Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Back on track

I'm back!  I had a tough season in 2012 and it was difficult for me both mentally and physically.  I've been meaning to start blogging again for quite some time.  Thank you to everyone who has visited my blog in the last few months, I really appreciate your interest in my development.  Inevitably this blog post is a little lengthy but it shouldn't take too long to read.  I'll post regularly from now on and keep it shorter in the future. :)

Health Issues

Many people may think that not being able to start four separate Ironman 70.3 races and two DNF's (including one at Ironman Canada) would be a season completely wasted away.  In truth, no experience is wasted.  Sometimes you have to take what life throws your way, break it down, take what information you can from it and move on.

To say that 2012 was a tough race season for me would be an understatement.  As I mentioned in my last blog post after Shawnigan Lake, I've been suffering from gastrointestinal problems for some time now.  I've been trying to find out what the cause of the problem is and have been getting some tests done.

In June I had a colonoscopy to see see if there is any physical problem with my gut.  My doctor took a couple of biopsy samples and had a look around to see if he could find anything wrong.  Unexpectedly he found a medium sized polyp in my lower intestine which he proceeded to remove but apart from that everything looked fine.  Polyps are fairly common (although not so common in people my age) and rarely malignant.  I actually watched the procedure and it looked like it went really well (I'll spare you all the photos...).

On was on a pretty heavy dose for this one..
Unfortunately, I suffered a very rare side effect from the procedure.  Somehow I got a small perforation in my gut which started a septic infection.  I've never before been in so much pain...  It was pretty crazy.  I ended up spending five days in the hospital recovering which consisted of constant monitoring, morphine, dilaudid, IV drip with heavy antibiotics, regular blood tests and really bad hospital food.  The only fun part was that I kept setting off the alarm with my mid 30's resting heart rate.  I had to explain to each new nurse that I was an elite endurance athlete.  Although it wasn't the greatest experience, the staff at VGH hospital were really nice and I was well treated.

Having said all of this, I feel a responsibility to mention that you should never hesitate to get a colonoscopy if you think you need one.  Perforations are extremely rare and not getting one when it's needed could lead to much worse things like undiagnosed colon cancer or other intestinal diseases.  The actual procedure was not painful at all (and watching the live video as they did it was actually quite interesting).

Okanagan Lake - Near Kelowna in August
After my stay in the hospital I was on two separate antibiotics for a week and then needed even more time to make sure that my gut was fully recovered before getting back into training.  I went to Montreal for twelve days at the end of June and gradually started to bike again and actually managed to get a good long ride in.  I biked from Laval through Oka all the way to Ontario and then back through Montreal covering over 170km.  Fortunately I still managed to maintain some endurance and I felt great during this ride.  I also fit in a few other rides and a couple of short runs as well. Swimming took a big hit though and I didn't swim at all for a full month in June.

Training for Ironman

When I got back from Montreal on July 1st I started to slowly get back into my training routine but I had not done enough leading up to the Vancouver Half Iron so I decided to drop out on the bike course and cheer my friends on instead.  I wasn't too dissapointed since I was never really expecting to finish the race anyway. Instead of racing at Lake Stevens the following week I opted instead to go to Penticton and do a weekend training camp to prepare for Ironman Canada. Since any races I would have done that month would have been sub par Coach Bjoern and I decided to switch my focus directly to Ironman Canada.

I trained well during the month of July and early August and was really feeling good leading up to IMC.  Since I only had around 5 weeks to get ready for the big race before the taper would have to start it was really important to make sure I was ready to keep up the pace on the bike and the run.  I focused on those two disciplines.  I still got in the pool and swam in the open water but I couldn't devote as much time to it.  I kept a positive mind set and focused on the task at hand.  The week leading up to the race was really fun.  It was my first time racing at Ironman Canada in the pro field. It was an exciting experience.

