Archive for August, 2013

Dear Multisport Community: I’m slow, but I’m improving. Can I play too?

August 26, 2013 4 comments
running is hard, especially at first.  It was for all of us

Running is hard, especially at first. It was for all of us

I have a little OCD Beginner Triathlete habit: Whenever I run somewhere – anywhere – I watch for other runners taking walk breaks.

Why?  Because I myself need to take walk breaks to get through my run.  And I’m eternally concerned that I’m the only one walking.

I’ve met a lot of triathletes and runners since I’ve entered this world of age group athletes.  Some are fast – some are not.  Some are fit – some are not.  Some race to get better, others race for a t-shirt.  Some race for the podium, but most of us race for a personal best.  All of them have one thing in common though – they’re very welcoming of my new, slow, overweight self tagging along and trying to keep up.

The point is – we’re all trying to get better, whether we define “better” as faster, or as fitter, or as enjoying the sport more.

A great running community is a runner's best friend

A great running community is a runner’s best friend

Every once in a while though I come across examples from the running community where beginners are not as welcomed.  I read a great post on the issue this morning from Fit For A Year, who challenged the question “Real runners don’t walk”?

(for the record, I think Fit For A Year – as a blog – is very welcoming of beginners, and I appreciate that)

At one point he quotes a 2009 debate on

…more than half of the people at a marathon are just overweight and ‘trying to get a shirt and medal … looking to one day tell a story about the saga and the suffering of their 11 minute pace race.

The post was a great read, as were the comments below (many from beginner athletes, like myself, suggesting “so what” if runners need to walk, though a few trying to make arguments to limit the walking in races… fascinating read).  The point the author made that struck a chord with me was:

…unless you are very lucky, starting running from scratch [without walk breaks] is not easy!

I couldn’t agree more.  And I wondered: how does one get into the sport then, if walking is frowned upon in a running event?

Should the endurance sport community not be welcoming of new members that want to improve their performance (and pay fees to join their races too)?

Which brings me to an email I received last week from the organizers of the Toronto Island Triathlon, which has sat funny with me ever since.  Initially the race organizers wanted to get away from starting in waves based on gender/age group, and switch to waves based on estimated finish time (regardless of age or gender).  They asked everyone when signing up to estimate their finish time.  It would appear, this didn’t work:

…Unfortunately an analysis of our data tells us that a large number of athletes have included an overly optimistic estimated finishing time. We know this by comparing the predicted times with actual times for these athletes in past races. Therefore, we cannot proceed in a safe manner with this new wave configuration and will revert to our usual system…

It surprised me that the race organizing team had the capacity to do such an extensive data validation against past races.  It really surprised me that they would choose to reach out to everyone signed up and suggest that their athletes were overly optimistic.  How good is their data validation, that they know racers haven’t improved?  Maybe some of us simply don’t need to walk as much any more?

Was I one of these “overly optimistic” racers?  Possibly.  Assuming they looked up my name, the only other Sprint Tri I’ve done with this group before was in September 2011 – my very first race.  I finished with a time of 1:47:21, which included a 40 minute 5k run walk.  I was a brand new runner at the time, and couldn’t run more than 2 or 3 minutes without walking.

My goal time for this year’s race was 1:30:00.  Was that overly optimistic?  Well, to them, maybe.  But they don’t know what training I’ve done in between.  They don’t know what other races I’ve done in between.

My final race time was 1:39:02 – so maybe my goal was a bit optimistic (though really: goals should be challenging, shouldn’t they?  And my run should have been at least 5 minutes faster than it was, and my swim could have been 2-3 minutes faster if not for the long run-up at the end).  The point here isn’t to suggest I’m an excellent predictor of my finish time – I’m not – but that I’ve improved.  I started out walking more than I ran, but I’m getting better.  I wouldn’t have stuck with running this long if I didn’t jump into those early races.

Every race, I get a little bit stronger... but I still walked in the beginning, and I still do today when I need to

Every race, I get a little bit stronger… but I still walked in the beginning, and I still do today when I need to

Every running race I do I make a point of encouraging everyone taking a walk break that I pass.  Every time.  I love high fiving runners on the course who are gutting through it.  I’m glad they came out to play.  I’m glad they’re giving it their best.  I am too.  I hope to see them on the course again next year, walking as much – or as little – as they need to.



