Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Peace River Sprint

Well it's not quite Ironman Canada but it was nice to be there 'in spirit' and compete in the Peace River Triathlon while my friends were doing IMC. A big congrats to all those who finished the race in Penticton under some of the most brutal conditions I've ever heard of there. I've never heard of it hailing during the bike in Penticton, my buddy Robert said he's never gone so slow during the last hour of the bike and this was his 10th Ironman. Let's just say I'm glad I sat this one out.

It was tough to feel motivated to complete even a sprint distance race on Sunday when Amber and I woke up to 3'C and some very, very foggy conditions. It was so cold I was thinking of calling it off and then Amber reminded me it's only a sprint race and I could go out and suffer for an hour. There were a couple strong competitors out there, my buddy Richard who runs a tri group here in GP and who we had a good conversation with about the future of "Speed Revolution." Come January we are going to have things a little more formalized and really start developing the brand. Also a local kid, Stephan Naskedin who is an absolutely unbelievable swimmer and killed everyone else by at least 3 minutes in 750m.

I felt comfortable with my biking and running although I've been doing a lot of IM training which probably doesn't help much during a sprint. It's been my swimming I've been a little anxious about over the past few weeks. Every time I seem to get into a good training routine in the pool, I get sick! It's very frustrating but I'll have a good couple weeks in the water and then I'm forced to rest. Fortunately leading up to this race I was relatively healthy so I was hoping to at least swim 12 minutes. I guess I did alright because Amber said I was 3rd out of the water and finished in 11:59.

The bike was a lot of fun but difficult with all the technical turns and rough road conditions. There was a lot of slowing down and accelerating and if you're doing that for 32 minutes straight it will really knock the stuffing out of your legs. Combine that with the very cold conditions and you have the perfect way to cause a lot of muscle damage. Thank God I decided to wear gloves on the bike because it seemed to lock-in the heat in my upper body and I was able to stay a little warm, I'm definitely doing that for Banff. Passed the two guys in front of me early on the bike and I was able to hold off Richard for the rest of the ride.

When I started the run I looked down at my legs wondering what was wrong. I was taking short little choppy steps and I couldn't figure out what was happening. At the 1km mark my stride started to stretch out more and I realized that my legs and feet were just freezing cold from the bike. The rest of the run went well and I was able to catch a lot of people in the heat before mine. Everyone was very encouraging and I did my best to cheer on the other competitors but it was tough when you are pushing that hard. I finished in 1:02.17 and set a new PR for the sprint distance, first one I've done since U of A back in 2008.

I seem to be a little run down now (a couple days later) and I'm hoping I don't get sick again. I have one more tri before I call it a year and although I feel a little disappointed at how this year turned out, I'm really happy I was able to be there for Amber to help her reach her goal of finishing the Death Race. This fall and winter I'm going to train a lot smarter and scale back the intensity and I may even hire a coach. I've done fairly well just training myself but I'm starting to realize that its not just the training that is important anymore, it's the recovery. I'll go back to running after finishing Banff in a couple weeks leading up to the New York marathon, I'll take a really good rest and then come January I'll look at what I need to do to be successful this season. I think it's going to mean racing less which I hate to do but I'm not going to miss another Ironman because I've pushed myself too hard. IMC 2011 here I come.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Colder Nights

I can always feel when the race season is coming to an end, the days become shorter and nights a lot colder, the long-hard training sessions are over and the taper for IMC is well underway. Well this year I don't have to taper because I'm not doing IMC but I can definitely 'feel' what it's like as the race approaches. I've had some great training swim-rides-runs with a lot of the athletes in town and I'm really going to miss the suffering we've shared together, somehow it makes you feel a lot closer. Sound strange? It is, unless you've done Ironman and you know what it feels like to cross that line. There are a few moments in your life where you will truly be put to the test and Ironman is one of those.

