Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Ironman Arizona - Race Report

After a pretty good season racing as an amateur, it was time to test my abilities in the Pro field. I didn't have any great expectations with such a large field (approx. 65 men in the Pro division), I just wanted to have a good race and gain some experience.
I started training for this race in September. I had a solid base from all the racing over the spring and summer, including five Half Irons and a few short course races. With the help from my coach, Bjoern Ossenbrink, I was fitter than ever leading up to the race. I felt confident in my abilities but also realistic about the difficulties of the Ironman distance. There are never any guarantees at a race of this magnitude, and even the best athletes can falter. The most important thing is to pace yourself properly and have a sound nutritional strategy and stick to it. Considering how my training was going, I figured that if I had a good race and paced myself well I could get under 9h 10min and if things went exceptionally well, there was a possibility of going under 9 hours.

I learned how to swim when I was 27 (I actually taught myself for the first couple of years) so swimming is not my strength but I've made some good progress over the last couple of years. I knocked around three minutes off my 1900m time this summer compared to last season and since I swam 59mins at Ironman Canada last year, I was hoping to get under 56mins in Arizona. Bjoern had me on a good swim program leading up to the race but due to a minor cold (and cold water in the outdoor pool that I train in) I had missed a few swim workouts leading up to the race. I struggled on the swim and after the first 10mins, I got dropped by the main pack of swimmers. I tried to focus on technique and think about what my swim coaches are always telling me but I had trouble stretching my stroke out. My shoulder had been sore for the couple of weeks leading up to the race and it started to hurt halfway through the swim, and my lower back started aching also (probably because my technique was falling apart). Although I exited the water in 1h 1min, six minutes behind my goal time, I wasn't too far behind so I told myself to remain positive and switched my focus to the bike.

The bike course in Arizona is mostly flat with a gradual rise to the halfway point on each of the three laps. The first two laps had a headwind going up to the turn around point which made it a little slower but the way back was really fast. It took a little while to warm up my legs after the swim (15c degree water temp - 60f) but I held my pace and felt much better on the second lap. Although I stuck to my nutrition strategy and took approx. 1000mg of sodium and electrolytes per hour, my body wasn't retaining water and I had to pee four times on the bike. I didn't want to have to slow down too much so I waited for a tail wind or slight downhill so that I could hold some speed. This became a little uncomfortable since I had to hold it in for almost 30mins at one point. For the three days leading up to the race I was also having some trouble retaining water. I was hoping that during the race the salt tabs would fix this but they didn't seem to have the effect that they usually do. The wind changed directions on the last lap which was nice on the uphill, but it actually got a lot stronger and was tough on the way back. The lower back pain that I was having during the swim started to creep up on me again, especially in the last loop, but I managed to hold a fairly steady pace throughout the bike leg and finished with a bike split of 4h 57min. This course had the potential to go much faster but realistically, I was happy enough to get under 5 hours and if I had a good run, there was still a chance that I could go under 9h 10min for the race.

It felt good to be off the bike and after a relatively quick transition, I was on the run course and holding my goal pace and effort. During training I was able to run under 4m 15sec per km pace (sub 7min miles) at my comfortable race effort so I figured that I should be able to run around 4m 20sec to 4m 30sec pace (approx. 7min miles). Although the effort felt comfortable over the first three or four kms, my right foot was swollen and completely numb and my right adductor muscle was really tight. I ignored the discomfort as much as possible and tried to curl my toes between strides to help increase the blood flow. This was something that I had never experienced before and I was a little worried. My foot eventually started to feel better and my adductor loosened up but my quads were really taking a pounding. Thankfully I had my Compressport quad sleeves on, otherwise it probably would have been much worse. Although I had stuck to my nutrition plan on the bike and used salt tabs and drank water, I was feeling the effects of dehydration since I had trouble retaining any of the water. It didn't help that I had forgotten to grab my salt tabs in T2 and was only able to take salt again at the halfway point when I got my special needs bag. I had to stop and pee three more times on the run and halfway through I actually started to feel sick and had to take an extended toilet break which took around three or four minutes. I felt better after that and was able to pick up my speed again for the next few kms but eventually the effects of the dehydration took over again and my body shut down. It was a real effort to keep going and the thought of dropping out crossed my mind a few times, but I refused to give in and told myself to just keep doing the best I could. Even with a relatively slow run (3h 34min), I was still able to finish the race in 9h 37min which really isn't too bad considering all the problems I was having.

Although I'm definitely not satisfied with my result, it was a good learning experience and I'm happy I did the race. Competing at this level and distance is not easy and it can take some time to bring everything together and have a really good result. Racing in the Pro field at Ironman Arizona was a humbling experience. I intend to use everything that I learned in a positive fashion moving forward. I look forward to the 2012 race season.

Special thanks to my sponsors who make this all possible. Compressport make some truly amazing compression gear that has really helped me recover faster than ever post-workout and also keeps me feeling as comfortable as possible during those long and hard runs and rides. Zoot Sports supplies me with awesome race and training shoes, a race kit and other training apparel which helps me stay comfortable and fast on my feet and in transition. I approached these companies for sponsorship because I really believe in the quality of their products and I'm really proud to be working with them. West Point Multisport and West Point Cycles take care of all my other needs and keep my bike working like it's brand new. It's been a pleasure working with them over the 2011 season. I'd also like to thank my coach, Bjoern Ossenbrink of Lifesport Coaching, for believing in me and helping me take my racing to the next level. Since I started working with him last year I've made some major improvements and learned a lot about what it takes to become a competitive athlete. Last but not least, thanks so much to my family and friends for the continued support since I started this amazing journey into the world of triathlon. It would not be the same without you.

