Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Pre Race - 2010 Ironman 70.3 World Championships

I am on my way down to Clearwater Beach, Florida to compete in the 2010 Ironman 70.3 World Championships . This year there is no H1N1 virus scare (as there was in 2009), so my family is traveling with me. There are so many planning details that need to be dealt with before getting into the car and driving to the Airport.
List of steps taken to get ready for the trip:

  • Work (a variety of tasks)
  • Flu Shot
  • Airplane Tickets
  • Car Rentals
  • Hotels
  • Co-ordination with Grandma and Grandpa who will be joining us in Florida
  • Co-ordination with Nana and Pappy who will be looking after our dog
  • Friends who will be looking in on our house
  • Letting the kids schools know
  • Getting the car ready and loaded for the drive to the airport
  • Event Registration
  • Bike Shipping
Last year I qualified for this event at the Muskoka 70.3 event in mid September after having posted the fastest amateur time in the event. I went into the 2009 Clearwater race race not knowing what to expect but hoping for a podium finish in my age group (40-44). I finished the race in 11th place and was extremely disappointed in the amount of cheating taking place out on the bike course and lack of enforcement of the drafting and blocking rules.

Despite the disappointment with the 2009 race I decided to make the 2010 event part of my plan for the 2010 season. I felt that the overall event was worth repeating especially if combined with a family vacation. The location and weather are great this time of year.

I qualified for the 2010 Clearwater event by placing second in my age group at the Mooseman 70.3 in early June in Newfound lake, NH. In July I switched my focus from triathlon training to just training for cycling events. I had finished third in the Peterborough Time Trial race in July and felt that I needed to make Time Trial training my main focus if I hoped to win the Provincial title in September. I responded well to the change in focus and put some time between myself and my main competitors, claiming the provincial TT title.

I am now more determined than ever to improve on the bike and challenge for a national title and possibly compete at the Masters World Championships in Aug of 2011 in Austria. I have also really enjoyed being part of the Wheels of Bloor cycling team in 2010 and look forwards to riding with the team again in 2011.

Despite a change in focus to cycling, I don’t just want to participate in the 2010 Clearwater event taking place this Saturday Nov 13th, I want to finish preferably in the top ten this year. That may be a difficult feat considering that I have only been in the pool twice in the past 4-months. I did start running again 4 weeks ago after taking three months off. I committed to 4-weeks of run training because I wanted to do my best in the race and I wanted to be able to walk the days following the race as my family is planning on visiting a theme park or two.

Here are the questions that I have going into the race:
  • Can I do better than last year?
  • How much time will I loose during the swim?
  • Will I get boxed in behind a pack of riders?
  • Will my body (left hip) give out before the end of the run?
Here is my Race Plan
  • Do not panic in the swim, give a solid effort but not too much
  • Torch the bike course and take in a lot of fluids
  • Survive the run

Monday, August 23, 2010

NYC Nautica Triathlon - July 18th 2010

I flew down to NYC on Sat July 17th with my wife Natasha and checked into the London hotel on 54th street just east of 7th avenue at 3:15 pm, and rode up to our room on the 52nd floor. While waiting for our bags to follow us to the room I decided to try and make the 3:30 session of the mandatory athletes briefing. Fortunately the triathlon exposition and briefings were all taking place almost adjacent to our hotel at the Hilton.

What a scene! The halls at the Hilton were packed full with athletes, bikes, supporters, volunteers, exhibitors and organizers. Everything was clearly marked and all of the volunteers were easily identifiable and ready to process us. The whole situation reminded me us registration at university before the internet.

I found an empty seat just in time for the briefing, which was basically a review of the very thorough athlete’s guide which was sent out about two weeks prior to the race. The man leading the briefing did a good job of highlighting all of the potential pain points and clearly explaining all of the steps we would go through to complete the sign-in process. Twenty minutes later when the briefing ended the two to three hundred athletes in the 3:30 session filed to the back of the room to get our hands stamped to prove attendance which was needed to move on to waiver signing and number assignment. I figured that the hand stamping would be a big bottle neck, but like everything else connected with this event, the organizers were well prepared and the process ran smoothly.
After the hand stand we were herded over to a series of race track looking betting ticket booths marked alphabetically where our identification was verified, waivers signed and race number assigned.

I then moved to stage three - packet pick up, which was broken down by race number. As I had signed up to compete in the elite age group, my number 144 was in the first grouping on the far left of the area. My packet contained swim cap, wrist band and some additional information. After getting my wrist band attached I took the escalator down a floor to the expo to pick up my bag of promotional items and race T-shirt. I also stopped to purchase a cartridge of compressed air for tire repair. The expo hall was crammed full and it looked like people were in a spending mood.

The entire process took me under an hour. As I exited the hotel I was once again hit by the heat and humidity which was amplified by no wind in mid Manhattan. Natasha and I went down to the hotel restaurant for a drink and a snack. One cheese plate, a super thin crest pizza appetizer and 3 glasses of wine later (1 for me); we went back up to our room. Natasha was eager to begin her shop-athalon on 5th avenue; this was her first trip to the shopping Mecca of the world. Thanks to a late lunch Natasha was very relaxed and suggested that I take care of my bike check-in first. I was determined to be as efficient as possible with checking my bike in; a mandatory step that had to be completed prior to 9pm that evening. I unpacked and assembled my bike and quickly. I then put on my team kit which was sure to get drenched during the 3km ride down to the transition area at the base of 72nd street and the Hudson River.

Following the one way streets out of the hotel I ended up heading West of 55th street which may have been the bumpiest street in the city. I made my way to the bike path along the West side highway and then headed north to the transition area. The transition area was divided up into two large areas; red and yellow, to accommodate the large number of competitors and the space limitations in the park along the Hudson. The bike racks were clearly marked with race numbers and mine was ideally located at the end of a rack right beside the bike exit; this was one of the advantages of competing in the elite age group. Some people had left helmets and shoes with their bikes, but I decided to take mine back to the room and return them in the morning.

After I brief shopping excursion, a walk over to central park and dinner in the room I lay down to try and sleep. I set two alarms for 3:50am but was wide awake by 3am so I reset the alarms so that Natasha could meet me at the finish near 8am. I saw an electronic sign from my hotel room window that indicated that it was 25 Celsius. I left the hotel at 4:15 am and walked West to find a cab that was already headed in a similar direction. Just beside the hotel on the sidewalk were two men and women lingering outside of a bar. The women were stretching out on the base bars of the temporary scaffolding that had been erected for some maintenance on the building beside the hotel. All four of them were animated in drunken conversation as they awaited customers for services that the women were clearly offering. I kept my eyes low and quickened my pace as I passed down the center of the sidewalk in between them. I passed by without interruption, took a right on 7th avenue, walked north one block and hailed a cab within seconds.

The cab headed west until it could not go any further and joined into a traffic filled street where all had been diverted due to the road closure of the West side highway; which started at 4am. I asked the driver if he knew what was going on to which he replied that there must be an accident on the highway that is why traffic is being diverted. A 4000 participant Triathlon in the heart of the city is hardly a blip on the radar for most New Yorkers and at most a minor inconvenience. I got out and walked the final few blocks as we were at a standstill. I joined hundreds of others heading down through the park on 72nd street towards the transition on the Hudson.

