Monday, May 28, 2012

♪ No, I won't back down ♪

The Thursday prior to my first Triathlon of the year, Shawnigan Lake Half-Iron, I had very specific goals for the race:  Be out of the water in 0:32:00, Bike a 2:25:00, Run a 1:35:00.  Transitions and other mishaps to add up to no more than 8 minutes.  Finish time:  4:40:00.  These numbers were well within what I felt I was capable of, based on current fitness and past performance.

On Friday morning, things changed.

I very rarely get sick.  I hadn't had a cold in years.  So it makes sense that just before my first big race of the year, a race that I intended to use as a baseline to fine-tune from in the next 7 weeks leading to my most important race of the year, that I get a doozy of a cold.

The moment I realized I was sick proved to be a critical one.  I could have decided not to race.  I could have chosen to dial back my effort.  Or I could accept the challenge.  I knew what my decision needed to be...  I had taken the "easy" options already this year and it had left a bad taste in my mouth.

I don't know if its just me, but there never seems to be a race where everything works out perfectly.  There are so many variables in play with Triathlon that I can't imagine they all end up in the athlete's favour.  A perfect race would involve (assuming the athlete is well trained):

  • Well executed taper week structure, nutrition, etc.
  • Bike is in 100% perfect working order
  • Weather is optimal for the athlete
  • Apparel is optimal for the athlete and weather
  • Race course is ideal for the athlete and in perfect condition
  • Athlete is well rested, well nourished, and healthy prior to the race
  • Race day nutrition is executed perfectly
  • Swim, Bike, and Run race tactics are executed perfectly
  • No equipment issues on race day
This is by no means an exhaustive list.  The idea, though, is that the athlete has been given the opportunity to access 100% of their potential on race day.   This has not happened for me, as of yet.

So when I got sick, it certainly was going to affect my ability to access 100% of my potential.  The challenge before me was to manage the degree to which it would affect me, i.e. if my performance was now going to be max out at 90% of my potential, I better try and get the whole 90%.  The most logical way to do that, I decided, was to focus on the things that I can control and ignore the things I cannot.  I can control my nutrition, my effort level, my schedule, and my equipment.  I cannot control the course, the weather, the quality of my sleep, or my health.

On Friday, I packed early, took some cold meds, and went to bed by 10:30.  It's as though my resolve to deal with my health challenges angered the race gods....    I was up for much of the night on Friday.

Saturday morning came quickly and I headed out the door to travel to Vancouver Island for the race with some teammates (shout out to Nathan Killam and Donald Fast).  I fuelled well during the day, executed my pre-race routine to near perfection once at Shawnigan Lake, and went to bed early after a shot of Nyquil.   That further angered the race gods....   up for much of the night on Saturday.

On race morning as I was waking up still exhausted, I caught myself thinking "no one would blame you for bowing out, nor holding back".  But I would.  And not at least trying would be an insult to myself, to Jen, and to Eli.  I had put in the work and they had put in the support.  Time to race.

I had the luxury of being 5 minutes from the race site and had VIP parking, so I took my time in the morning.  I ate right, got all my gear on, waited for my "metabolism" to tell me that I was ready to leave for the race site.  I even got my wetsuit part-way on (I hate doing that at the race site with dirty feet).  

As a side note, I do need to commend Sugoi for their race suit this year.  I have used Zoot and Orca race suits in the past.  The one I now have feels like it is custom made.  It is the best fitting, best performing single piece of race or training gear I've ever worn.  Bar none.

Once at the race site, I was very relaxed.  My gear was ready.  I was ready.  I knew my plan for the day:  give'er and leave nothing in my body.

The gun went and the masses were off.  Some early crowding on the swim got me stuck in a pack that wasn't going too fast.  I dropped that group and found some good feet to hang on to.  Around the mid point, the pack I was with was fading, so I bridged to a new group (who couldn't seem to swim straight) and got boxed in.  Still, I was swimming well and my energy was up.  With 400m to go, I decided to stay with the people I was with rather than gun it....  no need to waste energy for :30 gain.

T1 went fairly well.  Dropped the wetsuit, put in the socks and helmet, and I was off.   Bike mounting was another story.  ...darn it, I forgot to secure my shoes with elastics.  Still, off I went.

After a short stop to get my shoe on properly (was having issues with it while moving), I hit the gas.  Got into my target heart-rate and stayed there.  Climbed hard and attacked the downhills.  I was controlling my effort and executing my tactics.  I knew I wasn't going to hit my target bike split.  In fact, I'd probably be 10 minutes off.  I couldn't control that.  I could just do my best to access my fitness.  I did get an extra boost here and there, though; whenever I'd pass cheering kids it reminded me how excited I am for Eli to watch my fly by and be inspired and proud.  