Race Day

I knew that I would struggle a little bit during the swim with my lack of swim fitness over the summer but I wasn't too worried about losing a lot of time.  I did well during the first half of the swim.  I stayed with the main pack until around the 1900m point (1.2 miles) but after that I started to fade and ended up finishing around two and a half minutes back from the pack.  One thing that I didn't envision was that my lack of swim fitness could cause problems later in the race.  Because I got tired halfway through the swim my form deteriorated which not only led to a decreased speed, it also caused my lower back to become sore since I wasn't engaging my core properly.  All in all though, the swim went well considering the minimal training and I was out of the water in less than 1 hour.

Video from the Ironman Canada bike course (after Richter Pass):

When I started on the bike I felt pretty good at first. I knew I wasn't far back and I had been getting good results during training.  Not far into the ride though I started to have some severe pain in my glutes, in particular in the glute medius area.  The fit on my bike was really well dialed in so it was not an issue with the bike.  I had neglected to incorporate stretching and flexibility into my daily routine and I paid the price for it.  The pain in my glutes lasted around 80+ kms (around 50 miles). Once I got over Richter Pass the glute pain started to subside as the muscles went numb but it was replaced with excruciating pain in my lower back.  I figure that since my glutes finally gave up I was not able to keep good form on the bike anymore.  I rolled my hips forward and this caused me to put a lot of pressure on my lower back.  The pain became so intense that I considered dropping out a few times.  I kept telling myself to just keep going and make it to the run.  I knew that when I got to the run this pain would go away since I would not be using my body the same way anymore.  The bike portion of the race ended up being much slower than anticipated with a total time of 5 hours and 9 minutes.  The good thing about not being able to ride as fast as I could was that I felt great when I started the run.  The absolute bliss of being off the bike made me feel like I was running on fresh legs.  I might have felt a little too good...

Video from the Ironman Canada run course:

As soon as I got onto the run I was running at a decent pace and was on target to do the run in under 3 hours and 10 minutes which was what I had trained for. The first 15km's I felt really good and comfortable and was still on pace but soon after that I started to fade really fast.  Ironman is a tough distance so it's normal to feel sore but this wasn't a soreness.  I soon realized that I had not been properly absorbing my nutrition on the run.  I was taking liquid calories and was careful to make sure that I was taking the proper amount of fluids, calories and sodium but it was just sitting in my stomach and not going anywhere.  No wonder I was fading, I had been running for over an hour without taking in any calories or fluids!  I knew this because I started to throw up since there was no room left in my stomach.  It didn't hurt, it just wasn't going anywhere.  My stomach wasn't used to absorbing calories under such a high effort.  Although I felt pretty good during the initial part of the run, my HR was probably too high to allow my body to ingest anything.  I had no issues at all with nutrition on the bike, only on the run which is pretty typical.

Excluding the Vancouver Half Iron (which I never planned to finish) this was the first race that I ever had to drop out of.  I don't like to quit but after the rough season that I'd had I was not up to pushing myself through the discomfort just to "finish " a race.  I'd already done this distance before so it was not all that important to simply finish.

Run Focus

Surrey International Half Marathon
The good part about not finishing an Ironman race is that you recover really quickly and you can start training again almost immediately.  I decided to refocus on my running speed after this and race in the Surrey International Half Marathon at the end of September.  My training leading up to this race went really well and I ended up finishing second overall on a really hilly course with a time of 1 hour 18 minutes and change.

After that race I kept focusing on running for the rest of October.  Although I was running faster than ever before I decided that I needed to take a break from training after a sub par result at the James Cunningham Seawall race and get my body sorted out if I was going to have a good season in 2013.

Video from the James Cunningham Seawall Race:

Getting to the Root of the Problem

In November I started working with strength and conditioning expert Sean Del Ben to correct my muscular imbalances, strengthen my body and improve my flexibility.  I also started doing bi-weekly and eventually weekly massage therapy sessions at painPRO therapeutics.  Those two things combined have made a world of difference and have set me back on the right track.  I will go into that in more detail further down.

