Friday, March 30, 2012

From zero to a full season

On March 28th, I looked at my schedule for the 2012 season and panicked. With Around the Bay done, I looked at my calendar to see how I would be proceeding with training for the rest of the spring, and only saw two races booked!

Just about to make the turn into Copps Coliseum. Hurting a lot.

Finish lines rawk!

The next one is Paris to Ancaster, our spring classic race. It's sixty kilometers of rail trail, mud, fire roads, mud, mudslides and mud. Did I mention mud?

Second aid station, 2011 P2A.

It being just 3 weeks after Around the Bay, I know I won't really be racing it. Tanker and I both rode it last year, just for a lark - I took a bunch of photos along the way and finished in something over 4hrs. He snapped his rear derailleur hanger 10km from the end, and had to get a ride to Ancaster from a friendly police officer. I caved to peer pressure to do the race again this year - he decided he didn't want to break his bike again, and has sweetly offered to pick me up in Ancaster so I don't have to rely on the (entirely too infrequent) shuttle buses.

I just managed to get the last of that mud off my bike on Wednesday.

So, that left one race on the schedule for 2012 - the Mine Over Matter off-road tri that isn't until August 26th! I was still hemming and hawing about what I wanted to do: Welland half iron? K-Town tri? Bluewater Olympic? We are already registered for the 160km Cambridge Tour de Grand, but that's a touring event Tanker and I will be riding together, not a race.

One thing stood out to me - the Gravenhurst Olympic Tri was the weekend before my birthday. I'd been wanting to do this race since I heard, a couple of years ago, that the swim starts by jumping off a steamboat! I like point-to-point swims, and this just seemed really neat. The past two years, I'd been unable to do Gravenhurst as it fell on the same weekend as the Belwood Lake tri from that other series, which Tanker and I did as a relay in both 2010 and 2011. I swim, he cycles, and I run. We did the try-a-tri distance in 2010 since the bike course is on rail trail and Tanker could ride his cyclocross bike, but moved up to the sprint in 2011 since he had so much fun!

One of my fav photos of him of all time, from  the 2011 Belwood Sprint Tri.

That other series has decided, in their infinite wisdom, to cancel Belwood for 2012. I'm as pissed about that as I am about them changing the Muskoka Long Course (also known as the Muskoka Chase) into an Olympic distance, making my original goal for 2012 impossible. You see, I did Muskoka LC as my "A" race in 2010, and had a really lousy day due to GI issues caused by food allergies/interactions of which I wasn't yet aware. I missed my goal time by 8 minutes, but knew I had a much better race in me. I wanted to go back and kick that course's butt (now that I know my nutritional needs better), and they go and take that chance away from me!

My smile totally belies my disappointment. Just be glad you can't smell me.

So, it was time for a new plan, and Gravenhurst was calling. I decided to leave it up to the fates - if I could find a reasonably priced hotel room (and if Tanker agreed), I'd race the Gravenhurst Olympic. If not, I'd find something else. A few minutes later, I had us a room reserved at the Oakwood Motel and had registered - Tanker was as excited as I was about a weekend away for my birthday, which is 3 days after the race! I booked us in for Friday and Saturday night so we could drive up after work on Friday, race Saturday morning, go for a nice dinner Saturday night (without having to worry about checking out prior to the race), then most likely volunteer or at least spectate for the Sprint and GT12.9 races on Sunday before making our leisurely way home. I'm stoked already, despite the painful-looking elevation profiles!

Run course. Around the Bay was probably good training.

This shifted my focus for the season a bit - I had originally (after finding out about the change to Muskoka LC) planned to do the K-Town Triathlon, which is the same distance as Muskoka LC was, out in Kingston. That would also require a hotel room, though, and I'd already looked into accommodations; there wasn't going to be anything cheap. Racing Gravenhurst on July 14th also precluded doing the Bluewater Olympic on July 22nd, which I hadn't been too keen on anyway, since the 2-hour drive would mean getting on the road by 04:30. Looks like Gravenhurst just became the "A" race for the year! 

Now it was time to fill in the blanks. I had races booked for July and August, but I like to do an end-of-season Olympic race as well just to round off the year. I'd done Wasaga in 2010 and loved it (the run course is amazing; trotting along Wasaga beach on the boardwalk), but that would take another hotel room - my Dad had provided accommodations at a resort in Collingwood in 2010, but that wouldn't happen again this year.

Wasaga Olympic 2010 - probably my fav finish photo so far.

