Friday, June 28, 2013

Get your motor running..

With the "A" race of the season now safely put to bed and after events five weekends in a row, I get a bit of time to relax and kick up my heels...right onto the floorboards of my motorcycle! We roll out Sunday for excitement, adventure and really wild things - camping at South Higgins Lake State Park in Roscommon, MI on our way up and across the Mackinac Bridge to Michigan's Upper Peninsula, where we'll spend two nights camping and exploring at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Sand dunes! Waterfalls! Lighthouses! Caves!





We hope to camp at Hurricane River, which actually has a 1.5 mile trail that leads past the remains of an old shipwreck to the Au Sable light station.


From Pictured Rocks it's on to Wisconsin for a night at Governor Thompson State Park, then our final destination is Hixton, WI for a rally at a friend's place out in the countryside. There will be good people, good riding, campfires and most likely a wobbly pop or two as we help our American compatriots celebrate the 4th of July.

Sunday we'll start our journey home by riding to Milwaukee, WI to catch the evening Lake Express ferryboat across Lake Michigan, cutting several hundred kilometers off our trip back to Ontario. We'll hit up a hotel in Muskegon for the night as the boat doesn't arrive until 10:30pm, then it's a mere hop, skip and 550km home.


While I do intend to get a couple of runs in while we're on the road, I'll largely be out of the endurance space until we return on July 8th, so don't expect a blog post next week. I'll be back on the second Friday in July with tales from the road, which will hopefully include good weather and even better memories!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Welland Half Iron Triathlon - June 23rd, 2013

"Our people don't like to be hot." - Futurama

I did my best to do everything right for this one. I tapered in much the same way I did for the Mississauga Half Marathon in May, and followed a very similar carbo-loading protocol with the addition of a fair bit of tropical fruits. I figured that pineapple, mango and watermelon were decent bets as it was predicted to be very hot and humid for race day and those foods are native to climates in which those conditions are common. I got my final training session - a 20min run with a couple of easy pickups - in almost 24 hours before gun time, finished eating dinner with just over 12 hours to go, and got myself to bed by nine-freaking-thirty. I didn't do all that well with getting additional sleep in the week before the race or staying off my feet on Saturday, but I tried.

Up at 4am Sunday morning, it was already 22c/72f outside with thick fog - the afternoon promised 27c/81f with a humidex of 36c/97f, which is probably about the worst case scenario, as long as the 40% chance of thunderstorms stayed as merely a threat. Winds were predicted to be 25kph/15.5mph from the southwest, which would mean a headwind for about the first half of the bike course. Joy. We usually camp in a friend's backyard the night before Welland, but they were calling for thunderstorms overnight so we changed our plans - I figured having to get up an hour and a half earlier was better than not being able to sleep all night with the crack and boom of thunder and the drumming of rain on the tent roof. Rather glad we did, as Cambridge at least got a pretty solid lightshow in the evening along with a positive torrent of rain.

Dinner entertainment.

I must have slept a bit funny, as I woke up with a crick in the right side of my neck and had nothing but tingling in the outer half of my right hand - fortunately both resolved within a few minutes of rising. I dressed, braided up my freshly bleached hair, downed my meal replacement shakes and we were out of the house a little ahead of schedule, popping up to Tim Hortons to buy Tanker a coffee for the drive down to Welland,  then onto the highway...only to realize shortly before the first exit that I'd totally forgotten my calf sleeves. Tanker asked if we should turn around and I havered a bit before conceding that we probably should; we'd be later getting going than I wanted, but with the heat that was coming and my lack of bike training I'd need to use every tool in my kit to keep myself functioning. I hadn't worn compression sleeves yet this year, but I also hadn't tried racing for over 6 hours in tropical conditions.

It might be slightly humid.

We were back on the road only 15mins behind schedule (about 5:15am), hoping to make good time but having to drive cautiously due to the thick fog. After making our way past the Burlington Skyway, I was feeling a bit dozy, so told Tanker that his next maneuver was to hit the 406 toward Welland before kicking my seat back and grabbing a bit of a nap. It was going to be a long day, and the more rested I could be the better. He didn't wake me up until we were about 20km out from town, and while I didn't really sleep I did feel refreshed. We found another Tim Hortons, I used the washroom and grabbed my pre-race Café Mocha, and we made it to the race site just before 6:45am - a bit later than I would have liked, but not enough to make me worry.

It rubs the BodyGlide on its skin..
Race prep went smoothly - got a decent rack position, no problems picking up cap, bib, swag and chip, and I actually managed to get everything laid out properly. My shoes were thoroughly coated in BodyGlide, my flasks full of EFS Liquid Shot were stowed where they were needed (one in my Speedpack, one by my cycling shoes, one by my running shoes), my bike was racked in a low gear and even had the proper pedal up, my aero bottle was full of water with a Nuun tab, and I had a throw-away bottle of water with a sport top in my frame cage if I needed it between bottle exchanges. I drank my bottle of EFS drink, visited the portajohns, emptied various things, applied slatherings of lubrication to my saddlery regions, my neck, underarms, chest and anywhere else I could think of that something might rub. I chatted with some friends and other competitors, answering questions about the course and the rules, and listened to the pre-race talk by John Salt. With a half hour until go time, I stuffed myself into my wetsuit and headed down toward the water.

Ready as I'll ever be.
Tanker did the final cramming and zipping by the swim start area, then I wandered down and waded into the canal. The water was brisk getting in at 19c/66f, especially since the air temperature was already up to 25c/77f - I carefully spat in my goggles and rinsed them, then put them on only to realize I'd forgotten to take out my eyebrow bar. I didn't know if I had time to find Tank to give it to him for safekeeping, but my goggles seemed to be sealing ok even with it on - I decided to say screw it and try the warmup with it in, donning my swim cap and covering my goggle straps while tucking the loop of zipper lanyard in the back of the cap so I could find it easily. I breast stroked a bit to find some less populated water as many people were scrambling to get a few yards in before race time, then swam out almost to the marker buoy on the far side of the canal. I stopped and tread water for a moment, then swam back - everything seemed to be functional and it had only taken a moment to get over the initial breathlessness of dunking my face in the cool water, so I decided to conserve energy for the race itself. Did maybe 125m total.

