Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Off to Nova Scotia

It's that time of the year again. Last week before school start, we head out to CKC (Canoe Kayak Canada) Nationals wherever they are. This year, it's in Halifax. Both my daughters are competing this year. For the first time, I will not be competing in CANMAS, the national masters finals held on the Sunday immediately after CKC. I have retired my paddle and, as you should be well aware, I'm now swimming-biking-and-running.

I have to admit that although I enjoyed my 5 years of paddling, I don't miss it at all. I sometimes wonder why. I remember the good times but I believe that my lack of improvement after such a long period of time practicing the sport was starting to frustrate me quite a bit.

I will be keeping up my running over there. As the Toronto Marathon approaches, I can't afford to drop too many workouts. I might even swim a bit at the aquatic center in front of the hotel. No cycling though.

Quick change of subject.

Yesterday, I had the best workout I've had in weeks. Don't get me wrong, I love running. But it's hard to actually enjoy truly hard workouts. Long runs are nice, but they ARE long. Yesterday's 13k run was just the right distance and I had a real good pace for most of it. It felt GOOD.

That's it for now. I'll try to keep in touch from NS.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Cobourg Olympic Distance Triathlon 2008

I can't believe that people actually do HIM and IM distance triathlons. It also pisses me off because it prevents me from using the tri-specific term "epic" when describing my race. I'll settle for "ball-crushing" or BC for short.

This being my first year at this crazy sport, I had never done the Cobourg tri so I wasn't sure what to expect. The pre-race email described the bike course as "under-appreciated", "steeper-pitched rollers" and something about bragging to my friends. I'm not much of a cyclist (yet) so I was worried. The run was reported as being nice and flat. The swim was in lake Ontario, a large body of water where water temperature can vary from 55 to 75 degrees. I had done a lake swim in Toronto 3 days prior and the water was friggin' freezing, at about 60.

Cobourg is about 100km from my house and I needed to go get my Zip rental car at the nearby lot, so I got up at 4:30, ate a Cliff bar, drank a quick expresso, got dressed and jumped on my bike to ride to the Zip lot. A hooker and her pimp were still working their trade from the lot. I stuck my bike in the back of the Subaru Forrester, drove back home, packed the car and went. Uneventfull drive and I got there with lots of time to spare. I racked my bike in the 40-44 rack and went to get my swag bag and body markings. This tri series, the HSBC Tri Series, gives you a nice technical t-shirt. I saw the potty line was starting to form, so I got in line and took care of business.

There were 200 people signed up for the triathlon and somewhat less than that (100?) for the duathlon.

Swim 1500m: 35:57, 13/25 in AG, 109/200 overall

"The sea was angry my friends...". For people who only swam in pools, the swim was a challenge. This was the biggest surf I have ever swam in. I saw only 2 people without a wetsuit. I later saw one of them on one of the lifeguard's surf board, although he did get back in. I swam much slower than usual. I usually swim 2:10/100m and this time I went 2:23/100m. The surf did have some effect, but I just didn't swim hard. I also had to empty my goggles at least 4 times. I did enjoy the swim though. There was quite a long run on the beach to get to T1.

T1- 2:11
Bike 40km: 1:28:10, 17/25 in AG, 138/200 overall, 27.2 km/h

T1 went ok, but I just didn't feel like I was racing. I cleaned my feet real well to make sure I didn't have sand in my socks because of the annoying seeping blister I have on my right big toe. As I run to the mount line, I hear something rattling. It's my second bottle holder that's coming unscrewed. Tightent all screw, they say. Sh!t. Looks like it's going to hold so I decide to get going. I jump on my steed and go. My strategy here is to keep my HR below 160, or about 80% of my maxhr (which is a ridiculously high 196bpm).The first few km are flat-ish. People are passing me much more than I'm passing. What can I say? Cycling is not my thing. At about 5k, it begins. Hills. Nearly all of them going up. At about 8km, my bottle holder packs it in and falls to the ground. I stop, go back, try to put it back on but it's broken. Time lost: 2-3 minutes. I have another bottle, with water/gel, so I take a few big gulps on the bottle that's fallen and get out of there. Up, up, up, down, up, up. Finally get to the 20km turnaround. Nice downhills now but a surprising number of uphills as well. Are we in a geologically active area? Did those hills actually grow in the last few minutes? At about 25k, I see some poor smuck walking his bike, people zooming past him. I slow down and ask him if he needs something. I says he needs a pump. Shit, I have one. And I have gas cartridges so I have no excuse. I stop, give him my pump. I tell him my bib number and my rack so he can bring it back after. Time lost: about 1 minute. But I fell good about helping so who the f@#k cares? I jump back on "My Precious" and get going. At about 35k, I see a HUGE uphill. I did remember hitting 55km/h early in the ride. Ah! Time to pay the piper. Ball crusher. Up the Everest and then it's an easy ride to T2. All in all a good ride, I got both gels in and drank plenty of water.

