Sunday, September 30, 2007

It Feels Good to be Racing Again!

Yesterday was the first race in the Calgary Road Runners cross-country series and although the race is only 8km, it hurt like hell. It was a completely different type of pain than Ironman training, that short-lung-burning, leg cramping, side-splitting pain that only comes from a hard all-out effort. It felt great! I never realized how much I missed those little races until I was back in one again. The course was a constant uphill- downhill rolling trail just east of Canada Olympic Park, it was absolutely beautiful with the fall colours and Amber and I were really happy to spend some time racing in our fabulous city. I finished the 8km course in 33:55, third in my age group and fourth overall. Amber finished third in her age category as well and felt good throughout.

In other news I received a great opportunity for a new job doing what I love, advising clients on their investments, in Grande Prairie. Yes, it is a BIG change for Amber and I, but it is also an incredible opportunity that we couldn't pass up. We talked a lot about how this would change our life, the training, leaving the city we've come to love, but we're excited to start a new chapter in a new place. I've told my new boss that I'm willing to put in two years there and then I would like to come back, or relocate to a place at our choosing and he said he'd be happy to support me with that. We've looked into local races and training facilities and there is great places to train and develop as athletes. Also we'll be able to buy a house out there, something we couldn't seem to do here in Calgary. We're both very excited and happy for this new career opportunity and although the move isn't going to be until March, we're already thinking about what our life will be like up there. Different, yes but sometimes switching things up is exactly what you need to do to really grow as an athlete, person, and a couple.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Back in the Gym

Yesterday AD and I went to Mount Royal and today we're both REALLY feeling it. We warmed up with a good spin on the bike and Amber did some upper body work while I concentrated on my legs. It felt really good to get back at it and release some pent up energy, we both walked out feeling so good and refreshed. However today we're paying the price, AD is having trouble moving her arms and yesterday couldn't wash her hair very well. I'm having trouble getting down the stairs and every time I move after sitting around for a while, it HURTS. Part of the fun I guess.

In other news AD and I drove up to Cardel place yesterday to pick up an award I was completely surprised to receive from the Alberta Triathlon Association, "age group male athlete of the year." It was definitely a great way to cap off a perfect season.

I appreciate the recognition, I feel with all the hard work both Amber and I put in this season, that we both deserved one but having one of us win was great. A special thanks to my biggest support and inspiration AD, I love you.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Feeling of Freedom!

I have always loved running, even in grade school I really enjoyed the cool September air when the leaves are changing and everything around you is incredibly beautiful. I used to go out after school and run around the field countless times just to have that feeling of freedom and speed. Yesterday after work I recaptured that same feeling. I started out with the intention of simply going for a nice jog to release some built up energy, but I felt so good that after a km or so I gradually started to run faster and faster. My legs were stretching out further my arms started moving harder and harder, my breathing was deeper and I had a feeling of unbelievable euphoria.

I was moving faster and faster with each step and I wondered if I should slow down because this route normally takes me about an hour to complete. Throughout Ironman training that was my mindset, "slow down, there is nothing fast about doing an Ironman" and this is the way you have to think, you're not going to last if you don't. But today I just wanted to recapture some of that feeling of flying faster than you thought you could go. I was moving well and felt as if nothing could catch me, the grass whipped my legs and sweat poured down my face and I was really flying. I hadn't felt like this since the road-runners cross country series races last winter, I'm really looking forward to racing them again this winter.

I arrived home exhausted and unbelievably happy, that was one of the best running workouts I've had in a long time; 13km- 51:45. I can't wait to do it again.

Thursday, September 13, 2007


Ever since I've been in "recovery mode" and haven't been able to train like I'm used to and I've been trying to throw myself into my work as much as possible. However, I've been preoccupied with thoughts of "pimping out" my bike. I took it to Kam this week to tear it down to the frame so I can send it to Griffen to have it re-painted. I'm going to go with a custom black and red prizmatique with red decals, it's going to look hot!

