Monday, July 14, 2014

Race Report - Suburu Vancouver International Triathlon (Olympic distance)

Let me first lead off by thanking my sponsors and supporters:  Team Ossenbrink, Sugoi, CycleOps, Speed Theory, TELUS, and (most importantly) my wife Jenny & son Eli.  You all helped get me to the start line and through the finish chute.

The timing of my first Triathlon of the year, the Olympic-distance race (1.5km swim, 40km bike, 10km run) at the Suburu Vancouver International Triathlon, was chosen as it's a good time to test my physical and mental fitness to see where it is strong, progressing, and where it needs some work.  When you race to your true current ability (not what you wish it to be, and to the max that it is), you get a good lesson from a ruthless, honest teacher:  Reality.

I'm a time-crunched Triathlete; so much so that there was a whole issue of Triathlete magazine last month dedicated to the "time-crunched Triathlete" that I haven't had time to read yet.  I make a point to keep my cycling fitness progressing, but if I have to drop a workout, the swim or the run go first.  I sneak in short workouts in the morning, mid-length workouts at lunch, and sneak out early or negotiate with Jen for an after-work session.  But none of these blocks are consistent.  I work out when I can and do a workout that will maximize the time I have or tend to the sport where I'm slipping the most.  It's these thoughts that are running through my mind as I drive to beautiful Jericho Beach in Vancouver, BC.


The forecast was for a perfect race temperature.  Cool (but not too cool) ocean temps, low 20s on the bike, and mid 20s on the run.  Perfect for me, though I do like a cooler run as I tend to get cramped legs at higher temps.  Parking was a mess as all the half-ironman athletes and supporters arrived early and took the good spots.  I spent way too much time finding parking and walking 2km to transition.  I had a good spot in transition that allowed me to spread my stuff out.  I'm pretty minimal with my setup but, nevertheless, I do like some real-estate to spread out on.  I started to get my wetsuit on, then...  of course...  my metabolism advises me to make a detour.  "Less than 10 minutes until start" rings the speaker system as I'm standing in line to obey my metabolism.  That's always a tough call - stay in line and take whatever comes, knowing you'll have to stop again later, or suck it up.   I always choose the former.  Morale of this graphic story is that one should show up as early as possible to a race site.

Race - Swim:

The gun goes off...   and I'm running to the beach.  I get to the beach and realize I'm on the wrong part of the beach.  I trek over to the correct part of the beach and bolt into the water, in last place.  The leaders are half-way to the first turn, at least 200m up.  I'm not swimming THAT bad these days so figure I can hit the first turn by the time the back of the pack gets there, then they'll spread out.  I surprised myself and caught the pack sooner than I thought, which meant a melee at the first turn as the slower swimmers gasped and grabbed through the first turn.  Because I caught the pack so soon, it meant I had to swim around people for the rest of the leg, dodging and weaving.  I hit the shore of the second lap at over 31:00; I usually do this distance in a race under 25:00.  Still, I was frustrated but I wasn't discouraged.  I still had two legs to go.

Race - Bike:

Not my fastest transition but it's a longer run to my station and I wasn't trying to blaze through T1 and get onto the bike.  I moved with purpose and got suited and ready to ride.  I knew what I had to do on the bike; pass people.  A lot of people.

It was now time to test my bike fitness.  I had a hard week of training, but felt I could go out and push.  Right out of the gate I was passing people.  Then a bunch more people.  Once I got to the hill at Spanish Banks, I eyeballed up the hill to see who I'd pass next.  My voice was hoarse from yelling "ON THE LEFT!!!" by the time I got through wreck beach.  Literally I think I got passed 5 times the whole bike leg, by the eventual winners of the waves that went after mine.  I had a good confidence-boosting ride overall.  I hit a bit of a blip about 2/3 the way through the ride and I just couldn't control my heart-rate and wattage, but once I got to the Jericho hill downhill, it was back to business.  It does help that it's a section of the course that, if you've passed a bunch of people, doesn't have too many riders on it.  And there's a lot of people cheering and it's an opportunity to show strength at the end of a tough bike ride to both the crowd (they're cheering for your strength, after all) and the final people you pass (intimidation is a good race tactic).  Unfortunately for me, that strength would be bested.

Race - Run:

The reality was simple:  I knew my run fitness is not where it should be and it would be tested today.  I transitioned quickly and though my legs were like logs, I was spry for the first 2km.  Once the course got technical and had some ascents/descents, I started to hurt and knew I'd be hanging on for another 8km.  The frustrating part is that I've held a faster pace on much longer courses in the past.  It's a piece of humble pie when you have to accept the result of the amount of work you've been able to put in.

Did I mention that I really don't like loose gravel-packed run courses?  It's like running in quicksand.

The 2km to 8km in the run was non-eventful in the fact that nothing changed:  I was not enjoying running.  I got proper nutrition at each aid station to stave off a cramping calf muscle that was bugging my for the last two weeks and that I tore at the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in 2010.

The last 2km I tried to summon what I could and shave a few seconds off my eventual finish time of 2:31 and change.  I have to admit that I didn't push those last 2km as hard as I could, since it wouldn't have mattered that much on the finish time.