My favourite tri swim venue.
Photo credit My Sports Shooter.
Back out of the water for a moment (doing my best impression of a circus seal getting out via the floating dock), my goggles had worked just fine with my eyebrow bar in and I didn't really want to break the seal on them - they fog up if I do that unless I spit and rinse them in the cool water again, and I didn't want to remove my cap and start all over. I got a good luck kiss from my sweetheart and headed back down to the water again to hang out and keep from overheating in my rubbery prison. Stepping into the canal between the two docks this time as they'd moored the big yellow sausage buoy in place (blocking off the swim exit where I'd entered before), I was being very careful as I know there are some big rocks in there and it can be quite slippery. In spite of my best efforts, I managed to fall over and nearly sit on another racer squatting in the water. I stood back up, apologizing furiously - noone needs my rubber-coated butt in their face just before a race! Fortunately this distracted me completely from realizing that I'd banged my right middle toe off a rock under the water until long after the race was done. For those keeping track, it's exactly the same scenario in which I broke the same toe last year; I just happened to get the other foot this time. Now I'm even!

Like a big bubbling pot full of weenies!
Knowing that even with the gains I've made in the last year I'm still not a great swimmer, I took up a spot a few metres behind the line to try to let the faster folks go first rather than having them beat me up and swim overtop of me. The elites set off a minute ahead, then with almost no warning as competitors chatted around me, the horn sounded and the race was on!

Splashy splashy!
Photo credit My Sports Shooter.

I was bound and determined to stay relaxed and come through this strong. My only two prior attempts to swim 2,000m at the start of a race had been so disastrous as to be humiliating: I'd had GI issues, generally crappy swim form and a wetsuit for which I'd got a bit too fat at Muskoka Long Course in 2010, resulting in a 52:15 swim (2:37/100m), then my 2011 Welland Half Iron swim had been a ridiculous riot of swimming for maybe 200-300m before breast stroking, turning over and kicking on my back, and just generally flailing my way along with no stamina whatsoever. If you can believe it, I was actually even slower than Muskoka, clocking a 52:37 or 2:38/100m. I was a bit nervous this year because I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I'd actually done a swim of over 2,000m in a session - never more than 2,500m - and only had 2 quick dips plus the swim at the Woodstock Sprint in open water for 2013. Woodstock had been my best swim ever, though, and I just knew that I could be smooth and relaxed in the water.

Whaddya mean you can't spot me? I'm the one in the black suit & yellow cap!
Photo credit My Sports Shooter.

I settled into a nice rhythm right from the gun, just stroking along with minimal jostling from those around me. Sighting isn't a big issue in the canal, as even with bi-lateral breathing you'll get a decent look at the bank closest to you on the long stretches every 6th stroke, but I was still mindful to have a boo ahead every once in awhile. I got caught up in some feet here and there as people ahead of me discovered they'd gone out with more gusto than they could maintain, but I kept up a pretty even pace as the orange "breadcrumb" buoys started to tick past. The water felt like it was the perfect temperature, I was close enough to the East bank to get a bit of shade from the trees, and I was feeling calm and strong. I made the first turn down by the old swing bridge perfectly, only inches away from the big lime green buoy - I have no idea why some young fellow chose that moment to accelerate and try to squeak between it and me, but I avoided getting pummeled too badly and just let him go. I'd had some other folks kick vigorously in the vicinity of my face as I came up behind them (not nice!), taken a foot to the chest and took a bit of a mouthful of water at one point, but recovered easily and kept on trucking.

As basic as it gets.
Making the second turn bang on the buoy, I was now into the longest stretch of the swim - almost a full kilometer straight up the West bank, past the Lincoln Street bridge with the sun off my right shoulder. I was running into more and more clots of swimmers who were fading and even stopping in the water as I passed the starting point, forcing me to make my way around but never letting it break the easy rhythm of my stroke.  I sighted a little more regularly as I approached the bridge as I didn't want to smack into the giant cement foundation, but happily cleared it with a few feet to spare. I spent some time between two sets of legs catching a nice draft, but then they seemed to disappear; I've never had much success with hanging onto a set of feet for any length of time. I was starting to feel the yardage piling up, but I focused on form (push chest down, don't over-extend the reach, keep elbows high, don't push down on the water, rotate through and pull your body over your hand) and felt some relief as the work transferred back to my well-trained lats. I rounded the last two turn buoys just as neatly as the first two and headed for the exit.

Where I did a little disco dancing, apparently.
Sighting carefully again as I passed under the bridge, I was closer to the outside and could see the slope of the crumbly underwater portion of the cement foundation at the East side very near my hands as I swam. I did my best to avoid it so as not to damage my wetsuit - I've put nicks in it with my fingernails in the past, and during the latter half of the morning's swim I could feel cold water on the back of my left shoulder with every stroke cycle. To this moment I still haven't looked to see if there is a small cut in the suit in that area, or if maybe it was just water getting in at the back of the neck due to a difference in my reach with left and right arms - really should get on that. Oddly enough, it was within 250m of the swim exit that I ran into the worst crowd of swimmers of the day - they were lined up 5 wide in front of me, kicking like crazy and I just couldn't get past, then I felt some close in behind me. One accidentally grabbed my foot, and I felt my right calf try to cramp a bit, but it released fairly easily. I took a kick to the face less than 200m out, smacking directly into my right goggle and letting a bit of water in; fortunately it was only a few drops that didn't bother me too much, and no bruising from the goggle despite that being the one whose rim sits on my eyebrow bar. I moved away from that guy's legs but kept on stroking without a hitch - actually quite amazed at how composed I was able to remain! My calf was still feeling like it might cramp up, but I was close to the finish so I pulled my toes forward a bit and kicked with a bit more vigor to try to get some circulation in my legs - I have a very gentle 2-beat kick that mostly just helps with rotation when swimming in my wetsuit. Just a couple of minutes later I was closing in on the big yellow sausage buoy and could see a lot of silt churned up in the water. I saw people standing up around me but couldn't feel the bottom yet, so kept on swimming until my hand touched down and got to my feet with the assistance of a volunteer I'd practically swum right into. I was pretty steady on my feet climbing out of the water - much moreso than 2 years ago - pulled my goggles up and started to strip out of my suit. Fortunately, no Woodstock-esque chilly hand issues this time; I was pulling the top down in a jiffy.