I've also been looking into upgrading the accessories, FSA crank and chain rings, FSA seat, new Oval Concepts areobars and I'm just getting started.

I really want to throw myself into bike training this year, Amber and I made such good progress through last year and I it paid off BIG TIME at IMC. This year I want to shoot for a 5hr bike time and set myself up to feel strong on the run. We're joining the bike classes through TCR sport lab again and plan on doing the BC tour as a ramp up in bike training. I've heard over the years of training from a lot of triathletes, and I agree, that the stronger you are on the bike, the stronger you will be on the run.

I'm going to try to ignore my bike obsession for the next little while and get back to the gym tonight to start slowly back into it. AD and I really want to concentrate on the weights more over this winter, it will pay off when we're ready to go this April and everyone else is just starting back.

I'll keep you updated on the new "pimped out" ride, JR you would be proud! You're going to want the Griffen back after I'm done with it.

Monday, September 10, 2007

I Thought I was Taking a Year Off?

This week was very tough for both Amber and I, we were both very proud of the progress we made this year with our fitness and the thought of taking a year off IM training was making us feel a little depressed. When you have such a short window to compete and do well in events like Ironman, you want to make sure that you have given everything you can while you still have the ability. On Friday I did some research as to what IM events were open for registration on the off chance that Amber was willing to scrap our plans to go to the Tour de France and go for another year of IM training. The only event I could really find was IM Wisconsin which was running this weekend.

When I told AD the way I had been feeling and the fact that I didn't really want to lose a year of fitness and start over again, I was surprised to hear that she felt the same way. We're definitely meant for each other! AD did some further research and read some race reports and we decided that IM Louisville was a good choice for us. It's a smaller race which means the swim will be a little more controlled and easier to prepare for, and it's a new race which means that all the hotels in the area are not jacking up their prices on that weekend and gouging the athletes and their families.

So there it is, what was supposed to be a year off has turned into another year of IM training. This year we plan on doing more "over-distance" rides to help us prepare for the bike, some more specific swim training, and running enough to build up some speed while not running too much to risk injury. Weight training in the winter really helps with base development and injury prevention. For an update as to what races we are tentatively looking at doing, take a look at the side menu.

After meeting Scott Curry and the pro gang in Bragg Creek on Sunday and hearing what he is planning on doing this winter, I think AD and I should look into getting some cross-country skis as well. Thanks for the suggestion Scott, I know you'll kick ass in Florida this November.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Race Of a Lifetime

We woke up at 4:30 am and prepared to make our way to the start. There are a lot of things to do before starting a race like this and every little thing seems like an enormous obstacle during race morning. I dropped off my special needs bag, you can pack something for yourself that the volunteers will give you at km 100 of the bike. Went to fill up the tires on my bike and pack some food for the day and waited in the long line up to be body marked. After making one last stop a the washroom I was ready to go. With all the people at the start I knew I wouldn't see Amber again so I wished her luck earlier and I knew she would have a great race.

I was positioned in the middle of the beach in about the third row from the front among a group of 2488 other people all ready to begin the 25th anniversary edition of Ironman Canada. After the national anthem was sung and the professionals had started everyone was getting nervous, you could feel the energy of the people around you, focused on the swim and how they could make the most out of this portion of the race. I tried to remain calm and stayed focused on the fact that too hard of an effort on the swim can ruin your day, something that I painfully learned in training. The cannon went off and everyone jumped into the water trashing around in a form of controlled chaos. I immediately was kicked in the goggle by someone in front of me an started thinking, "oh great, this is how this day is going to be." But after a few hundred meters I found someone who was a good kicker and I started drafting off their feet, the swim is the only portion of the race where you can draft off of someone else and save some of your energy. However, as people start to converge towards the first turn, you have people on either side of you pushing you this way and that way and it's difficult to keep a steady rythym. Getting through the first turn I felt good and started to have some space where I could maintain an consistent stroke while not tiring myself out. The final turn is difficult because you are making your way back to the beach but it is still 1800m away and it seems like an eternity. The last 500m I was very tired but I concentrated on keeping my form and remaining calm and relaxed. I couldn't see my heart-rate monitor but I knew I was comfortable and not expending a lot of energy in the water.