I'd done the Lakeside Olympic in 2011, and while it was chilly (they even delayed the swim start due to cold temperatures - only 9c on race morning!), it was a fantastic race. It's also the last one of the Ontario season, so you don't feel like you're missing out on anything if you can race it.

Coming in to the finish at Lakeside with an 11 minute Olympic distance PR in 2011.

So, Lakeside it was. Now to figure out the beginning of the season!

I'd raced Victoria's Duathlon in 2010, and it's a challenging race. It's nothing but hills, hills and more hills, and then they add a few hills. I did ok on the first run and the bike in 2010, but I died in the heat on the second run - it had suddenly shot up to 30c for race day, when the prior days had hovered around 16-17c. You can read my race report here.

At least I managed to run through the arch.

There were two problems with doing Victoria's Du this year, though: #1 being that it's on the May 24 weekend, when Tanker and I like to go camping. #2 was that it's put on by that other series, and I'm pissed at them for killing the two races that really interested me. So, screw them. I'm keeping my money in Canada! The following weekend is Woodstock, at which I'd raced the GT12.9 in 2010...and won my age group, with the fastest female <40 bike split! 

My one and only AG win (so far)!

It's a great venue with a point-to-point swim and a neat run course (2010 race report here), and the only reason I hadn't gone back in 2011 was to avoid interfering with my training for the Welland half iron. There's a modified sprint distance (750m swim, 30km bike and 7.5km run - the same as the Welland triathlon) on the Sunday which looked like a hoot, since it's a distance I've raced a couple of times before (Guelph Lake in 2009 and Welland in 2010), so I was in!

That just left me with one more decision: to race the modified sprint or the half iron at Welland. I've raced there both in 2010 (modified sprint) and 2011 (half iron) because it's a fantastic race venue with an easy-to-navigate swim (in the recreational canal), a flat bike course and a spectator-friendly, flat run course. We also have friends nearby who let us camp on their lawn so we don't have to get up at 3am! 

Half iron 2011, with a sacroiliac joint injury.

As much as I'd enjoyed the half iron in 2011, I decided that this year I was just going to keep it short. While I'm pretty sure I could throw down a half tomorrow and be able to finish, my conscience wouldn't let me skimp on training, and I know it wears on Tanker when he barely sees me for half the summer. The modified sprint would be an opportunity to improve on my 2010 time, let me spend a bit more time with my sweetheart this summer, and leave me in decent shape to volunteer at the half iron on Sunday. Sprint it was!

We'll see if I can break an hour on the bike this year!

So I'd gone from one tri on the season to five. The only thing left was to pick the trail race that I'd use to close out the season completely - I'd done the 25k at Run for the Toad last year and had a great time, but 2012 is the 10th anniversary of the Vulture Bait Trail Race in London, at which I'd raced the 25k in 2010.

Post-Toad, with a 10min PR at the 25k distance.

Having improved my time quite a bit from 2010 to 2011 at the 25k distance, I was interested to see if it was just the difference in the course (as the Toad isn't as technical), or if I'd really got much faster. Vulture Bait is also amazingly beautiful, as you run around the reservoir at Fanshawe Conservation Area through the stunning fall colours.

2010 Vulture Bait. So pretty.

Knowing the race is capped and tends to sell out quickly, I decided to register right away. Got my confirmation, then discovered I was one of the first 6 to sign up! Well, I certainly won't have to worry about missing out.

So that's how, in the space of 6 hours, I went from almost no races on my 2012 calendar to a season that looks like this:

Things suddenly got busy.

I'm excited about the races that I've chosen and a year of racing shorter, quicker-paced triathlons - distance is fun, but so is going (comparatively) fast! I look forward to a season of making amazing memories and seeing friendly, smiling faces on the course. 

Now I just wonder if Tanker will kill me if I sign up for the Mudpuppy Chase 10k as well..

Monday, March 26, 2012

Around the Bay 30k - March 25th, 2012

"I wish I'd never taken this excursion.."

After a hard taper, good sleep and some heavy carbo loading, I reached race day at a reasonable weight and feeling mostly awake. Rose at 06:15, downed a PC Ultra Shake (equivalent to Boost or Ensure) at 06:30 and another at 07:30, then we got on the road to Hamilton while I sipped water, drinking about 400mL. Stopped at Tim Hortons for my standard pre-race medium (used to be large) cafe mocha, and happily met a couple of ultrarunner friends from Waterloo on their way down to the race.