I did get a fun 'celebrity' moment after finishing when the announcer who blurts out your name as you cross the line remarked "I always love the 'other hobbies' information our athletes provide.  It says here that Jared cures and smokes his own Bacon".  I was greeted with a roar of cheers and applause from spectators and volunteers.  A few athletes afterwords asked if I was "the Bacon Guy" and asked if it's less-fatty/gluten-free/organic/100-mile etc.   Of course I said yes to all of it cuz hey, I'm "The Bacon Guy".


Here's what I learned this race:

- The next 7 weeks need to summon my best effort at being a less time-constrained Triathlete
- I need to get to the race site earlier to get to the race line on time
- I need to focus on the first 200m to 400m of the swim and get in with a group and have them drag me around the course
- I need to keep pushing my bike fitness - it's my strength and makes up the majority of the race
- I need to do more mid-distance high-intensity bricks off the bike.  I need to remain strong for the first 5km
- I need to practice mentally "hanging on" during the last half of the run
- I need to add a bit of core and strength work right now to stave off fatigue during the bike and run
- On poor terrain, I need to shorten my stride and up my turnover rate.
- I need to trust my nutrition plan to do what it needs to (that was probably the flawless thing about my race)
- I need to eat a bit less bacon and drop 5 lbs

Happy racing everyone.  See you at the next one:  Point Grey Triathlon!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Ok, self, let's get our butt in gear. Time to adapt, again.

Sorry for the hiatus.  It hasn't just been a hiatus from blogging about Triathlon, but a hiatus in regular, recurring training as well.  Winter and Spring this year had some unexpected challenges with work and the motivation/de-motivation that can sometimes come with not doing something you love for a living.

I am happy to announce, though, that things are changing.  I'm back doing work that I enjoy and, though it's always stressful to change jobs, I feel like things are on the up again.

Luckily for me, my coach has been able to help me maintain a somewhat good base fitness.  So now it's time to build.  Race season is here and I'm looking forward to some training and some vitamin D! Eli has also joined me for a few workouts and likes to yell "faster!  faster!" during hill repeats with the running stroller, especially when it's not possible to go any faster.

Sometimes life can get in the way but it's how you deal with it that counts.  I'm still determined to be in my best shape ever for the ITU Triathlon Grand Final on September 1st.  That's 3.5 months to build.  Getting into my best shape with a busy job and a busy young family will be no small feat.  I can't easily change either of those circumstances (nor do I want to).  So it means I will need to adapt, again:

- Bring back the morning workout (though not every morning)
- Be strict about getting in a lunchtime workout
- A 30 lb stroller with a 35 lb toddler in it is a good training accessory
- Bring maximum quality to every minute that I find for training

Alight.  Let's do this!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Why you should consider watching the Sochi Olympics

Dear Sochi (justified) Boycotter,

I will watch the Winter Olympics in Sochi.  I will do so happily, but not without personal struggle

I will rarely watch live and prefer to PVR and fast forward through the commercials because the sponsors pay for their brief airtime with me.  I will watch not because of national pride but because I want to celebrate my closest neighbours participating.  I will watch not because I agree with the practices of the host nation; in this case I deplore the practices of this particular host.

I will watch because the athletes participating did not choose these particular Olympic games to participate in.  They were chosen.  Though Men's Hockey and a few specific athletes in other sports do make a lot of money, the vast majority of these elite athletes barely scrape by, relying on family, friends, and a side job.  Their chosen profession is not celebrated properly except for 2 weeks every 4 years.

I watch the Olympics because I can sympathize with the story of the unsung elite athlete.  The resolve it takes to completely dedicate your mind and body to seeing how far the human body and spirit can be pushed takes a self-consuming focus, dedication, and belief that our limits are tested but not finite.  These athletes are struggling with competing in these particular Olympics.  Does the pursuit of redefining physical limit outweigh everything else.  Everything else these athletes have given up suggests that to them it does.  To them it must.  You can't give your life to something and not follow through, no matter what.  

If you decide not to watch, I can completely understand.  

But consider taking a look your chosen path/passion/profession.  At the thing you've dedicated every available moment, every available cell of your body to pursuing.  Remember it has come with some or many sacrifices.  For the unsung athlete, in the majority of cases, the sacrifice is that you put family on hold, you put a financially gainful career on hold, you put relationships on hold.  Your best friend is your sweat, pain, and belief.  Pretend you were the best artist, the best banker, the best electrician, the best consultant, the best carpenter, the best doctor, etc.  Imagine being devalued because people didn’t like the country you practiced your passion in.  They didn’t like who sponsored your profession.  They decided that your ability didn’t matter because you were given privilege to practice what you do.  

Some countries with a strong Olympic record reward successful Olympic performance.  Many with that same record do not.  I say that only to reinforce that they are playing on a level field.  They see each other as fellow competitors.  They are not competing for your favour, their family’s favour, their friend’s favour, or their country’s favour.  That favour is simply motivation and support for what their ultimate goal is:  the performance that matches their best potential.  For every athlete who achieves it, their sacrifice will be worth it.  If it happens that it is the current recorded best on the entire Planet Earth, even just on that day?…    …well…   imagine for a second, for a split second,  the personal pride you would feel.  The pride that goes with living a humble life in order to pursue something that seems wildly ambitious, naive, and fantastic.

My schooling involved deep study of the Olympic movement.  I would like to bring an accessible perspective of what it means to compete.

Citius, Altius, Fortius is not a motto meant for the IOC, not sponsors, not the host nation.  It is a motto for a person who wants to physically manifest it.  To that kind of person it always has, and it always will, been a drive and a dream.