Next post: Coaching - A New Direction

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

2011 - A Breakthrough Year

UBC Sprint Triathlon 2011
To start the 2011 triathlon year, I decided to race at the UBC sprint distance triathlon. The race was at the beginning of March so it was going to be cold on the bike, but 20km wasn't too bad so I figured that I could suffer a little bit of cold. I'm not a great pool swimmer, but I had the fastest bike split and run split and was able to get my first win. It was only a sprint race; the bigger races later in the season were going to be more competitive, but it was a win and it really gave me some comfidence to start off the season.

The following week, I raced at the St Patrick's Day 5km running race. I had been suffering from some pain in my right foot since early November but I never really though too much of it and figured that it would go away on its own like most of my previous injuries. I hadn't made a big deal out of it so Bjoern didn't know how serious it was. The race went fairly well and I finished with a time of 17m 28s. My foot was sore but I was able to run through it and tried not to think about it too much. The following day I did a 16km tempo run, but by the end of the run I was really hurting. Without realizing it, I had been running with plantar fasciitis. The race was the turning point for the injury - I could barely walk after. I had to take a full five weeks off of running. It was a major setback.

Since I couldn't run, I started to focus more on swimming and biking. I was supposed to race at the Delta Triathlon in April but I was forced to pull out because of the injury. Towards the end of the month I had  slowly started to run again, and although my foot was still sore it was much better than before. I really wanted to race at the Shawnigan Lake Half Iron in late May. Two weeks before the race I had a major breakthrough with the injury. We were doing some beach start simulations at Sasamat lake, and while running over the hard packed sand I hammered the bottom of my foot right on the injury. At the time it really hurt and felt like my injury had exploded, but a couple days later my foot started to feel great. It was as if I had broken all of the scar tissue and released all of the tension.

Shawnigan Lake Half Iron 2011
The Shawnigan Lake Half Iron was a tough race. I had some technical trouble on the bike; my aero hydration system broke and I was only able to drink once on each of the four laps. I had also lowered my aero bars to try to be more aerodynamic. By lowering the bars, my hamstrings were stretched out too much and I really started to feel it halfway through the bike course. Along with the dehydration, I wasn't feeling great when I started the run. I hung on as best as I could and by the halfway point of the run I actually started to feel better since I had been drinking more water. I was able to speed up in the last 5kms and finish in 5th place overall, 1st place amateur. Although I had struggled, I pushed through and came out of it with a pretty descent result.

The next race was Ironman 70.3 Boise two weeks later. My goal was to win my age group and qualify for the World Championships in Las Vegas. I felt pretty good going into the race but I pushed too hard at the beginning of the bike leg and really suffered during the second half of the bike course. I also didn't follow my nutrition strategy properly. By the time I started the run I was feeling burnt out, and was immediately attacked by a really bad abdominal stitch that persisted until the finish. I was only able to run at my goal pace for the final three kms and ended up finishing with a time of 4h 39min which was well over the time needed to qualify for the World Championships.

Victoria Half Iron 2011
After the disappointment in Boise, I really needed to have a comfortable race to lift my spirits so I decided to race at the Victoria Half Iron the following week. This would be my 3rd Half in four weeks so I didn't have any high expectations, I just wanted to nail the nutrition aspect of the race and feel good. I was a little burnt out from the heavy race schedule so I decided going into this race that I didn't want to suffer. As much as I hate to do this, I treated it as a training race. I didn't have a great swim, only barely making it under 30 minutes. Since my heart wasn't really in it, I wasn't too disappointed. Because of the bad experience on the bike at the Shawnigan Lake Half and the Boise 70.3, I decided to tone it down a lot this time and let my average HR drop by around 10bpm compared to Boise. I felt much more comfortable and actually had the 6th fastest bike split overall despite a much lower effort. I stayed comfortable on the run and despite the easier effort, I was still able to finish in 4h 19min and grab a podium place in my age category. Not bad for a training race, but one that I would put behind me.

Vancouver Half Iron 2011

Next up was the Vancouver Half Iron two weeks later. After sorting out my nutrition issues at the Victoria Half Iron, I was feeling a little more confident going into this race. The swim wasn't great, but I still managed to get out of the water in 28 minutes so I wasn't too far off. I was 18th out of the water but managed to pass four people in T1. I had a decent bike split and passed another eight people to move into 6th place coming off the bike. I immediately moved into 5th place on the run as I came out of transition but was passed by another amateur, Eddie Smith, around the 11km mark. I tried to hold onto him but he was moving too fast for me. I later found out that he used to race for the New Zealand national team at the elite ITU level so I didn't feel too bad. I really struggled around the 15km mark when the wind picked up and probably lost close to one minute over a 2km stretch. Little did I know, Eddie Smith also struggled and only finished the race 33 seconds in ahead of me. It was a lesson for another day. Push through the hard parts, especially that late in the race, when it's almost over. When my training partner, Rachel Mcbride, caught me and eventually passed me around the 17km mark I was able to dig in and speed up again (with some encouraging words from her). She is an amazing athlete and had "chicked" me at Shawnigan Lake and Boise (where she finished 3rd overall female!). I wasn't about to let that happen again so I gave it everything I had and I eventually passed her around 300m before the finish line. We laughed about it later. Rachel would go on to finish 11th overall among pro women at the 70.3 World Champs in Vegas in September. I finished in 4h 18min and was the second overall amateur. Although it was only one minute faster than Victoria, the bike course was 5km longer. With my 5th place at Shawnigan Lake and two sub 4h 20min Half Iron results since then, I was now pretty much guaranteed to get an elite competition card from Triathlon Canada. Although I had missed qualifying for the 70.3 World Championships, I would be able to get an Ironman Pro card which was really my "A" goal for the season.