Pre-race dinner of chicken fried jasmine rice. Must remember this as it was perfect!

Now that's confidence.
We got into Hamilton, then proceeded to spend 20mins trying to find a decent place to park. We pulled into one lot near Copps Coliseum, but they wanted $20 - not in this lifetime! We actually ended up finding a free lot up on Barton, and got to walk through Central Park on the way to the start while I sipped on a bottle with a scoop of eLoad in the last 45mins before the gun. I'd already got all my kit on, including my Compressport R2calf sleeves and using some Magistik Sport Butter on my feet, and had Tanker with me to take my bags.

Souvenir disposable chip.

As ill advised as it gets!

My awesome husband/crew/sherpa.

I had to hit the portajohns, which were fortunately right near the start on the side from which we approached. With 27mins before the 09:30 start, I pulled up in this line:

Doesn't look good for making the start.

Fortunately, the line moved quickly and I had accomplished everything I needed to with 6mins to spare! I grabbed my hand bottle with Roctanes in the pocket, my gel flask with 3 shots of vanilla EFS, and emergency Hammer Espresso gel, and my Blackberry. Giving Tanker a final kiss, I headed into the massive crowd of runners.

Start photo from the Hamilton Spectator

The gun went off exactly on time, and it took me no less than 3mins and 4sec to walk with the horde before actually crossing the starting line and having some room to start running. I'd done a bit of dynamic stretching in line for the portajohns, but no run warmup - with as little training as I'd been able to put in, the first few kilometers would be the warmup for this particular outing.

Setting out through downtown Hamilton.

Will see how long that smile lasts.

Just me and 12,000 of my friends.

As unlikely as it sounds, a friend of mine found me before the 1km mark and we fell more or less into step. Chris is an ultrarunner from Barrie sponsored by Running Free, and he races almost constantly, so we seem to run into each other at races quite often. It was nice to have some company, and also great to have someone to keep me talking so I didn't start out too fast.

Didn't mean to cut his head off.

Ok, try again.

I'm clearly pretty bad at this.

My legs weren't feeling too hot and my hip/groin/whatever injury was complaining a bit, but I was able to keep trucking along with Chris without too much effort. It didn't feel good, but it wasn't tough going yet. I started sipping water from my hand bottle and, reaching the 5km mark, took 1oz of my EFS liquid shot. We continued trucking along together until almost 11km, having passed the 10k mark in 1:00:13.1 for a 6:01/km pace. When we hit the aid station near km11, Chris needed the portajohn and I needed water to refill my bottle after another shot of EFS. I wished him a good race if I didn't see him again, manage to get 2 cups of water (though it took standing there for 30sec or so - I hate having to stop!) into my bottle, and set off again.

Just after the 10km mark, approaching Lake Ontario.

Nearing the 15km mark, running along the land spit that divides the harbour from the lake.

Approaching the lift bridge.

Somewhere around the 12km point, Chris came past me doing a good clip, saying he needed to get moving while the legs were working with him. I wished him a good race and continued on trucking on my own, soon reaching the halfway point at 15km and crossing the mats with a total time of 1:30:22.3, maintaining the 6:01 pace from the first 10k. I downed my last shot of EFS and got some more water (managing to get the fellow at the aid station to pour a cupful right into my bottle, though still having to stop and wait a bit), as I'd been consuming quite a bit. With fueling and hydration going well, I entered the most interesting part of the course.

The QEW/Skyway bridge and a lighthouse, with Hamilton Harbour behind.

Looking out over Lake Ontario from the lift bridge.

Running across the lift bridge.

Soon after crossing the lift bridge, I saw a rather impressive sight - 3 Canadian Forces members (2 male, 1 female) doing the race as a ruck march in full kit:

And there I was ruing my extra couple of pounds of pudge.

I kept on trucking, though my legs were starting to feel the toll of miles. The longest runs I'd done in prep for this race were 18km - one of them 8 days before the race, and one back on December 17th. There were a couple of 10-milers (one two weeks out from race day, one back in December), and everything else was 13km or less. I'd never really managed to get into a stride during the race, either; that lovely relaxed, gliding step that eats up miles was nowhere to be found today. I actually somewhat welcomed the hills as they started to rise before me, just for the change in muscle recruitment as my quads were becoming really painful.

From a friend's Garmin - yes, there are hills before the 20km mark
no matter who tries to convince you otherwise.