Consider tuning in.

With the warmest regards,


Saturday, January 18, 2014

Accidental hiatus and trying to regain focus

It's been quite a while since I posted.  And primarily it's been because I haven't had much to post about.  The truth of the matter is that I haven't been training consistently since last summer for a variety of reasons.  Nevertheless I got picked up again by Triathlon Canada to represent our country at the ITU World Triathlon Grand Final (Olympic distance) being held in Edmonton, AB, Canada (not a glamorous venue, but it does mean a ton of my family can come).  I'm also again getting fantastic support from Sugoi Performance Apparel (

So why am I not training like my usual self?  The truth is that it's been a lot tougher than I thought trying to balance family, work, and Triathlon when you have a young family.  It takes a toll on your motivation to train when you constantly miss workouts for a variety of legit reasons.

Training effectively requires a very structured approach.  When the rest of your life is unstructured right now, it's hard to follow a structured training regime.  My workouts right now tend to need to fit into whatever time magically appears in my schedule and wherever (geographically) I happen to be at that time.  For example, let's say I have a bike and swim workout scheduled on a particular day but the only time that opens up is during the lunch hour and I'm no where near my bike or a pool.  Well, pretty much that day is a write-off if I'm following a structured training approach.  So I finish the day a bit disheartened and without the endorphin kick I get from training.  Multiply that by x number of days over y number of weeks and you can understand why someone who is extremely structured by habit can find themselves frustrated and demotivated.  Especially when you have hired a coach.

So clearly a normal child-free, stable work commitments, regular schedule kind of approach won't work for me anymore.  What now?  I'm looking for suggestions on what to try, but here's my current plan.

- Make sure I always have the right gear in my car in case an opportunity for a workout presents itself
- Start running and biking more with Eli in the Chariot
- Sunday morning swims with Eli will be treated as kick sets where I push him around on the foam rafts (which he loves)
- Treat the regimented day by day schedule as a list for the week rather than for the day.  Move around workouts as required but following good training principles (e.g. don't do two hard breakthrough workouts consecutively)
- Be more proud of the training I can do and less frustrated by what I cannot.


Sunday, July 28, 2013

"Challenge accepted" or "How I came to respect short-course"

Before my race report, let me first start with a big shout-out to Sugoi.  For the second straight year, I'm a sponsored Sugoi Brand Champion.  For anyone who trains with Sugoi stuff, you know why this is so cool.

Now the race report.  

For the first time after a race, my body is begging for a nap.  Pleading, in fact.

Today I did my first short-course Triathlon (700m swim, ~20km bike, 5km run).  Sounds simple, right?  After all, I've competed in a few Olympic, many Half-Ironman, and a full Ironman distance event.  This race is sooo short by comparison.  Well, today I learned why I tend toward long-course:  I'm a big sissy.

To use a graphic example:  The pain of Triathlon is akin to being cut slowly by a dagger, depending on race distance.  The shorter the distance, the deeper the dagger but shorter the wound.  The goal is to survive to the finish before you bleed out.  Short-course is a deep excruciating stab and some sawing, but it's over quick whereas long-distance is a bit duller pain for a much longer time.

And as it turns out, I've become accustomed to less pain sustained over a long duration.  Whereas today, it was deep pain but it was over quick.

Today's challenge was to see how willing I was to go down into the pain cave and "embrace the suck" and then try and hang on.  Turns out I need need to toughen up.

I think I had a good first race at this distance.  I came into it with ok fitness but with physical wrath from a new sport I'm trying (Tennis).  The tennis the day before certainly messed with my swim and aspects of my bike & run.  Still, my output was ok.

Mentally, coming from long-course to short-course it's a totally different learned behaviour.  In long-course it's about conserving energy, being efficient, and slowly executing your strategy.  There's lots of time to think through that strategy.  I have always raced this way.

For short-course, every leg is over quite quickly.  There's no room for in-race strategy.  It's "run:  go hard.  bike:  go hard.  run:  go hard and survive".  So in-race strategy becomes in-race tactics:  "In how much pain am I?", "Who's ahead of me and what do I need to do RIGHT NOW to catch them and break them".  It's a game of hurt:  put deep & harsh hurt into others while you survive your own.

I've never played this kind of game in Triathlon before.  I'm really excited for this new challenge.

One last analogy for those who like analogies.  Short-course Triathlon is like waging battle.  Long-course Triathlon is like waging war.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Race Report: ITU Long Distance Triathlon World Championships

As most know by now, I was fortunate enough to have been selected to the Canadian team for the ITU Long Distance Triathlon World Championships for my age group (35-39 yr olds).

To sum up the experience is easy:

Travelling in Team Canada apparel, racing in a Team Canada uniform with my name on it, and hearing family, friends, and complete strangers (many Canadians themselves, but most were not) throughout the bike and run courses shout "Go, CANADA, GO!!" or "Alez, Canada, ALEZ!!" will go down as one of the most proud and humbling experiences I was ever given the privilege to experience.  I tested myself against the best field of racers I've ever encountered and learned everything I intended.

To detail the experience requires a few more words:

Being Irondad has become a more challenging quest this past year.  In Triathlon, I have set progressively more challenging goals for myself and become a little bit better each year.  My life as a dad has changed too:  Eli is 2+ and wants to do more together and I, as a result, want to do more with him too.  My career is giving me a lot of enjoyment and I want to put the time in to be successful there. And perhaps most of all I'm trying to figure out how to be a better partner to Jen and give her the space to find herself the way she gave me the space to do so.  My spring training and racing was wrapped in these overtones.