Two weeks later I raced at the Peach Classic Olympic distance triathlon in Penticton. I was there for a Lifesport training camp and actually rode the Ironman course the day before and ran a 45 minute brick off the bike. Needless to say, I didn't have any high expectations for the race. The swim was a complete gong show. The water was really rough with some pretty big swells for Okanagan Lake and there were too many people starting in a narrow area. I've never been clubbed and swam over so badly. The highlight of this race was the bike leg. Even though I had rode 160km (100 miles) the day before, I still managed to have the 4th fastest bike split and actually beat some elite athletes. When I got to the run though, I was feeling all of the racing and training from the previous days and weeks and didn't have much heart for it. I settled into my Half Iron pace and finished it off pretty easy. Considering it was just a training race thrown in for fun, I wasn't unhappy with the result. I finished 14th overall at this Olympic Distance Provincial Championship race.
Lifesport Pro Camp 2011

In the last week of July, I was really fortunate to get an invite to the Lifesport Pro Training Camp in Victoria. As well as having my own top notch coach present, Bjoern Ossenbrink, we were also coached by Lance Watson and Paul Regensburg. It was really great to train with amazing athletes including Rachel McBride, Nathan Killam, Elliot Holtham, Martina Wan, Amanda Stevens, Brent McMahon, Jonathan Shearon and Laura Reardon Keefe. The camp was awesome and really got me into great shape leading up to the Sooke Half Iron on August 7th.

Sooke Half Iron 2011
Sooke was a great race. I came out of the water in 3rd place with PR swim and quickly moved into 1st place with a speedy transition. It was really fun to be in the lead on the bike course and have the lead motorcycle in front of me for the first ten minutes. I was eventually passed by someone doing a relay and then again by Jonathon Shearon who was setting a good pace on the bike. It was a really hilly course with 1771 meters of elevation gain (over 5800 feet) in 90km (56 miles). Unfortunately, I had two mechanical issues during the bike leg and lost around 4 minutes but I was still able to come off the bike in 2nd place. The run was also really hilly, with hardly a flat part on the whole course, but I managed to pull off a 1h 25min run and finish in 2nd place overall. Even without the mechanicals I couldn't have beaten Jonathon so I was pretty happy with the result.

Kelowna National Championships
My last planned race for the 2011 season was the Kelowna National Olympic Distance Championship. I didn't train for this distance but I felt pretty good going into the race. I had a good swim, going under 22 minutes and also had a fast bike split of 1h 1min. The run didn't go as well as I hoped though. I didn't eat enough on the bike so when I started the run I was starting to fade a little and ended up running around three or four minutes slower than I hould have and finished with a time of 2h 5min 59sec. It was still good enough for a podium spot in my age category so I wasn't too disappointed.

A couple of weeks after the Kelowna race, I applied for an international elite competition card from Triathlon Canada and was accepted. With the card in hand I signed up for my first race in the Pro category at Ironman Arizona. Time to start training again...

Next post: Ironman Arizona - Race Report

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Learning How to Run

Although I had a great season in 2010, I was left with a feeling of disappointment at not having gone under ten hours at Ironman. Instead of signing up for Ironman again, I decided to focus on the Half Iron distance and work on my speed. Instead of aiming for Kona, I decided to set my sights on the Las Vegas 70.3 World Championships. I signed up with Lifesport coach Bjoern Ossenbrink and started training with his program on November 1st 2010.

In October, six weeks after Ironman Canada, I raced at the Royal Victoria Half Marathon and finished with a time of 1h 27min. My goal had been to finish in 1h 24min but I hadn't trained properly leading up to the race. After Ironman, I tried to start running again too soon and ended up with some minor injuries. Because of that, I wasn't able to train appropriately for the Half Marathon. Recovery is a really important part of training and it was something that I had never been really good at.

Working with Bjoern changed everything. I no longer had to second guess myself and wonder if I was doing the right thing. He tailored a program spefically to my needs and goals and made sure that I got enough recovery. All I had to do was follow his program and trust that it would make me stronger and faster. My first goal was to race at the Vancouver "First Half" Half Marathon and finish under 1h 20min. If I wanted to be competitive at the Half Iron distance, I needed to become a faster runner. I also needed to improve my pacing, which had been pretty bad at my previous two Half Marathons. Bjoern started to coach a weekly track workout in November. As well as being a great speed workout, it worked wonders for my pacing. The track workout has become one of the most important workouts every week. Not only did it teach me how to pace properly, I was also able to improve my running technique and form.