As for now, it's late February and training is back up to normal volume.  I'm feeling much better than last year and have already set new PR's in the pool and at the track after only being back to regular training for one month.  Biking has been going great with four spin sessions a week that I coach at West Point Multisport plus the outdoor rides that coach Bjoern gives me.  I've also narrowed down the GI problems that I'm having to food sensitivities and have been much more careful with my diet which seems to have really helped with my issues.

Thank you!

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog.   I really appreciate the support.  In fact, I could not do any of this without you.  The positive support that I get from everyone around me gives me strength and helps me to be even more dedicated to achieving my goals.  I meet amazing people that inspire me everyday when I'm training or working at West Point Multisport.  I love triathlon and I am so passionate about it, it's great to see so many other people out there who share my passion. :)

Björn and Stephanie Ossenbrink
Björn Ossenbrink has been my coach since 2010 and he has been an integral part of my development as an athlete and a coach.  Without him I wouldn't have made it this far and I really appreciate all the work and time he has put in for me.  A special thanks to you Björn! Team Ossenbrink also includes some amazing elite athletes like Rachel McBrideStephanie OssenbrinkElliot Holtham and Nathan Killam.  They have pushed me to become a better athlete and I've been lucky to train with them.  There's also a full team of elite amateur athletes like Richele Frank, Geneviève CauffopéGeoff Watts, Kimberly Appleton and Craig Dale to name a few (sorry if I left you out, there are simply too many to name here!).  Click on their names to check out their website/blogs. They are all tremendous athletes.


Thanks to all of you I've also been able to partner up with some amazing sponsors that help to make this possible.  They have been phenomenal for me.  I'm really lucky to have such great sponsors and partners that believe in me and support me in achieving my goals.  I personally selected each and every one of my sponsors based on the quality of their products and services so if you need gear or help with injuries then check them out, they will not disappoint.

A shoe for every type of workout or race!
Zoot Sports is a triathlon specific company so you can always be sure that you're getting the most relevant products from them.  Unlike many other companies that focus on multiple different markets Zoot Sports focuses specifically on triathlon and does it right.  With leading edge technological innovations you can be sure that you're getting the best gear available.  They supply me with all of my apparel for training and racing (including all my winter training gear) as well as wetsuits and shoes.  I've been training and racing with their shoes for the last three years and couldn't be more happy with the quality and comfort that I get from them. Zoot has a whole line of training shoes as well as racing shoes to suit all of your needs.  One of the things that I like the most with Zoot shoes is the level of comfort.  They are made to be worn without socks and don't have an annoying tongue that moves around while you run and gets in the way when putting them on.  This year I'll be racing with the new Ultra Kiawe shoe.  Their wetsuits are also amazing.  I've been racing with the Zoot Prophet for the last year.  The first time I wore it I set a new PR! :)

Custom built 2013 Trek Speed Concept 9 series.
West Point Multisport is the "go to" triathlon store and premier Fit Lab in Vancouver. The service that they offer is second to none.  With plenty of brands to chose from you can almost always be sure to find what you're looking for.  Whether you're looking for swimsuits, swim equipment, tri clothes, bikes, compression, wetsuits, triathlon race shoes, aero helmets, nutrition or any other accessories they can help you.

The fit specialists at West Point Multisport are highly trained and experience and will ensure that you are most comfortable and efficient on your bike. If you've never been fit on your bike then don't wait any longer! The benefits of a properly fit bike are substantial and immediately noticeable (not to mention safer!). They've recently upgraded to the new Retül fit system with 3D motion capture technology.

They also have a free monthly triathlon lecture series from April to August with guest speakers and great training and racing tips as well as multiple weekly spin sessions from October to March every year. Starting in April there are also free group rides three times per week.  I will also be coaching a run clinic with video technical analysis this coming spring to help people improve their run form and prevent injuries as well as gain some extra speed.  They even offer regular free flat fix clinics during the spring/summer.  You can follow them on their Facebook Page to keep track of all the great special events or sign up for the occasional news letter on their website.