You spend months or in some cases years preparing for one day and sometimes it goes well and sometimes it doesn't, what matters more is how you battle those inner voices that tell you to stop. Ironman is a great proxy for life, do you keep battling when things get rough, or do you stop. I'm not saying that you should keep trying to finish when a reasonable athlete would stop amid some long term health consequences. But everyone from pro to last age grouper will go through some tough times, the key is (just like in life) to just keep going. Good luck to all those doing IMC this year, this is the first year since 2004 I won't be doing an Ironman at the end of August but I'll be with you in spirit cheering you on to that blue carpet where you will definitely understand.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Back In the Water

I admit, it's always been a struggle for me to get in the pool, that isn't a secret but when I do swim consistently I absolutely love the feeling. Swimming is an incredible way to feel weightless and free to fly through the water. However it's much nicer when you've been swimming for a while and your muscles have adapted to the training stress. I've been trying to get back that feeling and I know it's going to take some time but I am enjoying swimming again. After an open water fiasico when I went to Musearu Lake with Robert and couldn't even hold on to his feet I decided I needed to concentrate more on my swimming. I know Robert is preparing for IMC but he hasn't been swimming that much more that I have and there was no reason we shouldn't have been swimming at least the same pace. I was in the pool three times the following week and I've been trying to get in as much as possible this week. It seems like three times a week is a lot for me, mainly because the running and biking don't leave me with enough energy to swim more. I know I could scale back on the other two and for the most part I have but swimming is such an effort some days; 1. you can only go to the pool at desiginated lane swim times, 2. it takes a while to get to and from the pool, and 3. sometimes finding lane space is next to impossible if you don't go at 'off-peak' times.

I left for Whitecourt yesterday and they have such a beautiful facility that I really look forward to swimming when I'm here. The new Allan and Jean Miller Centre is fantastic and going during lane swim times always means you will have a lane all to yourself. Yesterday I was done work a little early so I headed to the pool and spent an hour working on technique and some speed work. I was surprised how slow I am but I know it'll just take a couple of weeks of dedicated time in the water to come right back. I finished with some 200's unable to hit the 3:00 mark I was aiming for but I was close, some 100's not quite hitting the 1:30 mark, and some 50's where I was able to at least maintain 45sec for four of them. I'm really looking forward to racing again in Peace River, it's just a little sprint but the distances are correct and I'm hoping to have a sub-hr race. The plan is to try to be under 12mins swimming, under 30mins biking, and under 18mins running, doable but very, very tough. I've never done this race and I'm not sure how difficult it will be but it will be a nice tune-up before the final tri of the year, and a race I would like to perform very well at, Banff.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Death Race Weekend

What an incredible event! Last weekend was Amber's "big goal" for the year and she participated in one of the hardest events I've ever heard of- The Canadian Death Race. It's a 125km ultra marathon over 3 major mountain passes, 17000' of climbing and 17000' of descending= a lot of pounding on the legs. I was a little flabbergasted when Amber told me she was going to sign up for this race solo, I did my best to try and convince her to do it as a team with me but to no avail, she was determined to get through it on her own.

Amber and I have some great friends in our lives and we were very fortunate that Jason and Dionne lent us their RV for the long weekend, it was a tremendous help at all the stages. We drove down to Grande Cache on Friday and got all the preliminary work done and hung out for the pre-race meeting and dinner. There was a great energy in the air, all the athletes were ready to go and just wanted to get the race started. Unfortunately we picked a bad spot to park the first night and the "Death Fest" organizers thought it would be a great idea to have a rock concert the night before a 24hr event! Amber and I both could not sleep and the music was just getting louder and louder. Finally at 11:20 I decided to drive us across town and park on some side street which was a major relief, although we could still hear the concert at least the speakers were not rocking and echoing through the RV.

The start was a lot of fun, there was a lot of nervous energy and racers getting ready for one of the most difficult experiences of their lives. Amber handled it all really well and I was quite surprised to see she wasn't as jittery as she normally is before a major event, although a last minute pole issue almost had her in a panic. The race started off through town and it gave all the spectators a chance to see everyone determine their order in the pack. I was a little surprised Amber started at the back and was comfortable there but she obviously knew what she was doing, she had a race plan and was not going to deviate from it.

The first leg is a 19km run through some fairly hilly terrain, I did part of this leg with Amber the first time we went out to Grande Cache and I was surprised how tough it was. I was absolutely exhausted after 3hrs on the first 10kms and back but I have since been told this leg is nothing compared to the rest. It was definitely going to be the fastest and easiest leg of the day and there were a ton of runners that blazed through it (mainly teams). It made it difficult to find Amber in transition but we did end up hooking up and she was a little behind her race goal time of 2hrs and ended up finishing the first leg in 2:14. No problem but no time to hang around and chit chat, I filled up her camel back gave her a little more food and she was off on the second leg.