Like most Triathletes, I'm a "Type A":  I want to be good at and control everything I do.  But this spring I had the realization that I'm at a point where I cannot be the best at everything I want to be while keeping so many interests/hobbies/relationships active in my life.  To analogize:  there are too many little leaks in the hull of my ship and I can't fix them properly before another one springs up.  Before long, I will burn out plugging leaks, a leak will grow too big to fix, or the hull will crack and the ship will sink.  This spring, I spent all my time plugging leaks; in relationships, at work, in training.  The hull is still intact but it's clear a change is near.

For me, this World Championship experience would be the exclamation point that would mark this change.  My fitness was decent, my will was there, and I wanted this moment for me, my family, and my other supporters.  I'm happy to say that in this regard the race was a success.

...but enough introspection.  Here's the race report:


The days leading up to the race were really fun.  It was a ton of fun hanging out with my team mates and my Vancouver crew all decked out in our Team Canada gear.

 Jen and Eli were giving me a ton of support.  Neither adjusted that quickly to the time change and Jen was doing her best to ensure I could get the rest I needed at night.

Belfort, France was unseasonably cold.  The air was 10-15 degrees cooler than normal and the water was 7 degrees cooler than normal.  This would mean water temperatures of 13 degrees and an air temperature at the start of the bike of 8 degrees.  Because of the coldness of the water and the fact that athletes would not be able to warm up after due to the air temperature, the swim was cancelled.  The race would now be a Duathlon:

10km run; 87km ride; 20km run.

I've never done a Duathlon before and it would prove to be an eye opener.  The implications of the change were significant:

- Fast swimmers would no longer have an advantage on the planned 4km swim
- Instead of 20% of the distance of the 146km race being running, 27% of the 117km race would be running; a circumstance that favoured strong runners.
- The bike course was shortened from 112km to 87km.  This meant that strong cyclists and runners could hammer the bike much harder than normal
- Splitting the 30km into two meant that strong cyclists could hammer the bike and not lose as much time on the run as a result, as 20km means less distance to lose time on that 30km.

So my plan had become:

- Do the first 10km run just shy of an open 10km effort (for me, that's means a heart-rate of about 170-174)
- Hammer the bike as best as possible to catch and overtake the fast runners
- Pace the last 20km run like a Half-Ironman run (for me, that's a heart rate of 165)
- Fuel like a Half-Ironman with one small change:  Gel before the first 10km run, don't take anything during the run, drink/gel as soon as settled on the bike (this is the change.  Normally I don't take anything in the first 30 minutes on the bike so my body can warm up and absorb calories/liquid), take a gel ever 20 minutes on the bike, liquid as required.  On the last run, consume what you can take in.  Go Cola when it feels right and try not to have a burp turn to barf.

I also made some equipment changes for this race due to course and weather:

- Road bike with ITU-style aero pursuit bars (BMC Team Machine) instead of TT/Tri bike (Trek Speed Concept 9)
- Thin Merino wool socks for the race
- Toe covers on bike shoes
- Compressport Tri shorts under ITU one-piece uniform
- Compressport Tri top under ITU one-piece uniform
- Warm but thin-ish cycling gloves for the bike
- "Vest" made of foil emergency blanket
- Sugoi Hydrolite jacket for the bike
- Sugoi knee warmers for the bike
- Bento Box on road bike with large flask of gel
- Travel pill bags used to hold salt tabs

Some of these things I will absolutely do again.  Some are a coin toss.  Some were unnecessary.  Some were dumb.

10k RUN:

The gun went off for the 10km first run and I absolutely panicked in the first kilometre.  Fast runners were pulling ahead, bigger runners (presumably strong cyclists) were pulling the rear, and I was in no-man's land in the middle.  My heart rate was also rising quickly.  My thoughts quickly went to thinking that I needed to keep the front pack in sight, or I would have too big a gap to close on the bike.  I was running well under 3:55 per km pace (fast for me for 10km) and my heart rate was creeping up even more.  Running through the Alsace countryside, we came across some cows and bulls staring at us thinking we were crazy.  Understanding their sentiment, I looked down at my watch and saw that my heart-rate had climbed into 180+.  This is not a pace I could sustain and hope to have a good bike after.  Yet, I didn't want to lose any more time against the front group.  A couple mid-packers like myself caught up and we basically hung onto eachother the rest of the run race.  My heart-rate never got on track and I was well into debt from a fuel and lactate point of view, having run a deficit for the first portion of this long race.


Run THEN bike?  What the what-now?  I had no idea how to transition this.  Still I sped along into the change tent, threw on my knee warmers, put on my hydrolite jacket for the cold/rain, took my shoes to the bike, and ....     shit.    my gloves were still in the transition bag in the change tent.  I thought to myself "I can go without gloves and save transition time, or I can go get them and not freeze in the rain and ice-fog".  I opted not to freeze (smart choice, which I don't usually make).  Back to the change tent to fish through the transition bags to find my gloves.  That cost considerable time.


