to get me out of my dark hole. That, and I could see the fifth place female just up the road. It looked like she was gaining on me, but I refused to let her. I pushed hard up the 3km uphill run right out of transition always looking down the road at the "carrot" ahead of me. The race operations director, Tom (an awesome guy!), was at aid station one telling me I looked good and relaxed. Then I saw my parents at the top of the hill ringing their cowbells and cheering loudly. I can never smile at the start of the run, though. It's still too soon to tell whether it's going to be an ok run or a complete sufferfest. I acknowledged they were there but kept focused on my goal to make it into fifth. Sooner than expected, I did! The race wasn't over though. I had 16km to go. And I couldn't even run downhill properly because my knee had started to bother me. So, I cautiously ran the rest of the race. I managed to find a good rhythm at km 8, I smiled at my parents when I saw them on the second loop of the run, took in my water and nutrition (it was a HOT day!) and counted down the kms. After what seemed like forever I crossed the finish line in the final podium spot.

I am still unsure of why I had such a tough day on the bike. I had slept and ate well in the 3 days prior to the race, I felt completely at home at my homestay with Loretta, Mike and the dogs and I had an awesome cheering section. My conclusion was that my taper must've been TOO EASY. Probably good to ensure that I had topped up glycogen stores and was injury free for the race, but since it lacked intensity it's possible that my legs were just not primed for a 200W 90km ride. It will be interesting to see how next week's Ironman 70.3 in New Hampshire will go!

Special thank you to:

1. The family I stayed with in Benton Harbor. Loretta and Mike and their dogs made me feel right at home.

2. My parents, who were able to make it down for the race, again! I don't know what I would do without them. (Sorry for making you cry with worry when I passed during the run, Mamma!)

3. My friends, family and fellow triathletes for your ongoing messages of support! And Triathlon Magazine Canada for the write up in their post-race recap! And coaches Adam and Kevin for helping me to get me back on track with my running after my knee injury.

3. My sponsors: Turner-Tomenson Wealth Management and Raymond James Financial continue to make my life as a Pro triathlete possible, Scott Judges at Fitt1st, Bill Wells (Chiro) at Urban Athlete, Brad Wilson (RMT), all my equipment sponsors: Quintana Roo, ISM Saddles, Gray wheels, Rudy Project, Karhu Running Shoes, eLoad sports nutrition, IBB Cyclery in Utah, The Bike Zone in Toronto, Swiftwick socks, Suunto, Perfect Fuel Chocolate, Funkita/Funky Trunks swim wear, SRM for my power, Champion System, X-1 Audio.

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