Passing the 20km mark at 2:01:33.2, my pace had faded badly - 31:11 for the 5km since the halfway point, or a 6:14/km pace. I was still at a 6:05/km pace overall though, which I figured was pretty decent given that I had no time goal and really hadn't trained enough at all. Four weeks of 50km/wk in December, then my last 3 leading up to taper had been 33km, 43km, 47km and 50km. You can't fake it through 30k!

I filled my bottle again (having to wait over a full minute at the aid station this time, to my consternation) and ripped the top off one of my two packs of Blueberry Pomegranate Roctane, wondering how badly it portended for the last third of the race that I'd only just been passed by the 3hr pace bunny (and set a half marathon PR). I squeezed out a little bit of gel into my mouth, and immediately remembered how much thicker Roctane is than EFS liquid shot - almost like a warm, squidgy gummy bear. I washed it down with lots of water and continued to take little nibbles on some of the flatter and downhill sections, but it took me until about the 22km mark to finally finish it.

It was about this time that my legs decided they'd had enough. I had made it 4km past my longest training run, and was now being subjected to the pounding of the downhills in between the rolling ascents. The sun also broke through the clouds at this point, raising the temperature and beginning to beat me down. There are no photos from this section, as I was focused on survival. The only nice part about this section was running through a treed area and seeing dozens of beautiful purple and white crocuses along the side of the road while their delicate scent wafted on the gentle breeze.

Some people had great signs. Photo from the Hamilton Spectator.

Coming up rather a long, curving hill near the 23km mark I wondered if I had reached the nasty climb yet - Chris had warned me that it's deceptive in that you think you can see the top, but then you round a corner and the road continues upward. A lady jumped into the stream of runners ahead of me to deliver a bottle of sport drink and some other nutrition to a friend who was competing, and as she ran alongside her friend she said things that indicated she had run this race many times before. I asked if this was "THE hill", and she said no - once you reach the top of the big hill you only have 4km left to go, and it's all downhill. The top of the ascent I was making right now would only be 23k, so I still had a way to go. I said thank you and tried not to think about anything except putting one foot in front of the other.

I eventually emerged on top of a crest, passing a church with its carillon ringing and its members out front cheering on runners in their gowns - the crowds of supporters all along the course had been quite impressive, and a nice lift for weary runners. I took advantage of the shade of some trees along a cemetery around the 24km mark and grabbed a cup of Gatorade from an aid station just as we made a turn onto Spring Gardens Road.

The choir out front of the church. Hamilton Spectator photo.

Down, down, down to water level once again, my quads screaming with every step. Seeing the 25km marker and the bridge across the inlet, I knew I'd reached the final climb.

Coming onto the bridge.

Just as Chris had warned me, I climbed upward toward a stone bridge over the road and a sharp right turn. I knew not to get my hopes up until I rounded that curve; just concentrated on driving my knees forward and up while pushing with my glutes while my Compressport calf sleeves provided a little extra bounce. Halfway up I got a pleasant surprise; my name being called by a friend and fellow triathlete! Kent lives in Hamilton and had come out to watch the race - I got a high five and some encouraging words from him, and continued chugging away up the hill.

Finally emerging onto York Road, I took solace in the knowledge it should be all downhill to the finish. Unfortunately, I'd burned out the last of my legs on the climb, and had reached new heights of agony. Every step was like thrusting daggers into my thighs, with some added complaints from my lower abdominals and glutes. I was a mess, and totally ready to be done with this business.

Heck of a view of the harbour, though.

Fortunately, Kent appeared beside me on a bike by about 26.5km, and rolled along beside me. Chatting with him gave me something to concentrate on other than the catastrophic leg failure I was experiencing, and I managed to keep making forward progress. I managed to grab one last cup of water from the aid station at about 27.5km, just sipping it (and nearly drowning myself) rather than putting it into my empty bottle. I didn't need another ounce to carry!

Getting by with a little help from my friends.

Don't be deceived: that's a grimace of pain, not a smile.

Kent kept me company up until about the 29km mark, then pedaled off. I knew I was getting close by this point - I could see people walking down the street with their medals, but a friend's words about Copps Coliseum seeming to take forever to reach once it hove into view rang painfully true.

You see the reaper and his minion around km28. This Hamilton Spectator photo
shows the race winner, Hamilton native Reid Coolsaet,
on his way to a 1:33:20 finish.

Final stretch.