Sprint Finish at the Vancouver First Half
With a run focus in December and January, my running speed was really improving and I was feeling confident about the race. In order to get under 1h 20min, I needed to hold a pace of 3m 47s per km. There was no point in trying to go any faster than that and risk failure. It would be hard enough as it was since I was trying to knock off eight minutes from my PR which I had set only four months earlier. When I lined up at the start of the race, my friend, Donovan Watts, was right next to me at the start line. He had a similar goal as me so we ran together for the first few kms. It was great, I started off at exactly the pace I needed to hold, minus one or two seconds. Originally I had thought that I would start a couple of seconds slower and try to negative split but I felt so good that I just went with it. It really helped to have someone to run with at the beginning so I went with it. I felt so good that Donovan and I were even able to chat a little for the first six or seven kms. At that point though, Donovan increased his speed a little and I decided to stick with my plan and hold my pace. It gradually started to get a little harder but I was still feeling really good at the halfway point. Around the 12km point, a couple of guys passed me and then, and when a third also passed me, I decided to hang on to him and he pulled me back up to the two who had passed ahead. The guy who had helped me faded back but I held on and stuck with the other two for the next two or three kms. Around the 15 or 16km mark they picked up their speed again and I wasn't able to follow them anymore so I just held my pace. The last 5km were hard but I was able to hang in and finish with a time of 1h 19m 21s. I had a great sprint at the finish line and managed to beat one more guy to the line by a couple of meters. My splits were almost exactly even, seperated only two or three seconds between the first half and the second. I had executed my plan perfectly and finally had a great running race. I was a triathlete, but I had beaten lots of seasoned runners. It was a good confidence booster. Special mention to Donovan who helped me pace and stay comfortable at the beginning of the race, he finished around 45 secs before me and also had a new PR.

Next post: 2011 - A Breakthrough Year

Sunday, 6 November 2011

2010 - The road to Ironman

Although 2009 held some mixed results, I was happy with the way the season went and I was feeling much more confident in my ability after finishing the Kelowna Olympic distance race in 2h 22min. Without race wheels or even a triathlon specific bike, I had managed to finish the race with a pretty respectable time. It wasn't enough though, I wanted to be competitive. My goal for 2010 was to be on the podium in my age category for as many races as possible.

New Bike for the 2010 Race Season

In October, I purchased a Cervelo P2C with Dura-Ace components and three months later I purchased a set of Zipp carbon race wheels. I decided on the 1080/808 combo since it is a pretty good all around wheel set. I also bought an aero helmet and a good pair of triathlon specific bike shoes. No more excuses, I had all the equipment I needed to be fast. It would all come down to how hard I would work.

During the previous off season, I hadn't done any training at all. If I was going to become faster, I needed to work harder. I invested in a bike trainer and did two spin workouts per week at home. It wasn't much, but it made a big difference compared to the year before. When I started riding outdoors again with the tri club, I was much stronger and already had a bit of a base to work with. Although I was hesitant to do so at first, I rode with the fast Ironman group. It was awesome. I signed up for Michelle Martin's spin session on Wednesday nights and did a third bike workout, usually on Sunday. The third workout was usually some kind of speed interval workout that I would make up each week. You can't get faster without doing quality workouts. At the time, I was only training around 7 hours most weeks but I was pushing myself hard and getting results.

I was only swimming two nights a week with the club but it was enough to improve my technique. Running was coming along fairly well but I had a nagging knee injury that was really starting to bug me during rides. It turned out to be a torn meniscus. My only option was to have surgery before it could get any worse. Although I was worried about the affect it would have on my training, I was confident that I could recover in time to have a decent race at Ironman five and half months later. One of my friends, Micheal Benedetto, had had the same surgery the year before, in June, and had completed Ironman Canada in a very respectable time. Leading up to the surgery, I had built my running up to 24km. After the surgery, I had to take 4 weeks completely off from running and one week off of biking. After having surgery, most people would probably take a couple of months off from racing but I had signed up for the Delta Sprint Triathlon and I really didn't want to miss the opportunity to test myself. To help my recovery, I biked on the trainer 3 or 4 times a week and still got out to do the long rides with the club on Saturdays. When I started running again, I had to ease into it with only 15 to 20 mins at a time but my fitness was still really good because of all the biking.

UBC Triathlon 2010

The Delta Triathlon was a breakthrough race for me. I finished in 1:03:35 which was good enough for 10th overall and 2nd in my age category. I had averaged over 39kph on the bike! To put things into perspective, the previous year at the Victoria Sprint Triathlon, I had averaged 31.6kph. My transition speed and sprint finish had also paid off; I beat three people by four seconds or less. I was more confident than ever.

The next race was the UBC Olympic Distance Triathlon in mid May. I finished that one in 2h 18min. I was hoping to get under 2h 15min but, considering that the run was 500m too long and it was a pool swim (which is always slower for me), I was pretty happy with the result. I had also placed 3rd in my age category. It's hard to complain much when the first two races of the season are both new PRs. It would set a trend for the rest of the year...

Going into 2010, my goal for the Half Iron distance was to get under 5 hours. Considering how things were going and the speeds that I was holding during my threshold workouts, I started to revise my goals. Maybe I could get under 4h 50min? I raced at the Shawnigan Lake Half Iron two weeks after the UBC Triathlon. The swim didn't go very well. My goggles filled up with water five or six times but I was able to pass ten people in T1 with a quick and organized transition (from 35th to 25th without any extra effort!). I also passed fifteen people on the bike course and ended up finishing in 8th place with a time of 4h 38min. This was way better than the sub 5 hour goal that I had originally set for myself.

