Friday, December 19, 2014

Stick a fork in it.

Since this will be my last post of  2014 (yes, you'll be spared my drivel next week - REJOICE!), I figured I'd take a look back at what the year held for this ill advised racer.

I started in January with one of my favourite events - the Frosty Trail 3-hour. It was a tough day with tricky, ever-changing conditions, and I'm pretty sure the end result was a personal worst distance to go with the bruised feet and torn up shoes.

These were in mint condition before the race.
Still, it was great fun and I actually won my division - trail racing is so subject to the conditions on the course that even a personal worst can be a decent outcome! It was widely regarded as one of the slowest days ever at that particular venue.

February was devoted to training my butt off so I'd be ready when the end of March rolled in, bringing the Around the Bay 30k with it. I had worked incredibly hard for this, and it paid off with a 10+min PR at that race and 3.5min PR at the distance. My sub-3 goal? Yeah, got that, and then some. This was probably my best performance of the entire year, and I have months of kicking my cranky arse out the door in a polar vortex to thank for that.

Of course, there was no time to rest on my laurels, because I had stupidly decided it would be a shame to "waste" all that run fitness and signed up for the Waterloo Marathon at the end of April. I caught a cold, soldiered through idiotically instead of resting up, and fell short of my 4:10 goal time by almost seven and a half minutes. I just did not have it in me on race day, though as much as I whine about it I still bagged a 20+min PR at both that distance and that race.

That'll do.

So with triathlon season about to start, it was time to gear the running down and ramp up the cycling. I had every intention of spending the next couple of weeks after the marathon absolutely living on my bikes, trying to translate some of the aerobic fitness into pedaling power. Then, this:

Snorky's ok.

Being hit by a car (two days after crashing my mountain bike, no less) put a significant damper on my training for the next few days, and it was weeks before I was anywhere near 100% again. Nonetheless, at less than 3 weeks post-hood ornament, I lined up for one of the coldest starts to triathlon season yet: the Woodstock Sprint.

I put together a really slow swim, a bike hampered by idiot drivers and poor fitness, and a pretty poor run to come in almost 2 full minutes later than I did in 2013, when I simply hadn't done the training I should. Who knew that playing bumper cars on a bicycle would be bad for performance?

Though I suppose finishing at all was enough of a win.
Maybe even starting counts.

Then came a crazy block of events in June - the Heels & Wheels trail 5k at which I actually took 3rd woman overall (!), the Cambridge Tour de Grand 72k (not a race, but lots of fun!), the Welland Triathlon that Tanker and I did as a relay, then an extra-poignant Together We Travel Ride for Angels in which I wore the same kit that had gone skidding across the pavement in May.

My first overall award at Heels & Wheels!

Rolling through Grand River country with my sweetheart.

Tanker off to kick the Welland bike course's ass!
Riding around Niagara Falls after the Welland relay tri

Together We Travel - Ride for Angels is a critical mass ride
to raise awareness for cycling safety, in memorial of a man
who was killed when he was hit by a car in Waterloo Region.

I finally had a couple of weeks to buckle down for some serious training before returning to the site of my unfortunate horizontal trackstand of 2012 for the Mine Over Matter Full Off-Road Triathlon on the first Saturday of July. Despite a head-on collision with another athlete during my swim warm-up, I made it through the whole race unscathed and didn't even mind too much when I had the absolute slowest bike split out of any athlete that day,

My saddle coming loose and turning skyward probably didn't help.

A couple of weeks later I was back to one of my favourite race sites for a new experience - doing the Belwood Triathlon as a lone competitor! Tanker and I had always done this race as a relay in the past, but after hearing him rave about the lovely cycle course we decided to switch it up for 2014. I had a pretty good swim, suffered in the hills on the bike, then had a breakthrough run out of nowhere! I ran faster for the final 7.5km portion of that tri than I ever have in a stand-alone 5k.

On the move!
With no further racing on the schedule until September, there were adventures to be had! We laughed and paddled through rainy days in the backcountry at Frontenac Provincial Park, covering 6 lakes in 4 days before jetting off to Bon Echo Provincial Park for another couple of days of front country camping, hiking and kayaking along the incredible heights of Mazinaw Rock.

Soggy in Frontenac

Tanker's first canoe tour!

Bon Echo's quartzite cliffs

Tanker discovering pictographs on Mazinaw Rock

August saw some training happen as I tried to ready myself for fall racing, but the final week of the month was dedicated to our annual motorcycle tour. We had a wonderful trip exploring a science centre and a shipwreck museum, camping in Killarney Provincial Park, freezing ourselves at Brimley State Park on Lake Superior's southern shore, then drinking in the rich history of Fayette State Park before leaving Michigan's Upper Peninsula to return to South Higgins Lake State Park and on to the always-enjoyable Great Lakes Rally outside Detroit. We arrived home exhausted but full of incredible memories!