2,000m swim: 40:07 @ 2:00/100m - 12/23 in W30-34, 212/379 O/A
12:30 improvement over 2011 - snap!

So far, so good!
Off at something approximating a run to transition, I clocked a 2:08 for the three-hundred-and-something metres (it seems to change a little every year) at a pace I probably shouldn't have attempted. I felt damn good, though, and figured I could catch my breath a bit when I got to my bike. I almost blew the minor u-turn I had to make to take the fastest route to my transition spot once I came through the swim entrance arch, but figured it out just in time - I had elected to rack closest to the bike exit rather than right by the swim entrance, figuring I was probably faster running in my wetsuit than with my bike. It also gave me lots of time to pull my suit down past my hips before I arrived at my little slice of the rack, so I just had to do that weird little dance to step on the suit and pull my legs out. Now down to my spandex militia uniform, it was race belt-sunglasses-helmet-bike shoes, the latter taking on a bit of gravel that had stuck to my feet. I hoped the slatherings of BodyGlide in the shoes would prevent any issues, grabbed my flask full of slightly dilute EFS Liquid Shot, stuffed it in my back suit pocket, grabbed my bike and headed for the mount line.

It wouldn't be me unless there was some manner of stupidity, so of course just as I reach the archway at the bike exit my gel flask hops out of my pocket and onto the ground behind me. I heard it drop, and had to stop, lean my bike against the arch, pick up the flask and then try to get moving again. I also had to coordinate doing all of this while apologizing furiously to the 2 or 3 other racers trying to exit T1 whose progress was blocked by my chubby butt in the air as I scrabbled around on the pavement for my precious, precious calories. Giving it rather more decisive a shove into my pocket, I grabbed my bike again and finally crossed the timing mat, figuring I'd pretty much blown my transition time.

T1: 1:34
19sec improvement over 2011

Artist's conception.

In the confusion, my pedals has managed to get out of position again, but I managed to kind of spin them back into place on the way back up so had no real problems mounting. My right foot took a moment or two of wriggling to get clipped in and I certainly wasn't alone in struggling a bit - the two or three people in front of me at the mount area were wobbling and moving at less than walking pace, so I just concentrated on trying not to crash into them before making the first two corners onto Canal Bank Street, getting down into aero and getting on with it. Oh, and finally starting my cycle computer, only to realize the cadence sensor or magnet had got bumped and wasn't picking up. No big deal that, though - I spin pretty well. The slightly bigger worry was that I had missed the back of my shoulders when applying sunblock in the morning, and I feared that I'd be cooked to a deep red before my feet touched the ground again. On the bright side, by looking at the clock on my cyclocomp I could see I'd had as good a swim as it had felt; with my lousy T1 time and the run-up I calculated I'd have to have done the 2k in the canal right around 40mins. Nice.

Knowing that the longest ride I'd done on my tri bike this year was only 50km and that represented probably a full third of the riding I'd done on it in 2013, I didn't expect anything great out of the bike leg, but I definitely wasn't expecting what felt like the beginning of cramps in my glutes almost immediately upon starting to ride. I'm not sure if it was an effect of 40mins of sustained kicking during the swim or something else - all I know is that my butt was seriously unhappy! I remember thinking that I might not even make it through the bloody cycle leg if this was going to keep up, but fortunately it settled down after a few minutes. I may have shifted my position on the saddle and/or bars a bit to help relieve it, which may have resulted in the next issue - as I worked against the rising headwind, my adductors started to cramp a bit. Keep in mind this was all within the first 3 kilometers! I foresaw a long and painful road ahead as I slurped a bit of diluted EFS Liquid Shot around 10mins in.

That's right. I drew you a picture of my bum.

The adductor cramps were much less obliging about buggering off, as were the headwinds. While I figured I couldn't do any worse than my 2011 bike split (3:14:42 at 27.7kph), I was mostly seeing even worse figures on my cyclocomp. Oh well - the sun was shining, the wind provided some cooling, and I'd have lots of time to gaze at the water lilies in the old canal along Feeder Road. The pavement left a bit to be desired on the way out, too - there was some washboard-like vibration coming through the bike that certainly wasn't playing friendly with my nethers, or anything else. In the first 20k I saw what appeared to be an aero helmet visor lost on the side of the road, plus several people with flats, then a bit later on I saw someone's behind-the-saddle hydration kit lying on the road. I was keeping up with hydration and fueling, finishing my aerodrink full of Nuun-y water and refilling with plain water from the bottle exchange near the 30k mark - of course I get the one with a cap that's stupid and closes itself after I open it and try to fill my aero bottle through the cut foam splash cap in the top. I spent almost 5 bloody minutes trying to get water from one container into another! I finally got as much as I figured I could and chucked it. Slurps of EFS Liquid Shot kept happening regularly around 35mins and 1 hour, with me finishing the last sip of my slightly diluted flask (about 3.5oz of gel topped off with water) at around 1 hour 20mins. Depressingly enough, I had only hit the 35k mark by that time - I'd been averaging anywhere from 11:30-12mins per 5k, or just over 26kph. I had passed a few people, but I was getting passed quite regularly.