Shawnigan Lake Half Iron 2010

In June, I raced at the Victoria Sprint Triathlon. Although I felt terrible during the swim and I had a really bad run due to an abdominal stitch, I still managed to finish in 1:02:11 which was good enough for 8th. The highlight of this race was that I had the 2nd fastest bike split behind elite athlete, Kelly Guest. I was only around 30 seconds slower than him and on top of that, I had dropped my chain on a hill and had to get off my bike to fix it. Major confidence boost.

Vancouver Half Iron 2010
 The next event was the Vancouver Half Iron. That race was really important to me. It was the BC Long Course Provincial Championship. I was really focused and had been visualizing the win (in my category) for a few weeks. I really wanted to be the provincial champion. In 2009, Paul Harrison had won my age group in 4h 30min so it wasn't going to be easy. I had to go under that time to have a chance which meant pulling all three disciplines together. At the Victoria Sprint two weeks before, I did the 500m swim at an average pace of 1m 38sec per 100m, and it was really hard. I had muscled throught the swim and it felt awful. It made me really angry. I needed to improve my stroke efficiency and be smoother in the water. The very next day after the race, I started working on my stroke and over the next few days I made a big breakthrough. One of my swim coaches, former Canadian Olympic Team swimmer, Mark Johnston, had told me that to swim faster I needed to swim slower. I had to lengthen my stroke. I had been pulling my hand out of the water at my hip so that I could increase my stroke rate, thinking that this would make me faster. During the Vancouver Half Iron, I focused on finishing my stroke all the way down to my thigh and breathing every 3rd stroke. I ended up doing the swim in 30m 32sec which was an average of 1m 37sec per 100m. A faster average pace than at the 500m victoria Sprint and it actually felt easy this time! After that, I rode the 91km bike course in 2h 27min (which included a minor crash due to some misdirection from a volunteer...) and ran the 20km run in 1h 25min, finishing with a time of 4h 26min. I had done it, I was the 2010 provincial champion in my category! I recovered so fast that I decided to race again the next weekend in Squamish.

Squamish Triathlon 2010

The Squamish Olympic distance triathlon was the first triathlon I had ever done, back in 2008. I wanted to test my fitness out compared to then. Ironman was my main focus, so I couldn't afford to taper for the race. The day before the race, I biked up Cypress mountain with the UBC triathlon club (approximately 100km total). I had a good swim, holding the same pace as the week before. The 37km bike leg was awesome, I had the second fasted split of the day, behind Ian Young, and actually broke the previous bike course record. The run was tough, with some rocky trails, but I managed to hold on for 5th place overall with a time of 2h 5min. I was moving up in the rankings and feeling really confident about my biking.

Next up was the Sooke Sprint Triathlon. This was meant to be a speed workout in preparation for Ironman. I wasn't taking it very seriously and in fact, the morning of the race I didn't even fell like racing at all. I hadn't slept very well, and remember being tired and not caring too much. Despite feeling lazy that morning, I had a good swim (exiting the water in 10th place) and quickly moved my way up to 2nd by the end of the 26km bike course. Although my running was getting better, it was still my weakest discipline and I ended up placing 3rd overall and missing the second spot by only five seconds. I wasn't disappointed; it was my first overall podium finish! I even got a bouquet of flowers which I gave to Laura when she crossed the line after finishing the Olympic distance race.

Sooke Triathlon Podium Finish

Only one more triathlon left for the season. The time had finally come, I was going to be an Ironman. Originally, when I signed up for Ironman the previous year, my goal was to finish in under twelve hours. During the season I had to revise my goals. After seeing the progression of my race results during the summer, Laura's dad had made a guess that I would finish in 10h 36min. I was flattered that he believed I had it in me but I still wasn't sure that I could even go under eleven hours. As I got closer to race day though, I realized that I might even be able to go under ten hours if I got everything right. Training and racing was going well but I was still only running once or twice a week due to the nagging after-effects of the surgery earlier in the spring.

Ironman Canada 2010

I was a little worried about the run, but I felt pretty confident that I could have a good race if I paced myself properly and stuck to my nutrition plan.  Although he wasn't coaching me (yet), I had gotten some helpful advice from coach Bjoern Ossenbrink from Lifesport Coaching about nutrition and also a confirmation that my pacing strategy was good. Everyone always seems to talk about how crazy the swim is at Ironman Canada (with 2732 starting the race that year!) so I wasn't too sure what to expect. The thought of starting with so many people around me was a little unnerving so I decided that the best strategy would be to start at the front middle of the pack. The strategy paid off. I had an amazing swim and never had any problems with any other swimmers. I drafted the whole way and actually finished with a higher average pace than both of the half irons that I'd done earlier that summer. My ultimate goal was to go under one hour and I had succeeded, finishing the swim in 59m 16sec. My goal for the bike course was to finish in under 5h 20min. I was almost on track but I struggled towards the end when it started to hail at the top of yellow lake. The crazy gusts of wind coming down the mountain were also a bit of a challenge. I was cold during the descent and I had trouble getting my heart rate back up on the way in to town. I finished the bike leg in 5h 26min. I needed to nail the run if was going to go sub ten hours. My goal for the run was to finish in 3h 30min. To get under ten hours, I needed to run a 3h 29min marathon... I was cutting it pretty close. I completed the first half of the run in 1h 45min which was right on track but I was starting to slow down... I had some trouble with nutrition at the begining of the run and didn't eat as much as I had planned. By the time I started to eat properly again, my body was slowing down. I did the second half of the run in 1h 58min for a total run time of 3h 43min. I finished Ironman in 10h 14min.

