It’s been over two weeks now since I raced Toronto Triathlon Festival. A very lazy 2 weeks. Which isn’t to say I’ve done nothing: I’ve gotten out and ran (lightly) a few times, but it really has been lazy. And I don’t like that. It impacts my mood, my sleep, my appetite. One of the big reasons I race is to motivate myself to train, and one of the big reasons I train is to keep my life (and my health) balanced the way I want it.
Post TTF I’ve really been waffling on where to go next. There are lots of options, ranging from racing shorter distances, longer distances (or calling it “done” for the summer). All of these options have pros and cons. It seems though, without deciding on a direction I’m having trouble writing a training plan. Without a training plan I’m having trouble kicking my ass out the door to train. And the less I get out the door, the less I feel like getting out the door. Lazy begets lazy, and I’m caught in that spin cycle!
On one hand, I want to race long. I’m really tempted to try to stretch myself out and see if I can tackle the 70.3 distance. It would be with a goal to finish and an expectation of bringing up the rear in the race (though truthfully, this is what I do in most races anyway). It would mean a lot of work – a lot of time and commitment to training this summer. A commitment I was ready to make, until I raced TTF – or more aptly, until I ran in TTF. The swim and the bike went well enough, but as soon as I set out to run I felt over my head. I had to talk myself through the first kilometer of the run and barely ran/walked 10k. How the hell would I have done 21.1k?!?
I remember sitting under a tree with my wife right after I crossed the finish line, a sweaty, tired, and hungry pile of hot mess, and telling her that racing long was off the table for 2015. She helped me see it from a great perspective: there were many amazing age group racers in their 40s, 50s, 60s (and even older!) kicking ass in this race. I have a lot of years left ahead of me in racing if I want them, and there’s no reason I need to rush to try the next distance. I walked away from that happy to back off, enjoy more of my summer on the patio, and stress less about training. I signed up to race the Wasaga Beach Sprint Triathlon at the end of August. I wrote myself an 8 week training plan leading up to a Sprint distance race. I’m looking forward to it, as it’ll then be 5 years from my first ever triathlon, which happened to be this same race 5 years ago. How awesome is that?!?
Except it doesn’t feel awesome. Don’t get me wrong – it will be really cool to go back to where it all started 5 years later (and should make for a great “then and now” blog post in about 8 weeks), but it’s not scratching the itch. There’s still a voice in the back of my head that wants to try a 70.3 race. I know how bad it felt trying to run the Olympic distance race two weeks ago, and how easy it would be to decide I’m not ready to race longer. And maybe I’m not. But it doesn’t sit right with me to make this decision without giving it a shot.
So I’ve chosen a race, the Barrelman, which runs on September 20th. I’ve written an 11 week training plan and circled a key date on it: Thursday August 6th. 4 weeks away. That’s the date when the registration price next increases. Until then I give what I’ve got to this plan, stretch out my distance, and reassess after 4 weeks to see if I’m on track or not. If I’m not, it’s no loss. I’ve got lots of time left in this sport. But at least I’ll make the decision based on trying, not based on it seeming too hard.
Epilogue: Last night, all excited and energized with my new training plan, I went to my cycling group. My first training session of the new plan called for a group ride, followed by a 4km brick run. Usually the Monday night route is 43kms long, but the group decided to take an extra turn and lengthen to 50km. Perfect! And this group is stronger than me, often dropping me to the chase pack in the first half of the ride. But this time I kept up with the main pack for at least 80% of the ride. I rode long, and strong, and I felt great. Then I got off the bike and tried to run. What a wobbly shit show that was! I only managed to run 2.2km (walking at least half of it). I’ve got a lot of work to do over the next 11 weeks…
Yesterday was the 2015 Toronto Triathlon Festival, my 2nd time racing this Olympic distance event. At the end of the day, as I was removing my bike from the transition area to head home, one of the volunteers stopped me to ask how my race went. “Fantastic”. It was the only answer I could give, and it’s still the only answer I have now. A lengthier blog post with stories and pictures is much more interesting, so here it comes. There were ups and downs, but at the end of it all, it was Fantastic. I can’t wait to race again next year!