T2- 1:43
Run 10km: 50:38, 11/25 in AG, 54/200 overall, 5:04/km pace

First of all, I'm pretty certain they screwed the pooch on the distance. My Garmin is reporting 10.5k. It reported 2.25k for each loops and it's pretty accurate so I'm sticking with it. But for the record, I could have done without the extra 500m.

T2 was ok, I took the time to take a felt gulps of my backup Gatorade bottle, switched shoes, put my hat on and went. I decided to run with my Nike Free 3.0 and they are not quick-lace friendly. I spent some time putting them on and double-knotting. First thing I notice is that I had put my wetsuit on the rack ABOVE my running shoes and that it dripped directly in my right show, which squishes like crazy. Is that going to be and issue? Also, on the bike, I tried to pee but just could not do it. Now I have to piss like a race horse, but we're running in a residential area with little kids making the waves to edge us on. The parents would not approve if I pissed on the wheel of their car. It's getting hot. I have to piss. I'm tired. It's a 5k loop that I have to do twice. I hate loops. I'm getting grumpy. I have to piss. FINALLY at around 4k, a wooded area! I don't even slow down, I run directly into the woods and take care of business. I'M A NEW MAN! I get to the drink table and grab two cups of water. I drink one and empty the other one on my head. They have HEED but I just can't drink the stuff. Tastes like something you should be taking in a hospital before some high-tech investigation of your insides involving a 12-foot long camera. I have to re-pass some people because of my impromptue trail run. I end up running with someone from my age group. We run more or less together for a couple of km in the second loop. He walks the drink areas and catches up on uphills. I'm a bit conservative on uphills. I don't like to get too out of breath. At the last drink table, I turn it on a notch while he's walking. It IS a race, after all. With 500m to go, I decide to be an asshole and go after the girl about 50m in front of me. Her marking says 21, so I figure she's fair game for an old fart like me. That will be a lesson for all the 21 year olds calling me "mister". As I get closer, she hears me and tries to pick it up but I have no mercy. I pass her 30m from the line.

Final time: 2:58:12, 13/25 in AG, 93/200 overall

This was a nice race. I enjoyed it more than my previous Olympic where I went harder and really suffered at the end. I definitely have to work on my bike. On my next race, I will try to ride at a higher hr, maybe 170bpm. More to be gained on the bike. After my fall marathon, I'm turning to the dark side and training hard on the bike until the Spring.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

It's ON, baby! Cobourg tri, here I come!

Ooops! I've done it again.

I signed up for the Cobourg Olympic Triathlon coming this Saturday. My running program called for a tune-up 10k race this weekend anyway, so I might as well go all the way.

First things first. Yesterday my progressive run was brutal. The problem with people ramping up for a big event is that for a while, almost EVERY quality workout is the hardest one they ever did. Well, that happened to me (again) yesterday. It was HOT, it was WINDY, I ran at noon, which was stupid, and I started too fast. When the time came, at 20km, for the last interval at half-marathon pace, I had nothing left in the tank. I ran only 750m instead of the 1k I had planned. When I took my right shoe off, I had a little surprise waiting for me:

I'm the proud owner of a huge blister, which I'm hoping will heal really fast. I didn't run today and I think I will skip tomorrow and bike and swim instead.

So yesterday evening I was wondering about the weekend. Should I sign-up or not. I was leaning toward no. Then I watched the women (I had recorded it) triathlon and got a bit pumped. Then it was time for the men's and I nearly had a heart attack watching Simon Whitfield giving everything he had and winning the silver medal. What a race!

It was done. This morning I booked a Zip rental car for Saturday morning at 5 am and signed-up for the Olympic distance tri in Cobourg, which is about 100 km from my house.

So here we go again. For those of you who have never raced, you have to know that the act of signing-up for an event changes something. All of a sudden, you get vivid flashes where you visualize sections of the upcoming race. I catch myself just sitting there, reliving sections of past races, my body actually reacting to the arousal. My heart races, my palms get sweaty, I can "feel" the fatigue that awaits me. Make no mistake, an Olympic distance tri is a serious event where you finish completely empty. HIM and IM distances are even longer, but the Olympic tri can kick your ass. I will probably finish in about 2:45, so that's a long time to go hard.