Having run first meant my heart-rate was higher than normal.  I got onto the bike and my HR was around 155.  I settled in and started to take gels from the flask and water.  Then the uber bikers (big Danish, German, Dutch, etc. people) started overtaking me right away.  I looked at my bike computer and my HR was still 155.  Usually, this means a power output of about 230 watts or just over 3.2 watts/kilo.  But it was like I was standing still.  These guys were blowing past everyone.  All on their TT/Tri bikes, making me question my bike choice.  I was also now feeling the result of running way too deep beyond lactate threshold on the run.  My legs were dead and dragging.  I suffered through this blow to my ego for 20km when finally I had flushed my legs out enough to actually get some efforts together.

Then about 30km into the bike, it happened again:  A crash.  An Aussie guy just all-of-a-sudden went down.  The 3 of us behind him (me at the very back) tried to stop, but crashed right into him and each other.  I had mostly stopped when I hit him and rolled right as the others rolled left.  I took the crash on my calf, hip, and forearm.  I didn't hit him fast enough to have unclipped from my bike, so I ended up on my back with my bike above me.  I unclipped as the course volunteers ran over, gave all a once-over, then let us proceed.  Fortunately this time my bike was in full working order, but my forearm impact made being on the ITU pursuit bars quite painful.

But the biggest challenge on the bike was fuel.  My flask of gel was not liquified enough and wouldn't pass through the nozzle of the bottle.  I had packed a few extra gels in packages and had to use them very early and toss my bottle of gel.  I had to rely on triple concentrated drink.  As well, my full-gloves meant I couldn't get my salt tabs open in their little baggy.  These kinds of mishaps and decisions cost hundreds of calories and grams of electrolytes.  Things it would turn out I needed.

I pulled it back together and headed to the course's jewel element:  "Le Ballon d'Alsace".  This is a long, steep, and relentless climb up a mountain the size of Cypress mountain in Vancouver.  This is where I'd hoped my road bike would shine, and shine it did.  I was passing people.  Lots of people.  The only time I was passed was by this tiny Japanese team guy who was on a mission.   I did have to stop to remove my hydrolite jacket as I was getting really hot.  But other than that I climbed like a champ.

At the top of the hill it was cold, wet, and ice-fog.  I stopped to try and put my jacket back on but it was buried too deep in my jersey.  I would have to rely on my emergency-blanket vest.   The vest worked, but my legs were numbing out on the decent.  It was very fast and technical and my courage and skills  were not up to the challenge.  While the Europeans were descending like crazy people, I descended purposefully but carefully and am happy for it:  I caught the Japanese athlete that had passed me on the uphill.  He was on his back, helmet partially over his face, his bike in the ditch, and knocked out cold.  He was being swarmed by medical staff.

The last part of the bike I pushed it as hard as I could with my frozen limbs.

The bike course was a ton of fun.  It had everything a race in the French countryside should have:  winding roads through little towns, cobble stones, rough farm roads, and fans shouting and cheering.  It was absolutely awesome.  I wish I could ride this kind of course all the time.


Stripped off my cycling stuff and went pretty fast through it.  My legs weren't really up for another run as I started to run out.

20km RUN:

Now that I knew the run course, I thought I knew what to expect and maybe could even push the pace a bit.  But within the first kilometre, my nutrition mishaps materialized into real issues:  my hamstrings were cramping and seizing.  I had to stop running, stretch out, and run very carefully after that.  But I was going to leave everything I had on the course and not let up.  I was wearing a national uniform and I was wearing the pride and humility that goes with it.

I was able to hold nearly target pace until the mid-point where my quads, hamstrings, and calves were twitching and threatening.   The whole way, I focussed on getting salt and sugar back into my body.  I started on cola right away, was jamming in my gels, and taking water to wash it all down.

And unique for me on the run was passing people suffering worse than me.  With all the pace and nutrition mishaps, I was still moving with some strength.  I was now passing super-bikers who went too hard or aren't really runners to begin with.  I was passing people who were bested by the bike course and challenging hills on the run.

At 9km I finally got to see Jen, Eli, and Jeff & Vera (my in-laws).  I was so happy and proud.

Through the course I could see other team members going strong and others fading slightly.  I decided I'd catch up to my team members and try and push them along.  I caught up to one of my tri-friends from Vancouver, Stephen, in the last 4 kms.  I pulled ahead and was hoping he'd catch up and could have some Canadians cross the finish line together.  And he did pull up...   after my hamstring seized again with under 3km to go.  I walked it out for a bit but never really found it let up.  "Dude.  No.  No.  Can you still run?", asked Stephen.  Nope.  I was fully seized up.  But I needed to get running again.  So I found a modified stride that let me limber up enough and I held it for the last 3km.  I wasn't moving fast but I was running and even caught up with Stephen again with under one kilometre to go.

I was cheered all the way to the finish.  "ALEZ CANADA!!!"  Many thanks to my father-in-law who cheered me to the finish line as I completed my first ever race for Team Canada.

I finally found Jen, Eli, Jeff, and Vera after the race.  It was a long day for them too, suffering in the cold, wet, and mud.  Aside from seeing me on the run and after the race, they did say the highlight of the race was the mulled wine they served as refreshment.  Clearly a perk of racing in Europe.


I'm working out what the rest of this season will be.   I've got 2 early-season races in already and could have a big year if I really pushed hard.  But that won't be this year.   Here's my lessons/plans resulting from race-day lessons-learned and ideas for staying "the best":

- There are very very few occasions in a Triathlon or Duathlon where a road bike is a better choice than a TT bike.  If you want to tinker, do it with wheels first, but a change to road from TT deserves very careful thought.