The alarm went off at 5:00am. Those are the perks of having amazing cousins who live in a condo less than 2km from the race site and who are willing to put you up the night before (even when they’re not in town themselves). Coffee, breakfast, and out the door by 5:30am, and in the transition area before 6:00am. The weather had been forecasting 80% chance of thundershowers all day for the past week, even up until I went to bed the night before. This morning the skies were blue, clear, and it was a perfect day. Take that, weather network!!
Transition set up and such wasn’t too eventful or interesting, so let’s cut right to the race! My goal, as I wrote last week, was simply to improve on last year’s race (same distance, same course). Here we go…
Last year there was no opportunity for a warm up or water familiarization. Your wave was called, you jumped in off the pier, and within a few minutes the horn went off and so did you. This year they created a section to let people swim a few laps to the side before their wave started. Huge win. I jumped in the warm up section and my chest instantly clenched. The water was 14C – so fucking cold. I couldn’t put my face in for the first few strokes. But it helped a lot. When I jumped in again for the actual race I wasn’t nearly as cold.
The swim was good. It felt effortless – which is to say, during the race, it felt lazy. I was breathing well, my stroke was smooth, and had very few collisions with other swimmers. I thought for sure I was swimming slow because it felt so easy. I was relaxed, breathing well, and wasn’t even cold. The course felt long, but I just kept pushing. About 3/4 of the way through I realized I was pulling unequally hard with my right arm, and my right shoulder was about done. I tried to start favoring my left arm instead, but it just didn’t have the same power, so I switched back. It worked fine, but my right shoulder felt like trash when I was done. All said though, I think, one of the better swims I’ve had. My wife called out my splits when I got out of the water. “Roughly 30 minutes” she said. Amazing! I was ahead of my goal pace. What a great start!
2014 Swim: 34:29
2015 Swim: 31:19
The bike ride is an amazing route along the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway, up to Eglington Avenue, and then back. It’s a very gradual uphill outbound, and the equivalent downhill return. I expected the uphill to be a bit of a slow climb for me, and it was. But not as slow as I expected. I did better than I usually do using my gears to help the climb. That was rewarding. The downhill though is the story of the bike ride. That was fast and smooth, I was able to get into my heaviest gear, lean into the aerobars, and CRANK. It felt so good to go so fast. I was in love. Of course, I didn’t go that fast for that long, and not nearly as long as I went slowly uphill, but it was a lot of fun.
The first/last quarter of the ride along the Gardiner Expressway and through the CNE grounds are relatively flat. On the return I started to fatigue. In hindsight, I should have taken some calories in during the bike beyond just my sports drink. My lower back was tired. My shoulder, still barking from the swim, was now straining in the aerobars. My hamstrings were starting to bark. I tried to adjust my pedal stroke to keep focusing on a full circle effort and using all the muscles in my legs, but the adjustment was too late. As beautiful as the first 3/4 of the ride went, the last 1/4 was a grind. I didn’t lose much power or speed, but I beat myself up in the process. And I was about to pay the price…
2014 Bike: 1:23:18
2015 Bike: 1:23:47
Remember that part on the bike where I should have taken in calories? Remember those back and hamstring pains? Yep – as soon as I started out on the run I remembered them too. I had two gels in my jersey pockets for the run, one of which must have fallen out during the bike ride. The other was consumed within the first kilometer. In my run training I was used to running on sore quads – the pains in my back and hamstrings were a new distraction and I did a poor job of shutting them out. My run was embarrassing if not a little funny. I had so little left in the tank at this point. The run course was perfectly flat, with a nice breeze coming off the waterfront. It didn’t matter. At best I was running a 2:1 run/walk ratio and pushing through a real mental grind. In those first few kilometers I talked myself out of DNF’ing. By about the midpoint my back and hamstrings stopped barking. I was back to the usual running aches that I was used to, and I started to string some longer running stretches together. But it was still slow and with a lot of walk breaks. And over the course of the run, the sun got higher in the sky and it got noticeably warmer. It was a tough run. I beat myself up too much in the swim and the bike and didn’t leave enough in the tank. Whoops.