I'm excited and even though I which I had biked a bit more, I feel pretty good about this. More to come...

Monday, August 18, 2008

Pace tattoo

I'm off to a long-ish run of 21 km, about half-marathon distance. It's a progressive run where starting halfway through, I will increase my pace steadily up to half-marathon pace in the last km. My race pace is supposed to be 4:45min/km although I haven't tested that yet.

Even though I run without an iPod and I have lots of time to think, my math abilities become very bad while running. I lose track of things so I've decided to try a home-grown pace tattoo. It will hopefully wash off eventually.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

This Tri-ing Life

Exactly one year ago today, I put on my running shoes and went for a run. I ran 31 minutes for what I thought was 6k but was actually a bit less than 5 km. My goal was to increase my cardio fitness for the coming CANMAS canoe/kayak championship, in which I was going to participate a few weeks later. I had run in the past. When I was in my mid-20s, I had a bout of running where I actually ran quite a bit but ended up with a slight knee injury that was enough of an excuse for me to stop. Then came the kids and a state of permanent physical/mental fatigue that made running difficult for me to commit to. I must have started (and stopped) running 10 times over the following years.

Five years ago I joined the Masters program at the Balmy Beach Canoe Club. I suck at kayaking but I enjoyed it. People are friendly, it's ok exercise. The problem is that late comers to the sport like me can never acquire the super-human balance required to paddle the tippier boats. We are forever condemned to finish last, not necessarily because of a lack of fitness but rather because of a lack of balance. After 5 years of that bullshit, I needed a change.

For most people and I include myself in this, running is an acquired taste. Personally, I need to be at a certain level of running fitness to start enjoying running. To overcome that problem, I signed up for a 5k race and followed a program. If you read these lines and are trying to start running, do the same. You need a goal (a race) and a road map (a program). Ultimately we are weak and we need some kind of guilt-inducing device such as a program that tells us we have fallen off the wagon.

My biggest fear was Winter. Many years inthe past had I started running only to give up when snow came. I was living in Quebec then. Now I live in Toronto, which barely has a Winter. My plan was simple, Just Do It. I kept signing up for races: November 25, December 30, January 2nd, January 27,... all through the Winter. I followed a training plan I believed in. When the weather was unbearable, because of course Toronto had its worst Winter in living memory this year, I worked on the treadmill at the gym.

Motivation is always an issue. I've always been uncomfortable with the need for external motivation. I always make an internal association with religion, with which I'm uncomfortable. As training increases though, one feels the need for external support. It is extremely difficult to train hard in a vacuum. Luckily, we now have podcasts, web sites, books and other mediums that provide a sense of community which could previously only be found at the local running group.

In the Spring, I decided that I wanted to try triathlons. I switched my training to include swimming and cycling. I hadn't swim more than 50 meters in one go in nearly 20 years. I'm an ok swimmer, I just never did it. I signed up to the University of Toronto Sport Center, which has 50m/25m pools and started swimming. I wasn't satisfied with my technique, ordered the Total Immersion book/dvd and started from scratch. Still working on that. I also started going to go to spinning classes. I went from 6 runs a week, down to 4 runs.

Fast forward to today. I'm 44 years old and definitely in the best shape of my life. I train 6 days a week, some days more than once. My biggest problem is that my family, specially my wife, believe I'm crazy. I've competed in running races up to 25k and triathlons up to Olympic distance. I'm signed up for the Toronto Marathon this October. As the training time slowly creeps up as we get closer to October, my wife can become a bit impatient. I try to be carefull, but a 25k run takes some time and a decent bike ride requires driving out of the city, riding for 3 or 4 hours and driving back. Can't just squeeze that in before breakfast.

People have a lot of difficulty believing that endurance sports are not bad for you. All they can see is the physical suffering, the outside appearance of the athletes trying to achieve something more than what seems reasonable. When they see a race finish where people have to go over the finish line on all four, they feel sorry for the athlete while my eyes fill with tears because of the elation I feel, the admiration I have for someone who can give a true 100 percent. The longing to try and do the same.

I now consider myself an endurance athlete. A goal for next year will be to compete in at least one Half-Iron distance race, which I haven't picked yet. Barring a disaster at the Toronto Marathon, I will probably race another marathon next year, maybe even try to qualify for Boston. I'm turning 45 next year, so the qualifying time might be within my capabilities. We'll see. Another race I would like to try is the Sulphur Spring 50k or 50 miler Trail Race. 50k seems doable. If training goes amazing, maybe even 50 miles. The key is not to get hurt badly.