I got to my bike and hooked up with my friend Joe right, who had just finished setting up a few racks down. I took my bike with me to one of the many bike pumps chained to the fences throughout transition and got into a line to use the pump. The lines were at least three deep everywhere and I did a poor job of choosing as the guy at the front just could not figure it out. I abandoned my line and joined another one which of course meant that the line which I had been in sped up and three more people took my place. Calm down, plenty of time, no big deal, just wait it out. Fortunately Joe was there to help with conversation and keep my mind off of the painfully slow struggles of the person at the pump in front of me. He would set up the pump and the let go of the connection to the valve, grab the pump handle and apply pressure just to see the connection to the valve spring free. This scenario was repeated way too many times. That’s it I couldn’t bear it one second longer as the guy was clearly losing more air than he was gaining and unable to figure out; I had to get involved. The poor guy had quite a sweat going. I held the valve connection to the tire as he worked the pump handle and we succeeded in inflating his tires.

As Joe and I left transition we time for a good long talk as we walked just over 2km’s to the swim start. I was in the third corral and Joe was just a couple of corrals behind me. After the playing of the national anthem, the announcer took the time to introduce most of the elite field as they headed down one at a time to the starting barge. With the sound of the horn the were off. The professional women were introduced next and took their positions on the starting barge and dove in three minutes after the men; who were quite a ways downstream aided by the current. My group was next and there were no individual introductions, it would have taken to long as there were about 70 of us. I was the last guy in our group to walk down onto the barge which was already forming a second row behind racers set to dive in from the edge of the platform. I quickly surveyed the scene noting that there were far more people towards the far end of the barge closer to the Jersey side of the river than there were on the NY side. It only took me another second to determine why, as the current appeared to be moving faster the further you got from the edge and closer you got to the middle of the river. I walked down to the far edge a positioned myself at the back of the group now three deep at this end of the platform.

The starting horn sounded and the first row dove in followed by the second row. I waited just a second and then dove in behind so as to avoid as much contact as possible. The first thing I noticed was that it was salt water. I know that this may seem obvious to everyone because it is, but I just had not even thought about it one way or another. The water was also relatively warm which at 78F translates into very warm when wearing a wetsuit. My goggles had survived the dive with only a little water entering in the left side, which a cleared out quickly mid stroke with no issue. I focused all of my attention on taking huge breaths of air, in way gulping air in on each third stroke. Visibility was zero and it was tough to tell that there was any current once in the water and swimming. I avoided any panic attacks thanks to the focus on breathing which was an important milestone. I did not spend too much time looking around to see where I was, I just kept taking exaggerated huge breaths of air. My heart rate soared and did not let up. I could not find any way to relax so I just muscled my way through the water.

After I while of this big effort in the water I began to tire and looked ahead to see how much further it was to the exit. I still had a couple hundred meters to go so I just kept up with the same effort until I got to the exit ramp; which I was happy to finally grab onto. Thanks to starting in wave three the ramp was fairly clear with many volunteers around helping to pick us out of the water. It had seemed like I was in the water for a long time, but I clocked in at 15:59 which is over 10 minutes faster than my personal best; wow that must have been some current. The leaders from my group exited the water three minutes ahead of me.

I ran off of the exit barge looking for wetsuit strippers, but there were none. While run-jogging I got my arms out of the wetsuit and pulled it down to my waist. I took another few strides and decided to stop for a second to peel off the suit completely; which I did while steadying myself along the fence that separated the path from the water along the west side parkway. With wetsuit in hand I felt much cooler and was able to increase my pace as I ran the 700 meters over to the transition area. I passed a couple of people on the way and clocked a respectable transition time considering that I even took the time to put on socks; which would help me in my second transition time.

Heading out of transition with bike in tow I crossed the line indicating riding allowed and hoped onto my bike and quickly gathered some speed. With no time to get my feet into my shoes I rode on top of them as I made a hard right and met the hill leading away from the water and onto the West side highway. Once on the highway I strapped my feet into my shoes and worked my way up to full speed. It did not take long for me to loose my one water bottle before even taking one sip. As I watched it dissappear beneath me while clumsily trying to grab it like a grasping for slippery frog while wearing a blindfold, I reflected on what the warning I had received during the pre-race meeting where we were told to bring at least two water bottles because hundreds of bottles were picked up off of the road each year after the race. I tried not to think about it as I pushed on, knowing that a full water bottle awaited me in transition.

I passed many of my competitors and was even passed by one with an Ireland kit after the mid point turn-around on a climb after I had caught and passed him on a flat. We both passed a group of 5-8 riders closely packed together who were clearly taking advantage of drafting one another. I did not think that much of the group of cheaters as it paled in comparison to what happened at the 70.3 world championships in Clearwater, Florida last year. Not long after I caught back up to the Irishman who yelled over to me “It's like the bloody Tour de France back there!”; referring to the pack riding taking place. I have to hand it to the race officials who enforced the rules at this race and handed out some steep 6minute penalties to several of the offenders in the group. I pressed on and the road continue do clear out in front of me. I eventually caught and passed the lead women before reaching the second turn-around a the technical descent back to the transition area.

Thanks to my ideal location in transition I made was able to quickly rack my bike slide on my shoes, put on some shades and run out of transition in a very respectable time. I did not realize it at the time but I had ridden my bike in to first place amongst the elite amateur category. I paced myself up the fill and onto 72nd street. Once on 72nd street I looked up to see the street blocked off for almost 1km in front of me and no other competitors in site; what an awesome feeling. Barriers on either side of the street were set up for spectators and there which there were a smattering of. Policemen and women were at each intersection holding back traffic as I approached and ran through, it was almost a royal treatment. I might return to the race just for another run up 72nd street.

The wide open view in front of me was quickly changed as another athlete in a one piece kit with his name on his ass breezed by me. Judging by his kit and running form he was easily a professional, which was a bad assumption on my part. This guy had actually won the amateur elite category the year before and ended up in second place this year, his name was Brian Duffy Jr. Another competitor passed me with a clear 41 marked on his leg, this guy was my age and in my category and there was no way I could hand with him. I watched the two runners move off ahead as I kept to my own pace. The Irishmen and another athlete passed me just before the entrance into central park.

Almost 10 people passed me on the run including 7 in my category, the women winner and a couple of elite men. Running in Central park was amazing as an endless procession of joggers out for an early Sunday morning jog offered encouragement as they passed by in the opposite direction as we made our way around the 5 mile bridle path loop. I was surprised by how hilly the park was. I was on the verge of overheating during the entire run. I used what was left of my energy reserves to try an stay within 2 minutes of the Rebecca Wassner (the lead women), as I thought that she had started the race two minutes before me and I hoped to beat the best women; in fact the women had started out over three minutes in front of us.

As I headed towards the finishing shot I saw the race clock closing in on 2:04 and I felt that I realized that I had a chance to finish the race in under 2hrs as the first few swim waves were supposed to go off at 2 minute intervals. I sprinted into the finish line at 2:04:01 and took a few minutes to catch my breath before my search for Natasha began. I was given a race towel and finishers medal and then found the VIP section were Natasha was cheering from. Hats off to the organizers for having a VIP section option which made for a great experience for Natasha after some awful ones in the past including having to walk six mile into a state park in the desert in Arizona just to miss the finish and end up wasting another two hours trying find one another (no cell phone access).

We waited around for the awards were I discovered that the top three finishers all passed me on the run including the Irishman who won the race; Robert Wade. I posted a respectable sub 40 minute 10km run but was blown away by my top competitors who took six-seven minutes out of my time. I was happy to see that I posted the second fastest bike split on the day as I was only beaten by the second placed professional. I ended up in 8th place with a time of 1:58:57.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Guelph Lake Olympic distance Triathlon Race Report – June 20th, 2010

Guelph Lake Olympic distance Triathlon Race Report – June 20th, 2010

The Guelph Lake Olympic distance triathlon started on time on Sunday June 20th at 8:30 am under warm summer conditions on the last day of spring. The event grew to 622 participants this year from 458 in 2009. Some of the top local athletes were in attendance thanks in part to a commitment that Barry Shepley had made to have his team participate in all Subaru Series events this season, including professionals Sean Bechtel and David Sharatt.