- In cold temperatures, tape your gels to your bike rather than flask them.

- Proper zone pacing should be a bible not a recommendation.  In a long-distance race you're racing yourself more than your competition.  Park your ego and be smart.

- I got badly beat at my best event:  the bike.  I need to work on on top-end strength.

- It's time for me to change my Triathlon plans.  At least in the near-term.  I need more non-Tri time and I need to be faster.  That means I need to shift to short-course and go find some needed time with my family.

- I need to have a summer that isn't just about Triathlon.  I do need a summer about making improvement to the elements, but not one that is as all-consuming as the past few years.  To keep it simple, I need a summer off from long-distance Tri to find a balance with my family and to shore up some glaring weaknesses in my game.


My goal for the race was to have a "perfect race".  My penultimate goal was to not be the last person in my age group.  I've raced at a high level relative to my investment for many years.  This field was the strongest I've ever put myself up against, even in the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in 2010; the Europeans are a force.

I'm still searching for that "perfect race", but I wasn't last; I was 64 of 84 in my division and where I'd hoped I'd be.

But what this race confirmed is that if I wanted to race faster, aside for the few race-day issues, I would need to put in more focussed and consistent training effort in the months/years leading up to it.  This isn't an investment I would make right now, given everything else I want to be the best at.  I showed up to this race as well prepared as I was willing to be.  I put myself up against very very fit and talented people and saw where I am currently measured.  I'm happy with where that is:  many minutes from the least successful, within only a few minutes of a big middle group of high achievers, but still within many minutes of the best of my age.

I'm now in Lisbon and many days have passed since my race.  This is always a litmus test:  after a few days from racing, how do I feel?  I can honestly say I feel proud and humbled.  Minus a few dumb things on race day, I would not have raced it much different:  I would take the same risks, relied on the same nutrition, and played the course the same way.

I would have tried to find a few more workouts, but none that would have edged me out over others; I would have needed to put in several more hours that I did not have available to invest.

I would have liked for my own parents and siblings to be at the race.  Jen's parents know how much our family invests because they're around it all the time.  My parents know how much I invest, too, because they see me race often.  But the two worlds haven't met in a while and they should.  Plus I bet my Mom and Dad would be pretty proud seeing me cross a finish line in Team Canada gear.

And to keep score on my gear choices, here's the results:

- Road bike with ITU-style aero pursuit bars (BMC Team Machine) instead of TT/Tri bike (Trek Speed Concept 9) - NO!  TT would have been faster, although i may have got hurt.
- Thin Merino wool socks for the race - YES!  Worked like a charm.
- Toe covers on bike shoes - YES!  Worked like a charm.
- Compressport Tri shorts under ITU one-piece uniform - YES!  Worked like a charm.  In fact the most comfy ever.
- Compressport Tri top under ITU one-piece uniform - YES!  Worked like a charm.
- Warm but thin-ish cycling gloves for the bike - YES!  Worked like a charm.
- "Vest" made of foil emergency blanket - YES!  Worked like a charm.
- Sugoi Hydrolite jacket for the bike - NO!  Got way to hot and was not aero.
- Sugoi knee warmers for the bike - YES!  Worked like a charm.
- Bento Box on road bike with large flask of gel - NO!  Tape those gels.  Flask is dumb on the bike.
- Travel pill bags used to hold salt tabs - NO!  Those bags are too tough to open and basically good for what they're advertised to do:  nothing gets in, nothing gets out.

I'd also like to sincerely thank my wife, son, family, friends, and coach for all their support in helping me get here in one piece.  It means a lot.

Finally, congratulations to my team mates and competitors on their races.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Saint "Grind"

My coach told me that Ironman 70.3 St. George would be all about "the grind".  "On the bike, you will be on 12% to 15% grade hills.  If there is wind, it will feel like 25%.  The same on the run.  And you will be more hot than you are used to...   it's in the desert which is much more hot and much more dry.  And then you are also at higher altitude.  But you need to think about moving forward.  No matter how slow.  It will feel very slow.  But don't be discouraged.  Focus on effort and play it smart.  This course will be harder than everything before.  Follow our plan and you will finish the race happy.  This is a hard race, and maybe your hardest ever.  Don't think about your time.  Think about your training and your effort and focus on being strong the whole way.  If you can do that, you will have a good race."

I jotted Coach Bjoern's sage advice down a few days before Ironman 70.3 St. George.  And, indeed, it will go down as my toughest race ever.  Ever.

My wife and son gave me this race as a Birthday Present.  Eli has started to say things like "Dadda fast.  Dadda swim.  Dadda bike fast.  Dadda run fast.".  When I penciled in this race, I also did not know it would become the US Pro Championships.  So for my birthday present, I got to compete with one of the best pro fields and what turned out to be the biggest age-group field I've ever seen.  The cutoff was at 2800 competitors.

I arrived in Vegas and drove right to the venue on the Thursday (it's a Saturday race).  I could say my motivation to get there early was to scan the race course but....   actually...    I won tickets to hang out with the founders of, and the CEO and sponsorship team of the Ironman corporation, and Crowie (Craig Alexander, one of my heroes).  I'll spare the details, but I had an amazing 30 minute conversation with Crowie about the support our families selflessly provide so that we can pursue this sport.  He even got emotional at one point when I told him that Eli and I watched some post-race interviews of Kona last year where Eli was genuinely sad hearing Crowie's race recap and even hugged my iPad when watching it.  Needless to say that Crowie is still one of my heroes of the sport.  This was a really nice evening for me.