We will always have aches and pains. I get scared shitless everytime I get a pain somewhre. Is this the one? The injury that will sideline me and make me lose my hard earned fitness. I changed my running form to forefoot running to get rid of an annoying runner's knee problem. I now run with running shoes that most runners consider unacceptable. We will do anything to keep going. One of the big advantage of triathlon training is that you have three sports to chose from. Knee pain? Swim and bike. Shoulder problem? Skip swimming for a while. Takes a bad one to stop a triathlete from training completely.

I'm really satisfied with my first year off the Couch of Doom. I've accomplished ten times what I had any right to expect.

Swim, bike, run my friends.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

New Stable

I know I'm crazy but I can't help myself. My Nike Free 7.0 are nearing the end of their useful life as running shoes and Nike doesn't sell the Nike Free in Canada anymore. They have something called Free Everyday, but what I wanted was a 5.0 or 3.0. I really like running with minimal shoes. My only problem is with my long run where my calf hurt a bit toward the end, so I wanted to have a shoe with a bit more cushioning. For some reason, my Karhu M2 don't feel quite right.

So after much debate and research, I finally found a store that delivers Nike Free 3.0 shoes to Canada and I ordered a pair. When I picked up the package, I thought they forgot to put the shoes in the box. They are that light. The top part of the shoe is just some kind of mesh material, a glorified sock. The lower part reminds me a bit of my 7.0. Can't wait to try them tomorrow.

I also decided to buy a pair of Nike LunarTrainers which ARE available in Canada. They feel quite Free-ish except that they have more cushioning and I will use them for my long runs. I haven't decided if I will run my marathon in the trainers or the 3.0.

I will probably decide after the Scotia Half marathon, which I intend to run as a tune-up race. I'll try one of them and decide how they feel.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Olympic or Sprint?

I'm trying to decide what race to enter next. This race could be my last tri of the season. My only possible race in August is the Cobourg triathlon.They have both the Sprint or the Olympic. In theory, I would like to do the Olympic distance but something doesn't quite agree. My previous Oly was a very though race. I don't want to be a drama queen or anything but mentally I went to a place where I had never been before. After the first 5km loop on the run, I basically felt like I had nothing left. I hate loops.

So I'm gun shy. I want to do the Olympic, but I think I'm afraid. It's the bike. I haven't ridden enough and I'm paying the price. The swim, that's a long term goal. Work in progress. You can't rush the swim technique. The bike is different, I just didn't do enough. With my first marathon coming, I can't afford to miss any run, so it's always the bike that suffers. Cycling is so time consuming. You need open road, which is hard to find in the city.

I've never done a real Sprint. I've done a short course and a long course but never a true Sprint. Not that I care that much.

So I want to do the Olympic, but I feel like I'm slow on the bike and I'm a bit afraid of the swim in lake Ontario if it's windy. I think I will eventually do it and sign up for the Olympic but I'm giving myself a few more days.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Karhu M2 vs Nike Free 7.0

I have been going back and forth between my two favorite pair of running shoes for the past few months. Early this year I was running with motion control shoes recommended by my local running store and I started having knee problems. Unfortunately, the more structured shoes I got, the worse the problem got. After reading some interesting facts in "Brain Training for Runners" I decided to go the other way and bought a pair of Nike Free 7.0. My problems went away almost immediately. The only downside was a tendency to get blisters on my long runs (20km+).

While browsing around at my local triathlon shop, I saw the Karhu M2 shoes and gave them a try. They felt light and fast so I decided to give them a try. I bought a pair and used them as racing flats and on my longer runs. Keeping my form felt a bit more difficult with the M2 but since Nike Frees were becoming very difficult to obtain in Canada, I decided to switch to shoes I could procure and stopped using my Frees.

Last Sunday, during the race portion of the Bala Falls triathlon, I suddenly felt a pain to my right IT band. Nothing major but it bothered me a bit. After the 1500m swim and the 30km bike, I could barely feel my legs and I knew my form wasn't what it should be but there wasn't much I could do. On subsequent training sessions, The IT band problem has come back so I decided to switch back to my Frees. I've found a US online store that will ship them to Canada and I ordered a pair of Nike Free 3.0 which I'm hoping will fix my issue with blisters.

I have to say that when I ran with my Frees again on Wednesday, they felt fantastic. It feels much easier and natural to run on the front of my feet, which for me is an acquired skill. I had less problems with my IT band. My stride felt RIGHT.

So although I do like the Karhu M2 and the idea of running a marathon in Nike Frees freaks me out a bit, I'm switching back to the Frees and we'll see what happens as my runs get longer. Can't wait to get my Free 3.0 and try them.

I'll keep you posted.