I exited the water, ripped off the top of my wetsuit and had the volunteers help with the remainder. Ran to my swim- bike bag, picked it up and then to the change tent. When I looked at my watch I was happy to see that this was my fastest swim in an Ironman event at 1 hr and 2 mins. I put on my socks, bike shoes, helmet, loaded up my pockets with some food, stopped for a washroom break and headed out towards my bike. I looked for my landmark, where my bike was situated and immediately found it. Everything was in order so I grabbed it and headed out for the long day on the bike.

Going through Penticton on your bike is one of the great experiences in the race, you feel fresh and fast and the crowds are lining both sides of main street cheering everyone on. It's very hard to try and keep your heart rate down and your adrenaline is pumping all the way out of town. That was the case with me anyway, my heart rate was a lot higher than I wanted it to be, I was trying to keep it under 141 beats per minute and I was pushing 155 during the first 20 minutes on the bike. After riding along lake Skaha I managed to settle into a good rhythm keeping my cadence at 100 to 107 rpm and my heart rate around 136 bpm, my speed was up around 40 to 42 km/hr so I was feeling good and going fast. The main thing in Ironman is to keep your heart rate down while going as fast as you can. I knew this was the fast section of the course so I was prepared to slow down considerably.
I passed a lot of riders on the 67 km section out to Osoyoos and finished that section of the race quite quickly, in about 1 hr and 55 mins. At 67 km you reach the first climb, Richter pass, a long 5 km climb that can ruin your race if you are not prepared for it. With all the climbing Amber and I had done in training I cruised up it trying to keep my heart rate under control but still pushing 165 bpm in some sections. After the climb you get a long descent that provides a great opportunity to take in some food and try to replenish some of the lost calories. I had already drank two water bottles of hammer heed, downed a peanut butter and jam sandwich, a banana, and two fruit bars on the way out, but I knew now would be the time to eat as much as possible as I wouldn't feel like eating anything later so I had a cliff bar on the way down Richter. Also I was quite conscious of taking in salt tablets so I was taking one every half-hour.

After the descent the course turns into a rolling gradient where you are constantly going uphill or downhill. I was caught in a group of about 6 people all of similar ability that kept changing the lead, none of us were trying to draft off each other but it was nearly impossible to keep 7 bike lengths between us (that is the rules to prevent drafting on the bike). I tried to stay out of the way if someone was passing me and other riders were also giving me the same space, but with that many people on the bike course at the same time, you always have someone around you.

The section most people hate on the Ironman course is a long 20 km out-and-back stretch of road that seems to never end. By this time most people are getting really tired and the bike ride is just going on for too long. I like this section because it gives me a chance to see who is in front and who is just behind. I picked up my special needs bag at the turn around loaded up with two more bottles and another sandwich that I never ended up eating. After seeing that I was well positioned on the bike I headed out for the final major climb of the day, Yellow lake. This is typically where I "blow-up" on the bike but this year the temperature was good and I was well fueled so I handled it very well, still suffered reaching heart rates of around 165 bpm but the crowd out there is so motivating that they simply carry you all the way up. Cheering and running beside you, you feel like you are a part of the Tour De France climbing in the alps with the crowd screaming at you to push on.

At 150 kms into the bike I was very sore and tired but still moving quite well and didn't feel nausea like other years. The last 25 km of the bike is a very fast descent into town and I took the opportunity to rest my legs as much as possible and take in as much fluid as my body would let me. Riding into Penticton is great with the crowds cheering you all the way in but it seems like a long stretch of road when all you want to do at that point is get off your bike. I finally reached transition, dismounted the bike, handed it to a volunteer and made my way to the bike- run bag.