That same night I was putting my bike together and discovered a few "concerns".  For one, my front brakes may or may not be working.  Awesome.  I cracked a piece of the integrated brakes on my Trek Speed Concept during packing.  Shit.  Oh well, I will be going so fast I will only need rear brakes, right?   The second concern was cosmetic...   the cover on the integrated bars was also cracked.  I probably don't need that piece anyway.  This whole thing could have ended poorly.  Fortunately, I pack electrical tape, duct tape, and other emergency rations.  Black Mamba (my bike) might not have looked pretty, but after finding a plastic cup, some scissors, and mounting the wheels to test my braking, she was ready to go.  I felt like I was about to ride the "town bike".

Next day, I drove the tough sections of the bike and run course and dipped my toes in the water that would prove to be my nemesis.  I got some light workouts in to rev the engine and checked in my bike and run gear and had a great pre-race evening meal at a local spot.

I even found time in the afternoon to get some real experience with the dry heat and walk around some unshaded mountain bike trails.  This little walkabout was where I laid out my race plan:

SWIM:  It'll be chilly but you've been in worse.   I'm swimming well right now so focus on getting on the toes of some faster swimmers and let them drag you around.  Don't get knocked out when you get kicked in the face.

BIKE:  I'll be cold at the start.  Pull off the pre-staged toe warmers from your shoes if it seems it could heat up fast.  Don't drink fluids until my body warms up.  Stay in high Zone 3 effort the whole way, even on the climbs if I can.  Follow my nutrition strategy (gel every 20 mins, salt every 15 mins, fluids as required).

RUN:  Hopefully I have gas left after the bike.  It'll be hot now.  Desert heat and dryness.  It's a hilly run but nothing I haven't done, so just be mindful of form, effort, and nutrition.

FINISH:  Take all the cold sponges out from your sponsored outfit.  Zip up your uniform.  High five everyone who's within your reach and sticks out their hand.  Smile when you finish and don't look at your watch.

If all goes to plan, I'll pull out a 5 hour race.

I went to bed early and fell asleep quickly.

4 am wake-up calls are never nice.  They're especially not nice on an earlier time zone.  As I got up, I couldn't help thinking it was 3 am at home.  Still, I had 7 hours of sleep, which, if you are an experienced racer, you know is a TON of sleep on the night before a race.

Slammed some breakfast and caught my hotel shuttle to T2 to catch yet another shuttle to T1.  Got my area setup quick, pumped my tires, then headed for the obligatory portapotty visit.  I'm coming to realize the quality of a race organization team can be measured in the number of minutes in line for the portapotty on race morning.  St. George goes down as the best organized race ever, by that scale.

I was scheduled to hit the water at 7:25 but they wanted us out of the transition area by 6:30.  "Wishful thinking", I thought to myself.  Still, I moved quickly and with purpose and got out of there.  We weren't allowed to set up our gear (we had to survive with what we put in our transition bags the night before) so I would have to trust that I made effective choices last night.  For one, I decided to pack toe warmers for my bike shoes.  I stuck them on my shoes the night before so that I could make the game-day decision to pull them off in T1 if the temperature felt right.  I also decided to rock my number belt out of T1 instead of T2.  That way I could move through T2 with purpose and get on with the chase.  I also had my arm compression (slash sun stoppers) on under my wetsuit.  In the end, these were all things that proved well thought out and executed...  in fact one of my highlights of the day.

And so now, here's how that day went....

SWIM:  They make you swim out to the start line so you can get warmed up.  This is because the water there was between 12 and 15 degrees celsius.  This was unpleasant.  This was my first open water swim of the year.  I did not pack my neoprene swim cap, so I double-capped instead.  Still not enough.  Even the well noted "pre race ritual" didn't warm me up.  My shoulders etc. were warmed up by the time I showed up at the start line.  My head was not.  Horn went off and I went for it.  I positioned myself in the front 1/3 and put out a good 300m start.  Then I started to see dark spots in my vision, started to feel very off balance, and started to hyperventilate.  And then I barfed.   I tried to do freestyle again and catch back up, but then many more black spots came and I stopped.  In that moment, I genuinely thought that I may black out and force myself to be rescued from the water.  I lifeguarded as a teen so knew what I was probably experiencing.  I just sat there for a few moments (probably a few seconds but it really felt like a long time).  A rescue kayaker paddled over and told me I either needed to start moving or call it a day; if I just stay there, I will get too cold and go hypothermic.  This was my very first time in that situation:  I could literally get pulled from the water and my day is done; the day that Jen and Eli gave me as a birthday present.  I actually thought about quitting.  I also thought I might actually not make the swim cutoff time.  Lots of thoughts happening quickly.  So, I asked the rescuer to stay with me for the next 300m, until I turned the first corner buoy.  He said "why don't you get started and let's see how this goes".  So I got started.  Doing breast-stroke.  I do have a good breast-stroke but it is not as fast or efficient as freestyle.  I also knew I'd spend some energy that I would probably need later on.  But "whatever", I thought.  My plan is already out the window and I need to switch into survival mode and just honour the present Jen and Eli gave me.  ...and do what I intended to do:  finish the hardest course I might ever do.   So I alternated between freestyle until I got dizzy (barfed a couple more times) and breast-stroke (no barfing).  I got out of the water in about 45 minutes.  Freestyle would have got me out in 32 minutes.