Race Recap: Toronto Island Sprint Triathlon

August 25, 2013 2 comments

On the ferry by sunrise. We triathletes are a crazy breed!

It’s a little odd writing two blog posts in a row that are Race Recaps… maybe it’s a sign that I’m not posting often enough (or, more likely, that I don’t have enough interesting to say these days to warrant posts).  Or maybe it’s a sign that I’m racing too often.  Either way, this morning – for the second consecutive Sunday morning – I got up at the shit crack of early and caught the ferry over to Toronto Island for another race.

… and a huge Thank You to my wife for getting up early and coming out to cheer me on.

I love my #triwife

I love my #triwife

Today I raced the Toronto Island Sprint Triathlon race – a race I signed up for as a training race.  Though, let’s be honest: this wasn’t a training race – it was a fun race, pure and simple.  I didn’t sign up for this because I had a specific training goal I wanted to hit.  I signed up for it because I could walk to the ferry docks (thus, effectively to the starting line) from my front door.  I signed up for it because I have come to love Toronto Island as a beautiful part of this city and it’s waterfront, and a great training site for me this summer.

I think mostly I signed up for it because I really love racing.  And regardless of what a proper training arc suggests about rest and peak periods – I wanted to race.  So I did.

You gotta really love this sport to be dressed in spandex neoprene before 8:00am

You gotta really love this sport to be dressed in spandex neoprene before 8:00am… or to post a picture of yourself like that on the internet

How was the race?  It had pros and cons…

Pro: My swim felt great.  The water was mid-low 60°s… really cold, although I swam in colder last weekend, so it wasn’t bad in comparison.  I remembered my wetsuit this time.  I felt strong through the swim, and by half way through I was reeling in other swimmers who had started out stronger than me.  I’ll file this one in the memory as what a good swim should feel like.

Con: My swim time.  18:00 exactly.  That’s pretty rough for a 750m swim, especially for how good it felt (I blame the long run up from shore that must have been at least 500m through sand, grass, and along a boardwalk).

Pro: My bike felt really great.  Toronto Island isn’t very long – the course was 2 loops of a 10k out-and-back that spanned the length of the island.  And it was flat as a road in the prairies.  No hills in the climb.  I rode 20k in 40:16 – easily a PB bike split.  It’s fun to ride fast (or at least fast for me).

Con: Absolutely everything about the run.  For as great as my swim and bike were, my run sucked!  The course wasn’t my favorite course – they had us run 4 laps of a 1.25km course (and it was a 625m out-and-back course to boot… not even a circuit).  4 laps of a little course is a lot – it’s surprisingly boring to run past the same few trees again… and again… and again.  Also, in a normal run course the runners are all spread out.  In a small 4 lap course like this there are runners everywhere.  It was crowded, and boring… and just exhausting.  Not that that’s any excuse – my run is my Achilles’ heel.  It sucked.  I have a lot of training work to do on my run this off season.  36:50.  GROSS!!!

Overall:  1:39:02.9.  48/58 in my Age Group (241/272 Men overall).  But I had fun.  I enjoyed going back over to the island.  And any race experience is a good experience.

Sometimes, we just enjoy the finish

The finish is always worth it!

Race Recap: Toronto Island Lake Swim

August 18, 2013 1 comment


This morning I tackled the inaugural Toronto Island Lake Swim, 1,500m distance.  I treated this as a training race, and boy did I learn a lot…

My goal for this race was to stick with the pack for the full 1,500m.  Was I successful… well… it’s hard to say…

While sitting around on the beach, waiting for the swim to start, some volunteers came around announcing to everyone that the water temperature had dropped a lot over night, to a frigid 61°F.  Brrr. 

cold swim

Seriously?!?  August!!!  WTF?!?

Right away everyone around me started pulling wetsuits out of their bag.  Did I?  No – my wetsuit was in my closet back at home.  Crap.  Lesson #1: Always bring the wetsuit.  Always.  Even when the organizers send out emails stating the water was too warm, bring it anyway!

I decided to swim with my tri top on.  It isn’t nearly as warm as a wetsuit, and doesn’t offer any buoyancy, but I think it was a bit warmer than swimming shirtless.  At least I hope so…

The 3,800m swimmers were off first and shortly after us 1,500m swimmers got our turn. We lined up at the start line – 3 out of 4 swimmers in their wetsuits, and poor, cold, me.