It could have been much worse - I came upon what appeared to be a crash in the middle of the road, with a couple of non-injured athletes directing the racers around. I hope whoever it was is ok! I also hope it wasn't another racer who caused it, as some of the people who passed me were a little quick to cut over to the right in front of me and nearly clipped my front wheel with their rear. One girl who did this was eating what looked like a piece of banana bread as she did so, and was wobbling all over - not exactly what you like to see from a safety perspective. At least I didn't have any trouble other than a few clench moments, and of course I was yelling thanks yous to the volunteers and police officers along the way; they're toughing it out in the sun and heat as well just to keep us safe and on track!

Long way to go yet.

Passing 40k and making the turn onto Bird Road, I finally found some relief from the headwind and was able to build a bit more speed - hell, I hit the big ring for the first time in ages. I found that the adductor problems were exacerbated by trying to crank hard at low RPM, so I just kept spinning however was comfortable and tried not to worry about being so bloody slow. I finally made the halfway point in 1 hour 40mins - looking at a dismal 3:20:xx bike, but hoping for a push from the tailwind on the way back. I did the little out-and-back and saw there were still plenty of athletes behind me, so I wasn't totally out of the race yet, and my favourite section was coming up - North Shore Road, with its gorgeous views of Lake Erie! I had to climb the one and only hill on the course to get there, but it's really no big deal as I was able to spin up it without needing my biggest cog. I did so sitting up, but that had more to do with taking a stretch than needing extra leverage - past the first hour, I'd been sitting up to take swigs out of my gel flask (on the half-hours) to give my un-adapted and protesting body a break from the aerobars. I'd even get out of the saddle occasionally to try to stretch my adductors, which would help ease them for a little while. I was, however, back in full tuck on the back side of the hill, screaming toward the 60k marker at over 50kph.

The trouble getting water into my aerodrink resulted in me running out of water before the bottle exchange, but looking at my cyclocomp I saw that I'd only have to wait 7 minutes at most to refill - since I'd just taken my slurp of EFS Liquid Shot at the 2-hour point and had enough to wash it down, I didn't bother whipping out the throw-away bottle in the frame cage. The second refill bottle had a much better cap, and I was able to fill without issue, then settled back down into aero and began hydrating again as the wind finally turned into a help rather than a hindrance - riding along the shore with the stiff breeze off the lake was both fast and deliciously cooling! I'd gone about 2:15:xx for the first two thirds, and was starting to see consistent speeds in the 30+kph range as I headed into the home stretch. My adductors even decided to settle down and let me get to work, so work I did! Only a couple of people managed to pass me after this point, though one did comment on the smiley face I'd drawn on the back of my left leg as he came 'round. No point in racing if you can't have a little fun, right?

He looked a lot better before the race.

Back onto Feeder Road, it was like I'd found a second set of legs. I hammered away, probably averaging 33+kph as the old canal whipped past, though not so fast that I missed the cute little turtle on the side of the road staring up at all these weird, wheeled creatures sailing past him. I saw an SUV with a green flashing light turn off Feeder Road onto a gravelly side street, thinking to myself that green usually indicates volunteer fire department. A few moments later I heard a weird crackling, spitting sound - looking over my left shoulder across the canal, I saw green flames spewing from a hydro wire! I was just starting to wonder if someone shouldn't tell the authorities when I saw the same SUV parked a little further up, with two young men throwing on bunker gear as they walked back toward the electrical fire. They're on it!

I was much more comfortable down in aero than I had been all day so far, but sat up to take a shot from the gel flask at the 2h30 point and noticed a very strange thing - my idiot triceps were trying to cramp up on me! I know I'd spent a bunch of time really choked up on the aerobars, and I guess the strain of supporting my upper body had taken its toll. They were fine while I was down on the armpads, so I just tried to stay there as much as possible; I was making up time by the bucketful, too! Making the turn back onto Forks Road I saw two great sights - first, a foal playing in a paddock on the South side of the street, and then the blessed Welland city limits sign! I was less than 5k out and feeling good, knocking back my last bit of gel for the bike as I came through the 3 hour mark.


I managed to pass a couple more competitors on my way back to the arena, wondering if I was cooking myself before the run but enjoying the hell out of finally rolling fast. I made up almost 10 minutes in those last 30km! Coming into the last couple of turns I sat up and spun easy to try to settle my legs a little, came into the coned-off lane to the dismount line, and pulled off a near-perfect hop off the bike just before the line.

90km bike: 3:11:27 @ 28.2kph - 10/23 in W30-34, 291/379 O/A
3:15 improvement over 2011

Yes, I suspect my seat is too high, and that may be the source of the adductor cramps.
I found my rack spot quite easily, hooked the bike on by the brake levers, dumped the empty gel flask from my pocket, then changed up shoes. I noticed as I pulled on my left shoe that there was still some gravel stuck to my foot and felt a little bit come loose in the shoe as I pulled the speed laces tight, but I hoped it wouldn't be an issue as I didn't want to take the time to remove the shoe, clear the intruder, then put it on again. I gave my right foot a bit of a wipe with my hand, then donned the other shoe, took off my helmet, grabbed my 3rd gel flask and hat, then buggered off. Reasonably smooth!