2014 Run: 1:14:17 (yuck)
2015 Run: 1:17:04 (double yuck, but honestly not as bad as I had feared)
Overall, including transitions?
[sigh] I didn’t quite make my goal of improving on last year’s results. It’s amazing how, over a 3hr+ race, 17 seconds makes all the difference. That being said, I had a great swim, and a great bike, and I know I gave everything I had to give on the run. So I’m happy with it. Maybe I should have taken in some calories on the bike? Or maybe I should have just tied my damn shoes a bit faster? Whatever – it was a great race!
Though, a bit of a beef with the final results. Look at the picture above: I’m crossing the line pretty damn close to 3:20:57, and I know my swim wave started 4 minutes after the first wave. So my time should be the clock less 4 minutes, right? Math? Maybe the wave started late? Who knows. But I saw the time when I was coming through the finish chute and thought for sure I had – just barley – best last year’s time. Rats.
Amazing day. Amazing race. I missed a PB time by a mere 17 seconds. I feel really good about it. And as much as my body aches today (and boy does it ever) I’m happy with my race. Now to take a few days to recover and start to think about what’s next.
All photos credit to my amazingly supportive wife, who not only got up at the shit crack of stupid to stand around in a park for 3+ hours while I raced, but she actually had fun, cheered me the whole way, and managed to get some great pics with nothing more than an old iPhone4. I love you so much sweetie. Your support means everything to me!!!
I’m actually really nervous about this race. I shouldn’t be, but I am.
Someone asked me the other day how many triathlons I have done? This will be my tenth. 5 Sprint distance races, 3 Olympic distance races, and 1 Try-a-Tri, and now this one. Ten races in what is now my 5th summer in the sport (which is really cool, and should probably be a separate post in it’s own right). In fact, I even did this race last year – I loved it, and I did really well at it too!
Why am I so nervous? I think because I feel underprepared. A funny thing happens somewhere around your 5th summer racing/your 10th race – you start to care about more than ‘just finishing’. As my wife said to me a few weeks ago, there’s no doubt I could walk onto an Olympic distance race course tomorrow and finish. It might be ugly, but I would finish. And that used to be enough. Somewhere along the way I started wanting more.
I’ve put in the work. I joined a Master’s swimming group – granted I’ve been out less than 10 times since I’ve joined, but that’s still a lot more (and better) swimming than I’ve trained in the past. And I’ve also joined a cycling group, which has really pushed me on the bike. Today is the 19th of June – less than half way though the calendar year, and with all of summer still ahead of me – and I’ve already swam more than I did either of the past two whole years. I’ve biked 60% as much so far as in all of 2013 and 40% as much as 2014 (when I was bike-commuting to work). I’ve even run already almost 60% as much as I did last year. That’s a whole lot of numbers-mumbo-jumbo to say: I’ve put the work in.
But my last few training sessions have all been rough. Both of my runs this past week – both <8kms – have been absolute slugs. My legs hurt, my heart rate was elevated, and I just felt off. My ride this past week, and in fact all of my rides so far this spring, while I’ve been putting in the work have felt tough and the split times have been slow. My bike feels like it’s 20lbs (that’s a lot for a road bike), and even the easy gears feel like a lot of work. And while I’ve put a lot of quality work into my swim, it’s been over 3 weeks since I last got into the pool. The quantity of work is there, but the quality feels gross. I don’t feel like I’m peaking for race day – I feel like I’m about to stumble over the start line. Which isn’t to say I don’t think I can finish, but I’m nervous about doing well.
But I know this course, and it suits me well. It’s flat and fast. I’m a power cyclist (strong legs, can pump a heavy gear for a long time, not good at all on hill climbs), and a confident swimmer. And I’ve done this race before, and loved it. This all gives me confidence. Last year I finished this same course in 3:17:40.93, which is currently my Olympic distance Personal Best. I think I can beat that!