Ironman Canada 2010

It felt great to finally finish an Ironman race, but it was bittersweet. I was happy to be an "Ironman" but it wasn't enough for me anymore. I didn't want to be a finisher anymore, I wanted to be competitive. I had come pretty close to getting under 10 hours but I fell short and I wasn't satisfied with my result. I knew that I could do much better. Since I had only averaged under 10 hours of training per week in 2010, I knew that I could do better if I had a proper training program. I decided that I would take the year off from Ironman in 2011 and focus on the Half Iron distance so that I could work on my speed. I had some success coaching myself but I wanted to be competitive, I needed a coach.

Next post: Learning How to Run

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Training? That means 3 or 4 workouts a week right?

In the Beginning - Part 2

After taking the whole "off season" completely off during the fall of 2008, I was ready to start "training" (at least what I believed was training...).

R&B Brewery 10th Anniversary

In 2009 I joined the Pacific Spirit Triathlon Club and started swimming with the club in January. This was really good for me and I quickly moved up from the slow lane to one of the faster lanes in the first month or two. They also did long rides on Saturday mornings but I found it hard to make it since Friday night was my night out at the R&B Brewery (having a brewery as your neighbour is a magical thing!). I should also mention that I was a little intimidated by all the experienced triathletes in the club, many of which had completed Ironman! I did, however, sign up for Michelle Martin's spin classes at the Bentall Center once a week during the winter/spring season. That class worked wonders for my cycling skills and technique. She had us spin at 100 rpm all the time unless we were doing a specific workout that required a different cadence. Before that I had trouble spinning at 90 so this was really important for my development. My only other ride each week was on Saturday.

Since I wanted to race the Half Iron distance that year, I was also slowly building up my running. By the end of February, I had built up to a distance of 16km and my legs were feeling pretty good. For my birthday my parents bought me a Garmin 305 GPS training watch. It was a complete surprise. I'd heard about GPS training computers but had never really looked into it. The first time I used the computer I had planned to do an 18km run. I didn't know much about paces at the time so when I looked at my average speed after the first few minutes and saw 4:09 per km I thought that that didn't seem too bad so I decided to hold that pace for the whole run (my previous long runs had definitely not been that fast). It gradually became harder but I was enjoying the challenge and I managed to hold the pace pretty well. When I got to 18km I figured I might as well do the whole 21.1km and see how fast I could run a half marathon. I ended up completing the run in just over 1h 28min and held an average pace of 4:12 per km. When I asked Laura if that was an okay time for a half marathon she couldn't believe it. Here I was, out of shape, totally inexperienced and I had just ran a 1:28 half marathon! It would be a long time before I could do it again though... This run, combined with a few other quick runs in the following weeks (which got slower each time) set off a couple of injuries which would take me over a year to recover from. All or nothing led to nothing but trouble. This is where I really learned that you need to ease into your training.

I did my first ride with Pacific Spirit in April and rode 100km with a group led by Vancouver legend, Carol Peters. The most I had ever ridden before that was 70km and it was a hard ride but that 100km ride was awesome. Riding with a group made it way easier. Especially since it kept me under control instead of trying to race my training rides. And Carol  is one of the most inspiring and positive people I've ever met! Most of my rides before that had only been around 40 or 50 km.

Shawnigan Lake Triathlon 2009
I had purchased a season's pass for the Subaru West Coast Triathlon Series and was planning to race the Subaru Shawnigan Lake Half Iron. Unfortunately I was still having problems with running injuries so I decided to do the Olympic distance race instead. I hadn't actually ran for around 4 or 5 weeks in April and May and the race was on the last weekend of May. That was one of the most brutal races ever. My training regimen was pretty bad and I wasn't ready for it. My friend, Paul Walker, taught me how to do a proper transition the day before the race. I learned how to keep my shoes attached to the bike for the mount and the dismount and didn't have any problems with it during the race. I was learning how to race! Although Paul had warned me not to try it without practicing first, I did the run sockless with regular running shoes and my feet bled so badly that I had scars for 6 months. After the race he told me about Zoot Shoes. A pair of shoes that were designed specifically for triathlon which were made to be worn without socks, had holes in the bottom to help drain all the sweat and the water we splash all over ourselves, and had special "handles" to help get them on really quick in transition. Within a few weeks, I found a dealer and made the purchase. Thanks to Paul, and my since acquired Zoot Shoes, I'm now one of the top ranked athletes in T1 and T2 at every race and my feet don't look like they've been tenderized when I'm done.

Paul Walker at the Shawnigan Lake Triathlon 2009

I should mention that joining the club was the best decision that I ever made in regards to triathlon. Since becoming a member I have met so many amazing people and wonderful athletes and they've taught me so much about the sport. I was completely clueless at the beginning. Triathlon can be a little intimidating when you're first starting out but when you meet other athletes you realize that most of us all do it for the same reason, to have fun and share a few cold beers when it's done.