Making friends at Science North

Lake Superior sunset

Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum

Charcoal blast ovens at Fayette State Park

Endless dunes on the north shore of Lake Michigan

Huge campsite at South Higgins Lake

Riding with friends at GLR
Suffice to say over a week of almost no training was not precisely helpful on the tough course of the Lakeside Olympic Triathlon in September. It was cold, I had navigation issues during the swim, a minor mechanical problem (that fortunately resolved itself) and a major fitness fail (which did not resolve itself) on the bike, and a somewhat redeeming run. Overall, a bit meh, but I'll take that 1sec Olympic distance run PR!

This bit, on the other hand, sucked pretty badly.
Since I hadn't entered any fall trail races other than my traditional season-ender, I was able to take the last weekend of September and join seemingly the entire province in Algonquin Park for a weekend of camping & solo backpacking. The weather suddenly turned hot and dry as the fall colours hit their peak, and I ended up exceeding all expectations I had of myself on the trail while seeing some incredible sights along the way.

Falls on the Madawaska River.

Sunrise over Head Lake

The Starling Lake lookout

Forest ablaze with colours

Two weeks after that, it was back to the woods for Campsgiving at Valens Lake Conservation area. We thoroughly enjoyed discovering this local gem, and will assuredly be back in the future to enjoy its beautiful lake, trails and boardwalks.

Overlooking the reservoir

Marsh boardwalk

I started to back off training to taper for my one and only ultra for 2014, and seemed to be running really well when I got hit with a calf injury out of nowhere right before the race. With an aggressive rehab strategy and absolutely no running in the few days before the event, I lined up at the start of the Horror Hill 6-hour with zero expectations other than to try and see. Much to my surprise, I made it through the entire race and even posted a PR distance!

Who would've thought?
Now ordinarily my season ends with Horror Hill. After you've run for 6 hours, what else is there really to do? Once again, I'd hatched a crack-brained scheme so I wouldn't "waste" my run fitness, culminating in a failed 10k PR attempt at the Kona Chocolate Run. Fortunately, I had so much spending the weekend with friends we dearly love and pacing one of said friends through the subsequent 5k race to a huge PR for him that it's impossible to think of doing the Chocolate Double as anything but a win.

This moment here is worth more than any medal.

Overall, I wouldn't say this year's race results were terribly impressive. I'm quite proud of the huge PR at Around the Bay and I have most assuredly taken my running to a new level this year, but between the lack of cycling and some other poor decision making, I wasn't really able to translate that into racing performance throughout the season.

I can, however, take away at least one positive thing from each race I did, and each one has fond memories or silly stories attached to it. Furthermore, there were almost no points I can think of in which I gave anything less than the best I had in me to give on the day. Since I'm just a Joe Schmo athlete that pays to enter these athletic events for the fun and challenge of them, I think that's more important than the final numbers anyway.

Wishing you all the best of the holiday season - peace, joy and a wonderful new year. I'll see you in 2015!

Merry Dorkmas to all, and to all a good night!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Owning the past

I've finally got a little bit of housekeeping done on the blaaaahg that I've been meaning to do for quite a while now. Namely, I've created a page that shows all of my past events with dates, results and links to race reports.

My first ever race - a 5k in Hamilton, ON
Overdressed and completely naive but having a blast!

Well, at least those that still exist. I used to have a website that housed all of my race reports from my very first 5k in March of 2009 up until my first Olympic Triathlon in 2010. It met with an untimely fate when the hosting service decided to unilaterally delete the entire site.

RIP, TriathlonChaos. You are missed.

My very first tri - even the pissing rain couldn't stop me from having fun!

Three things have struck me in doing the necessary research and recording all of these past events:

1) Holy sweet merciful crap I've done a lot of racing. There are no less than 77 (seventy! seven!) events listed on that page, and I've only raced for 6 seasons. That works out to almost 13 events per year. I refuse to contemplate how much that represents in race fees. I just don't want to know.

First 10k

2) There are events I'd completely forgotten about. Without my training logs and some other recordkeeping I've done throughout the years, compiling this list would have been impossible as my memory just can't contain it all. See point #1. Going through the list has reminded me of fun times racing with friends, pacing people through some of their first races, and some of my own personal triumphs and challenges.

Team SmackTalk at Horror Hill in 2010 - my first ultra!

3) While decidedly non-linear, it's incredible to look back at my past results and see my progression as I've developed as an endurance athlete. From absolutely zero prior running experience before November 2008 I've since improved almost every single one of my original race times - those that I haven't improved upon are generally odd distances I have only raced once. From not being totally sure I could manage a 5k or sprint triathlon at the start of 2009, I've since completed half a dozen ultramarathons and two half iron distance triathlons.

Finish line of my first Olympic tri in Wasaga Beach - 2010
I still feel like this at every finish line!

It's been one hell of a ride so far, and I've learned so much about both racing and myself along the way. I'm happy to have all of my photos and records to look back on - maybe one day when I'm too old and busted to race anymore, I'll still be able to wander through my race reports and remember all those moments when I felt like I was going to die...but at the same time had never felt more alive.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Does that make 2 out of 9 lives?