So, if you happen to be awake at 6:54am on Sunday morning, when my swim wave goes off, send a cheer my way. Or, ya know, go back to bed!
Happy Friday everyone!
Ok, we all know I’m a crappy runner. I’m slow as mud. My heart rate skyrockets and I’m sweating like crazy after two steps. It’s nuts! And I’ve always thought the solution to fixing this is more running. But maybe it’s actually more cycling?
According to this article from ironman.com, for triathletes, weekly running effort (in distance) should not be more than approximately 20% of weekly cycling effort. Further, the difference between your open run pace, and your run pace off the bike should be no more than 12% for Ironman distances, or 6% for 70.3 distances (which, I’m going to extrapolate down to 3% for Olympic distances, though it really doesn’t matter). If the difference is greater, the reason for the slow run could be caused by a lack of bike durability as much as a need to improve pure open run ability.
How would this apply to me? Looking at my own race history, my last 5 open 10k runs have averaged 64.5 minutes to complete. The 3 Olympic triathlons I’ve completed, the 10k run component has taken me, on average 76 minutes to complete. That’s a ~10% increase, suggesting I’m spending a disproportionately low amount of training on the bike.
Have I been? In 2014 I logged 1,590kms of cycling and 469.14kms of running. Running = 30% of cycling distance. So far in 2015 I’ve logged 705.89kms on the bike, and 241.04kms of running. Running = 34% of cycling distance. Since May 1st I’ve logged 201.73kms on the bike, and 80.06kms of running. Running = 40% of cycling distance. Yep, my running is well more than 20% of my cycling, and it’s going in the wrong direction.
What does it mean? Who the hell knows. It’s an interesting thought exercise, at least. And assuming you take the logic of this article as fact (which, it’s Friday, so sure) I need to get my ass on the bike a lot more. Apparently that will help with my tri run? Seems as good as anything to try – it can’t hurt, and it sure beats the idea of more running volume as the solution.
Do you cycle to improve your run? What other tricks to you use?
As I write this, I’m 20 days away from my first race of the season – the Olympic Distance at the Toronto Triathlon Festival. And I’m feeling really torn (and a fair bit tired) – like I’m at a crossroads of sorts. Like at some point soon I need to decide what I want out of triathlon, or perhaps more accurately, what I want to put into triathlon (and what I’m willing to accept out of it, consequently).
Let’s look back at the month of May. My training in May was a tail of two triathletes. The first week (and a half) and the last week were really strong, focused training weeks. I had a decent balance and volume of training in all 3 sports. I had some high intensity days and some recovery days. Everything felt like it clicked. The middle two weeks were the opposite – I dragged myself out for a little bit of running, but that was it. I was lazy, disinterested, and found all kinds of excuses not to get in the pool or touch the bike. I got tired, and a little burnt out. I backed off. I spent my time on other hobbies instead.
Last week was a great week. This morning I feel exhausted. I missed my swim this morning and rationalized my way out of biking this evening. I’m backing off again. I don’t know if that’s good or bad.
Looking back over the past year I think helps paint the picture. Disregarding the ‘sports’ minutes (baseball/volleyball/curling, etc, which I stopped tracking around the new year), May of 2014 was a (relatively) giant month for me for training, if not a little bit imbalanced. As we got into the summer – into the core of race season (and also the core of patio season) – my training really tapered off. It became real easy to hear the excuses not to train: how much time it took, how tired I felt, how many other fun things there were to do over the summer. In fact, you have to go back to May of last year to find the last time I did as much training as I did in May of this year, and that’s even with those two lazy weeks.
Which brings me back to my original crossroads question: what do I want out of triathlon? On one hand, I’m really damn proud of the work I put in this past month. It’s the most I’ve ran or swam in over a year. And not only have the volumes gone up, but having joined a swimming group and a cycling group, the intensity has gone up too. I feel stronger than I have in a LONG time.