The gun went off and I dove into the water.  My arms and legs burned instantly.  It was SO cold.  It felt like an ice bath.  I found myself instantly short of breath and scrambling to get into my stroke.  I had to force myself to put my face in the water – it was so cold.  And my tri top, while possibly adding some warmth, felt like a drag chute.  Lesson #2: The tri top may feel like spandex when running and biking, but it’s not.  And swimming in it anytime the clock is running is a bad idea.  I was slow, and still cold.

By roughly 1/4 of the race, my toes started to go numb.  I lost feel of the water and felt like i was kicking aimlessly.  I seriously contemplated waiving the swim cap and calling it a day.  But as I looked around, I was surrounded by a sea of wetsuits.  I was sticking with the pack so far, so I kept pushing.

The water was choppier than I was used to, and I felt it really messed with my stroke, and with my breathing.  I was limited to breathing away from the chop, which started to tire one of my shoulders faster than the other.  But that’s part of open water swimming – just keep on keeping on.  Eventually I sighted the orange buoy that was my turn around point.

It was hard to tell how well I stuck with the pack after the turn around point – the pack thinned out as the race went on, and there was always one or two swimmers with me, though never more than that.  I was never alone, but I was never surrounded by other swimmers.

Funny story – I got my first ever kick to the face in this swim… in the last 100m of all places.  Go figure!

I was hoping to swim sub 30:00.  In the end, I swam 1,500m in 36:50 (8/9 in my age group).  I was a bit disappointed when I saw the clock – It was a slower time than I’d normally like, but given the cold and the chop, it wasn’t awful.  And in fact only 3 minutes separated me from 4th out of 9 in my age group.  Had I swum sub 30:00, I would have been 2nd.  Everybody had a rough day – most of them in wetsuits that I didn’t have.  Lesson #3: I can swim with the pack.

After I packed up from my race I threw my stuff in a locker by the beach and set out for a quick 5k run.  Go figure – the sun was blistering hot and the shade was sparse.  I could finally feel my toes again!

What’s the coldest water you’ve ever swam in?

Training Race Preview: Toronto Island Lake Swim

August 17, 2013 Leave a comment


Tomorrow morning I’m tackling the Toronto Island lake Swim, 1.5k swim race.  It’s the first of two training races I’m tackling this month in preparation for the Lakeside Olympic Triathlon in September.

I’m looking forward to this one.  I’m feeling very relaxed about it.  The plan is to use it as a training race, and that’s what I’m going to do.

What’s a training race to me?  Well… I’m still going to race hard.  I still want to do the best I can and get the fastest time I can.  There’s no intention of half-assing this one.  But I’m looking to learn from this race.  The whole idea of a training race is to go in with a purpose – something specific you want to test or assess and take away feedback in preparation for your ‘A’ race.

For me, this is my first time doing the 1,500m distance in open water with other swimmers around me.  And I expect – based on how they market this race – that this won’t be your typical triathlon swim start field (where half the racers are looking to survive the swim and get to the bike or run, where they excel).  There will likely be a lot of good swimmers here.

Good.  Bring ’em on!  My goal in this race is to swim with the pack for the full 1,500m.

I’ve done a lot more open water swim training this summer than in any previous summer, but it’s all solo swimming – out in the open water, away from lane markers or time clocks or coaches or other swimmers… anything at all to use as a pace coach.  I find it so easily to mentally drift.

I’ve swam 1,500m many times before, but never in a race.  Never with race nerves or adrenaline.  I’ve never pushed to keep up with other swimmers over this long a distance.

So that’s my goal for tomorrow: irrespective of finish time, to keep up with the pack and stay strong through the full 1,500m.

Have you ever done a “training race”?  How did you approach it?

Friday Motivation

August 16, 2013 1 comment

936715_590268047660123_1791080642_nimage from Fit for a year

Have a great weekend everybody!!

The Dog Days of August

August 14, 2013 7 comments

bautistaencarnacinimage from Drunk Jays Fans

I’m a huge baseball fan – a huge Blue Jays fan (at this point in the season, I may be the only one left).  I often hear the term “The Dog Days of August” referred to in baseball context as a tough part of the season – the fatigue of having played ball every day (essentially) for 5 straight months, combined with the heat of August, and the horizon of post season (the finish line) just a month away.