T2: 1:18
36sec improvement over 2011

See ya!
The run is where things got ugly. It was incredibly stinkin' hot, there wasn't a cloud in the sky, and the wind that had been the source of such consternation on the bike wasn't enough to blow away the ridiculous humidity that made the air feel as though it was 36c/91f. I was pleased that I managed to make it out of transition and was just passing the finishing chute when the first of the elites came in, smashing the course record and going under 4 hours - congrats Cody Beals! Hearing that he'd gone sub-4 also let me know I had a full 2 hours and 25mins to finish this bloody half marathon before I'd bump up against my 2011 time. Having run 1:58:12 at the Mississauga Half just 7 weeks beforehand, I was pretty confident that wouldn't be a problem. I did remember, however, how poorly I'd run the 5k at the Woodstock Sprint 4 weeks prior. We'd just have to wait and see.

The first few minutes of any tri run leg always suck - it takes awhile to settle in, and you just have to go with it. I was death whistling and my mouth was dry despite drinking right up until the last couple of minutes on the bike, but I knew there were supposed to be aid stations every mile, so I just kept on trucking. I'd heard in the pre-race meeting that the run course had changed, and could have sworn I heard they'd eliminated the short out-and-back section in the first couple of kilometers, but as I came through downtown and I saw signs diverting me off to the right and up a hill. Bugger. I shortened my stride as much as I could to try to keep my breathing under control, but it sucked nonetheless - there was a fellow in a gorilla suit at the bottom, and I almost could have sworn he jumped on my back as the road tipped up. My only bit of levity came from another athlete saying "hey, I passed you on the bike - no fair!" as I managed to edge ahead of him. I crested that buggerdly hill, plodded through the turn-around at the top, then slowly jostled back down to try to save my quads as I made the 2k mark and grabbed a couple of cups of water from the aid station. There was a lot of work left for my legs to do.

As I trotted out to Merritt Island, I was having no success at settling into a sustainable effort level - my breathing kept hitching in my throat and I just wanted to find a nice patch of cool grass, lay down and have a nap. I tried to fall into the "I can keep this up all day" amble I use for ultrarunning, even to the point of trying to just trip along on my toes (letting my calves do most of the work and giving larger muscle groups a break), but it all just seemed to take so much energy. It being past the 4-hour mark now, I was into unfamiliar territory - I hadn't really done much more than 4 hours per day of training this year, and I know that's usually around the point when I start to get stupid and forget to eat and drink. I had only managed a sip or two of water at the first aid station because I'm really crappy at drinking from a cup while running; I more or less have to chuck the water at my face, slurp up what I can, and try not to drown in the rest. The second cup had gone on my chest and back to try to cool me down. I thought about having some EFS Liquid Shot, but didn't think I could tolerate it - warm, sweet, sticky semi-liquid was not sounding appealing at all.

My GI tract was feeling fine, though - I had a brief bit of flatulence (oh shut up, everyone has farted while running!) and let out a huge burp from swallowing air with my hydration, but my belly wasn't complaining at all. I did manage to get a shot of gel into me around the 4k mark, by which time I was already getting confused by the barrage of kilometer markers out on the island - having to do two out-and-backs on the trail means there are a LOT of marker flags, and unfortunately the ones that applied to me had the smallest numbers on them. I decided I'd supplement fueling with the on-course HEED, despite my less-than-glowing opinions about it - I needed calories and I needed hydration to keep me from succumbing to heat exhaustion/stroke. I saw a lot of other racers running with sponges and saw plenty on the ground, but none of the aid stations had any to offer me and I didn't want the cold shock of ice in my suit, so I made do with cup after cup of water dumped over my head, chest and back. I was constantly soaked!

Where's a splash pad when you need one?
By the time I reached the far end of Merritt Island, around the 6.5k mark, I knew that a few sips of beverage per aid station just weren't going to cut it, and that I was probably going to implode if I couldn't get my breathing settled down. As I hit the turn-around to head back into the wind and up the small hill from the farthest aid station, I finally caved in and walked as I drank a cup of HEED. I finished both the hill and the drink at about the same time, then started to run again, but it was the beginning of a lot more walking. I still had just under 15km to go, too.

There were a ton of people walking out on the run course, many of whom looked much leaner, fitter and faster than I - the crushing heat and relentless sun was turning the race into one of attrition. I did have a few reasons to feel particularly sorry for myself, though: that stupid bit of gravel in my left shoe was rubbing up an enormous blister on the pad of my big toe, my race suit zipper was chafing away at my chest even after I zipped it down a bit (despite my vigorous lube job in the morning), and the HEED was having a side effect I'd completely forgotten about. You see, in very hot weather, when I drink HEED and run I have a tendency to lose control over some rather valuable mechanisms - to put it bluntly, by the 8k mark I'd started randomly peeing on myself. Charming, no?

This facial expression pretty much sums it all up.

Hoping that people on course wouldn't notice my unintentional urination, I soldiered onward to the aid station under the bridge and walked up the hill on the other side while taking on more hydration, getting in another shot of gel, and dumping more water on me in lieu of the elusive sponges. Yes, I kept drinking after starting to pee myself - I'm more interested in survival than dignity, thank you very much. I figured the water dumped on me would help rinse me off anyway, though it seemed to increase the chafing on my chest. I continued to walk every aid station from there out just to make sure I was getting lots of fluids and to let my breathing come down a bit, but it just kept getting tougher and tougher. This was a really dark period for me; I hated that I was walking, but I just couldn't manage to stay running for more than a few minutes. There were people in worse condition, though; after the turn-around to head out for my second loop of Merritt Island, I passed a young, very fit looking fellow just sitting on a bench in the shade and staring at nothing.