Vancouver Half Iron 2009

In July 2009, I did my first Half Iron distance race at the Subaru Vancouver Triathlon and finished with a time of 5h 21min. My goal was to get under 5h 30min so I was pretty happy with the result. I managed to do the 1.9km swim in under 37 minutes and the 91km bike in 2h 55min but struggled a little on the second half of the 20 km run which I did in 1h 46min. I was struggling with GI problems on the run at most of my races and really had no clue about proper race nutrition. At Olympic distance races I didn't even eat during the whole race.

A month later I purchased some aerobar extensions for my road bike. I was told that it took a little while to get used to them so I probably didn't want to buy them right before a race. The first day I installed them, I was racing down Cypress Mountain at 75kph! It was awesome. What a difference. I raced at the Kelowna Olympic distance race (which also happens to be the Canadian National Championship) and finished with a time of 2h 22min. I swam just under 25 minutes (2 minutes faster than my previous PR) and averaged almost 35kph on the bike (around 3kph faster than my previous bike PR) as well as doing the run in 43min 40s (which was also a PR by around 3 minutes). I was 18th out of 46 in my category and I really hadn't trained all that much. I was starting to feel like I might really have some potential.

The following week I signed up for Ironman Canada! I was still unsure about running 42.2km but I figured I had a year to build up to it and I didn't want to have to wait two more years to do it. Ironman was the reason I started all this. I was going all in. Two weeks after signing up for Ironman, I raced at the Subaru Sooke Half Iron...

I learned a hard lesson at Sooke that year. A quarter of a peanut butter sandwich (which I ate towards the end of the 86km bike leg) is definitely not enough to get you through a Half Iron (I probably didn't drink enough water either). I figured that if I was having so many GI problems at races, then maybe I should just avoid the whole eating thing altogether. A very painful mistake. I was already bonking pretty bad by the end of the of the bike leg and I still had to run a really hilly 21km. As soon as I started running, my knees were already hurting and my legs were in so much pain that I wasn't sure if I would make it. But I'm not a quitter. I pushed through and held the best pace I could manage until the end and finished in 5h 31min (1h 58min run).

Proper recovery was unfamiliar territory for me at the time so the next week I got back on my bike and rode the triple crown with a couple of my friends. The triple crown consists of climbing three of the local Vancouver mountains in one ride. It was approximately 140km (87 miles) including two climbs from sea to sky with around 1000m of elevation each (3281 ft.). The third climb is shorter and only reaches approximately 300m of elevation but it ends with a fairly steep section that's probably around 15% grade. It was a tough day but I managed to climb pretty fast and it was a good confidence booster to end the outdoor cycling season (at least that's when it ended for me back then).

Three weeks after the triple crown, I raced at my second running race, the Royal Victoria Half Marathon. My plan was to turn my unofficial 1h 28min 21.1km time from earlier that year into an official race time. No such luck... my pacing was terrible and after starting out way too fast (sub 4 min first km) I quickly faded and ended up finishing in 1h 33min. It was a tough morning.

After that race, I bought an indoor bike trainer. If I was going to improve my results in 2010, I needed to work harder on the bike. My goal was to get under 5 hours at a Half Iron and under 12 hours at Ironman. No more sitting around during the off season...

Next post: 2010 - The road to Ironman

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

In The Beginning

When I first moved to Vancouver in early June 2006, I had never spent much time training. I would train for a week or two each year but could never find the motivation to continue. This mostly consisted of working out at the gym lifting weights and spending 15-20 minutes on a spin bike or treadmill. I had never been in a race of any type and had certainly never swam laps in a pool.

Having grown up in Montreal, I was more of a party animal than anything else.  When people ask me what my background is (swimming, biking, running?) I usually joke that I have a background in partying. Partying until 6 in the morning (or later!) was a regular thing for my friends and I. I lived in the heat of it, right in the most exciting social neighborhood in Montreal, the Plateau Mont-Royal. It was awesome and I had a whole lot of fun. I didn't even need to make arrangements with my friends. When I went to the local bars, I knew almost everyone there and they knew me. Even on the quiet nights at home watching TV I would still manage to put down a 6 pack and not even feel it.

Needless to say, I eventually started to feel like I needed something else in life. Smoking and drinking just wasn't doing it for me anymore. The voice inside my head (no, I wasn't going crazy...) was telling me that it was time to get into shape. This wasn't something that came to me all of a sudden, I always knew that the days of partying would come to an end, and I was ready to embrace change.

Stanley Park - Summer 2005

My whole life I always considered myself as having a pretty solid natural endurance and I found the idea of testing myself against others quite interesting. I always thought that I could outrun any of my friends if it came to it. I often ran to friends houses instead of walking because it was faster than walking so why not. I would leave my house to catch the train to school at the very last possible minute because I knew that I could run the 750 meter distance in less than two and half minutes even with a bag on my back. When I was a kid, my mother had once told me that my Aunt had raced an Ironman and when she explained to me what that was, I was really impressed. I thought that someday that would be something pretty cool to do but I never actually planned to and never even thought about it that much. Until I met Laura...