The second leg of the race is an absolutely brutal 27km double mountain climb that will absolutely kill your race and end your day if you are not smart. A lot of athletes try and run this part of the course and end up pulling out after leg 3. Only the top 2-3% of ultra marathoners are capable of running this leg and still finish the race so unless you have a goal time of under 15hrs it's probably wise to hike the uphills and take it easy on the downhills. It's actually the downhill pounding that will turn your legs to jello at the end of this stage. Amber was doing great, she was moving with purpose and not dilly dallying like a lot of other racers out there. I was told that a lot of people were having a picnic at the top of Grande mountain, she was having none of that, this is a race people! The end of the second leg was back in town and I was able to park fairly close to the transition so when she arrived she was able to change clothes, shoes, eat a little something and fill up her camel back again. At this stage she had already drank about 4 litres of water but she had been racing for 7 & 1/2 hrs and she finished the second leg in 5:15 feeling fairly fresh and looking a lot better than most people. 46kms done and she had only completed 2 legs of the 5 but I was confident that if she could get through this leg and not feel completely destroyed then she was going to make it.

Leg 3 is another 19kms of rolling terrain but looking at the profile there is still quite a lot of climbing and descending. Amber said this leg is easy but after 46kms of racing and another 79 to go, nothing is 'easy.' She was on the outside of her predicted times but the goal of the day was to get to the finish not set any speed records and she was being very smart by expending her energy slowly. I was waiting at the end of leg 3 for quite some time and I was starting to worry that she was getting very close to the cut off time, if you are not finished leg 3 by 7:00pm then your day is done. She arrived at 6:30 and she said that she was still running and there were a lot of people behind her that were not going to make the cutoff. She was right, 85 people either dropped out on leg 4 or didn't make the 7:00 cutoff for the end of leg 3.

Leg 4 is an absolute monster! 38kms and 7000' of climbing and descending. We drove out to Grande Cache one weekend and did this leg of the race together and I couldn't believe how this climb just never seemed to end, I was absolutely spent at the end and I didn't complete 65kms before that. The heat of the day was really starting to affect a lot of racers and you could see so many of them with stomach issues, or cramping, or some sort of dehydration problem. This is where a lot of the soloists started to drop out, it's really heartbreaking to get this far in the race and have to drop out, but it's what makes this race so incredibly hard only 1 out of every 3 soloists actually get to the end. At the end of leg 3 Amber did another clothes change, shoe change and I told her that after she goes over the top she is going to be in the dark so be prepared for bad footing and cold temperatures. She was ready.

The wait for her at the stage 5 start seemed like an eternity, I couldn't sleep because I just kept thinking that she is still out there running and I'm in a comfortable RV laying down. I did everything I could to try and keep busy but my mind just kept wondering to where she was and how she was doing. I waited in the cold and dark for quite a while trying to spot her as the racers came through the night with their head lamps guiding them through the 4 feet in front of them. She predicted that she could finish Hamel (leg 4) somewhere between 5:45 and 6hrs, she came through at 7:05, 2:30am and looking absolutely exhausted. Her feet were blistered, legs were so sore, she was dehydrated, calorie depleted and so incredibly tired. Fortunately she didn't have any major physiological issues, her knee and hip that always bothered her in training were holding up just fine. I popped the blisters on her two pinkie toes and did my best to bandage them but she was screaming in pain and wanted this race to be over. I gave her a little soup broth, she wasn't in the mood to eat anything, and encouraged her to get back out there. She didn't have any intention of stopping but after putting on her third pair of shoes for the day I was a bit concerned that she couldn't continue because every step hurt after popping those blisters. To my surprise she sucked it up and started out on the last leg.

Leg 5 is probably the toughest leg of the day, not because the 23kms is the hardest but because after racing 102kms you still have to face some major climbing and descending and you're running through the dead of night. Amber said her toes started to go a little numb after a short while running and the pain from her blisters started to subside. However in the dark she kept stubbing her toes on the rocks and that sent a shock wave of pain right through her body. At the start of leg 5 she had been racing for 17hrs and 36mins and I couldn't believe she was still conscious. I was ready to call it a day long ago but she just kept chugging along like a little bulldozer that was outlasting everyone else out there.

I went to the finish to wait for her and I didn't sleep a wink, I just couldn't imagine that she was still out there running and I was trying to sleep. Maybe if she was an ultra marathon veteran it would be a little different but this was her first race over 50kms. I waited and waited in the cold and finally at 6:30am I could see her running up the street towards the finish, yes she was still running and looking great. I was so happy to see her and felt incredibly proud that she didn't give up on herself out there, 22:05.09. What a day, over 22hrs of racing and she had just become one of the 148 solo finishers out of the 418 that started and she did it on her first attempt. Great job babe!!!