By this time, I was letting myself walk even more. There are places where there are two kilometer marker flags 10-20 metres apart; I'd let myself walk in between them. I continued to walk aid stations, drinking HEED and soaking myself with water, and took my last swig of EFS Liquid Shot around the 15.5k point. I had no idea what time it was, and no idea what kind of pace I was moving at - I just kept clinging to the fact I had almost 2.5 hours to get through this "run" in which I could still PR. Hell, I'd be happy on the day just to go under 6.5 hours, or even just to finish without ending up in the medical tent. My legs hurt, my left big toe was a riot of pain, I continued to pee on myself at random intervals, and I swear there was one bit around 17km when I could only manage about 100m of running in between 10m walking breaks. Realistically I'm sure I only actually walked 250m or so in total, but I felt like I'd failed. The only bright points were the other racers complimenting me on my smiley face as they passed, and the fact I was now on my way to the finish. Actually, it was kind of motivating seeing the number of people coming the other way as I traversed Merritt Island for the last time, too - I wasn't going to be last by a long shot! 

I finally made the 19k kilometer mark, leaving the island, and had a lovely lady come by me saying "now for the longest two kilometers ever!" - she sure wasn't kidding! Another racer came up along side me as I lumbered back to a run from my last walk break, gave me a big smile and tried to motivate me to stick with her to the finish, but she was just moving too fast for me to hang. Thanks anyway Laura! It seemed to take forever to hit the final aid station around 19.5km, at which I took one final cup of water to tide me over; a sip and a splash and off I went, with a volunteer telling me I would see the 20k mark in just a couple of hundred metres. I never did spot it - maybe it fell over, or maybe I just missed it, but I managed to stay running. I came up on a fellow who looked to be wearing a watch and asked the time - he said it was 2:37pm, meaning that with a kilometer to go I was somewhere around 6 hours, 7 minutes. Jeebus! If I could manage to keep moving I might manage sub-6:15!

I knew there was one last little rise up to the road as you come through town and I had figured all along that I'd walk it, but there was someone just before cheering people on and I didn't want to walk in front of them - I ran around the curve until I figured I was out of sight, but as the path rose I could see the finish area and knew that I had to just run it in. Crossing the road and passing the 21k mark I threw everything I had left into pumping my poor, beaten legs into something like a finishing kick. I managed to spot the clock at last, seeing 6:14:40 or so - holy crap! There was no way I was going to let the minute turn over without me crossing that line, so I squeezed out the last of the gas in my tank in a high-speed stagger toward that glorious beep of the timing mat. Adrenaline being a wonderful thing, I managed one last burst of effort for the photographer at the line.

21.1km run: 2:17:19 @ 6:30/km - 10/23 in W30-34, 185/379 O/A
5:18 slower than 2011

But I stuck the landing!

I got my handshake from John Salt, was handed a finisher medal and hat by a wonderful volunteer who took off my timing chip, and then wandered into the cooling tent where one of my favourite people of all time took two huge sponges and squeezed cold water all down my back. It was then that I realized I might have managed to go under 6:14:xx, since the elite wave had gone off a minute before the age groupers, and the clock might be displaying their time.

Photobombed by Kentiger, who snapped that awesome shot at the finish!

Official time: 6:13:50.1 - 8/23 in W30-34, 56/122 Women, 224/379 O/A (361 finishers)
12:06 improvement over 2011

Completely and utterly done.
I'm still very cross with myself for walking - the possibility exists that I could have made it through without the walk breaks, and I almost certainly took more than I needed since I was able to run the whole final 2km. On the bright side, though, I've left myself some low-hanging fruit for the next half iron distance attempt; I figure with some more cycle training on the tri bike and a less punitive day, I could probably break 6 hours. As it stands, I'm very happy with the PR in tough conditions, and even happier that I chose to bring along a celebratory beverage to enjoy in the parking lot afterward. 

Shh - don't tell anyone.
There was no jump in the canal afterward as I'd forgotten to bring my trusty pool noodle (and didn't trust myself not to drown without it), but I managed to survive somehow. Now to recover from the blisters, chafing and bloody epic sunburn!


Friday, June 21, 2013

100 posts down - 113 kilometers to go

It's my 100th post here, and I'll pass 15,000 views today - you folks never cease to astonish me with your love for the tales of my stupid exploits! Thanks to all of you for reading, whether it's just one post or all of my drivelings.

I should have plenty of new material to blither and moan about next week, as the time of reckoning is at hand: this very Sunday will see me and 450 other spandex-clad weirdos line up at the start of this year's big dance, the Welland Half Iron! It's bound to be a stacked field, as it is the 2013 Ontario Provincial Long Course Championship and a qualifier for the 2014 Long Distance World Championship.

That's right - I'm going to be waaaaaaaay out of my league. 

At least I have no illusions about placing well - I'm only racing myself and the clock, and trying to enjoy the experience along the way. I went 6:25:56 on the same course in 2011 with a sacroiliac joint injury that made the bike portion an absolute torturefest; each turn of the crank was like a knife stabbing me in the lower back. This has got to be better than that, right?


Of course, there is the minor detail that I've put in less than 150km on my tri bike this year, and my cycle training overall has been a bit lacking in the last couple of months. I put together a decent block recently, culminating in the 100k Tour de Grand two weeks prior to race day, but I have no illusions about feeling great when I step off the bike on Sunday. My only hope will be to take it conservatively to save my legs for the run, since I know I'm in pretty decent shape to cover 21.1km

It'll do.

Really, I need to let go of all the worries. I'm not quite at the weight I'd have liked to be, but I'm within a pound or so and that's a lot better than I could say at the beginning of June. I actually went for a run through Preston on Tuesday night in the outfit pictured above, which tells me I'm pretty comfortable with where I am right now - it's a bit of a leap of faith for me to bare my midriff when running through town, but fortunately no negative comments received. Body composition is ok. Swimming is the best it's ever been. Running is in good shape. I've been quite disciplined about tapering. The bike? Well, it's a (mostly) flat course so all I really have to do is keep turning pedals and admire the pretty scenery, while saying a small prayer that my neck holds out.

And that I don't melt.