Last year in my second ever Triathlon at this event, I was the twelfth athlete to cross the line in a time of 2:10:14; one competitor who finished in front of me DQ’ed so officially I finished in eleventh place. I was hoping to improve my time by about four minutes which I though was achievable considering the problems that I had in the swim last year. I also wanted to test out my bike strength and was a little concerned that my recent training results indicated that I had lost some strength or fitness or something maybe due to the cross training that I was doing; Bike, Run, Swim, Yoga. The second place finish in my age category from two weeks earlier at the Mooseman event had stung my pride. The more I reflected on my performance the more realized that it was the last five kilometers of the run that lost me the race due to inferior conditioning / preparation. As a result, I had put extra energy into my run training over the past fourteen days.

I am discovering that the amount of time required to fully recover from a 70.3 half iron event is definitely greater than I would like it to be. Thanks to the yoga classes that I am attending the soreness seems that I feel post race seems to heal must faster now than last year. Unfortunately it takes just as long or longer, thanks to being 1-year older, for the strength to return to my muscles. Although I may have not been fully recovered for some of my recent training sessions, I felt in good condition for the race that day.

A friend of mine Paul T. who has just joined the ranks of mid life multi-sports enthusiasts, met me at the Trafalgar exit car park off the 401 highway to carpool our way to the event. Paul was even more organized me and had plenty of space for my bike and gear inside of his SUV. Paul was racing in the 40-44 age group along with me and 76 others; once again dominating all other age groups with regards to participation. I also met up with Mike D. and Jason G at the event, two guys who I had gone to school with at McGill twenty years ago. Mike and Jason played for the Football team and have both become much leaner as a result of the training required to prepare for these types of events. It was great to see old friends all taking part in such a positive event.

The Race

Swim 1500meters

I found a great spot to rack my bike as did Paul and minutes later Michael Hay pulled up said hello and placed his bike on the opposite side right beside mine. Michael had competed in a half iron event (Rev 3) two weeks prior as well and he let me know that he was still feeling the effects of that effort. We spent some time catching up and then I headed down to registration. The event was a mass swim start and swim caps were being handed out according to participants swim times based on the honour system. Red caps were for anyone who could swim 1500 meters in under 23 minutes, and the seven other colours were for progressively slower swimmers. I grabbed a Royal Blue cap indicating that I could swim the distance in 23-25minutes, even though I had never actually swam that fast without fins. I was thinking that because of the training that I had put in and the buoyancy advantage of wearing a wet suit that today was going to be the day, which was faulty thinking that I would soon pay for.

After making the final preparations I headed down to the lake front with wetsuit, goggles and Royal Blue cap in hand. I went out for a warm up swim and took some time to get used being in the water, with my face in the water. As the start time approached I headed over to the far outside position which was clearly the most direct path to the first marker, which for some unclear reason was skewed over away from the starting area created a funnel effect right from the start. I stood on the edge of the water and allowed all people wearing red caps to move to the front. No one in blue caps seemed that eager to jostle for a starting position so I just maintained my spot; which also turned out to be a mistake. Here I was at the front of the 23-25 minute group before the race even started and I would have to pull out a miraculous swim to even break 25 minutes. This meant that everyone in blue caps behind me was going to pass me, which in a mass start swimming event in a funneled area meant that many people were going to need to swim over top of me. It all seems so clear now but this wisdom somehow escaped me while I was standing there waiting for the starting horn to blast.

I had envisioned the race and my performance many times prior to the start and in none of those enactments did I foresee the start that I had. The horn sounded and I began jogging into the water. Thanks to my height, long legs and the gradual slope into the lake, I was able to remain upright longer than anyone else around me. By the time I started swimming, I was no longer on the outside but in amongst many swimmers. As I started swimming I realized that I was hanging tough amongst many people at the back of the red cap group. I continually felt people knocking into me but paid in no mind and kept on swimming. After another minute or so I realized that I was swimming beyond my abilities and needed to slow down in order to catch my breath all the while people kept banging into me. These of course were people from my wave fighting to get past me. I decided to stop swimming for a second in order to catch my breath, this of course made matters worse as there were way more people behind me than in front and they all crashed into me each time I slowed. My thoughts quickly changed from my performance in the entire race to whether or not I would be able to swim another 50 meters without calling on a spotter in a kayak for assistance. I realized that I was now entering a panic mode and had to act quickly in order to salvage my race. I took a quick 90 degree turn to the left and swam away from everybody else. Once I got to the outside where no one was crashing into me, I began to take deeper breaths. The influx of oxygen into my lungs had the amazing effect of dissipating the panic feelings that had hold of me. I concentrated on breathing and gradually worked my way back into the race. All of this had happened within the first 250meters of the race.

By the time I rejoined the main path of swimmers I was now moving at least as fast as everyone around me, which made things much easier. I was now comfortable amongst my competitors and was even able to work at drafting by following bubbles up ahead of me. As I exited the water after the first lap I was breathing calmly and able to pass a few people as we ran along the beach to start lap two of the swim. Once in the water I decided to try and draft some more and found it to be relatively easy. I felt as tough I could have passed the guy in front of me but that may have cost me too much energy so I stayed in behind and was content to follow at his pace. I exited the water in 78th place and took an extra 15 seconds or so in transition to pull on a pair of socks before heading out onto the bike course.

Bike 40km

I hoped onto my bike and calmly increased my speed before getting my feet into my shoes. I bunny hoped my bike over a speed bump on my way out of the park and looked down to see that my chain was off of the front ring and the rear derailleur. Given the enormous amount of slack in my chain, I figured that I had somehow busted my rear derailleur. Fortunately I was able to get back into the big ring up front and downshift in a gear without having to dismount from my bike or loose too much time. With my chain back in place I was now able to focus on the race. The first half of the bike leg on the out and back course was mostly uphill and into the wind, which suited me just fine. The uphill portions were gradual and a never had to shift out of the big ring up front. I worked hard on the climbs and coasted on the downhill portions in order to conserve energy fro the run course. I passed 70 people on the bike posting the second fastest time of the day, fifty seconds slower that Sean Bechtel the eventual winner of the race. My bike time was 41 seconds quicker than in 2009 and I felt as though I had not dug as deep into my reserves making the transition to the run much less painful.

Run 10km

Out on the run course I was now all by myself although I could still hear the announcer Kevin McKinnon calling out the names of the athletes dismounting from the bikes. I was listening for two names, Michael Hay and Mike Greenberg. I had seen Michael Hay on the bike as I passed him at around the 18km mark. He offered up some encouragements as I went by. I was a little surprised by his slower speed as I had fought hard for nearly 5km to catch him in the Peterborough race last year. I was not exactly sure what Mike Greenberg looked like but I knew that he was a great swimmer and runner who had finished fourth in the elite amateur category of the New York City Triathlon last year. I was using this race to gage my conditioning heading into the NYC triathlon scheduled for July18th this summer. As I headed off further into the run course a heard Kevin calling Mike Greenberg’s name and hoped that I had enough of a lead to hold him off.