On the other hand, I feel more tired than I have in a long time. And I feel a little bit more disinterested than I have in a long time (which I think correlates inversely with the approach of patio season, and the plethora of other fun summer things I could be doing with my training time). To keep up this training means making choices – and at some point I have to decide where this falls on my personal priority list. Right now, I feel like my mind changes back and forth each week.
I read a great blog post a few weeks back called It’s All About That Bass: How The Triathlon Industry Gets It Wrong (go read it now, I’ll wait…). It’s a fantastic article that discusses a lot of points on motivation in the triathlon age-group industry and how it could be better approached by marketing. A fantastic read, which I really enjoyed, and hardly relates to what I’m discussing here today other than it makes one really key distinction:
The sport is growing from an increasing number of new athletes who are more average, heavier, less athletic but still inspired to participate– if not necessarily compete.
This has really stuck with me since reading this piece: Am I in this sport to participate, or to compete? What do I want to get out of triathlon? What do I want to put into it?
History tells me I can back off my training – I can enjoy all the patios and beaches and summer fun that I’d like, do the occasional Weekend Warrior training, and still participate in triathlon races. That’s what I did last year, and truthfully every summer in the past. I can be that average, heavier, less athletic but still inspired to participate athlete. I can finish, grab my finisher’s medal, sweaty selfie, and post race pint, and be on my way. I can do that without feeling so tired, so burnt out, all summer long. I can choose that balance. And that’s not a bad thing – even doing that much would make me a much healthier and fitter self than I was before I got into the sport, and would still let me enjoy the fun of race day.
But what if I want to compete? What if I want to push myself? What if I want to try to race faster, or race longer distances? What if this summer I want to tell my family and friends that I need to pass on the Saturday night patio, because I have an early morning ride the next morning? What if I want to make this a priority? But even so, to what end? I’m never going to be a pro. I’m realistically never really going to “compete” (other than competing against myself). Is that worth the trade off? Maybe…
I’m at a crossroads, and I don’t know which way I’m leaning. I know that I’m really proud of the work I did this month. And I know that I’m really tired. And I don’t know what to do with that.
I suppose a Race Recap is in order (as apparently that’s a thing that I do). Yesterday I ran the Sporting Life 10K in Toronto with my wife, my cousin, and a few other friends of ours. This is the 3rd year in a row my cousin and I have run this race together. It’s become a really nice tradition. And, as this is now my 3rd race recap of this same race, there’s not a lot new to be said.
Meh. I had fun!
My personal best 10k time came on this same course last year at 1:00:07. I was really hoping for my first sub 1 hour time, but it wasn’t meant to be. The list of excuses includes:
- It was fucking hot! 17°C at 8:30am
- It was fucking humid! All week I’d been complaining about the forecasted 80% chance of thunderstorms that never came. I got the dry run that I wanted, but all that humidity just bogged me down
- I was undertrained. Last year I did a much better job of base run training in the winter. This year I didn’t. And I’ve done about a half dozen outdoor runs so far in 2015, all of them at Long Slow Distance pace
- I had dinner out at a pub, with a beer (or more), each of the two evenings leading up to the race
It’s not that I want to belittle the results – but I’m behind on my training, and I can’t fix that overnight. And I also can’t control the weather. So I don’t want to dwell on what was for me a disappointing finish time. But I did have fun, and got to spend time with great people. Win.
6 weeks to TTF. Keep to the training plan, keep putting in the work, and keep having fun. And maybe lay off the pub food a bit…
Last night’s ride sucked!
I should qualify that statement a bit. 1) I’m really glad I went. 2) I have several takeaways to make future rides better. 3) I’m then gonna chalk this one up to a crappy ride and a good story, and close the book on it. No discouragement. Some days you get the bear, some days the bear gets you.
Last night I had my second ride with the Grand River Cycling Club. Monday nights are a routine 43km easy ride (or recovery ride). Looking back at my race log my 40km bike split is often in the 1:25:00 to 1:35:00 range. Last night 43km took me 2:03:00!!! The previous and first ride I did with the club was just over 2 weeks ago, the Sunday morning “touring pace” long ride, which we did 73km that day. That ride went reasonably fine. Yesterday went terrible.