T1:  This race had a T1 the size of a football field, with a long run-in and run-out.  Still I moved as quickly as I could and got to my bike.  Stuffed down a Roctane Gel, got my shit together (even tore off the toe warmers, as it started to feel like the heat was coming), and got on my bike.  Not the most stellar T1 but fast enough.  I already knew I was now doing this for pride and not for performance.

BIKE:  Took a good 10 km to warm up.  I was focused in those first 20 minutes to get calories and electrolytes back into my body.  After all, I had a desert to deal with.  I always pack a "breakfast" of calories for the bike in case something goes down on the swim. I had never needed it until today.  In the first 10km I had put down 4 gels, 4 salt tabs, and a bottle of water.  None of this is "on plan".  I never drink in the first 30 mins so that my digestive track warms up.  I never pound down gels as it can become a digestive issue pretty fast.  I was in survival mode and just accepted the consequences.  But remarkably, the only thing that came back to haunt me was the liquid:  I ended up "going" three times during the ride.  But employing my emergency rations of gels meant I could hold a good strong (albeit conservative) heart rate for the whole bike...  even on the toughest desert valley climb of all time.  Coach was right:  This big climb was really stupid and hot.  Really really stupid and hot.  As I past people walking their bikes up the hill I thought to myself: "Self...   back home you climb this shit all day.  So what if it's hot and dry out and you are chewing threw your liquids.  At least you were prepared".  And so I climbed.  By the end of it,  I had the wind and moisture sucked from me.  I put down another 2 gels, a full bottle of liquids, and just gunned it downhill passing many many people who were a bit more cooked than I.

T2:  Pretty spent from the bike.  Thought about throwing some band-aids onto my toes that were threatening blisters.  Thought to myself "attack the run, but not too hard".  I looked at my watch as I exited.  It told me I was running 4:15 face and I felt really good.

RUN:  4:15 pace did not prevail.  It was now 28 degrees and there would be no shade on the run course.  There would also be no flat sections:  either climbing or descending.  Steeply.  So I'm exiting T2 with encouragement, thinking I'll pick off a hundred runners.  Then the reality of the first 5km set in.  Climb time.  Then the next 11km is rolling climbing.  Mostly steep climbs, except a 400m descent to the halfway point. Then it's an obnoxious climb to the 15km point (I descended that section only recently), then a quick descent, followed by another dumb climb, and then we're finally back to descending for the last several kilometers.  In the desert.  In the dry heat.  Thankfully I had fueled well on the bike and followed my run plan for nutrition:  Gel every 15 minutes, electrolyte tabs at the same interval as long as the stomach was holding up, go to Cola only when necessary (13km is where I gave in), and drink water as required.  Bad blisters had set in during the first few KMs.  I had to land on my heals for much of the run or risk bursting the water-balloons in my shoes.  Ultimately, it was the blisters that did me in on the run.   I'm going to experiment with my sock selection...   too much padding really just doesn't work for me.

FINISH:  Take all the cold sponges out from your sponsored outfit.  Zip up your uniform.  High five everyone who's within your reach and sticks out their hand.  Smile when you finish and don't look at your watch.  Executed to plan.

I actually don't remember my finish time beyond knowing it was north of 5:40.  Officially my second worst time since I started Triathlon.

Immediately after, as I was fetching some food and admiring my medal, I knew I could have pushed it harder on the bike and on the run.  I really had a lot of gas left.   But really, how do you plan for this kind of race.   You train and you test and you train some more.  But when you have the swim I had, become concerned for your fuel and effort on the bike, then try and manage your run so that you actually finish....    well you certainly learn a lot.

I sat there on the grass, with my 4 slices of post-race pizza, my 4 bottles of coconut water, my 2 bags of chips, my 2 oranges, my 2 cartons of chocolate milk, my 3 bottles of water, my salt crusted race kit on, and my shiny finisher medal around my neck.  My effort during this race did not waiver.  It might have been conservative but I never gave up or coasted.  I did not know what the course would bring so I gave it respect and I played for the finish.  Now that I know St. George, I would play it different...  less respectful, more aggressive.  I learned that heat doesn't hit me when I fuel right.  I'm an armadillo.

I'm not going to pretend that I didn't almost pull out at the start.  There was that moment where I knew I wouldn't freestyle anymore, switch to breast-stroke, and risk not making cut-off (or worse).  I wanted to get through this swim (and safely) and had to change my plan to one with no (or little) risk.

But honestly I'm not stressing about it. This course at this time of year was meant as a test.  I have a bigger race to get done and I know more about where my fitness is than what training alone could tell me.

Did I mention this was the US Pro Championships?   I'm having my pizza and I'm watching Andy Potts and Matty Reed get cornered from fans (justifiably).  I think to myself that they're going to scarf the food and head right to the massage tent.  Nope.  In fact.  Both gents come park themselves next to us fellow racers and start chatting about the course, the local support crew, and the strong field of competitors.  This was definitely one of the highlights of the day.

I drove back to Vegas immediately after the race.  Exhausted, I just stayed in my room, got in-room dining, and went to bed.  Another 4 am wake-up to get to the airport.

Finally made it home.  Eli was pretty excited to help me unpack my bike.  "Dada racing?", he asked as he went and got a chammy and started to clean my bike.  "Dada, fast?".  "Eli fast", I said.