At around the 3km mark I saw Sean Bechtel heading in the opposite direction and cheered him on. I then heard the familiar sound of someone with a high cadence running me down and watched as a smaller younger runner worked his way past me. The first turn around point located just past the four km marker provided me with an opportunity to judge how I was going, I saw that Derek Snider was closing in on me and hoped for his sake that he had not gone out too hard as he did in the same distance race in Cobourg last year. A few hundred meters behind Derek was Mike Greenberg Who I judged to be less two minutes back of me. Michael hay was nearly a full km behind me and I realized at that point that I was going to beat him for the first time, he encouraged me again as I headed down the road towards the second turn around.

I kept what felt like a steady pace and was eventually caught by Derek with three km’s to go. I told him to keep it steady and push through for the final two km’s with no repeat of Cobourg. He tried to reply but I shushed him telling him to save his energy for the run as he picked up the pace and left me behind. Once he got a couple hundred meters ahead of me he slowed a bit or I sped up and remained at that distance for the duration of the race.

I sprinted in to the finish in a time of 2:07:11 good for ninth place overall and first in my age group, just over three minutes faster than last year. I had not worn a watch so I had no idea what my pace was, but I felt as though I had run a sub 38 minute 10km. As it turns out my run time was over 39 minutes which was only a slight improvement over my time in 2009. On the positive side I felt much better after the race than I did in 2009 and was able to recover quicker as well. I managed to stay a minute ahead of Mike Greenberg which bodes well for NY. It was great to see so many familiar faces at the race and to have my father, step mother and their dog show up to cheer me on.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Mooseman 70.3 Race Report - Sunday June 6th 2010

On Sunady June 6th I competed in the Mooseman - Ironman 70.3 event in Bristol New Hamshire. I finished 23rd overall out of 1115 competitors and was second in my age category (40-44).

Natasha and I flew down to Boston from Toronto on Saturday June 5th under warm and sunny conditions which turned to thunderstorms by the time we reached the eastern coast. Our flight had been delayed by one hour which made a serious cut into the minimal time that I allowed for to make it to registration before it closed at 7pm. We flew in a small jet that made a couple stomach turning steeply banked turns to avoid thunder clouds. Once in our rental car we headed North-West towards the race site which was a two hours drive away. When not under a storm cloud it was warm and humid with temperatures near 30 Celsius.

We arrived at our Hotel in Tilton, NH where I dropped off Natasha and headed up to the race. With all of my focus on controlling the ever increasing stress that I felt associated with missing registration, I made it to the race site with 8 minutes to spare. Surprisingly I wasn’t the very last guy to show up; a guy came in to the registration tent after me breathing heavily with a relieved smile. Unlike the Muskoka 70.3 event where only two thirds or pre-registrants showed up to the race (1200 out of 1800), almost everyone showed up for this race (1115 out of 1200), as evidenced by then few remaining packets and T-shirts.

After registration I took a few minutes to walk through the transition area which was located in a beautiful state park on Newfound Lake amongst a forest of evergreen trees on a peninsula along the lake front. Fortunately the race officials were allowing bikes to be checked in the following morning; as mine was still in pieces in its travel case in the back of my rental. The Transition area was crammed into a small area that showed signs of wear and tear thanks to a rain filled Olympic distance event that had taken place earlier in the day. I am certain that you would not have believed it was possible to fit a 1200 bike transition area into the space where it was located, but the organizers found a way; and that was a theme that carried through the entire event. The people who own the Ironman brand owe a great big thank you to the organizers who did everything possible to protect and elevate it.

I walked over to the swim exit and reached down to touch the calm clear water which must have been close to 65 degrees Fahrenheit. I looked around and took in the beaaty. The lake was easily as nice as Lake George yet much less disturbed, nestled in amongst the foothills of the White Mountains with some rock / cliff exposure along some of the banks. I looked down to shore to the swim entry and began to visualize the race including my trips through transition.

I hurried back to my vehicle and drove the 35 minutes back to the Tilton Holiday Inn. Following a nice meal, it took me a while to make all of my preparations including assembling my bike, and lay down to sleep at 11:30pm. After a restless short sleep I got up feeling tired yet I knew that my muscles were rested and ready for the challenge of the event. I followed a stream of cars along quiet winding roads up towards the race site. Cars were being directed into a makeshift parking lot / field about one km from the park entrance. Local police, hundreds of volunteers, Race organizers, officials, supportive family members and athletes were all at the race site by 6am that day. I was directed to the back of the parking field which was included wet-mucky low area were some sand had been freshly laid down to improve traction. I was happy to see that the tractor was parked right beside the muck as I had my doubts that we would be able to get out if the clouds opened up, which was in the forecast.

I set up in transition then hurried over to purchase a CO2 cartridge for flat tire repair; the CO2 cartridges are not permitted on flights. It was about 60F and starting to rain so I was glad to squeeze myself into my wet suit for some warmth which my triathlon outfit did not offer. I walked over to the starting area and waded into the lake for a brief warm-up swim. The water and the air seemed to be about the same temperature. I looked out at the swim markers and determined that starting from the outside made the most sense in terms of trying to mark the shortest distance between the start and first turn buoyee. The swim waves were going off earlier than planned as the organizers were hoping to avoid any exposure to lightning; which never materialized fortunately. I easily found my way to the most outside position marked by a SeaDoo at the end of the beach, and stood in the front row looking out at the water listening to the countdown to the starting horn.

The Race

When the starting horn sounded I ran down the short beach and into the lake that dropped off quickly allowing for just two dolphin dives before I began to swim. I felt myself breathing hard but I stayed calm enough to avoid any panic feelings. I remained on the outside and avoided any contact for the first 100 meters or so. I concentrated hard on working my way into a smooth efficient pattern that I had worked all winter on in the pool. Despite my efforts I found it difficult to slow my breathing down and realized that I was feeling uncomfortable with my face in the water as I strained my head way clear of the water on each breath. I knew that what I was doing was detrimental to my performance and that I had no reason not to make friends with the water, yet I continued to struggle. All of the sudden I felt someone gently touching my feet and my stomach sunk. Why was this guy not moving to the side of me, why did he keep touching me? I couldn’t stand the feeling and I changed my course to avoid his hands. Fortunately I did not panic, yet there was no way for me to ignore the queasy sensations I felt each time my feet were touched by the creature directly behind me. I broke my line and swam to the left and then after encountering some traffic I shifted out over to the right where I found my own space.

It wasn’t until I rounded the second turn marker and heading back towards the shore that I began to feel comfortable with my face in the water. I focused on extending my arms with a textbook recovery and only exposing a small portion of my face to the air when breathing. I really thought that I was swimming efficiently and passed several more people from the wave in front of me in yellow caps. I did notice a couple of swimmers with light blue caps and figured that they must be from two waves in front but then realized they were moving faster than me so they must be from the wave behind me. I even tried to swim behind one of the guys who came by me but he was moving too fast. I sighted the swim exit and worked my way towards it. I figured that given the work that I did training over the winter that I must have reduced my time from 30:47 in Clearwater to say 29 minutes. As it turned out my swim time was over two minutes slower than my last race at 32:52. I am not sure what to make of the slower time. I am disappointed in the result and I may have focused too much on feeling comfortable in the water and not enough of racing. I am sure that I still have more work to do because my result did not reflect the perception that I had of my performance before I was able to review the times.