To add insult to injury, you just about have to run right past the Coliseum in order to reach the runners' entrance, passing a clock along the way - I saw something around 3:06:xx, and knew that I had at least 3mins banked from gun time, so I tried to push into something like a kick. That effort halted as soon as I hit the horribly steep ramp into the basement of the building, my poor legs screaming in pain as I tried to tenderly shuffle my way down. Finally I could see the arch, with the time showing 3:07:xx - figuring a sub-3:05:00 was possible, I threw the last of my energy away trying to sprint to the line, throwing my arms up as I crossed the mats. I'd managed the final 10km in 1:02:50, or a 6:17 pace.

After making it out of the chute.

I strolled with the masses of other runners through the path to water bottle handout, food pickup (without anything I could eat except the banana and the juice box), and finally to get my finisher's medal. Then I got to stand still - the absolute worst thing after a hard race - while a thousand runners all tried to get onto a one-person-wide escalator up to ground level.

The obligatory TST medal bite.

Chris found me again and we chatted a bit, but I lost him as I made it onto the escalator upward. I tried to text Tanker to tell him I'd try to find him, but I was warned by another runner that the cement building seemed to be preventing cell connectivity. Finally reaching ground level, I was directed onto another escalator, attended by a lady who advised me to hang onto the railing. I did so, and just after I grabbed it, the escalator lurched to a halt! I would've fallen if I hadn't had a good grip. Now I faced a climb of about 15 steps with broken legs. Crap. The attendant asked if I'd like to come back down, but I said no - I had to find my husband. Somehow, I made it up, and there was my sweetheart right at the top!

My best friend, with all kinds of benefits.

Now for the kicker: having just climbed up those stairs, the only way to get out was...a staircase back down to street level, right beside the escalator! Damnit, damnit, damnit! I managed with help from my sweetheart, then we had a lovely walk back through the parks to get to the car and head out of town while I scarfed down the post-race food I'd brought with me.

Final results: 3:07:26.6 gun time, 3:04:22.6 chip time! Honestly, I'm pretty sure that I wouldn't have set any more lofty a goal than 3:05:00 even if I hadn't had the injury and had been able to train the way I wanted for the race. For perspective, my overall pace was 6:09/km - my half marathon PR (set in 2009) was a 6:08 pace!

I may only have placed 229/398 in F30-34, 1465/2902 women and 3780/7444 overall and been 7:28 behind the average time of 2:56:58.6, but I was absolutely delighted just to have finished what I started so many months ago and pleasantly surprised by the time! Furthermore, I had no G.I. issues, was dressed perfectly for the weather, didn't need to stop at the portajohns on course, and overall couldn't have had a better day than I did given the preparation I was able to accomplish. I even surprised myself with the strength I was able to show on the hills even toward the end, and managing to pass quite a few slimmer, fitter-looking people in the final miles and dropping lots of people on the climbs.

The goals were to finish (done), run the whole thing (done, though I had to stop at aid stations and walked a few feet after a couple while screwing the top back onto my bottle), and not re-injure myself (done). The damage is merely soreness, some hotspots on my feet, a blister on the inside of my right big toe, and the usual dim-wittedness I get for a day or two after I race anything 3hrs or longer. Not too shabby.

The best part of all? We were able to get out of town and on the road early enough to have brunch with a bunch of our best friends, who were awesome enough to give me a huge ovation as I walked through the door. We had a fantastic time with them, then headed home for some post-race recovery and indulgence!

Gluten free beer, cheese curds from our farmers' market, Compressport full socks and recovery shoes.

Gluten free pizza at BP!

Grilled brie and bacon sammich! Mennonites grow the tastiest pigs.

Now I leave you with a classic that was running through my head all day, along with my own, slightly modified version (written from Tanker's perspective to keep with the wording of the original):

It was early Sunday morning, and the day be calm and fine,
To the Hamilton Bay excursion, with the boys to have a time;
And just before the starter shot the pistol at the line,
In the mix with all the runners strode that wife of mine.

O Me, O My, I heard me poor wife cry,
O Me, O My, I think I'm gonna die;
O Me, O My, I heard me poor wife say,
I wish I'd never taken this excursion around the bay.

They had twelve thousand souls on board, oh what a splendid sight,
Reid Coolsaet - the hometown boy - to make our spirits bright;
With meself waiting at the finish, oh, the funny things they'd say,
And they'll hurt themselves from running, when they race around the bay.

O Me, O My, I heard me poor wife cry,
O Me, O My, I think I'm gonna die;
O Me, O My, I heard me poor wife say,
I wish I'd never taken this excursion around the bay.