The weather rollercoaster continues, which allowed me to get out for an honest-to-gawd outdoor ride on Sunday!

On my CX bike, no less!

While it was only a quick 25.5k commute-type ride to a friend's house for brunch, it reminded me of how long it's been since I did anything more than ride a mountain bike around town. Not that there's anything wrong with that (I really enjoy my lunch rides and cycling to the market!), but it felt great to get out on a machine built for roads and stretch my legs out.

Happy happy upon arrival.

Even better, I got some news on Tuesday that made me beam with pride - despite somewhat of a let-down year that saw me falling short on some of my athletic goals, I've been accepted once more as a Vanderkitten VIP for 2015! I'm truly honoured to be a part of this world-wide crew of inspiring, indomitable, supportive and KICK ASS group of women.

Rocking the Ophelia for another year!

I had an amazing time getting to know my fellow VIPs in 2014, revelling in their successes and commiserating with them when challenges just proved too much. I look forward to meeting the freshmen VIPs and seeing what amazing things we will all accomplish in the coming year!

So of course, despite the snow & sub-freezing temperatures, I had to wear some of my VKVIP kit out for the run I did Tuesday night.

Ophelia powered!
Just as in everyday life, my VK pride might not have been immediately apparent as I ran, but it's always there next to my heart. I love being an ambassador for a company that truly dedicates itself to supporting equality and opportunity for women at all levels of sport, and that makes awesome products for female (and male) athletes!

I even drink my morning tea out of a ruthless red VK mug at the office!

Congratulations to all of the new and returning VIPs - with the heart, talent and determination you ladies show I know that together we're going to have a kickass 2015!

Friday, November 28, 2014

Spin the wheel of weather

We're pretty used to varying conditions here in Southern Ontario, but I swear the last 10 days have been enough to make my head spin and the ride isn't over yet.

It all started last week with an influx of unseasonally cold air and snow. We managed to get home from the Kona Chocolate Run just as the flakes began to fall, and by Wednesday (my first run after the race) it was up to my ankles!

Start of my off-season!

Even colder on Thursday

Much as it sort of sucked that winter was descending so quickly, we decided to make the most of it by heading out for a cross-country ski around the schoolyard and park just up the street on Friday night. It was -10c/14f and the snow was at least 15cm/6" deep.

Fun date night!

Saturday the temperature hovered around the freezing mark and we got miserable drizzle, so no cycling down to the market (I am fighting off the first stages of a cold and don't want to exacerbate it), and not a terribly pleasant day to be outdoors. I did get a run in, but did so through downtown as I figured the sidewalks would be in better shape than the icy, wet death that surrounded our place.

Sunday the mercury rose higher yet, and for the last day of my off-season week we went for a hike at beautiful Huron Natural Area. We arrived about an hour before sunset to an incredible sight: the warm air had melted the snow and evaporated the moisture, but as the sun dropped it was cooling enough to condense it into a thick mist that hung in all of the forest hollows and roiled over the mushy ice surface of the ponds.

Board of Education pond with thick fog

It was a one-in-a-million sort of experience - I commented to Tanker that you could visit the park every day for a year and never encounter the right circumstances to bring about such a mist.

As we headed home after dark the mild air remained, so I couldn't resist getting out for a run. 48hrs after our cross-country ski date, I was running in shorts and a tshirt through the very same neighbourhood!

Finally getting to try the awesome BondiBand I picked up at the Kona Chocolate Run expo! 

Monday brought sharply colder temperatures that wouldn't have been enough to keep me indoors on their own, but the accompanying 70kph/43.5mph winds that gusted up to 100kph/62mph caused some nasty damage around our area that made it unsafe to be outside. Much to my chagrin, there was no run that night - and the first real sign of winter training made its appearance.

Back to the trainer dungeon.

Things improved with a chilly but calmer day Tuesday, and then Wednesday it was sufficiently nice out that the bike came to work with me! It stayed around the freezing mark all day, but mild winds and just a few flakes of snow meant I could get in some nice riding.

Lunch ride!

Arriving at my Mum's - snowflakes look neat in my headlight!

Just when it seemed like November might be starting to behave itself, it started to snow out of the blue on Thursday evening. Our trip home from work was plagued by near-whiteout conditions, and the winds whipped up some nasty gusts that drove the snow and freezing rain mix seemingly right into my skin as I ran. It made the roads really slick, too - while out running I watched a car skid out of control just from tapping its brakes doing no more than 25kph/15.5mph.

There was spindrift. I was not impressed.
I took things very carefully on the way to the pool as even the 401 was quite icy, and was more than happy to follow a salt truck most of the way home.

Today it continues to snow in fits and starts with the air temperature a few degrees below freezing, but it's supposed to be back up to 10c/50f by Sunday.

This fall more than ever the old adage rings true: if you don't like the weather, just wait 5mins!