While it would definitely be nice to improve on my 2011 time, moving myself through a 2km swim, 90k bike and 21.1km run is enough of a challenge even without a clock involved, especially with the predictions of high heat and humidity for race day - I'm still too gravitationally challenged to perform well in hot weather, and I've had no real chance to acclimatize as it hasn't felt much like summer yet. Whether or not I'm able to PR it isn't the point, though - the privilege of pushing my body for 6+ hours over 113km (70.3 miles), being surrounded by like-minded athletes and wonderful volunteers, the views of water lilies in the old canal and Lake Erie's shores on the bike, the smiles and high fives on the run course; those are what I'll truly take away from this event.

And then I'll go jump in the canal before eating everything in sight.

"Just deliver the pizza here"

See you at the finish line!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Cambridge Classic Mile - Friday, June 14th, 2013

How can something so short hurt so much?

We arrived at Galt Collegiate Institute at 6:30pm, just as the Diva Mile was taking place - good thing the organizer let me take part in the Social Media Mile at 7pm instead! I'd eaten lunch fairly early, with nothing but sips of water since 3:30pm, so my system was pretty clear as I headed out for a quick warm up run with 25mins to go. I did some high knees and butt kicks to get things moving, then ran easy for a few minutes while throwing in a couple of tempo-pace surges and some 20m strides to open up my legs. I was really nervy - what in the heck had I got myself into here?

Back to GCI with 15mins to go, I decided I needed every advantage I could get, so downed a Hammer Espresso gel in hopes the 50mg of caffeine would give me some sort of turbo boost. I met up with some of the other Social Media Mile participants, discovered that a lot of people I knew were either there to spectate or were involved in the event itself, and tried to stay loose with some leg swings and bouncing around.

Under starter's orders.

With very little fanfare, we were called to the track a bare few minutes past 7pm after the completion of the Emergency Services Mile. I noted that the crushed clay was essentially like a soft gravel, and wondered how much energy it was going to suck out of my stride. We lined up in no particular order (though the fastest among us gravitated toward the inside), were given some basic instructions about running through the second line to finish (as a mile is 9.34 metres longer than 4 laps of the 400m track), and got ready for the gun. Never having run from a crouch before I wasn't going to try it here - my worst case scenario was falling on my face, and I didn't feel like doing anything that might encourage that.

On your mark - get set - GO!

As I looked down at my leading knee and its background of red clay, I felt a wave of unreality wash over me. Was this happening? In anticipation of the agony that was to come, I was actually pushed into the first of the 5 stages of grief. Until that starter's pistol rang out, I found myself in denial that I was actually going to attempt something this stupid.

Lap 1 - Anger

Off like the devil himself was chasing me, I quickly saw the jackrabbits of the group start to pull away from me as I pumped my arms and tried to drive my knees. I pushed onward, passing one of my fellow racers on the inside just after the first curve. By 150m I was death whistling and thinking to myself that I was probably closer to the pace of the 200m repeats I'd done on Tuesday than to anything I could expect to maintain for the full mile. My worst fears were confirmed as I came through the starting line seeing 1:33.xx on the clock - I had gone out at just over a 6-minute-mile speed and couldn't possibly hope to hang on like that.

Lap 1: 1:33.xx - 3:52.5/km or 6:14/mile pace

Lap 2 - Bargaining

I needed to ease up a bit, but without really letting off the gas pedal - I figured I was in decent shape for my stretch goal of sub-8 if I could just keep things together. It was getting really bloody hard, though - I was feeling blown and was only a quarter of the way done! I've never done more than 800s on a track before (and even that only twice); it's tough to keep pushing yourself through multiple laps when the end just seems so far away. That's one of the reasons I prefer to do all my long runs as a single loop, or better yet a point-to-point - even an out-and-back can be psychologically tough when you realise how far you still have to go. I came through the line seeing 3:33.xx on the clock - I'd slowed by 27sec through my 2nd lap.

Lap 2: 2:00.xx - 5:00/km or 8:02.8/mile pace.
Halfway: 3:33.xx - 4:26.2/km or 7:08.5/mile pace.

Lap 3 - Depression

Given my rate of pace decay, it was looking much less likely that I'd make the sub-8 stretch goal, and even my forearms were starting to burn from the lactic acid buildup. There were a whole pack of Masters men along the home stretch of the track, and while they were actually respectfully cheering all of us on, I felt like they were watching me with scorn as I suffered so horribly while plodding along at such a pedestrian pace. My gait - never elegant at the best of times - had deteriorated into some sort of spastic thrashing of limbs as I fought gravity and air resistance to make some headway. I still had one runner 25m or so ahead of me, and I was chasing him down with all my might, but the clock told the tale as I came through the start line for the penultimate time; I was moving even slower.

Lap 3: 2:06.xx - 5:15/km or 8:26.9/mile pace. I run 10ks faster than this.
3/4 split: 5:39.xx - 4:42.5/km or 7:34.6/mile pace.

Lap 4 - Acceptance

Knowing this was the last time I had to try to boot my chubby butt 'round this torture device known as a track, I threw everything I had into it. My breath wheezed and shrieked in my throat, my legs screamed and my heart tried to tear itself out of my chest as I gained inch by hard-fought inch against the runner just ahead of me. As we came through the final curve I tried to judge the distance remaining, then gaped as he found an extra gear and sped away from me! I was completely powerless to answer his move, but mustered every last ounce of effort in me to come through the line as strong as I could.

Still fighting.

I blasted through the timing arch feeling as though I was going to drop dead on the spot, trying to rein in my legs to keep them under me as I slowed to trot, then a walk. I had made rather a poor showing in my heat, but had nevertheless utterly destroyed my expectations for my final time! I'd even managed to regain some of my lost speed for the final loop 'round the track.

Lap 4: 1:45.xx - 4:22.5/km or 7:02.4/mile pace

Official time: 7:23.96 or 4:36/km.
7/9 in the Social Media Mile

Full results here.