When I exited the water I realized once again that it was raining. I made it through transition taking the time to pull on a pair of socks before exiting with my bike; socks help to avoid or minimize blistering. I decided not to do a running mount of my bike given the slick road conditions and steady rain, so I climbed on and began pedalling. I got up to speed gradually and got my feet into my shoes which were already attached to my pedals. The rain made for poor visibility, but the visor on my helmet did a good job of protecting my eyes from the rain while not fogging up. There were plenty of riders out on the road in front of me and I repeated ‘On your left….Thank you’ in as pleasant a tone as I could, over and over again as I worked my way closer to the front of the race.

Near mile six the big climb began which lasted over 3 miles winding up to an elevation gain of over 1000feet. Most of the climb wasn’t that steep, but there were a few sections were I was forced into my smallest chain rind in order to maintain any momentum. As soon as I am forced out of the large ring in the front due to a steep gradient, any advantage I have over smaller riders is neutralized. I remained seated for the entire climb conserving as much energy as I could. I crested the mountain, grabbed a drink and then settled back into an aero position as I got back up to speed.

The downhill section was marked by dozens of volunteers stationed at each turn dressed in rain ponchos and waiving their arms warning riders to slow down. There was a sign on the road indicating a speed limit of 30mph and even a speedometer that demonstrated the speed we were travelling at. I was annoyed by a 24 year old rider, whom I had passed on the climb, as he rode by me on the winding downhill section. What did he think all the people and signs were for? As soon as the road flattened out I made my way by the fearless youngster. Near the end of the first I felt great I had caught and passed many competitors in front of me and no one had passed me. I had not depleted my energy and was ready to tackle the climb again.

On the second lap I began to lap riders on their first lap. There were a few women who were walking their way up the courses big climb in their traction-less cycling shoes. I descended carefully again without incident and continued to pick off the odd rider in front of me. Not long after the split to the second lap or finish I caught up with a rider with the number 40 written on his left calf. I had not seen a rider from my age group since mile 20 and we were not at mile 51. I caught and rode past him at an even pace. I was surprised and then concerned that he did not attempt to pass me back as it meant that he was mentally tough or confident in his run and possibly both.

I carefully negotiated the bike dismount then breezed through transition grabbing my sun glasses then throwing them back after briefly peering through wet lenses at rain and wondering why I had picked them up in the first place. The run course was a beautiful out and back loop along the lake which we navigated twice. On the first leg of the run I remained within myself and felt relatively good. I saw the lead riders run by me the opposite direction and then not long afterwards watched as they ran past me on their way out into the second loop. I kept my pace very steady all the while thinking or worrying about how I would hold up for the final five km’s; an area I have suffered in during the last two 70.3 races that I had completed. A friend of mine had told me that the last five KM’s were all mental and I wanted to have no lapses.

Troy Allaby the 40 year old competitor, who I had ridden by at the end of the bike, ran past me at mile two. Troy had a runners look to him, a slightly hunched back and even arm movements where all of his motions seem to propel him forwards with no wasted energy. He reminded me of Peter Kornellson a strong Ontario based triathlete, only a smaller younger version. I watched first place run off ahead of me and I kept my pace even thinking that I probably had no chance at catching him but if I got lucky an opportunity might present itself.

After the turn-around and the run back up and down the one hill one the course I noticed that the distance in-between myself and Troy was no longer growing. I was sure that my pace had not changed, but now I was no longer loosing ground. I remained consistent as I completed the first lap in beside the transition area and back out onto course for lap two. I was watching Troy closely and saw that he dropped something, which turned out to be a gel pack; he then stopped to pick it up and got back up to speed quickly. I noticed that I was now closing in on Troy and I formulated a plan to stay behind him until the for the next 1.5 miles until the final turn-around where I would ran by him and close out the final five km’s for the win.

All of the sudden I was closing in too fast even though my pace remained constant. I saw Troy reach for his right mid-section and I ditched my plan. This was it Troy was hurting and I had to strike right now. I increased my speed and blew by him in a poorly masked effortless move that was clearly strained. I kept my elevated pace for a while and never looked back, waiting for the final turn-around to judge where I stood. On the climb down the hill I felt my full bladder being crushed with each jarring landing of my legs. There was no way that I was going to stop and no way that I could figure out how to relieve the pressure while moving; it was going to have to wait another six km’s. I noticed a group of three men standing by the side of the road relieving themselves, and it seemed like every other guy that happened upon the scene joined them.

I hit the timing mat at the final turn around and looked back to find Troy who was not far behind me. He smiled at me as I headed off in the opposite direction. I then thought about a cycling tactic, ‘Out of site, Out of mind’ and raced off around the curves in the course determined to get beyond Troy’s sightline. As I began the final climb on the course my legs began to feel the strain and my body felt like it was shutting down. I told my body that I was mentally tough and that my brain could carry my body through to the end, but my body was stubborn and refused to be convinced no matter how hard I tried. After descending the hill Troy ran by and looked un-catchable as I watched him steadily increase his lead on disappear beyond my view. I began to console myself with the knowledge that I was still in contention for one of the 70.3 world championship qualifying spots as I finished up the final two miles.

I crossed the finish line 90 seconds behind Troy who was waiting there for me. Troy is a very nice guy from New Brunswick who was extremely happy about the win. The rain was as constant as the pain now firmly entrenched in my thighs. I was starting to feel cold as I grabbed one of the heat conserving silver mini tarps that were being handed out to athletes at the finish area. The tarp worked like a charm. I then gorged myself on the burger, chilli, pasta salad, doughnuts and peanut butter crackers that were all part of the food available for competitors.

Instead of waiting around for two hours in the rain in order to claim my spot for the worlds, I drove back to Tilton with my Natasha (wife), Mom and John (Step Father) to the outlet mall. It was miserable weather for a spectator; I could not imagine forcing them to endure it any longer while waiting for me to be able to register. This is one area where Ironman can easily improve the process; nobody who finishes after me is going to end up ahead of my in the rankings, so why make us wait the 2-3 hours, just let us register right away. I then drove back to the race site claimed my spot before rejoining my family in Tilton.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Race Report for the Sporting Life 10km run

Race Report for the Sporting Life 10km run, Toronto ON May 2nd, 2010
Race Facts (race website
• 11,915 participants.
• 10km from Yonge Street (north of Eglinton)to Ft York.
• The race conditions: Overcast and 15c

I drove to the finish area with my friend and neighbor Shawn. We then shared a cab up to the start area near the Sporting life store on Yonge street north of Eglinton. We arrived with plenty of time to warm up, and prepare ourselves for the start.

I moved into the green coral at the front; just behind the elite/pros and found a spot mid way up within the section along the west side barrier which provided me with some familiarity and comfort as it was where I started out last year. I looked around for David Frake who I had used as a start guide at the duathlon Worlds last September in North Carolina, but could not spot him. I felt so much more prepared this year compared with last, knowing what to expect of the course and event. With about ten minutes to go I sat down on the asphalt and visualizing the start.

I stood up with a couple of minutes to go and moved forwards with the final surge of bodies as the organizers allowed us to move up to the starting line and people packed in closer with anticipation. With the sound of the horn I prepared myself for the pain that I would feel with a sudden jump to an elevated heart rate. I crossed the start line at 8:05 and gradually made my way through the pack just as David Frake had showed me last fall. I kept a controlled even and steady pace and fortunately I did not feel the pain that had I expected to. I looked down at my heart rate after one km and was happy to see 153, which confirmed how I felt; in control.

After about 2km of what seemed like a steady pace, I wondered if I would see Ming. I knew that Ming had been posting some good times in training and that he liked to start right on the line, so I was not sure if I would see him. Last year Ming and I ran together for most of the race including a wild sprint to the finish. As I cleared a few more runners who had gone out too quickly, there was Ming just 30 meters in front of me. I felt an urge to speed up and pass him, but controlled the urge and kept a steady pace knowing that it would serve me better in the end.