I think I’ve found my own Dog Days of August.

In 2011 I raced a single sprint triathlon in September of that year.  I started training for it, in earnest, in July of the same summer.  That summer I could hardly run a mile, and sure as shit complained if I had to run two.  I was almost 40lbs heavier than I am today.  I “trained” (though in hindsight, I really just “occasionally exercised”) over a 2 week period, ran my race, and then shut it down.

In 2012 I raced the same triathlon.  This time I started training in June, and with a bit more regularity (albeit with the same general lack of purpose) for 3 months.  I took a few weeks off after before turning to a Run Only program and raced my first 10k running race in early November.

2 months of work in 2011.  5 months of work in 2012.

2013 has been a whole different story.  Beginning with a half marathon in February and followed by a 30k run in March, I’ve raced 6 races already this season, with another 3 planned in the next 5 weeks.  I started training in December 2012, 9 months ago and – other than missed sessions – I really haven’t given myself much of a break.  And further to the length, I’m training with purpose now.  I’m doing more than simply shuffling for a few miles – I’m planning a training routine, mixing up strength training with swimming, biking, and running.  Doing short speed work as well as long endurance work.

I’m exhausted.

worn out

And yet, really, in the world of triathlon training, I’m not doing all that much.  I’m still only training 5-8hrs/week.  But it’s a lot more, for a lot longer, and a lot more intense than it was before.

This is my dog fight.  My dog days of August.  When the summer is hot and the legs are tired, and the finish line is on the horizon.  No amount of sleep seems to be enough.  No amount of food seems to be enough.  I feel like I’m in a constant fog, and my friends and family have noticed.

4.5 weeks until my ‘A’ race, my first Olympic distance triathlon.  In between I have a pair of warm-up races: a 1,500m swim only race this weekend to experience 1,500m in open water with other racers, and a sprint distance triathlon the following weekend to focus on my brick run in a race setting.  It’s time to dig deep – deeper than I’ve had to dig before.  This is my dog days of August.  This is my chance to finish my season strong and proud, and show how far I’ve come, and what I can do.

If only I could do it on a little more sleep.  Wouldn’t that be nice…

Have you ever felt like you were in your ‘Dog Days of August’?  How did you push through?

Friday Stray Thoughts

August 2, 2013 1 comment


Image by Glenn McCoy

Happy Friday everyone!  For those of you looking for a little light lunchtime internet distraction to tide you over until quitting time, here’s a Few Stray Thoughts for your Friday Afternoon

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My good friend/personal trainer forwarded to me this article from Runner’s World Magazine, highlighting a study that found benefits to running economy for those who do high weight/low rep resistance training.

I don’t think resistance training being of value to endurance athletes is news to, well, anybody probably.  I, for one, HATE weight training.  Bleh.  So boring.  As a triathlete, I want to run and bike and swim – because those are fun (that’s why I race).  I know resistance training will help make me faster (and healthier), so that’s why I do it.  But because I don’t enjoy it, I’m often guilty of doing many reps of a lesser weight – because if I’m not enjoying something, it’s easy to cop out.  But I guess if I have to be in the weight room I’d rather get more bang for my buck – and hey, doing less reps probably means I get it over with faster, amiright?

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brickThis one from our good friend Twitter…

This article posits that – for long course triathlon (which I don’t do today… though I’m certainly contemplating a Half Iron in the next few years) more so than short course races – the value of brick workouts may be overrated.

Well, that’s stirring the pot of conventional logic a bit… it’s an interesting argument, which I’m not sure if I’m in agreement with or not.  And maybe that’s because I only do short distance racing at this point.  From our earliest days of triathlon training, we’re taught to do our brick sessions.  Keep doing bricks – they suck, but they’re good for you!  It’s like eating your brussels sprouts!  But maybe there is an argument to doing more of your run training on fresh legs, when you can practice good form and pacing and really running your best, as opposed to run training on dead legs.  It sure would make training schedules a lot easier…

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Finally, here’s one from Canadian Running magazine outlining 10 common rookie mistakes beginner runners should avoid.

Think back to your early days of running.  How many of these were you guilty of?  #1, #6, and #10 were my vices.

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Have a great weekend everybody!

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