I definitely got left in the dust by my rabbit (James Harris), but while I may not have set the world on fire I certainly managed to outdo my expectations. It is both amusing and incredible that Mr. Will Spaetzel was able to so accurately predict my mile time - he's certainly deserving of the prize pack from my little contest, and a worthy competitor himself! Speaking of prognostication, it would appear that my mile time is pretty well in line with what I should have expected - not only did the McMillan Running Calculator predict a 7:21 mile (which is more or less in line with my time when adjusted for the clay track), but it gives the following predictions for other distances:

25:41 is my 5k PR, set in April 2010. I managed to best that 10k time by just over a minute at the Mudpuppy Chase in 2012, and was 42 seconds faster on a net downhill course for the Mississauga Half Marathon just over a month ago. I'm not quick, but I seem to be pretty consistent! It's worth noting that none of those races left me feeling half as ragged as that one single, solitary mile on the track, though - my throat felt like I'd drunk a pint of paint thinner, my arms and shoulders were sore, and later on my chest and ribs began to ache. Of course, that might have something to do with the deep-fetched coughing that took hold of me as soon as I finished - it's been more than 3 years since I quit smoking, but you'd never have known it in the 20mins after I came off the clay! I swear I coughed up tar I inhaled back in my teens..

Ed Whitlock kicking ass at 82 years old.
Photo courtesy of Peter Grinbergs

None of that kept us from staying for the rest of the evening's events, though. We cheered on friends and celebrities alike in the Master men's race directly after mine, thrilled to watch Ed Whitlock set a North American record by running the mile in 7:01. Yes, that's right - an 82 year old man beat my mile time by 23 seconds - almost 6 seconds per lap. This puts rather a kink in my plans to hold out and dominate the women's 75-79 age group.

Nate Brannen showing us how an Olympian kicks it.
Photo credit Peter Grinbergs

We smiled as Canadian Olympian Eric Gillis ran with the top finishers in the elementary and middle school races, marveled at the speed and grace of the collegiate men and women as they tore up the track, and roared with the crowd as Nate Brannen made his valiant attempt to break 4 minutes. While he may have just missed his goal, it was an incredible treat to be a part of an event that showcased running at its highest levels. Whether trying your first mile, setting a PR or simply coming to watch some incredibly talented athletes perform, the Cambridge Classic Mile is an event that holds something for everyone with an interest in running or track.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Diesel at the top fuel drag strip

The day is finally at hand - the Cambridge Classic Mile is this evening, and I'll be running the Social Media Mile at 7pm before Nate Brannen crowns off the evening by attempting to break the 4 minute mile on the crushed clay track at Galt Collegiate Institute at 8:20pm.

What a place to race!
Photo source: Mississauga Track

My own aspirations are rather more humble. While the McMillan Running Calculator claims I should be capable of a 7:21 mile based on my 1:58:12 at the Mississauga Half Marathon in early May, it also assumes that I've trained appropriately for the distance and am fairly well rested.

None of these assumptions are valid.

Not having done a lick of speedwork since the one interval workout back on May 2nd, I decided it was time to head back to the track on Tuesday to see if I could whip my legs up into something quicker than my usual shambling trot. I warmed up by running along the Linear Trail to the oval at Preston High School, inhaling the lovely scent of the phlox growing along the river.

This gorgeous view is 5mins from my house.

There was a soccer game going on in the field between the track and the trail, and another going on in the field within the oval of the track itself. Oh joy, and audience to witness my suffering! I soldiered on regardless, and laid down the following:

800 w/400 recovery: 4:06.24
800 w/400 recovery: 4:11.25

400 w/400 recovery: 2:07.50
400 w/400 recovery: 2:07.84

200 w/200 recovery: 0:58.25
200 w/200 recovery: 0:58:38

This haggard photo brought to you by speedwork.

I clearly completely blew myself on the first 800, because I still have no clue of how to pace intervals. The goal was to run each one a little faster than the last, and in this respect we can file this under "abject failure". I'm going to use the excuse that my legs were still tired from the 100k Tour de Grand from two days before, which represented the last day of a 17.25hr training week. Yeah, we'll go with that.

In any case, it casts pretty serious doubt on my ability to finish this ridiculous venture in 8mins or less - while those final 200's would do it, I don't like my odds on stringing 8 of them together in a row with no rest in between. It would be nice to think I could take less than 200% of the time an Olympian does to sprint a mile, but the reality is that I'm trained for distance and not top-end speed. Hell, I'm not even very competitive at longer distance, but I can keep on chugging along at my stately pace for hours on end. This mile experiment is just that - a test to see how hard I can push myself. 

Plus oldschool dirt track racing for a buck a lap!
Photo credit Will Spaetzel

For the sheer silliness of the whole thing, I'm going to offer a little contest - leave a comment here on the blog with your estimate for my final mile time, and whoever comes the closest will receive a small prize pack with some goodies from Cambridge. Open to anyone near or far, domestic or international, athlete or champion at keeping couches from floating away. I've given you the best information I have to make your educated guess, so have at it! 

Bonus points if you correctly guess which lap I barf on!

If you're in the Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge area, come on down to GCI any time from 5pm to 8:20pm this evening to watch some incredible racing. The schedule kicks off with the wee ones - Grade 5 and under - with the intensity ratcheting up through the heats. You'll see elementary school runners, high school speedsters, Masters athletes, up-and-coming collegiate racers, and even some courageous Emergency Services members turning themselves inside out against the clock in what must truly stand as one of the most classic distances in the world of running. Even if you can't come down beforehand, let's try to fill the stands by the time the elite women set out to scorch the clay at 8:10pm, and raise a thunderous cheer as the Olympians test their mettle in the men's elite race at 8:20pm.

Just try not to laugh too hard at me, ok?