Lost Lagoon - Summer 2005

I met my partner, Laura Dunkley, in the summer of 2004. We met at a friends place and partied all night until around 7am. Not only could she party as hard as anyone I knew, she was also training for her first marathon. She had just graduated from McGill University and was still a member of the McGill Triathlon Club. She trained with them to get some cross-training into her workout schedule. I was really impressed. Here was a group of people who were training regularly and racing triathlons. Very cool..! Not to mention that my girlfriend was training to run in a marathon! Crazy! The seed was planted but I didn't even know it yet. Fast-forward two years to 2006...

Victoria - July 2005
Being from the West Coast, Laura had already moved back to Vancouver 18 months before I finally joined her. We kept our relationship together during that time and visited each other every few months. Although, during that time I started to party less and less, I was still drinking a lot and I found it hard to make the necessary changes to start a life of fitness.

Moving to a new part of the world changed everything. I didn't know anyone except for Laura so I didn't go out at night anymore. I immediately started to swim lengths at Vancouver's Kits pool. It's a 137.5 meter outdoor pool designed for swimmers. When I started, I couldn't even swim one full length of the pool without stopping but it didn't take long before I started to make progress. I never had any lessons so I had to watch the other swimmers and try to imitate their technique. Within two months, I was able to swim the Ironman 3.8 km distance in 1 hour and 20 minutes without stopping or putting my foot down. That was my first test to find out wether or not I would be able to race at Ironman.

At this point, I tentatively came up with a four year plan to race at Ironman. I figured it would take me that long to get everything together. As well as having no racing or training experience, I had no money, no job and no equipment to train with. It was going to take time.

The next step was running... Between 2004 and 2006 I tried to do a bit of running but was quite unsuccessful. I was having trouble with knee pain (which turned out to be more of an ITB problem). Anything over 5km really hurt. It was always all or nothing for me so I didn't realize that it was because I was pushing myself too hard. I wasn't letting my body adapt after leading a mostly sedentary lifestyle for the previous 10-15 years (I played soccer and hockey when I was a kid). I also knew nothing about proper running form and technique. I used to think that if I took bigger steps I wouldn't need to take as many so it would end up being easier. Bigger steps means even more heel striking. No wonder I was always getting running injuries. After living in Vancouver for almost a year I ran my first race at the Victoria Times Colonist 10k. I wasn't really training much but I had been doing a few km's here and there and running 3.5 km to work once or twice a week. I managed to pull it off in 43:13 and felt pretty good. Maybe I could run after all?

Vancouver Island 2008
Along with biking to work every day, I was starting to pull things together. I still didn't have any plans to actually race at a triathlon but things were moving in that direction. That summer, in 2007, when Laura and I were visiting her family in Victoria, her brother Steve asked me if I wanted to do the swim segment of the Victoria Self-Transcendence Olympic distance triathlon. It was the day before the race and their friend who was supposed to do the swim for them in their relay team "Get Rich or Die Tri'n" was suddenly sick with a bad cold. I didn't have a wetsuit and I'd only been in the open water a couple of times but I figured, why not. The swim segment was the part that intimidated me the most, since I was new to swimming and competition. I needed to get a feel for that part of the race and this was a perfect opportunity to do so. The first few minutes of that swim were pretty scary. I kept thinking to myself that I needed to stay focused so that I wouldn't end up at the bottom of the lake. Once I shook off the feeling of panic, it wasn't too bad and I managed to finish the swim in 35 minutes. I survived!
R&B Brewery 2008

The next year was much the same as the previous year. I trained around 2-3 hours max per week and some weeks not at all. This mostly consisted of going to the gym and lifting some weights and swimming in the 50m pool. I still ran to work once in a while or did the odd 45-60 minute run. Biking consisted of riding hard for 10 minutes each way from work (and sprinting up the short hill on the way back). I still had no definite plans to start racing triathlon in 2008. Until... I received an email in the the spring from the Victoria Triathlon race organizers asking me if I wanted to sign up for the 2008 race. I didn't have any gear yet except for running shoes and goggles so I had to make a big decision. I went for it. I spent $3000 at Pacific Multisport getting everything I needed from bike and wetsuit to tri suit and bike kit. I needed it all. It was the best investment I've ever made.

Victoria Triathlon 2008

I signed up for three Olympic distance races in 7 weeks that year (Squamish - Victoria - Vancouver) and finished them all with an average time of under 2h 40min. Not bad considering that I only trained for around 3 weeks before the first one and actually didn't train at all in between them. Carbo loading consisted of drinking 5 to 7 pints at R&B brewery on Friday night and usually a couple more on the Saturday before the race (I still liked to have a little bit of fun and wasn't taking it too seriously :)). I had only 3 weeks in between the first two races and two of those weeks were spent recovering from the first one. I could barely walk the first week after that race and actually had to use a walking stick because my knee hurt so much. I was pretty sure that I would have to drop out of the second race but a few days before, my body started to feel  really good again so I went for it. I finished the Victoria Triathlon in 2h 36min and actually felt great after the race. I didn't have any lingering knee pains. Three days later, I sprained my ankle while drinking beers at the R&B brewery. Only three and a half weeks until the Vancouver Triathlon... That race was a lesson in pain but I stuck to it and finished in 2h 42min. After that, I decided that I needed to actually train for the next race season. Starting in January... it was the off season after all and I needed to let my foot heal.

Next post: Training? That means 3 or 4 workouts a week right?

First Triathlon - Squamish 2008