Let’s pause there for a second: 73km touring pace went fine, 43km easy pace was a disaster. What the hell happened?!?
I knew this was going to be tough for an “easy ride” right from the parking lot – a chilly 5°C – where every other rider had riding tights, shoe covers, and other warm riding gear. Here I was, looking the part of the newbie, in my shorts, breathable summer cycling shoes, and a light spring jacket. Earlier in the day I was in a running shop buying a few gels for tonight’s ride (foreshadowing: right now would have been a great time to take one of them. Strike 1) and I saw some clearance runners tights on sale. I thought about buying a pair, but
cheapness frugalness prevailed. Those tights would have been really nice right about now! Strike 2
I pulled my bike out of my car and started to get it ready: put the front wheel back on, which I wrenched on there pretty tight, and dug the half full water bottle out of my swim bag and put it onto the bike. The ride is heading out from a park, so there was nowhere to fill it back up. Should have brought it into work in between for a fill… whoops. Strike 3
The ride set out and was uneventful for the slightly downhill first half of the route. We were a large enough group to ride 2-up, so I had some great chatter with a few other riders, one of whom was at last week’s “easy ride” and told me the group this week was really pushing it relative to last week. It felt a hair slower than race pace to me – something I shouldn’t have a problem sustaining for 40+km, but at times was hardly easy. It probably took more energy out of me than I realized, and should have popped a gel right around here. Strike 4 (starting to see the problem yet?)
The first sign of trouble came around the 2/3 mark. Riding on a reasonably flat stretch, I was near the front of the group, when I started to fall back from the bike in front. I tried to close the gap, but I couldn’t. Riders from behind started to pass me. I moved from the front of the group, to the back, to behind very suddenly. I couldn’t catch up. I was working hard, but not making up ground. After a few tough km, one of the other riders looped back to ride with me (very nice of him). He commented that my chain sounded a bit loud, and maybe it was sapping some of my energy efficiency. I felt like I was laboring, no matter what gear I was in.
Then I heard a sudden loud pop. My chain ceased briefly, after which I couldn’t switch down out of my big cog. Something broke (and I’m still not sure what). I was now limited to the heavy half of my gear options, and the ride home was almost fully uphill.
By the 3/4 mark the clouds were parting and the sun was coming out, and so was the headwind. A few flags we past were blowing stiffly against us. By now it was close to 8pm and distinctly colder than when we set out. I was tired, cold, and starting to get very hungry. I was thinking back to the morning’s 3,600m swim, to the food I’d eaten during the day. To the gels I bought, but hadn’t taken yet. To the running tights I could have bought, but didn’t. I was falling apart.
My buddy rider stuck with me all the way back, over 2hours to ride 43km. My hero! He looked like he was coasting – barely going fast enough to ride a straight line while I was pushing for all I had.
I threw the bike in the car, cranked the heater, ate 2 gels, and drove home to warm up.
I think a few things conspired to make yesterday’s ride a complete shit show:
- First, I think I need to point a bit of a finger at the engine (aka my early season lack of fitness). While the first ride may have been okay, I’m still getting my legs back, and did spend a week in between eating and drinking and sitting on my ass in Cuba. It’s not lost on me that the engine needs some serious work!
- This was my first crack at a Masters Swim in the morning on the same day as a Club Ride after work. I had swam 3,600m earlier that day already, which itself is an amount I’m still getting used to. I need to figure out how to manage my energy and calories better on Mondays if I’m going to keep doing both
- Unless it warms up quickly (and I really hope it does), I need to invest in some warmer cycling clothes!
- I need to take my bike into the shop. The shifting needs to be fixed, but something wasn’t right before that – not sure if the chain just needs to be oiled, or if something’s rubbing against a wheel (is it possible to put the front wheel back on too tightly??). My bike was working against me – it needs some TLC!
Yesterday’s ride sucked, but there’s be others soon (as soon as the bike is back from the shop). Some days you get the bear, some days the bear gets you. Next week I’ll come back stronger!