It’s a great feeling to be running down Yonge Street with no cars on it, cruising through all the lights. My legs were feeling good and my heart rate was higher yet still under control near 165. My feet were starting to bother me on the outside of my arches as I could feel a blister forming – one per foot. I was wearing my super light Zoot racing shoes that feel like slippers. The only problem was that I had not trained in them and my feet were clearly not ready for the pounding. I ignored the pain in my feet the best I could, searching out flatter road, while keeping Ming in site.

As I turned right on Richmond and off of Yonge after 7km I still felt okay, but began to doubt whether I could catch Ming or not. The sounds of the reggae band that was playing on the south side of the street gave me a burst of energy which I used to pass a few runners and close the gap with Ming. Of course I suffered after the burst and fought to maintain my pace while my HR rose to near peak. With a left turn on Peter Street, I no longer felt in command of my race and began whishing for the final KM’s to disappear quickly. I focused on my breathing and my stride and began to close in on Ming who appeared to be suffering a bit, which I judged by watching 3-4 runners passed him by.

With about 1.5 km to go I reached a decision point, I could hang out just behind Ming and beat him at the finish or I could pass him now and inspire him to speed up. I opted for the later as the first strategy seemed dickish; Ming is my friend who I want to see succeed. As I ran even with Ming I said “You know it!” to let him know exactly who it was. I had been following him for almost 30 minutes, but he had no idea that I was there. I then said “Stay with me” as I went by him. Ming was clearly inspired as he found another gear and took off past me. I sped up as well, and raced in to the finish behind Ming with a net time of 35:35, five seconds faster that my time from last year.

I ended up in 51st place overall and 10th among men 40-44. I finished a couple seconds ahead of Ming’s net time based on having started 5 seconds later than him. It was amazing and inspiring to race so closely with Ming two years in a row. The blisters on my feet were incredibly sore for the rest of the day but felt much better the following morning. I feel great about the result as it is such a positive indicator about the upcoming triathlon season. I have done considerably less run training this winter compared with last but was able to best my last year’s time; even if it was by only 5 seconds. The result provided me with further confirmation of a positive training strategy. I was even able to lower my average Heart Rate by one beat from 165 to 164; not much of a difference yet still good.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Yoga and a Break Through in the Pool

I felt that I achieved a break through in the pool, and amazingly it came after a ten day break. I don’t trust that the break through is permanent and fear that I will slip back into my same old broken swim patterns as soon as the going gets tough and my perfect isolated swim lane situation is disturbed.

My path to the breakthrough was not one that was clearly planned, but more of a realisation followed by a series of changes in training behaviour and adaptation to events outside of my control. After reading and beginning to apply the principles in Total Immersion swimming I stayed away from the pool as it was being used for the Canadian University Championships. During that time I contracted a chest cold which was just diagnosed a few days ago as Bronchitis. The condition has made it difficult and even foolish to put myself through any strenuous training sessions, including any running at all. What I did instead was to sign up for the introductory week offer at the nearest Yoga location to my house (walking distance). I was intent on improving my flexibility so that I could be more streamlined and fish like in the water. I walked to the Yoga studio on a Monday and picked up a business card with the class schedule on it. I asked the lady at the front about what to bring with me when I showed up for a class; yoga matt, water, proper clothes and to show up 15 minutes early.

Bikram Yoga
The local Bikram Yoga studio holds classes seven days a week. I found a time that worked for me on schedule that I had picked up and headed over for my first class. Leslie greeted me at the reception area, and told me that I should find a spot nearer the middle of the room because it was cooler. She also advised me to take it easy and simply lie still if I got light headed. I thanked her for the advice, but could not imagine actually needing to lie down while the rest of the class worked there way through the positions. I stripped down to a cotton T-shirt and a pair of triathlon shorts; which are perfect for yoga. I then proceeded into the main room and found a spot for my matt in the middle row. Yoga mats were laid out in three rows throughout the room, with people silently preparing themselves. I took a queue from the other students and covered my matt with my towel, although it was not nearly long enough and only reached half way. I placed my water bottle besides me and sat down beginning to stretch while I looked around. There were about 20-25 other students three of who were men and they were not wearing shirts. It struck me as odd that they had their shirts off, but it had to be related to the heat which was impossible to ignore. I found out later that Bikram yoga is done at 105f or 40c.

Leslie entered the room and immediately took charge with a strong commanding forceful tone. She welcomed me to the class and made sure to point out again that I should not try to do anything that felt too uncomfortable during my first session. We started out standing up doing a breathing exercise taking in air with our hands crossed under our chin as we lifted our elbows up as close to our ears as possible. We then exhaled forcefully as we pushed our heads backwards and leaned back as far as we could go. Somehow I didn’t quite get the exercise at first and kept breathing in and out with my head back and eyes closed as I tried to decipher Leslie’s instructions. After emptying and filling my lungs several times in that position, Leslie finally called out directly to me telling first to open my eyes and then lower my chin which had been facing straight up to the ceiling. I looked around the room and quickly realized just how silly I must have looked as the rest of the class worked their way through the exercise. Fortunately a yoga class seems to be a meditative none judgemental group. I made a quick adjustment a vowed to keep my eyes open for the rest of the class. There seems to be a pattern of closing my eyes when concentrating very hard that I should address.

By the time the warn-up breathing exercise was over I was sweating profusely. We worked our way through a series of positions and the relentless heat began to take a toll on me. I started out trying to focus on the positions, most of which I could not come close to achieving but then my focus began to switch to simply withstanding the heat. After about 30 minutes hour, my towel and mat were completely soaked my water bottle was almost empty. I peeled my shirt off to gain some traction on the portion of the mat not covered by my towel as I started sliding dangerously close to a pulled groin. I had expected the class to last an hour, but after a while it became clear that it would go longer. Mercifully the standing portion of the class ended and the next section began with some gentle breathing lying still on our backs. In this most relaxed of poses I struggled to keep my composure as I felt no escape from the heat. I realized that my struggle with the heat was similar to how I had felt nearing the finish line at the 70.3 Worlds in Clearwater last November.

I began to feel light headed as struggled through a couple more positions focusing on nothing more than enduring the heat. I opted out of the remaining few positions and lay flat on my mat wishing for the class to end to avoid the embarrassment of having to leave early. Finally the class ended and Leslie told us to leave quietly at our own speed. Although I wanted to rush out of there as quickly as possible, I forced myself to wait for a few people to leave before getting up and heading for the showers; it was a meagre attempt at regaining the smallest bit of integrity which I had sweat through during the class. I went to the class seeking improvements in flexibility and came out of it with additional benefit of training myself to deal with the heat that I will experience in some of the events later this summer.

I attended two additional sessions during the week bringing a longer towel and a second water bottle. With considerable struggle I was able to make it to the end of class attempting all of the positions. After class I felt incredibly loose especially through my back which is a great sensation. I signed up for 20 more classes and look forward to continued work on my flexibility and ability to cope with heat.

Breakthrough in the Pool
As my next swim practice was approaching following a ten day yoga filled layoff, I turned back to my Total Immersion book and reread the first half of it. I wanted the key messages from the book to be freshly imprinted in my brain. I drove to the pool instead of cycled as I was still battling bronchitis. When I arrived at the pool, I told Jason and Alisa (my UofT tri club swim coaches) about my Yoga classes, which Alisa had been recommending for over a year. I requested a somewhat isolated lane where I could practice instead of completing the planned swim workout. I immediately set to work with the foundation principles of TI. I floated on my back for a while searching for balance and then proceeded through a series of lengths kicking on my sides. I focus on hiding my head in a streamline position and actually found a spot tucked in to my shoulder where I could feel the water swishing by like it never had before. I found the task must easier on my right side, but eventually struggled my way into an almost similar position on my left side.