T2 was fast.  Probably because my sunglasses were still in my equipment bag.  Oh well...   My visor would keep the sun out of my eyes just fine.

At the start of the run, I knew I was in for some suffering.  My hamstrings and back were very tight and my feet were sore.  My shoes were not ideal for the soft-packed gravel course.  So I did the only thing I could do...   get my heart rate to target, hold form, and suffer through it.  I admit, it was frustrating to get passed a few times...  I had done a lot of passing on the bike.  About 7km into the run, things got a bit more challenging;  I had gotten a nosebleed from my sinuses cracking a bit.  But around the 10km mark, things improved and I actually felt ok.  The last 4km were a struggle.  I was feeling pretty done, I admit.  I still hung on to my effort and pace, but I knew I was doing it for honour at this point.

As I was heading for the finish line, I did take the time to feel proud.  I left everything out there, and even got a personal best (although only by a few seconds) of 5:04:00.  I had been challenged, I had suffered through it, and I earned the finish.  I could hardly walk and the outside of my feet were bruised from the gravel, but I had a heart full of satisfaction.

In the end, this race gave me what I needed.  I have a baseline performance for the year that leaves me hungry for improvement.  My coach and I will digest the data and put a plan in place for the next 7 weeks.  I know what things within my control I need to improve and I can accept the result of things outside of my control.  And I know that I can handle the challenges just fine.

Monday, May 7, 2012

BMO Half Marathon Race Report: Time to think different

Generally, we're all our own biggest critic.  I know this is certainly the case for me.  There is a time, though, where you also need to be your own biggest supporter.  The latter is far harder than the former.

I had intended to set a personal best at the BMO Half Marathon on May 6th, 2012.  I had about 3 good weeks of training behind me, after 5 weeks off from running.  My training times and my proven ability to hold a high degree of effort while on the run gave me confidence I was going to make my goal.

Sugoi, Compressport, and New Balance race kit
The night before the race, I fueled well, hydrated well, got my kit ready early, and did all the other things I needed for a good race the next day.  Check out my race kit from Sugoi!  I got to sleep around midnight.  But then I woke up at 2am.  I had one of those nights that involved waking yourself up as soon as you fall asleep with the thought "I think I just fell asleep".  ...oh well, I've raced on no sleep so if that was how this one would go, then so be it.

I got up at 5:20 and my first thought was a negative one:  "I'm going to be tired during this race".

I parked my car downtown, hopped the train, and got to the start line with my two gels.  I brought only 2 instead of 3 as I figured I would grab the 3rd one on course.  Mistake.

I ran into a few friends at the start line.  Most asked "are you ready for a PB?"  No, I said.  I'll probably run around 1:30:00 to 1:32:00.  Another negative thought, considering I knew I was fitter than that.

Race started and I actually felt pretty good.  I was hitting my paces for the first 3km of downhill, being conservative, but taking advantage of the slack start.  Once I hit the flats, it was another story.  I couldn't find the energy to get into my race HR.  My legs were feeling strong, but I just couldn't find that top gear. Then I hit the first roller and my negative thoughts came in:  "I didn't think there would be hills.  This is going to mean some slow times for me today".   Still, I was on track.   Then I hit an aid station at the 8km mark to take my gel.  I let the 1:30:00 pace bunny get by me.  I never regained.  They were always in sight but I couldn't find the kick I needed to catch them.  The more defeated I felt, the worse my technique got and I stopped pulling my feet underneath me.  I would hit another uphill and think to myself I'm going to lose more time.  I'd take the downhill with speed and think I wasn't making up enough time.  This cycle continued for the 236m of ascending and descending over the next 13km.

It was only with about 3km to go that I looked down at the time and saw that there was a chance I could still hit my goal.  I'd need to push through one last tough section to do it.  Then I let myself think that I should have just toughened up earlier.  This thought ended up holding me back during the last 3km.

Finished at 1:31:14.  My fastest run of the year, with only 3 good weeks of training.  In my heart, it was my worst of the year.

I'm taking away two lessons.  First, I need to stick with my nutrition plan.  I needed more calories before the race.  I needed that second gel.  Second, and more importantly, if you believe you're going to fail, you will fail.  You can't succeed if you don't believe it will happen.  No matter how good the performance, if you don't judge it as a success it will not be a success.

I am going to work hard for the rest of the year to stay positive during racing and training despite setbacks and motivate myself with my own thoughts.