After changing shoes and dumping the rest of my bike gear I made my way out to the run course. I didn't feel like carrying the bottle I had waiting for me in my run bag and decided to simply use whatever was available at the aid stations, they were positioned every mile so there was a lot of support. I looked at my watch at the start of the run and it said 6 hrs and 30 mins, okay you have 3 hrs and 30 mins to complete this marathon and reach your goal of finishing under 10 hrs, I can do this.

The first four miles of the run felt great I was running strong and passing a lot of people, I didn't stop at any of the aid stations and simply took water and coke on the go. Once I hit the fifth aid station things started to get worse, my legs were really starting to cramp up and despite taking 9 salt tablets on the bike I was still craving salt. I took the last three tablets I had with me and then relied on pretzels offered at the aid stations. I was determined to have a good run this year and as long as I was moving I tried to keep running. I felt fairly good at the run turn around and kept shuffling along while walking the aid stations and taking in as much as possible. I knew a sub- 10hr finish was possible, I just had to keep moving! By mile 17 my legs were screaming at me and I was getting some sever cramping in my right calf but I just tried to run through it and it eventually subsided.
At 20 miles your body is crying out for you to stop the punishment and to just rest but this is when the mental preparation comes into play. I knew this was going to happen and you have to be willing to focus on the moment and not think too far ahead. Terry Fox said it best when someone asked him how he prepares for the monumental task of running across Canada, "take it one telephone pole at a time." That is what I tried to do, focus on the moment and concentrate on the next mile and nothing else. Slowly but surely the miles started to tick off 21, 22, 23, 24, buy the time I hit mile 24 I could see that I was still moving very well and I just needed to keep it up for two more miles and I would reach my goal. The last three miles are very painful and your legs are ready to crumble from underneath you but I simply focused on the next stretch of road and allowed the energy from the crowd to carry me to the finish. By the time I hit riverfront avenue I was cruising along and racing towards the finish. I looked up at the clock and it read 9hrs 51mins and 17sec, YES! Good enough for 38th place overall and fifth in my age category (male 30-34).

At the finish I was carried to the message tent and had a 20 minute rub down that hurt with the events of the day but I was still able to eat a little something, unlike other years. I was so happy I broke down in tears while getting the message and just allowed myself to be happy with the results of all the years of hard work that led to this moment. I had qualified for the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, something only 99 other people will qualify for on the day and surpassed all the goals I had set for myself. Although I decided not to take the Hawaii spot, the race is in October and I've used all my vacation at work. I know one day I'll get the opportunity to go there and now I know that it is totally achievable.

Amber also had a great race, finishing in 12 hrs and 1 min, and although she is a little disappointed in her bike time, she had an incredible race and I'm very proud of her. She's shown me that fully committing to anything you want to achieve in life is the key to success and I plan to take that attitude into everything I do, in work and in my personal life. Anything is possible if you just take it "one telephone pole at a time."

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The Ironman Journey

Ironman 2007 is finally finished and it's been a long process to finally obtain the results I've reached this year. I started competing in triathlons seven years ago when my roommate was all hyped on doing an Olympic distance race (1500m swim, 40km bike, and 10km run) and he convinced me to go along with him. I regularly competed in running races and I had plans to do my first marathon that summer. However, triathlon was unlike anything I'd ever experienced, it was the most grueleing and physically demanding sport I'd ever done. Imagine swimming in a lake filled with hundreds of other people all kicking and thrashing around, dunking, kicking, elbowing, climbing over, and completely exhausting you. Then getting out to the water and HAMMERING as hard as you can on your bike while you are still disoriented from the swim and feeling like your legs are as heavy as stone afterwards. Then jumping off your bike and pounding out a run with legs that feel like jello and being so physically depleted that you are about to collapse at any moment, I immediately fell in love with the sport.