I worked in a couple on lengths just swimming freestyle to incorporate my learning’s into my stroke as recommended in the TI book. Each time I pushed off the wall I performed a few dolphin kicks, which felt powerful and graceful at the same time; although I am sure that it did not look that way. When I surfaced and looked up for the 5 meter flag I found that it was well behind me. I began to realize that I was already experiencing some gains in the pool. I practiced my freestyle stroke focusing on cutting through the water like a schooner instead of a barge. I concentrated on swimming long and in the front quadrant, gliding from stroke to stroke while building up power from my core leading from my hip. I started counting my strokes and was at 12 near the midway point; I finished up with a stroke count of 30 for the 50 meters. This was amazing I had cut my stroke down from 45 to 30 and it felt like I wasn’t even trying. I waited to fully regain my breath and pushed off again hoping that my 30 stroke count was not some kind of miscount. The next length I registered a count of 31 strokes and the next few were also lengths were also around 30 strokes; this was no fluke but a fundamental shift in swimming technique.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Swimming over the Wall

Swimming over the Wall
Feb 15th 2010

I have reached a swimming plateau that I have not been able to get past. Over the past 18 months, I figured out how to swim at a moderate + speed but now I can’t make myself go any faster. The realisation of my arrested development is made that much clearer by witnessing those around me swim with what seems much less effort yet obtain far greater speeds. I keep thinking that with greater effort I will somehow obtain greater results and that had proved true although with increasingly diminishing returns. No I was faced with a wall of progress that I can not climb over. I am going to have to learn to swim like a true swimmer to get past this barrier. It will also mean that I need to address my flexibility constraints by actually spending time stretching.

Three weeks Alan (my swim coach) noticed that I was swimming with my eyes closed. Since that time I have done a lot of thinking about swimming including an exercise two weeks back where I emptied my clogged up brain of everything that I had been taught and was thinking about while swimming. After my brain-dump I spent the couple of UofT TriClub workouts trying to rebuild my kick with the help of my coaches. I also started addressing my flexibility constraints, by attended a yoga-thon event (My 2nd ever yoga class) where I completed 108 sun salutations; spending most of the time in the downwards dog position. Last week I picked up a copy of TI (Total Immersion) swimming and read half the book in the first night. What I read combined with what my coaches have been saying suddenly made a lot of sense. I realized that I had reached a wall in my swimming progress that I have been trying the smash my way through with no success. I kept putting in huge efforts working out in the pool hoping to get faster and only ending up tired. The harder I fought the water the more I lost my enthusiasm for swimming.

I showed up on the pool deck the morning after diving into TI and proclaimed that I would not swim another length reinforcing my bad habits that I was there for practice and not for a workout. I noted that I finally understood what the coaches meant when they consistently told me that I was swimming flat; I was no longer going to swim like a barge but like a sailboat instead slicing through the water. Of course those are all themes which are stated repeatedly in the TI book. Alisa (UofT Coach) rolled her eyes and politely cursed as she knew that she would now be forced to revisit the book. What I was pointing out to the coaches was that I was ready to take the next step in my swimming progression and start feeling the water instead of fighting it.

When I first got into the water I was a little worried that the initial TI step of finding the correct body position in the water would not work for me. I spent several laps kicking gently on my back and then side while pressing on my buoy (my lungs) finding my balance and a streamlined body position. There were many other people in the pool but I hardly noticed. I was determined to keep at this exercise for as long as it took. While kicking on my side, I alternated stretching one arm forwards with the other at my side. I noticed a couple of things for the first time; that my right shoulder was more flexile than my left one and that I could actually hear the water. It’s amazing in a not so positive way that it took me so long to become aware my hearing and differences in shoulder flexibility, but then again, I had been swimming with my eyes closed until 3-weeks ago.

After a few more lengths and a couple of kicking pointers from Alisa I actually felt relaxed in the water. I moved over to an open lane at the far end and (as per instructed) put some fins on as I continued to work on my side kicking. Alisa told me to look straight down while kicking on my side, which was actually the next step in the TI progression that I had not even read yet. I practiced keeping my shoulders stacked while extending one arm forwards and slipping through the water. After practicing for an hour and a half Alisa told me that it was the best side kick she had seen me do. I actually felt the benefits of the stretching and basic first steps from the TI book. Encouraged by the positive feedback, I felt like I was progressing.

I showed up for my 1on1 lesson with Alan the next day and told him all how I was committed to building myself back up with a winning strategy. I got ready to jump in the pool I commented on the upcoming CIS National Championships that would be hosted in the UofT pool next week. I then noticed the word TORONTO painted in huge blue letters across the bottom of the pool and asked Alan if that was part of the preparations. Alan responded that the letters had been there since the pool was built, years ago. I guess its king of hard to notice that kind of thing when you are swimming with your eyes closed. During the session we focused on leg work and body positioning. Alan had me swimming with fins on for most of the session which helped to reinforce a more streamlined body position. I also developed a nasty little blister from fins that were too small. At the end of the session he had me working on dolphin kick under water; I could actually feel myself slipping through the water. Alan commented that he was pleased with my progress and renewed enthusiasm. I stopped at the university store on the way out to pick out a set of fins that fit.

I started my swim training this season with the goal of lowering my pace from 1:36 (my pace for the last two races) to 1:30/100 meters. After a couple of months of workouts and no improvements I have dropping the 1:30/100m goal because it belongs to the type of thinking that helped to build the wall that I could not get past. Of course I want to get faster, but I am not going to set a timeline for development I am just going to commit myself to the process for improvement. After just a couple of swim practices where I actually felt balanced in the water, my goal is to reinforce that feeling of balance no matter how long it takes or what pace I end up swimming. What was so promising about the last few sessions was the feeling of untapped strength that I felt coiled up from my core as I ‘underswitched’ rotating from one side to the other exchanging lead hands. I am convinced that these changes will at the least translate into a huge energy savings when I exit the water, and quite possibly a faster swim time.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

What is in my Head in the Pool?

What is in my Head in the Pool?

Yesterday I was asked by one of my swimming coaches (Alisa), to put together two lists; the first detailing what I am thinking about when I am swimming and the second referencing what Instructions I have been given over the past 18 months and from whom. I decided that this would make a decent Blog entry so here it goes.

During my last 1on1 swim lesson on Friday Jan 21st with Alan at UofT, he discovered that I was almost completely oblivious to everything else while I was swimming. I was in fact swimming with my eyes closed every time I took a breath. I know it sounds crazy because my eyes are protected from the water by the goggles that I wear when I swim. After finishing my set and receiving the feedback from Alan, I then made the adjustment and opened my eyes and quickly realized how much more relaxed I felt when I kept my eyes open. Last summer I figured out that I was holding my breath in a gasping type breathing pattern and now with help from Alan I realized that I was swimming with eyes shut. I can only guess at what other energy wasting habits I need to overcome.

After the eyes shut discovery, Coaches Alan and Alisa (who coached the UofT tri club along with James) discussed my swim progress or recent lack thereof. The coaches started wondering how I had formed the habit of closing my eyes when taking a breath. They formed a hypothesis that while I was trying to overcome my fear of the water last year I had performed numerous drills with eyes closed or vision obstructed, and that I must have retained the habit. Alisa then began to wonder what else I may be hanging onto from earlier lessons that I am miss-applying.