For all your other biking needs that don't include triathlon you can visit West Point Cycles with two convenient locations (W. 10th, near Alma & W. Boulevard, near 45th Ave in Kerrisdale). They carry some amazing gear and bikes for mountain biking, commuting, cyclocross, road, kids, dog trailers etc. - the list goes on!). They have a friendly and knowledgeable staff including a team of highly skilled mechanics to get your bike running in tip top shape. You can also follow them on their Facebook Page and sign up for the occasional news letter on their Website for informational on special events.

Wow! Those quads are tight!
painPRO Therapeutics has been instrumental for me in regard to loosening up my body after all of the hard workouts and years of neglect on my behalf.  Apart from the highly skilled therapists that work there they set themselves apart from other companies with their amazing live online booking system that allows you to book appointments up to 15 minutes before hand.  Hard swim set has you feeling a little sore?  No problem, you can book a lunch time appointment at one of their convenient downtown locations for a quick session.  They even offer ultra efficient and intensive 15 minute sessions for those with a busy schedule and specific issues. With a name like painPRO you can't go wrong! :)

Since I started regular visits at painPRO last June I've noticed some huge improvements in regard to muscles stiffness and mobility.  Each time I go there my muscles are getting looser and making my recovery times shorter and helping prevent injuries.

Compressport Triathlon Kit
Compressport has been there with me since the beginning.   If you want to recover faster then you should definitely consider using some quality compression products from Compressport.  They are a compression specific company from Switzerland.  They don't make any other products.  All of their research and development is 100% focused on compression ensuring that you get the best quality and technology.  Compression wear has two purposes.  It helps you to recover faster by stimulating blood flow and redistributing blood that pools in your capillaries during training. By recirculating blood back into your heart it can get redistributed to the your hard working muscles making you more efficient.  It also helps by stabilizing the muscles which reduces fatigue over time.

Focused strength training with Sean Del Ben
Sean Del Ben is my latest partner and boy is he helping me become a better athlete!  He's a strength and conditioning expert and has been helping to create balance in my body by focusing on the muscles that are causing imbalances.  I've had many injuries throughout my life and whenever this has happened my body has compensated and started to use other muscles to do the work that the injured muscle would normally do. The problem with that is that when you recover from the injury your muscles are weakened and if you don't do proper rehabilitation those muscles may never get back to their original strength. Your body keeps compensating and this eventually leads to other injuries and tight muscles from unnatural strain.  This was a  major problem for me last year.  My muscles were so tight that I was struggling during races when the higher efforts were sustained longer than usual.  Sean also does group training for endurance athletes so you can recruit some friends to train with you and get a group rate.  I have NO DOUBT that every athlete out there would benefit from working with Sean Del Ben.

K.31 CRONO from Kask Helmets
Kask Helmets supplies me with the most amazing helmets on the market. You may remember them from watching team Great Britain during the Olympics or team Sky during the Tour de France. I'll be racing with the highly acclaimed K.31 CRONO and training with the incredibly comfortable and lightweight Vertigo.  The Vertigo is by far the most comfortable helmet I have ever worn.  It has more adjustability than any other helmet I've seen (and I work part time in a bike store!). The K.31 CRONO has a special shape which keeps the helmet right up against your body when you have your head down in the aero position ensuring the best aerodynamics. It also has a built in visor which you can easily push up out the way with the hinged design.

More blog posts to come!

Thanks again for reading my blog and following my progress and development.  You can also follow me on Facebook and on Twitter (click on the words to activate the link).  If you have any questions or comments about any of this please write them at the bottom of this post, I would love to hear from you and will get back to you ASAP.  I plan on updating my blog regularly from now on so check back soon.  I'll try to keep it shorter from now on!  I've purchased a GoPro video camera and I will be creating a YouTube or Vimeo channel with lots of great training videos and coaching tips. :)

Next blog post: Dealing with Pain and Injuries