Ironman is the "holy grail" for any triathlete, it is the most physically demanding one day endurance event on the planet and something I never thought was attainable for me. It consists of a 3.85 km swim, 180 km bike, and a 42 km run. It starts at 7 am and if you don't exit the swim at 9:30 am, finish the bike by 5 pm, or the run by midnight, you are not allowed to continue and cannot call yourself an "Ironman."

I continued completing in Olympic distance and sprint distance races through 2001, 2002 and 2003, slowing getting better but still only finishing in the top 25 or 40 racers. It wasn't until a friend of mine started training for Ironman Austria in 2004 and I trained with him that I ever thought that it was possible for me to complete an Ironman. I was still very limited by my swimming and biking ability, consistently making up ground on people in the run. I trained religiously throughout 2004 and sent in an entry in August 2004 for the following year's Ironman event. I was shocked to see that they had accepted my entry and I was in for Ironman 2005.

The races in 2005 and 2006 were both very difficult, extremely hot (33 deg C+) and although all my swimming and biking throughout those years was paying off, I just wasn't having the run I was used to having, walking most of both marathons. Last year I met my significant other (Amber Dawn) at a CIBC function and was suprised to hear she had done the race in 2005 as well. We did a lot of trail running together throughout last summer and I thought I was well prepared for the run in Ironman 2006. The problem I was having is called hyponatremia and is common among some ultra-endurance athletes in warm weather. The body simply cannot replace the electrolytes lost during competition and the extreme salt depletion causes your stomach to "shut-down" and not absorb anything. That is why it's common to see runners throwing-up in the run portion of an Ironman during extremely hot weather. It is your body's way of forcing you to stop.

Understanding this physiological process that was going on with my body during this event helped a lot. I knew that I lost a lot of salt during an Ironman, both years my clothes were covered in salt afterwards and sports drinks just didn't have enough to replace what I was losing. Amber and I dedicated our entire year to training for Ironman 2007, going to bike classes throughout the winter and killing ourselves on the bike trainer in our basement every weekend. Running high-intensity cross country races put on by the Calgary Road Runners, and swimming at the Mount Royal college pool once or twice a week. I knew I was making progress when I finally broke the elusive 3 hour marathon time, running a 2hr 48min marathon in Kelowna in October 2006. The training was paying off and the results started to show, I finished second in the first triathlon of 2007, the Mount Royal sprint triathon and second in the Chinook Half-Ironman in June. I was finally getting the results in the swimming and biking portion of the race that had been so difficult for me in other years.

Thanks to Amber, I was becoming more involved in structured training and enjoying long swims, bike rides, and runs a lot more. Amber hired a coach who provided her with the structured workouts she needed and I piggy-backed on the training and structure she was getting by looking at her workout week and customizing it to how my body felt. As the weather started to warm up we were doing a lot more long bike rides, starting out at 3 hrs in May and eventually ramping up to 7 hrs in July one day. The training took a toll as we had a couple weeks where we would feel great and it would be followed by a week of feeling sluggish and depleted. July was our biggest month of training and we spent a lot of time on our bikes. One week in mid-July we were part of a bike tour through B.C. traveling 853 km in seven days and some extreme climbs were on days 5 and 6. We had some other terrific bike trips like Amber's birthday weekend at the beginning of August when we biked 153 km to Banff on Saturday,I asked her to marry me in Canmore on the way up and she said yes! Then we ran for 3 hrs on Sunday and had another 150 km ride home on Monday.

The preparation was all starting to pay off during August when you have to reduce your total training volume to give your body a chance to recover. I was feeling stronger and itching to race. Amber and I arrived in Penticton August 22nd feeling ready, we did a couple swims in the lake and some short bike rides and warm-up runs in the days leading up to the event but the hardest thing to do was to not get caught up in the excitement of the event and to start doing too much. You need to stay out of the sun, eat properly, and keep your body well-rested. The night before the race we were both a little nervous but I knew that we had done all we needed to do and tomorrow we simply needed to stick to the race plan and everything would work out well.