Alisa and Alan in particular have been inspirational with for me, offering all kinds of encouragements aimed at helping improve in the pool. My progression has stalled which I can easily determine by looking at some of the other people in the UofT tri club who have moved up to the next level, specifically Henning; a talented athlete and grad student from Germany in his mid 20’s. Henning and I started at basically the same level last September when we joined the tri club; that is to say ground level. I may have been a bit faster after the first few months, but was hampered by panic attacks during timed longer swims. Henning also clearly had more flexibility which has helped him improve steadily. Alisa has spent many hours working with the two of us as she must have seen potential, an eagerness to learn most importantly a positive attitude.

Henning is now swimming in the fastest swim lane while I am not yet ready for the move; I am left questioning why. What has Henning done that I have not? What are the differences between us that have enabled him to progress more quickly than me? I am not looking for excuses but for keys that will help me to make the transition to the next level. Instead of answering these questions now, I am going to focus on the assignment at hand which may lead me to the same place

1. What lessons have I learned and by whom (The names represent which coaches stand out in my mind when I am thinking about the instruction not necessarily who delivered the message)
• I need to work on my flexibility + exercises that would help me (Alisa, Alan, James, Josh)
• Keep my eyes open when I breathe (Alan)
• Don’t Breathe right before the flip turn or right after (Alan)
• Go into the turn hard it makes it easier to spin (Alan)
• Position your arms while turning/spinning so that you are ready for streamline when pushing off (Alisa)
• Don’t torque my shoulder back when recovering, lead from the elbow (Alisa)
• When recovering try to keep my wrist loose (James)
• Breathe out as soon as your head is under water and do so continually & consistently (Swim Smooth)
• Follow through and finish your stroke (Alan)
• Follow through and finish your stroke otherwise I end up looking like Evan (Alisa & myself)
• Imagine yourself climbing / pulling yourself up, you have the most strength when pushing not pulling – follow through! (Michael Keen)
• Keep feet floppy when doing the kick drill to avoid feet cramps (Josh)
• Make slightly bigger stronger kicks (Josh)
• Keep butt clenched slightly to avoid leg drag (Alisa)
• Make sure that your are streamlined, feet are up near the surface (James)
• Count your strokes I should be close to 36; in reality I am closer to 46 (Michael Hay)
• Only one eye should be visible when breathing, don’t flip over (Alan)
• Don’t swim flat (James - Alisa)
• Over rotate to make up for lack of flexibility and avoid swimming flat (Josh)
• Keep your front arm straight / streamlined while the other is recovering especially true when breathing – flexibility constraint. (Alan)
• Streamlined when pushing off from the end (James)
• Keep your elbow high when recovering (James)
• Push hard to the finish (Alan)
• Finish each set strong all the way up to touching the wall (Alan)
• Go all out (Alisa)
• When you are done stop (Alisa)
• You need to be able to swim lazy (Alisa)
• You need to develop a feel for the water (Alisa)
• You need more time in the pool (Alisa & Alan)

What is in my Head when I am in the Pool?

• Dolphin Kick when I push off from the end, as soon as my legs split my streamline is ruined
• Feel the water and stay relaxed
• Steady breathing pattern and start counting strokes. I should be under 20 by mid way (50m pool). My stoke count is too high maybe I am not following through enough, but I feel like I am slowing down when I lengthen my stroke. No worries I am just warming up so try and lengthen your stroke – worry about speed later.
• Look around and make sure that you keep your eyes open when you breathe, notice how much more relaxed your neck is when you look around.
• Is there any power at all in my kick?
• Make sure that my feet are close to the surface and that I am kicking from the hips
• Is my elbow high enough?
• Make sure to lead with my elbow, no strain in the shoulder.
• Feel the water on my finger tips right before I begin to pull through
• What are these other guys doing that makes them go faster?
• Follow through with strength
• Think about being streamlined
• Steady breathing
• Look at how the light sparkles through the water onto the bottom of the pool…relax
• Keep your eyes open
• Relax your shoulders
• Don’t swing your arms like a round-house punch, keep elbows high
• If I cant figure out how to kick more efficiently I will never speed up
• If I cant figure out how to swim better with a pull buoy how will I ever get faster
• This is a huge effort, I should be able to do this without completely exhausting myself
• Finish up the drill no matter what. Eventually it wall all come together
• At least I am not afraid of the water; no more panic attacks

That’s about all I can think of for now. I’ll await some head shrinking / feedback from Alisa and then start looking at what Henning has done that I have not.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Training with Power - Baseline Test

Winter Training Update

On Dec 18th I decided to take Mike Peshko up on his offer for a baseline power test and his spinning studio RPM, which located right next to the Wheels of Bloor Bike shop.
Mike has a special Cyclops training cycle for power based training.
The training bike works great but is extremely heavy; we had to move it up some stairs and into a prime spot in his studio.
To get into the spirit of the whole experience I brought my Wheels of Bloor kit and put it on.
The goal of the session was to put out as much power as possible for 20 minutes. The results would indicate my fitness level and provide me with a baseline for training during the winter months.

I started the session with a ten minute warm-up that included two separate one minute sprints. When I got to the end of the warm-up I told Mike that I was ready to go. Mike was unconvinced and encouraged me to warm up for another five minutes and get my heart rate up a little higher first. Five minutes later I was ready for the test. This was the first time that I had measured my power output, so I did not know what to expect in terms of the power that I would be able to produce. Having competed in numerous Duathlons and Triathlons over the past two years I knew what it meant to put pace myself and put out a constant effort, so I wasn't to worried about making it through the effort without having blown my legs to early.

Mike started the timer and I increased my cadence and effort gradually. I watched wattage numbers climb up to 300 and felt comfortable. Gradually I increased the level up to 320 and then 330 settling into a familiar rhythm. After ten minutes on the bike I then pushed my output up to 340 watts. My heart rate continued to climb throughout the 20 minute effort. With two minutes left to go I shifted to a tougher gear and pushed the power up to 380 then 400 then 420 watts. When I reached the 20 minute mark my heart rate peaked at 178 which is my max heart rate, and a level that I have not hit in months.

After a cool down period that included moving the bike back to its original spot I eagerly awaited the results. Mike downloaded the data into the Cyclops software and pulled up my charts. The output indicated that I had produced a consistent effort that gradually increased throughout the workout; which was ideal. I had produced an average of 348watts during the effort at an average heart rate of 167. My average cadence was 122, which is too high according to everything that has ever been written on the subject. A high cadence for this type of effort is also the exception for Triathletes who normally grind it out in lower gears. Mike then showed me a chart of where my effort ranked my against other riders based on a power to weight ration that is calculated by dividing my average power out put 348watts by my weight 87kg. I was intrigued by the numbers and determined to move my way up the chart so that I could be classified amongst the top people in the sport at least in the category that I would be competing in for 2010. In order to do this I would need to both increase my power and decrease my weight.

I left the shop and returned home feeling like I had been exposed to a tool that could transform the way that I trained and help to propel me closer to the top athletes in our area. I kept thinking about how Ryan Roth had beaten me by almost five minutes in the Peterborough 40km time trial last July. During the July TT, I had put out a maximum effort and finished about 1:30 behind the top Master's level rider in the race, but lost five minutes to the top pro at the race - Ryan. With this new training tool I caught a glimpse of how I could close the gap. The next step was to purchase one, and they don't come cheap.